Jehoshaphat and the impossible situation 2 Chronicles 20:1-12

The hoard is coming!  The hoard is coming!  We are all going to die!  Perhaps this is what the informers told Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20:2.  Whatever they said, the King immediately recognized the situation was bleak.  Three huge armies marching against him, his own army too small, defeat and death were imminent.  Apart from God’s miraculous intervention the people of Judah were doomed.  What do we do when we are faced with an impossible situation?  Many of us panic, worry, and wring our hands in despair.  King Jehoshaphat took action.  He called the people together and prayed.  “And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.  So Judah gathered together to ask help from the Lord; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.  Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court” (2 Chronicles 20:1-5).  Jehoshaphat did not panic.  Instead, he gathered the people together and put the problem squarely in the LORD’s lap.

The King didn’t learn this from his father.  Several years earlier, in a similar circumstance, Jehoshaphat’s dad, King Asa, did something different from his son.  The king of the northern kingdom Israel fortified the border city of Ramah, an overt act of war.  Not taking time to consult the LORD, Asa found a solution by taking God’s gold and silver from the temple and buying the help of the king of Syria.  He used God’s money to buy his own deliverance.  The plan worked wonderfully in the short term and King Asa thought everything was beautiful again, until Hanani the prophet arrived with a word from the Creator.  And at that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah, and said to him: ‘Because you have relied on the king of Syria, and have not relied on the Lord your God, therefore the army of the king of Syria has escaped from your hand. Were the Ethiopians and the Lubim not a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet, because you relied on the Lord, He delivered them into your hand.  For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. In this you have done foolishly; therefore from now on you shall have wars’” (2 Chronicles 16:7–9).  Possibly Jehoshaphat learned from his father’s mistake.

Jehoshaphat’s prayer contains three parts.  First, he reminded himself and his people who God is.  [Jehoshaphat] said: ‘O Lord God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You?”

God, the covenant keeping LORD of Israel, is the only all-powerful Creator in the universe.  Also, Jethis God who made everything has an unbreakable relationship with Judah.  God is the LORD.  This is an important reality.  Remember when Moses had first come to Pharaoh and was told that Egypt’s ruler was not going to let Israel go and did not even acknowledge their God?  God replied to Moses by explaining who He was and what His name, Yahweh, means.  And God spoke to Moses and said to him: ‘I am the Lord.  I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name Lord I was not known to them.  I have also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, in which they were strangers” (Exodus 6:2–4).

The point here is not that God did not call Himself Yahweh while speaking with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He simply did not teach them what that name meant.  The name meant that He, the all-powerful God, would keep the covenants He had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He had established an unbreakable relationship with their fathers and so He had an unbreakable relationship with them.  He would lead them out of captivity.  He would lead them into the land.  And, most important of all, He would be their God and they would be His people.  He would watch over them and take care of them as a nation.  Because of these promises, the King could pray, “O covenant keeping God of Israel are you not God in heaven.”

Next, Jehoshaphat draws on God’s sovereign ruling authority.  “Are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations?”  The fact that God is the blessed controller of all things is of great comfort and encouragement to the King and people.  He prays to God first because He knows about the situation. He also prays to the LORD because He and He alone can do something about it.  If God is a victim of the situation, why pray to Him?  But because He rules over all things, God can and will help.

Jehoshaphat underlines that every kind of power and authority comes from God Himself.  “In Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You?”  How often are we reminded that God delegates all authority on planet earth?  Are we sure that: The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes?”  (Proverbs 21:1).  The faithful covenant keeping God, who has pledged Himself to Judah, is able to deliver them out of this impossible situation.

The second part of Jehoshaphat’s prayer is a reminder of what God did.  In the very midst of this urgent prayer, the King takes time for a history lesson.  He reminds God and God’s people of what God has done.  Are You not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever?”  (2 Chronicles 20:7).  These people must not forget what God has done for them in the past.  When they came to this Promised Land, some peoples were not destroyed.  Moses recorded in Deuteronomy 2 how God commanded that Ammon, Moab and Edom were to be spared and Israel to detour around them when they journeyed to the Promise Land.  While Jehoshaphat prayed, these very nations marched toward Jerusalem to destroy them.  The King prayed in verse 10, “And now, here are the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir—whom You would not let Israel invade when they came out of the land of Egypt, but they turned from them and did not destroy them—here they are, rewarding us by coming to throw us out of Your possession which You have given us to inherit.”  Surely, God must do something about this.

When we find ourselves in tough situations, we also need to remember and remind God of what He has done for us.  Doing this puts our current troubles in perspective.  It also helps us trust God for the answer.

The last part of this prayer is the pleading of the promises.  In a very famous verse in a very important paragraph in 2 Chronicles 7, we read God’s answer to Solomon’s prayer.  Our LORD’s answer is a promise to hear prayer in the Temple.  “Then the Lord appeared to Solomon by night, and said to him: ‘I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice.  When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to prayer made in this place.  For now I have chosen and sanctified this house, that My name may be there forever; and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually” (2 Chronicles 7:12–16).

Compelled by the situation and the promises, Jehoshaphat reminds God of what He had said.  And [Your people] dwell in [the Promised Land], and have built You a sanctuary in it for Your name, saying, ‘If disaster comes upon us—sword, judgment, pestilence, or famine—we will stand before this temple and in Your presence (for Your name is in this temple), and cry out to You in our affliction, and You will hear and save’” (2 Chronicles 20:8–9).  King Solomon had made these requests in the Temple dedication, and God heard his prayer and confirmed the answer with promises.  Now Jehoshaphat was pleading for these promises to be kept.

After all of this prelude, Jehoshaphat’s request is quite simple.  “O our God, will You not judge them?  For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You” (2 Chronicles 20:12).  Many times we are tempted to see this request, indeed, this whole event, in a theological and clinical way, not actively remembering that Jehoshaphat and Judah lived through this fear of certain destruction.  When King Jehoshaphat says that they are defenseless against these armies that are coming against them, he is not just uttering empty words.  He knows that unless God does something they are doomed.  He is not exaggerating when he admits “we do not know what to do.”  It really was all up to God.

While God delights in stepping in when we run out of options, it is not fun to feel hopeless, when every option is exhausted and all our resources are gone.  Many want to know God and see Him work in wonderful ways, but few want to be in the place that He works.  It is when we are weak that He is strong.

The end of the story is wonderful.  God answers immediately through a prophet.  God promises that the battle is His and not theirs.  They will not even have to fight.  The three armies started fighting each other and killed each other off before they ever reached Jerusalem.

While this situation was unique, we also face impossible situations in our lives.  When this happens, we are prone to be like Asa and try to find a solution in our own resources and abilities or even cheat on God to try to deliver ourselves.  Here in Jehoshaphat we find real help.  We really need to pray and not worry.  We need to remind ourselves and God Himself who He is.  Our God is the blessed controller of all things.  He always has as a plan in the most impossible situations.  We also must remember what God has done for us.  Reliving past victories gives us real courage and faith in the present.  Finally, we need to underline the promises of God.  God cannot lie.  He will always keep His word.  After all of this, we are finally ready for putting our problem in God’s hands.

 

 

About Don Gommesen, Ph.D.

Dr. Don has thirty five years of Pastoral experience. He planted churches with Galilean Baptist Mission for twelve years (3 churches) and served as Senior Pastor in three other churches. He is currently the Senior Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church of Lansing, Michigan. He studied at Michigan State University, Moody Bible Institute, Cornerstone University, Luther Rice Seminary and Greenwich University. He holds a BA, an MA, and a Ph.D. His Ph.D. is in history and historical theology. He loves his wife. He likes dancing to the muzak while pushing a shopping cart in empty stores, and baking his internationally acclaimed (he and Kathy said good things about them while traveling across Canada) muffins.
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