2 Chronicles 20 – Jehoshaphat’s Victory
A. Jehoshaphat’s prayer.
1. (1-2) Hostile enemies gather against Judah.
It happened after this that the people of Moab with the people of Ammon, and others with them besides the Ammonites, came to battle against Jehoshaphat. Then some came and told Jehoshaphat, saying, “A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, from Syria; and they are in Hazazon Tamar” (which is En Gedi).
a. It happened after this: This threat to Jehoshaphat and his kingdom happened after his return to seeking God, following his near-death when he allied himself with King Ahab of Israel.
b. The people of Moab with the people of Ammon, and others with them besides the Ammonites, came to battle against Jehoshaphat: This great multitude was a significant threat against Jehoshaphat, whose last experience on the field of battle was a narrow escape from death.
2. (3-4) The nation gathers to seek God together.
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.
a. And Jehoshaphat feared: There was certainly a sense in which Jehoshaphat feared the great multitude coming against him. Yet the sense here is that he feared the LORD, and was more awed at the power and majesty of God than at the destructive force of his enemies.
i. “Jehoshaphat feared; partly from human frailty, and partly from the remembrance of his own guilt, and the wrath of God denounced against him for it, 2 Chronicles 19:2.” (Poole)
b. And set himself to seek the LORD: Jehoshaphat set the example by his own personal devotion. He would not call upon the people of Judah to seek the LORD in a way that he did not.
i. This is a recurring theme in 2 Chronicles: the leaders who seek the LORD. We can expect God to do great things when His people, and especially the leaders of His people, seek Him. Others who sought the LORD in 2 Chronicles include:
· The faithful remnant of Israel (2 Chronicles 11:16).
· The people of Judah under King Asa (2 Chronicles 14:4, 15:12-13).
· Jehoshaphat in the early part of his reign (2 Chronicles 19:3).
· King Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 31:21).
· King Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:3).
ii. “His attitude is summed up by the word ‘seek’, which occurs twice in Hebrew though it is variously translated…. This is a key word in Jehoshaphat’s reign, where it has the basic sense of ‘worship’, but also means to discover God’s will. It shows that Jehoshaphat has a higher trust in God than in his military resources.” (Selman)
c. And proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah: Jehoshaphat called the nation to express their humility and total dependence upon God through a public fast – that is, abstaining from all food for a period of time (typically a day or more) and drinking only water.
i. In Mark 9:28-29, Jesus explained that prayer and fasting together were a source of significant spiritual power. It isn’t as if prayer and fasting make us more worthy to be blessed or do God’s work; it is that prayer and fasting draw us closer to the heart of God, and they put us more in line with His power. Fasting is a powerful expression of our total dependence on Him.
d. So Judah gathered together to ask help from the LORD: This showed the Spirit of God at work among His people, prompting them to respond to the call issued from their king, Jehoshaphat.
i. “To get this assistance, it was necessary to seek it; and to get such extraordinary help, they should seek it in an extraordinary way; whence he proclaimed a universal fast, and all the people came up to Jerusalem to seek the Lord.” (Clarke)
3. (5-12) Jehoshaphat leads the assembly in prayer.
Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the LORD, before the new court, and 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? 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? And they dwell in it, 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.’ 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. 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.”
a. Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem: This large assembly representing the gathered kingdom needed a leader, and the godly Jehoshaphat was the logical one to unite the assembly together in prayer.
i. Adam Clarke called this “One of the most sensible, pious, correct, and as to its composition, one of the most elegant prayers ever offered under the Old Testament dispensation.”
ii. “The late renowned Gustavus, king of Sweden, would pray ashipboard, ashore, in the field, in the midst of the battle; as if prayer alone were the surest piece of his whole armour.” (Trapp)
b. Are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations: Jehoshaphat began his great prayer by recognizing the power of Yahweh over heaven and all kingdoms of the nations. Other peoples believed in localized deities – as if the Moabites had their god, the Philistines their god, the Ammonites their god, and so on. Jehoshaphat recognized that the God of Israel was in fact the God of all kingdoms, of all nations, of all the earth and indeed of heaven itself.
c. Are You not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel: Jehoshaphat also prayed recognizing God’s great works in the past on behalf of His people. The logic is clear: If God had done great things for His people in the past, He can be prevailed upon to do great things for His people at their moment of great need.
d. We will stand in this temple and in Your presence: Jehoshaphat stood on the ground of previous prayer and prior answers to prayer. This echoes the prayer Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple and it calls upon God to answer not only Jehoshaphat’s prayer but Solomon’s also (2 Chronicles 6:20-25).
e. 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: Jehoshaphat prayed with both knowledge and understanding of God’s word. He remembered that God did not allow Israel to invade these peoples when they came from Egypt to the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 2:8-9 and 2:19). Since God did not allow Israel to destroy those peoples then, it would be unjust if He allowed them to destroy Judah now. He implicitly prayed that God would not allow His people to suffer as a consequence of their prior obedience.
i. “I like to plunge my hand into the promises, and then I find myself able to grasp with a grip of determination the mighty faithfulness of God. An omnipotent plea with God is: ‘Do as thou hast said.’” (Spurgeon)
f. 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: Here Jehoshaphat – a king standing before his people – openly confessed that he did not have the answer. Their only answer was to trust in God, that His power and goodness would protect Judah when nothing else could.
i. “The final phrase, We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you, is one of the most touching expressions of trust in God to be found anywhere in the Bible.” (Selman)
ii. “They said, ‘Our eyes are upon thee.’ What did they mean by that? They meant, ‘Lord, if help does come, it must come from thee. We are looking to thee for it. It cannot come from anywhere else, so we look to thee. But we believe it will come, men will not look for that which they know will not come. We feel sure it will come, but we do not know how, so we are looking; we do not know when, but we are looking. We do not know what thou wouldest have us to do, but as the servant looks to her mistress, so are we looking to thee, Lord. Lord, we are looking.’” (Spurgeon)
B. God answers Jehoshaphat’s prayer.
1. (13-15) The promise is given through a prophet.
Now all Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children, stood before the LORD. Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly. And he said, “Listen, all you of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you, King Jehoshaphat! Thus says the LORD to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.’”
a. Now all Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children, stood before the LORD: The sense is that after Jehoshaphat’s great prayer, the people stood silently before the LORD, waiting upon Him for some sense of direction or encouragement.
i. “You could have heard the sound even of the wind among the trees at the time, for they were as hushed and as quiet as you were just now. Oh, when you know the Lord means to deliver you, bow your head and just give him the quiet, deep, solemn worship of your spirit.” (Spurgeon)
b. Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah…in the midst of the assembly: Out of this huge group gathered together, the Spirit of the LORD came upon one man to speak to the entire assembly. This was a spontaneous word of prophecy that came as God’s people waited before Him and sought Him.
c. Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s: The threat was real – there really was a great multitude dedicated to destroying Judah. Yet the command was to not be afraid nor dismayed, because the battle was God’s battle. He would fight on behalf of Judah against this great multitude.
2. (16-17) The command to stand and believe.
“‘Tomorrow go down against them. They will surely come up by the Ascent of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the brook before the Wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the LORD, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the LORD is with you.”
a. Tomorrow go down against them: This was an important command. One might think that because of the promise of 2 Chronicles 20:15, Judah would not even have to show up at the battle and perhaps God wanted them to stay in Jerusalem and pray. Yet, God wanted them to go out to battle against the enemy and He would use their participation in the battle.
b. They will surely come up by the Ascent of Ziz: God knew the plans of the attacking armies precisely and He relayed this information to the king and people of Judah.
c. You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the LORD: Judah did not need to fight in this battle, yet it did not mean there was nothing for them to do. It was a significant step of faith to position yourselves, to stand still, and to believe that you would see the salvation of the LORD in the face of a large attacking army.
d. Tomorrow go out against them: There were any number of ways that God could have defeated these armies assembled against Judah, but He appointed a way that demanded the participation of faith on behalf of Judah. They had to work in a faith-partnership with God.
3. (18-19) The response of worship and praise.
And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem bowed before the LORD, worshiping the LORD. Then the Levites of the children of the Kohathites and of the children of the Korahites stood up to praise the LORD God of Israel with voices loud and high.
a. Bowed before the LORD, worshiping the LORD: Both king and people knew that the prophetic word through Jahaziel was a true message from God. Receiving it as a word from God, they worshipped the LORD who promised to save His people against this terrible threat. It was a logical response.
i. “They worshipped, but why did they do it? They were not delivered. No, but they were sure they were going to be delivered. Their enemies were not dead. No, they were all alive, but they were sure they would be dead, so they had worship, and their devotion rose from trustful and grateful hearts.” (Spurgeon)
b. Then the Levites of the children of the Kohathites and of the children of the Korahites stood up to praise the LORD God of Israel with voices loud and high: First they worshipped with the posture of their bodies and hearts; then with song led by the chorus of the Levitical worship leaders.
4. (20-21) The battle is led by singing worshippers.
So they rose early in the morning and went out into the Wilderness of Tekoa; and as they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, O Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem: Believe in the LORD your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper.” And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the LORD, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying:
“Praise the LORD,
For His mercy endures forever.”
a. So they rose early in the morning and went: This showed that they really did believe the prophecy from Jahaziel. It was one thing to profess faith among an excited assembly; it was another thing to actually walk out to meet the enemy armies.
b. Believe in the LORD your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper: With this exhortation, Jehoshaphat showed that he considered believing the prophets of God to be equal to believing the LORD your God Himself. This remains true; to believe God’s word is to believe God Himself.
c. And when he had consulted with the people: Jehoshaphat was wise and good enough to know that since this crisis put the people at risk, then the people should be consulted regarding some of the details, including those who should sing to the LORD.
i. We should not think that at this moment the monarchy of Israel became a democracy. Instead, it fulfilled what it should have always been: a monarchy that was in touch with, and responsive to, the people and their needs and opinions.
d. Who should praise the beauty of holiness: God’s holiness – His “set-apart-ness” – has a wonderful and distinct beauty about it. It is beautiful that God is God and not man; that He is more than the greatest man or a super-man. His holy love, grace, justice, and majesty are beautiful.
e. As they went out before the army: The singers and worshippers led the army into this battle. It was clear that Judah expected a battle because they brought the army. Yet it was also clear that they expected a supernatural battle because they let the singers and worshippers go before the army.
i. These worshippers obviously took a dangerous step of faith. If the unthinkable happened and God did not intervene, they would be the first ones slaughtered by a merciless enemy. No wonder King Jehoshaphat consulted with the people about who these singers and worshippers should be.
f. And were saying: “Praise the LORD, for His mercy endures forever”: This was the refrain of their song. They did not rest on their own merits or even the merits of Abraham, Moses, or David. They trusted and rested on the enduring mercy of God.
5. (22-30) Victory over the enemy and the plundering of the enemy.
Now when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated. For the people of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of Mount Seir to utterly kill and destroy them. And when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they helped to destroy one another. So when Judah came to a place overlooking the wilderness, they looked toward the multitude; and there were their dead bodies, fallen on the earth. No one had escaped. When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take away their spoil, they found among them an abundance of valuables on the dead bodies, and precious jewelry, which they stripped off for themselves, more than they could carry away; and they were three days gathering the spoil because there was so much. And on the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Berachah, for there they blessed the LORD; therefore the name of that place was called The Valley of Berachah until this day. Then they returned, every man of Judah and Jerusalem, with Jehoshaphat in front of them, to go back to Jerusalem with joy, for the LORD had made them rejoice over their enemies. So they came to Jerusalem, with stringed instruments and harps and trumpets, to the house of the LORD. And the fear of God was on all the kingdoms of those countries when they heard that the LORD had fought against the enemies of Israel. Then the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet, for his God gave him rest all around.
a. Now when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushes against the people…and they were defeated: Just as God promised, the battle belonged to Him and He won the victory on behalf of Judah. We might say that it was not their praise that won the battle, rather it was their faith, yet their praise was sure evidence of their faith. When one really believes the words and promises of God, they cannot but help to praise Him.
i. “The form of the word for ambushes is slightly unusual and really means ‘ambushers’, and since it is said that God sent them, some have thought that they must be supernatural agents.” (Selman)
b. For the people of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of Mount Seir to utterly kill and destroy them: This describes how God set ambushes against the enemies of Judah. He prompted them to fight amongst themselves so that they defeated one another, and all Judah had to do was to collect the spoil.
i. “Some understand this ambushment of the holy angels, sent suddenly in upon them to slay them; whereupon they mistaking the matter, and supposing it had been their own companions, flew upon them, and so sheathed their swords in one another’s bowels.” (Trapp)
c. So when Judah came to a place overlooking the wilderness, they looked toward the multitude; and there were their dead bodies: It seems that the army of Judah, led by the singing worshippers, never actually engaged the enemy armies. Perhaps God spared them that particular test of faith and by the time they had actually met the enemy armies, they were already dead, and no one had escaped.
d. On the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Berachah, for there they blessed the LORD: They had assembled together to cry out to God for His deliverance; it was appropriate that they also assemble together to thank God and to bless His name, for the LORD had made them rejoice over their enemies.
e. And the fear of God was on all the kingdoms of those countries when they heard that the LORD had fought against the enemies of Israel: The victory itself was a warning to the neighboring nations. This gave King Jehoshaphat and his kingdom rest all around.
i. We notice that this did not become a pattern for warfare in Judah or an invitation to conquest, led by the “invincible army of praise.” This was in direct response to a specific word from God; to disobey would have been a sin, but it would have also been a sin to make it a standing pattern for all future warfare in Judah.
ii. The principle of God fighting on behalf of His people and the glory of trusting-praise before the battle remained; how God wanted His people to participate in the battle would differ from circumstance to circumstance according to the leading of the Holy Spirit in their situation.
iii. Most importantly, we can praise God that Jesus Christ has fought the battle for our salvation and to rescue us from the judgment of God that we so rightly deserved. This makes us more than conquerors in Jesus Christ because He fights the battle and defeats our foe, and we share in the spoil (Romans 8:37).
6. (31-37) The close of Jehoshaphat’s reign.
So Jehoshaphat was king over Judah. He was thirty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned twenty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Azubah the daughter of Shilhi. And he walked in the way of his father Asa, and did not turn aside from it, doing what was right in the sight of the LORD. Nevertheless the high places were not taken away, for as yet the people had not directed their hearts to the God of their fathers. Now the rest of the acts of Jehoshaphat, first and last, indeed they are written in the book of Jehu the son of Hanani, which is mentioned in the book of the kings of Israel. After this Jehoshaphat king of Judah allied himself with Ahaziah king of Israel, who acted very wickedly. And he allied himself with him to make ships to go to Tarshish, and they made the ships in Ezion Geber. But Eliezer the son of Dodavah of Mareshah prophesied against Jehoshaphat, saying, “Because you have allied yourself with Ahaziah, the LORD has destroyed your works.” Then the ships were wrecked, so that they were not able to go to Tarshish.
a. He walked in the way of his father Asa: Asa was a good king and Jehoshaphat his son followed in his footsteps and did what was right in the sight of the LORD.
b. Nevertheless the high places were not taken away: Jehoshaphat did not do everything he should have as a king. Yet the Chronicler seems to tell us that this was largely because the people had not directed their hearts to the God of their fathers. Jehoshaphat was a reformer, but the people would not be thoroughly reformed.
i. “The fault was not in Jehoshaphat, but in the people, who, though they did worship the true God, yet would not be confined to the temple, but for their own conveniency, or from their affection to their ancient customs, chose to worship him in the high places.” (Poole)
c. And he allied himself with him to make ships to go to Tarshish: 1 Kings 22:48-49 tells us that this initial partnership with Ahaziah king of Israel ended in disaster when the ships were wrecked at Ezion Geber. It also tells us that after the rebuke from Eliezer the son of Dodavah, King Jehoshaphat refused another offer of alliance with Ahaziah. He had learned his lesson and did not add error upon error.
i. “The phrase ‘trading ships’ interprets a more literal rendering of the Hebrew, i.e., ‘ships that could go to Tarshish.’ The thought is that these vessels belonged to the class of ships that went to Tarshish; their actual destination was Ophir (cf. on 2 Chronicles 8:18; 1 Kings 22:48).” (Payne)
d. The LORD has destroyed your works: This might seem cruel of God, but it was actually mercy. It prevented Jehoshaphat from another ungodly alliance, and yielding to this temptation had hurt him before.