There’s a great debate that has been going on for quite a while in this country. People like to argue about it on TV. Some of you have probably gotten into this argument at your workplace. The question is this – Who’s the greatest basketball player of all time – Is it Michael Jordan or is it LeBron James? Now, I’m not going to let you use our chat room to get into that argument, but wherever you fall in that debate, one thing is clear: Michael Jordan was such a great basketball player that every basketball player who has come after him is compared with him.
Now I mention that because when you come to the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles, you have over 20 different kings listed. And whenever you have a discussion about who the greatest king of all time in Judah was, you have to compare everyone else with King David. David was such a great king that he was the gold standard for all the kings who followed him. Every king after him is compared with King David.
This morning, we want to look at one of those kings. But first, let’s get an overview of 1 and 2 Chronicles, and then we’ll take a look at King Jehoshaphat.
VIDEO (Bible Project)
If you have your Bibles open, turn with me to the first ten chapters of 1 Chronicles. Now if you’ve ever tried reading through the Bible, this is one of those sections that you’re tempted to just skip right over because it’s ten chapters of genealogy. As the video said just a few moments ago, it’s boring. It starts with Adam in the first verse of the first chapter, and then it goes through hundreds of people before it finishes at the end of the 10th chapter with “David the son of Jesse.” (I Chronicles 10:14)
And so, you have all these genealogies that end when David arrives on the scene. You could say that, in the eyes of the chronicler, everything that happened in history led up to and prepared the world for King David.
And what does God do with David? In 1 Chronicles 17, God establishes a covenant with him, but it’s a covenant which reaches well beyond David. The story of God’s covenant with David begins with David’s desire to build God a house. King David is resting in his palace, he turns to Nathan the prophet and he says “I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant of the Lord is under a tent.” (I Chronicles 17:1). And Nathan responds, and says, basically, “What you want to do is a good thing, so yes, you should build God a house.”
But then God comes to Nathan later that night and he says, basically. “Why do I need a house? I’ve never needed a house before, and I don’t really need one now.” But he will eventually tell David that it will be OK for his son, Solomon, to build God a house — a temple, a special place of his presence here on this earth, a place where people can come to experience his glory and worship God.
But before he says that, God says to David, “You want to build me a house, but I’m going to build you a house.” And when he says house, he doesn’t have in mind bricks and mortar, marble and pillars. He’s talking a dynasty, an everlasting dynasty. And that’s why the covenant with David is so important. Through David, a kingdom will be established that eventually will be given to Jesus who will reign as king forever.
So, turn now to 2 Chronicles chapter 17 and I want to begin reading in verse 1,“Jehoshaphat [Asa’s] son reigned in his place and…the Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he walked in the earlier ways of his father David. He did not seek the Baals, but sought the God of his father and walked in his commandments, and not according to the practices of Israel. Therefore, the Lord established the kingdom in his hand and…he had great riches and honor. His heart was courageous in the ways of the Lord.”
This introduction to King Jehoshaphat places him not only in the lineage of David, but also in the footsteps of David, because David was a man after God’s own heart. Of all the kings of Judah, only three of them are good enough to be compared with David — Hezekiah, Josiah, and Jehoshaphat. Because, remember, David is the gold standard for all the kings that followed. And so, for Jehoshaphat to be described as a king who walked in the ways of his father David means that he is definitely one of the best kings of all time.
And to find out exactly what kind of king Jehoshaphat was, I want us to spend our time this morning in 2 Chronicles chapter 20. This chapter begins with a great crisis, and I believe it is true that a person’s character rises to the surface in times of crisis.
You know, whenever I go to church on Sunday mornings or whenever I go out with friends or family, I can usually hold myself together pretty well. And that can lead me to believe that I’ve got my character under control. But nothing reveals character like a crisis.
I find that when I’m under pressure, I learn more about myself – my cracks, my weaknesses, my true motivations. We’re all tempted to try to convince ourselves that our reactions under pressure are the exception to the rule (“I was under stress….it happened so quickly”). But I think those moments of crisis reveal more about us than we care to admit. Crisis reveals character.
Now I think it’s important for us to be reminded of that in a time when we are in the midst of a crisis, a global health crisis. And all of us been affected in some way by this crisis – our jobs have been affected, our shopping habits have been affected, how we spend our free time has been affected.
And it is impossible for us to anticipate or predict exactly what will happen next. The only thing we can count on is that things won’t be returning to normal any time soon. And if by normal, we mean the way things used to be done, things will never return to normal.
So how do we handle this crisis we are facing? Because a person’s character will rise to the surface in times of crisis. How we react during a crisis says a lot about who we really are.
That’s why I want us to look at Jehoshaphat this morning. He was a leader in a time of great crisis. The crisis was this – his country was facing a surprise attack from his enemies. Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A great multitude is coming against you.” (2 Chronicles 20:2).
And it was a great multitude indeed. Three nations suddenly moved against Judah — Moab, Ammon and the Menuites. Without warning, they crossed the Dead Sea. And before anybody realized it, they were only 40 miles away. Another day or two, and the enemy would be at the very gates of Jerusalem. This was going to a true test of one man’s faith in a time of crisis.
And Jehoshaphat’s faith is expressed in verse 9, where he said to God, “If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you — for your name is in this house — and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.” (2 Chronicles 20:9).
I want you to notice that Jehoshaphat’s faith in God was there regardless of what kind of crisis he faced. He said, “It doesn’t matter whether our crisis is armies coming to attack us, or famine because of a lack of rain, or pestilence when thousands of people are dying of a deadly disease, no matter what the crisis is, my faith is in you.”
So, what is Jehoshaphat going to do? The first few moments, the first hours, the first days, the way you respond when your back is up against the wall — that’s when you discover what you’re really made of.
And it wouldn’t surprise us to read that Jehoshaphat responded to the news of the approaching armies by shouting, “Call all my top generals! Get the army mobilized immediately! We don’t have a second to waste!” And, as soon as the troops were mustered, if there was time, he could have stopped for a quick word of prayer.
Common sense says, “Don’t waste time. There’s a time to pray and there’s a time to fight. This is the time to fight.” But, for Jehoshaphat, this was the time to pray. Prayer came before anything else. And his prayer, recorded in verses 6-12, stands as one of the greatest prayers in all the Bible.
And, given the current crisis that we are facing, the crisis of pestilence, the pandemic we are facing, we would do well to learn from this great king and how he faced the crisis that was thrust upon him.
The first thing we learn from Jehoshaphat is to….
1. Trust God with your fears.
Verse 3 tells us that Jehoshaphat was “afraid and set his face to seek the Lord” (2 Chronicles 20:3). Keep in mind that Jehoshaphat was the king of Judah. In the ancient Near East, kings were a proud bunch. They had an image to maintain. Leaders have to be tough and inspire confidence in their leadership. What kind of leader admits in front of his people, “I’m afraid, folks, because we’re helpless against our enemy!” That’s just not good politics!
But that’s exactly what Jehoshaphat did. He admitted his fear, and then he prayed in front of everyone about how weak he was. Surely, it would have been better politically speaking to pray in private, and then to get up in front of the people and say, “We’ve got a little problem, folks! But our side is strong. Our troops are going to wipe them out! Pray for us while we go out and defend our nation against these intruders.”
But Jehoshaphat wasn’t worried about politics or his public image. He knew that he was in deep trouble if God didn’t answer, and so he openly admitted his weakness and called upon the Lord.
The initial step of anyone trusting in God’s help — in his day or in ours — must be admitting weakness. One of the best things you can do right now is to go before the Lord and honestly tell him how you’re feeling – “I’m scared. I’m frustrated. I’m angry. I’m lonely. I’m exhausted.”
And the point of airing our pain isn’t to shake a finger at God; it’s to be honest as we trust him with our deepest concerns.
Whether our trials are of the crisis sort or whether they are the more steady, relentless pressures that just tend to wear away our resistance, we’ve all got them. And, while most of us know that we should pray more and trust God more, for some reason, we often don’t do it. I often have to ask myself the question, “Why don’t I pray as often as I ought to?”
And sometimes the answer is this — I don’t pray as I ought because I’m self-reliant, which is what the Bible calls pride. My pride makes me think, mistakenly, that I can handle things by myself, with just a little help every now and then from God. So, I rely mostly on myself and a little bit on God.
I find that I don’t really believe Christ’s words, “Without Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). And so, there are times when God graciously brings me trials to show me that my greatest need is for him, so that I will look to my great God in prayer and trust him to work on my behalf.
Trust God with your fears.
2. Encourage others to trust God.
After Jehoshaphat seeks God, he proclaims a national fast: “And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord” (2 Chronicles 20:4). This king knows where his true help comes from, and he leads others to go to God for their hope as well.
When everyone around us is freaking out, and our neighbors are living in fear and anxiety, we need to remind each other that we serve a loving, merciful, and sovereign God.
As we take our anxieties to the Lord in prayer, we can experience a peace that Paul said in Philippians 4 passes all understanding (Phil. 4:6–7). And as we experience that kind of peace, the world will see something in us that they don’t find in themselves. The hope that we have in Jesus Christ is put on display because, after all, our faith is personal but it is not private.
Encourage others to trust in God.
3. Call out to God.
In Jehoshaphat’s prayer, he appeals to God’s character, his promises, and his actions in the past. And then his prayer concludes with these words: “We are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20:12)
It may be that this describes the way you feel in light of COVID-19. Perhaps you feel powerless against a virus to which you can be exposed even when there are no visible symptoms. Maybe your anxiety rises as specialists still aren’t sure all the ways this virus can be transmitted. You might feel discouraged as you watch the infection and death tolls rise. If so, join with Jehoshaphat. “We do not know what to do but our eyes are on you.”
In fact, I think virtually every prayer that we pray ought to end with these words, “We do not know what to do but our eyes are on you.” This is the posture of a Christian who lives by faith. Appeal to God’s character, confess your inability, and set your eyes on the Lord.
4. Remember that God is the one who saves
In 2 Chronicles 20, God responds to Jehoshaphat’s prayer by sending a prophet to tell Judah not to worry. “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.” (2 Chronicles 20:15). In fact, in verse 17, God tells them, “You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you.” (2 Chronicles 20:17)
This story is a small example of a bigger battle that we all face. I’m not talking about a battle against enemy nations. I’m not talking about a battle against COVID-19. I’m talking about our battle against Satan, our battle against sin. God tells us time and again in the scriptures that that battle is not going to be won by our own efforts, but by the power of God through the blood of Jesus Christ.
And, ultimately, that’s the battle that really matters. The coronavirus may plateau over the couple of weeks. Or it may get worse. My family may be spared from this epidemic, or we may become a statistic. Regardless of what may happen, we look to God for salvation. Not because he’ll necessarily prove his love to me by protecting me from illness, but because he’s already demonstrated his love by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
It is my prayer for this virus to be eradicated, but God is good regardless of what these next weeks bring. I engage in social distancing and I wash my hands frequently, but my hope isn’t ultimately in these efforts. I desire long life for myself and my family, but I also know the goal of life isn’t to escape physical death. Our goal is to be prepared when physical death inevitably comes, glorifying God until that happens.
Remember that God is the one who saves.
5. Worship God
Jehoshaphat trusts God, and he leads others in trusting God. But notice that what happens next is worship. Not after their victory, but even before they won the victory. In verse 18, “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.” (2 Chronicles 20:18)
This is an important part of trusting God. Because if God is good, and if we know he can be trusted, we can worship him even in the midst of suffering. We can praise him even under the threat of danger. Worship isn’t a strategy for getting God to act; it’s a response because we know he has acted, and he will continue to act. That’s what it looks like to seek the Lord.
And what happens next is absolutely incredible. Out of Jerusalem comes the army of Judah, thousands of men armed for battle. But at the front of the line is not the scouts, not the archers, not the warriors, not the infantry, not the mighty men. The choir is leading the way!
Verse 21, “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.’” (2 Chronicles 20:21)
Military strategists tell us that nothing is more important in battle than achieving the element of surprise. If your enemy doesn’t know you are coming, if you can hit him when he least expects it, then you have a good chance at getting the upper hand.
But the army of Judah gave up the element of surprise. Here they come down the road, led by a chorus of singers, singing at the top of their voices. It’s not a military march, but a cry of praise to Almighty God: ‘Praise the Lord, for His mercy endures forever.”
Folks, that doesn’t seem to be a good strategy. They were giving up all hope of surprise. Even the deaf could hear this army coming. But meanwhile, something strange was happening in the enemy camp. Precisely what happened is unclear. The Bible simply says, “The Lord set an ambush against them.” (2 Chronicles 20:22). Perhaps he sent his angels to join the battle somehow. Perhaps he caused them to be confused and start killing each other.
But once the killing started, there was no way to stop it. First the Moabites and the Ammonites turned on the Menuites and killed them. Then the Moabites and the Ammonites began attacking each other.
Meanwhile, the army of Judah kept marching. When they got to the high place overlooking the battlefield, all they saw were dead bodies, a field full of corpses. Dead men as far as the eye could see. Thousands and thousands of dead men. Moabites, Ammonites, Menuites — all dead — and not one of them was killed by the men of Judah.
The men of Judah never shot an arrow, never threw a spear. They didn’t fight at all. They marched out singing and by the time they got to the battlefield, it was over.
Now that’s not to say that God will miraculously solve all your problems if you’ll only worship him. But I am saying that your biggest problem—the problem of fear and anxiety—will be destroyed if you put your faith in God.
Great things happen when we recognize our weakness, our inability to deal with the crisis at hand, but we turn everything over to God. “We are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20:12)
Folks, we live our lives under the illusion that we are in control. No matter what happens, we think we can handle it. But Christian growth is the process of continually breaking down our false security. And God may do that by slowly stripping away from you all those things that you put your trust in: your health, your job, your money, your friends, your plans for the future. God does it, not to destroy you, but to take everything else away so that you have nowhere else to go but to the Lord.
That’s what he did for Jehoshaphat. And it’s what he does for all of us. That’s what he’s doing for some of you right now. The things that you valued the most are slowly being taken from you. But God who seems to be cruel because he allows it to happen actually loves you so much that he will not let you go until your trust is in him alone.
And so, we all need to reach the point where we can pray as Jehoshaphat did, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” That’s where God wants us to be. And God will do whatever it takes, including bringing pain and disappointment into your life, in order to get you to that point. Our great need in time of crisis should drive us to prayer and faith in our great God.
As we sing this next song, may these words not just be on our lips but in our hearts, “Thou, O Lord, art a shield about me. You’re my glory. You’re the lifter of my head.”