And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord: and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah gathered themselves together, to ask help of the Lord: even out of all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.
II Chronicles 20:3, 4
There are many things that make us afraid. The coronavirus has the ability to strike fear into the hearts of many as they hear of the death of some who previously had appeared to be full of health and strength. The power of the Devil and of sin can occasion great fear at times in the lives of believers. The election of a political party whose platform contains so much that is contrary to the Word of God also can occasion fear in the minds of those who desire to see God acknowledged and honored by those who stand in positions of His authority.
The position of God’s church in this world of sin is perilous. It is likened unto a small boat on a very stormy sea. There are many situations when a believer says with David, “What time I am afraid.” The setting of our text occasioned fear in the mind of Jehoshaphat and the citizens of Judah.
Jehoshaphat became king over the southern kingdom of Judah at the age of 35. He was the fourth king of Judah in the royal line of David. Ahab was king over the northern kingdom of Israel and he was introducing the worship of Baal. The previous kings of Israel followed Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin by worshiping God by means of the two golden calves. Ahab introduced idolatry.
Scripture records that Jehoshaphat deliberately “sought not unto Baalim; but sought the Lord God of his father, and walked in his commandments, and not after the doings of Israel” (II Chron. 17:3, 4). Jehoshaphat wanted the citizens of his kingdom to do the same, for he sent princes and Levites “to teach in the cities of Judah” from “the book of the law of the Lord” (17:7-9). Later he sent judges throughout the kingdom of Judah, admonishing them to do the right in the fear of Jehovah and not take bribes (19:4-7, 9-11). This was in marked contrast to his grandfather and great grandfather (Abijah and Rehoboam) and, especially, in contrast to Ahab in Israel.
“And it came to pass.” Jehoshaphat and all of Judah were caught by surprise when it was suddenly reported that the armies of three nations had allied themselves together and were poised to attack in Engedi, just 29 miles southeast of Jerusalem. Engedi is located along the western shore of the Dead Sea. Militarily, the situation was hopeless for Judah and Jehoshaphat. The king had no time to prepare the city for proper defense. Nor would he be able to gather an equal force in such a short time. This alliance of three nations had a force that could not lose from a human perspective. They were prepared, had the numbers, and had the initiative and surprise factor.
It is interesting to note that the three nations that made up this alliance were all “cousins” of Judah. The children of Moab and Ammon are each descended from Lot. And those from Mount Seir are the descendants of Esau. Jehoshaphat saw it important to note in his prayer to God for help that God had prohibited Israel from invading the land of these three nations when they were approaching Canaan (v. 10).
While we know that Satan was at work seeking to destroy God-fearing Judah and Jehoshaphat, God was also at work. Behind every circumstance is our God, who, in His wisdom and love, occasioned these circumstances as His way of testing and strengthening the faith of His children. Our heavenly Father wants His children never to be at ease, to be spiritually lazy. This crisis occurred, in part, because God was showing Jehoshaphat that what he sowed he would also reap. Jehoshaphat had recently returned from helping ungodly Ahab (II Chron. 18 and 19). We do know that God used this crisis to call Judah and Jehoshaphat to a higher spiritual alertness. God would have His children seek Him with all their hearts and not lean on their own understanding. He would have His children urgent in their cries for help from Him whom they knew to be their Rock, Strength, and Help.
“Jehoshaphat feared.” That he would fear in these circumstances is understandable. His situation is humanly impossible. He was greatly concerned for himself and his nation, but also for the “little ones, their wives, and their children” (v. 13).
Fear is often a God-given occasion to “seek Jehovah” and to trust in Him. “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee” (Ps. 56:3).
Notice that fear did not paralyze Jehoshaphat. It spurred him to activity: he “set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah” (v. 3). The idea of setting himself is interesting. It means to devote or consecrate himself with a deep and firm resolve, allowing nothing to distract. It is a strong determination to control his thinking, to fix it on one thing.
Jehoshaphat’s resolve was to “seek” Jehovah. This refers to the activity of inquiring with care and diligence, and to do so frequently. Remember that this is what he did when he began his reign as king of Judah. He “sought to the Lord God of his father, and walked in His commandments, and not after the doings of Israel” (17:4). The king was determined to look only to Jehovah. He did not seek first his generals for a counsel of war. He did not focus on gathering his military forces from every part of his kingdom. He did not immediately do everything to reinforce the defenses of the city of Jerusalem. Instead, he spent his mental energies in the activity of looking up—of considering the Self-sufficient and Self-existent One who had graciously established a relationship with him and in that relationship had declared and promised that He would be Jehoshaphat’s and Judah’s God. The ever-faithful God had declared that He would use all that He is for the sake of those with whom He had been pleased to establish a covenant relationship. Jehoshaphat was determined to consider Him who had promised the Messiah who is Jesus the Savior. The king sought Him whose mercy endureth forever, Him who is the God of grace. Though God smite us, we must turn to Him. It is from the hand that holds the rod that we look for help.
Jehoshaphat also gathered the people out of all Judah in order to seek Jehovah together. He led like a good undershepherd, leading the people of his kingdom in focusing their attention where it had to be: on Jehovah! “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:6-9).
Our heavenly Father uses trials to call His children to seek Him and not to seek or trust in ourselves, our skill, or human help. He calls us to fall on our knees and on our faces before Him, seeking Him only and His grace. Being exercised by divine chastening (Heb. 12:11), we are to look to Jehovah, whom we will find in His Word. Then we are to address God as we know Him from His Word, by setting before Him His own words of promise.
Note well that Jehoshaphat knew the prayer of his great, great grandfather Solomon when he dedicated the temple; Jehoshaphat quoted Solomon’s prayer: “If, when evil cometh upon us, as the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or family, we stand before this house, and in thy presence, (for thy name is in this house,) and cry unto thee in our affliction, then thou wilt hear and help (v. 9). And thus he prayed further, quoting Solomon, “And if thy people Israel be put to the worse before the enemy, because they have sinned against thee; and shall return and confess thy name, and pray and make supplication before thee in this house; then hear thou from the heavens, and forgive the sin of thy people Israel. If thy people go out to war against their enemies by the way that thou shalt send them, and they pray unto thee toward this city which thou has chosen, and the house which I have built for thy name; then hear thou from the heavens their prayer and their supplications, and maintain their cause” (II Chron. 6:24, 25, 34, 35).
Remember that Moses did something very similar. When God told Moses He would destroy the nation and make of Moses a new nation, then Moses interceded by using God’s own words of promise (cf. Ex. 32:11-14 and Deut. 9:25-27).
Also today we are to use the occasion of fears as a God-given opportunity to set ourselves to seek Jehovah. This is to replace all complaining with each other, or thinking up our own solutions. Let us seek our heavenly Father, setting His own promises before Him as we call upon Him for help.
The people of Judah gave a united response. “All Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children” (v. 13).
Every trial God gives to His church is to be seized as an opportunity for us to teach our children and young people. They hear all the talk and can easily become disillusioned about the church. They hear the complaining and the critical words spoken of and against fellow saints. They are made to see the sins of infirmity and the spots that adhere to the works of the saints, and they, in their youth, can quickly despair. But when they see their pastors, their elders, their parents and grandparents determined to seek Jehovah, then they are given the better perspective. They are to be shown the wonderful gospel and the right biblical responses in these God-given trials. They are to see that “our eyes are upon thee” (v. 12).
As a body of believers, young with the old, females with the males, Judah gathers under the leadership of a pleading, humble king. Parents are presenting to God the children He gave to them, praying that the little ones will be graciously saved and preserved. The young children and the young people also make their appeals to God. The children were pleading with their heavenly Father. They all stood in the court of the temple in humble and submissive expectancy.
Jehoshaphat led them in prayer. He appeals to God on the basis of His sovereignty: He identified Jehovah God as “God in heaven,” who “rulest…over all the kingdoms of the heathen.” He stated rhetorically, “in thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee?” (v. 6). And Jehoshaphat appeals to God on the basis of His graciously established relationship with His chosen people: “O Lord God of our fathers, art not thou our God?” and did God not “drive out the inhabitants of this land before thy people Israel, and gavest it to the seed of Abraham thy friend for ever?”
May we trust this God every time we are afraid. May we go forward in our lives trusting Him to be with us each and every step of the way.