Jehoshaphat

(He whom Jehovah judges)

(1 Kings 15:24; 22:41-50; 2 Kings 8:16; 2 Chron. 17:1—21:3)

Contemporary Prophets: Jehu Son Of Hanani; Jahazeel The Levite; Eliezer Soa Of Dodavah.

“Mercy and truth preserve the king: and his throne is upholden by mercy.”—Proverbs 20:28

The first thing recorded of Jehoshaphat is that he “strengthened himself against Israel. And he placed forces in all the fenced cities of Judah, and set garrisons in the land of Judah, and in the cities of Ephraim, which Asa his father had taken” (2 Chron. 17:1, 2). He began his reign with a determined opposition to the idolatrous northern kingdom. This was in the fourth year of Ahab. A few years later all this opposition ceases, and, we read, “Jehoshaphat made peace with the king of Israel” (1 Kings 22:44). This peace was brought about, evidently, by the marriage of Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram to Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and of the notorious Jezebel. Alas for Jehoshaphat, and his posterity, that he ever gave his consent to this unholy alliance, and made peace with him “who did evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him” (1 Kings 16:30)! But such is man, even at his best: “wherein is he to be accounted of?”

But like Asa his father, he made a bright beginning: “And the Lord was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the first ways of his father David” (i.e., before his sin in the matter of Uriah the Hittite), “and sought not unto Baalim; but sought to the Lord God of his father, and walked in his commandments, and not after the doings of Israel. Therefore the Lord established the kingdom in his hand; and all Judah brought to Jehoshaphat presents; and he had riches and honor in abundance. And his heart was lifted up (encouraged) in the ways of the Lord: moreover he took away the high places and groves out of Judah” (2 Chron. 17:3-6). This last statement does not contradict what is said in 1 Kings 22:43. The high places and groves used for the worship of Baalim were removed; “nevertheless the high places (dedicated to Jehovah) were not taken away; for the people offered and burned incense (to the true God) yet in the high places.” Compare 2 Chron. 20:33. He abolished idolatry, but the people could not be brought to see the unlawfulness and danger of offering sacrifices elsewhere than at Jerusalem. Deuteronomy 12 condemned the practice; and it was probably to instruct the people as to this and kindred matters that he inaugurated the model itineracy described in 2 Chron. 17:7-9. “Also in the third year of his reign he sent to his princes, even to Ben-hail, and to Obadiah, and to Zechariah, and to Nethanael, and to Michaiah, to teach in the cities of Judah. And with them he sent Levites; …and with them Elishama and Jehoram, priests. And they taught in Judah, and had the book of the law of the Lord with them, and went about throughout all the cities of Judah, and taught the people.” By this little band of princes, Levites and priests, sixteen in all, Jehoshaphat did more toward impressing the surrounding nations with a sense of his power than the largest and best-equipped standing army could have secured to him. “And the terror of Jehovah was upon all the kingdoms of the lands that were round about Judah, and they made no war against Jehoshaphat. And some of the Philistines brought Jehoshaphat gifts and tribute-silver. The Arabians also brought him flocks, seven thousand seven hundred rams, and seven thousand seven hundred he-goats.” This was the promise of God, through Moses, fulfilled to them. If they diligently obeyed and clave to Jehovah, He would, He said, “lay the fear of you and the dread of you upon all the land,” etc. (Deut. 11:22-25). When the patriarch Jacob ordered his family to put away the strange gods that were among them, “the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them” (Gen. 35:5). And it was when the infant church at Jerusalem “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers,” that “fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:42, 43). In obedience is power, and only right makes might in the nation or church that has God for its help.

“And Jehoshaphat waxed great exceedingly; and he built in Judah castles, and cities of store. And he had much business in the cities of Judah.” It was an era of great commercial prosperity, and the kingdom was in the zenith of its power and glory. He had an organized army of over a million men “ready prepared for the war” (2 Chron. 17:12-19).

Then comes the cloud over this noonday splendor of the king and kingdom. “And Jehoshaphat had riches and honor in abundance; and he allied himself with Ahab by marriage. And after [certain] years he went down”—yes, it was “down” morally, as well as topographically, “to Ahab, to Samaria. And Ahab killed sheep and oxen for him in abundance, and for the people that were with him, and urged him to go up against Ramoth-gilead. And Ahab king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat king of Judah, Wilt thou go with me to Ramoth-Gilead? And he said to him, I am as thou, and my people as thy people; and I will be with thee in the war” (2 Chron.18:2, 3 N. Tr.) It was a sad come-down for the godly king of Judah. Think of him saying to a wicked idolater like Ahab, “I am as thou.” And he not only puts himself down to Ahab’s base level, he must needs compromise his people also, and say they were as Ahab’s, all of whom, excepting seven thousand men, were bowing the knee to Baal. Such conduct and language from a man like Jehoshaphat seems almost incredible. But “who can understand his errors?”—his own; much more difficult to see, often, than those of others.

Ahab evidently had fears for Jehoshaphat’s scruples of conscience, and was prepared to meet them; so the feast prepared for him and his retinue was given a religious character (the word for “killed” is “sacri- ficed”). An apostate people or church will go to almost any length of seeming compromise to entice and draw the faithful into fellowship or alliance with them. What must have men like Elijah thought of all this? It is little wonder that when fleeing from the murderous wrath of Jezebel he feared to trust himself anywhere within the realm of Judah. See 1 Ki. 19:3, 4. (“Beersheba” was on Judah’s southern border.) Many would, no doubt, loudly praise the king of Judah for what they would term his large-heartedness and freedom from bigotry. The four hundred false prophets (Israel’s clergy), could also quote from the Psalms, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” and say how the world was growing better, and the millennium soon to come. Yes, and the cry to-day is for “union” ( unity they know little of, and care less for), amalgamation, good fellowship; away with dogma (Scripture they mean, really), let doctrine die the death, and let twentieth century enlightenment make us ashamed of the conduct of our forefathers who fought, suffered, and died for the truth. “What is truth?” was Pilate’s idle question—the answer to which he had neither heart nor conscience to care for—while before him was witnessed that good confession, declaring what men of to-day would condemn as bigotry of the most pronounced kind: “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice(John 18:37). But it is come to pass to-day that “truth is perished in the streets.”

But to return to Jehoshaphat. He is not altogether at ease in his mind about this contemplated attack on Ramoth-gilead (“A fortress commanding Argob and the Jair towns, seized by Ben-hadad I from Omri.” Josephus, Ant. IX. 6, §I). His consent to accompany Ahab was, no doubt, hastily given, and probably during the warmth and excitement of the good fellowship at the banquet tendered in his honor. It is impossible not to violate a godly conscience, once we accept the fellowship of the wicked.

Now, when too late, he would inquire of Jehovah. A prophet, Micaiah, fearlessly foretells the failure of the enterprise. But he was only one against four hundred; “so the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah went up to Ramoth-gilead.” But for God’s mercy Jehoshaphat would have lost his life. Jehovah heard his cry for help, and delivered him; “and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah returned to his house in peace to Jerusalem,” a humbler, a wiser, and, we trust, a grateful man.

But God has a message of rebuke for him. “And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer, went out to meet him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord. Nevertheless there are good things found in thee, in that thou hast taken away the groves out of the land, and hast prepared thy heart to seek God” (2 Chron. 19:2, 3). This man’s father had gone to prison for his faithfulness to Asa on a similar occasion, “not fearing the wrath of the king,” like him whose laws he would see kept by king and people. The son of Asa, unlike his father, did not persecute his reprover; but much humiliated by his late experience, it would seem, from what immediately follows we gather that he profited by the rebuke. “And Jehoshaphat dwelt at Jerusalem: and he went out again through the people from Beer-sheba to mount Ephraim, and brought them back unto the Lord God of their fathers.” He “went out again.” This implies that he had lapsed spiritually, and was now restored, repentant, and doing the “first works.” The work of reformation is resumed on his recovery. Like his great progenitor David, he will, when the joy of God’s salvation is restored to him, “teach transgressors His way, and sinners shall be converted unto Him.”

Jehoshaphat also set judges in all the fortified cities of the land. He charged them solemnly, saying, “Take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for man, but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgment. Wherefore now let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts.” He established in Jerusalem what was probably a court of appeals (“when they returned to Jerusalem,” implies this, 2 Chron. 19:8), composed of Levites, priests, and chiefs of the fathers of Israel. To these he also gave a wholesome charge: “Thus shall ye do in the fear of the Lord, faithfully, and with a perfect heart. And what cause soever shall come to you of your brethren that dwell in their cities, between blood and blood, between law and commandment, statutes and judgments, ye shall even warn them (i.e., enlighten, teach, see Ex. 18:20), that they trespass not against the Lord, and so wrath come upon you, and upon your brethren: this do, and ye shall not trespass. And, behold, Amariah the chief priest is over you in all matters of the Lord; and Zebadiah the son of Ishmael, the ruler (prince) of the house of Judah, for all the king’s matters: also the Levites shall be officers before you. Deal courageously, and the Lord shall be with the good.” “Matters of Jehovah” related to His word or precepts, doubtless; “the king’s matters” to the civil things; and “controversies” which came under the jurisdiction of the crown. “The Levites were to be shorterim, ‘officers,’ lit. scribes, keeping written accounts; assistants to the judges, etc.” (Fausset). All this would make for righteousness, and truly, “righteousness exalteth a nation,” or any other body of people.

Satan could not stand idly by and witness this without making some attempt to disturb or destroy. “It came to pass after this also, that the children of Moab, and the children of Ammon, and with them other beside the Ammonites, came against Jeho-shaphat to battle” (2 Chron. 20:1). It was he, no doubt, who moved these neighboring nations to invade the land of Judah—whatever their motive may have been, whether jealousy, envy, greed, fear, or any other of the inciting causes of war among the nations of the earth. Scouts detected the movement and reported it to Jehoshaphat. “Then there came some that told Jehoshaphat, saying, There cometh a great multitude against thee from beyond the sea, on this side Syria; and, behold, they be in Hazezon-tamar, which is En-gedi.” They might well exclaim, “Behold,” for En-gedi was only twenty-five miles south of Jerusalem. The allies were almost upon them; “and Jehoshaphat feared.” But though so nearly taken by surprise, the startling news did not create panic among the people. They were in communion with Jehovah. The king “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.”

A great prayer-meeting was held in the temple enclosure. The king himself prayed; and a most wonderful prayer it was. “And Jehoshaphat stood in the congregation of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said, Jehovah, God of our fathers, art not Thou God in the heavens, and rulest Thou not over all the kingdoms of the nations? And in Thy hand there is power and might, and none can withstand Thee. Hast Thou not, our God, dispossessed the inhabitants of this land before Thy people Israel, and given it forever to the seed of Abraham, Thy friend? And they have dwelt therein, and have built Thee a sanctuary therein for Thy name, saying, If evil come upon us, sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, and we stand before this house and before Thee—for Thy name is in this house—and cry unto Thee in our distress, then Thou wilt hear and save. And now, behold, the children of Ammon and Moab, and those of mount Seir, against whom Thou wouldst not let Israel go when they came out of the land of Egypt, (for they turned from them, and destroyed them not), behold, they re- ward us, in coming to cast us out of Thy possession, which Thou hast given us to possess. Our God, wilt Thou not judge them? for we have no might in the presence of this great company which cometh against us, neither know we what to do; but our eyes are upon Thee!”

If they did not know what to do, they were then certainly doing the right thing when they cast themselves on God, and their expectation was from Him. “And all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.” Nor did He disappoint them. “Then upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mataniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, came the Spirit of the Lord in the midst of the congregation: and he said, Hearken ye, all Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, and thou, king Jehoshaphat, Thus saith the Lord unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow go ye down against them; behold, they come up by the cliff of Ziz; and ye shall find them at the end of the valley, before the wilderness of Jeruel. Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord with you, O Judah and Jerusalem: fear not, nor be dismayed; to-morrow go out against them: for the Lord will be with you.”

How these words must have cheered the distressed king and his trembling people. “And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground: and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell before the Lord, worshiping the Lord.” What a sight, to see the king and all his subjects bowed in worship before God for His promised mercy! And the prayer-meeting becomes a praise-meeting. “And the Levites, of the children of the Kohathites, and the children of the Korhites, stood up to praise the Lord God of Israel with a loud voice on high.”

They rose early on the morrow, and as they went forth to meet the foe, Jehoshaphat said to them, “Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established; believe His prophets, so shall ye prosper.” He was not a haughty sovereign; for he “consulted” with his subjects. Then singers were appointed, and those that should praise “in holy splendor,” as they marched along at the head of the army, saying, “Give thanks to Jehovah; for His lovingkindness endureth forever.” It is no longer prayer for deliverance, but thanksgiving for assured victory over the enemy. “And when they began the song of triumph and praise, Jehovah set liers-in-wait against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, who had come against Judah, and they were smitten. And the children of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of mount Seir, to exterminate and destroy them; and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of mount Seir, they helped to destroy one another” (2 Chron. 20:22, 23, N. Tr.). Never was a foreign invasion so easily repelled. An ambush set in some mysterious way by the Lord caused a panic amongst the allies, and they turned upon one another to their mutual destruction. The deliverance came in a way altogether unexpected by Jehoshaphat, no doubt; but faith never asks how can, or how will, God fulfil His promise. It is enough to know that He has promised; the method must be left to Him.

“And Judah came to the mountain-watch in the wilderness, and they looked toward the multitude, and behold, they were dead bodies fallen to the earth, and none had escaped. And Jehoshaphat and his people came to plunder the spoil of them, and they found among them in abundance, both riches with the dead bodies, and precious things, and they stripped off for themselves more than they could carry away; and they were three days in plundering the spoil, it was so much.” And then, on the battlefield, they hold a thanksgiving meeting. “And on the fourth day they assembled themselves in the valley of Berachah, for there they blessed Jehovah; therefore the name of that place was called the valley of Berachah (blessing) unto this day.” “It is a broad, rich vale, watered with copious springs, affording space for a large multitude” (Fausset).

The 48th psalm is supposed to have been sung in the temple on their return to Jerusalem. “And they returned, all the men of Judah and Jerusalem, and Jehoshaphat at their head, to go again to Jerusalem with joy; for Jehovah had made them to rejoice over their enemies. And they came to Jerusalem with lutes and harps and trumpets, to the house of Jehovah.”

This miraculous deliverance of Judah had a salutary effect on the nations about them. “And the terror of God was on all the kingdoms of the lands, when they had heard that Jehovah had fought against the enemies of Israel. And the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet; and his God gave him rest round about” (2 Chron. 20:29, 30, N. Tr.).

Jehoshaphat’s alliance with the king of Israel and the king of Edom for the invasion of Moab was probably after this. It would be unaccountable that a man of such piety and faith as he should be repeatedly betrayed into unholy confederacies did we not know what “the flesh” is—that it is no better in the saint than in the sinner, and is ever ready to betray the saint into wrongdoing unless he watches against it in the spirit of humility and self-distrust.4 He almost repeats his former alliance with Ahab. It will come before us again, as we come to speak of king Jehoram, so we do not stop to dwell upon it here. These compromising entanglements appear to have been a special weakness with Jehoshaphat. He allied himself to Ahaziah, Ahab’s son (“who did very wickedly”), to build ships to go to Tarshish. They were made at Ezion-Geber where Solomon had his navy built (i Ki. g:26). “And Eliezer the son of Dodavah, of Mare-shah, prophesied against Jehoshaphat, saying, Because thou hast joined thyself to Ahaziah, Jehovah hath broken thy works. And the ships were broken, and could not go to Tarshish” (2 Chron. 20:37, N. Tr.). Psalm 48:7 seems to allude to this. Thus he linked himself during his reign with three kings of the wicked house of Ahab, to his humiliation and sorrow; first with Ahab himself, and then with his sons Ahaziah and Joram, or Jehoram. No good came of any of these associations. The ships built in partnership were hardly launched before they were broken at Ezion-Geber—” the devil’s backbone5 (1 Ki. 22:48). There is always something of the wiles or power of Satan in these unequal yokes. Child of God, beware of them!

Jehoshaphat reigned twenty-five years, and died at the age of sixty. His mother, Azubah, was the single Scripture namesake of Caleb’s first wife (1 Chron. 2:18).

4 In both the Old and New Testaments, God’s people are warned against these alliances of believers with unbelievers, of which Jehoshaphat’s history is a sad and solemn example. God had particularly forbidden and warned Israel against idolatry and intermarriages with the nations around, knowing full well how easily their weak heart would follow in the evil ways of the nations. Se Deut. 7:3-11; Exo. 20:4, 5, etc.

In like manner, but in a more spiritual way, are we Christians exhorted and warned against all “unequal yokes” with unbelievers. See 2 Cor. 6:11-18; 2 Tim. 2:20, 21; 1 Pet. 2:11-12; 1 John 2:15-17, etc., etc.

We commend to the reader a pamphlet on this subject, “The Unequal Yoke” by C.H.M. At same publishers, price 6c. [Ed.]

5 So Fausset.