King Jehoshaphat was a mixed bag. At times he displayed godly wisdom and a clear-sighted vision of what God requires of the king of His chosen people. At other times he lapsed into human folly and sought to make Judah strong through ill-advised alliances. However, in the Chronicler’s account of Jehoshaphat’s “battle” against Moab and Ammon, we see in this mixed-bag king one of the most clear and memorable confessions of dependence on the Lord.
A messenger had come to come to Jehoshaphat with bad news: an vast enemy army was fast approaching and Jerusalem and all of Judah would soon be under attack. How we respond to bad news says a lot about the condition of our heart and the firmness of our faith. It is easy to panic when things suddenly spin out of control and we realize we are face-to-face with something that threatens our comfort, joy, or even existence.
But those who understand and believe in the sovereignty of God are not shaken – they respond like King Jehoshaphat. They seek out God, they humble themselves, and they pray. Above all, they remember, as Jehoshaphat did, the promises of God and they believe that God will do as he says.
God had promised the land of Canaan to Israel and he had promised to step in and take action when his people cried out to him. A vast army of allied-kings wasn’t going to derail God’s promise. Jehoshaphat knew that and so he threw himself at the feet of Almighty God and confessed his complete dependence and utter incapability to deal with the bad-news army knocking at his door.
“For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”2 Chronicles 20:12
That is a beautiful confession of faith, and one we can take upon our own lips as well. God wants us to reach the same place as Jehoshaphat, the place where we see without a doubt that our own strength is insufficient for the task and that His strength is the only thing that will get us through. It takes quite a bit to get to that place because we, like the saints of old, are stubborn and thick-skulled.
Too often we look at the enemy armies staring us down, stomping their feet and clashing their swords, and we conclude that it is a battle we can manage on our own, either by our own strength or by soliciting help from our own sources. We start counting our soldiers, consulting the sages, and unravelling our battle plans. Bad news comes and our first thought is directed towards ourselves and how we are going to deal with it.
While Jehoshaphat’s confession of faith is beautiful, God’s response is even better.
“Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s…You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you.”2 Chronicles 20:16-17
Hitting rock bottom can be a wonderful thing. Finding yourself completely incompetent to deal with what life is throwing at you can be the first step in discovering God’s strength. It is only when we renounce every human effort and look away from ourselves that we can truly appreciate the awesome salvation of the Lord. The one who comes to the foot of the cross desperate and dying, will treasure the life-giving sacrifice of Jesus all the more. On the other hand, the one who seeks out Jesus as just one piece of a multifaceted salvation plan will never truly appreciate the victory Jesus has single handedly won for us.
Jehoshaphat was one who was able to fully appreciate the victory of salvation. God responded to the king of Judah and obliterated the enemy army without a single soldier in the Judean army having to lift a finger. And it is the same for us. In the battle against Satan and sin, the only thing required of us is to trust that God will get the job done and to give him all the glory when the victory is won. That sounds pretty straightforward, but, as we also learn from the life of Jehoshaphat, it is often a lesson we learn slowly, and often have to re-learn.
Later in his life we are told that Jehoshaphat turned back to his old sinful habits and sought out more ill-advised alliances. Jehoshaphat got tired of waiting for God to take action and he tried doing things his way. The result? Most everything he built was destroyed.
So often we do the same as Jehoshaphat. We forget that the God who has a plan to save us apart from any assistance of our own, also has a perfect plan to get us to our final goal. If we are patient and humble enough to let God work out that plan in our lives, there is no doubt that we will just as amazed as the Judean army was when they arrived at the battlefield and found their enemy already defeated.