All seemed lost. News that not one but three armies were moving towards the national capital frightened the nation. King Jehoshaphat responded. As I noted in a post in 2013, “A leader’s spiritual life affects the moral climate of those whom he leads. When he leads with confidence but also with respect, his people listen. When a leader is profane and abusive, morale among his people will communicate their fear of him or her; their speech and behavior will reflect the leader’s own. King Jehoshaphat of Judah, great-great-grandson of the powerful and wise King Solomon, provides a case study in effective prayer-propelled leadership.” In 2 Chronicles 20:1-30, Jehoshaphat’s leadership through prayer and humble following of God’s Word prepares his people for God’s giving them the victory. I wrote about Jehoshaphat’s prayer in that post you may read by clicking here.
Jehoshaphat’s subsequent actions flow consistently from his prayer. But when he prays, he does not know that he will have the opportunity to act. He prays a prayer of desperation.
Jehoshaphat prays in the presence of all the people. Then, after he prays, he and the people wait. How will the king and his people learn God’s will in a troubling time? How will we discern what is best? How will we move forward when we are frozen by fear, anger, indecision, or awareness of our own weakness?
In Jehoshaphat’s case, the Law of Moses already prescribed who should speak about God’s will when the nation would go to war. In Deuteronomy 20:2f, Moses tells Israel, “When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. He shall say: ‘Hear Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be faint-hearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.” But in Jehoshaphat’s beleaguered Jerusalem, the priest did not come forward. Instead, we read, “All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the LORD. Then the Spirit of the LORD came on Jahaziel son of Zechariah, the son of jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite and descendant of Asaph, as he stood in the assembly. A Levite, one of the Temple servants, likely one of the Temple singers (a descendant of Asaph), proclaims the word of the LORD: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army for the battle is not yours, but God’s.” Then he tells them just what they are to do and reminds them again not to be afraid. He speaks the message that the high priest was supposed to speak, but he is not the high priest.
When I was in the Army, I often heard the importance of knowing how to do the job of the person two levels above you, because in the heat of battle their job just might become yours. Jahaziel knew what to do and the Spirit empowered him to do it. He could have stayed silent and reasoned that “it’s not my job.” However, he stepped forward and said what had to be said, did what had to be done, at a critical moment. Jehoshaphat, for his part, had enough humility to listen. The king did not say, “Be quiet, Levite! That’s not your responsibility.” Because he knew the word of God, he recognized it when Jehaziel spoke it. He and the people bowed down in worship as some Levites stood up and began to praise God with a loud voice. Jehaziel’s Spirit-charged, biblically based words spurred the king into action.
Early in the morning, the army set out. Jehoshaphat, having heard the word of the LORD, now stood before his peoples and told them,
“Have faith in the LORD your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.’
Jehoshaphat was waiting no more. He now trusted God’s power to save and to transform. Then the king appointed men to sing to the LORD as they went out at the head of the army. Modern military forces have bands that perform similar functions, but in this case, something remarkable happened. Look at verse 22: “As they began to sing and praise, the LORD set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.” The enemies turned against one another; when Judah’s army arrived at the battlefield, the combat had ended. Jehoshaphat’s army returned to Jerusalem triumphant, “for the LORD had given them cause to rejoice over their enemies.”
The last year has reminded us that what we consider normal and the way things should be can be torn away in an instant. Much of the world’s population, including our nation’s people, has had to adjust their work habits, their personal hygiene, their socializing, in response to an international health crisis that still rages in India and parts of Africa. Many of us have not liked change. We’ve missed out on assembling as churches and hugging family members who live far away. We’ve chafed because of uncomfortable masks and not being able to eat at our favorite restaurants. But crises have also made clear the resilience of people who trust in God. We’ve found new ways to communicate and worship when unable to meet, like a previous generation that started using individual communion cups because of a pandemic, many congregations have changed the way that they serve the elements of the Lord’s supper. Now, as we come back together, the way forward often is not clear. Like Jehoshaphat, we pray that we are waiting on the Lord, because we do not know what to do. To us again come the words of Jehaziel: Do not be afraid or discouraged; the battle is not yours but God’s. Stand firm. We see and hear also the example and words of Jehoshaphat, a leader who was not afraid to show his humility in prayer before God in public, “Have faith in the LORD your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.” What King Jehoshaphat did after hearing the wake up call from Jehaziel also reminds us of a verse that Martin Luther King, Jr., who believed strongly in prayer, used to quote to his audiences – Exodus 14:15,
“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.”
In the rest of that passage God provides the victory as he opens a path through the Red Sea, but the people still have to believe strongly enough to walk through the parted waters. We Christians, following Paul in 1 Timothy, pray for our government’s leaders so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives. But while we pray, we also have to live, to act, to sing, and to speak for Christ in ways that teach our neighbors about the love of God through Christ. We have to trust God’s power to save and to transform.
When all seems lost, we pray fervently. We pray and then we wait. We listen. We remember. We wait. There is a time when we stop waiting and resume singing in response to God’s Word as we move forward. Are you ready to pray like Jehoshaphat? Do you know the Bible like he and Jehaziel did? Often, God has already answered our questions in its pages. Are you ready, like Jehaziel, to speak a word for God? Are you ready to trust God and let him fight your battles? Will you?
- Quotations from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.
O God who urges us to move forward when you have answered our prayers, open our minds that we may hear, that we may remember what we have already learned of your will, that we discern the path you desire for us to walk. Calm our fears and fill us with the courage to do what is right. When we want to rush into action before reflecting on your will, help us to wait and to reflect, to envision what you want done in love to achieve justice. When we groan and mourn, teach us once more to sing and show us the way forward. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.