Yet on the other hand very few men did more than Jehoshaphat to bring the nation to the brink of ruin. His life falls into two distinct phases. 2 Chronicles 17 sets out a theme of ascension, and he lives up to his name which means Yahweh has judged and he his richly blessed by God because of his sound policies, given riches and honour in abundance. But then we see in 2 Chronicles 18 a very different story, the decline of Jehoshaphat where the purpose of God is frustrated by the actions of Jehoshaphat and the promises made to David were brought to within an inch of total collapse because of his foolish policies.
The lessons we can learn from the life of this King of Judah are so important to us today.
Jehoshaphat had seen the life of his father Asa, and the mistakes he made and was determined not to go the same way. So in 2 Chr 17:1, we read that Jehoshaphat strengthened himself against Israel. That word against is the Hebrew word that can mean above, upon, or over and it comes from the root wordalah meaning to ascend. So from the outset, Jehoshaphat had determined to rise above the ways of Israel.
He placed forces in all the fortified cities of Judah and set garrisons in the land of Judah, and in the cities of Ephraim that Asa his father had captured. The LORD was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the earlier ways of his father David. He did not seek the Baals, (2Ch 17:2-3)
Why are we told that he didn’t seek Baalim? It’s not suggest that either Asa or David followed after Baalim, but if you look to the northern kingdom, there was a man who had been on the throne of Israel for 3 years who had taken to himself a Sidonian as a wife, and introduced the abhorrent worship of Baal to the land. His name as we know was Ahab. Jehoshaphat knew what was going on in the northern kingdom of Israel, he knew what Ahab was doing. V3 is telling us that Jehoshaphat’s rule was blessed because he was doing the opposite to what Ahab and Jezebel were doing in the north. This is confirmed for us in v4
but sought the God of his father and walked in his commandments, and not according to the practices of Israel. (2Ch 17:4)
And because Jehoshaphat was rising above Israel
Therefore the LORD established the kingdom in his hand. And all Judah brought tribute to Jehoshaphat, and he had great riches and honor. (2Ch 17:5)
The people realised the value of his leadership and so they paid their respects to him by giving him gifts, recognising that he was taking the nation in the right direction.
And again we get this idea of ascendency in v6
His heart was courageous in the ways of the LORD. And furthermore, he took the high places and the Asherim out of Judah. (2Ch 17:6)
The word courageous (lifted in KJV) is the Hebrew word gabbah and it means to soar or to be lofty and has the idea of flying high, and his heart was soaring away to God, and he had the principle that we see in Hebrew 1:9
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” (Heb 1:9)
… and that’s the attitude of mind that we should all have. Love the good, hate the evil. This is the policy that we have set out for us in the first few verses of 2 Chr 17, a clear direction to strengthen himself against the evils that were happening in Israel.
It should be mentioned though that despite the evil in Israel under the reign of the worst king they had, there was still a few good men who remained faithful to God, 7,000 of the them had not bowed the knee to Baalim when Elijah came along, there were other prophets, Elisha, Micaiah and they tried to appeal to the leaders to turn things round. God hadn’t forgotten them, they were still his people, still God’s ecclesia.
Jehoshaphat began a campaign of education throughout Judah,
In the third year of his reign he sent his officials, Ben-hail, Obadiah, Zechariah, Nethanel, and Micaiah, to teach in the cities of Judah; and with them the Levites, Shemaiah, Nethaniah, Zebadiah, Asahel, Shemiramoth, Jehonathan, Adonijah, Tobijah, and Tobadonijah; and with these Levites, the priests Elishama and Jehoram. And they taught in Judah, having the Book of the Law of the LORD with them. They went about through all the cities of Judah and taught among the people. (2Ch 17:7-9)
Notice that these Levites and priests had the book of the Law of the Lord with them, or in other words they took their Bible around with them and they read it out in all the cities of the land teaching the people about the laws of God.
Now if you come to Revelation 20, we’ll see why it was so important to teach the truth in Judah. We’re not told this in Chronicles, but in Rev 2:20, remembering that Thyatira were commended for their good works,
But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. (Rev 2:20)
This is what was going on in Thyatira, a group of people teaching and seducing within the ecclesia in the same manner in which Jezebel did. Many still held sound doctrine, but there was false teaching trying to break down the standards and cause them to commit spiritual fornication with idols. So you see Jehoshaphat was ruling at a time when although there was some good in Israel, there was a lot of false teaching and seduction and so God blessed his policy of strengthening himself against Israel rather than making alliance with her.
Jehoshaphat understood this from the early part of his life, but later on he abandoned it and he lost everything, but for now, while Jezebel was in the north teaching her subjects to commit sexual immorality and eat sacrifices made to idols, Jehoshophat was teaching his people that God’s mercy and truth will separate them from the things of the world.
The result of this, v10,
And the fear of the LORD fell upon all the kingdoms of the lands that were around Judah, and they made no war against Jehoshaphat. (2Ch 17:10)
God gave them the opportunity to teach, he gave them peace and echoes the message of Proverbs 16:7.
When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. (Pro 16:7)
Such was the peace, that some of the Philistines brought him presents, and silver, and the Arabians brought him around 15,000 animals, and in v12.
And Jehoshaphat grew steadily greater. He built in Judah fortresses and store cities, (2Ch 17:12)
The word exceedingly in the KJV in the Hebrew ma’al and is a composition which includes the same word that we saw in v1 for against, the Hebrew word al and again gives the sense of direction being onwards and upwards, towards God.
We see that he had a great army…
This was the muster of them by fathers’ houses: Of Judah, the commanders of thousands: Adnah the commander, with 300,000 mighty men of valor; and next to him Jehohanan the commander, with 280,000; and next to him Amasiah the son of Zichri, a volunteer for the service of the LORD, with 200,000 mighty men of valor. Of Benjamin: Eliada, a mighty man of valor, with 200,000 men armed with bow and shield; and next to him Jehozabad with 180,000 armed for war. These were in the service of the king, besides those whom the king had placed in the fortified cities throughout all Judah.(2Ch 17:14-19)
For those of you trying to add them up, that’s 1,160,000 men in Jehoshaphat’s army, that’s not including those who were in the other cities throughout Judah. So he had this massive army as a result of his campaign of education, and his policy to stand against Israel. He had created a united nation that were prepared to stand up for what was right, in the KJV, in v18 it read the war, ready for the war against the evil in the world. But that war never came, they never fought that war, because Jehoshaphat changed his policy before that war came.
So we have in chapter 17, King Jehoshaphat, rising, soaring above Israel and walking greatly upwards towards God.
Then we come to the 18th chapter.
After some years he went down to Ahab in Samaria. And Ahab killed an abundance of sheep and oxen for him and for the people who were with him, and induced him to go up against Ramoth-gilead. (2Ch 18:2)
See the change in direction? Why did this happen, well in v1,
After some years he went down to Ahab in Samaria. And Ahab killed an abundance of sheep and oxen for him and for the people who were with him, and induced him to go up against Ramoth-gilead. (2Ch 18:2)
Why would he make an affinity with Ahab? Well, he had great riches and honour, and this was the source of his problem. It caused him, for the opposite reason to Asa, to stop allying with God and go his own way, this self-alliance. Wheras Asa’s problem came out of weakness and his lack of readiness to face the threat of Baasha, Jehoshaphat’s self-alliance came out of his strength. Instead of strengthening himself against Israel (which he did when he had nothing), he is now using his strength to try and save Israel. He had great wealth, great honour, great reputation and he had an army so big that he thought his strength was sufficient to save Israel from their apostasy, so he decides to make an alliance. The KJV says affinity, but this doesn’t bring out the nature of the alliance, whereas the ESV does. The Hebrew word is chathan and it means to give away in marriage, normally it would be a daughter, but in this case he gave away a son in marriage. So it means to form a contract of alliance by marriage, and of course it would be the practice of those days to cement alliances by marrying into each others families. In this case he took his eldest son Jehoram and gave him away to Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel.
Jehoram means exalted by Jehovah, while Athaliah means whom God afflicts, again showing this contrast between the 17th chapter and the 18th chapter. First a raising up, and then a bringing down. These two married together, defining the change of policy and the consequences.
So Jehoshaphat went from Jerusalem, and he went down to Ahab down in Samaria, almost like going down steps, highlighting the decline.
Then next, Ahab kills sheep and oxen for him and for the people who were with him. So Jehoshaphat had gone down, he had taken a whole load of people with him down to Samaria, and instead of Ahab making offerings to God (which he wouldn’t do because he didn’t worship the Lord), or making offerings to Baal, Ahab made the offerings for Jehoshaphat, to gain favour with him, to show him how wonderful he was, how appreciative he was of his presence. Ahab sucked him in and persuaded him to go up against Ramoth-Gilead.
If we go back to 1 Kings 21 we have the record of the death of Naboth by the evil scheme of Jezebel.
There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the LORD like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited. (1Ki 21:25)
That word incited, or stirred up, is the Hebrew word suth, and you only find that about 18 times in the Old Testament and it is used with the idea of persuasion, enticement, and the word comes from the root word for briers and thorns and it means to prick. So you have Ahab who was stirred up, persuaded, pricked, incited to evil by his wife Jezebel. That same word is used in 2 Chr 18:2, that word induced, or persuaded in the KJV, and so Ahab was applying the same methods to Jehoshaphat that Jezebel applied to him, having just showered him with an abundance of sacrifices in his name. We have echoes of a high priest making offerings to God, and treats Jehoshaphat as such, and then entices him to go to a city of refuge, Ramoth-Gilead, he might not have recognised it as such, but having just looked at the chapter where Ahab has Naboth killed, we have someone who thinks he is a high priest, who is a murderer and they are going to a city of refuge to take back the land from the Syrians.
Ahab king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat king of Judah, “Will you go with me to Ramoth-gilead?” He answered him, “I am as you are, my people as your people. We will be with you in the war.” (2Ch 18:3)
But this was the wrong war. God has not intended for Jehoshaphat’s armies to be fighting this war, and it turned out to be an enormous tragedy for them. We have the remarkable story of where Ahab and Jehoshaphat find themselves sitting in the gate of Samaria surrounded by about 400 foolish prophets of Baal.
And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, “Inquire first for the word of the LORD.”(2Ch 18:4)
But here we have a problem. Ahab doesn’t worship the Lord God, he serves Baal. But they are in alliance, and Jehoshaphat has agreed to go with him to Ramoth-Gilead, the contract has been signed and they can’t even agree on the name of their god.
Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, four hundred men, and said to them, “Shall we go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?” And they said, “Go up, for God will give it into the hand of the king.” (2Ch 18:5)
But Jehoshaphat says in v6,
But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may inquire?” (2Ch 18:6)
Here we see what happens to those who are determined to achieve their objectives and when they get mixed up in foolish alliances. Jehoshaphat might have thought he was strong enough to handle Ahab, but look how weak his response is. If he had been back in Jerusalem he would have told Ahab exactly what he thought of these 400 charlatans and insisted that the Lord gave direction. But he simple inquires whether there was someone else they could take guidance from, tolerating the presence of these false prophets.
And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah the son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but always evil.” And Jehoshaphat said, “Let not the king say so.”(2Ch 18:7)
If he’d been back in Jerusalem he would have told Ahab where to go, but he can’t manage anything better than, “please don’t say that about him”.
But the king said to him, “How many times shall I make you swear that you speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD?” (2Ch 18:15)
Presumably the first time Micaiah answers, Jehoshaphat can tell he is not telling the truth, perhaps he has heard his prophecies before and so Micaiah in v16…
And he said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. And the LORD said, ‘These have no master; let each return to his home in peace.'” (2Ch 18:16)
Here the prophecy in context is that he is predicting the death of Ahab, and Israel will have no master, but there is a far wider application to this prophecy which is dealt with in the prophecy of Micah. Micah is the shortened form of Micaiah and interesting about 150 years later Micah opens his prophecy with these words of Micaiah and picks up on this theme of the sheep being scattered, but that’s another Bible study!
Jehoshaphat didn’t die in this battle though, he dresses up in the king’s robes, but he wasn’t a master. As far as God was concerned he had disappeared for making an alliance with Ahab, so when Ahab died there was no master, hence we read these have no master, let each return to his home in peace. Look at that last phrase carefully. Let each or every return in peace. Then have a look at 2 Chr 19:1
Jehoshaphat the king of Judah returned in safety to his house in Jerusalem. (2Ch 19:1)
He was just one of the ordinary defeated soldiers, who was like a sheep that had no shepherd. Wasn’t he the great teacher of Judah though? Wasn’t he the shepherd who went out and brought them back to the Lord? Wasn’t he the man who sent out teachers into the land with the Book of the Law? Of course he was. But as far as God was concerned he wasn’t a shepherd. He wasn’t a shepherd. Why not? Because he has made an alliance with Ahab. What happened to all his riches, his strength, his reputation? They were all lost because Jehoshaphat was not strong enough to do what he tried to do, the reason why is because God was not with him in his plans, and when God is not behind something it won’t succeed.
So with this prophecy in mind, Jehoshaphat and Ahab went up to Ramoth-Gilead, the city of refuge,
And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “I will disguise myself and go into battle, but you wear your robes.” And the king of Israel disguised himself, and they went into battle. (2Ch 18:29)
The king of Israel disguises himself as an ordinary soldier, but Jehoshaphat was to wear his kingly robes, and so the Syrians mistake him for King Ahab,
Now the king of Syria had commanded the captains of his chariots, “Fight with neither small nor great, but only with the king of Israel.” (2Ch 18:30)
They were only interested in one man.
As soon as the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, they said, “It is the king of Israel.” So they turned to fight against him. And Jehoshaphat cried out, and the LORD helped him; God drew them away from him. (2Ch 18:31)
They thought it was Ahab because of the kingly robes. Why was it that Benhadad said to his men that he was only interested in one man, king Ahab? We have to go back to 1 Ki 20 to find out, we haven’t got time to look at it, but it’s worth noting 1 Ki 20:42, where we have at the end of a long chapter the Lord giving Ahab victory over the Syrians, and Ahab taking Benhadad king of Syria captive. But instead of putting him to death as the Lord wanted, he took him into his chariot and made a covenant with him instead. So in v42
And he said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall be for his life, and your people for his people.'” (1Ki 20:42)
Ahab’s life would be taken instead, and Benhadad has this opportunity for revenge and seeks only him at the battle of Ramoth-Gilead, and this was probably well known by Ahab and the reason for his disguise.
So the Syrians surround Jehoshaphat, he probably can’t understand why the whole army seems to be focussing on him, and he cried out to God and God moved them, it’s that Hebrew word suth again, meaning to persuade, reversing the persuasion of Ahab and Jezebel, to save Jehoshaphat from a destruction of his own making. He narrowly avoided death and was allowed to go home, with no master, no shepherd, in peace to his own home.
Our lessons from this are we should be strengthening ourselves against the evil in the world, like Jehoshaphat did in chapter 17, and leaving the world to fight its own battles rather than trying to help them like Jehoshaphat did in chapter 18. We cannot successfully fight alongside those who the Lord is not with.
So while Jehoshaphat is left to journey home and think about why he is in that situation, Ahab receives his death blow.
As soon as the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, they said, “It is the king of Israel.” So they turned to fight against him. And Jehoshaphat cried out, and the LORD helped him; God drew them away from him. For as soon as the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, they turned back from pursuing him. But a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate. Therefore he said to the driver of his chariot, “Turn around and carry me out of the battle, for I am wounded.” (2Ch 18:31-33)
Ahab has tried to escape Benhadad, but God was to execute the judgement required, and we read acertain man, there seems to be nothing deliberate or intentional to kill the king of Israel, perhaps looking for something to do draws his bow back and fires an arrow off at random. That arrow guided by the Lord to its destination strikes Ahab behind the breastplate. Ahab was left propped up in his chariot until he died from blood loss later that evening.
Back in Jerusalem, in chapter 19, Jehoshaphat receives a rebuke from Jehu the son of Hanani
But Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him and said to King Jehoshaphat, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD? Because of this, wrath has gone out against you from the LORD. (2Ch 19:2)
And unlike his father Asa, he accepted the rebuke,
Jehoshaphat lived at Jerusalem. And he went out again among the people, from Beersheba to the hill country of Ephraim, and brought them back to the LORD, the God of their fathers. He appointed judges in the land in all the fortified cities of Judah, city by city, and said to the judges, “Consider what you do, for you judge not for man but for the LORD. He is with you in giving judgment. (2Ch 19:4-6)
Jehoshaphat did what good he could from the disaster that had struck him. His army is no more, many had died in the battle at Ramoth-Gilead, his reforms have been shaken, but tries to make things right again, that is until he decides to make another alliance in 2 Chr 20:35,
After this Jehoshaphat king of Judah joined with Ahaziah king of Israel, who acted wickedly. He joined him in building ships to go to Tarshish, and they built the ships in Ezion-geber. Then Eliezer the son of Dodavahu of Mareshah prophesied against Jehoshaphat, saying, “Because you have joined with Ahaziah, the LORD will destroy what you have made.” And the ships were wrecked and were not able to go to Tarshish. (2Ch 20:35-37)
.. but the alliance failed. Why did he make the same mistake again? Maybe he thought he could use the money to benefit the teachings of God, but it failed. Was it because there was a woman married to his son who was just as determined to seduce and teach the servants of the Lord as was Jezebel her mother? Did Athaliah, who was married to Jehoram, have the ability to persuade Jehoshaphat in certain matters?
Well, Jehoshaphat died soon after, and Jehoram reigned in his place and destroyed what was left of the royal family, all his brothers, probably through the persuasion of Athaliah. 8 years later the Lord killed Jehoram and as soon as he was dead Athaliah put her son Ahaziah on the throne, who was then killed by Jehu. Athaliah rose up and slaughtered all the royal seed of the house of David, all except one, a six-month old child, named Joash, who was hidden away for 6 years to save his life.
The covenant that the Lord made with David was brought within a hair’s breadth of ruin, but of course the Lord couldn’t have allowed it to happen because he had made a promise. It was a fatal alliance that Jehoshaphat made and it had tragic and far reaching consequences. It could have been so different, but let us learn the lesson of Jehoshaphat’s life, let us soar high like he did in the things of the truth, carrying the word of God with us and teaching and preaching to others, and that there must not be alliance in our lives with the things that will lead to disaster.