In the Old Testament record, King Jehoshaphat’s remarkable military victory over a coalition of enemy nations came about by God’s direct intervention, but that doesn’t mean that Judah’s king needed only to sit back and watch this victory happen (2 Chronicles 20). His urgent prayers appear to be a critical element.
Jehoshaphat’s kingdom was in the south end of ancient Israel. Some men came and told him that a huge number of the soldiers of surrounding kingdoms had already amassed a vast army to wage war against him. These enemy states included – Moab, Ammon, Edom, and several other peoples, all located in present-day Arab lands of the Middle East.
The massive coalition was already on the march around the southern region of the Dead Sea and was moving northward toward Judah’s southern border.
The king was understandably alarmed. His first move was to proclaim a fast for the whole nation. The people responded and gathered in Jerusalem from every town to seek the Lord’s help.
Then, with this throng of people filling the temple area, King Jehoshaphat prayed one of the most moving prayers recorded in the Old Testament (2 Chronicles 20:6-12).
His prayer acknowledges God’s sovereign rule over all, and reminds the Lord that by divine providence he had given Israel the land they were currently occupying. Back then, he goes on, when his people were coming to claim the land as their possession, the Lord had spared these very attackers from fierce assault by ordering Israel’s fighting forces not to attack them.
Then comes the King’s impassioned acknowledgement: “O our God, will you not judge them? 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 upon you” (2 Chronicles 20:12).
The people must have listened in silence to Jehoshaphat’s prayer. It was both fervent and urgent, but not desperate because it was directed confidently to the source of all power in the universe: “Our eyes are upon you.” It was prayed in a spirit of dynamic trust.
A prophet named Jahaziel then stepped forward to announce the word of the Lord: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours but God’s.”
The story moves quickly to conclusion. The king appoints singers to lead the troops with singing. The Lord at the same time creates a mysterious ambush against the enemy coalition which throws their fighting forces into confusion. In their chaos, they begin to kill each other.
Jehoshaphat’s troops gather the spoils of battle. They return to Jerusalem with joy. The fear of the Lord falls on surrounding nations, “when they heard the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel” (2 Chronicles 20:29).
Does physical warfare with all its horror and hurt stand as a metaphor for another kind of warfare Christians are engaged in – the struggle against “the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms?” (Ephesians 6:12)
It appears to. For good reason, some believe this event in the life of Jehoshaphat is the inspiration for Psalm 83: “O God, do not keep silent; / be not quiet O God, be not still. / See how your enemies are astir, / how your foes rear their heads. / With cunning they conspire against your people” (Psalm 83:1-3).
A many-faceted war is going on in our world today that is destructive to many believers who want only to live lives fully devoted to Jesus Christ.
According to a report from Roman Catholic authorities, over 100,000 Christians are killed annually because of something related to their faith.
That 100,000 would be vastly more than the troops of Judah that God spared millennia ago.
And, according to the World Evangelical Alliance 200 million Christians are denied fundamental human rights solely because of their faith. While we try to process such atrocious conditions we are aware of growing anti-Christian sentiment in the land where we live. It is mounting, and who knows what persecution will yet come here?
We of course cannot know precisely how Jehoshaphat’s prayer figured into God’s ways and his action. That is divine mystery. Still, this story suggests that it is time to pray our prayers with fresh urgency for those elsewhere in our world who suffer bitter indignities and even cruel death because of their faith. And that God himself will intervene to protect Christ’s church here at home and fashion its character for more effective witness.
But, however urgent, let us pray with the confidence and urgency of that very psalmist, who said: “Let your enemies know that you, whose name is the Lord – that you alone are the most high over all the earth” (Psalm 83:18).