Somebody once said that people are like tea bags – you don’t really see what is in them until you put them in hot water. I’ve founds this to be true in my own life on several occasions, and sometimes painfully so. Difficult circumstances often show us whether we truly rely on God or whether our faith is built on little more than eloquently formulated words and theologies. Few Biblical stories illustrate this truth better and more beautifully than the account of Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20.
Jehoshaphat is one of the few kings of Judah that sought the Lord with all of his heart. This chapter finds him in particularly hot water when he faces the threat of a vast army of Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites. When the report of this approaching army is brough to him, the king’s heart shows through in his response right away:
3 Jehoshaphat was afraid, and he resolved to seek the Lord. Then he proclaimed a fast for all Judah, 4 who gathered to seek the Lord. They even came from all the cities of Judah to seek Him.
Jehoshaphat recognizes immediately that the threat facing him is more than he can handle on his own. He doesn’t waste time by trying to figure out how he might be able to overcome this army, nor does he panic and wonder how on earth he is going to get through this. No, because Jehoshaphat sought God, he knew that God was the only source of help he could turn to. His prayer clearly reflects this attitude:
5 Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem in the Lord’s temple before the new courtyard. 6 He said: Yahweh, the God of our ancestors, are You not the God who is in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Your hand, and no one can stand against You. 7 Are You not our God who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel and who gave it forever to the descendants of Abraham Your friend?
12 Our God, will You not judge them? For we are powerless before this vast number that comes [to fight] against us. We do not know what to do, but we look to You.
If you read through the stories of the kings of Israel and Judah, you’ll find this kind of prayer on several occasions. You’ll find it was lifted up by men and kings who truly understood that God is the only true source of help, strength, and power. I love how Jehoshaphat acknowledges that power and might are in God’s hand – nobody can stand against Him. He had a true understanding of the greatness of God and the source of strength in his life!
Now look at how God answers the king:
“Listen carefully, all Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and King Jehoshaphat. This is what the Lord says: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast number, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.”
That one sentence speaks volumes: the battle is not yours, but God’s. We do well to stop and think about that for a moment: a vast army is approaching, bigger than anything Jehoshaphat can handle. From every human perspective and angle, he is doomed to be defeated. These enemies have attacked Israel before and defeated them on quite a few occasions. In one sense, you might say that these are old foes coming to pay Judah a visit once again. But look again at the word of the Lord: “it’s not your battle, Jehoshaphat, it is mine! Don’t worry, don’t be afraid, just put your trust in me. I will fight for you.” The king draws courage from those words and when they go into battle the next day, Jehoshaphat chooses a somewhat unorthodox tactic:
21 Then he consulted with the people and appointed some to sing for the Lord and some to praise the splendor of [His] holiness. When they went out in front of the armed forces, they kept singing:
Give thanks to the Lord,
for His faithful love endures forever.
22 The moment they began [their] shouts and praises, the Lord set an ambush against the Ammonites, Moabites, and [the inhabitants of] Mount Seir who came [to fight] against Judah, and they were defeated.
Without drawing a sword, Jehoshaphat won the battle that day. After seeking the Lord and confessing his complete faith in Him, the king put the singers up front to declare the unfailing covenant love of the Almighty God. That praise had immediate effect – the moment they began singing, the enemy was confounded and completely and utterly defeated. The amount of plunder was so large, it took them three days to collect it all!
I’ve read this story quite a few times and heard a number of songs about it. Today, however, I was struck by that one truth – the battle is not mine, it is the Lord’s. Imagine if Jehoshaphat had begun to fight the Moabites and Ammonites and only cried out to the Lord when he realized he was losing the battle? What if he had listened to his fears or looked at the past defeats to these peoples and given up hope before the battle had even started? As foolish as these options appear, they reflect choices many of us make on a daily basis. Some battles we are all too familiar with. The familiarity of those battles causes us to face them in our own strength rather than realizing that we do not have to fight this battle – God will fight it for me. What if all we need to do is call on the Name of the Lord and seek His face? What if His answer is to seek Him, trust Him, and just praise Him? Do we believe His steadfast covenant love for us? Do we believe He has delivered us through the blood of Jesus Christ? These are questions we need to face honestly and head on if we are to experience any measure of the victory Jehoshaphat experienced that day.
The honest truth is that I have lost many a battle because past defeats affected my faith and predetermined the outcome. I have missed many opportunity for a victory because I still thought my wisdom, my cunning, my resolve, and my intelligence was going to get me through the battle. But the battle isn’t mine – it is God’s. His steadfast love will always come through if I will only believe that He is God, that He sits on His throne, and that His love endures forever. When we find ourselves in hot water, I pray that we will be like Jehoshaphat and seek God, trust Him, praise Him, and then stand back and see the salvation of God.