Our reading today begins with Jehoshaphat beginning his reign (17:1). Like with Abijah and Asa, we get more details of the reign of Jehoshaphat from the chronicler than we do from the writer of 1 Kings. We see here a description of the military might of Judah under Jehoshaphat. He ensured there was a visible, military presence not just in the cities of Judah, but in the cities of southern Israel that his father Asa had taken (v. 2). Jehoshaphat, like Asa his father early in his reign, walked with God (vv. 3-4, 6), unlike Israel. We are told that he took away the high places out of Judah (v. 6). There are two things of note here. First, we are told in 1 Kings that he did not take away the high places (1 Kings 22:43). What we have already said about Asa and the high places applies here. But second, which high places did Jehoshaphat take away? There are two possibilities. He may have taken away some of the high places Asa didn’t. Or, it may be that some high places were rebuilt during the latter reign of Asa after he allowed those in Ephraim to remain. Sin has a way of spreading…
In verses 7-9, we see that Jehoshaphat furthered a knowledge of YHWH through the teaching of the Law. Because of Jehoshaphat’s whole-hearted commitment to YHWH, the nations around Judah did not make war with them (v. 10). In fact, the other nations paid tribute to Jehoshaphat (v. 11)! In addition, it was a time of plenty for Judah, both in food (v. 13) and military might (vv. 14-19). Just the units described here total 1,160,000 soldiers, and that is “besides those whom the king had placed in the fortified cities throughout Judah.” What the chronicler is describing here is that Judah was receiving in abundance the promised blessings for obedience (see Deut 28:1-14). The chronicler had just described the victory God provided when it was 1,000,000+ against Judah’s 580,000. Who could stop the army of the Lord now?!?
In chapter 18, we have a recounting of the alliance between Judah and Israel in Jehoshaphat’s days from 1 Kings 22. The only difference is 18:31. Here, we see that the Syrians turned back from pursuing Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22:33) because God sovereignly drew them away from him. This makes the “random” bowshot that killed Ahab (v. 33) the work of God, as well. The chronicler is drawing a distinction between what God provides for those who honor Him, and those who disobey Him.
In chapter 19, we see what happened to Jehoshaphat after the battle against Syria. He returned home safely (19:1), but God was angry with him for his alliance with evil Israel (v. 2). This was meant as a warning for the otherwise righteous king (v. 3). In verse 4, we see that Jehoshaphat himself took part in calling the people of Judah to follow YHWH. He also appointed “judges” – an office that designates both political and religious power – throughout all the land (v. 5), and he places upon them the responsibility of working God’s justice in the land (vv. 6-7), reminding them of His righteousness (see Deut 10:17). The king did the same in Jerusalem (v. 8), charging the judges to “warn them” (literally, “admonish” them) in order to keep guilt from Judah (vv. 6-10). Again, the message to the remnant is clear.
In chapter 20, we have an account of Moab and Ammon coming against Judah for battle (20:1 – they were also joined by Edomites according to verse 10). Despite the great military might of Judah (see 17:14-19), Jehoshaphat and all of Judah turn to YHWH for help (vv. 3-4). The king prays to YHWH, standing on the sovereignty of God (v. 6) and the promises of God to His people (v. 7). He points to the heritage of Judah as God’s people (v. 8), and their obedience to God in not attacking their relatives of Edom (see Deut 2:4-5), Moab (see Deut 2:9), and Ammon (see Deut 2:19) in verse 10. He then throws Judah on the mercies of God (v. 12).
In response, God speaks through the Levite Jahaziel (v. 14). He tells the king and the people not to fear the invaders, because the battle belongs to God (v. 15). He tells Judah where to go to come against them (v. 16), but promises that God will fight the battle, and they will see the salvation of YHWH (v. 17). So Jehoshaphat charges the people of Judah to believe God and his prophets (v. 20), and they all sing that chorus of praise (v. 21). And God keeps His promise. Moab, Ammon, and Edom all turn on each other (v. 23). YHWH won the battle. And then Judah seizes the great spoils of God’s victory (v. 25) and return to Jerusalem praising God (vv. 27-28). And God gave them rest all around (vv. 29-30).
The message to the remnant is once again clear. In the face of attack, oppression, and seemingly insurmountable odds, all God’s people can do is rely on Him. All they can do is pray, standing on His promises and His character. And then they need to offer Him worship and praise for all He has done. That is all God’s people have ever been able to do. It’s all we can do.
In verse 33, we are told that the high places were not taken away (again, all that was said about Asa applies here). Like with Asa, see a little sin allowed to remain has huge ramifications. Jehoshaphat, like Asa before him, becomes lax in his later years. He forgot the warning of the prophet Jehu (19:2), and he allied again with Israel (v.35). Compare verses 36-37 with 1 Kings 22:48-49. Putting the two accounts together, it would seem that Jehoshaphat was willing to work with Israel to build the ships, but either didn’t trust the people of Israel or King Ahaziah enough to let Israel go on the expedition. Either way, God sends another prophet to tell Jehoshaphat that he would now be punished for his alliance with Israel, and the ships were wrecked before they even set out.
Israel didn’t learn from their mistakes and they were forsaken by God. We have seen that each of the last three kings had some sin in their lives that resulted in temporal punishment. We are about to see that Judah has not learned from Israel’s – or their own! – past mistakes. Things are about to head south (no pun intended).