Jehoshaphat and the Anatomy of Sanctification
Evan R. C. Reynolds, Oxford
How was it that the reign of a king, whose actions were summarized as "doing that which was right in the eyes of the Lord", I Kings 22. 43, led to a bloodbath among his children and grandchildren? The chronicler tells us Jehoshaphat's mother's name, v. 42, and we can assume that his godliness was in no small part due to her training. But who was the mother of Jehoshaphat's children ? Unusually, the Holy Spirit does not supply her name, and we cannot but think that she played a part in the family tragedy.
Separation from the World.
Jehoshaphat, at 35 years old and following Asa on the throne of Judah, looked at Israel his northern neighbour, and took his stand against that idolatrous nation which had been ruled already for four years by Ahab and his Baal-worshipping consort Jezebel. The king of Judah maintained the enmity of his predecessors towards Israel, and strengthened his border towns, 2 Chron. 17. 2-6. He neither copied his godless neighbours, nor desired their Baalim. His sanctification was not merely negative; he sought God and boasted in God's ways. So Paul writes, "God forbid that I should glory (boast), save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ", Gal. 6. 14. Judah, in consequence, was blessed by the Lord with peace and honour among the nations.
Separation from Evil. Sanctification is not concerned with external relations alone, but with what a believer is in himself. Thus Jehoshaphat set the affairs of Judah on a godly course. He removed many of the high places and groves, 2 Chron. 17. 6, though just as the Christian discovers cells of resistance in his heart, "the people offered and burnt incense yet in the high places", 1 Kings 22. 43. Homosexuality is a barometer of the moral state of a nation; Jehoshaphat rid the land of sodomites, v. 46. The book of the law of the Lord became well-known to the people of Judah, 2 Chron. 17. 7-9, for whenever was a child of God sanctified without the washing of water by the word?; cf. John 17. 17; Eph. 5. 26. Later the king himself itinerated through Judah to revive the worship of God, 2 Chron. 19. 4, so earnestly did he seek the sanctification of his people. Spiritual purity and righteous living go hand-in-hand for a sanctified believer. So it was that Jehoshaphat established righteousness with a God-fearing judiciary throughout Judah, vv. 5-11. Impartiality, faithfulness, justice and courage had to characterize the men chosen by the king. How the members of the Body of Christ need to show these same attributes, and especially overseers. For maintaining law and order within, and to defend the kingdom, Jehoshaphat had trusty warriors, 17. 13-19. One at least, Amasiah, first and foremost dedicated himself to the Lord. Though the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, 2 Cor. 10. 4; Eph. 6. 12. our sanctification is a real conflict.
The Holy War. Jehoshaphat fought one of the most amazing Bible battles, recorded in 2 Chronicles 20. His intelligence service reported the massing of Moabites and their allies on the shores of the Dead Sea. In natural fear he prayed, and the nation fasted. The king threw himself on the faithfulness of God to His promises. This sanctified man always respected the prophets of the Lord, and perhaps this was why God so consistently sent His messengers to Jehoshaphat. On this occasion, Jahaziel encouraged Judah with the word from God: "the battle is not yours, but God's... Ye shall not need to fight. . . fear not, nor be dismayed", vv. 15-17. Un-questioningly, on hearing this, the king with the people worshipped and praised. Jehoshaphat led Judah to implicit trust: "Believe in the Lord your God . . . believe his prophets", v. 20. The army set forward to a song of praise: "Praise the Lord; for his mercy endureth forever", v. 21. Surely there has never been such a distinctive body of soldiers; their joy and strength arose from their sanctification from all evil to the Lord, and this was expressed in the subject of their praise, "the beauty of holiness". Though it may be questioned what form of English most accurately gives the sense of the phrase, the people clearly appreciated the thrill of being the Lord's alone. Do we? After the victory, an incredible spoil was gathered. The people assembled in the valley of Berachah to bless the Lord, and in Jerusalem Jehoshaphat, who had so promoted the sanctification of God's people, led the praises, vv. 26-30.
Could this be the same man who "made peace with the king of Israel" ? I Kings 22. 44. Blessed by God with material wealth, Jehoshaphat identified himself with Ahab: he "joined affinity with Ahab", 2 Chron. 18. 1, which seems to mean that he made a marriage for himself . from Ahab's family, or it may refer to the marriage of his oldest son Jehoram to Athaliah, Ahab's daughter. It is true that through all the compromises which Jehoshaphat made, he never worshipped the idols of Israel nor renounced his faith in God. Did he think that he could influence Ahab for good by compromising his sanctification? How many believers have thus rationalized an unequal yoke, and how rarely has it brought God's blessing! Now it so happens that, as he had heard Elijah's pronouncement in Naboth's vineyard, Ahab had humbled himself before God, 1 Kings 21. 17-29. But Jezebel remained his consort. Did Jehoshaphat think that Ahab's change of heart was the result of his unholy alliance with the king of Israel, and did this encourage him to go further and make a complete identification with Ahab for the battle of Ramoth-gilead? Though we must never breed disunity, it is sometimes necessary to be careful in our relations with professed believers; they can lead us away from the Lord. Wooed by Ahab's lavish hospitality and persuasion, 2 Chron. 18. 2, Jehoshaphat became his ally, involving himself, all of Judah, and even his horses, I Kings 22. 4. As he led Judah to holiness, now he led them to the loss of their sanctification. I have to learn that my spiritual wellbeing or otherwise inevitably involves my local assembly. It is true Jehoshaphat tried to influence Ahab. He wanted to know the Lord's will before proceeding, 2 Chron. 18. 4. He detected the hollow-ness of Ahab's massed prophets, v. 6, and gently rebuked the king of Israel for despising the word from God if it did not suit his inclinations, v. 7. But Jehoshaphat was silent when Micaiah warned of the consequences of the battle, and when the prophet was sentenced to bread and water in prison. On the battlefield Jehoshaphat was even mistaken for Ahab, vv. 29-32. Then the grace of God stepped in, and instead of perishing with Ahab, "the Lord helped him". Whereas we are commanded by the Lord to be sanctified, I Pet. 1. 15-16, in our failure He does not desert us, but forgives and restores. This is clearly seen in the sequel to the battle of Ramoth-gilead. Defeated, Jehoshaphat returned to Jerusalem to be met by a godly man, Jehu, with the words, "Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord ? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord", 2 Chron. 19.
1-3. Yes, the Lord chastens those whom He loves, Heb. 12. 5-8. Jehu recorded that the grace of God took account of Jehoshaphat's works and motives. To his credit, the king accepted Jehu's remonstration, unlike king Asa who imprisoned Hanani, Jehu's father, for his faithful prophecy, Chron. 16. 7-10. It must have been a pleasure for Jehu to have become Jehoshaphat's biographer, 20. 34.
We are all problem children, and learn so slowly to walk with our Lord. So Jehoshaphat next joined himself with Ahaziah (Ahab's older son) king of Israel, "who did very wickedly", 2 Chron. 20. 35-37. The king of Judah showed his sanctified heart by refusing the alliance at first, 1 Kings 22. 49. He then gave in, and accepted Israel as partners in a naval venture. Another prophet Eliezer, condemned this unequal yoke and the ships Jehoshaphat built were destroyed by the Lord, 2 Chron. 20. 36-37; cf. 1 Cor. 3. 10-15.
After Ahaziah's short and wicked reign over Israel, his brother Jehoram took over the kingdom and soon sent to Jehoshaphat for help to quell the Moabite rebellion, 2 Kings 3. 5-7. Had the king forgotten that previous holy war with Moab and the glorious victory? It looks as if the alliance that he had made with the house of Ahab was still working out its deadly venom, because Jehoshaphat was at this time probably sharing the throne of Judah with his son, Jehoram, who was son-in-law to Ahab. The king of Judah's failure to keep separate from the evil was the mirror image of his previous sin over the battle of Ramoth-gilead. Again he allied himself, his kingdom, and his horses with Israel. It could not be a successful venture, and, late in the day, Jehoshaphat sought the Lord, v. 11. Elisha clearly distinguished between the godly king of Judah and his companions, v. 14. Once again God graciously delivered Jehoshaphat and gave victory over Moab.
Jehoshaphat had enjoyed the Lord's forgiveness and restoration; he had "walked in the first ways of his father, and of David", 2 Chron. 17. 3 marg., but the effects of his failure to remain sanctified from the surrounding evil brought the nation very low after his death, and brought the house of David and the lineage of the Christ near extinction. He named his son after Ahab's son; his grandson was named after Ahab's older son (his uncle). Murder, war and defeat were the inheritance of Jehoshaphat's family. Fellow believer, shall we exchange the beauty of holiness for an alliance with the world, its gods and systems, without regard to the consequences to ourselves, to those we love in the Lord, and to the local assembly?
Erratum: "Day by Day through the New Testament". Page 37, 6 lines up: 11. 33-46 should read 12. 33-46.