Do Not Be Afraid

Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. (2 Chronicles 20:15)

The Predicament

In 2 Chronicles 20, the armies of Moab, Ammon, and Edom were on the move. Destination: Jerusalem. These were relatives of the Israel, Moab and Ammon being descendants of Lot and Edom of Esau. But this was no family reunion. This was a slaughter in the making.

These three nations bordered Israel and Judah on the east and south. And since the reigns of David and Solomon, they had off-and-on been subject to the kings of Israel, paying a tribute tax and providing forced labor.

But it had been over 60 years since Solomon’s death, and Israel had split into two kingdoms. His strength was divided. And the northern kingdom was weakened from its battles with Syria. The time was ripe. If they joined forces now, these kin could crush the army of Judah and plunder king Jehoshaphat’s wealth.

The Pressure

Jehoshaphat caught wind of the impending attack. It didn’t take a Pythagoras to do the math. His army was like a sandcastle facing a large breaker. The kingdom of Judah would be swept away unless he got some very strong help.

Now, forget for the moment that you know the fairytale-like ending to the story. What would it have been like to be Jehoshaphat? Bearing down on him was a brutal death for himself, everyone he loves, and tens of thousands of his people. And everyone was looking to him to do something to save them. That’s pressure.

Jehoshaphat’s options were limited. He might have tried to negotiate surrender. But that likely would have been refused. And even if accepted, it still probably meant his death and Judah’s destruction.

He might have quickly sent a pile of money and promises of servitude to Syria or Egypt. But there really wasn’t much time. Besides, he no doubt remembered his father Asa’s costly mistake. As a younger king Asa had cried out to the Lord for deliverance when his small army faced one million Ethiopian soldiers and God had miraculously answered him (2 Chronicles 14). But in later years Asa abandoned that trust and forged an alliance with Syria. And God disciplined him severely for it (2 Chronicles 16:1–10).

The wonderful thing about Jehoshaphat was that he really did trust the Lord and believed his promises. He did believe God could rescue Judah. He wanted to honor God by his trust. And, in this case, he didn’t have many alternatives. Sometimes that is a great mercy.

The Prayer

So Jehoshaphat gathered the people of Judah in Jerusalem for a fast. They stood before the temple and the king, in an act of great leadership, pleaded their case before the Lord and then said:

We are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you. (verse 12)

Isn’t that a beautiful confession? It is so child-like in its humility and faith. It is, in fact, another Old Testament picture of the gospel. We are powerless to save ourselves. But when we look to God and call on him for deliverance from the impending judgment, he brings about a salvation beyond our wildest imagination. Listen to God’s answer to Jehoshaphat’s prayer:

You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you. (2 Chronicles 20:17)

God answered Jehoshaphat’s faith-filled prayer by throwing the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Edom into confusion until they slaughtered one another. Jehoshaphat and his choir-led army never had to lift a sword. And it took them three days to carry the plunder back home.

The Purpose

The reason God orchestrated Jehoshaphat’s predicament is the same as his design in the tribulations and crises of our lives: he wants us to increasingly find freedom from fear. 

You see, real freedom is not liberty to do what we want or the absence of distress. Real freedom is the deep-seated confidence that no matter what, God really will provide everything we need (Philippians 4:19). The person who believes this is the freest of all persons on earth, because no matter what situation they find themselves in, they have nothing to fear (Philippians 4:11).

But the only way for sinners like us with a bent toward unbelief in God to find this kind of freedom is by experiencing repeatedly God’s delivering power and his faithfulness. That’s why we are to count it all joy when we meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2). These trials are setting us free.

God’s word to you through this story, in all the crises you face, is this: “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s” (2 Chronicles 20:15).


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Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) is the author of Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith and serves as the President of Desiring God, which he and John Piper launched together in 1994. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Pam, their five children, and one naughty dog.