The armies of Moab, Ammon, and Edom were on the move. Destination: Jerusalem. They were relatives of the Israelites. Moab and Ammon were descended from Lot and Edom from Esau. But this was no extended 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 to serve Israel.
But it had been more than 60 years since Solomon’s death, and Israel had split into two kingdoms. Her strength was divided. And the northern kingdom was weakened from its battles with Syria. The time was ripe. If Moab, Ammon and Edom joined forces now, they could crush the army of Judah and plunder King Jehoshaphat’s wealth. After that, maybe the northern kingdom.
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 wave about to break right on it. 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? A brutal death for himself and everyone he loves and tens of thousands of his people was bearing down on him. And everyone was looking to him to do something to save them. Imagine the pressure.
His options were limited. He might have tried to negotiate a 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 with promises of servitude to Syria or Egypt. But there really wasn’t much time, and even if there had been, he might be jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
I think he also remembered his father Asa’s mistake. As a younger king Asa had cried out to the Lord for deliverance when his small army faced one million Ethiopian soldiers. God had miraculously answered him. But in later years Asa abandoned that trust and forged an alliance with Syria. And God disciplined him severely for it.
Jehoshaphat really did trust the Lord and believed his promises. He believed 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.
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 this:
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. (2 Chronicles 20:12)
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.
The reason God orchestrated Jehoshaphat’s predicament is the same as his design in the tribulations and crises in our lives: he wants us to increasingly find freedom from fear.
You see, real freedom is not the liberty to do whatever we like, or even the absence of distress. Real freedom is the deep-seated confidence that God really will provide EVERYTHING we need. The person who believes this truth is the freest of all persons on earth, because no matter what situation they find themselves in, they have nothing to fear.
But the only way for sinners like us 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). They are making us free.
There are a lot of temptations to fear right now: political change, economic calamity, natural disasters, all on top of personal hardships. And that’s why this month we are featuring the message titled, “Fear Not, I Am With You, I Am Your God.” We want to remind you that all these things are working together for your good and for your ultimate freedom and joy. John Piper unpacks Isaiah 41:1-13, one of his favorite texts, and gives us what he calls “the key to overcoming fear.”
If you benefit from the free online resources of Desiring God, would you consider a financial gift this month? As I write this letter we are experiencing a budget shortfall, like many others right now. But we have no doubt God will provide for our needs. Maybe he’ll use you. Thank you for prayerfully considering a gift to Desiring God.
God answered Jehoshaphat’s faith-filled prayer in a spectacular way. He threw the Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites into confusion and 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. When we look to God and call on him for deliverance from the impending judgment, he brings about a salvation beyond our wildest imagination.
God’s word to us through this story in all the crises we 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).
Trusting the God of Jehoshaphat with you,