13th Oct 2019 – Prayer
We’ll look at prayer by studying how it was applied in Jehoshaphat’s day.
1/. Jehoshaphat prepared as much as he could for future defences.
2 Chronicles 17:1-2; 12-19 – 1And Jehoshaphat his son reigned in his stead, and strengthened himself against Israel. 2And he placed forces in all the fenced cities of Judah, and set garrisons in the land of Judah, and in the cities of Ephraim, which Asa his father had taken.
12And Jehoshaphat waxed great exceedingly; and he built in Judah castles, and cities of store. 13And he had much business in the cities of Judah: and the men of war, mighty men of valour, [were] in Jerusalem. 14And these [are] the numbers of them according to the house of their fathers: Of Judah, the captains of thousands; Adnah the chief, and with him mighty men of valour three hundred thousand. 15And next to him [was] Jehohanan the captain, and with him two hundred and fourscore thousand. 16And next him [was] Amasiah the son of Zichri, who willingly offered himself unto the Lord; and with him two hundred thousand mighty men of valour. 17And of Benjamin; Eliada a mighty man of valour, and with him armed men with bow and shield two hundred thousand. 18And next him [was] Jehozabad, and with him an hundred and fourscore thousand ready prepared for the war. 19These waited on the king, beside [those] whom the king put in the fenced cities throughout all Judah.
He prepared his defences, his army, and most importantly he prepared his life.
Clearly Jehoshaphat knew that he had enemies or else there would have been no need for such defences set up. And he did what he could to protect his country. If you wish to be able to ask God for help, you should be able to do as much as you can while you can, and then (and only then) trust the rest to God. Here we see that Jehoshaphat was well-prepared for most attacks, probably better prepared than most other kings of Judah had been.
2/. Jehoshaphat is attacked by more enemies than even his prepared defences can oppose.
2 Chronicles 20:1-2 – 1It came to pass after this also, [that] the children of Moab, and the children of Ammon, and with them [other] beside the Ammonites, came against Jehoshaphat to battle. 2Then there came some that told Jehoshaphat, saying, There cometh a great multitude against thee from beyond the sea on this side Syria; and, behold, they [be] in Hazazon–tamar, which [is] En–gedi.
We may assume that Jehoshaphat could have withstood one fully-equipped large army. He had to have prepared for this much at least. It is likely that Jehoshaphat had considered the possibility of 2 large armies coming against him; alliances between countries such as Moab and Ammon were not uncommon, keeping in mind that these were the two nations that descended from Lot. But this was to be the perfect “storm”, the ultimate attacking army which was really 3 large armies combined. It would have been huge, a “great multitude”! The 3rd army was Mt Seir which Genesis 32:3 tells us was where Esau settled, becoming known as Edom. This huge army would have been considered a certainty to win against even a strengthened Judah!
3/. Even with his well-prepared fortifications and army, Jehoshaphat is rightly afraid of what is going to happen; he acknowledges that unless God answers, they are destroyed!
2 Chronicles 20:3 – 3And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.
And Jehoshaphat feared! (And so would you!) This army coming against his country was big enough to probably wipe them all out. This army wasn’t there to pick a fight; it was there to remove Judah from existence! They wouldn’t just win the battle; they would exterminate Judah! What do you do if you are afraid, especially if you have done everything you can already and it isn’t anywhere near enough? Panic? Give in? Send messengers asking for terms of surrender? No, he had prepared because he knew Judah would have to be strong to keep standing against the nations around her, and he wasn’t about to give in. Jehoshaphat had prepared his country to stand against enemies in battle, but he had also prepared himself to lead his country by walking in the ways of David his ancestor and did not seek to worship false gods, instead seeking the Lord God.
2 Chronicles 17:3-6 – 3And the Lord was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the first ways of his father David, and sought not unto Baalim; 4But sought to the [Lord] God of his father, and walked in his commandments, and not after the doings of Israel. 5Therefore the Lord stablished the kingdom in his hand; and all Judah brought to Jehoshaphat presents; and he had riches and honour in abundance. 6And his heart was lifted up in the ways of the Lord: moreover he took away the high places and groves out of Judah.
Jehoshaphat had not only prepared his country physically; he had prepared it spiritually. He sought to obey God, rejecting the disobedient example of Israel. He took away the places of false worship, and God established the kingdom in the hand of Jehoshaphat. You’d think that this would have protected him from the enemy, that God would have kept him from such trials. But, no, God does not remove His people from the conflict, but instead places them in the thick of battle, promising to never leave them nor forsake them. (Note this when those word of faith churches try to proclaim that trials and troubles are the result of sin in our lives.)
Ephesians 6:13 – Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Thus Jehoshaphat set himself to seek the Lord; he had prepared himself for this and now he was asked to put that preparation to the test. He proclaimed a fast throughout Judah. He could have been tempted to think that this was a sign of weakness, he, the king, having set up such defences, now having to admit that they could still be facing defeat unless God came to the rescue. The situation was extreme; only God could save them now and it was time to seek God and a time to admit that there was no other solution to their problems. Everything is now to be put upon God, for if God doesn’t answer, then they are destroyed! Ultimately this is what glorifies God: that at some point we have to acknowledge that without God we can do nothing. for without me ye can do nothing. (John 15:5)
Note also the parable of the pharisee and the publican (or tax collector) – Luke 18:9-14, where the tax collector throws himself upon the mercy (propitiation) of God because there is literally no other option for forgiveness. God wants us at the point of knowing that we cannot do without Him. We cannot be self-sufficient!
4/. Judah comes out in full support of their godly king, and the desperate situation is laid out before God; all Judah joins with Jehoshaphat to plead their case.
2 Chronicles 20:4-13 – 4And Judah gathered themselves together, to ask [help] of the Lord: even out of all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord. 5And Jehoshaphat stood in the congregation of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, 6And said, O Lord God of our fathers, [art] not thou God in heaven? and rulest [not] thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in thine hand [is there not] power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee? 7[Art] not thou our God, [who] didst drive out the inhabitants of this land before thy people Israel, and gavest it to the seed of Abraham thy friend for ever? 8And they dwelt therein, and have built thee a sanctuary therein for thy name, saying, 9If, [when] evil cometh upon us, [as] the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we stand before this house, and in thy presence, (for thy name [is] in this house,) and cry unto thee in our affliction, then thou wilt hear and help. 10And now, behold, the children of Ammon and Moab and mount Seir, whom thou wouldest not let Israel invade, when they came out of the land of Egypt, but they turned from them, and destroyed them not; 11Behold, [I say, how] they reward us, to come to cast us out of thy possession, which thou hast given us to inherit. 12O our God, wilt thou not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes [are] upon thee. 13And all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.
house of the LORD – bayith Yᵉhovah (cf Bethel or Beyth-’El – the house of God)
Note that the people are Judah and Jerusalem; Jerusalem is Benjamin’s city! The southern kingdom of Judah contained the 2 tribes of Judah and Benjamin.
All Judah turns up at the temple (the house of God the Lord) to plead their case before God whom they acknowledge as the only one who can help them now. And it is Jehoshaphat as their king and now in the role of spiritual leader who speaks for all Judah. It is clear that Jehoshaphat had the respect of all the people, an unusual thing in the politics of any country at any time. Many leaders such as Pharaoh enforced the obedience of their people, but here they are obeying the king seemingly through their own free will choice. Jehoshaphat is proving himself not only to be a strong leader but also a wise leader, and all Judah (and Jerusalem) being there demonstrates this beyond doubt.
Look at the prayer itself. (a) It acknowledges God as being all powerful, ruling over all the nations on earth. No-one can withstand Him. (b) God drove out the previous inhabitants of their land and gave it to them forever through Abraham, God’s friend. (c) In particular, God’s presence is in this temple, where, when evil comes, they can cry out to Him in their affliction. (d) Those 3 nations whom God wouldn’t let them fight in battle in the wilderness are now taking advantage of not having been destroyed back then, and now they are trying to destroy God’s people. (e) Will not God judge them for what they are now doing (for it is not fair for Israel to have let them go free when now they refuse to return the favour to Judah). (f) Judah have insufficient might to oppose this huge army that has come against them. They do not know what to do. Their only hope is in God, and their eyes are on God to see what He would be able to do for them now. They know that only God is able to defeat the enemy (but will He do so?). (g) And all Judah (including children and wives) waits upon God expectantly. Their eyes are upon God!
Maybe Judah is unsure as to whether God will actually do something. Do they deserve to be helped? What if God should deny them any help because perhaps they haven’t done enough for Him, or maybe they have to suffer defeat before God rescues them? They must have been uncertain as to whether God would consider them worthy to be helped. Now, though, it has been placed in God’s hands.
5/. God answers them and says that they will not need to fight in this battle for He will fight for them.
2 Chronicles 20:14-17 – 14Then upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, came the Spirit of the Lord in the midst of the congregation; 15And he said, Hearken ye, all Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, and thou king Jehoshaphat, Thus saith the Lord unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle [is] not yours, but God’s. 16To morrow go ye down against them: behold, they come up by the cliff of Ziz; and ye shall find them at the end of the brook, before the wilderness of Jeruel. 17Ye shall not [need] to fight in this [battle]: set yourselves, stand ye [still], and see the salvation of the Lord with you, O Judah and Jerusalem: fear not, nor be dismayed; to morrow go out against them: for the Lord [will be] with you.
God has indeed provided an answer. The Holy Spirit comes upon a Levite named Jahaziel, right there in the middle of the people of Judah. He tells them (via the Spirit of the Lord) to listen to what God has to say (that is, all Judah, citizens of Jerusalem, and King Jehoshaphat). There is little point to God speaking if they do not bother to listen. Too many people pray for answers, yet through unbelief, or maybe importance in their own knowledge, fail to hear the answer God provides, or they do not recognise the answer because it wasn’t what they were wanting to hear! Firstly, God tells them to not be afraid, do not be dismayed at their inability to fight such a large army. They have put their trust in God and God will not fail them. It is no longer Judah’s battle, for they have placed it in God’s hands (that is, God has been enabled by their free will to trust Him) that he might act on their behalf.
Too many might feel too proud to admit that they are useless in such circumstances. Admission of inadequacy might be seen as weakness. But, what’s wrong with admitting to weakness? God is saying that if they are too weak by their own admission to withstand this mighty army, then He (God) will fight their battle for them. God tells them that they are to go out against the enemy the next morning, but they won’t have to do any fighting because they have trusted this to God. They do not need to fight, but just stand still and see the salvation that their Lord God will provide.
Do not be afraid nor dismayed; go out against the enemy and God will be with you.
Note Exodus 14:13-14 – 13And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. 14The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.
6/. Jehoshaphat accepts all that God says to him and praises God for His deliverance.
2 Chronicles 20:18-21 – 18And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with [his] face to the ground: and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell before the Lord, worshipping the Lord. 19And the Levites, of the children of the Kohathites, and of the children of the Korhites, stood up to praise the Lord God of Israel with a loud voice on high. 20And they rose early in the morning, and went forth into the wilderness of Tekoa: and as they went forth, Jehoshaphat stood and said, Hear me, O Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem; Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper. 21And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the Lord, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the Lord; for his mercy [endureth] for ever.
Now, this is not the normal way to fight and win battles, so it is quite outstanding for Jehoshaphat to accept this and to praise God for His promise to fight for them. Not only the king worships God; all Judah (and the inhabitants of Jerusalem) also recognise that God has indeed spoken. Today many self-proclaimed prophets of God get up in churches around the world and “prophesy” that God will do this or that, only to have their “prophesies” fail. Even if their prophesies have some success, the test of the true prophet of God was that not one of their prophesies should fail. If he spoke a “prophesy” that failed, he was to be put to death. On this basis most “prophets” of today would cease living!
Deuteronomy 18:20-22 – 20But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. 21And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken? 22When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that [is] the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, [but] the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.
That is, if it didn’t happen, then God didn’t speak it!
They are eager to get to battle, which does not suggest fear in any shape or form. They are not dragging their feet the next morning. They rose early! They went forth; there was no arguing as to whether it was wise or not, for God had spoken. As they went forth (probably they were all assembled ready to march forth into battle), Jehoshaphat gives them one last command: Believe in the Lord God and what you do will be established; believe God’s prophets (such as Jahaziel); that is, if you believe it, then act as if you believe it, and you will have success.
Joshua 1:8-9 – 8This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. 9Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God [is] with thee whithersoever thou goest.
And now the most surprising of all, Jehoshaphat appointed those who would sing praises to God, to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
Psalm 96:8-13 – 8Give unto the Lord the glory [due unto] his name: bring an offering, and come into his courts. 9O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth. 10Say among the heathen [that] the Lord reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved: he shall judge the people righteously. 11Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof. 12Let the field be joyful, and all that [is] therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice 13Before the Lord: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth.
Not only were they to go out to battle with the army, they were to go in front of the army and to say, Praise the Lord; for his mercy [endureth] for ever. What army ever goes out to battle with the church choir marching in front singing hymns??
7/. The songs of praise trigger the slaughter of the enemy.
2 Chronicles 20:22-24 – 22And when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten. 23For the children of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of mount Seir, utterly to slay and destroy [them]: and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, every one helped to destroy another. 24And when Judah came toward the watch tower in the wilderness, they looked unto the multitude, and, behold, they [were] dead bodies fallen to the earth, and none escaped.
It isn’t enough to just say that you trust God for the victory. You have to act upon what you say you trust. Abraham showed his faith when he left his father’s home. Noah showed his faith when he commenced building the ark. Jehoshaphat showed his faith when he sent the temple choir out in front of all his fighting men. If God didn’t deliver on the promise, then these singers would soon be mincemeat! And spare a thought for the singers, too. How do you think they felt about it all? They had to be 100% committed to the course of action or else they’d have been foolish to think that they could survive leading the army out to battle. Talk about forlorn hope – which derives from the Dutch words for “lost troop”! (This derives from musket warfare, where most in the first line of battle died so the next wave of soldiers could effectively attack. The first line were the “lost troop”!)
And the moment they started to sing praises to God, Ammon and Moab (both descended from brothers born to Lot) joined forces to exterminate Mt Seir. But, while this could sound believable – two armies against the third – it is difficult to understand how those two armies, after wiping out Mt Seir, then set to and wiped out each other! We aren’t told just how God did it, but God did indeed fight their battle for them, for when Judah (presumably with the singers still in front) came upon the battle field, they looked to where the huge army was said to have been and all they could see were dead bodies all over the ground; not one single enemy had escaped.
8/. Jehoshaphat and Judah receive the blessing for committing everything to God in prayer.
2 Chronicles 20:25-30 – 25And when Jehoshaphat and his people came to take away the spoil of them, they found among them in abundance both riches with the dead bodies, and precious jewels, which they stripped off for themselves, more than they could carry away: and they were three days in gathering of the spoil, it was so much. 26And on the fourth day they assembled themselves in the valley of Berachah (blessing); for there they blessed the Lord: therefore the name of the same place was called, The valley of Berachah (blessing), unto this day. 27Then they returned, every man of Judah and Jerusalem, and Jehoshaphat in the forefront of them, to go again to Jerusalem with joy; for the Lord had made them to rejoice over their enemies. 28And they came to Jerusalem with psalteries and harps and trumpets unto the house of the Lord. 29And the fear of God was on all the kingdoms of [those] countries, when they had heard that the Lord fought against the enemies of Israel. 30So the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet: for his God gave him rest round about.
The consequence here for trusting in God’s promises are “blessing” and rest from the enemy (at least for a while, until the next time!
Note how prayer works here. God has created a world and has given man dominion over that world. The rules for governance are set from the beginning: that man rules, and “outside” players only get involved when invoked by man. Generally man has free will to do anything as long as he doesn’t go outside the boundaries/rules that God has set from the beginning. God grants man his basic needs; this is not interference. Some men may take needs off other men; this is still man’s dominion playing itself out. God generally stays out of man’s affairs (other than providing basic needs and, as judge, preventing those decisions that are not allowable according to His rules) except when man by his free will decision requests God to be involved in his affairs. Satan and his demons are likewise bound to not interfere except when man asks for it (which more often than not is via the deception of temptation and sin placing influence or control on the lives of men). The rules, though, do appear to be that no direct manipulation may happen other than by man’s free will.
God may (if He so wills) act on behalf of man when requested to do so. This mainly applies to Christians who have a special covenant with God to be His people and He will be their God, although He will also act when a person calls upon the name of the Lord to be saved. Satan and his demons may also act on behalf of man but generally do not act when asked openly; rather satan and demons “buy” influence or control over man through the deceit of trading sin for that influence or control. Technically, satan and demons are not permitted to influence or control man without man’s free will involved somewhere in the transaction, but man may be deceived into choosing such influence or control by giving in to temptation. God may act on man’s behalf in a more direct manner, by requiring that man makes his requests known to God via prayer and God promises to answer according to His will.
Of course, God as judge may overrule at any time He wills (while satan and his demons are not permitted to overrule – it is against the “rules”, for they are not God!). This overruling by God includes times such as (a) man makes unacceptable free will decisions according to God’s judgement; (b) satan and demons act without man’s authority (which is usually gained by deceit through temptation and sin); (c) Christians who are subject to the Romans 8:28 promise, thus limiting what others (both men and demons) may do to them. Christians who pray according to God’s will may be seen as openly requiring that God acts by using their dominion authority.
An understanding of these processes makes it clear that God may not grant to us some things that we want or even need (yet do not ask for) simply because it is seen as interference in our affairs against our free will. We are told that if we ask for anything according to His will, he hears us and grants us our petitions (1 John 5:14-15). However, we may not receive such provision if we do not ask, or if we have selfish motives such as consuming it upon our lusts (James 4:2-3). And it is unlikely that God will provide something for us that we could have done for ourselves had we been more diligent. Note that Jehoshaphat prepared all that he could, and it is clear God gave him more because he had already done what he could to protect his country. (Would God, do you think, have done so much for Jehoshaphat if he had not done anything to protect his country beforehand? We cannot expect God to make amends for our own shortcomings unless we have made some serious effort to deal with our shortcomings first.)
Here are the steps that led to prayer being answered for Jehoshaphat.
1/. He was diligent to prepare for the future. He prepared his defences, he trained his people to fight, and he prepared his own heart to obey and serve God.
2/. He asked; therefore it is safe to assume that if he hadn’t asked, he would not have received! Nor if he had asked for selfish reasons, either.
3/. He responded in faith; for without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).
4/. He gave thanks; he praised God. We are required to give thanks for all things.
Note that Jehoshaphat didn’t dictate to God how He should answer this prayer. Also note that Jehoshaphat wasn’t speaking only for himself; all those (all Judah and Jerusalem) who were under attack were also a part of this prayer.
It is reasonable to say that Jehoshaphat needed all four points covered in order to obtain such a victory. Involving all the people also would have assisted here. Prayer for us is much the same. We must diligently prepare ourselves and our responsibilities. The saying is that God helps those who help themselves. To a limited extent this is correct, although it is a much-overused rule. If we aren’t prepared to work, then why should God do it all for us? We must ask, even if it is God’s will, for God might not deliver if we don’t request it. Then, after praying our petition, we must act as if we have placed it in God’s hands. That doesn’t mean putting things in place to try and force God to act for us (like the school at Echuca tried to manipulate God into getting more students! – see below). We have to assume that God will answer us, even if we see no obvious answer. And even if we see no obvious answer, we still have to give thanks for God’s answer, or else assume that he won’t answer (which itself is a lack of faith). (Unless we should know that God won’t answer because we are asking for something for selfish or sinful reasons.)
(The school in Echuca had decided that they needed more students. They decided that they had to step out in faith to ensure God answering them. To this end they prepared an extra classroom, made or purchased extra furniture and equipment, ordered extra curriculum materials, and then sat back waiting for God to honour their “act of faith”. However, instead of numbers increasing, the numbers dropped, with even more empty spaces than before. What did they do wrong? I suggest that it is a bad thing to try to manipulate God into giving us what we want just because we follow a formula in order to “demonstrate” our faith!)