This is what happens when a travelling preacher can't travel and preach!
Part Two: 2 Chronicles 20:1-30
Trouble loves company!
"When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions!" (Hamlet Act 4 Scene 5)
Shakespeare was a shrewd observer of life. He had observed that trouble does seem to love company!
A week ago (in our home group) we noted from 1 Samuel 30, how David's problems came hard on each other's heels. In Jehoshaphat's case, facing any one of Judah's enemies would have been bad enough, but in 2 Chronicles 20 he was faced by a coalition of his enemies.
With over a million troops of his own he was still outmatched by the combined might of three aggressive nations - verses 2 & 12: "a vast army"
Interestingly, unlike in David’s case (1 Samuel 30) where he was blamed by his followers for the disaster which they had suffered, the people of Judah did not appear to hold King Jehoshaphat responsible for their troubles!
It’s human nature to look for someone to blame when things go wrong. Sooner or later the peoples of the world will be looking for someone to blame for the havoc that the Coronavirus has caused.
Some people are wondering if this current pandemic is really a judgement from God on the nations of the world? It may be, and if it is then we have no grounds to complain, because, quite literally, ‘God knows’ we deserve it!
It is clear that often in the Old Testament histories, calamities that came upon God's people were a direct result of their backsliding. Snake bites, military defeats, thirst, hunger and exile could all be traced back to their idolatry, immorality, corruption or disloyalty. In short: God's judgements often took the form of disasters!
However, not all calamities and difficult circumstances are indicators of God's displeasure or of his discipline. In the case of the events recorded in 2 Chronicles 20, the threat posed by Judah's enemies was not a consequence of Jehoshaphat's sin or a punishment for national waywardness.
Jehoshaphat was a good king. The OT kings of Israel and Judah are categorised in scripture as being either 'good' or 'bad'. A good king was one who, "did what was right in the sight of the Lord" and a bad king was one who, "did what was evil in the sight of the Lord."
Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 17:3, 7 - 9) was a man with a proper regard for God’s Law (Word) and a zeal for ensuring that His people lived by it – A good king whose “heart was devoted to the ways of the Lord.”
We need to be very slow in deciding and declaring that a certain set of circumstances are a judgement directly from God. They may be, but it must not be assumed that such is always the case.
A call to repent?
I’ve been asked in the last few days whether or not I think that the pandemic is God’s way of calling people to repentance. It may be!
It is certain that God want’s people to repent. Acts 17:30 tells us that he doesn’t merely invite or encourage people to repent, He “commands” that they do so!
But in the context of Acts 17:30 the stimulus to repentance is the proclamation of the fragility of life, the certainty of Judgement and the message of the resurrection of Christ!
God’s patience and the proclamation of the Gospel are still the chief ‘tools’ by which God calls people to repent. To put it bluntly: this pandemic is not going to do the Church’s work for her! Our responsibility to preach the Gospel and call for a twin response of repentance and faith, is neither diminished nor increased by this present crisis.
A sign of the end?
Again, the question is being asked as to whether or not the current crisis is an indicator of the near return of Christ.
The Bible makes it clear that the world’s condition in every regard will deteriorate as we get closer to the coming of Christ. International relationships will continue to breakdown. Natural disasters, famines and increasing spiritual confusion will continue to be the ‘order of the day’. (Matthew 24 & Mark 16)
This pandemic undoubtedly fits into that paradigm. But that is not to say that it is an immediate pre-cursor to the return of Christ.
With or without Covid-19, we are a day nearer to the imminent return of Christ than we were a day ago!
The pandemic may well ‘put us on our toes’ and heighten our sense of expectancy but if it does that, it is only bringing us to the place where we should be anyway.
Of course the global health crisis is part of the build up to the return of Christ – but then again, everything is!
If the present danger sharpens our sense of anticipation about the coming of Christ, then that is all to the good but the crisis itself may or may not be part of the final countdown.
Back to Jehoshapat!
The fear which he felt.
On hearing the news of the approach of his enemies Jehoshaphat’s initial response was (verse 3) “alarm”.
This fear was shared by all the people. When God’s prophet spoke to them (verse 15) he addressed their fear and discouragement (low morale).
It is natural that when we are threatened, we feel fearful. Faced with the prospect of losing his throne, his possessions, his liberty and his people, Jehoshaphat was understandably afraid.
His fear, however, did not paralyse him; it provoked him to action.
The fast he proclaimed.
His call was not to a national exercise in self-discipline, it was a call to prayer, a cry for wisdom and help. The fasting was to be a sign of earnestness and a giving up of other things in order to pray.
For the child of God there is, at one level, nothing very spiritual about praying! To cry out to God when we are afraid, hurting or under threat is an instinctive thing! It is the act of a child to it’s parent.
The world derides prayer as being the resort of the weak. To many unbelievers praying is at best a sentimental exercise in self-delusion from which some people find comfort.
But to the Christian, praying is wielding one of “the weapons of our warfare” (2 Cor 10:4). These “weapons” we are told, are “not the weapons of the world, but they have divine power to demolish strongholds.”
We thank God for the ‘army’ of researchers, medics, technologists, scientists etc. who are combating the spread and the effect of Covid-19. We must do all we can to protect and aid them, but we must also do what we, as believers in Christ, are best placed to do – we must pray and encourage others to pray with us.
The focus of his prayer (verses 6-12)
In praying he took account of three truths:
1. God's Position – verse 6 “Are you not the God who is in heaven?”
Jehoshaphat was not suggesting that God was far removed from the plight of his people! He was emphasising that God was in the best position to see what was happening and to do something about it.
With so much going on in the ‘down here’ let’s take heart from remembering, as a very old Sunday School song puts it,
GOD IS STILL ON THE THRONE,
AND HE WILL REMEMBER HIS OWN;
THOUGH TRIALS MAY PRESS US
AND BURDENS DISTRESS US,
HE NEVER WILL LEAVE US ALONE;
GOD IS STILL ON THE THRONE,
AND HE WILL REMEMBER HIS OWN;
HIS PROMISE IS TRUE,
HE WILL NOT FORGET YOU,
GOD IS STILL ON THE THRONE.
2. God's Power – verse 6 “Power and might are in your hand.”
The power appeared to be with the “vast army” that was coming against Jerusalem, but Jehoshaphat had a different perspective! He understood, as Psalm 62:11 puts it, ““power belongeth unto the Lord!” (KJAV)
Let’s remember with whom the real power lies!
3. God's Promise – verse 7-9
Jehoshaphat is unafraid to cite the pledge / the covenant that God had made with Abraham and with his descendants.
His confidence that God would hear his prayer and help his people was not founded on a vague belief in the general benevolence of God. It was solidly grounded in what God had promised. This is the very essence of faith – to believe that what God has said is true and that what God has promised, He will do!
We are ‘covenant people.’ We are in a relationship with God and we have His word that we can come confidently and in full expectation of finding “mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.” (Heb 4:16)
A Prophet, Praise and Plunder! verses 14 - 28
God sent a message and the people:
Fell down in worship, (verse 18) stood up in praise, (verse 19) set out in faith, and staggered home under the weight of riches!
Not shouting aggressive battle cries at the enemy but celebrating the love of God.
Philippians 4:6 tells us to not only pray and petition God but to praise him for His faithfulness – “to present our requests to God, with thanksgiving.”
“God gave rest on every side!” verse 30
In 1839 Edward Fitzgerald, an English poet, published a retelling of a Persian fable. The fable concerned an Eastern monarch who asked his wise men to create a ring for the king to wear which would make him happy every time he looked at it.
After a lot of deliberation they presented the king with a ring on which were inscribed the words, “This too shall pass”
We look forward to the time when, not only will Covid-19 pass, but to the time when, “God shall wipe away every tear and there shall be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” and God shall give “rest on every side.”