By Elliot Ritzema
Life is complicated. It’s hard to connect the dots between cause and effect. As I write this, I’m drinking coffee made from beans grown in a place I will never visit by someone I will never meet. This is the way of our fast-paced, interconnected world.
But the difficulty of seeing how things got to be the way they are is not a new phenomenon. The books of 1 & 2 Chronicles pull back the veil and show readers what God has been up to in history.
The Chronicler doesn’t have a lot of good things to say about most kings. Even if they started well, like Jehoshaphat’s father, Asa, they usually ended poorly.
Jehoshaphat started more promisingly than most. He “strengthened himself against Israel” (2Chronicles 17:1) and is compared to King David; only two other kings (Hezekiah and Josiah) get that honor. He “took great pride in the LORD’s ways” (v.6). And he prioritized educating the people in God’s law. Because of his faithfulness, God struck fear into the hearts of the nations around Judah. They were not worshipers of God, but still, they were filled with awe at the God of Judah. They didn’t want to put their gods in opposition to him; they knew they would lose.
But while the nations around Judah were afraid to fight, Jehoshaphat continued to expand his military. With all this military buildup, the reader expects war will be coming. And sure enough, it does.
It came about because Jehoshaphat allied himself to the king of Israel, Ahab, through marriage: his son and successor as king, Jehoram, married Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab. This is a stark change in policy from 17:1, where Jehoshaphat had strengthened himself against Israel. He had amassed “riches and honor in abundance” (2Chronicles 18:1) because of God’s faithfulness to him, yet he turned and put those resources in the service of a wicked king.
When we read Psalm 33:16, “A king is not saved by a large army,” it can be applied differently to both Ahab and Jehoshaphat. Evil Ahab tried to hide behind his army to disguise himself as someone else, yet God was not fooled. Despite the good he did, Jehoshaphat yielded to pressure to ally himself with forces opposed to God. He escaped with his life, and surely he did not commit the same evil as Ahab. However, he compromised on God’s commands because failed to see God’s best for him.
The Chronicler’s audience had a lot of questions. Foremost among them were, “Why were we sent into exile?” and “Has God abandoned us?” He had not abandoned them, and he will not abandon us. In our complicated world, knowing and doing what is right can sometimes feel overwhelming, but it is often more straightforward than we make it. It is as easy and hard as trusting in the Lord—in his power and faithful love—and not our own resources.
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