The Scriptural account of King Jehoshaphat always generates interest, admiration and shock. He was undoubtedly one of the great kings of Judah; his faith and achievements seem to place him among the most successful of all the kings. He reigned for 25 years beginning at the age of 35. Whilst this was a much shorter monarchy than his father Asa, who reigned for 41 years, yet the figure portrayed is that of a very special man of faith with wide talents, humility of mind, a broad picture of interests, responsible defender of the realm, ready student of the Word of God, and a lover of judgment and justice (as his name signified, too), even a builder of a fleet of commercial ships based in the southern port of Eziongeber (2 Chron 20:36).

The first thing said of Jehoshaphat is that he strengthened himself against the northern Kingdom, a most reasonable precaution, for only four years before Ahab had ascended to the throne in Samaria, his mind bent on idolatry to the extent that he deliberately brought into Israel a pagan wife steeped in the worship of Baal. Jezebel was a powerful advocate of all the sensual practices of the Phoenicians (2 Chron 17:1; 1Kings 16:31; Rev 2:20). So Jehoshaphat placed forces in all the fenced cities and garrisons of Judah (2 Chron 17:2). This major building programme made it clear to all his subjects that the king and his kingdom were opposed to the policies of Ahab and were quite prepared to fight for and defend the truth once delivered to their fathers. Therein is a first principle of reformation—a recognition of the evils that threaten and an open statement of opposition to them. The people needed to know where the king was going.

His Heart was Lifted up in the Ways of Yahweh

The beauty of the new king of Judah was his own relationship to Israel’s God. The theme of his father’s life was expressed by the prophet Azariah in these words, “Yahweh is with you, while ye be with Him; and if ye seek Him, He will be found of you; but if ye forsake Him, He will forsake you.” Asa’s whole life is studded with similar statements (2 Chron 14:2, 7, 11; 15:2, 4, 12, 15; but cp16:9, 12). Even if Asa lapsed in his last years, there is no doubt that Jehoshaphat had really taken this message to heart; he “sought not unto Baalim; but sought to Yahweh Elohim of his father (2 Chron 17:3-4). Fortresses and towers, swords and soldiers may provide some physical defence but the spirit of the nation is the critical factor and that must begin with the king.

With meaningful reiteration the record states, “he walked in the first ways of his father David”; (or more probably as the margin puts it, “of his father, and of David”) and he “walked in the commandments of the God of his father” (v3,4). These stirring phrases open the door to the mind of Jehoshaphat. He is strongly aware of the life of king David and of the beautiful and best years of his early reign. He has perceived that at that stage of the history of his people, Yahweh their God was closely related to the king and to the nation. David was a “man of God”, a “man after God’s own heart” and because he had sought God, so God had worked mightily in the midst of the nation so that expansion, prosperity, security, righteousness, joyfulness, peace and happiness were in strong evidence from Dan to Beersheba and Jerusalem the capital was the throne of Yahweh, a city of truth. Perceiving all the good, the new king resolved that he would emulate the son of Jesse so that all those beautiful qualities of David’s era would be features of his own reign.

This is a valuable insight into the mind of Jehoshaphat, and into the spirit of Reformation. Reformation has to do with restoring the faith and righteousness of the past. It recognises that the Father has been in our past and that we have moved away from some good aspects of former times and are resolved to return to them and jealously guard those faithful qualities that are still with us. Reformation is respectful of the former years because it perceives that God was there and blessings were multiplied. His own father Asa may not have been of the stature of David but there were good things found in him for the greater period of his reign: Jehoshaphat observed this and he respectfully strove to maintain “the first ways of his father”. There is a beautiful attitude, a deep and large mind, not blown up with the advice of new friends with little knowledge or experience, or moved by the spirit of democracy which so saturates our present world that untried and unwise men are so often put into positions of great responsibility to the ruin of their business or institution.

It is exciting to contemplate the mind and thinking of Jehoshaphat. Attempting to colour in the picture the record so aptly puts it this way: “his heart was lifted up in the ways of Yahweh”. How did this happen? It is an exceptionally beautiful description. Jehoshaphat was not just a believing member of the nation of Judah, he was in love with all that Yahweh stood for. He knew about His character, His mercy and His truth, His steadfast love, His integrity and faithfulness—all that Moses had learnt in Exodus 34. He thought about His great and mighty acts and revisited the glory of Yahweh’s deliverance of His people from the prison of Egypt, by the shores of the Red Sea, at Sinai or the forty years of the wilderness. Did he not contemplate again the special nature of their calling? The living God was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob their own forefathers. His heart warmed to those things of old and he determined to bring all the best of the past back into the kingdom of Judah. What an inspirational mind, what a leader, what a rightful heir to the throne.

“He Shall Write Him a Copy of This Law in a Book”

This caption is from Deuteronomy 17:19, part of the particular commandments for a new king. So it was that “when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom”, then, at the critical time of his life when responsibilities suddenly came flooding in from every aspect of his kingdom, the new king had to go into his private parlour and write out his own copy of the Law of God. Nothing was to be considered more exciting, more important, more necessary than writing up his own personal copy of “all this law and these statutes”. While the new king was busy at his own desk with quill and ink, his whole administration was learning again that the fear of Yahweh was the essential need of a king. “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (2 Sam 23:3). In fact, among the five benefits associated with this special writing project was this very thing, “that he may learn to fear Yahweh his God”. It was the first benefit in the list and Jehoshaphat’s immediate seeking after God reflects this thought. The third item in Moses’ list was “that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren” (Deut 17:20) and again we sense the relevance of this comment in the mind of the king whose heart, in marvellous contrast, was lifted up in the ways of Yahweh. It was surely from the Word of God that the “lift” of heart and mind arose in the opening years of Jehoshaphat!

Nor did the king keep the Word to himself. In the third year of his reign he gathered together a mixed group of sixteen principal men, five princes, nine Levites and two priests. Although forty-eight cities had been given to the Levites and thirteen specifically to the priests, yet this was a special task force set up by royal decree for the teaching of the people. “And they taught in Judah, and had the book of the law of Yahweh with them, and went about throughout all the cities of Judah, and taught the people” (2 Chron 17:9). One cannot help but love the inspiration of Jehoshaphat! If there was to be a reform then things could not just go along as they always had. Having felt the wonderful encouragement of the Word of the living God in his own life, he realised its vast potential in the life of his nation. Here was the secret and the power to the well-being and longevity of his kingdom. If God was for them, if they were seeking Him as his father Asa had been told, then God would surely be strong on their behalf. And so the very next verse says, “And the fear of Yahweh fell upon all the kingdoms of the lands that were round about Judah, so that they made no war against Jehoshaphat” (2 Chron 17:10).

Affinity with Ahab

Despite his earlier apprehension of Ahab and the Northern Kingdom, yet quite incredibly Jehoshaphat sought affinity with Ahab. His son Jehoram was married to Athaliah, the daughter of Jezebel and Ahab. Chapter eighteen of 2 Chronicles is almost beyond belief! But it is a true record of an actual event. A reforming king that was so inspirational could fall prey to temptations that before he had publicly shunned. All his kingdom knew how he detested the policies of Ahab and Jezebel.

What ever was the cause of his change of heart? The simple phrase before the “affinity” is this, “he had riches and honour in abundance” (18:1). Things that were unwise before were now not to be seen in the same light. ‘Ahab is not going to change my life or principles. Judah is so strong that we could surely handle anything that the Northern Kingdom could put up. In fact it may be the means of bringing the twelve tribes together again!’ No doubt there were many thoughts like these, for Jehoshaphat had too good a mind not to require some positive motives for his actions.

He escaped the closest encounter with death, being ashamed and humiliated (18:31). It is the most striking lesson to us all. The complacent, ‘non-discriminating’ environment of our age throws the same challenge to each one of us every day. Brethren find themselves so quickly in compromising circumstances in the company of things they have always abhorred. Sometimes, in fact, their retention of the old way is ridiculed as Pharisaism, as hypocrisy. Where the conscience is in doubt, then better to avoid the desire. As no other era in history our lives are bombarded with invasive ideas and suggestions. Better and wiser is it to resolve to retain the old ways, which our children have been taught and which they expect of their parents as they in turn strive to bring up their little ones. The stability of grandparents is crucial to our survival, for if they shift and lose their direction, what hope for their children and grand-children in this age. Jehoshaphat married his son Jehoram to Athaliah. The result was the elimination of all his sons and all but one of his grandsons! “Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate Yahweh?” was the question of rebuke from the prophet Jehu.

“Good Things Found in Thee”

To his great credit, the humbled king of Judah returned to his former activities. He “brought [the people] back to Yahweh God of their fathers” (19:4). Had they then strayed when he relaxed? He set judges throughout the land, with priests, Levites and elders to encourage the people to act “in the fear of Yahweh, faithfully, and with a perfect heart” (19:8-9). His victory over Moab and Ammon in the next chapter is one of the most thrilling accounts in history.

Yahweh was still with him whilst he sought Him. And that is our comfort today. If we seek Him, He will be found of us and great will be our daily victory, both personally and ecclesially. Let us be fervent for the cause of the Word of God in our midst. Promote it, foster the young teachers growing up in our ecclesias, encourage faithful parenting, warn against the invasion of our homes by the spirit of our world, so akin to the dedicated designs of Jezebel.

“So the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet: for his God gave him rest round about” (20:30). May that same blessing permeate the atmosphere of our homes and families as we await our Master.