The Prayer of Jehoshaphat

2Chronicles 20:5-13

The Reverend Bryn MacPhail / August 1, 2004


            Of all the prayers we have studied thus far, the prayers of David, Solomon, and Jabez, it is this prayer—the prayer of Jehoshaphat—that I resonate most with. And yet, while my spirit resonates most with this prayer, there is very little of this context that I can relate to.


            The context for this prayer of King Jehoshaphat is that the people of Judah are on the brink of war. More precisely, the people of Judah are on the verge of being victimized and destroyed by neighbouring countries. Chapter 20 of 2Chronicles begins with the words, “the sons of Moab and the sons of Ammon, together with some of the Meunites, came to make war against Jehoshaphat” (20:1).


            In order for us to have some sense of who Jehoshaphat is, we need to backtrack to chapter 17, where we learn that subsequent to the death of his father, Asa, Jehoshaphat “reigned in his place” (17:1) as King of Judah. Jehoshaphat begins his reign in 872 B.C.—a time when God’s people were divided into two kingdoms, with Jehoshaphat reigning in Judah, and Ahab reigning in Israel.


            You are likely well aware that over the course of Jewish history, Israel and Judah had some good kings and some bad kings. To see how Jehoshaphat was regarded we look at chapter 17, verse 3 and following, where we read: “the Lord was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the former ways of his father David . . . therefore the Lord established the kingdom in his hand; and all Judah gave presents to Jehoshaphat, and he had riches and honour in abundance. And his heart took delight in the ways of the Lord” (17:3-5).


            In other words, Jehoshaphat was a good king; he was a faithful, and godly, king. Yet, this did not exempt Jehoshaphat from the threat of trouble. A vast army stood against Jehoshaphat; three nations conspired to work together to utterly destroy Judah. And what was Jehoshaphat’s response? Well, we can tell by the sermon title, that his eventual response to this threat was to pray, but what was his initial response? Have a look at chapter 20, verse 3: “And Jehoshaphat was afraid”.


            Is it not true, beloved, that the thing most likely to drive us to our knees in prayer is fear? When the waters of life are calm, when the tasks of life appear manageable, we will likely confess that our compulsion to call upon the Lord is diminished—if not altogether absent. But when the storm clouds gather, when the obstacles before us appear insurmountable, people of faith are irresistibly drawn to God in prayer.


            This was the response of Jehoshaphat. “Jehoshaphat was afraid and (so) he turned his attention to seek the Lord; and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah” (20:4).


            As we examine, and unpack, Jehoshaphat’s prayer, found in verses 6 through 12, we will find three stages, or principles. The first thing Jehoshaphat does in his prayer is he initiates praise; secondly, he identifies the problem, and thirdly, he implores God for help.


            Firstly, Jehoshaphat initiates praise. He praises God for who He is: “art Thou not ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Thy hand so that no one can stand against Thee” (20:6).


            After praising God for His attributes, Jehoshaphat then goes on to praise God for His mighty acts accomplished in history: “Are you not our God who drove out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and gave it to the descendents of Abraham Your friend forever?” (20:7).


            Why is this significant?  What is significant about the fact that Jehoshaphat’s prayer begins with praise? It is significant given that his circumstances likely would have tempted him to a contrary approach. From what we can gather, Jehoshaphat has been remarkably faithful to the Lord throughout his reign as king of Judah. Jehoshaphat might have imagined that such faithfulness would exempt him from any trouble. But now, three nations stand against him, ready to destroy him and the people entrusted to his care.


Conceivably, Jehoshaphat could have begun his prayer by complaining, or grumbling, against God. Many of us, I suspect, when a terrible threat befalls us, are tempted to do this. We are tempted to save our praises for happier days, and, in our distress, we launch immediately into our list of complaints.


This may be the way we approach prayer on occasion, but it is not the way Jehoshaphat begins prayer. Even though his situation is dire, Jehoshaphat determines to begin his prayer by initiating praise to his Lord.


It sometimes happens in the church that we treat such faithfulness with contempt. We employ deriding sayings like, ‘He is so heavenly-minded that he is no earthly good.’ This could not be said of Jehoshaphat. While adamant in his praises, Jehoshaphat is not blind to the challenges before him. And so we see that the second component to Jehoshaphat’s prayer is he identifies the problem.


In verses 10 and 11, Jehoshaphat identifies the external problem; the fact that three nations are seeking to drive the people of Judah out of their land. And, in verse 12, he identifies the internal problem; he confesses: “we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do”.


We are powerless”. Remember who is speaking here. This is Jehoshaphat, the undisputed leader of Judah. He is a godly man, a wealthy man, a powerful man, a man who has earned the respect of his people. And yet, Jehoshaphat confesses to the Lord, “we are powerless”.


Last week, we studied the prayer of Jabez; the prayer that inspired the best selling book bearing that same title.  The tone of Jehoshaphat’s prayer is markedly different. It would be a little more difficult to market this prayer into a best seller, wouldn’t it?


What would you name the book, anyways? “We Are Powerless”? Not the most inspiring title, is it? Some of you are thinking that you would rather buy some Tony Robbins tapes or watch Dr. Phil’s show on self-esteem than read about some disconsolate king who regards himself as not having any power.


And, not only does the king confess that he is powerless, in terms of executing the task at hand, but he confesses his total inability to even know what is to be done. Jehoshaphat prays, “nor do we know what to do” (20:12).


I hope it does not unduly alarm you when I say that this is where my own experience in prayer resonates most with Jehoshaphat’s prayer. As I contemplate the ministry entrusted to me at St. Giles Kingsway—that I am charged with helping unbelievers become followers of Jesus; that I am charged with helping Christians to grow in their love and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ—and as I contemplate all of the obstacles that hinder me from effectively doing the things that I am charged with doing, I find myself crying out like Jehoshaphat, “I am powerless!”


And the truth is, I am powerless in these things. And Jehoshaphat was right in his assessment of his abilities—he too was powerless to fix his predicament. Jehoshaphat had learned the principle that Jesus would later teach in His earthly ministry, that “apart from (the Lord) you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5).


So then, what does one do? The third principle of prayer should be obvious: we are to implore God for His help.


If God is the Almighty One, and if He understands our dreadful predicament, then it behooves us to ask for His help. This is precisely what Jehoshaphat did. After initiating praises, after identifying the problem of his powerlessness, Jehoshaphat implores the Lord with the words, “our eyes are upon Thee” (20:12).


Now, some will say, ‘Why does God wait for us? If He knows what is best for us, and if He is able to fix things, why doesn’t He just do it?’ Thankfully, God does sometimes fix things without our ever calling upon Him for help.


And yet, God does not always move proactively to intercept every bit of trouble that could potentially come our way. The Bible explains that God has ordained prayer as one of the primary means by which He conveys blessings to His people. For this reason, it remains for God’s people to ask Him for help.


This is difficult for some people. My experience has been that self-determined adults relate to God in a manner similar to how a two year-old child relates to a parent. As a parent of a, now, two year-old girl, I have found that when it comes to putting on a pair of shoes, or cutting a piece of food, my proactive movement to assist Anya is no longer welcome. Instead, what now happens is that, after a few minutes of struggling on her own, Anya recognizes that she cannot complete the task without some help.


For the adult before God, and the two year-old child with their parent, the question is the same. The question is not whether or not we need help, but rather, when will we realize that we need help? Will our instinct be that of Jehoshaphat’s? Will we instinctively understand that we are powerlessness, and that we need to look to God for help? Or, will we be like a stubborn two year-old, determined to make it on our own?


Jehoshaphat turned his eyes upon the Lord, and he was subsequently delivered from the hands of his enemies. If we were to read on in the passage, you would see how the Lord caused the enemies of Judah to turn on one another. As a result, the people of Judah did not even have to go to war.


The people of Judah were powerless, but they worshipped, and sought after, a God who was all-powerful; a God who would fight on their behalf.


Admittedly, we do not face the threat of war; our adversity is of a different nature. The enemies to the Christian faith come in many forms. For some, our faith is rattled by the threat of a deadly disease or a nagging physical ailment. For others, our faith is challenged when a relationship with a loved one is strained, or severed. And still others, perhaps most of us, find that our faith wanes as we allow Christian priorities to be squeezed out by worldly temptations and self-serving ambition.


Beloved, the enemies to our faith in Christ are formidable. And, the truth is, we are powerless against them. But the Lord will guard our faith, He will keep our souls if we but call upon Him. He promises to help if we but sing, I need Thee, O I need Thee; every hour I need Thee; O bless me now, my Saviour! I come to Thee. Amen.