Monday, December 26, 2011

Jahaziel: You can do it! (II Chronicles 20:17)

Who told Jehoshaphat that his army did not need to fight “in this battle”? Jahaziel (II Chronicles 20:17)

During the reign of Jeshoshaphat, an alliance of Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites camped at Engedi and prepared to invade Judah (II Chronicles 20:1-2). Ironically, these same nations had received clemency during the conquest of the Promised Land (Judges 11:15).

Jehoshaphat was left with few options. His army was outmanned against “a great multitude”(II Chronicles 20:2 NASB) and he was also out of time as his enemies had utilized the element of surprise. Engedi was a small site on the western coast of the Dead Sea located within 25 miles of Jerusalem (Joshua 15:62; I Samuel 23:29, 24:1; II Chronicles 20:1; Song of Solomon 1:14; Ezekiel 47:10). It was not a standard attack route as Jerusalem was only accessible using narrow paths up steep cliffs. In taking this unconventional passage, the opposing armies were too close for comfort and the king faced a desperate situation.

In the face of overwhelming odds, Jehoshaphat responded as a model Davidic king should. Recognizing that he was out of options, he proclaimed a national fast (II Chronicles 20:3) and the king prayed on behalf of his subjects (II Chronicles 20:5-12). The people assembled, but instead of preparing for battle, they prayed and fasted (II Chronicles 20:4, 13). It was the only thing left to do.

God responded to Jehoshaphat’s humble prayer with an encouraging prophetic word (II Chronicles 20:14-17). The word of the Lord enveloped Jahaziel and prompted his lone voice to ring out from the multitude (II Chronicles 20:14). Jahaziel functions like the encouraging “Townie” (Rob Schneider, b. 1963) in The Waterboy (1998) who often shouted, “You can do it!” from the crowd.

Then in the midst of the assembly the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, the Levite of the sons of Asaph; and he said, “Listen, all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: thus says the LORD to you, ‘Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the valley in front of the wilderness of Jeruel. You need not fight in this battle; station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out to face them, for the LORD is with you.” (II Chronicles 20:14-17 NASB)
This dramatic speech marks Jahaziel’s only appearance in the Bible. Jahaziel was a worship leader, not a prophet (II Chronicles 20:14). Yet in this instance, Jahaziel prophesied as evidenced by the fact that he is introduced by the prophetic-type description “the Spirit of the LORD came upon” (II Chronicles 20:14 NASB) and he adopts the prophetic messenger formula “thus says the LORD to you” (II Chronicles 20:15 NASB). This wording may also indicate spontaneity.

Jahaziel is provided an irregularly long genealogy that emphasizes his pedigree (II Chronicles 20:14). A lineage of five generations links him with Asaph, a worship leader at the time of David (I Chronicles 15:16-17) who is credited with penning twelve psalms (Psalms 50, 73-83). For some interpreters, Jahaziel’s ancestry seems too good to be true.

Sara Japhet (b. 1934) explains:

“The figure of Jahaziel has many artificial features: his name, ‘the one who sees God’, his affiliation with the singers, who are conceived in Chronicles as prophets (I Chronicles 25:1, 2, 3, 5), and his direct descent from Asaph, the assumed head-singer of David’s time, all point to the ‘literary’ nature of this figure.” (Japhet, I & II Chronicles: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 793)
In Jahaziel’s case, a voice quite literally emerged from the choir to speak for the Lord.

When have you been caught dead to rights with prayer left as your only resort? When in your desperation has God supplied a voice of encouragement? Why is such a long lineage ascribed to Jahaziel? Why did God choose to speak in these circumstances through a worship leader as opposed to a military tactician?

H.G.M. Williamson (b. 1947) notes that Jahaziel’s prophecy is modeled as a “salvation oracle” (Williamson, 1 and 2 Chronicles (New Century Bible Commentary, 297-299). His speech is carefully constructed and closely follows the prescribed speech for a priest before battle (Deuteronomy 20:2-4). The prophecy also met Judah’s needs as it responded to each point in Jehoshaphat’s prayer (II Chronicles 12:5-12) by providing reassurance (II Chronicles 20:15, 17), reasons for confidence - namely that the battle is God’s (II Chronicles 20:15, 17) and precise instructions on how to proceed (II Chronicles 20:16, 17).

Among Jahaziel’s words of encouragement is the assertion that the Israelites will win the battle without engaging in combat (II Chronicles 20:17). For them, this fight was to be a spectator sport as their directions amounted to “Don’t do something, just stand there!” This “strategy” reinforced the king’s reliance on God as the battle became God’s (not Jehoshaphat’s) and God promised to defeat the invaders.

Jahaziel’s oracle also subtly alludes to another time when God famously defended Israelites as the speech has many uncanny parallels to Moses’ charge prior to the Exodus (Exodus 14:13-14). Most notably, Israel won an improbably victory while being onlookers - “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today” (Exodus 14:13 NASB).

Judah was to simply assume a defensive position at the Ascent of Ziz and encounter the enemy at the end of the wadi, by the wilderness of Jeruel (II Chronicles 20:16). There, God would fight for them. It is as if God was providing ringside seats for a battle they had bet their lives upon. In this case, doing nothing required a great act of faith.

Gary N. Knoppers (b. 1956) explains:

In other words, the people are to leave the relative safety of Jerusalem, journey into open terrain, and encounter the enemy at a specific location. They are to put themselves in harm’s way, but they are told explicitly not to fight. (Richard S. Hess [b. 1954] and Gordon J. Wenham [b. 1943], “Jerusalem at War in Chronicles”, Zion: City of our God, 70-71).

William Johnstone (b. 1936) expounds:

“The instruction by Jahaziel was not quietism (any more than Jehoshaphat’s prayer was fatalism). It is pure sacramentalism: Israel’s role is totally participatory—it goes fully armed into battle (II Chronicles 20:21); but the battle is the LORD’s. Israel, as the LORD’s host under the LORD’s anointed, is caught up unreservedly and with no volition on its own part into the action of God against the invading hordes of nations. With total openness to God and entire dependence upon him, it is borne irresistibly to victory (compare such sacred battles as Joshua 6 and I Samuel 7).” (Johnstone, 2 Chronicles 10-36: Guilt and Atonement (1 and 2 Chronicles: Volume 2), 101)
As is often the case, when a courageous person stands alone, Jehaziel was soon joined (II Chronicles 20:18). Morale was boosted, the people obeyed God’s edict (II Chronicles 20:20-22) and God fulfilled his promise as the unholy alliance disbanded and the enemy armies killed one another (II Chronicles 20:23-25). Judah did not fight, but instead worshiped.

It is fitting that a worship leader was the one whose voice rang out as the event marked a worship service, not a battle. Tragedy was transformed into worship. Steven Shawn Tuell (b. 1956) quips, “The advance of Jeshoshaphat’s host is more a liturgical procession than a military maneuver (Tuell, First and Second Chronicles (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching), 183).”

Simon J. de Vries (b. 1921) concurs writing that God “moves them to a good place of observation; this is like a liturgist moving the worshipers in a procession...This is a model of true worship: to express pure devotion while driving away every demon that assails the faithful (de Vries, 1 and 2 Chronicles (Forms of the Old Testament Literature, Volume XI), 328.”

Roy D. Bell notices that “worship and praise became central to the whole encounter. II Chronicles 20:10 tells us that Jehoshaphat bowed his face to the ground and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down and worshiped before the Lord. The Levites stood and praised the Lord with a loud voice...sometimes our praise is so quiet...that if God were not a supernatural being, He would not be able to hear it. The absence of worship, adoration and praise impoverishes our lives and even our churchgoing (Bell, Biblical Models of Handling Conflict, 61-62.)”

Has God ever reminded you of past successes to comfort you during a present trial? When have you accomplished something just by showing up? Have any of your tragedies been transformed into worship? Is your worship audible?

“Without worship, we go about miserable.” - A. W. Tozer (1897-1963)

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