Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Singing Jehoshaphat (II Chronicles 20:21)

Whose army went into battle singing? Judah’s, under King Jehoshaphat (II Chronicles 20:21)

King Jehoshaphat becomes the fourth king of Judah when he succeeds his father Asa (I Kings 15:23-24; II Chronicles 17:1). He reigns for twenty-five years (I Kings 22:42; II Chronicles 20:31) and is remembered as one of the few kings faithful to God, the Old Testament benchmark for royals (I Kings 22:43; II Chronicles 17:3-6).

Jehoshaphat is far more prominent in Chronicles, where he is featured in four chapters (II Chronicles 17:1-20:37), than Kings, which devotes only ten verses to his reign (I Kings 22:41-50).

Brian E. Kelly observes:

Jehoshaphat plays a much more extensive and important role in Chronicles than in Kings, where his reign is described only briefly (I Kings 22:41-50) and he is a secondary figure compared to Ahab (cf. I Kings 22:1-38; II Kings 3:4-27). (Kelly, Retribution and Eschatology in Chronicles, 98)
The last notable event of Jehosphat’s reign occurs when an eastern coalition forms primed to invade Judah. This assailing confederation is comprised of Moabites, Ammonites and Meunites (II Chronicles 20:1). Naturally alarmed in the face of daunting odds (II Chronicles 20:3), Jehoshaphat responds radically: He prays, declares a national fast and assembles his country (II Chronicles 20:3-13). Prayer is Jehoshaphat’s first, not last, resort.

After being encouraged by a prophecy assuring that Judah would attain victory without having to fight (II Chronicles 20:14-17), Jehoshaphat consults his constituents and the army marches to the would-be battlefield praising God (II Chronicles 20:18-21). The king implores the people, “Put your trust in the Lord your God and you will be established. Put your trust in His prophets and succeed” (II Chronicles 20:20 NASB).

Paul K. Hooker (b. 1953) interprets:

King and people assemble at Tekoa, east of Jerusalem in the Judahite highlands. As they assemble, Jehoshaphat gives them what in other situations might have been battle instructions. Here, however, we have...religious admonition: “Believe in the LORD your God and you will be established [II Chronicles 20:20].” One final time, the Chronicler returns to the theme of trust. The language here is reminiscent of Isaiah 7:9: “If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all” (the verb translated “stand firm” in Isaiah is the same as that translated “be established” here). The link between faith and victory is explicit: Belief, not strength of arms, is the key to the deliverance of God. (Hooker, First and Second Chronicles (Westminster Bible Companion), 213)
Leslie Allen (b. 1935) concurs:
Jehoshaphat’s battle speech on the morrow places a premium on faith. It echoes the message of Isaiah in a similar context of military threat , a message rendered more effectively by its Hebrew wordplay: “Have firm faith, or you will not stand firm” (Isaiah 7:9 NEB). In expression of such faith orders are given for anticipatory praise to be sung afresh, as on the day before in the temple precincts. The praise looks forward to a manifestation of God’s “steadfast love” (RSV), promised “forever” (II Chronicles 20:21) and so for today. The praise here replaces the shout associated with Holy War (see Judges 7:20; II Chronicles 13:15). It accentuates the fact that the people’s part was not to fight but to be spectators of the divine defeat of the foe, in accord with the prophet’s promise (II Chronicles 20:15, 17). (Allen, 1, 2 Chronicles (Mastering the Old Testament), 308)
Jehoshaphat’s faith has blossomed. J.G. McConville (b. 1951) charts:
The Jehoshaphat of II Chronicles 20:20 is one who has come from his initial fear (II Chronicles 20:3) to a new confidence that God is for him. His exhortation to Judah, “Believe in the Lord your God and you will be established (II Chronicles 20:20), is similar to the prophet Isaiah’s appeal to Ahaz (Isaiah 7:9). The thought may be paraphrased. Trust in the Lord your God, and you will find him trustworthy. There is in the exhortation a call to commitment. The trustworthiness of the Lord cannot be known until one begins to make decisions on the basis of his promises, staking wealth and welfare on the outcome—just as it is impossible to know certainly that a chair will bear one’s weight without actually sitting on it. (McConville, I & II Chronicles (The Daily Study Bible Series), 195)
As David had done in preparing the ark of the covenant (I Chronicles 13:1), the monarch collaborates rather than dictates. Sara Japhet (b. 1934) comments:
The Chronicler’s familiar ‘democratizing’ tendency...with its constant reference to the active participation of the people...is epitomized, with the king actually taking counsel with the people in a matter of military tactics, or cultic activity, ordinarily defined as a kingly prerogative. After having been made his full partners in his initiative and responsibility, his subjects will deservedly share the reward of victory. (Japhet, I and II Chronicles: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 797)
The people collectively resolve to praise God while entering battle.
When he [Jehoshaphat] had consulted with the people, he appointed those who sang to the Lord and those who praised Him in holy attire, as they went out before the army and said, “Give thanks to the Lord, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” (II Chronicles 20:21 NASB)
Jehoshaphat appoints a choir to lead the nation onto the battlefield. Frederick J. Mabie (b. 1965) surmises:
The men appointed by Jehoshaphat to lead singing to God and praise for the “splendor of his holiness” (II Chronicles 20:21) are presumably Levites (on the musical service of Levites, cf. I Chronicles 6:31-48, 23:2-32, 25:1-7). Going to battle in song is found in several key battles of faith in the Old Testament and seems to underscore an especially intentional focus on God and his strength (cf. Joshua 6:1-21; II Chronicles 13:3-20). (Tremper Longman III [b. 1952] and David E. Garland [b.1947], 1 Chronicles–Job (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary), 245)
Singing en route to battle is not entirely unique in the annals of the Old Testament (Joshua 6:4-20; Judges 7:18-20; II Chronicles 13:12; Psalm 47:5) and the story also has extra-biblical parallels. Kenneth C. Way (b. 1975) compares:
This account shares interesting similarities to the Old Aramaic memorial stela of Zakkur (The Context of Scripture 2.35:155), king of Hamath, who also faced a coalition of enemy nations, cried out to his god, and received a similar divine response by means of cultic personnel...The date of the events in II Chronicles 20 is difficult to determine, but an early setting in Jehoshaphat’s reign seems likely. References to the “terror of God” being upon Judah’s enemies and to Judah enjoying a period of peace both occur at the end of this episode and in a passage describing the early events of Jehoshaphat’s reign (II Chronicles 17:10, 20:29-30) (see Gary N. Knoppers [b. 1956] 1991, 518). Furthermore, the mention of the “new court” of the temple (II Chronicles 20:5) may hint that the repairs made by his father, Asa, were relatively recent II Chronicles 15:8]. (Bill T. Arnold [b. 1955] and H.G.M. Williamson [b. 1947], Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, 532-33)
In the midst of crisis, the nation sings the opening line to the 136th Psalm (II Chronicles 20:21; Psalm 136:1), a recurring refrain in Chronicles (I Chronicles 16:34; II Chronicles 5:13, 7:3, 20:21). Martin J. Selman (1947-2004) chronicles:
Both the form and content of this song of praise are based on the use of psalms in temple worship. The appointed ‘musicians’...were Levites (cf. I Chronicles 6:31-32, 25:1-31), their song was taken from Chronicles’ favorite psalm (Psalm 136:1; cf. I Chronicles 16:34; II Chronicles 5:13, 7:3) and the phrase the splendour of his holiness...is found elsewhere only in the Psalms (Psalm 29:2, 96:9; I Chronicles 16:29). The outstanding feature, however, is that as they began to sing and praise (II Chronicles 20:22), the Lord started the battle. There can be no clearer indication that this was neither an ordinary battle nor a traditional holy war, but Yahweh’s war in which he acted on his own. In that sense, it anticipates Jesus’ victory on the cross, though that was accompanied by silence rather than singing. (Selman, 2 Chronicles (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries), 428)
The battle becomes an opportunity for worship. Winfried Corduan (b. 1949) comments:
The same spirit of praise continued as Jehoshaphat and his army set out for the Judean desert the next morning. As the troops left Jerusalem, the king turned the military mission into a “singspiration.” He reassured everyone of God’s promise and appointed song leaders to lead the soldiers in praise choruses. Soon everyone joined in the familiar tune, Give thanks to the LORD, for his love endures forever. This anthem was associated with the occasions when David and then Solomon moved the ark of the covenant (I Chronicles 16:41; II Chronicles 5:13). God was on the march again! (Corduan, I & II Chronicles (Holman Old Testament Commentary), 277)
Steven S. Tuell (b. 1956) determines:
The advance of Jehoshaphat’s host is more a liturgical procession than a military maneuver. (Tuell, First and Second Chronicles (Interpretation: a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 183)
Andrew E. Hill (b. 1952) agrees:
H.G.M. Williamson [b. 1947], almost humorously, has commented that the battle cry has been replaced by the Levitical chorale. The report of an army going into battle singing the praises of God is unique in the Bible, although music accompanies the appearance of the divine warrior when he executes judgment on the earth (Psalm 47, 96, 98). The event gives new meaning to the psalmist’s declaration that God’s “pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, not his delight in the legs of a man; the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love” (Psalm 147:10-11). (Hill, 1 and 2 Chronicles (The NIV Application Commentary), 491)
The nation of Judah praises God before victory has been secured. John C. Endres (b. 1946) remarks:
Levites arise to praise God with a very loud voice, which they are appointed to do, but here it seems premature, for the victory is still in the future. Jehoshaphat then rises and delivers a speech that sounds like a sermon. Believe God and you will be set firm (II Chronicles 20:20)...The Chronicler gives a theological commentary on this event: Jehoshaphat faces a test of faith, just as Ahaz faced a test of faith when Isaiah uttered the word to him. (Endres, First and Second Chronicles (New Collegeville Bible Commentary), 103)
Jehoshaphat passes the test. Victor P. Hamilton (b. 1941) favorably contrasts Jehoshaphat with his father, Asa:
When attacked by King Baasha of Israel, Asa goes the alliance route, and as a result is chided by a prophet (II Chronicles 16:7-8). Asa’s sad story is one of a shift from trust in God to trust in human power, and the tragic consequences that befall...The opposite of Asa’s latter strategy is that of Jehoshaphat when he is attacked by a military coalition (II Chronicles 20:1-30). The text records absolutely no military response by Jehoshaphat and his soldiers. Instead, they engage in liturgical acts like singing and praying, and Yahweh defeats the enemy (“As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set to ambush against the Ammonites...so that they were routed” [II Chronicles 20:22]). Philip R. Davies [b. 1945] (1992: 45) captures well the scene here: “If your cause is just and you are faithful to your deity (and if that deity is YHWH), you will not need an army to protect you. Spend your defense budget on hymnbooks and musical training for your brass band! The only army you need is the Salvation Army.” (Hamilton, Handbook on the Historical Books: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, Esther , 492-93)
Jehoshaphat responds to the disastrous events with a sign of trust and his faith is rewarded. As the Lord had promised, Judah never even engages in battle. The tenuous alliance disbands as the opposition turns on one another (II Chronicles 20:22-25).

Andrew E. Hill (b. 1952) explains:

Whether God terrifies the coalition armies with the appearance of his heavenly army (as in II Samuel 5:24; II Kings 7:5-7) or sends a spirit of confusion and mistrust among the allies (as in Judges 7:22; II Kings 3:23) is unclear. What is clear is that God stirs the Transjordan armies into a spirit of frenzied self-destruction (II Chronicles 20:22-23). First, the armies of Moab and Ammon slaughter the soldiers from Seir, perhaps out of distrust (II Chronicles 20:23a). Then the Moabites and the Ammonites destroy each other so that no one escapes (II Chronicles 20:23b-24a). (Hill, 1 and 2 Chronicles (The NIV Application Commentary), 492)
Through some undisclosed mechanism God delivers Judah and the conflict is remembered as one of Jehoshaphat’s greatest triumphs.

Regardless of what had happened in the battle, in choosing to praise God, Jehosphapat has already scored a far more important victory: His faith has been demonstrated. What begins as an invasion story evolves into a classic story of faith.

Why does Jehoshaphat dismiss military strategy in favor of divine consultation? What leaders are you familiar with who have prayed publicly when facing a national crisis? What armies have gone into battle singing? Is there ever an inappropriate time to worship? Did the singing in any way trigger the discord between Judah’s adversaries? When have you not had to fight a seemingly inevitable battle? Do you truly believe that God is for you? When have you praised God before victory has been secured?

While most contemporary believers will not be surrounded by armies from multiple nations, Jehoshaphat sets a precedent. Worship is a proper response in the face of crisis and worshiping God can be done in the midst of catastrophe.

Neil T. Anderson (b. 1942) and Rich Miller (b. 1954) apply:

In response to the word of God, all the people worshiped God (II Chronicles 20:18). Worship became their battle plan to defeat the enemy. “And when he [Jehoshaphat] had consulted with the people, he appointed those who sang to the LORD and those who praised Him in holy attire, as they went out before the army and said, “Give thanks to the LORD, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.’ And when they began singing and praising, the LORD set ambushes against the sons of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah so they were routed” (II Chronicles 20:21-22)...Worship brings to our minds the awareness of God’s presence and fear flees! When the first hint of fear or anxiety comes into your mind, worship God. (Anderson and Miller, Freedom from Fear: Overcoming Worry and Anxiety, 274)
Worship reminds us that we are never alone. This is especially beneficial at times when we feel abandoned. Creflo A. Dollar (b. 1962) advises:
When you are faced with a life-and-death crisis, the most important thing you can remind yourself is that God’s mercy endures forever. It will stir your faith. It will move to tap in to the power of praise. (Dollar, In the Presence of God: Find Answers to the Challenges of Life)
Worship makes us keenly aware of God’s presence. Anthony De Mello (1931-1987) connects:
When we praise God for his goodness and for the good things he has given to us and to others, our hearts become lightsome and joyous...There are few forms of prayer so effective for giving you the sense that you are loved by God, or for lifting depressed spirits and overcoming temptation. Psalm 8 says, “You have established praise to destroy the enemy and avenger [Psalm 8:2],” and it was the custom among the Jews to march out into battle singing praises to the Lord. This was considered a mighty weapon for defeating the foe. (De Mello, Contact with God, 116)
Though often neglected, praising God is a useful tactic when facing trials.

How do you respond to adversity? Do you turn toward God or away from God? Do you blame or praise? How do you enter into battle?

“This is not the time to panic, this is the time to praise!” - Cynthia A. Patterson (b. 1964), It Had to Happen: Understanding that Everything You Go Through in Life is for God’s Purpose