Jehoshaphat succeeded his father Asa as King over Judah. One of the first things Jehoshaphat did as king was to strengthen his military forces. (2 Chron 17:1,2). Jehoshaphat sought the God of David from the beginning and did not give in to idolatry. (2 Chron 17:3). In spite of this, Jehoshaphat was not free of sin. Through an unwanted marital relation with the house of the wicked King Ahab of Israel, he was lured into a battle where he was almost killed. However God delivered him and helped him get back to his own country after which a guilt ridden Jehoshaphat set about the most important task of bringing his people out of idol worship to seek and serve the God of their forefathers, YAHWEH.
Just as Jehoshaphat was busy with spiritual reforms in Judah, he was faced with another battle threat from the combined forces of the Moabites, Ammonites and the Meunites who marched against Judah in large numbers. Any King would no doubt be anxious at the threat of war. But why did Jehoshaphat who had a well trained army and a huge armed force dread his enemy so much? (2 Chron 17: 14-19). His near death encounter in the previous battle along with his guilt at displeasing God in his alliance with Ahab created fear and dread in Jehoshaphat’s heart. (2 Chron 20:3).
However, Jehoshaphat responded to this battle threat by looking up to God rather than counting his armed forces. His vital need was to seek God and to find His favour. In so doing, Jehoshaphat set the stage for one of the most beautiful prayers in the Old Testament.
As a first step, Jehoshaphat proclaimed a fast not just for himself or his household or not even just in Jerusalem, but in the whole land of Judah. Every one living within his boundary both young and old prepared for this prayer by fasting. By abstaining from food, King Jehoshaphat and all the people in Judah humbled themselves and declared their total dependency on God alone. Fasting here is not a ritualistic action but one that prepared the hearts of not just the King but the entire kingdom to come before the Lord with their petition.
Jehoshaphat assembled all the people in Judah and Jerusalem at the House of God, in the temple dedicated by King Solomon as a place of worship for the Lord. All the inhabitants of Judah including the young ones, wives and children (2 Chron 20: 13) stood at the House of the Lord, humbled by their fast and looked up to the God of their fathers.
It is in this setting that Jehoshaphat takes up the initiative to lead the people in prayer. In each of these preparatory phases, Jehoshaphat did more that getting his people together. He acted as a spiritual guide in leading Judah back to her God and to seek after His will.
This devout king used a crisis faced by his kingdom to bring his people to a right relationship with God. It was his sincerity and devotion to YAHWEH that inspired the people of Judah to turn from their perversity and come back to their God.
The people of Judah no doubt had a good knowledge about the military strength of their kingdom. In the wake of a battle threat they could have looked up to the strength of their army for help and support. However, King Jehoshaphat, guides the people’s gaze away from the resources at hand to the One who alone could help them. He transferred his faith to the people and strengthened their weak belief system. He provided godly leadership which was the need of the hour.
There is a lessons to learn as we study the setting to Jehoshaphat’s prayer. How do we react when faced with a conflict? Do we count our horses or do we look up and seek God? Is prayer our first or last resort?
Another question worth pondering over is our attitude as we come to pray. Jehoshaphat who knew his people enough realized that to come before God, he and his subjects had to humble themselves. Given over to foreign worship practices, this kingdom needed to show God their desire to live differently and so he proclaims a nationwide fast to prepare himself and his people. Through this Jehoshaphat demonstrated to God and before his people that their dependence must be on God alone. With what attitude do we pray? Is it one of humility and reliance on God?
Jehoshaphat used the upcoming battle as an opportunity to bring his people together to pray and seek God. He knew the power of praying together and again demonstrates an example to his people who no doubt carried away an important lesson on coming together to pray in the wake of difficult times.
Take a moment to ponder over your prayer life. Prayer is not those elaborate utterances or brief cries for help. It is a much deeper commitment and an act of trust in God. Do you see these elements in your prayer life?
Here are two books for further reading on Prayer.
Buy "Power in Prayer: Classic Devotions to Inspire and Deepen Your Prayer Life" by Andrew Murray from Amazon.com
Buy "Prayer" by Philip Yancey from Amazon.com