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30 September. 2 Chronicles chapters 19-21
Yesterday’s reading finished with a cliffhanger, King Jehoshaphat escaping a battle without injury while his ally King Ahab was killed by a stray arrow. God was displeased with Jehoshaphat or having entered this alliance in the first place, as the prophet Jehu confirms afterwards. Jehoshaphat now turns back to the religion of his people and partly (though not completely) eliminates idol worship.
In the short term he obeys the prophets and follows their advice not to seek to go to war, or to rely on military help from other nations. When threatened by a coalition of non-Israelite tribes (chapter 20) he manages to persuade his army to heed the seemingly crazy advice of the little-known prophet Jahaziel and stand their ground without fighting. But it works: the enemy tribes turn in on themselves and Judah gains the booty without entering the conflict.
It seems Jehoshaphat did not remember his lesson for ever, though. After 25 years of mostly peaceful reign, he again allies himself with a subsequent king of Israel. Although the purpose in this case was economic rather than military (building a fleet of trading ships), again a prophet denounced his action as contrary to God’s will, and the ships were wrecked.
His son Jehoram (chapter 21) was a different kettle of fish. He started off my murdering his own brothers, married a pagan wife, and was so unpopular that at the end of his life he was denied even the usual funerary rites, and “departed with no one’s regret.”
It would be very difficult nowadays for the leader of any country, even one with a state religion, to stand up in their parliament and say that a prophet had told them not to enter strategic alliances, not to encourage international trade, or not to resist an invasion. It would probably have been no easier even in Biblical times. Human nature always seek adventure, victory, profit. It takes a deep faith to live counter-culturally as an individual, trusting in words of scripture and prophecy rather than “common sense” and the desire of the majority. It takes an even stronger one, and a bold spirit, to lead a country by the same principles.