Complete Obedience

By Paul Higgins

I recently heard a sermon preached from 2 Chronicles 20, where King Jehoshaphat looks to God for help as an invading army is approaching Judah. Jehoshaphat, learning that there was a great multitude coming against Judah, declares a fast throughout the land, and begins to seek the Lord for help. As Jehoshaphat says in his prayer in 2 Chronicles 20:12, "… for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do; but our eyes are upon thee." Jehoshaphat and his people relied wholly on God's grace for salvation from the invading armies, humbling themselves in His sight, and acknowledging that victory only comes from God. The sermon was about the battle being God's, and that our responsibility was to worship God, trusting only in Him.

The preacher went on to note how Jehoshaphat appointed singers and musicians to lead Judah into battle, putting the worship and praise of God before the might of man. (Imagine the sight, an army being led into battle by a company of musicians holding instruments instead of weapons.) God honored Judah's faithfulness, and as they approached the valley of Berachah, they found that God had delivered the enemy without Judah having to lift a single sword in battle. The preacher focused on Judah's worship of God as the reason for their deliverance, citing "a worship service so great it was talked about throughout the land." He focused on the momentary worship of God by the people of Judah, and God's triumph over the invading armies, but I feel he stopped short, and left a confusing message with the congregation; that this momentary or occasional worship, so long as it is sincere, is all that God requires. Looking back a few chapters, however, you get the proper background for the revival that had taken place in Judah under Jehoshaphat's reign.

In chapter 17 of 2 Chronicles we see Jehoshaphat's rise to power. "And the Lord was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the first ways of his father David, and sought not unto Baalim; But sought to the Lord God of his father, and walked in his commandments, and not after the doings of Israel." (Israel had fallen from grace with God, but Judah remained in His graces.) "Therefore the Lord stablished the kingdom in his hand; and all Judah brought to Jehoshaphat presents; and he had riches and honour in abundance" (2 Chron. 17:3-5). Because Jehoshaphat refused to worship Baalim as his predecessors had done, and followed after the ways of David, God honored him and increased his power and wealth. This, however, was only the beginning of Jehoshaphat's service to God.

Jehoshaphat removed the places of idol worship (verse 6, "high places and groves") that the previous kings had refused to cleanse from the land, fully submitting himself to God's authority, and demonstrating his trust in God alone. In addition, Jehoshaphat appointed his princes, sending with them priests, to go throughout the land and increase the word of God among the people. "And they taught in Judah, and had the book of the law of the Lord with them, and went about throughout all the cities of Judah, and taught the people." (2 Chron. 17:9) Word of Judah's obedience to God, and its return to power, spread quickly, "And the fear of the Lord fell upon all the kingdoms of the lands that were round about Judah, so that they made no war against Jehoshaphat. Also some of the Philistines brought Jehoshaphat presents, and tribute silver; and the Arabians brought him flocks…" (17:10-11). Because of their obedience in seeking after Him and only Him, God made Judah powerful and wealthy; due to their hunger for His word and the study of His law, God gave Judah peace, and the respect of the surrounding kingdoms.

Jehoshaphat's reign, however, was not without blemish in God's eyes. After some time, Jehoshaphat entered into an unholy alliance with Ahab, king of Israel. "And after certain years he went down to Ahab to Samaria. And Ahab killed sheep and oxen for him in abundance, and for the people that he had with him, and persuaded him to go up with him to Ramoth-gilead. And Ahab king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat king of Judah, Wilt thou go with me to Ramoth-gilead? And he answered him, I am as thou art, and my people as thy people; and we will be with thee in the war." (2 Chron. 18:2-3) Here Jehoshaphat gives in to self-serving praise from Ahab, and commits Judah to Ahab's service, turning away from God's will.

This allegiance that is sworn to Ahab, and the battle that is fought at Ramoth-gilead, is seen as a transgression by God, as is revealed to Jehoshaphat in chapter 19, verses 2-3. "And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? Therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord. Nevertheless there are good things found in thee, in that thou hast taken away the groves out of the land, and hast prepared thine heart to seek God." Jehoshaphat had angered God, but due to his obedience in the past, God withheld His wrath from being poured out upon Judah. And just as the example of King David, Jehoshaphat's quickness to repent is honored by God.

"And Jehoshaphat dwelt at Jerusalem: and he went out again through the people from Beer-sheba to mount Ephraim, and brought them back unto the Lord God of their fathers. And he set judges in the land throughout all the fenced cities of Judah, city by city. And said to the judges, Take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for man, but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgment. Wherefore now let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts." (2 Chron. 19:4-7) Jehoshaphat sought to return to the foundation that had already been established in God. Where he had placed his faith within the king of Israel, Jehoshaphat now instructed those he set to judge to fear only God, and be subject to His ruling alone. Once he had returned Judah's focus to God, and cleansed the land through Godly principal and judgment, they would be ready to return to the holy worship of the Almighty.

Jehoshaphat then restored the order of the priesthood within Jerusalem, and commanded them in similar fashion as he had the judges. "And he charged them, saying, Thus shall ye do in the fear of the Lord, faithfully, and with a perfect heart. And what cause soever shall come to you of your brethren that dwell in their cities, between blood and blood, between law and commandment, statutes and judgments, ye shall even warn them that they trespass not against the Lord…" (2 Chron. 19:9-10). Again, the base point here is cleansing. The judges and priests are charged to perform their work in the fear of the Lord, keeping their focus and trust solely upon Him. Once Judah had returned wholly to the Lord, and fully cleansed the land of transgressions against His law, the stage was set for God's deliverance of Judah from their enemies.

Returning to chapter 20, we see again Jehoshaphat's prayer, but this time with the background of his obedience to the Almighty. "O Lord God of our fathers, art not thou God in heaven? and rulest not thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee?" (v. 6) "O our God, wilt thou not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee" (v. 12).

Reading the entire story, we see that God heard Judah's cries, and the battle was the Lord's, but not simply because of one worship service. Judah had continually honored God by removing all other gods, learning His law, following His judgments, and keeping His order of worship and sacrifice. If it is truly our goal to follow God, and become wholly His children, then we must honor Him in like manner. The pastor of this church service said "Everyone worships, whether they know it or not, whether it is God or not, they worship… something." We cannot afford to believe that our weekly (at most) attendance at our local church, singing to God and hearing His word preached, is enough to earn His favor. Sure, this is better than nothing, but compared to all that He requires, it is next to nothing. God is the Almighty, the Absolute Authority, and only your entire heart is enough.

Jesus said in Matthew 10:38, "He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me." And also in Luke 21:36, "Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man." Judah's example is one of complete obedience, continual study and worship of the Almighty. If we are to be judged worthy of Jesus and His resurrection, worthy to stand before the Son of man, worthy to be called on of God's own children, then our complete obedience must be given to Him every day of our lives. Complete obedience is much more than just worship; it is removing all distractions standing between you and God, learning and reading the Bible and committing His word to heart, submitting yourself wholly to His righteous judgments (including those of His leaders), and submitting yourself to His order of worship. This was Jehoshaphat's greatest victory: driving Judah to complete obedience of God, and allowing God to take the victory.

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