The Battle Is On
II Chronicles 20
May 16, 1993
The date—750 B.C.
The man—Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, a good king, the son of Asa. During his reign there was peace and prosperity because Jehoshaphat was a man of the Book. More than anything, he wanted to do what God said. God honored him for that commitment and made him great.
The crisis—A surprise attack from the southeast. Three nations suddenly moved against Judah—Moab, Ammon and the Menuites. Without warning, they crossed the Dead Sea. Even now they were only 40 miles away. The attack came from nations nursing ancient hostility, long memories of perceived slights, anger simmering over the years, jealousy now boiling over. The danger was very real.
The news came this way: “A vast army is coming against you. They have crossed the Dead Sea and are already in En Gedi.” Another day or two or three and the enemy would be at the gates of Jerusalem.
Verse 2 adds a significant phrase: “A vast army is coming against you.” That made it very personal. Not just against Judah, not just against Jerusalem, but against the king himself, against Jehoshaphat. This was a true test of one man’s faith in the time of crisis.
The Decisive Moment
What will he do? A man may do many things in a time of crisis. Some cover up, some give up, others panic, still others deny they have a problem. Verse 3 reveals the key response: “Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord.” Everything turns on that fact. This was the decisive moment. It’s not the crisis that destroys men; it’s what we do or don’t do when the crisis hits. No one can avoid a moment like this.
The first few moments, the first hours, the first days, the way you respond when your back is up against the wall—that’s when you discover what you are made of.
What do you do when your land is invaded? Get the guns? Call the army? That would make sense because Judah had a large, well-trained army.
A Time to Pray
Not this time. Jehoshaphat did something that by human standards makes no sense. He called a nationwide fast and asked the people to join him in Jerusalem for a prayer meeting. Now that’s crazy by all human standards. Common sense says, “Don’t waste time. There’s a time to pray and a time to fight. Now’s the time to fight.”
Oh no, says Jehoshaphat. Now is the time to pray. His prayer, recorded in II Chronicles 20:6-12, stands as one of the greatest prayers in all the Bible.
Two things strike me about his prayer: There is great faith here … and great simplicity.
A. There is faith in God’s character: “Power and might are in your hand and no one can withstand you” (6).
B. There is faith in God’s promise: “Did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?” (7).
A. There is only one request: “Will you not judge them?” (12).
B. There is only one complaint: “See how they have repaid us” (11).
C. There is only one confession: “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you” (12).
We get all mixed up when we think about prayer. We look at the externals—the form, the words, the length, whether we are standing or sitting, whether our eyes are open or shut, whether we phrase things in precisely the right way. But God looks at the internals—the faith, the sincerity, the honesty. He’s not that interested in the outside; when he listens to prayer, he looks at your heart.
And Jehoshaphat’s heart was in the right place. This isn’t a very long prayer but it saved a nation. It wasn’t very complicated but it got the job done.
The answer wasn’t long in coming. While the people were gathered in Jerusalem, the Lord spoke through a prophet named Jahaziel. His message was simple: “This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but the God’s’” (15).
Take a moment to savor that last phrase: “The battle is not yours, but the Lord’s.” I imagine Jehoshaphat was glad to hear that. The prophet went on to give some very specific instructions:
1. Tomorrow you will march down to meet your enemies.
2. Take your positions, but you don’t have to fight.
3. Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.
Whose Battle Is It, Anyway?
In the moment of crisis, our greatest danger is discouragement. We see the foe lined up against us and it scares us to death. After all, fear is well-founded if you have to face a vast army with no help from above!
The real question is, will you go in your own strength or will you go in God’s power?
Â§ If the battle is yours, you are in real trouble.
Â§ If the battle is God’s, you don’t have to fight. You just have to take your position.
The prophet’s final words were, “Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you” (17). Two things happened next:
1. Jehoshaphat bowed down to the ground and all the people of Judah fell to the ground and began to worship the Lord.
2. The Levites stood up and began to praise God with a loud voice.
The Choir Leads the Way!
Now we get to the good part of the story. The next morning the army of Judah begins to move against the enemy. But it’s the strangest battle formation in history: “Early in the morning they left for the desert of Tekoa. As they set out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, ‘Listen to me, people of Judah and Jerusalem! Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.’ After consulting with the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:
‘Give thanks to the Lord,
For his love endures forever’” (20-21).
Can you imagine the sight? Here comes the army of Judah, thousands of men armed for battle. Who’s at the head? Not the scouts, not the archers, not the warriors, not the infantry, not the mighty men. The choir is leading the way!
This was a bold, audacious move. Either the singers will be killed in a great slaughter or God will come through. But this is God’s battle so the proper response is bold, audacious worship. What Jehoshaphat does seems like nonsense, but it makes perfect God-sense.
They say that an eerie silence envelops a battlefield just before the first shot is fired, a tense, living silence when all the world stops just before the roar of the guns. In that silent moment men gather their thoughts, say their private prayers, and prepare to die.
Military strategists tell us that nothing is more important in battle than achieving the element of surprise. If your enemy doesn’t know you are coming, perhaps the shock of the first assault will win the day. If you can hit him when he doesn’t expect it, he will rock back on his heels and soon flee the field.
Suicide Unless …
But the army of Judah gave up the element of surprise. Here they come down the road, led by the male chorus, singing at the top of their voices. Not a patriotic hymn, not a love song, not a military march, but a cry of praise to Almighty God: “Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.” Over and over they sang, lifting their praise higher and higher. No doubt the soldiers joined them, thundering the sound of praise across the arid hills toward En Gedi.
This strategy would appear to be suicidal. In the first place, they were giving up all hope of surprise. Even the deaf could hear this army coming. Meanwhile something strange is happening in the enemy camp. As the men of Judah came closer, the sound of singing confused the Moabites and Ammonites. Precisely what happened is unclear. The Bible simply says, “The Lord set ambushes against them.” Perhaps he sent his angels to join the battle somehow. Perhaps he caused them to fall into their own traps and begin killing each other.
Who knows? But once the killing started, there was no way to stop it. First the Moabites and the Ammonites turned on the Menuites and killed them. Then the Moabites and the Ammonites began attacking each other.
Meanwhile, the army of Judah kept on marching. When they got to the high place overlooking the battlefield all they saw were dead bodies, stiff corpses drying in the hot desert wind. That’s all. A field full of corpses—stiff, stark, silent. Dead men as far as the eye could see. Thousands and thousands of dead men. Moabites, Ammonites, Menuites—all dead—not a one of them killed by the men of Judah. In their confusion, they had killed each other. The vast army was no more.
They Won a Battle They Never Fought
The Bible is specific on this point: No one escaped. Think of that. Not even one survivor. Every man who came to fight died that day.
Â§ The men of Judah never shot an arrow, never threw a spear.
Â§ They didn’t fight at all.
Â§ They marched out singing and by the time they got to the battlefield, it was over.
Â§ Just like God said.
In my Bible this story is titled, “Jehoshaphat defeats Moab and Ammon.” You know what’s funny about that? He didn’t lift a finger. He didn’t even break a sweat! No general ever had an easier battle than this. He didn’t fire a shot and didn’t lose a man. He didn’t even have time to get his uniform dirty. And he not only won the battle but the entire battle was over before he got there. Not bad!
The rest of the story goes like this:
1. It took them three days to carry off the plunder of the enemy—uniforms, equipment, and weapons.
2. On the fourth day they had a praise gathering in the Valley of Beracah—which means “Valley of Praise.”
3. When they got back to Jerusalem, they had another praise gathering at the temple—this time with an Old Testament combo—harps, lyres and trumpets.
4. When the other nations heard what had happened, they decided to leave the people of God alone. The end of the story is in verse 30: “The kingdom of Jehoshaphat was at peace, for his God had given him rest on every side.”
Two Pertinent Applications
1. Great things happen to us when we realize our powerless condition.
The key to this victory is found at the end of Jehoshaphat’s prayer: “We have no power to face this vast army that is coming against us.” Have you ever felt like that? What a great place to be! If you are there right now, don’t despair. God delights to intervene on behalf of powerless people.
This whole story pictures our situation in the world. We are always outnumbered, always outflanked, perpetually surrounded by duties, cares, hindrances, harassments, problems and the entanglements of life.
Somewhere I ran across this quote “Blessed is the desperation that catches God’s hand. Firm is the trust that leaps from despair.
It’s so easy to have false security:
I can take it.
Don’t worry. I can handle it.
I’ve got it under control.
But we are always broken sooner or later. In the end, even the most powerful realize they have no power at all. The strongest man is broken on the jagged rocks of reality sooner or later. Just when we think we’ve got it all together, in that fateful moment life begins to fall apart.
Here’s a key thought for you: Christian growth is the process of continually breaking our false security. God does it by slowly stripping from you the things in which you trust: your health, your job, your money, your friends, your plans for the future, your career, your dreams, your children, your spouse, and in the end, even your reputation may lie in ruins. God does it, not to destroy you, but to take everything else away so that you have nowhere else to go but to the Lord.
That’s what he did for Jehoshaphat. That’s what he does for all of us. That’s what he’s doing for some of you right now. The things that you valued the most are slowly being taken from you. But God who seems now to be so cruel actually loves you so much that he will not let you go until your trust is in him alone.
Back to the last phrase of Jehoshaphat’s prayer: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” That’s where God wants you to be. That’s Ground Zero of the spiritual life. He will do whatever it takes, including bringing pain and disappointment into your life, in order to get you to that point.
One more quote: “Blessed is our sense of helplessness if it gives us the energy of a desperate faith.” Desperate faith is good because when we come to the end of our hoarded resources, we at last come face to face with God.
2. The cultivation of worship is our only means of spiritual victory.
Once again we come face to face with the reality that worship is not something we do just one hour a week. Nor is it simply a religious routine reserved for 11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. Worship is our response to God as we turn to him in our helplessness!
That’s why this story is so crucial to the proper understanding of worship. Look at all that was involved in worshiping God: fasting … gathering … praying … standing … bowing … falling down … loud praising … praising and marching … singing and praising … praising in the valley … praising at the Temple … cheering … rejoicing … thanking … playing the harp … playing the lute … sounding out the trumpet.
But notice this: They worshiped God before the crisis, they worshiped during the crisis, they worshiped after the crisis. Worship was not an event they attended; worship was a way of life for the people of God. And God responded to their worship by giving them a fantastic victory.
That’s why I think verse 22 is so significant: “As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.” Did you get that? As they began to sing and praise. That is, in the act of singing, while they were praising, in the midst of their worship, and as a response to it, God set ambushes for their enemies, and their enemies were defeated. Praise wasn’t the prelude to the battle; praise was the battle. Worship wasn’t the preparation for the strategy; worship was the strategy.
Worship Releases God’s Power
Let me make my meaning plain: When we worship, God’s mighty power is unleashed on our behalf. Worship opens the door for God’s delivering power to flow into our desperation. God is seeking men and women who will see their helplessness and worship him anyway.
Sometimes singing … sometimes praying … sometimes clapping … sometimes weeping … sometimes shouting … sometimes testifying … sometimes standing … sometimes kneeling … sometimes speaking … sometimes keeping silence!
Worship Means Honoring God!
Worship means honoring God with our lives. That’s what Romans 12:1 means when it speaks of offering your body as a “living sacrifice.” The various means of worship are simply ways of expressing how we feel about God.
Â§ When we pray, we worship out of need.
Â§ When we obey, we worship out of love.
Â§ When we sing, we worship out of joy.
Â§ When we give, we worship out of gratitude.
Â§ When we praise, we worship out of reverence.
Worship, then, is preparation for the spiritual warfare we face during the week. It’s not the prelude. It’s the battle itself. Worship ought to be a description of every part of life. What we do on Sunday morning is just the tip of the iceberg.
When worship becomes our lifestyle, we see this great result: The battle is not ours, but the Lord’s—and he’s never lost one yet!
Four Simple Questions
Let me summarize the message of this passage in four simple questions:
1. Who do I trust? God.
2. How do I see myself? Powerless.
3. What do I do in a crisis? Worship.
4. What does God Do? Fights the battle for me.
Judah didn’t need a large army, a small army or any army at all. As long as the nation depended on the Lord, he would fight her battles.
Why? The Mighty One will deliver his people. He is God the savior who rescues his people. That’s what Solomon meant when he said, “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31).
If you are in trouble today, I have three pieces of advice:
1. Admit your helpless condition.
2. Stop complaining and start praising.
3. Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.
Â§ He can set up an ambush and defeat your enemies.
Â§ He can help the helpless.
Â§ He can deliver his people.
Â§ He can deliver you in ways you’ve never dreamed of.
Â§ He can put a baby in a manger and make that baby the Savior of the world.
As the song says, “What a mighty God we serve!”
Rejoice, child of God. Does the enemy have you surrounded? Do you feel helpless against the foe? Fear not, for the Lord is the Helper of the helpless.
Lift up your voice. Let fear be vanquished by the sound of your praise. Go into battle singing, and you will soon go home rejoicing.