December 12, 2017

Jehoshaphat: A Godly Compromiser

Layton Talbert

Though Jehoshaphat receives marginal attention in the Book of Kings, his life and times dominate a significant four-chapter mass of material in 2 Chronicles 17–20 (101 verses, or 9.75 columns). In 2 Chronicles, his reign occupies significantly more space than any other king of the divided monarchy except for Hezekiah (116 verses, or 12.5 columns). He is even allotted nearly half of the space given to Solomon (201 verses, or 20.25 columns). In other words, out of the 21 kings of Judah (Solomon–Zedekiah) covered by 2 Chronicles in 85 columns, over 11% of the book is dedicated to Jehoshaphat. (Note: All references are to 2 Chronicles unless otherwise indicated.)

When Asa died, “Jehoshaphat his son reigned in his stead, and strengthened himself against Israel” (17:1). He assumed a posture in keeping with the combative relationship between Judah and Israel up to this point. For the past three kings over the last 55 years since the division of the kingdom (931 B.C.), Judah and Israel had been at odds. Battle typified their relations under Rehoboam (12:15), Abijah (13:2), and Asa (16:1–6). Jehoshaphat commenced his reign in a position of strength and a defensive posture. Jehoshaphat’s reign had a spiritually promising beginning as well (17:3–6). He initiated extensive “missionary activities” to teach God’s people His Law under the administrative leadership of five government officials, nine Levites, and two priests (17:7–9).

God’s Assessment of Jehoshaphat

  • He was one of only eight godly kings in Judah.
  • He was one of only three kings compared to David (17:3).
  • He walked in the ways of David (17:3, 4).
  • He took heart-delight in the ways of the Lord (17:6).
  • He appointed leaders to teach God’s Law throughout Judah (17:7–9).
  • He brought the people of Judah back to the Lord God (19:4).
  • He appointed judges throughout Judah and strictly charged them to carry out their duty faithfully in the fear of the Lord (19:5–11).
  • He set himself to seek the Lord in crisis and saw God deliver Judah (20:1–30).
  • He walked in the way of his father Asa, doing what was right in the sight of the Lord (20:31, 32).

Jehoshaphat’s Defining Flaw

  • He allied with Ahab’s house by marrying his son (Jehoram) to Ahab’s daughter (Athaliah) (18:1).
  • He allied with Ahab against Syria, nearly losing his life as a result (18:2ff.).
  • He allied with Ahab’s son, Ahaziah, in a mercantile venture until God destroyed their fleet (20:35–37; 1 Kings 22:48, 49). He seems to have heeded the implications of providence and discontinued the endeavor (1 Kings 22:49).
  • He allied with Ahab’s other son, Jehoram, against Moab (2 Kings 3:6ff.). Even at this stage, Elisha maintains a respect for him (2 Kings 3:14).

Jehoshaphat’s Rationalization

The only explicit justification he offers for entering these alliances is repeated on two occasions: “I am as thou art, my people as thy people” (22:4; 2 Kings 3:7). Jehoshaphat valued goodwill, “getting along,” and external unity over genuine faith in objective truth.

Jehoshaphat’s Effects

Jehoshaphat’s marriage alliance with Ahab—in which his son, Jehoram, married Ahab and Jezebel’s daughter, Athaliah—had far-reaching consequences:

  • It created a loyalty to Ahab that pulled him into a life-threatening military alliance (18:31).
  • It created an added loyalty to Ahab’s son, Ahaziah (now the brother-in-law of Jehoshaphat’s son), to ally with him in the joint mercantile venture (20:35–37).
  • It created an added loyalty to Ahab’s other son, Jehoram (also the brother-in-law of Jehoshaphat’s son), to ally with him against Moab (2 Kings 3).
  • It introduced a sustained wicked influence on his own son, Jehoram (21:6; 2 Kings 8:16–18).
  • It introduced a sustained wicked influence on his grandson, Ahaziah (22:3, 4).
  • It occasioned the judicial slaughter of his grandson, Ahaziah, by Jehu (22:7).
  • It occasioned the near extinction of the entire Davidic line, when Athaliah, after her son Ahaziah’s death, seized the throne and attempted to execute every Davidic claimant to the throne (22:10ff.).
  • It introduced a sustained wicked influence on God’s people in Judah, for by the time of the coronation of Joash (some twenty years later) there was a Temple of Baal apparently in Judah itself (23:17).

Jehoshaphat’s Rebuke

God’s rebuke of Jehoshaphat, through Jehu the prophet (19:1–3), is as instructive as it is withering. All three elements of this rebuke must be noticed and carefully weighed:

  • He was rebuked for helping the wicked and loving those who hate the Lord.
  • He brought the Lord’s wrath on himself for his inappropriate alliances with God’s enemies.
  • Despite all cthat, God still found good in him for his righteous reign and God-seeking heart.

Can such a compromiser be genuinely sincere and do good things for the Lord? Yes! Look at the narrative’s account of Jehoshaphat’s actions after this rebuke (19:4ff.)—even though he still engaged in two more inappropriate alliances with Jehoram and Ahaziah.

Jehoshaphat’s Lessons

Jehu’s rebuke of Jehoshaphat (19:2, 3) is remarkably applicable to our day. The fact that a man is—like Jehoshaphat—good and godly and sincere and successful:

  • does not mean that all his actions are, therefore, right (19:2).
  • does not mean that his wrong actions should be overlooked or go unrebuked because he is, after all, a good and godly and sincere man (19:2).
  • does not mean that there is not “wrath on him from the Lord” for his wrong actions or alliances—whether we see evidence of that wrath or not (19:2).
  • does not mean that his wrong actions necessarily nullify his good, godly, and sincere character (19:3).

Jehoshaphat’s Residual Effects

A man’s life reaps a harvest even after he dies, but will it be good grain or noxious weeds? Jehoshaphat’s son, Jehoram, married Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. She lived up to her heritage and made quite an impact on her husband Jehoram as well. Coming to the throne at the age of 32, Jehoram’s first act as king was wholesale fratricide (21:1–4). Instead of living like his father, he adopted the lifestyle of his father-in-law, Ahab (21:6), and undid all the spiritual influence Jehoshaphat had invested so diligently and commendably (21:11). His eight-year reign was a political, military, and spiritual disaster (21:8–17), and his end was ignominous (21:18–20).

The reign of Jehoram’s son, Ahaziah (Jehoshaphat’s grandson), was no better. As the son of Athaliah and the grandson of Ahab and Jezebel, Ahaziah also adopted the lifestyle of Ahab’s house (22:3, 4). Within a year, by the judgment of God, Ahaziah died at the hands of Jehu, king of Israel (22:5–9). With her husband (Jehoram) and her son (Ahaziah) dead, Athaliah seized the throne of Judah and set about to wipe out any remaining potential Davidic heir to the throne—which meant, of course, eradicating her own sons and grandsons (22:10).

It was in this year of 841 B.C., nine years after Jehoshaphat’s death, that the mess left behind by Jehoshaphat’s alliances reached critical mass. Eugene Merrill summarizes:

The date 841 B. C. is one of the most significant in Old Testament history for it marks the end of the reigns of Joram of Israel and both Jehoram and Ahaziah of Judah as well as the commencement of the reign of Jehu, the founder of the longest-lasting dynasty that the northern kingdom was to know (841–753). Moreover, 841 was the year when, from a human viewpoint, the Davidic messianic line was suspended by its slenderest thread, for in the aftermath of Jehu’s slaughter of Ahaziah, Athaliah … undertook a systematic purge of all the Judean royal family. Providentially, an infant son of Ahaziah survived, and the Davidic dynasty [and the line of Messiah!] therefore continued (Kingdom of Priests, 357–58).

All because of a godly man’s persistent pattern of compromised alliances in the interest of unity.

Dr. Layton Talbert is a FrontLine Contributing Editor and faculty member at Bob Jones Memorial Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina.

This material is excerpted from “A Theological Biography of Jehoshaphat: Lessons from an Old Evangelical” in Biblical Viewpoint (November 2004).

(Originally published in FrontLine • January/February 2005. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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