Monday, May 13, 2024

2 Chronicles 20:1-30

2 Chronicles 20:1–30 (NIV)✞: Jehoshaphat Defeats Moab and Ammon


This is another story1 we find in the book of Chronicles but not in the book of Kings, and it adds to the complexity of Jehoshaphat’s reign.

We start with him being informed that a vast army is coming against him, comprised of Ammonites, Moabites, and Meunites (though the footnotes for the NIV and ESV both say that “Meunites” might be better translated “Ammonites,” so… more Ammonites). He’s also told that this army is coming from Edom, so one can assume there are Edomites as well.

Not only that, but this army is already practically on Jehoshaphat’s doorstep! They’re coming from the East—from the other side of the Dead Sea—but they’ve already crossed the sea, have traveled through Judah, and are now at En Gedi, very close to Jerusalem. (There’s a good map at Quiet Times with God highlighting this.)

Now, up to this point Jehoshaphat has had a mixed review from the author(s) of Chronicles; sometimes he follows God and sometimes he doesn’t. How’s he going to do here? And the answer is: very well!

He decides to inquire of the LORD – but he doesn’t just walk over to the Temple and start asking questions. He proclaims a fast, and brings people from all over Judah together to the Temple to seek the LORD’s help.

We’re not told how long the fast lasts, but at some point Jehoshaphat prays:

5 Then Jehoshaphat stood up in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem at the temple of the LORD in the front of the new courtyard 6 and said:


LORD, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. 7 Our God, 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? 8 They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying, 9 ‘If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.’


10 “But now here are men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, whose territory you would not allow Israel to invade when they came from Egypt; so they turned away from them and did not destroy them. 11 See how they are repaying us by coming to drive us out of the possession you gave us as an inheritance. 12 Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”


13 All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the LORD.

2 Chronicles 20:5–13 (NIV)✞

God then answers Jehoshaphat and the people through a prophet named Jahaziel:

15 He [Jahaziel] said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! 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 God’s. 16 Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. 17 You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.’”

2 Chronicles 20:15–17 (NIV)✞

At this, Jehoshaphat and the people worship and praise God, and the next morning set out to face their enemies, as instructed. Along the way Jehoshaphat encourages the people to trust in their God, and even appoints some people to sing praises to God on the way.

After consulting 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.”

2 Chronicles 20:21 (NIV)✞

As the people start to sing praises, God begins the defeat of Judah’s enemies: verse 22✞ tells us that He “set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah,” but then verse 23✞ goes on to say how He does that, which is by having the armies all fight each other, wiping each other out! By the time the people of Judah arrive on the scene there are no survivors – just a field full of the dead bodies of the army that had come to fight them!

God had told the people of Judah that they wouldn’t have to fight this battle, He was going to do it on their behalf, and He was very true to His word! All the people of Judah have to do is carry off the plunder! This takes them three days to accomplish, and on the fourth day they gather at a particular valley to praise God once more, which is why they name it the Valley of Berakah (or Valley of Praise).

Finally, the people return to Jerusalem and enjoy the peace God has given them:

27 Then, led by Jehoshaphat, all the men of Judah and Jerusalem returned joyfully to Jerusalem, for the LORD had given them cause to rejoice over their enemies. 28 They entered Jerusalem and went to the temple of the LORD with harps and lyres and trumpets.


29 The fear of God came on all the surrounding kingdoms when they heard how the LORD had fought against the enemies of Israel. 30 And the kingdom of Jehoshaphat was at peace, for his God had given him rest on every side.

2 Chronicles 20:27–30 (NIV)✞


As mentioned, Jehoshaphat’s reign has been up and down – at least in the sense of how well he’s following God (or not), which is the main thing the author(s) of the book of Chronicles care about. In this passage, however, he unambiguously follows God with his whole heart. When threatened with a battle he knows he can’t win he turns to the God who can win it, and his faithfulness is rewarded.

And not just his own faithfulness; this passage seems to take place during a period of history in which the people of Judah are all following God. I might be reading between the lines a bit too much, but this doesn’t feel like a king who’s following God and trying to drag the people along, it reads more like an entire nation—king included—that’s following God. Even the point about Jehoshaphat assigning people to praise God on their way to meet their enemies is an example of this: notice that it says Jehoshaphat assigns people to sing praises “after consulting the people.” The people are marching along to the place where they’re expecting God to defeat their enemies, Jehoshaphat reminds the people to have faith in God, and someone says, “Hey king, you know what would be a good idea? Let’s have some singers, singing praises to God!” “That’s a great idea,” Jehoshaphat responds.

It’s also interesting, to me, to note the point at which God starts defeating Judah’s enemies:

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.

2 Chronicles 20:22 (NIV)✞, emphasis added

The people are on their way to witness God’s deliverance, and He knows exactly how He’s going to accomplish this. As the people are still far off they start singing praises to Him – and that’s when He decides to start His work.

I don’t want to make this too much like a tit-for-tat situation, making it seem like whenever we praise God, He does what we want. That’s not Christianity, that’s paganism! Follow this ritual, or make this sacrifice, or say this secret prayer, and the “god” in question will give you what you want; if you don’t do those things, the “god” in question is just waiting to pounce on you for your error. That’s not the God of the Bible.

But the God of the Bible is worthy of praise, and, in this case, demonstrates that to His people even as they’re singing those very praises.


It’s probably worth talking about fasting again, since it’s an important part of Jehoshaphat’s approach to God – and because it’s not something 21st Century Christians in the West seem to do a lot of, which means it could be easy to miss the point. (It also makes it hard for me to talk about, since I don’t consider myself an expert!)

In essence, the way I’d put it is that the people of God fast when they are so desperate to seek His help that they view it as more important than food. (Fasting can, of course, be a matter of giving something else up, it doesn’t have to be food, but giving up food is the usual kind of fast we think of.) When Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah fast before seeking God’s help, they’re saying that getting their hearts right with Him, and seeking His deliverance, are more important than eating.

Like anything the Christian does, fasting can be done incorrectly – that is, it can be done with bad motives. For example, Jesus calls out one way we can fast with bad motives in the book of Matthew:

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Matthew 6:16–18 (NIV)✞

Forget about the “putting oil on your face” part—don’t get lost in the cultural differences—just look at the larger point Jesus is making: Jehoshaphat, and the people of Judah, fasted because they believed seeking God’s help was more important than eating, but Jesus tells us that some people fast in order to be seen fasting, because they believe it will make them look more holy or righteous than other people.

I would say there’s also an even more subtle (and therefore nefarious) form of “bad” fasting where we simply view it as a ritual – similar to the kind of “paganism” I was referring to earlier. If I pray the right prayers, and give my tithes (no more, no less), and read my Bible every day—well… most days—and fast from time to time, then God has to bless me! It’s an implied contract! I do my part, and then He has to do His part! And that kind of fasting is really the opposite of what Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah do here in 2 Chronicles 20; the people of Judah fasted because getting right with God was more important than food; the type of fasting I’m describing here is a matter of temporarily giving up food now so that God will give me even more food in the future! Short term pain for long term gain! Except, in this type of fasting, the most important part of the equation is the food itself; God is only a means to an end. It’s like… an investment.

Investing Fasting
Short term pain I give up money by putting it in the bank I give up food
Long term gain In the long run, I end up with even more money, because the bank pays me interest In the long run, I end up with even more food (and/or money and/or power and/or whatever I value), because God rewards my sacrifice with blessing

This isn’t real fasting; it isn’t seeking God, it’s taking part in a ritual so that God will give me whatever it is that I really want.

Some good articles I found on fasting can be found at the Desiring God website and at the C.S. Lewis Institute’s website.


  • I hate using the word “story” because we sometimes assume “story” means “fiction,” but stories can be true, too, so there’s no reason I shouldn’t use the word…

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