Tonight we’re continuing in our series I’ve entitled Paths of Praise. Over these three weeks I’m looking at three stories from the Bible of people who praise God in some trying circumstances.
So last week we looked at Paul and Silas and how they praised God in the prison, and saw how their praise preceded their deliverance. They didn’t wait to get out of their trouble before they reminded themselves and then expressed God’s character and actions. We’re going to see a little of that in our message tonight.
Next week we’re going to be looking at a man who desperately needed deliverance, he desperately needed a miracle. Have you ever been in that sort of situation? We’re going to see how God delivered this man, and how he responded to God’s dealings with him. So don’t miss out on Luke 17 next week.
For tonight, though, we’re going to be looking at the passage that really inspired this series. It’s the story of a good king named Jehoshaphat. And we’re going to see how he praised God in trying times and how that praise brought about the deliverance that he so desperately needed.
But before we go there. Let’s look at praise again. I said last week, and I want to say it again because I think it’s so important, that a life of praise is a mark of Christian maturity.
When you start out in your Christian walk, you don’t know much about God and about the Bible. You still have a lot of sinful habits from your past.
And as you grow in maturity, we expect to see you grow in knowledge of God and the Bible. We also expect to see sinful habits dying in your life, and being replaced with healthy, godly habits. Often times we focus a lot on those things and that’s good. But one of the other marks of Christian maturity is a life of praise.
Whereas before, your focus was on yourself, your speech would be very self-focussed and self-praising; a mature Christian will be very God-focussed and his or her speech will be very God-praising.
If you were to use that as a tester for your spiritual life, how far along the path would you say that you are?
But let’s define praise again quickly.
We said last week that praise is to draw attention to something good that someone has done. And so we praise God when we draw attention to Him and to what He has done. That’s pretty simple. Keep that definition in mind as we go forward in our message for tonight.
Please turn with me to 2 Chronicles 20.
I’m not going to read the whole passage to you tonight, as it’s quite a long story, but you’re welcome to go home and read through this story in your own time. I’ll just highlight the verses I do read.
Let’s give you a little bit of context. This is the story of a king called Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat is currently the King of Judah. The Bible tells us he’s one of the ‘good’ kings – or kings that did right in the eyes of the LORD. Jehoshaphat loved the LORD, but we also see in the story of Jehoshaphat that he also made many mistakes and did some wicked things. But, just like David, he was quick to confess his sin, and quick to turn away from it.
So you’ll see in 2 Chronicles 18 that Jehoshaphat allies himself with the wicked king of Israel, Ahab. It’s not a successful alliance, and on top of that, God sends a prophet to rebuke Jehoshaphat for involving himself with the wicked king.
Then in chapter 19, Jehoshaphat institutes some reforms – which means that he sees that the nation of Judah has walked away from the paths that God wants them on, and so he starts calling the people back onto the path of God. He does away with places of wickedness, and re-ignites practices of worship of the living God.
So the country’s on the up, all is going well, people are drawing close to God and the nation is beginning to prosper.
And then trouble comes, and it’s pretty big trouble.
Then you can read with me in verse 1 of chapter 20, ‘After this the Moabites and Ammonites, and with them some of the Meunites, came against Jehoshaphat for battle. Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar” (that is, Engedi). Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the LORD; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD.”
THE CHALLENGE WAS INSURMOUNTABLE Just as things were looking up for the people of Judah, an army came to shatter them. And this was a huge army. It was described as a great multitude, a vast invasion force. This was also a tumultuous time in the region. Less than a hundred years would pass before Israel would be wiped out by Assyria. It wasn’t unthinkable that in a short space of time, Judah as a nation could be wiped from the earth and from the history books.
This is different from the story last week in that Paul and Silas faced their own suffering and death, while Jehoshaphat was being threatened with the end of his kingdom, and the suffering and death of his subjects, all his friends, his family, and himself. I think there’s some comfort in death in knowing that your people will go on, but imagine a situation where all that you’ve lived for will soon be crushed, wiped out and forgotten.
The challenge they were facing here was insurmountable. They couldn’t fight their way out, they couldn’t talk their way out, they couldn’t beg their way out, and they certainly couldn’t just go to bed and hope it’ll all just go away.
Do you know what it’s like to be Jehoshaphat? I don’t really, but I don’t doubt that some of you here tonight have a pretty clear idea.
You see its one thing to endure a season of trouble when you know that it’ll soon be over. You can face losing your job because you have a positive expectation that in time you’ll find work. You can face the flu because you have a positive expectation that you’ll soon heal. You can face a car accident because you have the positive expectation that you’ll be able, in time, to replace it and life will go on.
It’s one thing to endure a season of trouble when you know that it’ll soon be over. But what happens when there is no positive expectation for the future? What if there’s no light at the end of this tunnel? What if even now you can feel the ground crumbling from under your feet and you know that there’s no way out of the hole you’re tumbling into?
Have you ever faced a challenge which was truly insurmountable?
How do you handle those situations?
Well, I’ll tell you what Jehoshaphat did – When he faced insurmountable trouble, Jehoshaphat turned to the LORD.
We read from verse 3 that Jehoshaphat turned his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout the land.
What do you do when faced with something you can’t handle? Do you struggle through it as best you can? Do you turn to your parents for help, or your friends, or your kids maybe?
I want to encourage you to make it a habit to turn to the LORD first in your trouble. Make it a routine that when trouble comes, your first thought is to reach up to God – let that be your pattern.
Jehoshaphat turned to the LORD in his insurmountable challenge.
I’d love to go through the prayer with you in vs. 5-12 – it’s an incredible prayer. But we don’t have time in this message. But go read it. In the prayer, Jehoshaphat reminds himself of who God is, he reminds himself of what God has done, he reminds himself of God’s promises to them, he gives an open recognition of what’s happening to them, and a humble declaration of their complete powerlessness in the situation.
It’s a wonderful prayer to study and pattern our prayers after.
But God’s response is far more wonderful than the prayer. God gives Jehoshaphat and all Judah a promise: that this battle belonged to Him, He would fight for them.
THE BATTLE WAS GOD’S Here’s the promise, from verse 15. “Thus says the LORD to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you.”
Here’s the promise: The battle belongs to the LORD, and He will be with you. You will not need to fight in this battle.
Do you know that God fights for His people?
God’s Word is full of stories of how God fights for His people, and in some of the greatest battles in history, God commands His people to be joyful spectators, rather than initiators of the total defeat of the enemy.
Let’s look at Moses verses the Egyptians: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent”
Let’s look at David verses Goliath: “This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give you into our hand.”
God fights for His people.
Now let’s look at the battles we face. Whether it’s clear to you or not, all the battles we face in life come from sin – either your sin, or someone else’s sin. Our greatest enemy is the devil, and our greatest battle is the battle for our souls.
I’ve battled addiction. I’ve battled shame. I’ve battled anger. I’ve battled regret. I’ve battled bitterness.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that you’re battling your wife, or you’re battling your boss, or you’re battling your mechanic, or you’re battling your government. The Bible says that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
As long as you’re fighting people, you’re fighting against God, because then you’re doing what the devil wants you to do. But as soon as you start fighting sin, then God takes over the battle and the battle becomes His.
God promises to win this battle for you. Yes, for you.
I don’t know about you, but this changes the battle plan for me. Instead of fighting, I can be cheering. If you’re not in the battle, you can be on the side-lines cheering.
And that’s exactly what Jehoshaphat and his people did.
They began to praise God.
THE RESPONSE WAS PRAISE Read with me from verse 18: “Then Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the LORD, worshipping the LORD. And the Levites, of the Kohathites and the Korahites, stood up to praise the LORD, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice. And they rose early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa. And when they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, ‘Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the LORD your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.’ And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the LORD and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say, ‘Give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever’.”
When the people of Judah heard about the promises of God – they believed them. And their belief, their faith, was evidenced by their praise.
Let me ask you tonight: is your belief evidenced by praise? Do you believe the promises of God tonight? And if you do believe the promises of God – does that show, is your faith evidenced by a life of praise?
Jehoshaphat showed that he believed God because when the promise came, the praise followed.
I love just how completely Jehoshaphat trusted in God’s promise.
Early the next morning, the nation arose and went out to get ready for battle. And this is how they positioned themselves: army behind, praise-party up front. We’re going to go out to see the miracle that God has promised, we’re going to go out to be witnesses, but we’re going out with praise.
They didn’t doubt that God could save them from their present trial. They didn’t doubt that God would save them from their present trial. They trusted God and went forth praising.
Praise also is an encouragement. The front-guard praise-party group might have woken up with fear about what would happen that day; but as they turned their eyes to the LORD and praised Him, and others heard their praises, it made God great in their eyes, and made the coming battle insignificant.
If you’re facing insurmountable problems tonight, praise can be difficult, but it’s also the very best thing for you, because praise takes your eyes off of yourself and puts them on our GREAT God.
And then, I love what it says – that God responded to their praise, and brought victory, which was total.
THE VICTORY WAS TOTAL Let’s read the remarkable account of verse 22: “And when they began to sing and praise, the LORD set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed.”
Isn’t it remarkable that God responds to the decisions of His people?
When they were in trouble, they prayed and He answered them.
When they went out in faith, they praised and He delivered them.
You can’t get around this: the battle wasn’t won unti