Sermon preached on 1 Kings 22:41-53 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 03/15/2020 in Novato, CA.
While we come to the end of 1 Kings today, we are really only coming to an arbitrary marker in the middle of the book. In the original Hebrew this was just the single book of Kings. It wasn’t until the Septuagint Greek translation that the translators decided to divide it into two books, presumably to make it a more manageable size for fitting each onto a single scroll. But the book itself is one book and so we will be continuing into 2 kings in treating it as one book.
So then as we come to today’s passage, we see that these are two relatively polar opposite biographical sketches. A godly king and an evil king. A king of the light and a king of the darkness. And yet these two kings are not without any intersection between the two. While I will primarily walk us through this passage reflecting on King Jehoshaphat’s successes and failure, we will inherently at the same time explore some of the intersection between these two kings. And it’s this intersection between a godly king and a godless king that is especially interesting in today’s passage anyways.
Let’s consider first the successes of this godly King Jehoshaphat. Of course, the fact of his godliness is his chief success. Yes, we ultimately credit his godliness to the LORD, but we can also join with verse 43 and describe him as a king who walked in the way of Asa his father, doing what was right in the eyes of the LORD. That godliness manifested itself in various religious successes for his reign. We see here in verse 46, for example, that he removed the cult prostitutes from the land. That was an evil practice that infiltrated Judah during the time of King Rehoboam. Interestingly, King Jehoshaphat’s father Asa was also credited for removing the cult prostitutes from the land. But apparently there were more yet to remove during King Jehoshaphat’s time. Like today, each generation in the church, it seems, needs to fight against the tide of paganism that keeps trying to find a way back into the church.
Related to this, we learn in 2 Chronicles that part of the success King Jehoshaphat brought in terms of religion is educating the people in the law of God. As a side note, I’ll be referencing 2 Chronicles a lot today because it frankly records a lot more about King Jehoshaphat than the book of Kings does, so I’ll be bringing in that parallel account as it helps to fill in the details we find here in the book of Kings. And so, in 2 Chronicles 17 we see that Jehoshaphat sent officials with Levites throughout Judah to train the people in the law of God. It says that this resulted in a righteous fear of the LORD growing among the people. Another aspect of the religious reform that is explained further in 2 Chronicles is related to the high places mentioned in verse 43. 2 Chronicles seems to suggest that Jehoshaphat did make some effort to remove the high places but the people’s hearts were still in love with them and thus he was not ultimately successful in completing that reform. But it was nonetheless good that he made the progress he did on these various religious reforms.
Another success of King Jehoshaphat besides religious reform is listed in verse 45. It describes him there showing might and how he warred. While that is stated briefly there, I can again fill in some details from 2 Chronicles. There we find in 2 Chronicles 17 that King Jehoshaphat did a significant amount of work refortifying the cities in Judah and building up the army. His success in that area is found in that the Philistines began to bring him tribute. Also, the reference here in verse 47 about there being a deputy in Edom instead of a king likely implies that the deputy over Edom was a deputy of Jehoshaphat’s. In other words, in Jehoshaphat’s might Edom was apparently a vassal-state of Judah. Likewise, 2 Chronicles 20 records a huge military threat at one point against Judah from a coalition of Moabites and Ammonites. Jehoshaphat prayed feverishly to God and proclaimed a fast throughout Judah. God answered their prayer and gave Judah victory in battle against them. So, this all helps to add some additional color to the fact of Jehoshaphat as a mighty warrior king.
Many other successes of Jehoshaphat could be pointed out, especially when reviewing the account in 2 Chronicles. However, let me state one last success of sorts today as what we find in verse 44. There we find that Jehoshaphat made peace with the king of Israel. Most specifically that referred initially to how he made peace with King Ahab, but that peaceful relationship continued with the next two successors to Ahab, King Ahaziah and after him King Jehoram, Ahaziah’s brother. Ahaziah is the other biography in our passage for today. So, Jehoshaphat manages to secure peace with Israel for three kings in a row. In one sense, this was a very good thing. We should recall when the united nation of Israel first split into two, King Rehoboam had wanted to muster the army and go attack the northern tribes to force them to reunite. However, God sent the prophet Shemaiah to Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12:23 with a message not to fight against Israel. God’s reasoning for this is that they were Judah’s brothers – there should be peace between them, not war. At the time, Rehoboam obeyed the prophet Shemaiah and didn’t go attack them. However, after that we see continued fighting between Israel and Judah, though it was not always clear who started the aggression. Yet, there was always the hope that Judah and Israel might yet be reunited into a single kingdom. Rehoboam’s son and successor King Abijam brought that call to Israel, telling them to stop rebelling from the throne of David and to recognize what God had promised that throne in the Davidic covenant. Yet the fighting continued. Even much later after the time of this passage, we see the prophets would speak of how God would one day reunite the tribes under the Davidic king. Previously, I’ve pointed to Ezekiel 37 as a very clear example of this. SO then, in a certain sense, Jehoshaphat making peace with Israel was a success.
And yet, you’ll notice I said “in a certain sense.” There is also a way that Jehoshaphat’s making peace with Israel was representative of significant failure on his part. And so, I’d like to turn now and spend some time considering some of Jehoshaphat’s failures. And my reflection on this will be centered around this fact of Jehoshaphat making peace with Israel. How did Jehoshaphat initially secure such peace with King Ahab? It was through a marriage alliance according to 2 Chronicles 18:1. Specifically, Ahab’s daughter Athaliah married Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram. Now on the surface you might not see anything wrong with this. Marriage alliances between royal families often served as the basis for political alliances. Wouldn’t that especially be helpful in a case between Israel and Judah which were already relatives? Earlier in this chapter we see Jehoshaphat express their close connection and alliance through marriage when he said in verse 4 to Ahab, “I am as you are, my people as your people.” He’d later repeat the same thing to Ahab’s son and successor King Jehoram in 2 Kings 3:7. So, what’s the problem? He was making a deal with the devil! His peace came at the cost of having his son marry into an unequally yoked situation. Remember how Solomon’s pagan wives led him astray. The fact that Ahab’s daughter was technically an Israelite didn’t make her any less of an apostate. So then, we are not surprised to find recorded in 2 Kings 8 the effect this ultimately had on godly King Jehoshaphat’s son. King Jehoshaphat had walked in the ways of the LORD like his father King Asa had done. But there that godly lineage took a pause with Jehoshaphat’s son. Why? 2 Kings 8 attributes this to the fact that Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram had married Ahab’s daughter Athaliah. It was a failure on King Jehoshaphat’s part to marry his son off to a daughter of evil Ahab in the pursuit of peace.
If only the failure ended there. The long story short is that Ahab’s daughter Athaliah eventually has opportunity to seize the throne of David and sets herself up as Queen regnant – in other words she becomes the sovereign over the land. She then proceeds to try to wipe out all male heirs to the throne from the line of King David. We’ll read about this later in 2 Kings. God’s promises under the Davidic covenant look like they were about to fail, but God would see that one remaining royal son of David is hidden away until he can finally rise up and take back the throne. The evil house of Omri almost took over the Davidic kingdom through Athaliah, and this all comes back to this failure of Jehoshaphat. He should have never unequally yoked his son to a wicked daughter of Ahab.
We can see further related failings of Jehoshaphat associated with this peace deal with Israel. The next failing to point to is what is recorded earlier in this chapter. The battle we studied last week was a failure in two senses. First, it does not appear to have been a military success. That’s what verse 36 seems to mean – that when they cry for every man to go to his city, that it’s a cry for retreat. That’s like how Michaiah’s prophecy said when the shepherd is struck it will result in the sheep being scattered. Israel apparently lost both the battle and their king that day. Jehoshaphat’s military might did not help Israel and Ahab in that partnership. But, secondly, and more importantly, it landed Jehoshaphat with a prophetic rebuke from the LORD according to 2 Chronicles 19:2. There, the prophet Jehu son of Hanani rebuked King Jehoshaphat saying, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD? Because of this, wrath has gone out against you from the LORD.” Not only was Jehoshaphat and Ahab’s children unequally yoked, but Jehoshaphat had unequally yoked himself with Ahab and wicked Israel by helping in this battle venture against Syria.
Yet further we can see such failure of Jehoshaphat when it came to his ship building in verse 48. The premise of their ship building – to go find gold at Ophir – is reminiscent of the glory days of King Solomon. But it was unsuccessful – they never even got the ships out of port. The passage here reports only briefly in verse 48 that they were destroyed at Ezion-geber. Then it describes the wicked King Ahaziah – Ahab’s son and Jehoshaphat’s ally – offering to try again and go with them. While I think commendably at that point Jehoshaphat refuses the offer, that’s not the whole story. 2 Chronicles 20:35 tells us the rest of the details. It says that Jehoshaphat originally made this fleet of ships in partnership with the wicked King Ahaziah of Israel. It was a joint ship building effort between Judah and Israel. The 2 Chronicles account records that a prophet of the LORD then condemned Jehoshaphat for joining himself with Ahaziah like this and declaring that the ships would thus be destroyed. That’s when the ships get destroyed at Ezion-geber, and surely that’s why Jehoshaphat wouldn’t try again. Surely, he was looking to heed the prophetic word that had spoke against such yoking himself in business with the wicked Ahaziah.
One more failure of this sort is recorded in 2 Kings 3. There, we’ll find Jehoshaphat in extremely similar circumstances with Ahaziah’s successor, Jehoram King of Israel as with the battle recorded in this chapter with Syria and Ahab. There in 2 Kings 3 the enemy will be the Moabites. There again Jehoshaphat agrees to the Israelite king to help in battle. There again Jehoshaphat asks for a prophet of the LORD to weigh in. And while there is no explicit rebuke against Jehoshaphat recorded for that battle, the prophet there does rebuke Jehoram King of Israel for his wickedness and basically says he wouldn’t have anything to do with wicked Jehoram himself. Surely by that point, we are right to conclude that was a repeat failure by King Jehoshaphat to try to help such wicked haters of the LORD.
So then, in this second point for today I’ve wanted to have us reflect on the negative aspect of Jehoshaphat’s covenant of peace with the house of Ahab and Israel. Please don’t misunderstand me. Jehoshaphat was indeed a godly king. But he was not a perfect king. I think he had a good desire there to want to make peace with these estranged people of God in Israel. But how he went about it was foolish and faulty. To say it another way, ecumenicity cannot ignore apostasy. For what partnership can righteousness have with lawlessness? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What unity can the anointed of the LORD have with the devil? What agreement can the temple of the God and his people have with idols and idol worshippers? Jehoshaphat had not found a way to overcome this so that there could be a real and proper peace.
From a redemptive-historical concern, the goal of making peace between Judah and Israel was part of God’s plan for the Davidic messiah. But just not this one. Jehoshaphat wouldn’t be able to secure the kind of peace and unity that God would one day bring about between Judah and Israel. But the prophecy of Ezekiel 37:21-27 says it would one day happen. Let me quote you a few excerpts from that prophecy. “Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will take the people of Israel… and will gather them from all around… And I will make them one nation… And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be… no longer divided into two kingdoms. They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them… My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd… I will make a covenant of peace with them… an everlasting covenant… and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” That has already begun to be fulfilled with the coming of Jesus Christ into this world. Notice how this deals with the desire of Jehoshaphat for peace and unity but in the right way. Jesus establishes a covenant of peace between Israel and Judah. He makes peace with them and unites them together under him as their king. But this peace and unity doesn’t come at the expense of purity. The Ezekiel prophecy says that King Jesus makes this peace and unity by turning the people away from their sin and all their idolatry. He makes them a people who truly love righteousness.
The point is that Jesus “brokers” the best peace deal among divided Israel and Judah by dealing with the sin that has ultimately divided them. It’s this sin that not only has caused divisions among themselves, but ultimately divisions between them and God. So that the peace treaty that Jesus brings is not just a peace between humans. It’s a peace between the humans and their creator. King Jesus makes peace between God’s people and even between his people and God by dealing with the substance of the conflict: human sin. That’s what the cross was all about – to atone for sin. And it’s what the pouring out of Jesus’ Spirit is all about – to turn wayward hearts back to the LORD so that they would walk in the way of the LORD and do what is right in God’s sight. And praise God for Jesus has extended membership in this everlasting covenant of peace even to us gentiles. To all who are far off, who would bow the knee to Jesus and submit to him as their Lord and Savior!
Brothers and sisters, this is our story today! We are here today as members of this covenant of peace through faith in Jesus Christ. What godly Jehoshaphat sought but couldn’t achieve, his greater son ultimately did accomplish. In our allegiance to King Jesus we belong today to this covenant people made up of reunited Israelites and even naturalized Gentiles. To all who belong to Jesus Christ, we have a peace and unity together in Christ’s kingdom which is at work to purify and cleanse our hearts unto the day of the LORD.
In closing, I bring us the application to be on guard against becoming unequally yoked with the wicked. Righteous Jehoshaphat reminds us that this can be a temptation for even the godliest among us. This clearly has applications towards whom we marry – let us look to marry in the LORD. But surely there are other applications that would commend themselves as well. True, Christians are called to be in the world and that will surely, even hopefully, involve relationships with unbelievers. We ought not to try to remove ourselves from society like the Amish, for example. The Apostle Paul clearly condemns that idea in 1 Corinthians 5:9, but he also goes on to write to them the warning against being unequally yoked and surely marriage was not the main thing on his mind there.
We might even have the best intentions in our partnerships and alliances with others. I trust Jehoshaphat did. As an example application, I think of many of the formal efforts toward ecumenicity being done today by many Christians. Yet, often the unity that is pursued is not a unity in faith and practice. It often misses that the unity Jesus is pursing among his people is a unity founded in righteousness and truth. Let us, on Christ’s behalf, pursue the peace and unity he has won for his people. But let us pursue it in the terms that he has said is to be founded upon.
The good news is that this Ezekiel prophecy says it will ultimately come to pass in the full. It may not be in our day. Surely, it won’t be in the final and full sense until Christ returns. But this substantive peace among a united people of God will come in the full. And it will last forever. Amen.
Copyright © 2020 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.