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Passage: 2 Chronicles 17:1-21:1

2 Chronicles 17:1-21:1 – Jehoshaphat

Summary

Jehoshaphat, as one of the Chronicler's favorite kings, embodies several of his desirable traits: piety, expressed in prayer and the removal of idols; establishment of the law; and concern for the Levites. His willingness to form alliances with the north, however, is problematic and depicted as such.

Analysis

In 1 Kings, Jehoshaphat is dealt with in summary fashion; Ahab, Jehoshaphat's northern contemporary, is deemed more important and dominates the narrative with only occasional references to Jehoshaphat. In Chronicles, however, Jehoshaphat is credited with faithful instruction of the people in God's law (2 Chronicles 17:7-9), the establishment of a judicial system (19:4-11), the construction of fortresses and storage cities (17:12b), an impressive army (17:13b-19), and military success and tribute from the Philistines and Arabs (17:10-11) as well as the Ammonites and Moabites (20:1-30). His only flaw involved a penchant for alliances with the northern kings. His alliance with Ahaziah resulted in the loss of his fleet (20:35-37). The alliance with Ahab (18:1-3)--in which Athaliah (the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel) married Jehoram (Jehoshaphat's son)--resulted in the battle at Ramoth-gilead where Ahab was killed (18:28-34) and later threatened the extinction of the Davidic line in the reigns of Ahaziah, Athaliah herself, and Joash.

Jehoshaphat's name, "may Yahweh judge," may have suggested his role in the establishment of the judiciary to the Chronicler, who is well known for idealizing his heroes as well as reading back into history the institutions of his own time. In any event, this episode (19:4-11) is unique to Chronicles. If historical--and this episode may comport with Jehoshaphat's concern to educate the people in Torah (17:7-9)--the king has responded to Jehu's prophetic warning (19:2-3) with the creation of a double system of local tribunals and a central court in Jerusalem. While the system generally agrees with Deuteronomy 16:18-17:13, the segregation of sacral and civil law (2 Chronicles 19:11) is a postexilic development.

The battle account in chapter 20 forms the centerpiece of the Chronicler's account of the divided monarchy (2 Chronicles 10-28). All of the major theological themes make an appearance: Levitical leadership in worship (20:19-20), retributive justice (vv. 22-23, 30), dependence upon God (vv. 3-4, 12, 20), and condemnation of foreign alliances (v. 17), as well as the two pillars of the Chronicler's theology: God's rule (vv. 6-7, see also 1 Chronicles 17:12) and answered prayer (vv. 8-9, see also 2 Chronicles 7:14). Three main sections--Jehoshaphat's prayer (vv. 5-12), God's response through Jahaziel the prophet (vv. 14-19), and the battle report (vv. 20-27)--are framed by a dramatic contrast between Jehoshaphat's fear (vv. 1-4) and the fear of God that defeated the enemies of Israel (v. 29).

Seven occurrences of the key word "stand" (amad) appear in chapter 20 (vv. 5, 9, 13, 17, 20, 21 [appointed, NRSV], 23 [attacked, NRSV]). In addition, they appear at strategic points in the narrative; the beginning of the first and third main sections (vv. 5, 20) and, more significant, all three main sections feature a statement containing this key word that recalls significant moments in the history of the people:

  • Section one (vv. 5-13). Jehoshaphat's prayer centers on this phrase: "If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house, and before you, for your name is in this house, and cry to you in our distress, and you will hear and save" (v. 9), recalling Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the temple and God's promise to hear (2 Chronicles 6:20, 28-30; 7:13-15).
  • Section two (vv. 14-19). God's response through the prophet Jahaziel advises the people to "stand still, and see the victory of the LORD" (v. 17), recalling Moses' admonition at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:13).
  • Section three (vv. 20-27). The battle report describes the confusion that caused the enemy to destroy one another when "the Ammonites and Moab stood against [attacked, NRSV] the inhabitants of Mount Seir" (v. 23), recalling similar instances of "holy war," especially Judges 7:15-23).