In the movie His Girl Friday, Cary Grant famously exclaimed, “Jumping Jehoshaphat!” I always thought that was a strange phrase and yet something about it made me want to say it out loud, despite the anticipated judgmental stares to follow. My first hearing of it was as a kid while watching Walt Disney’s Sword in the Stone, which remains my all-time favorite feature-length cartoon. While fighting his nemesis, Madam Mim, in a wizard duel, Merlin exclaimed, “Jehoshaphat!” while nearly being smashed into a tree:
For the longest time, I had no idea who Jehoshaphat was or what the saying meant. When my curiosity finally peaked, I discovered that Jehoshaphat was an important Biblical figure, whom, sadly, many Christians know nothing about.
In 2 Samuel 7, we are told that God made a promise to David that his throne would last forever, ultimately culminating in the birth and resurrection of the promised Messiah. In fulfillment of this promise, we see God preserving David’s line, even through descendants who did not deserve God’s protection (see, ex., 2 Chronicles 21:7). One bright spot in the lineage between David and Christ was Jehoshaphat.
Jehoshaphat was an ancient king of Judah. We find the bulk of his story in 2 Chronicles 20, which opens with a warning to King Jehoshaphat that the Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites were assembling to wage war against Judah. Frightened by the inauspicious news, Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah turned to the Lord for help:
Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him.
2 Chronicles 20:3-4.
While standing in the temple, Jehoshaphat prayed to God, reminding God that the men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir were coming from lands that the Lord had prohibited the Israelites from invading during the Exodus from Egypt, and now those men were coming together to conquer the land of Judah. Jehoshaphat pled to God:
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.
2 Chronicles 20:12.
All the men of Judah, together with their wives and children, stood with Jehoshaphat before the Lord seeking the Lord’s assistance. Then God sent His Spirit into Jahaziel, son of Zechariah, who prophesied as follows:
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. 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. 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.
Upon hearing this prophecy, Jehoshaphat and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem bowed down with their faces to the ground in worship before the Lord.
The next morning, before setting off as commanded by God, Jehoshaphat stood before his people and said,
Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.
2 Chronicles 20:20.
Jehoshaphat then 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. As the men marched, they sang out, “Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.” 2 Chronicles 20:21. As these men began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the armies of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir. Prompted by God, the Ammonites and Moabites rose up against the men from Mount Seir and destroyed them. After the Ammonites and Moabites finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they turned against each other and destroy one another.
When the men of Judah came to the place God had instructed, which overlooked the desert where the vast army had gathered, they saw only dead bodies lying on the ground; not one enemy soldier survived. There was so much plunder that it took Jehoshaphat and his men three days to collect it. On the fourth day, they assembled in the Valley of Berakah and praised the Lord. 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. They entered Jerusalem and went to the temple of the Lord with harps and lyres and trumpets. The fear of God came on all the surrounding kingdoms when they heard how the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel, and the kingdom of Jehoshaphat was at peace, for God had given him rest on every side.
This story shows at least two things: (1) the tremendous faith Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah and Jerusalem placed in God to protect them; and (2) how graciously God responded to faith and, not just defended, but fought the battle for His people.
As soon as Jehoshaphat heard the news of the coming army, he turned, not to his own power, but to God, with his first act a call for a nation-wide fast. Under the example and influence of a king who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, people from every town in Judah, men, women and children, traveled to the temple and joined Jehoshaphat in worshipping the Lord and seeking His help. And when the Lord responded through the mouth of a prophet, all the people bowed down with their faces to the ground and worshiped God.
Imagine if this happened today . . . if the people of our Nation earnestly sought God’s assistance, fasted and bowed down as a Nation before Him. Perhaps our Nation would not be so divided and in such poor condition.
But Judah’s faith did not stop there. Before marching to the battlefield, Jehoshaphat did something remarkable–he appointed men to sing praises to God at the front of the line. How beautiful that must have sounded! What if, instead of cranking up Metallica, AC/DC and other hard rock songs, our military sang praises to God as they approached the front lines? There are stories from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars of our troops blaring hard rock and heavy metal music from their tanks as part of psychological warfare, terrifying and enraging the inhabitants who thought it was devil music, ultimately luring them into the open for snipers. What a different image presented in contrast to the nation of Judah marching in faith and in song to God.
God told the people of Judah to go out and face the vast and insurmountable army and that He would deliver them, encouraging them not to be afraid or discouraged. In response to Judah’s faith, God intervened and fought the battle for her, decimating three full armies and giving Judah so much plunder that it took three days to remove from the battlefield.
While Jehoshaphat presents a story of a miraculous military intervention by God, consider how this story might serve as an example for everyday needs. When sickness, or economic hardship, or marital discord, or church dissension threatens to overwhelm us, how do we respond? Do we lean on our own strength or do we lean on God? Do we become afraid and discouraged or do we have faith that God will deliver us? Do we fast, bow before God with our faces to the ground, and sing praises to Him when in need? I know I am not good at the latter. I might say a few prayers when life gets tough, but I can’t say I have ever demonstrated the level of faith shown by Jehoshaphat and Judah. We are not given this story as an entertaining fairytale. We are given this story as an example of how God responds to genuine and overwhelming faith in Him. The story also shows the lengths God will go to defend His people.
The next time you hear someone exclaim, “Jehoshaphat!” may you be reminded of the story of faith and deliverance and reflect on the measure of faith in your life.