It seems the Lord is not done with me on this topic, so this is another view of “the elephant” from a slightly different perspective.
As I was continuing my reading in 2 Chronicles today, I came across a passage well-known in Word of Faith (WoF) circles, one I have lost count of the times I’ve heard taught on:
After this, the armies of the Moabites, Ammonites, and some of the Meunites declared war on Jehoshaphat. Messengers came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army from Edom is marching against you from beyond the Dead Sea. They are already at Hazazon-tamar.” (This was another name for En-gedi.)
Jehoshaphat was terrified by this news and begged the Lord for guidance. He also ordered everyone in Judah to begin fasting. So people from all the towns of Judah came to Jerusalem to seek the Lord’s help.
Jehoshaphat stood before the community of Judah and Jerusalem in front of the new courtyard at the Temple of the Lord. He prayed,
“O Lord, God of our ancestors, You alone are the God Who is in heaven. You are ruler of all the kingdoms of the earth. You are powerful and mighty; no one can stand against You!
O our God, did You not drive out those who lived in this land when Your people Israel arrived? And did you not give this land forever to the descendants of Your friend Abraham? Your people settled here and built this Temple to honor Your name. They said, ‘Whenever we are faced with any calamity such as war, plague, or famine, we can come to stand in Your presence before this Temple where Your name is honored. We can cry out to You to save us, and You will hear us and rescue us.’
“And now see what the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir are doing. You would not let our ancestors invade those nations when Israel left Egypt, so they went around them and did not destroy them. Now see how they reward us! For they have come to throw us out of Your land, which You gave us as an inheritance. O our God, won’t You stop them? We are powerless against this mighty army that is about to attack us. We do not know what to do, but we are looking to You for help.”
As all the men of Judah stood before the Lord with their little ones, wives, and children, the Spirit of the Lord came upon one of the men standing there. His name was Jahaziel, son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite who was a descendant of Asaph.
He said, “Listen, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says: ‘Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow, march out against them. You will find them coming up through the Ascent of Ziz at the end of the valley that opens into the wilderness of Jeruel. But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!'”
Then King Jehoshaphat bowed low with his face to the ground. And all the people of Judah and Jerusalem did the same, worshiping the Lord. Then the Levites from the clans of Kohath and Korah stood to praise the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud shout.
Early the next morning the army of Judah went out into the wilderness of Tekoa. On the way Jehoshaphat stopped and said, “Listen to me, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be able to stand firm. Believe in his prophets, and you will succeed.”
After consulting the people, the king appointed singers to walk ahead of the army, singing to the Lord and praising him for his holy splendor. This is what they sang:
“Give thanks to the Lord; his faithful love endures forever!”
At the very moment they began to sing and give praise, the Lord caused the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir to start fighting among themselves. The armies of Moab and Ammon turned against their allies from Mount Seir and killed every one of them. After they had destroyed the army of Seir, they began attacking each other. So when the army of Judah arrived at the lookout point in the wilderness, all they saw were dead bodies lying on the ground as far as they could see. Not a single one of the enemy had escaped.
King Jehoshaphat and his men went out to gather the plunder. They found vast amounts of equipment, clothing, and other valuables — more than they could carry. There was so much plunder that it took them three days just to collect it all! On the fourth day they gathered in the Valley of Blessing, which got its name that day because the people praised and thanked the Lord there. It is still called the Valley of Blessing today.
Then all the men returned to Jerusalem, with Jehoshaphat leading them, overjoyed that the Lord had given them victory over their enemies. They marched into Jerusalem to the music of harps, lyres, and trumpets, and they proceeded to the Temple of the Lord.2 Chronicles 20:1-28 NLT
Every WoF sermon I’ve ever heard on this story focusses on the topics of faith and worship. Such teaching is entirely valid — I am not negating or taking away anything from what I’ve heard taught along those lines using this passage. We’re just going to examine this account from a slightly different perspective.
No, not to the army arrayed against Judah, but to God Almighty. Rather than complain about the overwhelmingly bad situation, he humbled himself before God despite his being scared out of his wits. He not only sought His wisdom personally, he called Judah into that same quality of surrender by commanding a nationwide fast.
Amazingly, we see no hint of resistance on their part, only them joining their king in submission to the Most High. While statistically, there certainly may have been a few holdouts to Jehoshaphat’s plan, any such minority was so insignificant the historian recounting the story didn’t feel the need to mention them neither did their possible presence effect the final outcome.
Can you imagine the American church-at-large responding with similar humility and obedience to such a demand made by our president (assuming we ever had a president of like humility to Jehoshaphat)? Yeah, right — That could happen! I can imagine the clamors of protest; folks saying things like,
- Who does he think he is, demanding us to stop eating. He’s violating the separation of church and state!”, or;
- “Isn’t there alternative which doesn’t require this kind of sacrifice? I have children to think of!” or;
- “I think we should negotiate with our enemies. Once they see how nice we are, they’ll leave us alone!” or;
- “Why is God doing this to us? It simply isn’t fair!”
But I digress…
First, evil can never be negotiated with, mollified, or appeased, only opposed and destroyed. Neville Chamberlain and Great Britain learned that to their great sorrow dealing with Hitler. Hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, died because of Chamberlain’s spinelessness and wishful thinking. Had he remained in power, rather than being replaced by Churchill, it is entirely likely the British would be speaking German today.
Oops! Digressing again!
So how do we oppose evil? With overwhelming force!
And where do we get overwhelming force when we don’t have any on hand? From Overwhelming-Force-R-Us, the almighty Lord of Hosts!
How do we get Him to fight on our behalf? Surrender to Him!
And that is precisely what Jehoshaphat and Judah did.
When Jahaziel, the man God chose to speak through, proclaimed the word of the Lord, Jehoshaphat didn’t question, he didn’t second-guess. He humbly worshipped and simply obeyed.
Many believers in the WoF specifically and the Body of Christ in general gladly embrace the worship portion of that equation, but minimize or outright ignore God’s requirement for ongoing humility and even more crucially: exacting obedience. Jehoshaphat didn’t add to or subtract from what he was told. Unlike the tendency of typical modern-day Christians, he didn’t take God’s command as a launchpad for impromptu personal creativity, riffing a divinely-inspired but human-reason-diluted plan of action like a soloist’s improvisation on a musical theme during a jazz performance.
Why is this crucial?
Assuming God is truly infinite and all-knowing, we can safely conclude He has knowledge, insight, and wisdom inconceivable to our limited-by-space-and-time and corrupted-by-sinful-flesh perceptions of reality. Again, as I said in my article on double-mindedness many real, but avoidable, problems begin when we think or do the equivalent of, “Here, God, hold my beer; I’ve got this!”
The Boy & The Snake
I’m reminded of a story I once heard about an American pastor on a missionary journey to Central Africa. As he was standing outside the church talking to the local pastor, the pastor’s young son was playing under a nearby tree.
Suddenly, the pastor shouted out, “Son! Drop to the ground!”
The boy immediately obeyed.
The pastor continued, this time shouting, “Now crawl towards me as fast as you can!”
Once again the boy instantly complied.
A few moments later, the pastor again shouted to his son, “Now stand up and run to me!”
Again, instant obedience.
When the boy reached his side, the pastor pointed back at the tree. Moments later, all three of them saw a huge black mamba — the most aggressive and deadliest venomous snake species in Africa — drop out of that tree onto the very spot where the boy had been playing.
Had the boy not trusted his father and unquestioningly obeyed him without hesitation, he would never have survived the snake-bite; mamba venom is so incredibly toxic he would have died long before they could have driven off the snake and then obtained medical treatment. A typical American child would have whined, argued, and resisted, thereby becoming the honoree at his own funeral.
God’s commands are frequently no less life-and-death kinds of instructions. We often ignore them to our peril. When the terrorist attacks occurred on 9/11, quite a few Christ-followers were supposed to be at work in the World Trade Center that day, but were told by the Lord, directly or indirectly, to not go in to work. The ones who obeyed watched in horror from the safety of their own homes as their workplace collapsed into ruins. The ones who ignored Him died in that selfsame collapse.
Sometimes we never see the results of our obedience. Case-in-point: a renowned WoF minister and author named Rick Renner related the following story to us during a sermon.
He was one of the keynote speakers at a WoF convention. He was getting dressed to attend one of the evening meetings where he was not scheduled to speak, but the expectation was he would at least make an appearance. The Holy Spirit very clearly and distinctly told him to not attend and stay in his hotel room. Rick argued with the Lord about how everyone was expecting him to be there.
The Holy Spirit persisted. Rick resisted.
Finally, there was a knock at his hotel room door. Thinking it was his driver there to pick him up for the meeting, Rick shouted out, “I’m almost ready to leave! I’ll be out in a few minutes!” About 10 minutes later, he disobediently left his room, walked downstairs, got into the car, and departed for the meeting, all while the Holy Spirit continued telling him to go back.
When Rick returned to his hotel several hours later after the meeting had ended, he discovered his room had been burgled and his laptop computer stolen. He later realized the knock on his door had been the burglar checking to see if the room was occupied, not the driver. The real tragedy of that theft was Rick’s laptop had the almost-completed manuscript for his newest book on its hard drive and there was no backup anywhere!
Hours and hours of labor had simply evaporated into thin air with no other remedy than to start over from scratch and rewrite the book. I’ll also guarantee you Rick immediately reevaluated his abysmal backup strategy!
We are then left to ponder the musical question: what would have happened had Rick obeyed?
In a word: nothing!
Not. One. Blessed. Thing.
The thief would have discovered the room was occupied and then moved on to easier pickings. This would have left Rick scratching his head, wondering if he had actually heard from God or not. But his laptop and book manuscript would have remained safely in his possession.
God’s Attitude Towards Disobedience
God’s high priority on obedience can be summed up nicely with His response to King Saul’s disobedience as recorded in 1 Samuel.
Setting the Stage
- God told Saul to attack and utterly destroy the city-state of Amalek, killing every man, woman, child, and animal there by the edge of the sword.
- The Amalekites had constantly harassed the Israelites during the Exodus. Their favorite practice was to ambush the tail-end of the convoy and either kill or enslave the stragglers. If pregnant women were among the stragglers, their unborn children were cut from their wombs with a sword and both were left to die on the sand. By that point in history, the Amalekites had exhausted God’s grace and mercy and He had had enough of these bozos.
What skeptics who accuse God of genocide — and tragically, many Christians — don’t realize is the Amalekites, as well as all the other nearby pagan nations, were given over to sexual immorality as part of their idol worship. As a result, every man and woman was infected with one or more venereal diseases. Because incest and bestiality were two of their many sexual perversions, even their children and livestock were infected.
Please note this took place during the Bronze Age when germ theory and antibiotics were several millennia in the future. The only way these then-incurable diseases could be prevented from infecting the Israelites was by the total annihilation of all infected pagans as well as their animals.
- Saul partially obeyed by attacking and destroying the city.
- But he kept alive Agag, the king of Amalek.
- Saul also had his army sort out the critters and only destroy those which seemed worthless or undesirable while preserving whatever seemed good and desirable in their own eyes.
- God sent Samuel to rebuke Saul.
- Saul lied to Samuel, claiming he had obeyed.
- Samuel called out Saul for his disobedience and dishonesty.
- Saul tried to deflect, claiming he kept the animals alive to sacrifice to God. (unbeknownst to him, they were unacceptable to God as sacrifices because they were diseased).
- Samuel called Saul out again, this time adding arrogance the charges.
- Saul finally owned his disobedience for keeping Agag alive, but immediately tried to shift the blame to his army for the livestock, reiterating the animals were kept alive for sacrifice to the Lord.
The Tragic Ending
Samuel then pronounces God’s judgment on Saul, the beginning of the end for both him and his dynasty:
What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to His voice?
Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.
So because you have rejected the command of the Lord, He has rejected you as king.1 Samuel 15:22-23 NLT
Since that passage is clearly and unequivocally stated, I feel like I have nothing to add here.
Our complete inability to obey our Creator apart from His limitless grace and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit is the very reason God-in-Sandals had to show up in the first place. In other words, if we could do any of this on our own spin, then Jesus died needlessly.
As with humility, I have absolutely not “arrived” in that endeavor and will never perfectly achieve perfection this side of eternity.
Same goes for you, too!
Which leads us back to those verses in James and 1 Peter I cited in my earlier article on humility:
…God gives grace to the humble.
Our path of obedience is paved with His grace.
We receive His grace through our humility.
To paraphrase James 2:20: “Faith without obedience is dead.”
- There are no alternatives.
- Workarounds are nonexistent.
- Detours are not permitted.
- Do-overs are rarely, if ever, granted.
It’s all right there in front of us written in black and white (sometimes red and white):
And then witness our amazing, all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing God move mightily on our behalf.
For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him…2 Chronicles 16:9a
Thanks for reading!