Pray When You Don’t Know What to Do
Topic: Expository Passage: 2 Chronicles 20:1-30
There’s no question that we are living in unprecedented times. Sure, plagues are nothing new, but our travel capabilities have allowed this one to spread very rapidly. And our technology has allowed us to feel the worldwide weight of this one in a new way. For example, Detroit has been hit hard, and the other night Heidi read me a Facebook post from a casual acquaintance who is an ER nurse there. And hearing her story of watching 2 patients die scared and alone during a single shift brought the situation there to life in a way that was not easy in past generations.
And not only are people dying, but the economy is a dumpster fire. And on top of it all, we are all isolated. We can’t physically lean on each other like we normally would in difficult times. Certainly, this is not the biggest crisis the world has ever seen. It pales in comparison to the great wars in history, but it’s still a big deal.
So, the question I want to answer this morning is, “Where do we go when we don’t know what to do?” This is an important question, not only for the present situation, but for any personal crisis we will face. Where do we turn? To answer this question, I want to take us back in time to an Israelite king, who faced his own major crisis. His response and God’s response to him, is so encouraging as we think about our own crises but also our theme for the year, “Devoted to Prayer.” My title today is, “Pray When You Don’t Know What to Do.” The story begins in vv. 1–4, which introduce us to…
I. The Crisis (vv. 1–4)
Timing: This story takes place during the reign of Jehoshaphat. He was David’s great-great-grandson, and he reigned over the Southern Kingdom of Judah from 872–848 B.C. This particular story occurs somewhere during the final 5 years of his reign, so roughly ca. 850 B.C. Notice also that…
Jehoshaphat’s reign was a mixture of godliness and compromise. He’s a complex character. 2 Chronicles 17 says that when Jehoshaphat became king, he immediately went to work making spiritual reforms. He sent Bible teachers throughout the land to teach Judah God’s Law, and God blessed him with prosperity and peace.
But then for some strange reason, he became close allies with Ahab and Jezebel, who reigned over the Northern Kingdom of Israel. They were known for worshipping Baal worship and for doing all sorts of evil deeds. But Jehoshaphat married his son to their daughter Athaliah, and despite God’s warning, he went into battle with Ahab. The battle was devastating. Ahab was killed, and Jehoshaphat barely escaped with his life.
It had to serve as a startling warning for Jehoshaphat, and it’s probably shortly after his near-death experience that the events of chapter 20 take place, and Jehoshaphat faces a new enemy. We are left to wonder if he will respond better this time around.
The Enemy: Verses 1–2 state that a coalition of Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites/Edomites were marching toward Jerusalem. As you can see on the map, the Ammonites lived east of the Jordan River, and the Moabites lived east of the Dead Sea. The Edomites lived south of the Moabites. So, this is a 3-nation coalition, and we can assume they had assembled a massive army.
And v. 2 reports that by the time Jehoshaphat receives his report this coalition had marched all the way to En-Gedi, which you can see on the map is half way up the western shore of the Dead Sea. They’d probably already plundered several communities, and they were only 20-30 miles from Jerusalem. This is a major threat. As a result, notice Jehoshaphat’s response.
The Response (vv. 3–4): In the past, he probably would have called King Ahab to come help, but Jehoshaphat had been humbled. So, this time, he has a very different response (read).
Jehoshaphat is afraid, but he does the right thing, and he turns his anxiety into prayer and fasting. Not only that, he calls the entire nation to gather in the temple courtyard to seek the Lord.
It’s another reminder that when trouble and anxiety come, our first response shouldn’t be to scheme or panic. Instead, our first response must be to stop and call out to the Lord for help, because he can solve our problems much better than we can. Not only that, I need to do more than offer up a 30-second request. I need to labor in prayer the way Judah does here. They devoted themselves to seeking the Lord, and we must do the same. Verses 5–13 then record…
II. The Prayer (vv. 5–13): Imagine the scene.
The Scene (v. 5): A massive crowd has packed into the temple courtyard, and v. 13 says that the crowd includes women, children, and infants, which speaks to Israel’s desperation and helplessness. They all understand that they need God’s help.
And then Jehoshaphat stands up to pray the incredibly powerful prayer that is recorded in vv. 6–12. Like Nehemiah’s prayer that we studied last week, Jehoshaphat doesn’t immediately jump to his need, even in a desperate time. Rather, he begins with…
Praise (v. 6): First, he calls on the “Lord God of our fathers.” Jehoshaphat recognizes that he is praying to the same God who had done marvelous things for Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and David. And then he declares God’s sovereignty over all the earth (read). That’s some rich language. Praise the Lord that our God is strong, and no one can stand against him.
It’s a refreshing reminder, because sometimes, we get overwhelmed by the challenges of life. Sometimes our problems seem so big. And we also feel overwhelmed by evil men and evil schemes. We wonder, “How can people be so cruel and so wicked?” But praise the Lord that he is so much greater. All power is in his hand, “so that no one is able to withstand” our Lord.
As I said last week, it’s essential that we ground our prayers in God’s nature. Prayer is worship; it’s not a wishing well. And the only way we will see our problems rightly and respond to them well is if we see them in light of the glory, compassion, and wisdom of God. I had a college professor who once urged us to gaze on the Lord and only glance at your problem, because that’s the only way you will see your burdens rightly. Then after praising the Lord’s sovereign glory, Jehoshaphat makes his appeal.
Appeal (vv. 7–11): And we’re going to see that it’s strikingly similar to the one we saw Nehemiah make last week. Specifically, like Nehemiah, Jehoshaphat boldly appeals to God’s revelation in Scripture.
Notice again what he says in v. 7. Jehoshaphat recalls that God had promised the land to the descendants of Abraham, his friend. God had not promised the land to these invaders, who were the descendants of Esau and Lot. So, Jehoshaphat appeals to the Abrahamic Covenant.
Then notice what he says in vv. 8–9. Verse 9 summarizes Solomon’s prayer when he dedicated the temple. So again, Jehoshaphat is calling on the Lord to act based on what he had said.
Then vv. 10–12a are even bolder. He says, “God, you didn’t let Moses and Joshua destroy the Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites when we came to the land. We obeyed you and showed them kindness, and now they are attacking us and trying to take the land you promised us.” So, Jehoshaphat concludes, “O our God, will You not judge them?” It is a powerful appeal.
It’s another reminder that knowing the Scriptures is essential to a healthy prayer life. We need to know the mind and heart of God. And when we pray according to Scripture, we should boldly call on the Lord to act.
Again, we don’t honor the Lord when we sheepishly offer up bland prayers filled with qualifiers. No, we honor him when we believe his Word, we trust his power and grace, and we boldly ask God to work in keeping with his Word. So, learn to look at your burdens with a biblical perspective, and then wrestle with God in prayer based on what he has said. Notice also his…
Dependence (v. 12–13): In v. 12, Jehoshaphat makes an unusual admission for a king. He doesn’t say how great he is; rather, he declares, “We have no power against this great multitude” and “Nor do we know what to do.” I’ve never heard a politician make that kind of admission.
Then he says, “Our eyes are upon You.” He’s saying, “God we need you to do what only you can do.” It’s a powerful statement of dependence on the Lord. And the narrator drives home that spirit in v. 13 by highlighting the presence of women, children and infants. Judah didn’t come to the Lord with pride and confidence; they came as humble beggars trusting the Lord.
Now, we don’t like to feel like beggars. We like to feel strong and in control. But God knows that he must bring us to the end of ourselves so that we wholly rely on him. Typically, this requires hardship, but it’s necessary, because, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).
Humility is necessary to receive grace.
So, Jehoshaphat prays offers a powerful prayer to the Lord. Let’s all be challenged by his example to come before the Lord in absolute humility and dependence and to pray his truth back to him with absolute confidence that he hears and he answers based on his power, his love, his wisdom, and his faithfulness. Next, vv. 14–19 describe…
III. The Answer (vv. 14–19)
Imagine the scene. After Jehoshaphat finishes his prayer, the massive crowd is completely silent, except for the occasional noise from a small child. Then God’s Spirit comes on Jahaziel, and he speaks for God.
God speaks. Notice again the encouragement in v. 15. “Do not fear…” Jehoshaphat had said, “Our eyes are upon You,” and God says, “The battle is mine. I will fight for you.” What a powerful assurance.
Then God tells them what to do. Jehoshaphat is to assemble his army and march out to the enemy. But the surprising twist is that God tells them not to attack. Verse 17 states, “You will notneed to fight...”
That language calls to mind Moses’ words when Israel had their backs against the Red Sea as the Egyptian armies approached. In both stories, God invited Israel to simply “stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.”
That’s not how God always did it. Normally, God assisted as Israel fought. But other times Israel just watched as God miraculously wiped out enemies. He did so to demonstrate his power and our utter dependence on him.
Sometimes God does the same thing for us. But it’s pretty awesome when God does something incredible that only he can do, and we can’t take any credit. We just stand amazed. We serve a great God. Returning to the scene in at the temple, when Jahaziel is done, notice…
Israel responds. The silent assembly explodes in worship. Jehoshaphat and the people fell on their knees and “worshipped the Lord.” Then the Levitical singers responded in song. “With voices loud and high” they probably sang one or several of the psalms.
Of course, God hadn’t done anything yet. But Judah believed the Lord, and they praised him by faith, as they anticipated what God was about to do.
I doubt they would have had the same response, if they thought they could win the battle themselves. I think it’s fair to assume that they responded with such joy, because God truly humbled them. He brought them to a place of absolute weakness and dependence, where their only option was to trust the Lord, so, they did. Weakness increased their faith.
Again, it’s not usually comfortable to be humbled like that. We’re all experiencing some of that right now. But we probably will never learn to trust the Lord and truly walk by faith unless God takes away our human crutches. Yes, it’s hard, but the end result is a rest, a confidence, and hope that is so much greater than we will ever find in ourselves. So, embrace God’s work. Then vv. 20–25 describe…
IV. The “Battle” (vv. 20–25)
I put battle in quotation marks, because it’s not really a battle (read). Notice that narrator places a heavy emphasis on Israel’s response. First,…
Israel trusted and obeyed (v. 20). Early in the morning they began marching toward the enemy, which was itself an act of faith. The text doesn’t give us a count of enemy soldiers, but Judah clearly believed that they could not defeat this coalition on their own. So, marching out to meet them in the open was a big deal, but they did it. And once they were nearing the battle sight, notice again Jehoshaphat’s rallying cry (read). Then…
Israel responded with worship (v. 21). Frankly, most armies don’t march into battle with musicians leading the charge, but that’s what Israel does. The Levitical singers led the way in their “holy attire,” singing to the Lord. And they’re not singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” or some war chant. No, they are singing, “Praise theLord, for His mercy endures forever.” They believed that God was going to keep his promise. And as they sang…
God fought for Israel (vv. 22–25). Verses 22–23 describe a scene of absolute chaos that reminds me of Gideon’s victory over the Midianites. It’s truly incredible. God takes this massive army that is moving like a bowling ball toward Jerusalem, and he throws them into absolute confusion.
Out of nowhere, the Ammonites and Moabites attack the Edomites. It makes no sense, except for the fact that God miraculously confused the armies.
And once they have wiped out the Edomites, the Ammonites and Moabites turned on each other. And they continued fighting until every soldier is dead. Again, it’s unexplainable except for the fact that God fought on behalf of his people. As Jehoshaphat prayed in v. 6, “in Your handis there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You?” Our God is strong!
And then try to imagine what it must have been like for the Israelite soldiers. They apparently reach a high point/lookout. They look down in the valley expecting to see an overwhelming force, but instead, it’s dead silent, literally. The entire coalition army is dead. What a jaw-dropping moment!
And the entire army remembers Jehoshaphat’s prayer the previous day, and Jahaziel’s answer. They’re stunned. God did it. We are literally standing still and looking at salvation of the Lord!
I imagine that for a few moments, there is nothing but stunned silence and then probably a joyous shout. Then they run down into the camp, and there is so much spoil that it takes them 3 days to collect it all.
This detail speaks to the size and wealth of the force coming against them. This army was incredibly large and well-stocked, but they were no match for Almighty God, because “(He) rule(s) over all the kingdoms of the nations.”
We can’t be reminded too often that we serve an awesome God, who is full of glory and might. Maybe right now you are facing some kind of fear or challenge that seems so big and so overwhelming. You have no idea how you will overcome. Or maybe you are just anxious about the small things and your spirit is troubled.
Remember that our lives are not subject to chance and overwhelming evil. Instead, we are in the hands of a good, wise, and sovereign God. Yes, we will at times face very difficult circumstances, but our God is strong, and he is bigger than any challenge you will every face. So, no matter the hardship and no matter the fear, run to the Lord and know that he hears our prayers, that he is able to work, and that he will answer as we humble ourselves before him. Praise God. Finally, the story concludes in vv. 26–30 with…
V. The Celebration (vv. 26–30)
Verses 26–28 say that after gathering the spoil, Israel worshipped the Lord. After spending 3 days gathering the spoil, on the 4th day the army gathered together and praised the Lord for all that he had done. And to commemorate the celebration, they named it, “The Valley of Beracah,” which means “blessing.”
Then they enjoyed quite the celebratory parade back into Jerusalem. They played music and sang, “with joy, for the Lord had made them to rejoice over their enemies.” And imagine what it must have been like for the people in Jerusalem as they saw the army approach. Everyone was coming home safely with loads of spoil. God had done just what he said he would do. Imagine the celebration over what God had done. And then the story concludes in vv. 29–30 by noting that…
God blessed Israel’s faith and obedience. This is particularly impactful when you consider the devastating loss Jehoshaphat had endured not long before this when he allied with Ahab. God’s hand had been so much more effective than human schemes. Trusting God went so much better than leaning on man’s ability. What a testimony to the power of God and our need to trust in him. I’d like to close with 4 applications to sum all of this up.
Embrace God’s sanctifying purpose in hardship. We don’t like our lives to be shaken, but the fact remains that God’s refining work almost always requires fire. If life is difficult, attack your problems, but don’t only focus on getting out of the heat. Instead, embrace what God is trying to accomplish and run to his Word and to prayer. Second…
Learn to lean on the Lord. This story is a powerful testimony to the fact that he is worthy of your confidence. Our God is strong! He is bigger than any human challenge.
When troubles come, cry out to him in prayer. Then obey everything that he has said. One of the truest markers of faith is always obedience, that we keep doing the right thing, because we believe that God is sufficient and he is faithful. On the other hand, disobedience generally arises from the belief that I can satisfy my heart and fix my problems better than God can.
And above all else lean on the grace of God as you struggle for godliness. The NT is clear that God’s grace is always greater than our sin, and God’s grace is sufficient to overcome every temptation. So, walk in Christ every day, actively applying the promises of the gospel and the new life our Lord provides. And then with my 3rd conclusion, I’d like to broaden the camera angle a bit and think about how this story fits in the broader narrative of Scripture.
Anticipate the kingdom. Remember that Jehoshaphat is not just any king. He is a son of David, and he is in the line of Christ. Therefore, his victory, is a foretaste of the fact that someday Christ will return to fight Antichrist and every evil power. And Psalm 2:9 says, “You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
And he will establish a perfect kingdom where righteousness dwells. It’s going to be a wonderful day. So, let’s never forget that we have something far better than this broken down, sinful world awaiting us. Christ is coming to judge and to bring his reward. Keep your focus and your hope on Christ’s return, not on politicians, doctors, jobs, bank accounts, or the pleasures of this world. Fourth…
Prepare to meet the Lord. For those of us who are safe in Christ, his return will be a day of celebration and joy. This is because we will not stand before the Lord at the judgment in our own righteousness but instead clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ.
We will be judged for our deeds, and we should prepare well, but we have no reason to fear God’s wrath, because God always accepts his Son.
But I imagine there are some out there who are not in Christ, and if you were to stand before the Lord right now, you would have to do so in your own righteousness. And the Scriptures are clear that your good deeds will never stand up to the holiness of God.
But the Bible also promises that if you “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” and you put your faith in his death and resurrection, “you will be saved.” You will be placed in Christ, and you will be safe in him.
If you aren’t certain that you are ready to stand before the Lord, I want to talk with you. Give me call and let me show you from the Scriptures how you can know the Lord and enjoy confidence in life death that comes with knowing the great and faithful God who is presented in this awesome story.