The Jehoshaphat Problem
The Bible is replete with examples of men and women with everything from no faith to strong faith. One of the most common examples are those that did not exercise their faith properly. Such was the case of the life of Jehoshaphat: one of the righteous kings of Judah. His story is found from I Kings 15-II Kings 8. During this stretch, we find his story chock full of occasions of a man who was most assuredly a child of God but not willing to stand as strongly as he should have on different occasions. The problem that this caused plagued his own life, but sadly, his actions affected things long after he was gone from this earth. It is this particular thrust that we most would like to peel back and investigate.
After the nation of Israel was divided into two kingdoms – Israel and Judah – during the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam, the line of kings over Judah sprang from the house of David. Scripture bears out that about half were good and half were bad. One of the good kings was Jehoshaphat, but he failed to follow God with a perfect heart as David had done. These imperfections were most seen by his association and companionship with the kings of Israel. The line of kings over Israel were primarily evil, and any bright spots during certain reigns were brief and not the defining hallmark of their kingship. So, Jehoshaphat was quite friendly with wicked king Ahab and his house after him.
Ok then! So, with the history lesson behind us, let us all think together how a Jewish king that lived around 3,000 ago has a similar bearing on life for us today in the 21st century. Though righteous, Jehoshaphat’s hallmark quality was his friendliness with his neighbors in Israel. No other king of Judah is recorded as having as much familial interaction as Jehoshaphat. He tells Ahab that he is as he is and his people as his people before joining him in battle. Though Jehoshaphat hears the declaration of the Lord’s prophet that Ahab would die in battle, he agrees to go and dress like a king while Ahab hid in common clothing. This action very nearly cost him his life on the field of battle. (I Kings 22)
He continues this behavior with Ahab’s heirs as he is not only in league with Ahab’s son but also the king of Edom to go out to battle with them. When Elisha is called for, he reproves the wicked kings and says that only Jehoshaphat’s presence is worth regarding. (II Kings 3) The ultimate consequence is what this lifelong friendship with the evildoers of the world brought to his house. When he died, his son Jehoram begins to reign and does wickedly as the kings of Israel did. However, it goes further. Jehoram’s wife was the daughter of Ahab. So, Jehoshaphat’s friendship not only affected his own life, but it trickled down to affect his son’s actions and who he chose to marry. (II Kings 8:16-18)
I know. More history right? Let us zero in. Our world today is so geared towards political correctness and tolerance that it can be considered odious behavior to disagree with someone or – gasp! – publicly call out their behavior as wrong. How many people today would almost involuntarily bristle at hearing someone declare that fornication, divorce, homosexuality, etc. are evil? Some might even react by spitting out, “How could you?…” This automatic reaction society-wide stems from the long-term diet that people have been fed every day that “it’s really what’s right for you” “the truth is the truth to you” and “who are we to judge”. These ideas being constantly pumped into the mind find lodging places that can make the truth sound wrong when declared as the lie has been sounded so consistently for so long.
Was Jehoshaphat supposed to be Israel’s friend? More particularly, should he have had such a close kinship and association with such wicked kings? He is reproved for it by God’s prophets, and it cost him his family in future blessings and spiritual prosperity. Are we supposed to be the world’s friend? More particularly, should we have a close kinship and association with wicked men? I think Scripture is pretty plain and straightforward on that point. (James 4:4, Matthew 6:24) While I would not advocate going out of our way to be unkind or rude to people, there is a vast amount of ground between being rude and unkind to people and having friendship with them.
What is the cost? As a now middle-aged father, I have children that are 12 all the way down to 4. Seeing them grow before me is a staggering thing at times. How will they turn out? What kind of men and women will they be? My wife and I daily struggle as parents to know how much to say, when to say it, and how to say it. Bringing children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord is not an every now and again proposition. It is daily. Constantly. Perpetually. What happens when a parent gets too close to the world? They lose their children. What happens when we make friends with the ungodly of this world? Our children marry into this world. Jehoshaphat was a good man. He is called a righteous king. It is not a matter of his position as a child of God. It is a matter of his deportment and how he walked in this world.
Part of pure religion is keeping ourselves unspotted from the world. (James 1:27) Spots are seen when we look in the mirror, but regrettably spots in our character and teaching are also seen when we look at our children. When my children mimic one of my poorer behaviors, I feel the disapproving eyes and sometimes hear the scorning words of my companion, “I know where they got that…” I cannot keep my children from all the problems and trials of this world. Such is just not possible. However, I can keep my manners from being corrupted by avoiding people with wicked lifestyles (I Corinthians 15:33) so that my children have a good example to see and learn from. Though I cannot make them love what I love and hate what I hate, I can show them through faithful deportment how much I love the right things and hate the detestable things of this vain and perishable world.
Part of mine and my wife’s daily prayers for our children is that the Lord would keep them safe, bless them to grow up as good men and women, and marry good people. We pray that the Lord would bless their future spouses today so that those blessings would carry on into the future as they build their own homes and have their own families. God help me to not join affinity to the things of this world from whence my children’s marriages might spring. God help me not to jeopardize my own life and the health of my family by joining the world in battle. At my father’s funeral, an old deacon told me something that has stuck with me, “The steps of a good man are most clearly manifest in the faces and steps of his children.”