Our reading today provided a great contrast in the directions taken by the two kingdom of divided Israel. In 1 Kings 15, we read of the illustrious carriers of Nabad, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Omri and the rise of Ahab. Many of these guys shared the same basic plan for becoming king—kill the guy on the throne and take his seat. (When we get frustrated with the bloodletting during our election process, we need to remember the old method for succession of power). Contrast that to the stability in Judah during the reign of good King Jehoshaphat who "followed the ways of his father David before him" (2 Chron 17:3). The first thing that came to mind after I read the text was, "Funny, but he never seemed to do a lot of jumping." I remember Officer Toody (Joe E. Ross) on the old “Car 54 Where Are You?” TV show kept saying “Jumping Jehoshaphat!” (See the clip if you are too young to get the reference).
So no, Jehoshaphat didn’t do a lot of jumping. But aside from that, three things came to mind from today’s reading. First, Jehoshaphat was that rare righteous king who followed in the footsteps of his father Asa, who was also a righteous king. Judah holy kings like Hezekiah and Josiah had fathers who were scoundrels and produced sons who were scoundrels. In fact, the reforms of both Hezekiah and Josiah were impressive largely because of how their predecessors drove the country into the ground. Not so, Jehoshaphat. His reforms simply followed in the footsteps of his father Asa.
Second, Jehoshaphat was so consistent in his righteous reforms that people around him took notice. The Chronicler writes, "The fear of the LORD fell on all the kingdoms of the lands surrounding Judah, so that they did not go to war against Jehoshaphat" (2 Chron. 17:10). The next verse describes the tribute paid to him by the Philistines. The righteousness and reforms of Jehoshaphat were not just political expediencies that went skin deep; they were real and relevant and people tended to notice.
Third, Jehoshaphat was not content to just follow the law of God himself, he was careful to teach it to his people. The text says, "In the third year of his reign he sent his officials… to teach in the towns of Judah… They taught throughout Judah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the LORD; they went around to all the towns of Judah and taught the people." (2 Chron. 17:7,9). Rather than pass laws to force compliance of the people, he sent teachers with the “Book of the Law” to teach the people what God actually said.
And for a time, it worked. For a time, the nation of Judah followed God and God’s people were faithful to His ways. Jehoshaphat was able to teach the law of God to the people because FIRST he was known to follow it himself. Unlike Constantine and countless over rulers, Jehoshaphat did not use religion in order to establish his control over the people. He was dedicated to God and the ways of God, and as a result he was able to teach it to the people.
Do we want to be able to share the ways of God with people today? The first step is to be completely dedicated to following it in our own lives. How can we hope to teach the culture about the sacredness of traditional marriage if our divorce rate matches theirs? How can we say much about the importance of sexual purity if our marriages are broken by adultery? We will gain a hearing for the gospel in our secular, post-Christian culture only after that culture sees that our gospel changes lives-- our lives. Jehoshaphat didn’t use politics to push his religious agenda, and he was the king! No, he lived it first. Then he taught it to others. Jumping Jehoshaphat, that makes sense!