Friday, July 27, 2012

Return to Justice

Today we will examine our final lesson in reviewing how the justice of God was enacted through some of His righteous leaders. We previously studied the leader Samuel (1 Sam 7:3-11, 15-17), as well as King David (2 Sam 23:1-7; 1 Ch 18:14). We also studied the wisdom and justice of King Solomon (I Kgs 3:16-28; 2 Ch 9:8) and God’s justice empowered indirectly and unintentionally through Elisha, the man of God. (2 Kgs 8:1-6). In this lesson we are studying a king within the lineage of King David, King Jehoshaphat at 2 Ch 19:4-11. For a historical cross reference of King Jehoshaphat, see 1 Kgs 22:41-50.

The emphasis in 1 and 2 Chronicles is largely spiritual. It includes the reign of Saul, David and Solomon in the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah to the conclusion of the Babylon Exile. The kings of Israel are mentioned during the period of the Divided Kingdom only as they relate to Judah. For a full history of the kings of both the Northern (Israel) and Southern (Judah) Kingdom, it is necessary to review the books of 1 and 2 Kings. As stated, some of the material will be found in both books. In today’s lesson, such is not the case.

King Jehoshaphat began his reign very wise at the age of thirty five. He was the son of King Asa (1 Kgs 15:8-24; 2 Ch 14-16) and Azubah (1 Kgs 22:42) and reigned in Jerusalem for twenty five years. His initial action was when he “…strengthened himself against Israel.” 2 Ch 17: 1 God was pleased with the direction that he took the Southern Kingdom (Judah). He walked in the ways of King David rather than allowing the wickedness of idolatry practiced in the Northern Kingdom (Israel). He found the people of his kingdom were not knowledgeable as to God’s law. So he established an administrative system sending the Levites and priests to teach them. These teachers were equipped with the Book of the Law and went throughout Judah. The people were happy to receive the preachers/teachers and tendered presents to Jehoshaphat for his kindness in looking after the nation spiritually. Their gifts were a blessing to him from the Lord.

Up to this point Israel and Judah had been hostile to each other. One of the earliest laws commanded of them was to treat their enemies with benevolence and respect. Ex 23:4-5 However, King Jehoshaphat stepped into the Northern Kingdom and aligned himself with the wicked king, King Ahab, whose wife was Queen Jezebel. The alignment was forbidden. Jehoshaphat may have wanted to convert some of the idolaters back to God. Perhaps he desired to reunite the Divided Kingdoms. In creating his alliance with Israel he allowed his son, Jehoram, to marry King Ahab’s daughter, Athaliah. This was forbidden and he was outside of the will of God. She was very wicked and the only female to eventually rule Judah. 2 Ch 22:10-23:21 Now that Jehoshaphat was aligned with Ahab, the latter requested that he join him in battle against Ramoth-gilead. Why? This area already belonged to Jehoshaphat, just as all of Israel did, because he was the rightful heir of King David. So why should he go to battle against a city within the tribe of Gad? King Jehoshaphat wanted confirmation from the Word of the Lord. King Ahab brought forth four hundred prophets who said what he wanted him to say. King Jehoshaphat was not satisfied. Then King Ahab reluctantly brought forth the one prophet who spoke the Word of the Lord. Micaiah told of Israel’s defeat and King Ahab’s death. That prophecy was not taken in a good spirit by Ahab nor his lying prophets. Micaiah was thrown in prison and given only bread and water. Yet, King Jehoshaphat kept the agreement to go in battle…with his kingly robes on, even after he saw Ahab was in disguise. When the battle was lost, King Jehoshaphat’s life was spared and King Ahab was killed as prophesied. 2 Ch 18:31-34 King Jehoshaphat returned home safely to Jerusalem where he received a strong rebuke from Jehu, a prophet. He had left Judah in the midst of establishing a great judicial system in accordance with the Mosaic Law under God (Deut 17:7-9) to seek an alliance with Israel and its wickedness. Jehoshaphat repented of his mistake and sought to do what he knew would please God. He had a great respect for the Scriptures and his kingdom.

‘And Jehoshaphat dwelt at Jerusalem: and he went out again through the people from Beersheba to mount Ephraim, and brought them back unto the LORD God of their fathers. And he set judges in the land throughout all the fenced cities of Judah, city by city,’ 2 Ch 19:4-5 Jehoshaphat canvassed his entire kingdom from the southern boundary of Beersheba to the northern mountains in Ephraim for the sole purpose of creating a system of judicial reform to keep the people’s heart right before God. In order to do this he erected inferior courts and appointed judges throughout the whole kingdom with the right of appeal. He had already sent the preachers among them. The initial phase had done well. 2 Ch 17:7, 9 Now they needed judges to assist in the execution of the law and as a terror to those evil-doers.

‘And said to the judges, Take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for man, but for the LORD, who is with you in the judgment. Wherefore now let the fear of the LORD be upon you; take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the LORD our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts.’ 2 Ch 19:6-7 The judges were given specific instructions to be careful and to be wise. They were not judging for man’s sake, but for the sake of the Lord. If they feared for their life to render a certain decision because of the man, for example, they were to remember that God was a far greater terror. He would be with them in their judgment. There is no sin in God, only a divine punishment. They were charged to execute their judgments without favoritism and without taking bribes.

‘Moreover in Jerusalem did Jehoshaphat set of the Levites, and of the priests, and of the chief of the fathers of Israel, for the judgment of the LORD, and for controversies, when they returned to Jerusalem. And he charged them, saying, Thus shall ye do in the fear of the LORD, faithfully, and with a perfect heart.’ 2 Ch 19:8-9 Jehoshaphat was not finished establishing his system of judicial reform when he set up the inferior court system. He also set up a “supreme court” or a final court of appeals in Jerusalem. The judges for this was the Levites, the priests, and the heads of Israelite families. All major disputes not settled at the lower lever would be heard as well as administration of law. The judges were to live in Jerusalem and were charged to judge faithfully and in fear of God.

‘And what cause soever shall come to you of your brethren that dwell in their cities, between blood and blood, between law and commandment, statutes and judgments, ye shall even warn them that they trespass not against the LORD, and so wrath come upon you, and upon your brethren: this do, and ye shall not trespass.’ 2 Ch 19:10 Whatever the cause, (law, commandment, statute, or judgment), the judges had a responsibility to execute the justice of God. It did not matter that they may have known the party in the case. What did matter was they had an obligation to warn all who came before them not to violate the laws of God which would lead to sin. If the judge failed to warn the people, for example, they themselves are in sin. If they do warn the people, and keep all other commands in the position, they have not sinned.

‘And, behold, Amariah the chief priest is over you in all matters of the LORD; and Zebadiah the son of Ishmael, the ruler of the house of Judah, for all the king's matters: also the Levites shall be officers before you. Deal courageously, and the LORD shall be with the good.’ 2 Ch 19:11 Amariah, the chief priest was appointed high priest in the supreme court for ecclesiastical matters. He would preside over religious causes. Zebadiah was appointed ruler of the house in the supreme court in civil matters. He would preside over civil and criminal causes. The Levites would be the officers of the court. They would record the legal records, keep them in a safe and secure place, act as bailiffs, etc. They were also charged not to fear man, but to be courageous and bold while handling their job. The Lord would be with those who handled their matters within His will.

The system established by Jehoshaphat divided the religious (church) matters and the King’s political (state) matters. Yet every judge had to answer unto God because He is the ultimate judge. ‘Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:’ Rom 13:1-3 He did not establish a democratic system of government allowing all eligible persons an equal say as to how to run the government. He was King as authorized by God. It was yet a theocratic type system where the officials were divinely guided by God. I am sure if more leaders today would allow themselves to be divinely guided by the Lord than be politically led or misled, we would have a greater justice system.

Written by Deborah C Davis

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