The Bible invites readers to thank God always. Even in hard circumstances. But when we’re in those times it’s easier said than done! Challenging times invite a good grumble—not a praise session. Yet this reversal of common sense sets up a pathway to faith-growth.
I know I’ve chased this topic before but we can never say too much about it. This time let’s probe thanksgiving in a more dramatic setting than before. More than we’re ever likely to face ourselves.
Picture an army in ancient times faced with an invasion by a massive enemy army. The home team is small: up against insurmountable odds. So their king, in desperation, called for divine help.
The prayer is recorded in the Bible: “We are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
We may recognize the story—in 2 Chronicles 20. The soldiers were Judah’s national army; Jehoshaphat was the king; and they were facing a coalition of hostile forces coming from across the Jordan—both Ammonites and Moabites.
God’s answer to the king was also as simple and direct as the king’s prayer. He spoke through a prophet, Jahaziel: “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.”
God gave added instructions. The next day Jehoshaphat was told to muster his army to be sightseers: to watch. They had God’s firm assurance they wouldn’t need to fight. So they gathered on the front lines as requested and waited to see how God would keep his promise.
Jehoshaphat also did something unusual as they gathered. Rather than set his strongest soldiers to the fore—his equivalent to Army Rangers or Navy Seals—he ordered the Temple choir from Jerusalem to go to the front and start a worship service!
It wasn’t a traditional approach, to say the least. We even have the main stanza of their singing: “Give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
There were other pieces to the story. When warning of the invitation came the king made the response a nationwide event. He proclaimed a fast and invited all the Judeans to come to Jerusalem to “seek the LORD.” But what did that mean in practice?
It meant, at least, that Jehoshaphat prayed. He prayed publically and on behalf of his people.
The particular prayer in the text is the one we cited at the start. But then we only noticed the final sentence. The earlier elements of the prayer offer a lesson: the king used strong theological and historical truths to set up the finale to his prayer.
Jehoshaphat started with theology: he remembered God’s standing over all the nations. God rules both the invaders and the defenders.
History came next. The king reminded God that Jerusalem was home to the temple: God’s meeting place on earth. And when the temple was first built God promised his people they could always come there to pray; and especially if they were threatened or oppressed.
Jehoshaphat also reminded God that, during Joshua’s invasion of the land, centuries earlier the two current invading nations had been spared by God’s mercy. So it didn’t seem right at this later stage in history for them to destroy the Judeans who had once spared them.
A couple of lessons here: God seems pleased when we cite his words and values back to him! And prayers focused on his greatness and reliability—as the ultimate promise-keeper—are welcome.
But what about the battlefront choir and the worship service? How did that fit in?
Let’s give Jehoshaphat credit for an applied faith. Based on his confidence in the theology of his prayer; and his confidence in God’s promise through Jahaziel of victory, the king did what the situation called for. He offered a big, “Thank you, Lord!”
In other words, his faith wasn’t in the circumstances—so that he only gave thanks afterwards—but in God and his word. So the thanksgiving reflected the confidence of the king and his people that God still ruled over the nations and that his promise of security could be trusted.
What happened in the battle?
The consortium fell apart! The two armies fell into fighting with each other and a slaughter followed. Judah only needed to watch the scene.
And while they watched the unexpected battle they were singing their praises. So God kept his promise and Judah was providentially spared.
The line in the prayer we cited at first—“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you”—was, and still is, key. God alone offers a basis for our faith. And our faith is evident by our honest expressions of thankfulness. No matter what our circumstances bring.