By Sam E. Stone
King Jehoshaphat was one of the more godly kings in the time of the divided kingdom. He ruled Judah around 873-848 BC, succeeding his father, Asa, on the throne (2 Chronicles 17:1). The writer declares, “The Lord was with Jehoshaphat because in his early years he walked in the ways his father David had followed” (v. 3). He removed the “high places” used for pagan worship in Judah. Later in his life, however, he made the mistake of aligning himself for a time with Ahab and the northern kingdom, Israel (18:1).
A seer named Jehu challenged him about this upon his return to Jerusalem (19:1-3). “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord? Because of this, the wrath of the Lord is upon you.” The prophet’s chastening words had a positive effect. In today’s text, Jehoshaphat initiates various reforms to help the people.
Reforms Beyond Jerusalem
2 Chronicles 19:4-7
After the prophet’s warning, Jeho-shaphat confined his attention to the southern kingdom of Judah. He traveled as far down as Beersheba at the southernmost part of the land. His concern was that the people be turned back to the Lord, the God of their fathers. To do this he appointed judges in the land. This was done by having courts of justice throughout the land, with a court of appeals in Jerusalem. In addition, he maintained a vast army, and became very strong. From the early days of the nation, there had been both civil judges and religious judges. This was explained in Deuteronomy 16:18 and 17:8-12. The old system, based on family headship, had broken down.
The king emphasized that the judges must consider their decisions carefully, because you are not judging for man but for the Lord, who is with you whenever you give a verdict. God would observe all that the judges did—and he insists on decisions that are both right and righteous. With the Lord our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery. The New Testament confirms that God does not show favoritism (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11; 1 Peter 1:17).
Reforms Within Jerusalem
2 Chronicles 19:8-11
In Jerusalem itself there was a mixed court of appeal, dealing with both civil and religious matters (issues covered by the law of Moses or secular disputes). The king himself would no longer be personally involved in all of these verdicts, but he made competent and godly judges responsible. Mark Boda suggests that this probably reflects a distinction between the lower courts of Deuteronomy 16:18-20 and the higher court of appeal, which, according to Deuteronomy 17:8-13, was to be located at “the place the Lord your God will choose, that is Jerusalem.” Likely the priests were assigned to sacred matters while the clan leaders were assigned civil cases.
Central to the responsibility of judges is that they serve faithfully and wholeheartedly in the fear of the Lord. Integrity is essential for a judge. He needs both wisdom and courage. Just as there are consequences for those who violate the law, so there are risks for those who administer it. The standard to be followed is clearly stated to be God’s Word—law, commands, decrees or ordinances (v. 10). The people are to be warned not to sin against the Lord. Any matter on which he has spoken must be dealt with properly. “Do this, and you will not sin.”
Concerns were placed in one of two categories and each group was under separate oversight. Amariah, the chief priest, was over any matter concerning the Lord, while Zebadiah was over any matter concerning the king. The Levites were to serve as assistants to the judges. The king encouraged the people, “Act with courage, and may the Lord be with those who do well.” The king intentionally withdrew from personally administering justice to oversee the work of others, being sure that it was handled properly.
Herbert Lockyer summed up Jehoshaphat’s life by saying, “Here was a man who in every point was equally strong, a man of foresight, a man of reverence, a man of an honest heart, a man who felt that idolatry and true worship could not coexist in the same breast . . . he laid down a clear program for himself, and followed it out with patient and faithful endeavor. No wonder the Lord ‘established the kingdom in his hand!’”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.