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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

2 Chronicles 20

 

 

Verses 2-4

DISCOURSE: 410

PRAYER THE BEST MEANS OF DEFEATING INVASION [Note: Fast-day Sermon, Oct. 19, 1803.]

2 Chronicles 20:2-4. Then there came some that told Jehoshaphat, saying, There cometh a great multitude against thee from beyond the sea on this side Syria; and, behold, they be in Hazazon-tamar, which is En-gedi. And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah gathered themselves together, to ask help of the Lord: even out of all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.

THERE is scarcely any thing that more awfully proves men’s fallen state than their readiness to devour one another. There is not a nation under heaven where the art of war is not cultivated; and he who attains the highest proficiency in that art, and is crowned with most success in destroying his fellow-creatures, is deemed the greatest benefactor to his country, and is rewarded with all the honours that can be heaped upon him. Under these circumstances it is not optional with a nation whether they will have a military force: they are compelled to maintain armies, and to preserve their lives and liberties by the same means that others use to subjugate and overwhelm them. Yet there are other means of self-defence, which, though they do not supersede the use of arms, are more effectual than numerous levies, or military skill. What these means are, the text informs us. Jehoshaphat was invaded by three confederate armies; and, though taken by surprise, and consequently not having an hour to lose in mustering his forces, he devoted a day to humiliation and prayer for the divine aid. This to many would seem absurd: but to those who believe in the all-governing providence of God, it will appear the most rational and most efficacious method of defence, which it was possible for him to adopt.

In considering this account of Jehoshaphat, we shall point out,

I. His feelings on the approach of an invasion—

We have no reason to think that Jehoshaphat was defective in courage; yet he “feared.” But what was it that he dreaded? was it merely his own personal danger? No; he feared,

1. The calamities that were coming on the nation—

[Fear even of personal danger is by no means incompatible with real courage. It is an affection planted in the human breast by God himself, and is necessary to put us on our guard, and to stir us up to use the means of safety. It is then only to be deemed a weakness, when it incapacitates us for deliberate counsel, or manly exertion. But when the danger is public, and the welfare of a whole nation is at stake, then it is criminal not to fear: thoughtlessness and indifference then become most inexcusable, inasmuch as they manifest an atheistical security with respect to themselves, and an utter want of humanity towards others. Who can reflect on the miseries that an invading army may occasion, and not tremble for the land that is exposed to them? We confess, that one of the worst symptoms that appear in our land, at this present moment, is, the general, and almost total, want of this feat. It should seem as if we thought it out of the power of man, or even of God himself, to hurt us. We are really sleeping, while our enemies are watchful; and folding our arms in security, while the gathering storm is ready to burst upon us. Would to God that we had more fear of the approaching danger! and then we should have less cause to fear when it shall have actually arrived.]

2. The displeasure of God in them—

[This it is which makes an invading army terrible. This renders even the weakest insect, a locust, or a caterpillar, an object of dread [Note: Alluding to the plagues of Egypt.]. We are assured that “men are God’s sword;” and that whatever be the motive that actuates them, it is he who gives them their commission, it is he who sends them to “avenge the quarrel of his covenant [Note: Leviticus 26:25. 2 Kings 24:2-3.].” Now Jehoshaphat had particular reason to apprehend the divine displeasure, having incurred it by making an alliance with Ahab [Note: 2 Chronicles 19:2.]: and doubtless he considered the invaders as persons sent of God to inflict the punishment he deserved. And was not this just ground for fear?

Here again we cannot but lament that the generality amongst us leave God out of their thoughts: they declaim against the ambition of him who would reduce us, as he has done one half of Europe, to a state of vassalage; but they never associate with his plans the idea of God’s displeasure. To say that “God had stirred him up against us [Note: 1 Samuel 26:19. 1 Kings 11:14; 1 Kings 11:23. 1 Chronicles 5:26 and 2 Chronicles 21:16.],” would he looked upon as absurd: to suggest that he was an instrument in God’s hands, lifted up to punish our sins, would be deemed a weak enthusiastic notion, a dream of a distempered imagination. But this is true, whether we all believe it or not: and it is this, much more than either the number of his forces, or the inveteracy of his malice, which renders him formidable. Were he far less equal to the contest than he is, our multiplied iniquities which have incensed God against us, might well make him an object of terror. And the less we fear him as the instrument of God’s wrath, the more likely we are to be given over to his power.]

Corresponding with Jehoshaphat’s feelings on account of the invasion were,

II. The means he used to defeat it—

Doubtless he did not neglect any prudent means of defence which his circumstances would admit of. But, together with these,

“He set himself to seek the Lord” by fasting and prayer—

[Jehoshaphat well knew that all things were subject to God’s control; that the events of war were in his hands [Note: ver. 6, 15.]; and that it was equally easy with him to “save by many or by few [Note: 1 Samuel 14:6.].” He knew that God was ever ready to forgive those who confessed and forsook their sins, and to interpose for the preservation of those who trusted in him. Under this conviction he not only fasted and prayed himself, but “proclaimed a fast,” in order that all his subjects might join in these holy exercises, and, by their united importunity, prevail on God to spare them. It might have been thought, that to consecrate a day to such a service, when there seemed not an hour to spare, was impolitic: but he was aware that the greatest preparations without God would avail nothing; and that, if his favour and assistance were secured, no enemies could ever prevail against him. In this holy service therefore he engaged with earnestness; and all his subjects, male and female, old and young, concurred with him [Note: ver. 13.].]

This was, in truth, the most effectual means he could employ—

[If we consider how successfully these means had been employed in former times, the wisdom of his conduct will immediately appear. God had on many occasions given direction to his people, where, and when, and how, to attack their enemies [Note: 2 Samuel 5:23-25.]. He had strengthened them miraculously for the combat [Note: 2 Samuel 23:8-12.]; and crowned them with success beyond all human expectation [Note: 1 Samuel 14:13-16.]. He had invariably done this in answer to their humble and earnest supplications [Note: Prayer was the cause of Othniel’s victory, Judges 3:9 and Ehud’s, Judges 5:15 and Barak’s, Judges 4:3 and Gideon’s, Judges 6:6 and Jephthah’s, Judges 10:10.]: and had as constantly withheld his succours, when they refused to humble themselves before him. There was one example in particular, with which he was well acquainted, and from which he could not fail to derive encouragement; it was that of Moses when attacked by Amalek: Moses sent Joshua into the valley to fight, whilst he himself remained on the mountain to pray; and it soon appeared that the success of the engagement did not depend on the skill or valour of Joshua, but on the holding up of the hands of Moses: when they were let down through weariness, Amalek prevailed; but on their being held up till sunset, victory was decided in favour of Israel [Note: Exodus 17:11-13.]. This was sufficient to justify and encourage Jehoshaphat in the proclaiming of a fast: and the event strongly recommends to us the use of similar means in any similar emergency. God heard and answered his prayer; and did not suffer him even to risk his life in battle: he caused dissension to arise in the confederate armies, insomuch that two of those armies combined to destroy the third, and then destroyed each other, and left all their spoil for a prey to those whose country they had invaded [Note: ver. 22–25.].]

Infer—

1. What reason have we for thankfulness on account of the appointment of this fast!

[Many, forgetful of Jehoshaphat’s example, deny the right of the civil magistrate to proclaim a fast: and multitudes who acknowledge the propriety of such an appointment, are as regardless of the duties of this day, as if it had not been consecrated to any religious service. But there are many who really improve this occasion in devout and earnest supplication to God: and we doubt not but that more will have been done this day towards the preservation of the kingdom than could have been effected in any other way.]

2. Of what signal use to a nation are the godly and praying few!

[They are often regarded as persons that trouble and endanger the state: but it has been on their account that the nation has not been long since made as Sodom and Gomorrha [Note: Isaiah 1:9.]: and, if the present days of trouble be shortened, it will be for their sake [Note: Matthew 24:22.]. These are the people who alone have interest with God; and who bring down his blessing on the land. To represent the country as indebted to them for its safety and success, is deemed the height of arrogance and folly. But let any one inquire what saved Jerusalem from the Assyrian hosts [Note: Isaiah 37:21-22.], or, in the instance before us, from the confederate armies? Was it not prayer; prayer chiefly, prayer solely and exclusively? Let atheistical scoffers then deride the idea as they please; but it is a fact, an undeniable fact, that the despised few are the greatest benefactors of their country; and that our hopes in the present contest are founded more on their prayers than on all the efforts of an arm of flesh.]

3. How much may they do for their country, who are ready to think themselves incapable of rendering it any essential service!

[Females and infirm persons may suppose themselves of no use in the present contest. But will not their petitions come up with acceptance before God? Shall not the prayer of faith, by whomsoever offered, prevail? Let none then imagine that they cannot benefit their country; but let all unite in weeping and supplication, and “give no rest unto our God, until he arise for our help, and make our Jerusalem a praise in the earth [Note: Isaiah 62:6-7.].”]


Verse 20

DISCOURSE: 411

FAITH THE MEANS OF NATIONAL AND PERSONAL PROSPERITY

2 Chronicles 20:20. Hear me, O Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem: Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper.

A BELIEF in the providence of God is able to compose the mind under the greatest difficulties. The Scriptures abound with displays of the efficacy of this principle. In this passage before us we are told, that three confederate armies came up against Jehoshaphat: yet, while he acknowledged that “he had no might against them,” he was enabled by faith to commit his cause to God, and to go forth in triumph, as much as if he had already gained the completest victory. The words of our text are his address to his army when leading them forth to meet the enemy. One would have expected that he would rather have exhorted them to be strong and courageous: but, feeling in himself the blessed influence of faith, he rather exhorted them to the exercise of that divine principle, and assured them that by means of it they should attain success.

It is our intention to shew,

I. What is implied in the faith here recommended—

Doubtless there are many particulars which might be enumerated if it were expedient to enter fully into the nature of faith. But, if we consider to whom, and on what occasion, the address was made, we shall see at once that there were two prominent ideas contained in it; namely,

1. A renunciation of all false confidences—

[This is indispensably necessary to the exercise of faith. God is a jealous God, and “will not give his glory to another.” He is rather concerned to defeat, than to prosper, the exertions of those who lean to their own understanding, or trust in an arm of flesh; because they practically deny his agency, and would be encouraged by success to harden themselves in their infidelity [Note: See Isaiah 30:1-3; Isaiah 31:1-3.].

This self-renunciation is, if possible, still more necessary in relation to the concerns of the soul. If we trust at all in our own wisdom, goodness, or strength, God will consider us as abandoning all hope in him. However good the thing may be which we make even a joint ground of confidence before him, instead of contributing to our welfare, it will make the Gospel of no effect to us, and Christ will profit us nothing [Note: Galatians 5:2; Galatians 5:4.].]

2. A simple affiance in God—

[In the instance before us, the people were not to fight, but to stand still and see the interposition of God for them. But we are not therefore to neglect the proper means of self-preservation: we must use the means, but not trust in them: God alone must be our trust and our confidence: and we should commit ourselves to him, without doubting either his ability or willingness to help us.

Thus in reference also to our spiritual interests, we should never limit his mercy or his power. His promises should be the ground of our hopes, and the measure of our expectations — — —]

Having endeavoured to ascertain the true nature of faith, let us consider,

II. Its influence on our welfare—

It has a favourable aspect upon,

1. Our national prosperity—

[When a nation is enabled to exercise faith in God, there is good hope that its deliverance is nigh at hand. For faith conciliates his favour: he is honoured by it; and he will surely put honour upon it. Faith engages his protection. He has promised to be a wall of fire round his people, and as a munition of rocks: and, when they plead his promises, he will not fail in the execution of them. Faith also calls forth his aid. He has told us that his eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth to shew himself strong in the behalf of his people; and he has proved in ten thousand instances how ready and effectual is the succour which he will afford to those who call upon him.]

2. Our personal welfare—

[In allusion to the circumstances of the history before us we may observe, that faith will secure us victory over all our enemies. Sin, Satan, death and hell shall all be overcome, if only we believe in Christ: yea, we shall be more than conquerors through him that loved us. Faith also will enrich us with the most abundant spoils. Jehoshaphat and his army were three days occupied in gathering the spoils, so wonderfully were they enriched by the very people who had sought only their destruction. And shall not we find ourselves benefited even by the assaults of our enemies? Yes, we shall have deeper discoveries of the love, the power, the faithfulness of our God, and be more amply furnished for our future conflicts. Faith moreover will bring us to a quiet possession of our inheritance. Jehoshaphat had rest and quiet throughout his realm by means of that exercise of faith. But we shall obtain the undisturbed enjoyment of heaven itself. As soon as faith and patience have had their perfect work, we shall be freed from enemies, and “not a dog shall wag his tongue against us” any more for ever.

Thus prosperous, thus established, shall the weakest be, provided they believe in God, and give implicit credit to his word.]

We would further address you on this subject,

1. As members of the community—

[The state has a right to expect of you all the aid which you can afford her under the pressure of her present troubles. Will any of you say, ‘I am unable to render any effectual assistance?’ Pause before thou repliest in such a way. Can you exercise faith in God? Can you commit her affairs to him? Say not then, ‘I can do no good:’ for whether thou be old or young, male or female, healthful or infirm, thou canst render the most important services. God will hear thy prayer, and respect thy faith. It was not by the sword, but by the simple exercise of faith, that three confederate armies were totally destroyed. Fight then with the same weapon: entreat your God to direct the counsels of our governors, and to prosper their endeavours; and we shall yet have fresh evidence, that the injunction in our text was never given or obeyed in vain.]

2. As members of the Church—

[Far be it from us to express indifference respecting good works. We know you must abound in them; and we desire you should abound in them to the glory of God. But they can proceed from nothing but a living principle of faith; and therefore, from a regard to the interests of morality, we repeat the exhortation in the text. It is not by self-righteous, self-confident exertions that you are to become holy, but by exercising faith in Him, who is our “righteousness and our strength.” Live then by faith on the Son of God; so shall you derive from him all needful supplies of grace, and progressively advance, both in an enjoyment of his presence and a meetness for his glory.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 2 Chronicles 20:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/2-chronicles-20.html. 1832.

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