"The battle belongs to the LORD"
II Chronicles 20 contains a well-known episode in the life of the nation of Judah. The people of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir gathered a huge army to invade Judah, but the forces of Judah were too small to resist it. However, Yahweh God delivered them. As many remember it, the army of Judah went out led by singers singing praise to Yahweh, and the massive enemy army was defeated. The moral of the story, many believe is: when we have a challenge, then if worship God, He will give us victory in the challenge. More worship = more victory.
Jehoshaphat and II Chronicles 20
But I believe that interpretation is wrong in most situations, and not from Yahweh God, but from the thinking of man (and perhaps woman too!). This becomes clear when we look at what the Scriptural account tells us.
On hearing the threat, King Jehoshaphat brought the people together to fast and call upon Yahweh their God. He led the prayer (v.6-12). Then the Spirit of Yahweh came upon Jahaziel, who said the now-famous words (v.15,17), "Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's. ... You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance Yahweh will give you. ..." Jehoshaphaat did that. He appointed men to sing praise to Yahweh, and put them at the head of the army, singing "Give thanks to Yahweh, for his love endures forever." As they began to sing, Yahweh set ambushes for the enemy, and the three sections began to fight among themselves, until they were all dead. When the Judean army arrived, they found only dead bodies. All the nations around heard of this and respected ("feared") Yahweh.
In interpreting this, let us examine what Jehoshaphat prayed, and what Yahweh told him to do, and what was not said.
- Worship was not a requirement. God did not instruct Jehoshaphat to send out the singers of worship in front of the army. All God instructed was (v.16) "Tomorrow, march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Zig, and you will find them at the end of the gorge at the Desert of Jeruel." (That is the first '...' above.) The sending out of the singers was Jehoshaphat's faith-response of worship when overawed with Yahweh's generosity and love. It was a spontaneous response, not a requirement for victory. However, Yahweh chose to begin the self-slaughter at the time they began to sing, perhaps because this was the visible sign of their faith. Worship was a response, not a requirement. So, if we worship,, believing it (deep down) to be a requirement to secure victory, it won't usually work.
- Worship as response. To Yahweh's message via Jahaziel, which ended (the second '...') "Go out and face them tomorrow for Yahweh will be with you." Jehoshaphat and the people responded: Jehoshaphat bowed with his face to the ground (rather than facing the people with proclamation of victory) and the people fell prostrate and worshipped. Some Levites stood up and praised Yahweh in a loud voice. The response was one of real faith: taking Yahweh God at his word, the kind of faith that results in risky action.
- The extremity of the challenge. It was not just any challenge they faced. It was annihilation. They had nowhere to turn, and were at the end, trapped. So they turned to Yahweh, rather than to either surrender to scheming. Is it not recorded that, often, Yahweh answers when we are at the end of our own resources, strength or tether? So, we cannot presume that such victory as Jehoshaphat experienced will come for any challenge we face. Not even when we carnally believe that it would bring 'glory' to God.
- The reality of Jehoshaphat's prayer. Jehoshaphat did not pray "God, we have a challenge; please give us victory." Nor even did he pray primarily, "God, we are in a mess; help us." (though there was an element of that in his prayer). The bulk of his prayer was on three things, of the real situation, rather than trying to be 'religious':
- Yahweh's status as God over all nations and his promise to Abraham, and also his promise to Solomon that if anyone calls upon him in the temple, he will hear (v.6-9).
- Justice: "You prevented us from invading Moab and Ammon when we passed through them; now they are repaying us this evil of invading us. Oh God, will you not judge them?" (v.12)
- Their own helplessness and trust, "We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what do do, but our eyes are on you." (v.12) This was not even a request for help; they merely put themselves into Yahweh's hands.
- Being of the Plan of God. Yahweh God had a Plan, and it was that through his people all other peoples would come to know him, be drawn to him, and gain access to him. Through this victory, just as through the earlier victory over Pharaoh, the nations took him seriously (v.29). This in line with New View in Theology and Practice, in which we are representatives of God and workers together with him, rather than supplicants of blessing from God in our own lives and plans.
The moral of this for us is not "Worship, and we will get blessing" but "Do not fear being at the end of our tether, because, if we are truly the people of Yahweh God, and trust Him in our extremity, He will act to deliver us within His Plan. And, by the way, we will spontaneously respond with worship." Worship is a response, not a requirement.
For a more systematic exposition of this, see the page on Worship - A New View.
This page is offered to God as on-going work. Comments, queries welcome.
Copyright (c) Andrew Basden at all dates below. But you may use this material subject to certain conditions.
Part of his www.abxn.org pages, that open up discussion and exploration from a Christian ('xn') perspective. Written on the Amiga with Protext.
Created: 13 August 2015.
Last updated: 22 August 2015 changed title, link to worship.html. 25 May 2016 corrected Edom to Moab.