Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Ambushed By God: Bible comment on II Chronicles 20 with poem by George Lansing Taylor, Jehoshaphat's Deliverance

Daily Readings
Sirach 8, II Kings 1, II Chronicles 20, Jeremiah 21

Daily Text: II Chronicles 20

Ambushed By God
Could there be a more fascinating story? This reminds one of David and Goliath, but Jehoshaphat is not even courageous, he is simply humbled, not knowing what to do but pray. This account of Jehoshaphat’s ‘war’ with the Dead Sea powers is “theology, not military history [522:182]. In fact, it reads more like “a liturgical procession than a military maneuver” and yet the invading armies, ‘ambushed by God’ are thoroughly routed [522:183]. Well, if the text is to be taken at face value, not a soldier lived. This conclusion does not have to be taken literally in order to be faithful to the text.

What a beautiful record! The prayer itself is stunning in its reverence and theological purity. It refers to Moses leading the children out of Egypt and calls on the great promises of the LORD to defend Judah. Ultimately, Jehoshaphat admits “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (vs. 12). In the middle of Jehoshaphat’s prayer, the LORD inspires Jahaziel ben Zechariah to prophecy the course to be followed. And the people, led by their king, march out to meet the invaders singing their liturgical theme song

Give thanks to the LORD
For his steadfast love endures

When they arrive on the battlefield, the battle is obviously all over with their enemies lying everywhere, dead on the field. The result was political rest, free of foreign threat, for an extended period of time. God is very active in the affairs of the kingdom. This is borne out a second time in relation to Jehoshaphat’s subsequent entanglement with King Ahaziah of Israel.

Jehoshaphat’s Deliverance
George Lansing Taylor

Jehoshaphat reigned over Judah in peace;
The land lay in quiet and teemed with increase;
For righteousness ruled from the cot to the throne,
And Judah rejoiced in Jehovah alone.

For, Baal’s base worship once hurled from God’s land,
Prosperity poured from His liberal hand;
The law was revered and the temple restored;
And Salem shone bright in the smile of her Lord.

Then came a swift message of terror and fear:
Lo, Moab, and Ammon, and Edom from Seir,
Have swarmed from the desert, a numberless host,
To pillage our cities and plunder our coast!

A black cloud of evil, a whirlwind of fate,
One day’s rapid march from Jerusalem’s gate;
Like locusts they light upon Judah’s fair realm!
Like demons descend to devour and o’erwhelm!

Then trembling Jehoshaphat feared and proclaimed
A fast for all Judah; and sacrifice flamed,
And Judah’s strong warriors, with children, and wives,
In the house of Jehovah implored for their lives.

“Lord God of our fathers, in Heaven adored,
Thou rulest on earth, our Omnipotent Lord;
Fierce kingdoms of heathen obey Thy command!
The might of Thy majesty none can withstand!

“Art Thou not our God, who has sworn to defend
Forever the children of Abrah’m Thy friend?
Who gave us this land, and forbade us to slay
These children of Lot, who would make us their prey?

“Behold in Thy presence our little ones stand,
Like lambs in the fold when the wolf is at hand!
O wilt Thou not judge them? Thy terror we know;
Thy might to o’erwhelm our implacable foe!”

Then swift on the singer Jahaziel came
The spirit of God, like a baptism of flame,
From the midst of the people, who prostrate adored,
He leapt as on fire with the word of the Lord.

“Ho! Hearken all Judah! Jerusalem sad,
And thou, King Jehoshaphat, hear and be glad.
For thus saith Jehovah, your champion divine:
Ye bring me your battle—I take it as mine!

“To-morrow go down; yet ye go not to fight,
But to stand and behold my salvation and might;
To shout, while Jehovah shall charge on the foe,
With nameless and awful and utter o’erthrow.”

Then prostrate, adoring, fell monarch and throng;
Then thundered, exultant, the Kohathite song;
And cymbal and psaltery, timbrel and lyre,
Awoke at the rapture and wafted it higher.

Then bold on the morrow, unawed, undismayed,
Marched forth to God’s battle that weird cavalcade;
Unarmed and unarmoured, no shield and no sword,
But trusting the terrible word of the Lord.

Tekoa’s wild echoes their anthems rebound,
And Jeruel’s wilderness wakes at the sound;
Not war songs of slaughter, not wrath at the foe,
But the Beauty of Holiness swells as they go.

The mercies of God that forever endure,
His judgment tremendous, His righteousness sure,
His kindness unchanging, His goodness untold,
With song and with trumpet the grand paean rolled.

Then lo! as unconsciously onward they trod,
Leapt forth on their foe the dread ambush of God!
The Power that breathes order, and star-clusters burn,
Bade chaos and madness one moment return!

For Moab and Ammon and Maon and Seir,
In anger and jealousy, frenzy and fear,
Have rent the fierce compact which now they abhor,
And charged on each other, like whirlwinds at war.

And Moab and Ammon on Edom now wheel;
And Maon is swept with their tempest of steel’
Then, frantic, they rush on each other in ire,
And all in a whirlpool of slaughter expire!

What wizard his wand of enchantment has waved?
What demon his dire malediction has raved?
What magic infernal, more awful than name,
Has hurled on whole armies its mindscorching flame?

‘Tis the arm of Jehovah, for Zion made bare!
‘Tis His banner of wrath blazing out on the air!
‘Tis the scath of His vengeance, the blast of His breath,
Sweeping hot as the fire-wind o’er harvests of death!

‘Tis a heaven-sent fury God’s foes to confound!
‘Tis His meteor sword dealing madness around!
Till the last fierce invader lies pale and o’erthrown
Where red heaps of havoc and slaughter are strewn!

Then, from her high watchtower, afar o’er the plain
Gazed Judah in awe over myriads of slain,
And heaped a new harvest from bloodwatered soil,
Of jewels and riches and raiment and spoil.

Then blessings untold from Berachah ascend;
Then trumpet and cornet and cithara blend
With tabret and dulcimer, sackbut and shalm,
In Zion’s Hosanna, her rapturous psalm.

And nations are awed at Jehovah’s dread might,
Whose arm overwhelming fought Israel’s fight;
And ages his honor and rest shall record,
Who dared leave his battle alone to the Lord.

Collect for the Day
Lord, bless this kingdom, we beseech thee, that religion and virtue may season all sorts of men, that there may be peace within the gates, and plenty within the palaces of it. In peace, we beseech thee, so preserve it, that it corrupt not; in war, so defend it, that it suffer not; in plenty, so order it, that it riot not; in want, so pacify and moderate it, that it may patiently and peaceably see thee, the only full supply both of men and states; that so it may continue a place and a people to do thee service to the end of time; through Jesus Christ our only Saviour and Redeemer. Amen.

[286:203 Archbishop William Laud1573-1645]


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