“Jehoshaphat Makes Judicial Reforms”
Lesson Text: 2 Chronicles 19:4-11
Background Scripture: 2 Chronicles 18, 19
Devotional Reading: James 2:1-5
2 Chronicles 19:4-11 (KJV)
4 And Jehoshaphat dwelt at Jerusalem: and he went out again through the people from Beer-sheba to mount Ephraim, and brought them back unto the Lord God of their fathers.
5 And he set judges in the land throughout all the fenced cities of Judah, city by city,
6 And said to the judges, Take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for man, but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgment.
7 Wherefore now let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts.
8 Moreover in Jerusalem did Jehoshaphat set of the Levites, and of the priests, and of the chief of the fathers of Israel, for the judgment of the Lord, and for controversies, when they returned to Jerusalem.
9 And he charged them, saying, Thus shall ye do in the fear of the Lord, faithfully, and with a perfect heart.
10 And what cause soever shall come to you of your brethren that dwell in their cities, between blood and blood, between law and commandment, statutes and judgments, ye shall even warn them that they trespass not against the Lord, and so wrath come upon you, and upon your brethren: this do, and ye shall not trespass.
11 And, behold, Amariah the chief priest is over you in all matters of the Lord; and Zebadiah the son of Ishmael, the ruler of the house of Judah, for all the king’s matters: also the Levites shall be officers before you. Deal courageously, and the Lord shall be with the good.
To list the steps King Jehoshaphat took to implement judicial reforms in Judah.
To show that a fair and just judicial system can be built only in a society that recognizes and honors God (2 Chronicles 19:6-7).
To show that a system of godly justice should be available to everyone.
“For the Lord”
Brother Lawrence (born Herman Nicholas) was a monk who lived in the seventeenth century. He is known for his devotional classic The Practice of the Presence of God. Brother Lawrence’s desire was to glorify God even in what seemed to be the least significant of activities. For him the “common business” of attending to his kitchen duties in the monastery was an act of worship.
One insight that is attributed to Brother Lawrence should cause us all to think: “Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do.... We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”
If it’s important to cook and clean for God’s glory, how much more important is it to render just legal verdicts in His sight! That’s the topic of today’s lesson. No matter what we do, it is always of more lasting import if we do it for the Lord.
Time: approximately 853 B.C.
Today’s lesson involves an action of King Jehoshaphat. He was one of the more godly kings of Judah during the period of the divided monarchy in Old Testament history. He ruled from about 873 to 848 B.C. Second Chronicles 17:3, 4 says this of him: “And the Lord was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the first ways of his father David, and sought not unto Baalim; but sought to the Lord God of his father, and walked in his commandments.”
When Jehoshaphat’s reign is first mentioned in 2 Chronicles, he is cited for his efforts to rid Judah of idol worship and to promote the teaching of God’s law throughout Judah (2 Chronicles 17). Jehoshaphat followed in the way of David and sought to please the Lord (17:3-6). He sent teaching priests throughout the land to explain God's law to the people (17:7-9) and assigned the other priests to serve as faithful judges to whom the people could bring their disputes. God gave Judah peace, and Jehoshaphat took advantage of this opportunity to fortify the land (17:10-19). (Bible Exposition Commentary - Old Testament)
On the downside, however, Jehoshaphat’s reign was marred when he entered into an ill-advised alliance with King Ahab of Israel, who desired Jehoshaphat’s aid in retaking some territory from the Syrians. At Ahab’s behest, Jehoshaphat wore his royal robes into battle while Ahab disguised himself in an effort to keep a prophet’s prediction of his death from being fulfilled (2 Chronicles 18:1-31). This episode nearly cost Jehoshaphat his life, but “the Lord helped him” (v. 31) and he was spared.
Jehoshaphat then “returned to his house in peace to Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 19:1), but that peace was short-lived. After he returned, he was met by Jehu, the son of a “seer” (not to be confused with another Jehu who was a king of Israel). Jehu soundly rebuked Jehoshaphat for his attempt to “help the ungodly” and told him that “therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord” (2 Chronicles 19:2). But Jehu also commended Jehoshaphat for the “good things” he had done, including setting his heart on seeking the Lord (v. 3).
It seems that Jehoshaphat took Jehu’s chastening words seriously, for there follows the account of additional reforms, initiated by Jehoshaphat, that is found in today’s printed text.
REFORMS BEYOND JERUSALEM (2 Chronicles 19:4-7)
1. What territory is included in the scope of Jehoshaphat’s efforts to return the people to the Lord? (2 Chronicles 19:4)
After the Lord declared His displeasure with Jehoshaphat for his involvement with Israel’s wicked ruler (2 Chronicles 19:2), perhaps King Jehoshaphat of Judah spends some time reflecting on what he has heard through the prophet Jehu. Maybe Jehoshaphat realizes that the time he spent trying to assist King Ahab of Israel in a questionable venture could have been invested in a far wiser and more God-honoring way. Be that as it may, God also affirmed the commendable deeds Jehoshaphat had accomplished during his reign (v. 3).
Determined to alter his priorities and move both himself and his kingdom in the proper direction, Jehoshaphat’s personal travels took him from Beer-sheba to mount Ephraim, even though his palace was in Jerusalem.
The reason the territory of Ephraim is included in the scope of Jehoshaphat’s interest is explained in 2 Chronicles 17:2. Not long after Jehoshaphat began his reign, “he placed forces in all the fenced cities of Judah, and set garrisons in the land of Judah, and in the cities of Ephraim, which Asa his father had taken.” That is why the verse before us says that Jehoshaphat is going through this territory again. Jehoshaphat has already provided for the defense of this area against possible military attack. But now he is more concerned with the people’s spiritual welfare—that they return unto the Lord God of their fathers.
Jehoshaphat was zealous for the revival of true religion in all parts of his realm. He has built up an imposing army (2 Chron. 17:12-19) but knew that the safety of his kingdom depended on the favor of the Lord. And that could be had only if his people were faithful in worshipping the Lord.
2. How was Jehoshaphat’s appointment of judges in accordance with Moses instructions after the Exodus? (v. 5)
As part of Jehoshaphat’s religious reform efforts, he established a judicial system. This included the selection and appointment of judges to serve throughout Judah, as well as in each of its fortified towns (2 Chron. 19:5).
This is in accordance with Deuteronomy 16:18 in which Moses had given instructions for judges when Israel entered the Promised Land. When Israel first left Egypt, Moses administered justice for the entire nation. When the work load became too heavy, he appointed tribal leaders of various ranks to hear the ordinary cases and Moses would serve as the judge of final appeal (Exodus 18:13-26). The law given at Sinai provided the moral guidelines by which local judges were to reach their decisions (Deut. 1:16-17; 16:19-20; 19:15-21).
What Do You Think?
Which criteria are most important when Christians cast their votes to elect judges? Which criteria are of lesser importance? Why? (during discussion students should agree to disagree)
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Church membership | Community involvement | Legal experience as a prosecutor
Legal experience as a defense attorney | Character | Endorsements
3. What wise counsel did Jehoshaphat give the judges? How did he encourage them? (v. 6)
Jehoshaphat’s counsel to the judges he appoints is wise indeed! To see one’s judgment as being done “for the Lord” will mean bringing it into submission to His laws - God’s standards of right and wrong. Judging that is done for the Lord will not allow factors such as social standing, gender, or race to determine how a given case should be decided. The Mosaic law decreed that these magistrates were to be fair and objective in the decisions they rendered. They were prohibited from perverting justice, showing favoritism, and taking bribes. Instead, they were to let the rule of law prevail and righteousness be their guide (Deut. 16:18-20). In every circumstance, the magistrates were to think carefully before pronouncing a judgment. After all, they were not just rendering decisions on behalf of human beings, but more importantly to please the Lord. Jehoshaphat reminded the judges that the Lord promised to be with them in every case for which they rendered a just verdict (2 Chron. 19:6).
What Do You Think?
What challenges do you think a Christian might face in seeking or rendering verdicts according to Jehoshaphat’s for the Lord standard?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
As a judge | As a juror | As an attorney
4. How were the judges to perform their duties “in the fear of the Lord” (v. 7)?
Judging in the fear of the Lord will keep one from harboring attitudes and participating in actions that will pervert the cause of justice. The Lord provides the ultimate example for judges: there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts.
Again, the principles of impartiality and refusing bribes are based on instructions found in the Law of Moses. Respect of persons (showing partiality) is prohibited in Exodus 23:6, 7; Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:17; 16:19a (see also Proverbs 24:23). Bribes are forbidden in Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19b; 27:25 (see also Proverbs 17:23; Micah 3:11). We serve a God who does not show favoritism (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11; 1 Peter 1:17).
REFORMS WITHIN JERUSALEM (2 Chronicles 19:8-11)
5. How was the administration of justice in Jerusalem addressed? (vs. 8-9)
After covering the territory “from Beersheba to mount Ephraim” (v. 4), Jehoshaphat returns to Jerusalem and addresses the need for administering justice there as well. Here his appointments are somewhat more extensive than they were in the territory he previously covered.
The Levites and priests are involved primarily in the religious life of Israel, being engaged in activities such as offering sacrifices, leading worship, and teaching God’s law to the people. Thus any judgments they render may deal primarily with questions pertaining to religious practices. Those numbered among the chief of the fathers of Israel are likely some of the elders or heads of families and clans. Their primary responsibility may be to address controversies that are not as religious in nature.
Jehoshaphat’s use of the Levites and priests may be an effort to bring the judicial system in Jerusalem under the close scrutiny of the religious leaders. While such a practice would likely meet with significant resistance today because of the often cited idea of “separation of church and state,” it is very appropriate for Old Testament Israel due to its status as the chosen people of God.
Because Jerusalem is the city of God’s special presence (1 Kings 9:3; 11:36) on account of the temple built by Solomon, it should be an exemplary place in the matter of following God’s law faithfully. Thus extra measures are taken by Jehoshaphat as he continues to bring the people back to the God of their fathers.
As with the judges of verse 7 above, Jehoshaphat emphasizes to the officials in Jerusalem that they must fulfill their duties in the fear of the Lord. He also encourages them to do their work faithfully, and with a perfect heart. The Hebrew word translated “perfect” is a form of the word shalom, often translated “peace.” In this context, the word conveys the idea of wholeness or completeness.
What Do You Think?
How should you apply the judging principles in today’s text to your own life personally?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
In a role as parent | In a role as a church leader | In a role as a teacher | In a role as a boss
6. What kind of cases would the judges be responsible for deciding? (v. 10)
Jehoshaphat also instructs the appointed judges concerning the kinds of cases they will decide. The meaning of the phrase between blood and blood is difficult to determine with certainty. It may refer to cases involving closely related family members (blood relatives), which may develop into full-scale feuds. The idea of “bloodshed” (loss of life) may be in view as well. Special wisdom will be necessary in handling such cases and making certain that justice is fairly and correctly administered.
The terms law and commandment, statutes and judgments are all words used in the Old Testament to describe the requirements that God gave His people to live by. It may be best not to try to distinguish shades of meaning between these terms; the point of Jehoshaphat’s instruction is that any matter involving something covered within God’s law must be handled in a manner that is consistent with the holy, righteous character of the giver of that law.
Regardless of the nature of the case, the religious and civil officials were to urge God’s people not to violate His decrees. If the magistrates failed to forewarn their fellow citizens, God would hold these officials and their colleagues responsible for the resulting moral failure of the nation. In tum, His wrath would fall upon Judah’s magistrates. The way for them to avoid incurring any guilt was by conscientiously heeding Jehoshaphat’s orders (v. 10).
7. Who did Jehoshaphat name to preside over the Jerusalem court? What were their specific duties? (v. 11)
Now Jehoshaphat names those whom he has designated to administer justice in specific areas. First, Amariah the chief priest is over you in all matters of the Lord. With any disputes of a more religious nature, this man will see that proper decisions are rendered. For example, a case involving the presence of an alleged false prophet among the people (see the warnings in Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 18:20-22) might be a matter for Amariah and those under him to evaluate.
A certain Zebadiah, described as the ruler of the house of Judah, is to be in charge of all the king’s matters. Such matters may concern issues of a more secular nature (perhaps a question involving restoration of stolen property).
The Levites are then given the responsibility to be officers before you. Their specific duties are not highlighted—possibly they simply are to serve as assistants wherever needed, whether the issue in question is one of the matters of the Lord or one of the king’s matters. The word translated “officers” means “writers.” These Levites thus were probably clerks who served the judges by keeping records of all proceedings.
8. What final challenge does Jehoshaphat issue to the judges?
The final portion of Jehoshaphat’s challenge notes one ingredient that has not been mentioned previously: courage. It takes courage for a judge to stand for what is right, especially when an evil king comes to power. It takes courage to defy those who would use power or wealth to influence a judge to decide a case a certain way.
For now, a righteous king—Jehoshaphat—is in power in Judah. True justice will be promoted during his reign, for he is a king whose heart is “lifted up in the ways of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 17:6). In fact, the name Jehoshaphat means “the Lord judges.” But what will happen when Jehoshaphat dies? For justice to continue to prevail throughout Judah, those in power (including judges) must remember that the Lord is Judah’s true king. He shall be with the good—with those who see themselves as the Lord’s ambassadors for justice and righteousness in this world.
POINTS TO PONDER
1. Spiritual renewal sometimes requires specific, costly steps (2 Chronicles 19:4-5).
2. Heeding God’s Word helps us to make wise and fair decisions (vs. 6-7).
3. Let us not forget to administer godly justice in our own homes, as well as the world around us. (vs. 8-9).
4. We have a responsibility to warn others of the consequences of sin (v. 10).
5. It takes courage to apply God’s justice in this world. Not to worry, God is with us! (v. 11).
In the process of appointing judges, King Jehoshaphat issued a very bold command for them to fear the Lord and respect His law. Such a request was quite appropriate for God’s chosen, covenant people. They were expected to apply His law to every part of life.
But what about Christians today who live in highly secular settings? Justice often is seen as an inalienable right today. People who believe they have been wronged will “demand justice.” They insist on getting their “rights” or “entitlements.” Justice is viewed primarily as something to be extracted from the judicial system—the courts. Seldom is justice seen as something that we have the privilege of giving to others. In striving to promote justice, sometimes we will have to initiate it instead of depending on the judicial system.
Part of promoting justice and righteousness involves living as salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). In Paul’s letter to Titus, the repeated emphasis on goodness (whether it is good people or good works) cannot be missed (Titus 1:8; 2:3, 7, 14; 3:1, 8, 14). Peter, in addressing Christians who have been victims of unjust persecution, encourages his readers to be faithful in “well doing” (1 Peter 2:15; 4:19); though they may not receive justice from the authorities, they can still treat others in a just and right manner (2:21-23).
Today we may wish for the kind of judges whom Jehoshaphat appointed in his time—those who would carry out their duties in the fear of God. But even if such judges are not in power or are in a distinct minority, that does not lessen our duty as Christians to live in the fear of God.
Father, we live in a world that has turned away from Your standards. Help us to initiate Your justice at the most basic level: in transforming hearts and lives through the gospel of Your Son. In Jesus’ name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Look upward before you act outward.