President Obama declared on national TV that “we have contained [ISIS]”; within hours of the broadcast, ISIS struck Paris, following hard on the heels of attacks in Beirut and Baghdad. Burundi, which not so long ago was sending peacekeeping forces to Somalia, is descending into a whirlpool of violence and nightmare. It’s easy to look around at the world and wonder, “Where is the hope?”
2 Chronicles 20 records a crisis in the life of Judah during the time of King Jehoshaphat. The nation of Judah, the southern kingdom of the Israelites, had been invaded by armies from an alliance of three of their longstanding enemies—Moab, Ammon, and the people of Mt. Seir, the Meunites—and by the time the king got word, those armies had already overcome Israel’s frontier defenses and advanced as far as En-Gedi. En-Gedi was a major oasis west of the Dead Sea; its capture meant that the invading armies had a source of fresh water and a base from which to support themselves as they pushed on into Judah. This was a big, big piece of very bad news.
In response, Jehoshaphat called a fast throughout the country, asking everyone to set aside food and all their normal activities to pray to God for help. bThose who could do so came to Jerusalem for a big prayer service, and the king stood up and prayed. His prayer expresses his faith that God can and will deliver his people if we cry out to him, founded in this assertion: “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you.”
God is the God of everything; he rules over everything, and everything is under his control. That includes ISIS, and Burundi, and Iran, and the leaders of al’Qaeda and other terrorist groups, and everywhere else the sun may shine. In all of this world, in every part of it, God is in control, and nothing happens except he allows it. When hard times come, we can cry out to him in full confidence that what we ask, he can do.
So King Jehoshaphat prays, and all his people pray, and God answers them. As the Spirit of God inspires him, one of the Levites present speaks for God to the king and all the people: “Don’t be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. . . . Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.”
The battle is not yours, but God’s. Many times in the Old Testament we see Israel and Judah under attack. Some of their kings were godly and faithful people (as much as you can expect, anyway), while some were rather less so. Some responded to the threat to their nation by seeking God, while others met his prophets while they were trying to avoid seeking him. Some got happy messages, like Jehoshaphat did—he was one of the good ones—and some didn’t. Israel and Judah would ultimately be conquered and the people taken off into exile as a judgment on them for their sins. Military victory wasn’t always in the cards for them, because their agenda and God’s didn’t always line up. But the fundamental message was always the same to these rulers: the battle is not yours, but God’s.
A dozen different prophets said this a dozen different ways to a dozen different kings. God is in control here, and he’s going to accomplish his purposes. It’s not up to you in your own strength, by your own little schemes and plans and methods, to make this happen—God’s going to do that. Sometimes that means his judgment is coming, and you’re not going to be able to turn it aside. Sometimes—more often, really—it means his deliverance is coming, and you can be free of the fear of screwing it up, or being inadequate to the task. Always it means that God is supreme, and that it’s only by his power that the battle will be won; not that we’re free to do nothing, because he still calls us to do our part, but that we need to let go the idea that it depends on us and our efforts.
Thus the prophet tells Jehoshaphat, “The battle is not yours, but God’s,” but he doesn’t tell the king to stay home and get on with other things. Instead, he tells them to march out of the city and take up defensive positions against the enemy—to go out to the battle, and then let God fight it. So what do they do? They go out to the desert and take up their defensive positions, and then they take up their weapon: they sing songs of praise to God for the deliverance that hasn’t happened yet. And as they begin to sing—not before, but only as they act in faith and declare through their praise their certainty that God will be faithful to do as he has promised—God ambushes the enemy armies, turning them against each other and destroying them. He gives them the victory, through their faith; and he does the same for us.
(Excerpted and adapted from “In the Midst of Suffering”)