He stands motionless in the dim light, his back to the door. The fashionable linen shirt droops from his tired shoulders, heavy with grime. We can almost taste the air that he breathes: dank and foul… steeped in the aroma of unwashed bodies, mouldy walls and accumulated filth… heavily spiced with fear and hopelessness.
This time, it looks like the end. Have his enemies finally triumphed?
Tension mounts, but we’re sure he’ll come up with a plan. He’s the Scarlet Pimpernel, nemesis of all that is evil within Revolutionary France. We’ve already seen him achieve the impossible. Of course he can do it again; the thrill for the audience is to see just how. (I’m thinking of the 1982 version of The Scarlet Pimpernel. See the 8-minute mark in this YouTube clip.)
He faces his peril coolly. And why shouldn’t he—he’s a fictional character. The writer protects him. It’s different for us. The threats in our lives are real, and we stand to lose.
We’re on our own.
Or are we? There was once a king named Jehoshaphat who thought otherwise. He believed his Author was responsible for making a way out at his crucial hour. Second Chronicles 20 tells the story, and it ranks alongside Hollywood’s most edge-of-the-seat thrillers.
An overwhelming army was marching on Jerusalem. Jehoshaphat was helpless to stop the slaughter of his people. In desperation, he proclaimed a national fast. And he prayed.
Unlike many of our prayers, Jehoshaphat’s wasn’t full of suggestions for how God might solve the problem. He praised God, reminding himself and the people of God’s omnipotence. He reviewed the facts: the attackers were only alive to fight because God had earlier forbidden their destruction.
Facing annihilation, Jehoshaphat concluded simply, “O our God, won’t you stop them? We are powerless against this mighty army that is about to attack us. We do not know what to do, but we are looking to you for help.” (2 Chronicles 20:12, NLT*) And he waited.
God’s answer sounded too good to be true. Israel wouldn’t even have to fight. They were to meet the advancing army, then stand and watch God do battle on their behalf.
For Israel, hearing was receiving. Jehoshaphat led the people in worship of this God who would take care of them. They worshiped and they praised. They were still praising the next day when they saw God rout their enemies.
Jehoshaphat’s case was special. Most times, God’s deliverance involved more than “watch and see.” His people had—we have today—a role to play in the solution. God empowered Israel’s armies, but they usually had to fight.
The Old Testament view of God pictured, among other things, a strong deliverer. He watched over His chosen people, essentially requiring only two things: they were to love Him wholeheartedly, and to obey Him. As long as they did, He took care of them. When they drifted away from loving Him, discipline brought them back.
Both the protection and the discipline had a dual purpose. Israel was helped, while at the same time other nations saw the character and power of Almighty God.
Our own experiences tell us God still looks after His people. It’s vital that we remember what He has done (in our lives and throughout history) and expect the same level of care now. He hasn’t changed. This gives our faith the necessary springboard to launch us into each day.
Nothing is too hard or too insignificant to bring to God: failing health, crumbling finances, or a sobbing child’s lost soother. We are significant to Him, and so He hears our prayers.
He will care for us His way, though, not ours. We may endure some things we’d rather escape. But He will always be with us, making a way. Whatever the day holds, will we love Him, and willingly follow His lead? Look to Him in childlike and expectant trust? Let others know we’re depending on His promise to care for us?
Then, like with Israel long ago, the people around us will see God’s love and power in action. The word will go out: God is relevant to our lives. He does make a difference.
Our God is the God of Jehoshaphat—Nemesis of all that is evil within our world. He is the Author and Sustainer of the universe. We’ve already seen Him achieve the impossible. Of course He can do it again; the thrill for the believer is to see just how.
*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
This post was originally printed in Evangel, February 2003.