Reading and discussing passages of scripture as a group is always fun. Being part of this on a regular basis is very healthy, promotes great conversation and allows you to think through something in a way that doesn’t happen when only listening to someone speak about it. Dialogue and interaction is vital for believers, we all have a part to play whether we think we do or not. The last time I was involved in a discussion, the passage we were examining started to sound familiar. I came across something interesting (although I am sure it is not an original thought).
I have written before regarding various ways the New Testament uses the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament).Often times the writer takes a well-known story and does a retelling of it in the life of another. The most prominent examples are perhaps “Moses” stories in the life of Jesus.
Not as frequently referenced are stories in certain books of the Hebrew scriptures that offer a recapitulation or reenactment of an earlier story found in earlier writings such as the Torah. As the group was discussing the story in this particular passage, I stumbled upon (without looking for it) an amazing correlation.
The text being examined was 2 Chronicles 20. A short summary of the story is about king Jehoshaphat who was in trouble, the “sons of Moab and the sons of Ammon, together with some of the Meunites, came to make war against Jehoshaphat.” (2Ch 20:1). As it turns out, this king “Jehoshaphat was afraid and turned his attention to seek the LORD” (2Ch 20:3). Unfortunately, this was not the norm for Judah’s monarchs (“seeking the Lord”). He proclaims a fast and has the people of Judah come together as in the days of old.
The king stood in the temple (house) of the Lord, declaring the Lord’s majesty, crying out, “O LORD, the God of our fathers, are You not God in the heavens? And are You not ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Your hand so that no one can stand against You” (2Ch 20:6). He references the power of “God’s hand” and goes on, “Did You not, O our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel and give it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever? They have lived in it, and have built You a sanctuary there for Your name, saying, 'Should evil come upon us, the sword, or judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before You (for Your name is in this house) and cry to You in our distress, and You will hear and deliver us.' Now behold, the sons of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom You did not let Israel invade when they came out of the land of Egypt (they turned aside from them and did not destroy them), see how they are rewarding us by coming to drive us out from Your possession which You have given us as an inheritance. O our God, will You not judge them? For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You" (2Ch 20:7-12).
In the midst of all this, the spirit of the Lord comes upon a Levite and he declares to the assembly, “Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God's. 'Tomorrow go down against them…You need not fight in this battle; station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.' Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out to face them, for the LORD is with you" (2 Ch 20:15-17). Realizing that this was from the Lord, the Levites “stood up to praise the LORD God of Israel, with a very loud voice” (2Ch 20:19). They began a celebration of praise and thanksgiving for a victory that technically did not belong to them yet! Remember though, when God speaks authoritatively about the future (through whatever medium), in the view of his people, it is so certain that it can be spoken of, celebrated and treated as though it has already taken place.
Of course because their God was “fighting for them”, it happened just as the spirit proclaimed through the voice of the Levite. What transpired after the battle was that they “came to the lookout of the wilderness, they looked toward the multitude, and behold, they were corpses lying on the ground, and no one had escaped…Jehoshaphat and his people came to take their spoil, they found much among them, including goods, garments and valuable things which they took for themselves, more than they could carry” (2Ch 20:24-25).
Watching all of this develop, it’s no wonder that “the dread of God was on all the kingdoms of the lands when they heard that the LORD had fought against the enemies of Israel” (2Ch 20:29). As fascinating as this story is, the kicker is that it had taken place before, or at least it’s a story that had been told in a similar way before. This story has the structure of Exodus 14-15.
In Exodus, some of the same thematic elements are exhibited:
1. A dire situation with no hope but God’s intervention, and the people crying out to the Lord (14:1-12).
2. A declaration of God’s provision in his fighting and that “salvation” would be accomplished before them(14:13-14)
3. Singing and praise to God for his victory and destruction of Israel’s enemies (Ex. 15)
4. The “dead bodies” strewn about (14:30)
5. Following God to his sanctuary, house, habitation (15:13)
6. The people around were terrified of Israel’s God (15:14-16)
There is also mention in the Jehoshaphat story about the plunder of their enemies. While it is not directly in the same narrative chapter, not long before, Israel, in the Exodus story had plundered the Egyptians (12:36), which is part of the same story.
The point to both of these stories has to do with the “salvation” of the Lord. Moses’ (as the God ordained leader of the people) message as well as the Levite’s prophetic declaration (this was not a theophany of the pre-incarnate Jesus) was, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today” (Ex 14:13) and “You need not fight in this battle; station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.' Do not fear or be dismayed” (2Ch 20:17).
The salvation presented not only these passages, but in a vast amount of the Hebrew scriptures is a more tangible manifestation regarding salvation than that familiar to most twenty-first century Christians. We generally have been accustomed to thinking in terms of “spiritual” and “physical”, as though there are two differing spheres of God’s operational dynamics. We have to be very careful with context and not being anachronistic readers when reading the Bible.
The practical sense of these stories is obvious. God is in the business of saving. In neither case did it have to do with the specific “belief system” of those being saved. There was no sense of having a correct perspective of doctrine, right belief or anything that conservative Christians seem to value in the highest sense today.
Sometimes we forget, God is asking that people act in obedience to what he has commanded, and believe in the one who he has sent. The Christian systematic approach has often been guilty of over-complicating this.
“When Israel saw the great power which the LORD had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in His servant Moses” (Ex 14:31)”