PRAYER THE BEST MEANS OF DEFEATING INVASION [Note: Fast-day Sermon, Oct. 19, 1803.]
2Ch_20:2-4. Then there came some that told Jehoshaphat, saying, There cometh a great multitude against thee from beyond the sea on this side Syria; and, behold, they be in Hazazon-tamar, which is En-gedi. And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah gathered themselves together, to ask help of the Lord: even out of all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.
THERE is scarcely any thing that more awfully proves men’s fallen state than their readiness to devour one another. There is not a nation under heaven where the art of war is not cultivated; and he who attains the highest proficiency in that art, and is crowned with most success in destroying his fellow-creatures, is deemed the greatest benefactor to his country, and is rewarded with all the honours that can be heaped upon him. Under these circumstances it is not optional with a nation whether they will have a military force: they are compelled to maintain armies, and to preserve their lives and liberties by the same means that others use to subjugate and overwhelm them. Yet there are other means of self-defence, which, though they do not supersede the use of arms, are more effectual than numerous levies, or military skill. What these means are, the text informs us. Jehoshaphat was invaded by three confederate armies; and, though taken by surprise, and consequently not having an hour to lose in mustering his forces, he devoted a day to humiliation and prayer for the divine aid. This to many would seem absurd: but to those who believe in the all-governing providence of God, it will appear the most rational and most efficacious method of defence, which it was possible for him to adopt.
In considering this account of Jehoshaphat, we shall point out,
His feelings on the approach of an invasion—
We have no reason to think that Jehoshaphat was defective in courage; yet he “feared.” But what was it that he dreaded? was it merely his own personal danger? No; he feared,
The calamities that were coming on the nation—
[Fear even of personal danger is by no means incompatible with real courage. It is an affection planted in the human breast by God himself, and is necessary to put us on our guard, and to stir us up to use the means of safety. It is then only to be deemed a weakness, when it incapacitates us for deliberate counsel, or manly exertion. But when the danger is public, and the welfare of a whole nation is at stake, then it is criminal not to fear: thoughtlessness and indifference then become most inexcusable, inasmuch as they manifest an atheistical security with respect to themselves, and an utter want of humanity towards others. Who can reflect on the miseries that an invading army may occasion, and not tremble for the land that is exposed to them? We confess, that one of the worst symptoms that appear in our land, at this present moment, is, the general, and almost total, want of this feat. It should seem as if we thought it out of the power of man, or even of God himself, to hurt us. We are really sleeping, while our enemies are watchful; and folding our arms in security, while the gathering storm is ready to burst upon us. Would to God that we had more fear of the approaching danger! and then we should have less cause to fear when it shall have actually arrived.]
The displeasure of God in them—
[This it is which makes an invading army terrible. This renders even the weakest insect, a locust, or a caterpillar, an object of dread [Note: Alluding to the plagues of Egypt.]. We are assured that “men are God’s sword;” and that whatever be the motive that actuates them, it is he who gives them their commission, it is he who sends them to “avenge the quarrel of his covenant [Note: Lev_26:25. 2Ki_24:2-3.].” Now Jehoshaphat had particular reason to apprehend the divine displeasure, having incurred it by making an alliance with Ahab [Note: 2Ch_19:2.]: and doubtless he considered the invaders as persons sent of God to inflict the punishment he deserved. And was not this just ground for fear?
Here again we cannot but lament that the generality amongst us leave God out of their thoughts: they declaim against the ambition of him who would reduce us, as he has done one half of Europe, to a state of vassalage; but they never associate with his plans the idea of God’s displeasure. To say that “God had stirred him up against us [Note: 1Sa_26:19. 1Ki_11:14; 1Ki_11:23. 1Ch_5:26 and 2Ch_21:16.],” would he looked upon as absurd: to suggest that he was an instrument in God’s hands, lifted up to punish our sins, would be deemed a weak enthusiastic notion, a dream of a distempered imagination. But this is true, whether we all believe it or not: and it is this, much more than either the number of his forces, or the inveteracy of his malice, which renders him formidable. Were he far less equal to the contest than he is, our multiplied iniquities which have incensed God against us, might well make him an object of terror. And the less we fear him as the instrument of God’s wrath, the more likely we are to be given over to his power.]
Corresponding with Jehoshaphat’s feelings on account of the invasion were,
The means he used to defeat it—
Doubtless he did not neglect any prudent means of defence which his circumstances would admit of. But, together with these,
“He set himself to seek the Lord” by fasting and prayer—
[Jehoshaphat well knew that all things were subject to God’s control; that the events of war were in his hands [Note: ver. 6, 15.]; and that it was equally easy with him to “save by many or by few [Note: 1Sa_14:6.].” He knew that God was ever ready to forgive those who confessed and forsook their sins, and to interpose for the preservation of those who trusted in him. Under this conviction he not only fasted and prayed himself, but “proclaimed a fast,” in order that all his subjects might join in these holy exercises, and, by their united importunity, prevail on God to spare them. It might have been thought, that to consecrate a day to such a service, when there seemed not an hour to spare, was impolitic: but he was aware that the greatest preparations without God would avail nothing; and that, if his favour and assistance were secured, no enemies could ever prevail against him. In this holy service therefore he engaged with earnestness; and all his subjects, male and female, old and young, concurred with him [Note: ver. 13.].]
This was, in truth, the most effectual means he could employ—
[If we consider how successfully these means had been employed in former times, the wisdom of his conduct will immediately appear. God had on many occasions given direction to his people, where, and when, and how, to attack their enemies [Note: 2Sa_5:23-25.]. He had strengthened them miraculously for the combat [Note: 2Sa_23:8-12.]; and crowned them with success beyond all human expectation [Note: 1Sa_14:13-16.]. He had invariably done this in answer to their humble and earnest supplications [Note: Prayer was the cause of Othniel’s victory, Jdg_3:9 and Ehud’s, Jdg_5:15 and Barak’s, Jdg_4:3 and Gideon’s, Jdg_6:6 and Jephthah’s, Jdg_10:10.]: and had as constantly withheld his succours, when they refused to humble themselves before him. There was one example in particular, with which he was well acquainted, and from which he could not fail to derive encouragement; it was that of Moses when attacked by Amalek: Moses sent Joshua into the valley to fight, whilst he himself remained on the mountain to pray; and it soon appeared that the success of the engagement did not depend on the skill or valour of Joshua, but on the holding up of the hands of Moses: when they were let down through weariness, Amalek prevailed; but on their being held up till sunset, victory was decided in favour of Israel [Note: Exo_17:11-13.]. This was sufficient to justify and encourage Jehoshaphat in the proclaiming of a fast: and the event strongly recommends to us the use of similar means in any similar emergency. God heard and answered his prayer; and did not suffer him even to risk his life in battle: he caused dissension to arise in the confederate armies, insomuch that two of those armies combined to destroy the third, and then destroyed each other, and left all their spoil for a prey to those whose country they had invaded [Note: ver. 22–25.].]
What reason have we for thankfulness on account of the appointment of this fast!
[Many, forgetful of Jehoshaphat’s example, deny the right of the civil magistrate to proclaim a fast: and multitudes who acknowledge the propriety of such an appointment, are as regardless of the duties of this day, as if it had not been consecrated to any religious service. But there are many who really improve this occasion in devout and earnest supplication to God: and we doubt not but that more will have been done this day towards the preservation of the kingdom than could have been effected in any other way.]
Of what signal use to a nation are the godly and praying few!
[They are often regarded as persons that trouble and endanger the state: but it has been on their account that the nation has not been long since made as Sodom and Gomorrha [Note: Isa_1:9.]: and, if the present days of trouble be shortened, it will be for their sake [Note: Mat_24:22.]. These are the people who alone have interest with God; and who bring down his blessing on the land. To represent the country as indebted to them for its safety and success, is deemed the height of arrogance and folly. But let any one inquire what saved Jerusalem from the Assyrian hosts [Note: Isa_37:21-22.], or, in the instance before us, from the confederate armies? Was it not prayer; prayer chiefly, prayer solely and exclusively? Let atheistical scoffers then deride the idea as they please; but it is a fact, an undeniable fact, that the despised few are the greatest benefactors of their country; and that our hopes in the present contest are founded more on their prayers than on all the efforts of an arm of flesh.]
How much may they do for their country, who are ready to think themselves incapable of rendering it any essential service!
[Females and infirm persons may suppose themselves of no use in the present contest. But will not their petitions come up with acceptance before God? Shall not the prayer of faith, by whomsoever offered, prevail? Let none then imagine that they cannot benefit their country; but let all unite in weeping and supplication, and “give no rest unto our God, until he arise for our help, and make our Jerusalem a praise in the earth [Note: Isa_62:6-7.].”]