Who was Jehoshaphat?
Jehoshaphat was the 4th king of Judah, son of Asa. His mother was Azubah, the daughter of Shilhi, of whom nothing further is known. He was 35 years of age at his accession, and reigned 25 years, circa 873-849 bc.
The history of his reign is contained in 1 Kings 22:41-50 and in 2 Ch 17:1 through 21:1. The narrative in 1 Ki 22:1-35 a and in 2 Kings 3:4 belongs to the history of the Northern Kingdom. The absence from Ki of the details contained in 2 Chronicles affords no presumpt against their truth. Neither do high numbers, embellished statements, and the coloring of the writer's own age destroy the historical perspective.
His Religious Policy
The reign of Jehoshaphat appears to have been one of unusual religious activity. It was, however, characterized not so much by striking religious measures as it was by the religious spirit that pervaded every act of the king, who sought the favor of Yahweh in every detail of his life (2 Chronicles 17:3 , 2 Chronicles 17:4 ). He evidently felt that a nation's character is determined by its religion.
Accordingly, he made it his duty to purify the national worship. The "sodomites," i.e. those who practiced immorality in the worsh ip of Yahweh in the temple precincts, were banished from the land (1 Kings 22:46 ). The Asherim were taken out of Judah (2 Chronicles 17:6 ; 2 Chronicles 19:3 ), and "the people from Beer-sheba to the hill-country of Ephraim were brought back unto Yahweh, the God of their fathers" (2 Chronicles 19:4 ). Because of his zeal for Yahweh, Jehoshaphat is rewarded with power and "riches and honor in abundance" (2 Chronicles 17:5 ).
His System of Public Instruction
Believing that religion and morals, the civilization, suffer from ignorance, Jehoshaphat introduced a system of public instruction for the whole land (2 Chronicles 17:7 ). He appointed a commission, composed of princes, Levites and priests, to go from city to city to instruct the people. Their instruction was to be based on the one true foundation of sound morals and healthy religious life, "the book of the law of Yahweh" (2 Chronicles 17:7-9 ).
His Judicial Institutions
Next in importance to Jehoshaphat's system of public instruction, was his provision for the better administration of justice. He appointed judges to preside over courts of common pleas, which he established in all the fortified cities of Judah. In addition to these local courts, two courts of appeal, an ecclesiastical and a civil court, were established at Jerusalem to be presided over by priests, Levites, and leading nobles as judges. At the head of the ecclesiastical court of appeal was the high priest, and a layman, "the ruler of the house of Judah," headed the civil court of appeal (2 Chronicles 19:4-11 ). The insistence that a judge was to be in character like Yahweh, with whom there is "no iniquity ... nor respect of persons, nor taking of bribes" (2 Chronicles 19:7 ), is worthy of note.
His Military Defenses
According to 2 Chronicles 17:2 , Jehoshaphat began his reign with defensive measures against Israel. Furthermore, he built castles and cities of store in the land of Judah, "and he had many works," probably military supplies, "in the cities of Judah" (2 Chronicles 17:13 ). He appears to have had a large standing army, including cavalry (1 Kings 22:4 ; 2 Chronicles 17:14 ). However, the numbers in 2 Chronicles 17:14 seem to be impossibly high.
His Foreign Policy
Godliness and security at home were followed by respect and peace abroad. The fact that the Philistines and the Arabians brought tribute (2 Chronicles 17:11 ), and that Edom had no king (1 Kings 22:47 ), but a deputy instead, who possibly was appointed by Jehoshaphat, would indicate that he held the suzerainty over the nations and tribes bordering Judah on the South and West Holding the suzerainty over the weaker nations, and being allied with the stronger, Jehoshaphat secured the peace for the greater part of his reign (1 Chronicles 17:10 ) that fostered the internal development of the kingdom.
His Alliance with Ahab
In contrast to the former kings of Judah, Jehoshaphat saw greater benefit in an alliance with Israel than in civil war. Accordingly, the old feud between the two kingdoms (1 Kings 14:30 ; 1 Kings 15:6 ) was dropped, and Jehoshaphat made peace with Israel (1 Kings 22:44 ). The political union was cemented by the marriage of Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat, to Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. Shortly after the marriage, Jehoshaphat joined Ahab in a campaign against Syria (2 Chronicles 18:1-3 ).
In view of the subordinate position that Jehoshaphat seems to take in the campaign (1 Kings 22:4 , 1 Kings 22:30 ), and in view of the military service rendered to Jehoram (2 Kings 3:4 ), Judah seems to have become a dependency of Israel. Nevertheless, the union may have contributed to the welfare and prospity of Judah, and it may have enabled Jehoshaphat to hold the suzerainty over the neighboring nations. However, the final outcome of the alliance with the house of Omri was disastrous for Judah. The introduction into Judah of Baalism more than counterbalanced any political and material advantage gained, and in the succeeding reigns it indirectly led to the almost total extinction of the royal family of Judah (2 Kings 11:1 ).
His Alliance with Jehoram
In spite of the denunciation of the prophet Jehu for his expedition with Ahab, thus "help(ing) the wicked" (2 Chronicles 19:2 ), Jehoshaphat entered into a similar alliance with Jehoram of Israel (2 Kings 3:4 ). On the invitation of Jehoram to join him in an expedition against Moab, Jehoshaphat was ready with the same set speech of acceptance as in the case of Ahab (2 Kings 3:7 ; compare 1 Kings 22:4 ). For the details of the expedition see JEHORAM , (1).
Victory over the Moabites and Ammonites
The Chronicler has given us a very remarkable account of a victory gained by Jehoshaphat over the Moabites and Ammonites. No doubt he made use of a current historical Midrash. Many find the historical basis of the Midrash in the events recorded in 2 Kings 3:4 . However, the localities are different, and there a defeat is recorded, while in this case we have a victory. The story in outline bears the stamp of probability. 1 Kings 22:45 seems to suggest wars of Jehoshaphat that are not mentioned in Kings.
The tribes mentioned in the account are represented as trying to make permanent settlement in Judah ( 2 Chronicles 20:11 ). In their advance through the South of Judah, they were doubtless harassed by the shepherd population of the country. Jehoshaphat, according to his custom, sought the help of Yahweh. The invading forces fell to quarreling among themselves (2 Chronicles 20:23 ), and destroyed one another. The spoil was great because the invaders had brought all their goods with them, expecting to remain in the land.
Destruction of Jehoshaphat's Fleet
The destruction of Jehoshaphat's fleet is recorded in 1 Kings 22:48 , 1 Kings 22:49 and in 2 Chronicles 20:35-37 . However, the two accounts are quite different. According to Kings, Jehoshaphat built ships of Tarshish to sail to Ophir for gold, but the vessels were wrecked at zion-geber. Thereupon Ahaziah offered to assist Jehoshaphat with seamen, but Jehoshaphat refused to enter into the alliance. According to Chronicles the alliance had been formed, and together they built ships at Ezion-geber, which were destroyed because Jehoshaphat had made an alliance with the wicked king of Israel. In view of Jehoshaphat's other alliances, the Chronicler may be in the right. Chronicles, however, misunderstood the term "ships of Tarshish."
Jehoshaphat died at the age of 60. Josephus says ( Ant. , IX, iii, 2) that he was buried in a magnificent manner, for he had imitated the actions of David. The kingdom was left to Jehoram, who inaugurated the beginning of his reign by causing the massacre of his brethren.
IBSE, "Isaac" (in the public domain) with minor edits.