Shouldst thou help the ungodly?"

Jehoshaphat was one of the best kings that sat upon the throne of David, and it is written concerning him that "The Lord was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the first ways of his father David, and sought not unto Baalim" (2 Chr. 17:3). Then it is added, he "sought to the Lord God of his father, and walked in his commandments, and not after the doings of Israel." Not content with seeking the Lord himself, the good king sent out princes and Levites, with the book of the law, to teach his people the right ways of the Lord (2 Chr. 17:7-9). Moreover, "his heart was lifted up in the ways of the Lord," and "he took away the high places and groves out of Judah." Because of the king's piety, "the Lord established the kingdom in his hand." The king's subjects evidently valued their king, for they brought him presents, "and he had riches and honour in abundance."

Jehoshaphat and Ahab

At the beginning of his reign, Jehoshaphat "strengthened himself against Israel," for he knew that there was little in common between him and the idolatrous king of Israel, Ahab. It is therefore very sad to read, "Now Jehoshaphat had riches and honour in abundance, and joined affinity with Ahab" (2 Chr. 18:1). It would appear from this that the possession of riches and honour had proved a snare for Jehoshaphat, as it has been for so many, a danger of which the Lord warns in the parable of the sower, when He speaks of the "deceitfulness of riches" (Matt. 13:22).

That the godly king of Judah should be associated with the ungodly and idolatrous king of Israel was very sad, especially as it involved the marriage of Jehoshaphat's son to the daughter of Ahab, a union that was to bring much sorrow to the house of David. This unholy alliance was formed, it would seem, about eight years before the death of Ahab. Scripture does not tell us whether the family of Jehoshaphat led him to his friendship with Ahab, or whether it was Jehoshaphat's friendship with Ahab that led to the marriage between Jehoram and Athalia, but the Lord held Jehoshaphat responsible; he ought to have controlled his house, and kept them, and himself, from association with the idolatrous house of Ahab.

Having become involved with Ahab's house, after some years Jehoshaphat "went down to Ahab to Samaria" (2 Chr. 18:2), and Ahab made a great feast for his guest, "and for the people that he had with him." Had Ahab come to Jehoshaphat to seek the ways of the Lord it would have been a very different matter, but it was grievous in the sight of the Lord that one who had been faithful to Him should seek the company of a wicked and idolatrous man like Ahab. Those who went down with Jehoshaphat were also involved in this fellowship with the ungodly. We do not know whether the sheep and oxen that Ahab killed in abundance for the feast were offered first to Baal, but of this we may be certain, they were not sacrifices of peace offerings to Jehovah.

One false step leads to another. First there was the uniting of the two houses in marriage, then there was fellowship at Ahab's table, and this was followed by partnership in a conflict with which Jehoshaphat should have had nothing to do. Ahab took the occasion of Jehoshaphat being at his table to persuade him to go up with him to Ramoth-gilead, and Jehoshaphat put himself in an entirely false position when he replied to Ahab," "I am as thou art, and my people as thy people; and we will be with thee in the war."

Not content with putting himself in a false position, the king of Judah also put the people of God in a false position. There was a very great difference between Jehoshaphat and Ahab, as also between the people of Judah and Israel. It might have been protested that all were derived from their father Jacob, but Jehoshaphat was king over a people taught in the law of the Lord, and who served and worshipped Him in His temple in Jerusalem, whereas Ahab was a wicked king who led his people in idolatry, worshipping Baal, a false god. The godly sensibilities of Jehoshaphat had been sadly impaired by the company and feast of the ungodly.

Evidently Jehoshaphat's conscience troubled him somewhat, for after consenting to be associated with Ahab, the king of Judah desires to have the mind of Jehovah on the venture. Surely he should have sought the mind of the Lord before agreeing to go to Ramoth-gilead. To still the fears of Jehoshaphat, Ahab gathers his false prophets, who do not hesitate to speak falsely in God's Name, for they say. "Go up; for God will deliver it into the king's hand."

It is little wonder that Jehoshaphat was not satisfied with the words of Ahab's four hundred false prophets, for well the godly king knew that they were not speaking the word of Jehovah his God; so he asked Ahab, "Is there not here a prophet of Jehovah besides, that we may inquire of him?" Ahab's reply should have caused Jehoshaphat to withdraw from the venture. He said, "There is one man, by whom we may enquire of Jehovah: but I hate him; for he never prophesies good unto me, but always evil." What an exposure of Ahab this was! He hated God's servant, because the word of the Lord through Micaiah was always evil in his sight.

When Micaiah comes, after some hesitation, he reveals the mind of the Lord, which tells that Ahab will be slain in the battle. Angered at the word of the Lord, Ahab reviles His servant, and sends him to prison to be afflicted. Poor Jehoshaphat has to be the witness of this, powerless to support the servant of his God, and unable to restrain the evil of the ungodly man who had seduced him into alliance with him. What a solemn warning for every servant of the Lord. If we get into associations with the men of this world, we shall be powerless to speak against their evil or to speak on behalf of the Lord. Truly the path of separation is the path of power, for in it we have the divine strength to testify for the Lord, and to witness against the evil of the world.

In spite of all that the Lord had spoken through Micaiah, Jehoshaphat went with Ahab to battle, surely knowing that nothing good could come from it since God had determined to slay his wicked partner. Still, God was merciful to His erring servant, for when he was mistaken for the king of Israel, and surrounded by the enemy, "the Lord helped him; and God moved" them to depart from him (2 Chr. 18:31). Ahab, who had thought to escape by disguising himself, fell in the battle as the Lord had spoken by His prophet.

It must have been a chastened Jehoshaphat that returned to Jerusalem, but the Lord had not finished with His wayward servant, for "Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, Shouldst thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord" (2 Chr. 19:2). Yet, even in this hour of rebuke, God does not forget what Jehoshaphat was, in spite of his failure, for the prophet adds, "Nevertheless there are good things found in thee, in that thou hast taken away the groves out of the land, and hast prepared thine heart to seek God."

Admonished by the Lord, and laying to heart what had been spoken by the prophet, Jehoshaphat brought forth fruit meet for repentance, for going out he brought back the people "unto the Lord God of their fathers." It is a solemn commentary on the lapse of the king that his people needed to be brought back to the Lord, for his association with Ahab had evidently encouraged them to get away from the God of Israel. Jehoshaphat's instructions to the judges in 2 Chronicles 19:5-11, and his prayer when the confederate forces of Moab, Ammon and Seir came against him (20), are proofs of the reality of the recovery of the king to Jehovah and His law.

Jehoshaphat and Ahaziah

On the death of Ahab, his son Ahaziah sat upon the throne of Israel, but he only reigned for two years. Who would have thought that after all Jehoshaphat had seen and heard of Ahab, and after his rebuke from the Lord for helping the ungodly, he would again be found in association with the house of Ahab? Yet it was so, for it is recorded, "And after this did Jehoshaphat king of Judah join himself with Ahaziah king of Israel, who did very wickedly" (2 Chr. 20:35). And this was within the space of two years of his former lapse. It is evident that although Jehoshaphat had repented of his former evil, and been restored, he had not thoroughly judged himself before God for the unholy alliance. Like many more in this day, the king found it hard to apprehend that association with evil defiles. Whatever man may think. God has made it crystal clear in both the Old and New Testaments, that He views very seriously the association of His saints with the ungodly of this world.

On this occasion the partnership was not for war, but for gold, as it is recorded in 1 Kings 22:48, "Jehoshaphat made ships of Tharshish to go to Ophir for gold." From 2 Chronicles 20:37 we learn of God's intervention. First, He sent His prophet Eliezer the son of Dodavah to reprove him with the words, "Because thou hast joined thyself with Ahaziah, the Lord hath broken thy works." Then the Lord carried out His word, "and the ships were broken, that they were not able to go to Tarshish."

How many saints of God since that day have fallen into a similar snare, even into some association with the world for the sake of gold. God took a very serious view of this good king's associations. There is no direct evidence that he took part in any religious observance with Ahab's house, but his association with him in war, and with his son in commerce, was evil in the sight of the Lord his God.

From 1 Kings 22, it would seem that Jehoshaphat laid to heart the divine rebuke, and that between the visit of the prophet and the actual destruction of the ships he had repented of what he had done, for we read in verse 49, "Then said Ahaziah the son of Ahab unto Jehoshaphat, Let my servants go with thy servants in the ships. But Jehoshaphat would not." Even if this was a subsequent proposal to the breaking of the ships, it seems clear that Jehoshaphat had laid to heart the divine reproof.

Jehoshaphat and Jehoram

On the death of Ahaziah, another son of Ahab, Ahaziah's brother Jehoram came to the throne of Israel. He was not as bad as his father and mother, "for he put away the image of Baal that his father had made. Nevertheless he cleaved unto the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which made Israel to sin" (2 Kings 3:2, 3). On account of following the sins of Jeroboam, the Lord says of Jehoram, "he wrought evil in the sight of the Lord."

How very sad it is therefore to find the good king Jehoshaphat once more getting entangled with the house of Ahab, for when Jehoram sent to him saying, "The king of Moab hath rebelled against me: wilt thou go with me against Moab to battle?" he replied, "I will co up: I am as thou art, my people as thy people, and my horses as thy horses" (verse 7). Jehoshaphat uses precisely the same words he had spoken to Ahab, when Ahab asked him to go with him to Ramoth-gilead (1 Kings 22:4). Does not this show that this good man had not thoroughly bottomed his failure in associating with Ahab and his house?

It was indeed an unholy alliance, for not only is the king of Israel in it, but also the king of Edom, and the Edomites were the inveterate foes of God's people. Soon the expedition seemed to be doomed to failure through lack of water, so that the king of Israel said, "Alas! that the Lord hath called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab" (2 Kings 3:10). In this moment of great danger, Jehoshaphat seeks the help of the Lord, and his seeking is not in vain.

There was indeed a prophet of the Lord there, for God had His eye on His devoted servant even in his time of failure. When Elisha's name is mentioned, Jehoshaphat can say, "The word of the Lord is with him." What the Lord thought of the venture is learned from the words of Elisha to the king of Israel, "What have I to do with thee? get thee to the prophets of thy father, and to the prophets of thy mother . . . surely, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look toward thee, nor see thee" (2 Kings 3:11-14). Moreover, Elisha called for the service of a minstrel, to take him out of the atmosphere in which he was, so that he could get into the presence of the Lord to get His word. All this must have brought back to Jehoshaphat the evil of associating with the ungodly.

Results of Jehoshaphat's Associations

Sorrowful as it was for Jehoshaphat to be rebuked by the Lord for his associations with the ungodly, the results for his heirs were very much more serious. Athalia, who had married Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat, was the daughter of Ahab, and probably the daughter of Jezebel, for she had her murderous instincts; and it was probably under her influence that Jehoram, when he strengthened himself in his kingdom, "slew all his brethren with the sword, and divers of the princes of Israel" (2 Chr. 21:4).

A writing from Elijah prophesied the doom of Jehoram, who "walked in the ways of the kings of Israel," and the government of God also overtook him, for the man who killed all his brethren had his own sons slain by the Arabians (2 Chr. 22:1). The only son who escaped from the Arabian slaughter was Ahaziah, and he only reigned for one year, dying at the hands of Jehu while he was executing the judgment of God on the house of Ahab.

On the death of her son Ahaziah, the murderous Athalia slew all the sons of Ahaziah, only Joash escaping her wicked hands, for Jehoshabeath the wife of Jehoiada rescued the young child. Can we doubt that behind all these attempts to blot out the house of David was the hand of Satan? And was not all this dreadful slaughter the direct or indirect result of Jehoshaphat joining affinity with Ahab?

God has very plainly marked His displeasure of the unholy alliance of Jehoram and Athalia, for in the genealogy of the line of David in Matthew 1:8, three generations of this marriage have been purposely omitted by the Spirit of God.

How very careful we should be regarding our associations. What trouble Jehoshaphat would have spared himself and his descendants if he had kept away from the idolatrous house of Ahab. We are warned by the Lord Himself, in Jehoshaphat's history, of the grave dangers attending helping "the ungodly," and loving "them that hate the Lord." Moreover, we have the plain injunctions of 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 to guide us, so that we might be separate from all evil to testify for the Lord, and against the evil of a world that hates Him.
Wm. C. Reid.