The Battle Is Not Yours, But God’s
2 Chronicles 20:20-26
James C. Denison
Matthew Henry, the great Bible scholar, was once attacked by thieves and robbed of his wallet. He wrote these words in his diary: “Let me be thankful. First, I was never robbed before. Second, although they took my wallet, they didn’t take my life. Third, although they took all I had, it was not much. Fourth, let me be thankful that it was I who robbed and not I who did the robbing.” There’s always reason for thanksgiving.
Can you remember a Thanksgiving week more difficult than this one? The markets are down 1,600 points in three weeks. America’s automotive companies are near bankruptcy. Last Thursday, America’s Office of Director of Intelligence released a 110-page report titled “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World.”
They predict a global shift in power and economic wealth from West to East on a level “without precedent in modern history.” They see a world increasingly conflicted over scarce food and water supplies, rogue states and terrorists, and global warming. They fear that extremists will have access to increasingly lethal technology, including nuclear and biological weapons.
What are the headlines of your heart? Why give thanks in hard times? This week we need a very simple message with a very practical application for our times, whatever we are facing today. Let’s begin with a story.
When we give thanks
Jehoshaphat (“Yahweh judges”) was one of the greatest kings in Jewish history. He came to the throne around 873 B.C., at the age of 35. By this time, the ten northern tribes constituted the nation of “Israel,” while the two southern tribes constituted the nation of “Judah,” centered in Jerusalem. Jehoshaphat was the fourth king of this southern nation.
Immediately he began to institute religious reforms, rejecting the worship of Baal and banishing idolatry from the land (1 Kings 22:46).
He soon sent religious officials across the nation to instruct the people in the word and will of God (2 Chronicles 17:7-9).
His good and godly reign ushered in a period of remarkable peace and tranquility. He even made peace with Israel, the nation to the north, establishing a truce and common cause which aided both peoples.
He created a national system of jurisprudence built on the law of God, fostering a period of great integrity and character (2 Chronicles 19:7).
Nonetheless, despite his diligent leadership and service, this good and godly man would face the greatest crisis the Jewish people had seen since leaving Egypt. Innocent people still face enemies and hurt. They still lose their savings and jobs. They still face recession and calamity and fear. What happened to him still happens to us.
Judah’s ancient enemies, the Moabites (living east of the Dead Sea) entered into a military alliance with the Ammonites to their north and the Meunites to their southwest, for the purpose of attacking Judah from all sides. So it was that “some men came and told Jehoshaphat, ‘A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea'” (2 Chronicles 20:2).
If these invading armies are successful, they will not merely occupy Judah—they will destroy the nation. They will kill every man, and take the women and children as their slaves. The very survival of the nation is in jeopardy.
And so their king does the right thing. He goes to God first (v. 3a), not last as we are prone to do. He calls the nation to come to God as well, through a national fast and prayer meeting (vs. 3b-4). Then he leads the people to do something remarkably unexpected—praise God.
He praises the Lord for his power over all the nations (v. 6). He honors him for his blessing to the people throughout their history (v. 7). He defines the crisis before the people (v. 10). He declares his absolute trust in the Lord: “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (v. 12). The entire nation, in peril for their lives, joins him in worship before God (v. 13).
And God answers their cry.
He gives them a prophet to announce: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s” (v. 15).
He instructs the nation to march against their enemies, knowing that “you will not have to fight this battle.” Why not? “Take up your positions, stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you” (v. 17).
Go out to fight this army of vastly superior numbers and forces? Don’t surrender to them, or flee from them? March out to certain death and destruction? Don’t give up or give out or give in? Here is the king’s response: “Jehoshaphat bowed with his face to the ground, and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the Lord. Then some Levites from the Kohathites and Korahites [the worship leaders of the nation] stood up and praised the Lord, the God of Israel, with very loud voice” (vs. 18-19).
Now watch what happens on the day that saved a nation. The king calls to the people, “Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful” (v. 20).
Then he arranges his army for battle. What soldiers did he station at the front—his best and most experienced veteran warriors? No—the worship leaders. The king “appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever'” (v. 21, quoting Psalm 136).