Why did God allow the Kingdom of Judah to prosper under the reign of King Jehoshaphat?
King Jehoshaphat was the fourth king of Judah under the divided monarchy, the son of Asa. We are first introduced to him in 1 Kings 15:24 but are told nothing more than that he succeeded Asa. Later, 1 Kings 22:42 tells us that he was 35 years old when he began his reign and that he reigned 25 years (from 873 to 848 BC). 1 Kings 22 gives a brief account of his reign with 2 Chronicles 17–22 giving a more comprehensive account.
Spiritually, Jehoshaphat began his reign in a positive way. “And the Lord was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the first ways of his father David, and sought not unto Baalim; But sought to the Lord God of his father, and walked in his commandments, and not after the doings of Israel. Therefore the Lord stablished the kingdom in his hand; and all Judah brought to Jehoshaphat presents; and he had riches and honour in abundance. And his heart was lifted up in the ways of the Lord: moreover he took away the high places and groves out of Judah.” 2 Chronicles 17:3–6
In addition, Jehoshaphat sent men throughout the kingdom to teach the people the Law of God (2 Chronicles 17:7–9).
Militarily, Jehoshaphat fortified his defenses, primarily against the northern kingdom of Israel (2 Chronicles 17:1–3). The surrounding nations feared Judah and brought tribute (2 Chronicles 17:10–19).
After making peace with Israel, Jehoshaphat tried to reach out to Ahab, the king of Israel. Ahab was one of the wickedest kings of Israel, and Jehoshaphat was not ignorant of his character. 1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 18 relate the following account: Ahab asks Jehoshaphat to help him attack Syria. Jehoshaphat requests that they consult the LORD on the matter. Ahab gathers 400 of his prophets who encourage the attack. Jehoshaphat recognizes that these are not genuine prophets of the LORD, and the exchange that follows between Jehoshaphat and Ahab is almost comical:
“And Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the Lord besides, that we might enquire of him? And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may enquire of the Lord: but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. And Jehoshaphat said, Let not the king say so.” 1 Kings 22:7–8
“So he came to the king. And the king said unto him, Micaiah, shall we go against Ramothgilead to battle, or shall we forbear? And he answered him, Go, and prosper: for the Lord shall deliver it into the hand of the king. And the king said unto him, How many times shall I adjure thee that thou tell me nothing but that which is true in the name of the Lord? And he said, I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd: and the Lord said, These have no master: let them return every man to his house in peace. And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, Did I not tell thee that he would prophesy no good concerning me, but evil?” 1 Kings 22:15–18
In spite of what seems to be an acknowledgement that Micaiah speaks for the LORD, Jehoshaphat joins Ahab in the attack. Ahab is killed, and Jehoshaphat narrowly escapes. When Jehoshaphat returns home, he is reprimanded by a prophet of the Lord for his collaboration with Ahab:
“And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord. 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.” 2 Chronicles 19:2–3
Jehoshaphat continues to make reforms, appointing judges throughout the land to handle disputes and charging them to make righteous judgments and to fear the Lord (2 Chronicles 19:4–11).
In 2 Chronicles 20, an alliance of nations decides to march against Judah. Jehoshaphat seeks the Lord and asks all Judah to fast (verse 3). Through a man named Jahaziel, the Lord tells Jehoshaphat that He will deliver Judah without a fight (verses 14–17). Jehoshaphat goes out to battle with singers leading the way, singing praise to the Lord. The alliance of nations turn against each other and begin to kill each other (verses 22–23). The men of Judah spend three days collecting the spoils of war that were abandoned by their enemies (verse 25).
Although Jehoshaphat started his reign by removing the idolatrous high places, at the end of his reign, there were still high places that had not been taken away (1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 33). Jehoshaphat started well, but his diligence flagged, and the idol-worship returned. 1 Kings 22:41–50 and 2 Chronicles 20:35–37 record a joint ship-building venture that Jehoshaphat attempted with the wicked king Ahaziah of Israel. Jehoshaphat, who had already been chastised for an alliance with Ahab, is again confronted by a prophet with a warning. Jehoshaphat heeded the warning and did not allow Ahaziah’s men to sail with the Judeans, but the judgment still came to pass: the fleet was wrecked, and Jehoshaphat’s investment with Ahaziah proved futile.
Jehoshaphat is still considered a good and godly king, but his reign ended rather badly. He kept trying to build an alliance with Israel, even though the kings of Israel were wicked. Jehoshaphat worshiped the Lord and led his people in seeking the Lord, but the hearts of the people were never fully changed. They reverted to pagan practices. King Jehoshaphat was unable to pass his faith on to his son Jehoram who reigned after him. Jehoram started by killing all of his brothers, and he then made an alliance with Israel by marrying the daughter of Ahab (2 Chronicles 21:4–6).
The reason for Judah’s prosperity throughout history connects In Jacob’s blessings of his twelve sons, he says this about Judah: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” Genesis 49:10
In ancient times a scepter was often a full-length staff — note that, in the poetry of Jacob’s prophecy, the words scepter and ruler’s staff are used in parallel. A scepter was usually made of carved wood and sometimes embellished with fine metal or gems; it symbolized a ruler’s absolute power and authority over a tribe or nation. The same Hebrew word translated “scepter” is sometimes translated as “club,” “staff,” or “rod,” all of which can be used as weapons. Scepters symbolized the irresistible civic and military power that a ruler had at his command.
When Jacob said, “The scepter will not depart from Judah,” he was giving, in part, a divine prediction concerning the children of Judah. Centuries later, when Jacob’s descendants formed a nation in the Promised Land and kings began to rule, it was the line of Judah that became the royal line. Starting with David, the line of Judah’s kings continued through Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijah, and many others, all the way through Zedekiah, the last king of Judah. Jacob’s prophecy came true: the tribe of Judah possessed the scepter — the kings of the Davidic dynasty were all descended from Jacob’s fourth son, Judah.
When Jacob said, “The scepter will not depart from Judah,” he was also giving a divine prediction of one Descendant in particular who would come from the line of Judah. Jacob says the tribe of Judah would possess the scepter “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” Genesis 49:10. The prophecy “until Shiloh comes” — Shilohbeing a title of the Messiah.
Later in biblical history, God tells King David, a descendant of Judah, that his throne would be established forever, confirming that the Messiah would be descended from him (2 Samuel 7:8–16). The One who fulfills this prophecy is Jesus the Christ, the Son of David, whose kingdom is eternal (2 Peter 1:11). Jesus is “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (Revelation 5:5). Because of Jesus the Christ, the scepter has not departed from Judah.
Worldly authority, symbolized by the scepter, is temporary, and earthly kings often find their scepters slipping out of their grasp. But the scepter wielded by the Messiah, Jesus Christ, will never be lost, stolen, or set aside. When He establishes His kingdom on earth, it will be one of perfect justice: “But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” (Hebrews 1:8–9; cf. Psalm 45:6–7). Jesus’ reign will include a final judgment of the nations, “And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.” (Revelation 2:27; cf. Psalm 2:9; cf. Revelation 19:15).
Just before they crucified Jesus, Roman soldiers mocked Him, placing a crown of thorns on His head and a staff in His hand as a royal scepter. They bowed before Him in jest, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” then struck Him repeatedly with the fake scepter (Matthew 27:27–31).
A 4,000-year-old prophecy, “the scepter will not depart from Judah,” will be fully realized some day when the King of kings and Lord of lords, returns with His saints and angels. The Lion of the tribe of Judah will wield the scepter: it’s for the reasons of these prophesies that embody Christ that must come through the line of Judah, that they continued to prosper despite the sins of Jehoshaphat and other kings throughout the history of Judah.