An Old Testament lesson in thorns and sufficient grace

One of my favorite Old Testament stories is found in 2 Chronicles 20:1-33. King Jehoshaphat and the people of Israel find themselves in a tough spot. Their literal enemies came against them in battle. Of course, this is nothing new in the Old Testament. God’s people were perpetually the target of surrounding nations who wanted nothing more to conquer those people who had some strange thing going on. Hear Jehoshaphat’s response;

Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord, from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.

And Jehoshaphat stood in the assemble of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said, ‘O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? And they have lived in it and have built for you in it a sanctuary for your name saying, ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you–for your name is in this house–and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save. (2 Chron. 20:3-9)

I have often considered this story in relation to those sudden calamities in life that befall us, where we feel cornered and need some divine intervention to save us from a desperate spot. Is that not what is going on here? And the response is even more incredible. Jehoshaphat, not knowing what to do cries out to the Lord, “we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (vs. 12)

But what about those areas in our lives that persist in sudden attacks, areas of grief and loss, the thorns that don’t go away. Surely this story is applicable for those sudden calamities but is it not also for the hard areas of life we may have experienced that prick at our soul when we least suspect it?

A common mistake in reading the Old Testament is to treat stories as prescriptive remedies by correlating the events of what should transpire now. It might make sense this story tells us that when the tough hits to turn to the Lord and admit that you don’t know what to do. It might make sense to wait for some “word from the Lord” to tell you what to do so that we can escape that danger. Better if some prophet shows up and gives it to us! It also might makes sense to believe that if we engage in the motions of praise, then God will show up and that trial or thorn will go away. We will be delivered!

But one of the most important thing I’ve learned to ask of the Old Testament is “what does this say about Jesus and my relationship with him?” It does us no good to stop at the details of the story and presume if we just do what character X did, then we will have a guaranteed outcome of extraction. We have to take it one step further in relating Jesus fulfillment of Old Testament promises to new covenant inauguration, in which every event points to him.

In that regard, a few things I note about this passage;

1) Jehoshaphat operated out of covenant relationship: Notice in vs. 7, Jehoshaphat references the inheritance to Israel, “Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?” Here Jehoshaphat, speaking as Israel’s king, is recalling God’s covenantal promise. It’s also important to note that the kings were but a foreshadow of the King who would reign eternal, leading God’s people in victory, who is Christ. When thorns press in, we can count on his reign.

2) Jehoshaphat admitted his deficiency: at the end of our formulas and list of X number of principles to overcome Y, we just might find ourselves looking in the abyss of “I just don’t know what to do.” And truthfully, that is ok. Because when we get that the end of our prescriptions lies a Savior who loved perfectly, gave sufficiently, and lives to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:25).

3) Jehoshaphat responded to God’s revelation: again, we have to consider the whole counsel of Scripture and not just the fact that a prophet spoke a word. The word of the Lord is equated to the sufficient speech found in Scripture which testifies to the risen Lord, whose speech culminates the mind, will and heart of the Father. As I wrote about here in relation to my master’s thesis that I spent a couple of years on, God has spoken regarding everything we need to know for faith and practice. For us, that means we respond to the promises found in Scripture and consider that they have been ultimately fulfilled in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20).

4) Jehoshaphat saw the Lord’s deliverance and worshipped him accordingly (vv. 18-19): will we be extracted from every situation simply because we call on the Lord? No, but we can experience the deliverance from intervention of God’s reign over his enemies. We are promised that Christ broke the certificate of debt of our sin to cause us to triumph in disparate situations (Col. 2:15; 2 Cor 14):

So what does this have to do with thorns? Because sometimes we’ll find ourselves in long-term scenarios of the thing that won’t go away, no matter how much we try. We can’t wish it away, think it away, or otherwise pull some kind of off-switch by which it just magically disappears. And then it shows up something fierce! But Jehoshaphat’s scenario reminds us that the best place to find relief from this kind of surrounding by an enemy, is to lean on the sufficient grace of Christ, to recall his kingly reign who guarantees victory for his people. It’s also important to note that Jehoshaphat was not alone but in the assembly of God’s people and why gathering together is so important.

And we recall Paul’s words, which are God’s words to us

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Cor. 12:9)

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