Thanksgiving, my favorite time of year. The air’s getting cooler, the leaves have turned and fallen, in some places there may even be the first dusting of snow. It’s a time when people begin to slow down a bit. You know, summer vacations are over, fall’s chaos of school supplies and Halloween candy has passed, and everyone’s taking a deep breath in anticipation of the busiest time of the year – Christmas. The danger is in finding ourselves lulled to sleep by the aroma of pumpkin pie, or worse, becoming overwhelmed by a house full of visiting relatives. Either way, we could miss our chance to reflect on the year and its blessings; we might neglect our only opportunity to process the lessons we’ve learned from the past year’s challenges. The turn of a new year could catch us unawares.
Whenever Thanksgiving approaches, I find myself remembering an Old Testament king in Israel who gave me a new perspective on a very American holiday. Jehoshaphat was the fourth king of Judah, the Southern Kingdom after the nation of Israel was divided. You can find information about his reign in 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles. There is much to learn from the life of Jehoshaphat as a whole, but the part of his story that has impacted me the most is found in 2 Chronicles chapter 20. In this chapter Jehoshaphat finds the people of God in crisis: verse 1 we are told that three different nations had banded together to “make war against Jehoshaphat”, verse 2 the writer identifies the invaders as “a great multitude”, and verse 3 tells us that when Jehoshaphat received the report, he was afraid. That’s where we’ll pick up the story.
Jehoshaphat was afraid and turned his attention to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. So Judah gathered together to seek help from the LORD. (v. 13) Then in the midst of the assembly the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel and he said, “Listen, all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: thus says the LORD to you, ‘Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them. You will find them at the end of the valley in front of the wilderness of Jeruel. You need not fight in this battle; station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf. Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out to face them, for the LORD is with you.” Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, worshiping the LORD.
What is your first response in a crisis? Jehoshaphat’s was prayer. As a matter of fact, he called a national fast and gathered all of Judah before God. Not since David had Israel seen a king so consistently look to God for the battle plan. But if you’ve read much of the Old Testament, you already know that God rarely gives out a plan that makes any sense – to us. Joshua was told to march around Jericho for 7 days and then shout. This resulted in the collapse of a 6-ft. thick, 40-ft. high wall. God told Gideon to whittle his battle force down from 32,000 to 300 (against an enemy 135,000 strong), then put flaming brands in jars and “surround” the Midianites, finally shouting while simultaneously breaking the jars. The Midianites turned on each other and defeated themselves. God gave Jehoshaphat similarly strange instructions. Basically the prophet told the people “don’t fear and don’t fight.” Instead of giving them a battle plan to carry out, God invited Israel to stand still and watch Him fight for them. But the armies of Judah didn’t just walk onto the field and watch.
When [Jehoshaphat] had consulted with the people, he appointed those who sang to the LORD and those who praised¹ Him in holy attire, as they went out before the army and said, “Give thanks² to the LORD, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” When they began singing and praising³, the LORD set ambushes against the sons of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; so they were routed … When Judah came to the lookout of the wilderness, they looked toward the multitude, and behold, they were corpses lying on the ground, and no one had escaped.
2 Chronicles 20:21-24*
Did you know that there are 7 different Hebrew words all translated “praise”, “thanks”, or “bless” in the Old Testament? Each one of them has a specific meaning. Here are the three I highlighted in the above text with a short definition for each (from Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon):
¹ Halal – to be clear; to shine; to make a show, to boast; be (clamorously) foolish; to rave, celebrate
² Yadah – to use the hand; especially to revere or worship (with extended hands)
³ Tehillah – a song containing praise, a hymn.
Now I want you to imagine this picture: Your king has ordered you to march onto a battlefield to face a hostile multitude from 3 nations who completely outnumber your army, and he wants the singers stationed in front. Not the foot soldiers, not the cavalry, the singers. Carrying their guitars, no doubt. Furthermore, they are instructed to sing loudly – “halal” means to be clamorously foolish – which would certainly alert the enemy to your approach. Finally, the singers are singing a hymn of thanksgiving for something that hasn’t happened yet – they are thanking God for something they believed He would do but that He hadn’t done yet. The last time I thanked someone was after they had done something for me. We thank after the fact. These people thanked God before the fact.
In the case of Jehoshaphat vs. the invaders, the battle plan was to thank God for a promised victory. Jehoshaphat’s fear prompted him to seek God and when God gave an answer Jehoshaphat believed it. Then he made sure that his army was so occupied with thanking God for the victory that they didn’t have the time or energy to worry about their situation. Their faith was so absolute that while they were thanking Him for what He was going to do, they marched right up to the enemy’s camp only to find that the war was over. There was nothing left for them to do except gather the spoils.
Under Jehoshaphat’s leadership Judah displayed their trust in God by thanking Him before the fact. When Thanksgiving comes around I challenge you to make it a point not only to reflect on the blessings God has already given your family over the past year, but also to consider what crises you may face in the coming year – and then thank Him ahead of time for His work in your life to get you through them. May God teach us to live a life of thanksgiving before the fact. That is a life of praising faith.
* All Scripture quotes are from the NASB.
From a Thanksgiving message to PWOC Ft. Meade, November, 2006.