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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Jehosh´aphat (God-judged), the fourth king of Judah, and son of Asa, whom he succeeded in B.C. 914, at the age of thirty-five, and reigned twenty-five years. He commenced his reign by fortifying his kingdom against Israel; and having thus secured himself against surprise from the quarter which gave most disturbance to him, he proceeded to purge the land from the idolatries and idolatrous monuments by which it was still tainted. Even the high places and groves, which former well-disposed kings had suffered to remain, were by the zeal of Jehoshaphat in a great measure destroyed. The chiefs, with priests and Levites, proceeded from town to town, with the book of the law in their hands, instructing the people, and calling back their wandering affections to the religion of their fathers. This was a beautiful and interesting circumstance in the operations of the young king. Jehoshaphat was too well instructed in the great principles of the theocracy not to know that his faithful conduct had entitled him to expect the divine protection. Of that protection he soon had manifest proofs. At home he enjoyed peace and abundance, and abroad security and honor. His renown extended into the neighboring nations, and the Philistines, as well as the adjoining Arabian tribes, paid him rich tributes in silver and in cattle. He was thus enabled to put all his towns in good condition, to erect fortresses, to organize a powerful army, and to raise his kingdom to a degree of importance and splendor which it had not enjoyed since the revolt of the ten tribes.

The weak and impious Ahab at that time occupied the throne of Israel; and Jehoshaphat, having nothing to fear from his power, sought, or at least did not repel an alliance with him. This is alleged to have been the grand mistake of his reign; and that it was such is proved by the consequences.

A few years after we find Jehoshaphat on a visit to Ahab, in Samaria, being the first time any of the kings of Israel and Judah had met in peace. He here experienced a reception worthy of his greatness; but Ahab failed not to take advantage of the occasion, and so worked upon the weak points of his character as to prevail upon him to take arms with him against the Syrians, with whom hitherto the kingdom of Judah never had any war or occasion of quarrel. However, Jehoshaphat was not so far infatuated as to proceed to the war without consulting God. The false prophets of Ahab poured forth ample promises of success, and one of them, named Zedekiah, resorting to material symbols, made him horns of iron, saying, 'Thus saith the Lord, with these shalt thou smite the Syrians till they be consumed.' Still Jehoshaphat was not satisfied; and the answer to his further inquiries extorted from him a rebuke of the reluctance which Ahab manifested to call Micah, 'the prophet of the Lord.' The fearless words of this prophet did not make the impression upon the king of Judah which might have been expected; or probably he then felt himself too deeply bound in honor to recede. He went to the fatal battle of Ramoth-Gilead, and there nearly became the victim of a plan which Ahab had laid for his own safety at the expense of his too confiding ally. He persuaded Jehoshaphat to appear as king, while he himself went disguised to the battle. This brought the heat of the contest around him, as the Syrians took him for Ahab; and if they had not in time discovered their mistake, he would certainly have been slain. Ahab was killed, and the battle lost [AHAB]; but Jehoshaphat escaped, and returned to Jerusalem.

On his return from this imprudent expedition he was met by the just reproaches of the prophet Jehu. The best atonement he could make for this error was by the course he actually took. He resumed his labors in the further extirpation of idolatry, in the instruction of the people, and the improvement of his realm. He now made a tour of his kingdom in person, that he might see the ordinances of God duly established, and witness the due execution of his intentions respecting the instruction of the people in the divine law. This tour enabled him to discern many defects in the local administration of justice, which he then applied himself to remedy. He appointed magistrates in every city, for the determination of causes civil and ecclesiastical. Then he established a supreme council of justice at Jerusalem, composed of priests, Levites, and 'the chiefs of the fathers;' to which difficult cases were referred, and appeals brought from the provincial tribunals.

The activity of Jehoshaphat's mind was then turned towards the revival of that maritime commerce which had been established by Solomon. The land of Edom and the ports of the Elanitic Gulf were still under the power of Judah: and in them the king prepared a fleet for the voyage to Ophir. Unhappily, however, he yielded to the wish of the king of Israel, and allowed him to take part in the enterprise. For this the expedition was doomed of God, and the vessels were wrecked almost as soon as they quitted port. Instructed by Eliezer, the prophet, as to the cause of this disaster, Jehoshaphat equipped a new fleet, and having this time declined the cooperation of the king of Israel, the voyage prospered. The trade was not, however, prosecuted with any zeal, and was soon abandoned [COMMERCE].

In accounting for the disposition of Jehoshaphat to contract alliances with the king of Israel, we are to remember that there existed a powerful tie between the two courts in the marriage of Jehoshaphat's eldest son with Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab; and, when we advert to the part in public affairs which that princess afterwards took, it may well be conceived that even thus early she possessed an influence for evil in the court of Judah.

After the death of Ahaziah, king of Israel, Joram, his successor, persuaded Jehoshaphat to join him in an expedition against Moab. This alliance was, however, on political grounds, more excusable than the two former, as the Moabites, who were under tribute to Israel, might draw into their cause the Edomites, who were tributary to Judah. Besides, Moab could be invaded with most advantage from the south, round by the end of the Dead Sea; and the king of Israel could not gain access to them in that quarter but by marching through the territories of Jehoshaphat. The latter not only joined Joram with his own army, but required his tributary, the king of Edom, to bring his forces into the field. During seven days' march through the wilderness of Edom, the army suffered much from want of water; and by the time the allies came in sight of the army of Moab, they were ready to perish from thirst. In this emergency the pious Jehoshaphat thought, as usual, of consulting the Lord; and hearing that the prophet Elisha was in the camp, the three kings proceeded to his tent. For the sake of Jehoshaphat, and for his sake only, deliverance was promised; and it came during the ensuing night, in the shape of an abundant supply of water, which rolled down the exhausted wadys, and filled the pools and hollow grounds. Afterwards Jehoshaphat took his full part in the operations of the campaign, till the armies were induced to withdraw in horror, by witnessing the dreadful act of Mesha, king of Moab, in offering up his eldest son in sacrifice upon the wall of the town in which he was shut up.

This war kindled another much more dangerous to Jehoshaphat. The Moabites, being highly exasperated at the part he had taken against them, turned all their wrath upon him. They induced their kindred, the Ammonites, to join them, obtained auxiliaries from the Syrians, and even drew over the Edomites; so that the strength of all the neighboring nations may be said to have been united for this great enterprise. The allied forces entered the land of Judah and encamped at Engedi, near the western border of the Dead Sea. In this extremity Jehoshaphat felt that all his defense lay with God. A solemn fast was held, and the people repaired from the towns to Jerusalem to seek help of the Lord. In the presence of the assembled multitude the king, in the court of the temple, offered up a fervent prayer to God. He ceased; and in the midst of the silence which ensued, a voice was raised pronouncing deliverance in the name of the Lord, and telling them to go out on the morrow to the cliffs overlooking the camp of the enemy, and see them all overthrown without a blow from them. The voice was that of Jahaziel, one of the Levites. His words came to pass. The allies quarreled among themselves, and destroyed each other; so that when the Judahites came the next day they found their dreaded enemies all dead, and nothing was left for them but to take the rich spoils of the slain. This done, they returned with triumphal songs to Jerusalem. This great event was recognized even by the neighboring nations as the act of God; and so strong was the impression which it made upon them, that the remainder of the good king's reign was altogether undisturbed. His death, however, took place not very long after this, at the age of sixty, after having reigned twenty-five years, B.C. 898. He left the kingdom in a prosperous condition to his eldest son Jehoram, whom he had in the last years of his life associated with him in the government.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Jehoshaphat'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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