Sweetwater Presbyterian

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Jumping Jehoshaphat

Jumping Jehoshaphat!

How many of you have heard the term “Jumping Jehoshaphat!”? While Jehoshaphat was a real Biblical character, the term ‘jumping Jehoshaphat’ is not a Biblical phrase. The phrase is first recorded in the 1866 novel The Headless Horseman by Thomas Mayne Reid.[5] The longer version "By the shaking, jumping ghost of Jehoshaphat" is seen in the 1865 novel Paul Peabody by Percy Bolingbroke St. John. It appears that in the 1860s the phrase ‘jumping Jehoshaphat’ became an expression of surprise. Much like someone would explain “Oh my!” “Oh my goodness” or something similar - When something surprising happened the popular explanation would be ‘jumping Jehoshaphat!”
To start we have to put this person, Jehoshaphat, in the context of history. We often talk about the Hebrew people and their journey through the wilderness. But in this story, the people of God have made it to the promised land. They settled in and began living there - we would know it as Israel today, back then it was called Canaan. God had told this people they were not to form any type of government, they ere to live just dependent on God to care for them. They did that for a while but they noticed that their neighboring countries all had kings and so they wanted to be ‘just like everyone else’ and so they asked God to give them a King. God knew this was a mistake and tried to talk them out of it but like a child who doesn’t get what they want, they whined and begged and finally God gave in and gave them a King - although he warned them they were not going to like what was going to happen. So God gave the nation of Israel a king. They had a bad king Saul, a good king in David and then a bad king in David’s son Solomon. Solomon pretty much wrecked the economy and the nation split in half. The northern half of the kingdom was called Israel and the southern half of the country - which included Jerusalem - was called Judah. Each country began their own line of kings. Jehoshaphat is the 4th King of of the southern country of Judah.
Judah was ruled by many kings in the course of its history. Some of them were good kings - meaning they looked to God for their leadership and helped the nation to prosper - and many of the kings were bad - meaning they did not look to God for leadership and were kings who wanted to do it all themselves; who wanted the power and all the trappings that come from being King and since they neglected God the nations would always go into decline. When Jehoshaphat became King he declared his faithfulness to God and would spend hours in prayer listening for what God wanted him to do as King. The first thing Jehoshaphat did was to mend relations with Israel. The two countries, even though they were both considered God’s Chosen People, had been at odds through the last two kings - well, more than at odds - they had gotten to the place where they despised each other. But through the work of Jehoshaphat, the two nations were now at peace with one another.
The other major accomplishment of Jehoshaphat came through religious reform. Many of the kings of Judah had not promoted the worship of God, but had actually taught the people to worship idols, sometimes to worship the idols instead of God and sometimes to try and worship the idols along with God. But Jehoshaphat began a religious reform in Judah, teaching the people that they were to worship the one true God only. He organized Priests and Levites to travel throughout the country with copies of the Torah - the first 5 books of the Old Testament, and to teach God’s people how it was that God wanted them to live. These priests and levites led God’s people back to following not only the 10 commandments but all the Levitical laws God had given them - regulations which helped to God’s people live healthy, happy, productive lives. Jehoshaphat established what would be our equivalent of Bible Studies in the synagogues throughout the country and what a difference that made in the peoples lives; just as a good bible study does in our own lives. Worship of God was restored and the nation began to prosper.
Along with religious reform, Jehoshaphat also restored judicial reform. The whole legal system in Judah had become corrupt and so justice was for the wealthy and the elite - Jehoshaphat reminded the judges they were
responsible to God for their decisions and their rulings, not to themselves or each other or even to Jehoshaphat. The judicial system became fair and equitable once again.
In our way of thinking - since the nation had repented and turned back to God; since the nation was now living and worshipping as God wanted them to; since the people were studying and learning scripture to better be God’s people - since they were doing everything ‘right’ in the eyes of God - they would now be able to live in
peace. But as many of us have learned in our own life, just because you are doing everything ‘right’ in relationship with God doesn’t mean that you have some type of ‘holy insurance policy’. Bad things can happen to us in the midst of own personal renewal with God…….
In the midst of their religious reform, the nations around Judah, the countries of Moab, Ammon and Edom all

began attacks on Judah. The three nations joined together and formed a mighty army and began to march on Judah from the south and reached the source of Judah’s fresh water. What devastation this would be for the country if this army was able to cut off water for all the people of Judah. Jehoshaphat had thought that his opposition was going to be from the north and so had fortified that border but had not planned for a southern attack - so these three armies, joined together, huge in number, were now marching towards annihilating the country. Jehoshaphat cries out to God, “We do not know what we can do, but we will turn our eyes to you.” So Jehoshaphat calls for a national time of fasting and prayer. Instead of fortifying the temple or his palace; instead of going into panic mode and buying supplies to put in his personal hidden shelter; instead of gathering a political summit, Jehoshaphat calls for a time of fasting and prayer. What Jehoshaphat wants is for the whole nation to be unified, not in fear of the invading army, but in prayer and trust in the guidance from God.
In his prayer, Jehoshaphat remembers how God has helped them in the past and thanks God for that. Jehoshaphat humbly admits that he doesn’t know what to do but he trust that God does and he is willing to wait patiently while God acts. What a great lesson for us. Notice Jehoshaphat doesn’t tell God what to do - he simply goes to God saying, “We don’t know what to do and you do… So help us.” He doesn’t try to do God’s work for him - he doesn’t try to solve the problem and then tell God to work out the details, he allows God to work it all out.
This huge invading army is like the tragedy that comes in our lives or the great decision we need to make or the worry that begins to weight us down - instead of going into panic mode or in that defeatist attitude or wringing our hands, we go to God, acknowledging our help comes from him, thanking him for the help he has given us in the past and we wait patiently. That’s hard to do. We see the army marching towards us and it is hard not to want to jump into some type of action, but if true, earnest, thankful prayer comes first, they the way will become clear.
The next day, Jehoshaphat assembles his smaller army and they began to march into desert toward this huge combined army. In front of the army he has a special group of men who are singing praise Psalms - these are psalms of thanksgiving to the Lord. Not, O Lord please help us psalms - but psalms of thanksgiving. In other words what Jehoshaphat is doing is thanking God for the victory before the victory happens! This is real confidence in the work of God - saying ‘God help me’ and then saying ‘God thank you’ before God actually begins to do anything!
I have to admire these psalm singers who led the army - much like a group of majorettes leading a marching band - these singers had no weapons, yet they led the army. Think about that……
When the army arrived at the place where the enemy had been, they received a big surprise. They did not find a strong army of soldiers to fight. Instead, they found the battle had already been fought for them. God had caused all of the enemy armies to get into a fight with each other and by the time Jehoshaphat and his army arrived, all the enemies were dead! God had fought and won the battle for them! Jehoshaphat and his army returned to Jerusalem praising the Lord. They marched right to the temple and they worshipped God. The very first thing they wanted to do was to thank God for answering their prayer. It had seemed impossible to beat such a strong enemy - but they obeyed God and trusted God and they acknowledged what God was able to do.
The Gospel story we read this morning was almost the opposite of what happened with Jehoshaphat and his army. Jesus hears that his great friend Lazarus is ill - and he purposely waits until Lazarus dies to go to Lazarus’ home to help. He is confronted with Lazarus’s sisters who fuss at him. “Where were you? You could have prevented this? How dare you allow this to happen? Why have you caused us to suffer?” Instead of trusting Jesus - the sisters are angry and they don’t see any way that this could have worked out any differently. Yet Jesus already knew what was going to happen; Jesus already had the situation well under control and had the sisters trusted him - the conversation when Jesus first arrives would have been very different…..
Do not think that these are some arbitrary stories from thousands of years ago and that God doesn’t do now what he did then. God’s words of promise are just as true for us today as they were for Jehoshaphat and his people. We have to be less like Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha who relied on their own understanding of what God is capable of doing and more like Jehoshaphat who trusted God so much that he thanked God before anything even happened.
We just have to humbly acknowledge the power of God; we have to be willing to trust in what God can and will do; and we have to have so much faith in God that we are able to come to him in earnest prayer and thank him before he even has time to act……
And then, wait patiently for the Lord. Amen!