Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Valley of Blessing (from Michelle)

Photo By: Rebecca at Caravan Sonnet 
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is 2 Chronicles 20:1-30.  As I was reading through this story again recently, I noticed some things that had never really jumped out at me until now.  But it brought me a lot of encouragement, so I thought I’d share them with you too!

This is the story of a most unusual battle that took place in the land of Judah during the reign of King Jehoshaphat.  It wasn’t by the sword that this battle was won, but by something that would most likely conjure up images of harps and clouds and people yawning in church.  I would even venture to call this a “secret weapon” that many might dismiss, not realizing the extent of its power.  What is the name of this weapon, you ask?

PRAISE.

I can hear what some of you might be thinking.  “Praise??  Like hymns we sing in church?  How could this possibly be more powerful in battle than physical weapons like swords?”

Let me go back and share the story as I saw it afresh recently, and I believe we may dig up a few golden nuggets of truth that will encourage and strengthen our hearts.  Even if you’ve read this story a million times before, I encourage you to try reading it again as if it were the first time...

The story begins with Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, receiving this report:

“A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea…”

That’s certainly not something that a king wants to hear!  A big ol’ army is marching straight towards them, ready to flatten them and take their land.  But what did King Jehoshaphat decide to do with this information?  Panic?  Run?  Stockpile all their swords and shields and pull together a great army of soldiers?

Not quite.  Check this out:

“And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.  So Judah gathered together to ask help from the Lord, and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.”

So there they were, all the people of Judah, fasting and praying and seeking the Lord together, waiting to hear what He would say.  I’m struck by the awesome unity of these people… it says that ALL the cities of Judah came to seek the Lord.  Can you imagine what our own country might look like if we did the same?

So what happened next?  It says King Jehoshaphat stood in the house of the Lord, and began to lead his people in prayer:

“O our God, will you not judge them?  For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us, nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.”

Then, it says this:

“Now all Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children, stood before the Lord.”

Try to picture this unusual scene in your mind.  A great army is already beginning to advance against Judah, heading towards them.  I don’t know about you, but I would probably be making a beeline to the nearest exit right about now!  But what is the first thing the king decides to do?  He gathers together all of his people to fast and to pray, and they begin to cry out to the Lord corporately as one voice, setting their eyes and their focus on the One who they know can do something about their situation.

Next, the Spirit of the Lord came upon a man named Jahaziel, who stood up and said this:

“Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s…. You will not need to fight in this battle.  Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!  Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the Lord is with you.”

Notice how they reacted to this news:

“And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem bowed before the Lord, worshipping the Lord.  Then the Levites of the children of the Kohathites and of the children of the Korahites stood up to praise the Lord God of Israel with voices loud and high.”

Wow…  So their enemies are headed straight towards them, getting closer and closer every minute, but what are these people doing?  Praying.  Fasting.  Seeking God.  Worshipping God.  Singing praises to God.  So far, not a single physical weapon has been mentioned, no sword unsheathed.

Next, they all decided to get a good night’s sleep.  (Can you even fathom the thought of sleep in a situation like this?)  It reminds me of Psalm 127:2, which says, “For so He gives His beloved sleep.”  After sleeping, they arose early the next morning.  As the people stood in formation, ready to move out to meet their enemy, King Jehoshaphat spoke to his people:

“Hear me, O Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem: Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper.”

I picture the scene from Braveheart where William Wallace is riding on his horse in front of the people about to fight for their freedom.  In a similar way, Jehoshaphat stands in front of his men, shouting out this simple battle cry:  “Believe!!!”  In other words, “Don’t you back down now and give in to fear!  Our God has promised to fight for us, AND HE WILL!!!”

And so the praise army begins their march…

“And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the Lord, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying: ‘Praise the Lord, for His mercy endures forever’. 

Can you picture this scene?  The people of Judah marched in formation with singers and trumpet players and harp players all praising the Lord, magnifying the beauty of God’s holiness and the greatness of His mercy.  The only command the Lord had given them was, “Don’t be afraid!  Show up for the battle, and I will do the rest!”  Show up they did, but the method God used to actually defeat the armies of their enemy is very interesting…

“Now when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated.  For the people of Ammon and Moab stood up against all the inhabitants of Mount Seir to utterly kill and destroy them.  And when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they helped to destroy one another.”

Whoa!!  So praising God, it would seem, causes confusion and disorganization and chaos to come upon the powers of darkness.  When we stand in the presence of God, especially in a corporate setting as a unified body of believers, praising Him and worshipping Him, something happens.  A shift takes place in the heavenly realms, and the plans of the enemy are frustrated.  I’ve experienced this myself at times when I’ve come to church in a bad mood, and then I begin to praise Him and glorify Him for who He is.  Darkness simply cannot stay, because the Lord Himself has chosen to inhabit the very praises of His people, as it says in Psalm 22:3.

And what happened after Judah’s enemies were defeated?  I find this next part fascinating…

“No one had escaped.  When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take away their spoil, they found among them an abundance of valuables …. And they were three days gathering the spoil because there was so much.”

So not only did God fight for his people, but He gave them a treasure trove of goodies after the battle was over!  It literally took the people of Judah THREE DAYS to gather up all the valuables and precious jewels that their defeated enemy left behind. 

On the fourth day, the people assembled together and named the place of battle “The Valley of Berachah,” which literally means “The Valley of Blessing.”  I LOVE this so much!!  I don’t know about you, but when I think of the word “valley,” the word “blessing” does not come to mind.  When I think of a valley in Scripture, I think of darkness, fear, and death.  “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” comes to mind.  But something happened that transformed this particular valley into a place of blessing.  A place that could have very likely produced fear and death and defeat instead brought peace and provision and blessing.

And what did the “praise army” of Judah do after they collected all their spoils?

“Then they returned, every man of Judah and Jerusalem, with Jehoshaphat in front of them, to go back to Jerusalem with joy, for the Lord had made them rejoice over their enemies.  So they came to Jerusalem, with stringed instruments and harps and trumpets, to the house of the Lord.  And the fear of God was on all the kingdoms of those countries when they heard that the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel.  Then the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet, for his God gave him rest all around.”

They returned to the house of the Lord, still praising Him, full of joy, and now with a whole stash of goodies to boot!  This story gives me such encouragement for the battles in my own life.  I love the way God prepared them for battle as they stood in prayer, sustained them in battle as He Himself fought for them, blessed them after the battle was over, and then gave them rest all around.  They actually came out of the battle with MORE than they had when they went in!  Praising God was the key to their victory… so simple, yet so profound.  If you find yourself in the midst of a battle today, I greatly encourage you to try this secret weapon.  You just may find that the valley surrounding you begins to take on a new look and feel as the Lord Himself steps into your praises and fights on your behalf.

“Today you are on the verge of battle with your enemies.  Do not let your heart faint, do not be afraid, and do not tremble or be terrified because of them; for the Lord your God is He who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.”

Deuteronomy 20:3-4

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