International Sunday School LessonStudy Notes
Lesson Text: 2 Chronicles 19:4-11Lesson Title: Making Judicial Reforms
Jehoshaphat, the son of Asa, whose name means "the Lord judges," was the fourth king of Judah and reigned twenty-five years. The history of his life and reign can be found in 1 Kings 15:24, 1 Kings 22:2-51 and in 1 Chronicles 17:1-21:3. Like any man, Jehoshaphat was not perfect but he was a good king who sought to follow God's commandments, promote the teaching of God's law, and lead the nation away from idol worship (2 Chronicles 17:1-9). One notable blemish in Jehoshaphat's life and reign was his alliance with King Ahab of Israel. King Ahab wanted to regain some territory previously lost to the Syrians and he wanted Jehoshaphat to help him. At Ahab's suggestion, Jehoshaphat wore his royal robes into battle while Ahab disguised himself in an effort to keep a prophet's prediction of his death from being fulfilled (2 Chronicles 18:1-31). This episode nearly cost Jehoshaphat his life, but "the Lord helped him" (2 Chronicles 18: 31) and he was spared.
When Jehoshaphat returned from this near tragedy he was met by "Jehu, the son of Hanani the seer" (2 Chronicles 19:1-2). Jehu (not the Jehu who was king of Israel) rebuked Jehoshaphat for his bad decision to hook up with "ungodly" King Ahab. But Jehu also commended Jehoshaphat for the "...good things found in thee" (2 Chronicles 19:3).
The character of Jehoshaphat is summarized in 2 Chronicles 22:9, "Jehoshaphat...sought the Lord with all his heart." His good talents and his generally sound judgment are shown not only in the great measures of domestic policy that distinguished his reign, but by the manner in which they were executed. There is no mention of pride in Jehoshaphat that ruined other kings who preceded and followed him.
The words of Jehu the seer seem to be the basis for the reforms that Jehoshaphat would put in place. Our lesson text records reforms promoted by Jehoshaphat for the nation. It was his plan to remedy the many defects in the local administration of justice. He appointed judges in every city, and a supreme council at Jerusalem composed of priests, Levites, and "the heads of the fathers' households," to which difficult cases were referred and appeals brought from the different areas and people of Judah. These actions are obviously connected to Jehu's words of rebuke. Obviously Jehu took the seer's words to heart.
Making Reforms Outside Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 19:4-7)
"And Jehoshaphat dwelt at Jerusalem: and he went out again through the people from Beer-sheba to mount Ephraim, and brought them back unto the LORD God of their fathers."
Fresh from his disgraceful alliance with King Ahab, Jehoshaphat makes a conscientious and great decision to reform his own kingdom and help move God's people in the direction towards worship and obedience. The fact that he "dwelt at Jerusalem" speaks volumes as to the effectiveness of Jehu's rebuke and Jehoshaphat's reaction to it. He is staying at home in "Jerusalem" and minding his own business which gives him time to reflect upon his previous bad decisions and the future decisions he will make as king. The Bible says, "...rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning" (Proverbs 9:8-9).
Sometimes we get caught up in our world and society at large and forget to "stay home" mentally and spiritually. We are so overwhelmed by the economy and world politics that we lose focus on what is happening in our own kingdom. Jehoshaphat's actions should be a reminder of us to slow down and deal with our own relationship to God. The Shulamite girl in the Song of Solomon said, "...they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept" (Song of Solomon 1:6).
"...And he went out again through the people from Beer-sheba to mount Ephraim" describes the king's visitation of his own people throughout the kingdom. He had wasted time with King Ahab but now turns his attention to more profitable activity. He "went out" from "Beer-sheba" in the south to Mount "Ephraim" in the north. The distance between the two is about 60 miles. Early in Jehoshaphat's reign, "...he placed forces in all the fenced cities of Judah, and set garrisons in the land of Judah, and in the cities of Ephraim, which Asa his father had taken" (2 Chronicles 17:2). Jehoshaphat had organized military and defensive reforms in the area he is now visiting. That's why the text says, "he went again." But this time his focus is spiritual reform.
He then "brought them back unto the Lord God of their fathers" means he reinforced his former reforms and admonitions for the people to reject idolatry and serve the Lord. His union with Ahab had no doubt discredited his former work to some degree but he is now making amends. If we truly repent of our sin, we will do everything within our power to repair the damage we have done in our own lives and the lives of those we have affected.
"And he set judges in the land throughout all the fenced cities of Judah, city by city, And said to the judges, Take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for man, but for the LORD, who is with you in the judgment."
Once Jehoshaphat had done what he could to make reform possible, he then put in place the influence of "judges" or magistrates to see to it that the laws he reinforced and set were obeyed. In the same locations "throughout all the fenced cities of Judah" where Jehoshaphat had previously provided security from military attacks, he now seeks to defend these "cities of Judah" from injustice. His actions are consistent with God's directives which state, "Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the Lord thy God giveth thee, throughout thy tribes: and they shall judge the people with just judgment" (Deuteronomy 16:18).
Other than his desire to follow God's directives, why did Jehoshaphat feel these actions were necessary? Perhaps part of the answer lies in the words "city by city." It is possible that up until the time of the appointment of these "judges" that every "city" wrote their own law and carried out their own justice. That doesn't mean they were unjust in every decision but it would create an atmosphere of questionable justice in the worst case and at the least inconsistent justice.
Jehoshaphat's words to the "judges" were, "Take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for man, but for the LORD, who is with you in the judgment." To view justice and judgment as "for the Lord" would greatly improve justice in any land. Is this not the main problem with our justice system today? First, how many in the justice system "take heed" to anything they do? In other words, the only accountability many judges sense is to the public or the voter. And some no longer sense that. Second, how many in the justice system recognize that their authority to do what they do comes from the Lord and is done "for the Lord?" Every justice system and judge in the land should be reminded of our Lord's conversation with Pontius Pilate, "Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin" (John 19:10-11).
When anyone sits in a position of judgment and does not recognize God he is a dangerous person. A judge may be knowledgeable of the law and qualified by the world's standards to administer that law. But anyone who does not know the Lord is unqualified to administer justice. That is evident in the words, "...who is with you in the judgment." The words "with you" mean not only the presence of the Lord but it also means the perception of the Lord. God sees how men judge and handle cases of justice. He is there in the mediation room. He is there in the court room. He is there when the deals are made and the plea bargains are agreed upon. He is in the committee rooms of the White House and the church house!
"Wherefore now let the fear of the LORD be upon you; take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts."
Judging and administering justice in "the fear of the LORD" will prevent the taking of bribes and showing favoritism to individuals. Where would a modern day judge look for an example of how to judge and administer justice equally and fairly? The answer is to the Lord. "...For there is no iniquity with the LORD our God." God is the perfect example of how justice should be administered. We serve a God who does not show favoritism (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11; 1 Peter 1:17).
Making Reforms Inside Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 19:8-11)
"Moreover in Jerusalem did Jehoshaphat set of the Levites, and of the priests, and of the chief of the fathers of Israel, for the judgment of the LORD, and for controversies, when they returned to Jerusalem."
After covering the territory around Jerusalem, Jehoshaphat now focused his attention "in Jerusalem." His actions could be compared to a modern day Supreme Court. The people chosen were a very important part of judicial reforms. Jehoshaphat "set" or put in place "the Levites, and of the priests, and of the chief of the fathers of Israel..." "The 'Levites' and 'priests' are involved primarily in the religious life of Israel, being engaged in activities such as offering sacrifices, leading worship, and teaching God's law to the people. Thus any judgments they render may deal primarily with questions pertaining to religious practices. Those numbered among 'the chief of the fathers of Israel' are likely some of the elders or heads of families and clans. Their primary responsibility may be to address controversies that are not as religious in nature" (Standard Lesson Commentary 2011-2012).
"When they returned to Jerusalem" seems to indicate Jehoshaphat's goal of keeping the judicial system under the close eye of the religious leaders at Jerusalem. Israel was God's chosen people so that would be both biblical and appropriate. There was no separation of church and state between God and Israel. They were His people. Today, anything that relates to God invites the cry "separation of church and state." The forefathers of the United States never intended for our government to create a church or endorse a religion. However, they also never intended for us to ignore the word of God, His commandments and His grace. To teach otherwise is to rewrite history.
Every nation would do well to keep her judicial system and every other aspect of her nationality in close relation to God Almighty!
"And he charged them, saying, Thus shall ye do in the fear of the LORD, faithfully, and with a perfect heart."
Not only were the people are part of judicial reform, the principles those people were to use in their governing was also important. Jehoshaphat had already established the principle of accountability to God in verse 6 when he said, "...for ye judge not for man, but for the LORD." The principle of honesty is magnified in verse 7. Here is verse 9, Jehoshaphat "charged" or "emphasized with authority" the principles of faithfulness and integrity to God. Those who judge and oversee judicial matters in Jerusalem must do so "in the fear of the LORD, faithfully."
"Faithfully" is the Hebrew word meaning "steadfastness, fidelity." There is so much instability and inconsistency in judicial matters. Jehoshaphat charges those he has appointed to be consistent and faithful. They must also govern "with a perfect heart." The word "perfect" is a form of the Hebrew word, shalom, often translated "peace." In this context it would mean "wholeness" or "completeness." Today we might think of the concept of integrity, which also carries with it the idea of completeness. An integer in mathematics is a "whole number," and to be integrated is to be united.
"And what cause soever shall come to you of your brethren that dwell in their cities, between blood and blood, between law and commandment, statutes and judgments, ye shall even warn them that they trespass not against the LORD, and so wrath come upon you, and upon your brethren: this do, and ye shall not trespass."
The heart of this verse is revealed in the words "warn them that they trespass not against the LORD." Those who administer justice must have a concern for righteousness. Justice is not just about what is good for society. This is about how man in his sinfulness relates to a Holy God. Few people ever give thought today to the "wrath" of God that comes upon people and nations who violate God's commandments. The consequences of disobedience are rarely considered when judicial decisions are made. Jehoshaphat instructed those he appointed to "warn" the people not to "trespass against the LORD." And he also instructed them to tell the people that if they do "trespass," the "wrath" of God would "come" upon them and their "brethren."
There are so many good and well meaning programs across the land that is designed to prevent sin and harmful lifestyles. Alcohol awareness programs, drug awareness programs, and programs from both secular and spiritual bases attempt to education and model how to avoid sinful and harmful activities. On the other hand, some of these same programs deny sin and encourage people to explore their sexuality outside the boundaries of marriage and God's Word. The same tax money used to teach children to avoid alcohol and tobacco is the same tax money generated from the sale of alcohol and tobacco to older people. Where is the integrity in that message? Young people are warned about sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancies by the same government that endorses sexual activities such as fornication, homosexuality and lesbianism which is the main cause of sexually transmitted diseases. Young people are taught to not bully other young people but if these young people become pregnant through the sexual activity they are encouraged to explore they can kill the child they have conceived. Think about that. It's wrong to bully someone but it is not wrong to butcher someone in the womb!
The judicial reform in our society is headed in the wrong direction. Any reform that doesn't include a "warning from God" is not profitable reform!
"And what cause soever shall come to you..." means there will be all types of situations and cases that will come before these judicial leaders. Life is filled with surprises. That is why we need the wisdom of God. Sometimes the "cause" that comes is "between blood and blood." While that phrase is difficult to interpret it most likely means between relatives or those closest to us. "Law and commandment" and "statues and judgments" refer to those requirements God has given in His Word. Jehoshaphat's point is that any matter involving something God's Word clearly covers must be handled in a manner consistent with His Word.
Judicial reform and reform in general must take place in both the social and spiritual realms. The church is as guilty today as the court room and politics. Liberal theology and those in the pulpit and the classroom are guilty for not sounding the warnings of God's Word. The prophet Isaiah said, "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins" (Isaiah 58:1). Peter said, "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God" (1 Peter 4:17).
"And, behold, Amariah the chief priest is over you in all matters of the Lord; and Zebadiah the son of Ishmael, the ruler of the house of Judah, for all the king's matters: also the Levites shall be officers before you. Deal courageously, and the Lord shall be with the good."
Jehoshaphat names a few of those he has chosen to administer justice. "Amariah the chief priest" was in charge of disputes concerning religious matters. His name means "Jehovah hath said or promised." What God says should settle any disputes. "Zebadiah" was placed in charge of "the king's matters" which probably included such things as crimes, stolen property, or other issues related to government. His name means, "Jehovah had endowed, or the Lord is my portion." Keeping in mind that God has given us everything we have and what that God Himself is really what is important should help us settle any secular matters involving property and personal possessions. Isn't it amazing how God places people where they need to be? May that be our prayer when you call pastors, appoint church leadership, select teachers and elect political officers?
"Deal courageously, and the LORD shall be with the good" are words of encouragement to those appointed to be resolve and confident in their work. Courage is the final principle Jehoshaphat emphasizes in these verses. It takes courage to be a part of justice and judicial reform. It takes courage to do what is right in a world where the majority is focused on self satisfaction and personal rights. "The LORD shall be with the good" means the Lord will manifest Himself to those leaders who see themselves as God's ambassadors for justice and righteousness in both the world and the church.
Jehoshaphat put God's kingdom in greater spiritual order than at any time since the reign of Solomon. Remember, his name means "the Lord judges."
We should pray for God to raise up men like Jehoshaphat and place them in positions to help our nation and our world return to God's Word and standard. When men govern by God's standards such immature and childish ideas like "entitlements" and "my rights" will fade away. As we understand scripture we know that as we approach the coming of the Lord that justice will be difficult to find and godly men who judge based on truth will be almost extinct. But even if they totally disappear, those who know the Lord must continue to live and administer justice in the fear of God.
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