I truly admire the reformer kings of Judah. They generally lived in a time when the hearts of the people were not fully given to God. We can see this by the number of kings in both Israel and Judah who “did evil in the sight of God”, yet were not opposed by their subjects. This placed these reformer kings in the difficult position of having to be different in a world that values conformity.
One such king is Jehoshaphat. He was the son of a failed reformer, Asa. Asa had started out well in his service as king, removing idols and reemphasizing the worship of God early in his long reign. But after many years of prosperity, we find him rejecting God as the Savior of His people and making an alliance with the Syrians (2 Chron 16:1-10). God strikes him with a terrible disease in his feet for the last few years before he dies (2 Chron 16:11,12). His son, Jehoshaphat, takes over as regent king when his father was incapacitated and renews the commitment to serve and worship God. He is able to deal with the prosperity that God gave to him better than his father and never lost his faith (2 Chron 17:1-6).
But that is not to say that all went well for the reign of Jehoshaphat. No, he made a very foolish choice as king that would have lasting effects upon his kingdom long after he died. Jehoshaphat saw that the war with Israel, the northern portion of God’s divided kingdom, was damaging to both kingdoms and undesirable for God’s covenant people. So he sought to end the war by making a marriage covenant with the king of Israel (2 Chron 18:1). That king was Ahab, who had married a Phoenician princess, named Jezebel (1 Kgs 16:29-32). Their daughter, Athaliah, was married to the son of Jehoshaphat, Jehoram.
Jezebel was an evil influence on Ahab, to turn his heart away from God and Athaliah was to have the same effect on Jehoram (2 Chron 21:4-6). When her husband was killed by God with a painful disease, her youngest (and only surviving) son became king in his place, but she retained a position of influence as his advisor (2 Chron 23:1-4), until he died at the hands of Jehu. When she learned of his death, she usurped the throne for herself by attempting to kill all her grandchildren (2 Chron 22:10-12). For six years, the land suffered under her wicked rule until one of the priests of God was able to gather enough support to overthrow her and place one surviving son on the throne (2 Chron 23:1-15).
For nearly 20 years, the kingdom of Judah suffered the loss of several tributary kingdoms that David had conquered, the loss of the treasures from the king’s palace, the loss of many good princes, and the loss of God’s blessings. All of this loss came from the decision that Jehoshaphat made to be allied with Ahab and his sons (2 Chron 20:35-37).
What lessons can we learn from his foolishness? Jehoshaphat might have reasoned that he was strong enough in his faith to withstand the influence of Ahab and Jezebel. He remained faithful to God. But, his tragic mistake was to assume that his son would not be influenced also. It should be clear that the holiness of God should extend to the associations that we choose to make. If we foolishly do not consider whether someone is an enemy of God (1 Kgs 18:18), as we consider our relationships, we may expose our children to a danger that they are not as well prepared to overcome as we. All of this tragedy occurred after the death of Jehoshaphat. What tragedies may occur after we no longer can an active influence for good? Or what blessings will come after we are gone to those whom we have guided in the right way (Gen 18:19)? We would do well to consider both of those questions before it is too late to affect the answers.