Expository Sermon on 2 Chronicles 5 and 20
Bellevue SDA Church 11/17/2018
©2018 by Maylan Schurch
(To hear the audio for this sermon, click the little “play” triangle on the line below.)
Please open your Bibles to Second Chronicles chapter 5.
Happy Thanksgiving almost a week early! I’m thankful for everyone who has worked to provide food for our Thanksgiving Fellowship Potluck which immediately follows the service. I’m also thankful to Rich and Deanna Wong who organized this annual event.
I was telling somebody this week that it just amazes me, all the gifts and abilities that the Lord has provided this church. If somebody were to give me the task of organizing a Thanksgiving dinner, with all the recipe choosing, and all the food-delegating, and having it somehow all come together in the wonderful feast that it always is – if somebody asked me to organize this, I would lie awake at night, my stomach clenched, worrying my head off.
Because that is not my gift. But there are people who do have this gift, and they do it with confidence and joy, and success. Thank you all.
As I was deciding what to preach about this morning, I discovered at least two “Thanksgiving days” in the Bible. There are probably quite a few more, but the two I’m talking about are both in the book of Second Chronicles.
And these Thanksgiving days were actually a bit different from the one we’ll be celebrating this coming Thursday. Do you know the song “Mary Had a Little Lamb”? The person who wrote that song was Sarah Hale. She seems to have been one of those Proverbs 31 women. She not only raised five children, but she edited a ladies’ magazine for many years, and wrote several novels and poems. And she wrote a lot of letters, including several to five presidents of the United States, asking each one to make Thanksgiving Day a national holiday. They all told her no, but in 1863, Abraham Lincoln said yes, and made it official. And one of the first purposes of America’s official Thanksgiving Day was to help heal a nation wounded by the Civil War.
Today, of course, we tend to give thanks for God’s blessings in our lives, and for this nation, and that’s a good thing. But if you look back to Second Chronicle’s two Thanksgiving days, you discover that those celebrations had different purposes entirely. What makes them Thanksgiving days is that at a crucial point in each event, the people said thank-you to God, and they did so in an extremely important way.
I thought what we’d do for the next few minutes is to look at these two stories, and see if there might be some ways that we can add what happened there into our own Thanksgiving week. I was really encouraged by both of these stories. Let’s take a look at them.
The first one happens in Second Chronicles 5. King Solomon has been anticipating this day for a long time – it’s when the brand-new temple of God in Jerusalem would be dedicated.
And as this event goes along, the king and the people are hoping very earnestly that something will happen. They’re hoping that God will arrive, that God will show up. Watch what happens.
2 Chronicles 5:1 – 3 [NKJV]: So all the work that Solomon had done for the house of the LORD was finished; and Solomon brought in the things which his father David had dedicated: the silver and the gold and all the furnishings. And he put them in the treasuries of the house of God. Now Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the chief fathers of the children of Israel, in Jerusalem, that they might bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD up from the City of David, which is Zion. Therefore all the men of Israel assembled with the king at the feast, which was in the seventh month.
Notice how carefully everything is being done? And the next verse shows us one other thing that was done very carefully.
Verses 4 – 5: So all the elders of Israel came, and the Levites took up the ark. Then they brought up the ark, the tabernacle of meeting, and all the holy furnishings that were in the tabernacle. The priests and the Levites brought them up.
Notice how careful the author is to mention the Levites? Solomon’s father David once tried to transport the ark, and he forgot to insist that the Levites do it, and there were serious consequences. But here everything has been prepared very carefully, in hopes that God will show up.
This might be a good time to pause and ask ourselves, “Do I want God to show up in my life? And am I willing to do the preparation so that this will happen?”
Solomon was very careful to do things the way God had prescribed. And the way you and I can honor God, and can bring Him more closely into our lives, is to play by His rules. Because when God shows up in our lives, or in our homes, or in our Sabbath school classes, or at our workplace, His presence will be noticed. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus insisted that you and I are to be lights in the world, reflecting the warmth and good cheer of His presence in our lives. As Paul says in Colossians 1:27, “Christ in you, the hope of glory”—not just glory for you, but glory for people who see God’s reflected glory in your life.
Pretty soon here we’ll get to the Thanksgiving part, but notice what else is happening?
Verse 6: Also King Solomon, and all the congregation of Israel who were assembled with him before the ark, were sacrificing sheep and oxen that could not be counted or numbered for multitude.
Nowadays of course, we don’t have to sacrifice the animals as they did in those days, because Jesus is the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world. But notice what else the people were doing. They were gathering. There were a lot of people there, a lot of onlookers, a lot of fellow celebrators.
God loves it when people gather. Jesus walked through Palestine, not a remote, forbidding loaner, but a lover of people. He probably was never happier than when people were close to him, and Mark 12:37 it says that “the common people heard him gladly.”
Today we have gathered here. Most of us gather every week, either at this church or another Seventh-day Adventist church. Gathering is good. It’s good not just for ourselves but for the people we gather with. Hebrews 10:25 urges not to give up meeting together, but to gather so we can encourage each other.
So if you are in the habit of gathering with other Christians, keep doing it. You’re going to need that mutual support more and more as time goes along. And if you don’t have another church to gather at, come and gather here. Every Sabbath morning there’s always at least one person in this room who has never been here before. I’ve been the pastor here for many years, and I can tell you that this is a healthy and nurturing place to be. You folks pastor Shelley and me at least as much we pastor you.
But let’s get back to our story, because events are leading up to a very powerful moment of thanksgiving. And the Lord is going to respond to it in a very powerful way.
Verses 7 – 10: Then the priests brought in the ark of the covenant of the LORD to its place, into the inner sanctuary of the temple, to the Most Holy Place, under the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread their wings over the place of the ark, and the cherubim overshadowed the ark and its poles. The poles extended so that the ends of the poles of the ark could be seen from the holy place, in front of the inner sanctuary; but they could not be seen from outside. And they are there to this day. Nothing was in the ark except the two tablets which Moses put there at Horeb, when the LORD made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they had come out of Egypt.
Aren’t those interesting details? We don’t know what happened to Aaron’s walking-stick, which hundreds of years earlier had miraculously grown almond buds as a sign from God which proved that the Levites were to be the religious leaders and temple workers. We don’t know what happened to that jar of the miraculous heavenly food known as manna, which was one of the proofs that God sustains His people.
Now, maybe those two items weren’t needed anymore. After all, nobody needed to prove anymore that the Levites were God’s chosen tribe to minister in the sanctuary. And maybe nobody needed the manna as an object lesson as much as they had earlier.
But those two stone slabs were still there – the 10 Commandments, the rules by which He wanted His people to live. Stone lasts—and God’s law lasts as well.
But here we come to the thanksgiving service and its amazing results.
Verses 11 – 14: And it came to pass when the priests came out of the Most Holy Place (for all the priests who were present had sanctified themselves, without keeping to their divisions), and the Levites who were the singers, all those of Asaph and Heman and Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren, stood at the east end of the altar, clothed in white linen, having cymbals, stringed instruments and harps, and with them one hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets—indeed it came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the LORD, saying: “For He is good, For His mercy endures forever,” that the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God.
Remember the cloud that came down on the top of Mount Sinai when God descended? And remember at Jesus’ Transfiguration in Matthew 17, when a bright cloud overshadowed them, and God spoke from the cloud?
So here is God, right here in this temple. The people gathered to thank and praise the Lord, and God showed up.
In the midst of all this cloud and all this glory, let’s not miss the important bit of thanksgiving we heard, because were going to see it again in chapter 20. Glance back at verse 13:
Verse 13: . . . indeed it came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the LORD, saying: “For He is good, For His mercy endures forever,” that the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud,
So what was the thanksgiving song they were singing when the Lord appeared? They were singing that God is good, and His mercy endures forever.
If you were at last Sabbath’s communion service, you remember that as the bread and the pure grape juice are distributed, we give people opportunities to tell how the Lord has been good to them. God appreciates our praise. And it’s not to build His ego up. Since God is the ultimate Servant, He probably has less ego than anyone else in the universe.
No, God appreciates our praise because it’s a testimony to people who don’t know Him as well. When one human being can say fervently and believably that God is good and His mercy goes on and on, then other people will take courage.
And maybe God chose the moment after that declaration was sung to show up in the temple, because He wanted it to be very clear that yes, He is good, and that yes, His mercy does endure forever.
Now let’s go to chapter 20. Here we will see another thanksgiving celebration, but the circumstances are totally different. We just looked at chapter 5, and there we saw a happy temple dedication. But look at what is happening in chapter 20.
About a century and a half has passed since the events of chapter 5. Jehoshaphat is now king of Judah, and as chapter 20 opens, he and his country are in great crisis. It might not seem the best time for a thanksgiving day, but watch what happens.
2 Chronicles 20:1: It happened after this that the people of Moab with the people of Ammon, and others with them besides the Ammonites, came to battle against Jehoshaphat.
These two countries were actually populated by distant relatives of the Jews. The Moabites and Ammonites were descended from the daughter of Abraham’s nephew Lot. And down through the years, these two countries had caused as much trouble as they could for Judah and Israel. So here they are again, trying to invade.
But it’s not just them. Notice who else is coming.
Verse 2: Then some came and told Jehoshaphat, saying, “A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, from Syria; and they are in Hazazon Tamar” (which is En Gedi).
So this has suddenly become something far worse than a border squabble between a couple of sets of relatives. This is serious. Again, not much to be thankful for here.
But Jehoshaphat happens to be one of Judah’s good kings, at least at this point. He is nobody’s fool – he very clearly sees the danger to his country – but notice what he does. And as we go along, this is going to look more and more like that chapter 5 thanksgiving event.
Verse 3: And Jehoshaphat feared . . . .
Back in ancient Hebrew writing, they didn’t use commas or periods. In fact, they didn’t even use vowels. We don’t know how long Jehoshaphat allowed himself to be worried, but we don’t read of any delay. The words just keep going along.
Verse 3: And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.
That’s a little reminder to us, isn’t it? There’s a lot to be concerned about these days, a lot to be worried about. And some of us are facing such staggeringly huge challenges that it seems like worry is the only logical response. But, however many seconds, or minutes, or hours, Jehoshaphat spent in “fearing,” it doesn’t seem to have been very long.
The first thing he does is to set himself to seek the Lord. My mom and dad did this quite often. The way they “sought the Lord” was to talk to Him. They laid out their worries before Him.
And notice that Jehoshaphat doesn’t worry by himself, or seek the Lord by himself. He gets other people involved. He calls on the nation to fast.
And when Jehoshaphat talks to the Lord, he does it in the company of the people he is leading. And I don’t know about you, but whenever I read prayers like the one this faithful king prays, a tingle of excitement goes up and down my spine. And I think the reason is that here we see someone who is talking to God very directly. Jehoshaphat is in trouble, and he knows it, so he doesn’t pull any punches when he talks to God. I think is prayer can be a model for any of us who are facing real worries.
Verses 4 – 12: So Judah gathered together to ask help from the LORD; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD. Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the LORD, before the new court, and said: “O LORD God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You? Are You not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever? And they dwell in it, and have built You a sanctuary in it for Your name, saying, ‘If disaster comes upon us—sword, judgment, pestilence, or famine—we will stand before this temple and in Your presence (for Your name is in this temple), and cry out to You in our affliction, and You will hear and save.’ And now, here are the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir—whom You would not let Israel invade when they came out of the land of Egypt, but they turned from them and did not destroy them—here they are, rewarding us by coming to throw us out of Your possession which You have given us to inherit. 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.”
Isn’t that an amazing prayer? I think we need to study that prayer in our own devotional times and discover just what Jehoshaphat is doing here. He is remembering aloud God’s history. He is claiming specific promises God has made. He is admitting his own absolute weakness. And finally he says to God, “Our eyes are upon you.”
There are several prayers like this in the Bible, mainly in the Old Testament, prayed mainly by people who knew God really well, and knew exactly what He had promised, and reminded Him that He was the only solution to the problem.
And notice an interesting interlude here.
Verses 13 – 17: Now all Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children, stood before the LORD. Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly. And he said, “Listen, all you of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you, King Jehoshaphat! Thus says the LORD to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them. They will surely come up by the Ascent of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the brook before the Wilderness of Jeruel. 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.”
Isn’t that interesting? King Jehoshaphat has just prayed a marvelous, faith-filled prayer, a prayer based on how well he knows God.
But God does something additional, something special here. He sends a prophet with a message. In other words, God sends courage by the “spirit of prophecy.” Here’s a man named Jahaziel, whom I don’t think we hear about in any other place in Scripture, but who is possessed by the spirit of God so strongly that he can stand before the entire nation and give God’s words to them in a credible way, so that the people can sense in their hearts that this is encouragement from God.
When’s the last time you took the opportunity to read something written by Ellen White? The Adventist church believes that this lady was given a special message for this time. She constantly insisted that the Bible and the Bible only was our rule of faith and practice. But she considered herself to be someone like the almost-anonymous Jahaziel, who was given the Spirit of God to encourage His people to have faith in Him.
Have you ever read her classic book on the life of Jesus, The Desire of Ages? Or her book on Christian history The Great Controversy? Whenever I read these books, they drive me straight back to the Bible, which she knew so well.
Now, get ready for Thanksgiving Day. Again, this would be a different kind of thanksgiving day from the one in chapter 5, but it will still be a time of thanksgiving.
Verses 18 – 21: And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem bowed before the LORD, worshiping 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. So they rose early in the morning and went out into the Wilderness of Tekoa; and as they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “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.” 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.”
“His mercy endures forever.” Does that ring a bell? Where have we heard that little thanksgiving song before? Sure enough, we heard it back in chapter 5, just before the Lord arrived in that new temple in a cloud of glory.
And here – even in the face of the menacing approach of at least three separate nations of armed men – even as Judah’s own army is marching out to meet the enemy, this is the thanksgiving song they sing: “God’s mercy endures forever.”
Now, watch what happens. We need to read and reread stories like this. We need to get it firmly in our minds, and keep it firmly in our minds, that God has resources we do not have. He can do things we can’t even imagine that He can do. As long as we keep firmly in mind that God’s mercy endures forever, He will show us just how powerful that mercy is.
Verses 21 – 24: 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.” 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 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. So when Judah came to a place overlooking the wilderness, they looked toward the multitude; and there were their dead bodies, fallen on the earth. No one had escaped.
Not a single Jewish soldier had to lift a spear or shoot an arrow. This was not a contest between armies – three armies against one. This was “stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.”
And can you imagine the thanksgiving day celebration after the people had seen God’s wonderful deliverance? Somebody wrote that story down so it could be preserved for you and me, down here in the heart-shuddering 21st century.
So as you and I move into Thanksgiving week, and get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving day, let’s remember these two Thanksgiving day stories. Solomon prayed for the presence of the Lord in the temple, and the Lord showed up to share in the celebration.
King Jehoshaphat prayed to the Lord, and said, “Our eyes are upon You.” And the Lord showed up again – this time to deliver.
And He will do this for you and me, and for you, as we worship Him and praise Him, and talk to Him.