The godly king Jehoshaphat reigned 25 years in Jerusalem and “did what was right in the LORD’s sight.” (1 Kings 22:43, HCSB) The Scriptures say, “Now the LORD was with Jehoshaphat because he walked in the former ways of his father David.” (2 Chronicles 17:3, HCSB) The Word also states, “His mind rejoiced in the LORD’s ways.” (2 Chronicles 17:6, HCSB) He was not perfect in all his ways as we are told he aligned himself with Israel’s wicked King Ahab, probably because of his sense of kinship, not that he approved of Ahab’s evil lifestyle. During his reign Jehoshaphat instituted many godly reforms in Judah and is considered one of Judah’s better kings.
In 2 Chronicles 20 it is told the kingdom Judah is being threatened by Moab, Ammon, and an assortment of other tribes. 2 Chronicles 20:1-18 gives the example of the godly king being poor in spirit when Jehoshaphat faced a challenge from Judah’s enemies. Jehoshaphat emptied himself and had the people do the same as they sought the Lord in fasting and prayer. The passage is as follows:
Now it came about after this that the sons of Moab and the sons of Ammon, together with some of the Meunites, came to make war against Jehoshaphat. Then some came and reported to Jehoshaphat, saying, “A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, out of Aram and behold they are in Hazazon-tamar (that is En Gedi).” Jehoshaphat was afraid and turned his attention to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. So Judah gathered together to seek help from the LORD; they even came from all the cities of Judah 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, the God of our fathers, are You not God in the heavens? And are in You not ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Your hand so that no one can stand against You? Did You not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel and give it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever? They have lived in it, and have built You a sanctuary there for Your name, saying, ‘Should evil come upon us, the sword, or judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before You (for Your name is in this house), and cry to You in our distress, and You will hear and deliver us.’ Now behold, the sons of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom You did not let Israel invade when they came out of the land of Egypt (they turned aside from them and did not destroy them), see how they are rewarding us by coming to drive us out from Your possession which You have given us as an inheritance. O our God, will You not judge them? For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” All Judah was standing before the LORD, with their infants, their wives and their children. Then in the midst of the assembly the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, the Levite of the sons of Asaph; and he said, “Listen, all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: thus says the LORD to you, ‘Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the valley in front of the wilderness of Jeruel. You need not fight in this battle; station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out to face them, for the LORD is with you.” Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the LORD, worshiping the LORD.” (NASB)
We need to take notice that the king was totally dependent upon God and offered nothing to the Lord; for to offer something was to trust in some resource he possessed in his own strength. Jehoshaphat came empty-handed. People poor in spirit have nothing in their possession that God can use other than themselves surrendered on the altar of the Lord (see Romans 12:1-3).
As the leader of the nation the king calls the people together for corporate prayer and fasting. Jehoshaphat recognizes that he needs help; the job is too big for him and his people. He needed assistance; he needed a miracle; he needed the living God to intervene; thus the call to seek the Lord in prayer and fasting. Everybody takes part in the fast and prayer: men, women, and children. This is a picture of a nation, under the leadership of a godly king, seeking God by being poor in spirit.
Why is there a call to fast? There are many places where a call to fast was instituted and you should read the surrounding stories that accompany the following calls: Judges 20:26; 1 Samuel 7:6; Ezra 8:21-23; Esther 4:16; Jeremiah 36:9; Daniel 9:3; Joel 1:14; Joel 2:12-18; and Jonah 3:5. Fasting is a spiritual exercise in which you abstain from comforts, usually food, to focus on God so you can draw near to Him. Prayer and fasting as a joint action on the Believer’s part is done in humiliation not exaltation and is often accompanied by mourning for one’s sin and actions that are contrary to what God desires for us. Fasting is an act of self-denial, a prerequisite of being poor in spirit. In all situations of eminent danger or total lack of direction, we should first seek help from our mighty and loving Father. When seeking the Lord, we must approach him in humiliation, trusting only in His mercy, grace, and power. Fasting, when done properly, creates the attitude of being poor in spirit by which we have an audience with the heart of God.
The New Testament references to fasting are helpful to gain an understanding of this discipline. Matthew 6:16-18 teaches us that we are not to promote the self when we fast rather we fast in secret so nobody knows we are fasting. Jesus stated that His disciples are to fast (Matthew 9:15; Mark 2:20; and Luke 5:35). Jesus indicated that prayer and fasting could be used in healing (Matthew 17:21 and Mark 9:29). In Acts 10:30 fasting preceded revelation from God. In Acts 14:23 prayer and fasting were used in appointing church elders. 1 Corinthians 7:5 discusses fasting in the marriage relationship.
We, like Jehoshaphat, have a choice to make. We can allow circumstances to overwhelm us and seek out worldly solutions, or even worse, fall into depression. Or we can seek the Lord in prayer and fasting. The man poor in spirit will by his new nature seek the Lord and not try to overcome his circumstances in his own strength.
Read the following calls to fast with prayer and meditation and remember that fasting is something a Christian should be using when lead to by the Holy Spirit: Judges 20:26; 1 Samuel 7:6; Ezra 8:21-23; Esther 4:16; Jeremiah 36:9; Daniel 9:3; Joel 1:14; Joel 2:12-18; and Jonah 3:5.