“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 2 Chronicles 20 v12
This might almost seem to be the Bible verse for the moment, as individually and internationally, we are faced with the rapid global spread of the coronavirus, and its impact on daily life at every level. Whilst our nation has not been “shut down” (yet), as has happened in Italy and indeed in Wuhan province in China where everything started, who knows what measures will be imposed on us, and what choices we will have?
Jehoshaphat was the king of Judah at the time of a national crisis, with who knew what coming at and against him and his people. Ostensibly, it was a military invasion that they faced, but as the king reflects in a speech in front of the gathered people which is also a prayer before the Lord Almighty, the calamity coming could also be “the sword of judgement, or plague or famine” (v9). Plague seems to be the appropriate description of what we are facing today.
But even as the king admits that he is uncertain what is the right course of action (v12 above), he has already, let’s note, gathered his people before the Lord in assembly. He was “alarmed” (v3), but, we also read, he resolved at once both to enquire of the Lord (i.e. to pray!), and to get the people to fast (as a discipline closely related to praying). Prayer, even without fasting, would be an appropriate response for us, and perhaps in the season of Lent, prayer with fasting (even at some level) might be what we can offer, especially if we find ourselves self-isolated (a form of fasting is to set oneself apart physically, away from others – and we see Jesus doing just this too, if not quite for the same reason!).
The Old Testament story is told to its conclusion, and it’s a happy ending for the people of Judah (at least on this occasion!), and we are still towards the beginning of our story, it would seem. But is there some comfort and encouragement for us today from this chapter from ancient history?
I think there may be, not least as one Jahaziel shares a prophetic word reminding the king and his people that they should not be afraid. Yes, this is another of the 365 occasions in Scripture where the word of God bids us not be fearful or anxious, even faced by a vast and threatening army. However Jahaziel goes further: “The battle is not yours but God’s.” (v15)
The response of the king and of the people is praise and worship, some physically prostrate and others calling out at the top of their voices; there is singing, there is celebration, in the faith that God’s deliverance will be theirs, his victory will be shared with them. What an expression of faith and trust – it’s not blind and wishful thinking, it’s one of the high points of the journey of this people with their God!
And nor is it blind and wishful thinking for us, especially when we live in the light and hope of the resurrection of Jesus!
The episode does include a scene of devastation and death, as the opponents of the people of Judah are taken down to a one, and yes, questions may be prompted about the nature of such a partisan and exclusive god as we see in some of the Old Testament narratives. It seems likely that the death toll from the coronavirus will rise considerably from the ten, the UK’s figure, at the time of writing, with approaching 5,000 deaths worldwide (although there are also almost 70,000 cases recorded of recovery from the virus out of the 130,000 cases documented!). In what was perhaps a less than encouraging message our Prime Minister has indicated that for more of us than we might like there will be deep personal sadness because of this virus and its deadly spread.
But even in the face of death, we can have hope; we believe in resurrection, and we believe in Jesus who says: I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. (John 11, 25&26)
By the grace and mercy of God, let us today choose faith over fear, and let us choose praise over problems; the battle belongs to the Lord.