Why We Praise First
The year was somewhere around 845 BC. The Israelites geared up for yet another battle, another foe trying to gain ground against an otherwise peaceful and God-fearing people. Like many of the clashes forged against them, the Israelites were outmanned, boasted far less weaponry, and lacked formidable plans upon the arrival of the enemy. This time, the Moabites were joined by the Ammonites and Meunites and descended on King Jehoshaphat by the tens of thousands. Hearing this news and seeing it unfold struck the Israelites with fear, confusion, and panic. The Israelite troops would offer little resistance to the sheer number of soldiers from three different countries: tens of thousands to fight against thousands. To say it looked impossible understates the terror which fell upon God’s people.
Isn’t that the way it is when the enemy attacks? Doesn’t it often leave the victim with little time, resources, and strength to hold ground and begin a counter-offensive? Doesn’t it look impossible? It is then that fear and confusion set in, if not panic.
Upon looking at the odds, the Israelites had few options, and the options they did have involved sure defeat— except one. They looked to God, King over heaven and earth. When news reached the king that this vast army was only about 35 miles away, his first response was to pray. Actually, the Scripture tells us that King Jehoshaphat “begged… and ordered everyone in Judah to begin fasting.” (2 Chronicles 20:3)
The King’s prayer, prayed in front of the entire community, modeled the sheer trust they had in a God whom they knew personally. The people heard things having to do with God’s character, like, “O Lord, God of our ancestors, you alone are the God who is in heaven. You are ruler… you are powerful and mighty; no one can stand against you.” Or God’s past actions, like, “O our God, did you not drive out those who lived in this land…? And did you not give this land forever…? They said whenever we are faced with any calamity… we can come to stand in Your presence… we can cry out to you and you will hear us and rescue us.” Or the current request, like, “And now see what the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir are doing… O our God, won’t you stop them? We are powerless against this mighty army… we do not know what to do, but we are looking to you for help.” (2 Chron. 20:6-12) Prayer like that forges the chains of trust link by link.
God answered by sending a prophet who gave a most encouraging message. “This is what the LORD says: do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow march out against them…then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you… do not be afraid or discouraged…” (2 Chron. 20:15-17) When God makes a promise, even in the midst of a crisis moment, the whole picture changes.
So the Israelites marched that morning. They assembled the army in a vast line, columns of sword-bearing soldiers. King Jehoshaphat shouted to the army, “Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be able to stand firm. Believe in his prophets, and you will succeed.” And so they advanced. Infantry ready to fight. Eyes blazing. Swords shining. Resolute. Fight they would. But wait. One more command from the King. A shift in strategy?
The king appointed singers to lead the way.
Wait. Singers? What about the stout fighting brigade? Why don’t they lead the way? What about those really big men with the huge whiskers? Why not put them out in front? Why not, you ask? Because the King decided to truly place all his trust in the Lord God. How? By sending ‘praise’ in first. Let the name of God ring louder than any strength man has to offer. Let the praises to the King of the Universe be heard louder than the marching feet. Let the shiny metal of the swords be the light that ushers the sound of song. Praise goes first! And the song? “Give thanks to the Lord; his faithful love endures forever.” The singers repeated that over and over. Kept that song singing.
God proved faithful once again and the Israelites were victorious.
So, today, what is the formidable army that stands against you? How far away is something you are dreading? In other words, what is your crisis today? At some point all people face trials. What is the response to yours? What do your prayers look like? How do you trust God?
Several things happened during this trial I think are worthy of noting. King Jehoshaphat sought the Lord immediately upon hearing of the approaching enemy. At the beginning of your trial, do you take it to the Lord? He then rehearsed God’s character, His promises, and His past actions, and then presented his request. Have you been this thorough when seeking God? The prophet Jahaziel, in response to the many prayers, spoke words from God which explained very clearly that the battle belongs to the Lord, and due to that fact, the people should not be discouraged. Once again the king tells his armies to believe in God. Can you do that? Can you believe God at His word? And then as the Israelites set out to face the enemy, the king decided to place singers ahead of the army to set up ‘praise first.’ What would it look like for you to put ‘praise first’?
I believe this story gives us helpful and meaningful principles to follow when facing trials. When I take the time to really lay out the issues at hand, remind myself who God is, listen to the promises of His word, release the battle to God, and praise first, I am far better equipped to handle anything that comes my way no matter how impossible it may seem. It’s a great way to start the year.