Curious Tale of the Sea

Do you ever read a passage of Scripture and wonder what the point is, or why it was included in the Bible? In 1 Kings 22 we find the record of the bloody deaths of Ahab and Jezebel, whose wicked influence poisoned the Northern Kingdom of Israel. We ought not feel too sorry for them, because they were given clear revelation of the power of God and they refused to follow him, choosing the immoral worship of Baal instead. But after the record of Ahab ends, the author of this book turns his attention to his contemporary in Judah, Jehoshaphat.

Beginning in v.41 we read that Jehoshaphat reigned for 25 years in Jerusalem, and that he followed in his father’s footsteps and did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. His obedience is commended by the inspired writer of Scripture, banishing those who engaged in sexual perversion as a component of their idolatry and staying focused on doing what was right in God’s eyes. There is no glossing over his shortcomings, either, as the writer points out that Jehoshaphat did not remove the high places, and he mended relations between the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

But then, at the end of this we find a curious story:

There was no king in Edom, only a deputy of the king. Jehoshaphat made merchant ships to go to Ophir for gold; but they never sailed, for the ships were wrecked at Ezion Geber. Then Ahaziah the son of Ahab said to Jehoshaphat, “Let my servants go with your servants in the ships.” But Jehoshaphat would not. (v.47-49)

What possible purpose could these verses fulfill in the final paragraphs of 1 Kings? Now we know that this passage must have some application for us today, since Paul said that the OT Scriptures were written for our admonition (1 Cor. 10:11), but at first glance it doesn’t seem too clear.shipwreck

In this case, we have the benefit of comparing 1 Kings 22 with 2 Chronicles 20, which gives us another perspective on the life and reign of Jehoshaphat. In 2 Chron. 20:35-37 we find some additional details which help us to see what is actually going on. Jehoshaphat’s attempt to resurrect Solomon’s successful shipping ventures included an alliance with Ahaziah, Ahab and Jezebel’s son who followed in their wicked footsteps. The LORD spoke through Eliezer the son of Dodavah, cursing Jehoshaphat’s venture, which resulted in his entire fleet being destroyed. While 1 Kings 22 doesn’t say why the ships were wrecked, 2 Chron. 20 does, and it gives us some insight into why this story is included in the Scriptures. The primary issue here is the partnership between the godly king Jehoshaphat and the ungodly king Ahaziah. As a follower of the one, true God, Jehoshaphat had no business joining forces with Ahab or his son, or any of the idolatrous kings of Israel, and the destruction of his shipping fleet was God’s way of sending a very strong message about the importance of separating himself from their unbelieving and idol-worshiping neighbors.

This same principle is brought forward to NT believers in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, where Paul warns the believers in Corinth to avoid entering into relationships that will compromise their commitment to the truth. For Jehoshaphat to enter into a business partnership with Ahaziah was to ignore the Lord’s command to separate himself from those who practice idolatry and immorality. For the NT believer this separation may extend to business and other relationships, but it is primarily focused on maintaining personal holiness through a commitment to the truth of God’s word. So let’s not forget that even the obscure and little-known records of the kings of Israel and Judah contain examples and lessons for us today!

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