Jehoshaphat's Prosperous Reign
The twenty-five years of Jehoshaphat's rule over Judea may be considered one of the most prosperous periods in the history of the land. Imbued with the deep-rooted piety of his father Asa, and possessing a friendly and impressive personality, he soon succeeded in gaining the admiration of his people. Thus he was able to devote the larger part of his time and efforts to strengthening the absolute worship of G-d and strict adherence to the teachings of the holy Torah. He banished idolatry and personally supervised the education of his people in the ways and knowledge of G-d. For the purpose of regular instruction of each Jewish community all over the country, he recruited many groups of priests, Levites, and scholars who traveled continuously from place to place and lectured to the common people.
Jehoshaphat also reorganized the civil administration of Judea, which had been somewhat neglected since the division of the kingdom of Solomon. He subdivided the land into districts and put trained administrators in charge of each province and district. The next step was a thorough reorganization of the judicial system according to the scheme set forth by the holy Torah. He gave each court strict regulations concerning the unbiased administration of the law in adherence to the codes of criminal and civil law prescribed by the Torah.
Jehoshaphat's Military and Political Strength
Even though the major part of his reign was completely untroubled by war and fighting, battle and strife never ceased to harass the people of neighboring Israel during those years, and so Jehoshaphat built a large and well organized army under the leadership of an excellent military staff. He also continued to fortify his borderlines against any outside attack. Thus he commanded the respect of his neighbors who were well aware of his formidable military and moral strength. The Edomites, Philistines, Arabs, and other people sought his goodwill and paid him regular tribute which greatly helped the economy of the land. The Arabs, for instance, paid a yearly tribute of thousands of excellent sheep, which meant considerable development of the sheepbreeding industry. Prosperity grew almost as it had grown in the days of Solomon.
Jehoshaphat's Alliance with Ahab
In his sincere desire for peace, Jehoshaphat concluded an alliance with Ahab, king of Israel. This union was strengthened by the marriage of Joram, son and heir of Jehoshaphat, to Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab. Though this achievement seemed a great triumph for his policy, inasmuch as it had for a while terminated the continual warfare that had so long raged between Judah and Israel, it nevertheless contained the seeds of evil repercussions upon the moral standards of his people, and brought humiliation upon the hitherto unblemished record of Judea's political strength.
The first setback came when Jehoshaphat, on a royal visit to Samaria, the capital of Ephraim, agreed to join Ahab in a campaign against Benhadad, king of Syria. At the siege of Ramoth in Gilead, Ahab was killed and the Israelite army defeated. Jehoshaphat was, however, permitted to return in safety to Jerusalem. There he was met and chided by the prophets for his alliance with the idolatrous Ahab. Although the prophets had been opposed to war with the brother-kingdom, they had viewed with misgivings a closer alliance with the morally decadent Kingdom of Ephraim. King Jehoshaphat did not get excited or angry with the prophet Jehu ben Hanani, who voiced the indignation of the prophets of G-d. Instead, the king meekly acknowledged his mistake and resolved upon a more faithful adherence to the guidance of the prophets of G-d.
Not long afterwards, however, Jehoshaphat again drew upon himself the wrath of G-d and His prophets. In his desire to increase the wealth of his country, Jehoshaphat had established many new trade connections with peoples and nations living along the far-flung shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The Kingdom of Israel, at that time ruled by Ahaziah, Ahab's son, had similar interests. In line with his friendly relations with Israel, Jehoshaphat agreed to Ahaziah's proposal to build a large merchant marine by their combined efforts. However, G-d's ire was called forth by this renewal of business relations with the idolatrous king of Israel. A storm destroyed the fleet to the last ship and' all the crews were lost. But this time Jehoshaphat learned his lesson, so when Ahaziah approached him to reconstruct the merchant fleet anew, he refused flatly.
Jehoshaphat's Further Exploits
Jehoshaphat, however, did not completely break off his friendly relationship with the house of Ahab.
When Joram succeeded to the throne of his brother Ahaziah, he induced King Jehoshaphat to join him in an expedition to subdue rebellious Moab, under King Mesha. Not only did Jehoshaphat support the king of Israel with his own army, but he also enlisted the help of the king of Edom, who was his tributary. In the course of the war, Jehoshaphat insisted upon taking counsel from the prophet Elisha. When Jehoshaphat entered Elisha's house, he took off all his royal insignia, and humbly faced the man of G-d in the simple clothes of a common man. As Elisha predicted, the campaign ended in victory for the allied Jewish armies. However, it resulted in bad aftereffects for the kingdom of Judea because Mesha, the king of Moab, later succeeded in arousing the hatred of the Edomites against the king and the people of Judea.
Soon after Jehoshaphat had returned to Judea with his weary army, the Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, Philistines, and many other of the smaller neighbors of Judea combined forces and marched upon Jerusalem. Jehoshaphat saw very little hope of being able to withstand the onslaught of the combined armies of his enemies who had already reached the shores of the Dead Sea. Immediately Jehoshaphat proclaimed a fast for the entire nation. From all cities, towns, and villages the people streamed to the Holy Temple to pray with their king. Jehoshaphat himself stepped before the congregated crowd and fervently implored G-d for help in this hour of distress, for the sake of His own glory and the salvation of His people.
The prayer was answered. A Divine message reached the king and people through Jehaziel, a Levite, upon whom the spirit of G-d had descended. The prophet prophesied complete victory, "for the battle is not yours, but G-d's." Encouraged, the warriors marched out from Jerusalem while the priests chanted prayers and hymns to G-d. When Jehoshaphat and his soldiers came to the battlefield, they saw it strewn with the corpses of their enemies. It transpired that various allied tribes, beginning to look upon one another with mistrust and suspicion, had fallen upon and almost annihilated one another in a feud. There was nothing left for Jehoshaphat and his men to do but to gather up the spoils and return home.
After that miraculous victory none of the neighbors dared to attack Judea. Jehoshaphat spent the remainder of his reign in peace and happiness. He died at the age of sixty, after twenty-five years of glorious reign over Judea. He was succeeded by his son Joram.