Jehoshaphat allies with Ahab of Israel by marrying his son to Ahab’s daughter Athaliah (2 Chronicles 18:1-3). He follows up with a religious alliance, sharing a sacrificial feast with Ahab. That leads to a military alliance, as Jehoshaphat puts Yahweh’s hosts on the field to fight for Ahab.
It almost kills him. Jehoshaphat escapes from the battlefield by a hair.
You might think Jehoshaphat would learn a lesson about alliances with Ahab, but no. He later makes an alliance with Ahab’s son Ahaziah to carry on trade with Tarshish. The Lord is angry and breaks up the ships on the sea (20:35-37).
The worst effects of the alliance come after Jehoshaphat’s death. His alliance with the house of Ahab wasn’t temporary or informal. He was in-lawed to the house of Ahab, covenanted by marriage. And the disastrous effects of the covenant with Ahab reverberate through several generations.
Before he dies, Jehoshaphat tries to prevent rivalry among his sons. He gives the kingdom to his son Jehoram but distributes gifts of gold, silver, and cities to his other sons. He hopes that Jehoram will be content with the kingdom, and his brothers won’t vie for the throne because they have cities and wealth of their own.
It doesn’t work. Jehoram kills his brothers, and spends his life walking in the ways of Ahab, that is, serving Baal and Asherah. He makes Judah “play the harlot” with other gods, and leads Judah astray (2 Chronicles 21:1-7).
Of course Jehoram would do that: He’s the son whom Jehoshaphat married off to the daughter of Ahab. His wife is Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel.
Ahaziah succeeds Jehoram after the latter dies of a bowel disease. Ahaziah also walks in the way of Ahab, being the son of Athaliah. Ahaziah gets killed by Jehu, who is taking vengeance on the house of Ahab. Ahaziah is Jehoshaphat’s son, but he’s so much a son of Ahab that he is swept up in Jehu’s purge (2 Chronicles 22:7-9).
Athaliah takes over and wipes out all the remaining descendants of Jehoshaphat. The Davidic dynasty hangs by a thread. Only Joash is saved, and he is an infant. The Lord gives a new birth to the Davidic dynasty by preserving Joash alive. At the age of 7, he becomes king.
As soon as his mentor, the priest Jehoiada, dies, he listens to the officials of Judah and reinstalls the Asherim and the idols. These are the officials that have served Baal-worshiping kings for the past several generations (2 Chronicles 24:15-18).Only in the reign of Joash’s son Amaziah is the influence of the house of Ahab finally put to rest. And even after that, Hezekiah and Josiah have to purge Judah of Baals and other idols.
Generation after generation of idolatry. A near-destruction of the Davidic dynasty. The kingdom of Judah teetering on the edge of extinction. The Davidic dynasty is wrecked and unfaithful for generations.
Ahab’s idolatries persists longer in Judah than in Israel. After Jehu has swept the house of Ahab away in the north, Ahab’s descendants are still on the throne of the south.
And why? Because Jehoshaphat “in-lawed himself to Ahab.” Jehoshaphat’s betrayal of Yahweh, and of his own status as Davidic king, nearly destroys his own family.
“What partnership does righteousness have with lawlessness?” Paul asks. What communion does light have with darkness? Is there symphonia between Christ and Baal? Does the temple of God have any room for idols?
It’s absurd. Light wants to accommodate a bit of darkness, rather than expelling it? God leaves us a little room for idolatry on the side? Paul poses a stark choice, as does Jesus: You are either with Me or against Me. You either gather with Me or scatter abroad.
It’s a stark choice that shapes our most important relationships. Parents need to avoid such impossible alliances as they guide their children toward marriage. Christians looking for a husband or wife must ask themselves: Am I going to try to share a yoke with an unbeliever? Will I try to form a communion of Christ and Baal? Will I in-law myself to a house of Ahab?
Jehoshaphat’s experience is a warning: By marrying an idolater, you can sow seeds that will reap a bitter harvest for generations.
The same principles apply to the church. Jesus calls His church to unity. He prays that His church will be one, and we will be.
But the church cannot be unified by idols. Jehoshaphat is again a cautionary tale: Trying to build unity on the basis of idolatry is disastrous. A war of utter destruction against idols seems divisive. In fact, it’s the only possible path to unity.