Asa
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Kings of Judah

Asa

II Chronicles  14-16

Lesson audio

We begin a series on the Kings of Judah – particularly the good kings – with a study of Asa, a man whose life would be judged today by very different standards. Today he’d be seen as a hidebound reactionary, utterly out of touch with the world of tolerance and diversity. He’s a man who believed in (shudder!) right and wrong! His story has some lessons for us.

Early Days

2 Chronicles 14:1-15 NASB (1) So Abijah slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city of David, and his son Asa became king in his place. The land was undisturbed for ten years during his days. (2) Asa did good and right in the sight of the LORD his God, (3) for he removed the foreign altars and high places, tore down the sacred pillars, cut down the Asherim, (4) and commanded Judah to seek the LORD God of their fathers and to observe the law and the commandment. (5) He also removed the high places and the incense altars from all the cities of Judah. And the kingdom was undisturbed under him. (6) He built fortified cities in Judah, since the land was undisturbed, and there was no one at war with him during those years, because the LORD had given him rest. (7) For he said to Judah, "Let us build these cities and surround them with walls and towers, gates and bars. The land is still ours because we have sought the LORD our God; we have sought Him, and He has given us rest on every side." So they built and prospered. (8) Now Asa had an army of 300,000 from Judah, bearing large shields and spears, and 280,000 from Benjamin, bearing shields and wielding bows; all of them were valiant warriors. (9) Now Zerah the Ethiopian came out against them with an army of a million men and 300 chariots, and he came to Mareshah. (10) So Asa went out to meet him, and they drew up in battle formation in the valley of Zephathah at Mareshah. (11) Then Asa called to the LORD his God and said, "LORD, there is no one besides You to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength; so help us, O LORD our God, for we trust in You, and in Your name have come against this multitude. O LORD, You are our God; let not man prevail against You." (12) So the LORD routed the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah, and the Ethiopians fled. (13) Asa and the people who were with him pursued them as far as Gerar; and so many Ethiopians fell that they could not recover, for they were shattered before the LORD and before His army. And they carried away very much plunder. (14) They destroyed all the cities around Gerar, for the dread of the LORD had fallen on them; and they despoiled all the cities, for there was much plunder in them. (15) They also struck down those who owned livestock, and they carried away large numbers of sheep and camels. Then they returned to Jerusalem.

Undisturbed – reform

It is a very impressive beginning. Asa is given ten years of undisturbed peace – and uses the time to remove the unholy things from the holy land. It’s one thing to repent in times of trouble; it’s another to bring people back to God in times of ease. The church in America today thinks it’s in trouble – but not very much. God, we feel, very much approves of us. God very much approved of Asa – and unlike the modern church, Asa did not think things were just fine. Nor did he decide that the land needed to become more tolerant of other religions; after all, we’ve been doing just fine with all these foreign gods in our midst, right? Wouldn’t the smart move be to allow more of them? It’s much more seeker friendly, after all.

Asa has none of it. He uses his authority to command two things to the people of Judah:

  • First, that they seek the Lord. It is opposite to tolerance; it is opposite to “things are just fine.” Just because you have God’s favor does not mean you should let things slide. In fact, it’s time to clean up around the house.
  • Next, they should obey the law and commandments. He reminds them of what brings God’s favor to Judah – and sensibly tells them to be doers, not just hearers. When the water’s warm, we like to drift with the tide. A great leader says, “swim upstream.” This may be why those who call for righteousness are so easily condemned these days.
Undisturbed – preparing for the future

One of the temptations of placid times is to place your reliance on God. You read that right – to place your reliance on God without doing your own part. When you raise your children you must commit them to God – but you must also be parents to them. Just because you trust God doesn’t mean you can let their upbringing just slide along.

Asa exemplifies that. He does not shirk the duty of the king to prepare to defend the nation. He builds up the fortress cities – while all the time relying on God as his real defense, as we shall see.

Zerah

Easton’s Bible Dictionary enlightens us on Zerah as follows:

An “Ethiopian,” probably Osorkon II., the successor of Shishak on the throne of Egypt. With an enormous army, the largest we read of in Scripture, he invaded the kingdom of Judah in the days of Asa (2Ch_14:9-15). He reached Zephathah, and there encountered the army of Asa. This is the only instance “in all the annals of Judah of a victorious encounter in the field with a first-class heathen power in full force.” The Egyptian host was utterly routed, and the Hebrews gathered “exceeding much spoil.” Three hundred years elapsed before another Egyptian army, that of Necho (609 B.C.), came up against Jerusalem.

Asa’s defense against this horde is two fold: first, he approaches the Almighty in prayer. His own armies are perhaps two thirds the size of those of his enemy. He relies on God for his victory.

A glance at the map, however, will give us a bit more insight on Asa’s acumen in handling this invasion.

Map

The invasion of such a large army could only have been made by proceeding along the coast road, supported by ships with supplied. But to dominate this area you must not only own the coast, but also the Jordan valley. Jerusalem is the key to this in the southern area. To get there you would find a valley leading up into the mountains, preferably one with a flowing stream. Mareshah is up in one such valley, just as the mountains begin to rise. By basing oneself at Ashdod, you dominate the Philistines (make sure of your “allies”) and get the shortest route to Jerusalem.

But Asa has picked well. He is defending the hills; Zerah’s chariot force is useless in this area. Tactics are not known, but it’s likely that Asa took the tactical defensive – a decision similar to Lee defending at Fredericksburg.

Middle Years

2 Chronicles 15:1-19 NASB (1) Now the Spirit of God came on Azariah the son of Oded, (2) and he went out to meet Asa and said to him, "Listen to me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: the LORD is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you. (3) "For many days Israel was without the true God and without a teaching priest and without law. (4) "But in their distress they turned to the LORD God of Israel, and they sought Him, and He let them find Him. (5) "In those times there was no peace to him who went out or to him who came in, for many disturbances afflicted all the inhabitants of the lands. (6) "Nation was crushed by nation, and city by city, for God troubled them with every kind of distress. (7) "But you, be strong and do not lose courage, for there is reward for your work." (8) Now when Asa heard these words and the prophecy which Azariah the son of Oded the prophet spoke, he took courage and removed the abominable idols from all the land of Judah and Benjamin and from the cities which he had captured in the hill country of Ephraim. He then restored the altar of the LORD which was in front of the porch of the LORD. (9) He gathered all Judah and Benjamin and those from Ephraim, Manasseh and Simeon who resided with them, for many defected to him from Israel when they saw that the LORD his God was with him. (10) So they assembled at Jerusalem in the third month of the fifteenth year of Asa's reign. (11) They sacrificed to the LORD that day 700 oxen and 7,000 sheep from the spoil they had brought. (12) They entered into the covenant to seek the LORD God of their fathers with all their heart and soul; (13) and whoever would not seek the LORD God of Israel should be put to death, whether small or great, man or woman. (14) Moreover, they made an oath to the LORD with a loud voice, with shouting, with trumpets and with horns. (15) All Judah rejoiced concerning the oath, for they had sworn with their whole heart and had sought Him earnestly, and He let them find Him. So the LORD gave them rest on every side. (16) He also removed Maacah, the mother of King Asa, from the position of queen mother, because she had made a horrid image as an Asherah, and Asa cut down her horrid image, crushed it and burned it at the brook Kidron. (17) But the high places were not removed from Israel; nevertheless Asa's heart was blameless all his days. (18) He brought into the house of God the dedicated things of his father and his own dedicated things: silver and gold and utensils. (19) And there was no more war until the thirty-fifth year of Asa's reign.

Azariah’s message

God now sends Asa a message. His message has three points:

  • You stick with God, He sticks with you. He’s not man, that he would change his mind.
  • You won this battle by trusting the Lord. Look at the historical examples that back this up, Asa. You trust Him, He will uphold you.
  • Tucked in there is this: a promise of reward. Do things God’s way, and He will reward you.
Clean up and consolidate

Asa’s territory has expanded, and his moral crusade expands with it. But notice this: Asa has now obtained the moral courage to go after the most difficult of targets, his own mother. There are now no exceptions to the rule. Indeed, his treatment of mom’s idol is exemplary. She’s not only gone from “off limits” to covered by the policy, she’s become an example for everyone else.

Our generation would think that such fanaticism would repulse people. The intolerance of the man! But notice that the faithful from parts of Israel (remember, it’s a divided kingdom) are now attracted to the man. For once, they see a clear choice. Those who are tolerant really don’t care as long as the king lets them alone; those who are righteous are pulled to his reign.

The covenant

The times call for some sort of public demonstration of the faith. The kingdom is assembled, and a covenant with God is proclaimed. May I point out:

  • Asa puts his money where his mouth is. The sacrifices are made, and they come from his conquests, not from his taxes.
  • Things are dedicated to the Temple worship – Asa understands that we need to distinguish between the holy and the ordinary. By setting aside things as holy, and reverencing them,[1] he teaches the people the holiness of God.
  • Asa’s heart is blameless – and therefore his life is blessed. For a long while, but not quite to the end.

Ending Years

2 Chronicles 16:1-14 NASB (1) In the thirty-sixth year of Asa's reign Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah and fortified Ramah in order to prevent anyone from going out or coming in to Asa king of Judah. (2) Then Asa brought out silver and gold from the treasuries of the house of the LORD and the king's house, and sent them to Ben-hadad king of Aram, who lived in Damascus, saying, (3) "Let there be a treaty between you and me, as between my father and your father. Behold, I have sent you silver and gold; go, break your treaty with Baasha king of Israel so that he will withdraw from me." (4) So Ben-hadad listened to King Asa and sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel, and they conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel-maim and all the store cities of Naphtali. (5) When Baasha heard of it, he ceased fortifying Ramah and stopped his work. (6) Then King Asa brought all Judah, and they carried away the stones of Ramah and its timber with which Baasha had been building, and with them he fortified Geba and Mizpah. (7) At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, "Because you have relied on the king of Aram and have not relied on the LORD your God, therefore the army of the king of Aram has escaped out of your hand. (8) "Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubim an immense army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, He delivered them into your hand. (9) "For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars." (10) Then Asa was angry with the seer and put him in prison, for he was enraged at him for this. And Asa oppressed some of the people at the same time. (11) Now, the acts of Asa from first to last, behold, they are written in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel. (12) In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa became diseased in his feet. His disease was severe, yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but the physicians. (13) So Asa slept with his fathers, having died in the forty-first year of his reign. (14) They buried him in his own tomb which he had cut out for himself in the city of David, and they laid him in the resting place which he had filled with spices of various kinds blended by the perfumers' art; and they made a very great fire for him.

We like our stories to end with, “and they all lived happily ever after.” We like the ending, but admit it: it means that there’s nothing left of interest in the story. Asa still has something to teach us.

Tribute to Aram

One of the reasons we pointed out Asa’s building of fortified cities in the first section is this: we sometimes conclude that doing such things is a sign of mistrust of God (which is not a good idea, it appears.) It should be pointed out (see the map and it will be obvious) that Baasha’s threat is very strong. It’s also clear that the counter threat from Ben Hadad is the obvious military maneuver. And it works.

But who’s the winner here? Baasha loses – but so does Asa. Asa in no sense is victorious, he just escapes the trap. Ben-Hadad is the winner – he gets the cities in the north and the gold from Asa. He doesn’t know it, but God will also keep Asa from defeating him.

What went wrong here? One point: where did Asa get the gold to bribe Ben-Hadad? Much of it came from the “treasuries of the Lord’s house.” In other words, Asa robbed God to bribe Ben-Hadad. That isn’t a sign of trust in God.

Hanani

Note, please, that Aram escapes from Asa’s hand. God is reminding Asa that he doesn’t know what might happen tomorrow; the nothing of today can be the prime enemy tomorrow.

Just in case Asa had any doubts about how things are going, God reminds him that in his own history he has an outstanding example of the right method of doing things. God strongly supports those whose heart is completely his.

Can you imagine such a sentence today? If there is anything that most of us are convinced of, it is that God does not trouble himself with our national affairs. This is a mistake, and one for which we shall indeed pay dearly.

Asa’s pride

Asa has a choice to make: he can humble himself before God, or continue in his pride. He chooses pride. It’s most easily seen in that he shoots the messenger (the prophet thrown in prison) – and adds to this the offense of oppressing some others. It is likely these were those who were with God and had guts enough to say so. The king is not happy. To seek the solution is to humble himself and he is not willing to do that.

God sends him another little problem. He probably has diabetes; this often causes circulatory problems in the feet. It is a painful thing. Still, Asa will not humble himself and ask God for healing. His problem is not that he sought the physicians; it is that he sought only the physicians. Sometimes your pride is your pain.

When he died, his people looked back on his life – and saw that on the whole he was a good king. His funeral reflected that. But perhaps they reflected that even the best are not perfect.


[1] Reverence? Not at our church; no more of that stuffy, pious behavior.

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