John Bennett, Pinxton, Nottingham [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
‘Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?’ Gal. 5. 7. Thus might run the epitaph of Asa, King of Judah. His start was auspicious but his end lamentable. He started in fellowship with God and tri-umphed in the battle. He finished at distance from God in disease and disability. Here was a man who, after a promising start to his career, faded and failed. What are the practical lessons that we might learn from the record of scripture in relation to Asa?
A time of fruitfulness
From the outset of his reign we are told that he ‘did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, as did David his father’, 1 Kgs. 15. 11. He had respect to the laws and requirements of God and the legacy left by his forebears in respect to obedience to these things. He demonstrated this: morally, ‘he took away the sodomites out of the land’, 1 Kgs. 15. 12; spiritually, ‘he took away the altars of the strange gods . . . and commanded Judah to seek the Lord God of their fathers’, 2 Chr. 14. 3-4; and militarily, ‘he built fenced cities in Judah . . . and he had no war in those years’, 2 Chr. 14. 6.
Clearly, Asa had a heart for the things of God and taught the people of God by his example. He also had a concern for the safety of the nation because he prepared and equipped a formidable army to defend his boundaries. But what is most instructive is Asa’s response to the invasion of the Ethiopian army. The battle was set in array and though the forces of Ethiopia were significant yet Asa could have met them with his own ‘mighty men of valour’, v. 8. However, he does not rely upon the ingenuity of his generals, or the equipment he had provided for his men, or their battle experience; ‘Asa cried unto the Lord his God’, v. 11.
What power there is in prayer! Asa lays claim to that power. There is power because of: relationship, ‘O Lord, thou art our God’; dependence, ‘we rest on thee’; and God’s desire to preserve His honour, ‘in thy name we go against this multitude’, v. 11. Asa asserts God’s concern for His people and His desire for their preservation and protection and harnesses His power to achieve them.
The subsequent victory and total destruction of the numerically superior Ethiopian army is a testament to answered prayer and the intervention of God. The glory is His! But, immediately following this comprehensive rout of the opposition, there is also a demonstration of God’s grace. Azariah the prophet is sent to Asa to remind him, ‘The Lord is with you, while ye be with him’, 2 Chr. 15. 2. How easy it is to allow the high points in our spiritual experience to foster the impression that we no longer need God’s presence and power. Asa’s predecessors had learnt that lesson, sometimes with bitter repercussions.
However, Asa can be taught and he responds to the call of God. ‘He took courage, and put away the abominable idols out of all the land of Judah and Benjamin’, v. 8. He also renewed the altar of the Lord and offered unto the Lord of the animals that had been taken from the Ethiopians as spoils of victory. With increased vigour the people follow Asa’s lead and renew their allegiance to Jehovah.
The peace and safety that Judah enjoys as a result of divine blessing is extensive for ‘there was no more war unto the five and thirtieth year of the reign of Asa, v. 19. As a consequence of the evidence of the Lord’s presence, many out of Israel sought to align themselves with Judah and Benjamin and to enjoy the prosperity that was theirs. Blessing seems to follow blessing!
A time of fear
If we weren’t all too aware of the fickleness of our own hearts, we might be shocked at Asa’s reaction to the activity of Baasha, king of Israel. Why should Asa, who had proved so faithful when faced with the enemies of the people of God, fail when confronted by the evil designs of his own brethren in Israel? Surely, the God that had defeated the Ethiopians could render any threat from Baasha as useless. However, instead of relying upon the God who delivered him before, Asa sends some of the treasures of the house of the Lord to the king of Assyria to seek his assistance to divert the attention of Baasha away from Judah. We ought not to lose sight too of what this action says about Asa’s valuation of the treasures of the house of the Lord. Are we prepared to trade the things of God for a moment’s peace? Do we consider it an advantage to seek the friendship of the world?
It is one thing to face the enemies from without. It is quite another to stand against the enemies within. Paul was aware of the ‘grievous wolves’ that would come in from outside but he also warned the Ephesian elders that there would be those ‘of your own selves’ who would arise ‘speaking perverse things’, Acts. 20. 29, 30. How would we cope then? It is a phrase in Jeremiah chapter 41 verse 9 that supplies the insight into Asa’s response to the activity of Baasha – fear!
There is another lesson in these events. When we can see a simple solution to a problem, it is easy to act without prayer and, thus, without reference to God. Solomon’s counsel was wise; ‘In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths’, Prov. 3. 6. The response to the Ethiopian attack was just as necessary and relevant to the threat posed by Baasha.
How gracious of God that He sends another prophet that Asa might learn the lesson of dependence upon Him!
A time of failure
It takes a faithful man to be the bearer of bad news to a king! Hanani came with a message from God but not one that Asa wanted to hear, or, worse still, to respond to favourably. There seems a sense in which Asa has grown spiritually but has become proud of his achievements, even though they are solely the result of divine blessing. How difficult to remain humble in the midst of popular acclaim! Asa’s kingdom had grown: materially, ‘they fell to him out of Israel in abundance’, 2 Chr. 15. 9; spiritually, ‘they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart’, v. 12; militarily, ‘the Lord gave them rest round about’, v. 15; and in influence, ‘Ben-hadad hearkened unto king Asa’, 2 Chr. 16. 4.
Yet, ‘pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall’, Prov. 16. 18. We know the scripture and the timely teaching of the wise man. Do we live in the good of it? It would be easy to sit in judgement of king Asa and yet still harbour the same spirit and response to the word of God that he did. ‘Asa was wroth with the seer, and put him in a prison house’, 2 Chr. 16. 10. How dangerous when we fail to heed the word of God and also seek to prevent Him speaking to us again!
What Asa could not do was to prevent the word of God being brought to fruition. Hanani had said, ‘Henceforth thou shalt have wars’, v. 9. In what way this was enacted we are not told but there is a sense in which this judgement would appear to be added to, as ‘Asa in the thirty and ninth year of his reign was diseased in his feet, until his disease was exceeding great’, v. 12. Asa had stopped walking in communion with his God and it is instructive that the affliction he suffered should affect his feet.
The sadness of this final period of Asa’s life is that in his affliction ‘he sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians’, v. 12. What should have brought him to his knees in prayer led him to seek only the assistance of the doctors of the day. He remained reliant upon the flesh and the solutions prescribed by the flesh and, as a consequence, lived only two years longer. How sad that a man who had reached such heights in his personal and national relationship with his God should end his days so ignominiously. Yet, ‘whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning’, Rom. 15. 4. ‘Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall’, 1 Cor. 10. 12.