Asa

(Healing, or, Cure)

(1 Kings 15:9-24; 2 Chron. 14—16)

Contemporary Prophets: Azariah, Son Of Oded; Hanani; Jehoram

“Better is a poor and a wise child, than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.”—Eccle-siastes 4:13

“And Abijah slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city of David. And Asa his son reigned in his stead. And in his days the land was quiet ten years” (2 Chron. 14:1).

His name, “healing” or “cure,” reads like a prophecy of the reformation, and consequent rest, effected by him during the earlier portion of his reign. He made a most excellent beginning. “And Asa did that which was good and right in the eyes of Jehovah his God: for he took away the altars of the strange gods, and the high places, and brake down the images, and cut down the groves: and commanded Judah to seek the Lord God of their fathers, and to do the law and the commandment. Also he took away out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the images: and the kingdom was quiet before him.” But he did not stop there; he did more: “He built fenced cities in Judah: for the land had rest, and he had no war in those years; because the Lord had given him rest. Therefore he said unto Judah, Let us build these cities, and make about them walls and towers, gates and bars, while the land is yet before us; because we have sought the Lord our God, we have sought Him, and He hath given us rest on every side.” He was no mere iconoclast. If he had the zeal to break down the images, he had also the wisdom to build fortified cities. To expose evil is very well, but to furnish the soul with truth is what protects it from the invasion of the enemy. They redeemed the time, as we are bidden to do in Eph. 5:16, “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” So God was with them. Encouraged by the king’s words and example, the people entered heartily into the blessed work of building and fortifying.

Well would it have been for the sixteenth-century churches had they been as wise after the Reformation, during the rest that followed, and built and fortified themselves in their position of defence of “the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” But alas, they slept; and when the hosts of worldliness, ritualism and rationalism appeared at their borders, they were utterly unprepared, and powerless to repel them. They were not, like Judah, prepared and able to resist the enemy when he came.

“And Zerah the Ethiopian came out against him with a host of a thousand thousand, and three hundred chariots; and he came to Mareshah. And Asa went out against him, and they set the battle in array in the valley of Zephathah, near Mareshah. And Asa cried unto Jehovah his God, and said, Jehovah, it maketh no difference to Thee to help, whether there be much or no power: help us, O Jehovah our God, for we rely on Thee, and in Thy name we come against this great multitude. Jehovah, Thou art our God; let not man (Enosh, frail, mortal man) prevail against Thee. And Jehovah smote the Ethiopians before Asa, and before Judah; and the Ethiopians fled. And Asa and the people that were with him pursued them to Gerar; and the Ethiopians were overthrown, that none of them was left alive; for they were crushed before Jehovah and before His army. And they carried away very much spoil.”

The monuments do not make clear just who this Zerah was. A king called Azerch Amar was reigning over Ethiopia about this time, and the inspired chronicler may have given the Hebrew form of his name. “The greatness of Egypt, which Shishak had raised, diminished at his death. His immediate successors were of no note in the monuments…Zerah seems to have taken advantage of Egypt’s weakness to extort permission to march his enormous force, composed of the same nationalities (Ethiopians and Lubians) as those of the preceding invader, Shishak, through Egypt into Judah” (Fausset). Others identify him with Osorkon II, one of Shishak’s successors. He was son-in-law to Osorkon I, king of Egypt, and reigned in right of his wife. He was, if this be true, an Ethiopian ruling his own country jointly with that of his wife’s (Egypt). And the invasion would then probably be caused by Asa’s refusal to continue paying the tribute imposed upon his grandfather Rehoboam by Shishak. But it was one thing for Shishak to invade the land of Judah “because they had transgressed against the Lord” (2 Chron. 12:2), and quite a different matter when Zerah came against them unprovoked, “at his own charges,” as it were. He met his just punishment from God, who loves and defends His people; he was defeated therefore, and his immense army, numbering more than a million, utterly destroyed.

Asa’s faith rises to blessed heights on this occasion. Though himself in control of a fine army of over a half million “mighty men of valor,” he takes the place of entire dependence on God, and makes the conflict a matter between God and the enemy. Such faith can never be disappointed.

On Asa’s triumphant return to Jerusalem the Spirit of God came on Azariah (“ whom Jehovah helps”} the son of Oded, and he went to meet him, not as a court flatterer, but with a solemn yet cheering word of admonition. “Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin,” he says; “The Lord is with you, while ye be with Him; and if ye seek Him, He will be found of you; but if ye forsake Him, He will forsake you.” It was “a word in season”; for it has been truly said that we are never in greater danger than immediately after some great success, even though it be truly from God, in answer to genuine faith. David is a sad example. In the chapters preceding that which records his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11) he has one continued series of brilliant victories over his enemies. He defeated and subdued the Philistines, Moab, Hadarezer king of Zobah, the Syrians, the Ammonites, and Ama-lek. Then, as if resting in these victories, the watchfulness is relaxed, and “the mighty” falls. And Asa, his descendant of the fifth generation, is graciously warned of God lest he should also fall into similar condemnation.

Azariah then reminds them of how, in days gone by (“hath been,” verse 3, should be “was”—in the days of the Judges, evidently: compare Judges 5), when, in apostasy and distress, the people turned to Jehovah, God of Israel, and sought Him, He was found of them. “Be ye strong therefore,” he says, “and let not your hands be weak: for your work shall be rewarded.” “But as for you, be firm,” the New Translation says. Asa had probably met with opposition in his reformatory work, and was in danger of failing to continue it to its completion. So he was exhorted to be firm, for there should be a sure reward for his deeds of restoration of the uncorrupted worship of Jehovah in his realm. “And when Asa heard these words, and the prophecy of Oded the prophet (Alex. MS. and Vulg. read, “Azariah son of Oded”), he took courage, and put away the abominable idols out of all the land of Judah and Benjamin, and out of the cities which he had taken from Mount Ephraim, and renewed the altar of the Lord, that was before the porch of the Lord.” This was the altar on which Solomon offered burnt-offerings when he brought his Egyptian bride into the house that he had built for her (2 Chron. 8:12). It had evidently been removed, or allowed to fall into disuse, or decay, before being “rebuilt” by Asa.

His great victory over Zerah had its effect on many among the revolted tribes (for nothing wins God’s people like God’s blessing), and “they fell to him out of Israel in abundance when they saw that the Lord his God was with him.” Stimulated, as it would seem, by these accessions to their ranks, the people entered into a covenant “to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul.” The tide of reformation ran high—too high, it is to be feared; for they determined “that whosoever would not seek the Lord God of Israel should be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman.” This severity hardly became a people who had only a short time before been themselves guilty of just such omission. They were excessively demonstrative also. “And they sware unto the Lord with a loud voice, and with shouting, and with trumpets, and with cornets.” Such demonstrations were no new thing in Israel. They had been heard before at Sinai, and elsewhere; and always with like results—more saying than doing; much promise, and little performance; great anticipation, and scant realization. But there was evident sincerity, and even reality, though mixed with much that was superficial; and God, who can discern what is of Himself, even when mingled with what is only of the flesh, rewarded them. “And all Judah rejoiced at the oath: for they had sworn with all their heart, and sought Him with their whole desire; and He was found of them: and the Lord gave them rest round about.”

Asa was no respecter of persons. He spared not his own mother (or grandmother), but deposed her for her idolatry. “And also concerning Maachah the mother of Asa the king, he removed her from being queen, because she had made an idol (or, horror) in a grove: and Asa cut down her idol, and stamped it, and burnt it at the brook Kidron.” It is in a man’s own family circle that his faithfulness is put fairly to the test. Levi was “proved at Massah,” where he “said unto his father and to his mother, I have not seen him; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor knew his own children” (Deut. 33:8, 9). Gideon too began his work for God by breaking down the altar of Baal which his father had set up. And in the apostolic church men could not serve as elders or deacons if they had not properly regulated homes. And He who was called “Faithful and True” said, when occasion required, “Who is My mother? and who are My brethren?”

“And in the six and thirtieth year of the reign of Asa, Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah, and built Ramah, to the intent that he might let none go out or come in to Asa king of Judah” (2 Chron. 16:1). This verse, when compared with 1 Kings 15:33 and 16:8, presents a chronological difficulty. Baasha must have been dead ten years before the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s reign, according to the above references. And we cannot be always falling back, in these seeming discrepancies, on a supposed error in transcription. The only apparent way out of the difficulty is to take “the six and thirtieth year” to date from the beginning of Judah as a separate kingdom from Israel. This would make the event to occur in the sixteenth year of the actual reign of Asa, and shortly after the occurrences of the preceding chapter. Ramah was on the high road from the northern kingdom, and it would be but natural for Baasha to take immediate steps to fortify this key city on the frontier, and thus check any further secessions to Asa from his dominion.

“Then Asa brought out silver and gold out of the treasures of the house of the Lord and of the king’s house, and sent to Benhadad king of Syria, that dwelt at Damascus, saying, There is a league between me and thee, as there was between my father and thy father: behold, I have sent thee silver and gold; go, break thy league with Baasha king of Israel, that he may depart from me.” It is difficult to account for this sudden defect in Asa’s faith. He had only recently, with God’s help, completely destroyed the immense army of Zerah the Ethiopian; now, before an enemy not half so formidable, his faith fails, and he depends for deliverance upon an arm of flesh. Had not his father Abijah, in dependence on the Lord, defeated a former army of Israel double the size of his own? It was the beginning of Asa’s downfall; for though the desired deliverance was obtained (for “Benhadad harkened unto King Asa,” and Baasha “left off building of Ramah, and let his work cease”), it cost him the rebuke of God and wars to the end of his reign. “And at that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah, and said unto him, Because thou hast relied on the king of Syria, and not relied on the Lord thy God, therefore is the host of the king of Syria escaped out of thy hand. Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubim a huge host, with very many chariots and horsemen? yet, because thou didst rely on the Lord, He delivered them into thy hand. For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect (or sincere) toward Him. Herein thou hast done foolishly: therefore from henceforth thou shalt have wars.”

“Therefore is the host of the king of Syria escaped out of thy hand.” Instead of calling upon Benhadad for help, he might have been subdued by Asa, as “escaped out of thy hand” implies. David had reigned over Damascus, and only in the days of Solomon’s degeneracy did Syria begin to exist as a separate and independent kingdom. (See 1 Kings 11:23-25.) Its first king “was an adversary to Israel all the days of Solomon: …and he abhorred Israel, and reigned over Syria.” This continued to be the attitude of Syria toward Israel; but it was in God’s heart to use Asa to destroy this heathen power, which in future days caused His people so much sorrow and distress. (See 2 Kings 8:11-13.) But he missed his opportunity; and when charged by Hanani with folly, he committed the seer to prison for his faithfulness. “Then Asa was wroth with the seer, and put him in a prison-house; for he was in a rage with him because of this thing. And Asa oppressed some of the people the same time”—the seer’s sympathizers, probably. His petty anger (at what he knew only too well to be the truth) betrays a low condition of soul from which he never evidently recovered; and his end was humiliating as his beginning had been brilliant. “And Asa, in the thirty and ninth year of his reign, was diseased in his feet, until his disease was exceeding great: yet in his disease he sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians.” In all this record, let us hear and take to ourselves the Lord’s word, “He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear.”

It is easily seen why the chronicler should write of his acts “first and last” (2 Chron. 16:11). “Ye did run well: who did hinder you?” might be asked of many besides the Galatians and Asa. Important as a good beginning is, it is not all: we are called to run with endurance the race that is set before us. But when God’s people become diseased in their feet, they cease to run well; and though they may try various expedients, such as ritualism, revivalism, the union of churches, etc., to recover themselves, they are every one of them “physicians of no value.” “Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation,” wrote a notable backslider. It is Jehovah who says through His prophet, “will heal their backslidings.”

There was a great funeral made over Asa, and he appears to have been sincerely lamented by his people. “And Asa slept with his fathers, and died in the one and fortieth year of his reign. And they buried him in his own sepulchres, which he had made for himself in the city of David, and laid him in the bed which was filled with sweet odors and divers kinds of spices prepared by the apothecaries’ art: and they made a very great burning for him.”

Asa’s history reveals his weaknesses: God, in His comments on his character, gives no hint of them (2 Chron. 20:32; 21:12). He loves to commend whatever is lovely in His servants’ lives, and only when necessary exposes their failures and follies. May we in this, as in all things else, be “imitators of God”! (Eph. 5:1.)

Jeremiah 41:9 refers to a pit (or cistern) made by Asa “for fear of Baasha king of Israel.” God would thus, in this incidental way, remind us by this late and last historical notice of king Asa what was the beginning of his decline—”the fear of man, which bringeth a snare.”