We’re continuing our review of the history of Israel, and we’re in 1 Kings 15 and studying King Asa. For some reason, the suggested title is “Return” which makes me think it’s related to a book I borrowed from the library when I was 12. I think a better title might be “Consistency” or “Endurance,” but we’ll stick with “Return” and the 10 cents a day fine I owe. Which would add up to $182.50 today, I did the math because why not.
I can’t say I come close to being well-versed in the various kings of Israel. First this king did evil, then that king did what is right in his own eyes. Then they died. Then on to the next king, which except for the name, the story is the same. This king did evil, that king did what is right in his own eyes, then they died.
All in all, 1st and 2nd Kings covers a period of Israel’s history, their Divided Kingdom, from the time David died until the Babylonian conquest. Lots of historical information about the kings of the Northern and Southern kingdoms, and there a pattern of good king / bad king, good king / bad king, repeat. I believe 20 kings are listed and only 8 of them fall into the “good” category, but even the “good” kings were flawed individuals.
There’s a story I read this week that illustrates how the bible portrays these kings perfectly. There’s these two brothers that ran a business in town, and the two brothers lied, cheated, and stole every chance they could. Every knew not to trust either of them.
One day, one of the brothers died. The surviving brother went to the local church and told the pastor he wanted his brother buried in the church cemetery. Moreover, he wanted the pastor to say good things about his brother. In fact, if the pastor told his congregation that his brother was a saint, he’d donate $1 million to the church.
The day of the funeral arrived, everybody leaned forward to hear what the pastor would say. The pastor took a deep breath, and said the deceased was a lying scumbag who lied, cheated and stole. The deceased mistreated, disrespected, and swindled everybody he ever came in contact with.”
“But,” said the pastor, “compared to his brother, he was a saint!”
Two weeks ago, Chris gave us the history of a good king who in later years did bad things, King Schloe-Moe of the Judean dynasty, along with Schloe-Moe’s brother Schloe-Curly and Schloe-Larry. That might be their names, your bible may use different names.
And last week, John Mills gave us the history of some of the “bad” kings, first Rehoboam and then Jeroboam, kings that didn’t listen either to the Lord or to wise council, so they fall in the “bad” category. Among other things, the instituted idol worship and waged war with the Israelites.
This week we’re going to study King Asa who generally falls in the “good” category, but it wasn’t easy for Asa. Asa was the grandson of the bad king that John talked about, Rehoboam, and the son of another bad king Abijam. Abijam is described in 1 Kings 15:3 as
Abijam walked in all the sins his father before him had committed, and he was not completely devoted to the Lord his God as his ancestor David had been.
Two generations of bad kings leading up to Asa. But Asa was faithful to the Lord. Where did Asa get his faith? The bible doesn’t say directly, but faith comes as a gift from the Lord. Asa certainly didn’t get it from his family.
Asa’s father only ruled for 3 years, then we read in 1 Kings 15:8-11,
II. A Breath of Fresh Air
Abijam rested with his fathers and was buried in the city of David. His son Asa became king in his place.
In the twentieth year of Israel’s King Jeroboam, Asa became king of Judah and reigned 41 years in Jerusalem. His grandmother’s name was Maacah daughter of Abishalom.
Asa did what was right in the Lord’s eyes, as his ancestor David had done.
Asa’s name means “a seeker of the Lord.” He begins well, and early in his rule Asa begins implementing religious reform. Some of them are described here in 1 Kings 15, the rest are described in 2 Chronicles 14. These reforms included purging the land of idols, repairing the altar to the Lord, removing his grandmother from her position of power because of her idolatry, and depositing his father’s gold and silver into the Lord’s temple. Pay attention to that part, because we’ll come back to his father’s gold and silver dedicated to the Lord later.
Asa will reign for 41 years in Judah the Southern Kingdom. Asa ruled for so long, the Northern Kingdom of Israel see seven kings come and go. For the beginning of Asa’s rule, God grants Asa ten years of peace, and during this peaceful time, Asa implements a religious revival and reform that Judah so desperately needed. Asa also uses this time to fortify the cities and he built walls and towers.
Then comes the tests of faith. Tests that come to all of us in times of trouble or need. And we will see two different responses from Asa and illustrate a way that pleases God and a way that does not.
III. The Battle Belongs to the Lord
Asa faces his first test when the Cushites prepare for war. The Cushites are from what is now known as Ethiopia, on the other side of the Red Sea and south of Egypt. Ethiopians attack Judah. We’ll jump over to 2 Chronicles 14:8-10 to see the battle preparations.
Asa had an army of 300,000 from Judah bearing large shields and spears, and 280,000 from Benjamin bearing regular shields and drawing the bow. All these were brave warriors. Then Zerah the Cushite came against them with an army of one million men and 300 chariots. They came as far as Mareshah. So Asa marched out against him and lined up in battle formation in the Valley of Zephathah at Mareshah.
I’m counting that Asa was outnumbered at least 2:1. Battle lines are drawn, but the advantage is to the Cushites, if you consider numbers alone to be an advantage.
But Asa is a man of faith. Moreover, he knows the promise made by the Lord that a descendent of King David would always sit on the throne. Therefore, the victory is his, even before the battle is fought. 2 Chronicles 14:11-12,
Then Asa cried out to the Lord his God: “Lord, there is no one besides You to help the mighty and those without strength. Help us, Lord our God, for we depend on You, and in Your name we have come against this large army. Yahweh, You are our God. Do not let a mere mortal hinder You.”
So the Lord routed the Cushites before Asa and before Judah, and the Cushites fled.
In his humility, Asa knows he alone will fail. In his prayer, he pleads with the Lord that He should not let the weakness of Asa hinder the strength of the Lord. Asa calls to the Lord and acknowledges that victory is impossible without God, and Asa faces the battle in the Lord’s name.
And the Lord answers in a mighty way.
The Lord encourages Asa through the prophet Azariah in 2 Chronicles 15:1-2,
The Spirit of God came on Azariah son of Oded. 2 So he went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Asa and all Judah and Benjamin, hear me. The Lord is with you when you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you abandon Him, He will abandon you.
Encouraged by these words, Asa continues to purge the land of idols. Many people from the Northern Kingdom of Israel defected to Asa’s leadership because they saw the Lord was with Asa. Asa sacrificed cattle and sheep from their plunder from the Cushites. The entire nation of Judah renewed their vows to the Lord, and the Lord granted the Asa and he kingdom years and years of peace.
IV. When We Fail to Trust God
Do you know what come from years and years of peace? Complacency. There was no war until the 35th year of Asa’s reign.
Baasha, king of Israel to the North, started preparing to invade Judah. First he built Ramah to prevent anyone from coming or going to Judah’s King Asa. Now at this time, Baasha was allied with King Ben-hadad of Damascus.
Did Asa again rely on the Lord? The years of peace had been good to Asa. Maybe he thought he had become wise. In any event, Asa went to the temple of the Lord. Remember all that gold and silver of his father’s that he had consecrated to the Lord? Now Asa brought it out of the temple and sent it to Ben-hadad of Damascus. A bribe. Asa asked Ben-hadad to break his treaty with Israel. The ploy worked – not only did Ben-hadad break his treaty with Israel, Ben-hadad turned and attacked Israel. King Asa must have been pleased with himself.
But the Lord was not pleased. The Lord sent Hanani the seer to Asa and said in 2 Chronicles 16:7b-9a,
“Because you depended on the king of Aram and have not depended on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Aram has escaped from your hand. Were not the Cushites and Libyans a vast army with many chariots and horsemen? When you depended on Yahweh, He handed them over to you. For the eyes of Yahweh roam throughout the earth to show Himself strong for those whose hearts are completely His. You have been foolish in this matter.”
Had Asa turned from the Lord? It appears so. Scripture goes on to say that the remainder of Asa’s kingdom was full of war, and Asa himself mistreated the people of Judah. Asa died three years later of some sort of disease in his feet. 2 Chronicles 16:12-13,
In the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa developed a disease in his feet, and his disease became increasingly severe. Yet even in his disease he didn’t seek the Lord but only the physicians. Asa died in the forty-first year of his reign and rested with his fathers.
Overall, the bible reports that Asa was a good king. But he wasn’t consistently a good king. It appears, despite his early reliance on the Lord, Asa died in misery.
Despite such a brief chapter, the life of king Asa can teach us a lot.
- Reliance on God in His will always leads to victory. 1 million of the enemy cannot stand against the strength of the Lord.
- Peace leads to complacency. Satan is always on the attack. If you have no struggles, perhaps Satan is happy with you just the way you are.
- The commitment to follow God must be practice continuously. Reliance on one’s self is the same as pride, and we are all vulnerable to pride.
I’ll wrap this up with these words from Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Paul admonishes us not only to remain reliant on God, but to do it consistently, without hypocrisy, and endure to the end.
Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. However, they do it to receive a crown that will fade away, but we a crown that will never fade away. Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
The race is won not at the beginning, and the race is not won in the middle. The race is won at the end. An eternity with our Lord awaits, so keep running all the way to the end.
All glory to God through Christ alone. Amen.