Sunday, May 17, 2020


King Asa was the third monarch of Judah after Solomon. His story is found in 2 Chronicles, chapters 14-16. Asa was one of the good kings of Judah. His story in chapter 14 begins with the words, “Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God.”
Then, near the end of chapter 15 the account says of him, “Asa’s heart was fully devoted all his days.”
Despite this final complimentary assessment of his life, I have always thought that Asa lived one chapter too long. It would have been good if his story would have ended with the above quote in chapter 15, because the events of chapter 16 actually belie those words about Asa. I suppose that you could call chapter 16 “The sins of an old man.”

The Quiet Years
I will get to that final chapter, but first, in between those two affirming statements about the king in chapters 14 and 15, the account tells of the reforms that Asa carried out during his early years:
He removed the foreign altars and high places, shattered the sacred pillars, and chopped down the Asherah poles. He commanded the people of Judah to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, and to observe the law and the commandments. He also removed the high places and incense altars from all the cities of Judah, and under him the kingdom was at peace. (2 Chronicles 14:3-5 BSB).
Since the kingdom was at peace, Asa used the opportunity of these quiet years to build up the defenses of the country.
“Let us build cities and surround them with walls and towers with doors and bars” Asa told the people. ”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” (2 Chronicles 14:7 BSB).
They built, and the country prospered. The economy was as strong as it had ever been since the days of Solomon. Not only did Asa build up the defensive infrastructure; he also built up the military. He had a standing army of 580,000 troops, all of them “mighty men of valor.”
The Threat of War
But his was not the strongest army in the region. Zerah the Ethiopian later came against Judah from the south with an army of 1,000,000 men, including 300 chariots. They advanced well into Judean territory and threatened to continue their march northward.
It was a formidable invasion force, but we saw that Asa also had a strong army, be it smaller in number. And he possessed the advantage of well defended and fortified cities. These were strengths on which he might rely. Nevertheless, in the face of this danger, the king did not look to these. He turned instead to the Lord.
“O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak” Asa prayed. “Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O Lord, you are our God; let not man prevail against you.” (2 Chronicles 14:11 ESV).
Because of this request and their reliance upon God, on that day he gave to Asa and the Judeans an overwhelming victory over the Ethiopians. But the victory seems not to have come by military strength, at least by this alone. It is actually uncertain how much of a military victory for the army of Asa that it was, for the text tells us that “the Ethiopians were shattered before the LORD and His army.”
The First Prophet
As Asa was returning from the battle, he was met by a prophet named Azariah. I am going to quote the entire statement of the prophet, because his words contain some very important advice, not only for Asa, but for any leader of a nation.
Azariah said to the king:
Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The LORD is with you when you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.
For many years Israel has been without the true God, without a priest to instruct them, and without the law. But in their distress they turned to the LORD, the God of Israel, and sought Him, and He was found by them.
In those days there was no safety for travelers, because the residents of the lands had many conflicts. Nation was crushed by nation, and city by city, for God afflicted them with all kinds of adversity.
But as for you, be strong; do not be discouraged, for your work will be rewarded. (2 Chronicles 15:2-7 BSB).
These were encouraging words for Asa, and encouraging words for any who seek the Lord. Asa was indeed heartened. After the conflict with the Ethiopians, the king continued his reforms and led the people to enter into a covenant to seek the Lord. As a result of their dedication, God “gave them rest on every side.”
Chapter 15 ends this way: “And there was no war until the thirty-fifth year of Asa’s reign.”
An Alliance With the World
But then at the beginning of chapter 16, we read these words: “In the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s reign, Baasha king of Israel went up against Judah.”

Baasha had made some moves to expand his portion of the divided kingdom into Judean territory. He then closed the border that he had expanded into Judean territory. The king of Israel prevented anyone from crossing his claimed border from either direction. The border was completely sealed.
These actions were understandably unacceptable to Asa, but by this time in his life, the Judean king had become a seasoned politician. He knew how to forge alliances with other nations that could help him in these types of situations. Asa turned to the king of Aram, in the area of present-day Syria.
Asa took the silver and the gold from the treasuries of the house of the Lord and from his own treasuries in the royal palace, and sent this all to the king of Aram in Damascus. With this wealth Asa sent this message:
“Let there be a treaty between me and you, between my father and your father. See, I have sent you silver and gold. Now go and break your treaty with Baasha king of Israel, so that he will withdraw from me.”
The strategy worked. Baasha discontinued his aggressive posture toward Judah, retreated back into his own territory, and the war was averted. It seemed a good solution. Never mind that the king of Aram was actually no friend of Asa and would have overtaken even Judah if he thought that his nation would succeed. It may have been an inauspicious alliance, but it was one that solved the present problems for Asa.
The Second Prophet
But Asa was soon visited by another prophet of God. This one had the name of Hanani. This prophet did not have such encouraging words for Asa as did the first prophet thirty-some years earlier. This time, it turns out that Asa’s strategy was not one that pleased the Lord.
This prophet told the king, “Because you have relied on the king of Aram and not on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Aram has escaped from your hand.”
The prophet Hanani reminded Asa of the battle of many years previous when the Ethiopians came up against Judah. “Was this not a vast army with many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the Lord, he delivered them into your hand.”
Then the prophet spoke these words which were not only providential for Asa’s ears, but also for our very own:
For the eyes of the LORD roam to and fro over all the earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is fully devoted to Him (2 Chronicles 16:7-9 BSB).
Hanani then concluded with this ominous warning: “You have acted foolishly in this matter. Because of this, from now on you will be at war.”
These words angered Asa. So enraged was he at the messenger of God that he had the prophet put in prison. In fact, in this later stage of his life, Asa’s entire character began to change as he began to oppress even his own people.
Internal Warfare
Despite Hanani’s forewarnings of perpetual war for Asa, we are not actually told of any further military confrontations that the king faced in his remaining five years until he died. We are told only of this conflict of internal oppression that he himself created with his own people. Asa’a war was a domestic war.
It was also an internal war, as Asa soon began to confront a battle for his own health. The king developed a disease in his feet, an ailment which became severe. It was a disease which would eventually contribute to his death. The text includes a statement about this foot disease which is very telling of Asa’s spiritual condition at this stage of his life.
“Yet even in his illness he did not seek the Lord, but only the physicians.”
He had forgotten his dependence on the Lord God.
Our Own Internal War
I would like to relate this statement about how Asa viewed his own physical ailment to our own condition with COVID-19 in our day. You may think that what I will say next is a jump or a stretch in relating this statement in Second Chronicles to our own experience, but it is something that I have thought about.
Asa failed to seek the Lord about healing, preferring instead to rely only upon physicians. When I look at the list of names on President Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force, I see the names of twenty-two (if I counted correctly) very capable individuals—most of them doctors or others with medical connections.
We have become accustomed to seeing Doctors Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci on the evening news telling us to wash our hands, wear face masks and maintain a six-foot social distance.  I have no doubt that everyone on the task force is a good person with good things to tell us. All have our best interests in mind and also the best interest of the country.
But my question in relation to the story of Asa’s foot disease is this: “Where is the prophet?” “Where is the man of God also on the evening news who is telling us that we should be seeking the Lord?”
Too politically incorrect? Afraid that we will offend the atheists? Worried that we will alienate potential voters? Probably all of these questions have an affirmative answer, but they also demonstrate to what point our nation has declined.
Lincoln’s Proclamations
During the Civil War, as President Lincoln was facing the severe crisis in his own time, called for the nation to fast and to pray for national peace and unity. His first proclamation was to set apart the last Thursday in September, 1861. A portion of that proclamation read:
I do earnestly recommend to all the people, and especially to all ministers and teachers of religion of all denominations and to all heads of families, to observe and keep that day according to their several creeds and modes of worship in all humility and with all religious solemnity, to the end that the united prayer of the nation may ascend to the Throne of Grace and bring down plentiful blessings upon our country.
It was not Lincoln’s only proclamation for fasting and praying. Even more pointed are his words in his second proclamation to prayer for the 30th of March, 1863. This proclamation to me seem to be particularly relevant to today’s situation.
Lincoln’s words:
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown.
But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.
Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.
The words sound as if they might have been spoken by the prophet Hanani of Second Chronicles.
There would be at least one more proclamation by Lincoln for fasting and prayer. This one on the first Thursday of August in 1864. In part this proclamation read:
Whereas when our own beloved country, once, by the blessing of God, united, prosperous, and happy, is now afflicted with faction and civil war, it is peculiarly fit for us to recognize the hand of God in this terrible visitation, and in sorrowful remembrance of our own faults and crimes as a nation and as individuals to humble ourselves before Him and to pray for His mercy—to pray that we may be spared further punishment, though most justly deserved.
Trump’s Proclamation
In our own day, President Trump also issued a national day of prayer regarding our own contemporary type of civil war with the coronavirus COVID-19. This proclamation was on just this past Thursday, May 7. You may have missed it, since the network television outlets did not mention Trump’s proclamation as they opened their newscasts with their usual “Breaking News.”  But the proclamation was made.
In his declaration, President Trump referred to similar proclamations in our nation’s history, not only by President Lincoln, but also by Presidents Washington and Reagan. A portion of President Trump’s proclamation is as follows:
“During the past weeks and months, our heads have bowed at places outside of our typical houses of worship, whispering in silent solitude for God to renew our spirit and carry us through unforeseen and seemingly unbearable hardships.”
“Even though we have been unable to gather together in fellowship with our church families, we are still connected through prayer and the calming reassurance that God will lead us through life’s many valleys…”
“I encourage all Americans to observe this day, reflecting on the blessings our nation has received and the importance of prayer, with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities in their houses of worship, communities, and places of work, schools, and homes consistent with the White House’s ‘Guidelines for Opening up America Again.’”
These were good words spoken by our president, but there is one element missing from them. It is an element which President Lincoln did not fail to include in his proclamations. This is the call for repentance.
Again allow me to repeat some of the words of our sixteenth president about our nation during his day. They are words that apply even greater to our country in our own hours than when Lincoln spoke them a century and a half ago:
“Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us…It is peculiarly fit for us to recognize the hand of God in this terrible visitation, and in sorrowful remembrance of our own faults and crimes as a nation and as individuals to humble ourselves before Him, and to pray for His mercy”
In our day we may speak of beautiful sentiments concerning our dependence upon God, but even in this crisis of the coronavirus, by our actions and priorities we are demonstrating that our actual belief is that medical science is our savior.
Our Savior
“The vaccine…” a news commentator recently said on one of our major news outlets, “the development of a vaccine is the only thing that can give us a solution to this crisis.”
I disagree. I would rather adapt the words of King Asa as he faced his first battle: “O Lord, there is none like you to help, between us as your people and this unseen enemy. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you. In your name we have come against this threat to our lives. O Lord, you are our God; let not a virus prevail against you.”
It is not as if I am suggesting that we abandon medical intervention. King Hezekiah of Judah, who came several generations after Asa, also developed a life-threatening physical ailment in his life. He was also visited by a prophet. This was the prophet Isaiah, who spoke the word of God in that king’s day.
After seeing Hezekiah and hearing the word of the Lord, Isaiah advised the people attending the king to prepare a poultice to apply to the infected area (2 Kings 20:1-7). Hezekiah’s healing was the answer to his prayer to God, but Isaiah also employed a healing salve for the infection.
So we must also use the tools given to us to combat this newest plague which has infected the world, but we must do so knowing that it is God who is sovereign, not medical science.
King Solomon reigned in Judah before Asa, and was actually Asa’s great-grandfather. Solomon also spoke some words that are especially relevant in our day. When he prayed at the dedication of the temple, he spoke these words toward heaven:
When famine or plague comes upon the land, or blight or mildew or locusts or grasshoppers, or when their enemy besieges them in their cities, whatever plague or sickness may come, then may whatever prayer or petition Your people Israel make... may You forgive and act, and repay each man according to all his ways, since You know his heart—for You alone know the hearts of all men—so that they may fear You all the days they live in the land that You gave to our fathers (1 Kings 8:37-40 BSB).
Our nation suffered another severe crisis on 9/11/2001. That crisis was one that brought many in our country to their knees in prayer. Since that day, the Old Testament verse of 2 Chronicles 17:14 has been so often repeated that it has almost become a mantra for us in this country. It is not a bad thing to have this as a refrain for our nation, but when will we actually follow its advice?
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
I think this even includes COVID-19

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