Lessons from what? Or who? OK, so I have once again caught many of you off guard – and I am referring to Christians here. I have often written words of exhortation about getting into the Hebrew Scriptures, and how we rob ourselves – and God – when we avoid the Old Testament. It is a spiritual treasure house which we ignore at our own peril.
So let me again share some spiritual truths and lessons from the OT, this time 2 Chronicles 14-16. These three chapters tell us about the life of Asa, one of the kings of Judah (the southern half of the divided kingdom). Asa reigned for 41 years, and for most of that time he was in right relation to Yahweh. There is a lot of material in these chapters which can be discussed, but let me just highlight four episodes.
The opening verses are well worth noting: “Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God. He removed the foreign altars and the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He commanded Judah to seek the LORD, the God of their ancestors, and to obey his laws and commands. He removed the high places and incense altars in every town in Judah, and the kingdom was at peace under him. He built up the fortified cities of Judah, since the land was at peace. No one was at war with him during those years, for the LORD gave him rest” (14:2-6)
Here we find that whole-hearted loyalty to God always goes together with a ruthless war on idols and idolatry. There can be no mingling of worship of the one true God with any pandering to false gods. To serve the one is to repudiate the other. And when we take such a strong stance, God’s rest will be the fruit of our dedication.
Such rest does not mean we will be free of hardships, trials or opposition however. But it does mean God will be with us during those difficult times. We see this clearly spelled out in 14:9-11: “Zerah the Cushite marched out against them with an army of thousands upon thousands and three hundred chariots, and came as far as Mareshah. Asa went out to meet him, and they took up battle positions in the Valley of Zephathah near Mareshah. Then Asa called to the LORD his God and said, ‘LORD, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, LORD our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. LORD, you are our God; do not let mere mortals prevail against you’.”
We read after this that Yahweh broke through big time on his behalf and thoroughly routed his enemies. There are some powerful spiritual principles here to heed. Anyone actively seeking to walk with God will find plenty of opposition and resistance, the ultimate origin of which is demonic.
In our own strength we are usually greatly outnumbered, out-gunned and out-flanked. Our only hope is to let God fight on our behalf. Of course that does not mean we sit down and do nothing. Like Asa we must marshal the troops and prepare for battle, going down to meet the enemy.
But we must realise that the battle is the Lord’s and unless we depend upon him fully as Asa did, we will all be toast. “LORD, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty.” That must always be our attitude and prayer as we engage in these battles.
In 15:1-8 we find another key lesson. The text goes like this: “The Spirit of God came on Azariah son of Oded. 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. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you. For a long time Israel was without the true God, without a priest to teach 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 it was not safe to travel about, for all the inhabitants of the lands were in great turmoil. One nation was being crushed by another and one city by another, because God was troubling them with every kind of distress. But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded’.”
These are amazing words from Azariah which we all must take to heart. When we seek God, he will be found by us. When we forsake him, he will forsake us. Our heart attitude is all important. Is God number One in our life or is he not? He is either Lord of all or not Lord at all.
Our attitude is just so crucial here. There can be no cruising along in the spiritual life. There is no idling along in neutral. We are either going forward for him and with him, giving him our all, or we are going backwards, and effectively siding with the Lord’s enemies.
Finally, 16:7-10 contains some more powerful truths: “At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him: ‘Because you 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. Were not the Cushites and Libyans a mighty army with great numbers of chariots and horsemen? Yet when you relied on the LORD, he delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.’ Asa was angry with the seer because of this; he was so enraged that he put him in prison. At the same time Asa brutally oppressed some of the people.”
This sadly has to do with when Asa no longer trusted in God and no longer put him first. He decided to put his trust in human alliances instead of depending on God alone for his strength and security. Because of that he faced ongoing warfare and defeat, the exact opposite of what he had earlier experienced.
And as always happens when people have their eyes – and priorities – on self and not God, those who seek to speak truth into the situation will be detested and rejected. Instead of heeding the words of the seer he was angry with him, and shut him up in prison.
This is the usual lot of the true prophet of God. Because they do not tell people what they want to hear, but what they need to hear, they will usually be rejected, despised and persecuted. This was true time and time again in the OT, and it was of course true of the greatest prophet, Jesus.
People refuse to hear the truth, and will always persecute the truth teller. The only popular prophets in the OT were the false prophets. They told the people just what they wanted to hear. We dare not do that. We must always tell people exactly what God wants them to hear, no matter how unpleasant.
But even in this harsh and sad word of the seer, we hear this wonderful promise: “the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” What a tremendous promise and what a great hope. Those who are fully committed to him and depend on none other will always find God to be a very present help in time of trouble.
Those who stay on their knees, or better yet, fall on their face before the living God, will find a powerful and fully available God there to help and sustain. God always responds to the kneeling and penitent saint, but always resists the proud and independent believer.
Sadly King Asa did not persevere to the end. With the grace of God we can do better. We must do better. Far too many believers are giving up and walking away from Christ. We must be among those. We must stay true to the end, for the simple reason that Jesus stayed true to the end for our sakes. How can we do anything less?