Stay Strong to the End
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Given 19-Dec-15; Sermon #1300; 78 minutes
The book of Chronicles, written around 420 BC, after Israel had returned from captivity, was not intended to be so much as a historical record as a sermon, drawing lessons from the historical record and showing what happens when the nation and its kings conform to God's covenants and what happens when the nation and its kings depart from God's covenants. We can trust God's reaction to be consistent. The majority of leaders in Judah and Israel proved wicked, bringing enslavement and death to their subjects. A handful were fairly good kings, such as Jehoshaphat and Asa. The tenure of Asa started off well, with his judgments faithfully executed on behalf of the good and right, but as he continued his reign, his faults began to emerge as well. Asa initially banished cultic prostitutes, homosexuals, idols, and high places, even having the courage to displace his powerful grandmother Maachah for erecting an obscene image of the goddess Ashera, an idol which Asa boldly destroyed. Asa's reforms gave Judah a ten year respite, time which he wisely used to fortify his country, building up garrisons and protective walls. Sadly, Asa left a few things undone, losing a lot of steam in his later years, trying to play it safe. Idolatry was so engrained in Judah and Israel that Asa felt a sense of weariness in well-doing. Similarly, if we leave things undone in our personal revival, our secret sins morph into idols. Paul warns us to flee from all forms of idolatry. The things that our forebears experienced apply to us. When the million man army of Zerah the Ethiopian outnumbered Asa's forces two to one, Asa relied on God and prevailed. Later, on the prophet Azariah's counsel, Asa led his people to rededicate the Covenant of the Lord, making an oath of death if they disobeyed. Sadly, Asa in his later years made a treaty with Syria against Israel, leadin
In my last couple of sermons, we have looked into the book of Chronicles, primarily II Chronicles and we have done most of our work out of II Chronicles. We saw a prayer or two at first.
But we have seen that, overall, Chronicles was written after the Jews came back from exile in Babylon, and we see that it ends with the decree of Cyrus for them to return to Judea to rebuild the Temple. So that gives us pretty much the latest historical evidence we have. But various internal clues, mostly dealing with the genealogies, indicate that it was written several generations later—after they had returned from exile. So it puts the writing somewhere in the late 4th century BC (somewhere between 420 BC and 410 BC, pretty late in that century).
This being the case, as we saw in that first sermon, the Chronicler (who he was, we have no idea; might have been a Levite, might have been a priest, might have been a prophet that we do not know about. It could have been Malachi, who knows? Nobody knows who Malachi is, but it could have been somebody in that general period of time) had the whole of Israelite history to draw from.
He could look back over a thousand years of things that had happened between God and His people Israel and, from this perspective, he could come up with some pretty firm theological conclusions about God, His dealings with Israel, and Israel’s dealings with Him. Therefore, looking at these things, putting them down on a list, seeing the pros and cons, weighing this versus that, he could see that there were various lessons that could be drawn from the history.
Now I mentioned in that first sermon that Chronicles is less an annal, or a historical record, and more like a long sermon or a kind of a thesis paper where he is trying to prove a point about Israel’s history and the relationship between God and them. So he is making this point to his fellow Jews, drawing particular lessons from their histories, obviously, so they will not repeat them. Because he wants them to learn these lessons of history and move forward in a positive way so that things will go well with them.
As we saw in that first sermon, it is clear that Chronicles is also a lot more theological than Samuel and Kings—the other books that write about the Israelite kings. What we found there was that the chronicler cherry-picks the stories that he wants to emphasize and then he highlights certain things within those reigns so that he could draw out these lessons. What he concludes, in an overall sense (if you take both I and II Chronicles and you look at everything that he has written), is that God has consistently dealt with the Israelites on the basis of the covenant. There, in the book of Exodus (chapters 20, 21, 22, 23) where the covenant was put down, are the terms for how He will deal with them. And not only that, we could say actually the whole Pentateuch (or maybe more specifically, the whole book of Deuteronomy) spells out how He is going to deal with them.
Once we go into the interaction between God and Israel over the long centuries, we can say God did exactly what He said He was going to do and followed it perfectly. In His faithfulness, He has always blessed them when they obeyed. He was very consistent. He gave them all kinds of things; He gave them power, wealth, prosperity, good crops, peace, and many other things besides, when they did what He had said that they should do.
But, on the other hand, He always punished them when they disobeyed and rebelled, just like He said He was going to do. So when they strayed from Him, He brought in foreign powers, He allowed no rain to fall. We can go through this in the book of Amos where He said He did this, He did that, He did this other thing. He let diseases come in (famine, what have you) to punish them, to get them to turn back to Him and do what is right so that He could bless them again.
So what the chronicler shows is that when the people do well, God responds and gives them good things. But when the people rebel and do bad things, then God responds by cursing them—punishing them one way or another.
In effect, we can boil this down to this very simple statement: God has said what He will do, and He does what He has said. Very simple. It is something we can count on in our relationship with Him. As a matter of fact, that simple statement (God has said what He will do, and He does what He has said) is actually the very basis of our faith. We know, from what God has said and done (because He has done what He has said), that we can count on Him; that when something similar comes in our own lives, He will do exactly as He said He would do in that situation.
So we can trust Him—we have faith in Him—that He is going to act in this particular pattern. He never does anything that is capricious. He just does what He says He will do. We can have faith in that. We can trust His reaction every time.
We think that we can get away with things. We think that our situation is different and that God will have to act different. But that is not true. God always reacts to sin in the same way, and He always reacts the same way in terms of righteousness and obedience. Those are simple terms, simple principles, but true. If we do well, God responds to us with good. If we do badly, He is forced to respond to us badly—unless He applies grace and that is where His love comes into play.
But there is this correspondence: when we do bad, we are going to reap bad things; when we do good, we are going to reap good things. So God follows that up with His character, which is one of steadfastness to this covenant idea that He has said what He will do and He will do what He has said.
If you will, please turn to Hebrews 8. Paul writes:
Hebrews 8:7-8 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.”
I just want you to understand here that Paul is giving us an idea here that there was a problem with that first covenant. There was a problem with how it worked out. But notice that he does not say that the fault was with ‘it,’ he uses the plural pronoun ‘them.’ The fault was with them. Now who is the ‘them’ in here?
Well, normally, you look for an antecedent to a pronoun. It is up there a little further, but it is actually close if we look beyond the point where it appears. It says there that He “will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” That is the ‘them’ who had the fault. It was them, the people, who had the fault. They were the ones that made that covenant not work.
The terms of the covenant were perfectly fine. They work. As a matter of fact, those terms in the Old Covenant are a part of what we promise God to do. They are very similar, especially those big Ten Commandments that are at the beginning. Those are perfect. God’s law is perfect. It is pure. All His words are pure. So when God gave this covenant, everything that He gave was right and good. But it was the people who did not follow the covenant.
If we go along, we find out that it was their hearts that were bad. They did not follow the covenant because their hearts were not loyal to God. So God, for His part, kept the terms of the covenant perfectly. But it was the people who had the problem. And this is part of the conclusion of the chronicler as well: The problem was with the people, not with God.
God always reacted, or responded, properly, in a fitting way, to whatever was happening within Israel or Judah. No one can blame Him for the failure of that first covenant because, for one, the covenant was just fine and perfect as He gave it and the terms were just peachy, they were good. And, two, in His enactment of it and His follow-through in working with the people in the covenant, He was perfect. He did everything right. So no blame can be placed at His feet for the failure of the covenant. It was with the people.
The chronicler, to make his point, focuses on the stories of the Israelite and Judean kings and the people that they led. But he mostly focuses on the leadership—the leadership of the nation. Those kings who complied with the covenant—who met its terms, who sought the Lord, whose hearts were good and soft before Him—succeeded. They had pretty good reigns. They did things right. They were commended before God. But those who did the opposite—whose hearts were not ready or prepared for God, who did not follow God but went their own ways—failed, sometimes colossally. The chronicler is showing that the leadership (or, more correctly, the lack of leadership) is what played a key role in the story of the nation.
Now the upshot is this: When they were faithful, things went fairly well; when they were wicked, when they forsook God, the nation suffered. It is that correspondence: You do good, God blesses; you do bad, God punishes. It works time and time again.
It is not always that simple. There are things that are thrown in to make it a little bit more complex from time to time but, generally, that is the case. It is generally the case with us. We do well, God blesses. We do poorly and sin, well, God has to punish us and bring us up short.
Unfortunately, the preponderance of the quality of their characters fell on the ‘wicked’ end of the spectrum. I am talking about the kings of Israel and Judah. So the nations slowly worsened and failed—Israel first, and Judah, about 135 years later.
But what happened, as they failed, is that they caused God to respond in judgment. He could do nothing else because the covenant said that if they left Him, and forsook Him, and were idolatrous, and did all these bad things, then He would visit upon them all the plagues of Egypt (all the horrors of war, the famines, and all the breakdown of society) and, finally, He would bring in war and destruction and death.
So it was the attitude and the worsening behavior of the kings, and then the people, who brought upon this decline upon themselves. So God had to end their story in this decline, in the destruction, in enslavement, in exile, and in death—exactly the sort of things that the covenant said would happen.
We are going to study into something that is may be a little bit more uplifting than what I just ended with. The last time we studied the life of Jehoshaphat, who was a really good king. He was pretty good throughout his whole life. He had a problem, we saw that, he had gotten his family married into the family of Ahab and Jezebel and they always caused things to go sour for him one way or another. But he was a pretty good king. I told you I thought he was about third or fourth on the list of the kings of Judah.
Today we are going to look into another pretty good Judean monarch. We are going to go backward in time, to his father Asa. Some of you out there may have heard me give a Bible study on Asa about five years ago or so. I never gave it here in Fort Mill. So these people have not heard it——those who are staring at me right now, except for dad (he has heard it about 10 times). Most of this is from that Bible study with a few little things thrown in so dad will not get completely bored. So we will talk about Asa.
If you want to, you can start turning back to I Kings 15 where we will pick up his story.
Asa is considered a good king. He was good and right in the sight of God. His overall evaluation from God is that he was pretty upstanding, pretty faithful. But, as all men, he still had his faults and he had a particular weakness that began to show up when he was in his old age.
Asa started his reign as a fairly young man, so ‘old’ is relative. I think it was a 41-year reign. So he reigned a long time. But he came to the throne when he was probably still a minor. He was maybe in his 50s or early 60s by the time he died. So maybe for that time his age was considered to be fairly old. But, like I said, that is kind of relative. He had been a long time as king and the problems did not really show up until right near the end.
He was kind of like that new car that you get and it is wonderful. For the first couple of years, it is just beautiful and nice, and you can still smell that new-car smell, and everything works so well and all the bells and whistles are just wonderful. Then you keep it for 6, 7, 8 years (and 10 years, 12 years, 15 years) and you know, that after a while, you start hearing all the rattles, things start breaking, the hoses start to disintegrate. Nothing just seems to work quite as well as it used to. Even though you are trying to maintain it really well, it still ages, and over time it just gets old and tired and it is time for a new car. That is kind of Asa in a nutshell, if you will.
Asa was the new king that did really well at first. But, as he got older and tired and whatever was happening, he let down and he let down kind of spectacularly. God calls him on that very abruptly. So we can learn from his early loyalty to God, which is quite above average. If he had kept it up and done well throughout his life, he might have been the best king ever.
But he did not. He failed in his later years and it left a kind of a black mark on his reputation.
We are back in I Kings 15 (you are, I am not; I was talking and failed to turn in my Bible). After this we will be in I Chronicles for the most part. But let us just read what whoever wrote I Kings had to say about him.
I Kings 15:9 In the twentieth year of Jeroboam king of Israel, Asa became king over Judah.
Just so you have an idea of where we are in history, Solomon died after 40 years of reign over Israel and his son Rehoboam came on the scene as the next king. He reigned for 17 years. Rehoboam’s son Abijah (or, as I Kings says, “Abijam”; he is given both names) became king after Rehoboam died, and he reigned a grand total of three years. When Asa comes to the throne, it is only 20 years since Solomon died. Just to give you a kind of an idea where we are here.
I Kings 15:10 And he reigned forty-one years in Jerusalem. His grandmother’s name [notice that] was Maachah the granddaughter of Abishalom.
Now that sounds familiar. If the name ‘Abishalom’ sounds familiar to you, well, like ‘Abijah’ and ‘Abijam,’ this is Absalom the son of David.
I Kings 15:11 Asa did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as did his father David.
Hey, pretty good king then. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord as his father David. He gets good marks. God says “kudos” to Asa. He did what was right, just like David. So we have to ask: What did God praise him for? Well, let us go on.
I Kings 15:12 And he banished the perverted persons from the land. . .
These were the homosexuals that had risen up in the years since David. Most of them were what you would call cultic prostitutes. A lot of bad stuff was going on in Judah.
I Kings 15:12 . . . and removed all the idols that his fathers had made.
So here it gives Abijah, Rehoboam, and Solomon a bad name because they had all reared idols for their wives.
I Kings 15:13 Also he removed Maachah his grandmother from being queen mother, because she had made an obscene image of Asherah. And Asa cut down her obscene image and burned it by the Brook Kidron [so he threw it into Gehenna—or he basically threw it into the city dump by the Brook Kidron].
We will get to this in a little while. This was quite a significant thing that he had done.
I Kings 15:14-15 But the high places were not removed. Nevertheless Asa’s heart was loyal to the Lord all his days. He also brought into the house of the Lord the things which his father had dedicated, and the things which he himself had dedicated: silver and gold and utensils.
He had put a lot of his personal wealth into the Temple—into its repair, into its upkeep—and was really trying to support the Levites and the priests in their duties.
Let us go to II Chronicles 14 and we will pick up his story here because II Chronicles actually expands on some of these things that Asa did as a young man. This will be somewhat of a review from what we just saw there in I Kings 15.
II Chronicles 14:1 So Abijah rested with his fathers, and they buried him in the City of David. Then Asa his son reigned in his place. In his days the land was quiet for ten years.
As we begin the reign of Asa, this idea, that the land had quiet, is important. Because, remember, we talked earlier that if you do right under the covenant, God blesses you. Well, Asa was doing right under the covenant. He had a heart that was loyal to God. He was doing what God wanted him to do, at least as far as he understood. And so God rewarded him—his loyal heart—with rest, with quiet, for ten years. You will notice this, as we go through the next several verses down through verse 7, that this idea, this theme, keeps coming up.
II Chronicles 14:2-3 Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God [So here we have, again, that he was a really good king.], for he removed the altars of the foreign gods and the high places, and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the wooden images.
These are all the things that God said in Deuteronomy that needed to be done when they went into the land—that they needed to remove the foreign gods, the idols, the high places. They needed to desecrate those high places, take all the religious stuff out of them, and use them normally and not as cultic high places where they worshipped the pagan gods.
“Broke down the sacred pillars”: Those usually are standing stones that a lot of the Celtic people later put all over Europe and all over Great Britain; and even some here, in America. They are basically pillars (usually phallic symbols or fertility symbols) and they are objects of worship.
Then you have the “wooden images” which are very similar but with wood. They are to one or another of the gods. They would be put up like totem poles, or idols, for people to worship. Oftentimes they were put on the high places. These are all the things that God said that the kings were supposed to get rid of. And Asa did it.
II Chronicles 14:4 He commanded Judah to seek the Lord God of their fathers [Now he is being a preacher. He is actually out there encouraging people to turn to God.], and to observe the law and the commandment.
So he is supporting the Levites in their teaching duties and he is getting the people to reform, to turn.
II Chronicles 14:5 He also removed the high places and the incense altars from all the cities of Judah, and the kingdom was quiet under him.
So we see here a direct connection between his reform work and his revivalist work and the quiet. If a person is going to rid the land as it were of these idolatrous practices and idolatrous things, then God turns right around and blesses that person. What could be a greater blessing than rest and peace and quiet!
II Chronicles 14:6 And he built fortified cities in Judah, for the land had rest. . .
He had time now because the land had rest. There were no armies on his borders. There were no incursions. He did not have to worry about things coming at him from one direction or another. Now the land had rest, he could build his fortified cities, meaning he could strengthen the nation while there was peace, so that when war would come (we have to understand that this is the real world and war is going to come eventually) he would be ready. So God gave him peace in order to ready the nation for the things that would come down the road.
II Chronicles 14:6 . . . he had no war in those years, because the Lord had given him rest.
It is said directly that the Lord had given him rest for what he had done.
II Chronicles 14:7 Therefore he said to Judah. . .
He is now bringing the whole community of Judah into this drive that he had—this reform drive, this survivalist drive, this strengthening drive that he was going through. Remember this is only 20 years from the reign of Solomon, and he is trying to bring it back to that former glory.
II Chronicles 14:7 . . . “Let us build these cities and make walls around them, 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 has given us rest on every side.” So they built and prospered.
We are getting a very clear indication from the chronicler here that all these things are connected. Because he turned his heart to the Lord, because he was loyal to God and he did all these reforms (not just inside, he went outside himself and started doing all of these good things to bring Judah back to God), God gave him peace and strength, and the whole people (it says ‘Judah’ here) joined him. On top of that, God gave them prosperity. They became strong and prosperous once again. And it did not stop there.
II Chronicles 14:8 And Asa had an army of three hundred thousand men from Judah who carried shields and spears, and from Benjamin two hundred and eighty thousand men who carried shields and drew bows; all these were mighty men of valor.
What he is saying here is that not only did they strengthen the cities and the fortresses—made towers, gates, and bars, and got everything really strong just in case someone would invade—but he also had strong valiant men to stand behind those fortresses or to actually fight out in the field of battle.
Do not worry about the numbers here. If you go into a commentary, they will talk about these numbers. It seems like an awful lot of men: Five hundred and eighty thousand men that he had between Judah and Benjamin.
I will just tell you right now the best explanation is that the ‘thousand’ here is the word ‘eleph.’ It does mean the actual number thousand, but people who study Hebrew think that it also can mean ‘unit’ (like a unit of men, a squadron, a company, or what have you). They do not know how big the unit was. It was probably originally based on families and so it could have had different numbers depending on the size of the family.
But, in Judah, they had three hundred of these units, however large they were. Benjamin had two hundred and eighty of these units, however big they were. And when we get into the next verse, there is a million-man army that comes against them that is actually a thousand of these ‘elephs.’ So they had a thousand units, however many men were in each unit.
Still, even when this army came against Judah, it was a thousand of these units versus their five hundred and eighty units, and they were quite overwhelmed. It was almost two-to-one. So even though the numbers may be unclear, if we look at them in terms of units, they were overwhelmed by this Ethiopian army. But I do not want to get there yet. We will take the Ethiopian invasion separately.
So what have we seen here, in I Kings 15 and II Chronicles 14? Asa gets really good marks from God because he was a reformer, a revivalist, a strengthener, and mostly because his heart was loyal to God Himself. His father Abijah (or Abijam) had followed the ways of his father Rehoboam.
The Bible says, in II Chronicles 12:14, that Rehoboam did not prepare his heart to seek the Lord. It goes on to say that is evil, that he had not at all prepared his heart to seek God. Of Abijah, I Kings 15:3 says that his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God. He said that he worshipped God, but his heart was not loyal to Him.
Now, if we are going to see the soil out of which Asa came, we have to understand that he was really bucking a trend here.
Rehoboam seems to have been what we would call a secularist; that is, he had no interest in religion at all, especially the religion of God. He just wanted to run his country and he did not have time for it. He did not prepare his heart to seek the Lord. He just kind of ignored it and so he was irreligious.
His son Abijah, on the other hand, is what we would call, or what we would think of, as a modern nominal Christian. He gave lip service to the God of Israel and had this outward appearance of serving God, but he would do his own thing whenever it was more convenient or when it would benefit him more to do something other than what God wanted him to do. In either case, their devotion never penetrated into their hearts. Their hearts were not loyal to God; that is, Abijam’s and Rehoboam’s hearts were never even prepared to seek God. Their hearts were far from him.
Asa was a king of an entirely different stripe, completely bucking the trend of his father and his grandfather. As we saw, he did what was good and right in the sight of God. His heart was loyal to God (it even says “all his days”). Despite what he did at the end and his decline at the end, evidently God said that his heart was still soft enough.
I may or may not point them out or stress them, but there are several places in the narrative about Asa’s life where it says specifically that the Lord was his God. It was his personal God. He had a personal relationship with God, and that he did not want to fail Him. So this feeling for God—this belief in God, this trust in God—gave him a great deal of courage and zeal, especially in his younger years. It even came to the point where he would depose his grandmother from her seat as queen mother, and burn her idol.
If you will, let us just go back a few chapters here to II Chronicles 11 and I just want you to see the stature of Maachah his grandmother, and see what he was going up against, because it goes all the way back to the time of Rehoboam—and even actually goes further back than that, to the time of Absalom.
II Chronicles 11:18 Then Rehoboam took for himself as wife Mahalath the daughter of Jerimoth the son of David, and of Abihail the daughter of Eliah the son of Jesse.
So he was marrying here a woman who was actually a pretty close relative of his, a couple of cousins away, who was from the royal line—on one side, from David (his son Jerimoth); and her mother’s line from Eliah, who was the oldest son of Jesse. So, big names.
II Chronicles 11:19-22 And she bore him children: Jeush, Shamariah, and Zaham. After her he took Maachah the granddaughter of Absalom; and she bore him Abijah, Attai, Ziza, and Shelomith. Now Rehoboam loved Maachah the granddaughter of Absalom more than all his wives and his concubines; for he took eighteen wives and sixty concubines, and begot twenty-eight sons and sixty daughters [Think about his food bill!]. And Rehoboam appointed Abijah the son of Maachah as chief, to be leader among his brothers; for he intended to make him king.
What we see here is that from the time Rehoboam married Maachah, she was chief wife. She was major-domo of the palace. She was the one that ran things and her sons were the ones that were going to get all the glory, especially the firstborn Abijah. So she was in a special place here, put there by Rehoboam as his favorite wife and basically the one that ran the country behind the scenes. She was the power behind the throne.
This is another listing in Chronicles of what Asa did.
II Chronicles 15:16 Also he removed Maachah, the mother of Asa the king [it says here ‘the mother of Asa’; it is ‘grandmother’], from being queen mother, because she had made an obscene image of Asherah; and Asa cut down her obscene image, crushed it, and burned it by the Brook Kidron.
So Asa took this very important and dangerous step actually to remove Maachah from her place in the palace and over the kingdom. I mean, hey, she was the granddaughter of Absalom and did not everyone in Israel love Absalom? She was a female scion of that line. But Asa was brave enough and zealous enough to put her in her place because she was causing Judah to sin.
And Asa was still a fairly young man at this time. Remember, he came to the throne when he was young and this may have been 10-15 years into his reign. But he was still a young man doing this and he had to go up against his grandmother. So he was very bold for God—he would do whatever it took—and for this he gets very high praise.
However, it is said here that he did not do a complete job in his reforms. He did not get everything done. Evidently he did leave some of the high places intact. That is what it says there in chapter 15 verse 17: “But the high places were not removed from Israel.”
There are different ways to interpret that. Asa removed the high places from Judah, but did not go into Israel and remove them, I believe, like Josiah did (he just went in and removed them wherever he saw them).
But Asa did not do a complete job. What this means is that Israel still worshipped God on these pagan high places. Usually, that is what it was. They would make it seem like they were worshipping God by dedicating these altars or what not to Yahweh, but they were actually doing a kind of syncretistic practice of combining pagan worship with the worship of God.
Now it could be (I do not know this for certain) that Asa could only go so far in his reforms—before the people would react and say, “No, these are our high places. You stay out.” It just seems that at certain points in Israel’s history (or Judah’s history), removing the high places was a bridge too far and they were not willing to cross it.
What it shows is that Israel and Judah’s idolatry on the hills and mountains was an ingrained thing. It just shows you how idolatrous they were. This happened throughout their history. Most kings, even if they did have it in them to be reformers, would only remove or destroy the idols, and the people would quickly replace them on the high places.
But think of this in terms of our own lives. We are to do the same thing in our lives. We are to remove the idols. We are to remove the high places in our own lives. God wants us to perform these same kinds of reforms and revival in ourselves. We do not have authority over others to do this. We do not have authority over nations and communities to do this. We have only the authority to do this over ourselves and over our families. So we have to be like Asa. Better if we are like Josiah where we are very thorough in our reforms in getting rid of all the idols and the high places.
But how many of us actually stop short, like Asa did? He did not quite finish. He left some things undone. I would have to say all of us are like Asa. Very, very few of us are probably like Josiah. Because we always leave something undone. We always leave an idol in our lives that we do not want to topple.
Why do we do this? What stops us from doing a complete job?
Well, there is fear. We fear what people will think. We fear that it will make a hole in our lives that we cannot fill, whatever it happens to be. Sometimes it is blindness. Sometimes we just do not see it. It is one of those secret sins that we have and we are not really aware that we have made it into an idol.
Sometimes it is sheer discomfort. We just do not want to mess with that because it makes us uncomfortable. We will have to step on some toes. Sometimes it is peer pressure because somebody else has that same idol and they think of them as a bosom buddy in this thing. It is some practice or whatever that you do with these other people and you do not want to disappoint them.
A lot of times it is pride. We simply do not want to go there because we do not want to seem to have any kind of weakness. And sometimes it is just weakness that we will not go there.
There are a lot of things.
Probably most of us have these same problems in toppling our idols (all of them, not just some of them). Sometimes it is fear. Sometimes it is blindness. Sometimes it is discomfort. Sometimes it is peer pressure. Sometimes it is pride. Sometimes it is weakness. But we all go through these things, in coming up against our idols, depending on what the idol is, and we fail. We do not wipe it out. We do not get rid of it. We stop short.
If you will, please turn to I Corinthians 10. This is a section we were in during the feast in my sermons on the book of Numbers. I kind of used this as a bit of an outline. We are going to start in verse 5. He is talking about Israel.
I Corinthians 10:5 But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
Now Paul begins to list some of the sins that they have, why God was not pleased with them.
I Corinthians 10:6-10 Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor murmur, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed by the destroyer.
You see here, Paul is actually telling us very much the same thing that the chronicler is telling us, that they sinned and so God had to respond to them with some sort of a plague or punishment or destruction of some kind.
I Corinthians 10:11-13 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall [he brings in pride there]. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful [another thing that the chronicler was trying to tell us], who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
Normally, we stop there because the paragraphing in our Bible says that is where the paragraph comes to an end. But it does not. Notice the next word.
I Corinthians 10:14 Therefore. . .
This means “This is my conclusion”—after talking about all these sins, listing them all, and God’s response, and saying “Don’t be too proud.” Then, after that, he says: “God is faithful, and He will help you through these things.”
I Corinthians 10:14 [He says:] Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
Do you get the point? The Israelites had a lot of problems: Lust, worshiping pagan gods, sexual immorality, tempting God, murmuring, rebelling, pride, and many, many more. You can go through the Old Testament and just see dozens of sins that are mentioned there.
Paul tells us: “Look, these things were written down—God wrote them down—for our benefit so that we would learn the right lessons about our relationship with God.” Just like the chronicler was trying to do.
Paul was trying to show that the things that happened back then are applicable to us in our own spiritual lives, in our relationship with God. He wants us to do far, far better than those sinful Israelites—not falling even for the temptations, much less going into the sins—and says: “God will give you the help so you don’t even go that far, that you’ll not get hung up by the temptations.”
Paul’s conclusion, after all of that, is “flee from idolatry.” What is Paul telling us here? It is actually very simple. What he is saying is that the real issue behind all of these sins is idolatry. It is the first commandment being broken.
Every one of those sins occurred because the people put something in place of the true God. They put that ‘something’ on a higher level than the true God, and it caused them to sin. The very first sin in that whole listing of sins is unnamed. It is actually idolatry.
Before they lusted, they committed idolatry. Before they committed idolatry, they committed idolatry (if you know what I mean). Before they bowed down to the idols, they committed the idolatry of putting something before God.
When they committed sexual immorality, they put their own pleasures and such before God. When they tempted Christ, they put that (whatever it is they wanted Him to do for them) before God. They put their own desires and needs that they thought before our great God. And when they murmured, they first made an idol and sinned.
That sin, Paul was saying, of breaking the first commandment underlies all the others. When we sin, we put something before God—usually ourselves, our comforts, and our pleasures. Sometimes, it is our reputation with other people. Sometimes it is one thing or another. But when we sin, we are putting something before God.
The problem, like it was with Abijah, is that our hearts are not completely loyal to God. They are split between God and something else. You cannot serve two masters. And usually, humanly, what happens is we end up serving that other master and not the true God.
Like Asa and many of the other kings, we leave our reforms unfinished. Asa did a better job than most. So he gets kudos from God for being good and right and loyal to Him.
But we who have the Spirit of God, who have been given the New Covenant and have this great goal in front of us of the Kingdom of God, have to be even more thorough and take down the high places too (not just the idols, the high places). The high places are the places on which the idols stood. There is more. Do you know what those high places represent? We do not know.
II Corinthians 10:3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.
Remember Ephesians 6:12: We war against the principalities, against the powers in high places, against these demonic spirits. We also war against our own flesh, our own human mind—our carnality, which is a spirit.
II Corinthians 10:4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal [meaning we do not fight with spears, swords, bullets, or anything like that] but mighty . . .
Even though they are not these things that we consider to be great weapons, actually the things that we fight with—our weapons—are much more powerful in terms of what really matters.
II Corinthians 10:4 . . . but mighty in God [That is very important because these things have to be used in God or in Christ.] for pulling down strongholds . . .
Where do you put strongholds when you are trying to defend a country? You put them on the high places, on the strategic places.
II Corinthians 10:5-6 . . . casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.
So what is he saying? He is saying, “After you have destroyed all your idols, go after your thinking processes that make you want to worship those terrible things—those deathly, fatal, mortal things.”
That is where we are. We have gotten rid of most of the idols. I am not saying we have gotten rid of them all. But just think! This Friday there is an idol called ‘Christmas Day’ that a lot of people worship. That is their whole year. They look forward to this “Oh, this wonderful time of the year,” as they sing.
We have gone way beyond that. We see the paganism there. We see the falsehood of it all. We see that there is nothing in the Bible that shows that Christ was born at that time. We see all the stupid things that they have added to it. So that is not a problem. That and many of the other things are not a problem.
The high places are in our ways of thinking that we need to cast down, it says, because they do not jive with God’s way of thinking. They do not agree with Him. They are not harmonious with the way of Christ. Those are the things we have to get rid of—those evil ways of thinking that keep us separated from God. That is our job. We have gotten rid of most of the idols. Now we have got to attack the high places: the things we exalt in our own minds against the knowledge and the way of God.
Let us get back to Asa. Remember, we saw in II Chronicles 14 that it said: “In his days the land was quiet for ten years.” During these ten peaceful years, Asa did most of his reforms. That is when he strengthened Judah. That is when he did all of those things that we read there in those ensuing verses in chapter 14.
This gives us a very good clue about what we should use our times of peace and quiet for. They are quite rare. God does not give them very often. How many times, in looking back in your spiritual life, have you had a real lengthy period of rest, of peace—where you were not fighting something, sin had not popped up in your life, or a relationship problem, or what have you? A lot of times these rest periods, these peaceful periods, are few and far between. And so, being so rare, when God gives them, we should make good use of them, take advantage of them.
Let us go back to James 3. I do not want to spend a great deal of time on this because I think it is pretty easy to understand it.
James 3:18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
The principle here is that when we have a time of peace that is the time to sow our fruit of righteousness. That is the time to rest and to sow the seeds of growth. So you take the opportunity, just like Asa, to build your strength, to make reforms in your life, to burn your idols to the ground, and to resolve to keep the commandments and do so. When you are in a period of peace, you have time to concentrate on those things. Because when you are at war, when you are fighting your battles, you do not have time: You are fighting your battles.
Notice what he says in chapter 1.
James 1:19-20 Therefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
The principle in verse 20 is that when things are going badly—when wrath, fighting, what have you, is going on—those are the times when the righteousness of God is not produced. Time to produce the things of God are times of peace (like it says in James 3:18). So when you are fighting, you do not have time to do these things that you need to do in order to make reforms and to strengthen yourself. Do that while you have times of peace.
Jesus says, in the Beatitudes, about peacemakers: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” They are making peace. They are causing reconciliation to happen—reconciliation between them and God, and reconciliation between them and other people. That is what brings peace. And when we have peace, that is the best time to make sure those relationships are up to snuff.
That is what we should be doing when we have times of peace. We should be fortifying, strengthening, reforming, taking advantage of the time that God has given us for those peaceful pursuits that are going to one day make good fruit.
All right. Let us go back to II Chronicles 14. This is Zerah the Ethiopian and his coming up against Asa and Judah.
II Chronicles 14:9-10 Then Zerah the Ethiopian came out against them with an army of a million men and three hundred chariots, and he came to Mareshah. So Asa went out against him, and they set the troops in battle array in the Valley of Zephathah at Mareshah.
Notice it was almost two-to-one against him. But he went out in faith and set up his battle array before them to take them on. Now notice what he does.
II Chronicles 14:11 And Asa cried out to the Lord his God, and said, “Lord, it is nothing for You to help, whether with many or with those who have no power. . .”
A better way to translate this is “No one but You can stand up for the powerless against the powerful.” That is kind of a better way to translate what he said there.
II Chronicles 14:11-13 “. . . help us, O Lord our God, for we rest on You, and in Your name we go against this multitude. O Lord, You are our God; do not let man prevail against You.” So the Lord struck the Ethiopians before Asa and Judah, and the Ethiopians fled. And Asa and the people who were with him pursued them to Gerar [this is in the southwest part of Judah]. So the Ethiopians were overthrown, and they could not recover, for they were broken before the Lord and His army. And they carried away very much spoil.
Then in verse 15 it says, after gathering up the spoil, they returned to Jerusalem.
So here we have a significant test that was put up before Asa: Two-to-one odds, what are you going to do? After you have made all these reforms, after you have strengthened, what are you going to do when you are attacked by an army of this size?
Asa says, “God, I’m going out with my army that I have prepared for this very eventuality, and I’m going to let You fight the battle for me.” And God does. That is exactly what God wanted him to do. He did the exact right thing. So Judah scored an astounding victory over this much larger army.
Certainly, it must have been a faith-building experience for Asa and for all the people in Judah. They saw it happen before their eyes what God had done. And this was repeated later in Jehoshaphat’s reign—against Moab, Ammon, and Edom. It was a wonderful thing that happened. His faith was rewarded.
You would think that, coming out of Judah, there would be wonderful parades, and the ladies would come out and sing, and there would be dancing in the streets. Well, that is not exactly what happens.
II Chronicles 15:1-2 Now the Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded. And he went out to meet Asa, and said to him: “Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.”
What is he telling him? The lesson of the book of Chronicles: God has said what He will do, and God does what He has said. If you stand with Him, He will stand with you; if you forsake Him, well, He will leave you. For a long time when He will seem to leave you, He is always trying to stay with us, but we push Him away.
II Chronicles 15:3-5 “For a long time Israel has been without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without law; but when in their trouble they turned to the Lord God of Israel, and sought Him, He was found by them. And in those times . . .
He is probably actually talking about the times of the Judges here. Here in verse 3: “For a long time Israel has been without the true God.” It probably should read something more like: “For a long time Israel was without the true God.” It is talking about a time in the past.
II Chronicles 15:4-7 but when in their trouble they turned to the Lord God of Israel, and sought Him, He was found by them. And in those times there was no peace to the one who went out, nor to the one who came in, but great turmoil was on all the inhabitants of the lands. So nation was destroyed by nation, and city by city, for God troubled them with every adversity. But you, be strong and do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded!”
We could go on further. But what happened here was that Asa took Azariah’s advice and he continued his reforms. He strengthened Judah. It says:
II Chronicles 15:8 ...and [they] removed the abominable idols [or images] from all the land of Judah and Benjamin and from the cities which he had taken in the mountains of Ephraim; and he restored the altar of the Lord that was before the vestibule of the Lord.
He actually gathered people from Ephraim and Manasseh (and it says ‘Simeon’ here). He was collecting people out of Israel who were turning to God because of his example and what he was doing in strengthening Judah.
II Chronicles 15:10 So they gathered together at Jerusalem in the third month [this was probably on Pentecost, and they rededicated themselves to God and to the covenant].
II Chronicles 15:12-15 Then they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul; and whoever would not seek the Lord God of Israel was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman. Then they took an oath before the Lord with a loud voice, with shouting and trumpets and rams’ horns. And all Judah rejoiced at the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart and sought Him with all their soul; and He was found by them, and the Lord gave them rest all around.
II Chronicles 15:19 And there was no more war until the thirty-fifth year of the reign of Asa.
Again what we find is Asa leading the way. Here he and the people are rededicating themselves to God. They make this oath—a death oath—that if they would fall from it, they would be cursed to die. And God responded by giving them prosperity and peace for many years—might have been as much as another quarter of a century of peace. So it was a wonderful thing that happened here. This was a terrific thing for the people of Judah and for Asa.
But we know, from the hints I have given you, that this is not the end of the story.
Colossians 1:21-23 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight—if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.
Very important little two-letter word there: If. He says, “God has done all this wonderful stuff for you, and He’s given you peace with Him, and He’s made you blameless and reconciled you to Him, and it’s all wonderful and good—if you continue, if you maintain the relationship, if you do well, if you are not somehow moved away from what He has given you in the Gospel.” That is the problem.
As much as God does for us through Christ—as much as we reform during our first love, during that first surge of zeal, to do what is right before God—if we do not continue in the faith, if we do not continue overcoming and growing, if we fall away, all that early work will have been for naught. Remember, in Matthew 24:13, it says: “He who endures to the end shall be saved.” He who continues all the way to the bitter end will be saved.
Do you remember what Azariah told Asa to do? He said, “But be strong and do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded.”
Let us look in Hebrews 12 and see a very similar thing that we can apply to ourselves. Paul tells them that we have this great cloud of witnesses, and we are looking unto Jesus the finisher of our faith, and we need to allow God to discipline us and ready us for what we have to do. But then, he says, verse 12:
Hebrews 12:12-14 Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all men, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.
This is very similar to what Azariah told Asa. He said, “Do not let your hands be weak.” In the Hebrew it says, “Do not let your hands drop.” It is like he is talking about a fighter who has always got to keep his hands up, both offensively and defensively (to fight—to be an aggressor—as well as to defend). But when they get tired, pugilist fighters drop their hands. It is hard to hold them up there.
He says, “Don’t do that. Don’t drop your hands. Even though you feel weak and old, like you’ve been doing this for a long time, don’t drop your hands. Keep them up! Keep them active! Keep fighting! Keep moving forward! Don’t go weary and let down. Don’t rest on your oars. Don’t rest on your laurels. Take courage. Be strong. Square your shoulders and advance! Punch! Keep punching! Punch way above your weight! Because you’re punching against those powers, those demons, those high places that you are bringing down. Because if you stop, you’re likely going to fail, you’re going to get knocked out.” So be strong, be courageous. Keep your hands up.
If we go back to thinking about Asa, God blessed Asa and Judah with many years of peace. But you know what, peace as a time—short time—can be wonderful. Long periods of peace tend to be spiritually dangerous because we let down. We drop our hands. We cool off. We become Laodicean.
This is probably what happened to Asa and why he is not considered to be in that very top tier of kings. Because he made two foolish mistakes right near the end of his life that keep him from being considered on the level of David and Josiah as truly righteous kings. We will just look at them very quickly.
In chapter 16, it says he made a treaty with Syria against Israel because he was feeling the heat from Israel, especially in the town of Ramah. They were building it up, fortifying it, against Asa. He thought the best way to keep the Israelites off him was to give bribe money, out of the house of the Lord, to the Syrian king Ben-Hadad so that he would attack Israel on the north and draw the soldiers away from the south where he was.
Notice this comes right after he had made a covenant with God, the very next thing we find him doing, actually like a quarter century later. He makes a covenant with a man, with another nation. So he gets a visit from a prophet, and this time the prophet’s message is not very good.
II Chronicles 16:7 ...Because you have relied on the king of Syria, and have not relied on the Lord your God, therefore the army of the king of Syria has escaped from your hand.
Basically he is prophesying here that “It was Syria that was the biggest problem and you gave them money!” “You gave them a lot of My money,” God says, “and now they’re going to be strong, and now there won’t be any way for you to defeat them. They have escaped from your hand.”
II Chronicles 16:8 Were the Ethiopians and the Lubim not a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet, because you relied on the Lord, He delivered them into your hand.
“Remember that? That was a few years ago. But it should still be fresh in your mind—because they were scary, and you did what was right” and God worked for him. Then he says this very famous quote:
II Chronicles 16:9 For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him....
“God is looking for ways to bless you. But your heart has now turned from Him. It is not as loyal as it used to be.”
II Chronicles 16:9 ...In this you have done foolishly; therefore from now on you shall have wars.
So Hanani tries to make an exit and Asa says, “Not so fast.” He clasps him in irons and puts him in prison. And then he oppresses some of his own people, probably puts them under forced labor. He is going down fast. We see that Asa is like a plane that has been shot out of the air—it is almost to the ground. He is going to explode here. He is going down so fast. He is going down the slippery slope.
II Chronicles 16:12 And in the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa became diseased in his feet, and his malady was very severe; yet in his disease he did not seek the Lord [the thing that he had done when he was young: He sought the Lord very fervently and zealously.] but the physicians.
The indication here is that he did not seek God at all. It was not that he went to the physicians first and then sought the Lord, or he prayed and then went to the physicians. There is nothing like that at all. He just went directly to the physicians and trusted them for his healing.
II Chronicles 16:13 So Asa rested with his fathers; he died in the forty-first year of his reign.
What do you get from that? God said “Enough!” Do you know what I think He did? He put him under his own curse.
Remember what we read earlier: “whoever would not seek the Lord God of Israel was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman.” God said: “Okay, out of your own mouth. You didn’t seek Me, you’re dead.” And he died. It is an important lesson there.
What can we learn from Asa? We do not know if he repented on his deathbed. We have no indication of that at all except that the overall conclusion on his life is that he did what was good and right in the sight of the Lord. So perhaps he did. I do not know. But we do have something, in Hebrews 3:5-6, that we can end with here to get the overall lesson of his life. Paul writes:
Hebrews 3:5-6 And Moses indeed was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which would be spoken afterward [Moses is one who was strong all the way to the end.] but Christ [even better] as a Son over His own house, whose house we are [He has made us part of His family; and there is that little two-letter word] if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm [steadfast] to the end.
The lesson we can learn from Asa is to be zealous and faithful all our days. Nothing, like the life of Asa, could be more tragic than giving up just before the finish line.