Pursue Godliness

| 2 Chronicles 14:1-8 | July 14, 2019

Week of July 21, 2019

The Point:  Make God the focus of your life.

Asa Reigns in Judah:  2 Chronicles 14:1-8.

[1] Abijah slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city of David. And Asa his son reigned in his place. In his days the land had rest for ten years. [2] And Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God. [3] He took away the foreign altars and the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim [4] and commanded Judah to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment. [5] He also took out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the incense altars. And the kingdom had rest under him. [6] He built fortified cities in Judah, for the land had rest. He had no war in those years, for the LORD gave him peace. [7] And he said to Judah, “Let us build these cities and surround them with walls and towers, gates and bars. The land is still ours, because we have sought the LORD our God. We have sought him, and he has given us peace on every side.” So they built and prospered. [8] And Asa had an army of 300,000 from Judah, armed with large shields and spears, and 280,000 men from Benjamin that carried shields and drew bows. All these were mighty men of valor.  [ESV]

“Chapters 14-16 in Chronicles concern Asa son of Abijah. The parallel section in 1 Kings that describes Asa is limited to sixteen verses [15:9-24]; and these do not even touch on major sections in 2 Chronicles [14:3-15-15:15; 16:7-10]. Out of the history of Asa’s long reign, 911-870 B.C., Ezra selected four outstanding events for his record: (1) the king’s first reform, dating to his initial ten years of peace [14:1-8]; (2) his victory over Zerah the Cushite in 897 [14:9-15]; (3) Judah’s second reform, that came as a result [ch. 15]; and (4) the hostile moves made against him by Baasha of Israel in 895 and his series of religious deviations that followed [ch. 16]. Asa, however, was still the most godly monarch to arise in Judah, from the division of Solomon’s kingdom up to this point [1 Kings 15:11]. Asa’s rule provides the Chronicler with an occasion to emphasize some of his theological concerns. His treatment of the reign of Asa may be seen in the series of contrasts he makes between the ruler’s godly early years and his disappointing last years. The two periods may be contrasted by the following: (1) the king faced an overwhelming obstacle in Zerah and his forces but a less formidable foe in Baasha and his strategies; (2) the king turned to God for help against the first foe but sought the aid of Damascus against the second foe; (3) the Egyptians were routed in a crushing defeat, and Judah experienced victory and peace as the danger was eliminated. In the last years no such victory was experienced, and the problems did not go away; (4) Asa responded to God’s word in two totally different ways. He received the exhortations of Azariah and heeded what was spoken to him by God; later on he rejected the warnings of the seer, became angry at him, and even put him in prison. Furthermore instead of repenting he continued in his disgraceful behavior by refusing to seek God’s help when his foot became diseased, seeking only the help of physicians. By selecting specific historical events and presenting the material in terms of these contrasts, the Chronicler shows the blessings that come from seeking God as well as the folly of not turning to him in times of need.” [Payne, pp. 485-486].

“Historical and Theological Purposes. The Chronicler wrote to give his readers a true historical record of Israel’s past. The Historical nature of his book has been noted in the titles which have been attached to it. The traditional Hebrew title may be translated ‘The Events of the Times’, pointing to its historical quality. The Chronicler’s careful handling of numerous written sources also points to his concern for historical veracity. (1) As he wrote of Israel’s history, he relied primarily on the canonical books of Samuel and Kings for his information. The vast majority of materials in Chronicles comes from these authoritative Scriptures. (2) The Chronicler also referred to the Scriptures of the Pentateuch. (3) Beyond this, he cited several unknown royal annals: ‘the book of the annals of King David’, ‘the book of the kings’, ‘the book of the kings of Israel’, and ‘the book of the kings of Judah and Israel’. (4) In addition, the Chronicler referred to prophetic writings which have since disappeared: the writings of Samuel, Nathan, Gad, Ahijah, Iddo, Shemaiah, and anonymous ‘seers’. (5) The content and style of many passages also suggest that the Chronicler used other unidentifiable sources. The Chronicler’s use of these many sources indicates his strong desire to convey a true account of Israel’s past. In addition to informing his readers of the past, the Chronicler also wrote to convey theological perspectives. These purposes become especially evident when Chronicles is compared with the earlier records of Samuel and Kings. The Chronicler handled Samuel and Kings in different ways to focus his readers’ attention on particular issues. He composed his history to convey theological lessons as well as historical information. How may we summarize the Chronicler’s theological concerns? What were the chief elements of his message? It helps to think of Chronicles’ theology in terms of its message for the Original Israelite Readers as well as its application for Contemporary Christian Readers. Original Israelite Readers: In general terms. The Chronicler originally wrote his history to direct the restoration of the Kingdom during the early post-exilic period. In all likelihood, the book of Chronicles was originally directed toward the leaders of the restored Israelite community. The Chronicler himself demonstrated that he had access to many written sources that would have been available only to a few. His references to these sources strongly suggest that he expected his initial readers to have access to these kinds of documents as well. Although his book certainly had implications for the general populace, the leaders of the restored community were his primary audience. As a result, he focused intensely on past leaders of Israel, her kings and priests especially, to indicate how the leaders of the post-exilic Israel were to fulfill their service. The leaders of those who had returned from exile faced many challenges. Although the prophets had predicted that return to the land would be a time of grand blessings, the restoration had not brought about the blessings for which Israel hoped. Instead, the returnees endured discouraging economic hardship, foreign opposition, and domestic conflicts. The Chronicler wrote his history to offer guidance to this struggling community. He provided them with practical directions for attaining a greater realization of the blessings of the Kingdom of God in their time. Contemporary Christian Readers: The Chronicler’s desire to direct the restoration of the Kingdom of God in his day connects the theology of his book to the concerns of the Christian Church today. Although post-exilic Israel’s continuing sins brought failure in their day, the Kingdom of God did not fail utterly. As the New Testament teaches, the Chronicler’s hopes were realized in Christ. Christ brings to fulfillment and exceeds all of the Chronicler’s desires for God’s people. The New Testament also teaches, however, that Jesus did not accomplish this goal all at once. Instead, the restoration of the Kingdom of God comes in three stages. First, the inauguration of the Kingdom came through Christ’s earthly ministry and the work of His apostles [Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:43; 10:11; Acts 1:3]. Second, after the ministry of the apostles the continuation of the Kingdom of God extends to all the world through the ministry of the Church [Acts 28:23; Rev. 1:6; 5:10]. Third, in the future Jesus will bring the Kingdom to its consummation in the New Heavens and New Earth [Rev. 21:1-22:21]. Christians may rightly apply the Chronicler’s perspectives by asking how his message applies to these three phases of Christ’s Kingdom. Chronicles presents theological themes which anticipate Christ’s first coming, the continuing ministry of the church, and the return of Christ.” [Pratt, pp. 13-16].

“The Reign of Asa. The Chronicler’s record of Asa focuses on two contrasting actions and their equally contrasting results. Asa served God faithfully and received the blessings of peace and prosperity. Yet, war, trouble, and death came to him when he turned from God. As such, the reign of Asa gave a clear picture of the options which the post-exilic community faced. The Chronicler’s record of Asa differs significantly from the parallel in Kings. This difference is evident in that Chronicles increases the 16 verses of Kings into 47 verses. At this point, it will help to compare the two accounts on a large scale. More detailed analyses for each section will follow. As this large scale comparison indicates, the account of Kings is much simpler than the record of Chronicles. Kings introduces Asa [1 Kings 15:9-11], describes his reforms [15:12-15], records his war with Baasha [15:16-22], and closes his reign [15:23-24]. The Chronicler omitted the synchronization with the north [15:9-10] and the notice of cultic prostitution [15:12] as he usually did in his history. Nevertheless, after an introduction [2 Chron. 14:1-2] he added a record of Asa’s reforms and resulting prosperity [14:3-8]. He then added a lengthy section dealing with war and prophecy [14:9-15:15]. After this addition, the Chronicler returned to following Kings in his description of reforms [15:16-19], and another battle [16:1-6]. He then added a second prophecy [16:7-10], and closed his account with a slightly expanded summation and notice of death [16:11-14]. As in the reign of Rehoboam, the book of Kings is oriented toward only one battle in Asa’s reign, but Chronicles focuses on two conflicts. These two battles permit the Chronicler to draw striking contrasts between the earlier and later years of Asa. [2-7] At first, the reign of Asa was a time of extensive reforms and prosperity. This material contrasts with 16:12-14, a time of trouble and sickness for Asa. The Chronicler began his record with a general characterization of Asa as one who did good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God [2]. Although the Chronicler omitted the comparison with David [see 1 kings 15:11], he added that Asa did good and right. This expansion indicated his enthusiasm for this period of Asa’s life. The Chronicler’s record of Asa’s reforms [3-5] replaced the report of male shrine prostitution [1 Kings 15:12] with the notice that Asa destroyed pagan worship centers [3]. The foreign altars may have been those altars Solomon erected for his foreign wives [1 Kings 11:7-8]. Asa also razed the high places, worship centers in Judah other than the temple in Jerusalem [3]. Moreover, he crushed sacred stones, pillars erected next to pagan altars as representations of the deities or as phallic symbols. Such stones were strictly forbidden in Mosaic Law [see Ex. 23:24; Lev. 26:1; Deut. 16:21-22]. Asherah poles were probably wooden representations of the divine consort of Baal or another kind of phallic symbol associated with the goddess. They were also demolished in Asa’s reforms. The description of Asa’s efforts closely follows the instructions of Deuteronomy 12:1-3. The Chronicler cast the king’s reforms in this traditional language to present him as an example of what Judah’s kings were always to do. The Chronicler also summarized the instructions Asa delivered to Judah during his reform efforts. First, the king ordered his people to seek the Lord [4]. This terminology alludes to the programmatic promise given to Solomon at the dedication of the temple [7:14]. ‘Seeking’ God in sincere prayer and worship was the way to the favor of God. Moreover, the use of this terminology early in Asa’s reign anticipates the dominance of the theme of seeking God throughout this account. The term occurs no less than eleven times in his reign. Second, the king commanded his people to submit to God’s law and the commandment [4]. The importance of obedience to the Low of God appears throughout Chronicles. The standard the Chronicler held for his post-exilic readers was the same Asa held for his community. The Chronicler’s initial record of Asa’s reforms closes with another reference to the high places and the incense altars [5]. The meaning of the latter term is not altogether certain. Whatever the specific meaning, the term is associated with pagan worship in several places [see Lev. 26:30; 2 Chr. 30:14; 34:4,7; Isa. 17:8; 27:9; Ezek. 6:4,6]. The Chronicler noted here that Asa destroyed the high places in all the cities of Judah. In 14:5b the Chronicler shifted attention away from Asa’s reforms to the blessings he received: And the kingdom had rest under him. This forms an introduction to 14:6-7 much like 14:2 introduce the actions of 14:3-5a. At this point, the text is concerned with how the kingdom experienced a time of peace as a result of Asa’s reforms. Peace is an important goal the Chronicler set before his readers. As elsewhere in the Old Testament, it connoted not only the absence of war, but economic prosperity and social well-being. In this positive half of Asa’s reign the Chronicler mentioned the theme of peace four times [14:1,5,6; 15:5]. This portion of Asa’s reign depicts the benefits of fidelity for God’s people; it brings them peace or rest. The Chronicler’s record of Asa’s early prosperity divides into straight narration of his actions [6], royal decree [7], and a straight narration of further actions [7]. The chief focus of the material stands out in the repetition of the concept of ‘building’. Asa built fortified cities [6]. In line with common ancient Near Eastern beliefs, the Chronicler saw the king’s success in building as a demonstration that God had blessed him. Asa was able to concentrate on his fortifications since the kingdom had rest under him [6]. This note was important to the Chronicler’s evaluation of Asa’s fortifications. If a king built fortifications as a result of peace given by God, the Chronicler approved the projects as God’s blessing. If a king built in response to the threat of an enemy, the fortification demonstrated a lack of trust in God. Beyond this, the Chronicler also described this time of Asa’s kingdom as a period of rest [6]. The term rest appears three times in this portion of Asa’s reign [14:6,7; 15:15]. The association of rest and peace in this material suggests that the Chronicler drew a line of contact between these years of Asa’s reign and David and Solomon. He used both of these terms to describe the splendor of the ideal reigns of David and Solomon. Although Asa fell short of reaching the full stature of the ideal monarchs, this portion of his reign reflected the goodness experienced in those days. Perhaps the Chronicler’s readers wondered if the blessings afforded David and Solomon were far beyond their grasp. The Chronicler’s description of Asa’s reign demonstrated that Judah can enjoy the blessings of peace and rest at any time if she responds faithfully to God. The Chronicler paused to make his theological perspective on these events plain. Why did Asa enjoy this period of peace? The Lord gave him these blessings [6]. Many times the Chronicler pointed to divine activity as the ultimate cause of events in Israel’s history. This period of prosperity was not the result of human effort; it was divine response to Asa’s fidelity. The account of Asa’s blessing turns to a summary of his speech that inspired the building projects [7]. Asa ordered the people to build because the land is still ours [7]. God had kept Judah safe in her land. Asa’s words made it clear, however, why this divine protection had come. It was because we have sought the Lord our God [7]. These words recall the earlier account of Asa’s reforms [4]. He and the nation had fulfilled the requirement of seeking help from God. Consequently, God gave peace on every side [7]. To close off this section of his account, the Chronicler pointed out that the nation built and prospered [7]. Once again, the blessing of building comes to the foreground. The terminology of ‘prosperity’ appears many times in Chronicles as a description of a time of economic well-being resulting from obedience blessed by God. The result of Asa’s reforms was grand prosperity for the entire nation of Judah. As the Chronicler’s readers heard these descriptions of Asa’s time, they were to yearn to see the same blessings in their own day. Rebuilding and prosperity were among their goals as well. The Chronicler left no room for misunderstanding the way that would lead to these results. Seeking the Lord as Asa did was the key to their desires.” [Pratt, pp. 406-415].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. When did the Chronicler write his historical account of Israel’s history? Why did he write? What did he hope his writings would accomplish for his readers?
  2. What can the Christian Church today learn from the writings of the Chronicler? What are the three stages of the restoration of the Kingdom of God? What can we learn from Chroniclers that will help us as we wait for the consummation of the kingdom?
  3. For the next six weeks we will study the life of King Asa found in 2 Chronicles 14-16. In our verses for today’s study, what do we learn about King Asa? What good things did he do in the first ten years of his reign? What role did God play in these reforms [14:6,7]?

References:

1 & 2 Chronicles, Eugene Merrill, Kregel.

1 & 2 Chronicles, J. Barton Payne, EBC, Zondervan.

1 & 2 Chronicles, Richard Pratt, Mentor.

1,2 Chronicles, J. A. Thompson, NAC, B & H Publishers.