Depend on God

| 2 Chronicles 14:9-15

Week of July 28, 2019

The Point:  God is greater than any challenge we face.

Asa’s Victory over Zerah:  2 Chronicles 14:9-15.

[9] Zerah the Ethiopian came out against them with an army of a million men and 300 chariots, and came as far as Mareshah. [10] And Asa went out to meet him, and they drew up their lines of battle in the Valley of Zephathah at Mareshah. [11] And Asa cried to the LORD his God, “O LORD, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. 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.” [12] So the LORD defeated the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah, and the Ethiopians fled. [13] Asa and the people who were with him pursued them as far as Gerar, and the Ethiopians fell until none remained alive, for they were broken before the LORD and his army. The men of Judah carried away very much spoil. [14] And they attacked all the cities around Gerar, for the fear of the LORD was upon them. They plundered all the cities, for there was much plunder in them. [15] And they struck down the tents of those who had livestock and carried away sheep in abundance and camels. Then they returned to Jerusalem.  [ESV]

“Asa’s Victory in Conflict [14:8-15]. This first battle of Asa’s reign ended with a resounding victory for Judah. As such, it contrasts with the second battle of defeat in 16:2-6. Here Asa fought in an exemplary manner, demonstrating full reliance on God. In many respects verse 8 bridges the gap between the preceding context of Asa’s blessing and this battle. The size and quality of the king’s army is another example of Asa’s prosperity. His standing army consisted of 300,000 from Judah, armed with large shields and spears, and 280,000 men from Benjamin that carried shields and drew bows. Despite the size and quality of Asa’s army, his enemy was even greater. Zerah the Ethiopian came out against them with an army of a million men [9]. At this time, Ethiopia (Cush) was under Egyptian rule, and Zerah was probably acting on behalf of Egypt. As in Abijah’s conflict with Jeroboam [13:1-20] the enemy of Judah is nearly twice his size. Moreover, Zerah had 300 chariots at his command. The motif of Judah facing an enemy with a larger army appears a number of times in Chronicles. In each case, the apparent inadequacy of Judah’s army demonstrated that divine intervention was the cause of victory. Asa took his army to meet Zerah in the Valley of Zephathah at Mareshah [10], one of Rehoboam’s fortified cities [11:8]. The tension of the narrative builds as the battle ensues against formidable odds. Asa prepared for battle against his sizable foe by calling for help from God. His actions recall the similar responses of Rehoboam [12:6] and Abijah [13:14], and anticipate the prayers of Jehoshaphat [18:31; 20:6-12]. Asa’s prayer was straightforward [11]. First, he declared his confidence in the supremacy of God as a helper of the weak. The acknowledgment of Judah’s weakness appears again in Jehoshaphat’s prayer [20:12]. Asa confessed his inability to withstand the attack of Zerah’s army in his own strength. Second, Asa asked God to help. In the Chronicler’s vocabulary, God helps His people by furthering their causes. Why should God help? Asa declared for we rely on you. The chronicler mentioned reliance on God four times in his history [13:18; 14:11; 16:7,8]. In each case relying on God amounted to seeking His help in times of military struggle. Such reliance on God always resulted in victory for God’s people. At this point in his life, Asa depended on God instead of himself or any human ally. Asa specified that he trusted in God’s name. Here Asa recalled the theological perspective that the temple was the place of God’s Name, His invocable powerful presence. Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple described a situation like that which Asa faced. Third, Asa concluded that God should help him instead of letting man prevail against you. Once divine assistance had been sincerely invoked, the battle was no longer Asa’s. It became God’s battle. As a result, defeat for Judah would amount to defeat for God. This belief was also confirmed by the close connection established between God’s throne and the throne of David. Asa’s prayer served well as an instrument of the Chronicler’s message to his post-exilic readers. As they faced various international threats, Asa’s appeal for divine help was exemplary of the sort of actions and attitudes they should follow. They should acknowledge God as their only hope by relying on Him and calling on His Name. The Ethiopians were severely defeated. Judahites chased them southward as far as Gerar. Gerar was a southern city bordering the Negeb that served as an Egyptian outpost at the time. The Ethiopians and Egyptians had occupied many villages in the region, but the Judahites attacked all the cities around Gerar … plundered all the cities, for there was much plunder in them [14]. The Chronicler’s outlook on this event becomes evident in the role God plays in these scenes. Asa called on God’s name and for the first time God becomes a major character in the story: the Lord defeated the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah [12]. Three times the Chronicler mentioned that it was God’s effort that brought defeat to the Ethiopians [12,13,14]. It is not altogether clear what the Chronicler had in mind when he mentioned the Lord and his army [13]. The reference could be to the army of Judah, the heavenly army, or both. The third option seems likely in the light of the Chronicler’s comparison of the army of Israel with the army of God and the connection he drew between the throne of Judah and the divine throne. In all events, the emphasis of this passage is on the fact that the fear of the Lord – not Asa – was upon them [14]. This was a miraculous victory, the kind of victory the post-exilic readers of Chronicles hoped for in their own day. Having shown the miraculous victory brought about through prayer and reliance on God, the Chronicler close his story with a simple note. Asa and his army returned to their standing position in Jerusalem [15]. The note signaled the end of the episode.” [Pratt, pp. 415-419].

“Prayer. Original Israelite Readers. The Chronicler exhibited a deep concern for prayer. The fullest expression of this concern appears in Solomon’s temple prayer [2 Chr. 6:3-42] and God’s response [2 Chr. 7:13-15]. In his great temple prayer, Solomon asked God to hear prayers as the nation faced a variety of circumstances. In response, God agreed to hear such sincere prayers. These two passages established prayer as a principal means by which Israel could receive God’s blessings. This basic theology of prayer comes to expression throughout Chronicles as God answers prayers time and again. Although this pattern appears in Kings, it is much more extensive in Chronicles. In the opening genealogies and lists, the Chronicler mentioned the prayer of Jabez [1 Chr. 4:10] and of the Transjordanian tribes [1 Chr. 5:20]. In both of these cases, the people of God cried out to Him for help in times of conflict and He gave them victories. In the United Kingdom, both David [1 Chr. 16:7-36; 17:16-27; 29:10-20] and Solomon [2 Chr. 6:3-42] prayed. Their prayers modeled devotion and humility before God. In the Divided Kingdom, the record of the first four kings of Judah includes their prayers. Rehoboam and his nobles [2 Chr. 12:6], Asa [14:11], Abijah [13:14], and Jehoshaphat [18:31; 20:6-12] asked for help in times of military crisis. Once again, God answered these prayers. In the Reunited Monarchy Hezekiah prayed for healing during Passover observance [30:18], relief from Sennacherib’s threat [32:20-21], and deliverance from his sickness [32:24]. Moreover, Manasseh prayed for forgiveness while in exile and God returned him to the land [33:12-13,18]. All of these examples of prayer illustrated that God kept His promises to hear the prayers of His people. Contemporary Christian Readers. The centrality of prayer in the Chronicler’s history foreshadows the importance of prayer in the teachings of the New Testament. Jesus prayed throughout His earthly ministry [Mark 6:46; Luke 6:12]. Jesus also taught His followers how they should pray [Matt. 6:9-13]. He encouraged them to pray that they ‘may not fall’ [Mark 14:38; Luke 22:40]. He even commanded that His disciples pray for those who persecuted them [Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:28]. The apostles gave similar admonitions. We are to ‘pray in the Spirit on all occasions’ [Eph. 6:18] and to be devoted to prayer [1 Cor. 7:5]. We are to pray continually [1 Thess. 5:17] as we surround ‘everything by prayer’ [Phil. 4:6]. James emphasized the efficacy of the prayer of a righteous man [James 5:16]. Like post-exilic Israel, believers should pray to God when in trouble [James 5:13], trusting that ‘his ears are attentive to their prayer’ [1 Peter 3:12]. Jesus also instructed the church to pray earnestly for the consummation of the Kingdom when He prayed ‘your Kingdom come’ [Matt. 6:10]. Following the example of John the apostle, we are to cry, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus’ [Rev. 22:20]. Our prayers will prove instrumental in the return of Christ.” [Pratt, pp. 50-52].

“Victory and Defeat. Original Israelite Readers. Victory and defeat appear as patterns of blessing and judgment on many occasions. The Chronicler focused on these themes because his readers faced many military threats. They had returned to Jerusalem, but then political security was tenuous at best. Just as the prophets had announced that return to the land would lead to war [Isa. 11:11-16; 49:14-26; 54:1-3; Jer. 30:10-11; Ezek. 38-39; Amos 9:11-12], the Chronicler realized that the potential of warfare was great. For this reason, he set much of his discussion of divine judgment and blessing in the arena of warfare. He taught his post-exilic readers how to avoid defeat and to secure the blessing of victory in battle. On the one hand, military defeat was judgment for sin. The exile of the Transjordanian tribes was due to infidelity [1 Chr. 5:24-26]. The Philistines defeated Saul because of his great sins [1 Chr. 10:1-14]. Solomon acknowledged that sin often leads to military ruin [2 Chr. 6:24]. Rehoboam forsook God and His Law only to find himself threatened by Shishak [2 Chr. 12:5-8]. Infidelity and murder led to Jehoram’s defeat [2 Chr. 21:12-17]. Disobedience led to Joash’s overthrow [2 Chr. 24:20-24]. Amaziah refused to listen to God and suffered defeat [2 Chr. 25:20]. Idolatry brought defeat to Ahaz [2 Chr. 28:1-8]. The Chronicler’s emphasis on military defeat as divine judgment followed the outlook of Moses and the prophets. The Chronicler applied these theological perspectives to his analysis of Israel’s history. The nation often suffered defeats because of rebellion against God. On the other hand, the Chronicler also pointed to Israel’s tremendous victories as a result of fidelity to God. He often stressed the wonder of these events by indicating the enormous sizes of the enemies whom Judah defeated. For the most part, the Chronicler noted the tremendous advantage of Israel’s enemies to demonstrate that victory came not by human power but by divine intervention. From the Chronicler’s perspective, victory in battle demonstrated that the battle is not yours but God’s [2 Chr. 20:15]. By contrast, the Chronicler once mentioned that infidelity led to Israel’s defeat despite her superior numbers [2 Chr. 24:24]. On many occasions, the Chronicler linked victory in battle with other major themes in his book. First, victory is often associated with prayer. In his dedicatory prayer, Solomon asked God to respond to prayers offered in times of battle [2 Chr. 6:24-25,28-31,34-35]. Solomon’s desire is fulfilled a number of times in Chronicles [1 Chr. 5:20; 2 Chr. 12:1-12; 13:14; 14:11; 18:31; 20:6-12]. The Chronicler’s purpose for repeating the connection between prayer and military victory is not difficult to discern. By drawing attention to the ways prayer delivered God’s people in the past, the Chronicler instructed the post-exilic community on the necessity of prayer in their own day. When warfare threatened, the people of God were to pray. Moreover, the Chronicler described the cessation of war as the gift of ‘peace’ [1 Chr. 4:40; 22:9,18; 23:25; 2 Chr. 14:6,7; 15:15; 20:30], ‘rest’ [1 Chr. 19:19; 22:9; 2 Chr. 14:1,5,6; 20:30; 34:28], and ‘quiet’ [1 Chr. 22:9; 2 Chr. 23:21]. The repetition of these positive motifs enabled the Chronicler to set positive goals before his post-exilic readers. They lived in a time of great insecurity. Nevertheless, through examples of God granting peace, rest and quiet to His people from time to time, the Chronicler depicted what his readers could expect to receive in their day as they were faithful to God and experienced victory from Him. Contemporary Christian Readers. The New Testament extends the Chronicler’s concept of victory and defeat into the inauguration, continuation, and consummation of Christ’s Kingdom. The inauguration marked the beginning of great victory. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, death was ‘swallowed up in victory’ [1 Cor. 15:54]. Satan fell from his position of authority [Luke 10:18], and was bound that the Kingdom might progress victoriously [Mark 3:27; Rev. 20:2]. In His earthly ministry, Christ disarmed and made a mockery of the powers opposing God [Col. 2:15]. Following the leadership of the Divine Warrior, Christians are to engage in battles that the Kingdom may advance. The war is not against ‘flesh’ and ‘blood’ but ‘against the powers of this dark world’ and ‘the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ [Eph. 6:12]. Believers are to fight the good fight [1 Tim. 1:18; 6:12] by putting on the full armor of God and the armor of light [Rom. 13:12; Eph. 6:11]. The weapons of the Christian soldier are not the weak weapons of this world. Rather the weapons of the Christian are filled with ‘divine power’ [2 Cor. 10:4]. The principal empowerment of the believer is prayer [Eph. 6:18]. Far from being a privilege of communication with God whereby we merely petition God for blessings, prayer is our access to the Divine Warrior Himself. The prayers of believers are the powerful tools that God has issued to dismantle the forces of evil. As a result, Christians attain the victory through Christ [1 Cor. 15:57] and become ‘more than conquerors’ [Rom. 8:37]. For everyone ‘born of God overcomes the world’ [1 John 5:4]. ‘Fighting’ and ‘victory’ are central metaphors in John’s description of the consummation. Occasionally, spiritual warfare appears bleak and uncertain for the Christian, but John’s apocalyptic vision reassures every Christian that God will win the battle. Christ will return to earth to bring final defeat to all of His enemies [Rev. 19:11-21; 20:7-10].” [Pratt, pp. 62-66].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How did Asa prepare for his battle with Zerah? Analyze Asa’s prayer. How did he approach God? What did he pray for? How did Asa rely on God? How did God answer Asa’s prayer?
  2. What is the Chronicler’s theology of prayer? What was the Chronicler teaching his readers about prayer? What did the Chronicler’s want his readers to learn from this passage? What is the connection between victory and prayer?
  3. What can we learn from this passage for our own Christian lives? What is your theology of prayer? What is the connection between your prayers and your spiritual battles? Think about the spiritual warfare between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Satan that all believers are involved in. What is your role in this warfare?

References:

1 & 2 Chronicles, Eugene Merrill, Kregel.

1 & 2 Chronicles, Richard Pratt, Mentor.

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