Act with Courage

| 2 Chronicles 15:1-9 | July 28, 2019

Week of August 4, 2019

The Point:  Persistent problems call for courage.

Asa’s Religious Reforms:  2 Chronicles 15:1-9.

[15] The Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded, [2] 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. [3] For a long time Israel was without the true God, and without a teaching priest and without law, [4] but when in their distress they turned to the LORD, the God of Israel, and sought him, he was found by them. [5] In those times there was no peace to him who went out or to him who came in, for great disturbances afflicted all the inhabitants of the lands. [6] They were broken in pieces. Nation was crushed by nation and city by city, for God troubled them with every sort of distress. [7] But you, take courage! Do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded.” [8] As soon as Asa heard these words, the prophecy of Azariah the son of Oded, he took courage and put away the detestable idols from all the land of Judah and Benjamin and from the cities that he had taken in the hill country of Ephraim, and he repaired the altar of the LORD that was in front of the vestibule of the house of the LORD. [9] And he gathered all Judah and Benjamin, and those from Ephraim, Manasseh, and Simeon who were residing with them, for great numbers had deserted to him from Israel when they saw that the LORD his God was with him.  [ESV]

“Prophetic Approval [15:1-9]. Having described Asa’s victorious battle against Zerah, the Chronicler added another series of positive events to Asa’s reign. He focused on the approving words of the prophet Azariah and Asa’s reforms that followed. These events balance with contrasting events in the second half of Asa’s reign [16:7-10]. This portion of the Chronicler’s addition to Kings divides into two main parts. These two elements form a closely connected passage. The first portion deals with the prophet speaking to Asa [15:1-7]; the second portion records what Asa did in response to the prophetic word [15:8-19]. In these passages, the Chronicler continued his depiction of Asa’s early years as a time under God’s blessing. After Asa returned from battle, he encountered the prophet Azariah. The Chronicler conveyed his own understanding of these events through the prophetic speech. Azariah’s speech is introduced with a description of the setting [15:1-2a]. The speech itself divides into three main points. A basic doctrinal position is expressed [2b]; historical illustration of the principle follows [3-6]; an application is made to the contemporary circumstances [7]. This basic pattern has been dubbed a ‘Levitical Speech’ and appears in a number of passages. For instance, David’s instructions to the leaders of Israel in 1 Chronicles 22:17-19 included a principle [17], historical illustration [18], and an application [19]. A similar pattern appears in 1 Chronicles 28:2-10: verses 2-3 are the basic principle; the historical illustration follows [4-7]; an application closes the speech [8-10].

Introductory Setting [1-2a]. To avoid any misunderstanding regarding the reliability of Azariah, the Chronicler introduced his speech by noting that the Spirit of God came upon him. This unusual introduction to Azariah’s speech may have been necessary because he spoke so approvingly of Asa. In the Old Testament positive words toward a king are often associated with false prophets [see 2 Chr. 18:4-7; Jer. 5:12-13; 6:14; 14:13; 23:17; Ezek. 13:10; Mic. 3:5-12]. Moreover, Azariah insisted on certain forms of social and religious reforms that would have challenged the post-exilic readers of Chronicles. Therefore, the prophet’s divine inspiration would have legitimized efforts to apply the prophet’s instructions after the exile.

Doctrinal Principle [2b]. In the case of this speech, the prophetic doctrinal principle appears in language familiar to readers of Chronicles. First, Azariah affirmed that God is with you while you are with him. When the Lord was ‘with’ His people, He led them into battle and secured their victory. Nevertheless, God’s joining His people in battle depended on a condition. It occurred when they are with him. God allied Himself with Israel only when Israel allied itself with Him. Second, Azariah stated, if you seek him, he will be found by you. During the period of the divided monarchy the Chronicler frequently referred to ‘seeking’ God as an allusion to the programmatic promise given to Solomon. God promised that seeking Him through humble prayer and devotion would result in blessing. Asa’s prayer in the preceding passage, illustrated this principle in action. Here Azariah stated this principle in a forthright doctrinal affirmation. Third, the prophet warned against forsaking God because he will forsake those who do so. Once again the prophet uses terminology appearing frequently in Chronicles. ‘Forsaking’ God was to violate flagrantly Israel’s covenant requirements; to be forsaken by God was to come under the covenant curses. The Chronicler believed Asa was meeting the requirements of these covenant principles at this stage of his reign. He had fought his enemies and gained victory because he sought and relied on God. The prophet’s words explicitly explained why Asa experienced God’s blessings at this point in his life. Historical Illustrations [3-6]. After his doctrinal focus, the prophet’s speech turned to historical illustrations of the principle. The prophet reminded Asa of conditions during the period of the judges. During that time Israel was without the true God, and without a teaching priest and without law [3]. Widespread apostasy characterized this period. Priests and Levites who were supposed to teach the Law had themselves become corrupt. The Law was forsaken and everyone did as he saw fit [Judg. 17:6; 18:1; 21:25]. Despite the extreme conditions of that time, the doctrinal principle of 15:2 still applied to Asa’s reign. To draw the connection plainly, Azariah used terminology he had employed before. When trouble came in the days of the judges, the people turned to the Lord … sought him, he was found by them [4]. The terrible conditions were overcome (however temporarily) by the nation’s humility and dependence on God. In order to strengthen his argument, the prophet described the distress of the period of the Judges [5b-6]. It was a time of great disturbances for the lands. Nations surrounding Israel were in constant war [6]. Nevertheless, God heard and answered the prayers of His people. The final clause of the prophet’s historical illustrations provided an interesting clue to his intentions. Why was the period of Judges such a terrible time? The book of Judges emphasized the sins of Israel as the cause of trouble. Azariah would not have disagreed with this assessment. Yet, the emphasis here was on divine involvement once again. The troubles came because God troubled them with every sort of distress [6]. The active role that God played in the period of the Judges brought those events into contact with the experience of the Chronicler’s readers. They had seen times of distress due to apostasy and had felt the effects of God troubling them with every sort of distress. Of course, the implication for the Chronicler’s post-exilic readers was evident. The principle affirmed by Azariah applied to them. Their exilic circumstances had been reversed and their current situation could be improved only as they sought the Lord and were found by Him.

Contemporary Application [7]. The prophet’s immediate concern in this passage becomes clear in his application to Asa. With the doctrinal principle and historical illustration established, he called on Asa to be strong and not to give up. Azariah did not rebuke Asa, but encouraged him to continue with the full assurance that his work shall be rewarded. At this stage in Asa’s reign, he was a faithful king. Yet, more needed to be done. As the verses that follow explain, idolatry had spread through the land and the temple had been neglected [8]. Azariah encouraged Asa to go further. If he did, even more blessings would come his way. The prophet’s positive words to Asa easily applied to the Chronicler’s readers. Like Asa, they had received deliverance from their enemies. Yet, much remained to be done. The prophetic word to Asa encouraged post-exilic readers to move forward in their restoration efforts. Initial successes were not sufficient. They had to continue in the way of fidelity as they hoped for more blessings from God. Asa’s Worship Reforms [8]. When Asa put the prophet’s instructions into action he first reformed Judah’s worship practices. Similar reforms took place in other portions of the history. He destroyed the detestable idols from all the land of Judah and Benjamin. While the Chronicler presented Rehoboam and Abijah positively, these actions make it clear that neither of them stopped all idolatry. At this time, however, Asa rid all the land of idols, including areas of Ephraim which he had taken from Baasha, king of Israel. Asa’s efforts were not only destructive, but constructive as well. he repaired the altar of the Lord, the bronze altar Solomon had erected in front of the vestibule of the house of the Lord. Apparently, during the very first years of Asa’s reign temple maintenance had been neglected. The presence of idols and the disrepair of the bronze altar explain why Azariah exhorted the king to go further in righteousness. Many changes had to be accomplished and the work began with correcting the worship of Judah. Once again, Asa’s actions were exemplary for the Chronicler’s post-exilic readers. As a number of kings’ actions illustrated, worship was the place for them to begin their reforms as well.” [Pratt, pp. 419-424].

“Divine Activity. Original Israelite Readers. God is very active in the book of Chronicles, but this divine activity takes a variety of forms. On one end of the spectrum, the Chronicler depicted God as dramatically intruding into history [1 Chr. 21:14-15; 2 Chr. 12:12; 18:31; 21:16; 28:5; 36:16-17]. On the other end of the spectrum God often remained entirely in the background of events. His participation was merely implied by the remarkable nature of some incidents [18:33; 20:23; 35:23]. Between these extremes, the Chronicler also described historical events in naturalistic terms and then added that God was actually behind them. He clarified that some incidents took place because God caused them [1 Chr. 10:13-14; 11:4; 2 Chr. 14:6; 22:7; 24:24; 25:20; 32:31]. Similarly, he noted David’s assurance of God’s activity in his life [1 Chr. 11:9-10; 29:10-13]. Chronicles also points out that many incidents occurred because they were fulfillment of the Word of God [1 Chr. 11:1-3; 11:10; 12:23; 2 Chr. 10:15; 36:22]. The Chronicler’s purpose for drawing attention to this variety of divine activities was at least twofold. On the one hand, mentioning God’s involvement in particular events indicated how his readers should evaluate those ancient events. When God caused something to happen the occurrence was to be approved or accepted by the readers. For instance, the Chronicler pointed out that Davidic claims to the throne were legitimate because God Himself had caused Saul’s death and transferred royal authority to David [1 Chr. 10:13-14]. Similarly, the duties of priests and Levites were divinely ordained [1 Chr. 24:1-5]. Likewise, God ordered Solomon to take the responsibility of temple building [2 Chr. 7:12]. On the other hand, the Chronicler wrote about the various ways God directed Israel’s past to teach his post-exilic readers that God directed their history with similar variety. The activity of God in the book of Chronicles helped the readers see the many ways in which God was at work in their day. God acted in ordinary human efforts as well as extraordinary interventions. The post-exilic community needed to remember the full range of God’s actions as they sought to rebuild the Kingdom. Contemporary Christian Readers. The New Testament describes divine activity in ways that parallel the Chronicler’s concerns. The inauguration of the Kingdom of Christ took place in the context of spectacular miraculous events. The virgin birth of Christ, His grand miracles, His death and resurrection, and the work of the apostles stand out among these mighty acts of God. The New Testament also emphasizes the activity of God for the continuation of the Kingdom. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the Church experiences the presence of God with power [John 14:15-21]. Even so, day by day the Church must build the Kingdom even in ordinary times. God’s actions often take place through normal means. In this sense, the providential activity of God continues for the Church’s benefit in all ages [Rom. 8:28]. Finally, the consummation of Christ’s Kingdom is the ultimate intrusion of God into human history. At the return of Christ, the entire cosmos will be destroyed and renewed [Rev. 21:1]. This act of God will bring all the enemies of God to their knees and will grant great blessings to the people of God [Rev. 20:11-15].” [Pratt, pp. 37-39].

“Seeking. Original Israelite Readers. Seeking God is another crucial responsibility of God’s people in Chronicles. Two Hebrew verbs express this idea of seeking and are used 56 times in Chronicles. The Chronicler wrote of ‘seeking’ in a theological sense with several specific objects. (1) On two occasions seeking focused on ‘all the commands’ [1 Chr. 28:8] and ‘the counsel of the Lord’ [2 Chr. 18:4]. (2) In one passage seeking God was equivalent to inquiring for direction from a prophet [2 Chr. 18:6,7]. By contrast, the opposite of seeking God was to consult a medium [1 Chr. 10:13]. (3) Most frequently, however, the explicit object of seeking was God Himself. In all these passages seeking was an expression of loyalty and devotion to God Himself. For this reason, twice [1 Chr. 16:11; 2 Chr. 7:14] the object of seeking was the ‘face’ of God (i.e. His favor). Similarly, seeking God was the opposite of forsaking Him or abandoning the covenant relationship between Israel and God [2 Chr. 15:2]. The concept of ‘seeking’ carried implicit connotations of intensity and commitment. The Chronicler highlighted this aspect of his concept by explicitly mentioning that seeking was to stem from the heart and soul [1 Chr. 22:19; 2 Chr. 11:16; 12:14; 19:3; 30:19]. Mere outward conformity to the Law of God did not constitute seeking God. Seeking Him required sincere inward devotion expressed in behavioral compliance to the Law. The importance of seeking God with a sincere heart comes to light in the Chronicler’s addition to God’s response to Solomon’s temple prayer [2 Chr. 7:14]. God affirmed that when the people of God suffered the consequences of their sins, they could receive divine blessings if they sought the face of God. This promise guided the Chronicler’s repeated use of the concept of seeking God. Throughout his history he noted the dramatic results that occurred when people sought or did not seek God. Some people did not seek God or sought others instead of God [1 Chr. 10:14; 13:3; 15:13; 2 Chr. 25:15,20]. Without exception these people suffered divine judgment. Nevertheless, the Chronicler also indicated that other historical figures did seek God [2 Chr. 14:4; 15:12]. In each of these cases, the results were God’s blessings. The repetition of this motif throughout Chronicles called the post-exilic community to seek God in their own day. As troubles and disappointments mounted against those who had returned to the land, the way of divine blessing was made clear, those who seek God could expect His blessing. To fail to seek Him was to insure the failure of the post-exilic restoration. Contemporary Christian Readers. The New Testament further reveals what it means to seek God. Jesus commanded that His followers seek the Kingdom of God [Matt. 6:33; Luke 12:31]. Paul explained that seeking God is unnatural for sinful man and impossible for him to accomplish [Rom. 3:11]. Even so, the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit enables man to seek to be justified in Christ [Gal. 2:17] with the full assurance that ‘he who seeks finds’ [Matt. 7:8; Luke 11:10]. The promise that God ‘rewards those who earnestly seek him’ extends to the consummation of the Kingdom [Heb. 11:6].” [Pratt, pp. 55-57].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Find in Azariah’s message: a doctrinal principle; an illustration from Israel’s past history; an exhortation; and a promise. In what way does the doctrinal principle in verse 2b apply to you? How are you to seek God? When do you forsake Him? What are the consequences?
  2. How did Asa respond to Azariah’s message? Why did Asa listen to Azariah? What do we learn from Asa concerning how we are to listen to faithful teachers of God’s Word?
  3. What did the Chronicler want his readers to learn from this passage?

References:

1 & 2 Chronicles, Eugene Merrill, Kregel.

1 & 2 Chronicles, Richard Pratt, Mentor.

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