Worship Continually

| 2 Chronicles 15:10-19 | August 4, 2019

Week of August 11, 2019

The Point:  Live your life as an act of worship.

Asa’s Assembly for Reform:  2 Chronicles 15:9-19.

[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. [10] They were gathered at Jerusalem in the third month of the fifteenth year of the reign of Asa. [11] They sacrificed to the LORD on that day from the spoil that they had brought 700 oxen and 7,000 sheep. [12] And they entered into a covenant to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and with all their soul, [13] but that whoever would not seek the LORD, the God of Israel, should be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman. [14] They swore an oath to the LORD with a loud voice and with shouting and with trumpets and with horns. [15] And all Judah rejoiced over the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart and had sought him with their whole desire, and he was found by them, and the LORD gave them rest all around. [16] Even Maacah, his mother, King Asa removed from being queen mother because she had made a detestable image for Asherah. Asa cut down her image, crushed it, and burned it at the brook Kidron. [17] But the high places were not taken out of Israel. Nevertheless, the heart of Asa was wholly true all his days. [18] And he brought into the house of God the sacred gifts of his father and his own sacred gifts, silver, and gold, and vessels. [19] And there was no more war until the thirty-fifth year of the reign of Asa.  [ESV]

“Asa’s Assembly for Reform [15:9-15]. The report of Asa’s response to the prophetic encouragement continues with an account of a national assembly. This assembly extended Asa’s reform efforts. These materials divide into a five step balanced narrative. Asa’s assembly begins with a detailed description of those who came to Jerusalem [9-10] and closes with the benefits the assembly brought to the nation [15]. Opening sacrificial ceremonies [11] balance with the ceremonies closing the assembly [14]. In the center of the story is a report of the oath sworn at the assembly [12-13]. Assembly Called [9-10]. This passage begins with the notice that Asa gathered all Judah and Benjamin. This terminology sets this event alongside a number of religious assemblies in the Chronicler’s history. As in other such assemblies, the actions taken here are paradigmatic for the post-exilic community. Asa led Judah in covenant renewal; the Chronicler’s readers should learn to do the same in their day. These verses emphasize the extent of the tribes represented in the assembly. All Judah and Benjamin came to Jerusalem, but along with them were representatives of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Simeon. The Chronicler added the notice that the northerners were from among those who were residing with them. As in the days of Rehoboam [11:5-17], great numbers had deserted to him from Israel. The inclusion of Simeon among the northern tribes is problematic because the territory of Simeon is actually located south of Judah. It is feasible that some historical event not known from biblical records led to migrations from Simeon’s traditional territory to a more northern location. Perhaps, Edomite incursions in the southern regions after the reign of Solomon explain their movements. Whatever the case, the Chronicler mentioned migrations from the North of several occasions. This defection from the North took place when they saw that the Lord his God was with him. The fact that God was with him recalls the previous section of Asa’s victory over Zerah [14:11-15]. There victory resulted from God fighting on Judah’s side. This and other migrations from the North were very important to the Chronicler. They were foretastes of the Chronicler’s ideal of reunification of all Israel under the reign of the Davidic family. Assembly Opening Ceremonies [11]. In recognition of the solemnity of this occasion, the Chronicler described the sacrifices offered at the beginning of the assembly. Asa and those who had joined him sacrificed seven hundred head of cattle and seven thousand sheep and goats. These numbers compare favorably with other similar events [1 Chr. 15:26; 2 Chr. 5:6; 7:5; 29:27-33]. This assembly was attended by representatives of many tribes and included grand sacrificial ceremonies. Assembly Oaths [12-13]. The Chronicler’s chief interest in Asa’s assembly also formed the turning point of the narrative. On this occasion the people entered into a covenant to seek the Lord. This ceremony of covenant renewal was probably concurrent with the annual Feast of Weeks or Pentecost [Ex. 23:16; 34:22; Lev. 23:15-21; Num. 28:26-31; Deut. 16:9-10]. The Chronicler mentioned several events of covenant renewal to inspire his post-exilic readers to reaffirm their covenant commitments before God as well. From other portions of Scripture, we may surmise that a covenant renewal ceremony of this sort would include a number of elements. For instance, four movements emerge within the proceedings of Joshua 24:1-25. The ceremonies began with the recollection of God’s acts in Israel’s history [24:1-13]. The restating of the covenant privileges and responsibilities followed [24:14-15]. The covenant people respond with repentance and commitment [24:16-18]. Laws, promises, and terms of agreement are recorded [24:25]. Like Joshua before him, Asa led the nation in renewal of commitments to the Lord [see Deut. 29:1; Josh. 8:30-35; 1 Sam. 11:14]. The Chronicler explicitly tied Asa’s covenant renewal to the preceding context. First, he described the assembly’s oath as ‘seeking’. Similarly, he described the sacrifices offered in conjunction with this covenant renewal as the spoil that they had brought back from victory over Zerah [11]. These two elements in this story demonstrate that the Chronicler saw Asa’s assembly as the climax of Asa’s response to the prophet. A remarkable note appears at the end of this covenant renewal. Whoever would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, should be put to death. The practice of executing flagrant covenant violators was established by Mosaic Law [Ex. 22:20; Deut. 17:2-7; 13:6-10]. As with all Mosaic instructions on capital punishment, the motivation behind this Law was to rid Israel of evildoers who would lead others from fidelity to the covenant. In the Old Testament period, religious and national policies were nearly inseparable. The judgments of the state of Israel in compliance with the Law of God were the judgments of God Himself. As a result, one dimension of national covenant renewal was the purification of the nation. These executions are comparable to the New Testament practice of excommunication which is itself a purification of the believing community [Matt. 18:17; 1 Cor. 5:1-13; 1 Tim. 1:18-20; 2 Thess. 3:14]. Assembly Closing Ceremonies [14]. In balance with the opening ceremonies of sacrifice, the Chronicler turned to the ceremonies following covenant renewal. The people delighted in the event with shouting and with trumpets and with horns. Once again, the Chronicler’s interest in connecting music and joy is apparent. As in similar passages throughout his book, the Chronicler emphasized the joy and splendor of this event to motivate his readers toward imitation. Instead of threats of judgment, this scene of celebration offered positive incentive for covenant renewal. The wonder of Asa’s joyous celebration could be theirs, if they would follow the example of Asa’s covenant fidelity. Assembly Results [15]. The description of the results of Asa’s assembly closes with a continuing focus on the emotions of the event: all Judah rejoiced. Representatives of the entire population were excited about the renewal of the covenant. Moreover, they swore with all their heart. Wholehearted devotion was one of the Chronicler’s most repeated themes. At this time Judah went far beyond external religious requirements and offered their souls to God. Moreover, the Chronicler added that because Asa and the assembly sought him with their whole desire, and he was found by them. Wholehearted, eager pursuit of covenant renewal is once again expressed in terms of ‘seeking’ [14:4; 15:2,12,13; 16:12]. Finally, the result of the assembly’s joyous and sincere devotion was that the Lord gave them rest all around. The Chronicler pointed out that Asa’s covenant loyalty led to protection from enemies. The encouragement to the Chronicler’s readers is evident. The delightful experiences of this assembly should have motivated them to eager pursuit of covenant renewal in their day. They had to go far beyond mere external conformity to wholehearted devotion. Only then would the joy exhibited in this passage be theirs. Asa’s Other Reforms [16-19]. The Chronicler rounded off his record of Asa’s reforms by returning to the book of Kings [1 Kings 15:13-15]. This material forms an inclusion with 15:8 that frames the story of Asa’s assembly. Several items come into the picture at this point. First, Asa removed Maacah from being queen mother. The queen mother was nearly an official status afforded to the mother or grandmother of a king. These royal matriarchs often had much influence over the affairs of state. Asa’s grandmother Maacah had erected an Asherah pole. Apparently she was not fully committed to Asa’s reforms. Not only did Asa destroy her idol, but deposed her as well. even the king’s own family was not exempt from his reform efforts. Second, the Chronicler repeated from 1 Kings 15:14 that the high places were not taken out of Israel [17]. In 14:5 we read that Asa removed the high places from all the cities of Judah. Here it appears that the Chronicler understood the book of Kings as referring to those lands of Ephraim which Asa possessed. Despite this failure on Asa’s part, the Chronicler also included from Kings that the heart of Asa was wholly true all his days. Although the Chronicler turned next to Asa’s years of infidelity, he noted that deep within this king was a heart devoted to the Lord. Once again, the Chronicler stressed wholehearted devotion but acknowledged that it did not imply perfect behavior. Third, the text refers to Asa’s dedication of silver, and gold, and vessels into the house of God [18]. This exemplary action recalls the similar actions of David and Solomon [1 Chr. 29:3; 2 Chr. 5:1]. Once again, this part of Asa’s reign was subtly compared to these ideal monarchs. Fourth, the Chronicler added a final note to this portion of his record [19]. He had already mentioned the nation’s rest all around. At this point, he emphasized that there was no more war. Asa was free of major conflicts until the thirty-fifth year of his reign. The allusion to the ideal reign of Solomon is evident [2 Chr. 9:30]. With these closing reports the Chronicler presented the depth of Asa’s reforms and the longlasting blessing of peace he received. For the post-exilic readers these features of the king’s reign were enviable. They could experience the same peace, if they would imitate Asa’s reforms in their day.” [Pratt, pp. 424-429].

“Covenant. Original Israelite Readers. Chronicles stresses that God administered the kingdom of Israel by means of covenants. On several occasions ,the Chronicler used the term ‘covenant’ to describe an agreement among humans [1 Chr. 11:3; 2 Chr. 23:1,3,11], but his history concentrates on Israel’s covenant with God. First, the term ‘covenant’ appears most frequently with reference to Moses, especially as the Chronicler designated the ark of the temple as ‘the ark of the covenant’ [1 Chr. 15:25,26,28,29; 16:6,37; 17:1; 22:19; 28:2,18; 2 Chr. 5:2,7,10; 6:11]. This traditional language from the Pentateuch described the ark as containing Moses’ Law [2 Chr. 5:10; 6:11]. The Mosaic Law was an indisputable covenant bond between Israel and God. Second, the Chronicler mentioned other divine covenants from the past to affirm their continuing significance for his readers. The Chronicler understood that each of God’s covenants with Israel established permanent responsibilities before God. The Mosaic covenant remained authoritative beyond the days of Moses’ covenant. The covenant made with the patriarchs was fulfilled in blessings that came to David [1 Chr. 16:15-17]. Similarly, David commanded Solomon to keep covenant with God [1 Chr. 28:9]. Abijah appealed to David’s dynastic covenant to establish the legitimacy of his own throne [2 Chr. 13:5]. In much the same way, the Chronicler himself explained that the continuation of David’s line in the days of Jehoram resulted from divine faithfulness to the covenant made with David [2 Chr. 21:7]. These passages demonstrate that the Chronicler viewed the patriarchal, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants as valid for the people of God even after the exile. Third, in several passages the Chronicler stresses the importance of covenant renewal. As Solomon noted, God’s blessing came only to those who proved faithful to covenant responsibilities [2 Chr. 6:14]. For this reason, after times of apostasy the people of God had to renew their allegiance to their covenant with God. Such reaffirmations took place in the days of Asa [2 Chr. 15:12], Joash and Jehoiada [2 Chr. 23:16], Hezekiah [2 Chr. 29:10] and Josiah [2 Chr. 34:32]. Just as Jeremiah and Ezekiel spoke of the post-exilic times as one of covenant renewal [Jer. 31:31-33; Ezek. 34:25; 37:26], the Chronicler stressed exemplary covenant renewals from the past to guide covenant renewal in his day. Contemporary Christian Readers. The coming of Jesus marked the institution of the New Covenant which built upon the patriarchal, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants. It also fulfilled the prophetic hopes of covenant renewal after return from exile. Christ claimed that His own blood would seal and ratify this greater covenant [Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25; Heb. 7:22]. This New Covenant would be accomplished by His mediating work on the cross and by His continuing intercession [Heb. 8:6; 9:15]. As a result, those who trust in Christ are participants and beneficiaries of covenant blessings: eternal life [John 3:16; 10:28], assurance [1 Tim. 3:13], protection [John 17:11], and abundant life [Rom. 5:17]. Christians are given the responsibility of being ministers of a new covenant [2 Cor. 3:6] and are obligated to covenant fidelity and renewal [Rom. 3:31].”  [Pratt, pp. 42-44].

“Motivations. Original Israelite Readers. The Chronicler was a theologian of the heart. One of his chief concerns was to explain that service to God must not be reduced to mere external conformity. On the contrary, the blessings of God come to those who bring sincere and enthusiastic motivations to God. In Chronicles as elsewhere in the Scriptures, the terms ‘heart’, ‘soul’, and ‘mind’ refer to the thoughts and motivations of people. These terms do not designate particular psychological faculties. All of the deeper dynamics of the inner person may be summed up as the heart, soul, or mind. For this reason, these terms are largely interchangeable. Above all, the Chronicler held before his post-exilic readers the Mosaic ideal of obedience to God with a whole heart. Wholeheartedness appears in several contexts that shed light on what the Chronicler meant by the terminology. For instance, it is closely associated with being ‘willing’ to serve God [1 Chr. 28:9], giving money ‘freely’ [1 Chr. 29:9], doing ‘everything’ required for completing the temple [1 Chr. 29:19], seeking God ‘eagerly’ [2 Chr. 15:15], judging ‘faithfully’ in the fear of God [2 Chr. 19:9], and performing well ‘in everything’ [2 Chr. 31:21]. In a word, to devote oneself wholeheartedly to God meant to render service with sincerity, enthusiasm and determination. For this reason, the Chronicler often pointed out that certain kings did or did not serve God with their hearts. Zedekiah hardened his heart [2 Chr. 36:13]. Pride is acknowledged as a condition of the heart [2 Chr. 25:19; 26:16; 32:25,26]. Repentance is said to involve the heart [2 Chr. 6:37]. Seeking God should also stem from the heart [1 Chr. 22:19; 2 Chr. 11:16; 15:12; 19:3; 22:9]. It is important to note that the Chronicler explicitly distinguished between external behavior and the condition of the heart. Asa failed to destroy all the high places from Israel, but Asa’s heart was fully committed all his life [2 Chr. 15:17]. In the Chronicler’s thinking, wholehearted devotion to God was not synonymous with perfect practice. Conversely, Amaziah ‘did right in the eyes of the Lord, but not wholeheartedly’ [2 Chr. 25:2]. In this case, the Chronicler distinguished between doing what was right and doing it sincerely and enthusiastically. The Chronicler emphasized the importance of motivations because he believed that God examined the heart as well as behavior. David warned Solomon to evaluate his motives because God ‘searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts’ [1 Chr. 28:9]. David also confessed, ‘You test the heart and are pleased with integrity’ [1 Chr. 29:17]. As Solomon said, God keeps covenant ‘with those who continue wholeheartedly in your way’ [2 Chr. 6:14]. These passages warned the Chronicler’s readers to examine their own motivations instead of simply conforming to a set of behaviors. In the Chronicler’s history, sincerity of heart often mollified the consequences of behavioral failures. The condition of the heart can be the basis of divine patience and forgiveness. Solomon asked God to ‘forgive and deal with each man according to all he does, since you know his heart (for you alone know the hearts of men)’ [2 Chr. 6:30]. Similarly, Hezekiah prayed for God to forgive everyone ‘who sets his heart on seeking God’ [2 Chr. 30:19]. The Chronicler emphasized the heart to challenge his post-exilic readers. They were the restored community of whom it had been said, ‘I will put my law on their hearts’ [Jer. 31:33]. His history called his readers to bring their hearts into conformity with the Law of God. Only then could they be assured of Gods’ blessings. Contemporary Christian Readers. The New Testament places a similar emphasis on the importance of the heart and motivations. Jesus taught that the greatest commandment was to love God ‘with all of your heart’ [Matt. 22:37-40]. Moreover, salvation itself is described as the Spirit of Christ dwelling in the heart [Gal. 4:6]. During the continuation of the Kingdom, God searches believers’ hearts and minds as well as deeds [Rev. 2:23]. In the consummation, judgment will not only focus on external behaviors, but God will also ‘expose the motives’ of the heart [1 Cor. 4:5].” [Pratt, pp. 48-50].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Here in this passage we have a description of Asa’s reforms which focused on covenant renewal. Describe what Asa did. Why would the Chronicler want his readers to know about Asa’s reforms? Why would covenant renewal be important for the people of the Chronicler’s time?
  2. Why did God administer the kingdom of Israel by means of covenants? What did God’s covenant with Israel consist of? What role did the Mosaic law play in this covenant? Why is covenant renewal essential?
  3. The Chronicler writes in 15:12: And they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, will all their heart and with all their soul. Pratt comments: “The Chronicler was a theologian of the heart. One of his chief concerns was to explain that service to God must not be reduced to mere external conformity.” Why does God want us to serve Him with all our heart? What can we do to avoid our service being reduced to mere external conformity?

References:

1 & 2 Chronicles, Eugene Merrill, Kregel.

1 & 2 Chronicles, Richard Pratt, Mentor.

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