Remember God's Faithfulness

| 2 Chronicles 16:1-13 | August 11, 2019

Week of August 18, 2019

The Point:  The God who guided you in the past will guide you now and in the future.

Asa’s Last Years:  2 Chronicles 16:1-13.

[1] In the thirty-sixth year of the reign of Asa, Baasha king of Israel went up against Judah and built Ramah, that he might permit no one to go out or come in to Asa king of Judah. [2] Then Asa took silver and gold from the treasures of the house of the LORD and the king’s house and sent them to Ben-hadad king of Syria, who lived in Damascus, saying, [3] “There is a covenant between me and you, as there was between my father and your father. Behold, I am sending to you silver and gold. Go, break your covenant with Baasha king of Israel, that he may withdraw from me.” [4] And Ben-hadad listened to King Asa and sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel, and they conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel-maim, and all the store cities of Naphtali. [5] And when Baasha heard of it, he stopped building Ramah and let his work cease. [6] Then King Asa took all Judah, and they carried away the stones of Ramah and its timber, with which Baasha had been building, and with them he built Geba and Mizpah. [7] At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the LORD your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. [8] Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, he gave them into your hand. [9] For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.” [10] Then Asa was angry with the seer and put him in the stocks in prison, for he was in a rage with him because of this. And Asa inflicted cruelties upon some of the people at the same time. [11] The acts of Asa, from first to last, are written in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel. [12] In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians. [13] And Asa slept with his fathers, dying in the forty-first year of his reign.  [ESV]

Asa Under Divine Judgment. Having dealt with the earlier years of Asa’s reign under divine blessing, the Chronicler turned to the time of divine judgment against the king. His depiction of this portion of Asa’s life stands in sharp contrast to the preceding material. Chronicles depends on 1 Kings 15:16-24 for much of this material. In several portions slight differences appear due to changes in style and corruptions through textual transmission. Yet a number of variations are due to the Chronicler’s unique outlook on these events. First, several times the Chronicler varied from Kings to display his chronological division of Asa’s reign. (1) 1 Kings 15:16 generalizes that war took place between Asa and Baasha of northern Israel all their days. The Chronicler, however, had already specified that there was peace during Asa’s early years [14:6]. For this reason he replaced the reference in Kings with a note of war taking place in the thirty-sixty year of the reign of Asa [16:1]. (2) 1 Kings 15:23 reads, in his old age, but the Chronicler shifted to in the thirty-ninth year of his reign [16:12]. (3) He also added the information that Asa died in the forty-first year of his reign to the parallel material in 1 Kings 15:24. Each of these shifts were designed to shape the record of Asa into well-defined temporal units that supported his division of the king’s reign into a time of blessing and judgment. Second, the largest addition which was made to this part of Asa’s reign appears in 16:7-10. This story of Hanani the prophet was added to contrast and balance with the previous story of the prophet Azariah. Third, the Chronicler expanded the reference to sources from the book of the Kings of Judah [1 Kings 15:23] to the book of the Kings of Judah and Israel [16:11]. Fourth, the simple notice that he was diseased in his feet [1 Kings 15:23] is expanded to indicate that the king responded inappropriately to his illness by failing to seek God [16:12]. The purpose of this expansion was to contrast Asa’s behavior in this circumstance with the actions of his earlier years [see 15:8-18].

Asa’s Failure, Prophetic Disapproval and Disobedience [16:1-13]. The first half of Asa’s reign involved fidelity, victory, prophetic approval and obedience. This portion contrasts with infidelity, failure, prophetic rebuke, and disobedience. At this point the Chronicler followed a scenario he presented on a number of occasions. A time of blessing was followed by a time of infidelity. The contrasts between these two periods could hardly be more striking. Asa’s Failure in Conflict [16:1-6]. To contrast Asa’s remarkable victory over Zerah [14:12], the Chronicler followed the book of Kings [15:16-22] and recorded one of Asa’s encounters with Baasha, king of northern Israel. This battle was not a total defeat for Asa. In fact, in purely political terms it was only a slight setback. Yet, from the Chronicler’s point of view it represented a serious violation of Asa’s loyalty to God and it brought God’s judgment against the king. This episode begins with the information that Baasha king of Israel began aggression against Judah. He fortified Ramah, a site six miles north of Jerusalem, to cut off a major trade route from the east toward Jerusalem. This aggression was one in a long series of skirmishes and conflicts between Asa and Baasha. The opening chronological reference to the thirty-sixth year of the reign is problematic. Similarly, the mention of the thirty-fifth year in 15:19 raises difficulties in harmonizing Kings and Chronicles. 1 Kings 15:33 and 16:8 indicate that Elah succeeded Baasha in the twenty-sixty year of Asa’s reign, but Chronicles speaks of Baasha making war in the thirty-sixth year. Two resolutions have been proposed. On the one hand, some interpreters hold that 15:19 and 16:1 date these events from the time of the schism of the North and South. If this were so, it would bring Kings and Chronicles into harmony. Nevertheless, this would be the only time the Chronicler oriented his dating in this direction. On the other hand, it is possible that the numbers ‘thirty’ and ‘twenty’ were confused at some point in the history of transmission. This confusion would not be impossible in Hebrew script of some periods. The latter proposal seems more likely than the former. Yet, further research may point toward a better solution in the future. Contrary to his appeal for divine help in his battle with Zerah, Asa turned to human power to remove the threat of Baasha’s fortification. He appealed to Ben-hadad king of Syria [16:2]. Asa sought an alliance with Israel’s Syrian neighbor. The text clearly indicates that Asa’s move was inappropriate in the way it describes his appeal. Not only did the king send treasures from his own house, but he also took silver and gold from the treasures of the house of the Lord and … sent them to Ben-hadad. Near the end of his account of Asa’s positive years, the Chronicler praised Asa because he brought silver and gold to the temple [15:18]. At this point, Asa did just the opposite. He took from God in order to establish an alliance with a foreign power. The text emphasizes this contrast by repeating a reference to silver and gold in Asa’s speech to Ben-Hadad [16:3]. As we will see, this pursuit of foreign alliance was Asa’s serious error [16:7-9]. Asa appealed to Ben-hadad to establish a treaty with him. This arrangement was a parity treaty. Ben-hadad and Asa functioned as peers, but Asa had to buy Ben-hadad’s loyalty because the latter would have to break his treaty with northern Israel [16:3]. The terms of the treaty were simple. Syria would attack northern Israel so that Baasha would have to withdraw from Judah. Although the Chronicler said nothing explicit at this point about the religious dimensions of Asa’s plans, he later exposed this treaty as rebellion against God. Treaties and cooperation with foreign powers were not entirely forbidden to Israel [see Deut. 20:10-15]. Yet, when these treaties were established in lieu of dependence on God for military security, they were strongly condemned. The Chronicler condemned another such alliance in the days of Ahaz [see 28:16,21]. Such events were important to him because his post-exilic readers were tempted to find their security in similar ways, rather than rely on God for protection. Beyond this, it is important to note that in this situation Asa not only allied himself with a foreign power, but he did so against northern Israel. This fact may also have inspired the Chronicler’s condemnation. Although the northern tribes were in apostasy and were aggressive against Judah, conspiring with foreign nations against them was outrageous. The northern tribes troubled the early post-exilic community [see Ezra 4:1-5], but here the Chronicler instructed his readers not to make war against them, especially by means of an alliance with foreign powers. In balance with the treaty established between Asa and Syria, Ben-hadad attacked the towns of Israel. The towns listed in verse 4 are all located in the northern regions of Israel’s territories. Just as Asa had hoped, Baasha stopped building Ramah and let his work cease [5]. The threat to Judah’s security was halted. Moreover, Baasha was so distracted by troubles with Syria that Asa and all Judah went to Raman, took Baasha’s stones and timber and used them to fortify Geba and Mizpah [6]. The Chronicler reported these events to convey the enormous success of Asa’s strategy. To the unsuspecting reader, this whole series of events looks like a great victory for Asa. His plan worked out splendidly. Only subtle hints of religious failure appear up to this point. The Chronicler used this quality of the record of Kings to prepare his readers for a surprise. Although this event seemed to honor Asa for his diplomatic and military skills, it will soon be seen for what it really was, an act of rebellion against God. Asa’s Prophetic Rebuke and Disobedience [16:7-10]. Asa’s second battle was in need of evaluation. The Chronicler immediately offered an explicit judgment of what the king had done. The Chronicler added a second prophetic word from Hanani the seer [7] to balance with the previous announcement from Azariah the prophet [15:1]. The earlier prophetic word was entirely positive, encouraging Asa to go further in his reforms. This prophetic speech, however, condemned Asa’s actions. Hanani’s speech divides into three parts. This prophetic speech follows a pattern of a judgment oracle (accusation and sentencing) that occurs frequently in the prophetic literature of the Old Testament. It begins with an accusation [7], a reminder of past blessings [8-9a], and an accusation and sentencing [9b]. In his usual fashion the Chronicler reported that God’s prophet warned of judgment to come. He surprised his readers, however, with the opening words of the prophet. Instead of congratulating the king for his clever diplomacy, the prophet accused him of sin. Asa was accused of having relied on the king of Syria. In the Chronicler’s theological vocabulary, the only one upon whom Israel should rely was God Himself [see 13:18; 16:7,8]. In his struggle with Zerah, Asa specifically affirmed that he relied on God [14:11]. The Chronicler consistently condemned reliance on anyone but God, especially foreign nations. The prophet continued his accusation by pointing to the results of Asa’s reliance on foreign power. He announced that Asa lost not only victory over Israel (Baasha), but also over Syria (Ben-hadad) because of his failure to rely on God [7]. To highlight the folly of Asa’s actions, the prophet continued to contrast this situation with the previous conflict in Asa’s reign. The Ethiopians and the Libyans attacked with a great army, but Asa defeated them because he relied upon the Lord [16:8 see 14:8-15]. To support his claim the prophet appealed to a doctrinal belief. He asserted that the eyes of the Lord were watching [9]. The Chronicler referred several times to the eyes of God as His ability to know all things [6:20,40; 7:15,16]. Here God looks inside human motivations to see whose heart is blameless toward him [9]. Once again, the Chronicler drew attention to the need for sincere heart devotion to God. Moreover, the prophet explained that God intervenes to give strong support to those who have hearts devoted to Him. in the first part of Asa’s reign, it was the whole-hearted commitment of the king and the people of Judah that won the Chronicler’s praise. Now that the king had turned from such loyalty, the eyes of the Lord became a cause of fear [9]. The prophet closed his speech by returning to accusation. Asa had done a foolish thing. As a result, Asa would suffer severely for his sin. The prophet sentenced him to wars from now on. In sharp contrast with the blessing of peace during the earlier period in Asa’s reign [15:15,19], his kingdom would be troubled with warfare. The Chronicler dramatically condemned the actions of Asa by drawing these deliberate contrasts with earlier times in the king’s life. The message to the Chronicler’s audience is not difficult to discern. They longed to avoid war with their neighbors. Only reliance on God would bring them such rest from conflict. The Chronicler’s addition to Kings continues with Asa’s reaction to the prophetic word. This portion parallels the king’s response to the earlier word from Azariah, but it sharply contrasts with that event [see 15:8]. In the early years of his reign, Asa responded with obedience to the prophet’s encouragement. At this point, he reacted negatively to the second prophet’s accusation. Asa reacted in two ways. First, he was angry with the seer instead of repenting of the infidelity exposed by the prophet. Moreover, he put the prophet Hanani in prison, much as Zedekiah imprisoned Jeremiah at a later time. When prophets rebuked the people and predicted negative consequences, they often suffered severe punishment. Once again, the Chronicler’s keen concern with the prophetic office is evident. Second, Asa not only imprisoned the prophet, but also inflicted cruelties upon some of the people. These people apparently sympathized with the prophet Hanani. The gravity of this action becomes clear when we remember how the Chronicler argued strongly that the Davidic line was ordained for the benefit of the people of Judah and Israel. Asa’s later years of rebellion against God led to a violation of one of his fundamental purposes as king. Asa’s Final Years of Judgment [16:11-12]. The Chronicler returned to the record of Kings to close off Asa’s reign. He first followed Kings closely and noted other sources. Yet, the note that Asa was diseased in his feet caused him to pause and add other new information. First, the Chronicler added a chronological note that the foot disease took place in the thirty-ninth year of his reign. The text gives no clues as to the precise nature of the disease, but it is evident that the Chronicler considered it a curse. Second, he added a theological explanation. Asa’s disease was severe, but he did not seek the Lord, but sought help from physicians. The theme of ‘seeking’ God is repeated time and again in the Chronicler’s version of Asa’s reign [14:4; 15:2,12,13; 16:12]. In addition, Asa forgot that effective help only comes from God. The Chronicler repeatedly illustrated that God intervened to help His people in their struggles. The Chronicler pointed out here that Asa did just the opposite of what he did in the earlier years of his reign. It should be noted that the Chronicler did not forbid Asa from receiving help from the physicians. The Old Testament shows no hesitation about taking advantage of medical care. Yet, using ordinary means was never to be divorced from seeking divine assistance. Asa’s sin here was similar to his sin in conflict with Baasha. He relied on human power rather than divine help. As a result, Asa found no relief from his disease. Closure of Asa’s Reign [16:13-14]. With one more additional chronological note (the forty-first year of his reign), the Chronicler moved to Asa’s death and burial. The Chronicler expanded the record of his burial in a way that brought honor to the king [compare 16:14 and 1 Kings 15:24]. He mentioned details of the burial ceremony which included spices and various perfumes. Moreover, the Judahites made a very great fire in his honor. Asa’s burial contrasts with that of Jehoram whose disgraceful burial had no honorary fire [see 21:19]. The Chronicler included this information on Asa’s burial to express his belief that Asa was on the whole a good king. Despite his failures, Asa was to be honored by the post-exilic community as the Judahites of Asa’s day honored the king.” [Pratt, pp. 430-438].

“Prophets. Original Israelite Readers. The Chronicler placed particular emphasis on prophets. As emissaries of God’s covenants, prophets applied divine standards to God’s people by drawing attention to God’s threats of judgment and offers of blessing. The Chronicler mentioned prophets or seers in his history no less than thirty-nine times. We will touch on three dimensions of his perspective. First, the Chronicler revealed how much he valued prophets by referring his readers to a number of written prophetic records. These repeated references to written prophetic sources indicate that prophetic perspectives from the past deeply influenced the Chronicler. Second, the Chronicler highlighted the importance of prophecy by assigning a prophetic role to many Levites. This identification appears in Chronicles more clearly than any other portion of the Old Testament. It probably reflects the conviction that the Levites, especially the musical Levites, had a prophetic role in the post-exilic community. Third, Chronicles reports how the fate of Israel and Judah was often determined by their reactions to the prophetic word. God often sent prophets to warn of impending judgment, but reactions varied. David submitted to Nathan the prophet and God and received God’s blessing. Rehoboam was blessed because he obeyed the prophet’s prohibition against attacking Jeroboam. Rehoboam also avoided complete defeat by responding with humility to Shemaiah. Asa honored the Prophet Azariah during his years of obedience and blessing, but he rejected the prophet of God during his years of infidelity and judgment. Throughout the Chronicler’s history each time the people of God disobeyed the prophetic word, judgment came against them. When they submitted to the Word of God through His prophets, they received blessings. The implication of these scenarios would have been evident to the Chronicler’s original readers. As they heard prophetic instructions in the post-exilic period (including the Chronicler’s own words), they had to pay heed in order to receive the blessings of God. Contemporary Christian Readers. The Christian faith holds similar outlooks on the prophetic word. New Testament writers repeatedly quoted or alluded to Old Testament prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah, Daniel, Joel, Samuel. Prophets are called ‘servants’ [Rev. 10:7] and ‘brothers’ [Rev. 22:9] and are understood in the New Testament as God’s spokespersons [Matt. 1:22]. As the Chronicler assigned the prophetic office to priests, the New Testament grants the title of ‘prophet’ to the great high priest, Jesus Christ [Luke 1:76; Heb. 1:1-3]. The apostle Paul performed the prophetic role as he was called to be a minister of the gospel [Rom. 1:1; 15:15-16]. Timothy is called to be a prophetic voice in the Kingdom of God as he was ordained by Paul and the elders [1 Tim. 4:14]. Acts 6 records the commissioning of New Testament Christians to be the heralds of God who are devoted to the ministry of the Word [Acts 6:1-7]. New Testament believers are called to be prophets as they are to preach the good news to all creation throughout the continuation of the Kingdom [Mark 16:15]. As the Chronicler attached judgment and salvation to the response of Israel toward the prophetic word, so the New Testament depicts the destiny of individuals as contingent upon obedience to the Word of God. Paul warns against treating prophecy with ‘contempt’ [1 Thess. 5:20]. Eternal life is contingent upon one’s response to the Word of God [John 5:24]. Those who hear and receive the Word of God are included ‘in Christ’ [Eph. 1:13]. As with Israel, the Church is promised blessings if it heeds the prophetic word, but curses come to anyone who disregards or changes the Word of God [Rev. 22:18,19].” [Pratt, pp. 46-48].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How did Asa’s actions with Baasha represent a serious violation of Asa’s loyalty to God? What did Asa do wrong? What were the consequences of Asa’s foolish actions?
  2. Compare the prophetic word of Hanani the seer [16:7-9] with that of the prophet Azariah [15:1-7]. Why is one so positive and the other so negative? What factor determines the type of prophetic word given to Asa? Compare how Asa responds to each prophetic word. What does this tell us about Asa’s spiritual condition in each situation?
  3. What did the Chronicler want his readers to learn from this passage? Note how the Chronicler uses both the positive and negative actions of Asa to teach his readers concerning how they should live before God.

References:

1 & 2 Chronicles, Eugene Merrill, Kregel.

1 & 2 Chronicles, Richard Pratt, Mentor.

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