TRAITS OF GREAT SPIRITUAL LEADERS, Part 1

 

Asa's foot disease. Courtesy of The Brink Testament

Asa: Strength From God

The Old Testament historical books of Kings and Chronicles cover the story of God’s people from the perspective of their political and spiritual leaders. Since its inception, the nation of Israel was to view Yahweh as its King; the nation was to be a theocracy. We see in Joshua and Judges how the people were governed by a succession of priest and judges. In the course of time, the people of Israel wanted to be governed just like the nations of the world—by a king. 1 and 2 Samuel detail the rocky start of Israel as a monarchy. Its first king, Saul, was a disaster even though his reign began most impressively. After dying in battle (being asked to be run through by one of his own), he was followed by David, Israel’s greatest king. Sadly, David’s personal life was a mess, and after almost losing the throne to a rebellious son, his other son ascended to the throne and under Solomon’s reign, Israel reached cultural, religious, and military heights never before seen.

Upon Solomon’s death, things fell apart quickly. Israel split in two, with a kingdom to the north made up of most the tribes and a southern kingdom made up primarily of the tribe of Judah. These two divided kingdoms, Israel to the north and Judah to the south, had separate histories, separate kings, and separate destinies. The books of Kings and Chronicles cover this period of Jewish history.

The story of Israel’s decline really begins before its golden age under David and Solomon. 1 Samuel 8:7—9 tells us this:

And the LORD told [Samuel]: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

What would Israel get when it got its king? With the monarchy would come a military draft and very high taxes. During the reign of some kings, the people would be treated little better than slaves. Despite God’s warning, this is what the people wanted, and so God allowed them to have a monarchy. The consequences of this make up the pages of Kings and Chronicles.

1. The end to sin and idolatry, 2 Chronicles 14:1—12

And Abijah rested with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David. Asa his son succeeded him as king, and in his days the country was at peace for ten years. (vs. 1)

As was the Chronicler’s habit, he began his account of Asa’s reign with a one sentence summary. Obviously, the thing that marked Asa’s 40 years as king over Judah was a decade of peace. The other name mentioned in this opening verse is Abijah, Asa’s father.

Abijah was the first king of Judah, the southern kingdom, and with his reign came a new era in the history of the “divided kingdom.” His father was Rehoboam, son of Solomon, and under his watch the kingdom of Israel became divided in two. Abijah is known for defeating the armies of Jeroboam, first king of the northern kingdom of Israel; his victory came with the Lord’s help because he was devoted to God’s covenant with the House of David. He reigned for a mere three years, but thanks to his godly influence, his son, Asa, picked right up where he left off. So, from David to Solomon, from Abijah to Asa, we see how the faith to govern as a man of God was passed on from the older generation to the younger.

[a] Asa’s early years, vs. 1—7

Verses 2—6 give us in summary form Asa’s list of accomplishments:

  • He removed the foreign altars;
  • He removed the high places, although the people continued to resort to them (15:17);
  • He commanded Judah to seek Yahweh;
  • He commanded the people to observe the laws of God;
  • He built up the fortified citied of Judah in spite of the peace the land enjoyed.

Asa would eventually become well-known for his ability to wage war, but his first war—against the false gods that infested Judah—was the one brought about so many years of peace. And yet, Asa had foresight. Even though there were years of peace, and even though he understood that to seek God would result in peace, he took the opportunity to plan ahead and prepare for battle if and when the need arose. Asa did not go looking for war; he did not expand Judah’s borders, he simply protected his territory and strengthened his armies. In many ways, the early years of Asa’s reign were reminiscent of Solomon’s.

Like all leaders, Asa had strong points and weak points. Some scholars group Asa with the likes of Hezekiah and Josiah as a “reformation king,” but that title is better suited to his son, Jehoshaphat.

[b] An early victory, vs. 8—12

Given that his first decade as king was so peaceful, Asa probably hoped that it would always be like that. But that was not to be the case. Asa’s work in rebuilding and fortifying the border cities caught the attention of the Egyptians, and their military leader, Zerah, led an invasion from Cush into Judah. While Judah’s military had been steadily rebuilt and was considered to be quite formidable at this time, it was greatly outnumbered by the invaders. Against seemingly insurmountable odds, Asa’s true character came to the fore.

Asa stared at the oncoming enemy with what must have been disbelieving eyes. Never before had he seen army so vast and so mighty. Instead of retreating and regrouping, instead of giving inspirational speeches to his men, King Asa stopped dead in his tracks and, as we read in verse 11, he prayed:

LORD, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, LORD our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. LORD, you are our God; do not let mere mortals prevail against you.

When we look at his prayer, we see that it was short, direct, and to the point. Asa knew what he needed to prevail and he knew that his army was the only thing that stood between the Egyptians and Judah. Another way to translate Asa’s prayer is:

Yahweh, numbers and strength make no difference to you when you give your help.

As far as Asa was concerned, for God the humanly impossible was nothing and he had the faith to commit himself to God and to expect the impossible to come to pass.

Predictably, with God’s intervention, Asa prevailed. Of course, the armies of Judah were required to fight; and fight they did! The glory, however, belonged to the Lord; the soldiers knew full-well that they were empowered by the Lord and they were carrying His will.

2. Drawing close to God, 2 Chronicles 15:1—19

No great leader can do the job by himself. Asa must have known the many proverbs his father had written and compiled on the subject:

For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers. (Proverbs 11:14)

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. (Proverbs 15:22)

[a] Azariah’s advice, verses 1—7

After the stunning victory in battle, Asa is handed a new challenge by a new advisor, the prophet Azariah, son of Oded. This is the only mention of this man, and God used him for the cause of righteousness, and apart from his message, we know nothing about him.

Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The LORD is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you. (verse 2)

Asa had already demonstrated his faith in God, but to ensure that the king’s faith wasn’t just a “crisis faith,” the prophet warned him that God’s promises, presence, and power were dependent upon obedience to the Law. God would continue to give Asa victory only if he and his people walked in accordance God’s will. Forsaking God would undo all the good Asa had achieved.

But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded. (verse 7)

[b] Asa’s response, verses 8, 16—19

When Asa heard these words and the prophecy of Azariah son of Oded the prophet, he took courage. He removed the detestable idols from the whole land of Judah and Benjamin and from the towns he had captured in the hills of Ephraim. He repaired the altar of the LORD that was in front of the portico of the LORD’s temple. (verse 8)

While the king had already accomplished much to rid Judah of its idolatry, apparently it wasn’t enough; further reforms were needed. It was during these religious reforms that some military victories were won, and lost.

Asa must have been filled with courage and determination to expunge these blights from the land side! Ridding the kingdom of its high places was a task every king was called upon to do, and many did not. So great were Asa’s religious reforms, that some to the north took notice and wanted to be part of a people whose God was Yahweh:

Then he assembled all Judah and Benjamin and the people from Ephraim, Manasseh and Simeon who had settled among them, for large numbers had come over to him from Israel when they saw that the LORD his God was with him. (verse 10)

[c] A national holiday, verses 9—15

Many Israelites from the north migrated south to be a part of Judah, and while Judah welcomed their brothers and sisters with open arms, there were a few in the southern kingdom who reacted as the elder brother did when the prodigal son came home. Despite that, it was a time of joyous celebration:

All Judah rejoiced about the oath because they had sworn it wholeheartedly. They sought God eagerly, and he was found by them. So the LORD gave them rest on every side. (verse 15)

The people entered into a covenant relationship with Yahweh, pledging themselves to follow Him and Him alone. This covenant renewal was accompanied by the threat of death for disobedience.

The search for God is the one search that always ends in success. If one searches for Him with their might, He will be found.

3. Rely only on God, 16:1—14

As we read about the last years of Asa, we are reminded of what the Bard wrote:

He that is proud eats himself up.

[a] An interstate conflict, verses 1—6

Despite Asa’s two national religious reforms and astounding military victories, chapter 16 describes in some painful detail how the king wavered and deviated from the will of God. Some 36 years into Asa’s reign, the northern kingdom of Israel, under the leadership of Baasha, began to encroach into Judah’s territory. Instead of trusting in God to help him, Asa entered into an unholy alliance with Ben-hadad of Damascus. He secured this alliance by using treasures from the house of God.

While the move may have made sense to Asa, and Judah did prove to be victorious, this was a most grievous sin in the eyes of God.

[b] a word of condemnation, verses 7—10

Judah had won a great victory but lost the approval of God. Because of his disobedience, Asa would never again experience peace during his years as king.

How foolish is a man who once trusted God, but now forgets God? Asa’s response to Hanani’s rebuke was to throw the prophet into prison and to oppress his people. While we raise our eyebrows in amazement of quickly Asa fell from grace, we should remember how easily we forget the power of God in our lives, and how quickly we turn on Him when faced with difficulties.

[c] A sad decline, verses 12—14

In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was afflicted with a disease in his feet. Though his disease was severe, even in his illness he did not seek help from the LORD, but only from the physicians. (verse 12)

Nearing the end of his reign as king of Judah, Asa deviated even further from the Lord. When he fell ill, instead of seeking the Lord as he ought, he sought the help of man, once again. Given his recent foolish behavior, it is little wonder that Asa turned to physicians instead of the Lord! Not that there would have been anything wrong with consulting doctors; the point is, this once godly man, having erred and imprisoned the prophet of God, could not humble himself to ask God for help with what amounted to simple, personal need.

On balance, though, it must be noted that Asa was a good and godly king, and he was buried with great honor, pomp, and circumstance. The good he accomplished far outweighed his bad behavior in later years.

Conclusion

In looking at the life of Asa, we see the many sides of godly leadership. One thing, however, stands out like a beacon in the darkness: dependence on God leads to blessing. It was only when Asa forgot this truth that he failed. That truth is as relevant to believers today as was then, and Hanani the prophet summed it up best:

For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. (verse 9)
(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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