Thursday, September 6, 2018

A Character Study - King Asa

The King brought into the temple silver and gold articles that he and his father had dedicated to God. There was no more war until the 35th year of King Asa’s reign. (This story continues with a set of images at entitled ‘King Asa fails to trust God and faces conflict’). – Slide 21

I love character studies - looking deeper than the physical description of what makes a person visually recognizable.  Digging deeper into what defines their character and how that determines their choices and decisions is much more interesting and revealing.
And when the character studies are bible characters we have the advantage of God's opinion which far surpasses even the most perceptive analysis by any human being even though they knew the character personally.

There is a reason we have a record of the lives of many Bible characters.  We may judge them favorably or otherwise, but always we can hold them up as a mirror to our own life and learn from what we are told about their failures and/or successes.  Taking a look at what God praised and what God judged as 'evil' can be very enlightening in looking at weaknesses we commonly share, but too often are blind to recognizing them in ourselves.  Being willing to learn from others'  experiences, saves us  the pain and consequences of missing the mark in our own life.

One Bible character that I have looked at recently is Asa - one of the kings of Judea.  I find him especially interesting in how he reveals a character flaw that I think tempts most of us ... and, hopefully, looking at his life will insulate us from following his example.

Asa was born in a time when God's people indulged in following the customs of the heathen nations around them, borrowing their gods and justifying gross immorality.    In the name of 'worship' everything was justified including orgies at the temples of the false gods they embraced, rejecting God and His commandments.

A quick look at Asa's family tree, to understand where he came from.

His grandfather was Rehoboam, who was Solomon's son and successor.

Rehoboam was a weak man, who followed his father's 'end-of-life' bad example. He has one 'good thing' reported about him in II Chron. 11:23 that  he was wise in dealing with his sons. Recognizing that being indulged in a lazy, affluent, unrestrained  life-style, as he had been, was not the best upbringing and so he made sure that his sons were given responsibilities and duties to preform. In other areas of his life he displayed his instability and weakness of character and God's opinion of him is ... "he did evil, because he fixed not his heart to seek the Lord." (II Chron. 12:14)

A huge influence in Rehoboam's life was his favorite wife, Maachah - who was the daughter of Absolum. Rehoboam was content to let her rule the Court.  She was 'evil' in that she leaned toward all the revolting practices of idolatry. (I Kings 15:13) She built altars to strange gods and to Asherah for her worship ceremonies, which Rehoboam did nothing to deter, even openly supporting her.

Rehoboam and Maachah had a son named Abijah, who - no surprise considering his parents - followed in his father's example and did nothing to encourage people to turn back to worship the God of Israel. All the evil involved with worshiping false gods, continued through his reign and his mother Maachah  real ruling influence in the court was not hindered.  She focused the people's worship on the degradation and moral evil  of the religious ceremonies held at the sacred groves and temples that she delighted in.

Abijah had a son named Asa - the focus of our study- who became King of Judah when his father Abijah died.
Considering his family heritage and the dominance of evil in and around him, it would be expected that Asa was strongly influenced to follow in that same direction.
But he didn't !
We are not told what influenced him toward the good.  Perhaps he was a sensitive boy who hated the wickedness connected with the prevalent  idol worship. Perhaps it was something randomly simple, a godly nurse that he had in his childhood?   Or something he read or heard of the God that had called Israel His people?  We don't know ...  but we do know that Asa in his growing up years made choices and decisions that molded his character toward godliness.
He was only twenty years old when he became king, but he showed wisdom that belied his youth.
He determined that his reign would be marked by an adherence to the 'old faith' and a  rejection of the idolatry and heathenism practiced by the three preceding kings.

He removed from the kingdom every trace of heathenism - as much as he possibly could, destroying the places of idol worship and removing the images and idols.
To be able to do this he had to first deal with his grandmother, Maachah. who still had influence and presence in the court.  He degraded her position and deprived her of all authority that she had exercised for so long, through both her husband's and son's reign. But no more - not on his watch !
God gave Asa a period of 10 years of peace during which he 'cleansed' the land of evil and focused on re-establishing a godly reign.

Then, came the day when an enemy army threatened his kingdom -   a huge Ethiopian army under the command of Egypt, Asa gathered his comparatively small army to meet his enemy..II Chron. 14:11 tells us that he prayed to God asking for His help and victory, a lovely prayer in which he acknowledges God's strength to help, and his declaration is of trust and reliance on his God ! It needed to be a God-work since only with God fighting for him could he possibly have won the battle.
After an amazing victory, he was  surely elated and relieved ! 
On his way home he was confirmed by God who sent  a prophet of God  to him with a message. The message was that he and his people were under God's favour and would continue to be as long as they continued to be faithful servants... to not be lax in their efforts but to be strong and determined !

That must really have encouraged Asa, since his desire was to serve God with all his heart , and to have God's praise publicly proclaimed must have been heady stuff.  Under his influence all of his kingdom loudly confirmed their intent to 'seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul.' (II Chron. 15:13)

When the northern kingdom saw what was happening in Judah, many came over to join them.
The king of Israel, Baasha, of course, was hardly pleased that 'his' people were defecting to the kingdom of Judah. He determined to put up a huge fortress (or wall?) at his southern border that would block the entrance into Judea and put a stop to the emigration from Israel to Judea. Baasha proceeded to fortify this position.
Asa realized that the enemy must be dislodged - they could not possibly tolerate having a hostile force in Judea, it was a threat to Jerusalem.
Asa knew that he had to do something but did not trust his own ability or the strength of his own army to defeat and remove the enemy at his border.

Something happened.
Asa to this point had 'done was right in the eyes of the Lord'  and the Lord had even sent a prophet to confirm to him that God was pleased with him.
He had 'prayed' about a previous battle,  and the Lord had answered and given him a resounding victory ... but now he seemed to forget that.  Instead of again calling on God's help, he sought the help of the Syrian king Banhadad, the most powerful monarch in the region.  He purchased his friendship with gifts of treasure from the temple.

Asa was again successful in battle, with Benhadad's help, and he tore down the wall that Baasha had erected.
On his triumphant return home, he was again met by a prophet of God, with another message.  But this one was not as favorable as the first.
The prophet, Hanani,  rebuked him for his lack of faith in calling Benhadad to his aid, instead of trusting God.  God told him he had done 'foolishly'.  (II Chron. 16:9)

He lost his temper with Hanani, who had effectively destroyed his pride in how easily and well he had gained the victory, without losing a single drop of Jewish blood.
But God saw a turning of Asa's heart - away from trust in Him to trust in the arm of man. Asa felt his success justified his actions.  His reaction is recorded in II Chron. 16:10)  He was angry!
He had Hanani arrested and thrown into prison.
About this same time Asa also "oppressed some of the people" (II Chron. 16:10)

And again, we are told in the end of his life he was 'diseased in his feet' and once again he did foolishly in seeking the help of physicians instead of asking help from God.
An interesting side-detail.  The meaning of the name Asa is 'physician' . At the end of his life he proved where his trust lay.

And yet. he was given the positive epitaph  that he 'did right in the eyes of the Lord, as did David his father"  and 'his heart was perfect all his days" ( II Chron. 15:17)  and it is said about his son Jehoshaphat, that "he walked in all the way Asa his father, he turned not aside from it, doing that which was right in the sigh of the Lord."( I Kings 22:43)

Asa died in the 42nd year of his reign - he was about 60 years old.

I think the lesson Asa would teach us today is how easy it is as we grow in successes to begin to trust in ourselves and our own ability instead of trusting wholly on God.

While no fault is found in Asa's deeds and his rule over Judea, it is sad that fault had to be found in his heart.  How sad that suddenly it seemed to him that there was no need to bother God when human resources were readily available to him.

If we are honest, are we not the same? 
Like, Asa, do we love to hear the praise and compliments and affirming messages, but then reject any message that doesn't sit well with us?  A message that is critical rather than positive?   If Asa had accepted the criticism it would have had good results in his life, would it not?  Sometimes we can learn more beneficial truths from criticism than from praise -- although, of course, the praise is always welcome!
Do we not call for God's help only if  we can't figure out something on our own?
The most precious thing we can offer God, in fact, the only thing He does not have if we don't give it to Him, is our trust in Him.  And scripture tells us that to God our faith is indeed precious. (I Peter 1:7)  God brings circumstances and trials into our life to test us ... how much will we trust God?  How solid is our faith in trusting Him to guide us in all our ways? 
We can trust God too little, but we can never trust Him too much !

Let Asa's life-story inspire us to not fall into the 'self-reliance' trap that moves our faith from being God-focused to man-focused or self-focused.