Spiritual Decline: Asa

Asa is the first of the kings of Judah concerning whom it is said that he “did that which was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God”, 2 Chron. 14. 2. The chronicler goes on to record his early activity in dealing with foreign gods which had been imported into the land, and the unauthorized places of worship in the cities and the country districts. Although there is no mention made of it, there is little doubt that there was considerable opposition to Asa’s activities — vested interests would not readily relinquish that which it was in their interest to maintain, and some indication of the extent to which idolatry had gripped the people, reaching up to the ruling classes, is seen in 2 Chronicles 15. 16, where the queen mother is seen to be an idolatress, and Asa courageously removed her from her position of influence. These things betoken a real desire on the part of this man to do that “which was good and right”. During the period of rest granted to the land at the beginning of the king’s reign, he also seized the opportunity of building up the national defences. 2 Chronicles 14. 7 indicates that Asa recognized gratefully that the rest granted to him and his people was an evidence of the goodness of God, and he linked it, quite rightly, with the fact that he had sought the Lord. It was true then, as at all times, that “them that honour me I will honour”.

It was inevitable that such a happy state should be disturbed, and the chronicler tells of the invasion of the land by Zerah the Ethiopian, whose army outnumbered that of Asa by almost two to one. In these circumstances the real spiritual depth of the man was revealed. Many times since his day, the hearts of the Lord’s people have been thrilled with his declaration of confidence in his God: “Lord, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, 0 Lord our God; for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitude. 0 Lord, thou art our God; let not man prevail against thee. So the Lord smote the Ethiopians”. Had the story terminated there we could have placed on record that here was a man who had fought a good fight, who had finished his course, who had kept the faith, but the story is not finished. It seems strange that, on his return from the battle, God’s prophet Azariah should meet him with a word of warning: “The Lord is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you”, 2 Chron. 15. 2. The Lord knows the hearts of all, and it seems as though He would gently remind His servant that there were dangers that the present position of trust might be abandoned, with disastrous consequences. It may be that the remainder of chapter 15 is an indication that the warning was heeded at the time, for it is a record of growing prosperity, and verse 15 declares that the Lord gave them rest round about.

Twenty years of peace passed by, and then there arose a sudden threat from Baasha king of Israel. The danger from Israel, though real, was tiny compared with the mighty host of Zerah, but for some reason Asa panicked and entered into an alliance with Syria, involving the denuding of the house of God of those things which belonged to the Lord, the things which Asa himself had presented to Him in earlier days, 2 Chron. 15. 18. Something had gone wrong — the confidence previously displayed seems to have evaporated. It was thirty-six years since Asa had come to the throne, and in those years he had proved conclusively that while he was with the Lord, the Lord was with him, v. 2, thirty-six years of proving the faithfulness of God and of discovering that “they who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true”. Surely this is long enough to feel safe! No. “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall”, 1 Cor. 10. 12. A sad story of failure follows. The alliance with Syria was denounced by Hanani, a faithful servant of God, and in the course of the rebuke the prophet reminded the king of the mighty triumph God had given him over the Ethiopian threat in his early days, and assured him that “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him”. Despite the rebuke and exhortation, however, there was no repentance, but still further rejection of the way of the Lord, shown in his harsh treatment of God’s messenger and others who were in sympathy with him. Three years later, a period in which he was given space for repentance, disease struck him: he “was diseased in his feet, until his disease was exceeding great: yet in his disease he sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians”. As there is nothing inherently wrong in seeking advice and treatment from a physician, this may imply the use of heathen physicians with their invocations to their gods — if so, how far away from the Lord had this dear man gone. It was not only his feet which were diseased, his heart was also all wrong.

We are left asking the question, Why the downfall? As we examine the records, we search in vain for any positive declaration as to the root cause of the failure. The most likely explanation is that the prosperity, that God had so graciously given, spoiled him. After the victory over Zerah in those early days of his reign all seemed to go well, and material prosperity mounted. When the later threat from Israel came it may well be that Asa considered that as a people they were now able to pay their way. They could pay for the assistance they needed, and the attitude of trust was not now called for. How pertinent are the words of Psalm 62. 10, “If riches increase, set not your heart upon them”. If material prosperity is granted by God it is vital that the heart should neither be taken up with it, nor confidence placed in it. The position outlined in the Lord’s letter to the Laodicean church can so easily be duplicated in each of our lives: “thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked”, Rev. 3. 17. Material prosperity can bring spiritual poverty and disaster.

May we take to our hearts the solemn warning conveyed by the contrast between the opening and closing of Asa’s experience: he “did that which was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God” — this marked his days of weakness and dependence; .“in his disease he sought not to the Lord” — this marked the days of material prosperity.


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