9 In the twentieth year of Jeroboam king of Israel, Asa began to reign over Judah, 10 and he reigned forty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom. 11 And Asa did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as David his father had done. 12 He put away the male cult prostitutes out of the land and removed all the idols that his fathers had made. 13 He also removed Maacah his mother from being queen mother because she had made an abominable image for Asherah. And Asa cut down her image and burned it at the brook Kidron. 14 But the high places were not taken away. Nevertheless, the heart of Asa was wholly true to the Lord all his days. 15 And he brought into the house of the Lord the sacred gifts of his father and his own sacred gifts, silver, and gold, and vessels.
16 And there was war between Asa and Baasha king of Israel all their days. 17 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. 18 Then Asa took all the silver and the gold that were left in the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house and gave them into the hands of his servants. And King Asa sent them to Ben-hadad the son of Tabrimmon, the son of Hezion, king of Syria, who lived in Damascus, saying, 19 “Let there be a covenant between me and you, as there was between my father and your father. Behold, I am sending to you a present of silver and gold. Go, break your covenant with Baasha king of Israel, that he may withdraw from me.” 20 And Ben-hadad listened to King Asa and sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel and conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel-beth-maacah, and all Chinneroth, with all the land of Naphtali. 21 And when Baasha heard of it, he stopped building Ramah, and he lived in Tirzah. 22 Then King Asa made a proclamation to all Judah, none was exempt, and they carried away the stones of Ramah and its timber, with which Baasha had been building, and with them King Asa built Geba of Benjamin and Mizpah. 23 Now the rest of all the acts of Asa, all his might, and all that he did, and the cities that he built, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? But in his old age he was diseased in his feet. 24 And Asa slept with his fathers and was buried with his fathers in the city of David his father, and Jehoshaphat his son reigned in his place. – 1 Kings 15:9-24 ESV
The men who inherited the thrones of Judah and Israel were not doomed to repeat their predecessors’ mistakes. Their fate was not predetermined just because their fathers happened to model ungodly behavior. Though most of these men inherited kingdoms and legacies marked by sin and rebellion against God, they each had a choice to make. But as will become increasingly clear, few of them seemed to make the right choice. The sins of a father can have a powerful influence over his son. And the manner by which he conducts himself while performing his royal duties will make a strong impression on the one who follows in his footsteps – for better or worse.
In the case of Abijam, he was succeeded as king by his younger brother, Asa. These two brothers shared the same mother: Maacah the daughter of Abishalom [Absalom], and they had both had grown up in the household of Rehoboam. But they would each prove to approach their kingly responsibilities differently. While Abijam “walked in all the sins that his father did before him, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God” (1 Kings 15:3 ESV), Asa “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (1 KIngs 15:11 ESV).
The book of 2 Chronicles provides further details concerning Asa’s reign.
In his days the land had rest for ten years. And Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. He took away the foreign altars and the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim and commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment. He also took out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the incense altars. And the kingdom had rest under him. He built fortified cities in Judah, for the land had rest. He had no war in those years, for the Lord gave him peace. – 2 Chronicles 15:1-6 ESV
This young man had born to the same pagan mother and had lived through the wicked reigns of his father and older brother, and yet he had managed to maintain a semblance of his faith in Yahweh. In fact, the author of 1 Kings declares that he “did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, as his ancestor David had done” (1 Kings 15:11 NLT). Perhaps he had managed to develop a close relationship with his grandfather David before his death. Or it could be that he had grown up hearing the stories of David’s many exploits and of his close relationship with God. It’s likely that he was intrigued and influenced by God’s description of David as “a man after his own heart,” (1 Samuel 13:14 ESV).
Something was triggered in Asa that led him to take a different path than that of his father and brother. After two decades of leadership that had promoted further idolatry and propagated a spirit of rebellion among the people of Judah, Asa appeared on the scene and determined to right the wrongs of his predecessors. And he got off to a great start.
He banished the male and female shrine prostitutes from the land and got rid of all the idols his ancestors had made. He even deposed his grandmother Maacah from her position as queen mother because she had made an obscene Asherah pole. He cut down her obscene pole and burned it in the Kidron Valley. – 1 Kings 15:12-13 NLT
These radical reforms must have been met with stiff opposition. After 20 years of worshiping false gods, the people of Judah had grown comfortable with the licentious and immoral nature of idolatry. They must have enjoyed the no-rules nature of these pagan religions. These man-made gods allowed them to satisfy their basest desires and offered a tempting alternative to the more legalist and restrictive laws that accompanied the worship of Yahweh. So, it seems likely that Asa’s reforms were not welcome with open arms.
But, in spite of any opposition he may have encountered, Asa attempted to redress the sins of his father and brother by removing all the pagan shrines they had built and restoring the worship of Yahweh. He made an effort to renew the nation’s commitment to the temple as the dwelling place of God and the only place where the worship of God was to be practiced.
…he brought into the house of the Lord the sacred gifts of his father and his own sacred gifts, silver, and gold, and vessels. – 1 Kings 15:15 ESV
This seems to indicate that Asa and his brother had both been guilty of offering expensive gifts to the many false gods of Judah. But now that he was king, Asa was righting that wrong. He ordered the collection of all those valuable items and had them placed in the treasury of the temple. This very public act was both a demonstration of repentance and a very visible reminder that there was only one true God who was worthy of man’s worship and deserving of such gifts of honor and praise.
Asa’s reign would last 41 years, and while he “was wholly true to the Lord all his days” (1 Kings 15:14 ESV), he would find it difficult to completely eradicate all the vestiges of idolatry in the land. The author of 2 Chronicles states that he “commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment” (2 Chronicles 14:4 ESV), and that he “took out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the incense altars” (2 Chronicles 14:5 ESV). But 1 Kings reveals that his removal efforts were incomplete: “But the high places were not taken away” (1 Kings 15:14 ESV).
That little statement speaks volumes. It acts as a soft whisper of warning, providing a foreboding omen of what is to come. Asa’s, while sincere and well-intentioned, would prove to be incomplete. Asa’s failure to remove all the high places was like a doctor failing to locate and remove all the cancer cells from the body of his patient. Those few sacred sites that were left standing would continue to lure the people of Judah away from God, and the apostasy they produced would continue to spread like cancer throughout the nation. His partial obedience, while praise-worthy, would in the long-run prove insufficient. And there were other signs that Asa’s love for God, while strong, had been influenced by the actions of his father and brother.
The author of 2 Chronicles states that Asa“ had no war in those years, for the Lord gave him peace” (2 Chronicles 14:6 ESV), and yet 1 Kings 15:16 paints a slightly different picture.
…there was war between Asa and Baasha king of Israel all their days. – 1 Kings 15:16 ESV
This is not a contradiction, but simply a recognition that the animosity between the northern and southern kingdoms had not abated. Thirty-six years into his 41-year reign, Asa found himself facing a threat from Baasha, the king of Israel. This man had murdered Nadab, the son of Jeroboam, and crowned himself king. And then, in an effort to secure his hold on the throne, he executed Jeroboam’s entire family (1 Kings 15:29). His actions seemed to have spawned a mass-exodus of people who began to cross the border into Judah in order to escape his reign of terror. So, as a preventative measure, Baasha built a fortified city along the border that provided a military presence to deter any further desertions.
What happens next provides a further glimpse into Asa’s heart and how he viewed his relationship with God. When faced with this increased military presence at his border, Asa decided to seek outside help. Notice that he did not seek assistance from God. Instead, he took the sacred treasures from the house of God and sent them to “Ben-hadad the son of Tabrimmon, the son of Hezion, king of Syria” (1 Kings 15:18 ESV). In essence, he sent a bribe to the king of Syria, in the hopes that this pagan king would come to the aid of Judah. And his ploy worked.
And Ben-hadad listened to King Asa and sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel and conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel-beth-maacah, and all Chinneroth, with all the land of Naphtali. And when Baasha heard of it, he stopped building Ramah… – 1 Kings 1:20-21 ESV
Asa ordered the immediate dismantling of Baasha’s military outpost and peace was restored. But there’s more to the story. The book of 2 Chronicles reveals that Asa’s decision to make a covenant with the king of Syria had been outside the will of God. The prophet of God delivered a stinging rebuke to Asa.
“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.…You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.” – 2 Chronicles 16:7,9 ESV
This news angered Asa and he had the prophet thrown in prison. And his anger did not abate. His frustration with God manifested itself in the form of cruel oppression of his own people. In time, he became a bitter man, driven by rage and suffering from poor health.
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. – 2 Chronicles 16:12 ESV
The great reformer had become an angry and self-reliant ruler who refused to turn to God for healing or help. His reign lasted 41 long years but ended in pain, suffering, and alienation from God. And then, he died. Yes, he proved to be a better king than his brother but, in the end, they both suffered the same fate. Their sins had left them separated from God and both men ended up leaving less-than-stellar legacies. Of Asa, the author simply states, “in his old age he was diseased in his feet” (1 Kings 15:23 ESV). And what a fitting description for the end of Asa’s life. Forty-one years earlier, he had begun his reign walking in the footsteps of his grandfather David. He had been faithful and eager to be a man after God’s own heart. But by the end of his life, Asa’s walk with God had taken a devastating detour. And now, he found himself unable to walk at all, a fitting symbol of his greatly diminished spiritual condition.
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The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson