1 - 7 Prophecy of Azariah
1 Now the Spirit of God came on Azariah the son of Oded, 2 and he went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Listen to me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: the LORD is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you. 3 For many days Israel was without the true God and without a teaching priest and without law. 4 But in their distress they turned to the LORD God of Israel, and they sought Him, and He let them find Him. 5 In those times there was no peace to him who went out or to him who came in, for many disturbances afflicted all the inhabitants of the lands. 6 Nation was crushed by nation, and city by city, for God troubled them with every kind of distress. 7 But you, be strong and do not lose courage, for there is reward for your work.”
After the resounding victory over a powerful enemy, Asa is at a high point of his reign. Standing at a height is a dangerous situation. That is what the LORD knows. He wants to warn Asa not to become arrogant, but to remain dependent on Him. For this He uses His prophet Azariah (verse 1). Azariah means ‘him whom the LORD helps’. That the LORD sends a man with this name to Asa is already an important message in itself. The name Azariah indicates that Asa owes his victory to the fact that the LORD helped him.
God sends His Spirit on the man with this name. When it says that the Spirit comes on someone, it usually means that such a person receives a special strengthening and boldness for his service to speak the Word of God. Immediately after the Spirit of God came on Azariah, he leaves the city to meet Asa (verse 2). There is no fear of meeting the king. Full of the power of the Spirit and without fear of man, he simply speaks the word the LORD has commanded him to speak, no more and no less. The Spirit of God teaches him what he must say and enables him to present it plain and clear.
Azariah is not sent to Asa to point out the wrong thing, because there is nothing wrong to point out. He also does not come to congratulate him. He comes to keep the king on the right path, to keep him from doing something wrong. Azariah points out to Asa what it takes to remain standing firm after his battle of faith and victory, that is, “having done everything, to stand firm” (Eph 6:13b). It is to keep him for a dip, as Samson and Elijah knew it, or as David, who came to his sin with Bathsheba during rest after victories.
Although Asa is his direct goal, Azariah also addresses “all Judah and Benjamin”. He calls on them all to listen to him, because he has something important to say. What he says is short and easy to understand. It requires no linguistic insight or great intelligence. It is precisely for this reason that what he says is also penetrating: “The LORD is with you when you are with Him.” This is not an ‘one-liner’, like so much that is being shot via twitter today. It is a deep and profound truth that must be absorbed into the heart and conscience and must be lived up to in life.
This simple and at the same time profound truth is followed by an invitation and a warning from Azariah. The invitation is that the LORD lets Himself be found when somebody seeks Him. Asa has already experienced this (2Chr 14:7). Here he is reminded to it. We need such a reminder regularly. But that’s not all. We also need to be warned. The warning is that whosoever forsakes Him will be forsaken by Him.
By the many days that Israel was without the true, or faithful, God (verse 3), Azariah probably means the time of the judges in the book of Judges (Jdg 5:6; cf. verse 5). That is a time when everyone does what is good in his own eyes. The teaching of God’s Word is absent and people don’t mind the law. God cannot accompany on that path of unfaithfulness. This shows God’s faithfulness. He remains faithful to Himself (2Tim 2:13). It is certain that He will be found when they convert to Him in their distress and seek Him (verse 4). Azariah also points this out.
However, Azariah emphasizes the main characteristics of those times (verse 5). The people do not experience peace in such times and cannot give it to whoever goes out or give it to whoever comes in. Peace is lacking because there are many disturbances. Disturbance or confusion and peace cannot go hand in hand. Such a situation has a devastating effect on the people. The nations – by which we must probably understand the tribes of Israel – and cities are crushing each other (verse 6). This result, which they themselves produce, is at the same time a discipline of God. He makes them experience the consequences of their deviation personally.
The situation Azariah paints is a striking picture of the situation in Christianity we are experiencing today. The teaching of God’s Word is no longer heard in large parts of Christianity. If a text is sometimes read out in a church service, it is often used as a hook for a social chat. In Christianity there is no peace, but great disturbance or confusion, and that while “God is not [a God] of confusion but of peace” (1Cor 14:33). Here we also see the great contrast between confusion and peace. If there is confusion in a local church and peace is therefore absent, the result is that that church is ruined. This must be seen as a judgment of God Who punishes all false certainty “with every kind of distress”.
This situation does not have to discourage the faithful believer. He may take to heart the word of encouragement that Azariah speaks (verse 7). As an extra incentive, Azariah points to reward that will be paid by the LORD according to work. “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (Gal 6:9). There is reward that the Lord will give in accordance with what we have done for Him (Jer 31:16). Nothing of what we have done for Him is in vain (1Cor 15:58).
8 - 11 Reforms and Offerings
8 Now when Asa heard these words and the prophecy which Azariah the son of Oded the prophet spoke, he took courage and removed the abominable idols from all the land of Judah and Benjamin and from the cities which he had captured in the hill country of Ephraim. He then restored the altar of the LORD which was in front of the porch of the LORD. 9 He gathered all Judah and Benjamin and those from Ephraim, Manasseh and Simeon who resided with them, for many defected to him from Israel when they saw that the LORD his God was with him. 10 So they assembled at Jerusalem in the third month of the fifteenth year of Asa’s reign. 11 They sacrificed to the LORD that day 700 oxen and 7,000 sheep from the spoil they had brought.
The words and prophecy of the prophet are effective. It places Asa in God’s presence. This leads him to purify even more (verse 8). Words are not neutral. They process something, they do something in and with someone. Good, encouraging words give courage and encourage action. Everything that reminds of idolatry is removed by Asa. To do this you need spiritual strength. He not only removes, but also builds. He renews the altar of the LORD, which speaks of worship, and gives it its right place again (cf. 1Kgs 18:30b-32a).
We too must ‘renew the altar’ from time to time. This means that we must regularly read the Scriptures to check whether our thoughts about the altar, which is for us the Lord’s Table, are still in accordance with God’s thoughts. Renewal in this context means returning to the original intention. We must always ask ourselves whether the Lord’s Table in our thinking and also in the midst of the believers still corresponds to what the Bible says about it. In practice, this means that all believers are received at the Table of the Lord, with whom there are no Scriptural hindrances to participate in His Supper at His Table.
The faithfulness and zeal of faith of Asa attract many (verse 9; cf. Zec 8:23). A sincere heart attached to the Lord speaks to the conscience of others. To which war is not able, namely, to unite Israel and Judah, that works faithfulness to the Word of God. A second exodus from north to south takes place (cf. 2Chr 11:13,16). Asa calls together all the people of God, even those from the ten tribes who are with him. He is not sectarian.
They meet “in the third month” (verse 10). That is the time in which the Feast of Weeks is celebrated, that is Pentecost. It is the great feast of joy because the wheat harvest has been brought in. There is more reason to celebrate here, because the enemy has been defeated and a large booty has been brought in. Of that booty are brought offerings to the LORD (verse 11). With this, His part is given to Him. It is good that we too give Him His share of all that the Lord has given us as joy and possession, showing Him that we thank Him for it. After all, we owe everything to Him!
12 - 15 The Covenant
12 They entered into the covenant to seek the LORD God of their fathers with all their heart and soul; 13 and whoever would not seek the LORD God of Israel should be put to death, whether small or great, man or woman. 14 Moreover, they made an oath to the LORD with a loud voice, with shouting, with trumpets and with horns. 15 All Judah rejoiced concerning the oath, for they had sworn with their whole heart and had sought Him earnestly, and He let them find Him. So the LORD gave them rest on every side.
After the people have made sacrifices to the LORD, they also give themselves to Him. They do this by entering into a covenant (verse 12). Perhaps they came to that thought during the feast in the third month (verses 10-11), because legislation at Mount Sinai also takes place in the third month (Exo 19:1). After the renewal of the altar there is now also a renewal of the covenant.
The fact that the people have not been able to fulfil the Sinai covenant is not in the foreground here. It is about their mindset. It is beautiful and worth following. They really intend to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul. They go so far that they will kill all who do not seek the LORD, the God of Israel, regardless of age and gender (verse 13).
They make an oath before the LORD (verse 14). They don’t do it mumbling, as if it happens reluctant and hesitant, but “with a loud voice, with shouting, with trumpets and with horns”. It is not only a matter of their voice, but also of their heart and feelings (verse 15). Their appointment causes great joy in their hearts. If God can seize our hearts, if we give Him our hearts, we have joy. The result is that He is found, and when He is found, there is rest and peace.
16 - 19 The Own House and the House of God
16 He also removed Maacah, the mother of King Asa, from the [position of] queen mother, because she had made a horrid image as an Asherah, and Asa cut down her horrid image, crushed [it] and burned [it] at the brook Kidron. 17 But the high places were not removed from Israel; nevertheless Asa’s heart was blameless all his days. 18 He brought into the house of God the dedicated things of his father and his own dedicated things: silver and gold and utensils. 19 And there was no more war until the thirty-fifth year of Asa’s reign.
Asa also realizes that he cannot ask his people anything that he does not live up to in his own house. That is why he deposes his grandmother. Asa also eradicates what she has imported in idolatry. He spares neither her nor her idols, but deals with her and her idols as befits a king who fears God.
It took a while, because Asa does this at the end of all the cleansings, but then he finally cleanses his own house of elements that God hates. With this he resembles Levi, who “said of his father and his mother, ‘I did not consider them’” (Deu 33:9) and Gideon, who begins his work by breaking down the altar of Baal in his father’s house (Jdg 6:25). Also in the church one cannot be an overseer if he “does not know how to manage his own household” (1Tim 3:5).
Asa’s action shows that his heart is united and not divided (cf. Psa 86:11), although not all the high place have been removed from Israel. Now that he has his own house in order, his concern can go to the house of God (verse 18). He brings in all kinds of dedicated gifts, both those of his father and of himself.
We too can bring our gifts, spiritual and material, into the house of God, the church. That is what we do, if we dedicate everything we have learned about the truth from our leaders and what we have received from others in money and goods, for the service in the house of God. Also what we have discovered ourselves of the truth and what we have earned ourselves in money and good, we may use for the service in the house of God. In this way God is glorified and is it made available to Him to participate in His work, which will again be His glorification.
The result of dedicating all these means is that there is no war (verse 19). For us, this means that when we dedicate ourselves to the Lord, there are no mutual frictions or tensions.