“…because you have relied on the king of Syria and have not relied on the LORD your God, therefore the king of Syria has escaped out of your hand …. And in the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa became diseased in his feet. His disease was severe, yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but the physicians.”
The Holy Scripture’s assessment of Asa’s rule was that he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.[i] He was much like King David: devoted to God in all that he did. We read also that, like David, he sometimes capitulated to political intrigue and self-sufficiency in his later years. Nevertheless, the Scripture tells us that his heart was “blameless all his days.”[ii] In view of Asa’s self-reliance later in life does not take away from his coherent and genuine love for the one true God and a incisive hatred of idolatry. Despite his many faults, Asa was still the most godly monarch to arise to the Judean throne up to this point. Who among us is not guilty of the same, if not worse, things?
Perhaps due to the previous victories of his father over the northern kingdom[iii], Asa’s first ten years of reign enjoyed a time of peace.[iv] He used these ten years wisely, extirpating idolatry and enforcing the observance of true faith. His piety and wise preparations would put the country on fixed path of religious and social prosperity. Asa instituted stringent spiritual reforms aimed at removing the remaining vestiges of false worship and the restoration of worship of the one true God.[v] Asa would begin reforming the nation by first making improvements in his own family.
The politically and socially powerful queen mother, Maacah, was his first target. She was a wife of Rehoboam[vi]. She became the mother of Abijam who Rehoboam had appointed heir to the kingdom. She was a great-granddaughter of King David’s wife who is also known as Maacah[vii].
When it came time for Asa to assume the throne, the influence of the idolatrous queen mother was still pronounced over the entire land. Asa was forced to remove her from the public sphere because of her involvement with the disgusting fertility cults rampant among the people. In particular, Maacah devoted herself to the pagan goddess, Asherah (var. name form: Ashtoreth). In the popular fertility cult of the day, Asherah appears as the counterpart of Baal. Many clay figurines assumed to represent her have been found in Palestine. The name Asherah was also applied to a wooden pole representing the goddess and placed near her alters. The injunction to destroy the cult objects is repeatedly mentioned in the books of Moses[viii].
The young king hewed down his grandmother’s images and burned them by the brook Kidron[ix]. Since she must have been an influential figure in the royal court, Asa is to be commended for placing faith above family in her removal[x].
What fascination did the cult of Baal and Asherah hold for the people? Pagan gods not only appeal to the imagination and are beloved by poets and painters alike; they are also more comprehensible than the invisible God of Abraham. There is a multiplicity and variety of beings, there are thousands of communities, millions of human beings, countless numbers of days and nights – and only one God and only one way to worship Him? Pagan gods, moreover, are more easily approached and appeased. They demand little from us. When it suits us, we can put them away or find new ones.
False religion is usually conceived within the identity of the worshipper, that is to say it is ultimately self-worship and vanity that is being served. For instance, it is hardly a coincidence that Maacah, a queen mother herself, should find favor in Asherah, the queen mother of the Canaanite gods.
Some men abandoned the true God for Asherah. Others purported to worship the true God through the rituals of pagan Asherah, a vile synthesis of false religion with the true faith. Still others conceived of God as the national guardian; to some, Asherah became the the dispenser of fruitfulness. The serenity of the people who felt safe in the enthusiastic juxtaposition of the God of Abraham with Asherah was utterly shattered by the reformer, Asa.
It is heartwarming and refreshing to observe the young king breaking away from the evil traditions of his generation to demand that the people under his care worship the one true God.
To be continued …
[i] 1 Kings 15:11; 2 Chronicles 14:2
[ii] 2 Chronicles 15:17
[iii] 2 Chronicles 13:13-19
[iv] 2 Chronicles 14:1
[v] 2 Chronicles 15:8
[vi] 2 Chronicles 11:21
[vii] 1 Kings 15:2
[viii] Exodus 34:13; Deuteronomy 7:5; 12:3; 16:21
[ix] 2 Chronicles 15:16
[x] Matthew 10:37