“…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.”
Young prince Asa ascended the ephemeral throne of his father, Abijah, roughly 913-910 B.C. Unlike Abijah, Asa’s Judean reign was long and eventful. It spanned forty-one years, enough time to see fourteen enemy kings come and go. Asa benefited much from the pithy exploits set in motion by his father. Before his death, the elder king managed to secure a series of northern victories that procured a decade of peace and prosperity.
Abijah’s wins also triggered the demise of Judah’s chief adversary. Weary from battle, theologically confused, haunted by sin, Jeroboam never regained momentum. One to three years later, Jeroboam was struck dead by the hand of God[i]. Important cities such as Bethel, Jeshanah, and Ephron, and the villages surrounding these places were now in Asa’s control[ii].
Jeroboam’s hapless heir, Nadab, assumed domination over what remained of the northern kingdom, but he had a short but turbulent reign. While attacking the Philistine city of Gibbethon, Nadab was brutally murdered by Baasha, a supposed ally and member of the Issaachar brotherhood [iii]. Baasha not only stole the throne but went on to wipe out every trace of Jeroboam’s royal family[iv]. His cunning political maneuver, by worldly standard, was remarkably successful for he ruled Israel for nearly two and half decades. He amassed a diverse and massive cache of sin along the way.
Meanwhile, Asa benefited from the barrier created between Judah and Israel. He also took advantage of the confusion brought about by the overthrow of the Jeroboamic dynasty; the anarchy provided opportunity to reorganize Judah’s military.
Scripture enumerates Asa’s army as expertly trained men with a contextual emphasis on their specialized weapons[v]. The large number of warriors specified in the text indicates that the majority population was bearing arms, similar to Israel’s conscription in our day. Asa drafted soldiers from Benjamin’s tribe and thus increased the military headcount forty-five percent[vi].
God’s sunny providence was upon Asa in every direction. For starters, a rising threat to the east, Assyria, was under new management and this new king, Adad-nirari II, was preoccupied with campaigns against Babylon – although he assembled an occasional raid on Aramaean cities, too, which also worked to Asa’s advantage. The old threats, Philistines and Canaanites, were still under Judean subjection brought about by Solomon’s earlier conquests,[vii] and thus they were unable to make any incursions against the Hebrews. Moreover, the Tyrian king, Astartus, was ineffective. He was murdered the same year the Ethiopians marched against Asa; the new Tyrian monarch, Deleastartus, was too new to the job to pose a threat.
A better environment could not be conceived in which to rebuild a stable Judean government. Most men would attribute Asa’s state of affairs to good luck, but chance had no part in it. It was God who had foreordained this chain of events. Each king rose to power and later fell from it with exact precision and into his proper place in an unfolding of God’s eternal plan. The Holy Scripture says “…it is He who changes times and seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings …”[viii]
Asa used the ten years of rest God had given him to refortify Judah’s defensive posts,[ix] apparently the ones his grandfather Rehoboam had first built[x]. He made timely provision against future attacks from the north, but he had neglected to consider the south.
A decade into Asa’s reign, the Ethiopians came up against Judah[xi]. We assume them to be mercenaries of the Egyptian monarch, Osorkon I, a pharaoh of Libyan descent. He was looking for an easy victory such as his father Shishak won twenty-five years earlier[xii].
The pagan Ethiopian army could hardly believe their “luck.” They found a speedy and unguarded route into the Judean heartland. The Canaanites and Philistines looked the other way as the North African troops marched toward Jerusalem. Fearing the Holy City would be plundered as had occurred under his grandfather, Rehoboam[xiii], Asa met the Ethiopian general at Marashah,[xiv] situated between Gaza and Jerusalem.
Asa was outnumbered two to one. From a human perspective, the circumstance was utterly hopeless. A leader with sophisticated military training and accumulated life experiences would have been tempted to negotiate surrender or may have ordered a retreat.
But Asa was relatively young in his faith. He still possessed a simple trust in God. Asa had not yet learned to fall back on ingenuity and know-how as more experienced military minds do. He instinctively turned to the Lord in prayer and was granted a smashing victory.
Asa’s prayer is remarkably simple. It begins with recognition that there is no one like Yahweh, the Lord God who can save the powerless[xv]. Asa believed that it was no harder for God to help the helpless than to help the powerful. The point is that God can easily accomplish what man thinks is impossible. Asa, at this juncture, had the courage to commit himself to God. “Trust is based on confidence in Almighty God, whose ways we do not understand” (Oswald Chambers).
Asa’s prayer urged the Almighty to consider His covenant relation to Asa and his people. Yahweh was Asa’s God and Asa’s people’s God – a good argument for a Christian in a time of need. In the name of Jesus Christ, should all spiritual warfare be fought. It is not necessary for God to be on the side with the greatest battalions, the best weaponry, or to be in league with powerful men. God will win battles to suit His own good purposes using the weak or powerless, by whomever He chooses. God will win battles whether by many of by a few[xvi].
The Lord aroused panic among the Ethiopians; they retreated and fled to Gerar, a day’s ride to the southwest[xvii]. Asa’s army slaughtered and then plundered the enemy camp. The terror inflicted upon the enemy was such that Judah experienced no more trouble from Egypt for 170 years.
Triumphant victory was Asa’s. His kingdom entered an era of unprecedented prosperity. His enemies feared him, Judah’s cities were safe, the people loyal and renewed in religious fervor. Everything Asa touched did prosper. A merry heart so fertile with success is now capable of growing seeds of pride and arrogance.
God knows how prone men are after a great victory to trust in their own strength and wisdom. The Lord preempted the egotism by sending a warning to King Asa and the victorious army as they were returning from the war[xviii].
To be continued …
[i] 2 Chronicles 13:20
[ii] 2 Chronicles 13:19
[iii] 2 Chronicles 15:27
[iv] 2 Chronicles 15:29
[v] 2 Chronicles 14:8
[vi] Compare 2 Chronicles 14:8 with 13:3
[vii] 1 Kings 4:21
[viii] Daniel 2:21
[ix] 2 Chronicles 14:6-7
[x] 2 Chronicles 12:9
[xi] 2 Chronicles 14:9
[xii] 2 Chronicles 12
[xiii] 2 Chronicles 12:1-9
[xiv] 2 Chronicles 14:10
[xv] 2 Chronicles 14:11
[xvi] 1 Samuel 14:6
[xvii] 2 Chronicles 14:12-13
[xviii] 2 Chronicles 15:1-7