II Chronicles 16:12, "And Asa in the thirty and ninth year of his reign 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."
This morning, our short-sighted culture lacks something that old-timers called "follow-through." We refer to this concept in a number of ways – persistence, perseverance, endurance, etc. – but people today are so programmed for the moment that they fail to follow through something to the end. Two of the paramount principles of Godly service according to the tenets of Scripture are remaining steadfastly faithful and seeking to constantly grow in that grounded state. (II Timothy 2:3, II Peter 3:18) Sadly, there are many who begin to run well, but like a runner getting winded during a race, they fade down the stretch. Too oftentimes, we may grow lackadaisical in our service because somewhere in our mind we have "done enough." There is no room for retirement in God's service. One of the funniest quips I ever heard about that was when one of our ministers was asked, "Do the Primitive Baptists have a retirement program?" He responded, "Yes, it's called the cemetery."
Our study verse offers a lot of sorrowful connotation, but when seen in the light of the recent context, it is even moreso. Asa was a good king of Judah, but like many of God's saints, he faded down the stretch. Let us briefly consider what led to his painful end, see what great wonders God had wrought, and then look to today and see how we can better serve God without having to experience the misery that Asa had. The immediate and larger context is one of the most remarkable to consider as a whole. Let us back up to chapter 13 and quickly move back to our study verse.
In chapter 13, Abijah (Asa's father) reigns over Judah and has a war with Jeroboam the king of Israel. Israel and Judah had recently split just years before during the reign of Abijah's father Rehoboam. 10 of the 12 tribes constituting Israel that Jeroboam reigned over and 2 of the 12 tribes constituting Judah that Abijah reigned over warred against each other. Due to Jeroboam and the nation of Israel's idolatry, God delivered them into Judah's hand. Though Israel's army numbered 800,000 and Judah's only 400,000 (Verse 3), we find where the Lord delivered Israel into Judah's hand with a slaughter of 500,000! (Verse 17) This is the largest, explicitly stated casualty rate in all of Scripture. While it does not say how long this slaughter took, the passage reads like it happened quickly. Since Abijah only reigned 3 years, it was far shorter in duration than modern wars have taken. Consider. Israel lost more in this slaughter than all of the American casualties in World War II!
Chapter 14 opens with the beginning of Asa's reign. He reigns well. God blesses him in many ways, but perhaps the greatest came during Asa's own war. He meets a host of the Ethiopians that are told to number 1,000,000 with 300 chariots as well. (Verse 6) In Verse 11, Asa prays mightily to God showing his utter dependence on the Almighty. Asa knows that it does not take a large host to effect the Lord's deliverance. God answers the prayer with a mighty slaughter that drives the large Ethiopian host away and allows Judah to enjoy a great spoil.
When Chapter 15 opens, the Lord sends the prophet Azariah to give Asa both encouragement and a warning. (Verses 1-7) Azariah encourages Asa to continue in the path he has currently taken (wholly dependent on the Lord) and warns against sliding away (turning to the thoughts of man). Asa receives the word of God willingly and makes an even more diligent effort through the rest of Chapter 15 to put idolatry away in Judah even more than it already had been. Not only had he prepared to seek his heart personally in going forth to lead the people, but he further prepared the land to seek the Lord wholly and completely.
Through much of the books of Kings and Chronicles as we read the lives of the men who ruled over Israel and Judah of old, there are large areas that are very sad to read. Large portions of time with wickedness prevailing in the land and one ungodly ruler after another. Sometimes the sections are so rough that when we read of a Godly ruler it seems as if a breeze has blown across the page. What we have just passed through from Chapters 13-15 is a rather lengthy breeze that shows a very sweet time of fellowship with God and the land of Judah. However, Chapter 16 opens with something rather peculiar.
Baasha the next king of Israel comes out to fortify himself against Judah. He builds cities to halt the traffic in and out of Judah (a siege of sorts). Asa then sends word to Benhadad the ruler over Syria to come and help him and break his league with Baasha. (Verses 1-6) The following verses contain the rebuke of Hanani the seer to Asa for forgetting the Lord. (Verses 7-9) Consider what has just happened. Asa's father Abijah slaughtered a great and powerful force of Israel. Asa himself slaughtered a mightier force than Israel when they overthrew the Ethiopian army. With such powerful miracles from on high, why would he ask help from the Syrians to get past a lesser foe now? Hanani tells Asa as much. Asa's response is woeful beyond degree.
Instead of repenting and begging for forgiveness, Asa throws the seer into prison and oppressed the people of the land as well. When his shortcomings were pointed out, he dealt with the problem very destructively in allowing rage to control him. By the time we get to our study verse, he has forgotten the Lord to the point of not even begging for help during times of physical affliction. Whereas before, he immediately besought the Lord to help during a time of battle, he forgets to even think of the Lord during times of affliction. His trust was in the ways of man not in the arm of the Lord. What a terrible slide and drift to have!
Let us fast forward to the present and learn from Asa's problems without experiencing the misery of it personally. God has taken great foes away from us. The greatest armies we could ever face with the greatest strength would be death, hell, and the grave. God has delivered us mightily from them. The next strongest armies we could face are the armies of Satan and all his minions. God has mercifully stood by us when engaged in Godly warfare against the spiritual wickedness in high places. Beyond that, the foes that we face are very light in comparison. We have foes now in our bodies (sickness and affliction), enemies for the gospel's sake, and natural enemies that would like to annihilate us. Do sicknesses in our body, natural foes, or even God's people that oppose what we think the Bible to teach compare to the other 2 great forces? No. There is no comparison whatsoever.
How often can we fade going down the stretch whenever sickness or maladies come upon us? How often do we get disgruntled at others for the issues that we have with one another? How often do we worry about what may happen to us naturally due to all the people in the world that hate us? Regrettably, I must confess that my outlook during infirmity is not always the brightest; I have worried about the state of things naturally and have not handled my labors and endurance with others like I should. Too often in all these things, I forget the Lord and look to my own thoughts to carry me through. Much like Asa, I have forgotten all the past blessings that were marvellous to behold. When forgetting the Lord like this, I can become quickly angry and oppress the very things that I should be honoring. Asa should have honored the man of God Hanani for faithfully delivering the word of the Lord to him. Rather, he afflicted him like a common criminal. He should have lovingly cared for the land over which he ruled. Instead, he oppressed it.
Friends, spend a few moments in contemplation considering how the Lord has delivered you from large and mighty armies. Things you could not have handled yourself, He has mercifully taken away. Even the enemies that plague us today, He will still not leave us to endure the hardness alone. He is still here with us! Where else would we go for help? The Syrians of this world's helps as allies? The expert doctors who can fix anything? Friends, doctors can be a great blessing and allies in this world can serve to encourage us, but true help and strength comes from whole reliance upon the Omnipotent Ruler of His Universe. Let us not forget Him friends. Let us also not fade in our race down the stretch. We may have run well, let us not stop. We may not be running well, let us start. Whatever the case, let us look to Him, and when in need of rebuke, let us take that patiently – knowing that it is of the Lord – and constantly strive to do better in the future than we have in the past.