Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. ACQUISITION THAT WE CANNOT LOSE. The custodians of the temple no doubt rejoiced when Asa "brought into the house of God the things that his father had dedicated, and that he himself had dedicated, silver, and gold, and vessels" (2 Chronicles 15:18). But it was not many years before they endured the mortification of seeing these valuable things carried out again to enrich the foreigner - possibly to be taken to one of his temples. No great acquisition was this. The temple at Jerusalem was more truly blessed by the genuine prayers and praises and sacrifices offered within,; its precincts, albeit there was nothing left of them that the eye of man could see or his hand could finger. And what are our best, our real possessions? Not the gold and silver, the vessels and the jewels of which the thief may rob us, or some revolution in the market may deprive us; they are the knowledge, the wisdom, the purer tastes and appreciations, the higher and more ennobling affections - the treasures of the spirit, which "no thief can break through and steal," which are not dependent upon the chances of commerce, or the conflicts of armies, or the passage of time.
II. SERVICE THAT CANNOT BE RECALLED. Of little use, indeed, to the temple at Jerusalem was the treasure which Asa first carried in and then "brought out." Of comparatively little service to our friends and neighbours is the temporary service we render them - the money which we require again soon, the favour which is to be "returned," the "friendship" which the first small misunderstanding will disturb and perhaps dissolve. But there are services which, once rendered, cannot be recalled, cannot be "brought out" of the treasury, under any change of mood or circumstance - knowledge, and the power which it imparts for all the after-duty and struggle of life; counsel, which guided the feet through some labyrinth of difficulty and led them into "a large room;" comfort, which sustained the spirit in darkest and most dangerous hours, delivering from despair, restoring to equanimity and hope; influence, gently and graciously constraining the soul to enter "the kingdom which cannot be moved," within whose blessed boundaries are found present peace and immortal joy. Live to do good which cannot be undone; to impart that which no mortal hand can take back again; to confer that gift which is secure for ever.
III. A FEARLESS FAITH RATHER THAN A DUBIOUS EXPEDIENCY. It is true that Asa achieved a certain triumph; his plan succeeded - for the time. He bought Benhadad's help with this consecrated treasure, and obliged Baasha to retire, leaving some spoil behind him (vers. 4-6). But might he not have succeeded in another way and by worthier means. If he had committed his cause, his country's security, to the strength and faithfulness of his God, would he not have prevailed at least as well as he did by taking consecrated wealth out of the temple of Jehovah? Would not he who delivered the vast hordes of the Ethiopians into his hands (2 Chronicles 14:12) have saved him from the designs of Baasha? (see vers. 7, 8). And would he not have prospered in that way, without having this act of violation on his conscience, without having this blot upon his record? A fearless faith in God is better than recourse to a doubtful expediency. The latter very often fails to accomplish the purpose in hand; and it always does some injury to the character, lowering the standard of behaviour, and leaving some blemish on the life. Take the higher road in the journey of life - the way of perfect uprightness, of simple, childlike trust in God. That is the path which leads to true success; even if there should be present apparent defeat, it is sure to conduct to a glorious victory in the end. - C.
I. WHEN IT HAPPENED. "In the six and thirtieth year of the reign of Asa" (ver. 1).
1. An obvious error. Baasha ascended the throne of Israel in Asa's third year (1 Kings 15:33), and died in his twenty-sixth (1 Kings 16:8). Yet it follows not that this blunder was in the original text. Most likely it crept in through transcription. The existence of such mistakes is not fatal to the claim of Scripture to be regarded as inspired.
2. A probable solution. Different explanations have been given.
(1) The thirty-six years of ver. 1 should be reckoned from the separation of the kingdoms (Usher, Jamieson); but against this stands the fact that the thirty-six years are stated to have belonged to the reign of Asa, while the assertion that no war occurred in Judah for thirty-five years after its commencement as a separate kingdom is incorrect (2 Chronicles 13:2).
(2) In 2 Chronicles 15:19, instead of "thirty-five" should be read "five," and in 2 Chronicles 16:1, instead of "thirty-six" should be inserted "six" (Vaihinger in Herzog, Thenius, Bahr). Thus the war with Zerah would be later than the attack of Baasha, though reported before it; and the connection of the verses would be, "There was no war unto the fifth year of the reign of Asa; but in the sixth year Baasha came up." This shatters itself upon the two facts that Asa's reign began with ten years of quiet (2 Chronicles 14:1), and that Zerah's invasion must have been before Baasha's attack (2 Chronicles 16:8). To be sure, as numbers are being altered generally, the "ten" of 2 Chronicles 14:1 might be changed into "five;" but Hanani, in 2 Chronicles 16:8, could hardly speak of the Ethiopian invasion as an historical fact if it had not then taken place.
(3) The six and thirtieth year should be the five and twentieth (Adam Clarke). In favour of this may be urged that it is a fair guess.
(4) The text should be "in the sixteenth year of the reign of Asa" (Bertheau, Keil, Ewald, Kleinert in Riehm). The chronology of Asa's reign would thus run:
(b) the invasion of Zerah (2 Chronicles 14:9) between the tenth and fifteenth years, probably in the fourteenth;
(c) the national covenant in the fifteenth year (2 Chronicles 15:10);
(d) in the sixteenth the threatening advance of Baasha (2 Chronicles 16:1).
The statement that Judah was exempt from war until the thirty-fifth year of Asa (2 Chronicles 15:19) may be harmonized with that in 1 Kings 15:16, 32, that "there was war between Asa and Baasha King of Israel all their days," by assuming that there was latent hostility between the two kingdoms from the first, but no outbreak of war until Asa's thirty-fifth year (Keil) - the attack here recorded not having culminated in any collision between the two powers on the field of battle, the work of causing Baasha to withdraw having been entrusted to Benhadad.
II. HOW IT WAS OCCASIONED. By Baasha's advance against Judah (ver. 1).
1. The history of Baasha. The son of Ahijah, of the house of Issachar - not of Ahijah the prophet, who was an Ephraimite of Shiloh (1 Kings 11:29) - Baasha appears to have been originally a person of obscure station, though he afterwards rose to be a captain in the army of Nadab, Jeroboam's son, as Zimri subsequently was in that of Elah, Baasha's son (1 Kings 16:9). During the siege of Gibbethon he conspired against his master, smote him and usurped his throne. Not content with this, he put the whole house of Jeroboam to the sword - an act of cruelty which rebounded on himself and his house (1 Kings 16:12). In the twelfth year of his reign he formed the plan here narrated for inflicting a blow upon Judah and Asa.
2. The character of Baasha. More than likely a soldier of distinguished bravery (1 Kings 16:5), he was little other than a monster of cruelty (1 Kings 15:29) - two qualities not often allied. The true hero is seldom cruel; the cruel man is seldom brave. A faithful follower of Jeroboam in the matter of religion, he was an ardent idolater and a persistent corrupter of the people (1 Kings 16:2).
3. The project of Baasha. To fortify Ramah, the modern Er-Ram, in Benjamin (Joshua 18:25; Judges 19:3), about five miles north of Jerusalem. This town, which properly belonged to Judah - not to Israel (Bahr, Bertheau) - but which Abijah had taken from Jeroboam (ch. 13:19), Baasha had not previously conquered (Ewald), but at that time seized. His object probably was
(1) to cut off all traffic between the kingdoms - in fact, blockade Jerusalem - that the southern kingdom might be forced to capitulate (Ewald, Bahr);
(2) to prevent alliance between Judah and any power north of Israel (Bertheau); and
(3) to obtain a footing within the territory of Judah as a basis for future operations (Josephus).
III. IN WHAT IT CONSISTED. In three things.
1. Not repairing to Jehovah for assistance against Baasha, as he had formerly done against Zerah (2 Chronicles 14:11). Perhaps he deemed Baasha a more manageable opponent than the Ethiopian leader had been - an adversary that might be coped with successfully by his own craft, without calling in the battalions of Jehovah. Or, his preceding prosperity may have been his ruin, and this may have been the turning-point on that downward path of spiritual degeneracy which he pursued until he died. On any supposition it was an act of unbelief, and as such a sin; and, considering the success of his former application to Jehovah, an act of folly, and therefore a blunder as well as a sin. This he afterwards learnt from Hanani (ver. 9).
2. Seeking a league with Benhadad of Syria. (Ver. 2.) This Benhadad, or son of Ader (LXX.) - in the Assyrian inscriptions Bin-hidri, the son of Hadar, the supreme divinity of Damascus (Schrader, 'Die Keilinschriften,' p. 200) - was the son of Tabrimon, the son of Hezion, the King of Syria (1 Kings 15:18). Damascus, his capital - in Hebrew Dammesek, in Assyrian Dimaski and Dimmaska, in Arabic Dimesch-eseh-Schdm, or shortly, esch-Scham - had been a town in the days of Abraham (Genesis 14:15; Genesis 15:2), and is still one of the few towns of antiquity that have never lost their primitive splendour and renown. It has been styled "the pearl of the Orient, the beautiful as Eden, the fragrant Paradise, the plumage of the Paradise peacock, the coloured collar of the ring-dove, the necklace of beauty, the door of Caaba, the eye of the East, the Eden of the Moslem," with other such hyperbolical expressions (Riehm's ' Handworter-buch,' art. "Damascus;" cf. Stanley's 'Sinai and Palestine,' pp. 414, etc.; 'Picturesque Palestine,' 3:143, etc.). Its king was at this time in league with Baasha, who hoped with his assistance to subdue the southern kingdom. He was thus an enemy to Judah, as his predecessor Rezon had been to the united empire (1 Kings 11:25); and Asa might have reasoned, that not much help of a genuine kind could be obtained from him, least of all by such a stratagem as that adopted.
3. Resorting to bribery in order to gain his end. Those who use dishonourable methods to procure any advantage generally overestimate the advantage they are willing in this way to buy; and, as a consequence, discover in the long run they have been miserably duped. Even had Asa not been at fault in the value he put upon Benhadad's alliance, the means he took to gain it were bad. The argument addressed to Baasha should never have been employed by Asa. The league of Abijah with Tabrimon should never have existed to lend countenance to the proposed league between Asa and Benhadad. But bad actions once done are easily repeated by the doers of them, and imitated by the children of those doers; while children find less difficulty in copying the evil than in following the good examples of their parents. Then Asa, while justified in attempting to dissolve the league between Benhadad and Baasha, should not have resorted to bribery. "A gift destroyeth the heart" (Ecclesiastes 7:7) of him that gives as of him that receives it. Far less for such an unhallowed purpose should he have robbed the temple, even if it had been permissible to displenish the palace. But not even "the treasures of the palace" should have been employed in dishonourable schemes (the secret-service money of modern governments falls under this condemnation); and much less "the treasures of the Lord's house." Upon the gold and silver of both Church and state should be inscribed, "Holiness unto the Lord,"
1. Benhadad accepted the bribe. (Ver. 4.) The golden and silvern keys of mammon can unlock the doors of most hearts. Great grace is needed to resist the power of money. "Wealth maketh many friends," and "every man is a friend to him that giveth gifts" (Proverbs 19:4, 6). Sometimes others besides wicked persons are guilty of "taking gifts out of their bosom" (Proverbs 17:23). Asa's present was too much for Benhadad's virtue. The King of Syria deserted his ally, the King of Israeli for the King of Judah, as he would by-and-by desert the King of Judah for the next highest bidder. Nor did he merely not assist Baasha, maintaining as it were an attitude of armed neutrality between the hostile powers, but he treacherously "sent the captains of his armies against the cities of Israel; and they smote Ijon and Dan, and Abel-maim, and all the store-cities of Naphtali" (see Exposition). Bad as Baasha was, and infamous as was his project, the character and conduct of Benhadad were equally reprehensible and offensive. But it is no part of wicked men's creed that they should change not when they swear to their own hurt (Psalm 14:4), or that they should keep faith with one another longer than appears for their advantage so to do. Modern kings and statesmen are sometimes charged with acting on similar lines in the making and the breaking of treaties. If the charge is true, it is not to their credit, and must ultimately turn to their people's hurt.
2. Baasha desisted from his fortifications. He left off building Ramah, and allowed his work to cease (ver. 5). Had Baasha been engaged upon a good work, upon God's work, the falling away of Benhadad would have mattered nothing; but being a wicked man himself, and occupied with a wicked enterprise, when the prop which supported him fell, he also was precipitated to the ground. When creature-arms fail the saints, the saints lean the heavier on the Almighty Arm; when wicked men are deprived of that in which they trust, they have nothing else to trust to.
3. Asa despoiled Bamah, and turned its stones and timber to his own use. He built therewith Geba and Mizpah (ver. 6); i.e. he fortified them. Both were in Benjamin, the former two miles and a half north of Ramah, on the road to Michmash; the latter, thirteen miles and a half from Ramah, on the north road from Jerusalem. Thus what Baasha had collected for the injury, Asa employed in the defence, of Judah. So believers may legitimately use the arguments and learning of heretics and unbelievers to establish the truth which these seek to overthrow (Bossuet). Again. whereas Baasha intended to despoil Judah, he was himself despoiled by both Benhadad (ver. 4) and Asa (ver. 6). Mischief-makers often find their mischief return upon their own heads, and violent dealers see their violence descend upon their own patens (Psalm 7:15, 16; Proverbs 26:27; Matthew 7:2).
1. The lust of acquiring the true parent of war (James 4:1, 2).
2. The wickedness of bribery (Proverbs 17:23)
I. THE PROPHET'S MESSAGE TO THE KING. (Vers. 7-9.)
1. The prophet's name. Hanani, "Favourable" (Gesenius); otherwise unknown, though conjectured to be the father of "Jehu the son of Hanani," who announced to Baasha the ruin of his house (1 Kings 16:1), and afterwards appeared at the court of Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 19:2), having probably been obliged to flee from the northern kingdom on account of his ill-omened communication.
(1) This was the second time God had sent a prophet to Asa. God usually gives to men "line upon line, and precept upon precept" (Isaiah 28:10).
(2) This was a second prophet God had sent to Asa. God has no lack of messengers to run upon his errands. When a word wants speaking to the Church or to the state, he can always find the man to speak it (Psalm 68:11).
(3) The message God sent by Hanani was different from that sent by Azariah. That was a word of counsel; this, of rebuke. God always suits his communications to the needs of his hearers. "Every Scripture inspired by God is profitable," etc. (2 Timothy 3:16).
(4) Those who serve God faithfully as his messengers are sure to find ample remuneration. Because of this mission well executed, Hanani has obtained a posthumous renown, which will carry his name throughout the world and to the end of time (cf. Mark 14:9).
2. The prophet's sermon.
(1) A great opportunity lost, with the reason of it. The Syrians might have been crushed, whereas they had escaped, because, instead of relying on Jehovah, he, Asa, had relied upon Benhadad (ver. 7). Compare Elisha's language to Joash of Israel (2 Kings 13:19). Nothing commoner than for men to be blind to their own best interests; to be neglectful of the opportunities Providence sets before them for advancing these; and to call in the aid of enemies rather than of friends - of their worst enemy, the devil, rather than of their best friend, Jehovah - when they find themselves placed in some critical situation.
(2) A great victory recalled, with the secret of it. The mighty host of the Ethiopians and the Libyans had been defeated; their horsemen and chariots routed by Judah's spearmen and bowmen, and that, as Asa knew, not by their own prowess or by his generalship, but because, in answer to prayer, Jehovah had entered the field upon his side (ver. 8). It is strange how easily and quickly men forget Divine interpositions on their behalf, and how readily, almost how naturally, they put these to their own credit rather than to God's. "Time hath, my lord, a wallet on his back" (Shakespeare, 'Troilus and Cressida,' act 3. sc. 3). No example better to be followed by a Christian than that of David (Psalm 103:2). A good memory would often save a Christian from foolish blunders.
(3) A great doctrine stated, with the lesson of it. Asa should have known that the eyes of the Lord were ever running to and fro throughout the earth, to show himself strong in behalf of those whose hearts were perfect before him, and that all he had to do was to see that his heart was perfect before God, and to show the same by trusting in him (ver. 9). See homily on "The eyes of the Lord."
(4) A great sin committed, with the disastrous result of it. In turning his back upon Jehovah and repairing to Benhadad, he, Asa, had acted foolishly (ver. 9). He had not only blundered, perpetrated an error in judgment, but done what was inherently wicked; and, as a consequence both of his blunder and of his sin, he "would have wars" - which he had in the continued hostility of the northern kingdom. Observe the double aspect of sin, as an act of folly and a deed of wickedness, and the double aspect of retribution, as at once the natural outcome or result of human folly and the positive infliction of a judicial sentence.
II. THE KING'S ANSWER TO THE PROPHET. (Ver. 10.)
1. He was angry with the prophet. Good men as well as bad may fall into danger, but in both it is sin. If Asa's "heart was perfect all his days," it is clear his life was not. He was "wroth with the seer." Anger is a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:20), the passion of a foolish heart (Ecclesiastes 7:9), and the foam of an unbridled tongue (Proverbs 25:28; Hosea 7:16). Outrageous in any (Proverbs 27:4), it is unbecoming in all, but especially in kings, and not allowable in Christians (Colossians 3:8). Asa was angry with Hanani because Hanani told him of his fault. Even good men require large grace before they can say, "Let the righteous smite me," etc. (Psalm 141:5). Yet the rebukes of the righteous should be received submissively (Leviticus 19:17) and with grateful affection (Proverbs 9:8). He who so welcomes them shall be honoured (Proverbs 13:18); get understanding (Proverbs 15:32); exhibit prudence (Proverbs 15:5); and abide among the wise (Proverbs 15:31).
2. He put the prophet in a prison-house; literally, "in a house of stocks," the "stock being an instrument of torture, by which the body was forced into an unnatural, twisted position, the victim, perhaps, being bent double, with the hands and feet fastened together" (Keil). Into some such place of confinement Jeremiah was thrust Jeremiah 20:2; cf. 29:26), and Paul and Silas (Acts 16:24). "The king's wrath is as the roaring of a lion" (Proverbs 19:12). If, in Hanani's case, it did not turn out "messengers of death" (Proverbs 16:14), it was because Asa was at bottom a good man, whose hand as well as heart were in the keeping of the Lord (Psalm 76:10).
3. He oppressed those who took the prophet's side. These were, doubtless, the pious section of the people who had not approved of the Syrian alliance. It is seldom that a wicked policy can be entered on by kings or parliaments (at least in a Christian land) without some voice or voices being raised against it. Unhappily, these have often to share obloquy and oppression, as Hanani's supporters did. Yet nothing is more calamitous for a country than to see the best people in it persecuted by its rulers for protesting against their crooked ways. When a policy cannot be defended or carried through without imprisoning those who are opposed to it, that policy is wrong!
1. The certainty that God sees everything that is done beneath the sun.
2. The goodness of God in reproving wrong-doers.
3. The folly of leaning upon an arm of flesh instead of upon God.
4. The source of all ca]amity among men, viz. sin.
5. The sign of an evil conscience - anger against an accuser.
6. The uselessness of force as a remedy for evils of any kind.
7. The courage required of them who would champion the cause of truth and right. - W.
I. GOD'S ACTIVE OBSERVANCE OF INDIVIDUAL MEN. These vigorous words (of the text) indicate the prophet's belief that God was observing men everywhere, was actively observing them "run to and fro," and was drawing distinctions between the life of one man and another. God's particular and individual observation has been, not unnaturally, objected to on the ground of our human littleness. How can we expect, how can we believe, that the Eternal One would concern himself with the doings or negligences of creatures so remote, so unimportant, so infinitesimally minute as we are? Surely, it is said, such consideration is beneath him. But there are two thoughts which meet this objection and correct this conclusion.
1. The infinitude of God. For that includes the infinitely small as well as the infinitely great; it is a distinct denial of this attribute of God, for it is a limitation of his infinity, to maintain that there is one direction to which his power and action do not extend. The infinitude of God positively requires us to believe that he is observant of the hearts and lives of individual men.
2. The fatherhood of God. Granted that our human spirits are nearly allied to him, share his own likeness, stand in conscious relation to him; are capable of loving, serving, following him; can live on earth the life he lives in heaven, are this and do this in such sense and degree that we can be rightly called and considered his sons and daughters, - and there is no more objection to be taken. Shall not the Divine Father of his human family take particular notice of each one of his children? What fatherhood is that which considers his own child to be unworthy of his notice?
II. THE DISTINCTIONS HE DRAWS BETWEEN THEM.
1. He divides all men into two classes - the evil and the good (see Proverbs 15:3); between those "who fear him and those who fear him not;" between those "who are righteous" and those who "do evil" (see Psalm 34:15, 16).
2. He divides the good into two classes - the imperfectly and the perfectly devoted. There are those who seek not the Lord "with their whole heart," and those who do thus seek him; those whose "heart is not perfect," and those whose "heart is perfect" toward him. This distinction is not absolute. The less devoted of the servants of God have their better hours and their nobler impulses; while the more devoted have their lapses and their blemishes. Asa "did that which was good and right in the eyes of the Lord" (2 Chronicles 14:2); he and his people "sought the Lord... with all their heart and with all their soul" (2 Chronicles 15:12); yet here we find him erring, lacking confidence in God, and "going down" to Syria for help. But taking this into account, it remains true that God distinguishes clearly between those of his servants who are but faint-hearted and feeble in his service, and those who give themselves to him "with their whole desire." Let there be so thorough and so complete a dedication of ourselves, of our powers and of our resources and of our time, to the Person and the cause of our Divine Saviour, that we shall be counted by him among those "whose heart is perfect toward him." We may attain to this, although we may have much still to learn and to acquire as his disciples (see Philippians 3:12-15).
III. HIS INTERPOSITION ON OUR BEHALF. God would certainly have interposed on behalf of Asa, would have "shown himself strong" in his behalf. He would, said Hanani, have given him a far greater success than that which he attained by his gifts and negotiations with Benhadad (ver. 7). God always succours his faithful ones.
1. He may deliver them from their distress; as he had delivered Ass already, and did afterwards deliver Hezekiah. He may give us the victory over our enemies from without - over bodily ill, over opposing circumstances; he may cause us to triumph as "men count" triumph.
2. Or he may grant us deliverance in our distress; he may grant us such spiritual elevation that we shall "glory in our infirmity," shall "rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer," shall bear the noble testimony of perfect contentment with the inferior position (John 3:29); and thus (literally) "show himself strong in those whose heart is devoted to him' (Keil's translation). - C.
I. A MOMENTOUS DECLARATION. "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth." The words teach the doctrines of:
1. The Divine omniscience; since "the eyes of the Lord" not only see to the ends of the earth, and "run to and fro throughout the earth," but are in every place at the same time.
2. The Divine vigilance; since God not merely knows all that transpires on the earth and beneath the heavens, but, as it were, lies in wait to discover opportunities for interposing on his people's behalf. Contrast with this exalted doctrine the teaching of the 'Odyssey' (17. 485): "The gods, in the likeness of strangers from far countries, put on all manner of shapes, and wander through the cities, beholding the violence and the righteousness of men."
II. A CHEERING CONSOLATION. "To show himself strong on behalf of them whose hearts are perfect towards him." The object of the Divine interposition is not so much to punish and destroy the wicked, although that is indirectly implied, as it is to rescue and succour his people.
1. In times of danger; like that of Israel at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:15-30), or that of Asa on the field of Zephathah (2 Chronicles 14:12), or that of Judah when the army of Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:35), or that of David when pursued by Saul (Psalm 18:17), or that of Elisha, in Dothan (2 Kings 6:17), or that of Daniel in Babylon (Daniel 6:22).
2. In seasons of affliction; such as befell the Israelites in Egypt (Exodus 2:23-25), and the Jews in Babylon (Ezra 1:1); such as overtook Jacob in Hebron (Genesis 37:34; Genesis 45:28), Job in Uz (Job 1., 2., 3., 42.), David in Jerusalem (Psalm 6:8), and the Hebrew children in Babylon (Daniel 3:25).
3. In moments of trial; which oftentimes come upon his people as they came upon Abraham (Genesis 22:11), Joseph (Genesis 38:12), David (1 Samuel 26:9), and Job (Job 2:9), and in which God's people could hardly hope to stand without Divine assistance.
III. A SEARCHING APPLICATION. Have we those perfect hearts to whom this Divine succour is promised?
1. This means not - Are we sinless? Noah was "perfect" Genesis 6:9), and yet "he drank of the wine, and was drunken" (Genesis 9:21); Job was "perfect (Job 1:1), and yet God charged him with offences which caused Job to say, Behold, I am vile" (Job 40:4); David's heart was "perfect (1 Kings 11:4), yet David was guilty of grievous sins (2 Samuel 11:4); Asa's heart also was perfect (2 Chronicles 15:17), and yet Asa went astray in the war with Baasha (ver. 2). In the New Testament the Corinthians are designated "perfect (1 Corinthians 2:6), and yet some of them were so far from sinlessness that they committed very gross offences against morality (1 Corinthians 5:1; 1 Corinthians 6:1).
2. This means - Are we sincere in our profession of religion? Where sincerity is wanting, religion is impossible. Nothing more reprehensible in itself, or more offensive to both God and man, than hypocrisy - pretending to be a servant of God when one is really a slave of Satan; to be a lover of righteousness when one is secretly a doer of unrighteousness. Scripture in both its parts pronounces woe against hypocrites (Job 8:13; Job 15:34; Matthew 23:13; Luke 11:44). - W.
I. THAT AGE IS NOT ALWAYS AS VENERABLE AS IT SHOULD BE; not even a "good old age;" not even Christian old age. Having enjoyed so much of privilege, and having passed through so much discipline, it ought to exemplify the lessons it has had opportunity to learn - it ought to be calm, pure, steadfast, reverent, godly, pervaded with a Christian spirit. But it is not always thus. Men may be always learning, but never wise; men may pass through a very forest of privileges and of opportunities, and never pluck any fruit from its trees. And if we do not gather the good which is to be gained as we go on our way through life, we shall sink into an old age in which we have attained nothing and lost much. We must see to it that we do grow as we live; that we are laying up a store of wisdom and of worth that will make old age honourable and beloved. It is sometimes bare and unbeautiful enough; but it may "still bring forth fruit," and be fair to see as it stands in the garden of the Lord.
II. THAT ONE FALSE STEP IS VERY LIKELY TO LEAD TO ANOTHER. Asa, having made the serious mistake of resorting to the Syrian king instead of trusting in the Lord, now violently resents the rebuke of the prophet of Jehovah; and he even proceeds to an act of positive persecution; and, having gone thus far, he goes yet further by some acts of severity, probably directed against those who sympathized with the imprisoned prophet. Thus wrong leads to wrong, sin to sin. It is the constant course of things. Equivocation leads to falsehood; impurity of thought to indelicacy of speech and licentiousness of action; sternness of spirit to cruelty of conduct; irregularity in worship to ungodliness, etc. And not only does faultiness commonly lead to sin in the same direction, but, as in this case, it often leads to wrong-doing in another direction. When the heart is led astray from God, and his will is disregarded in one thing, it is only too likely that that holy will will be defied in another thing. We may well shun the first wrong step, for we have no conception of the consequences it may entail. A wrong act, and still more a wrong courser leaves the heart exposed to the designs of the enemy; it is often found to be the first of a series.
III. THAT RECTITUDE IS PARTLY, EVEN LARGELY, A MATTER OF PROPORTION. (Ver. 12.) Asa rightly enough consulted his physicians and leaned on their professional skill; he was wrong in placing too implicit and too great a reliance upon them; he did not remember, as he should have done, that all human means avail nothing without the blessing of God. He had not enough of the spirit of the psalmist in him (Psalm 33:17-21). To trust in God and to neglect the various sources of health and strength he offers us - this is a foolish fanaticism which will bear its penalty in suffering and weakness. To resort to human science and to trust it, forgetful of the truth that we can do nothing at all independently of the Divine power - this is impiety. True godliness is found in a wise admixture, a true proportion, of diligence and devotion, of self-reliance and self-surrender, of accepting the help of man and looking for the blessing of God.
IV. THAT WE SHOULD JUDGE OUR CONTEMPORARIES, NOT BY THE LAST THING THEY DID, BUT BY ALL THAT THEY WERE. His subjects, when he died, did not remember against him the infirmities of his last days; they considered what had been his character and his course all through his long reign, and "they made a very great burning for him" (ver. 14). Here they were right. Whether they be of the living or the departed, we should not judge our fellow men by one or two exceptional acts, which may be unlike them and unworthy of them; but by the spirit of their life, by the principles by which they were guided throughout, by the character they built up. - C.
I. HIS LIFE.
1. The length of his reign. Forty-one years. His father, whose "heart was not perfect" towards God (1 Kings 15:3), reigned only three years (2 Chronicles 13:3). The Old Testament promised long life as a reward to piety (Psalm 34:12-14). But, even without a special promise, a religious life is calculated to prolong days. "Fear God, and keep his commandments," is the first rule of health.
2. The incidents of his reign.
(1) The reformation of religion (2 Chronicles 14:3).
(2) The building of fortresses (2 Chronicles 14:6).
(3) The preparation of an army (2 Chronicles 14:8).
(4) The defeat of Zerah the Ethiopian (2 Chronicles 14:9).
(5) The formation of a grand national covenant (2 Chronicles 15:8).
(6) The making of a league with Benhadad (2 Chronicles 16:1).
(7) The oppression of his people (2 Chronicles 16:10).
3. The character of his reign.
(1) Peaceful. It began with ten years of quiet (2 Chronicles 14:1); and, with the two exceptions above specified, it had no more hostile invasions to repel.
(2) Prosperous. Since the days of Solomon the kingdom had not attained to such a pinnacle of excellence - of material strength and religious consolidation - as it did under the son of Abijah.
II. HIS DEATH.
1. The date of it. In the forty-first year of his reign; most likely he was over sixty at the time of his decease.
2. The cause of it. Twofold.
(1) Disease, Two years before his end he became diseased exceedingly in his feet; probably with gout (Clarke, Jamiesen). Whatever its nature, it was fatal. Disease a sure precursor of death, of which every ailment should be a monitor.
(2) Unbelief. Had he consulted Jehovah about his malady (the Chronicler suggests), he might have been cured; but, as in repelling Baasha's attack he relied more on Benhadad than on Jehovah, so in his illness he repaired to the physicians instead of to Jehovah. To infer from this that Asa sinned in consulting a doctor, and that Christians should abstain from calling in medical advisers when out of health, is unreasonable. Asa's error lay, not in consulting the physicians, but in reposing trust in them to the exclusion of the Lord; and, as Paul took Luke the physician with him on his missionary journeys (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11), it may be argued that he at least did not regard it as inconsistent with religious principle to either give or accept medical advice. Still, what the doctors could not do for Asa, Jehovah could have done had he been consulted (Exodus 15:26; Psalm 103:3); so that unbelief was a real cause of Asa's death. Perhaps it is the cause of many deaths still. Without hinting that many practitioners are no better than those of whom the Gospels tell (Mark 5:26; Luke 8:43), it is still true that physicians cannot cure without the Divine blessing; and, doubtless, in cases that is withheld, because it is not asked either by the physician or his patient.
III. HIS BURIAL.
1. The place of his sepulture. The city of David, where his fathers slept (1 Kings 15:24), yet not in the general tomb of the kings, but in "his own sepulchres;" in a tomb he had specially caused to be excavated for himself (ver. 14). Joseph of Arimathaea hewed out a tomb for himself (Luke 23:53). The first thing a Pharaoh of Egypt did on ascending the throne was to construct for himself and descendants a royal mausoleum (Harkness, 'Egyptian Life and History.' p. 57).
2. The manner of his entombment.
(1) His corpse was embalmed. The bed on which it was laid was filled with sweet odours and spices of divers kinds, prepared by the apothecaries' art. Strictly speaking, this was only an imitation of the Egyptian practice (Keil, 'Archaologie,' §115; Riehm, art. "Begrianis"). Compare the embalmments of Jacob (Genesis 50:2) and of Jesus (John 19:39, 40).
(2) A very great burning was made for him. This burning was not of the body (A. Clarke), which, among the Hebrews, was commonly interred - the burning of the bodies of Saul and his sons (1 Samuel 31:12) being exceptional - but of the prepared spices. Other nations practised similar rites at the funerals of kings. Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:19) and Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 22:18), on account of their wickedness, were denied such honours; Zedekiah was promised them (Jeremiah 34:5), perhaps, on account of his misfortunes.
IV. HIS CHARACTER.
1. A good man. His heart was perfect (2 Chronicles 15:7; 1 Kings 15:14), if his life was not (2 Chronicles 16:10). The general tenor of his conduct was upright, though he erred somewhat towards the close of his career. "It was thought a high eulogy on Jehoshaphat his son that he walked in all the way of his father" (Rawlinson); while the honours paid Asa on dying showed that his countrymen esteemed him to have been an honourable prince. His "faults and follies" may suggest that no man is perfect, and that "in many things we all offend."
2. An ardent reformer. He removed the altars and the high places of the strange gods or foreign divinities (2 Chronicles 14:3), though he left standing those belonging to Jehovah (2 Chronicles 15:17; 1 Kings 15:14). He "commanded Judah to seek the Lord God of their fathers" (2 Chronicles 14:4), and bound mere by a solemn league and covenant so to do (2 Chronicles 15:14), though he himself, in old age, declined a little from his early faith (2 Chronicles 16:2, 12).
3. A valiant soldier. That with his piety he combined courage, his encounter with Zerah the Ethiopian evinced. If he was genuinely good, he was also conspicuously great. - W.