The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
So Abijah slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city of David: and Asa his son reigned in his stead. In his days the land was quiet ten years.Asa: Life and Lessons
2 Chronicles 14, 2 Chronicles 15
ASA was a good king of Judah; he "did that which was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God." Not only "good and right" because these might be variable terms. There are persons who set themselves to the presumptuous and impious task of settling for themselves, what is "right" and what is "good." In the case of Asa, he did not invent a righteousness, nor did he invent a goodness which he could adapt to his own tempers, ambitions, and conveniences: he was right and good and "did that which was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God." Whilst the land had peace, Asa set to work and built walls and towers and fences, and did all that he could for the good of his country. Zerah, an Ethiopian warrior, did not understand silence. He mistook quietness for languor; he made the vulgar mistake of supposing that quietness was indifference. He did not know that repose is the very highest expression of power. So he brought against Asa, king of Judah, no fewer than a million soldiers—"a thousand thousand" —to us a large number, to the Orientals quite a common array. What was to be done? Asa did not shrink from war, though he never courted it. He must meet the foe in battle. Before doing so he must pray:
"And Asa cried unto the Lord his God, and said, Lord, it is nothing with thee to help [rather, "it is alike to thee to help the powerful or the weak"—thou canst as easily, i.e., help the weak as the strong] whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O Lord our God; for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go [comp. 1Samuel 17:45] against this multitude. O Lord, thou art our God; let not man [or, mortal man] prevail against thee" (2Chronicles 14:11).
Having risen from their knees, they launched themselves against the Ethiopians, and were mighty as men who answer straw with steel. They fought in God's name and for God's cause, and the thousand thousand of the Ethiopians were as nothing before the precise and terrific stroke of men who had studied war in the school of God.
Asa, then, began upon a good foundation; he established himself upon a great principle. That is what all young people especially should take to heart right seriously. To such we say: do not make an accident of your lives—a thing without centre, purpose, certitude, or holiness. Regard it as a trust from God. Be right in your great foundation lines, and you will build up a superstructure strong, after the nature and quality of the foundation upon which you build. Do not snatch at life. Do not take out an odd motto here and there and say, "This will do for the occasion." Life should be deeply laid in its bases, strongly cemented together in its principles, noble in its convictions; then it can be charitable in its concessions and recognitions. On what is your life based? What is the point at which you are aiming? If you have no broad foundation, no solid rock, no complete purpose and policy, then you are adventurers, speculators, and the turn of the wheel will mean your present or ultimate ruin.
"And he [Asa] took courage, and put away the abominable idols [abominations] out of all the land of Judah and Benjamin, and out of the cities which he had taken from mount Ephraim, and renewed the altar of the Lord" (2Chronicles 15:8).
Let us not trifle with the occasion by suggesting that we have no idolatries to uproot, no heathen groves to examine, to purify, or to destroy. That would indeed be making light of history, and ignoring the broadest and saddest facts of our present circumstances. The world is full of little gods, man-made idols, groves planted by human hands, oppositions and antagonisms to the true theism of the universe. We are so apt to think that the idols are a long way off, far beyond seas; or that they existed long centuries ago and spoke languages now obsolete or forgotten. Nothing of the kind; they live here, they build to-day. Our gods are a million strong. We do not call them gods, but we worship them none the less. Luck, Accident, Fortune, Fashion, Popularity, Self-indulgence—these are the base progeny of idols that did once represent some ideal thought and even some transcendental religion. Idolatry has retrograded; polytheism has gone quickly backward. To worship the sun!—Why, there is reason in it; verily, sometimes he looks as if made to be worshipped, to be hailed with song and to be followed with adoring wonder in his infinite course of illumination. But we worship accident, fortuitous circumstances, probabilities. We calculate at the counter of our gods—where the men we often mock fell down and dumbly worshipped what they did not understand. Theirs the nobler idolatry! having in it a touch of heavenly philosophy. Asa said, in effect, "We must be right about our gods before we can be right with one another." That is true teaching. With a wrong theology we never can have a thoroughly sound and healthy economical system. To be wrong in our conception of God is to be wrong in every point in the line of our thinking. The points themselves may be apparently sustained by great force of reasoning and great witness of concurrent facts; but when connected with their starting point they are vitiated by the mistake which was originally made. Looking on all human history we find that the conception of God—any god—which any people have held, has ultimately determined their fortunes. We rest on this philosophy. We believe in a God of righteousness, purity, mercy; a Father-God, loving all, redeeming all, caring for each as if each were an only child; patient with us, careful about us, studying our littlenesses, and making our infirmities the starting-points of new beneficences. We cannot be true to that conception of God, and have along with it a morality that we can palter with, and duties with which we can trifle. The conviction of a theology so massive, so substantial, so rational, will make itself felt in every pulsation of individual thought and social relationship.
This was the corner-stone upon which Asa built his great and gracious policy. What was the effect of it upon other people? We find that the effect then was what it must always be:—
Such is the influence of a great leadership. If Asa had been halting, the people would have halted too. Asa was positive, and positiveness sustained by such beneficence begets courage in other people. "They fell to him out of Israel in abundance"—that is, they came over to him and were on his side. They ranked themselves with Asa; they looked for his banner and called it theirs, "when they saw that the Lord his God was with him." Nations perish for want of great leaders. Social reformers are dependent to a large extent upon the spirit of the leadership which has adopted them. The Church is always looking round for some bolder man, some more heroic and dauntless spirit, who will utter the new truth, if any truth can be new—say rather, the next truth; for truth has always a next self, a larger and immediately-impending self, and the hero, who is also martyr, must reveal that next phase of truth and die on Golgotha for his pains. Can we not, in some small sense, be leaders in our little circles, in our business relations, in our family life, in our institutional existence? Many people can follow a tune who cannot begin one. That is the philosophy we would unfold and enforce. You would suppose from the immediate answer to the leader that any man in the whole thousand could have begun the tune—the reality of the case being, that the leader alone, perhaps, might be able to start it; yet, the moment his clear, dominating tone is heard, a thousand men took it up as if they had begun it. It is so in morals. Many persons can feel a speech who cannot make one. That is the secret of true speaking. So the reporter does not report the speech only; he reports the whole proceedings. Hence the interruptions are as essential to the understanding of a meeting as is the eloquence itself. We must know who applauded, where they applauded, how much they applauded; so that, having read the reporter's notes, we know what a thousand men or more felt and said, for every hearer in a great and responsive audience is as truly a speaker as is the one man who gives articulation to the common sentiment of the multitude. We want leaders—men who will have the courage to say now and then, "Let us pray." The people are waiting for good leadership. They know the shepherdly voice when they hear it; "There is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding," and you might have had a more unanimous following if your leadership had been less marked by ambiguity and equivocation. Your family might have been more united if to firmness you had added grace—if to grace you had added firmness. Regard all leaders with prayerful hopefulness in so far as they want to do good and to be good. Sympathise with them, say to Asa, even the king, "What thou hast done thou hast well done; in God's name we bless thee for the purification of the land and for the encouragement of all noble things."
Asa showed the limits of human forbearance and human philosophy. He broke down in the very act of doing that which was right because he went too far. He made a covenant and the people made it along with him.
"And they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul; that whosoever would not seek the Lord God of Israel should be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman" (2Chronicles 15:12-13).
That is the danger. You cannot make men religious by killing them, by threatening them, by inflicting upon them any degree of penalty. Do not force a child to church. Lead it; lure it; make the church so bright and homelike and beautiful that the child will eagerly long for the time to come when the door will be opened. We conquer by love. The Christian cause advances, not by persecution but by charity; not even by argument but by love. Controversy has done nothing for the truth compared with what has been done by holiness, purity, nobleness, patience, and the quiet heroisms which can only be accounted for by the existence of deep and real religious convictions.
Asa was impartial. There was a touch of real grandeur about the man. He would not even allow his mother to keep an idol. The queen had an idol of her own "in a grove."
"And also concerning Maachah the mother of Asa the king, he removed her from being queen, because she had made an idol in a grove: and Asa cut down her idol, and stamped it and burnt it at the brook Kidron' (2Chronicles 15:16).
Thus ruthlessly Asa disestablished that little royal church. See how burningly in earnest the man was; and what a man will do when his earnestness is fervent! He knows nothing about fathers, mothers, partialities, or concessions. He says, "Light is the foe of darkness, and you cannot have any little dark corner of your own. This light must find you out, chase away every shadow and purify every secret place in human life and thought." Many men fail to follow Asa just at that point. They are great reformers upon a public scale; but their own houses are stables that need to be cleansed. They are quite violent progressists in all national matters; but the moment they go home and shut the house-gate upon themselves they fall into all kinds of confusion and tumult and false relationship. "Now," said Asa, in effect, "what is good for the public is good for the individual; what is good for the subject is good for the queen. Cut down the queen's idol, cut down the queen's grove; and when you have got the little god, stamp on it, burn it, throw the ashes into the brook; and because the queen no longer repents of her idolatry, she must leave her throne." We want more men of that kind. They will have uncomfortable lives, they will not be popular men; they will be fools according to the world's arithmetic, they will be madmen in the estimation of cold minds; but they are God's sons, children of the light, born not of men, not of blood, but born of God, born in heaven.
Let us consider this man's case well, and apply it to ourselves. We must have no persecution, no threatening, no driving; only prayer, reasoning, hope, love; inform the mind, guide the reason, multiply the schools, double the circulation of all good books, inspire the affections, purify the very source and spring of the will; and our victories will not be so many coarse and costly destructions, but will be as the triumph of light over darkness, fair as the morning and beneficent as the summer.
Almighty God, we pray thee for the true vision. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. We cannot see thee otherwise. This way is thine own, it is therefore best, and we pray to be led in it like little children. We want to see God. We would see thee every day, we would walk with thee, and talk with, thee, and be thy friends; we need not see death because of our companionship with thee, but breathe ourselves into heaven: but we do not understand what it is to see thee; our idea is wrong, our whole thought has gone astray, we are fools before heaven. Thou art in us, thou art round about us, thou art in every flower that blooms, and in every star that burns, and in every wind that breathes over the earth. Why do we not see thee, and love thee? wait for thee, and never go out without thee? The heart of man is stubborn, his eyes are blind, and his will has strayed away in deserts and foreign lands. Oh that some mighty one might be sent to us to speak the right word in the right tone, to hurl upon us the great thunder, or speak to our aching hearts in the still small voice,—anyhow, that we may see and feel the living God. Thou art in our life, thou art giving it shape and tone and colour and meaning; thou art raising up men, and putting down men, and altering the face of the earth; and behold we wonder, but seldom pray. This is the Lord's doing, all this shaping and directing and toning life, and it is marvellous in our eyes: but our hearts do not receive the revelation with openness and frankness and joy. We have heard of thee through Jesus Christ thy Son, who said if we saw him we saw thyself. This was wondrous, we did not know its meaning; but we listened, and read and thought, and lo, a new day dawned upon our minds, and before we were fully aware the. whole heaven was alight with a new glory, and from that time we have spoken of the marvellous light; we have said, Jesus Christ brought life and immortality to light; he has made everything beautiful with light; God is light. May we therefore continue to study the words of Jesus Christ thy Son, and may his Spirit be in us, and may we be led from the doctrine to the sacrifice, from the infinite gospel to the infinite atonement, which is its very centre and glory; may we be led to the cross of Christ, symbol of misery and weakness and yet made into the symbol of immortal victory and eternal rest. Lead us day by day; lead us into all truth; sanctify us by thy word: thy word is truth; may it dwell in us, rule in us, be a light in our understanding, and a fountain of consolation in our hearts, and may our whole life be shaped and directed by the Spirit of the living word. Help us to bear life's burdens, sometimes so heavy, sometimes too heavy; help us in the restless night to meditate lovingly upon God; help us in the long uphill work to put our confidence in the Almighty. Dry our tears when they blind us to any beauty, but multiply them like a river when they help us to see thee better. Amen.