Then they entered into a covenant to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul.
I. SERIOUS PREPARATIONS. (Vers, 8-11.)
1. The purgation of the land from idols. Encouraged by the words of the son of Oded - not Oded, as in the text - Asa, on reaching his capital, determined to convene a national assembly, and enter into a solemn league and covenant to carry out the work of reformation so auspiciously begun (2 Chronicles 14:2-5), and so manifestly owned of Jehovah in the splendid victory he had granted over the Cushite invader (2 Chronicles 14:12). As a preliminary, he "put away the abominations," i.e. the idols, "from the whole land of Judah and Benjamin, and out of the cities he had taken from the hill country of Ephraim." In the same spirit acted Jacob, before going up to meet with Jehovah at Bethel (Genesis 35:2); and Moses, before the interview of Israel with Jehovah at Sinai (Exodus 19:14); Hezekiah, before he celebrated the Passover (2 Chronicles 30:14); and Josiah, before he renewed the covenant (2 Chronicles 34:3-7). If such preparation on the part of Israel was needful to qualify her for an interview with Jehovah even in external celebrations (Amos 4:12), much more is a similar preparation of the heart indispensable on the part of souls who come before God in any act of spiritual worship (2 Chronicles 19:3; 2 Chronicles 20:33; 1 Samuel 7:3; Psalm 57:7; Luke 1:17). In particular, all known sin must be abandoned (Isaiah 1:16, 17).
2. The renewal of the altar of the Lord. The great brazen altar of Solomon (2 Chronicles 4:1) had probably been defiled by idol-rites during preceding reigns, and required reconsecration (Bertheau); while, after sixty years of service, it almost certainly stood in need of repairs (Keil). Most likely Asa's renovation of the altar was of both kinds - an external reparation and a religious consecration. It is commonly a sign that a Church or nation is in earnest in entering upon religious reformation when it attends to the externals as well as to the internals of religion - when it corrects abuses, repairs defects, and adds improvements in the outward means of grace, as well as endeavours to impart to these fresh attractiveness and zeal Individuals begin not well who neglect to engage all their powers of body, mind, and heart in the work, or to seek for these a new and gracious baptism from above (Romans 12:1).
3. The invitation of the people to a national assembly. Without the hearty consent and cooperation of the people, reforms of no kind can be effected - as little religious as political or social, and just as little these as those. Accordingly, all Judah and Benjamin, with such Israelites as sympathized with the new movement, were summoned to Jerusalem on a certain day to covenant to seek Jehovah. As early as the days of Rehoboam, strangers from the northern kingdom had found their way into the southern (2 Chronicles 11:16); Asa's victory over Zerah having been accepted as a proof that Jehovah was on the side of Judah's king, the number of these immigrants largely increased (ver. 9). What was wanted then in Judah and Israel to rally the pious is demanded still - a leader, who has God upon his side, because he is on the side of God.
4. The gathering of the pious in Jerusalem. It showed the spirit of the people that they responded at once to their monarch's call. Followers that will not follow are a hindrance to those who would lead in reformations in either Church or state, Union is strength, and generally victory; disunion weakness, and always defeat.
II. SOLEMN TRANSACTIONS. (Vers. 12-14.)
1. The presentation of the spoils. These, seven hundred oxen and seven thousand sheep, formed part of the plunder taken from Zerah's army (2 Chronicles 14:14, 15), and were now presented to Jehovah; as Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek on returning from the slaughter of the kings (Genesis 14:20); as the Israelites in the wilderness after the slaughter of the Midianites levied a tribute unto the Lord (Numbers 31:11-47); as Saul said he intended to sacrifice unto the Lord the sheep and oxen he had reserved from the spoil of the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:21); and as victorious generals among the Romans were accustomed to dedicate to Jupiter part of the spoils taken from the enemy (Adam's 'Roman Antiquities,' p. 327). As Asa's victory had been achieved solely through Divine help, this was becoming as well as right. Those whom God renders successful in their callings should honour him with the firstfruits of their increase (Proverbs 3:9). Every man as God hath prospered him, a rule of Christian giving (1 Corinthians 16:2).
2. The formation of a covenant.
(1) The object - twofold.
(a) "To seek the Lord God of their fathers," etc. (ver. 12) - a right thing for nations and individuals to do - yea, for all, whether they covenant with and swear to one another concerning it or not. To seek God, a nation's and individual's life (Isaiah 55:3, 6; Psalm 69:32; Amos 5:4), and the only source of true prosperity for either (Psalm 70:4; Psalm 119:2; Amos 8:14; Lamentations 3:25). That the god a nation or an individual seeks is the god of his or its fathers, is no proof that that god is the true God; but, being the true God, he possesses an additional claim on the worship and homage of both individual and nation, from the fact that he is and has been their fathers' God. If God is to be sought at all, it should be with the whole heart (Jeremiah 29:13). Nothing short of this is religion (Deuteronomy 11:13; Deuteronomy 13:3; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30, 33; Luke 10:27).
(b) To "put to death," etc. (ver. 13). Under the theocracy religious toleration was impossible, for the reason that idolatry was high treason. "A theocratic government is a government of constraint. Freedom of conscience would have been an unmeaning sound under the Jewish economy" (Pressense, 'Early Years of the Christian Church,' vol. 1. p. 36). Church and state in Judah were one. No such identification existed among heathen nations, though approximations towards it were often seen. Nor does such identification exist under the gospel. Hence neither Church nor state now has authority to put to death those who decline the religion prescribed by either. The reformed Churches of England and Scotland were slow in perceiving that the extermination of heretics by the sword of the civil magistrate, however legitimate under the Jewish theocracy, was not permissible in the Church of Jesus Christ. Under the gospel God alone is Lord of the conscience; and to each man pertains the right of choosing his own religion, his own creed, and his own worship, without dictation, not to say coercion, from either king or parliament - being answerable for the choice he makes in the first place to his own conscience, and in the last place to God, whose creature and subject he is. This is the doctrine of religious equality, which should be carefully distinguished from that of religious toleration, which proceeds upon the erroneous assumption that Church and state possess the right, but decline to exercise the power of coercion, and agree to allow, what they might justly put down, diversity of faith and practice in religion.
(2) The form - simple. "They sware unto the Lord;" i.e. bound themselves with an oath to carry out the twofold purpose above described. This they did with enthusiasm (ver. 14), which is always good in a good thing (Galatians 4:18), and especially good in religion (Luke 13:24; John 9:4; Ephesians 5:16; Hebrews 6:11).
(3) The scene - impressive. In more points than one this high transaction under Asa had a parallel in the National Covenant, which was formed by the Scottish people in Edinburgh on the last day of February, 1638, when in the churchyard of Greyfriars, in the grey dawn, a parchment was spread upon a gravestone, and one by one the nobility, gentry, burgesses, ministers of religion, and common people, with uplifted hand and solemn oath, affixed to it their names, engaging with one another to maintain the Presbyterian form of Church government, and, at the point of the sword, to exterminate the prelatical.
III. SIGNIFICANT RESULTS. (Vers. 15-19.)
1. The joy of the people. (Ver. 15.) This proved they had been in earnest. They exulted in the unanimity and heartiness with which the covenant had been made, and in the prospect thus opened up for the attainment of its objects.
2. The zeal of the king. (Vers. 16-18.)
(1) The deposition of the queen-mother, Maachah, the mother of Abijah and grandmother of Asa. High rank, venerable age, and near relationship to Asa had given her at court and in the land commanding influence, which she exercised in the interest of idolatry. Her removal by Asa showed him sincere in desiring to effect a reformation (Luke 14:26).
(2) The destruction of her abominable image. This, which was made of wood, and is supposed by some to have been an obscene figure, pudendum, representing the productive power of nature - which is doubtful (Bertheau and Keil) - was an object of horror and detestation to the Hebrews; its destruction was another indication of the spirit by which Asa was actuated. The only defect in his reformation activity, was that he did not at the same time abolish the high places connected with the worship of Jehovah.
(3) The introduction into the temple of the dedicated gifts of his father and of himself. The former, consisting of the spoils Abijah had taken in the war with Jeroboam (2 Chronicles 13:16) - silver, gold, and vessels - had been used by the conqueror either to adorn some heathen temple or to enrich the royal treasury, but were now surrendered by Asa to the house of the Lord. The latter, composed of similar materials plundered by himself in the Cushite war (2 Chronicles 14:14, 15), he also presented to their rightful Owner, Jehovah. To restore the former was as much a duty as to give up the latter. "Asa, like a good son, pays his father's debts and his own" (Bishop Hall).
3. The approbation of Jehovah. Intimated by the fact that for the next twenty years the land enjoyed rest (ver. 19). "When a man's ways please God, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him" (Proverbs 16:7). Were nations to please God by their ways, he would "make wars cease to the end of the earth" (Psalm 46:9). Learn:
1. The stimulus good men derive from God's Word, exemplified in the effect produced upon Asa by Oded's prophecy (ver. 8).
2. The purifying power of true religion on the soul - symbolized by Asa's purgation of the land (ver. 8).
3. The attractive influence upon others of those who have God with them - seen in the rallying of the pious round Asa (ver. 9).
4. The supreme duty of individuals and nations - to seek the Lord (ver. 12).
5. The lawfulness of men covenanting with each other for such a purpose, but not of compelling others (ver. 13).
6. The necessity in religion of proving the heart's sincerity by the hand's activity and liberality (vers. 11, 18).
7. The propriety of being thorough in all undertakings connected with religion - the want of this a defect in Asa (ver. 17). - W
I. We see here that the heart of a revival lies IN A RENEWAL OF THE COVENANT OF THE CHURCH WITH GOD. An awakened Church is the pioneer of an awakened world,
And they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers.
Monday Club Sermons."Entering into a covenant" is what we name "a revival"; they made it a national act, we separate it entirely from political affairs.
I. THE PREPARATIONS FOR REVIVAL.
1. The persons who led. A faithful prophet and an obedient king. Of Azariah we know nothing beyond the short record of this chapter. This suggests that a man is important to the world only for the work he does. The king was ready to learn from this obscure prophet and to lead the people to consecration. Happy the pastor who finds the wealth, authority, and zeal of his Church willing to receive the sacred message humbly from his lips and faithfully lead where he points the way.
2. The truths they used. The same that inspire every true revival (ver. 2). Divine faithfulness, human responsibility, mercy for the penitent, punishment for the hardened.
II. THE REVIVAL. In this blessed work there was —
2. Atonement (ver. 11).
III. THE JOY OF RECONCILIATION (ver. 15). Lessons:
1. The reformer must begin at his own house.
2. Service for God may cost pain.
3. The true leader is called of God.
4. Every true leader is a rallying-point for others (ver. 9).
(Monday Club Sermons.)
2. A second feature in this ancient revival of religion was A PUBLIC PROCLAMTION OF A REVIVED FAITH BEFORE THE WORLD. Religious men are too much in earnest to be still about it. They are moved by a great power. It will express itself as becomes a great power. It is the instinct of religious faith to bear its witness to the world.
III. The old Jewish revival was attended WITH A GREAT INFLUX OF CONVERTS FROM WITHOUT. So commonly works a pure revival upon the world. Very rare is the exception in which the heart of the world does not respond to the heart of the Church.
IV. A fourth feature of a true revival of religion is A THOROUGH REFORMATION OF PUBLIC AND PRIVATE MORALS. To put away idolatrous worship was what we should call a reformation in morals. Idolatry was immorality concentrated in its most hideous forms. No religious zeal could have been genuine in a monarch which did not sweep the land clean of them.
V. SUCH AWAKENINGS ARE OFTEN FOLLOWED BY PERIODS OF TEMPORAL PROSPERITY. "The Lord gave them rest round about." No other civilising power equals that of true religion. It never hurts a man for any of the right uses of this world to make a Christian of him.
I. THAT REVIVALS ARE BY NO MEANS NEW THINGS. Nor are they things of modern invention.
II. THAT THE PROGRESS OF RELIGION IS NOT IN A UNIFORM STEADY LINE.
III. THAT REVIVALS OF RELIGION ORDINARILY COMMENCE IN HUMBLE AND OBSCURE WAYS, AND ARE ORDINARILY HELPED ON BY THE HUMBLEST INSTRUMENTALITY.
IV. THAT THEY ARE ORDINARILY ACCOMPANIED BY A GREAT DEAL OF WHAT PEOPLE ARE PLEASED TO TERM EXCITEMENT.
V. THAT TRUE REVIVAL OF RELIGION ARE MARKED BY MARVELLOUS TRANSFORMATIONS OF CHARACTER AND REFORMATIONS IN THE LIFE.
(G. E. Reed.)
And all Judah rejoiced at the oathI. THE SOLEMN ENGAGEMENT INTO WHICH THEY ENTERED, AND THE TEMPER THEY MANIFESTED THEREIN.
1. They bound themselves to nothing new. It was to seek the Lord God of their fathers.
2. They swore to do this.
3. They entered into this engagement with great sincerity and with great cheerfulness.
II. THE HAPPY CONSEQUENCE OF JUDAH'S SOLEMN ENGAGEMENT. "The Lord was found of them."
I. THE SEEKING. The highest bliss is to find God, the next highest is to seek Him.
1. Our text lays emphasis on the whole-heartedness of the people's seeking after God. One reason why the great mass of professing Christians make so little of their religion is because they are only half-hearted in it. If you divide a river into two streams the force of each is less than half the power of the original current; and the chances are that you will make a stagnant marsh where there used to be a flowing stream. "All in all or not at all" is the rule for life in all departments.
2. "They sought; Him with all their heart." That does not mean that there are to be no other desires, for it is a great mistake to pit religion against other things which are meant to be its instruments and its helps.
3. The one token of seeking God is casting out idols. There must be detachment if there is to be attachment. If some climbing plant, for instance, has twisted itself round the unprofitable thorns in the hedge, the gardener, before he can get it to go up the support that it is meant to encircle, has carefully to detach it from the stays to which it has wantonly clung, taking care that in the process he does not break its tendrils and destroy its power of growth. The heart must be emptied of base liquors if the new wine of the kingdom is to be poured into it.
II. THE FINDING WHICH CROWNS SUCH SEEKING.
1. Anything is possible rather than that a whole-hearted search after God should be a vain search. For there are in that search two seekers — God is seeking for us more truly than we are seeking for Him.
2. This is the only direction for a man's desires and aims in which disappointment is an impossibility.
3. Our wisdom is to make this search. What would you think of a company of gold-seekers, hunting about in some exhausted claim for hypothetical grains — ragged, starving — and all the while in the next gully were lying lumps of gold for the picking up? And that figure fairly represents what people do and suffer who seek for good and do not seek after God.
II. THE REST WHICH ENSUES ON FINDING GOD. We have no immunity from toil and conflict, but disturbance around is a very small matter if there be a better thing — rest within. A vessel with an outer casing and a layer of air between may be kept at a temperature above that of the external atmosphere. So we may have conflict and strife, and yet a better rest than that of my text may be ours.
(A. Maclaren, D.D.)
I. JOY. "And all Judah rejoiced at the oath," etc. A wholeness of devotedness to God is consistent with every department of activity and every form of interest which is not in itself sinful. It is as a soul to the body of all secular occupation, however absorbing. The wide onward lift of the tidal wave in mid-ocean does not more interfere with the commerce of the countries, the heightening sun of the springtime does not more embarrass the progress of the land over which it smiles, than the full-hearted service of God breaks in upon the lawful interests of a man among the engagements of his every-day existence. This joy implies —
1. Enthusiasm. This may be reckoned the atmosphere which surrounds the joy of whole-heartedness for God.
2. Willingness. A wide compliance with a competent and kindly force that presses on us from without. Predominant willingness contributes largely to a Christian man's joy.
3. Rightness. The approval of conscience.
4. Undividedness of affection.
II. PROSPEROUSNESS. "And He was found of them: and Jehovah gave them rest round about." This signifies —
1. That we find what we seek. There are neighbourhoods where the mists lie so often and so long upon the grand outlines of the landscape, that a clear day is in some sense a day of discovery, of "finding," though nothing is there then which was not there always. There have been those who for years have looked through a filmy dimness of eyesight upon those they loved, whose movements were to them like the movements of featureless shades; when the films were one day purged from the eyes was it not almost more than a figure of speech they spoke when they said they had "found" those loved faces and forms again? So this energising of the heart for God restores vision, and vision restores reality. God in Christ becomes near.
2. That we miss much that we had hitherto found. Hostile movements from around are comparatively allayed, and the hush that has fallen upon these reflects itself upon the soul in restfulness.
(J. A. Kerr Bain, M.A.)
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