For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? That question is being answered over and over again through the lives of idolatrous Kings of Israel. Yet finally in I Kings 15-16 there is a king on the throne who decides to honor God. Asa's culture was just as godless and immoral as ours today, so we can learn a lot from his example.
“THE RIVER RUNS CROOKED”
(I Kings 15-16; 2 Chronicles 13-17)
In Max Lucado’s book, “The Applause of Heaven” he retells the story surrounding the burial of Charlemagne near the end of the first century. Charlemagne, if you remember your notes from European History class - was the emperor who ruled most of western and central Europe and is still considered by many historians to be the most influential King who reigned in Europe. When he as buried, he asked to be entombed sitting upright in his throne. He asked that his crown be placed on his head and his scepter in his hand. He requested that the royal cape be draped around his shoulders and an open Bible be placed in his lap. Supposedly it happened. 200 years later, the Emperor Othello was driven by curiosity and he determined to see if the burial request had indeed been carried out. He sent a team of men to open the tomb and then report back to him. They found the body just as Charlemagned had requested. Only now, nearly two centuries later, the throne was littered with crumbling piles of bones. The royal cape was moth eaten and the crown was covered with dust. But, still open, underneath the old fragments of clothing and the royal drape, was the open Bible. It was opened to Mathew 16 and the verse that was apparantly circled for attention was the 26th verse. That verse was the message Charlemagne wanted the world to remember when it thought of him, the great monarch of an ancient empire. “What shall will a man profit, it he gains the whole, yet loses his own soul!
If there is a message to be heard from our study this morning in Kings - it is that message.
For you see, the Spirit of God, inspiring the prophet Jeremiah wanted all of us to be able to read in I Kings something more than history. And so, as each king passes across the stage under the Divine spotlight, Jeremiah introduces them to us with the same cryptic formula:
Notice some examples:
- I Kings 15:1. Now in the 18th year of King Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, Abijam became king over Judah. He reigned three years in Jerusalem. sip to v. 3. And he walked in all the sins of his father which he had committed before him and his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God.
-15:25. Now Nadab the son of Jeroboam became king over Israel in the second year of Asa king of Judah, and he reigned over Israel two years. 26. And he did evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of the his father and in his sin which he made Israel sin.
-15:33. In the thrid year of Asa king of Judah, Baasha the son of Ahijah became king over all Israel at Tirzah, and reigned 24 years. 34. And he did evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of Jeroboam and in his sin whihc he made Israel sin.
The Lord here is making me painfully aware that I need repetition in order to learn. We’re all that way - well, whenever He repeats Himself in the Word, it isn’t because He’s lost His train of thought - it’s because He wants us to get the message.
He parades these Kings across the pages - some five dynasties alone in Israel during the reign of one King - Asa - in Judah (look on back of your notes).
Their biographical entries into the Books of the Kings are brief - but the main point is - in the sight of God, they were evil, or they were righteous.
Imagine your epitaph reading - “He walked in the sins of his forefathers and his heart was not wholly devoted to God.”
But Lord, what about their kingdoms - their reign - the pageantry, their military exploits, their expansion projects . . . when eternity writes their History, only one thing matters - and the same applies to you and me - “Did you walk with God.”
Now, frankly, reading through this text and studying for this sermon, it seemed that I was reading a novel, or watching some sick soap opera.
Imagine this occurring sometimes simultaneously in the northern and southern kingdoms - one king rules under the oppressive, domineering hand of his mother; another king is invited to his trusted friends house, where he drinks too much - then an assassin appears who slits his throat and assumes the throne. That empire's army which at the moment is out of the country hears the news and proclaims their general king instead. They march back to town, the assassin, would be king, knows it’s curtains for him and so he rushes to the palace and commits suicide by burning it down around him. Civil war erupts as the flames are finally extinguished.
Racy reading material, let me tell you!
These kings all reminded me of a river that runs crooked along it’s path - why? Because it is the path of least resistance - and water will always choose that path.
The current of popular belief was live life to the fullest with self on the throne - and these men had arrived - they were king!
And in the final analysis, God says, and God will always have the last word, He says, “What’s eternally significant is not what you became known for, but who you walked with.
Now, in the middle of all this mess - primarily occurring in the North - in the south, in the capital of Jerusalem, one King reigned for more than 40 years.
His biography, especially the early chapters, are a breath of clean air, after being surrounding by smog.
He arrives in Judah as a knight on shining armor!
Notice I Kings 15:11. These are words you really don’t expect to read - “And Asa did what was right in the sight of the Lord, like David his father (forefather).”
This is almost too good to be true! Asa’s surrounded by ungodliness - yet his reign signals a change - he goes down in Jeremiah’s account as somebody who acted a lot like David!
1) It’s possible to have godly character in an ungodly culture.
What’s wonderful about Asa is that his character was not formed by his culture, nor was his integrity re-written by his culture - once he reached the top of the heap.
A lot of nice people have been ruined by a promotion. You know what I mean?
It’s the age old story - small hometown boy or girl makes it big and then stiffs everybody from their past as insignificant.
The best test of character is not how you act when you’re a nobody, but how you act when you’re somebody.
Now Asa is somebody - will he follow the practice of kings before him? Proud, arrogant, unaccountable, immoral. . .NO!
The second principle lies underneath the layers of Asa’s upbringing.
2) It’s possible to have righteous standards in spite of unrighteous surroundings.
In case you missed it, look at verse 8. And Abijam slept with his fathers and they buried him in the city of Daivd, and Asa his son became king in his place.
What kind of King was Asa’s dad? What kind of example did Asa grow up under? What kind of heritage did Asa enjoy? Look at verse 3. And he (Asa’s Dad) walked in all the sins of his father, which he had committed before him; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God...”
As I’ll bring out in a moment, not only was Asa surrounded by the effects of his father’s ungodliness and immorality, but his grandmother, who played a significant role in the kingdom was an ungodly, sexually deviant idolater as well.
This was Asa’s home! And he grew up to follow the God of Israel!
Allow me to insert two thoughts here: One negative and the other positive:
First - Don’t excuse personal sin on your parents poor example.
No matter what you’re overcoming by virtue of your past, when it comes to sin - there is no excuse. Adam tried that one - “Lord, it’s that woman you’ve made me live with - it’s her fault.” No matter how ungodly - our parents, and we as parents are fallen human beings - and we all fall far short - that’s no excuse for any son or daughter here to embrace a lifestyle of secret or public sin.
2nd -Don’t forget that God’s blueprint for you is not erased by an undesirable heritage.
If you are struggling with the fact that your home life, growing up was not godly - you feel that your missing some ingredients that certainly God would require for you to be His special servant/child.
God is not handicapped by your parental heritage! Your parents were not a suprise to God! They did not overwrite His plans for you - God is more powerful than your past - He has for you a future.
In your Bibles, you might notice in in last part of verse one in chapter 15, Asa’s father’s name is written as Abijam. That literally translated means, “my father is Yam” - Yam was a Canaanite sea God. It’s interesting that in the Chroniclers account, his name is Abijah - “my father is Yahweh”. It’s possible that his given name was Abijah, but later, in his immoral shift into idolatry, he changed his name to Abijam in honor of one of his many false gods!
The German’s have a proverb that, translated, goes, “Whatever the old sing, the young chirp.”
Well, Asa reverses the proverb, and against all odds, begins some drastic action.
You’ll notice in the next few verses, beginning with verse 12
Asa accomplishes several key things that form the strength of his kingdom.
1) He demolishes the system of religous promiscuity.
12. “He also put away the male cult prostitutes from the land. . .”
The Hebrew word for male prostitutes is qedesim, which refers to both men and women who practiced sodomy and prostitution as a part of religious ceremony.
Can you imagine the broohaha - a leader assuming the throne in an era when homosexuality was politically correct and putting them away - that is, exiling them to another place outside his kingdom. He didn’t kill them, or abuse them; he didn’t explain them away as an alternative religious lifestyle; he didn’t command the military to include them - he simply told them - if you want to practice that - pick another country.
This is the first thing he does. . .he kills the cash cow within the pagan temples.
2) He destroys the legacy of idolatry.
12b. “...and he removed all the idols which his fathers had made.”
Now it’s getting personal - he’s getting rid of the family heirlooms - some of these idols were expensive, overlaid with gold - the finest craftsmanship - he chucked ‘em all.
Now, do you think Asa’s causing a ruckus in the kingdom - first he has all the religious leaders upset because he’s cut off their main supply of cold, hard cash; second, he’s offended all his relatives because he took all the family idols and threw them in the trash. . .NOW!!!!
3) This goldy young king deposes the Queen Mother from her role in the kingdom:
Notice verse 13. And he also removed Maacah his mother from being queen mother, because she had made a horrid image as an Asherah;
Now don’t be misled here - although it says she was his mother - you need to understand the Hebrew euphemism - in fact, you might notice up atverse 2 it says about Asa’s father, 2. He reigned three years in Jerusalem, and his mother’s name was Maacah, the daughter of Abishalom. (same words appear in verse 9 concerning Asa)
So who is she.
She was the daughter of Tamar who was the daughter of Absalom, the son of David, which made her the mother of Abijam and the grandmother of Asa. That might show up on the final exam. . .don’t forget it.
I know it can get confusing - but most of the men who sat on the throne were all interconnected in some way or another . . . it’s kind of like going to a small country church that’s having dinner on the grounds - most of the people at that picnic are related.
The important thing to remember, that the custom of this day was for the eldest matriarch to play a significant role in influencing court policy. She would often have a throne next to the King and she was often referred to as the Kings mother, or the Queen Mother. She weilded great authority be virtue of her maternal position and influence in the family.
Some have suggested that the sympathy of Ahaseurus or Artexerxes as the Septuagint calls him - the sympathy he had to the request of Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem, was sympathy promoted by the Queen Mother of his court - Queen Esther.
SO what does Asa do to the queen Mother? He fires her! Deposes her - puts her throne in the storage shed - can you imagine?!
Notice verse 13 middle part again 13b. “becuase she had made a horrid image as an Asherah.
The Queen Mother had an image made that was related to the fertility cult of Ashera. The Hebrew word “horrid” could be rendered “obscene”. The Hebrew verb is translated “shudder” . . . evidently this image was so graphically perverted that it as described as an evil obscene creation that caused people to shudder with shock.
Now notice. . .13c. and Asa cut down her horrid image and burned it at the brook Kidron.
Now there were probably a lot of people crying censorship, what about artistic license - the National Endowment for Hebrew Arts was very upset; the Jewish Civil Liberties Union probably filed suit.
But Asa did to that image what he should have done. . .he cut it down.
This was a public act - with crowds of spectators around him, he burned image - it was an act of righteous judgment - he was acting Mosaic - for Moses had taken the golden calves and he had burned them and cast the ashes into the water.
As the smoke from Asa’s fire rose into the air, it was clear he was burning more than an idol - make no mistake, he was burning his ships behind him - he was making it clear to the nation that a new King was on the throne, and a new standard of righteousness was now, the politically correct language of the day.
For 36 years, the people flourished under Asa’s righteous hand - for righteousness exalteth a nation - I pray that for our nation as well.
It’s interesting that Jeremiah makes no mention of any major sin nor error in Asa’s life.
In the Book of 2 Chronicles, Ezra includes a wonderful story about Asa - turn over to 2 Chronicles
2 Chronicles 14:9. Now Zerah the Ethiopian came out against them with an army of a million men and 300 chariots, and he came to Mareshah. 10. So Asa went out to meet him, and they drew up in battle formation in the valley of Zephathah at Mareshah. (notice this great prayer of Asa’s - in fact, if your facing some insurmountable challenges these days, memorize his prayer!) 11. Then Asa called to the Lord his God, and said, “Lord, there is not one besides Thee to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength. (I love that - did you catch his words, “between the powerful - there’s no spiritual lingo here that softens the horrible reality of life; this crisis - they are powerful . . . and those who have(“some strength. . .a little strength”) . . . those who have NO strength. . . . so help us, Oh Lord our God, for we trust in Thee, and inThy name have come agaist this multitude, O Lord, Thou art our God, let not man prevail against Thee! Isn’t that a great prayer -
“Lord, if I have anything to do with what comes next - I’ll fall flat on my face. . .”
“Lord, I have absolutely no strength for the crisis of today - I’m totally weak - it’s me and my little army against a million . . . I just can’t do it . . . please Lord, help!”
Notice verse 12. So the Lord routed the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah, and the Ethiopians fled.
Quite a victory - quite a kingdom - quite a King.
On the heels of this victory, a prophet named Azariah appears on the scene and gives Asa good advise for his kingdom and his reign 15:2. And he went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Listen to me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin; the Lord is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you. 3. And for many days Israel was without the true God and without a teaching priest and without law.
In other words, Asa - you haven’t gone far enough in your reforms - it isn’t enough to get rid of wrong worship - you need to reinstate true worship - the people need to be taught the law - so the rest of the chapter shows us Asa repairing the great altar and bringing the people to sacrifice before the God of Israel.
Now if the biography of Asa ended here - the story would be entirely wonderful - while he does go down in history as being one of the few good kings; Ezra inserts two events that occured in Asa’s final years that have a lot to teach every New Testament Christian as well.
The first event we’ll simply refer to as 1) An unfortunant decision
2 Chron. 16:1 In the 36th year of Asa’s reign Baasha king of Israel came up
aginast Judah and fortified Ramah in order to preven anyone from going out or coming in to Asa king of Judah.
Get the picture - here’s the northern king of this divided kingdom marching 5 to Ramah, just five miles outside Jerusalem and making it his military headquarters - he not only stops the northern Jews from defecting so they can enjoy the revival that’s occurring in the South and a godly king - he also cuts off a major route for trade and commerce for Asa.
Now you would expect Asa to consult with God - for 30 some years Asa has walked with God - but notice what he does instead; 2. Then Asa brought out silver and gold from the treasuries of the house of the Lord and the king’s house, and sent them to Ben-hadadking of Aram, who lived in Damascus, saying; 3. “Let there be a treaty between you and me, as between my father and your father; Behold, I have sent you silver and gold; go, break your treathy with Baasha king of Israel so that he will withdraw from me.”
What’s happening is clear - Asa’s in a tight spot - he panics - he needs an immediate solution - and we all know waiting on the Lord can be rather time-consuming, right?
So Asa does the unthinkable - he raids the temple treasury - bribes a pagan enemy of God and the Jewish nation - and has him do the dirty work.
Does Asa’s compromise work? YES! It did! Asa, in everybody's judgment made a smart, shrewd political alliance and Baasha retreated to the North. There was peace again!
The greatest deception of compromise is - IT WORKS!
*Telling a lie might get that deal closed - it seems to work.
*Lowering your standards brings greater popularity among the student body...
*Adding that product in your store seems to bring greater sales
*Telling that joke does seem to give you comaraderie. . .it seems to work!
Ladies and Gentlemen - compromise works - that’s why it so popular.
In a time of military crisis - Asa compromised.
Notice the prophet who comes to rebuke Asa - 16:7. At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you have relied on the king of Aram and have not relied on the Lord your God, therefore the army of the King of Aram has escaped out of your hand.
Now stop a moment - I want you to realize what he’s saying. “Asa, if you had relied on God, not only would the Lord have taken care of Baasha, but that old King Ben-Hadad would have been conquered as well. . .instead of taking money out of the treasury, you could be putting a ton of plunder inside it right about now.” Ouch!
“Look what you forfeited Asa!”
It looks like your compromise worked - but don’t be deceived by immediate results! Compromise does work - but only temporarily!
Remember Moses?! He was told by God to speak to the rock - he hit it with his stick. Remember, water did flow - the thirsty people did drink - and they thought he was a hero - God thought differently - the long term result wasn’t so wonderful.
Erwin Lutzer put it this way, compromise wins games, but it loses tournaments!
One of the men in our church who used to pastor a church told me a few years ago an interesting story - some of the details might be turned around, but from what I remember, there was a younger man on his board who’s car gave up the ghost - he asked the board one night to pray about his situation - he really didn’t have the money for a purchase at the time - they agreed to pray with him over the next week - the next meeting the man announced that he had been able to arrange financing for a used car - they needn’t pray anymore. Another board member told my pastor friend afterward that he seemed somewhat surprised. He said, “You know, since my wife died, her cadillac has been sitting in the garage - it’s barely been broke in - I had decided to tell him tonight that he could just have it - but I guess now he doesn’t need it . . . that young board member never knew what he’d missed.
Now I’m not suggesting that God has Cadillac's for all the faithful - the faithful sometimes ride the bus - but I just can’t help wondering what we forfeit by arranging our own plans instead of seeking the Lord and waiting to see what He will do.
Ken Dodge, who pastors out west repeated a story one of his church members had shared . . .this man’s eight-year-old son, Franky had looked forward for weeks to this particular Saturday because his father had promised to take him fishing if the weather was suitable. There hadn't been any rain for weeks and as Saturday dawned, wouldn't you know it, it was raining heavily and it appeared that it would continue all day. Frank wandered around the house, peering out the windows and grumbling more than a little. "Seems like the Lord would know that it would have been better to have the rain yesterday than today," he complained to his father and mother, they tried to explain how badly the rain was needed. . .frank was still upset. "It just isn't right," he said over and over. Then, about three o'clock, the rain stopped. Still time for some fishing, and quickly the gear was loaded and they were off to the lake. Whether it was the rain or some other reason, the fish were biting hungrily and father and son returned with a full string of fine, big fish. At supper, when some of the fish were ready, Frank's mom asked him to say grace. Franky did -- and concluded his prayer by saying, "And, Lord, I know I as upset earlier tody . . . it was because I couldn't see far enough ahead.”
Asa’s story is almost over - just one more sentence that speaks a volume...
First, there was a military crisis - and an unfortunate decision.
Now, there is a personal, physical crisis - and an uncomfortable disease. Notice verse 12. And in the 39th 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.
Now the implication throughout scripture is not that it as wrong to seek Doctors - Paul’s reference to Luke as the beloved physician, validates the office.
And it isn’t always true that sickness is the result of sin and Doctor’s can’t fix it. . .sickness may be nothing more than the effects of time and age - I like the way one man wrote, nearly 200 years ago - “Sickness in old age, is a Divine trial, to wean men from the world and ripen them for eternity.”
While it isn’t wrong to seek physicians, it is wrong - when faced with a physical crisis of health to seek everyone but God. I Corinthians informs us that sickness may be a messenger to straying saints.
Asa was evading God! The truth was, he had imprisoned God’s prophet, in his last years he was doing harm to the nation . . .perhaps God allowed Asa’s feet to become diseased as a symbolic gesture that Asa was no longer walking with God.
By way of application, I want to say, basically the same thing, three different ways - you know - repetition. My wife has learned the art - she’ll say to me, “Honey, the trash is getting full” . . . “Sweetheart, tomorrow’s trash day”. “Stephen, Charity’s diaper pail is sending up distress flares; smoke signals”.
I usually get it the third time!
I want to repeat myself simply because the scriptures this morning have repeated themselves - in one brief biography after another, the same words are read - we aren’t told anything about the splendor of one man’s reign, his kingdom, his successes - his wealth - we’re just told in simple language what kind of character the man had - he either walked with God and did right or walked in the sins of his father and did evil.
Which leads me to say, first of all . . .
1) The most important decisions in life happen in private - not in public.
What marked these men, for all time was not their public reign but their private relationship with God.
2) The most important preparation for crisis in the public arena is intimacy with God in the private arena.
My father told my brothers and I as young men this same thing only in this way - “Boys, when you get out of bed in the morning, if you decide to follow the Lord, then you’ve made the only important decision you’ll need to make all day.”
The truth is, crisis is a fact of life - when it comes, your walk with God in private will help you reveal the grace and power of God in public.
Third, and I’ll repeat myself with slightly different words,
3) The most important activity in life is your personal, private walk with God.
-for some of you, you need this three-fold reminder, because lately, your walk has been crowded out by your work. Your public activity has taken precedence over private intimacy with God. Some of you are setting yourself up for failure on the home stretch.
-for others here, perhaps you’ve been feeling rather insignificant to the community at large or to the church. Cetainly, God can’t be too impressed with your accomplishments or achievements - what are they?!
Remember, no matter what your role - whether it’s participant or leader, when the dust of history settles, the question from Kings and Chronicles remains, “Did you walk with God?”
I want you to hear that question emanating from the dusty remains of Charlemagne, the great emperor of the early European world whose crown now lay on his tombs floor; his royal drape, once magnificent and envied, now moth eaten and drab - learn the lesson from him. It is better to walk with God than win the world.
Learn the lesson from a litany of kings good and bad who had the greatest role in the land - who had achieved the most impressive position in their world! They were the CEO’s in the land - they were the quoted, the wealthy, the adored, the obeyed. . .yet in the end, their brief biographies included God’s simple epitaph.
Learn the lesson well - “The epitaph God is writing is the only epitaph worth reading - and the only lifestyle worth living!”
That you, His child walked in his ways, with a heart (not perfect - but failing and confessing and failing and confessing again) but a heart devoted to Him. Period.
John Bacon, an 18th century English sculptor, ordered a marker for his grave with the following inscription: “What I was as an artist seemed to me of some importance while I lived; what I really was as a believer in Christ Jesus is the only thing of importance to me now.”
The truth is, if we will, by His grace understand that truth now, then no matter what crisis we encounter, no matter what the terrain is like over which the water of our life will flow, our hearts are devoted to Him. Then(!) and only then, will the river of your life and mine run straight.