They laid him on a bier covered with spices and various blended perfumes, and they made a huge fire in his honor. 2 Chronicles 16:14
|Dominic Alves (CC)|
I can smell the aromas, can't you?
The smoky bonfire infused with the scent of herbs, cinnamon, and aloe—a bittersweet blend for a bittersweet occasion.
But King Asa's burial was especially sobering given the last five years of his life. It was more than the celebration of a life, but also a cautionary tale against those too proud to accept criticism.
How the "Good" King Screwed Up
Sometimes I hate reading the latter half of the Old Testament because it is so depressing. I want to stop just before Israel demands a king and go straight to John the Baptist who announces the coming of the real King.
But those years after the judges and before the birth of Christ are important to study because they speak to every aspect of the human condition. Those years show us what happens when we are left to our own devices: brutality, famine, child sacrifice, prostitution, assassinations.
In the midst of all of this rubbish, King Asa was supposed to be one of the good ones. He was the golden child, the one who "did what was good and right" (2 Chron. 14:2).
But he screwed up.
Instead of relying on God to give him victory over Israel, he made a treaty with Aram. If you read the account in 1 Kings, it seems like it was a wise move because it worked. Asa leveraged a relationship David had with Ben-Hadad's family to sway Israel's ally to his side, thereby giving Judah the upper hand against Israel.
But this political move did not please God. So he sent the prophet Hanani to speak to Asa:
Were not the Cushites and Libyans a mighty army with great numbers of chariots and horsemen? Yet when you relied on the Lord, he delivered them into your hand. . . You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war. 2 Chronicles 14:8-9
Hanani is referring to a battle earlier in Asa's life in which he did rely on the Lord. Judah was overwhelmed and Asa sought God's help. Here's what he prayed then:
Help us, Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. 2 Chronicles 14:11bThe king apparently forgot this prayer when he sought the help of Ben-Hadad.
Whether he became prideful at his success, took peace for granted, or was just straight up fearful, I don't know. But it doesn't matter. The point isn't that he messed up. The point is how he responded to correction from God.
In his great grandfather's words: stupidly.
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid. Proverbs 12:1
Asa did not respond favorably to the message from God. Instead he threw Hanani in jail, and he began to "brutally" oppress some of the people (2 Chron. 16:10).
What We Can Learn From A Vile Man
Consider Ahab: a totally different kind of king.
He was a royal screw-up, a bad dude. He was an evil man who married that witch of a woman Jezebel for political purposes. The Bible says he "behaved in the vilest manner" (1 Kings 21:26a), and that he "did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him" (1 Kings 16:33).
He was filthy, he was brazen, he was prideful.
But Asa could have learned something from an evil dog like him.
Because of Ahab's behavior, God sent Elijah to preach his destruction; Ahab's whole lineage would be wiped out. Dogs would eat his wife.
If anyone was going to rage after a prophet, it would be Ahab right? Asa's response would appear mild compared to what Ahab had in him.
But it wasn't so.
When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. (1 Kings 21:27)
You know what happened? God said:
"Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son." (1 Kings 21:29b)
Four Words I Never Thought I'd Write
The contrast here is a good lesson for us all.
Asa's story is extra somber because when you read through Kings and Chronicles, there are so few "good" leaders. Asa was one of these good Kings, but he made a mistake. Then he compounded it with his reaction.
If only the author of Hebrews could have spoken to him.
When we receive correction, criticism, and discipline from God it doesn't feel good. But we should be thankful. It means that He loves us. Of course we never feel like saying "Thank you" when we get punished. But maybe we should:
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11
The LORD was trying to correct Asa because He loved him. Yet Asa let pride ruin his purpose and spent the last years of his life stubbornly refusing to consult God. Even in illness, "he did not seek the Lord, but sought help from physicians" (2 Chron. 16:12b).
I never thought I would write this, but—in this matter—do what Ahab did.
When disciplined by the LORD, humble yourself. I know it's hard, but I promise I will try to do it as well. Maybe together we can become who God wants us to be.
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