Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)
Hope in God and Rely on Him Alone
So God's purpose for giving us the Old Testament with all its stories and teachings is to help us hope in him. That's my purpose today in looking at the story of king Asa. The opposite of Asa's folly is hoping in God. So if we can see why it was so foolish for Asa to hope in man instead of hoping in God, then we will be strongly encouraged not to rely on ourselves or what man can do for us, but on God and what he can do for us. And not only can do for us but is eager to do for us.
Preparing This Message
For example, when I sat down to prepare this message, I had Asa's folly clearly in mind. So I stopped and bowed my head and said,
Lord, I have a text and I have an idea and a mind and hands and a computer and health and energy and a free day and safety from interruption. If I rely on these things—these good things that you yourself have given me—then what the people will get on Sunday morning will be what a man can produce. And, Lord, they don't need another man-made thing. They live with man-made things and ideas all week long. What your people need—what I need—is something beyond what man can make. Something supernatural from you.
So I now renounce reliance on these things. I know the text is good, the idea is good, my mind and fingers and computer and health and energy and freedom are good. But I renounce reliance on them and look to you, and ask that in and under and over and around and through all those good things you would work so deeply and so decisively and so graciously that what I say on Sunday would not be the work of a mere man, but the work and the word of God.
That is what Asa failed to do when Baasha came against him. But that is what God wants you to do in more and more areas of your life—to consciously rely on him and not on yourself and your human resources.
Riding a Bike
And I don't mean only in religious areas of your life. I used the sermon for an example because I am a preacher. But I did the very same thing as I began my bike ride Saturday morning. As I put my foot in the pedal strap I said,
Lord, I have my that legs can get me to Minnehaha Falls and back, I have eyes and arms and ears and a sturdy bike and a helmet and a pump and extra tube. I have done this many times now. I can do it. But Lord, I renounce reliance on my legs and my arms and my eyes and my bike, and look to you now to make this ride more than it ever could be if I only depended on me. Would you go with me and protect me and open my eyes to see your glory and teach me and strengthen me for my work and minister to me in ways that I don't even know I need this morning. Everything is from you now, Lord, I rely on you. Let's go.
So my aim in this message—and I believe God's aim in this story—is that you will do that—rely on God, hope in God—in more and more areas of your life with more and more peace and freedom and courage and power.
I want to look at the two reasons mentioned in this text why it was folly for Asa not to rely on God. But first let's make sure we have the situation clear.
From David to Asa
A thousand years before Jesus was born, David was the king of Israel, and the kingdom was united and prosperous. After him Solomon, his son, reigned over the united kingdom. But when Solomon died, there was conflict and division, and the southern kingdom, made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, separated from the northern kingdom made up of the other ten tribes. The southern kingdom is usually called Judah and the northern kingdom is usually called Israel. The first king of Judah was Rehoboam. When he died, his son Abijah ruled for only three years. And after Abijah, his son Asa became king in Judah.
Asa ruled for 41 years, and 35 years of that reign were almost totally peaceful. God was with him and blessed him and protected him and prospered him in wonderful ways. But something happened in Asa's life over those years, and when trouble came, he no longer trusted God.
Baasha's Siege and Asa's Recourse
Chapter 16 describes what happened in the 36th year of Asa's peaceful reign. Verse 1 says that Baasha the king of Israel (the northern kingdom) went up against Judah (i.e., against Asa). He built a fortified city named Ramah as a kind of siege and blockade against Judah, so that he could control access to Asa's land.
Now here is where Asa should have stopped and cried out to the Lord. But instead of turning to the Lord, he turned immediately to human resources. Verse 2 describes what he did: he "took silver and gold from the treasures of the house of the Lord and the king's house, and sent them to Benhadad king of Syria."
In other words Asa pays the king of Syria (with temple money!) to attack Israel from the north and get Baasha off his back. Benhadad does exactly that. Verse 4 describes Benhadad's campaign against the cities of Israel. And it works. Verse 5: "When Baasha heard of it, he stopped building Ramah [the blockade of Judah], and let his work cease." So Asa tears down Ramah, and all is well—or so it seems. Judah is secure. There is peace. Baasha is humiliated.
The Blessing Asa Missed and the Hardship He Brought
There is a great lesson here. So many times when we rely on ourselves and our own resources, things seem to go well for a season. But things are not well when we have stopped hoping in God and started hoping in what man can do. We miss tremendous blessings and we bring unnecessary hardship on ourselves. Look at the blessing Asa missed in verse 7b: "Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you." God would not only have protected Asa from Baasha and Israel, he would given the entire Syrian army into the hand of Asa. But Asa threw it away by trusting in money and intrigue instead of God.
And look at the hardship that will now come into his peaceful life. Verse 9b: "You have done foolishly in this; for from now on you will have wars." Now we know from other Scriptures (e.g., Romans 8:28) that if we repent after such unbelief, God will even take the chastisements of hardship and turn them for our good, and they will be fatherly discipline and not judicial condemnation. But it seems that Asa never did that. He carried his folly with him to the grave.
Asa Never Repents
Look at verse 12: "In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe; yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but sought help from physicians." Something tragic had happened in Asa's life. In the 35 years of God's blessing on his reign he had gradually (it seems) become a secular humanist 2,800 years before the term was invented.
When there is military threat, you don't think of God, you think of money in the treasury and political alliances and armed forces. When there is a threat to your health, you don't think of God, you think of doctors and medicine. No doubt Asa still had "In God We Trust" on his coins. And no doubt he still went to Sabbath services at the temple. But God was gone out of his life as a moment by moment loved and trusted Reality. Trusting God, relying on God, hoping in God were not part of his life any more.
Two Reasons Why This Is a Great Folly
I said there are two reasons mentioned in the text why this is a great folly.
1. What God Had Proved to Asa in the Past
The first reason is that God had proved to Asa in the past that when he trusted him, great things happened for his good. Verse 8: "Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with exceedingly many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the Lord, he gave them into your hand." God fought for Asa when Asa trusted him.
Let's look at this story in chapter 14. Verse 9 says that Zerah the Ethiopian came out against them [Asa] with an army of a million men and three hundred chariots. Verse 10 says Asa went out to meet him in battle. But in verse 11 there is the crucial difference:
And Asa cried to the Lord his God, "O Lord, there is none like thee to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on thee, and in thy name we have come against this multitude. O Lord, thou art our God; let not man prevail against thee."
Notice well: Asa had an army (just like I have a computer and a bike). But he was on his face before God saying that armies are not the decisive thing. You are, O Lord! We are not trusting in our army but in you. (If you go to a doctor, by the way, that is the spirit God approves. Doctors are not wrong. Armies are not necessarily wrong. But banking your hope on them, and not praying the way Asa prayed in 14:11 is folly.)
But he did pray. He humbled himself and hoped in God. And verse 12 describes what happened: "So the Lord defeated the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah." And in 15:1 God sends a prophet to Asa to tell him how to understand what just happened. Verse 1b: "Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The Lord is with you, while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you."
So the first reason Asa's trust in money and military might and political alliances and human physicians was folly is because God had made it so clear early in Asa's reign that he would do great things for him if he would simply trust him and not forsake him. Asa's failure to rely on God was folly because God had been so amazingly good to him and helped him in the past simply for crying out and trusting.
2. God's Eagerness to Help Those Who Trust Him
The second reason given in the text for why Asa's reliance on man was folly is that the very nature of God is that he is eager to show his power on behalf of people who trust him. He not only did it once in the past when Asa needed it with the Ethiopians, but it's the way he is. This is what it means to be an absolutely all-knowing, all-powerful, all-sufficient God who over-flows with might and glory. God—just because he is God—loves to show off his power on behalf of the weak who trust him.
I get this from verse 9. It's one of my favorite verses in all the Bible. I hope you will all learn it by heart. "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show his might in behalf of those whose heart is blameless [= whole, i.e., wholly relying on him, that's what the context requires] toward him."
God means for you to know something very profound about him from this verse this morning. And he means for it to change your life so you don't commit Asa's folly—so that you have more peace and freedom and courage and power for Jesus' sake.
Now what does God want you to see about himself? Consider this: if I say, "The eyes of the narcotic agents run to and fro throughout the city seeking to capture drug dealers and make the community drug free," what I mean is that this is their job and they are really out to do it. It belongs to the very nature of being a narcotic agent that you are out to get drug dealers.
Or if I say, "The eyes of the scouts of the Big Ten athletic departments run to and fro throughout the high schools of America seeking to find the best athletes," what I mean is that this is their job, and they are really out to do it. It's the very nature of a scout to seek and find good athletes and try to recruit them. That's the meaning of scout.
Well, that is the way we should read verse 9: "The eyes of the Lord [God, the Creator of the universe] run to and fro throughout the whole earth to show his might on behalf of those whose heart is wholly relying on him"—on people who trust him. When the prophet says that, what he means is that this is God's job, and he is really out to do it. It belongs to the very nature of God that he overflow with divine power in the lives of people who trust him. This is right at the heart of what it means to be God.
This is not something God does on the weekends. It is not something he does just in church or holy places. It's not his hobby or after-hours recreation. This is what God is doing all the time everywhere (cf. Zechariah 4:10). God's eyes are everywhere always, so that he never misses one single opportunity any time, anywhere to demonstrate his power on behalf of weak people who rely on him and not man. This is why Asa's unbelief was folly.
This is the God and father of our Lord Jesus who loved us and gave himself for us. This is the God who hears all your prayers. This is the God who created the universe and holds it all together. This is the God who stands in this room right now teaching through my teaching and calling you to trust him and call upon him for every need that you have.
©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For Internet posting, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org