The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Bitter or Better - 2 Chronicles 14-16

The national holiday of Thanksgiving is always met with mixed feelings. For some it is a welcomed time of thanksgiving to God and family gatherings, for others it is a tough pill to swallow. For instance, our nation just completed a national election that is unprecedented in its outcome as well as its effect. For some whose candidate won the election has led to elation. It is being called a second American Revolution. They see the outcome as a reprieve from the Lord. It is a stemming of the tide of evil. The Spirit of the Lord has raised up a standard or resistance against a flood of sin and evil. They are blessed. For them Thanksgiving is a welcome holiday this year.

For those whose candidate lost there is great depression. There is weeping and disappointment. They see the outcome as a step backward. Many are going to the streets in demonstration against the president elect and claiming he is not their president. They are shouting accusations of bigotry, discrimination, hatred, and unfairness. It’s going to be harder for these to be thankful this Thanksgiving.

It’s easier to be thankful when our candidate wins. It’s difficult to be thankful when our candidate loses. It’s easier to be thankful when things go our way. It’s harder to be thankful when things aren’t going our way. In such circumstances we have a choice; we can become bitter or we can become better in the Lord.
            Better Not Bitter

            If we are not thankful then we can become bitter.  If we are not thankful,
            then it becomes too easy to sit around and ponder the question: why me?

            Dr. Jim Moore, pastor of St. Luke’s UMC in Houston wrote a book entitled
            "You Can Grow Bitter or You Can Grow Better".  He writes that he got the
            idea for the title from a young woman who once came to him in a most tragic
            moment in her life.  She had tears in her eyes and her knuckles were white
            as she twisted a handkerchief.  She had just received word that her
            twenty-six year old husband had been killed in a farming accident, leaving
            her alone with three pre-school age children.  One moment he was alive and
            vibrant, the next moment gone.  "I don't know how I am going to be able to
            get along without him," she sobbed.  "But I do know one thing.  I can either
            get bitter or I can get better."


            One way that we can get better rather than bitter is to develop a thankful
            heart.  We must learn to be grateful to the Lord with whom we shall spend
            eternity.  Our morning prayer should always begin:  O Thou who has given me
            so much, I pray that you give me yet one more thing--a grateful heart.
[1]


In this study I want to talk to you about the life of a king of Judah named Asa. There is truth in the history of this king that can bring us all back together as a nation. There is truth in Asa’s story that can give us reason to be thankful in spite of life’s circumstances. The meaning of the name "Asa" itself is unclear but it is associated with the idea of healer and injurious. I pray his life story will bring healing and hopeful instructions to all of us for this Thanksgiving.

Asa, ruled 41 years. He was the grandson of Rehoboam, son of Abijah, and the father of Jehoshaphat. Unlike his father, he is said to have done what was pleasing in the eyes of the Lord. [2]But he is not one of whom it could be said "he finished well."

We can divide Asa's life into three telling parts:

I. The Blessed Truths learned by Asa - 2 Chronicles 14-15

II. The Bitter Root of Asa - 2 Chronicles 16:1-6

III. The Broken End of Asa - 2 Chronicles 16:7-14

 

and we will add in the end:

 

IV. The Better Way - Cure for Bitterness - 2 Chronicles 16:9; Exodus 15:22-27


I. The Blessed Truths Learned by Asa -
King Asa's good start


2 Chronicles 14–16 (NKJV)

14 So Abijah rested with his fathers, and they buried him in the City of David. Then Asa his son reigned in his place. In his days the land was quiet for ten years.

King Abijah of the Southern Kingdom of Judah was able to defeat King Jeroboam of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He was used by God to put a halt to apostate Jeroboam's advances against the Southern Kingdom. What Abijah started his son Asa would continue.

We should be thankful for good fathers who produce godly sons.  

Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God, for he removed the altars of the foreign gods and the high places, and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the wooden images.

Blessed Truth #1 -  Do what's good and right.

One commentary states:

      You can do that which is good, but it will not necessarily be right. You can pray, and        that’s   good, but if you’re like the Pharisees who prayed simply to be heard by men or to           fulfill some obligation, it’s not right if your motives are wrong. Giving is good, but if you         give like the Pharisees, simply to receive the applause and approval of men, you’re      missing the mark entirely. Witnessing is good, but if you’re witnessing simply to add        another notch to your Bible, that’s not right. Asa did that which was both good and right,         and the result was quietness in the land.[3]

 He commanded Judah to seek the Lord God of their fathers, and to observe the law and the commandment.

Blessed Truth #2 - Encourage others to seek the LORD and follow His word.

In encouraging others to seek the Lord and follow His Word Asa was creating and environment of revival and rest conducive to enjoying the blessings of the Lord.

 He also removed the high places and the incense altars from all the cities of Judah, and the kingdom was quiet under him.

Blessed Truth #3 - Clean out those things detrimental to following the LORD and enjoy God's peace.

Jesus spoke of heart soil in which weeds choked off the fruitfulness of the seed of His word (Matthew 13). It's always best to simplify life so that distractions and potential temptations are kept to a minimum.

And he built fortified cities in Judah, for the land had rest; he had no war in those years, because the Lord had given him rest. Therefore he said to Judah, “Let us build these cities and make walls around them, and towers, gates, and bars, while the land is yet before us, because we have sought the Lord our God; we have sought Him, and He has given us rest on every side.” So they built and prospered. And Asa had an army of three hundred thousand from Judah who carried shields and spears, and from Benjamin two hundred and eighty thousand men who carried shields and drew bows; all these were mighty men of valor.

Blessed Truth #4 - Use times of peace to prepare for future battles.

Asa didn't lounge around and do nothing when things were going well. He used his time of rest and peace to prepare for the future battles and challenges that he knew were a part of life and would inevitably come.

Even though King Asa started well and was doing the right thing to get the people back on track with God, it didn't mean he wouldn't face opposition or a trial. God allows trials and difficulties into our lives because trials are what test and build our faith (cf. James 1:2-5; 1 Peter 1:6-9).

Then Zerah the Ethiopian came out against them with an army of a million men and three hundred chariots, and he came to Mareshah. 10 So Asa went out against him, and they set the troops in battle array in the Valley of Zephathah at Mareshah. 11 And Asa cried out to the Lord his God, and said, “Lord, it is nothing for You to help, whether with many or with those who have no power; help us, O Lord our God, for we rest on You, and in Your name we go against this multitude. O Lord, You are our God; do not let man prevail against You!”

 

Blessed Truth #5 - Cry out to God in times of trial and understand that great obstacles are opportunities for our great God to work.

 

Asa passes this test with flying colors. When opposed by overwhelming enemy odds he cries out to the Lord. That's what we should do in every difficulty. Cry out to God for help and direction.

 

I like the note from Pastor Chuck Smith on verse 11 from the Word for Today Study Bible:

 

      "Asa cried, 'LORD, it is nothing for You to help.' Difficulty must always be measured by the capacity of the agent that is doing the work. If God helps us that's all we need.         Nothing is too hard for God.

 

That's encouraging!

 

12 So the Lord struck the Ethiopians before Asa and Judah, and the Ethiopians fled. 13 And Asa and the people who were with him pursued them to Gerar. So the Ethiopians were overthrown, and they could not recover, for they were broken before the Lord and His army. And they carried away very much spoil. 14 Then they defeated all the cities around Gerar, for the fear of the Lord came upon them; and they plundered all the cities, for there was exceedingly much spoil in them. 15 They also attacked the livestock enclosures, and carried off sheep and camels in abundance, and returned to Jerusalem.

 

Blessed Truth #6 - Understand that God is faithful and He will bless and wants to bless beyond our expectations.

 

God is faithful! Be thankful for God's faithfulness. In the New Testament Paul is inspired to record a prayer for the church in Ephesus and at the end of the prayer he burst forth with a blessed truth of God's ability and willingness to bless us:

 

·         Ephesians 3:20–21 (NKJV)  - 20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

God can and wants to do "exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think" in prayer. Our problem is that we often get in the way of that.

The Promise of God

15 Now the Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded. And he went out to meet Asa, and said to him: “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. For a long time Israel has been without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without law; but when in their trouble they turned to the Lord God of Israel, and sought Him, He was found by them. And in those times there was no peace to the one who went out, nor to the one who came in, but great turmoil was on all the inhabitants of the lands. So nation was destroyed by nation, and city by city, for God troubled them with every adversity. But you, be strong and do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded!”

Blessed Truth #7 - "If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you."

If you turn your back on God you are headed for turmoil. If you turn to the Lord, you may still experience trials, but God will strengthen us and bring us through.

And when Asa heard these words and the prophecy of Oded the prophet, he took courage, and removed the abominable idols from all the land of Judah and Benjamin and from the cities which he had taken in the mountains of Ephraim; and he restored the altar of the Lord that was before the vestibule of the Lord. Then he gathered all Judah and Benjamin, and those who dwelt with them from Ephraim, Manasseh, and Simeon, for they came over to him in great numbers from Israel when they saw that the Lord his God was with him.

10 So they gathered together at Jerusalem in the third month, in the fifteenth year of the reign of Asa. 11 And they offered to the Lord at that time seven hundred bulls and seven thousand sheep from the spoil they had brought. 12 Then they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul; 13 and whoever would not seek the Lord God of Israel was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman. 14 Then they took an oath before the Lord with a loud voice, with shouting and trumpets and rams’ horns. 15 And all Judah rejoiced at the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart and sought Him with all their soul; and He was found by them, and the Lord gave them rest all around.

 

16 Also he removed Maachah, the mother of Asa the king, from being queen mother, because she had made an obscene image of Asherah; and Asa cut down her obscene image, then crushed and burned it by the Brook Kidron.

 

So deep was Asa's commitment to the Lord that he did what was right in the sight of the Lord even when it meant going against his grandmother.

 

17 But the high places were not removed from Israel. Nevertheless the heart of Asa was loyal all his days.

 

Asa's heart was loyal to God but the people's heart was not completely loyal to God. A leader can walk a holy life, but there is a responsibility for the people to follow his lead.

 

And even though there was still work to be done, God spoke of Asa's heart as loyal.

 

18 He also brought into the house of God the things that his father had dedicated and that he himself had dedicated: silver and gold and utensils. 19 And there was no war until the thirty-fifth year of the reign of Asa.

 

Asa brought the Temple utensils out of storage and put them back where they belonged. He was getting the house of God in order. And God gave him rest "until the thirty-fifth year of the reign of Asa."

 

Blessed Truth #8 - Worship is the right environment to express the thanks God deserves and to enjoy the presence of the Lord together.

 

It's good to gather together to thank the Lord. It's good when a leader leads his people in restoration of a relationship with God. It's good to gather to worship the Lord and rejoice in His presence; to give thanks to the Lord. That's what Asa does here.  

 

II. The Bitter Root of  Asa - King Asa’s Problems begin with his Treaty with Syria

In the New Testament book of Hebrews it states:

·         Hebrews 12:14–15 (NKJV) - 14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;

King Asa was living a blessed life and walking strong with the Lord, until he took his eyes off the Lord. Then everything went downhill fast. We shouild take this as a word of warning.

16 In the thirty-sixth year of the reign of Asa, Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah and built Ramah, that he might let none go out or come in to Asa king of Judah.

Everything was going along smoothly until here carnal sister to the north, led by king Baasha, came against Judah. Baasha set u pa blockade against Judah. This blocked trade routes.

The armies of Israel led by king Baasha were a less formidable problem than the million man army of the Ethiopians. This led to the first part of Asa's problem:

ASA DIDN'T THINK THIS PROBLEM WAS BIG ENOUGH TO WARRANT GOD'S INVOLVEMENT. But that is a HUGE mistake.

No problem is too big AND NO PROBLEM IS TOO SMALL to seek God's direction and help with it. Any problem big or small, that we fail to seek God's direction and help with, inevitably becomes a BIG problem. 

What would king Asa do? Last time, when the Ethiopians came out against him and were a million strong, Asa cried out to the Lord. What did he do now?

Then Asa brought silver and gold from the treasuries of the house of the Lord and of the king’s house, and sent to Ben-Hadad king of Syria, who dwelt in Damascus, saying, Let there be a treaty between you and me, as there was between my father and your father. See, I have sent you silver and gold; come, break your treaty with Baasha king of Israel, so that he will withdraw from me.”

Asa had experienced a period of prosperity. He had some extra cash on hand. So what did he do in response to Baasha's blockade? He didn't seek the Lord, he paid his Syrian neighbor Ben-Hadad to go up against Baasha and do his dirty work for him. Asa acted lazily. He acted in his flesh. He took the easy way out. The second part of Asa's problem was:

ASA RELIED ON MONEY  AND A HUMAN RESOURCE INSTEAD OF FIRST SEEKING GOD FOR DIRECTION AND HELP.

It's not that human resources and money are necessarily bad, sinful or always the wrong instrument to deal with our problems. It's that ASA RELIED ON MONEY AND MEN INSTEAD OF FIRST SEEKING GOD AND HIS DIRECTION AND HELP.

So Ben-Hadad heeded King Asa, and sent the captains of his armies against the cities of Israel. They attacked Ijon, Dan, Abel Maim, and all the storage cities of Naphtali. Now it happened, when Baasha heard it, that he stopped building Ramah and ceased his work. Then King Asa took all Judah, and they carried away the stones and timber of Ramah, which Baasha had used for building; and with them he built Geba and Mizpah.

 

And guess what? IT WORKED!

 

And here is a great and important lesson to learn:

 

JUST BECAUSE SOMETHING WORKS DOESN'T NECESSARILY MEAN IT IS GOD'S WILL.

 

·         Just because you steal something and don't get caught doesn't mean it's God's will or that He approves.

·         Just because you have an affair and aren't getting caught doesn't mean it's God's will or that He approves.

·         Just because you indulge your flesh in some way and don't get caught doesn't mean it's God's will or that He approves.

 

Prayerless practices are powered by the flesh; no matter the outcome. And when we act prayerlessly or without seeking God, we always settle for less than God's best. 

III. The Bitter End of Asa - The loss of what might have been

And at that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah, and said to him: “Because you have relied on the king of Syria, and have not relied on the Lord your God, therefore the army of the king of Syria has escaped from your hand.

Here is another important lesson to learn:

WHEN WE ACT APART FROM GOD WE ALWAYS SETTLE FOR LESS THAN GOD'S BEST.

The Lord had intended to give Asa a mighty victory. Not only did God want to bless Asa with a victory against Baasha, but against Ben-Hadad too! Asa's Godless action led to half of what he might have experienced. Yes, he was successful to a degree by relying on his own carnal strategy. But he missed out on a windfall of God's blessing.

Were the Ethiopians and the Lubim not a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet, because you relied on the Lord, He delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. In this you have done foolishly; therefore from now on you shall have wars.”

And here is another important lesson to learn:

GOD IS LOOKING THROUGHOUT THE EARTH FOR THOSE WHOSE HEART IS LOYAL TO HIM SO THAT HE CAN SHOW HIMSELF STRONG ON THEIR BEHALF. GOD IS JUST WAITING FOR THAT STEP OF FAITH, THAT LOYAL HEARTED STEP TO SHOW HIMSELF STRONG ON OUR BEHALF.

What do you think about that? What did Asa think of that?

King Asa's self-centered bitterness cut off further blessing from God

 10 Then Asa was angry with the seer, and put him in prison, for he was enraged at him because of this. And Asa oppressed some of the people at that time.

11 Note that the acts of Asa, first and last, are indeed written in the book of the kings of Judah and Israel. 12 And in the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa became diseased in his feet, and his malady was severe; yet in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but the physicians.

13 So Asa rested with his fathers; he died in the forty-first year of his reign. 14 They buried him in his own tomb, which he had made for himself in the City of David; and they laid him in the bed which was filled with spices and various ingredients prepared in a mixture of ointments. They made a very great burning for him.

 

So what do we learn from this historic account? We might say this:

·         “Every test in our life makes us bitter or better. Every problem comes to break us or make us. The choice is ours whether we become victim or victor.” [Author unknown]

Asa spent his last days of life willfully aloof from God. And because of that his channel to Gods' blessing was broken. But it didn't have to end that way. There is a solution.

IV. The Better Way - Cure for Bitterness

 

What is the solution to turning bitter into sweet; for dealing with bitterness in life that robs us of blessing, joy and a thankful heart? It starts with understanding the issue is in the heart. The Lord told Asa through the prophet:

            2 Chronicles 16:9 (NKJV) - For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the             whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.   In this you have done foolishly; therefore from now on you shall have wars.”

The issue is - Is your heart more loyal to yourself or to God?; are you willing to let go of  your feelings of bitterness based on thinking you know better than God?; Will you trust God in your life? no matter what happens?

One last Old Testament passage holds the key:

            Exodus 15:22–27 (NKJV)

        22 So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea; then they went out into the Wilderness            of  Shur. And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 Now             when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were           bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah. 24 And the people complained against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25 So he cried out to the Lord, and          the Lord showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made     sweet.

      There He made a statute and an ordinance for them, and there He tested them,         26 and said, “If you diligently heed the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put         none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the     Lord who heals you.” 27 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve wells of     water and seventy palm trees; so they camped there by the waters.

 

The Bible is filled with what are called types or symbols of God's truth. In this record of Moses and the people of Israel they come upon the bitter waters of Marah. So bitter were the waters that they were undrinkable; the water was useless to quench thirst and refresh a soul. When Moses cried out to the LORD, "the LORD showed him a true. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet." That "tree" is a symbol of the cross of Christ (e.g. Galatians 3:10-13; 1 Peter 2:24). Bible Teacher Jon Courson comments:

            It is the Cross of Calvary which still transforms bitter experiences, bitter people, bitter             circumstances. How? By realizing that the wrongs done to us, the offenses against us, the             disappointments registered by us have all been paid for, dealt with, washed clean by the    blood of Calvary.[4]

We need to put the cross of Christ in our bitter waters. We need to nail our bitterness, resentments, unforgiveness, to the cross of Jesus. If we are going to be broken, let our pride and bitterness be broken at the cross. Only when we humble ourselves before God in brokenness will the channel to God's blessing be opened for us again. That there is such a solution should cause us to be very thankful.

We need to let the bitterness go. If we don't we will miss out on God's best like King Asa did. He found good but he missed God's best. He lost his joy. He lost his perspective on life and the Lord's workings. He stopped being thankful. Don't let that happen to you! Look to the cross and be thankful. Look to the cross and thank God that all your bitterness, regrets, indignation, resentments, negativity, pride, prejudice, and all the stuff swimming around in your bitter waters, put it on the cross and turn it over to Jesus and ask Him for a thankful heart. Tell Him you are through settling for less than His best and purpose by faith and in the power of the Spirit to walk from this point on in the shadow of the cross of Jesus. There is blessing and thanksgiving and bitterness that leads to brokenness. The choice is yours.




[1] Staff, www.eSermons.com, November 2001
[2] Complete Biblical Library Hebrew-English Dictionary - The Complete Biblical Library Hebrew-English Dictionary – Aleph-Beth.
[3] Courson, J. (2005). Jon Courson’s application commentary: Volume one: Genesis–Job (p. 1178). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
[4] Courson, J. (2005). Jon Courson’s application commentary: Volume one: Genesis–Job (p. 280). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

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