of Jeroboam's death to Elijah's appearance before Ahab the people of
Israel suffered a steady spiritual decline. Ruled by men who did not fear
Jehovah and who encouraged strange forms of worship, the larger number of
the people rapidly lost sight of their duty to serve the living God and
adopted many of the practices of idolatry.
son of Jeroboam, occupied the throne of Israel for only a few months. His
career of evil was suddenly stopped by a conspiracy headed by Baasha, one
of his generals, to gain control of the government. Nadab was slain, with
all his kindred in the line of succession, "according unto the saying
of the Lord, which He spake by His servant Ahijah the Shilonite: because
of the sins of Jeroboam which he sinned, and which he made Israel
sin." 1 Kings 15:29, 30.
the house of Jeroboam. The idolatrous worship introduced by him had
brought upon the guilty offenders the retributive judgments of Heaven; and
followed--Baasha, Elah, Zimri, and Omri--during a period of nearly forty
years, continued in the same fatal course of evil-doing.
greater part of this time of apostasy in Israel, Asa was ruling in the
kingdom of Judah. For many years "Asa did that which was good and
right in the eyes of the Lord his God: for he took away the altars of the
strange gods, and the high places, and brake down the images, and cut down
the groves: and commanded Judah to seek the Lord God of their fathers, and
to do the law and the commandment. Also he took away out of all the cities
of Judah the high places and the sun [margin] images: and the kingdom was
quiet before him." 2 Chronicles 14:2-5.
The faith of
Asa was put to a severe test when "Zerah the Ethiopian with an host
of a thousand thousand, and three hundred chariots," invaded his
kingdom. Verse 9. In this crisis Asa did not put his trust in the
"fenced cities in Judah" that he had built, with "walls,
and towers, gates, and bars," nor in the "mighty men of
valor" in his carefully trained army. Verses 6-8. The king's trust
was in Jehovah of hosts, in whose name marvelous deliverances had been
wrought in behalf of Israel of old. Setting his forces in battle array, he
sought the help of God.
armies now stood face to face. It was a time of test and trial to those
who served the Lord. Had every sin been confessed? Had the men of Judah
full confidence in God's power to deliver? Such thoughts as these were in
the minds of the leaders. From every human viewpoint the vast host from
Egypt would sweep everything before it. But in time of peace Asa had not
been giving himself
amusement and pleasure; he had been preparing for any emergency. He had an
army trained for conflict; he had endeavored to lead his people to make
their peace with God. And now, although his forces were fewer in number
than the enemy, his faith in the One whom he had made his trust did not
the Lord in the days of prosperity, the king could now rely upon Him in
the day of adversity. His petitions showed that he was not a stranger to
God's wonderful power. "It is nothing with Thee to help," he
pleaded, "whether with many, or with them that have no power: help
us, O Lord our God; for we rest on Thee, and in Thy name we go against
this multitude. O Lord, Thou art our God; let not man prevail against
Thee." Verse 11.
The prayer of
Asa is one that every Christian believer may fittingly offer. We fight in
a warfare, not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and
powers, and against spiritual wickedness in high places. See Ephesians
6:12. In life's conflict we must meet evil agencies that have arrayed
themselves against the right. Our hope is not in man, but in the living
God. With full assurance of faith we may expect that He will unite His
omnipotence with the efforts of human instrumentalities, for the glory of
His name. Clad with the armor of His righteousness, we may gain the
victory over every foe.
faith was signally rewarded. "The Lord smote the Ethiopians before
Asa, and before Judah; and the Ethiopians fled. And Asa and the people
that were with him pursued them unto Gerar: and the Ethiopians were
overthrown, that they could not recover themselves;
for they were
destroyed before the Lord, and before His host." 2 Chronicles 14:12,
victorious armies of Judah and Benjamin were returning to Jerusalem,
"the Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded: and he went out
to meet Asa, and said unto him, Hear ye me, Asa, and all Judah and
Benjamin; The Lord is with you, while ye be with Him; and if ye seek Him,
He will be found of you; but if ye forsake Him, He will forsake you."
"Be ye strong therefore, and let not your hands be weak: for your
work shall be rewarded." 2 Chronicles 15:1, 2, 7.
encouraged by these words, Asa soon led out in a second reformation in
Judah. He "put away the abominable idols out of all the land of Judah
and Benjamin, and out of the cities which he had taken from Mount Ephraim,
and renewed the altar of the Lord, that was before the porch of the Lord.
gathered all Judah and Benjamin, and the strangers with them out of
Ephraim and Manasseh, and out of Simeon: for they fell to him out of
Israel in abundance, when they saw that the Lord his God was with him. So
they gathered themselves together at Jerusalem in the third month, in the
fifteenth year of the reign of Asa. And they offered unto the Lord the
same time, of the spoil which they had brought, seven hundred oxen and
seven thousand sheep. And they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord
God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul."
"And He was found of them: and the Lord gave them rest round
about." Verses 8-12, 15.
record of faithful service was marred by some mistakes, made at times when
he failed to put his trust fully in God. When, on one occasion, the king
of Israel entered the kingdom of Judah and seized Ramah, a fortified city
only five miles from Jerusalem, Asa sought deliverance by forming an
alliance with Benhadad, king of Syria. This failure to trust God alone in
time of need was sternly rebuked by Hanani the prophet, who appeared
before Asa with the message:
thou hast relied on the king of Syria, and not relied on the Lord thy God,
therefore is the host of the king of Syria escaped out of thine hand. Were
not the Ethiopians and the Lubims a huge host, with very many chariots and
horsemen? yet, because thou didst rely on the Lord, He delivered them into
thine hand. For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole
earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect
toward Him. Herein thou hast done foolishly: therefore from henceforth
thou shalt have wars." 2 Chronicles 16:7-9.
humbling himself before God because of his mistake, "Asa was wroth
with the seer, and put him in a prison house; for he was in a rage with
him because of this thing. And Asa oppressed some of the people the same
time." Verse 10.
thirty and ninth year of his reign," Asa was "diseased in his
feet, until his disease was exceeding great: yet in his disease he sought
not to the Lord, but to the physicians." Verse 12. The king died in
the forty-first year of his reign and was succeeded by Jehoshaphat, his
before the death of Asa, Ahab began to rule in the kingdom of Israel. From
the beginning his reign was marked by a strange and terrible apostasy. His
father, Omri, the founder of Samaria, had "wrought evil in the eyes
of the Lord, and did worse than all that were before him" (1 Kings
16:25); but the sins of Ahab were even greater. He "did more to
provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that
were before him," acting "as if it had been a light thing for
him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat." Verses 33, 31.
Not content with encouraging the forms of religious service followed at
Bethel and Dan, he boldly led the people into the grossest heathenism, by
setting aside the worship of Jehovah for Baal worship.
wife Jezebel, "the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians"
and high priest of Baal, Ahab "served Baal, and worshiped him. And he
reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in
Samaria." Verses 31, 32.
Not only did
Ahab introduce Baal worship at the capital city, but under the leadership
of Jezebel he erected heathen altars in many "high places,"
where in the shelter of surrounding groves the priests and others
connected with this seductive form of idolatry exerted their baleful
influence, until well-nigh all Israel were following after Baal.
"There was none like unto Ahab," who "did sell himself to
work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred
up. And he did very abominably in following idols, according to all things
as did the Amorites, whom the Lord
before the children of Israel." 1 Kings 21:25, 26.
Ahab was weak
in moral power. His union by marriage with an idolatrous woman of decided
character and positive temperament resulted disastrously both to himself
and to the nation. Unprincipled, and with no high standard of rightdoing,
his character was easily molded by the determined spirit of Jezebel. His
selfish nature was incapable of appreciating the mercies of God to Israel
and his own obligations as the guardian and leader of the chosen people.
blighting influence of Ahab's rule, Israel wandered far from the living
God and corrupted their ways before Him. For many years they had been
losing their sense of reverence and godly fear; and now it seemed as if
there were none who dared expose their lives by openly standing forth in
opposition to the prevailing blasphemy. The dark shadow of apostasy
covered the whole land. Images of Baalim and Ashtoreth were everywhere to
be seen. Idolatrous temples and consecrated groves, wherein were worshiped
the works of men's hands, were multiplied. The air was polluted with the
smoke of the sacrifices offered to false gods. Hill and vale resounded
with the drunken cries of a heathen priesthood who sacrificed to the sun,
moon, and stars.
influence of Jezebel and her impious priests, the people were taught that
the idol gods that had been set up were deities, ruling by their mystic
power the elements of earth, fire, and water. All the bounties of
heaven--the running brooks, the streams of living water, the gentle dew,
the showers of rain which refreshed the earth and caused
the fields to
bring forth abundantly--were ascribed to the favor of Baal and Ashtoreth,
instead of to the Giver of every good and perfect gift. The people forgot
that the hills and valleys, the streams and fountains, were in the hand of
the living God, that He controlled the sun, the clouds of heaven, and all
the powers of nature.
faithful messengers the Lord sent repeated warnings to the apostate king
and the people, but in vain were these words of reproof. In vain did the
inspired messengers assert Jehovah's right to be the only God in Israel;
in vain did they exalt the laws that He had entrusted to them. Captivated
by the gorgeous display and the fascinating rites of idol worship, the
people followed the example of the king and his court, and gave themselves
up to the intoxicating, degrading pleasures of a sensual worship. In their
blind folly they chose to reject God and His worship. The light so
graciously given them had become darkness. The fine gold had become dim.
Alas, how had
the glory of Israel departed! Never before had the chosen people of God
fallen so low in apostasy. Of "the prophets of Baal" there were
"four hundred and fifty," besides four hundred "prophets of
the groves." 1 Kings 18:19. Nothing short of the miracle-working
power of God could preserve the nation from utter destruction. Israel had
voluntarily separated herself from Jehovah, yet the Lord in compassion
still yearned after those who had been led into sin, and He was about to
send to them one of the mightiest of His prophets, through whom many were
to be led back to allegiance to the God of their fathers.