Tragedy of Asa

King Asa of Judah made a strong start, purging the land of idols, altars, and images, and winning a war against the ginormous Cushite army led by Zerach. It all unraveled in his final years. From his thirty-fifth year to the forty-first year, when his reign came to an end,  Asa was plagued by war and eventually suffering from a disease.

Things start to go badly with another war. When Zerah attacked with his overwhelming force, Asa prayed, presumably toward the temple, and Yahweh heard (2 Chronicles 14:11-12). When Baasha of Israel fortifies Ramah, near the border of Israel and Judah, Asa’s response is very different.

The war with Baasha has a back story. In the previous generation, Asa’s father Abijah fought with Jeroboam. Jeroboam won the war, and in the process captured cities from the north – Bethel, where the golden calf was, Jeshanah, and Ephron, along with the daughter villages associated with each city (2 Chronicles 13:19). Now, in the time of Asa, Baasha, who overthrew the dynasty of Jeroboam, tries to recover that lost territory, and making Ramah his base of operation.

Asa doesn’t pray. He doesn’t seek the Lord. He does go to the temple but not to worship or sing. He goes to the temple in order to strip the storages rooms of silver and gold, so that, along with treasure from his own house, he can offer a bribe to the Arameans.

The Arameans have been allied with Baasha, but Asa hopes that his treasure will entice the king of Aram to break that covenant (16:3). It works. Ben-hadad of Aram breaks his treaty with Baasha and enters into a military alliance with Asa. Ben-hadad attacks Baasha from the north, in the territory of Ijon, Dan, Abel-maim, and other cities of Naphtali. To defend his northern territories, Baasha has to abandon his fortifications and Ramah, and Asa and Judah move in to seize the materials to put to work in their own building projects.

It’s a clever move, and a successful one. It’s the kind of political manipulation by which the world runs. It’s also one of the stupidest things that a king of Judah ever does. How is it stupid? Let me count the ways.

For starters, Asa uses the treasures of the temple to buy off Ben-hadad. These are the same treasures he has just devoted to Yahweh as part of the covenant-renewal between Judah and Yahweh (2 Chronicles 15:18). Even if Asa didn’t believe that Yahweh was real, it would be dumb for him to devote treasure to the temple only to remove it. But Asa is a Yahweh-worshiper, and taking Yahweh’s stuff is really stupid. Asa consecrates silver and gold to Yahweh, making it holy, Yahweh’s possession. Then he takes the silver and gold away from Yahweh. The treasure isn’t his to use. He steals from God, commits sacrilege in order to secure a victory. He commits the sin of ma’al, trespass, a sin that always leads kings into disaster.

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