2 Chronicles 16 – Asa’s Disappointing End
A. A treaty with Syria.
1. (1-3) Asa makes a treaty with Syria to strengthen himself against Israel.
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. 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.”
a. 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: This continues the struggle for dominance between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Baasha gained the upper hand in the days of Asa because he effectively blocked a major route into Judah at the city of Ramah. He hoped this military and economic pressure on Judah would force Asa into significant concessions.
i. “Baasha’s aim in fortifying Ramah was probably to prevent access to Jerusalem for religious or trade reasons. Ramah is usually identified with er-Ram, on the main road just five miles north of Jerusalem.” (Selman)
b. 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: Asa used this treasure to buy the favor of Ben-Hadad of Syria so that he would withdraw support from Israel. Apparently, Baasha of Israel could not stand against Judah by himself and he needed the support of Syria.
i. “I will say nothing about what belonged to his own house. He might do as he liked with that so long as he did not spend it upon sin, but he took of the treasure that belonged to the house of the Lord, and gave it to Benhadad to bribe him to break his league with Baasha, and be in league with himself. Thus God was robbed that the unbelieving king might find help in an arm of flesh.” (Spurgeon)
c. Let there be a treaty between you and me, as there was between my father and your father: Asa was trying to keep the way open for pilgrims from the northern kingdom to come to Jerusalem, and this was a noble goal. His method was completely wrong. He gave treasure from the house of the LORD to a pagan king, and he made a treaty with that king.
i. Asa seems to have forgotten that his covenant was with God, not with a pagan king. Under the covenant they made with God, the LORD was responsible to protect Judah. Now they invested their treasure and their trust in a pagan king.
ii. Asa would find that Ben-Hadad and Syria were worse enemies than Israel.
iii. “The power of Ethiopia was broken before him, and Judah’s armies returned laden with the spoil. You would not have thought that a man who could perform that grand action would become, a little after, full of unbelief; but the greatest faith of yesterday will not give us confidence for to-day, unless the fresh springs which are in God shall overflow again.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “But this was a smaller trouble altogether, and somehow, I fancy, it was because it was a smaller trouble Asa thought that he could manage it very well himself by the help of an arm of flesh. In the case of the invasion by countless hordes of Ethiopians, Asa must have felt that it was of no use calling in Ben-hadad, the king of Syria, or asking any of the nations to help him, for with all their help he would not have been equal to the tremendous struggle. Therefore he was driven to God. But this being a smaller trial, he does not seem to have been so thoroughly divorced from confidence in man.” (Spurgeon)
v. “Here good Asa began to decline; which was the worse in him, because in his old age, after so great a victory, and so strict a covenant to cleave close to the Lord.” (Trapp)
2. (4-6) The success of Asa’s plan.
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.
a. So Ben-Hadad heeded King Asa, and sent the captains of his armies against the cities of Israel: Ben-Hadad was a king and did have some power. Because of the treasure he received from Asa and under the treaty with Asa, he used that power on behalf of Judah.
i. “Store cities is ‘Kineroth’ in 1 Kings 15:20, which became Genneseret in the post-exilic period (Josephus, Jewish Wars, 2.573).” (Selman)
b. Now it happened, when Baasha heard it, that he stopped building Ramah and ceased his work: Because of the intervention of the king of Syria, Baasha king of Israel stopped his work of building the fortress city of Ramah to keep the faithful of Israel from visiting Jerusalem and Judah. We could say that Asa’s trust in a pagan king worked.
i. “Now, many people in the world judge actions by their immediate results. If a Christian does a wrong thing, and it prospers, then at once they conclude he was justified in doing it; but, ah! Brethren, this is a poor, blind way of judging the actions of men and the providence of God. Do you not know that there are devil’s providences as well as God’s providences?” (Spurgeon)
ii. “Things which appear successful may be in the life of faith most disastrous.” (Morgan)
B. God’s rebuke to King Asa and the king’s response.
1. (7-9) The word from Hanani the Seer.
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. 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.”
a. Hanani the seer: We don’t know much about this prophet, other than his bold word to King Asa here, and that his son was also a prophet who spoke to Baasha the king of Israel (1 Kings 16:1, 16:7) and to Jehoshaphat king of Judah (2 Chronicles 19:2).
b. 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: This was a complete surprise to Asa. He believed that the main enemy was Israel, because of King Baasha’s aggressive building of the Ramah fortress. He succeeded in gaining Syria’s help against Baasha and Israel, but he failed to see what God saw: that the bigger enemy was Syria, and God wanted to give him victory over the greater enemy.
i. Compromise blinds us to who our true enemies are and it leads us into alliances with those whom God would rather give us victory over.
c. Because you relied on the LORD, He delivered them into your hand: God wanted Asa to remember the great victories of the past. Asa failed to remember that the same God who gave him victory over a greater enemy (the Ethiopians) was able to also give him victory over the lesser enemy, Syria.
d. 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: The prophet Hanani’s message was clear. God looks for ways to defend and show His strength on behalf of those who are committed to Him. Asa’s fear that God could not be trusted with the defense of Judah was foolish and wrong; God wanted to show His strength on behalf of His trusting people.
i. “The Hebrew word for ‘run to and fro’ signifieth, not to take a light view, but to search narrowly into the nature and the course of things.” (Trapp)
ii. “What an exquisite thought is suggested by the allusion to the eyes of the Lord running to and fro throughout the whole earth! At a glance He takes in our position; not a sorrow, trial, or temptation visits us without exciting his notice and loving sympathy. In all the whole wide earth there is not one spot so lonely, one heart so darkened, as to escape those eyes.” (Meyer)
iii. The issue was not the strength of God or His willingness to use that strength on behalf of His people. The issue was the loyalty of the heart of Asa and the people of the kingdom of Judah.
e. Therefore from now on you shall have wars: Because of Asa’s foolish trust in a pagan king and his rejection of God as their defender, he would bring more wars upon himself and the kingdom of Judah.
i. “At one stroke Asa thereby sacrificed the results of his own piety (cf. on 2 Chronicles 15:18) and of God’s blessing (2 Chronicles 14:13-14); he induced a pagan ruler to an act of perfidy (2 Chronicles 16:3); precipitated a pattern of Syrian intervention into the affairs of Israel that would have disastrous results throughout the succeeding century (cf. 2 Kings 10:32-33; 12:17-18); and in the most serious deviation of all, he departed from the Lord by placing his primary trust in ‘the arm of flesh’ (Jeremiah 17:5).” (Payne)
2. (10) Asa rejects the message from Hanani.
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.
a. Then Asa was angry with the seer, and put him in prison: Instead of taking this word from God to heart and humbling himself, King Asa attacked the messenger. Instead of being humbled he was enraged.
i. Asa shows us the tragedy of a man who rules well and seeks the LORD for many years, yet fails in a significant challenge of his faith and then refuses to hear God’s correction.
ii. “The precise form of Hanani’s punishment is unknown, though he was probably detained in some kind of jail (lit., ‘house of stocks’; cf. NIV, prison; the word for ‘prison’ in 2 Chronicles 18:26 is different.” (Selman)
b. And Asa oppressed some of the people at that time: He struck out against not only Hanani but also against others who were committed to God and could see the error of the king’s ways. As a man in compromise and unbelief, the presence of those truly loyal to God was convicting and oppressive to Asa.
3. (11-14) The sad end of the otherwise promising reign of King Asa of Judah.
Note that the acts of Asa, first and last, are indeed written in the book of the kings of Judah and Israel. 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. So Asa rested with his fathers; he died in the forty-first year of his reign. 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.
a. Asa became diseased in his feet, and his malady was severe: This happened after he refused to hear God’s word of correction through Hanani the seer. Some think that Asa’s foot ailment was gout, “but gout was uncommon in Palestine and ancient Egypt and it is more likely, in view of Asa’s age, the severity of the disease and death within two years, to have been a peripheral obstructive vascular disease with ensuing gangrene.” (Wiseman)
i. “He had a strong and long fit of the gout; this is most likely.” (Clarke)
ii. “As he had laid the good prophet by the heels in his bed; to him therefore he should have sought for release; since natural means in this case could do him little good.” (Trapp)
b. Yet in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but the physicians: The closing chapters of the life of King Asa are discouraging. Here was a man involved in a notable period of trust in God, great victory, and the renewal of God’s covenant with His people. All in all, Asa was a good man who did not finish well. The last years of his life were marked by unbelief, hardness against God, oppression of his people, and disease. Age and time do not necessarily make us better; they only do if we continue to follow God in faith.
i. He refused to rely on God in the face of the threat against him from Israel and Syria; he refused to rely on God in His loving correction from Hanani the seer. It is no wonder that he also refused to rely on God regarding his diseased feet at the end of his life. This was a powerful warning to the first readers of the Chronicler, as it is also to us today.
ii. Overall, the Bible is positive about the role of physicians and medical care (Colossians 4:14, Acts 28:9, James 5:14-15, and 1 Timothy 5:23). However, it is never right to seek the physicians instead of the LORD. One may rather trust the LORD and when appropriate, see His hand move through a physician.
iii. “It is not wrong to send for physicians, it is quite right; but it is very wrong to send for physicians in place of crying to God, thus putting the human agency before the divine; besides, it is very probable that these physicians were only heathenish conjurors, necromancers, and pretenders to magical arts, and could not be consulted without implicating the patient in their evil practices.” (Spurgeon)
iv. Morgan on Asa: “It is the record of a faulty life, but one in which the deepest thing, that of desire, was right; and so it is the record of a life, the influence of which was a blessing rather than a curse. It is a revealing story.”
c. They made a very great burning for him: “Such fires were customary for royal funerals (cf. Jeremiah 34:5), and were not for cremating the body but as a sign of honour (cf. 2 Chronicles 21:19).” (Selman)
i. “He that could drive out that huge army of the Ethiopians, could not drive away death.” (Trapp)