The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
In the six and thirtieth year of the reign of Asa Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah, and built Ramah, to the intent that he might let none go out or come in to Asa king of Judah.2 Chronicles 16
1. In the six and thirtieth year of the reign of Asa Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah, and built Ramah [or properly, "the Ramah"—("elevation"); it is mentioned in Joshua 18:25, as a city of Benjamin, situated about five miles north of Jerusalem], to the intent that he might let none go out or come in to Asa king of Judah.
2. Then Asa brought out silver and gold out of the treasures of the house of the Lord and of the king's house, and sent to Benhadad king of Syria, that dwelt at Damascus, saying,
3. There is a league [rather, Let there be a league] between me and thee, as there was between my father and thy father: behold, I have sent thee silver and gold; go, break thy league with Baasha king of Israel, that he may depart from me.
4. And Benhadad hearkened unto king Asa, and sent the captains of his armies against the cities of Israel; and they smote Ijon, and Dan, and Abel-maim, and all the store cities [see ante, chap. 2Chronicles 8:6, p. 222] of Naphtali.
5. And it came to pass, when Baasha heard it, that he left off building of Ramah, and let his work cease.
6. Then Asa the king took all Judah; and they carried away the stones of Ramah, and the timber thereof, wherewith Baasha was building; and he built therewith Geba and Mizpah.
7. ¶ And at that time Hanani the seer [the only mention of him, unless he was the father of Jehu the seer, who prophesied against Baasha (1Kings 16:1-4, 1Kings 16:7), and Jehoshaphat (2Chronicles 19:2)] came to Asa king of Judah, and said unto him, Because 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.
8. 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.
9. 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 [as peace had been the reward of Asa's earlier faith (chaps. 2Chronicles 14:5; 2Chronicles 15:5), so his want of faith was now to be punished by a period of war and disturbance].
10. Then Asa was wroth with the seer, and put him in a prison house [or, "in the stocks," literally, House of the stocks (Jeremiah 20:2; Jeremiah 29:26). Compare Ahab's treatment of Micaiah (1Kings 22:26-27)]; for he was in a rage with him because of this thing. And Asa oppressed [Job 20:19; comp. 1Samuel 12:3] some of the people the same time.
11. ¶ And, behold, the acts of Asa, first and last, lo, they are written in the book of the kings of Judah and Israel.
12. And Asa in the thirty and ninth year of his reign was diseased in his feet [Asa's malady began two years before his decease (see 2Chronicles 16:13). It is generally supposed to have been gout; but this is really uncertain], until his disease was exceeding great; yet in his disease he sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians [it is not the fact that he consulted physicians, but the manner in which he relied on physicians that is here condemned—undue reliance upon the aid obtainable from man].
13. ¶ And Asa slept with his fathers, and died in the one and fortieth year of his reign.
14. And they buried him in his own sepulchres, which he had made for himself in the city of David. [Asa had had his own private tomb excavated for himself (and his family) in the city of David, possibly because it was necessary to increase the number of the royal tombs], and laid him in the bed which was filled with sweet odours and divers kinds of spices prepared by the apothecaries' art: and they made a very great burning for him [(chap. 2Chronicles 21:19; Jeremiah 34:5). This was customary at the funerals of kings; the peculiarity in this case was the large quantity, and perhaps the rare quality of the spice burnt].
Asa Rebuked By Hanani
WE often say that circumstances develop men; probably the gold and the silver developed the disposition of Asa, for if he had not had these treasures he could not have sent such a message to Benhadad.* It never occurs to some minds that money has any relation to their purposes or their duties. In the days of Asa it was often thought sufficient to be able to buy oneself out of a difficulty. What is it that Asa sets in opposition the one to the other? Silver on the one hand, and a league on the other! Money,—and oath! A bribe,—and conscience! Gain,—and honour! These are the things which Asa opposed to one another without a blush and without a tremor, for in his message to the king of Syria there is no sign of reluctance or hesitation. Probably Asa would not have been indisposed to give Baasha himself money. Asa had a policy or a purpose which he wished to work out, and it was of no consequence to him what stood in his way; if any difficulty could be removed by fair means or foul, he was prepared to destroy that difficulty. Have we come to a better state of mind? Is ours a purer code of honour? Do we ever call upon money to help us out of difficulties created by leagues, covenants, and the obligations of conscience? The use of money is very subtle. It is not limited by the obvious acts of buying and selling, exchange or barter; it often operates at great distances, and in ways hardly to be described in terms: appetites are created, temptations are set to work, possibilities ply the wakeful imagination, and a diseased moral nature says that although the means be not good, yet the end will sanctify them. Here is at once a necessity and room for caution. Money can only touch the very lowest levels of life; it ought never to be allowed to touch the nobler considerations attached to human duty and service. "The love of money is the root of all evil," not the money itself, but the love of it, which excludes and modifies nobler affections; when money becomes the supreme consideration the whole range and quality of nature, intellectual and moral and spiritual, must go down into deep abasement.
"And Benhadad hearkened unto king Asa" (2Chronicles 16:4).
Did he hearken unto the king, or did he hearken unto the chink of the gold? Would he have been as obliging to Asa if the proposition had been unaccompanied by money? Did Benhadad blind himself to the real motive which ruled him? All these questions are necessary on account of the degeneracy of human nature, specially on account of that peculiar selfishness which so adapts itself to our constitution as almost to appear a generous impulse. Benhadad listened with the ears of covetous-ness. Benhadad inclined his ambition into a listening attitude. Probably Benhadad would have rebelled against Asa if Baasha could have offered a larger bribe. Is there a word here about honour, about obligation, about treaty duties? Not a syllable. Benhadad would seem to have been almost waiting for a message from Asa, so compliant is he, so ready to fall into the hands of the king, and to oblige a brother sovereign. How money blinds us to duty and to responsibility! How easily we follow the base lure, and wake to find that we have played the fool! On the other hand, we cannot conceal the difficulty of listening to the voice of duty, principle, religious obligation, and the purest personal and social honour: this indeed is the line of discipline, every point of which requires watching with jealous eagerness. So far as we are concerned, it is impossible to fulfil all the moral obligations of life, if we had nothing to draw upon but our own little strength. At this point we are enriched with the promises of Christ, that the Holy Spirit shall abide with us, and comfort us, strengthen and direct our whole life, and lead us as we are able to bear into all the fulness and glory of truth. If any man lack wisdom, lack firmness, lack sense of honour, lack the ready instinct which instantaneously tells him what to do, let him ask of God, and he shall have whatever he needs given to him liberally, without upbraiding or grudging. Thus we are called upon to connect our lives with the life eternal, and to bring to bear upon our judgment the wisdom of the Divine and Infinite. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he will direct thy paths; take no step in life, however short and simple, without consultation with the Father that is in heaven. Never get into the habit of thinking that any act is insignificant, any policy is superficial, any decision is of small consequence; attach large importance to every thought and breath of life, and thus keep within the sanctuary which chastens, enriches, and ennobles all moral manhood and spiritual activity. We must listen either to Asa the tempter, or to the Spirit that bids us be true, honest, and upright: the two appellants are continually addressing our attention; the one is plausible, apparently generous, both hands are filled with bribes; the other is stern, direct, royal: inspired by a spirit of discipline and continually insisting that the reward of virtue is in the doing of it: to one or other of these appellants we must return an affirmative reply. Blessed is the man who can resist the devil, and happy he ten thousand times who can accept the will of truth and honour and duty, and walk in its way, though it be steep and difficult.
"And at that time Hanani the seer came" (2Chronicles 16:7).
This is always the awkward element in life, this religious personage, this religious appeal, this personal chiding, this mighty assault upon the conscience. Could not the whole process have been accomplished without the intervention of Hanani? No. God will never allow his ministers to be dispensed with. Sometimes they come in personal form, sometimes they appear to us under the guise of events, difficulties, trials, appeals to our inmost nature; but in what form soever they come, we may rely upon meeting them sooner or later; they will chide us, interrogate us, submit us to piercing cross-examination, and will not be put aside by excuses, by selfish pleas, by inadequate reasoning: they will insist upon going into the vitality of every question, and drawing from us an answer not from our imagination or our conceit, our ambition or our selfishness, but directly from the conscience itself. In this way the Bible becomes a great minister of Providence. The bad man dare not open the Bible anywhere, for he finds it full of fire and brimstone, full of judgment and wrath, abounding in indignation, because of his wrong doing. Let him open the Bible even in the Psalms, and he will find the very songs of the Church turn into thunder and lightning: let him appeal to the prophets, and they will clothe themselves with the garment of judgment and vengeance; let him next make an attempt upon Jesus Christ and the apostles, and he will find that they will burn with fury against all wrong thinking and wrong doing. It should be so with the Christian pulpit. No bad man should be able to listen to a sermon without quailing, and without acknowledging that he is the man who is specifically addressed by the minister of God. Every society should be so constituted as to exercise a prophetic function, and so as to drive out of its midst the man who has evil policies, corrupt intentions, and selfish purposes to realise. No bad man should feel himself to be at rest in any household, any society, any Church, any commonwealth. The very stones of the field cry out against him, the flowers shrink away from his approach as from a blighting wind, the birds are silent in the hedges and the trees that he may pass by rebuked; in short the bad man should feel himself called upon by all nature and all society to consider his ways and renounce his evil thought and act
"Asa was wroth with the seer" (2Chronicles 16:10).
What folly was this! As if seers spoke out of their own imagination, or told something which they had seen in a dream of their own invention. The seers could only tell what they had seen, what they had heard, what they had received from heaven by way of message to kings and peoples. We see human nature develop in this action of Asa. We find fault with the preacher who tells us how far wrong we are, and how distant we are from the centre of light and truth; we find fault with the book that will not support our evil policies; we turn away from our children whose sweet look is a reproach. We think if we chastise the prophets we have destroyed the prophecy. That is the fatal error which all men commit. The minister may be put in prison, but the ministry advances in all its moral sternness, and all its spiritual dignity, as well as in all its tender benevolence. Though Hanani were killed, yet the word of the Lord would roll on steadily to its fullest realisation. Thus we must look upon the prophecies of Scripture, and thus we must look upon the denunciations pronounced upon evil by Jesus Christ and his apostles. The cross did not end the ministry of Christ; in a very noble sense it only began it, it made its largest possibilities draw near to fulfilment; it gave to its scope an enlargement possessed by no other religious thought: when we are persecuted for righteousness' sake, it is not righteousness that suffers, except in some temporary degree; the word of the Lord abideth for ever: no punishment inflicted upon its ministers, churches, or organisations can for one moment touch the truth itself,—on it goes like a swelling flood, or like a brightening day, or like a procession of warriors advancing, not only to battle but to victory. The littleness of the king was seen in this attempt to smite the prophet. When Asa approached Benhadad he went with money in his hand, but when he approached Hanani he went with a rod and with the key of a prison: in the one case he had to deal with a yielding nature, susceptible to the lowest temptations; in the other he knew that money was of no use, and that a bribe offered to Hanani would but call down upon his own head louder thunders. We see the difference between Benhadad and Hanani in this particular, namely, that Asa treated one of them in a manner that appeared to be handsome but was in reality base, and he treated the prophet in a manner that was really base, but that on its upper side, and in its most enduring aspects, involved a tribute and a compliment to the man's incorruptible honesty.
"He [Asa] sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians" (2Chronicles 16:12).
The Lord will not have such rivalry. If it is a question of not the Lord, but the physicians, the physicians shall forget their own names, and prescribe the wrong medicines, and conduct the patients down to death; if it is the physicians with the Lord, then they shall have skill in mineral and plant and singular compound, and in all their searching they shall have the learning which assists in the healing of mankind. Everything depends upon the arrangement of our blessing. We may so use even providential arrangements as to transform them into instruments of danger and punishment. There is not one word said against the physicians here; it is only because the king put the physician instead of the Lord that the Lord smote him so that recovery was impossible. We are not forbidden to make what we can of this world: it is when we set this world in a false relation, when we exaggerate or destroy its proportions, that we are made to suffer loss, and that we are brought to painful humiliation. We are not taught to despise the good things of this life, but if we say, They are enough, we need not go further, this should satisfy us to-day and tomorrow,—then they shall turn to gravel-stones in our mouth, then shall they become poison within us, and the things that might have been blessings and comforts will by an impious dissociation from fontal springs become to us bitterness intolerable, and disappointment sharp and deadly as an empoisoned sting. What use are we making of men, of things, of providential events, of the blessings of this life? Do we receive the things that are sent to us as symbols, or as sum-totals? Blessed is he who lives in the symbolic reception of all blessings; and blessed still more is he who reads everything symbolically: thus should we be delivered from finality, from narrowness, from bigotry; we shall see the tree in the root, and we shall see the full corn in the ear the moment the blade pierces the generous soil. So with our physicians, teachers, friends; if we make them the be-all and the end-all, we shall be disappointed; if we accept our ministers as our priests, and say, We will go no further, they know all that is necessary to be known, we will pin our faith to them, what they say we will repeat, it will be enough,—then shall God rend us, and destroy us in his hot anger: but if we say, Ministers are servants of Christ sent to help us in our need; they may be elder brethren, or in some respects stronger brethren, or by reason of their devotion of time to these matters they may know a little more than we know; we will accept them as God's servants;—then shall all intercourse with teaching life be a means of illumination and a means of grace; we shall have both Lord, and the physician; both Christ, and the minister, and shall look upon human instrumentality as but an under aspect of the divine government. Here physicians, teachers, leaders, have a lesson to learn; they should know themselves to be but men. If Asa was so foolish as to turn away from the Lord and to go to the physicians, the physicians ought to have known better than to have received him; and if ministers are approached as if they were popes and priests, and as if they carried the key of the kingdom of heaven, they should stand up, and in glowing resentment repel an idolatry that is at once irrational and blasphemous. A man of education, of large mind, of rich resources of memory, ought to be able to tell men when they are going too far in their human confidence. To sit and receive tribute that ought to be given to God has never been approved in any age of the development of the Judaic or Christian dispensation: on the contrary, it has been denounced, and the Herods who have sat and listened to fulsome tributes have been given over to, rottenness and pestilence and death.
Hanani: a prophet under the reign of Asa, king of Judah, by whom he was seized and imprisoned for announcing that he had lost, from want of due trust in God, an advantage which he might have gained over the king of Syria (2Chronicles 16:7). The precise occasion of this declaration is not known. This Hanani is supposed to be the same who was father of another prophet, named Jehu (1Kings 16:7); but circumstances of time and place seem adverse to this conclusion.
Baasha: the son of Ahijah, and third king of Israel. He instigated a conspiracy against Nadab, the son of Jeroboam, and having slain him, took possession of his throne. His reign was that of a restless, warlike, and ungodly prince. Constantly at war with the king of Judah, he at one time advanced almost to Jerusalem, and reduced its king to such extremities, that he had to call to his aid Benhadad, king of Syria, who, by attacking the territory of Baasha, compelled him to retire from Judah. The town of Ramah, which he had begun to build in order to blockade the king of Judah, was demolished by the latter after his retreat, and the materials used to build the towns of Mizpeh and Geba. He lived at Tirzah, where also he was buried (1Kings 15:16; 1Kings 16:6; 2Chronicles 16:1-6).
Benhadad: the king of Syria, who was subsidised by Asa, king of Judah, to invade Israel, and thereby compel Baasha (who had invaded Judah) to return to defend his own kingdom (1Kings 15:18). This Benhadad has, with some reason, been supposed to be Hadad the Edomite who rebelled against Solomon (1Kings 11:14, et seq.).
God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell upon the face of the whole earth. Thou art the maker of us all, thou mighty God. Behold, we are the workmanship of thy hand, we are the fashioned ones of thy skill and wisdom. Thou didst make man in thine own image and likeness, in the image and likeness of God didst thou make man; if we have not recognised that image it is because we have lost it ourselves: when thou, O Christ, Son of man, dost dwell in us, then we shall see in every other man a brother, a friend, and yearn over those that are far away with tender solicitude, akin to the pity of the cross. This is the miracle of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Son of man, Son of Mary, the Wonderful One, whose name cannot be sounded as to its wisdom. We bless thee if we know aught of true love of mankind; wherein our selfishness has been modified, wherein it has been almost destroyed, we see the supreme miracle of grace. Mighty One, continue the out-working of this wonder, until we shall recognise unity in diversity, until distance is morally destroyed, and until the nations fall into each other's embrace by the impulse and inspiration of brotherhood. Break down all middle walls of partition; take away everything that makes man hostile to man; bring in the sabbath of universal peace, and thus perform the crowning miracle of the cross. Amen.