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Sermon preached on 1 Kings 15:9-24 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/15/2019 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Kings 15:9-24
Silver and Gold
We’ve seen much decline and downward spiral in the nation of Judah since the latter days of King Solomon. They had fallen from such glory and splendor under Solomon when Solomon’s heart turned and was not fully devoted to the LORD but instead introduced the worship of other gods in the nation. That turning aside from the first commandment continued in one degree or another with his son King Rehoboam and then his son after him, King Abijam. Yes, last week we did talk that there were some positives going on in Rehoboam and Abijam’s reign. They did make at least some reforms and repairs to the kingdom’s glory. But in general, there were serious issues with their reign. Rehoboam had some positive moments of faithfulness and humility before the LORD, but also had bad moments, like when it said he at one point abandoned the law of the LORD (2 Chronicles 12:1). Likewise, Abijam had some positive moments like when he passionately issued a call to Israel to return to the right worship of God through the Levitical priesthood and temple and to return to the God-established Davidic kingdom. Yet, at the same time it said that Abijam’s heart was not wholly true to the LORD God like his father David (15:3). That was surely a reference to his continued toleration and likely participation in various forms of idolatry in the land. And so, it should come to great relief to us and God’s people at that time when God raised up King Asa after the downward slide of Solomon, Rehoboam, and Abijam. Verse 11, and Asa did what was right the eyes of the LORD, as David his father had done. Verse 14, Asa was wholly true to the LORD all his days. After generations of decline in various ways, Asa was a much-needed blessing from the LORD.
Two main highlights of Asa’s reign are given to us in this passage. The first is mentioned in verses 12-15, that he implemented major religious reforms. Let’s walk through these. The first reform mentioned is in verse 12, that he removed the cult prostitutes from the land. We first learned of these cult prostitutes last chapter in verse 24 as something that was happening in Rehoboam’s reign. This was the practice of some form of sexual immorality being performed in connection with pagan worship practices. Some ritual sexual immorality had no place in the true worship of God. Asa rightly cracked down on that evil. The second reform is also mentioned in verse 12, that he removed all the idols that his fathers had made. There we are reminded that Asa’s fathers before him not only tolerated idolatry, not only engaged in idol worship, but actually had some of the idols made! We know for sure this applies at least to King Solomon per the testimony of 1 Kings 11. Well, King Asa removes all those idols that his fathers made, as well. Praise God!
The third religious reform that Asa did may have been the hardest from him a personal standpoint. It’s in verse 13. Asa removed Maacah his mother from being queen mother because of her own idolatry. She had made an abominable image for the false goddess Asherah. Asherah among pagans was a sort of mother of gods and therefore was highly revered among pagans. Unfortunately, many of God’s people in Judah had began to worship that false goddess too. Surely a big reason for that is that here you have this queen mother leading the way in the worship of Asherah. The title of a queen mother typically referred to the widowed queen of a past king. In this case, she might have been Asa’s own mother, though she might have actually been his grandmother. Sometimes the Hebrew language might refer to a more distant relative with the simpler terms – like how David is called his father here even though he was actually his Great-Great-Grandfather. So, hopefully, she was just his grandmother and not also his mother – I’ll let you connect the dots there in light of verse 2 earlier in this chapter. But the point is that she was exploiting her place in the royal family to advance the cause of paganism and idolatry. Asa removed her from her title of queen mother. I can imagine that to do that to a mother in the family would have been extremely, extremely difficult. But Asa did it because it was the right thing to do. Better to offend an earthly mother than to offend the Father of fathers in heaven. Jesus would later tell his disciples in Luke 14:26 that we can’t put father or mother – or even our own lives – before our allegiance to the LORD. Asa rightly lives that truth out here in this religious reform. And he not only deposes Maacah from whatever title she held, but he also destroys her Asherah idol and has it burned up.
Verse 14 then tell us one aspect of religious reform that was not addressed by Asa in his day. It says that he didn’t remove the high places. Remember, the high places were other locations in the nation that were also used to offer sacrifices. Given the context, we should understand this to refer to high places that were used to worship the one true God and not for pagan worships. But after the temple was built in Jerusalem, the people were only supposed to offer sacrifices to God there, not at any other location. This helps to make sense then of the second part of the verse that affirms Asa’s wholehearted devotion to the LORD all his days. In other words, while he may not have dealt with all the alternative altars, they were still altars to the one true God. Or to say it another way, Asa’s religious reforms may not have solved every issue of worship in the church, but they did root out the all the explicit first and second commandment violations, even if there were still some related offenses not yet resolved. Remember, Solomon’s bringing in other gods into the land officially introduced religious pluralism and gave it royal sanction. King Asa make a significant course correction here in the name of true religion.
One last note about religious reform here by Asa. Per verse 15, Asa brought in various gifts of silver and gold into the temple. These were from his own resources and also ones that his father Abijam had allocated. This is just another example of Asa’s heart to worship God and certainly went to building back up the glory of the temple after what had happened under Rehoboam’s reign when Shisak king of Egypt had pillaged the temple of its various treasures.
So that’s one main highlight here of King Asa – his various religious reforms. The other main highlight here has to do with what’s summarized in verse 16 and dealt with through verse 22: the war between him and Baasha, King of Israel. We’ll learn about King Baasha next time as the king who wiped out Jeroboam’s dynasty and took over as king in Israel. However, what I want us to focus on here in thinking about this second highlight is not simply the fact of war between Israel and Judah. I’d like to think about this from the perspective of the national fortifications that King Asa makes for Judah. Clearly, Asa has this in mind, that he needs to fortify the nation’s position in light of the threat of Israel.
We see that threat spelled out specifically and tangibly in verse 17. There we learn that Baasha King of Israel goes down to seize the city of Ramah and begins to build it up and also sets up some sort of blockade on people going to Jerusalem from the north. You see, Ramah was a little south of Bethel and just about 10 miles north of Jerusalem. So, for Ramah to come under Israelite control and to be built up and fortified like that, it presented a real threat to Judah’s national security. It would not only cut off important supply routes to Jerusalem as a blockade, but it also would have put the capital of Jerusalem right on the border and military front between Israel and Judah. I’m sure if you were Asa, that would be to have the Israelite forces too close for comfort. And so Baasha’s forces being in Ramah was a clear and present danger to the safety and security of Judah’s sovereignty.
So then, verses 18-19 describe King Asa’s attempt to resolve this. He takes all the treasure out of both the temple and his own palace and sends an envoy with all that treasure to Ben-hadad, king of Syria. That surely includes all the silver and gold he had just donated to the temple. So, he takes all that silver and gold and he petitions Syria to realign themselves away from Israel and to Judah instead. Asa appeals to the past covenanting that had existed between Syria and Judah. Recognize that Syria was to the north of Israel. Judah was to the south of Israel. So, these two countries surround Israel. Asa assumes that if Baasha has to worry about an enemy to the north as well, then they’ll be less likely to be devoting resources to building up Ramah.
Well, in that regard, Asa’s plan worked. Ben-hadad agrees to Asa’s proposal, takes all Asa’s treasure that he had offered, presumably as payment, and then goes and attacks Israel. Look at the specifics. Per verse 20, Ben-hadad ends up attacking and taking quite a bit of cities and territories from Israel. This is a huge swath of the northern part of Israel that is excised from Israel and taken over by Syria. Likely this is what was most attractive to Syria in this bargain – that they saw opportunity to significantly expand their country. Well, Syria’s attack on Israel has Asa’s desired effect. Bassha stops building up Ramah and pulls out of there back the capital of Tirzah. King Asa wastes no time but then essentially drafts everyone in the nation into emergency service. He has them all go to Ramah, remove all the building supplies that Baasha had brought there, and redistributes them to Geba and Mizpah. There Asa has Geba and Mizpah built up with those supplies. Geba was just southeast of Ramah and Mizpah was just northwest of Ramah. So, in other words, Asa takes advantage of Baasha’s quick pullout of Ramah to fortify these border towns along the Israelite-Judah border. Now, if in the future Israel wanted to try to retake Ramah or put more pressure on Jerusalem, they’d first have to deal with these newly refortified positions at Geba and Mizpah. The fortifications of Geba and Mizpah become almost like a de facto border wall between Israel and Judah.
So, if we are just looking at things from a national fortification and safety perspective for Judah and its borders, Asa’s politics seem successful. This seems like another good win for Asa. Indeed, from a certain point of view, it was another win for Asa. I might even note that our text here doesn’t overtly say anything negative about these action that he takes. Though the fact that it cost dearly in the sense of all that silver and gold from both the temple and palace arguably implies a little negative commentary, particularly for all the silver and gold that he had just given to the temple.
Yet, while 1 Kings doesn’t give much overt commentary otherwise, we would be wise to cross reference this chapter with the commentary on this in 2 Chronicles 16. There we find that after King Asa did this deal with Syria, that God sends a prophet named Hanani to admonish Asa. The prophet faults him for relying on the king of Syria instead of God. The prophet’s point gets illustrated with regard to the king’s foot condition. While his foot condition is only briefly mentioned here in 1 Kings, in 2 Chronicles 16 it says that Asa again did not seek the LORD for help for his feet but only sought help from doctors. But apparently no matter how much he paid the doctors with silver and gold, they couldn’t cure his feet. The point is that Asa’s failing here with the threat of Israel is that he didn’t seek help from God. He didn’t call out to God for wisdom or help on how to deal with the Israelite threat. Instead he called out for help to a pagan king.
While in one sense Asa did get the help he thought he needed from that pagan king, it was all relatively short sighted in the grand scheme of things. Yes, Judah’s own immediate national position was strengthened. But the pagan Syrian’s position was much more strengthened at the expense of Israel. Meanwhile, the only thing really strengthened for Judah is a dividing wall of hostility between them and their brothers in Israel. Why should the king of Judah care about any of that?
Well, I point you back to what Asa’s own father Abijam had told Israel. Israel was in rebellion from the throne of David. God had ultimately decreed the people to be united under the throne of David. That was the ultimate trajectory where things should have been headed. The Syrians were outsider pagans to God’s people and not in covenant with the LORD God. But Israel was supposed to be together in covenant with the one true God. They were supposed to be under the Abraham and Mosaic covenants together as one united people of God. Yes, politically they were separated at that time. But fighting them wasn’t the ultimate answer. God had told Rehoboam and Judah that right when Israel first split off. And so, for Asa to arrange for a mighty defeat of Israel to Syria is surely against the stated trajectory for God’s plan for his people. Surely for Israel to lose that much land in the Promised Land is against what the King of Judah should have even wanted. The perspective of the King of Judah should have been more along the lines that what happens to Israel happens to Judah. But obviously that’s not where Asa was at that time. But it’s where he should have been.
Don’t get me wrong, maybe Asa had already tried to reunite Judah and Israel. Maybe he had done everything he thought he could do using diplomatic channels to promote reconciliation. We’re not told either way if he did or didn’t. But even if he had tried to reunite the people and failed, it still goes to the bigger point. King Asa couldn’t usher in the ultimate vision of one united people of God. His failure to consult God here only resulted in a swath of God’s people and inheritance in the Promised Land being lost to enemies of God while strengthening and solidifying the divide between God’s people. That’s probably not the way Asa was thinking about it, but that’s probably the problem. Maybe if he had consulted God on the matter he would have been told to think about things like that.
All this to be said, that as refreshing of a king that Asa was for God’s people, there was yet need for a better king. Yes, he was a blessing in many ways to Judah. In the grand scheme of things he did indeed advance the cause of Judah both religiously and nationally. But the ultimate Davidic king would be Jesus Christ. Jesus who coming as God’s refining fire promotes even greater religious reform – ultimately perfection of our worship from the heart of the one and only true God. Jesus does so not just for a portion of God’s people. But Christ Jesus’ cause is to gather up all the elect and promote true religion and right worship among all of them and together as one church. King Jesus gathers up such elect from Judah and also from those scattered elect of Israel. He also even gathers up the elect among the Gentiles. This King Jesus is in the business of removing the division between God’s people to unite us together in peace as one reconciled people of God. Our ultimate position in Christ will be that all God’s people will be eternally covenanted together in peace in our worship of God and in enjoyment of God’s eternal inheritance for us. Meanwhile, all the outsider pagans will be eternally cut off and alienated from us and God and his Christ.
And think of how Jesus Christ ultimately accomplishes such a tremendous victory. In the words of 1 Peter 1:18-19 we are told that Christ did not ransom us as his people from our sin with perishable treasures such as silver and gold. Rather, Jesus has ransomed us from sin by his precious blood, as a lamb without spot or blemish. Jesus’ precious blood is worth more than all the silver and gold in the whole world. Be renewed today in your faith in Jesus Christ and be renewed at the benefits of such union with him. We are set as one people of God in Jesus Christ to worship the God over all in spirit and truth for eternity – and that in the blessedness of a divine inheritance known as the new creation.
While we wait for that day, an application here from this passage is certainly that we can’t think outward success is the same as divine approval. Asa’s successful fortifications by partnering with Syria against Israel was outwardly successful in a sense. But God did not approve of how he did this. In other words, you can’t point to outward success as evidence that God approves of what you did to get that success. Too often Christians fall into such faulty logic, but it’s just not always the case. We shouldn’t evaluate our actions by whether or not they succeed. We need to evaluate them by the Word. And so, we find the application here to keep seeking the LORD and his Word in all the decisions and needs that are before us. I especially appreciate how someone like Asa, described here as someone whose heart was faithful all his days to the Lord could still make big mistakes. We can relate to that! That all being said, this application is really more the application from 2 Chronicles because it’s that passage which highlights Asa’s mistakes.
Today’s passage doesn’t really make that point. And so, I offer a second application that’s more in tune with the specific theme of this passage in 1 Kings. Here the application especially is to encourage us that amidst seasons and maybe even generations of spiritual decline among God’s people, God can raise up leadership seemingly out of the blue to do great things for his people and their relationship with him. Yes, Asa did this imperfectly. Yes, Christ is the ultimate shepherd-king doing this in the grand scheme of things. But in the here and now, Christ at times raises up reformers and renewals through leaders like Asa.
This should encourage us in our day. We have seen much decline in the church over the last few generations. There has been great neglect of weekly Lord’s Day worship. We’ve seen decline of the authority of God’s Word in the church. Preaching has become increasingly more about entertainment or self-help or self-esteem than about the proclamation of the whole counsel of God. Worship has become more about pleasing man’s appetites and senses than about pleasing God. The church has had increasing agreement with the fleeting cultural norms for morality instead of continuing in the timeless absolutes of God’s moral law.
I could go on listing the decline in Christ’s visible church over the last few generations. But this very well may be a generation that God is going to use to usher in a period of great renewal and reform. God has brought such times in the past. We can’t be sure that’s what will happen in our day. But ought we not to strive for such? Isn’t that at the heart of, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”? Yes, the full glory of Christ’s kingdom won’t come until he returns. But in light of that coming glory, let us by the grace of God continue to seek reform in the church here and now. But let us keep in mind the big picture – that to build the kingdom we ought to employ the wisdom of God and the help he supplies, and not the so-called “wisdom” and “help” of the world. To God be the glory. Amen.
Copyright © 2019 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.