Monday, October 3, 2016

Bible Commentary - 2 Chronicles 14

In this chapter, Asa scores a great victory over the Cushites.

I see this chapter as having two parts.  The first part is verses 1-7, which describes Asa's reign and religious devotion, and the second part is verses 8-15, which describes Asa's army and subsequent battle against the Cushites.

The first part of this chapter seems to focus heavily on how Asa was such a great king.  This guy is cutting down Asherah poles, "commanding Judah to seek the LORD" (v. 4), removing high places, and the kingdom is at peace under him, "for the LORD gave him rest" (v. 6).  I marvel that he had time to do all of these things.  I think the important part is that because Asa and the people sought the LORD, they had rest.

In the second part of the chapter, the rest ends.  There is no mention of either the king of the people sinning to cause this war.  Even though the LORD had formerly given them peace, that season was now over.  Judah had built itself up and become very strong, but remarkably the Cushites are yet even stronger than Judah.  This leaves Asa with a moment of decision: would he trust in his strength and his army to win the victory, or would he continue to "seek the LORD" and depend on God for his victory?  As the record shows, Asa sought the LORD and the LORD gave him victory over his enemies.

I think there are two important points here.  The first point is that conflict and challenges are not always the result of sin in our lives.

In Asa's reign, it appears as if he is doing everything right.  He is following the LORD, tearing down idols, living in peace and prospering.  Our lives are often like this as well.  We follow the LORD, avoid idols, live in peace and prosper.  But then something happens.  Asa is still doing all the right things, but a conflict emerges in his life.  The Cushites seem to observe his prosperity and wish to partake of it by force.  Asa is faced with a challenge that he did not ask for and did not bring upon himself.  In the same way, in our lives we often run into challenges that are simply not our fault.  Many people, when faced with challenges, find themselves with one of two responses: blaming themselves or blaming God.  We either seek to identify the sins in our lives that brought this challenge upon us, and we castigate our own mistakes, or else we find ourselves faultless and seek to blame God, placing the fault upon him.

In short, this is largely because people misinterpret the covenant in Deuteronomy 28, which promises blessings for obeying God and curses for disobeying him.  It offers to us life or death, and pleads with us to choose life.  Here is the misinterpretation: people believe that the blessing from obeying God should mean that we do not have conflict.  We see conflict and challenges as evidence that we are under some kind of curse, because surely God would not send challenges or difficulties upon the righteous, as per the covenant.  This is a misinterpretation because Deut 28:7 promises us that we will defeat "the enemies who rise up against you."  People think that Deuteronomy promises us "enemies will not rise up against you", but that's not at all what it says.  It doesn't ever promise us that we won't face enemies, it simply promises us that we will defeat them.  It doesn't promise us we won't ever face challenges, it simply promises we will overcome them.

People mistake the "enemies rising up" against us as if they were the curse from Deut 28:15-68 that falls upon the disobedient, but these are critically different kinds of things.

Here is how this becomes a problem.  If we blame ourselves when we face challenges and look to find our sins, we won't look to find victory through God.  We can defeat ourselves by being sin-focused.  Similarly, if we blame God when we face challenges, then we can become angry and distant, and cut ourselves off from the victory that comes through faith in God.  Therefore both of these responses, where we misunderstand and misattribute the challenges in our lives, position us to be defeated by those challenges rather than have the victory we were promised.  Those defeats become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because being defeated by the problems we face substantiate our original belief that the problems we faced were either a punishment for sin or an injustice rendered against us.  Having the right understanding of challenges is absolutely critical to overcoming challenges, because it governs our attitude and response to challenges.  Over a lifetime, this can snowball into either bigger and bigger victories or bigger and bigger defeats.  There are two roads in life, one leading to victory and the other leading to defeat; one leading to life and the other leading to death.  It is important that we choose life.

And what about Asa?  When faced with overwhelming force, he did not blame himself nor did he blame God.  Instead, he turns to the LORD as his helper, the one who can grant him victory over his enemies like Deuteronomy 28:7-8 promised.  In essence what he does is prove his faith.  His faith that was so strong in peace also survives through war.  There are many people who have strong faith during times of prosperity, but conflict and warfare reveals that faith to be frail or unsteady.  This is the second point.  Rightly handling conflict is more than just having a proper understanding of where problems come from.  Handling conflict in a godly way is a question of how we have cultivated our hearts during times of peace.  Conflict can, in so many ways, reveal the deep inner ideas, assumptions and choices that we have made.  There are a lot of things that we might do under stress that we would never do if we lived in prosperity all our lives.  Some of those things are good, some of those things are bad.

In a way that almost nothing else could do, conflict makes our inner nature transparent to ourselves, to others and to God.  God permits conflict in our lives not so that we would be defeated by it (we are already guaranteed victory), but to show us who we are and what we value.  Whatever you turn to for salvation when you are in distress and everything else has failed is your god.  When we are in the midst of peace, the most important thing is to prepare our hearts so that when we face challenges, we respond the way that Asa does, by turning to the LORD.  Asa turning to the LORD is not actually a decision he makes when the Cushite army is marching towards Jerusalem.  It's a decision he made years earlier when he chose over and over to follow the LORD.  It's the result of years of prayer and dedication in times of peace that he remains dedicated in times of war.  The way that we hold ourselves in times of war is the cumulative result of all our life's choices during the earlier times of peace.  With firmly planted roots and a steady heart, we will not be shaken.  But if our lives are devoted to idols, then we will turn to those idols when we are in the midst of distress and the idols will fail us because idols simply cannot ever save or bear the pressures of life.

Asa chose well during the years of peace, and therefore he was victorious in the time of battle when he turned to the LORD and the LORD delivered him.  I can only hope that we all would live the same way.

In the next chapter, Asa destroys even more idols and makes the nation swear an oath to follow the LORD.

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