It is a short study for groups or individuals that can help Christians think about some fundamental aspects of the faith in new ways. I hope you enjoy it!
Sometimes it is hard to read the stories in the Old Testament because things can go right for so long, and then there is an epic failure of faith that seems to come out of nowhere and everything starts to fall apart. Judah’s King Asa is one of these figures who has such a failure in faith. Asa had done tremendous things–reviving worship of the Lord, strengthening the Temple, defeating a huge enemy that attacked Judah–but when the Northern Kingdom attacks Judah Asa makes a treaty with the Kingdom of Aram. The ploy was logical in that the Northern Kingdom withdrew from Judah, but here is what the Lord sends a prophet to say about the matter:
At that time Hanani the seer came to Judah’s King Asa and said to him, “Because you relied on Aram’s king and not on the Lord your God, the army of Aram’s king has slipped out of your grasp. Weren’t the Cushites and the Libyans a vast army with chariots and horsemen to spare? Still, when you relied on the Lord, he delivered them into your power, because the Lord’s eyes scan the whole world to strengthen those who are committed to him with all their hearts. Your foolishness means that you will have war on your hands from now on.” Asa was angry with the seer. Asa was so mad he threw Hanani in jail and took his anger out on some of the people.
This logical course of action was an epic fail when it comes to faith in the Lord to provide the victory. What makes matters even worse in Asa’s situation is that he had already depended upon the Lord to deliver Judah from an oppressor that was much, much larger than what the Northern Kingdom was.
The real tragedy, though, is in Asa’s response to this rebuke. Everyone makes mistakes and everyone sins. David was no exception, but when confronted with his sin David always humbled himself and repented. Asa, when confronted with his sin, gets irate and imprisons the prophet and attacks those who support the prophet.
Evidently Asa was the kind of person who had no problem worshiping and following the Lord, even promoting the Lord, when things were going his way and he thought he was being blessed by God for who he was and what he was doing. Once Asa was confronted with sin and told that he needed to repent, he no longer had any use for the Lord. This kind of pride is dangerous, not only for the one who has it, but for the community around that person.
Is there an area in your own life that has been called to repentance and, rather than humble yourself, you have gotten angry? Consider the example of Asa and ask the Lord for grace and help.
Why did God choose Saul? This is an issue that has plagued me for quite some time. He looked good like a king ought to look (1 Samuel 9:2), yet he did not act like a king ought to have acted. Then there is this statement from God when Samuel was sent to find Saul’s successor:
“Have no regard for his appearance or stature, because I haven’t selected him. God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.”
Didn’t God look into Saul’s heart? Reading through this passage this time, I believe I finally found my answer. Much has been written in studies about Saul’s self-image and how he had a very poor self-esteem. This led him to do things that were contrary to the Lord’s commands because he wanted to make himself look good. I fully believe this all to be true, but it does not answer the issue of why God chose him, though.
I believe that God saw in Saul one of the key virtues for a godly life: humility. Saul did not think he was better than anyone else. Even though he was physically better off than many people, and even though he came from a wealthy family, Saul saw others as better than himself. This would have been the makings of a wonderful king.
Saul’s problem was that he tried to compensate for his humility. Rather than embrace humility and allow it to be a virtue, always pointing successes back to the Lord and allowing God to receive glory and honor through the mighty deeds done, Saul tried to make himself look better than he was. He had been made king, and he was going to prove to his people that he deserved to be king.
1 Samuel 15:17 has Samuel’s rebuke of Saul:
Samuel said, “Even if you think you are insignificant, aren’t you the leader of Israel’s tribes? The Lord anointed you king over Israel.”
The key difference between David and Saul is that David understood that the Lord had made him king, whereas Saul thought he had to keep the position of power through his own action. Saul was a man who could not even find lost donkeys, but he wanted people to see a king.
Humility is only a virtue in the spiritual life when it reminds us that God is at work through us and around us. If we try to present ourselves as we think we ought to be seen, rather than allow God to present us as he wants us to be, we will have the same problem Saul had. It is a humility that, ironically, leads to pride of the most unhealthy sort.