Grace and Government

A warning beacon from the Old Testament.

"The Lord is with you, while ye be with Him." 2 Chronicles 15:2.

It was a very significant and memorable moment when these words were uttered by the son of Oded in the ears of king Asa. God had given Asa and those with him a triumphant victory over the Ethiopians  -  a mighty host of a thousand thousand warriors. Yet they were smitten before Asa, in answer to the prayer recorded in chapter 14:11: "And Asa cried unto the Lord his God, and said, Lord, it is nothing with Thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O Lord our God; for we rest on Thee, and in Thy name we go against this multitude. O Lord, Thou art our God; let not man prevail against Thee."

It was a great deliverance, and well calculated to strengthen Asa's faith in the living God. The Lord had shown Himself strong in battle for His people. By His manifested power for them, and His presence with them, Asa was greatly encouraged, as verses 8 and 9 record. "And when Asa heard these words, and the prophecy of Oded the prophet, he took courage, and put away the abominable idols out of all the land of Judah and Benjamin, and out of all the cities which he had taken from mount Ephraim, and renewed the altar of the Lord, that was before the porch of the Lord. And he gathered all Judah and Benjamin, and the strangers with them out of Ephraim and Manasseh, and out of Simeon: for they fell to him out of Israel in abundance when they saw that the Lord his God was with him." Asa had, but a short time before, ascended the throne of Judah. To be confronted by this enormous army, which threatened his overthrow, was a trying moment in his history. But in his felt weakness, he wisely betook himself to the Lord, and the enemy was completely vanquished by divine power, and Asa was established on the throne of Judah.

It was a good start for Asa. This was one of the brightest revivals in the history of the kings of Judah, from the days of Solomon till that time; but alas! the sequel shows the end was not so bright. Asa's heart departed from the Lord, and, turning to human strength, a dark cloud overshadowed his end. While he was with the Lord, the Lord was with him; but when he forsook the Lord, and turned to human aid, making an unholy alliance with the king of Syria, the Lord's presence and power could no longer be manifestly with him.

It is important to remember that, whilst all our blessings are purely and simply on the ground of grace, and therefore unconditional, yet if we are to be in the enjoyment of these blessings, there must be a suitable condition of soul. Hence the need of continual exercise of heart before God, lest we be robbed of that which is our proper portion. We see this very clearly in the book of Joshua. The people of Israel were about to enter the promised land, and God said to Joshua, "Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses. … There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee." (Joshua 1:3-5.) The land had been promised to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and to their seed after them. It was not because of what they were that Jehovah gave them the land, for had He not said, "Thou art a stiff-necked people"? It was for His own Name's sake.

All so far was purely unconditional grace. But mark, if they were to drive out their enemies, and take, as well as hold, possession of the land, there were conditions which must be complied with. In verse 8, strict obedience is enjoined. "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success." This verse clearly indicates that their prosperity and success depended on strict obedience. But did they obey, and did they drive out all their enemies? Alas! no. And what was the result? Sad failure, and the deepest sorrow and shame. Even as early in their history as chapter 7, we see the saddest failure of all.

In chapter 6, where their great triumph over Jericho is recorded, God warned them, in verse 18, "And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it." But the solemn warning was unheeded, and the next chapter opens with, "But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing: for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing and the anger of the Lord was kindled against the children of Israel." Though it is a most blessed thing to be brought to God, and to know His love, and to have to do with Him in grace, yet it is solemn also, as we learn from all this.

How blessed for Israel to be emancipated from the cruel bondage of Egypt, and to be ransomed from the oppression of Pharoah! How blessed, again, to have witnessed the mighty power and outstretched arm of Jehovah, in dividing the waters of the Red Sea, that they might pass over dry-shod  -  to have seen those very waters which were a wall and defence to them, close in upon their enemies to their utter destruction, so that in their song of deliverance they could sing, "The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone"; and also, "Thou didst blow with Thy wind, the sea covered them: they sank as lead in the mighty waters!" They had, also, been led through the wilderness like a flock, guarded, and protected, and fed by Jehovah's hand; their very clothes waxed not old upon them, nor did their foot swell for forty years.

After this Jordan is crossed, and the land is sighted and entered upon; and after seven days' marching around those high walls, which seemed so impregnable to the unbelieving spies, they fell down flat at the sound of the rams' horns and the blowing of the trumpets. Whoever had heard of such instruments of war before? Not an axe nor a pick was used; nor a hand lifted to strike a blow, yet the great, high walls of Jericho were razed to their very foundations. The truth of what the faithful witness-bearer, Joshua, had uttered years before was now realized. "For they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the Lord is with us; fear them not."

How very encouraging all this was, and how blessed for them to have witnessed, with their own eyes, such a display of divine power. It was well calculated to humble Israel, and strengthen their faith in the God that redeemed them. Yet alas! instead of being humbled before God, they were soon puffed up and exalted in their own eyes, and filled with self-confidence. All this only betrayed their own wretched state; and God allowed them to be smitten before such a small city as Ai, which they in their pride and self-confidence thought they could so easily take, that He might bring them low before Him, on account of what was in their midst. God would not forsake them utterly, because they were His people; but unjudged evil was in their midst, and therefore God could no longer manifest His power with them, until they had judged themselves and put away the sin.

No sooner is this done than God says to Joshua: - "Fear not, neither be thou dismayed: take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai: see, I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land: and thou shalt do to Ai and her king as thou didst unto Jericho and her king." Humbled and broken in spirit, but in the power of faith, Joshua now goes up, and all the people of war with him; the city is taken and set on fire, the people put to the edge of the sword, and the king hanged on a tree.

What a lesson for Israel was all this discipline, and for us too; for we must remember that "Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning"; and also, "All these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come." Israel had to learn, as we have, that the secret of divine power on their part lay in their strict adherence to God's word. It is well for us to remember that the question of eternal salvation is not raised in any of the instances we have adduced, either with Asa or with Israel. That is not the question at issue; nor is it with God's people now in reference to their walk down here. That all who are in Christ are beyond death and judgment, and will be eternally saved, we have no doubt, for scripture makes this plain. But the question is, How are we to conduct ourselves down here? Are we to settle down and rest, thinking that because we are saved we are all right, and can live as we please? This is a fatal mistake, and those who think thus, and act accordingly, will ultimately become a prey to Satan, as Asa did; if indeed, by the allowance of such a thought, they are not already caught in his wiles.

We need to be awake and alive to our responsibility. The Lord has left us here to be His witnesses and to fight His battles - the greatest honour that could be conferred upon us. But this should not make us negligent or careless in the least; on the contrary, we ought to be stirred up to the greatest diligence, watchfulness, and prayerfulness, lest Satan should get any advantage of us whereby he might upset us or turn us aside from the path of testimony, and of God's will. In ourselves we are no match for such an enemy. Many a true servant of God has been entrapped by his wiles, and has fallen from the place of testimony where God had set him; all this we should seriously and solemnly lay to heart. If so with others, is there no danger to us?

But God is for us, and if we seek Him He will be found of us, and will encourage us in every way; and if we walk with Him in humility of mind, seeking His will, all His resources will be at our service. He will be with us, as well as for us, and the sense of His presence will make us bold and courageous, and will enable us to stand amidst all the opposition Satan can bring against us.

To return for a moment to the history of King Asa. It will be seen from 2 Chron. 16 that the test, under which he failed, was not nearly so great as God allowed in the beginning of his career, yet he broke down completely under it. In verses 1-3 we read, "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. 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 Ben-hadad king of Syria, that dwelt at Damascus, saying, There is 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."

How sad and solemn that Asa should have so forgotten the Lord, and the mighty power displayed on his behalf at the beginning of his reign, as to turn to an arm of flesh. Instead of having grown in the knowledge of God he had manifestly declined and backslidden, which this test served to bring out. However, the blessed God, who is ever faithful to His servants, sent another prophet to him; not, as before, to encourage, but to rebuke him for his reliance on an arm of flesh; at the same time reminding him of what had taken place at the beginning - even of his victory over the Ethiopians and Lubims, which were a huge host; but the prophet's rebuke only brought out the pride of his heart; he was enraged, and actually put God's faithful servant in a prison-house. Such is man; and such would any servant be if not kept by divine grace. But does God finally give up His servant? We think not, for we read, "And Asa in the thirty-and-ninth year of his reign was diseased in his feet, until his disease was exceeding great: yet in his disease he sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians." This I have no doubt was God's dealing with His servant in chastening, "For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth." He was loth to give Asa up, notwithstanding his failure, and the chastening was evidently intended for blessing, had he but bowed under God's hand and humbled himself in His sight. But alas! he was hardened, instead of being softened and subdued, as was shown by his turning from the Lord and seeking help from the physicians.

So ends the history of one of the most faithful kings of Judah. He began well. His beginning was very bright indeed; and had he gone on in simplicity and in the energy of faith, what a different tale would have been left on record. Instead of going into port like a vessel that had encountered a great hurricane, disabled and broken, without mast or sail, he would have gone in with flying colours and all sail set. How it reminds us of that word which says, "Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off."

May the Lord in His mercy give to both reader and writer to profit by what has come before us, and may we not be content by merely starting well - important though it be to make a good start - but may we be like the devoted apostle who said, "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ, yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ." And so may we finish our course with joy. P. W.