Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Finishing Poorly

In a recent sermon, we learned that over half of all Biblical "heroes" finished poorly. Asa king of Judah is in that majority.

The account of his 41-year reign in 2 Chronicles (about 3 times as long as the summary in 1 Kings 15.9-24) gives us some major events in Asa's spiritual journey.

He starts well: Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. (2 Chronicles 14.2). Judah is attacked by a vast army, and when he sees it,
Asa called to the Lord his God and said, "Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. O Lord, you are our God; do not let man prevail against you."
2 Chronicles 14.11

The Lord provided a great victory, and sent a prophet to Asa with a word of encouragement. Asa held a celebration and led a revival in the 15th year (2 Chronicles 15.10) of his reign.

But some 20 years later, when Judah is besieged by Baasha king of (the 10 northern tribes of) Israel, he calls on Ben-Hadad king of the Arameans, rather than calling on the Lord. This time, when a prophet is sent to Asa, he has a word of rebuke rather than encouragement:
For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strenghtn those whose hearts are fully his. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war."
2 Chronicles 16.9
Asa throws the seer into prison for his trouble. Oh, and Asa brutally oppressed some of the people. (2 Chronicles 16.10)

What happened during those 20 years between the first prophetic word sent to Asa in his 15th year (your work will be rewarded - 2 Chronicles 15.7) and the second in his 36th year (You have done a foolish thing)? The text doesn't say explicitly, but I think I know the answer.

Software guys call it "bit rot" or maybe just "rot." Real engineers would probably call it "running open-loop." In any case, things change and errors accumulate. Here's an example. Suppose I write a program and get it to run on a bunch of operating systems -- Linux, FreeBSD, Windows, Solaris, AIX, HP-UX. Five years later, what's the chance it'll still run on all those operating systems? It's not real high, because all those operating systems change over time.

If I change the program's source code and don't test it against all those operating systems periodically, you can be pretty sure I'll break some sort of compatibility, so the chance of its working on those half-dozen operating systems drops down to just about nil.

Or, for a less technical example, suppose I take off from San Jose and point my airplane at New York. I can have a perfect plan, but if I don't check my position en route, what's the chance I'll actually get to New York? Just about zero!

In the same vein, what I think happened here is that Asa set his course but didn't check his directions -- he didn't check out his decisions. You notice that in 2 Chronicles 15.2 the prophet "went out to meet Asa" and in 2 Chronicles 16.7 the seer "came to Asa king of Judah." Never do we read that Asa "resolved to inquire of the Lord" for example (compare Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20.3).

Asa started well, ran open-loop, and finished poorly. How about you and me? Do we just decide and hope God blesses us? Or do we seek guidance from the Lord through prayer, solitude, the Scriptures, the counsel of wise friends? This doesn't mean praying about which socks to wear, or trying to get someone else to decide for me. But it does mean recognizing that I don't have a corner on insights from God.

May the Lord help us remember to seek him!

posted 7/27

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