Harry Osborne
Harry Osborne

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"What Is Written... How Readest Thou?"

Whether Small or Great


Asa was the third king of Judah in the divided kingdom. The two kings before him, Rehoboam and Abijah, exemplified the way of error. The inspired writer summed up the reign of Rehoboarn by saying, "He did that which was evil, because he set not his heart to seek Jehovah" (2 Chron. 12:14). Of the life of Abijah, the Bible says that he walked in "the sins of his father" and "his heart was not perfect with Jehovah" (1 Kgs. 15:3). Yet, Asa did not follow the path of apostasy, but "did that which was good and right in the eyes of Jehovah his God: for he took away the foreign altars, and the high places, and brake down the pillars, and hewed down the Asherim, and commanded Judah to seek Jehovah... and to do the law and the commandments" (2 Chron. 14:2-4).

In his effort to bring about this time of restoration, Asa called Judah together to worship God so that they might commit themselves unto His service. Notice the words of 2 Chronicles 15:12-13:

And they entered into the covenant to seek Jehovah, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and with all their soul; and that whosoever would not seek Jehovah, the God of Israel, should be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman.

The context shows that Asa meant what he said. His own mother, Maacah, had an idolatrous image. Her sin was not tolerated. She was removed as queen. Asa cut down her idol, ground it to pieces and burned the remains (2 Chron. 15:16). No preferential treatment was given to sinners, whether small or great.

Through the years, numerous situations have called this example to mind as an admonition based on those things written aforetime (1 Cor. 10:11; Rom. 15:4). The principle exemplified is one we must also learn so we will insist upon purity in doctrine and practice by all, "whether small or great," just as in Asa's time. Yet, today, we hear the plea to exempt some from the close scrutiny of truth because they are "great." Those who uphold and apply God's standard of truth, without respect of persons, are often seen as the evil ones. It is interesting to note that these objections rarely focus on a reasoned study of the passages involved and the proper application thereof. Instead, they attack the manner or motives of the teacher of truth who uses the Scripture to expose and oppose error. I wonder if any such efforts occurred in Asa's time. Just think what those opposing Asa's efforts for God's cause could have said:

"Who does that young fellow think he is anyway?" Asa was probably in his late twenties or early thirties when he took the above stand. Those who did not like the principles he upheld could have called him a "young buck" who was not "dry behind the ears" or the Hebrew equivalent thereof. They could have asked who this "Johnny-come-lately" is to challenge the way things had been for fifty years or more. If they made such put downs of Asa, would the truth he upheld be any less so? Young men who take a stand for truth should serve as an example to all who would live godly (1 Tim. 4:12).

"If he would read some of the same things the scholars of idolatry are reading, he would be enlightened." But what was Asa reading and urging others to read? "The law and the commandments" (2 Chron. 14:4). When men left their total dependence on God's word and turned instead to the wisdom and doctrines of men, it was not a sign of advanced thinking (Rom. 1:22-28; Isa. 47:10; 1 Cor. 1:18-31; 3:18-20; Matt. 15:9; Col. 2:8). No doubt, many saw the exclusive attention Asa gave to "the law and the commandments" as evidence that he was less sophisticated and intellectual than the worldly scholars of that day. The worldly wise at that time may have scoffed, "Everyone in the whole area laughs at how stupid that king is," but such would not change the fact that his single-minded attention to "the law and the commandments" was the path approved by God. When the scholars of Asa's day or any other time accepted their supposed intelligentsia above the inspired writings of God, their condemnation was sure (1 Cor. 4:6).

"That guy is just out to make a name for himself!" They could have said the whole thing was the result of Asa's "self-promotion." In attributing evil motives to Asa, they could have persuaded many people that Asa was the problem, thus diverting attention from the real issue. They may even have accused Asa of "manufacturing issues" so that he could "create his own party." The results would have been devastating to Judah if such would have caused them to accept sinful practices in their midst. Those seeking to justify evil may have falsely charged Asa and other servants of God, but the false charges neither changed the facts of truth nor God's acceptance of those upholding truth (Matt. 5:11-12; 1 Pet. 3:14-18; 4:16).

"He is legalistic and can only see the literal interpretation!" It would have been too early for Asa to be called a "Pharisee," but surely some comparable term of derision existed in that day. Some may have scoffed at Asa's emphasis on going back to the literal statements of "the law and the commandments." Some may have proclaiming the "spirit of the law is more important than the letter." One of the aforementioned scholars may have said,

"It is also worth considering that the law and the commandments may be, to some degree, accommodative and symbolic. They may use the commandment motif because it is borrowing imagery from the mythological culture of that day regarding a cosmological legislation of Deity. Old Testament writers commonly take features of well-known pagan myths and rework them in order to present the truth of Israelite monotheism. Many scholars suggest that this kind of reshaping of pagan themes into a presentation of monotheistic truth is, to some degree, what Genesis is doing in its creation account."

He may have even opened the possibility for doubt on the text itself by saying, "the weight of the evidence tips the scale in favor of the authenticity of the law and the commandments, but I can't just be dogmatic about that, I'm not a hundred percent certain." The obvious end of such statements would have been to take the people's focus away from the word of God and its literal teaching. But the souls of all depended upon their faith in and obedience of the verbally inspired Scripture as it was given by God (Ex. 19:3-7; Deut. 6:4-9; 31:9-13; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 1:22-25).

"We need to be more tolerant." When asked how the law and the commandments could be used to condone the tolerance for accepting a popular teacher of error, one brother might have replied, "Some of us have found a way." Another may have seen the fact that "the high places were not taken away" by Asa (1 Kgs. 15:14). Thus, after noting that "there seems to be some space for tolerance in this area," he might have concluded, "I confess that consistency is a formidable reason why I can work and worship with this private practicer of idolatry in spite of our differences." Such reasoning would not change the fact that God intended His people to separate themselves from those who teach doctrinal error and engage in sinful practices (cf. 2 Cor. 6:17-18; Eph. 5:11; 2 Jn. 9-11; Rom. 16:17).

"Why can't Asa just be positive?" After all, most of Asa's actions recorded in the Bible would be regarded as "negative" by most people today. He tore down idols, demolished their altars, burned what remained, removed his mother as queen, and drove out the homosexuals. It is worth noting that the inspired commendation of Asa in 1 Kings 15:12-13 is composed entirely of such "negative" actions. Man's subjective assessments of events as "positive" or "negative" do not change God's view of them. He has commanded that both be done -- often giving added emphasis to that termed "negative" in man's eyes (Jer. 1:10; 2 Tim. 4:2). The people of Isaiah's time wanted only a "positive" message because the truth convicted them of their sins and so it has been in similar generations (Isa. 30:8-14).

Lest one think this whole exercise in speculation is wasted space, let me note that the above statements are merely modified forms of things being said today. Take away the reference to Asa's opposition to ancient error and replace it with some brother's opposition to modern error and you've got it. Substitute the ridicule or character assassination of some faithful teacher for that of Asa and the words are identical. Instead of Maacah, use the name of some preacher of error, college professor or defender of a sinful practice and you will recognize current speech among our brethren. If such objections would have failed to justify an acceptance sin or compromise with error in Asa's time, why would they work in our time? Do not be deceived!

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