The Word Made Fresh
1In the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s reign Baasha king of Israel opposed Judah and began to build a fortress at Ramah to prevent anyone from going into or coming out of King Asa’s realm. 2In response, Asa took silver and gold from the treasuries of the LORD’s house and the royal palace and sent it to Ben-Hadad king of Aram who lived in Damascus along with this message: 3“Let us make a treaty like the one between your father and mine. I send you silver and gold and ask you to break your treaty with king Baasha of Israel and make him back off from his threat to me. 4Ben-Hadad agreed. He sent his generals to lead his armies against Israel’s cities. They took Ijon, Dan, Abel-Maim and all the munition cities in Naphtali. 5When Baasha was informed about it he left off building Ramah. 6Then King Asa brought the people of Judah and they carried off the stones and timbers that Baasha was using. Asa used the material to build up Geba and Mizpah.
7Then the prophet Hanani came to king Asa and said, “Because you relied on the king of Aram instead of on the LORD your God, the Aramean army has become a threat to you. 8Didn’t the Ethiopians and Libyans have a huge army with lots of chariots and cavalry? But because you leaned on the LORD, they were given over to you. 9The LORD watches over the earth to uphold those whose hearts are true. You have done a foolish thing; you’ll be at war from now on.” 10Asa was angry with Hanani and had him confined in prison. He was also cruel to others of the people.
11The record of Asa’s reign from beginning to end are written in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel. 12In the thirty-ninth year of his reign he was afflicted with an ailment in his feet, but even though the pain was severe he relied on his physicians instead of seeking help from the LORD. 13Then Asa died and joined his ancestors in the forty-first year of his rule 14and they buried him in the tomb he had prepared for himself in the city of David. They laid his body on a casket filled with various spices prepared by perfumers, and they lit a huge fire to honor him.
1-6: Judah is left in peace until the 36th year of Asa’s reign, and then the Israelites threaten because their people have been defecting to Judah for years, and King Baasha decides to do something about it. He builds a fortress near the border at Ramah to try to block traffic in and out of Judah. Asa responds by hiring Ben-Hadad from Damascus to forsake his alliance with Baasha and pressure Israel’s northern border, and sends him the silver and gold he and his father had placed in the temple. Ben-Hadad agrees to his request and annexes some of Israel’s territory, mostly the part that was once considered the territory of the tribe of Naphtali. Baasha is forced to turn his attention in that direction, and Asa seizes the opportunity to go and dismantle what Baasha has built at Ramah and use the stones to erect his own outposts at Mizpah and Geba. Mizpah and Geba are on the frontier boundary between Israel and Judah about 10 miles north/northeast of Jerusalem. Ramah would have been located between them. (It is interesting that the account in 1 Kings has Asa compelling the people of Judah by force to carry the stones from Ramah – see 1 Kings 15:22.)
7-10: Hanani the seer shows up from time to time as he does now. He tells Asa that relying on Ben-Hadad is a sin. You should have relied on the LORD, he says. This sends Asa into a rage. He throws Hanani in prison. His anger spills over into his dealings with the people as well (which is more in keeping with what we read about Asa in 1 Kings).
11-14: Asa’s health is failing. It is near the end of his long reign, and he may be quite old by now, although we are not told at what age he took the throne which makes it impossible to compute how old he is when he dies. He is diseased in his feet, which indicates circulatory problems caused by atherosclerosis or perhaps diabetes. Such conditions can eventually result in gangrene and lead to a painful death, and that may be what happens to Asa. He is judged harshly for relying on physicians instead of relying on the LORD, and that seems to be a judgment that applies generally to the last five years of his reign, for he has relied also on Ben-Hadad for help against King Baasha instead of relying on the LORD. His funeral is a curious affair: his body is laid in his tomb on a platform of spices and perfumes. Then a great fire is made in his honor, an unusual ritual for a king’s burial – I don’t think any other king is honored in such a way – and the text leaves open the possibility that his body is immolated or cremated in the fire.
Asa was an effective king who protected his people and strengthened the country. But he had a cruel streak as well, and in the end he is judged to have been not such a good king. At first, he relied on the LORD, but then began to turn to other sources of help – King Ben-Hadad of Aram and royal doctors in Jerusalem. We have seen this happen – we all know people who were very faithful to God until they became rich and powerful, and then they could afford to pay to get what they want from other sources upon whom they begin to rely instead of relying on God. What a curious lot, we human beings.