First published 15 May 2013
This post is now incorporated with 22 other similar ‘reflections’ in my book, Facing Cancer with Faith.
I was struck recently by a verse I read in my daily Bible reading. It challenged me personally, but struck me as pertinent to any believer who suffers illness, and, since we all go through trials, relevant to every believer.
“In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians.” (2 Chronicles 16:12)
To some this analysis may seem a little harsh. Is the writer saying that it was wrong to seek help from doctors? Surely that’s what doctors and physicians are for? You have a disease. You naturally go and see a doctor. What’s wrong with that?
I have certainly “sought help from physicians” quite a lot, to put it mildly, over the last few years! So I wanted to know what King Asa did wrong. As a Christian I want to seek the LORD, but does that mean that I should go to faith healers rather than my GP? Should I shun chemotherapy in favour of prayer alone?
Asa was king of Judah, about 900 years before Christ. He was great-grandson of Solomon, the last king of the united house of Israel. He is described in the second book of Chronicles as a good king, doing “what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God” (2 Chronicles 14:2). He reigned for 41 years. But when you read the story of his reign it seems to start well and end badly.
What the writer of the account wants to contrast is the way that Asa’s initial success was based on his reliance on the LORD his God, and his ultimate demise was due to pride and hardness of heart.
His early years were God-centred. His first recorded words to the people of Judah were an encouragement to build cities with walls and towers. “The land is still ours, because we have sought the LORD our God. We have sought him, and he has given us peace on every side.” (14:7)
When the Ethiopians came against them with a large army, “Asa cried to the LORD his God, O LORD, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O LORD, you are our God; let not man prevail against you.” (14:11)
God encouraged him through the prophet Azariah (15:1-7), “The LORD is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you…” This gave Asa the courage to go through the land of Judah, ridding it of foreign gods. His zeal even extended to publicly deposing his own mother from her position as queen mother because of her idolatry (15:16). And for twenty years there was no more war (15:19). We’re told that “the heart of Asa was wholly true all his days.” (15:17)
But six years before the end of his reign he messed up. Twenty years of prosperity and peace had made him complacent, and forgetful. We’re told that when the king of the northern kingdom of Israel mounted a blockade, Asa went straightaway to make an alliance with the king of Syria. And not only that, he bribed the Syrians, not with his own wealth but with treasures taken straight out of the LORD’s temple (16:2). A prophet came to take him to task, reminding him of his earlier faith and saying, “Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the LORD your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you… You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.” (16:7-9) Asa was “in a rage with him” and threw the poor prophet in prison.
Three years later, when his feet became diseased, he went straight to the physicians, with no mention of asking for prayer. He was acting in the same way again. He arrogantly thought he knew what was required, surely nothing to bother the LORD with. He’d forgotten his earlier faith, and that the continued existence, let alone prosperity and peace, of the people was, “because we have sought the LORD our God.” (14:7)
His early reign was characterised by a passion to take everything to the Lord in prayer. In his latter years he acted as if he thought he could do it all himself.
The problem was not that he sought help from physicians, nor that he made an alliance with the king of Syria necessarily. It was that he did not pray and ask the LORD’s help first. When he had defeated the Ethiopians he had still led the people into battle, but he prayed to the LORD first and expressed his total dependence on Him. He should have done the same when faced with the Israelite blockade and the foot disease.
The lesson for me is that I must never go to my doctors without seeking the Lord first. I must take everything to God in prayer, as the hymn says. The doctors are God’s instrument of healing and comfort, but God alone is the one who ultimately gives health, victory, peace, prosperity and everything else that we need.
The other lesson is that we must persevere with this humble, God-centred, attitude throughout our whole lives. We cannot let age, complacency, pride, tiredness or anything else distract us or deflect us from looking to Him for everything, in Christ.
“Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)