Thursday, April 16, 2009

Asa responds to a threat from Israel

In the thirty-sixth year of King Asa's reign, neighboring Israel began to make threats. The king of Israel "went up against Judah and fortified Ramah to prevent anyone from leaving or entering the territory of Asa king of Judah."

So, the wars with Israel that had plagued his father and grandfather finally reached Asa's house.

We have a bit of trouble with the timeline here. The scriptures, both 1st Kings 15 and 2nd Chronicles 16, say Baasha was the king of Israel who fortified Ramah. However, 1st Kings 15:33 reads, "In the third year of Asa king of Judah, Baasha son of Ahijah became king of all Israel in Tirzah, and he reigned twenty-four years." So, in the thirty-sixth year of Asa's reign, Baasha had been dead for nine years! Something is obviously wrong. The commentaries I read suggest that the 36 years should be counted from the division of Judah and Israel. That would put this event half-way through Baasha's reign. I have another possible solution: It wasn't Baasha who was king then; it was Omri. He became king in the 31st year of Asa and reigned twelve years. Why would the two Bible books say Baasha when it was Omri? One was source for the other, and the writer of the first simply got it wrong, confused over his kings. Either the year is wrong, or the king is wrong. I suppose it is also possible that a copyist, very early in the history of the original document, may have written "36" when the original said "26", and that error was perpetuated. We'll never know.

All that is tangential to the story. The real story is how Asa faced this new threat, only four miles from Jerusalem:

Asa then took the silver and gold out of the treasuries of the LORD's temple and of his own palace and sent it to Ben-Hadad king of Aram, who was ruling in Damascus. "Let there be a treaty between me and you," he said, "as there was between my father and your father. See, I am sending you silver and gold. Now break your treaty with Baasha king of Israel so he will withdraw from me." 2nd Chronicles 16:2-3

Huh? Israel threatens by building a border fort and closing the border, probably as a precursor to renewed open war, and you go to Israel's treaty partner for help, stripping the public and private wealth to do so? Something is wrong here. Gone are the days, twenty or so years previously, when faced with a graver threat from superior Cushite forces Asa prayed, "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." God answered those prayers and gave Judah victory. Could not the similar crying out to God bring the same results now?

What motivated Asa to take this course of action? He was now about 55 years old, and had reigned 35 years. He had seen war before, both with the Cushites and probably some other border skirmishes with Israel, but most of his years he had been at peace with his neighbors. Had he lost his nerve for war, perhaps never really having it in the first place? Did he figure he could use worldly wealth to hire someone else to fight for him? In other words, did he buy off Aram because he could?

An interesting question in trying to figure out why a good king would take this route. Or would some people consider this a good move, a smart move by Asa? To save his army from fighting a war was a good thing, no? Perhaps, in twenty years of peace, Asa had disbanded most of his army and he would have to recruit, equip, and train them all over again. Perhaps he felt he didn't have time for this, that the threat from Israel was more imminent.

Whatever his motives, Asa chose the route of entangling alliances to solve his military problem. The enemy of my enemy is my friend is nothing new in the Middle East. Here we see it employed in antiquity.

Tomorrow we'll see what God's prophet said to Asa about this, and how he reacted.

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