Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Jerusalem Assembly: Good or Bad?

The Bible records two major military issues for King Asa: first the invasion of a combined Cushite and Libyan army from the south, and later a threat from the sister nation Israel from the north. The first one drove Asa to prayer, as he knew his forces were outnumbered and they had no hope for victory if God did not intervene. The second drove Asa to form an alliance with Ben-Hadad, king of Aram, in so doing plundering his own temple and personal treasury. In other words, he either bribed Ben-Hadad or hired him to provide mercenaries.

In each case a prophet came to Asa. The first was Azariah, who gave Asa a message of hope and encouragement. The second was Hanani, who chastised Asa, told him he had chosen poorly, and advised that as a result God's intentions had been thwarted. The second time Asa continued to behave badly, apparently to the end of his days. The first time, he instituted more religious reforms and called for an assembly of the nation in Jerusalem to renew their religious zeal.

The Jerusalem Assembly. Let's see what the scripture has to say about it.

Then he [Asa] assembled all Judah and Benjamin and the people from Ephraim, Manasseh and Simeon who had settled among them, for large numbers had come over to him from Israel when they saw that the LORD his God was with him.
.....They assembled at Jerusalem in the third month of the fifteenth year of Asa's reign. At that time they sacrificed to the LORD seven hundred head of cattle and seven thousand sheep and goats from the plunder they had brought back. They entered into a covenant to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul. All who would not seek the LORD, the God of Israel, were to be put to death, whether small or great, man or woman. They took an oath to the LORD with loud acclamation, with shouting and with trumpets and horns. All Judah rejoiced about the oath because they had sworn it wholeheartedly. They sought God eagerly, and he was found by them. So the LORD gave them rest on every side. 2nd Chronicles 15:9-15

On the surface, this sounds pretty good. They sought God wholeheartedly; they found Him. They did this with oaths and with loud acclamations. Wait, this is what troubles me, both the oaths and loud acclamations, the trumpets and horns and shouting. The enthusiasm of the moment may have caused many to be carried away and do things and make oaths that were not wholehearted--that and the threat that if they didn't do so they would be put to death. What would you do if everyone was shouting and declaring oaths to God, with trumpets and horns blaring and saying anyone who didn't take the oath would be put to death?

I'm sure many were sincere, but just as many were either caught up in the moment or afraid not to make the oath.

Throughout the history of the church, the whole business of enthusiasm has waxed and waned, been in favor and out of favor. During Wesley's days it was generally frowned on. Get too enthusiastic and people wondered about you. During the 18th century revivals in America, it was embraced. Certainly some enthusiasm is good. I hope everyone who considers themselves a disciple of Jesus is enthusiastic about being so. But could a lot of enthusiasm cause one to lose his head, declare impossible oaths and promise things that cannot be delivered? I wonder.

The idea that anyone who did not follow I AM in the nation should be put to death is found in the Law of Moses. Today it seems harsh, little better than the jihads of radical Islam. If we dislike the Islamic practice of converting to Islam or be killed, how can we embrace the Israeli practice resulting from the Jerusalem assembly?

And what of its effects on Asa? It would appear he got carried away with his assembly. Everyone agreed with him, either wholeheartedly or not. When a king has no one to disagree with him, he will tend to get puffed up. Thus, twenty plus years later, when Hanani confronted his error, rather than humble himself, Asa threw the messenger in jail. This led to a downhill progression, where he oppressed his people and failed to seek I AM when he had a need.

Was the Jerusalem Assembly under Asa a good thing or a bad thing? All I know for sure is, before that assembly, Asa did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, and after that assembly he made bad choices and was chastised by God's prophet. The enthusiasm of the great assembly vs. the quiet affirmation of a person in a one-on-one conversation with God. I like the former, but I think I like the latter better.

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