What lessons can we learn from Old Testament history? The Apostle Paul claimed that we can learn much:
- Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did… We should not test Christ, as some of them did— and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did— and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Cor. 10:6-12)
King Asa had been a good king:
- Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. He removed the foreign altars and the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and to obey his laws and commands. He removed the high places and incense altars in every town in Judah, and the kingdom was at peace under him. (2 Chron. 14:2-5)
God blessed Asa through his obedience. When confronted with the greatly superior Cushite army, which was invading Judah, he prayed:
- “Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. Lord, you are our God; do not let mere mortals prevail against you.” (2 Chron. 14:11)
The Lord granted Asa an overwhelming victory but sent the Prophet Azariah to him with a warning:
- “Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.” (2 Chron. 15:2)
Asa took the Azariah’s words to heart and continued to make reforms pleasing to the Lord. However, by his 36th year as king, it seems that Asa began to trust in his own judgments.
King Baasha of Israel, with the help of Ben-hadad, king of Syria, were preparing in invade Judah. Asa decided to handle the threat by bribing Ben-hadad to turn against Baasha, and it worked! However, God was not pleased and sent the Prophet Hanani to Asa:
- “Because you relied on the king of Aram [Syria] and not on the lord your god, the army of the King of Aram has escaped from your hand. Were not the Cushites and Libyans a mighty army with great numbers of chariots and horsemen? Yet when you relied on the Lord, he delivered them into your hand. for the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.” (2 Chron. 16:7-9)
Sadly, Asa did not repent, but threw the prophet in jail and “inflicted cruelties on some of the people.” Did success go to his head? Clearly, he was no longer trusting God as he had!
This account is troubling on a number of levels, but it is not unusual. King Solomon had started well. He had prayed for wisdom so that he could reign faithfully as did his father David:
- I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties… So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:7-9)
God was pleased and granted Solomon surpassing wisdom. However, Solomon later turned from the Lord.
Jehoshaphat had also been a good king. However, at the end of his life, he too failed to follow God as he should have. Instead, he partnered with the wicked and was chastened:
- Eliezer son of Dodavahu of Mareshah prophesied against Jehoshaphat, saying, “Because you have made an alliance with Ahaziah, the Lord will destroy what you have made.” The ships were wrecked and were not able to set sail to trade. (2 Chron. 20:37)
What relevance do these troubling accounts of backsliding have for us believers in Jesus? For years, I struggled with such accounts. After all, the Apostle Paul promised that God works all things for the good for His children (Romans 8:28). However, these accounts seem to indicate that God allowed some of His children to backslide, even to their destruction.
But could these dismal accounts pertain to believers in Jesus? It seems that they did. We have the example of a couple who had lied to the church and were struck dead by the Lord (Acts 5:1-10).
Perhaps even more troubling is Paul’s assertion that God had actually removed some who were destined for heaven:
- For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep [died]. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world. (1 Cor. 11:29-32)
Here were heaven-bound believers but who had backslid so badly that God had taken them out in order to eventually save them. However, it seemed to me that this teaching could not be reconciled with the fact that God was working all things together for good. If God had been working all things for good, it would seem that He would not have allowed such lethal backsliding.
Later, however, I began to see that the ultimate good might not be served by God always rescuing us from our arrogance. Instead, Paul’s words intervened:
- So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Cor. 10:12)
It is therefore imperative that this warning remains in our thinking – the same lesson that we learn from the accounts of Israel’s kings.