Tuesday, December 31, 2013
The Three -- And Me
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us . . . . (Hebrews 12:1)
Much of 1 and 2 Chronicles retell the events in 1 and 2 Kings, but with a different focus on the various kings of Israel and Judah. What caught my eye this time around were the sobering stories of how three regents in particular – Solomon, Asa, and Jehoshaphat – started well with God, but finished poorly. I’ve read the chapters many times before, but this time their stories came into greater focus.
In his early days, Solomon had a unique and intimate relationship with God. Chronicles touches on the story, but you will find much more detail in 1 Kings chapters 3 through 8. Not only did God call him Jedidiah – which means, “Beloved of God” – but He choose Solomon to build the great Temple and then gave him wisdom and wealth that surpassed that of every other king of his era. Nevertheless, within a few short chapters Solomon had married idolatrous women who seduced him from the One who’d so abundantly blessed him. You won’t read about his crash landing in 2 Chronicles, but you’ll find the terrible details in 1 Kings chapter 11.
Asa, another king of Judah, when meeting an overwhelming army in battle, prayed, “Lord, there is no one besides You to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength; so help us, O Lord our God, for we trust in You, and in Your name have come against this multitude. O Lord, You are our God; let not man prevail against You” (2 Chronicles 14:11). And because of his humility and reliance on God alone, Asa and his small army shattered the invasion force of more than a million men and charioteers. You’d think such a miraculous victory would stay with the man for a lifetime.
It did not.
Years later, when Asa found himself threatened by another kingdom, he sought help from the Syrians instead of God. When God’s prophet rebuked him for his disloyalty, Asa put the prophet in prison. Even when he was sick with the illness that would ultimately take his life, Asa refused to seek God’s help. (2 Chronicles 16:12)
Jehoshaphat was the third Judean king who caught my attention. Early in his reign, Jehoshaphat “took great pride in the ways of the Lord,” and sent teachers throughout his realm who “taught in Judah, having the book of the law of the Lord with them” (2 Chronicles 17:6-9). But years later Jehoshaphat allied himself with the evil and idolatrous King Ahab. When he asked Jehoshaphat’s help in an impending war, Jehoshaphat replied, “I am as you are, and my people as your people, and we will be with you in the battle” (2 Chronicles 18:3). Not surprising was God’s response to the Judean king: “Shall you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord, so as to bring judgment upon yourself?” (2 Chronicles 19:2)
I closed the Bible and settled into an uneasy self-reflection. How could such great men start so well and end so poorly? And more important, if it could happen to them, could it happen to me? And if so, how do I prevent it?
Before the last question crossed my mind, the Holy Spirit dropped the answer into my heart. It was from a text I’d memorized some time ago about, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
I know myself well enough that I dare not presume I could never finish poorly, as those three kings. All too often the same conflict St. Paul groaned of in his letter to the Romans wages war within me as well: “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).
How do I fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith? The Holy Spirit answered my question just as quickly as I asked it: Regularly receive the Sacraments, and spend time each day in prayer and studying – not just reading – studying the Scriptures.
It’s really that simple. And it’s also that difficult. Staying focused on Jesus requires perseverance. And vigilance.
And above all, God’s grace.
While the many tasks and necessities of day to day living sometimes seamlessly entice my gaze from Christ, the choice ever remains – to finish as Solomon, Asa, and Jehoshaphat – or to finish as Saints Paul, Peter, Timothy, and so many others in Church history.
O Lord, have mercy on me, the sinner.