An army of a million soldiers, led by an ambitious Ethiopian named Zerah, had come from the south to invade the nation Judah. King Asa met them with only about half as many troops. Knowing that he would probably be utterly defeated unless God purposed otherwise, he earnestly appealed to God for help. (II Chronicles 14:8-11.)
God Overthrows an Army
Unaware that violent storm clouds were quickly gathering overhead, the invaders charged toward the Jews first with their three hundred swiftly-drawn chariots. When they were only a short distance from the first ranks of Asa's archers, a cloudburst struck. At the same instant, God sent a violent earthquake which shattered the ground and quickly halted the chariots' charge. The chariots floundered instead of running down their intended victims. Giant hailstones fell. The Ethiopian charioteers, in panic, fled. Egyptian records tell of this divine overthrow. Psalm 46:1-11 describes how God did it. The sudden destruction of the chariot brigade was a bad omen to the invaders. When Zerah's oncoming foot soldiers saw what had happened, they were unnerved. They realized something supernatural had occurred. Their savage shouts died away or turned to murmurs of puzzlement and fear. The Israelites realized God was helping them. They let loose a cloud of spears and arrows on Zerah's foremost ranks, then rushed in for close combat with swords and spears. The Jews were anxious to fight while the enemy was so disorganized and their will to battle was at a low ebb. As the fighting went on, the falling back quickly developed into a retreat, and the retreat became a rapid, frantic flight to the southwest. (II Chronicles 14:12.) When the pursuit reached Gerar, a town near the coast south of Judah, the enemy troops tried to make a stand against the Jews, who promptly forced them out of Gerar and on to the south. While battling their way through the town, Asa and his men discovered why the enemy had tried to fight back at that location. The town was full of loot that had been taken by Zerah and his army on the way north. Gerar, as well as other towns in southern Canaan, had been overrun and the occupants had been slain or taken as prisoners. Some of Zerah's men had been left behind to guard what had been accumulated and brought to Gerar. These guards were chased out along with the thousands of wounded who fled on southward in front of Asa's soldiers. When it was obvious that what was left of Zerah's fleeing army was too broken up to ever rally and threaten Judah again, the Israelites gave up the chase and turned back to Gerar. There they gathered together the booty left by the defeated invaders, to take it back to Jerusalem. Returning it would have been impossible, inasmuch as some of the rightful owners were dead, and those who weren't could not be located. Besides articles of gold, silver, brass and leather, there were arms, food, clothing and large herds of sheep, cattle and camels. (II Chronicles 14:13-15.)
A "Pat on the Back" from God
When the victorious Asa, riding at the head of his army, was within a few miles of Jerusalem, a small crowd of prominent citizens set out from the city to be first to welcome and congratulate him. But there was one who was ahead of them. He was Azariah, a man God had chosen to take a message to the king. He approached the oncoming army so closely on his burro that one of Asa's officers was about to give an order to have him removed from their path. "Don't bother him," Asa said. "If he has come out to welcome us, let us stop and honor him for his goodwill." The king was pleased to learn that this man had made a special effort to be first to welcome the returning victors. He was affected and encouraged much more, however, when he heard more from this fellow. "Please listen to what else I have to say, King Asa," Azariah called out. "God has told me things I must tell you. You know now that God has answered the prayer you made to Him before going into battle with the enemy from the south. God is with you, and He will stay with you as long as you obey Him. If you disobey and forsake Him, He will forsake you. Without the Creator's help and protection, life can be uncertain, miserable and even worthless. "Recall Israel's past. Whenever the nation turned from God, great trouble developed among the people. No one was safe at home or in the streets or fields. Crops failed. Disease increased. Neighboring nations started wars. Even the priests couldn't help, because most of them forgot God's laws. But when the people repented and turned back to God, He was always ready to forgive and help them. God has told me to remind you to keep these things in mind and to remain strong by being loyal to God. If you do, your nation shall prosper and can depend on God for its protection." (II Chronicles 15:1-7.) Asa was so moved by these words that as soon as he returned to Jerusalem he set out with fresh enthusiasm to comb out of Judah and Benjamin any places of idol worship his men had overlooked before. He even sent soldiers to the north to weed out idolatry from the towns his father had captured from the ten-tribed House of Israel after the battle with Jeroboam's army. People who looked to God for their way of life began to flock to Judah from the ten tribes, especially from Ephraim, Manasseh and Simeon. They wanted to live in that part of the land that had God's fullest blessings. (II Chronicles 15:8-9.) Every day more Israelites showed up at the temple. That caused Asa to become painfully conscious of the condition of the temple. It hadn't had much repair since being damaged by the Egyptians in Rehoboam's time. Asa tried to restore it and its furnishings to something like their original condition and beauty. The repair of the temple took place before one of God's annual Sabbaths was due. Asa sent word over all Judah and Israel that the day would be observed at Jerusalem with special services and ceremonies. This day was Pentecost, which is observed in these times in late May or June by those who submit to God's authority.
Asa Remembers God
Animals that had been herded up from Gerar after the rout of Zerah's army were brought to the temple. Seven hundred cattle and seven thousand sheep were sacrificed that day. While these offerings were being made, Asa assured the onlookers that their continued obedience would be rewarded in many ways. The people responded with loud cheers and music. They made it known to the king that they wanted to make a public promise to God that they would do their best to live by God's laws, and that they were in favor of death to anyone who failed to obey. "I know God is pleased by your attitude and intentions," Asa said to the crowd. "Now let the Creator hear the voices of you who wish to make this solemn promise." "We will do our best to serve God! If we fail, we deserve death!" These words from thousands of throats surged out with great volume from around the temple, followed by the blast of horns and more joyous shouting and singing. The people were in earnest in this matter, most of them having been faithful to God, for the most part, during the recent eras of idol worship. (II Chronicles 15:10-15.) Before Pentecost ended, a long line of Asa's servants carried treasures of gold, silver and brass into the temple. These were some of the valuables Asa's father had taken from Jeroboam's army sixteen years before. Abijam had intended that they should be used to pay for temple repair and service, but he hadn't carried out that intention. At long last Asa dedicated this wealth to God's business in the temple. (II Chronicles 15:18.) Asa's efforts to help Israel and Judah by turning to God and abolishing idolatry resulted in a period of peace and prosperity. That period probably would have lasted longer if Asa hadn't acted unwisely in a situation that developed between the two nations of Israel and Judah, in which the king of Judah looked for help in the wrong direction. Jeroboam, former ruler of the ten tribes — the nation Israel — had died thirteen years before. He was succeeded by a son, Nadab, who did nothing to remove idolatry from the nation. (I Kings 15:25-26.) During a skirmish with the Philistines in the town of Gibbethon in the territory of Dan, Nadab was killed after only two years as king. He wasn't slain by Philistines, however. His death was planned by a viciously ambitious man from the territory of Issachar. His name was Baasha, an officer of high rank in Nadab's army. The attack against the Philistines to drive them out of Gibbethon gave Baasha an opportunity to do away with the king. While in command of Nadab's army, he ended the lives of all of Nadab's family and seized control of the ten tribes. (I Kings 15:27-28.) This was the fulfillment of the prediction made by Ahijah the prophet to Jeroboam. (I Kings 13:33-I Kings 14:16.) His family line was wiped out and someone else took over the rulership. (I Kings 15:28-34.)
Asa's Faith Weakens
Baasha was far from pleased because many people of Israel were moving to Judah so that they could get away from the idol worship that still abounded in so many places in Israel. He was also angered by Asa's bold entry into Israel's southern towns to destroy idols. Baasha hoped to soon muster an army strong enough to capture Jerusalem and take over all twelve tribes. With the fighting force he commanded, he dared only seize a small town about six miles north of Jerusalem. This town, called Ramah, was on the main road leading into Jerusalem from the north. Baasha immediately started turning it into a strong fortress. His intention was to gain control of traffic in and out of Jerusalem on the north side. (I Kings 15:16-17; II Chronicles 16:1.) When Asa was informed of what Israel was doing so close to the capital of Judah, he was quite perturbed. He wanted to avoid war, and yet he wanted to get Baasha and his men away from Ramah. He thought of a possible way to solve the problem. Unfortunately, it was a way that was certain to compound his trouble. He issued an order that the gold and silver objects in the treasuries of the temple and palace should be packed for moving a long distance. When they were ready, he sent them off by a heavily guarded caravan to Damascus, about a hundred and forty miles to the north. There they were delivered to Ben-hadad, king of Syria, along with a message. "Friendly salutations from Asa, king of Judah," the message read. "I am sending you treasures from my kingdom to bind an understanding that should profit you more than any agreement you might have with Baasha to keep peace with him and his nation. He is now busily fortifying a town near Jerusalem. If you wish to expand your southern borders without resistance, now is your opportunity." Ben-hadad could have kept the bribe of gold and silver without doing anything, but he welcomed this chance to take over a part of Israel. Even before his caravan returned, Asa was relieved and pleased to receive a report that several towns in the territory of Naphtali had been captured by Syrian troops. Until then, he wondered if his gifts to Ben-hadad had been wasted. (I Kings 15:18-21; II Chronicles 16:2-5.) When Baasha heard about the Syrians, he was fearful that they would move on southward, invade Tirzah and plunder his palace. He hurriedly set off for his capital, leaving a small number of soldiers behind to guard the unfinished fortress. As soon as he was told that Baasha had departed, Asa took soldiers to Ramah to seize it from the outnumbered guards. If it had been finished it would have been an exceptionally strong fortress because of its heavy, wooden beams and massive wall stones. Much unused material was stacked inside the half-built wall. Workmen from Judah could have completed the construction, but Asa didn't want a fortification there. Asa decreed that all able-bodied men should go to Ramah to help dismantle and transport the stone and lumber to the towns of Geba and Mizpah only a few miles away in the territory of Benjamin. If Ramah no longer existed, Baasha couldn't claim it as a war prize.
Israel's Kings Reject God
Asa's will was carried out. Thousands of men came to Ramah, which soon became only piles of rubble beside the highway. Geba and Mizpah became fortresses instead. (I Kings 15:22; II Chronicles 16:6.) Meanwhile, King Baasha of Israel was trying to build his army with the intention of conquering Judah. Then, as king of all reunited Israel, he would become militarily strong enough, he hoped, to push back the Syrians and any other enemies who invaded Israel. His ambitions were somewhat dimmed when a prophet by the name of Jehu, sent by God, came to Baasha to tell him what his and his family's future would be. "God has instructed me to remind you that it was He, and not you, who made it possible for you to become ruler of the ten tribes," Jehu told Baasha. "Someone had to succeed Nadab. You were allowed that privilege. If you had been thankful for it, and if you had led the people according to God's laws, you could have become a much more powerful king and could rule for many more years. But because you have lived sinfully and ruled carelessly, causing your people to sin, your fate will shortly become the same as that of Jeroboam. You and your family shall be cut off from leadership of any part of Israel." Baasha motioned for guards to escort the prophet out. He didn't wish to hear anything more Jehu had to say. It troubled him, but he didn't want to appear concerned in front of others. If Baasha had been as troubled as he should have been, he would have changed his ways and perhaps God would have spared him. His life came to an end soon after Jehu's visit. The king was buried in Tirzah after twenty-three years of incapable reigning. (I Kings 16:1-7.) Baasha's son, Elah, became the next ruler. He lived as his father had lived. Only two years later, while he was in a dulled condition from drinking too much, he was slain by a man who had been waiting for just such an opportunity. He was Zimri, one of Elah's cavalry captains. Having dispatched the king, Zimri took command of Tirzah. Then he had all of Elah's family put to death. Jehu's prophecy to Baasha was fulfilled. (I Kings 16:8-14.) Zimri and his men enjoyed the comforts and pleasures of the palace. They didn't have to share them with officers of the army, because the army of Israel was busy besieging the town of Gibbethon, which had been taken by the Philistines. Zimri was sure that when the Israelite soldiers returned from the siege, they would accept him as ruler without too much trouble. Matters didn't quite turn out that way. When the soldiers heard what he had done, they decided that their army commander, Omri, should be the next leader of the ten tribes. Omri was pleased to accept this hasty elevation. His first move was to call off the siege and take his army to Tirzah to besiege it instead. When Zimri was informed that the town was surrounded by the troops he planned to control, and that Omri had come to have him arrested for murder, his future suddenly looked bleak. He ordered his men to defend the gates and the walls, but they saw no reason to die for a leader who wasn't backed by the army of the ten tribes. By the time Omri's soldiers had broken into Tirzah, Zimri had locked himself alone inside the palace and had hidden in the strongest part of the building. The sound of soldiers running through the streets, pounding on the palace doors and yelling his name was too much for Zimri. He was overcome with panic. Seizing a lighted torch, he set fire to his hiding place. (I Kings 16:15-20.) "If I can't have this palace, then nobody else will get it!" he screamed.