The Psalmist prayed in Psalm 119:154, “Revive me according to Thy word,” and in Psalm 85:6, “Wilt Thou not revive us again?” The revival of the individual is the first important prerequisite to the experience of revival in the community of God’s people. The concern of the Prophet, Habakkuk, was with the work of the Lord when he prayed, “Revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.” For all who are yearning for the showers on the thirsty land, and crying out, “Oh for a mighty revival!” the sacred history of God’s special working in the restoration and blessing of His earthly people by His Spirit through some of the kings of Judah contains many salutary lessons.
From the tragic division, into two kingdoms, of the nation of Israel in the reign of Solomon’s son and successor, Rehoboam, until the captivity of the people of the Southern Kingdom of Judah by the Babylonian monarch, Nebuchadnezzar, in the reign of Zedekiah, there were five periods of divine visitation. These were during the reigns of five great and good kings of Judah. The period from the death of Solomon to the end of the Hebrew monarchy was about 389 years; namely, from 975 B.C. to 386 B.C. The nineteen kings of Judah who ruled during that period were all of the line of David and represented one dynasty. To this dynasty belongs also our Lord Jesus Christ who is shortly to govern the whole universe. Five spiritual movements bringing reformation and temporary revival took place in the Kingdom of Judah in the reigns of Asa, Jehosaphat, Joash, Hezekiah and Josiah.
The temporary nature of those revivals, accompanied as they were by the restoration of godliness and economic prosperity, can be attributed in measure to the mistakes of the kings whom Jehovah used for the blessing of His people and the furtherance of His purposes. Asa did wrong in uniting with Syria against his own people of the Northern kingdom, Jehoshaphat in his alliance with the godless house of Ahab, Joash in his persecution and murder of the prophet of God in his own land, Hezekiah in revealing his national and personal wealth to the Babylonian messengers, and Josiah in his declaration of war on Egypt.
The first great awakening — under Asa — was a reformation by compulsion like many others in subsequent history. While there was much in it pleasing to God, it was short-lived because of this. Like his successors, Asa came to the throne when his people were spiritually diseased and morally unhealthy; and God gave him wisdom to diagnose the condition of the people, and the spiritual enlightenment to act aright. The nation of Judah was then spiritually ill.
A Sick People
The diagnosis is summed up in three phrases in 2 Chronicles 15:3: for a long time — without the true God and without a teaching priest, and without law; they were godless, helpless and lawless.
The people that had been Jehovah’s chosen representatives to bear witness to His power and glory, who had received His promises and revelation and should have been His holy possession, had sunk to the level of the Gentiles, “without God — having no hope” (Eph. 2:12). They had become like the nations around them. The indictment that God made against Israel through Hosea was true of Judah also: they had forgotten their Maker. They had multiplied fenced cities (Hos. 8:14) instead of trusting in the God of deliverances.
Twenty years before, Asa, when Jeroboam set up his opposition State, had rejected God’s priests and Levites and created an idolatrous hierarchy of his own. The priests of Jehovah had remained in Judah to worship the Lord God of their fathers, to minister to Him, and to sound a warning against the wickedness of idolatry (2 Chronicles 11:13-16; 13:10-12). In less than a quarter of a century God’s true priests had either all died or backslidden and become dumb. No longer were they “the messengers of the Lord of hosts,” and the people of Judah were like sheep without a shepherd, pilgrims without a guide.
Having set aside God and lacking godly leaders, Judah had no spiritual or moral resistance to wrong and became lawless. Sin is lawlessnes; therefore for the nation of Judah in its diseased state cleansing from sin was a prime necessity. God raised up a means of healing.
A Royal Physician
Asa, and a Prophet, Azariah, the son of Oded, endued with God’s spirit were to stem the tide of evil. Asa received the promise of the Lord’s presence and help, and the exhortation, “Be strong, therefore, and let not your hands be weak; for your work shall be rewarded” (2 Chronicles 15:7).
Asa was a grandson of Rehoboam in whose reign the nation had been divided into two kingdoms, and great-grandson of the wise and prosperous King Solomon. He found the nation, over which he was destined by heredity and in divine purpose to rule, a very sick people indeed. There is no doubt that he was God’s emergency man for his people under such conditions. His name means physician or healer, and the chapters in the Bible that recount his home and foreign policy prove that he was admirably qualified for his task. Blessed with good health, for he reigned forty years, endowed with knowledge and skill to govern wayward people, enthused with a strong zeal to promote godliness and righteous living, and encouraged in his service by the living Word of God through a Spirit-filled messenger, Azariah the son of Oded (2 Chronicles 15:1-7), who delivered his message and retired. When Asa heard his words, he took courage. The leaders in the Church of God today need, as Asa did, the stimulating encouragement, “Be strong, therefore, and let not your hands be weak; for your work shall be rewarded.”
We are not here to play, to dream, to drift:
We have hard work to do and loads to lift:
Shun not the struggle: face it, ‘tis God’s gift.”
The qualities Asa possessed to make him a successful spiritual doctor and get his sick patient well on the way to recovery are indicated in 2 Chronicles 14. The first essential was, of course, personal righteousness. “Asa did that which was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God” (2 Chronicles 14:2). Knowledge of the ailment (14:3) is also necessary if the proper course of action is to be taken. Asa made a correct diagnosis and attacked the seat of the disease, the altars of strange gods and the high places and groves. He was prompt in dealing with the evil, and in fighting the germs that had produced the unhealthy national and spiritual condition; and he displayed remarkable foresight in fortifying the nation against inroads of disease from without. It is a recognized principle of medical science that powers of resistance must be strengthened if relapses in the future are to be avoided. Recognizing this, Asa built fenced cities and battlements to prevent idolatrous, immoral and iniquitous systems from invading the nation’s life, opposed the alien armies that came against him, and robbed the enemy of much of its power by gaining a decisive victory over it (2 Chronicles 14:12-13).
Like a truly good and devout physician, Asa recognized that the power of the Lord must be present to heal, and placed his reliance not on his armies, but on the power of God (14:11). His words, “We rest on Thee, and in Thy name we go,” have inspired a poet to write one of our beautiful hymns:
“We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender!
We go not forth alone against the foe;
Strong in Thy strength, and in Thy keeping tender,
We rest on Thee, and in Thy name e go.
“We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling,
And needing more each day Thy grace to know;
Yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing,
We rest on Thee, and in Thy name we go.”