It won’t be possible to look at the whole story of Asa’s reign in the study. I suggest you just look at ch.14, his early years, and ch.16, his latter years. But it is worth reading ch.15 (and encouraging your groups to read all three chapters beforehand) because in many ways ch.15 provides fills out the lessons of the story of Asa (and applies them to all the people of God) – see 15:2.
Asa came to throne just 20 years after Solomon’s death, 20 fairly turbulent years. His reign was long and prosperous (41 years), and the overall assessment is good (see v.2). A key word in these chapters is the word “seek”, which comes 9x: Asa sought the Lord and urged the people to do the same (14:4), because in that way they would know God’s blessing (14:7). The idea of seeking the Lord implies turning away from idols (so he tried to root out idolatry, vv.3,5) and looking to God in dependence, obedience and devotion.
One event in particular is recalled, the threatened invasion by a vast Egyptian/Sudanese army. Asa had carefully built his defences and armed forces, but he puts his trust very clearly in God. His brief prayer in v.11 is one of the great prayers of the Bible. He reminds himself first who God is: “LORD”, in capitals, is God’s covenant name, the God who had committed Himself to them in covenant love. Then he reminds himself what God is like: “there is no-one like you to help the powerless against the mighty”. What a truth to savour! And then he prays a very simple prayer: “Help us … for we rely on you” And having invoked the help of the covenant God, he says “It’s now your battle! Defeat for us would be defeat for you. Don’t let man prevail against you!”. He trusts utterly, unreservedly, in God, and God proves utterly trustworthy. God’s power was made perfect in weakness, and the victory and the glory was His (vv.12-14).
This is now towards the end of his reign. There’s another crisis (16:1), though it is nothing comparable to having Egyptians hordes poised to invade. This is more a nuisance – their northerly neighbours cutting off trade routes, like French farmers blockading Channel ports. Often though, in the big trials we cling readily to God, and it’s in the smaller trials that our faith fails, because we think we can handle things on our own. Asa was by now an experienced king, a wise politician, and he thought he could deal with this. He makes a deal with Aram (ie Syria) and says “I’ll make it worth your while if you break your treaty with Israel and attack them”. The plan works, Israel is forced to redeploy their forces, and Asa is even able to plunder the supplies left behind. It looks as though it was a smart move, but God says it was foolish.
God’s words through the prophet give the true assessment of what’s happened (16:7-9). Asa had failed to rely on God, as he had done earlier, the God who is always eagerly on the look out to show grace and to offer help to those who will trust Him (v.9a). As a consequence he had missed out on greater blessing – God would have delivered the King of Aram into his hand (v.7); and there would be fallout – “from now on you will be at war” (v.9).
Though he had once shown great faith, at the end of his life Asa is scarcely on speaking terms with God. The name “Asa” literally means “God heals”, but it is striking that when he is afflicted with some disease he doesn’t now look to God, but simply to his doctors. He was a great king, and was loved and honoured by his people (v.14), but he is a warning of the danger of becoming less reliant on God as we go on in our Christian walk. Does our prayer life, our response to life’s difficulties and trials, reflect a similar slide?