"A Heart That's Loyal"
2 Chronicles 14-16
(Delivered Sunday, December 16, 2001 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
"For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him" (2 Chronicles 16:9).
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The Bible contains many great promises from God. And these promises can generally be divided into two categories: unconditional promises, and conditional promises. God's unconditional promises are those in which God pledges to do something independent of anything done by the person or persons to whom He makes the promise. There are many such promises in the Bible; and we can praise God that there are, because we poor sinners are richly blessed by them. God's conditional promises, on the other hand, depend on the other party keeping his or her end of the agreement. There are many of these in the Bible as well.
In this verse, we see a wonderful promise from God. It's one that we can count on, and that we should gladly claim to ourselves. But we must be careful to note that it's a conditional promise. We have a decisive part to play in whether or not we'll benefit from it.
Look first at what God promises to do in it. He promises to "show Himself strong on behalf of" a certain individuals. In the NIV, it says that He will "strengthen" them. In the NASB, it says that He will "strongly support" them. In other words, the Almighty God - the very Creator and Sustainer of the universe - personally pledges to exercise His might for, and be the strength of, those who keep their end of this conditional promise. Can you depend on a greater promise to get you through the trials and troubles of life than this one? Can you ask for more than this verse is offering you? What could ever harm us if God shows Himself strong on our behalf?
And look at God's expressed eagerness to enter into this promise with you and me. This verse uses a figure of speech that's very vivid - that of God's eyes racing throughout the whole earth in search for someone that is fulfilling the condition of this promise, so that He can fully keep it toward them. He, as it were, searches throughout the whole world - scrutinizing every heart, and looking carefully for anyone to whom He can keep this glorious promise. This means that you and I don't have to seek God out in order to plead for Him to show Himself strong on our behalf. This means that you and I don't have to try to talk God into it. He is, in fact, already more eager to keep this promise to us than we are to seek it from Him.
God is eager to show Himself strong on our behalf; and the one condition He seeks from us is that we commit ourselves to remaining loyal to Him - that is to remain in a covenant relationship of peaceful fellowship with Him and never allow ourselves to step out of it. The NIV translates it, "... those whose hearts are fully committed to him." The NASB translates it, "... those whose heart is completely His". He seeks those whose heart is loyal to Him.
Have you ever considered what it means to be loyal to God? To be completely His? To be fully committed to Him? We might be tempted to think of the word "faithfulness" in this case; but - to me, anyway - the English word "loyalty" is better, and connotes something more than mere "faithfulness". "Faithfulness" conveys to me a sense of being steadfast, reliable, and consistent; and if those things describe faithfulness, than it's certainly a good thing to be. But you can make an outward show of that sort of faithfulness toward God, and yet, not really be faithful toward Him in your heart.
A good friend of mine pointed out to me once that faithfulness is the main characteristic of the big tree in his front yard. "Faithfulness" is something that comes pretty easily to his tree. It stays stuck in the same place all the time; and it never moves. Every morning, he looks out the window to see that, with the dawning of a new day, the old tree is still faithfully sitting in the same spot. He's confident that it will remain faithful for years to come.
But he would never say that his tree was "loyal" to him. "Loyalty" suggests that a self-conscious choice is being made; that an act of the will is being performed; and my friend's tree doesn't exercise a will. His tree doesn't have to fight the occasional temptation to rebel against him, run away from home, and plant itself in the neighbor's yard. "Loyalty" suggests the possibility that "faithfulness" can be tested in such a way as to be tempted toward "unfaithfulness". Certainly, God wants us to be "faithful" to Him - steadfast, reliable, consistent; but more than that, He wants us to be "loyal" - to choose to remain faithful to Him when we're tempted to do otherwise; and to remain loyal to Him as an act of our will - to choose to be loyal to Him in our hearts, down to the very core of our being.
"Loyalty" is much more than a behavior; it's a character quality. It isn't merely something that you do; it's something that you are. No one can say, "I'm going to be loyal ... but just for a little while. And then, I'll try being unloyal for a while. And after that, who knows? Maybe I'll go back to being loyal again!" You can't really say that you're occasionally "loyal", and occasionally "disloyal", and make any true "loyalty" come out of it. If we look at loyalty to God as something we can turn on or turn off whenever we wish, then we never really were "loyal" to God in the first place. God doesn't promise to show Himself strong on behalf of those who are only loyal to Him when it's to their advantage to be so; but those who are loyal to Him even when it costs them everything. He doesn't show Himself strong on behalf of those who only make an outward show of loyalty to Him; but those whose heart is loyal to Him. He doesn't show Himself strong on behalf of those who are only partially "loyal" to Him; but those who are completely loyal to Him.
Yes, the demands of this promise from God are high. But consider the greatness of the promise that God makes. God promises to show Himself strong on behalf of anyone whose heart is loyal to Him - that is, to anyone who is fully committed to meeting life on His terms, fully committed to staying true to His agenda, and fully committed to keeping His commandments. He promises here to show Himself strong to anyone who will remain loyal to Him from the heart even when it hurts to do so, even when the world, the flesh and the devil scream to do otherwise, even when it looks like being disloyal to Him would make things better.
This doesn't mean, of course, that you must be perfect. There will be times when you'll fail. But King David sinned terribly, and God still said that he was a man after His own heart. God doesn't expect you to have a perfect record; but He wants your record to display that you have a heart of loyalty to Him.
This world desperately needs to see people through whom God shows Himself strong. And God wants that to happen too. He searches diligently throughout the whole earth in order to find those through whom He may display His mighty power. But let's be clear on this: He pours Himself into trustworthy containers; not into leaky buckets. The leaks are revealed in the tests of faith through times of trial. That's when our loyalty - or lack of it - is really found out.
Do we make Him our very first trust at such times; or do we turn to Him as a last resort? That shows our loyalty. Do we make sure that we depend on Him completely; or do we try to augment our trust in Him with a few "back-up measures ... just in case"? That too shows our loyalty. Do we commit ourselves to meeting our problems in His way, and solving them in obedience to His commands; or do we turn to the solutions that the world offers, and consider God's solutions as "just one of many options"? Do we commit ourselves to trust Him and obey Him in the decisive moments of life, even when it seems at first as if trusting and obeying isn't getting us where we want to be; or do we find we very easily turn from obedience and trust in Him, and say, "See? I knew it wouldn't work"? Loyalty is "shown" in the time of trial.
God looks to you and me to be loyal to Him; and every day, dear brother or sister in Christ, that loyalty is put to the test. I believe God has given us this promise because He wants very much to show Himself strong in your life and mine. And I believe He has given us the story that surrounds this promise to encourage us to become the kind of people that fulfill its condition, and to whom He may freely keep it.
May God encourage us with this story to be a people whose heart proves loyal to Him; so that He may show Himself strong through us.
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This wonderful promise is given to us in the context of the life story of one of the Old Testament kings of Judah; a king named Asa. Asa was a great king of the southern kingdom of Judah; and he was a near descendent of righteous King David. After David died, his son Solomon reigned; and then, after Solomon, his son Rehoboam became king - during whose reign the kingdom was split in two, with Rehoboam king of the southern kingdom. Then came Rehoboam's son Abijah; and then, after Abijah, came his son Asa.
Sadly, the Bible tells us that Asa's father was a king that did not demonstrated a walk of loyalty to God. There were many great things that Abijah did; but 1 Kings 15:3 tells us that "he walked in all the sins of his father [that is, Rehoboam], which he had done before him; his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David." The story went like this: David walked with God to the very end; Solomon walked with God, but wondered away in the end. Rehoboam didn't even get around to walking with God. And Abijah walked in the sins of Rehoboam. Asa's family had a sad record when it came to loyalty to God. In fact, Asa's grandmother, a woman named Maachah, even went so far as to set up an 'ashterah pole' in Judah - an obscene-looking monument to a goddess of fertility that was worshiped by some of the surrounding nations.
But in spite of all this, this is what we read of King Asa:
Asa did what was good and right in th eyes of the LORD his God, for he removed the alters of the foreign gods and the high places, and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the wooden images. He commanded Judah to seek the LORD God of their fathers, and to observe the law and the commandment. He also removed the high places and the incense alters from all the cities of Judah, and the kingdom was quiet under him. And he built fortified cities in Judah, for the land had rest; he had no war in those years, because the LORD had given him rest. Therefore he said to Judah, "Let us build these cities and make walls around them, and towers, gates, and bars, while the land is yet before us, because we have sought Him, and He has given us rest on every side." So they built and prospered. And Asa had an army of three hundred thousand from Judah who carried shields and spears, and from Benjamin two hundred and eighty thousand men who carried shields and drew bows; all these were mighty men of valor (2 Chron. 14:1-8).
I believe Asa's reign came as a great relief to Judah. He came to the throne at a very young age - perhaps as young as 11 or 12. But he not only led the nation in spiritual reform, but he also worked hard to make the nation stronger and more secure. God gave the nation of Judah rest and peace under his rule, because under him, they sought the Lord. Asa reigned for forty-one years in the southern kingdom of Judah; and the northern kingdom of Israel went through as many as seven ungodly kings during Asa's reign. From all outward appearances, Asa was showing himself to be a king with a heart that was loyal to God.
And that's when the test of his loyalty came. And what a test it was!! The Bible says, "Then Zerah the Ethiopian [or "Cushite", as it is in some translations] came out against him with an army of a million men and three hundred chariots, and he came to Mareshah" (v. 9).
Mareshah was a city in the center of Judah - just 15 miles or so south of Jerusalem. And from the deeper south came this hostile Ethiopian enemy with a million-man army, equipped with thirty chariots. They outnumbered Asa's army two-to-one; and certainly had the better of him in terms of equipment.
And how did Asa respond to this test? How would you respond? What would a man whose heart was loyal to God do at a time like this? Would he past the test and prove his loyalty to be genuine? We read what happened next:
So Asa when out against him, and they set the troops in battle array in the Valley of Zephathah at Mareshah. And Asa cried out to the LORD his God, and said, "LORD, it is nothing for You to help, whether with many or with those who have no power; help us, O LORD our God, for we rest on You, and in Your name we go against this multitude. O LORD, You are our God; do not let man prevail against You!" (vv. 10-11).
Asa proved his loyalty to God through his trust in God at a moment of crisis. He didn't run from the trial; nor did he turn to some human method of gaining the upper-hand in it. He simply responded to the trial by stopping where he was, and turning the matter over to God in prayer.
Look at Asa's prayer. First, notice that it was a prayer of confident faith. He affirmed that God was able to help the people of Judah; and that it didn't matter whether it was through a huge army or a small army with no power. It made no difference that the Ethiopians outnumbered them two-to-one, if God fought for them.
Second, notice that it was a prayer of humble dependency. He appealed to God for help. He cried out, "Help us, O LORD our God."
Third, notice that it was a prayer of committed trust. "We rest in You," he said; "and in Your name we go against this multitude." With confident faith and humble dependency upon God, he went with God into action.
And finally, notice that it was a prayer for God's honor. He prayed, "O LORD, You are our God; do not let man prevail against You!" He didn't pray, "Don't let the enemy prevail against us;" but rather "against You." He was concerned for God's reputation - not his own.
Asa was loyal to God; and he gave solid proof of that loyalty by making God His sole trust, and by keeping his trust in God at a time of trial. And look what happened as a result:
So the LORD struck the Ethiopians before Asa and Judah, and the Ethiopians fled. And Asa and the people who were with him pursued them to Gerar. So the Ethiopians were overthrown, and they could not recover, for they were broken before the LORD and His army. And they carried away very much spoil. Then they defeated all the cities around Gerar, for the fear of the LORD came upon them; and they plundered all the cities, for there was exceedingly much spoil in them. They also attacked the livestock enclosures, and carried off sheep and camels in abundance, and returned to Jerusalem (vv. 10-15).
We're not told by what miraculous means this vast Ethiopian army was defeated; but we're simply told that they were "broken before the LORD and His army". And it all happened because, before anything else, Asa cried out to God. God showed Himself strong on behalf of Asa, because Asa's heart proved itself loyal to God. He proved it by making God is first and foremost trust.
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This became a very "teachable moment" for Asa and for the people of Judah. God means for it to be a very teachable moment for us too. The text goes on to say that God sent a prophet to teach the importance of this lesson in loyalty:
Now the Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded. And he went out to meet Asa, and said to him: "Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin. The LORD is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you. For a long time Israel has been without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without law; but when in their trouble they turned to the LORD God of Israel, and sought Him, He was found by them. And in those times there was no peace to the one who went out, nor to the one who came in, but great turmoil was on all the inhabitants of the lands. So nation was destroyed by nation, and city by city, for God troubled them with every adversity. But you, be strong and do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded!" (15:1-7).
This word from God had a powerful effect on Asa. The Bible tells us that he took courage from it and expanded the spiritual reform in Judah even further. He removed all the idols from the lands and cities that he had conquered; and restored the worship of God in those lands. He removed his paganistic grandmother from being queen, and destroyed the obscene idol that she had set up. He gathered all the people from Judah and from Benjamin, along with a vast number of people from some of the regions of the northern kingdom that had come to him "when they saw that the LORD his God was with him" (v. 9); and he called them together to Jerusalem. There, they offered a great offering to the Lord from all the spoils that they had brought from their victory over the Ethiopian army. Ant they entered together into a firm covenant, and took an oath together, to seek the LORD God with all their heart and soul.
And the Bible says, "and He was found by them, and the LORD gave them rest all around" (v. 15).
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Dear brother or sister; let's learn the lesson from this. Loyalty to God isn't shown in our words. It's shown in the moment of trial. It's shown by the fact that, in a crisis, or in a moment of decision, or in a time of need, we turn to God as our first and foremost trust; and stay reliant upon Him to the very end. True loyalty is shown in an obedience to these words: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths" (Prov. 3:5-6).
God promises to "direct our paths", if we will (1) trust in Him with all our heart, (2) refuse to make our own "understanding" the thing we lean on, and (3) acknowledge Him in all our ways. That's a great description of what true "loyalty" to God looks like. And it teaches us how this wonderful "conditional promise" is to look from our perspective. >From God's perspective, it looks like this: "For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him."
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And so, Asa was a man of great loyalty to God? And no doubt, he grew and grew in ever increasing levels of trust in God ... right? Well, get ready for another lesson in loyalty. As we go on, we read:
In the thirty-sixth year of the reign of Asa, Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah and built Ramah, that he might let none go out or come in to Asa king of Judah. Then Asa brought silver and gold from the treasuries of the house of the LORD and of the king's house, and sent to Ben-Hadad king of Syria, who dwelt in Damascus, saying, "Let there be a treaty between you and me, as there was between my father and your father. See, I have sent you silver and gold; come, break your treaty with Baasha king of Israel, so that he will withdraw from me." So Ben-Hadad heeded King Asa, and sent the captains of his armies against the cities of Israel. They attacked Ijon, Dan, Abel Maim, and all the storage cities of Naphtali. Now it happened, when Baasha heard it, that he stopped building Ramah and ceased his work. Then King Asa took all Judah, and they carried away the stones and timber of Ramah, which Baasha had used for building; and with them he built Geba and Mizpa (16:1-7).
Some twenty years or so after the great victory God gave Asa over the Ethiopian armies, another military crisis arose - one that was rather minor compared to the first. The king of the northern kingdom of Israel had set up a fortification against Judah; and as a result, free passage into Judah had become blocked. This would have been nothing to a God who could destroy a million-man army; but Asa didn't turn to God. Instead, he turned to another nation - the nation of Syria, which was north of the northern kingdom of Israel. Instead of trusting God, Asa did something terrible: he took the gold and silver out of the treasury of the temple, as well as from the royal palace, and bought the Syrian king's assistance. There was no mention at all of the God he had once trusted and saw work so mightily on his behalf.
The deceiving thing about this disloyal act on Asa's part is that it appeared to work. The king of the northern kingdom backed off because he was fenced in on both sides. And the southern kingdom was able to disassemble the fortification, and use it to fortify its own cities.
This was, once again, another teachable moment:
And at that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah, and said to him: "Because you have relied on the king of Syria, and have not relied on the LORD your God, therefore the army of the king of Syria has escaped from your hand. Were the Ethiopians and the Lubim not a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet, because you relied on the LORD, He delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. In this you have done foolishly; therefore from now on you shall have wars" (16:7-9).
Does it surprise you to see that our verse comes to us, not as an encouragement at a time of victory, but as a harsh rebuke at a time of disloyalty? God wants to show Himself strong on our behalf; but He wont do so if we will not show ourselves loyal in making Him our first and foremost trust.
The Bible tells us, sadly, that Asa became angry with this prophet for having told him the truth so bluntly; and he locked him in painful stocks in a prison. And then, he turned to oppressing some of his own people - perhaps because they spoke out in shock at his wicked response to this rebuke from God, and because of his own failure to stay true to his former pledge of loyalty. And we read of King Asa's pathetic end in these words: "And in the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa became diseased in his feet, and his malady was severe; yet in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but the physicians" (v. 12). It wasn't that he did wrong in going to the physicians; but rather it was wrong in that he trusted in them rather than in God. He died shortly thereafter; honored by his nation, but after having become dreadfully disloyal to God.
Asa's loyalty was tested a second time; and he failed the test, simply because he didn't turn to God in a time of trial. And I would like to suggest three lessons we can learn from this failure.
First, we learn that, just because we've proven our loyalty to God by trusting Him in the past, that doesn't mean we should let our guard down in the present. One of the surprising things we learn from reading about the kings of the Old Testament is that the potential for disloyalty to God sometimes comes in the later years of someone who had proven very loyal in the younger years. We read often of kings who were zealous for the Lord as young men, and idolaters as old men. It can happen to us too, if we're not diligent to stay loyal to God in each trial that comes our way. May we remain vigilant in staying loyal to God through our trust in Him - especially at times when we think we've gotten this "loyalty thing" down.
Second, we learn that those times when God shows Himself strong on our behalf obligates us to loyalty in the future. God had shown Himself remarkably strong on Asa's behalf, when he faced a million-man enemy. Asa should have known to trust God immediately when faced with a much smaller crisis. Sadly, his downfall wasn't from this second enemy; but rather from his failure to remember what God did in the case of his first enemy. May we learn the lessons from God's faithfulness to us; and may we grow in our loyalty to Him as a result of those lessons.
Finally, we learn that a little disloyalty to God can lead us to harden our heart. Asa's failed to turn to God when he should have; and his disloyalty resulted in his turning against God - as shown by the fact that he put God's prophet in prison, and began to oppress God's people. In the end, he wouldn't even turn to God for something so simple as the healing of his feet. May we not allow disloyalty to God to gain even a single foothold in our lives!
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God longs to show Himself strong on our behalf. He promises He will. But we must fulfill our part of this great promise. We must prove loyal to Him in the times of trial. His eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of any man or any woman whose heart is loyal to Him. May we keep our end of this conditional promise; so that He may keep His end of it to us.
(copyright 2001 by Pastor Greg Allen and Bethany Bible Church. Reproduction without permission, in whole or in part, is prohibited.)
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