Avraham ben Yaakov
II CHRONICLES CHAPTER 14
Asa already began to rule over Judah when his father Avi-yah became sick, and after his death reigned for forty-one years spanning the rule of eight kings of Israel (Yerav'am ben Nevat, Nadav, Ba'sha, Eilah, Zimri, Tivni, Omri and Ahab). Asa is considered to have been a righteous king (although this was somewhat marred towards the end of his life, as we will see in II Chron. 16).
It happened numerous times in the history of the kings of Judah that one or more generations of kings who veered from the Torah were succeeded by a saintly revivalist king who effected a spiritual re-arousal in the people. This was so in the case of Asa, the fifth king after David, following Rehav'am and Avi-yah, both of whom had strayed successively further from the true path of the Torah. Asa's first acts were to remove the various idolatrous cult altars etc. that had infiltrated Judah , and as we read in our text (v 5) God rewarded him with peace and quiet after the warfare that had plagued the people in the reigns of Rehav'am (vs. Sheeshak of Egypt) and Avi-yah (vs Yerav'am king of Israel ).
"And Zerach the Kushite went out with an army of a thousand thousands." (v 8). According to the rabbis (Pesachim 119a), God saw Asa's righteousness and wanted to return all the treasures that had been plundered from Jerusalem in the time of Rehav'am. He thus arranged for Zerach to carry all these treasures with him as he went out to battle. Zerach is identified by some historians with Pharaoh Assarchan I, who like Sheeshak was the founder of a Libyan dynasty of kings of Egypt and who shared his ambitions to reincorporate Israel as a province under the Egyptian sphere of influence. Zerach advanced with his million-strong army along the coastal plain via Gaza to Ashkelon, from where he turned eastwards to Gath and onwards to Mareshah (which is about midway between Gath and Hebron ), threatening the very heartland of Judea .
Asa's prayer as he went out to meet these hordes in battle is in the tradition of bold Davidic faith and trust that God has the power to help even the weak and helpless (vv 10-11). God struck the Zerach and his African armies and Asa and his men chased them back to G'rar (known to us from the days of Abraham, Gen. 20:1ff) southwest of Gaza , returning with enormous plunder.
The prophecy of Azaryahu ben Odeid to Asa and all the people was intended to take advantage of the atmosphere of triumph after the defeat of Zerach and his hordes in order to drive home the essential message of all the prophets: that if Israel will search out HaShem and follow His Torah, their enemies will fall before them and they will have peace in their land.
"Now for a long time Israel has been without the true God and without a teaching priest and without Torah" (v 3). In the Hebrew text, the same words can be read as a comment about the past or a prophecy of what was yet to come. In Midrash Vayikra Rabbah ch 19 they are interpreted as a future prophecy that a time would come when no justice would be visible in the world, when the role of the high priest would become defunct and when there would be no more Sanhedrin. The Midrash says that on hearing this, the people of Asa's generation felt completely helpless, until a prophetic voice said to them, "But as for you, be strong and do not let your hands become weak, for there is a reward for your work" (v 7). We may learn from this that even though in our own times the world seems to be becoming darker and darker in many ways, it is up to us to strengthen ourselves and continue in the path of the Torah, ".for there is a reward for your work!"
Azariah's prophecy inspired King Asa to redouble his efforts to purify the land of idolatry and to renovate the Temple Altar , after which he called a great assembly of all the people in Jerusalem , including many from the other tribes besides Judah and Benjamin who had come to join him. Being held in the third month (Sivan) this assembly was like a new Receiving the Torah (which originally took place in the month of Sivan) and Asa renewed the Covenant between God and Israel . Present-day lovers of freedom and tolerance may be interested to note that any man, woman or child who did not join in this national commitment to search out HaShem was to be killed (v 13).
"And even Ma'achah the mother did Asa the king remove from being queen." (v 16). There is some debate about the exact identity of this Ma'achah (see Rashi and RaDaK ad loc. and Rashi on II Chron. 13:2). According to RaDaK she was Ma'achah daughter of Absalom, who was not Asa's mother but his grandmother - i.e. the mother of King Avi-yah and the widow of Rehav'am. She was thus the dowager Queen Mother and a woman who presumably had formidable prestige and influence in the kingdom. That Asa was able to remove her entrenched idolatry (which according to the rabbis was sculpted with a phallus that she used regularly, see Rashi on v 16) was an enormous achievement, and in reward for his efforts he was spared war for most of the rest of his reign (v 19).
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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