The Piety of King Asa

Abijah's son Asa, who succeeded his father as king of Judea, was truly pious and G‑d fearing. During his long reign of forty-one years he was successful in his determined efforts to purify and restore the true religion of his people and their belief in the one and only G‑d and His Torah. He lived in deepest accord with the prophets and priests who in his time exerted the strongest influence over the people of Judea. Most of the idolatries that had infiltrated during the time of Asa's father and grandfather were abolished. Not only did he expel the heathen priests from the land, but he even deprived his mother of her queenly privileges, because she obstinately clung to the worship of Ashtarte.

Asa was truly a worthy descendant of David.

Asa's Confidence in G‑d

Asa began to enrich the Temple with newly consecrated treasures of gold and silver. He fortified the cities in the strategic points of the land and trained fresh troops from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the art of warfare.

The strength of Asa's army was soon put to test. The mighty King Zerah of Kush (Ethiopia) had conquered Egypt under Shishak, and, among other loot, had taken away treasures Shishak had stolen from the Holy Temple and the royal palace in Jerusalem. Eager for more treasures, King Zerah led his mighty army against Judea. He forced King Asa into battle, as there appeared to be no prospect of victory for the outnumbered army of Judea. Asa, however, prayed to G‑d for help, and Zerah's troops were completely defeated. Asa pursued the fleeing Ethiopian divisions as far as Philistinia and recovered all the loot Shishak had taken from Jerusalem. This miraculous victory strengthened Asa's position both in the eyes of his own people and in the eyes of the other nations. When he returned to Jerusalem at the head of his victorious troops, he was jubilantly received, and the prophet Azariahu came to greet him and convey to him the following message from G‑d: "The L-rd is with you, when you are with Him, and if you seek Him, he permits Himself to be found by you; but if you desert Him, He will desert you too." This message from G‑d was the signal for an intensive campaign to clear out every trace of idolatry still left in the land. Harsh punishment was inflicted upon those who were caught violating G‑d's holy commands, and all those who were found serving idols were threatened with death.

Many people from the kingdom of the Ten Tribes were attracted by the success of King Asa, who was obviously in favor with G‑d. They were the pious and noble elements who could not bear the turmoil of continual fighting over the throne of Israel and the G‑dlessness of its various occupants. Asa's prestige was growing.

Asa's War with Baasha

Baasha, who at that time was king over Israel, desired to weaken the prestige of Judea, which was increasing even in his own realm. He was all the more apprehensive because of a prophecy that after thirty-six years the breach in King Solomon's empire would be healed, since Solomon's thirty-six-year long marriage with the Egyptian princess would, by that time, have been atoned for. King Asa appeared to be the man under whom this prophecy might come true.

Resolved to carry out his plan, Baasha began to build near the border of Judea, the city of Ramah, from which he hoped to control his rival kingdom. Asa well understood Baasha's intention. He was further alarmed by Baasha's overtures to Benhadad, king of Syria, to help him in his design upon Judea. However, in the ensuing strife with the jealous king Baasha, Asa made a grave mistake. Instead of siding with the prophets who had supported him thus far and helped him in the most desperate situations, Asa put his trust in political play. The great courage with which he had formerly faced the overwhelming hosts of the Ethiopians failed him on this occasion, and he lent a willing ear to the advice of his counselors who told him that he could easily win Benhadad over to his side by outbidding his rival Baasha. Asa followed this advice and offered Benhadad the treasures he had taken away from the vanquished Ethiopian army. Benhadad, who liked money, was easily tempted, especially since he regarded an alliance with Judea as a safer bet than an alliance with his troublesome neighbor, the king of Israel.

While Baasha was busy fortifying his frontiers against Judea, his former confederate Benhadad attacked him in the north and forced him to leave his half-finished work and rush to the defense of his land. King Asa took full advantage of this situation and destroyed Israel's frontier defenses. The construction material was hauled to his side of the border and there was erected an equally strong line of fortifications that assured Judea against further invasions from Israel.

But, Asa had displeased G‑d by his lack of faith, and for the remainder of his reign he was continually troubled by fighting against Baasha and other neighbors, just as the prophet Hanani had predicted. Asa died in the forty-first year of his reign. He was one of the most pious kings of Judea. Except for his slip in the case of Baasha, he faithfully followed the teachings of the Prophets and devoted his time to the glorification of G‑d's name among His people. He outlived five successive kings in the neighboring kingdom of Israel. The people of Judea deeply mourned his death and gave the deceased monarch the most glorious burial ever given to one of their kings. Asa was succeeded by his equally pious son Jehoshaphat.