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ASA'S WAR WITH ZERAH THE ETHIOPIAN
III. ASA (913-873 B.C.)
THE DEATH OF ABIJAH AND THE ACCESSION OF ASA
"So Abijah slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city of David; and Asa his son reigned in his stead. In his days the land was quiet ten years. And Asa did that which was good and right in the eyes of Jehovah his God: for he took away the foreign altars, and the high places, and brake down the pillars, and hewed down the Asherim, and commanded Judah to seek Jehovah, the God of their fathers, and to do the law and the commandment. Also he took away out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the sun-images: and the kingdom was quiet before him. And he built fortified cities in Judah; for the land was quiet, and he had no war in those years, because Jehovah had given him rest. For he said unto Judah, Let us build these cities, and make about them walls, and towers, gates, and bars; the land is yet before us, because we have sought Jehovah our God; we have sought him, and he hath given us rest on every side. So they built and prospered. And Asa had an army that bare bucklers and spears, out of Judah three hundred thousand; and out of Benjamin, that bare shields and drew bows two hundred and fourscore thousand: all these were mighty men of war."
"In his days, the land was quiet ten years" (2 Chronicles 14:1). This was most likely due in large part to the tremendous victory that God had given Abijah over Jeroboam. Judah had rest, "Until the invasion of Zerah in 896 B.C.; and this was God's reward for Asa's reforms."
The Chronicler gave much more space to Asa than was given in Kings; but this was not due to the Chronicler's having derived all of this, "from his Midrashic source," a false allegation common enough among critics. Greater and greater respect among competent scholars for Chronicles tends more and more to the acceptance of the absolute historicity of every word in it.
"He took away ... the foreign altars ... the high places ... brake down the pillars ... hewed down the Asherim" (2 Chronicles 14:3). Kings also records other reforms of Asa, but these are supplementary, not contradictory. Some scholars have fallen into the error of supposing that the high places, "In earlier years, had been acceptable secondary places for worshipping Jehovah"; but this cannot possibly be true. God had specifically forbidden all of these pagan things in Deuteronomy 16:21-22, and had sternly demanded their destruction (Deuteronomy 7:5; 12:3).
We reject the ridiculous emendation by which the RSV translated pillars in this passage (2 Chronicles 14:5) as incense altars. They were no such thing. The very height of them would have made them useless as altars of incense; those that Solomon put in the temple were 35 cubits high! "They were probably the symbols of the male element in nature ... they and the sacred trees of the Asherah were associated with sexual practices repugnant to the worshippers of God." P.C. Barker backs up this opinion in the Pulpit Commentary.
While serving as a chaplain in Japan and Korea during the Korean war, this writer saw some of those `pillars' associated with pagan worship. They were carved wooden models of the human penis six to eight feet in height; and he still has photographs of them. They were carried in a procession by young virgins in an annual parade.
"Three hundred thousand ... two hundred and fourscore thousand" (2 Chronicles 14:8). Payne thought that, "These figures must have included the whole population"; and Ellison rejected the mention of Zerah's million man army in 2 Chronicles 14:9 with the comment that, "A million probably means no more than an exceedingly large number." Such comments must be rejected, because they are merely scholarly devices for saying, "Of course, this is not true." Regarding the numbers in 2 Chronicles 14:8, Canon F. C. Cook observed that, "They correspond well with the numbers given in 2 Chronicles 13:19. In ten years of peace, the army had grown from 400,000 to 580,000, as should have been expected in a time of peace and prosperity."
And, as regards that million man army mentioned in 2 Chronicles 14:9, below, Cook pointed out that, "This is the largest collected army of which we read in Scripture; but it does not exceed the known numbers of other Oriental armies of ancient times. Darius Codomannus brought into the field of Abela a force of 1,040,000; and Xerxes crossed the Hellespont with more than a million combatants."
Any thoughtful person may see prejudice and bias in the fact than any statement by any pagan writer whomsover, regardless of how preposterous it may be, is received as gospel truth, while a malicious skepticism is pointed at every line of the Sacred Scriptures. The army of Zerah mentioned in the next verse, below, just as certainly had a million men in it as did the army of Zerxes, a fact that is implicit in Asa's prayer in which he recognized that his own force of only 580,000 was as nothing compared with it.
ASA AND JUDAH OVERCOME ZERAH'S MIGHTY FORCE
"And there came out against them Zerah the Ethiopian with an army of a thousand thousand, and three hundred chariots; and he came unto Mareshah. Then Asa went out to meet him, and they set the battle in array in the valley of Zephathah at Mareshah. And Asa cried unto his God, and said, Jehovah, there is none beside thee to help, between the mighty and him that hath no strength; help us, O Jehovah our God; for we rely on thee, and in thy name are we come against this multitude, O Jehovah, thou art our God; let not man prevail against thee. So Jehovah smote the Ethiopians before Asa, and before Judah, and the Ethiopians fled. And Asa and the people that were with him pursued them unto Gerar: and there fell of the Ethiopians so many that they could not recover themselves; for they were destroyed before Jehovah, and before his host; and they carried away very much booty. And they smote all the cities round about Gerar; for the fear of Jehovah came upon them: and they despoiled all the cities; for there was much spoil in them. They smote also the tents of cattle, and carried away sheep in abundance, and camels, and returned to Jerusalem."
"They set the battle in array ... at Mareshah" (2 Chronicles 14:9-10). "This place was in the valley that marks the entrance into the hills, half way between Gaza and Jerusalem. This was one of the cities that Rehoboam had fortified in anticipation of just such an attack."
Some scholars have tried to make it out that this was an invasion of Arabians, but Payne is doubtless correct. He identified Zerah as, "Osorkon I, the second Pharaoh of the Twenty-second Dynasty in Egypt, who attempted to duplicate the invasion and pillage of his predecessor Sheshonk (Shishak)." The truth of this identification is corroborated by the historical truth that, "It was Egypt (not Arabia) that never recovered from this blow for more than three centuries; not until 609 B.C., did Egypt again venture into Palestine with hostile intentions."
Also when Judah defeated the enemy, they fled to Gerar, "A town to the south of Gaza," which was in the direction of Egypt, not Arabia.
"They smote also the tents of the cattle" (2 Chronicles 14:15). "These were the tents associated with cattle, wherein the owners of the cattle lived." The RSV makes it more understandable, "They smote the tents of those who had cattle."
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Chronicles 14". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany