“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 Chron. 16:9
2 Chron. 16:9
Removed from its context our Scripture might simply be seen as a pleasant promise, a pithy proverb, an encouraging epithet, a refreshing reminder, or a soothing slogan intended to strengthen the souls of faithful but struggling saints. We see a watchful Lord, whose eyes “run to and fro.” We see a powerful defender who will “show Himself strong.” And we see the nature of true child of God revealed: “whose heart is loyal to Him.” All of this looks encouraging, helpful and hopeful. All these things are true, and one could assemble no small sum of evidence to support these statements from Scripture.
The problem with these observations, however, is that left alone they all entirely miss the point of the passage. It is easy for those who spend time reading and studying the Bible to grow lazy. We look at a verse, come up with a few helpful things to say, and think we have gotten to the heart of it. Our text becomes nothing more than a simple slice of bread in our sermon sandwich, which we then proceed to cover with any number of Delicious Doctrines and Covenant Cold Cuts plucked from the indolent ice box of our own imaginations. I fear that much teaching and preaching that goes on today is guilty of this sin. It is not enough to tell the truth when handling Scripture. It is not enough to steer clear of gross error when handling the Word of God. Faithful stewards of heavenly mysteries will not settle for sound doctrine alone, but aim for the truth or doctrine of that particular text as his target to shoot for. In other words, it is possible to be right, and still in some sense, be wrong. Souls can be ruined just as easily by misplaced truths as outright heresy. To put it in the words of the Puritan William Ames "Ministers impose upon their hearers and altogether forget themselves when they propound a certain text in the beginning at the start of the sermon and then speak many things about or simply by occasion of the text but for the most part draw nothing out of the text itself."
These things being said, what seems to be the point of our passage? I cannot pretend to plumb its depths. Every verse of God’s Word is a virtual ocean of instruction which the sails of our understanding can never entirely explore. But I would humbly suggest that there are at least two central ideas which must not be missed in the words of our text today. First, these words are essentially a rebuke. And second, they are a rebuke that is aimed at the church. Allow me a few moments then to explain and apply these words to our souls.
Every Christian finds himself or herself in the midst of various trying and troubling times. We are, in many ways, always walking in the midst of the fiery furnace of affliction. And these afflictions come in many forms. “Outside were conflicts; inside were fears (2 Cor. 7:5).” They may be physical afflictions such as pain, disease, abuse, illness, persecution, or wants of any number of necessities. They may be mental afflictions such as worries and stress and pressure and fear. Some men’s afflictions are more outward and obvious, and other men’s afflictions are more hidden and unknown which often makes the bearing of them more difficult. And always, along with these afflictions, comes along a particular temptation, a sin, and an opportunity to escape the burden of the trial with the indulgence of some iniquity. Abraham was childless, but there was a Haggar at hand to relieve his remorse. Jonah was discontent with his commission, and a ship for Joppa was there to enable his escape. Along side every rough road, Satan has sown the soft grass of sin as a remedy for relief if only we are willing to disobey the Lord.
So it was for King Asa of Judah. His country was under siege by Baasha king of Israel. Baasha had blocked off all traffic to and from the city. Oh how many souls have felt this very affliction of being cut off from others, loved ones, friends, family, yeah even outside the observation of God Himself! “For I said in my haste, ‘I am cut off from Your eyes’ (Psalm 31:22).” Asa was trapped and he saw no escape. But then he remembered the sinful nation of Syria. There were treasures enough in the house of the Lord to purchase the protection of this foreign power. “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…” (2 Chron. 16:2). And although this sinful treaty brought some relief from Baasha, it brought a stern rebuke from the Lord.
Asa acted as though he were abandoned by God. Thus the Lord sends His prophet to chasten his lack of faith with these words. Asa acted as though God couldn’t see, and thus ran to Syria for support. “In this you have done foolishly” said the Lord, for “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth.” Asa thought God was far and Syria was near. Dear reader, are you tempted to think that the Lord does not know about your present distress? Are you choosing transgression to rid you of your trouble, rather than trusting in the strength of our God? What is that burden or affliction that you have been escaping by indulging in sin rather than coming to Christ? Can it not be said of us, as it was said to Asa: “In this you have done foolishly?” May this gentle rebuke stir us up to repent and return to a Savior who will indeed “show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.”
Not only are these words a rebuke, but it should be carefully considered that this is a rebuke of the church, that is, of believers. It is a rebuke aimed at Christians, and not at the world. Asa, you see, was a good man. This is the testimony of the Scriptures, not merely the opinion of a person. 2 Chronicles 14:2 says “Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord…” and 15:17 says “Asa’s heart was loyal to the Lord all his days.” Men with good hearts sometimes make foolish choices. A child may be a true son, but still sometimes transgress the will of his father. Israel and Syria had no small sin in this circumstance. But it was to Judah that the Lord sent this word of judgment, it was the church the Lord chastised. Dear Christian reader, and you oh my soul, receive these words as they are rightly intended. Let us repent of our sins by which we seek to ease our sufferings. Let us turn from our transgressions by which we try to escape our trouble. Is your heart wounded by these words? Know that such warnings come from the hand of a heavenly Father who only disciplines those whom He loves. Call upon Christ to show Himself strong when your soul is weakened by affliction. He will, for “His strength is made perfect in weakness.” Oh burdened brother or sister, do not trade away a loyal heart at any price! That gratification which costs you your conscience is Hell’s currency, it is fool’s gold. Disobedience is always a downward spiral. Asa failed to trust the Lord, but rather than repenting he took out his anger on the prophet “and put him in prison” and upon the people of God: “and Asa oppressed some of the people at that time” (2 Chron. 16:10). He became sick, but still he “did not seek the Lord (2 Chron. 16:11).” Here is a sad case of a withered soul. Dear reader, you possess an eternal soul, so let these words ring in our ears a clear warning of the dangers of disobedience.
Let me conclude with some words of application and encouragement to Christians who are under the pressure of Asa’s situation, but do not want to commit Asa’s sin. The temptation to escape your burden by way of sin is pressing hard down upon you. There seems to be no escape. Upon you is a trial unbearable and before you a sin unthinkable. Often before perhaps have you sold the temple gold of a good conscience to buy help from the fleeting pleasures of sin. What can you do now?
First, consider that help from the Lord is much closer than it presently appears. “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth.” This is to say, as it were, that help is near. “The Lord knows the ways of the righteous (Psalm 1:6).” Your way may be a hard way, an oppressed way, a trying way, a painful way, a lonely way, a humiliating way, a troubled way…but it is not a hidden way. “There is no creature hidden from His sight (Heb. 4:13).” A man alone in the ocean will give up hope if he sees no help. But if he should see land, no matter how far it may seem, he will be encouraged to swim and struggle and press on for his eyes can see his help is near. The eyes of the Lord are on you, and so the help of the Lord is near you. Dear suffering soul, look to the Lord, for His eyes are always upon you.
Second, consider that God Himself is glorified in helping His children who cry to Him. It is precisely in such circumstances as you now stand that the Lord’s strength can be most fully displayed. He shall “show Himself strong.” It was when no escape seemed obvious to Israel, that Moses could say to the people by the sea “stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord (Exodus 14:13).” The Apostle Paul discovered the strength of the Lord during his times of greatest personal distress and weakness, for Christ said to Him “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Set your heart and mind upon the glory of God displayed in your own deliverance right now, and you will find this saying true that “He is their strength in time of trouble (Psalm 37:39).”
Third, the sin solution always costs more in the end. Asa thought deliverance would only cost him a little gold. In the end it cost him his conscience, his kingdom, and his life. “The way of the transgressor is hard.” To trade away suffering for sin is always a bad bargain.
Finally, remember that Christ alone can meet the deepest need of troubled hearts. A “loyal heart” is nothing but a heart that has been surrendered to Jesus Christ. Have you done so? Oh suffering soul…have you looked to Jesus Christ for rest and peace and hope? Or are you still trying to deliver yourself from all your troubles? The Lord is looking for loyal hearts. “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God (Psalm 20:7).”