Rethinking that One Chronicles Passage

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is one in . . . (Bible pages ruffling) . . . oh, it’s in here somewhere, in the Old Testament I think . . . (pages ruffling) . . . ah, here it is: 2 Chronicles 16:9. Yeah, you know the passage. Yes you do. At least you have heard it quoted before. It is quite inspiring. In fact, I say it to myself all the time, hoping to give myself a quick spiritual energy drink and to remind myself of what all this stuff on the planet we call earth is really about. Okay, here it is:

“For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” (2 Chron. 16:9 NIV)

I really like the old KJV rendering, retained by the New American Standard and (surprisingly) by the ESV. “The eyes of the Lord move ‘to and fro.’ ” Looks like a typo that got sent too early on a text message when the author really meant “from.” Back to my message here.

This comes from the account of King Asa. You know how the two books of Chronicles go: good king, bad king, removing the altars, keeping the altars, etc. Here we have King Asa on stage. Like so many other kings of Judah (as opposed to Israel in the divided kingdom), Asa started off as a good king. He removed the idols and all that stuff (2 Chron. 14:2-3). When Zerah the Ethiopian wanted to destroy Judah with his one million (one million!) men, Judah stood strong with its three hundred thousand, sought the Lord’s help, and experienced the unlikely victory (2 Chron. 14:8-12).

So far so good?

Fast forward thirty-six years . . .

Baasha, king of Israel, thinks it’s his turn as he fixes his eyes on King Asa and the kingdom of Judah. However, instead of looking to the Lord for help, this time Asa turns to Ben-Hadad, king of Aram. Bad move. He gives Ben-Hadad lots of gold and silver to persuade him to make a treaty. The treaty goes through. Ben-Hadad attacks Israel; Judah is safe.

A few days later a guy named Hanani comes to see Asa. Hanani was a prophet of the Lord. And let me let you in on a little secret. Any time you have a prophet show up unannounced to your door, it’s not good. Never heard of Hanani? Well, let me tell you a bit about him . . . wait . . . (pages ruffling) . . . (pages ruffling) . . . Well, it seems there is not much about him in the Scriptures. He has a son named Jehu about whom we have more intel, but this is the only time we hear about Hanani. But I think Hanani is one great man. He is the author of one of the most quoted passages in all the Bible. Back to the story . . . He shows up at Asa’s door and brings this message:

2 Chon. 16:8-9
“Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubim an immense army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet, because you relied on the LORD, He delivered them into your hand. 9 “For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars.”

So, Asa is in trouble. Wars are going to fill the rest of his reign, whereas before he was promised peace (2 Chron. 15:19). And just in case you did not know, one of the Lord’s great blessings to a king was that he would not continually have to send his troops out to die for their country.

Now listen to what Asa does next (you are not going to believe it):

2 Chon. 16:10
“Then Asa was angry with the seer and put him in prison, for he was enraged at him for this. And Asa oppressed some of the people at the same time.”

The message I have here is not really about Asa. It is about Hanani and the prophecy he gave. Here is what this post is all about: Hanani was sent to give a bad message. Now, in those days, as you can imagine, going to a powerful king with bad news was not a good way to invest in life insurance. There was a good chance you were going to get the ax (or at least be on the run for the rest of your life, like Elijah). But what did Hanani have to fear? I mean, just look at the message he was giving. “The eyes of the Lord are looking everywhere for someone to bless” (my translation before this morning).

Deep breath . . .

In the past, I have looked at this verse for encouragement in a different way. As Tim Kimberley, my executive director of Credo House Ministries, says, “We all seem to default to the health and wealth gospel even when we are theologically against it.” When I look at this verse, I think that if I have a united heart toward God, he is going to give me something special. Translation: he is going to make sure the bills are paid, my kids are obedient, my job is enjoyable, my car never breaks down, lots of people show up to learn at the Credo House, and I don’t get sick right before the filming of a new session of the Church History Boot Camp (coming soon). But it is virtually impossible to take this passage this way for two reasons:

1. Look at what happens to Hanani: He gets thrown into the stocks. End of story. Nothing more said about him. He followed the Lord. He brought what seemed to be a message of prosperity for those who truly follow the Lord with their whole heart, and he got thrown in prison for it. What gives? I can see his son Jehu, along with his wife, trying to figure out what happened to him. Why didn’t he return home for dinner? Because he was in prison. Maybe for the rest of his life. What does that tell us about those whom the Lord blesses?

Do you want in?

2. The word used here is obviously not “blesses,” at least not in the way we think of it. The New American Standard puts it this way: “For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (emphasis mine). But the word that translates “strongly support” may be better translated “encourage” or “strengthen.” In this case, God does not lead us out of the trouble, but through the trouble. Those that are completely his are not guaranteed a safe ride in this life, but rather encouragement through the difficulties.

Hanani was in prison. Hanani’s heart was completely the Lord’s. But I imagine that Hanani was strengthened by the Lord while he was in prison, so much so that his son was encouraged to follow in his father’s footsteps and opt for the same career. Can you believe that?

What does this mean for us? Quite a bit. There are those of you out there who have done what Hanani did. You have taken the risk and followed the Lord. You have stayed in a hard marriage, kept your integrity in a business deal, took a step of faith and went to seminary, started a Sunday School class, or said what is difficult to a dear friend. You expected the Lord to bless you. However, you find yourself in prison. Your marriage is worse than ever, you lost your business due to the deal, no churches will hire you after seminary, no one showed up to your Sunday School class, or you lost your best friend forever. What is up with that?

The Lord is here to strengthen and encourage those whose hearts are completely devoted to him. He is under no obligation to make things “work out” the way we want them to. He is under no obligation to keep us from pain and suffering. His eyes move to and fro about the earth, looking to see if you are completely devoted to him so that he may be able to take you through these difficulties and know that you will not jump ship.

So, I guess the question is whether or not you want your heart to be completely his. Beware. Do you really? Chew on it for a bit.

25 Responses to “Rethinking that One Chronicles Passage”

  1. Enjoyed this Michael, though I know of no person who is completely devoted to Jesus Christ. That would be perfection and not possible in our frail sinful humanity. I wish we had prophets today that would bring such messages, I tend to be believe they don’t exist. On the more positive side however, I thank God for his mercy and comfort knowing that he is with me through all things….

  2. In very deed, the real Christian life is always a Cross of redemptive suffering… And the flesh wants nothing of it! And conformity to Christ is not created by human imitation!

    Btw, “chew’in” is a bit hard, with a new gold crown, still tender! Glad I’m in the “States”… no British dentists, thank you! ;)

  3. Good post and reminder! I agree – the lesson is that the Lord will bring me through to a “happy” ending, just not a guaranteed “comfortable” ending. God is love and joy; he’s just not as sentimental as we Amer. Evan. are. It is also interesting to see the absolute language used in Bible – wholly devoted, etc.

  4. Can you change the title of this article in the link? It doesn’t match the actual title.

  5. None of us are really up to it.

    But that’s not the point, anyway. He was, and is up to it…for our sakes.

  6. Refreshing post! I’ve been teaching through Acts the past several weeks. Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:17-35) just flies in the face of the karma principles that have intruded into the Christian message. His “next level” of going to Jerusalem did not elevate him to the “success” that is so widely proclaimed today.

  7. Indeed Steve!

    @Lisa: The Text of Acts 20: 17-35, is just so profound! Verses 23-27 stick out profoundly, but yet the “apostasy” had yet even begun in Paul’s time, (2 Thes. 2:7, etc.) Btw, verses 11-12 of 2 Thessalonians 2 are very profound! But thank God for verses 13-14! Indeed, here we have that reality of even now: of the eschatological truth! As Geerhardus Vos said, St. Paul’s eschatology is always first place!

  8. Hi Michael
    Trying not to be too picky, but you might want to try “altars” instead of “alters”.

    Larry Geiger

  9. 2 Chronicles is where I pooped out when I tried to read the bible straight thru two summer Olympics ago. I remember
    Asa, though.

  10. As Larry noted, lots of typos — still, a good message! Thank you.

  11. Michael,

    Thank you.

    And may God strengthen and encourage you.


  12. Jim in Hong Kong August 2, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Thanks for the insights. Good exegesis and application of historical narrative. Jim

  13. So would you understand Matthew 11:28-30 in a similar light?

  14. This goes with some thoughts I had from last Sunday. In 1 Peter 5, we are told to be alert because our enemy prowls around looking for someone to devour. We are to “resist him, standing firm in the faith” but resisting doesn’t mean all our problems are over: “because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (written of course to believers who were suffering for their faith, and were perhaps tempted to think that God was forgetting them – they were also instructed to cast their cares on him because he cares for us)

    And, “the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.”

    God will get the last word but sometimes it will be through the suffering, not in lieu of the suffering.

  15. I have always wondered why so few Christian post wonderful verses on their fridges, like “or it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him,” (Phil 1:29). Hmm.

  16. Just remember the “Lord” in this verse is God, the Father, not His Son. It does apply to both now.

  17. Liked your post Bro. Michael. I really do not know where this “doctrine” came from that says God must bless those who are his all the time.

    From Job in the O.T. to John the Baptist in the N.T. even a a blind reader would have to admit that the idea is without merit. I am with you all the way when you say “He (God) is under no obligation to keep us (Christians) from pain and suffering”.

    The Christian life is a “bed of roses,” thorns and all.

  18. I am trying to be nice but I could not let this slip….the word is ALTAR….alter is something completely different. Please try and ensure you check your spelling. (spell check did not kick in as alter is indeed a word)

  19. Drat it, I liked it better the other way!

  20. But what was the message to the king supposed to be? If it isn’t ‘God would have protected you from your enemies’, then it would seem to be ‘it was your obligation to sit on your hands and get your expletive kicked’. That seens against the idea of being a proper steward and doing your best to plan for the future. Prayer is a one-way communication that wouldn’t have told the king how to act. Unless God would have directly contacted the king before the whole mess started, it is hard to see how the king made a move that God should have criticized.

  21. Jim, go look at the context. 30 odd years before Asa had marched out with a vastly inferior army and been delivered victory. Based on the past evidence of God’s defense he should have marched out again ready to fight rather than pay a mercenary king. It was an act of faithlessness, faith being trust/loyalty based on prior performance. God forgives a lot, but he has issues with people who turn their back on him.

    Hanani’s lesson is that telling the truth in a direct fashion to people of power is not necessarily going to produce the most comfortable of outcomes. No wonder Revelation keeps its allusions to Nero very oblique.

    I think you’re over-personalizing the example Michael. What it says is that carrying messages from God to people who don’t want to hear it is risky. Certainly no one should expect a comfortable life, and especially not that “doing stuff for God” will result in a comfortable life, but jobs, marriages, et al, are not really what is in view here. I doubt Hanani expected any other outcome, he may have expected worse. He did his duty as a good soldier.

    I would suggest that the lesson is, do your duty as a good soldier, expecting nothing other than your master’s approval at the end of your campaign. Anything else you receive in life, be grateful for, but hold lightly.

  22. Jason, thanks for your answer. The one remaining problem is that the ‘expect God to work a miracle for you’ argument can be used to justify avoiding virtually any responsibility. The very concept of ‘steward’ ceases to have meaning if you aren’t supposed to use your own talents and judgement to manage whatever God gives you to take care of. I don’t expect visions or prophets to assist me in the present, nor do I expect the Bible to have the specifics to offer anything more than broad guidance for most situations. So the meaning of the passage remains puzzling.


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