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.