An Apparent Contradiction: Did Asa Tear Down the High Places? A Look at 2 Chronicles 14.3 and 1 Kings 15.14.

For some time now I have been slowly working my way through the Bible in a chronological read through. Although I have done lots of Bible reading in the past, this is the first time I’ve done a chronological read through[1]. For those who haven’t done it before, I would highly recommend it. Seeing all the events fall into sequence brings out a host of new insights that a normal read through might not make clear. This post is a result of one such insight.

King Asa was a righteous king in a time of unrighteous idol worship. When he became king he instituted a religious reformation throughout the land and rid the land of things such as temple prostitutes, idols, and most importantly, the high places were these rituals were practiced. This however is where we see the problem in the text. In my reading of 2 Chronicles 14.3 I read this:

He [Asa] took away the foreign altars and the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim.

I then turned to read the parallel account in 1 Kings 15.14:

But the high places were not taken away.

Immediately I was confused. This seems to be an explicit contradiction. So I decided to spend some time digging into this to see what was happening. I was able to find an answer to this issue, and I’m going to share the answer here. But first, in order to make better sense of the answer, we need to look at the history of the Jewish people leading up to this event.

The Kingdoms of Judah and Israel

The first thing we need to understand in order to solve this problem is the history of the Kings of Israel. The beginnings of this history is fairly well known to regular students of the Bible. The first king was King Saul. He was followed by David, and then David’s son Solomon became king. With the death of Solomon things become murky and convoluted. Rehoboam became king after the death of  Solomon. And with the passing of Solomon, the  ten northern tribes of Israel requested of Rehoboam a period of rest, for Solomon had worked the people heavily to secure the vast wealth of the kingdom.

Rehoboam’s older advisors told him that granting this wish to the people would make them loyal to him for the rest of his days. But Rehoboam listened to the counsel of the young men who had grown up with him, and said to the people “whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions” (1 Kings 12.11,14). This foolish decision lead to the people saying “What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, David” (12.16). So the ten northern tribes split from the kingdom. What was left in the kingdom was the tribe of Judah, with the small tribe of Benjamin. This became the kingdom of Judah. The other ten tribes, to the north, became the kingdom of Israel.

As for the spiritual conditions of the two kingdoms, the northern kingdom of Israel never had a righteous king. They became trapped in an endless cycle of idolatry. As for the southern kingdom, over their existence, they had a handful of righteous kings who instituted religious reformations and turned Judah back to the Law of God. But for the most part the kings are described as men who “did not walk in the footsteps of their father David” and caused the people to worship idols. The line of succession leading up to King Asa is as follows: Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijah, Asa.

Answering the Supposed Contradiction

The key to answering the contradiction here is to have a thorough understanding of the context. The focus of these two passages are slightly different, with different goals in their writings.

The book of Kings, for instance, was written from a political perspective. The author would record the history of both the southern and northern kingdoms and tell their stories as two parts of a whole.

On the other hand, the book of Chronicles is written from a priestly perspective. It was written by someone who highly valued temple worship as it was prescribed by God, and loyalty to the Davidic line of Kings as they were the line God had blessed. Since the northern tribes abandoned God’s chosen line of kings and separated themselves, they also separated themselves from the system of worship in Solomon’s temple. The consequence of this viewpoint in writing the book is that there is very little mention of the northern kingdom in the book of Chronicles.

With this in mind we can start looking at the context of each.

In 1 Kings 15 we are given a brief account of the life of Asa, about fifteen verses (15.9-24). The first six verses are devoted to his reforms. There are a few key points highlighted here: 1) He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. 2) He exiled the male cult prostitutes. 3) He removed the idols his fathers had made. 4) He removed the Queen Mother Maacah, because she had made an image of Asherah, and he cut down the image.

It is against the backdrop of Maacah being removed that we see the phrase “but the high places were not taken away.” There seems to be a connection between these two thoughts through the use of the word “but.” So we see “he removed Maacah… but the high places were not removed.”

Looking at 2 Chronicles though, we see that much more time is devoted to telling the story of Asa’s life, three whole chapters in fact (14-16). The author here is much more precise in his language, though, and that is the key factor in solving this supposed contradiction. There are several important details we need to pay attention to in the account of Asa’s early reforms in vs. 1-8. Some of the key highlights given to us here are: 1) Asa did what was right in the eyes of the lord. 2) He took away the foreign altars and the high places and commanded Judah to seek the Lord. 3) He took out of all the cities of Judah the high places and incense altars. 4) The kingdom had rest under him. 5) Due to the lack of war in his days, He built fortified cities in Judah. 5) He built up an army with 300,000 men from Judah, and 280,000 men from Benjamin.

It is pretty remarkable the amount of similarities and differences we see in Chronicles as compared to parallel account in Kings. But there are two very important details for our current discussion. The first, that the author of Chronicles specifies that these early reforms all took place in Judah. The author of Kings did not specify where the events occurred. The second point, is that there is no mention of the queen mother Maacah. The reason for that is that this particular event actually occurred later in Asa’s life.

Fifteen years after Asa became king, there was another revival event that spurred Asa and the people to reform the spiritual conditions of the kingdom (15.10-13). On the tail of this event we see Queen Maacah appear (15.16). The telling of this account here is almost identical to the one in 2 Kings, except for one important detail that was added. “Even Maacah… King Asa removed from being Queen Mother… But the high places were not taken out of Israel” (vs. 16, 17). The key distinction here is that the author of Chronicles tells us that it was the high places in Israel that were not taken down. We also see the similar use of the word “but” connecting the lack of removal of the high places with the downfall of Maacah.[2]

So now we have all the pieces needed to make sense of our difficulty here. Now we ask ourselves, how do these strands of evidence fit together?

Conclusion

To put it simply, both passages are correct, when their context is properly understood. The Kings passage, with its political view point, looks at the history of both kingdoms as two parts of one continuing story. So even though Asa instituted reforms in Judah, it is also true that the high places in general were not taken down.

Chronicles, written from the viewpoint of a priest, desired to draw a distinction between the two kingdoms. Judah was the faithful kingdom, while Israel had forsaken their God and His prescribed system of temple worship. So when viewed through this lens, Asa did in fact eliminate the high places and pagan worship in Judah. But Israel maintained their idolatry. What’s more, Asa was not king over Israel, so what authority did he have to institute a religious reformation in a kingdom that was not his own?

So now we see that this supposed contradiction is in fact, not a contradiction. What can we take away from this study? For one, context is extremely important. This is true regardless of whether one is looking at a supposed contradiction, or doing an exegetical study, teaching a Sunday school class, or even a personal quiet time. Context is one of the most important elements of Bible study to posses in order to properly understand Scripture. Secondly, it is also a good idea to a chronological read through of the Bible, since, as I said earlier, it helps to bring out more subtle nuances in the text that may not otherwise have come out.


[1] I’m using the ESV Chronological Plan. The Official ESV Bible App on iOS has many different reading plans. I find this makes it easier to follow through with the plan. The app makes the daily readings into a checklist and lets you know your progress in percentage points.

 

 

 

 

 

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