Sunday, 29 June 2014

Little man - big impact

When Asa heard these words, and the prophecy of Azariah son of Oded the prophet, he took courage. 2 Chronicles 15:8

I suspect that, since you are reading this Bible-based blog, you will probably have heard of various Bible characters - Old Testament figures such as Abraham and Moses, Elijah and Isaiah, David and Solomon, and New Testament ones like Mary, Peter, Paul and Stephen. But I wonder if the name of Azariah son of Oded means anything to you?

To be honest, Bible figures don’t come much more obscure than him. He pops up out of nowhere, appears for just eight verses (there are about 31,000 in the whole Bible), and then disappears into the mists of time. We know his father’s name - Oded - but that’s just about all. To add insult to injury, he is one of no less than twenty-five (!) Azariahs in the Old Testament.

But I like him. He has been like a friend to me for many years. So I want to introduce him to you, in case you have never met him before. (It won’t take you long to read 2 Chronicles 15 to get the full story.) In essence, he was a prophet who spoke to Asa King of Judah when Asa was returning from victory in battle. 

Broadly, he gives Asa a threefold message. First, there is a challenge and warning (verse 2): God is with you, Asa, if you are with him - but make sure you stay close to him or it will be the worse for you! Second, there is a potted history lesson (verses 3-6): learn from the past, Asa, because even though God loves you, he is not to be trifled with! And third, there is a word of encouragement (verse 7): Asa, the future’s bright if you are wholehearted in your loyalty to God!

There are two main reasons I like Azariah son of Oded.

First, he shows great courage. Prophets who dared to confront kings could come to a sticky end, and often did. But see how bold Azariah is in addressing Asa: “Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Jerusalem...” There’s no mincing of words there, is there? The Spirit of God was in his heart, and the word of God was on his lips - and that’s a pretty powerful combination. It gave him a stature that impressed even the king.

God needs people like that today, in a world where so many are indifferent to him at best and hostile to him at worst: men and women of stature and authority, not because they hold any particular position in life, but because of their Christlike courage and sheer presence. Is that you? Is it me? In our workplaces? In our neighbourhoods? The message is simple: get seriously into the Bible, and be filled daily with the Holy Spirit. The spiritual stature will follow. 

And let’s never forget the many thousands of such people around the world today who haven't had such a favourable response as Azariah got from Asa, and who are stuck in prisons, or made to suffer in other ways (take a look at Hebrews 13:3). They need our daily prayers, so don't let's fail them.

Second, I like Azariah because his obscurity doesn’t limit his usefulness. He reminds me that even “little” people can have a big impact. It’s not too much to say that Azariah changed the course of history. Even though Asa was at heart a good king, there was still a lot needing to be done. And after the encounter with Azariah - well, didn’t he just get on and do it!

He initiated what I can only call a spiritual spring-clean (verse 8). In fact, he brought about a revival in the nation of Judah. This is beautifully summed up in verse 12: the whole nation “entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul.” Granted, later on the nation slipped back into their bad old ways, and even Asa, sadly, lost his way. But that wasn’t Azariah’s fault. 

Azariah did what God called him to do, and he did it without fear or favour. What more can be asked of anyone? I hope the same can be said of us. So I invite you to reflect on the ministry of this little-known man; may he be an inspiration to you, as he has been to me.

Father, thank you for the big, well-known figures we meet in your word, and the inspiration they are to us. Most of all, thank you for our Lord Jesus. But thank you too for the little-known people, people like Azariah son of Oded. Please give me the courage to witness boldly for you, confident that my efforts will not be in vain. Amen.

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