Azariah the son of Oded appears in the pages of Scripture and then disappears just as quickly. However, his legacy was an encouraged king, a changed nation and a peace that was to last for 20 years.
King Asa, the great-great-grandson of King David, had come to the throne of Judah. His father, Abijah had not been a godly man and had led the nation astray. When Asa came to power he ‘removed the foreign altars and high places, tore down the sacred pillars, cut down the Asherim [a type of idolatrous statue] and commanded Judah to seek the Lord God’ (14:3,4). The verses that follow describe how he strengthened the cities, built up the army and prospered (14:5-8) and went on to lead the nation to a military victory against a million-strong Ethiopian army (14:9-15).
Even as the spoils of war are being carried back to Jerusalem, Azariah the son of Oded appears on the scene (15:1). The Spirit of God comes on him (v1) and he goes to speak to the king with a message from God. It is worth noting here that what is important is not the fact that Azariah chose a particular moment to approach the king or that he went straight to the top of the authority hierarchy. It is the fact that he was full of the Holy Spirit when he spoke.
The character of God and the history of His people
The message Azariah brings is very simple: ‘The Lord is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.’ (vv2,3). The lesson that Asa and the people of Judah had to learn in this moment of victory was that proximity to God must be the distinctive feature of His people. To stay close to God was life and favour. To drift from Him was isolation and death.
Azariah illustrates for us here two characteristics of prophets. Firstly, prophets must know God. Azariah shows that he knows God and that he understands the character of God through what he prophesies. He understood that God was more concerned with the people’s hearts than their victories. He knew that God wanted to be with His people, to bless His people and to reward those who seek Him. Secondly, prophets must understand their history. Azariah used the history of God’s dealings with His people as an example and motivation for Asa to lead the nation in the pursuit of God. Knowing how God has acted in the past builds our faith to believe how He may act in the future.
The impact of the prophecy
The danger facing the nation was to believe that the reforms carried out so far were not having an effect or not being noticed by God. Surrounding nations were still attacking them and so they could have wondered whether it was worth continuing. Azariah prophesies and encourages the king to be strong and continue those reforms. And this is exactly what Asa did, with startling results:
– He removed idols from the land, including his mother’s personal idol (vv8,16)
– He removed his mother from her official position of queen mother (v16)
– He restored the altar in the temple and returned all the sacred utensils (vv8,18)
– He gathered the people to worship (vv10,11)
– He renewed the covenant of the people with God (vv12-14)
This led to many people leaving Israel and coming to Judah (v9) and the whole nation seeking God earnestly. God allowed Himself to be found and the nation enjoyed a period of peace (v15). Peace, rest and no more war (v19). That is remarkable!
However, the crucial impact of the prophecy, from which the things listed above follow, is that Asa took courage (v8). The heart of prophecy is encouragement (see 1 Corinthians 14:3) and speaking the truth of God to people reminds them of the priorities of God, which in turn encourages them to pursue Him.
The main theme of Azariah’s prophecy is to encourage Asa to continue the reforms which he had already begun. ‘But you, be strong and do not lose courage, for there is reward for your work.’ (v7). The next verse says, ‘Now when Asa heard these words and the prophecy which Azariah the son of Oded spoke, he took courage…’ This is truly a Spirit-filled prophecy as it brings courage to a man who needed some more!
Now it is very easy for us to discount ourselves when we read this type of story. Maybe we notice that Azariah spoke to a king. Maybe we focus on the nation-changing impact of his prophecy. I don’t think that these should be our main focus, important though they are. Instead, the most significant aspect of this story is that the prophetic word encouraged a king to pursue God. This gave him the courage to continue in the way God had directed.
That is what prophecy does – it gives strength, courage and conviction. It encourages God’s people to pursue God. It helps bring about results we could never have dreamed of when we opened our mouths.
So, go ahead. Prophesy! Encourage others by speaking of God’s character to those around you and watch what happens as they take courage and act for Him.