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Accession of Abijah - his idolatry - war between Judah and Israel - Abijah's address to Israel and victory - deaths of Jeroboam and of Abijah - accession of Asa - religious reformation in Judah - invasion by Zerah the Ethiopian - victory of Zephathah - Azariah's message to the army of asa - great sacrificial feast at Jerusalem - renewal of the covenant with Jehovah. 1 KINGS 15:1-15; 2 CHRONICLES 13-15
JEROBOAM did not only survive Rehoboam, but he witnessed the accession of two other kings of Judah, Abijah and Asa. The reign of Abijah* was very brief. Both in 1 Kings 15:2 and in 2 Chronicles 13:2 it is said to have lasted three years - an expression which must be understood according to this canon laid down by the Rabbis, that the commencement of a year in the reign of a king is to be reckoned as a full year. Thus, as Abijah ascended the throne in the eighteenth (1 Kings 15:1), and Asa in the twentieth (ver. 9) year of Jeroboam's reign, it follows that the former actually reigned only somewhat over two years. Two things are specially noticed concerning Abijah, his relation towards Jehovah (in 1 Kings 15:3- 5), and his relation to the kingdom of Jeroboam (2 Chronicles 13:2-20).
* Abijah. - "my father Jehovah!" Two other forms of the name occur. In the Book of Kings he is always called Abijam, while in 2 Chronicles 13:21 he is also designated (in the Hebrew), Abijahu. Probably, Abijam (in 1 Kings) was the older form - and it is not impossible that it may have been altered into, Abijah, when that monarch made his loud profession of Jehovahism (2 Chronicles 13:4, etc.).
To begin with the former. It is stated that "he walked in all the sins of his father," and that "his heart was not perfect with Jehovah his God." These two statements are not explanatory of, but supplementary to, each other. We know that Rehoboam had not abolished the service of Jehovah (see, for example, 1 Kings 14:28), but that, by its side, a spurious worship had been tolerated, if not encouraged, which, in the view of Holy Scripture, was equal to idolatry. In this matter Rehoboam had not only followed the example of his father Solomon, during his later years, but greatly increased the evil which had then begun. A similar remark applies to the reign of Abijah, as compared with that of Rehoboam. That the idolatry of the reign of Rehoboam had grown both worse in character and more general in practice under that of Abijah, appears from the notices of the reformation instituted by his successor, Asa. The former circumstance is implied in the terms by which the idolatry of that period is described (2 Chronicles 14:3, 5), and by the circumstance that "the queen-mother" (Maachah, Abijah's mother and Asa's grandmother),* who under Abijah held the official rank of Gevirah, "Queen" (the modern Sultana Valide), had made and set up "a horror for Asherah"** - some horrible wooden representation, equally vile and idolatrous in its character.
* As Maachah, the daughter (granddaughter) of Abishalom (Absalom) was the mother of Abijah, she must have been the grandmother of Asa. She is designated as "Queen," or rather (in the original) as Gevirah, which is an official title.
Again, that idolatry had become more widely spread, and that its hold was stronger, we infer from the fact that, despite Asa's example, admonitions, and exertions (2 Chronicles 14:4, 5), "the high places did not cease" (1 Kings 15:14). This progressive spiritual decline under the reigns of Solomon, Rehoboam, and Abijah was so marked as to have deserved the removal of the family of David from the throne, had it not been for God's faithfulness to His covenant-promises (1 Kings 15:4, 5). But, although such was the state of religion, Abijah not only made loud profession of the worship of Jehovah, but even brought votive offerings to the Temple, probably of part of the spoil taken in war (1 Kings 15:15; comp. 2 Chronicles 13:16-19).
Concerning the relations of Judah to the neighboring kingdom of Israel, it may be said that the chronic state of warfare which had existed during the time of Rehoboam now changed into one of open hostilities. Two reasons for this may be given. Abijah was a much more vigorous ruler than his father, and the power of Egypt, on which Jeroboam relied for support, seems at that time to have decreased. This we gather, not only from the non-interference of Egypt in the war between Abijah and Jeroboam, but from the fact that, when Egypt at length sought to recover its lost ascendancy, it was under the rule of Zerah the Ethiopian (probably Osorkon II.), who was not the son, but the son-in-law, of the preceding monarch (2 Chronicles 14:9); and we know the fate that overtook the huge, undisciplined army which Zerah led.
The language of the sacred narrative (2 Chronicles 13:2, 3) implies, that the war between Judah and Israel was begun by Abijah. On both sides a levy of all capable of bearing arms was raised, though, so far as the numerical strength of the two armies was concerned, the response seems not to have been so universal in Judah as in Israel.*
* The numbers: 400,000 for Judah, 800,000 for Israel, and 500,000 killed, have always seemed a difficulty. Bishop Kennicott and others have regarded these numerals as a copyist's mistake. But it seems difficult to imagine three consecutive errors in copying. Professor Rawlinson (in the Speaker's Commentary, vol. 3., p. 306) thinks, that both the combatants and the slain represent those engaged throughout the whole war. But this scarcely removes the difficulty. Two points may help our better understanding of the matter, though we would only suggest them hypothetically. First, comparing these numbers with more exact numerical details, as in 2 Chronicles 5-7, and 12, they read rather like what might be called "round numbers" than as precise numeration. Secondly, comparing these numbers with the census under King David (2 Samuel 24:9), we find that the number of the Israelites is exactly the same in both cases, while that of Judah is larger by 100,000 in the census of David than in the army of Abijah, though it included Benjamin. If we assume that Abijah invaded Israel with a regular army - "began the war with an army of war- heroes," and that in defense Jeroboam raised a levy of all capable of bearing arms, we can understand the use of these "round numbers," derived from a previous census. In that case the number of the slain would represent rather the proportion of those who fell during the war than a numerically exact statement.
But perhaps the seeming discrepancy may be explained by the necessity of leaving strong garrisons in the south to watch the Egyptian frontier (comp. 2 Chronicles 14:9). The two armies met at the boundary of the two kingdoms, though, as we judge, within the territory of Israel. They camped in close proximity, only separated by Mount Zemaraim,* a height to the east of Bethel and some distance north of Jericho, forming part of the ridge known as "Mount Ephraim," which stretched from the plain of Esdraelon southwards.
* The Semaron of Josephus (Ant. 8. 11, 2), probably the modern Kharbet-es- Somera (Guerin, La Samarie, vol. 1. pp. 226, 227; vol. 2. p. 175). But this localization is by no means certain.
From this height Abijah addressed the army of Israel just before the battle began, in the hope of securing their voluntary submission, or at least weakening their resistance. Ignoring all that told against himself,* Abijah tried to impress on his opponents that right was wholly on his side.**
In language full of irony he set before them their weakness, as the necessary result of their apostasy from Jehovah, the God of their fathers, and of their adoption of a worship neither conformable to their ancient faith nor even respectable in the sight of men. Lastly, he loudly protested that, since Judah had gone to war under the leadership of Jehovah and in the manner appointed by Him, Israel was really fighting against Jehovah, the God of their fathers, and could not expect success. Whatever hollowness there may have been in this profession on the part of Abijah, it was at least the true war-cry of Israel which he raised. It found an echo in the hearts of his followers. In vain Jeroboam, by a cleverly executed movement, attacked Judah both in front and rear. The terror excited by finding themselves surrounded only led the people to cry unto Jehovah (2 Chronicles 13:14), and He was faithful to His promise (Numbers 10:9). The shout of the combatants mingled with the blast of the priests' trumpets, as Judah rushed to the attack. Israel fled in wild disorder, and a terrible carnage pursued. The fugitives were followed by the army of Judah, and Abijah recovered from Israel the border-cities,* with the districts around them. In consequence of this victory the power of Jeroboam was henceforth on the wane, and that of Abijah in the ascendancy. Not long afterwards Jehovah struck Jeroboam, either suddenly or with lingering disease, of which he died. He had, however survived his rival, Abijah,** for more than two years.
* The localization of "Jeshanah" and "Ephrain" has not been satisfactorily made out. But in all probability these towns were not at a great distance from Bethel.
** The expression (2 Chronicles 13:21) "Abijah waxed mighty," or rather "strengthened himself," may also refer to his league with Syria (2 Chronicles 16:3). The notice of his wives and children includes, of course, an earlier period of his life.
Abijah was succeeded on the throne of Judah by his son, Asa, probably at the time a boy of only ten or eleven years.* This may in part account for his pious up-bringing, as, during his minority he would be chiefly under the official guardianship of the High- priest (comp. 2 Chronicles 22:12).
* If Rehoboam was twenty-one years old at his accession, and reigned eighteen years, and then after two or three years was followed by his grandson, the latter could scarcely have been more than ten or eleven years old.
It also explains how a bold, resolute woman, such as Maachah, could still retain her official position as Gevirah, or "queen- mother," until, on attaining majority, the young king commenced his religious reformation. During the first ten years of Asa's reign the land had rest (2 Chronicles 14:1). While devoutly acknowledging the goodness of God in this, it is easy to understand the outward circumstances by which it was brought about. The temporary weakness of Egypt, the defeat of Jeroboam, and an alliance which Abijah seems to have contracted with Syria (2 Chronicles 16:3), as well as afterwards the rapid succession of rival dynasties in Israel, sufficiently explain it. For, during his long reign of forty-one years, Asa saw no fewer than seven kings ascend the throne of Israel.*
The first work which Asa took in hand was a thorough religious reformation; his next, the strengthening of the defenses of the country. For this the temporary state of security prevailing offered a happy opportunity - "the land" being "still before them" - open and free from every enemy, though it was not difficult to foresee that such would not long be the case. And, as king and people owned that this time of rest had been granted them by Jehovah, so their preparations* against future attacks were carried on in dependence upon Him. The period of trial came only too soon.
An almost countless* Egyptian host, under the leadership of Zerah,** the Ethiopian, swarmed into Judah. Advancing by the southwest, through the border of the Philistines, who, no doubt, made common cause with the Egyptians (2 Chronicles 14:14), they appeared before Mareshah (comp. Joshua 15:44).
* We regard these numerals also as round numbers.
** Brugsch regards Zerah not as Osorkon, but as an independent Ethiopian monarch. But there is no evidence in support of this hypothesis.
This was one of the border fortresses which Jeroboam had built (2 Chronicles 11:8). The natural capabilities of the place and its situation, so near the southwestern angle of the country, and almost midway between Hebron and Ashdod, must have marked it as one of the most important strategical points in the Jewish line of defensive works against Philistia, or rather, against Egypt.* About two miles north of Mareshah a beautiful valley debauches from between the hills.**
* The Marissa of Josephus, the modern Marash. Comp. Robinson's Bibl. Researches, vol. 2. pp. 67, 68. Its importance as a fortress is shewn by the part it sustained in later Jewish history, having been taken and retaken several times at different periods.
** Not where Robinson finds it (u.s. p. 31).
This is the valley of Zephathah, where the relieving army of Asa, coming from the northeast, now took up its position. Here a decisive battle took place, which ended in the complete rout of the Egyptians. It has been well noted,* that this is the only occasion on which the armies of Judah ventured to meet, and with success, either Egypt or Babylon in the open field (not behind fortifications).
* Professor Rawlinson in the Speaker's Commentary.
On the only other occasion when a battle in the open was fought (2 Chronicles 25:20-24), it ended in the signal defeat of Judah. But this is only one of the circumstances which made the victory of Asa so remarkable. Although the battle-field (a valley) must have been unfavorable for handling so unwieldy a mass of soldiers and for deploying their war-chariots, yet the host of Egypt was nearly double that of Asa, and must have included well- disciplined and long-trained battalions. But, on the other hand, never before had a battle been fought in the same manner; never had there been more distinct negation of things seen and affirmation of things unseen - which constitutes the essence of faith - nor yet more trustful application of it than in Asa's prayer before the battle, "Is it not with Thee to help between the much (the mighty) relatively to no strength (in regard to the weak)?*
* The words are not easy of exact rendering, though their meaning is plain. Different translations have been proposed. We have ventured to put it interrogatively. If this view be not adopted, that which would most commend itself to us would be: "It is nothing with Thee, Jehovah, to help between the mighty in regard to the weak."
Help us, Jehovah our God, for upon Thee do we put our trust; and in Thy name have we come (do we come) upon this multitude. O Jehovah, Thou art our God (the God of power, Elohim): let not man retain strength by the side of Thee (have power before Thee)!" Such an appeal could not be in vain. In the significant language of Holy Scripture, it was "Jehovah" Who "smote" the Ethiopians, and "Asa and the people that were with him" only "pursued them."* Far away to Gerar, three hours southeast from the border city, Gaza, continued the chase amidst unnumbered slain, and still the destroying sword of Jehovah was before His host (2 Chronicles 14:13), and His fear fell upon all the cities round about. To wrest the hostile cities of the Philistines and to carry away much spoil was only one sequence.
Asa had entered on a course of right-doing, and the LORD, upon Whom he and his people had called, had proved a faithful and prayer-hearing God. If the religious reformation so happily begun, and the religious revival which had appeared, only issued in a thorough return to the LORD, the evil which had been in the far and near past and which threatened in the future, might yet be averted. The morrow of the great God-given victory seemed the most suitable time for urging this upon Judah. Accordingly, Azariah, the son of Oded,* was Divinely commissioned to meet the returning victorious army of Asa, and to urge such considerations upon the people.
* There is no reason for supposing that Oded was Iddo the prophet. In 2 Chronicles 15:8 the words: "Of Oded the prophet," are either defective, or more probably a gloss. This is evident, not only from the ascription of the prophecy to Oded, but from the fact that the grammatical structure requires either the omission of these words or the addition to them of others.
"The Spirit of Elohim" was upon him, and what he spake bore reference not only to the past and the present, but also to the future. Hence his message is rightly described as both "words" and "a prophecy" (2 Chronicles 15:8). Carefully examined, it contains alike an address and a prophecy. For it were a mistake to suppose, that the picture which Azariah drew of Israel's sin and its consequence in vers. 3, 5, 6 was only that of the far past in the time of the Judges, of the religious decline under Jeroboam and Abijah, or even of their future apostasy and its punishment. All these were included in what the prophet set before the people.* And not only so, but his words extended beyond Judah, and applied to all Israel, as if the whole people were viewed as still united, and ideally one in their relation to the Lord.** Accordingly, it deserves special notice, that neither in ver. 3 nor in ver. 5 any verb is used, as if to indicate the general application of the "prophecy." But its present bearing, alike as regarded Judah's sin and repentance, and God's judgment and mercy, was an earnest call to carry on and complete the good work which had already been begun (ver. 7).
* As regards the past compare Judges 2:10; 3:14; 5:6; 6:2; 12:4; 20. As regards the future compare here, Deuteronomy 4:27-30; 28:20; Isaiah 9:17-20; 55:6; Jeremiah 31:1; Ezekiel 36:24; Amos 3:9; Zechariah 14:13.
** In regard to Israel comp. here Hosea 3:5; 5:13-15.
And king and people hearkened to the voice of God through His prophet. Again and more energetically than before, the religious reformation was taken in hand. The idol "abominations" were removed, not only from Judah and Benjamin, but from the conquered cities of the north, and the great altar of burnt-offering in the Temple was repaired. The earnestness of this movement attracted the pious laity from the neighboring tribes, and even led those of Simeon (in the far south) who, apparently, had hitherto sympathized with the northern kingdom, as they shared their idolatry (comp. Amos 4:4; 5:5; 8:14), to join the ranks of Judah. At a great sacrificial feast, which the king held in Jerusalem, the solemn covenant into which Israel had originally entered with Jehovah (Exodus 24:3-8) was renewed, in repentant acknowledgment that it had been broken, and in believing choice of Jehovah as henceforth their God - just as it was afterwards renewed on two analogous occasions: in the time of Josiah (2 Kings 23:3; 2 Chronicles 34:31), and in that of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10:28-39). The movement was the outcome of heart- conviction and earnest purpose, and consisted, on the one hand, in an undertaking that any introduction of idolatry should be punished by death* (according to Deuteronomy 13:9), and, on the other, in an act of solemn national consecration to Jehovah.
* The Authorized Version conveys the impression, that in every case want of personal piety would be punished by death. Such, however, is not the meaning of the original. It only implies, that the introduction of idolatry by any person should be punishable by death (comp. Deuteronomy 17:2-7).
To Asa, at least, all this was a reality, although, as regarded his subjects, the religious revival does not seem to have been equally deep or permanent (2 Chronicles 15:17). But the king kept his part of the solemn engagement. However difficult it might be, he removed "the Queen-mother" from her exalted position, and thus showed an example of sincerity and earnestness in his own household. And, in token of his consecration to Jehovah, he brought into His House alike those war-spoils which his father had, after the victory over Jeroboam, set apart as the portion for God, and what he himself now consecrated from the spoil taken in the war with Egypt. These measures were followed by a period of happy rest for the land - even to the twenty-fifth* year of King Asa's reign.
* As the dates in 2 Chronicles 15:19; 16:1 are incompatible with that of Baasha's death (1 Kings 16:8), and consequently, of course, with that of Baasha's war against Asa, commentators have tried to obviate the difficulty, either by supposing that the numeral 35 refers, not to the date of Asa's accession, but to that of the separation of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, or else by emendating the numeral in the Book of Chronicles. The latter is, evidently, the only satisfactory solution. There is manifestly here a copyist's mistake, and the numeral which we would substitute for 35 is not 15 (as by most German commentators) but 25 - and this for reasons too long to explain ( hk instead of hl ).