2 Chronicles 13 – King Abijah and a Victory for Judah
A. King Abijah speaks to King Jeroboam.
1. (1-3) The two armies gather for war.
In the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam, Abijah became king over Judah. He reigned three years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Michaiah the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah. And there was war between Abijah and Jeroboam. Abijah set the battle in order with an army of valiant warriors, four hundred thousand choice men. Jeroboam also drew up in battle formation against him with eight hundred thousand choice men, mighty men of valor.
a. In the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam: This is the only description of the reign of a Judean king that is synchronized with the reign of a contemporary king of Israel. Though the books of 1 and 2 Kings tell the story of both southern and northern kingdoms, 2 Chronicles focuses only on the southern kingdom of Judah. The connection in this verse is probably due to the fact that the events involve Israel as well as Judah.
b. He reigned three years in Jerusalem: This son of Rehoboam named Abijah (called Abijam in 1 Kings) only reigned three years, showing that God did not bless his reign.
c. Four hundred thousand choice men…against him with eight hundred thousand choice men: In this war between the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel, there was a clear numerical advantage for the northern kingdom.
i. “Now it is very possible that there is a cipher too much in all these numbers, and that they should stand thus: Abijah’s army, forty thousand; Jeroboam’s eighty thousand; the slain, fifty thousand.” (Clarke)
ii. On the other hand, “A vast number: but it hath been oft observed and recorded by sacred and profane historians, that in those ancient times there were very numerous armies, and ofttimes very great slaughters; and if this slaughter was more than ordinary, there is nothing strange nor incredible, because the Almighty God fought against the Israelites.” (Poole)
2. (4-12) Abijah’s appeal to Jeroboam and the army of Israel.
Then Abijah stood on Mount Zemaraim, which is in the mountains of Ephraim, and said, “Hear me, Jeroboam and all Israel: Should you not know that the LORD God of Israel gave the dominion over Israel to David forever, to him and his sons, by a covenant of salt? Yet Jeroboam the son of Nebat, the servant of Solomon the son of David, rose up and rebelled against his lord. Then worthless rogues gathered to him, and strengthened themselves against Rehoboam the son of Solomon, when Rehoboam was young and inexperienced and could not withstand them. And now you think to withstand the kingdom of the LORD, which is in the hand of the sons of David; and you are a great multitude, and with you are the gold calves which Jeroboam made for you as gods. Have you not cast out the priests of the LORD, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites, and made for yourselves priests, like the peoples of other lands, so that whoever comes to consecrate himself with a young bull and seven rams may be a priest of things that are not gods? But as for us, the LORD is our God, and we have not forsaken Him; and the priests who minister to the LORD are the sons of Aaron, and the Levites attend to their duties. And they burn to the LORD every morning and every evening burnt sacrifices and sweet incense; they also set the showbread in order on the pure gold table, and the lampstand of gold with its lamps to burn every evening; for we keep the command of the LORD our God, but you have forsaken Him. Now look, God Himself is with us as our head, and His priests with sounding trumpets to sound the alarm against you. O children of Israel, do not fight against the LORD God of your fathers, for you shall not prosper!”
a. The LORD God of Israel gave the dominion over Israel to David forever, to him and his sons, by a covenant of salt: Abijah’s argument is that the dynasty of David is the only legitimate house to rule over the tribes of Israel, including these ten northern tribes that rebelled under Jeroboam.
i. This promise God made to David was called a covenant of salt, which meant a serious covenant because it was sealed by sacrifice (sacrifices always included salt, Leviticus 2:13). A covenant of salt also had the following associations:
· A pure covenant (salt stays pure as a chemical compound).
· An enduring covenant (salt makes things preserve and endure).
· A valuable covenant (salt was expensive).
b. Yet Jeroboam the son of Nebat, the servant of Solomon the son of David, rose up and rebelled against his lord: Here King Abijah presents a rather selective view of history. It was true that Jeroboam rebelled, but it is also true that Rehoboam was a fool who provoked the northern tribes to rebellion.
i. “It is a strange mixture of misrepresentation and religion. The misrepresentation is in his statement of the reason for the rebellion of Israel, which culminated in the crowning of Jeroboam. He attributed the rebellion to the influence of evil men whom he described as ‘sons of Belial.’” (Morgan)
ii. “We need not scrupulously inquire into the lawfulness of this war, for this Abijah, though here he makes a fair flourish, and maintained the better cause, yet was indeed an ungodly man, 1 Kings 15:3, and therefore minded not the satisfaction of his conscience, but only the recovery of his parent’s ancient dominions.” (Poole)
c. But as for us, the LORD is our God, and we have not forsaken Him: Abijah contrasted the rejection of God on behalf of Jeroboam and the people of the northern tribes with the comparative faithfulness of the king and people of Judah.
d. Do not fight against the LORD God of your fathers, for you shall not prosper! Abijah brought his sermon to a dramatic finish by challenging the king and people of the northern tribes to recognize that they were really fighting against the LORD God of their fathers.
B. God’s deliverance for Judah and King Abijah.
1. (13-14) Jeroboam’s ambush.
But Jeroboam caused an ambush to go around behind them; so they were in front of Judah, and the ambush was behind them. And when Judah looked around, to their surprise the battle line was at both front and rear; and they cried out to the LORD, and the priests sounded the trumpets.
a. Jeroboam caused an ambush to go around behind them: This was a dishonorable tactic because Jeroboam ambushed while they were negotiating before the battle.
i. The battle line was at both front and rear: “The point to remember is that our enemies may shut us in on all sides, preventing reinforcements from north, south, east, and west; but no earthly power can ever shut off God from above us…. The way upwards is always kept clear; the ladder which links the beleaguered soul with God and heaven can never be blocked, except by transgression and sin.” (Meyer)
b. And they cried out to the LORD: When the battle lines unexpectedly changed, the army of Judah knew that a surprise attack from an army twice as large left them in a very dangerous place. The only thing they could do was cry out to the LORD.
2. (15-19) Victory for Judah.
Then the men of Judah gave a shout; and as the men of Judah shouted, it happened that God struck Jeroboam and all Israel before Abijah and Judah. And the children of Israel fled before Judah, and God delivered them into their hand. Then Abijah and his people struck them with a great slaughter; so five hundred thousand choice men of Israel fell slain. Thus the children of Israel were subdued at that time; and the children of Judah prevailed, because they relied on the LORD God of their fathers. And Abijah pursued Jeroboam and took cities from him: Bethel with its villages, Jeshanah with its villages, and Ephrain with its villages.
a. As the men of Judah shouted, it happened that God struck Jeroboam and all Israel: They added the shout of faith to their cry to the LORD and God struck the army of Israel. We are not told how God struck them, but God certainly defended His trusting people when they could not defend themselves.
i. “So ‘God routed Jeroboam,’ though whether this was through direct supernatural intervention, or through the courage of his embattled people as they saw themselves surrounded by the enemy, is not stated.” (Payne)
ii. “It was a poor business, in that it was a last resort, but it was sincere; and the answer of God was immediate, and complete victory resulted.” (Morgan)
b. The children of Judah prevailed, because they relied on the LORD God of their fathers: The Chronicler wanted the point to be clear. The reason why Judah defeated Israel, even though they were surprised and outnumbered, was that Judah relied on the LORD.
i. “Bethel’s capture is an ironic comment on the golden calves’ inability to defend their own sanctuary (cf. 1 Kings 12:28-33).” (Selman)
3. (20-22) A summary of Abijah’s reign.
So Jeroboam did not recover strength again in the days of Abijah; and the LORD struck him, and he died. But Abijah grew mighty, married fourteen wives, and begot twenty-two sons and sixteen daughters. Now the rest of the acts of Abijah, his ways, and his sayings are written in the annals of the prophet Iddo.
a. Jeroboam did not recover strength again in the days of Abijah: This ended the ongoing threat from Israel against Judah. Jeroboam was not left strong enough to launch an attack and stayed weak until the LORD struck him, and he died.
b. But Abijah grew mighty: The profile of Abijah in 1 Kings 15 is overwhelmingly negative. We read, he walked in all the sins of his father, which he had done before him; his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David. (1 Kings 15:3) Yet the Chronicler says nothing good or bad about the overall reign of Abijah.
i. This was because the Chronicler wanted to emphasize the good that happened under the reign of Abijah; namely, the great deliverance that came when Judah relied on God. The Chronicler assumes the reader knows the material about Abijah in 1 Kings; yet he wanted to show that even a bad man can be shown grace when he relies on the LORD. This would be a great encouragement to the returned exiles to whom the Chronicler first wrote.
ii. Yet from our more complete understanding of Abijah’s life, we can learn another lesson: that one great spiritual victory does not make an entire life before God. One should never trust in a past spiritual accomplishment or season of victory.
iii. The annals of the prophet: “Bemidrash, ‘in the commentary;’ this, as far as I recollect, is the first place where a midrash or commentary is mentioned.” (Clarke)