It is worth remembering that here we still find principles related to the kingdom of God, as it is in the present dispensation to people and what they have done with it. We see what the kings do with their responsibility. We see in 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles what the grace of God brings about despite the failure. Restoration is always the result of that grace through which God maintains His work. We see this principle clearly in this chapter.
1 - 3 War Between Abijah and Jeroboam
1 In the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam, Abijah became king over Judah. 2 He reigned three years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Micaiah the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah. Now there was war between Abijah and Jeroboam. 3 Abijah began the battle with an army of valiant warriors, 400,000 chosen men, while Jeroboam drew up in battle formation against him with 800,000 chosen men [who were] valiant warriors.
Abijah becomes king (verse 1). This is not because he is appointed by the LORD – as is the case with David and Solomon – but because his father has appointed this (2Chr 11:22). Although he was not appointed by the LORD, we see that God fulfills His plan through all human actions and thus maintains the kingship of the house of David. He does so in view of the great Son of David.
Abijah reigns for three years (verse 2), from 913-911 BC. In 1 Kings 15 we also have the history of Abijah (his name means ‘Yahweh is my Father’). There – he is called there Abijam – the emphasis is on the evil character of Abijah. There we see that his heart does not have the right mind (1Kgs 15:3). We do not read there about his battle with Jeroboam, which is being measured out broadly here.
What the LORD has forbidden his father Rehoboam (2Chr 11:1-4), does Abijah do: he begins the battle with Jeroboam (verse 3). He does not resign himself to a situation of which the LORD said it came from Him (1Chr 11:4). So when he begins the battle with Jeroboam, he does something for which he has not received a commission from the LORD. Nor are we called upon to fight against fellow Christians to subjugate them to us. We must defend the truth, but not impose it. Our struggle is a defensive struggle, not an offensive one.
The force ratio between the two armies is 1 to 2 (cf. Lk 14:31). Any thinking should have stopped Abijah from that battle. After all, he will lose hopeless if he relies on his own strength. He only sees his desperate situation when Jeroboam has enclosed him (verse 13). Then he calls to the LORD.
4 - 12 Abijah’s Speech to Israel
4 Then Abijah stood on Mount Zemaraim, which is in the hill country of Ephraim, and said, “Listen to me, Jeroboam and all Israel: 5 Do you not know that the LORD God of Israel gave the rule over Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt? 6 Yet Jeroboam the son of Nebat, the servant of Solomon the son of David, rose up and rebelled against his master, 7 and worthless men gathered about him, scoundrels, who proved too strong for Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, when he was young and timid and could not hold his own against them. 8 “So now you intend to resist the kingdom of the LORD through the sons of David, being a great multitude and [having] with you the golden calves which Jeroboam made for gods for you. 9 Have you not driven out the priests of the LORD, the sons of Aaron and the Levites, and made for yourselves priests like the peoples of [other] lands? Whoever comes to consecrate himself with a young bull and seven rams, even he may become a priest of [what are] no gods. 10 But as for us, the LORD is our God, and we have not forsaken Him; and the sons of Aaron are ministering to the LORD as priests, and the Levites attend to their work. 11 Every morning and evening they burn to the LORD burnt offerings and fragrant incense, and the showbread is [set] on the clean table, and the golden lampstand with its lamps is [ready] to light every evening; for we keep the charge of the LORD our God, but you have forsaken Him. 12 Now behold, God is with us at [our] head and His priests with the signal trumpets to sound the alarm against you. O sons of Israel, do not fight against the LORD God of your fathers, for you will not succeed.”
Before the battle is fought, Abijah tries to convince his opponent that he has the right on his side. He does so by means of a speech he gives while standing on Mount Zemaraim. We can therefore call it a ‘sermon on the mount’. He addresses “Jeroboam and all Israel”. He speaks to Jeroboam in the first place, but the whole of Israel must hear it. The speech he gives seems to be propaganda for the imminent battle. What he says must justify the battle he wants to wage.
His speech is special. Its content is largely in accordance with the truth. Unfortunately, for Abijah this is only an external matter. He uses religious arguments to pursue his own political goals. His speech comes down to the fact that he and his people are the faithful and Jeroboam and his people the apostate. This pretense can be heard in the contrast of “you” (verses 8-9) on the one hand and “we” and “us” (verses 10-12) on the other.
Abijah points to:
1. The salt covenant with David. God gave him and his sons after him the kingship of the twelve tribes (verse 5). Salt covenant means that it is an eternal covenant (Num 18:19b). What Abijah says is true, but at the same time it is an accusation against himself, because he himself does not take this covenant into account.
2. The revolt of Jeroboam (verse 6). Abijah humiliates Jeroboam in his indictment of him and does not do justice to the matter, for God has promised Jeroboam the kingdom.
3. The weakness of his father (verse 7). He seems to suggest that while his father may have been too weak to defeat Jeroboam – as if God’s will did not underlie his father’s decision not to fight –, Jeroboam now faces a man of a different caliber, someone who is strong enough.
4. The introduction of idolatry by Jeroboam and the creation of a priestly service (verses 8-9). What Abijah says about it is true.
5. The true priestly service (verses 10-11). Regardless of Abijah’s person and mind, he gives a magnificent summary of the contents of the true priestly service. From his mouth it unfortunately sounds like “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1Cor 13:1), because he lacks love for the LORD.
6. God is with them at their head. He claims the presence of God here, without considering what his own attitude towards God should be. Instead of humbling him, his language sounds like the language of the Pharisee who also declares high about his relationship to God and claims God for himself (Lk 18:11-12).
What Abijah says may all be so true, but it sounds like the “deceptive words” in the days of Jeremiah, when people boast in the same way and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the LORD (Jer 7:4). What is such a confession worth if the heart is not connected to it? The service of Jeroboam is reprehensible. Abijah’s pretense is equally reprehensible. He boasts about the LORD’s service, but his heart is far from Him.
While Abijah gives his pompous speech and the arrogant “but as for us, … we have not forsaken Him” (verse 10), sounds from his mouth, the people of which he is king sacrifice to the idols. That turns out when his son Asa becomes king. For immediately after his appointment King Asa holds a clean-up action and “removed the foreign altars and high places” (2Chr 14:3). Where does Abijah get the courage to do so high and mighty, when there is so much idolatry in Judah at that moment?
Abijah’s statement “the LORD is our God” (verse 10) is a moderation against the background of the sins in which he himself lives (1Kgs 15:3) and the idolatry committed by the people. He praises orthodoxy and tradition, but life out of and with God is strange to him. He uses the dedication of others – priests and Levites who faithfully perform their task – to maintain himself and claim the right to fight the right battle.
The fact that God is at the head (verse 12) may indicate that he still trusts God for the victory (cf. Deu 20:4). However, it is not trust from a personal faith in the power God. It is very similar to the pretense of Hophni and Phinehas, who claim the ark – the symbol of the presence of the LORD – for their position and take it with them as a mascot in the battle against the Philistines (1Sam 4:3-5).
In summary, we can say that Abijah points to
1. the false leadership of Jeroboam in the northern realm (verse 6),
2. a false company (verse 7),
3. false gods (verse 8),
4. false priests (verse 9)
1. with true priests (verse 10),
2. true service (verse 11) and
3. true Divine authority (verse 12).
13 - 22 Abijah Defeats Jeroboam
13 But Jeroboam had set an ambush to come from the rear, so that [Israel] was in front of Judah and the ambush was behind them. 14 When Judah turned around, behold, they were attacked both front and rear; so they cried to the LORD, and the priests blew the trumpets. 15 Then the men of Judah raised a war cry, and when the men of Judah raised the war cry, then it was that God routed Jeroboam and all Israel before Abijah and Judah. 16 When the sons of Israel fled before Judah, God gave them into their hand. 17 Abijah and his people defeated them with a great slaughter, so that 500,000 chosen men of Israel fell slain. 18 Thus the sons of Israel were subdued at that time, and the sons of Judah conquered because they trusted in the LORD, the God of their fathers. 19 Abijah pursued Jeroboam and captured from him [several] cities, Bethel with its villages, Jeshanah with its villages and Ephron with its villages. 20 Jeroboam did not again recover strength in the days of Abijah; and the LORD struck him and he died. 21 But Abijah became powerful; and took fourteen wives to himself, and became the father of twenty-two sons and sixteen daughters. 22 Now the rest of the acts of Abijah, and his ways and his words are written in the treatise of the prophet Iddo.
While Abijah gives his speech, Jeroboam lays an ambush (verse 13). When Abijah notices that, it’s over with his talk. He boasts, so to speak, of standing on the foundation of the faithful Philadelphia, while his heart is in the lukewarm state of Laodicea. Then he calls to the LORD. He only does this when He has taught him a good lesson and not before he enters into the confrontation. Yet God helps. He is never called upon in vain (Psa 34:6-7; 50:15; 107:6).
When every way out is cut off around us, the way up is always open (2Cor 4:8b). The battle from the “front” (verse 14) can be applied to fear for the future, paralyzing us to do something for the Lord. The battle from the “rear” we can apply to memories of mistakes made, the consequences of sins, the misunderstandings that alienate us from others and make it difficult for us to live as we would like to.
But when we have the battle from the front and the rear, when we are surrounded and enclosed by the battle, we may remember that God also encloses us “behind and before” (Psa 139:5) and covers us with His hand. He then gives the victory. In the blowing of the trumpets we see the call to the LORD, as was said by Moses (Num 10:9).
After his defamatory defeat, Jeroboam has no strength left (verse 20). He is no longer capable of a new showdown. Abijah has nothing more to fear from him. The end of Jeroboam’s bad life is attributed to an act of God. He does not fall asleep, but the LORD hits him deadly, possibly by illness or stroke (cf. Acts 5:1-10; 12:21-23; cf. 1Cor 11:30).
Unlike Jeroboam, who is very weak, Abijah strengthens his position (verse 21). His strength seems to lie in the number of children he conceives with the wives he has taken for himself.
This brings the chronicler to the end of his description of Abijah’s life. “His ways and his words”, that is to say what can still be said of him, “are written in the treatise of the prophet Iddo” (verse 22). That treatise was not taken up in God’s Word, but it was recorded by a prophet of the LORD. That treatise will appear before the judgment seat of Christ on the day that all men will be revealed and will be opened to show Abijah what and how “his ways and his words” have been”. He will be judged correspondingly (2Cor 5:10).