We have here a much fuller account of the reign of Abijah, the
son of Rehoboam, than we had in the Kings. There we found that his character was
no better than his father'she "walked in the sins of his father, and
his heart was not right with God," 1 Ki. 15:2, 3. But here we find him more
brave and successful in war than his father was. He reigned but three years, and
was chiefly famous for a glorious victory he obtained over the forces of
Jeroboam. Here we have, I. The armies brought into the field on both sides (v.
3). The remonstrance which Abijah made before the battle, setting forth the
justice of his cause (v. 4-12). III. The distress which Judah was brought into
by the policy of Jeroboam (v. 13, 14). IV. The victory they obtained
notwithstanding, by the power of God (v. 15-20). V. The conclusion of Abijah's
reign (v. 21, 22).
Abijah's mother was called Maachah, the daughter of
Absalom, ch. 11:20; here she is called Michaiah, the daughter of Uriel.
It is most probable that she was a grand-daughter of Absalom, by his daughter
Tamar (2 Sa. 14:27), and that her immediate father was this Uriel. But we are
here to attend Abijah into the field of battle with Jeroboam king of Israel.
I. God gave him leave to engage with Jeroboam, and owned him in
the conflict, though he would not permit Rehoboam to do it, ch. 11:4. 1.
Jeroboam, it is probable, was now the aggressor, and what Abijah did was in his
own necessary defence. Jeroboam, it may be, happening to survive Rehoboam,
claimed the crown of Judah be survivorship, at least hoped to get it from this
young king, upon his accession to the throne. Against these impudent pretensions
it was brave in Abijah to take up arms, and God stood by him. 2. When Rehoboam
attempted to recover his ten tribes Jeroboam was upon his good behaviour, and
there must be some trial of him; but now that he had discovered what manner of
man he was, by setting up the calves and casting off the priests, Abijah is
allowed to chastise him, and it does not appear that he intended any more;
whereas Rehoboam aimed at no less than the utter reduction of the ten tribes,
which was contrary to the counsel of God.
II. Jeroboam's army was double in number to that of Abijah (v.
3), for he had ten tribes to raise an army out of, while Abijah had but two. Of
the army on both sides it is said, they were mighty men, chosen men, and valiant;
but the army of Judah consisted only of 400,000, while Jeroboam's army
amounted to 800,000. The inferior number however proved victorious; for the
battle is not always to the strong nor the cause to the majority.
III. Abijah, before he fought them, reasoned with them, to
persuade them, though not to return to the house of David (that matter was
settled by the divine determination and he acquiesced), yet to desist from
fighting against the house of David. He would not have them withstand the
kingdom of the Lord in the hands of the sons of David (v. 8), but at least
to be content with what they had. Note, It is good to try reason before we use
force. If the point may be gained by dint of argument, better so than by dint of
sword. We must never fly to violent methods till all the arts of persuasion have
been tried in vain. War must be the ultima ratio regumthe last
resort of kings. Fair reasoning may do a great deal of good and prevent a
good deal of mischief. How forcible are right words! Abijah had got with
his army into the heart of their country; for he made this speech upon a hill in
Mount Ephraim, where he might be heard by Jeroboam and the principal officers,
with whom it is probable he desired to have a treaty, to which they consented.
It has been usual for great generals to make speeches to their soldiers to
animate them, and this speech of Abijah had some tendency to do this, but was
directed to Jeroboam and all Israel. Two things Abijah undertakes to make out,
for the satisfaction of his own men and the conviction of the enemy:
1. That he had right on his side, a jus divinuma
divine right: "You know, or ought to know, that God gave the kingdom
to David and his sons for ever" (v. 5), not by common providence, his
usual way of disposing of kingdoms, but by a covenant of salt, a lasting
covenant, a covenant made by sacrifice, which was always salted; so bishop
Patrick. All Israel had owned that David was a king of God's making, and that
God had entailed the crown upon his family; so that Jeroboam's taking the
crown of Israel at first was not justifiable: yet it is not certain that Abijah
referred chiefly to that, for he knew that Jeroboam had a grant from God of the
ten tribes. His attempt, however, to disturb the peace and possession of the
king of Judah was by no means excusable; for when the ten tribes were given to
him two were reserved for the house of David. Abijah shows, (1.) That there was
a great deal of dishonesty and disingenuousness in Jeroboam's first setting
himself up: He rebelled against his lord (v. 6) who had preferred him (1
Ki. 11:28), and basely took advantage of Rehoboam's weakness in a critical
juncture, when, in gratitude to his old master and in justice to his title, he
ought rather to have stood by him, and helped to secure the people in their
allegiance to him, than to head a party against him and make a prey of him,
which was unworthily done and what he could not expect to prosper in. Those that
supported him are here called vain men (a character perhaps borrowed from
Jdg. 11:3), men that did not act from any steady principle, but were given to
change, and men of Belial, that were for shaking off the yoke of government and
setting those over them that would do just as they would have them do. (2.) That
there was a great deal of impiety in his present attempt; for, in fighting
against the house of David, he fought against the kingdom of the Lord.
Those who oppose right oppose the righteous God who sits in the throne judging
right, and cannot promise themselves success in so doing. Right may indeed go by
the worst for a time, but it will prevail at last.
2. That he had God on his side. This he insisted much upon, that
the religion of Jeroboam and his army was false and idolatrous, but that he and
his people, the men of Judah, had the pure worship of the true and living God
among them. It appears from the character given of Abijah (1 Ki. 15:3) that he
was not himself in this war chiefly from the religion of his kingdom. For, (1.)
Whatever he was otherwise, it should seem that he was no idolator, or, if he
connived at the high places and images (ch. 14:3, 5), yet he constantly kept up
the temple-service. (2.) Whatever corruptions there were in the kingdom of
Judah, the state of religion among them was better than in the kingdom of
Israel, with which they were now contending. (3.) It is common for those that
deny the power of godliness to boast of the form of it. (4.) It was the cause of
his kingdom that he was pleading; and, though he was not himself so good as he
should have been, yet he hoped that, for the sake of the good men and good
things that were in Judah, God would now appear for them. Many that have little
religion themselves yet have so much sense and grace as to value it in others.
See how he describes, [1.] The apostasy of Israel from God. "You are a
great multitude," said he, "far superior to us in number; but we
need not fear you, for you have that among yourselves which is enough to ruin
you. For," First, "You have calves for your gods (v. 8), that
are unable to protect and help you and will certainly cause the true and living
God to oppose you. Those will be Achans, troublers of your camp." Secondly,
"You have base men for your priests, v. 9. You have cast off the tribes of
Levi, and the house of Aaron, whom God appointed to minister in holy things;
and, in conformity to the custom of the idolatrous nations, make any man a
priest that has a mind to the office and will be at the charge of the
consecration, though ever so much a scandal to the office." Yet such,
though very unfit to be priests, were fittest of all to be their priests;
for what more agreeable to gods that were no gods than priests that were no
priests? Like to like, both pretenders and usurpers. [2.] The adherence of Judah
to God: "But as for us (v. 10) we have not forsaken God.
Jehovah is our God, the God of our fathers, the God of Israel, who is able to
protect us, and give us success. He is with us, for we are with him." First,
"At home in his temple: We keep his charge, v. 10, 11. We worship no
images, have no priests but what he has ordained, no rites of worship but what
he has prescribed. Both the temple service and the temple furniture are of his
appointing. His appointment we abide by, and neither add nor diminish. These we
have the comfort of, these we now stand up in the defence of: so that upon a
religious as well as a civil account we have the better cause. Secondly,
Here in the camp; he is our captain, and we may therefore be sure that he is
with us, because we are with him, v. 12. And, as a token of his presence, we
have here with us his priests, sounding his trumpets according to the law, as a
testimony against you, and an assurance to us that in the day of battle we shall
be remembered before the Lord our God and saved from our enemies;"
for so this sacred signal is explained, Num. 10:9. Nothing is more effectual to
embolden men, and put spirit into them, than to be sure that God is with them
and fights for them. He concludes with fair warning to his enemies. "Fight
not against the God of your fathers. It is folly to fight against the God of
almighty power; but it is treachery and base ingratitude to fight against your
fathers' God, and you cannot expect to prosper."
We do not find that Jeroboam offered to make any answer at all
to Abijah's speech. Though it was much to the purpose, he resolved not to heed
it, and therefore he heard it as though he heard it not. He came to fight, not
to dispute. The longest sword, he thought, would determine the matter, not the
better cause. Let us therefore see the issue, whether right and religion carried
the day or no.
I. Jeroboam, who trusted to his politics, was beaten. He was so
far from fair reasoning that he was not for fair fighting. We may suppose that
he felt a sovereign contempt for Abijah's harangue. "One stratagem,"
thinks he, "is worth twenty such speeches; we will soon give him an answer
to all his arguments; he shall soon find himself overpowered with numbers,
surrounded on every side with the instruments of death, and then let him boast
of his religion and his title to the crown." A parley, it is probable, was
agreed on, yet Jeroboam basely takes the advantage of it, and, while he was
treating, laid his ambushment behind Judah, against all the laws of arms.
What honour could be expected in a servant when he reigned? Abijah was for
peace, but, when he spoke, they were for war, Ps. 120:7.
II. Abijah and his people, who trusted in their God, came off
conquerors, notwithstanding the disproportion of their strength and numbers.
1. They were brought into a great strait, put into a great
fright, for the battle was before and behind. A good cause, and one which
is designed to be victorious, may for a season be involved in embarrassment and
distress. It was David's case. They compassed me about like bees, Ps.
2. In their distress, when danger was on every side, which way
should they look but upwards for deliverance? It is an unspeakable comfort that
no enemy (not the most powerful or politic), no stratagem or ambushment, can cut
off our communication with heaven; our way thitherward is always open. (1.) They
cried unto the Lord, v. 14. We hope they did this before they engaged in
this war, but the distress they were in made them renew their prayers and
quickened them to be importunate. God brings his people into straits, that he
may teach them to cry unto him. Earnest praying is crying. (2.) They relied
on the God of their fathers, depended upon his power to help them and
committed themselves to him, v. 18. The prayer of faith is the prevailing
prayer, and this is that by which we overcome the world, even our faith,
1 Jn. 5:4. (3.) The priests sounded the trumpets to animate them by
giving them an assurance of God's presence with them. It was not only a
martial but a sacred sound, and put life into their faith. (4.) They shouted in
confidence of victory: "The day is our own, for God is with us." To
the cry of the prayer they added the shout of faith, and so became more than
3. Thus they obtained a complete victory: As the men of Judah
shouted for joy in God's salvation, God smote Jeroboam and his army
with such terror and amazement that they could not strike a stroke, but fled
with the greatest precipitation imaginable, and the conquerors gave no quarter,
so that they put to the sword 500,000 chosen men (v. 17), more, it is said, than
ever we read of in any history to have been killed in one battle; but the battle
was the Lord's, who would thus chastise the idolatry of Israel and own the
house of David. But see the sad effect of division: it was the blood of
Israelites that was thus shed like water by Israelites, while the heathen, their
neighbours, to whom the name of Israel had formerly been a terror, cried, Aha!
so would we have it.
4. The consequence of this was that the children of Israel,
though they were not brought back to the house of David (which by so great a
blow surely they would have been had not the determinate counsel of God been
otherwise), yet, for that time, were brought under, v. 18. Many cities
were taken, and remained in the possession of the kings of Judah; as Bethel
particularly, v. 19. What became of the golden calf there, when it came into the
hands of the king of Judah, we are not told; perhaps it was removed to some
place of greater safety, and at length to Samaria (Hos. 8:5); yet in Jehu's
time we find it at Bethel, 2 Ki. 10:29. Perhaps Abijah, when it was in his power
to demolish it, suffered it to stand, for his heart was not perfect with
God; and, not improving what he had got for the honour of God, he soon lost it
Lastly, The death of both of the conquered and of the
conqueror, not long after. 1. Jeroboam never looked up after this defeat, though
he survived it two or three years. He could not recover strength again,
v. 20. The Lord struck him either with some bodily disease, of which he
languished, or with melancholy and trouble of mind; his heart was broken, and
vexation at his loss brought his head, probably by this time a hoary head, with
sorrow to the grave. He escaped the sword of Abijah, but God struck him: and
there is no escaping his sword. 2. Abijah waxed mighty upon it. What number of
wives and children he had before does not appear; but now he multiplied his
wives to fourteen in all, by whom he had thirty-eight children, v. 21. Happy is
the man that hath his quiver full of those arrows. It seems, he had ways
peculiar to himself, and sayings of his own, which were recorded with his acts
in the history of those times, v. 22. But the number of his months was cut off
in the midst, and, soon after his triumphs, death conquered the conqueror.
Perhaps he was too much lifted up with his victories, and therefore God would
not let him live long to enjoy the honour of them.