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By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons) DD
The Kingdom In Crisis And The Collapse Of An Empire. The Life Of Rehoboam (10.1-12.16).
The death of Solomon, as always with the death of a king who had ruled powerfully for a long time and had been somewhat autocratic, resulted in hopes being raised among the people that things might now be made better for them. Indeed they appear to have been quite satisfied with the thought of Rehoboam being their king, as long as he would meet them halfway, and they actually gathered at Shechem to negotiate with him for that purpose. It was a real God-given opportunity. Had Rehoboam made concessions, and retained the loyalty of Israel, the combined kingdom would have remained a power in the area, and the tributaries watching in expectation might have hesitated about making trouble. The empire would have continued. But let Israel and Judah once become divided into two nations, and the driving force and the power base would be lost, and men like Hadad in Edom and Rezon in Damascus (1 Kings 11.14-25) would soon ensure the collapse of the empire.
Furthermore, ever waiting in the wings for the collapse of the empire was the powerful Pharaoh Shishak of Egypt in a revived and united Egypt, just waiting for his opportunity to break up the trade monopoly which Solomon had built up. He wanted, and had plotted towards, a divided Israel.
For us there is an important lesson here about the importance of being willing to talk things over rather than rushing into something like a bull at a gate. Even if we think that we have received God’s guidance we have a responsibility to demonstrate Christian love by taking other people’s opinions and ideas into account. Unless all are at one in the end solution it can only lead to discord and disharmony.
It is noteworthy that just as the Chronicler excised any reference to the idolatry of Solomon, so he also excises any direct reference to the idolatry of Judah in the reign of Rehoboam, seeing Rehoboam’s transgressions rather as a forsaking of the Law (12.1) and a failure to set his face to seek YHWH (12.14). He will later do the same for Abijah who at first glance is seemingly presented as being without fault. This may have been because, firstly the Chronicler wants to depict the early Davidic monarchy in favourable terms, and secondly because, by the days of the Chronicler, idolatry was not a major problem. The major problem was a shallow and superficial response to the Law and towards Yahwism, both of which Rehoboam, and Abijah when examined closely, were seen to be guilty of.
On the other hand, in his usual fashion, the Chronicler does bring out their failure to reign satisfactorily when referring to the next king, as he had with Solomon (10.4; 14.3-5). The indication of their failure is delayed, but not overlooked, In this case he brings out the failure of Rehoboam and Abijah to deal with idolatry when describing the reign of Asa, for Asa is described as setting out to deal with the problem of idolatry which had been handed on to him by the earlier kings (14.3, 5; 15.8, 16).
We are not given any indication as to why Solomon chose Rehoboam as his heir. He is not said to be his firstborn, (although he might well have been), and his mother was Naamah, an Ammonite princess. He was possibly chosen by Solomon to succeed him because he saw his potential, in the same way as David saw Solomon’s potential as the chosen of YHWH (1 Chronicles 22.9; 28.5), and Rehoboam saw Abijah’s (11.22).
The Life Of Rehoboam.
The life of Rehoboam, like the life of Solomon, is presented in chiastic fashion as follows:
Overall Analysis (10.1-12.16 ).
Note that in A Rehoboam is about to commence his reign, and in the parallel his reign ceases. In B Rehoboam loses Israel because of his pride and is humbled, and in the parallel he is humbled and established himself in Judah. In C Shemaiah gives Rehoboam a warning not to attack Israel, and in the parallel he gives him a warning about the coming of Shishak. In D Rehoboam strengthens the kingdom by fortifying cities, and in the parallel he strengthens the kingdom by making his sons governors of those cities. Centrally in E the priests and Levites transfer to Judah, and in the parallel godly Israelites do the same.
Israel Gather At Shechem To Make Rehoboam King (10.1-16).
As Jerusalem was the sacred place of Judah, so Shechem appears to have been the sacred place of northern Israel. Thus it was to Shechem that they went for what they anticipated would be the crowning of Rehoboam as their king. But whilst in Judah the king obtained his throne by right of birth in the house of David, in Israel the kingship was obtained by popular acclaim.
Analysis of 10.1-16.
Note that in ‘a’ all Israel came to make Rehoboam king in Shechem and in the parallel they rejected him and returned home. In ‘b’ Jeroboam returned from exile in Egypt to support the pleas of the men of Israel, and in the parallel the king did not listen because of His plan to make Jeroboam king. In ‘c’ the people demanded that their load might be made lighter, and in the parallel Rehoboam said that he would make it heavier. In ‘d’ Rehoboam called on the people to give him three days in which to make his decision, and in the parallel they returned to him on the third day. In ‘e’ Rehoboam sought the advice of the old men and received their reply, and in the parallel Rehoboam sought the advice of the young men and received their reply. Centrally in ‘f’ Rehoboam turned from the counsel of the old men to receive the counsel of the young men who had grown up with him.
Rehoboam Goes To Shechem To Be Declared King Of Israel (10.1).
2.10.1 ‘And Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel were come to Shechem to make him king.’
On the death of Solomon Israel were ready to accept Rehoboam as their king, and they assembled at Shechem, which they clearly saw as the local Sanctuary of the northern tribes when it came to such matters. The idea was to acclaim him as king over Israel, in contrast with Judah, by popular acclamation in the time honoured way.
The very choice of Shechem indicated that they were calling on the king to recognise his obligations under the Law of Moses. Shechem was the place to which Israel had first gathered under Joshua for the reading of the Law and the renewal of the covenant (Joshua 8.30-35), in obedience to the command of YHWH through Moses (Deuteronomy 11.29-32; 27.1-26), and was the place where Joshua himself had renewed the covenant after the initial stages of the invasion were over and Israel were settled in the land (Joshua 24.1-28). It was a recognised place at which YHWH had recorded His Name (suggested by Joshua 8.30-31 with Exodus 20.24). It was the place where the stone of witness had been set up (Joshua 24.26) and it may well be that the regular reading of the covenant required by the Law of Moses took place at Shechem whose two local mountains Ebal and Gerizim, together with the narrow valley that lay between them, formed a natural amphitheatre (see Deuteronomy 27.1-26).
Rehoboam should, of course have recognised that the very choice of this site for their gathering emphasised that Israel saw themselves as separate from Judah when it came to crowning a new king, and were calling on him, if he was to reign over them, to renew his obedience to the Law of Moses, and to walking in the ways of YHWH, something which Solomon had signally failed to do. Solomon had previously slipped into the joint kingship so easily, because he had done it while David was still alive, and when the kingdom was at peace. It had thus been easy to forget this independent feeling in Israel, and the fact that kingship in Israel had always been by popular acclamation. It had been so for Saul (1 Samuel 10.24; 11.12-13), for David (2 Samuel 5.1-3) and indeed for Solomon (1 Chronicles 29.22). And we should not forget how delicate had been the situation after Absalom’s rebellion (2 Samuel 19.9-15; 19.41-20.2). Israel did not see themselves as Judah’s lapdog. They saw themselves as an independent entity with a right to choose their own king. Solomon’s attempt to destroy this sense of separateness by dividing Israel and Judah into administrative centres had failed.
Rehoboam’s Pride Causes Him To Lose Israel (10.2-16).
Sadly Rehoboam had been brought up in Solomon’s court, and he had been bred with a sense of arrogance and with the feeling that all Israel and Judah were there to do his bidding. He saw himself as ‘a king like the kings of the nations’. In his view the people were simply there to be whipped into line. And while when he took advice from his father’s older counsellors they gave him good advice as to the need to meet the people half way, he preferred the advice of the younger arrogant aristocrats like himself (many of whom would have been sons of Solomon) who assured him that what was needed was to show them who was in charge.
So what brought about Rehoboam’s rejection was the arrogance that had become so much a part of Solomon’s lifestyle, and which he had passed on to his son. In contrast, in the case of Jeroboam, his downfall would come about through his turning his back on the covenant and diluting Yahwism, in order, as he saw it, to protect his kingdom. This would result in his destroying the religious heart of Israel (as opposed to Judah), something which would affect all the kings who followed him. Thus both aspects of Solomon’s failures came out in his successors.
2.10.2 ‘And it came about, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard of it, for he was in Egypt, where he had fled from the presence of king Solomon, that Jeroboam returned out of Egypt.’
When Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had sought refuge in Egypt from King Solomon, heard the news of Solomon’s death and that Israel were preparing to acclaim Rehoboam as king, he saw it as his opportunity to return. It was no doubt with the support of Shishak who would have been happy to see dissension in Israel/Judah and would no doubt have been delighted if they broke up. Solomon’s empire and might had been a restraint on his own aims and purposes. How far he influenced Jeroboam we do not know.
The account of Jeroboam’s flight to Egypt is recorded in 1 Kings 11.28-40. In Egypt he had been given protection by Pharaoh Shishak who was of a different dynasty from the Pharaoh whose daughter Solomon had married, and who therefore owed him no loyalty.
2.10.3 ‘And they sent and called him, and Jeroboam and all Israel came, and they spoke to Rehoboam, saying,’
As in the parallel in 1 Kings 12.3 the one whom they sent and called for was Jeroboam. It seems clear that their leaders had kept in touch with him during his exile, something which revealed how unsatisfied they were with the state of things. Now they felt that they needed his assistance. And once he had arrived Jeroboam and ‘all Israel’ came to speak to Rehoboam. He was their natural leader. Note how ‘all Israel’ is now seen in terms of ‘northern Israel’. They were preparing to lay down the terms on which they would accept his kingship. They saw this, not as rebellion but as their ancient right. Kingship for Israel had always been by popular acclaim starting from Saul onwards.
2.10.4 “Your father made our yoke grievous. Now, therefore, you make the grievous service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, lighter, and we will serve you.”
The Israelites then sent a deputation to put their requirements to Rehoboam, a deputation which no doubt included Jeroboam. Their terms were very simple. They were prepared to acknowledge Rehoboam as their king on condition that he could assure them that he would lighten the yoke that his father had put on them with his building schemes and constant demands. They wanted a relaxation of the pressure on them so that they could concentrate more on their own welfare and their families. Assyriology reveals that such demands for a certain group to be exempted from levies were later fairly common.
It is clear from this that, while the Chronicler had not previously mentioned it, Solomon had in the later part of his life included Israelites in his levies for building purposes in considerable numbers, thus abrogating his own earlier principle (9.22). There would probably not have been such a complaint for the levy to build the Temple. That might have been seen as permissible. Thus these levies were still clearly recent. And being in such levies regularly resulted in cruel treatment and severe beatings.
2.10.5 ‘And he said to them, “Come to me again after three days.”. And the people departed.’
Rehoboam then asked for three days in which he could consider the matter before he gave his reply. ‘Come again in three days’ probably means ‘come again the day after tomorrow’ (three days equalling part of today, tomorrow and part of the next day). This was not unreasonable as they would want him to come forward with some concrete proposals. They saw kingship in Israel as something resulting from a covenant between the king and the people. Even in the case of Solomon he had been made king while the Hebron covenant with David had still been active, and his kingship was later renewed and acknowledged by Israel (1 Chronicles 29.22). So they went away feeling quite hopeful. Concessions on taxes and on labour levies were often a regular feature on the accession of a new ruler, something evidenced in inscriptions.
2.10.6 ‘And king Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, saying, “What counsel do you give me to return an answer to this people?”
Rehoboam then called together his father’s old counsellors, men of wide experience and politically astute, and asked them how, in their view, he should reply. It was normal practise for kings to look for advice to greybeards who were seen as being wise through age.
2.10.7 ‘And they spoke to him, saying, “If you be kind to this people, and please them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants for ever.”
Their reply was that in their view if he was willing to meet the men of Israel half way, with a little humility, and consider Israel’s genuine grievances, recognising at the same time that one of his duties as king was to serve his people, he would win them over and they would become his loyal subjects permanently. They recognised the goodwill and sense of loyalty that Israel had towards Solomon’s son, and that Israel had a genuine grievance.
There are grounds for thinking that ‘good words’ technically has in mind treaty concessions. The idea was that he concede their right to avoid the forced labour levy (it would still be open to him to use Canaanites). By this means he could ensure their loyalty.
2.10.8 ‘But he forsook the counsel of the old men which they had given him, and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him, who stood before him.’
But Rehoboam was not happy with their advice. His ‘wise’ father had not brought him up to consider the good of the people. Rather he had allowed him to be brought up with an overbearing attitude of arrogance and self-interest. An arrogant and despotic father rarely produces a considerate son. So Rehoboam did not feel that what his counsellors were advising was a good idea. He felt that it was too humiliating, and giving too much away. Far better to listen to men of his own age who really understood life. Thus he then turned to the younger men who had grown up with him at court, and who were constantly in his presence, many of whom would have been sons of Solomon like himself.
2.10.9 ‘And he said to them, “What counsel do you give, that we may return an answer to this people, who have spoken to me, saying, “Make the yoke that your father put on us lighter?”
He asked the comparatively younger men who had grown up with him (he was forty one years old - 12.13) how they felt that he should reply to Israel’s request for their yoke to be made lighter. The answer was really a foregone conclusion, for to a man they were as arrogant and despotic as Rehoboam himself. They were the younger aristocrats of the court who saw themselves as being God’s gift to the world in the wrong sense, and they had grown up under Solomon’s despotic rule. They had no understanding of Israel’s custom that a king had to be appointed by popular acclaim, for no king had been crowned within their lifetime. They had grown up under a despotic king whose will was unquestioned, and who had himself used the forced labour levy. Their view was that inheritance of the throne was a foregone conclusion. The people should do as they were told, or be whipped into line.
2.10.10-11 ‘And the young men who had grown up with him spoke to him, saying, “Thus shall you say to the people who spoke to you, saying, “Your father made our yoke heavy, but you make it lighter to us”. Thus shall you say to them, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs. And now, whereas my father loaded you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.”
These younger men, who would be men of military age and therefore young in contrast with the aged counsellors, but nevertheless mature, (for Rehoboam himself was 41 years of age (12.13) and probably already had most of his eighteen wives, sixty concubines, twenty eight sons and sixty daughters (11.21)), had grown up with him in Solomon’s court, and they gave him the answer that fitted in with his own attitude. Let him show the men of Israel who was in charge, and let them know that he was even more of a man, and even stronger, than his father and that he would do precisely as he liked. Let him inform the rebellious people that his little finger was thicker than his father’s thighs. In other words that he was tougher than his father and would do precisely what he wanted. He was not there to be told what to do. So whereas his father had simply beaten them with whips, he would beat them with scorpions, which would be even more painful. The scorpion sting was noted for the pain it caused. The intention was to frighten them into submission. And if they would not submit, so much the worse for them.
By this he was, of course, negating God’s covenant with David which had been based on his walking in YHWH’s ways and doing what was right in His eyes. He was basically declaring that did not intend to walk by that covenant. He was going to walk in his own ways. He was the consequence of what Solomon had become. It is significant that the Chronicler names his number of wives, something he had not done for Solomon, thereby demonstrating that Rehoboam was not in line with YHWH’s requirement for a king (Deuteronomy 17.17). Solomon had multiplied horses from Egypt, he had multiplied wives. In both cases true godly kingship had been forgotten.
2.10.12 ‘So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king had bid, saying, “Come to me again the third day.”
Thus when Jeroboam and all the elders of Israel, representing all the people who had gathered there, came on the third day to receive Rehoboam’s reply he was in no mood for compromise. He should have noted that they were in sufficient strength to make their presence felt, and had he done so things might have turned out differently. . They came believing that as a body they had a right to choose their king, and they were strong enough to enforce the idea. He came believing in a despotic kingship, and that his kingship was therefore a foregone conclusion. And he had seemingly only brought with him a bodyguard, and not an army. He had not expected resistance.
2.10.13-14 ‘And the king answered them roughly. And king Rehoboam forsook the counsel of the old men, and spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to it. My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.”
And he answered the people roughly, ignoring the advice of the wiser old men, and relying on the counsel of his contemporaries. Let Israel recognise that they were not dealing with any soft option. If his father had made their yoke heavy, he would add to it and make it heavier. His father may have chastened them with whips, but he would beat them with scorpions, the creatures whose painful sting was almost beyond bearing. They would be made to pay for their insubordination.
Some see ‘scorpions’ as referring to a special kind of whip into which were woven sharp pieces of bone or metal which increased the potency of the whip, but there is no early evidence for such a whip. However, either way the meaning was clear. Under him they would suffer even more than under his father.
2.10.15 ‘So the king did not listen to the people, for it was brought about of God, that YHWH might establish his word, which he spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.’
The reply was so foolish that the prophetic author knew that there could only be one explanation for it. It was of YHWH, so as to bring about His purposes. It was in order that He might establish the word that He had spoken to Ahijah the Shilonite, to be passed on to Jeroboam (1 Kings 11.35-39). That did not, of course, excuse Rehoboam, whose behaviour was simply that of a spoiled and very arrogant person. He had behaved as he had been brought up to behave, following the example of his father. But the prophetic author points out that YHWH takes up such folly and uses it to bring about His purposes. Note his assumption that his readers will know all about the prophecy of Ahijah, and how he had prophesied that Jeroboam would become king of the northern tribes (1 Kings 11.31-38).
To an extent, of course, YHWH had only revealed to Ahijah the inevitable course of events. He could see how things were heading up, and what must be the consequence of the arrogance of the monarchy as revealed clearly by the Chronicler when it came into collision with the sense of independence of the people. He could, of course, have made things turn out differently. But retribution was required because of what Solomon had become, (even given the Chronicler’s picture of him), a retribution only delayed because he was David’s son (1 Kings 11.31-34). Retribution is a theme of Chronicles.
2.10.16 ‘And when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, saying,
So all Israel departed to their tents.’
The people of Israel probably came to the meeting hoping that a compromise could be reached. They would then by popular acclaim have crowned him as king, and would have cried,
This had probably become a recognised declaration of loyalty to the house of David. Note the similarities with the rejection song. But now they were using it as a refashioned rejection song which they would no doubt have sung as they were on their way back to their homes. See the similar words of rejection in 2 Samuel 20.1.
This revealed that these men were in a determined mood. They had been prepared to cooperate, but their lives had become so unbearable that what Rehoboam threatened could only take them over the edge (we must remember this when assessing Solomon’s reign). So when they saw that he had not listened to them, they boldly declared that they no longer ‘had any portion in David’. In other words, they no longer saw themselves as being in the Davidic covenant, or saw the Davidic house as having authority over them. They no longer saw the son of Jesse as their inheritance. From now on ‘David’ (Rehoboam) could look after his own house. They would return to the freedom of their own homes no longer under ‘David’s’ yoke. It was a total rejection of any covenant that they had had with David or his house. Note the implication that Israel were not thinking of attacking Judah (‘they departed to their tents (homes)’). They saw themselves as simply maintaining their rights.
‘What portion have we in David? Neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel.’ For this compare 2 Samuel 20.1. This was seemingly a regular way of indicating a withdrawal from negotiations and from any covenant which might be seen as binding them. It also indicates that they did not see their relationship with the house of David as having been too binding. It was dependent on mutual response. Covenants were two-sided. They had chosen David because at that time he had been the best option and had been much more open-handed in dealing with the people. They had chosen Solomon because they had expected quite wrongly that he would be like his father. They rejected Rehoboam because he was like his father.
We have a clear indication here that the representative of the Davidic house could be spoken of as ‘David’, something to be borne in mind whenever ‘David’ is mentioned in the future. (Thus ‘for David’ in the Psalms may sometimes simply refer to the current member of the Davidic house, while the mention of ‘David’ in the prophets looked forward to the future king).
The consequence of all this was that Israel returned to their homes (‘departed to their tents’, i.e. their places of abode, a phrase carried over from their wilderness days). They would choose their own king. Considering the forces that were at Rehoboam’s disposal it was a decision that required some bravery, no doubt partly instilled in them by the presence of Jeroboam and what YHWH had promised him. On the other hand, it may be that much of the army were with them (only one course would be on duty, and much of the army came from Israel). And they clearly felt that they had had enough, come what may. Such had been the wisdom that the wise Solomon had inculcated in his son.
Rehoboam Seeks To Whip Israel Into Line But Is Prevented By YHWH (10.17-24).
Rehoboam still had total control over all who dwelt in the cities of Judah, including Jerusalem, and, we learn, also over part of Benjamin. These had probably never been as much affected by the continual labour levies as the remainder.
And he was so arrogant that he does not seem to have stopped to consider his position. Possibly he believed that the whole army would support him. He had not been brought up to consider the people as an independent force, who, based on a sound knowledge of the uniqueness of the Law which provided more equality than was prevalent in the surrounding nations, saw themselves as a redeemed people, and therefore free. So arrogantly assuming that Israel could easily be ‘whipped into line’ Rehoboam sent Hadoram who had total overall control over the labour levies, one of the leading men in the kingdom, to overawe the rebels and bring them to heel. In his folly he still thought that the authority of the king would be sufficient to subdue the rebels, and that the sight of Hadoram would cause them to climb down. It was a foolish move, for it blatantly declared his intention to treat them all as bond-men, and that he had no intention of listening to them.
But Hadoram was so hated that as soon as the men of Israel recognised who was among them they took up stones and stoned him to death. Hearing the news, and realising almost too late the danger of the situation Rehoboam then hurriedly mounted his chariot and fled with his bodyguard to Jerusalem.
As far as Israel were concerned that was the end of the rule of the Davidic house, and so they appointed their champion Jeroboam as their king, a man with whom YHWH had made a covenant similar to the one that He had made with David (11.37-38). From now on only those who acknowledged the authority of the elders of Judah would follow Rehoboam.
But Rehoboam was not taking this lying down, and he assembled all the armed might that was still under his control in order to bring the rebels into line. It could only have resulted in a vicious civil war, and Israel had far more fighting men than Judah, even if not so well led. It is noticeable that there is no mention of foreign mercenaries. It may be that in the security of Solomon’s kingdom they had been disbanded.
The host that he gathered was a formidable one. One hundred and eighty large military units. This would not, of course, have been all of his troops. He would need to leave a strong force for the defence of the realm (he would be well aware of Pharaoh Shishak’s ambitions). And it was not as large as Israel could have mustered, although better armed and probably better led (Israel could probably muster well over twice that number. See 1 Chronicles 21.5). But God then spoke through a prophet and forbade him to move forward. While the account is truncated it seems very probable that Rehoboam initially consulted with the prophets in order to determine the mind of God, as David had done and kings of Judah would do later (compare Jehoshaphat in 2 Kings 3.11, and how David had constantly sought answers through the ephod before going to war, e.g. 1 Samuel 30.7-8). Thus when Rehoboam received the news that YHWH was against the enterprise he did not move forward. It was as well. It could only have resulted in a huge bloodbath, and the outcome would have been in doubt, for the kingdom would have been divided against itself. But it meant that at one stroke, without any fighting, ‘Israel’ was divided up into two, while the remainder of the empire would necessarily disintegrate around them. The empire had only been held together by armed might and tight control. So from seemingly being destined to rule a great empire, Rehoboam, through his own folly, had become merely a petty king, and income from the trade routes would have reduced considerably. There would be no more voyages to Ophir. All this would not be obvious immediately, but it would soon have repercussions.
Note that in ‘A’ those over whom Rehoboam reigned from all Israel who dwelt in the cities of Judah remained under his rule, and in the parallel it was they who were forbidden by the prophet Shemaiah, to fight against their brothers, because what had happened was YHWH’s will. In ‘B’ Rehoboam sent Hadoram to bring the rebels into line, and subsequently fled to Jerusalem, and in the parallel when he arrived at Jerusalem he gathered his army in order to bring the rebels into line. Centrally in ‘C’ Israel rebelled against the house of David to this day.
2.10.17 ‘But as for the children of Israel who dwelt in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam reigned over them.’
This is a summary of the situation as it applied practically. Jerusalem had become the centre of the empire, and this had naturally resulted in a considerable movement of peoples from all tribes to live in and around Jerusalem. We must remember here that we are dealing with a complicated situation that was not easy to describe in simple terms, for the old distinctions were now blurred. Israel was no longer a confederation of twelve separate tribes, each living apart and only coming together at the main feasts, or at ‘the call to arms’. Indeed it had never really been quite as simple as that as Judges 1 demonstrates with its picture of the tribes broken up by Canaanite conclaves.
Furthermore there would have been continual movements between the tribes since those days, and a good deal of integration, especially as large cities grew up. And it would include fraternisation with the peoples of the land (note the picture described in Judges 1.27-36, and the pressures exerted by invasions as described throughout the book of Judges). The process would have been going on since the time of Joshua, as various pressures caused movements of large numbers of people throughout Israel/Judah (consider the movement of part of the tribe of Dan to Laish (Judges 18) and the displacement of the families who had followed David). This was especially so as many lost connection with the land, while from the time when under David the kingdom became one whole, and the centre of a mighty empire, and on through the days of the united kingdom under Solomon when the tribal boundaries had been virtually replaced by administrative districts, continual interchange and consolidation would have taken place. While agriculture remained central to the economy, other ways of living opened up in the cities. This would especially have happened through the widespread use of the forced levy, which would have uprooted many people from the land, and through the centring in Jerusalem of political power and religious worship (augmented by the establishment of the Temple as the Central Sanctuary) which would have drawn people to it from all parts of Palestine, and meant that all who had ambitions tended to focus on Jerusalem.
Thus many of ‘the children of Israel’ from all tribes must have become established within the territory of Judah/Benjamin. And as these would be people mainly untouched by the labour levies, being rather the administrators of the empire and the entrepreneurs, there would be no discontent among them. The consequence was that those who remained loyal to Rehoboam came from all tribes, although founded on the tribe of Judah as the base, for the ancient loyalties of the tribe of Judah had always been towards the house of David, and they had always, as a result, had special treatment. Many trades would also have built up which left people unconnected to the old roots, and they too would often have felt partly ‘emancipated’ from the tribal system. They looked to the civic authorities rather than to the tribal leaders.
Over against all this there would still be fierce tribal loyalties among large numbers, especially in the countryside, and much of the wider justice system would still be founded on the rule of the people by the aristocracies of the tribes. Similarly those who had been deeply involved in land-ownership and agriculture from time immemorial, would still feel wedded to the tribal system which ensured their ownership of the land, and gave them a recognised position in Israel. These were ‘the people of the land’. Indeed this tension between the old roots in the land and in the tribes, and the new administrators, traders, politicians and others connected with the large cities, would remain throughout the period of the monarchy.
2.10.18 ‘Then king Rehoboam sent Hadoram, who was over the men subject to taskwork, and the children of Israel stoned him to death with stones. And king Rehoboam made speed to mount his chariot, to flee to Jerusalem.’
However, the current situation had to be dealt with, and Rehoboam, still encamped at Shechem with his officials and his bodyguard, had lost patience. Assuming in his folly that all that was required was a show of determination in order to quell a rebellious people who were nobodies, He sent Hadoram, the high official who had overall control over the labour levies, (no doubt leading a deputation), a man who would be known and feared among the people, in order to bring them into line. This Hadoram was quite possibly the son or grandson of the Hadoram who was over the forced labour levies in the time of David (2 Samuel 20.24). Alternately Hadoram may have been an official title for such a man.
Whether Rehoboam’s aim had been for Hadoram to negotiate with Jeroboam, who had once been his subordinate, or whether the hope had been that before his authority Israel would withdraw in fear, we do not know, for the sight of the hated Hadoram simply inflamed the people, with the result that they stoned him with stones until he died. This was enough, once he learned of it, to bring home to Rehoboam the seriousness of the situation, and the consequence was that he hurriedly mounted his chariot, and together with his retinue, returned to Jerusalem with the aim of raising an army to quell the rebels. The proposed coronation had not gone quite as planned.
Note the use of ‘the children of Israel’ in both verse 17 and verse 18 indicating that it represented both sides. They were sadly divided but they had not ceased to be children of Israel,
2.10.19 ‘So Israel rebelled against the house of David to this day.’
The consequence of all this was that a final break had been made by Israel from the rulership of the house of David which continued until the original writer’s day. It was necessarily the end of the glory days and of the empire, and they now had to look for a new beginning as one of two small countries. The united kingdom of David and Solomon was no more.
2.11.1 ‘And when Rehoboam arrived at Jerusalem, he assembled the house of Judah and Benjamin, a hundred and eighty large military units (thousands) of chosen men, who were warriors, to fight against Israel, to bring the kingdom again to Rehoboam.’
On his return to Jerusalem the infuriated Rehoboam brought together all the armed forces that he could spare from defence of the realm with the aim of bringing Israel into line. This consisted of a large force gathered from Judah and Benjamin which made up one hundred and eighty large fighting units of picked fighting men, and his aim was to bring the house of Israel back under his control by force of arms.
‘To bring the kingdom again to Rehoboam.’ His attitude is brought out by the writer here. How dared these Israelites defy Rehoboam? They would soon learn that they were not dealing with someone who could be defied. He gave no thought to what the real situation was, for Israel would be far more numerous than Judah, and whilst they might not be as well trained as Rehoboam’s standing army, they would be fighting for their lives. The consequence of his action would be a civil war resulting in huge bloodshed and the end of the power base of both parts of once united Israel.
But then he was given pause for thought by something else, for a greater power intervened. We are not told whether Rehoboam actually consulted with Shemaiah the prophet, or whether the prophecy simply came independently, but the probability from past experience must be that Rehoboam would consult the prophets in Jerusalem about such a major initiative. Such consultation of YHWH before proposed large-scale military activity had been, and continued to be, a recognised principle with the Davidic house (1 Samuel 30.7-8; 2 Samuel 2.1; 5.19, 23; 1 Kings 22.5 ff.; 2 Kings 3.11).
2.11.2 “But the word of YHWH came to Shemaiah the man of God, saying,’
There is a strong implication in these verses that Rehoboam consulted Shemaiah the prophet before making his move, in order to ensure that he was doing the right thing. After all, Israel were much stronger than he was manwise, and danger from Egypt always threatened. And he would have been aware that he had already made foolish choices. Thus he would want to be sure of YHWH’s help. So he sought for ‘the word of YHWH’ from Shemaiah.
And that word came, and it was that YHWH was not prepared to stand back and watch Israel/Judah tear itself apart in civil war. The term ‘man of God’ indicates a prophet who was true to YHWH, independently minded because he only listened to YHWH, and was mainly non-political. It would appear that Shemaiah was a prophet connected with Jerusalem in contrast with Ahijah who seems to have been a prophet connected with Shiloh. Thus it would appear that God had His true prophets operating throughout Judah and Israel in different places, unknown and unsung until the time came for them to speak openly in the name of YHWH. But we need not doubt that they were constantly proclaiming the word of YHWH to all who would hear it, and especially to those who came to them to be taught. This was what kept the faith of Israel alive. Amidst all that happened YHWH was continually at work maintaining a true remnant in Israel.
2.11.3-4 ‘Speak to Rehoboam the son of Solomon, king of Judah, and to all Israel in Judah and Benjamin, saying, “Thus says YHWH, You shall not go up, nor fight against your brothers. Return every man to his house, for this thing is of me.” So they listened to the words of YHWH, and returned from going against Jeroboam.’
The word of YHWH was simple. It was to the effect that they were not to fight against their brothers, because what had happened had been YHWH’s doing. They were therefore to accept it as the will of YHWH. Like Israel had done they were to return every man to his house.
Note the reference to Rehoboam as ‘king of Judah’. This was now what he was in YHWH’s eyes. He was no longer king over Israel. The overall constitution of the new kingdom is then recognised in the further description, ‘all the house of Judah, and Benjamin, and the rest of the people’ tying in with what we have seen above.
It would have been a brave and foolhardy man indeed who would have gone out to fight in direct defiance of the word of YHWH, for all knew from their history what YHWH, the Lord of Hosts, could do to those who acted in disobedience to His command. It was writ large in their tradition (compare for example Numbers 14.40-45). And he was probably also aware through his spies that Shishak in Egypt was considering the possibility of a military expedition in Palestine, something which would only be encouraged by a civil war (it came anyway five years later). The arrogant king was therefore forced to cower before the word of the prophet. YHWH’s was a power that he could not fight against. And he probably knew that once the prophet’s word was known his people would be divided. Few would want to go against the word of YHWH. For they still saw YHWH as their supreme Overlord, and they would consider the prophecy as indicating that they would be doomed to failure.
Rehoboam Fortifies The Cities of Judah (11.5-12).
Recognising that Judah had become vulnerable as a consequence of the collapse of the empire, and that danger threatened from Egypt, and possibly Edom, Rehoboam fortified or strengthened the fortifications of Judean cities in the hill country to the south, and in the Shephelah west of Jerusalem. He was apparently satisfied that Israel posed no direct threat in the short term. They would be too busy looking to their own defences. This fortifying of cities is probably deliberately intended to parallel that carried out by Solomon in 8.2-6. But from what a wholly different perspective! Solomon had fortified cities at the far reaches of his empire, in territory which he had recently invaded and settled, and throughout the land of his dominion. He had no fears for closer at home. Rehoboam was desperately trying to defend Jerusalem, even fortifying ‘cities’ within sixteen kilometres (ten miles) of it, and giving up on the Negeb which he had no hope of defending. The Chronicler is bringing out the dire straits that he had come to (there is no mention of this in 1 Kings). He was a pale shadow of his father.
2.11.5 ‘And Rehoboam dwelt in Jerusalem, and built cities for defence in Judah.’
Recognising that Jerusalem itself was now in danger Rehoboam set about fortifying and refortifying cities in the hill country, and in the Shephelah in order to build a half ring of defence around inner Judah and Jerusalem. He recognised that the Negeb would have to be left to its own devices because it was too vulnerable, and that the Israelite border at this stage posed no foreseeable threat.
2.11.6-10 ‘He built Beth-lehem, and Etam, and Tekoa, and Beth-zur, and Soco, and Adullam, and Gath, and Mareshah, and Ziph, and Adoraim, and Lachish, and Azekah, and Zorah, and Aijalon, and Hebron, which are fortified cities in Judah and in Benjamin.’
‘Built’ means ‘made stronger, fortified, refortified’. All these cities already existed. Beth-lehem, Etam,Tekoa, Beth-zur, Ziph and Hebron were in the hill country south of Jerusalem. Lachish, Mareshah, Gath (Moresheth-gath), Azekah, Zorah, and Aijalon were all cities protecting the Shephelah south and south west of Jerusalem, and guarding the roads which led into Jerusalem and central Judah. Soco, Adoraim, and Adullam guarded roads at crucial points between the Shephelah and central Judah.
Lachish at this time had no walls, but it was protected by a ring of houses, and Rehoboam may well have erected temporary defences in the gaps. In the case of Beth-zur which at this time was a fairly small town, he probably strengthened the former Middle Bronze age defences, which were formidable, and stationed troops there. It guarded an important junction where two inland roads met. Both theses sites were essential for the safety of Jerusalem.
All these cities, we are told, were ‘fortified cities in Judah and Benjamin’, once Rehoboam had done his work. These urgent activities probably had in mind a possible invasion from Egypt, although it is more likely that he hoped to curb any Philistine or Edomite threat. The consequence of all this activity was that ‘the kingdom was established, and Rehoboam became strong’ (12.1), that is, within his limited sphere. The work would be hurriedly carried out in order to make Judah safe, but it would prove to be in vain as far as Egypt was concerned as the Chronicler makes clear.
2.11.11-12a ‘And he fortified the strongholds, and put commanders in them, and stores of victuals, and oil and wine, and he put shields and spears in every city and made them exceedingly strong.’
This may indicate that having fortified the above cities he garrisoned them in readiness for an attack, installing reliable commanders, and fully provisioning them, whilst at the same time arming all towns and cities in Judah with shields and spears. Or it may indicate further strengthening of other towns and cities on top of the fortified cities mentioned..
All this frenzied activity suggest that he was anticipating an invasion, whether from Egypt or from those countries on his borders which had previously been subject to Solomon. It was an acknowledgement that the empire was no more.
2.11.12b ‘And Judah and Benjamin belonged to him.’
These sad words reflect the position. The empire was lost. Now only Judah and Benjamin belonged to him. Through his own foolishness that was all he was left with. If only he had been willing to listen to wise advice, how different things would have been. The empire would have belonged to him, even if it was fraying at the edges. But it was too late. He had done what he had done. What a warning this sounds to us all of the dangers of being too precipitate, rather than waiting on God in prayer.
An Influx Of Priests, Levites And Godly Israelites Boosts The Spiritual State Of The Nation (11.13-17).
The activities of Jeroboam in Israel, as he sought to counter the influence of the Jerusalem Temple and the influence of legitimate priests, had the consequence of a wholesale removal to Judah of all the priests and Levites in Israel, together with a large number of godly worshippers of YHWH. This boosted the spiritual state of Judah as there was a spiritual revival movement in Judah.
Note that in A the priests and Levites left their possessions in Israel, and moved into Judah, and in the parallel this resulted in a strengthening of the kingdom, and a walking in a godly way. In B the Levites left their possessions and came to Judah and Jerusalem, and in the parallel all the godly men in Israel came to Jerusalem to sacrifice to YHWH. Centrally in C Jeroboam cast off the legitimate priests, and in the parallel he appointed priests who were not legitimate.
2.11.13 ‘And the priests and the Levites who were in all Israel resorted to him from within all their boundaries.’
As a consequence of Jeroboam appointing his own priests who did not owe a loyalty to the Jerusalem Temple, the legitimate priests and Levites who were settled in Israel left their own cities and lands and resorted to Rehoboam. They recognised that there was no future for them in Israel.
2.11.14 ‘For the Levites left their suburbs and their possession, and came to Judah and Jerusalem, for Jeroboam and his sons cast them off, that they should not execute the priest’s office to YHWH.’
And the reason for this was that Jeroboam cast them off, not allowing them to execute the priest’s office to YHWH in Israel, even if they had been willing to do so.. They thus left their suburbs and possessions and came to Judah and Jerusalem. Such a sacrifice of what they owned would necessarily have made them examine their hearts closely as they faced up to their decision and could only have been for their spiritual good. There is nothing like being called on to make a sacrifice of physical wealth for YHWH’s sake, to bolster spirituality. The unspiritual would have refused and have kept their own possessions and possibly the possessions of the ‘deserters’.
‘Jeroboam and his sons.’ As Rehoboam would in Judah (11.23) Jeroboam had appointed his sons to important positions in Israel, and they had gone along with him in his decision. Jeroboam’s heart had clearly been influenced by his stay in Egypt.
2.11.15 ‘And he appointed for himself priests for the high places, and for the he-goats, and for the calves which he had made.’
Instead of using the legitimate priesthood, who would probably not have gone along fully with him in his ideas, Jeroboam appointed for himself priests who would do his bidding. These would operate at the high place, which would include, but would not be limited to, Bethel and Dan. Worship at the high places (ancient religious sites, often on the mountains), had illegitimately taken place throughout Israel and Judah during the reign of Solomon (1 Kings 11.33), and this Jeroboam now encouraged in the form of sacrificing at them he-goats. At the same time he made Bethel and Dan special Sanctuaries and set up at them golden calves. It is quite possible that underlying it he intended the worship of YHWH to continue, but in a debased form (the calves may have been intended to be seen as bearers of the invisible YHWH, similar to the cherubim, an idea confirmed by other religions showing their gods as riding on bulls and calves). but it would soon lead to open apostasy and worship of Baal and Asherah. Alternately ‘the he-goats’ might indicate idols in their own right, a religion derived from Egypt, and carried on by many in secret (Leviticus 17.7), but now made legitimate by Jeroboam.
2.11.16 ‘And after them, out of all the tribes of Israel, such as set their hearts to seek YHWH, the God of Israel, came to Jerusalem to sacrifice to YHWH, the God of their fathers.’
As well as the priests and Levites moving to Judah, to take their part in the worship of the true Sanctuary, there came a host of godly Israelites who ‘set their hearts to seek YHWH’, and presumably gave up their land and possessions, apart from what they were able to transport, so as to be able to worship in Jerusalem, and offer true sacrifices to YHWH the god of their fathers. Thus there came into Judah and Jerusalem an influx of godly people willing to make personal sacrifices in order to worship God truly.
2.11.17 ‘So they strengthened the kingdom of Judah, and made Rehoboam the son of Solomon strong for three years; for they walked three years in the way of David and Solomon.’
Such an influx of godly people into Judah raised spiritual and moral standards, and would no doubt affect Rehoboam, who may have seen it as an omen that soon Israel would turn back to him. Welcoming them warmly he probably sought to respond to their high standards so that news of his welcome might get back to Israel. He would certainly see their coming as a boost to his kingship. And their very numbers would also increase his fighting strength. So they ‘strengthened the kingdom of Judah and made Rehoboam’s heart strong’.
The consequence of their arrival was that for about eighteen months or so (‘three years’ = part of a year, one whole year, part of a year), Rehoboam and Judah were so enthused that they walked in the ways of David and Solomon when at their best. But it would not last long. Men soon slipped back into their old ways of nominal Yahwism, false religion and covenant disobedience (1 Kings 14.22).
The Sons Of Rehoboam Whom He Appointed As Governors (11.18-23).
We must read this passage in the light of the prohibition in Deuteronomy 17.17 against a king of ‘Israel’ multiplying wives to himself. Initially Rehoboam was careful in his choice, and chose wives from the house of David (he may well have hoped by this to appeal to those who looked to the house of David). But then he lost restraint and took many wives, some of whom would have been foreign princesses. It was a mirror image of his reign, commencing well (after his aberration in his dealings with northern Israel), and then sinking into depravity. A man is often heavily influenced by his womenfolk. So just as Solomon had traded in horses with Egypt, contrary to Deuteronomy 17.16, Rehoboam now multiplied wives, contrary to Deuteronomy 17.17.
However, the consequence of his having many wives was that he had many sons, and these he appointed as governors over the fortified cities of Judah, thus ensuring their obedience and loyalty. It also prevented his sons from squabbling at court. Out of his sons he chose Abijah to succeed him, because of his natural abilities, and probably appointed him as regent, and kept him at court, and also no doubt, once he was of age, Asa who was Abijah’s son, so as to ensure the succession.
Note that in A his wife bears him sons, and in the parallel he disperses his sons to every fortified city. In B his wife bears him Abijah, and in the parallel he appoints Abijah as his regent. Centrally in C we have the number of all his wives, and of all his sons and daughters.
2.11.18 ‘And Rehoboam took for himself a wife, Mahalath the daughter of Jerimoth the son of David, and of Abihail the daughter of Eliab the son of Jesse,’
No doubt Solomon greatly influenced the choice of his first wife, as a preparation for his becoming king. Her name was Mahalath and she was a solid Davidide. Her father was Jerimoth, the son of David, and her mother was Abihail, the daughter of David’s brother Eliab. Jerimoth is not named elsewhere, possibly because he was the son of a concubine, or possibly because he had two names.
2.11.19 ‘And she bore him sons: Jeush, and Shemariah, and Zaham.’
Three sons were born to the marriage, named Jeush, Shemariah and Zaham. Three is the number of completeness and was an indication of God’s blessing on Rehoboam in his early days. These, assuming they survived childhood, became governors of fortified cities.
2.11.20 ‘And after her he took Maacah the daughter of Absalom; and she bore him Abijah, and Attai, and Ziza, and Shelomith.’
The second wife that he took was Maacah, the daughter of Absalom. There is good reason for seeing this last as referring to David’s son Absalom, with Maacah being his granddaughter as the daughter of Tamar through her marriage to Uriel of Gibeah (13.2). It would tie in with his aim to underline that he was the son of David. She bore him four sons, named Abijah, and Attai, and Ziza, and Shelomith.’ Together with the three sons of Mahalath this made seven sons, the number of divine perfection. At his stage Rehoboam was blessed indeed. Both these marriages presumably took place whilst Solomon reigned.
2.11.21 ‘And Rehoboam loved Maacah the daughter of Absalom above all his wives and his concubines, for he took eighteen wives, and sixty concubines, and begat twenty eight sons and sixty daughters.’
We now learn that Rehoboam loved Maacah more than all his other wives and concubines. She was the king’s favourite wife. She had probably inherited Tamar’s beauty (2 Samuel 14.27).
But Rehoboam then took a further sixteen wives, together with sixty concubines, and between them they bore him twenty one sons. This was a rather miserable amount of sons from so many wives and concubines. God’s blessing on Rehoboam had dwindled. They mainly produced him daughters. Furthermore for a king of ‘Israel’ to multiply wives was to disobey the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 17.17). We are therefore justified in seeing in this an indictment of Rehoboam. On the other hand humanly speaking such marriages built up alliances with powerful families. The way of the world prevailed over the will of God.
Some argue from this number of sons that it was seen as demonstrating God’s favour on Rehoboam, but it is noteworthy that the Chronicler omits mention of Solomon’s many sons (his criticism of him is that he traded with Egypt in horses, also contrary to Deuteronomy 17), and makes no mention of sons to either Asa or Jehoshaphat. Anyone who has eighteen wives and sixty concubines will produce a number of sons. Strictly speaking Rehoboam should be seen as a failure in this regard.
2.11.22 ‘And Rehoboam appointed Abijah the son of Maacah to be chief, even the prince among his brothers, for he was minded to make him king.’
Possibly because of his love for Maacah, and possibly also because he saw his propensities, he appointed Abijah as chief son, as prince among his brothers, making him the heir apparent. As a consequence he probably made him co-regent along with himself, keeping him at court. And when Abijah had a son named Asa he seemingly also took him as co-regent. This becomes apparent from some of the later statistics as we shall see.
2.11.23 ‘And he dealt wisely, and dispersed of all his sons throughout all the lands of Judah and Benjamin, to every fortified city, and he gave them victuals in abundance. And he sought for them many wives.’
Having so many sons who were loyal to him he dealt with them wisely, dispersing them among the fortified cities of Judah, and providing them with a surplus of provisions. This assured the loyalty of those cities. It also gave his sons something worthwhile to do. And he sought to ensure their wellbeing by finding for them many wives from powerful families who would increase their status. Disobedience to YHWH’s Law in Deuteronomy 17.16 was being multiplied.
The Invasion Of Shishak The Pharaoh Of Egypt (12.1-12).
In the time of Solomon the comparatively weak Pharaoh Siamun of the 22nd dynasty was on the throne of Egypt. He ruled over Lower Egypt (the Delta area), and nominally over Upper Egypt, but in Upper Egypt he was very much dependent on the cooperation of the High Priest of Amun, who almost independently ruled it ‘under him’. Whilst carrying out ‘policing action’ against belligerent Philistines to preserve his borders, Siamun was mainly content to be in a treaty relationship with the powerful Israelite empire, and not to interfere in Israel, hence the marriage of one of his daughters to Solomon. This kept safe his northern border.
But in the later years of Solomon’s reign a new stronger dynasty arose in Egypt which brought the two parts of Egypt together under the new Pharaoh, who began to look for ways of destabilising the Israelite empire and taking over some of the trade routes. This was under Pharaoh Sheshonq I (Shishak), a Libyan tribal chieftain who peacefully succeeded to the Egyptian throne, commencing the 22nd dynasty, and consolidated his position by appointing his sons to important positions, including that of High Priest of Amun. To him Solomon was a powerful political and commercial rival, and whilst he was not strong enough to attack him, he harboured fugitives such as Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, from Solomon. And once Solomon died it was no doubt with his blessing that Jeroboam returned to Israel and fomented trouble. The plan was so successful that the Israelite empire collapsed, leaving Rehoboam comparatively defenceless in terms of the might of Egypt, and Jeroboam ruling over the northern kingdom, as one from whom Shishak no doubt expected favours. This was no doubt why Rehoboam hastily reinforced his frontier cities, and established his sons in them as their commanders. Once that was accomplished he felt much safer. He was soon to learn, however, how wrong he was.
And it came about, when the kingdom of Rehoboam was established, and he was strong, that he forsook the law of YHWH, and all Israel with him (12.1).
Note that in A the kingdom was established, but they forsook the Law of YHWH, and in the parallel Rehoboam humbled himself and the wrath of YHWH turned from him and in Judah good things were found. In B Shishak came against Jerusalem, and in the parallel the same thing happened. In C they were left in the hands of Shishak and in the parallel they would be his servants. Centrally in D the princes and king humbled themselves, and in the parallel because they humbled themselves they were to be spared.
2.12.1 ‘And it came about, when the kingdom of Rehoboam was established, and he was strong, that he forsook the law of YHWH, and all Israel with him.’
Coming to the throne as a new king, and having seen his empire fall apart, Rehoboam was no doubt very perturbed about the safety of Judah. He was not even sure how secure his border fortresses would be. So when a large influx of Israelites from the northern kingdom, who were true worshippers of YHWH, came across the border with the intention of settling in Judah he could only have been pleased. And recognising that he owed this to YHWH he seemingly wholeheartedly joined in that worship, whilst at the same time strengthening the border cities and installing his sons in them as their commanders. That accomplished he felt stronger, and therefore less dependent on YHWH. Consequently he ceased to be so responsive to the Law of YHWH, something in which the majority of his people joined with him. Possibly they felt that Baal was more reliable than YHWH for daily living, and certainly nearer, for he could be found on every high hill and under every green tree. Thus whilst nominally carrying on the worship at the Temple, something of which Rehoboam made a great show (verses 10-11), he may well have commenced worshipping his mother’s gods, the gods of Ammon. Morally they were far less demanding.
‘And all Israel with him.’ Note that Judah, with its sprinkling of Israelites living among them, were now seen as ‘all Israel’. But we must not see this statement as all embracing. Many in Judah, and certainly those who had come from Israel because of their faithfulness to YHWH, continued to worship YHWH truly. It was simply that the large majority of the people, now that they felt safer, followed Rehoboam. In their eyes their fortresses looked firm and solid. Consequently they felt able to relax their response to YHWH’s demands.
2.12.2 ‘And it came about in the fifth year of king Rehoboam, that Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem, because they had trespassed against YHWH,’
But they had a rude shock. Having ceased to look to YHWH, and having commenced freely breaking the covenant, they discovered that YHWH removed His protecting hand from over them. For in Rehoboam’s fifth year Shishak king of Egypt arrived on the scene. He took the fortified cities which belonged to Judah and ‘came up against Jerusalem’ which, on hearing news of his massive forces, seemingly surrendered without a fight. There is no suggestion at any point of a siege. And so unimportant did these conquests appear to him that he does not even mention them in his account of his invasion of the area. He saw them as merely a by-product. But to Judah they were, of course, all important.
In his own record of his campaign, written on the wall of the temple of Amun at Karnak, over 150 towns are named, but Jerusalem was not one of them, presumably because it bought him off with tribute without a fight. There was no military glory for Shishak in that. To him Jerusalem was peripheral. It was only to Judah that it was all important. These 150 towns are depicted in terms of the figure of a chained captive with the name of the town inscribed on it. Cities and towns which surrendered without resistance would be treated differently. (It was ancient practise to treat towns which submitted differently from towns which resisted. See Deuteronomy 20.10-14). His main conquests appear to have been in the Negeb, and in northern Israel, which appears to have been his prime target. He may well have felt piqued that Jeroboam had not sworn fealty to him and sent him tribute. It was probably from Gibeon (mentioned as captured in the inscription), nine kilometres (six miles) from Jerusalem that he sent a deputation calling for the submission of Jerusalem and its fortified cities, (or even himself approached it with a deputation), and received the submission and tribute of Rehoboam, who seemingly ‘bought him off’. It will be noted that neither 1 Kings nor the Chronicler suggest that Jerusalem was attacked or destroyed in anyway (note verse 7). All the emphasis is on the treasures that were lost. He obtained all its treasures without a fight. Of course, had it not surrendered it might have been attacked.
2.12.3 ‘With twelve units (hundred) of chariots, and sixty large military units (thousand) horsemen. And the people were without number who came with him out of Egypt: the Lubim, the Sukkiim, and the Cushites (Sudanese).’
The size of the force that brought about Rehoboam’s submission is described. It consisted of twelve units of chariots, sixty large units of horsemen, and numberless footmen. These last consisted of Sudanese troops, Libyan troops, and Sukkites. The Sukkites were from the oases of the western deserts of Libya, and spoken of in Egyptian records as Tjukten primarily during the 13th and 12th centuries BC. Mention of them (they were unknown to later translators) is testimony to the accuracy of the Chronicler’s sources.
2.12.4 ‘And he took the fortified cities which belonged to Judah, and came to Jerusalem.’
It is quite clear that all Rehoboam’s careful preparation had come to nothing. He trusted in his fortified cities and they failed him. In fact the only one mentioned in the Karnak inscription as being captured was Aijalon (which was on the route to Israel). The others probably surrendered on Rehoboam’s orders, their princely governors having gathered in Jerusalem (verse 5). They knew that they were no match for the huge Egyptian force which would have devastated the country.
Thus Shishak ‘came to Jerusalem’. His troops advanced through Aijalon, and up the Beth-horon ridge to Gibeon from where Jerusalem was in easy striking distance.
2.12.5 ‘Now Shemaiah the prophet came to Rehoboam, and to the princes of Judah, who were gathered together to Jerusalem because of Shishak, and said to them, “Thus says YHWH, You have forsaken me, therefore have I also left you in the hand of Shishak.”
Meanwhile Rehoboam and the princes of Judah met in emergency session in Jerusalem. ‘The princes of Judah’ probably included the royal princes who were governing the fortified cities, and possibly also the tribal leaders of Judah and Benjamin and the remnants of Israel. They had gathered ‘because of Shishak’. There was no doubting what he could do, and they knew that they were no match for him. Their only hope would have been to look to YHWH. But Shemaiah the prophet soon scotched that hope, declaring that this was YHWH’s punishment because they had forsaken Him. He was leaving them in the hands of Shishak.
2.12.6 ‘Then the princes of Israel and the king humbled themselves, and they said, “YHWH is righteous.”
On learning this the princes of Israel, together with Rehoboam, humbled themselves and declared that YHWH was ‘in the right’. They admitted that they deserved what appeared to be coming on them.
Note how the ‘princes of Judah’ (verse 5) have suddenly become ‘the princes of Israel’. Perhaps the hint here is that they are once again behaving like the princes of Israel of yore. Or it may simply be a reminder that Judah was the Israel which was still relatively pleasing to YHWH.
2.12.7 ‘And when YHWH saw that they humbled themselves, the word of YHWH came to Shemaiah, saying, “They have humbled themselves. I will not destroy them, rather I will grant them some deliverance, and my wrath will not be poured out on Jerusalem by the hand of Shishak.’
YHWH had declared to Solomon, ‘’if My people Who are called by My Name, humble themselves, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from Heaven, and will forgive their sins, and will heal their land’ (7.14). So when He saw that they had indeed humbled themselves before Him He declared through Shemaiah the prophet, that He would not destroy their land by the hand of Shishak, but would grant them some deliverance. His wrath would not be poured out on Jerusalem. This makes it crystal clear that Jerusalem did escape disaster, even though it would be at a cost. It was neither besieged nor destroyed.
The idea of God responding to men’s repentance in this way is one of the themes of Chronicles, as indeed it is in the remainder of Scripture (compare 1 Kings 21.27-29).
2.12.8 ‘Nevertheless they will be his servants, that they may know my service, and the service of the kingdoms of the countries.’
Nevertheless they would not get off scot free. Rather they would become Shishak’s servants, having to pay him tribute and acknowledge his overlordship, so that, having experienced YHWH’s service, and the service of the kingdoms of other countries, they would, by the contrast, know the difference.
2.12.9 ‘So Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem, and took away the treasures of the house of YHWH, and the treasures of the king’s house. He took all away. He took away also the shields of gold which Solomon had made.’
Thus in obedience to YHWH’s words Rehoboam sent and made his submission to Shishak, and Shishak came up to Jerusalem to receive the tribute promised. He ‘took away the treasures of the house of YHWH, and the treasures of the king’s house. He took all away. He took away also the shields of gold which Solomon had made.’ It should be noted that this was the offered tribute and was not looting. They had offered him all the gold that they could lay their hands on, including especially the shields of gold which Solomon had made which were of immense value. Thus it is probable that the Temple furniture was itself exempt, or at least the Ark of the covenant of YHWH, as a reward for yielding peaceably. Shishak would not want to anger their God.
If, in fact, he took the ten golden lampstands and the ten golden tables, leaving Judah with the original incense altar, lampstand and table which were in storage, this would explain the words of King Abijah in 13.11.
2.12.10 ‘And king Rehoboam made in their place shields of bronze, and committed them to the hands of the captains of the guard, who kept the door of the king’s house.’
Because it had surrendered peaceably Jerusalem was neither destroyed nor looted. Rehoboam was thus able to replace the golden shields with shield of bronze. They would shine in the sun as the shields of gold did so that the people would hardly notice the difference (if at all). And this was no doubt important to Rehoboam. The shields were the one aspect of his treasures that the people saw regularly, for whenever the king entered the house of YHWH his guard would line up holding the shields of gold. By replacing them with shields of bronze he maintained his self-respect. They were committed into the hands of the guard commanders who guarded the door of the king’s house, to be brought out whenever the king entered the house of YHWH.
2.12.11 ‘And it was so, that, as often as the king entered into the house of YHWH, the guard came and bore them, and brought them back into the guard-chamber.’
The shields were kept in the guard chamber rather than needing to be stored in the House of the Forest of Lebanon. They were no longer of sufficient value to require special safeguards. So whenever the king entered the house of YHWH the guards would collect the shields and line up so that Rehoboam could pass between them, hoping that the common people at least would not realise the difference. To such a strait had sin brought him.
2.12.12 ‘And when he humbled himself, the wrath of YHWH turned from him, so as not to destroy him altogether, and moreover in Judah there were good things found.’
This added note was necessary in order to complete the chiasmus. It is basically a repetition of what has been said, that when Rehoboam humbled himself, the wrath of YHWH turned from him so as not to destroy him altogether. Had Jerusalem been besieged and stormed there would not have been many good things left in it. Furthermore, Judah would have been ravaged. But because of his repentance and obedience to YHWH’s command to yield to Shishak good things were still found in Judah, including the change in his own heart and the hearts of his sons. And this probably also had in mind the truly righteous who had remained faithful to YHWH who had by this been preserved.
Summary Of The Reign of Rehoboam (12.13-16).
The majority of what is written here is derived either from 1 Kings 14.21-31, or from its source, although with alterations and the omission of the details of the invasion of Shishak which have already been dealt with. It briefly summarises his reign, indicating his age when he began to reign, the length of his reign, and the name of the queen mother who apparently had an influential position in Judah. It sums up his reign as ‘evil’ because he did not set his heart to seek YHWH, and (unlike 1 Kings) points to prophetic literature as a source for further information concerning him. It then makes clear that there were continuing wars between Judah and Israel. It finishes by describing his death, burial and the name of his successor, a regular formula in both Chronicles and 1 Kings.
Note that in A he reigned in Jerusalem and in the parallel was buried in the city of David. In B he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH and in the parallel he continually warred with Israel which had been warned not to do. Centrally in C we are referred to prophetic literature for the details of his reign.
2.12.13 ‘So king Rehoboam strengthened himself in Jerusalem, and reigned, for Rehoboam was forty one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city which YHWH had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, to put his name there, and his mother’s name was Naamah the Ammonitess.’
King Rehoboam’s strengthening of himself in Jerusalem and his reigning, are derived from verses 11.5-12, 17, and are not mentioned in 1 Kings. The remainder of the verse is directly parallel with 1 Kings. He commenced reigning when he was forty one years of age, and was thus seemingly born before Solomon ascended the throne as sole king. He then reigned for seventeen years in Jerusalem. And the name of the queen mother was Naamah the Ammonitess, who as an Ammonite may well have influenced him in some of his backslidings.
Note the description of Jerusalem as ‘the city which YHWH had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, to put his name there.’ There is no hint previously that YHWH chose Jerusalem as being special. Prior to David’s conquest of it, it was a pagan city, and David seems to have captured it for political reasons as it was within the territory of none of the tribes of Israel and on the borders of Judah and Benjamin. It was thus very suitable as an independent capital of all the tribes of Israel, removing any likelihood of jealousy. Its choice by YHWH was a consequence of the fact that David brought the Ark of the Covenant there out of its obscurity, the Ark which bore YHWH’s Name (1 Chronicles 13.6; 2 Samuel 6.2). It was that which made it the chosen place of YHWH. YHWH chose it because David did. The phraseology is borrowed from Deuteronomy 12.5, but it is very questionable whether Deuteronomy 12 had Jerusalem in mind. The place where YHWH chose to set His Name was the place where the Tabernacle was established. It was David and Solomon who made that place Jerusalem (6.34, 38).
2.12.14 ‘And he did what was evil, because he did not set his heart to seek YHWH.’
1 Kings 14.22-24 set out Rehoboam’s sins in detail. The Chronicler sums it up by saying, ‘he did not set his heart to seek YHWH’. The returnees from Exile were very chary about referring to past idolatry. They saw it as something that was behind them.
2.12.15a ‘Now the acts of Rehoboam, first and last, are they not written in the histories of Shemaiah the prophet and of Iddo the seer, after the manner of genealogies?’
In 1 Kings 14.29 the prophet refers his readers back to ‘the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah’, which was one of his sources. The Chronicler, however, refers his readers back to ancient prophetic books, perhaps again in order to avoid his readers being forced to read about Judah’s idolatry. He preferred the wholesomeness of the prophets. ‘After the manner of genealogies’ perhaps indicates that they recorded the genealogies of Rehoboam and Abijah (and possibly David and Solomon) and added to them details concerning their prophecies and their fulfilment.
2.12 15b ‘And there were wars between Rehoboam and Jeroboam continually.’
This was a sad reflection on his reign, and on the behaviour of both kings, demonstrating that Rehoboam finally ignored the warning he had received from YHWH (11.4). After all they were still his brothers with whom he was fighting, and it badly weakened both kingdoms. No further information is given concerning these wars, but they are clearly seen as inapposite. They were wars of brother against brother.
2.12.16 ‘And Rehoboam slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David: and Abijah his son reigned instead of him.’
The life of Rehoboam ends with a standard description of the death of a king of Judah. He slept with his fathers, where he was buried, and the fact that his son succeeded him. In 1 Kings Abijah’s name was Abijam. Here it is altered from ‘Yam (the Canaanite sea god) is my father’, to ‘YHWH is my father’, perhaps again seeking to eliminate any reference to idolatry in a ‘purified’ narrative.
The Reign Of Abijah (13.1-14.1a).
Remarkably the Chronicler appears initially to present the reign of Abijah as triumphantly godly. He initially appears to have no criticism of him, and seemingly reveals him as a king who was zealous for YHWH and His interests. We gain the impression at first that he was without fault. But it is done very cleverly so that to the discerning reader he is exposed for what he was. His battle speech, which presents a Judah whiter than white (so white that we have to examine it more closely), is found on examination to be so full of holes to anyone who knew the truth that it brings out all Judah’s failures. It simply does not match up to the truth. We are left saying, ‘how dare he make such claims?’ On the other hand, it does present to the returnees from Exile a pattern of what they ought to be, made all the more effective in the light of Abijah’s nominalism, which was another reason why the Chronicler has gone into such detail.
Furthermore four bad points will also be noted more openly. Firstly that he multiplied wives contrary to Deuteronomy 17.17 (13.21). Secondly that he constantly warred with Israel (13.2), something which YHWH was against (11.4). Thirdly that he did not prevent worship in the high places (14.3; 15.8). And fourthly that he entered into (or continued in) a treaty relationship with Syria against Israel (suggested by 16.3). In the Chronicler’s eyes these things also marred his reign, and explain why he was said in 1 Kings 15.3 to have ‘walked in all the sins of his father which he had done before him’, so that ‘his heart was not perfect with YHWH his God, as the heart of David his father had been’. As with Solomon his main folly is introduced after his death. But once we do read it about it, it throws a whole new light on his reign. Again, as with Solomon and Rehoboam, he does not want Abijah’s failure to deal with idolatry to openly mar the account of his reign (although it does blatantly mar it afterwards). He wants Abijah’s sin rather to be seen as lying in his superficiality, as he presents himself as a model Yahwist, only to be proved otherwise. The returnees from Exile would learn from this how men can appear righteous on the surface, but be evil underneath, and be warned against superficiality and its consequences. His quick death was probably seen as retribution for his sins.
Note that in A we have the opening of Abijah’s reign and in the parallel we have its closure. In B we have family details and the same in the parallel. In C there was war between Abijah and Jeroboam, and in the parallel we learn the consequences of that war. In D we have the numbering of the combatants, and in the parallel the numbering of those who died. In E we have the battle speech of Abijah, and in the parallel the trumpet sound and shouting that brought victory. In F Jeroboam beset Judah before and behind, and in the parallel Judah became aware of it and cried to YHWH.
2.13.1 ‘In the eighteenth year of king Jeroboam Abijah began to reign over Judah.’
Whilst this kind of statement was a regular feature of Kings, this is the only example of such a statement synchronising the two kingships timewise in Chronicles, mainly because the Chronicler ignores the subsequent kings of Israel. What it does do is bring out that Jeroboam was old enough to be Abijah’s father, and that Abijah was facing an experienced and mature enemy.
2.13.2a ‘He reigned for three years in Jerusalem, and his mother’s name was Micaiah the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah.’
Abijah only reigned for about eighteen months (three years = part of a year, a year, and part of a year). Rehoboam was fifty eight when he died which would make Abijah probably around forty when he began to reign. His short reign may have been because he was carried off by disease, but it would be seen as a judgment on his life. Its very shortness would be seen as a pointer to his waywardness. And even in this short period he did enough to be displeasing to YHWH as we have seen above, although it is probable that he also previously acted as regent for his father thus reigning jointly with him and as a consequence having a longer period in which to displease YHWH (11.22). But the main point against him was that he did nothing to put things right. He let things slide.
Elsewhere his mother’s name was Maacah (11.22; 1 Kings 15.2), the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah, and the grand-daughter of Absalom (11.21). Maacah was Rehoboam’s favourite wife, and a bad influence on both him and his father (1 Kings 15.13). Micaiah would appear to be a variant of Maacah, possibly her pre-marriage name. Having two names was not a rare phenomenon.
2.13.2b ‘And there was war between Abijah and Jeroboam.’
The war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam was continued by Abijah. It seems from what follows that he exulted in it, that he arrogantly saw himself as ‘in the right’. Contrary to YHWH’s previous command (11.4) he was out to re-establish Judah’s control over Israel even if it meant slaying his brothers. He saw Israel as rebels against David and against YHWH. And he knew what he intended to do about it.
2.13.3 ‘And Abijah joined battle with an army of valiant men of war, even four hundred large units (thousand) of chosen men, and Jeroboam set the battle in array against him with eight hundred large units (thousand) of chosen men, who were powerful warriors.’
The armies of Abijah and Jeroboam were mustered for battle. Abijah had four hundred large units against Jeroboam’s eight hundred large units. But Abijah saw the right as on his side, and was seemingly encouraged by it. The men on both sides were ‘chosen men’, selected because of their ability as warriors. They did not comprise ‘all Israel’.
2.13.4 ‘And Abijah stood up on mount Zemaraim, which is in the hill-country of Ephraim, and said, “Hear me, O Jeroboam and all Israel.”
It was quite normal in those days for one general to try to dishearten the hearts of the enemy by some well chosen words, seeking to put them in the wrong, whilst at the same time encouraging his own men. It was especially possible here as both sides were technically Yahwists. We can compare how Jephthah, when he went out to war against Ammon, sent messengers with a fully argued case against them (Judges 11.12-28). We can compare also how the Assyrian Rabshakeh spoke to the inhabitants of Jerusalem from below the walls of the city, using theological ideas in order to induce their surrender (32.9-15; 2 Kings 18.19 ff). Clearly Mount Zemaraim was a suitable spot for such an attempt, looking out over the enemy army in the valley (compare how Jotham spoke to the men of Shechem in a similar way under different circumstances (Judges 9.7-21)). Jeroboam had no objection. Whilst Abijah was kept talking he himself was able to deploy his forces to his own advantage.
On this mountain Abijah stood and called to Jeroboam and the troops of Israel. Notice the deliberately demeaning way in which he spoke of Jeroboam, omitting his title and calling him plain ‘Jeroboam’. He saw Jeroboam as his father’s servant, an underling. He ignored the fact that he was the chosen of YHWH. he identity of Mount Zemaraim is uncertain. Most associate it with the town of the same name on the northern border of Benjamin (Joshua 18.22), not far from Bethel.
His argument was basically threefold:
Thus from his words he appears whiter than white. However, that is the Chronicler’s genius. He wants us to read the words, and read between the lines. For example, when reading his words we must remember that it was YHWH Who had taken Israel away from the house of David and had chosen Jeroboam as their king, calling on him to be faithful to Him (1 Kings 11.30-39). Also that YHWH was angry with Judah because so much of their supposedly true worship was only nominal and carried out in parallel with false worship (14.3; 15.8). Abijah was thus overlooking the fact that Israel had been lost to the house of David precisely because of the sins of his fathers, not because of anything that Jeroboam or Israel had done.
Like so many sinners he was unaware of the gravity of the sins of which he and his fathers had been guilty and could not believe that YHWH would call them into judgment for such sins. In fact, it was the house of David which had broken the covenant, not Jeroboam. Initially Jeroboam had obeyed YHWH. Thus we must see these words for what they are, propaganda in order to discourage the Israelites rather than as an actual stating of the real truth, although they do, of course, contain some truth.
2.13.5 “Ought you not to know that YHWH, the God of Israel, gave the kingship over Israel to David for ever, even to him and to his sons by a covenant of salt?”
He claimed that YHWH had given the kingship over Israel to David. This was in essence true (1 Chronicles 17.10-14), and it was because of this that the house of David retained Judah and Benjamin. But it was not true that YHWH had unconditionally given kingship over the whole of Israel to the house of David. The gift was conditional. And the house of David had by their sins forfeited the gift. It was only for David’s sake that they even retained Judah. In this at least Jeroboam had not been at fault.
One thing that is important about this verse is that it demonstrates that the coming everlasting kingdom was alive and well in men’s minds. Abijah clearly saw it as a fixed hope, he had simply got his subsidiary facts wrong.
‘A covenant of salt.’ A covenant of salt was a binding covenant (Numbers 18.19). Once the use of salt had been involved in the making of a covenant it was binding in perpetuity. Salt had to be included in every meal offering for this reason, as the offerer bound himself to the covenant (Leviticus 2.13). When Arabs ‘eat salt’ together it binds them together in friendship and in the faithful carrying out of any agreement. Salt indicates permanence. It was their use of salt that enabled them to preserve foods.
2.13.6 “Yet Jeroboam the son of Nebat, the servant of Solomon the son of David, rose up, and rebelled against his lord.”
Note that Abijah seeks to put all the blame for the breach between Israel and the house of David on Jeroboam. He points to him as a servant rebelling against his lord. He ignores the fact that it was YHWH who had spurred Jeroboam on to do this, and totally overlooks the fact that Israel always made their own choice based on their custom when choosing a king. As a consequence any breach had been the fault of Rehoboam who had really given them no choice. Abijah was trying to make Israel feel guilty. He failed to understand that this was the way that they had always done things.
2.13.7 “And there were gathered to him worthless men, base fellows, who strengthened themselves against Rehoboam the son of Solomon, when Rehoboam was young and tender-hearted, and could not withstand them.”
Indeed he tries to exonerate the 41 year old Rehoboam by portraying him as ‘young and tender-hearted’ and easily persuaded, one of whom those worthless and base men of Israel had taken advantage. The irony of this, of course, was that it was worthless and base friends of Rehoboam who had been really to blame, together with Rehoboam himself, who in his maturity should have listened to the older men, his wise advisers. His picture of poor little Rehoboam having no chance against these devious Israelites is laughable. The Israelites had come honestly to make him king, and had been rebuffed by a mature king acting in arrogance.
(There is dispute as to whether ‘to him’ at the beginning of the sentence refers to Jeroboam or Rehoboam. If it means to Jeroboam, as we have suggested, the worthless and base fellows were the Israelites. This is the interpretation which fits best with the tenor of the passage. And this is supported by the fact that in Hebrew we would expect ‘to him’ to refer to the previous subject of a sentence. To refer the ‘him’ back to Rehoboam is to refer it back to a noun following a preposition. It is sound English but not sound Hebrew. And it would take the blame away from Jeroboam which we would not expect in the passage).
2.13.8 “And now you think to withstand the kingship of YHWH in the hand of the sons of David, and you are a great multitude, and there are with you the golden calves which Jeroboam made you for gods.”
So he claims that their worthless and base predecessors had withstood the kingship of YHWH in the hands of the sons of David in the past at the beginning of Rehoboam’s reign, and now here were their descendants doing the same. And they did so as ‘a great multitude’. In his view the whole army of Israel had to bear the blame unless they came to their senses. They were as worthless and base as their predecessors. (He is trying to shame them into deserting).
But now he comes to a more solid argument. Seemingly among the host of Israel were the golden calves (or similar ones) which Jeroboam had made, probably present with the army with the intention of gaining help in battle (as the Ark had been taken into battle in 1 Samuel 4.3 ff. It was probably Jeroboam’s intention that the calves be seen as bearing YHWH as on His invisible throne (gods were regularly seen as mounted on bulls and calves), but they were, of course, graven images and the people had begun to worship them falsely (1 Kings 12.30). Abijah also saw them as idols and as therefore condemning them in the eyes of YHWH. But he appears not to have considered the idols which were rampant in Judah about which he had done nothing. His speech is full of hypocrisy. The Chronicler, however, expects his readers to see this (they know the Book of King, and what follows below).
2.13.9 “Have you not driven out the priests of YHWH, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites, and made for yourselves priests after the manner of the peoples of other lands, so that whoever comes to consecrate himself with a young bullock and seven rams, the same may be a priest of those who are no gods?”
Seeking to discourage Israel even more he pointed out that they had driven out the true priests of YHWH, the sons of Aaron, together with their Levite assistants, all of whom had been appointed by YHWH. And he had replaced them with priests who were simply a parody of the real thing. These new priests had not been appointed because of their valid ancestry which made them acceptable to YHWH, but because they had decided the matter on their own volition. Rather than being the chosen of YHWH the choice had been made by themselves. Each priest had chosen himself for the position. All they had had to do was bring a bullock and seven rams and consecrate themselves, just like the idolaters of other lands. It was fitting that such appointees be priests of what were ‘not really gods’ at all.
So their gods were false, and their priests were false. What help then did they expect of them? The consecration by a bullock and seven rams was probably a deliberate and scornful exaggeration, taking into account the way in which Levitical priests were consecrated (contrast Exodus 29.1). They multiplied the ram offerings so as to make their consecration valid! But, of course, it did not work.
It was certainly true that Judah had not driven out the priests of YHWH. But what they had done was leave them to uphold a nominal Yahwism on the surface, whilst they indulged themselves by turning to idols in the high places (14.3). They were as guilty as Israel. They were not whiter than white after all.
2.13.10 “But as for us, YHWH is our God, and we have not forsaken him, and we have priests ministering to YHWH, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites in their work,”
This was how Abijah wanted Israel to see Judah. It was true that publicly YHWH was their God, and perhaps it was true that they had not forsaken Him. It depends on whether you see a married man who has a girlfriend on the side as ‘forsaking’ his wife. Outwardly he has not done so. But his wife might not agree. Staying with her and putting on an outward show could hardly be seen as indicating a perfect relationship. And yet this is what Judah were doing with YHWH as Hosea 1-3 will later make so abundantly clear. Perhaps we might add here, ‘methinks he does protest too much’. What he was describing was all surface. It did not indicate the real heart of Judah.
2.13.11 “And they burn to YHWH every morning and every evening burnt offerings and sweet incense. They also set the showbread in order on the pure table, and the lampstand of gold with its lamps, to burn every evening. For we keep the charge of YHWH our God, but you have forsaken him.”
He then points to all the outwards paraphernalia. Judah continually offer the morning and evening burnt offerings and incense. They regularly change the showbread on the golden table in the Sanctuary. They regularly arrange for the golden lampstands to be burning every evening. They do all that YHWH their God has commanded, whereas Israel have deserted Him. It must be obvious to all whom YHWH will favour. But at least Israel was honest about it. Judah put on a show and then went off to worship their other gods. Everything that Abijah claims about Judah in the end points an accusing finger at them.
2.13.12 “And, behold, God is with us at our head, and his priests with the trumpets of alarm to sound an alarm against you. O children of Israel. Do not you fight against YHWH, the God of your fathers, for you will not prosper.”
He finishes with his trump card. The priests of YHWH were about to sound their alarm trumpets urging Judah on to battle. And because YHWH was with them at their head, to fight against Judah would be to fight against the God of their fathers with the consequence that they could have no hope of prospering. He almost sounds as though he believes it. Possibly he has talked himself into doing so. But if God were to act on the real situation his hopes would collapse, for Judah was not really faithful to YHWH.
Fortunately for Abijah God had more cause to be angry with Jeroboam than with Abijah. For He had appointed Jeroboam over the ten tribes calling on him to be faithful. And Jeroboam, through fear of losing the kingdom, had been the opposite and had perverted the religion of Israel and spurned the appointed priests of YHWH. Furthermore Abijah had this advantage, that he was a son of David for whose sake YHWH was prepared to preserve the Davidic kingship (1 Kings 15.4-5), and he also had a son who was more worthy than he was. These would be the reasons which caused him to prevail, rather than the claims which he had made in his speech which anyone knowing the facts would totally discount.
2.13.13 ‘But Jeroboam caused an ambushment to come round behind them, so they were before Judah, and the ambushment was behind them.’
Meanwhile Jeroboam had not been wasting his time. He had arranged during the period of Abijah’s speech for some of his troops to circle round the forces of Judah and come up behind them. They thus had the army of Judah trapped between two armies, with no way of retreating.
2.13.14-15 ‘And when Judah looked back, behold, the battle was before and behind them, and they cried to YHWH, and the priests sounded with the trumpets, and the men of Judah gave a shout, and as the men of Judah shouted, it came about, that God smote Jeroboam and all Israel before Abijah and Judah.’
When Judah recognised the predicament that they were in it threw them on YHWH, and they cried to Him. Now their prayers were genuine, and YHWH heard them. So when the priests sounded with their trumpets and they gave a great shout, YHWH went before them and smote their enemy. These were typical battle tactics, but they remind us of when the people of Israel were preparing to launch themselves on Jericho. There also the priests sounded their trumpets and the people gave a great shout. This was Jericho revisited. But the consequence here was that it was the human walls which caved in. ‘God smote Jeroboam and all Israel before Abijah and Judah’. For examples of such a shout see Joshua 6.20; 1 Samuel 4.5; Psalm 47.5; Isaiah 12.6, where it indicated that YHWH was among them.
2.13.16 ‘And the children of Israel fled before Judah, and God delivered them into their hand.’
Both of Israel’s armies were routed because God delivered them into the hand of Judah. ‘The children of Israel fled before them.’ The battle was won.
2.13.17 ‘And Abijah and his people slew them with a great slaughter, so there fell down slain of Israel five hundred large units (eleph/thousand) of chosen men.’
That day there was great slaughter. Five hundred battle units of Israel were decimated. They were so weakened that they would cause no more trouble to Judah during the remaining lifetime of Jeroboam (verse 20). YHWH stood firm for Abijah for David’s sake (1 Kings 15.4-5), not because of the hypocritical arguments he had put forward.
2.13.18 ‘Thus the children of Israel were brought under at that time, and the children of Judah prevailed, because they relied on YHWH, the God of their fathers.’
‘The children of Judah prevailed, because they relied on YHWH, the God of their fathers.’ It is apparent that YHWH was giving the people of Judah another chance. He delivered the children of Israel into their hands because in their predicament they had relied on Him. That had been the positive import of Abijah’s battle speech and it had seemingly encouraged Judah to think rightly. But Abijah should have learned from it and righted the wrongs in Judah. (It probably helped Asa, who might well have been involved in the battle, to genuinely trust in YHWH. Having a more genuine attitude towards YHWH he may even have taken the speech at face value).
2.13.19 ‘And Abijah pursued after Jeroboam, and took cities from him, Beth-el with its towns, and Jeshanah with its towns, and Ephron with its towns.’
Abijah not only pursued after Jeroboam, but he was, as a consequence, able to take possession of cities and land which belonged to Israel. Thus at this time he took possession of Bethel, Jeshanah and Ephron, with all their related small towns. The expanding of territory was always to the Chronicler a sign of YHWH’s favour (1 Chronicles 4.39-42; 5.10, 23).
Bethel was an Ephraimite town on the borders of Benjamin (1 Chronicles 7.28; Joshua 18.13, 22). It was one of the two towns in which Jeroboam had set up the golden calves (which were at this time with the army). Ephron was possibly the same as Ophrah (Joshua 18.23). None of the sites are definitely identified. There are so many ruins of towns in the area that identification is difficult.
2.13.20 ‘Nor did Jeroboam recover strength again in the days of Abijah, and YHWH smote him, and he died.’
The victory was so complete that Abijah had no more trouble from Jeroboam (aided by the fact that he had an alliance with the King of Aram (Syria). See 16.3), and it probably explains why Asa had ten years of rest at the commencement of his reign (14.1b). Jeroboam was unable to build up his strength again before he died three years into Asa’s reign, smitten by YHWH, leaving Israel to his son in a weakened state. The reference to his being smitten by YHWH indicates that God had not forgotten his treacherous behaviour, and explains why the victory was given to Abijah in spite of his own inadequacies
2.13.21 ‘But Abijah grew strong, and took to himself fourteen wives, and begat twenty two sons, and sixteen daughters.’
But what did Abijah do when he grew strong through YHWH’s help? He multiplied wives to himself. That was his response to YHWH’s goodness. Instead of assiduously putting right what was wrong, he added to his sins and forsook the Law. He disobeyed Deuteronomy 17.17. That was the lesson that he taught to the returned Exiles, that all his words had been hot air.
It is doubtful if we are intended to see that Abijah took all fourteen wives after he had become king. His disobedience had begun long before when he did take them as the heir, while acting as co-regent.
As with Rehoboam some would interpret the number of his sons as evidence of God’s favour. But what Scripture sees as demonstrating God’s favour is a large number of sons through one or two women. Producing twenty sons from fourteen wives was hardly evidence of being prolific. It can easily be argued that it was the opposite. It is doubtful if post-Exilic Israel were impressed. They would rather notice that Abijah had ignored the Law concerning the number of wives he took.
2.13.22 ‘And the rest of the acts of Abijah, and his ways, and his sayings, are written in the commentary of the prophet Iddo.’
This postscript has a special significance on its own. In the cases of Solomon, Rehoboam, Asa and Jehoshaphat we read, ‘and the rest of the acts of -- first and last’ (9.29; 12.15; 16.11; 20.34). It is clear from it that Abijah was good with words, as we saw above. Like so many he could sound pious when it was called for. But it did not turn into deeds. This is the severe warning from the life of Abijah. The ‘commentary’ of the prophet Iddo may, or may not have been, the same as the history of Iddo the seer (12.15). Either way Iddo was an assiduous recorder of the activities of his time.
2.14.1a ‘So Abijah slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city of David, and Asa his son reigned instead of him.’
In the usual epitaph we read that Abijah slept with his fathers in the tombs of the kings. He was buried there in the city of David. And Asa his son reigned instead of him. Asa would already have been reigning as regent alongside his father. This was seemingly the practice with the Davidic kings, ensuring a peaceful succession. Now he took over full kingship.
The Reign Of Asa (14.1b-16.14).
After his father died Asa became king in his own right. He had previously acted as co-regent with his father, and also probably with Rehoboam, but at that stage had been limited as to what he could do. He commenced his reign well. He set about the task of rooting out idolatry in Judah, and called his people to a renewed obedience to the Torah (Law) (14.1-7). As a consequence the land enjoyed a long period of rest, and when a major invader did seek to invade Jerusalem, he was overwhelmingly defeated (14.8-15).
As he usually does the Chronicler introduces us to the ministry of the prophets of YHWH to the kings of Judah (something remarkably absent in the days of Solomon. Solomon could have done with prophets but remarkably they were kept silent. Perhaps having given him wisdom God felt that his sin against that wisdom was too great. It required retribution. Or it may be that he had stifled their voices as Asa would later attempt to do). In Asa’s case in the initial stages Azariah came to him with the word of YHWH, calling on him to seek YHWH with all his heart, and he responded fully.
But towards the end of his reign, when Israel prevented access to Judah from the north, he made a treaty with the king of Aram (Syria) instead of trusting YHWH, and surrendered to him a huge treasure for his help against Israel. Moreover when the prophet Hanani rebuked him for it he had him put in prison and became generally unpleasant. As a consequence he developed a very severe foot disease in both feet. Yet even then instead of responding by seeking YHWH he turned to probably pagan physicians. His early trust in YHWH was seen to be notably diminished. It is a reminder to us all how easily we can leave our first love.
Analysis Of 14.1b-16.14.
Note that in A in the initial days of his reign Asa is faithful and enjoys a period of rest from YHWH, whilst in his final days he is unfaithful and is warned that he will have no more rest. In B he trusts in YHWH and achieves great booty, and in the parallel he trusts in Aram and is stripped of all his treasures. Centrally in C Azariah urges Asa to trust wholly in YHWH, and in the parallel Asa responds positively.
Much of this material is additional to what we find in Kings where information concerning Asa’s reign is fairly limited. It is apparent that the Chronicler called on the annals of the kings of Judah, which included prophetic writings.
Asa Commences His Sole Reign Well And Enjoys A Period Of Rest (14.1b-7).
Note that in A the land had rest and Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of YHWH, and in the parallel the land was quiet because YHWH had given them rest, and they had sought YHWH their God. In B idolatrous religion was dealt with (throughout the land) and in the parallel it was dealt with in the city of Judah. Centrally in C he commanded the people of Judah to seek YHWH the God of their fathers, and to fulfil the Law and the Commandment.
2.14.1b ‘And Asa his son reigned instead of him. In his days the land was quiet ten years.’
Asa commenced his reign after Abijah had greatly weakened Israel, and as a consequence the land enjoyed a period of peace. It may well be that Abijah had enjoyed some of his success because YHWH had seen the purity of heart of his young regent. ‘Ten years’ probably means a good number of years. (‘Ten’ is regularly used to mean ‘a good number of’).
2.14.2 ‘And Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of YHWH his God,’
Freed from the restraint of only having partial power Asa commenced his reforms. This serves to confirm that despite his claims, Abijah had made no real attempt to purge Judah of false religions. Asa, however, acted in a way which was good and right in the eyes of YHWH, and proceeded zealously against Canaanite and foreign religions in the land.
2.14.3 ‘For he took away the foreign altars, and the high places, and broke down the pillars, and hewed down the Asherim,’
There were two types of ‘high places’. One type consisted of artificially built high places in the cities and towns. Here might be found incense altars for offering incense to the gods, stone pillars representing Baal, and wooden poles or images representing Baal’s consort Asherah. These Asa removed or broke down. The other consisted of ‘natural’ sanctuaries established in sacred places on the higher mountains, in which would also be found the stone pillars which represented Baal, and the Asherah poles or images, which represented Asherah, Baal’s consort. These were much more difficult to finally dispose of. Asa’s men broke down the pillars and hewed down the wooden Asherah images, but even when they had been ‘purged’, the memory of the sites lived on in the local mind, and it was not difficult for determined Baal worshippers to restore the stone pillars and the Asherah images, once they were left to themselves. It was not possible to police ‘every high place’ continually.
2.14.4 ‘And commanded Judah to seek YHWH, the God of their fathers, and to do the law and the commandment.’
But Asa’s reforms were not purely negative. He commanded Judah to seek God positively and to obey His Law and His commandment. The call was for a more personal relationship with God as ‘the God of their fathers, The One Who had constantly acted on their behalf, and for a more personal response to the covenant,
2.14.5 ‘Also he took away out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the sun-images (or ‘incense altars’), and the kingdom was quiet before him.’
The repetition is required by the chiasmus, but in this case there is the added fact that here the emphasis is on the removal of the artificial high places in the cities of Judah, and of the ‘incense altars’. (The Hebrew word is an unusual one and may mean incense altars or sun-images. Either way it involves idol worship). The consequence of all this reforming activity was a nation at peace with itself, and not bothered by invaders. It will be noted that this is now emphasised for we now have a threefold emphasis on the quietness of the land in verses 5, 6 and 7. It was YHWH’s reward for His people’s faithfulness.
We should note that this was initial reform, which would have to be maintained. Old traditions died hard and there would always be a tendency for superstitious beliefs to reassert themselves in ancient sanctuaries, especially in the mountains, where their sites would be remembered and could be visited surreptitiously. It is apparent later that Asa failed to maintain vigilance as he grew in disobedience, with the consequence that he did not continue to remove the high places in the land. This may be why the Chronicler could later comment, ‘the high places were not taken away out of Israel’ (15.17). On the other hand the thought there may be that whilst they were taken away out of Judah, they were not removed from those parts of Israel later seized by Asa (see comments on 15.17). Either way it indicates a falling off in his faithfulness to YHWH.
2.14.6 ‘And he built fortified cities in Judah; for the land was quiet, and he had no war in those years, because YHWH had given him rest.’
A time of peace was a time for building and fortifying cities ready for the time when that peace would be broken. Rehoboam had fortified cities to the south and west. It may be that these built by Asa were additional cities, this time to the north in order to meet any threat from Israel. This would be on top of refortifying the cities which had suffered though war. A time of peace was a time for building up in preparation for when war did come. It is a reminder that it is not spiritual to be unprepared, although it is constantly emphasised that trust must not be put in fortified cities but in YHWH.
Note that ‘the rest’ is seen as given to him by YHWH. It is a constant theme of the Old Testament that YHWH’s chastisement is followed by peace once He has raised up a deliverer. We find the same idea in the Book of Judges.
This does not necessarily conflict with the statement in 1 Kings that there was continual war (a state of belligerence) between Asa of Judah and Baasha of Israel ‘all their days’ (1 Kings 15.16). That ‘war’ would mainly consist of border incidents and occasional incursions, only flaring up into something worse later in their reigns because of Asa’s success which persuaded many Israelites to forsake Israel and throw in their lot with Judah. It was ‘a state of war’ whilst mainly being limited to local incidents which would occur mainly on Israelite soil due to Israel’s continuing weakness. Judah apparently remained untroubled.
2.14.7 ‘For he said to Judah, “Let us build these cities, and make about them walls, and towers, gates, and bars. The land is yet before us, because we have sought YHWH our God. We have sought him, and he has given us rest on every side.” So they built and prospered.’
Asa explained the reason for his building activity to his people who would be heavily involved in the building. The purpose for it was in order to make them strong because the land was still in their hands as a consequence of God’s goodness. They were a free people, and the reason that they were was because they had sought YHWH as their God. Indeed, because they had sought Him He had given them rest on every side. It is thus being emphasised that in order to be secure it was important to build strong cities, but it was even more important to seek YHWH. The double emphasis on this seeking of YHWH probably has in mind Asa’s later backsliding and failure because he did not ‘seek YHWH’.
Because Of His Trust In YHWH Asa Defeats A Sudanese Army Far Larger Than His Own, And Thereby Gains Great Booty (14.8-15).
Inevitably in those days any time of peace and quiet would necessarily be disrupted because they lived in a world in rebellion against God. Thus there came from the south in the time of Pharaoh Osorkon, no doubt through Egypt with his connivance, a great Cushite (Sudanese and Libyan) army led by a commander called Zerah, whose aim was probably plunder and tribute. It appeared that Judah was about to be despoiled. But it was at this point that YHWH’s faithfulness to a faithful Asa would be demonstrated. For with a smaller army Asa defeated the invaders and inflicted on them heavy losses, and drove them out of his country, gaining great booty himself in the follow up activity. What had threatened to be a disaster had become a triumph. Note how the victory is imputed to the fact that Asa called on YHWH. All was seen as due to YHWH.
Note that in A Asa’s army is described, and in the parallel what they accomplished. In B the Sudanese army arrived, and in the parallel they were defeated. In B Asa and the Sudanese set the battle in array, and in the parallel the Sudanese fled before Asa. Centrally in D Asa said that there was none to help but YHWH, and in the parallel he called on YHWH for help.
2.14.8 ‘And Asa had an army which bore bucklers and spears, out of Judah three hundred large military units (thousand), and out of Benjamin, who bore shields and drew bows, two hundred and eighty large military units (thousand). All these were mighty men of valour.’
In verse 7 details were given of preparations for invasion in time of peace by the building of fortified cites. Now we are informed of the strength in manpower that was at his disposal. Out of Judah he was able to form three hundred large military units (‘thousands’), all armed with shields and spears. Out of Benjamin he was able to form two hundred and eighty large military units who were specialists with the bow. All were brave warriors.
2.14.9 ‘And there came out against them Zerah the Sudanese (Cushite) with an army of a thousand large military units (thousand), and three hundred chariots, and he came to Mareshah.’
These large forces would prove to be necessary, for from Northern Sudan (rather than Ethiopia), no doubt in collaboration with Egypt, a huge force descended on Judah consisting of a thousand large military units and three hundred chariots. The limitation on the number of chariots may suggest that Zerah, their general, was in fact aware of the limited value of chariots in the hill country. But they would make a strong military impression on observers, especially as there is no indication that Asa had chariots. Here was a force considerably larger than Asa’s which was a serious contender and arrived at Mareshah, information no doubt carried to Asa by means of scouts. We must see it as probable that these massive forces arrived with the connivance of Egypt for they would hardly have been allowed through Egypt otherwise. Any attempt to make them local invaders fails on the clear indication of the size of their forces.
Mareshah was a town in the Shephelah of Judah (the lower hill country to the west) and was named with Keilah and Achzib in Joshua 15.44. It occupied a position important enough to require Rehoboam to fortify it for the protection of Jerusalem (11.8).
2.14.10 ‘Then Asa went out to meet him, and they set the battle in array in the valley of Zephathah at Mareshah.’
It was in the valley of Zephathah at Mareshah, that Asa would now meet with the seemingly stronger forces of Zerah the Sudanese in order to drive them back from Judah’s borders. At first the odds might not appear to be too greatly against Asa, but we must remember that many of his troops were farmers turned soldiers, whilst Zerah’s were probably battle-hardened. Note the order of events. Judah first set themselves in battle array, and then they called on YHWH. It is a reminder that if we want God to act we must be prepared to put ourselves on the front line.
2.14.11 ‘And Asa cried to YHWH his God, and said, “YHWH, there is none besides you to help, between the mighty and him who has no strength. Help us, O YHWH our God, for we rely on you, and in your name are we come against this multitude. O YHWH, you are our God. Let not man prevail against you.”
But Asa had a secret weapon of which Zerah had no knowledge, the hand of YHWH. And he called on YHWH as the only One Who could help them, in view of their shortage of numbers, in the face of a huge invading force. He pointed out that they were relying on Him as they went out to face the enemy, and that they were going against them in His Name. He prayed to YHWH as ‘his God’, in contrast with the gods of the Sudanese (in his actual words he prays to ‘our God’, i.e. the God of Judah) to prove His supremacy over mere men, calling on Him not to allow His reputation to be tarnished by the victorious activities of mere men.
As had his father Abijah (13.14), Asa cried to God for His aid, and God heard the cry of His people. This is a theme of Chronicles. When men rely wholly on YHWH He acts on their behalf (see 16.8). In contrast when they fail to look to YHWH they suffer defeat (see 12.5).
2.14.12 ‘So YHWH smote the Cushites (Sudanese) before Asa, and before Judah; and the Cushites (Sudanese) fled.’
The consequence of Asa’s prayer was that YHWH smote the Sudanese (and Libyan - 16.8) as Asa and Judah went against them, so that they fled before them.
2.14.13 ‘And Asa and the people who were with him pursued them as far as Gerar, and there fell of the Sudanese (Cushites) so many that they could not recover themselves, for they were destroyed before YHWH, and before his host’
Asa and his men pursued the fleeing Sudanese forces as far as Gerar, a town in the Philistine plain south of Gaza, which may well have been where the Sudanese had set up their headquarters in readiness for the invasion of Judah. Gerar was therefore not neutral and may well at this time have been an outpost of Egypt. It is a place known to us through the activities of Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 20 & 26). During the pursuit so many of the Sudanese forces were slaughtered that there was no way in which they could recover themselves and fight back. They were ‘destroyed before YHWH, and before his host’. Note again the emphasis on YHWH’s part in the proceedings. The victory was of YHWH.
2.14.13b ‘And they carried away very much booty.’
And the consequence was that the men of Judah carried away ‘very much booty’. This would include all the booty that the Sudanese army had themselves taken in their incursions, together with booty from the Philistines, and particularly some from Gerar and its towns.
2.14.14 ‘And they smote all the cities round about Gerar, for the fear of YHWH came on them, and they despoiled all the cities, for there was a great deal of spoil in them.’
Gerar and its neighbouring towns would have been the places where the fleeing Sudanese sought refuge, as the places from which, as their temporary headquarters, they had so confidently previously set forth. Now the men of Judah smote those towns, and were able to do so because the fear of YHWH had come on the towns and on the Sudanese as a result of their defeat. YHWH had made their hearts melt with fear (compare Exodus 15.14-16; Deuteronomy 2.25; 11.25; 28.10). Consequently the men of Judah were able to despoil all the towns around Gerar which at this time contained a great deal of spoil, probably mainly due to the presence of the previously victorious Sudanese army, but also possibly due to their having had a number of good harvest. Because YHWH was with Judah what had appeared to be a great danger to them had turned out to be extremely profitable. It is a reminder that those whose trust is in God will always come out well in the end (consider Job and his experiences)
2.14.15 ‘They smote also the tents of cattle, and carried away sheep in abundance, and camels, and returned to Jerusalem.’
A huge army like that of the Sudanese would necessarily have had to bring with them sufficient provisions for their army in the form of cattle and sheep, together with camels for transport. The ‘tents of cattle’ were presumably the tents of those who watched over the flocks and herds, and would include both Sudanese and Gerarite tents. In these encampments the men of Judah found great quantities of cattle, sheep, goats and camels which they carried off with them as they returned to Jerusalem. What had appeared to threaten disaster had turned out to be a triumph because YHWH was with them (see 16.8).
Azariah The Prophet Urges Asa To Seek YHWH Wholly With The Promise Of Blessing If He Does So (15.1-7).
These words of Azariah were probably spoken immediately on the return of Asa and Judah from their great victory as the lesson of the victory was rammed home (see verse 11). It contains the usual promise of ‘blessings’ and ‘cursings’ as found in the Law, depending on their response to YHWH, and the promise of YHWH’s response in their adversity when they seek Him fully (See especially Leviticus 26.3-45. Compare also Deuteronomy 28.1 ff). The prophet’s words follow a regular pattern, an appeal to seek YHWH, a reminder of past history, and a final exhortation. They apparently have very much in mind the period of the Judges when life was unsettled and uncertain.
Note that in A YHWH would be with them if they were with Him and if they sought YHWH they would be found of Him, and in the parallel if they were strong their work would be rewarded. In B if they forsook Him He would forsake them, and in the parallel the example of this happening in the past is described. In C Israel was without God, without teaching priest, and without law, and in the parallel they were consequently without peace and suffered tribulations In D and central to the passage is that if they turned to YHWH and sought Him He would be found of them.
2.15.1 ‘And the Spirit of God came on Azariah the son of Oded,’
Surprisingly this is the first mention of the Spirit of God coming on a prophet in 1 & 2 Chronicles, although not the first time that God spoke through prophets. For this latter see 11.2 and 1 Chronicles 12.18; 17.3 where God’s word comes to prophets. It may be seen as indicating a new sense of the activity of God’s Spirit, and is possibly an indication of the immediacy of God’s interest in Asa because of his reforming zeal. God was wanting to act through Asa and throughout Asa’s reign. The idea of the Spirit of God (YHWH) coming on men was an always an indication that God was beginning to act. Compare the way in which the Spirit of YHWH came on men in Judges when He was about to act.
We know nothing further of Azariah the son of Oded, unless his father was connected with Iddo the seer (12.15), which is unlikely. He was one of those godly men whom YHWH raised up at time of need to speak to His people. It would appear from verse 8 that his father Oded had regularly prophesied in a similar way, prophecies which were written down and which Azariah was able to cite to Asa to back up his own prophecy.
2.15.2 ‘And he went out to meet Asa, and said to him, “Hear you me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin, YHWH is with you, while you are with him, and if you seek him, he will be found of you. But if you forsake him, he will forsake you.”
The prophet’s words are spoken not only to Asa but also to the people of Judah and Benjamin. Behind this might be the implication that God was not at this stage behind the northern tribes. He calls on them to listen to him and recognise that YHWH is with them whilst they are with Him, and will thus, if they seek Him, be found of them. This was in contrast with an Israel that had forsaken YHWH. The words are a guarantee of YHWH’s faithfulness to those who remain faithful to Him, and a confirmation that He will respond to their needs. On the other hand, if they forsake Him they should recognise that He would forsake them. Thus God’s requirement was that they trust and obey Him, with a warning of the consequences of not doing so.
2.15.3 “Now for a long season Israel was without the true God, and without a teaching priest, and without law,”
The situation is now illustrated by looking back at Israel’s past. It is a general statement and does not deny that there were those in the minority who did remain faithful to YHWH. For long periods, apart from in places where there were faithful Judges, Israel as a whole had struggled on without the true God (they had looked to foreign gods and idols), and without a teaching priest (one of the purposes of priests was to teach - Leviticus 10.11; Deuteronomy 33.10; Hosea 4.6-7; Jeremiah 18.18; Malachi 2.7), and without the Torah (God’s instruction in the Law). This was not because there was no Torah. It was because it lay unheeded. Note the threefold pillar on which Israel should have been built: true faith in YHWH as revealed in the Torah; the truth as proclaimed by faithful priests; and the Torah which would direct them towards the true understanding of God and His ways, and be the basis of the teaching of the faithful priests. It is paralleled today in the idea of the building up of a true knowledge of God from His word, of listening to ministers who are faithful to the word of God, and of looking to the word of God itself.
This situation had arisen, not because God had failed to give His people all that they needed, but because they had wandered from Him and had failed to listen to His words. They had neglected the means by which God could speak to them. The Torah still remained within the Central Sanctuary, but they had grown slack in their appreciation of Yahwism. We can see this situation prevalent following the death of the faithful elders who outlived Joshua (Judges 2.7), right down to the time of Eli, with bright spots occurring in areas where faithful Judges arose. Others see it as just a picture of Israel’s general spiritual decline, and as revealing the consequences that that decline had brought on Israel. The ideas are similar.
2.15.4 “But when in their distress they turned to YHWH, the God of Israel, and sought him, he was found of them.”
This statement is well illustrated by the Books of Judges and 1 Samuel. Whenever the people in their distress turned to YHWH and sought Him He was found of them. In the mouth of Azariah it was indicating a general principle that must now be followed by Asa and his people. They too must look to YHWH, as their fathers had failed to do, and as a consequence He would be found of them, and they would continue to enjoy prosperity and peace. This was the general theme of the Old Testament, especially illustrated in Leviticus 26, and it had been illustrated in the earliest part of Asa’s reign. It was to be the basis on which Asa continued to rule.
With regard to this it is certainly acceptable to claim that the Chronicler constantly brings out a doctrine of retribution, whereby good is rewarded and sin is punished, but it is not acceptable to suggest that his emphasis is a new one (it is found constantly in both Levitical and Deuteronomic writings), nor that he altered history in order to establish it. He did not need to do so. The idea of retribution was writ large on history itself.
2.15.5 “And in those times there was no peace to him who went out, nor to him who came in, but great tribulations were on all the inhabitants of the lands.”
Azariah reminds them of what the consequences had been for Israel when they had neglected the true knowledge of God and had ignored His Torah. The whole land had been troubled. Life had been dangerous. Safe travel had been almost impossible except in well guarded caravans. Local violence was rife. Indeed, all the inhabitants of the lands of Judah and Israel had experienced great tribulations, often ruled over by tribute demanding kings, or subjected to constant invasion. It had mainly been a time of darkness, occasionally illuminated by a period of light.
2.15.6 “And they were broken in pieces, nation against nation, and city against city; for God did vex them with all adversity.”
Indeed, because they had forsaken YHWH, He had forsaken them, and they had been broken in pieces, with the nations among whom they lived being against them. Nation had fought with nation, tribe with tribe, and city against city, in continuing civil war. This black picture is probably based on a careful selection of incidents in the Book of Judges, and is not to be applied too literally, for it was often countered by the faithful Judges. But there can be no doubt that whole period was a time of turmoil for many, and that during it most of Israel suffered greatly.
2.15.7 “But be you strong, and let not your hands be slack, for your work will be rewarded.”.
But Asa and his people are now to take heart. They are to look to YHWH (verse 2) and be strong, not allowing themselves to be slack in doing what YHWH requires, and the consequence will be that their work resulting from trust and obedience will be rewarded. It was a call be strong and to put things right in the land.
Asa’s Response To The Words of Azariah And Oded Resulting In Peace (15.8-19).
Asa took to heart the words of Azariah, and of Azariah’s father Oded, and set about the task of purifying Judah and Benjamin with a renewed zeal. He had already carried out certain reforms (14.3-5) but these were now intensified. Indeed, the task of uprooting idolatry from the land would be a continual one for the old nature religions would continually re-exert themselves among the many who lacked true spirituality. The whole land was full of pagan sanctuaries, many of which were sacred sites on mountain tops, and although efforts were made to root them out, the memory of them (and the sites) remained, so that naturalistic religion continually re-exerted itself. They were not difficult to rebuild, and they appealed to the instincts of the people who did not like the severity of the claims of YHWH, and preferred what catered to their baser instincts.
But Asa’s efforts were not merely negative. He also renewed the altar of YHWH and called on the people to truly worship YHWH and to gather for one of the three major feasts, at the Feast of Weeks (Sevens), and there they offered sacrifices and renewed their covenant with YHWH, and determined that whoever was not willing to seek YHWH should be put to death. Whilst this last might appear to us to be severe, their feeling was probably that any failure to fully observe the covenant would invalidate their efforts. And with the security and prosperity of the land at stake they were not willing for it jeopardised by unbelief. Feelings were running high. It should be noted that those who did refuse to seek YHWH would not be people with serious moral objections, but obdurate idolaters who were fanatically determined to pursue the nature worship of Baal and Asherah with all its sexual extremism in direct opposition to YHWH.
Note that in A Asa’s heart was encouraged at the words of the prophecy, and in the parallel he responded by being perfect all his days, bringing treasures into the house of God, and ensuring peace for a large number of years. In B he put away idolatrous activity (abominations) out of wider Judah and renewed the altar of YHWH, and in the parallel he removed and destroyed the abomination of Maacah, although the high places were not taken away out of Israel. In C he gathered wider Judah to a feast in Jerusalem and sacrificed to YHWH, and in the parallel at that feast they confirmed the swearing of their oath to YHWH who in consequence gave them peace. Centrally in D they entered into a covenant to seek YHWH with all their heart and soul, and dealt severely with all who refused.
2.15.8 ‘And when Asa heard these words, and the prophecy of Oded the prophet, he took courage, and put away the abominations out of all the land of Judah and Benjamin, and out of the cities which he had taken from the hill-country of Ephraim, and he renewed the altar of YHWH, which was before the porch of YHWH.’
Asa took careful note of the words of Azariah the son of Oded and ‘took courage from them’. This does not indicate a mere temporary lifting of the spirits, but a permanent effect wrought in his heart by YHWH, as the consequences make clear. The words spurred him to continuing action. And as a result he instituted a widespread removal of all idolatrous symbols throughout Judah, Benjamin and the cities he had taken in Ephraim, and more positively renewed the altar of YHWH.
The Chronicler thus in his usual way indicates the failure of previous kings by describing the activity of the present king (compare 10.4). A casual reading of the life of Abijah might have suggested that he was blameless, but it is clear from what is said here that neither Rehoboam nor he had dealt with the growing idolatry in the land, and indeed that Yahwism had been so neglected that the altar of YHWH had, at least to some extent, to be renewed, even if only by a new emphasis on it. As we have no previous indication of damage to the altar of YHWH this rather suggests a renewed zeal for Yahwism in contrast with apathy, than any previous positive attack on Yahwism. It indicates that there had been the sin of neglect of the means of approaching God. Now Asa in some way renewed the altar, establishing its renewed importance, as by his activities he turned men from idolatry to Yahwism.
‘He renewed the altar of YHWH, which was before the porch of YHWH.’ The way that this is put stresses that it is dealing with the question of approach to God. It stresses that in coming to the altar to offer offerings and sacrifices, men were seen as approaching God Himself. This is indicated by the fact that it was ‘before the porch of YHWH’, the nearest that they could get to the inner sanctuary in which was the Ark of YHWH. It was this approach on which Asa was putting a new emphasis.
We have here a reminder that true spiritual revival always begins by putting away ‘idols’ that have crept into our lives, and renewing emphasis on the means of reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ by which we commence a new continuing dedication and relationship with God.
We are not told elsewhere how the cities of Ephraim came under the control of Asa, but some had fallen to his father Abijah (13.19) and it would seem that the process had continued during the early reign of Asa whilst Israel was still weak (13.20), even though technically there was peace. Judah was ‘quiet’ (14.1, 6) because the belligerence was occurring initially on Israelite territory so that Judah was untouched by it. This belligerence between the two nations continued throughout the reign of Asa (1 Kings 15.16), although not seriously flaring up until the latter part of his reign when Israel had become strong again (16.1).
‘When Asa heard these words (of Azariah the son of Oded), and the prophecy of Oded the prophet.’ The indication here is that the impact of Azariah’s words was strengthened by previous prophecies of his father Oded. The Chronicler’s concern here was probably in order to emphasise that God had continually been speaking to Judah through prophets. Oded had had a continuing ministry of which Asa had been aware (it is apparent elsewhere that at this time prophecies were being put into written form, e.g. 12.15), and now his son Azariah had taken up his mantle, proclaiming the same message as his father, both of them now seen as affecting Asa’s way of thinking. (Some deal with the problem by suggesting copying errors, suggesting either that ‘Oded’ should read ‘Azariah the son of Oded’ or that the name of Oded has slipped in by accident. But there is no evidence for either of these approaches).
2.15.9 ‘And he gathered all Judah and Benjamin, and those who sojourned with them out of Ephraim and Manasseh, and out of Simeon, for they fell to him out of Israel in abundance, when they saw that YHWH his God was with him.’
The words of Azariah, fortified by the earlier prophecies of his father Oded, aroused Asa to action as he considered the victory that he had gained over the massive forces of the Sudanese and Libyans. As a consequence he gathered together his people for the Feast of Sevens (Weeks), one of the three major feasts of their religious year , for the purpose of worshipping YHWH and renewing covenant with Him. It is now that we learn of the way in which the population of Judah and Benjamin had been further greatly increased as a result of the migration into the country during the reign of Asa of Israelites from Ephraim, Manasseh and Simeon whose territories bordered on Judah and Benjamin. These were no doubt Israelites who were faithful to YHWH in the face of Jeroboam’s activities in setting up the golden calves, and wanted to be able to worship in the time honoured Yahwistic fashion at Jerusalem. They were encouraged in this move by the way that Asa had successfully taken over Israelite territory, and had also defeated the massive Sudanese and Libyan forces. This had convinced them that YHWH was with him, so that they would do well to throw in their lot with him. It would add impetus to the reforming zeal of Asa.
A similar influx of people from Israel had taken place during the reign of Rehoboam (11.13-14, 16-17). Such movements drained Northern Israel of its most spiritual inhabitants. But that Judah at times saw itself as having a responsibility towards Northern Israelites which would bring them back to true Yahwism is continually brought out. Compare Jehoshaphat’s teaching delegation to the north (19.4) and Hezekiah’s call to them to attend the Passover in 30.5, 11, and Josiah’s reforms among the northern tribes in 34.6, 21, 33.
The mention of Simeon is interesting. It indicates a residence of Simeonites in northern Israel. It is often said that the Simeonites were early absorbed by Judah, but that is an unproveable assumption belied by the fact that Simeonites keep turning up in large numbers as an identifiable people (e.g. 1 Chronicles 4.41; 12.25). It would appear from what is said here that many Simeonites had at some stage migrated north, with the consequence that some of them could now revert to Judah, possibly occupying some of their own ancient lands (1 Chronicles 4.41).
2.15.10 ‘So they gathered themselves together at Jerusalem in the third month, in the fifteenth year of the reign of Asa.’
So all the people of Judah and Benjamin, together with the absorbed immigrants described, gathered themselves together at Jerusalem in the third month, in the fifteenth year of the reign of Asa. The first month would be the month Nisan, when the Feast of Passover was held. The ‘seven sevens of days’ which would lead up to the day of the firstfruits and the Feast of Sevens would then bring them up to the third month (Deuteronomy 16.9-10; Leviticus 23.15-21; Numbers 28.26; Exodus 23.14-17; 34.22-23). This was thus a celebration of the Feast of Sevens (Weeks).
‘The fifteenth year of the reign of Asa.’ Compare 16.1, 12. If we see his reign as commencing in around 911 BC, this would be around 896 BC, and this would tie in with there having been ‘ten years of quiet’ (a round number) prior to the invasion by Zerah. The Chronicler introduces these time notes, which are not in Kings, probably in order to indicate the division of Asa’ reign into its good and not so good parts, thereby underlining how his later failure brought retribution on him. Here, in his fifteenth year, he was fully faithful to YHWH. But by his ‘thirty sixth year’ (16.1) he had so spiritually deteriorated that he trusted in the king of Aram (Syria) rather than in YHWH (16.7) with the consequence that in his thirty ninth year (16.12) he became diseased in both his feet. This underlines the common theme of retribution in the Old Testament whereby faithfulness results in wellbeing, and unfaithfulness results in retribution. In other words sin always has its consequences.
2.15.11 ‘And they sacrificed to YHWH in that day, of the spoil which they had brought, seven hundred oxen and seven thousand sheep.’
Gathering at the Feast of Sevens (Weeks) in Jerusalem Asa’s victorious warriors offered sacrifices through the priests in gratitude for the spoil that they had accumulated as a consequence of the defeat of the Cushites. Of this they offered ‘seven hundred oxen and seven thousand sheep’. The number seven was chosen because seven was seen as the divine number. Whether this represented seven herds of oxen (hundreds) and seven large flocks of sheep, or whether the numbers were exact as a perfect gift to YHWH we cannot know. But the former was probably the case. There would be few among them who could count in such large numbers. What is important is that they offered sufficiency to God.
2.15.12 ‘And they entered into the covenant to seek YHWH, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and with all their soul,’
Their worship offerings were accompanied by the commitment without which ritual worship is meaningless. They determined among themselves, and confirmed it with a sacred covenant agreement, that they would seek YHWH the God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul. Note the title given to YHWH. They were committing themselves to the One Who had been faithful to and had delivered their fathers. Their commitment was based on YHWH’s past goodness. This full commitment deliberately excluded all other gods or idols, and put all the concentration on YHWH Who was the God of their fathers, and therefore their God.
2.15.13 ‘And that whoever would not seek YHWH, the God of Israel, should be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman.’
And they equally determined that they would exclude from among their number any who would not seek YHWH their God, ‘the God of Israel’. Such people were to be put to death whether they were aristocrats or common people, whether they were male or female. These would not be people who excluded themselves for intellectual reason, but rather some who were determined to pursue the old nature religions in the worship of Baal and Asherah, Molech and such like and rejected YHWH. Their refusal to partake in the great covenant which the people of Judah had made would be seen as treasonable.
We must remember that those who had gathered had gathered to a great Feast of YHWH. Gathering at such a Feast was in itself an indication of commitment to YHWH. Thus to deliberately refuse to seek YHWH at such a gathering would itself be seen as obduracy and treason. It would be a deliberate putting of idols before YHWH and a rejection of YHWH, and would be seen as invalidating the covenant that all together had made. The people would see the only way of dealing with such a situation as requiring the death of the guilty parties. We can compare with this the requirement for the death of Achan in Joshua 7 for what would have been seen as a lesser sin, a death which made it possible for God once again to deal with Israel. We can also compare Deuteronomy 13.6-18; 17.2-7 where the same principle was enunciated. At sacred occasions such as these there had to be full, wholehearted commitment. One voice of dissent would be seen as making the unanimous covenant invalid, and therefore as a heinous offence. Better were it had such people stayed away.
2.15.14 ‘And they swore to YHWH with a loud voice, and with shouting, and with trumpets, and with cornets.’
The enthusiasm of their covenant making is brought out here. All Judah rejoiced at the oath that they had made, and swore to YHWH with a loud voice, the declaration of the whole people that they were committed to the covenant. This was accompanied by the shouts of joy of an exhilarated people, the blowing of trumpets proclaiming the event, and the playing of cornets. Such symbols were seen as supportive of their oath, proclaiming the making of it both to YHWH and to all within range.
2.15.15 ‘And all Judah rejoiced at the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart, and sought him with their whole desire; and he was found of them, and YHWH gave them rest round about.’
Note the threefold emphasis, they ‘entered into the covenant’ (verse 12), they swore to YHWH with a loud voice’ (verse 14), ‘all Judah rejoiced at the oath’ (here in verse 15). Threeness indicated completeness. This is thus emphasising the completeness of their dedication. They had sworn with all their hearts (inner beings), and they sought Him with their whole desire. It was wholehearted commitment. And that He was found of them was revealed by the fact that they had rest round about. They enjoyed a God-given period of peace.
2.15.16 ‘And also Maacah, the (grand)mother of Asa the king, he removed from being queen, because she had made an abominable image for an Asherah, and Asa cut down her image, and made dust of it, and burnt it at the brook Kidron.’
Having earlier stated the general fact that that Asa had ‘put away the abominations (symbols and practise of idolatry) out of all the land’ (verse 8), we now learn how these things had even affected the court. As a consequence of her idolatry Asa removed Maacah from her high position as ‘queen mother’. In Judah being ‘mother of the king’ was a high office, and held in high honour. Her removal would not only result in loss of status but also in a loss of privileges. In this case the position was held by Asa’s grandmother, the wife of Rehoboam and mother of Abijah (11.22). She was presumably replaced by the chief wife of the deceased Abijah (he had fourteen wives) whose name is never given. (Examples of influential queen mothers are Bathsheba, Jezebel and Athaliah, and it will be noted that in Kings the name of the queen mother is regularly given).
Maacah’s chief crime was the erection of an idolatrous image of Asherah, the consort of Baal, clearly for the purpose of Asherah worship. This would have been either in the form of a wooden pole or of a wooden image and would have been erected at a ‘high place’, either an artificial high place built in Jerusalem, or an ancient sacred site in the mountains round Jerusalem. She would not have been alone in her worship. Others would have been led astray with her, in some cases beguiled by her high office. Asa arranged for her image to be cut down, hewed into small pieces, and burned at the Brook Kidron, probably as a public spectacle.
2.15.17 ‘But the high places were not taken away out of Israel, nevertheless the heart of Asa was perfect all his days.’
At first sight this statement would appear to contradict 14.3; 15.8. It is found also in a similar context in 1 Kings 15.14 where ‘Israel’ is not mentioned. But the explanation is that it is a general statement indicating that in spite of all the reforms and efforts of good kings high places still remained in the land. ‘Israel’ was not cleared of high places. The policy failed, in spite of the king’s good intentions, primarily because of its impossibility. High places were so numerous, and in some cases so remote, and could so easily be restored, that a total purge was impossible. The words are simply preparing the reader for the fact that references to high places will crop up again and again. That this is the way in which we are to see it is confirmed by the final statement that the heart of Asa was perfect all his days. In other words he did what he could to remove them. He may have failed in other things, but he did not fail in this. The problem lay in the vastness of the task. We should in fact note that his son Jehoshaphat had the same problem (20.33).
Others lay stress on the mention of ‘Israel’ and see this as stating that whilst they were removed from Judah they were not taken away out of Israel.
2.15.18 ‘And he brought into the house of God the things that his father had dedicated, and that he himself had dedicated, silver, and gold, and vessels.’
There may here be a further indication of Abijah’s lacklustre attitude towards YHWH. The suggestion seems to be that whilst he had nominally dedicated to YHWH the spoils of war he had not brought them into the house of God. This was now remedied by Asa, who not only brought into the house of God what he himself had dedicated, but also what his father had dedicated. It included silver, gold and vessels. It is a reminder to us that it is not enough to sing ‘I surrender all’. It must also be put into practise.
2.15.19 ‘And there was no more war up to the thirty fifth year of the reign of Asa.’
As a consequence of Asa’s faithfulness and trust in YHWH Judah was kept free from major wars and incursions up to the thirty fifth year of his reign. The whole land enjoyed a period of relative peace. Border raids there may have been, and especially unrest on the northern border with Israel, which was in fact considerably north of Judah, but there was nothing really to disturb the peace. This brings out that the continual ‘war’ (belligerence) between Judah and Israel was of a local variety. It did not really affect Judah’s rest, and was confined to Israelite soil.
‘And there was no more war up to the thirty fifth year of the reign of Asa.’ The proviso underlines Asa’s failure. ‘There was no more war’ could have indicated the arrival of the great future king (compare Isaiah 2.4), but as had his fathers Asa failed to live up to his promise. He was ‘nearly, but not yet’. Israel’s hopes still lay in the future. Thus war inevitably came. ‘The thirty fifth year of Asa’ may be dated from the time when he took up co-regency under Rehoboam along with his father Abijah.
Asa’s End Of Reign Failure In That He Trusts In Aram (Syria) Rather Than In YHWH In The Face Of Israel’s Challenge And Loses His Treasures (16.1-6).
As Asa grew older and was involved in the continued running of his country his faith began to diminish. He became slack in his attitude towards YHWH. No longer did he have the keen dependence on Him that he had once had. Thus when, in the thirty sixth year of his reign Baasha the king of Israel began to fortify Raamah so as to prevent free movement of peoples between Israel and Judah, Asa, instead of looking to YHWH and depending on Him, sought rather for a political solution and looked for help to the king of Aram, using bribery in order to obtain his assistance. The ploy was successful, but sadly for Asa it would prove not to be pleasing to YHWH.
Similar situations occur in our own day. So very often the keen edge of men’s faith is blunted by a combination of being taken up with God’s work instead of God Himself, and of relying on men’s wisdom and association with less godly people rather than on God. Maturity can become an excuse for unspiritual behaviour.
Note that In A Baasha built Ramah, and in the parallel this enabled Asa to build (fortify) Geba and Mizpah. In B Asa paid silver and gold so that Aram (Syria) would cause Baasha to go from him, and in the parallel Baasha departed. Centrally in C we have described Benhadad’s action by which this was accomplished.
2.16.1 ‘In the six and thirtieth year of the reign of Asa, Baasha king of Israel went up against Judah, and built Ramah, that he might not allow any one to go out or come in to Asa king of Judah.’
For much of his reign Asa had reigned at peace. Certainly there had been continuing belligerence on his border with Israel (which he had established well beyond the borders of Judah and Benjamin). See 1 Kings 15.16. And no doubt other borders had had to be continually watched and had experienced minor problems, the only real threat having been dealt with by the defeat of Zerah the Cushite. But Judah as a whole had experienced quiet and rest. However, in his ‘thirty sixth year’ things were to change. Baasha the king of Israel had somewhat restored Israel’s strength and determined that he would stop the flow of Israelites into Judah. He thus fortified Ramah, a city which guarded the most common route into Judah, from which no doubt guard posts were set up on the road leading to Jerusalem.
Ramah was city in the territory of Benjamin described as being between Gibeon and Beeroth (Joshua 18.25). It was probably eight kilometres (5 miles) north of Jerusalem. From this it is apparent that Baasha had, at least temporarily, claimed back much of the territory lost to Judah, and had been able to seize territory in Benjamin. This was the first time during the reign of Asa that war had actually visited Judah-Benjamite territory. One of Baasha’s main purposes was to prevent people moving from Israel to Judah, and vice versa.
There is a problem here in that if Baasha was reigning in the thirty sixth year of Asa he could not have been succeeded by his son Elah in the twenty fourth year of Asa (1 Kings 16.8). Nor could the twelve year reign of Omri have occurred during Asa’s reign (1 Kings 16.21-28). The solution probably lies in seeing the ‘thirty sixth year’ of Asa as mentioned here in 16.1 as including a period of co-regency with Rehoboam and Abijah. Certainly many seeming discrepancies in dating are solvable along these lines, for co-regency appears to have been an established custom in Judah. It ensured a smooth transition when a king died, and gave the prospective king valuable experience of ruling and acceptance among the king’s ministers There can be little doubt that later a king’s reign could sometimes be dated from when he became co-regent, whilst at others it was dated from when he became sole king. In this regard it is clear that Rehoboam had favoured giving rulership to his sons, showing special favour to Abijah who was appointed ‘prince among his brothers’ (11.22-23), and possibly therefore prince regent. If Rehoboam begat Abijah when he was fourteen, Abijah would have been twenty seven when Rehoboam died, and on the same principle Asa could have been around 13 years old. He may well also have been as highly favoured as his father if he was seen as especially capable, at some stage sharing his father’s authority, for Abijah may well have been sickly (he only reigned for around eighteen months after the death of Rehoboam).
This solution, which would make Asa’s thirty fifth (15.19) and thirty sixth (16.1) years refer to a period longer than his sole reign up to that point by possibly some fifteen or twenty years would also tie in with the reference to the fifteenth year of Asa’s reign in 15.19 which came at the end of his period of peace (14.1), and following the war against Zerah the Cushite which may have lasted two or three years. It would mean that the period between ‘the fifteenth year’ of Asa’s sole reign and ‘the thirty fifth year’ of his joint reign was only a few years, explaining why no information is given concerning it.
There is no reason to doubt that Biblical writers took such time notes from their sources without attempting to reconcile them, even though they must have noticed the discrepancies. They were not as concerned as we are with chronology. It is no argument against this to say that if the reference to the thirty ninth year for the retribution represented by his diseased feet is accepted as referring to his sole reign, and the thirty sixth year is seen as merely the thirty sixth year of co-regency plus sole reign, there is too much of a delay in retribution, for it is only the commentators who insist that retribution must follow immediately. (It will not in the case of Jehoshaphat). The important fact to the Chronicler may well have been that retribution did follow, not when it followed. Besides he might not have been aware of the difference in dating systems.
2.16.2 ‘Then Asa brought out silver and gold out of the treasures of the house of YHWH and of the king’s house, and sent to Ben-hadad king of Syria, who dwelt at Damascus, saying,’
When Asa saw that his territory was being invaded, and part of it seized, by King Baasha of Israel he saw it as a time for taking desperate measures, and so low had he sunk spiritually that he thought, not in terms of looking to YHWH, (Who we learn would undoubtedly have helped him - 16.7-9) but of looking for aid to a foreign idolatrous king, Benhadad, the King of Aram (Syria) who ruled from Damascus. We have in fact archaeological evidence that Benhadad was a throne name of kings of Aram. It is an indication of how far Solomonic Israel had collapsed that the king in Jerusalem looked for aid to a city which had in Solomon’s time been subjected to Israel. Now it had become powerful enough to attack a considerably diminished Israel at its leisure.
In order to achieve his object Asa stripped the house of YHWH and his own house of most of the silver and gold that they contained and sent it to the King of Aram in order to persuade him to come to his assistance against Israel. Like Rehoboam from now on he would have to make do with bronze (12.9-10). The kingdom was left considerably diminished.
There is something decidedly ironic and suggestive when we compare this verse with 15.18. In 15.18 a wholly dedicated and trusting Asa, full of spiritual enthusiasm, had brought into the house of God the treasures which he and his father had dedicated to God. It had been a moment of sublime trust and obedience towards YHWH enacted by a king whose heart was fully set on seeking and knowing God, and had indicated the enrichment of the kingdom at God’s hands. Now a very much spiritually diminished Asa, no doubt somewhat reluctantly, brought those treasures out of the house of YHWH, for the purpose of giving them to the new object of his trust, the king of Aram, thereby impoverishing the kingdom. Nothing could better bring out how seriously his faith had collapsed and his attitude had changed during the period between the events. He had become a totally different man. He had declined into being a spiritual pauper.
2.16.3 “There is a league between me and you, as there was between my father and your father. Behold, I have sent you silver and gold. Go, break your league with Baasha king of Israel, that he may depart from me.”
The negotiations which took place are heavily abbreviated. No doubt many of the arrangements that were made were agreed on prior to the sending of the silver and gold (it would have been folly to send such a huge amount without some indication that it would achieve its purpose). This statement thus came at the end of a long period of negotiations. The crux of the matter was that Asa was calling on Benhadad to renew an old treaty which his ‘father’ had had with Benhadad’s father. This may have been a treaty with Abijah, or it may refer back to an earlier treaty (in this context ‘father’ is a vague term). He was using this treaty as giving King Benhadad moral grounds for breaking his treaty with Israel on the grounds that Israel by its belligerence had nullified that treaty by attacking a country already in league with Aram (Syria). And he was asking Benhadad to put military pressure on Baasha so that he would have to withdraw from Benjamin territory.
On the basis of 16.7 there may even be the suggestion here that the league between Israel and Syria was aimed against Judah. This would explain the huge payment of what was basically tribute to the king of Syria, and also Hanani’s assurance that had Syria attacked Judah they would have been defeated.
2.16.4 ‘And Ben-hadad listened to king Asa, and sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel, and they smote Ijon, and Dan, and Abel-maim, and all the store-cities of Naphtali.’
Benhadad found the huge amounts of silver and gold sent to him by Asa a powerful incentive to aid him in his decision, especially as the negotiations had given him a moral grounds for doing so. He thus sent the commanders of his armies to invade Israel who smote Ijon, Dan, Abel-maim and all the store cities of Naphtali. It was not a major invasion. The three towns were northernmost towns in Israel. However, the reference to the store cities of Naphtali indicated Benhadad’s intention to obtain great spoil. It was an opportunity not to be wasted.
A similar route to this was taken by Tiglath Pileser a century or so later when he invaded Naphtali (2 Kings 15.29) which serves to demonstrate how strategic it was. It also opened up to Benhadad the store cities which would provide significant booty. Ijon was a town in northern Naphtali. Dan was on the northernmost border of Israel. Abel-maim (meadow of waters) is probably identical with Abel-beth-maacah (meadow of the house of Maacah - 2 Kings 15.29), and with the Abel mentioned in the Egyptian execration texts and in 2 Samuel 20.18. Abel and Beth-Maacah may well have been alternative names (2 Samuel 20.14). Maacah probably indicates its close association with Syria, for Maacah was a region in Syria. The invasion therefore mainly involved border cities. But once it had occurred the store cities of Naphtali were too good a prize to ignore, and furthered the purpose of the raid which was to provide reasons for Baasha to withdraw from Ramah.
2.16.5 ‘And it came about that, when Baasha heard of it, he left off building Ramah, and let his work cease.’
When messengers arrived and Baasha learned about the Aramean (Syrian) invasion to the north he recognised that he would have to withdraw his forces from Ramah in order to meet this new threat. It is clear that his invasion of Judah/Benjamin had stretched his resources to the limit. He thus had to cease fortifying Ramah and withdraw his forces.
2.16.6 ‘Then Asa the king took all Judah, and they carried away the stones of Ramah, and its timber, with which Baasha had built, and he built with it Geba and Mizpah.’
Outwardly it appeared that Asa’s strategy had been successful, although at heavy cost. He was able to enter Ramah, and with the assistance of his own men carry away the stones and timbers with which Baasha had been fortifying Ramah, and advance on Geba and Mizpah a few kilometres to the north and use the materials to fortify them, securing Benjamin’s borders now that Israel had grown stronger. It is possible that Mizpah and Geba had been deliberately defortified by Baasha. We know from elsewhere that at Mizpah (probably Tell en-Nasbeh) Asa dug a large cistern at this time in order to secure its water supply (Jeremiah 41.9). Geba became the new measure of the northernmost border of Greater Judah (2 Kings 23.8). It is probably now the modern town of Jeba, although others suggest Tell el-Ful. But what Asa had done, and failed to do, had been noted by YHWH.
Hanani The Seer Comes To Rebuke Asa For Trusting In The Might Of Aram (Syria) Rather Than In The Might Of YHWH And Declares He Will Have No More Rest. (16.7-11).
The way in which Asa’s heart had become spiritually hardened now comes vividly to the fore. The prophet Hanani reproaches Asa because instead of looking to YHWH for help against Israel, he had relied on the King of Aram (Syria). In those days all nations saw their victories as being a consequence of the activities of their gods. Thus what Asa had virtually done was put his confidence in the gods of Aram rather than in YHWH. So it was more serious religiously than it looked at first sight, and explains YHWH’s anger. The covenant king had looked outside the covenant for help. YHWH had been sidelined.
It is often claimed by scholars that the speeches in Chronicles have been adapted by the Chronicler to fit his own theology. But there are no real grounds for such a suggestion apart from subjectivity. The idea that retribution follows disobedience is writ large throughout the Old Testament and would be anticipated by any true prophet. It is not simply a trait of the Chronicler. And Hanani’s words mainly convey factual information of a kind that we would expect in the circumstances. The passage may be analysed simply as follows:
Note that in A Asa was harangued by Hanani, and in the parallel he retaliated against him. In B Asa had enjoyed deliverance because the hand of YHWH was with him, and in the parallel this was because of YHWH’s continual concern for those whose hearts were perfect towards Him.
2.16.7 ‘And at that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah, and said to him, “Because you have relied on the king of Syria, and have not relied on YHWH your God, therefore is the host of the king of Syria escaped out of your hand.”
What Asa had done had not gone unnoticed by YHWH. So He sent the prophet Hanani to rebuke Asa (we do not know what difference there was, if any, between a prophet and a seer). Nothing further is known about this prophet, but his activity reminds us that YHWH had a long string of prophets through the centuries who would speak on His behalf, the one sometimes descended from the other. Compare 11.2; 12.5; 15.1, 8; 18.6-8; 19.2 etc. (It is thus of great significance that no such prophet dared to speak out under the rule of Solomon, even when he went sadly astray). The gist of the complaint was that instead of relying on YHWH, YHWH had relied on the King of Aram (Syria) for assistance, thus demeaning YHWH by suggesting that He was not able to deliver, and putting his trust in the gods of Syria (compare Isaiah 36.18-20).
“Therefore is the host of the king of Syria escaped out of your hand.” At first sight this statement appears to be at variance with the facts. It was the host of Israel under Baasha that would have been under threat, not the host of Syria. But it is perfectly correct, for the prophet’s point was that the host of Syria which had been called on were no more capable of resisting Asa than Baasha would have been, if he had had YHWH on his side. They and their gods were equally helpless before YHWH. He had called on, and paid tribute, to a king whom he could have defeated.
There may also be an indication that the prophet and Asa were aware that the king of Syria had had plans in mind for the invasion of both Israel and Judah. This would serve to explain why Asa had paid such huge tribute in order to put himself right with the king of Syria. And it would make doubly significant the assurance that had the king of Syrian invaded a believing Asa, the king of Syria would have been defeated.
2.16.8 “Were not the Cushites and the Lubim a huge host, with exceedingly many chariots and horsemen? Yet, because you relied on YHWH, he delivered them into your hand.”
In accordance with common prophetic practise Hanani pointed back to past experience of YHWH’s deliverance. He pointed out that Asa in his own experience had had proved to him the power of YHWH. For when the Cushites (Sudanese) and the Lubim (the Libyans) had come against Judah with a huge host, YHWH had delivered them into Judah’s hands, because Judah had depended on YHWH. How much more then could He have delivered them from the king of Syria.
It will be noted that the Libyans are mentioned for the first time. Thus the prophet clearly had the intention of emphasising that YHWH dealt with two opponents at the same time. This may suggest that he was aware that initially two opponents, Israel and Syria, had ganged up on Judah (Asa earlier mentioned a league between Israel and Syria), which was why Asa had panicked and had basically paid tribute to Syria in order to divide the coalition. The prophet’s point is that he had had no reason for doing so because YHWH was quite capable of defeating both at the same time, and he was thus guilty of gross mistrust.
2.16.9 “For the eyes of YHWH run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is perfect towards him. In this you have done foolishly; for from now on you will have wars.”
Hanani now described the careful watch that YHWH kept on those Who trusted in Him. Indeed His eyes ran to and from throughout the whole earth so that He was ready to act on behalf of those whose hearts were perfect towards Him, in other words on those whose hearts were fixed on Him in faith and obedience. There was no let up in God’s concern for His own. Asa should therefore have trusted in YHWH to act on his behalf, whatever the threat. And because he had not done so, but had trusted in someone who depended on and worshipped foreign gods who could not help at all, he had done foolishly. And the consequence from now on would be that instead of enjoying rest and quiet as they had in the past. Asa and Judah would experience unrest. There would be wars. Had Asa immediately repented, which was probably Hanani’s hope, none of this need have come about. But far from repenting Asa’s attitude was one of fury. His heart had become hardened.
‘“For the eyes of YHWH run to and fro throughout the whole earth.’ These words would later be taken up by Zechariah in Zechariah 4.10.
2.16.10 ‘Then Asa was furiously angry with the seer, and put him in the prison-house, for he was in a rage with him because of this thing. And Asa oppressed some of the people at the same time.’
It is a continuing indication of Asa’s spiritual decline that instead of repenting and admitting his failure, he rather responded in anger. He was so furiously angry with Hanani and his words that he had him put in the prison house. This was probably the prison house in the court of the king’s palace, a place which would later be occupied by other prophets, including Jeremiah (Jeremiah 38.13, 28).
‘And Asa oppressed some of the people at the same time.’ It is clear from this that Hanani was not the only one who objected to Asa’s actions. It seems that quite a few of his people supported Hanani and resented the payment of such heavy tribute to the king of Aram (Syria). They too were dealt with summarily. Asa’s spirituality had collapsed. It is sad that the reign of such a great and godly king should continue on such an unfortunate note. After this nothing good is said about him. It is a warning to us all that we should not allow maturity and worldly wisdom, and the machinations of the Enemy, to interfere with a wholehearted dedication towards God.
It must, however, be pointed out in his favour that his actions had delivered Judah from the predatory invasion of Baasha, and had resulted in his restoring his borders and retaining control over the cities of Ephraim (17.2), although Hanani’s point was that that would have happened anyway. Furthermore it had seemingly made him sufficiently strong to persuade Omri, a powerful king of Israel respected by Assyria, to leave him alone (1 Kings 16.21-28).
Asa’s Final Days (16.11-14).
This ending follows the general pattern for many of the kings of Judah. It declares in what records details of the king’s reign could be found, states that he slept with his fathers and when he died, and gives information concerning his burial. As in a number of cases it provides a snippet which illuminates his reign.
2.16.11 ‘And, behold, the acts of Asa, first and last, lo, they are written in the book of the kings of Judah and Israel.’
As commonly information is provided of a source from which further information concerning Asa’s reign could be found. The Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel was probably an official record and not the Book of Kings that we have. It would contain not only detailed records of the king’s reign from year to year, but also information concerning prophetic activity (compare 20.34). This latter explains why no mention is here made of records made by prophets. It was because in some cases they were incorporated in the official history.
It is possibly significant that the records mentioned in respect of the lives of previous kings were all records maintained by prophets (9.29; 12.15; 13.22; 1 Chronicles 29.29), although 1 Kings 11.41 also mentions the Acts of Solomon. This is the first reference by the Chronicler to the book of the Kings of Judah and Israel. On the other hand ‘the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah’ is referred to in 1 Kings 14.29; 15.7 in respect of Rehoboam and Abijah (Abijam, and the Acts of Solomon may simply have been Solomon’s title for the official records. Thus it is probable that official records were maintained from at least the middle of David’s reign. (The office of ‘recorder’ is mentioned in 2 Samuel 8.16; 20.24, and regularly thereafter). It may, however, be that at that stage they did not incorporate details of prophetic activity such as the Chronicler calls on. The variations confirm the abundance of written material available to the Chronicler or his source.
2.16.12a ‘And in the thirty ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet’
Such snippets of information as this occur elsewhere in the middle of the closing obituary to the king. Compare 12.15a; 20.35-37; 25.27; etc. The information is usually detrimental. The point here would seem to be that four years after Asa’s fatal decision to call for assistance on the king of Aram (Syria) and his imprisoning of Hanani the prophet, he became diseased in his feet. Whilst it is true that the latter event may well have taken place less than four years before Asa became diseased, (time would be needed for the various activities to be completed), the Chronicler does not draw attention to this, and that fact cannot therefore be used to support a theory of ‘immediate retribution’ so beloved by some commentators. Retribution there was, but it was not depicted by the Chronicler as immediate. It was simply seen as an inevitable consequence of Asa’s sin in the usual Old Testament manner.
2.16.12b ‘His disease was very severe. Yet in his disease he did not seek to YHWH, but to the physicians.’
The disease was drawn attention to because it was very severe, sufficiently severe to be seen as worthy of comment. We are given no indication of what it was, but it was presumably crippling. We cannot doubt that he suffered continual and unrelenting pain. But the point that is made is that in his distress he did not look to YHWH but to physicians. And the implication is that it did him no good.
It is unlikely that the Chronicler was denying the advantage of using medical assistance (indeed Isaiah is depicted as using a fig poultice on Hezekiah; Isaiah 38.21), although it is true that very often the theories of physicians in those days, many of whom merely practised magic, could make matters considerably worse. It probably means that instead of looking to the priests and prophets of YHWH who regularly acted in matters of diseases, (Leviticus 13-15; 1 Kings 14.2; 2 Kings 8.7-10; Isaiah 38.21; contrast 2 Kings 1.2; there were no local doctors), he looked to secular, even idolatrous, physicians, many of whom would practise magic. This makes his sin the equivalent of his looking to the idolatrous king of Aram for assistance.
There would be no properly trained physicians in the days of Asa of the type that we have today. Except in the case of the aristocracy tending wounds and sores would be the responsibility of the family (consider Isaiah 1.6) or a local spiritual healer, and we know from archaeology the kind of healing techniques carried out by those who claimed to be ‘experts’. His attitude towards Hanani and his supporters was thus seen as continuing in his attitude towards the priests and prophets of YHWH. It was a sad reflection on his spiritual decline.
There is in this incident, therefore, no support for those who claim that we should look only to God for healing and not to doctors. Isaiah 1.6; Jeremiah 8.22; 51.8 certainly approve of primitive forms of ‘medicine’. But it does support the idea that we should bring God and prayer into the healing process as the prophets regularly did.
2.16.13 ‘And Asa slept with his fathers, and died in the forty first year of his reign.’
Asa survived with his crippling disease for a year or two, dying one or two years later, ‘in the forty first year of his reign’. In view of the information in Kings this was the forty first year of his sole reign (1 Kings 15.10, 33; 16.8, 15, 23, 29; 22.41) . Like his fathers before him he died and ‘slept with his fathers’ (9.31; 12.16; 14.1). This simply signified that his dead body was buried in the same area as previous kings were buried. The term ‘slept’ was metaphorical and was descriptive of how a laid out body looks as though it is asleep.
2.16.14 ‘And they buried him in his own sepulchres, which he had hewn out for himself in the city of David, and laid him in the bed which was filled with sweet odours and divers kinds of spices prepared by the perfumers’ art. And they made a very great burning for him.’
There may here be a further indication of the Chronicler’s disapproval of Asa’s final years. The verse is unique to Chronicles. Instead of the usual ‘he was buried in the city of David’ we have a detailed description of his burial which no doubt came from one of the Chronicler’s sources. The Chronicler points out that he had hewn out his own sepulchres, an act of self-magnification. It was not sufficient to him to be buried as other kings had been buried. He wanted his own space and monument. Compare Isaiah 22.16-17 where a similar attitude is condemned. It all went along with the superior attitude he had previously shown towards YHWH. We are also probably to see that he made specific preparations for his own burial, outlining his requirements that his bed be filled with sweet odours and perfumers’ spices. This may have been in order to counteract the odour of his diseased feet. But it would do him no good. What he had become was writ large before God, and no perfume on earth could hide it.
‘And they made a very great burning for him.’ This does not indicate that he was cremated, which would be very unlikely. It refers rather to a regular honorific rite that accompanied the deaths of kings, a kind of magnificent bonfire (21.19; Jeremiah 34.5). The fact that it is positively mentioned only here in Chronicles points to the self-glorifying nature of the verse. He was supremely honoured by men. God’s verdict on the last part of his reign was very different. Men glorified him, but they could not hide the truth that God (and the Chronicler) had brought out about him. His last days had been days of spiritual decline. A magnificent funeral might bring honour to a dead man, but not before God. It was a sad end to a life that had accomplished so much, a warning against the danger of spiritual decline..
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