WHEN GOD CHOOSES SIDES IT IS FOOLISH TO OPPOSE HIM –
ABIJAH TRIES UNSUCCESSFULLY TO GET JEROBOAM TO STAND DOWN FROM CIVIL WAR
Raymond Dillard: Where Kings describes a sinful king not wholly devoted to God, a king maintained only because of God’s fidelity to David, the Chronicler presents instead a victorious leader and preacher of righteousness. . .
Overlaying the entire passage are the motifs of holy war. Battles displaying the power of Israel’s God are commonly fought against much larger armies (13:3; Deut 20:2; 2 Chr 14:8–9; 20:2); a pre-battle speech by a priest, prophet, or king assures that God is with Israel’s army and will give victory (13:5–13; Deut 20:1–4; 2 Chr 20:5–17). An offer of peace may be tendered to the opposing forces (13:5–13; Deut 20:10). Cultic purity for the combatants is a prerequisite (13:10–11; 1 Sam 21:4–5; Josh 5:1–8; 7:13; 2 Chr 20:3–4); victory follows the blowing of the trumpets by the priests and the battle cry from the army (13:12–15; Num 10:8–9; 31:6; Josh 6; 2 Chr 20:18–22).
August Konkel: Spiritual opportunity is not always self-evident. Sometimes conflict is opportunity in disguise. If conflict cannot be resolved but conflicted parties can come to realize their own failures, there is spiritual progress. The Chronicler’s presentation of Abijah contrasts sharply with the censure of 1 Kings 15:1-8, where the Judean king is condemned for following in the idolatry of Rehoboam. In Kings, Abijah’s reign of faithlessness serves only to exemplify the mercy of God in preserving the Davidic dynasty. The lamp of Israel continued to shine in Jerusalem (2 Sam 21:17). The Chronicler provides an account of a war with Jeroboam in which Abijah wins a decisive victory. In addition, Abijah gives what has been termed a Levitical sermon (von Rad 1966). Such a speech consists of doctrine, application, and exhortation, with an appeal to earlier biblical texts (2 Chron 13:4-12). The reign of Abijah becomes the critical turning point in the Chronicler’s assessment of relationships with the northern tribes.
Victory over Jeroboam’s superior forces was a divine judgment against the north and an affirmation of Judah’s faithfulness. It provides a spiritual opportunity for the northern tribes. The Chronicler absolves the northern tribes of their apostasy during the time of Rehoboam. They were guilty of driving out the priests and replacing them with others who worshiped at the high places. They set up calves and created satyrs (2 Chron 11:13-15). With the death of Jeroboam, there is a possibility of turning to God in faithfulness. There was no benefit to the northern tribes in associating with Rehoboam, who forsook the law of the Lord (12:1), but there is renewed opportunity with a new king in Judah. Those who followed Jeroboam should join in the company of those who serve the God of their fathers. Abijah’s speech is not a negative polemic but an urgent plea to reconcile the division that has come about.
Martin Selman: Abijah concludes with an appeal, Do not fight against the Lord . . . for you will not succeed. It is the focal point of Abijah’s argument, and resembles a sermon test, as in other speeches where the text often comes at the end. It contains two important themes, both of which are developed in 2 Chronicles 20:1-30, the centerpiece of the Divided Monarchy.
– The first, which has its origin in Exodus, is that it is futile to oppose God, for he fights his own battles (cf. 1 Ch. 5:22; 2 Ch. 11:4; 20:27; 32:8; cf. Ex. 14:14; Dt. 20:4; Acts 5:39).
– The second is that one can succeed only with God’s help as illustrated positively (e.g. 1 Ch 29:23; 2 Ch. 14:6; 20:20; and negatively (e.g. 2 Ch. 24:20).
John Schultz: The missing point in Abijah’s speech is that fact that the division had been God-ordained and was a punishment for the sins of his grandfather Solomon and his father Rehoboam.
Jeroboam had received the kingdom, consisting of the ten northern tribes from God, just as much as Abijah had received the southern tribes by divine authority. But it was, obviously, never God’s intent that this division would lead to a civil war.
Andrew Hill: The genre of the story of Abijah’s “holy war” is identified as report, and the contents of the story may be outlined as follows:
– prelude to war (13:2b–3),
– Abijah’s speech (13:4–12), and
– the battle report (13:13–21).
The story is framed by opening and closing regnal résumés (13:1–2a; 13:22–14:1).
(:1-2b) PROLOGUE – INTRODUCTION TO ABIJAH’S REIGN
A. (:1) Timeline
“In the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam, Abijah became king over Judah.”
Frederick Mabie: Following Rehoboam’s death, his son Abijah assumes the throne in Judah. Abijah reigns over the southern kingdom from ca. 913-11 BC and may have had a brief coregency with his father Rehoboam. Earlier, Rehoboam had appointed Abijah as chief prince, presumably to facilitate a stable regnal changeover (see 11:22). Meanwhile, Jeroboam is in his eighteenth year of rule in the northern kingdom.
B. (:2a) Duration
“He reigned three years in Jerusalem;”
C. (:2b) Mother
“and his mother’s name was Micaiah the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah.”
Andrew Hill: The most likely reconstruction, then, identifies Maacah as the granddaughter of Absalom (Abishalom in 1 Kings 15:2) by his daughter Tamar and her husband Uriel of Gibeah (2 Chron. 13:2; cf. 2 Sam. 14:27). This means that Maacah is King Asa’s grandmother.
I. (:2c-3) PRELUDE TO CIVIL WAR BETWEEN ABIJAH AND JEROBOAM
A. (:2c) Reporting the Conflict
“And there was war between Abijah and Jeroboam.”
B. (:3) Numbering the Forces
1. Forces of Abijah
“And Abijah began the battle with an army of valiant warriors,
400,000 chosen men,”
Iain Duguid: The account of the battle itself highlights God’s provision: he is present and leading, as it is his battle (also in 2 Chron. 20:15). Victory depended not on a greater army (in numbers or resources) but on his action. This was important for the postexilic community in their apparent weakness in relation to the Persian Empire.
McConville: It is hard to avoid the thought that, in biblical theology, weakness is a positive advantage, because it is a prerequisite of reliance (cf. 2 Cor. 12:10).
2. Doubled Forces of Jeroboam
“while Jeroboam drew up in battle formation against him
with 800,000 chosen men who were valiant warriors.”
Andrew Hill: There is no direct indication as to which party has declared war, although according to Selman Jeroboam is likely the aggressor in an attempt to reunite the twelve tribes under a single monarch. He bases his conjecture on the defensive posture of Abijah’s speech (esp. 2 Chron. 13:8) and Jeroboam’s military strategy relying on the surprise attack of an ambush (13:13–14).
The Chronicler’s report of the size of the two opposing armies proves troublesome for some commentators. Various interpretive approaches have been suggested:
– taking the numbers at face value since the writer seems to intend them as literal,
– understanding the numbers as somehow symbolic or a form of hyperbole, or
– assigning a more technical meaning to the word “thousand” (ʾelep; e.g., “chieftain” or a military “cohort” of an unspecified number of soldiers).
However one chooses to understand the numbers, the basic meaning of the tallies is clear—the troops of Israel outnumber the troops of Judah two to one.
Peter Wallace: The other option is that the Chronicler is using exaggeration to make a point. He knows that no one will think that Judah could muster an army of 400,000 men – much less, an army of 400,000 valiant men of war! – (these are farmers and villagers, after all!)
II. (:4-7) LEARN LESSONS FROM HISTORY – STAND DOWN BECAUSE THIS WAR DOESN’T MAKE SENSE
A. (:4) Abijah Appeals to Jeroboam and Israel to Back Off –
Abijah’s Sermon on the Mount
“Then Abijah stood on Mount Zemaraim,
which is in the hill country of Ephraim,
and said, ‘Listen to me, Jeroboam and all Israel:’”
B. (:5) God Has Placed His Permanent Stamp of Approval on the Davidic Dynasty
“Do you not know that the LORD God of Israel gave the rule over Israel
forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt?”
Raymond Dillard: The context implies that a “covenant of salt” is an eternal and efficacious covenant, though the precise social or religious character of such a covenant is not known. The “salt of the covenant” was necessary for a sacrifice to be efficacious (Lev 2:13); W. Robertson Smith (Lectures on the Religion of the Semites, 2d ed.  270) related the reference to the sacredness of the bond acknowledged among Arabs between persons who have “eaten salt” together. The covenant made with David was as permanent as the covenant made with Israel in the wilderness (Num 18:19; Coggins, 195).
David Guzik: This promise God made to David was called a covenant of salt, which meant a serious covenant because it was sealed by sacrifice (sacrifices always included salt, Leviticus 2:13). A covenant of salt also had the following associations:
• A pure covenant (salt stays pure as a chemical compound).
• An enduring covenant (salt makes things preserve and endure).
• A valuable covenant (salt was expensive).
C. (:6-7) Both Sides Bear Blame for the Kingdom Division
1. (:6) Blame Falls to Jeroboam for His Rebellion
“Yet Jeroboam the son of Nebat, the servant of Solomon
the son of David, rose up and rebelled against his master,”
2. (:7) Blame Falls to Rehoboam for Weak Leadership
“and worthless men gathered about him, scoundrels,
who proved too strong for Rehoboam, the son of Solomon,
when he was young and timid and could not hold his own against them.”
Raymond Dillard: vv. 4-12 — The speech of Abijah has two foci: the legitimacy of the Davidic dynasty and the legitimacy of the Jerusalem cult. The kingdom of David is in reality the kingdom of Yahweh; Jeroboam is a rebel surrounded by worthless scoundrels. The cultic personnel and apparatus of the South are divinely ordained, while those of the North serve “no-gods.”
Iain Duguid: The identity of the king around whom the “scoundrels gathered” (2 Chron. 13:7) is unclear. Most commentators see the men as accompanying Jeroboam. Josephus (Antiquities 8.277), however, understood the statement as referring to the young men who gathered around Rehoboam and “prevailed over, persuaded” (rather than “defied”) him (cf. 10:10; this interpretation fits normal Hb. patterns in which “him” would be the last person mentioned—Jeroboam’s “lord,” Rehoboam).
August Konkel: The sons of Belial that prevailed over Rehoboam can be none other than the rash young advisers who demanded more conscripted labor from the north.
III. (:8-12) EVALUATE YOUR CHANCES — STAND DOWN BECAUSE GOD IS ON OUR SIDE
A. (:8) You Are Basing Your Chances of Success on Worldly Power =
1. Fallacy of Trying to Resist the Kingdom of God
“So now you intend to resist the kingdom of the LORD
through the sons of David,”
2. Fallacy of Trusting in the Power of Superior Numbers
“being a great multitude”
3. Fallacy of Trusting in the Power of Man-Made Gods
“and having with you the golden calves
which Jeroboam made for gods for you.”
Raymond Dillard: vv. 8-9 — For the Chronicler the kingdom of David was the kingdom of God; that kingdom was forever to be in the hands of David’s descendants. For the post-exilic audience to which he wrote, an audience living without a Davidic king, this speech must have expressed their hopes and aspirations. The speech argues from the two foci of legitimate king and legitimate cult; in the Chronicler’s own day legitimate cult was a reality with the second temple, and aspirations for political freedom fired hopes for the reestablishment of the Davidic dynasty. Israel as the kingdom of Yahweh is one of the Chronicler’s favorite themes (1 Chr 17:14; 28:5; 29:11, 23; 2 Chr 9:8).
B. (:9) You Have Substituted Man-Made Counterfeit Religion for True Worship
“Have you not driven out the priests of the LORD, the sons of Aaron and the Levites, and made for yourselves priests like the peoples of other lands? Whoever comes to consecrate himself with a young bull and seven rams, even he may become a priest of what are no gods.”
C. (:10-11) God is On Our Side – You Have Forsaken Him; We Have Remained Faithful
“But as for us, the LORD is our God, and we have not forsaken Him; and the sons of Aaron are ministering to the LORD as priests, and the Levites attend to their work. 11 And every morning and evening they burn to the LORD burnt offerings and fragrant incense, and the showbread is set on the clean table, and the golden lampstand with its lamps is ready to light every evening; for we keep the charge of the LORD our God, but you have forsaken Him.”
D. (:12) You Have No Chance of Success Because God is Our Commander In Chief
“Now behold, God is with us at our head and His priests with the signal trumpets to sound the alarm against you. O sons of Israel, do not fight against the LORD God of your fathers, for you will not succeed.”
Iain Duguid: Thus the final appeal to the “sons of Israel” to cease their rebellion speaks of the Lord as the “God of your fathers.” They may have rebelled, but they are still part of “Israel,” over whom God had placed “sons of David” to rule and whose worship was centered in the temple, with the Aaronic priesthood assisted by other Levites. Returning to the Lord, whom “your fathers” worshiped, is the only way to “succeed.”
Peter Wallace: Behind the sermon of Abijah, you need to hear the sermon of the Chronicler! You may not see how God will provide for you. You may face overwhelming odds. But you need to rely on the LORD, the God of your fathers. He will not leave you or forsake you.
IV. (:13-19) BATTLE REPORT
Andrew Hill: The battle report is presented in four stages:
– Jeroboam’s tactic of an ambush (13:13–14a),
– Judah’s prayers for divine help (13:14b–15a),
– God’s granting victory to Judah (13:15b–16), and
– details concerning the outcome of the battle (13:17–19).
The realization that Jeroboam’s troops catch Judah in ambush, resulting in a pincers-type attack that force the action at the front and the rear of Abijah’s army, causes them to cry out to God for divine intervention. This battle shout is “an act of faith” that God’s swift and dramatic involvement will ensue (reminiscent of the battle shout that brought down Jericho, Josh. 6:20).
A. (:13-14a) Ambush Tactics of Jeroboam Looked Promising
“But Jeroboam had set an ambush to come from the rear, so that Israel was in front of Judah, and the ambush was behind them. 14 When Judah turned around, behold, they were attacked both front and rear;”
B. (:14b) Judah Called on the Lord for Deliverance
“so they cried to the LORD, and the priests blew the trumpets.”
C. (:15-17) Divine Rout Accomplished by Abijah and His Troops
“Then the men of Judah raised a war cry, and when the men of Judah raised the war cry, then it was that God routed Jeroboam and all Israel before Abijah and Judah. 16 And when the sons of Israel fled before Judah, God gave them into their hand. 17 And Abijah and his people defeated them with a great slaughter, so that 500,000 chosen men of Israel fell slain.”
J.A. Thompson: Abijah and his men inflicted heavy losses on Israel. The outcome of the battle was defeat and humiliation for Jeroboam and victory for Abijah and the men of Judah because they relied on the Lord, the God of their fathers. The verb translated “relied on” (sa’an) appears also at 14:11 and 16:7-8. It is used of leaning upon something (cf. 2 Sam 1:6; 2 Kgs 5:18; 7:2, 17; Ezek 29:7; figuratively in Prov 3:5). By contrast, when Judah turned aside to wickedness, they might well have lost a battle (cf. 28:19).
D. (:18) Key to Victory = Trusting in the Lord
“Thus the sons of Israel were subdued at that time, and the sons of Judah conquered because they trusted in the LORD, the God of their fathers.”
E. (:19) Pursuit of Jeroboam Resulted in Capturing Key Cities
“And Abijah pursued Jeroboam, and captured from him several cities,
Bethel with its villages,
Jeshanah with its villages,
and Ephron with its villages.”
Martin Selman: Bethel’s capture is an ironic comment on the golden calves’ inability to defend their own sanctuary (cf. 1 Kings 12:28-33).
(:20-22) EPILOGUE – CONCLUSION OF REIGN OF ABIJAH
A. (:20) Death of Abijah
“And Jeroboam did not again recover strength in the days of Abijah;
and the LORD struck him and he died.”
Andrew Hill: The heavy losses sustained by Jeroboam at the battle of Mount Zemaraim cripple his capacities for further aggression against the southern kingdom. In that sense, Jeroboam does “not regain power” (13:20a) during Abijah’s reign (remember that Abijah only rules for three years). The report of Jeroboam’s death (13:20b) is telescoped for the sake of the Chronicler’s theological emphasis, since Jeroboam actually outlives Abijah (cf. 1 Kings 15:9). The Chronicler understands Jeroboam’s eventual death as an act of divine judgment (“the LORD struck him down,” 2 Chron. 13:20b).
B. (:21) Family of Abijah
“But Abijah became powerful, and took fourteen wives to himself;
and became the father of twenty-two sons and sixteen daughters.”
Iain Duguid: The account of Abijah’s reign ends by comparing Jeroboam’s weakening position, which climaxes in “The Lord struck him down [nagap, as in v. 15],” with Abijah’s large family, a sign of blessing.
C. (:22) Recorded Deeds of Abijah
“Now the rest of the acts of Abijah, and his ways and his words
are written in the treatise of the prophet Iddo.”
David Guzik: Yet from our more complete understanding of Abijah’s life, we can learn another lesson: that one great spiritual victory does not make an entire life before God. One should never trust in a past spiritual accomplishment or season of victory.
Matthew Henry: Result: The death of both of the conquered and of the conqueror, not long after.
1. Jeroboam never looked up after this defeat, though he survived it two or three years. He could not recover strength again, 2 Chron. 13:20. The Lord struck him either with some bodily disease, of which he languished, or with melancholy and trouble of mind; his heart was broken, and vexation at his loss brought his head, probably by this time a hoary head, with sorrow to the grave. He escaped the sword of Abijah, but God struck him: and there is no escaping his sword.
2. Abijah waxed mighty upon it. What number of wives and children he had before does not appear; but now he multiplied his wives to fourteen in all, by whom he had thirty-eight children, 2 Chron. 13:21. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of those arrows. It seems, he had ways peculiar to himself, and sayings of his own, which were recorded with his acts in the history of those times, 2 Chron. 13:22. But the number of his months was cut off in the midst, and, soon after his triumphs, death conquered the conqueror. Perhaps he was too much lifted up with his victories, and therefore God would not let him live long to enjoy the honour of them.