1 KINGS 15, 16
It is interesting how two views of the same person and their actions can both be true and yet both read so differently. Abijah, son of Rehoboam, received a rather negative ‘appraisal’ in 1 Kings 15:1-8 and a very positive one in 2 Chronicles chapter 13. An yet the passages do not contradict one another at all. 2 Chronicles 13 gives absolutely no opinion on Abijah’s qualities as a king, whereas 1 Kings 15:3 informs us that: “He committed all the sins his father had done before him; his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his forefather had been”. It goes on to briefly mention that Abijah had fought a war against Jeroboam but does not even mention that Abijah won.
By comparison, 2 Chronicles describes the final battle in detail and majors on the bold speech that Abijah made to rally his troops and build their faith in the Lord. It was a speech that gave glory to God and placed total reliance upon him for victory in the forthcoming battle. During the battle, Abijah and all the men of Judah called out to God for help, and he answered them; 13:15 tells us that “…the men of Judah raised the battle cry. At the sound of their battle cry, God routed Jeroboam and all Israel before Abijah and Judah”. Jeroboam’s army suffered such heavy losses that half a million men were killed, removing for good the threat of Jeroboam from Judah’s borders.
Two very different accounts by two different authors; both completely true! It demonstrates that we don’t only need to tell the truth, but we need wisdom to know what to say and how to say it. The New Testament scriptures use the term: “Speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). This means that we do not speak out every single thought that we have about a person – some of it will probably be very hurtful – and that we consider carefully how we say what we have chosen to say. Words can never be un-said and some phrases are like a ‘nuclear button’ that launches a destructive missile that can never be recalled. How we speak is a vital sign of a redeemed life. Harsh words spoken – or kind words omitted – can wound a tender heart more effectively than a sharp kitchen knife! How do we treat one another at work? Are we known for being a Christian and for having a kind word for people? Do our words draw the unsaved into the Kingdom of God, or do they repel them away? Look again at James 3.
So Abijah was successful because he and Judah obeyed the Lord’s commands, offered the sacrifices that were prescribed, and sought the Lord their God faithfully and consistently. Despite very unfavourable odds, Judah triumphed because the Lord was on their side – he was their Leader.
He was succeeded by his son, Asa, whose life is extensively described in 2 Chronicles 14 – 16. The 1 Kings 15 passage compresses all this action into just a few verses – but this time the summary is more favourable than it was for Abijah! Asa did well! What did he do that was do good?
- He destroyed all the foreign altars, idols, and some of the high places in every town in Judah. A ‘high place’ was an unauthorised home-made shrine to the Lord that the locals had built to make it easier to worship him than to travel all that way into Jerusalem
- He made it a priority to seek the Lord and to obtain his will and wisdom
- He defeated Judah’s armies in the early years by total reliance upon the Lord
- He made the people swear to seek and to hold fast to the Lord
- He deposed his grandmother, the Queen Mother, for her sins of idol worship
As a result, he was commended by God and his prophets. “The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you”. (2 Chronicles 15:2.) Furthermore, the land became safe and its borders secure. Peace and civilisation filled the nation. Large numbers of people from the Northern kingdom left their homes and settled in Judah to join with Asa and to enjoy the blessing, “…when they saw that the Lord his God was with him” (15:9).
We will find this in our own towns and churches: Those churches that earnestly seek God, that seek his Kingdom, that obey his Word and that love his people will grow and prosper; those that do the opposite will shrink! For them, the judgment of Christ in Revelation 2:5 will occur: “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place”. The principle of ‘survival of the fittest’ may or may not be true in the realm of Biology, but it is certainly a principle of kingdom growth; churches in which Christ is central will attract those who are hungry for the Word and hungry for the Lord. Churches that do not care for their ‘flock’ and where Jesus is not at the centre will quickly (or slowly) fade away – and rightly so. Our calling is to be salt and light in this impure and dark world – not a cosy clique fighting a rear-guard action until our deaths.
And then it all went wrong. (Read 2 Chronicles 16). God tested Asa by allowing the Arameans to attack Judah and, instead of doing what he did in his earlier days (trust in God) he relied on paying the invaders to attack the Northern kingdom instead. Instantly, the prophet Hanani came to rebuke Asa: “Because you relied on the king of Aram and not on the Lord your God… …you have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war”. Asa became angry, vindictive, and oppressed his own people from then on.
Finally, he was afflicted (presumably from God) with a disease in his feet for the last two years of his life. He stubbornly refused to seek help from the Lord, but only from the doctors – who could not help him. He died within two years. What a sad ending to a great life! Why begin by trusting the Lord and end by trusting in your own resources? There is nothing wrong with seeing a doctor, but it is important that we come to God before we come to the National Health Service. It is better to start badly and end well than to start well and end badly. Let’s learn from Asa’s life. Let’s be careful who we are trusting in and careful what we say.
Meanwhile, back in Israel, the Northern kingdom, things were going from bad to worse. When a football club has a rapid turnover of managers, you know that something fundamental is wrong. The same applied to the Northern tribes: they were now addicted to idolatry and could not kick the habit. Their kings were the chief instigators in this, and the Lord was highly displeased with them. After all, the nations who Israel had displaced had been judged for the same activities, so it was only right that Israel came in for the same treatment! Nadab, the son of Jeroboam reigned only two years before being deposed by Baasha, who made sure of his succession by exterminating the remainder of Jeroboam’s family – in fulfilment of the 1 Kings 14:10-11 prophecy.
Baasha had a relatively long reign for such an evil king (24 years), but there was no benefit to the people and no improvement in the spiritual ‘temperature’ of the nation. A prophet from the South, Jehu, warned Baasha that the demise of his dynasty would be rapid and messy unless he repented, but to no avail. Eventually Baasha died and was replaced by his son, Elah, who lasted only two years before being deposed by Zimri, one of his officials. Zimri did the ‘safe’ thing by exterminating all Baasha’s extended family, thereby fulfilling Jehu’s prophecy. Zimri was in turn deposed by Omri, the army commander, who survived a subsequent coup and reigned twelve years in total; his main claim to fame was the establishing of the city of Samaria. It was almost a shock when Omri died of natural causes! His eldest boy was Ahab.
Ahab was special! He established new benchmarks for wickedness and idol-worship in the land – so much so that, from this point onwards, the evil kings are no longer compared to Jeroboam, but to Ahab! Evil was becoming progressively more dominant in the Northern kingdom and Ahab was the ‘high priest’ of it. He married Jezebel, who had already brought a particular style of Baal worship to Israel and who was obviously delighted that an open door was presented to legitimise idolatrous practices alongside some semblance of the worship of the Lord. Idol-worship is at its most sinister when it is combined with the true faith since it seems to get approval by the majority. In the New Testament terms, the worship of Jesus accompanied by statues, portraits, relics, and ancient artefacts is a similar danger; blatant idolatry is easy to avoid, whereas the subtle version is much more dangerous!
So Ahab created a ‘black magic’ version of the Jerusalem Temple, in Samaria, by constructing a temple to Baal; he also erected an Asherah pole – effectively a huge phallic symbol targeted at the female goddess, Asherah alongside it. This kind of pagan worship was both crude and ugly. God punished the godless kings of Israel by giving them generally short lifespans and usually violent shameful deaths; he punished the people of Israel by giving them one godless king after another.
Whilst all this was going on in Israel, Asa was reigning peacefully and effectively in Judah, and idol-worship had been virtually wiped out. Eventually, as we saw yesterday, Asa died, and his son Jehoshaphat succeeded him as king. He was a faithful and obedient man who loved the Lord and was determined to preach the Word of God far and wide throughout the land – which he did. The result was that God established a strong and peaceful kingdom around him, the fear of the Lord fell on those nations around Judah, and they did not go to war against them. Huge wealth poured into the land and gifts came to Jehoshaphat from far and wide. This is what happens when a man – and particularly a ruler – commits himself fully to the Lord and relies on him totally. We will see more of his success later on.