Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 30. Abijah King Of Judah

Prophets And Kings
Day 30
Abijah King Of Judah

Today we study the reign of King Abijah of Judah, the son of King Rehoboam. We will be lookin at Chapter 15 along with some portions of the book of 2nd Chronicles.

1 KINGS 15:1-8
"In the eighteenth year of the reign of Jeroboam son of Nebat, Abijah became king of Judah, and he reigned in Jerusalem three years. His mother's name was Maakah daughter of Abishalom." (1 Kings 15:1-2) If we take a look at 2 Chronicles 11:20-22 we find that Maakah was Rehoboam's second wife but she was his favorite wife and this is why he selected his first son with her to succeed him as king.

Abijah is another king who does not stand firm for the Lord very long. In 2 Chronicles 13 we learn that he decided to go in battle against the northern territory of Israel with four hundred thousand soldiers. King Jeroboam came out to meet him with eight hundred thousand soldiers. Abijah was outnumbered but he made a passionate speech, "Abijah stood on Mount Zemaraim, in the hill country of Ephraim, and said, 'Jeroboam and all Israel, listen to me! Don't you know that the Lord, the God of Israel, has given the kingship of Israel to David and his descendants forever by a covenant of salt? Yet Jeroboam son of Nebat, an official of Solomon son of David, rebelled against his master. Some worthless scoundrels gathered around him and opposed Rehoboam son of Solomon when he was young and indecisive and not strong enough to resist them." (2 Chronicles 13:4-7) Abijah is trying to rewrite history in his dramatic speech. He claims his father was "young and indecisive" when he ascended to the throne but we have already learned that he was forty-one years old when crowned king. In addition, these scoundrels Abijah mentions simply wanted Rehoboam to ease their tax burden. Solomon's wise advisers told Rehoboam all he had to do was grant their request and the people would always be his servants, but reducing taxes didn't interest the king, so the people of the ten northern tribes rebelled and declared Jeroboam their king. 

There is an undeniable truth in this speech though, for God certainly has promised the throne to David and his descendants forever, and this is not news to Israel. They know of the Davidic covenant. They know Jeroboam is king only because of the mistakes Solomon made with his idolatrous wives and because of the mistakes Rehoboam made in not relieving the people. The split of the nation is for the purpose of discipline. It does not mean God has voided His covenant.

Abijah goes on to say, "And now you plan to resist the kingdom of the Lord, which is in the hands of David's descendants. You are indeed a vast army and have with you the golden calves that Jeroboam made to be your gods. But didn't you drive out the priests of the Lord, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites, and make priests of your own as the peoples of other lands do? Whoever comes to consecrate himself with a young bull and seven rams may become a priests of what are not gods." (2 Chronicles 13:8-9) Imagine being in Jeroboam's army and hearing these words. Abijah is saying, "We are the army of the living God. We have God and His promises to David on our side. We have the priesthood on our side. What is it you have, two golden calves and some false priests? Are they able to help you?" Abijah knows his army is half the size of Jeroboam's but he also understands the importance of morale among the troops. He wants Jeroboam's men shaking in their boots.

"As for us, the Lord is our God, and we have not forsaken Him. The priests who serve the Lord are sons of Aaron, and the Levites assist them. Every morning and evening they present burnt offerings and fragrant incense to the Lord. They set out the bread on the ceremonially clean table and light the lamps on the gold lampstand every evening. We are observing the requirements of the Lord our God. But you have forsaken Him." (2 Chronicles 13:10-11) This is not strictly the truth. Abijah makes the claim that the kingdom of Judah has not forsaken the Lord but we already learned yesterday that Judah has also fallen into idolatry. With the nation being split, Jeroboam's men may not know the extent of this. While it's true that the rituals of worship are still being performed at Jerusalem, the hearts of some of the people have strayed. But I don't believ all the citizens have strayed from the faith and I think many of the priests are still performing their duties with the right motives, but idolatry is definitely taking hold of the nation. We read yesterday that Judah set up even more altars and temples during Rehoboam's reign than they had in Solomon's reign. They even had sex cults with male and female shrine prostitutes. 

Abijah speaks of the God of Israel as if all He requires are the proper sacrifices and offerings when what He actually requires is everything from us...our hearts and our souls. As idolatry grows, the Lord will later speak these words in righteous indignation to the prophet Isaiah, "'The multitude of your sacrifices---what are they to me?' says the Lord...'Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to Me." (Isaiah 1:11a, 13a) When the heart is far from the Lord, no amount of sacrifices and offerings matter. Only when they are brought in the right spirit does God accept them.

Nevertheless, Abijah seems to believe all that he is saying and he concludes with a flourish, "God is with us; He is our leader. His priests with their trumpets will sound the battle cry against you. People of Israel, do not fight against the Lord, the God of your ancestors, for you will not succeed." (2 Chronicles 13:12)

Jeroboam isn't impressed with this speech and has been busy constructing a battle plan. "Now Jeroboam had sent troops around to the rear, so that while he was in front of Judah the ambush was behind them. Judah turned and saw that they were being attacked at both front and rear. Then they cried out to the Lord. The priests blew their trumpets and 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. The Israelites fled before Judah, and God delivered them into their hands. Abijah and his troops inflicted heavy losses on them, so that there were five hundred thousand casualties among Israel's able men. The Israelites were subdued on that occasion, and the people of Judah were victorious because they relied on the Lord, the God of their ancestors." (2 Chronicles 13:13-18) There are still some faithful men and women in Judah. The temple of God is there and so is the ark of His covenant. For the sake of the godly, the Lord delivered Judah from the hands of Jeroboam. There is a remnant of true believers in Judah and God comes through for the sake of those who rely on Him. In our own nation the faithful are probably now more of a remnant than a majority. On the news just the other day I saw a poll about how America is becoming less and less religious. This is why I so often pray that God will preserve our nation for the sake of those who are His. Like Abijah, we can't say in full truth that our nation has not forsaken God, but we can say in full truth that there are thousands if not millions of us here who have not "bowed the knee to Baal". (1 Kings 19:18) 

"Abijah persued Jeroboam and took from him the towns of Bethel, Jeshanah and Ephron, with their surrounding villages. Jeroboam did not regain power during the time of Abijah. And the Lord struck him down and he died." (2 Chronicles 13:19-20) Abijah captures some important cities, including Bethel where Jeroboam made his mockery of the Feast of Tabernacles by holding a feast and making sacrifices to a golden calf. The Lord judges Jeroboam's sins by cutting his life off early.

"But Abijah grew in strength. He married fourteen wives and had twenty-two sons and sixteen daughters." (2 Chronicles 13:21) He is building himself a dynasty but his reign will be short-lived. "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. Nevertheless, for David's sake the Lord his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem by giving him a son to succeed him and by making Jerusalem strong. For David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord's commands all the days of his life---except in the case of Uriah the Hittite." (1 Kings 15:3-5) Abijah, could have removed the idols in the land when he became king but he didn't. He allowed these detestable temples to remain in the nation where God placed His own temple. It could be he feared trouble from the people if he removed their pagan altars. It could be he engaged in some of the idolatrous practices himself. But because God promised David that he would always have a descendant from the royal line, the Lord continues the family on down from Solomon. He gives Abijah an heir to the throne. In the New Testament, a Man of the house of David will give Himself for our sins. And someday in the future this Man will sit on David's throne forever.

"There was war between Abijah and Jeroboam throughout Abijah's lifetime. As for the other events of Abijah's reign, and all he did, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah? There was war between Abijah and Jeroboam. And Abijah rested with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David. And Asa his son succeeded him as king." (1 Kings 15:6-8) God is so faithful because we will see in tomorrow's passage that Asa is a good king, a king faithful to the Lord, who will dispense with the idols and tear down the cult shrines. His reign will be long and prosperous because his heart will be true to the Lord. In every generation God has His faithful ones. We find that in the Bible and we find it in our world today. He is still raising up a generation for Himself in our times, even if our nation seems to be falling away from God. In my own family in the little story we concluded with yesterday, He is working in the current generation. God will always have a remnant who will not deny His name. Someone looking at Abijah's family might have concluded he wouldn't be able to raise a godly son because he was such a bad influence, but just think of how many godly people we know who came from bad backgrounds. We might have thought they had no chance of living a godly life because of the terrible influence of their parents, and yet they are out in the world every day being a light to the lost. They are passionate for Christ. This is what happens in Abijah's family. Somehow a good king comes out of it, a man who loves and honors the Lord. We can never write off any generation or claim the whole nation has fallen away. God is still calling out a people for Himself. 

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