Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
2. THE REIGN OF ABIJAH.
(Comp. 1Kings 15:1-8.)
Now in the eighteenth year of king Jeroboam began Abijah to reign over Judah.(1) Now.—Not in the Hebrew. The verse is nearly identical with the parallel in Kings.
He reigned three years in Jerusalem. His mother's name also was Michaiah the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah. And there was war between Abijah and Jeroboam.(2) His mother’s name also was Michaiah the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah.—Kings reads for the names “Maachah the daughter of Abishalom”; and as the chronicler has himself already designated Abijah as son of Maachah, daughter of Absalom (2Chronicles 11:20-22), there can be no doubt that this is correct, and that “Michaiah,” which is elsewhere a man’s name, is a corruption of Maachah. This is confirmed by the LXX., Syriac, and Arabic, which read Maachah. As we have already stated (2Chronicles 11:20), Maachah was granddaughter to Absalom, being a daughter of Tamar the only daughter of Absalom. Uriel of Gibeah, then, must have been the husband of Tamar. (See on 2Chronicles 15:16. Uriel of Gibeah is otherwise unknown.)
And there was war between Abijah and Jeroboam.—Now war had arisen. See 1Kings 15:6. “Now war had prevailed [same verb] between Abijam [common Hebrew text incorrectly has Rehoboam] and Jeroboam all the days of his life.” The chronicler modifies the sense by omitting the concluding phrase, and then proceeds to give a striking account of a campaign in which Abijah totally defeated his rival (2Chronicles 13:3-20); of all which we find not a word in Kings.
And Abijah set the battle in array with an army of valiant men of war, even four hundred thousand chosen men: Jeroboam also set the battle in array against him with eight hundred thousand chosen men, being mighty men of valour.(3) Set the battle in array.—Began the battle. Vulg., “cumque iniisset Abia certanien” (1Kings 20:14).
Four hundred thousand chosen men.—In David’s census, Judah mustered 470,000 fighting men, and Israel 1,100,000, without reckoning Levi and Benjamin (1Chronicles 21:5). The numbers of the verse present a yet closer agreement with the results of that census as reported in 2Samuel 24:9; where, as here, the total strength of the Israelite warriors is given as 800,000, and that of Judah as 500,000. This correspondence makes it improbable that the figures have been falsified in transmission. (See Note on 2Chronicles 13:17.)
Jeroboam also set the battle in array.—While Jeroboam had drawn up against him. Vulg., instruxite contra aciem.
And Abijah stood up upon mount Zemaraim, which is in mount Ephraim, and said, Hear me, thou Jeroboam, and all Israel;(4) And Abijah stood up upon mount Zemaraim.—While the two hosts were facing each other, king Abijah addressed his foes from mount Zemaraim. as Jotham addressed the Shechemites from the top of Gerizim in the days of the judges (Judges 9:7).
Upon.—Literally, from upon to mount Zemaraim; a mark of the chronicler’s hand.
Mount Zemaraim is otherwise unknown A city so called is mentioned (Joshua 18:22) as near Bethel, and probably lay a little to the south of it, on the northern frontier of Judah, perhaps upon this mountain.
Mount Ephraim.—The hill country of Ephraim.
Ought ye not to know that the LORD God of Israel gave the kingdom over Israel to David for ever, even to him and to his sons by a covenant of salt?(5) Ought ye not to know.—Literally, is it not to you to know? A construction characteristic of the chronicler. Abijah contrasts the moral position of his adversaries with his own, asserting (1) that their separate political existence is itself an act of rebellion against Jehovah; (2) that they have abolished the only legitimate form of worship, and established in its place an illegal cultus and priesthood; whereas (3) he and his people have maintained the orthodox ritual and ministry, and are therefore assured of the divine support.
By a covenant of salt.—As or after the manner of a covenant of salt, i.e., a firm and unalterable compact (see Numbers 18:19). According to ancient custom, salt was indispensable at formal meals for the ratification of friendship and alliance; and only a “salt treaty “was held to be secure. Salt therefore accompanied sacrifices, as being, in fact, so many renewals of the covenant between man and God. (Leviticus 2:13; Ezekiel 43:24; Leviticus 24:7 in the LXX.)
The antique phrase, “covenant of salt,” is otherwise important, as bearing on the authenticity of this speech.
Yet Jeroboam the son of Nebat, the servant of Solomon the son of David, is risen up, and hath rebelled against his lord.(6) The servant of Solomon.—See 1Kings 11:26.
Is risen up, and hath rebelled.—Arose and rebelled. (See 1Kings 11:26-40).
And there are gathered unto him vain men, the children of Belial, and have strengthened themselves against Rehoboam the son of Solomon, when Rehoboam was young and tenderhearted, and could not withstand them.(7) And there are gathered.—Omit are.
Vain men (rĕqîm, Judges 9:4; Judges 11:3).—Said of the followers of Abimelech and the freebooter Jephthah. Neither this nor the following phrase, “the children of Belial” (literally, sons of worthlessness, i.e., men of low character and estimation) occurs again in the Chronicles. (See Judges 19:22; Judges 20:13; 1Kings 21:10; 1Kings 21:13, for the latter.)
Have strengthened.—Omit have.
Young and tender-hearted.—Rather, a youth and soft of heart, faint-hearted. A similar phrase occurred 1Chronicles 29:1. The expression is somewhat inexact, as Rehoboam was forty-one when he ascended the throne (2Chronicles 12:13). But Abijah is naturally anxious to put the case as strongly as possible against Jeroboam, and to avoid all blame of his own father. In 2 Chronicles 10 Rehoboam appears as haughty and imperious, rather than timid and soft-hearted.
Could not withstand them.—Did not show himself strong or firm (2Chronicles 12:13).
Against them.—Before them. (Comp. 1Chronicles 12:17; a usage of the chronicler’s.)
And now ye think to withstand the kingdom of the LORD in the hand of the sons of David; and ye be a great multitude, and there are with you golden calves, which Jeroboam made you for gods.(8) And now ye think.—Literally, say, i.e., in your hearts (2Chronicles 2:1).
To withstand the kingdom.—Literally, to show yourselves strong before the kingdom, as in last verse.
In (through) the hand of the sons of David.—The meaning is, the kingdom which Jehovah holds by the instrumentality of the house of David, as His earthly representatives. (Comp. Vulg., “regno Domini quod possidet per filios David.” (See 1Chronicles 29:23).
And there are with you golden calves.—And therefore you believe yourselves assured of Divine aid, in addition to the strength of numbers. But your trust is delusive, for Jeroboam made the objects of your fond idolatry (see Isaiah 44:9-17); and you have superseded the only lawful worship of Jehovah (2Chronicles 13:9).
Have ye not cast out the priests of the LORD, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites, and have made you priests after the manner of the nations of other lands? so that whosoever cometh to consecrate himself with a young bullock and seven rams, the same may be a priest of them that are no gods.(9) The priests of the Lord . . . and the Levites.—The Hebrew seems to include the Levites among the priests of the Lord.
Cast out.—Banished (Jeremiah 8:3).
After the manner of the nations of other lands.—Literally, like the peoples of the lands; that is, priests of all classes of the nation, and not members of the divinely chosen tribe of Levi. (See 1Kings 12:31; 1Kings 13:33). The surrounding heathen had no exclusive sacerdotal castes.
So that whosoever cometh . . .—Literally, every one that cometh, that they may fill his hand, with a steer, son of a herd, and seven rams, becometh a priest unto non-gods. “To fill a man’s hand” was the legal phrase for giving him authority and instituting him as a priest. (See Exodus 28:41; Exodus 29:9; Judges 17:5.) Every one that came with the prescribed sacrifices (see Exodus 29) was admissible to the new priesthood. The phrase “a young bullock and seven rams” is not a full account of the sacrifices required by the law of Moses for the consecration of a priest. Perhaps Abijah did not care to be exact; but it is quite possible that Jeroboam had modified the Mosaic rule.
The compound substantive “no-gods” (lō’ ’elôhîm) is like lō’ ’êl and lō’ ’elōah (Deuteronomy 32:17; Deuteronomy 32:21). The calves are spoken of as mere idols, although there is little doubt that Jeroboam set them up as representations of the God of Israel.
But as for us, the LORD is our God, and we have not forsaken him; and the priests, which minister unto the LORD, are the sons of Aaron, and the Levites wait upon their business:(10) We have not forsaken him.—Comp. 1Kings 15:3. “he walked in all the sins of his father,” “his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God.” But that passage is by no means incompatible with the present as some have asserted. What Abijah here states is surely true—viz.,that Judah had maintained the Levitical priesthood, and its associated worship. And the following words prove this to be his meaning: “and the priests which minister unto the Lord are the sons of Aaron; and the Levites wait upon their business,” (literally, are in the work). The work of the service of Jehovah could be duly performed by none but Levites.
And they burn unto the LORD every morning and every evening burnt sacrifices and sweet incense: the shewbread also set they in order upon the pure table; and the candlestick of gold with the lamps thereof, to burn every evening: for we keep the charge of the LORD our God; but ye have forsaken him.(11) Every morning and every evening.—For the daily sacrifice, see Exodus 29:38-42; for the “sweet incense,” or incense of spices, Exodus 30:7.
The shewbread also . . .—Literally, and a pile of bread on the pure table. The construction is uncertain. The words seem to depend loosely on the verb they offer (“they burn”) at the beginning of the sentence. But perhaps they should be taken thus: and a pile of bread is on the pure table, and the golden lampstand and its lamps they have to light every evening. (See Exodus 25:30; Exodus 25:37; Leviticus 24:5-7.) The Syriac reads, “and the golden lampstands and their lamps; and the lamp-boy lighteth them every evening.” It is noticeable that only one table and one candlestick are mentioned here. (Comp. 2Chronicles 4:7-8; 2Chronicles 4:19.)
And, behold, God himself is with us for our captain, and his priests with sounding trumpets to cry alarm against you. O children of Israel, fight ye not against the LORD God of your fathers; for ye shall not prosper.(12) God himself.—The (true) God. So in 2Chronicles 13:15. Literally, and behold there are with us at the head the God and his priests, and the trumpets of alarm to sound alarm against you. (See Numbers 10:9; Numbers 31:6.) The trumpets were “the divinely appointed pledges that God would remember them in war.” The Syriac gives this verse thus: “But ye have forsaken him, and gone after dead gods, and worshipped and bowed down to them, and forsaken the Lord God of your fathers; and also ye shall not prosper in the world.” Then there is a lacuna extending to 2Chronicles 13:15.
But Jeroboam caused an ambushment to come about behind them: so they were before Judah, and the ambushment was behind them.(13) But Jeroboam caused . . .—Now Jeroboam had brought the ambush round, in order to attack (literally, approach) them in the rear (literally, from behind them; so they (Jeroboam and his main body) were in front of Judah, and the ambush was in their rear.
The ambush.—The troops which Jeroboam had detached for that service.
And when Judah looked back, behold, the battle was before and behind: and they cried unto the LORD, and the priests sounded with the trumpets.(14) And when Judah looked back, behold the battle was before and behind.—Comp. the account of the ambuscade by which Ai was taken (Joshua , 8); and Gibeah (Judges 20),
Judah looked back.—Not prepared (Bertheau) (See Joshua 8:20).
Sounded.—Were sounding. Literally, trumpeting.
Then the men of Judah gave a shout: and as the men of Judah shouted, it came to pass, that God smote Jeroboam and all Israel before Abijah and Judah.(15) Then the men of Judah gave a shout.—The same verb (hāria‘) occurred in 2Chronicles 13:12, in the sense of sounding an alarm with the “trumpets of alarm” (t’rû‘ah.) Here our version gives the right sense. Immediately after the priests had blown a blast upon the trumpets, the warriors raised a shout or war- cry. (Comp. Judges 7:18-20).
God smote Jeroboam and all Israel before Abijah and Judah.—The wild panic which seized the host of Israel, when they heard the shout of their foes, is thus forcibly described. The same phrase is used in Judges 20:35, and again by the chronicler (2Chronicles 14:12). (Comp. the Vulg., “perterruit Deus Jeroboam et omnem Israel.” Syriac, “the Lord routed,” &c.)
And Abijah and his people slew them with a great slaughter: so there fell down slain of Israel five hundred thousand chosen men.(17) Slew them with a great slaughter.—Literally, Smote in them a great smiting. Numbers 11:33.
Five hundred thousand chosen men.—Or more than half of Jeroboam’s entire army.
It is hardly true to say that “there is nothing in the original to indicate that this slaughter was all on one day.” (Speaker’s Commentary.) On the contrary, it is perfectly evident from the whole narrative that this verse describes the issue of a single great and decisive encounter of the rival hosts.
The result is certainly incredible, if the numbers be pressed; but it seems more reasonable to see in them “only a numerical expression of the belief of contemporaries of the war, that both kings had made a levy of all the fighting men in their respective realms, and that Jeroboam was defeated with such slaughter that he lost more than half his warriors” (Keil). The Syriac reads “five thousand.”
The number of slain on the other side is not stated. But it is absurd to talk as Reuss does, of Abijah’s 400,000 as being “still intact,” and then to ask why they did not proceed to reduce the northern kingdom.
Thus the children of Israel were brought under at that time, and the children of Judah prevailed, because they relied upon the LORD God of their fathers.(18) Were brought under.—Were humbled, bowed down (the same word as in 2Chronicles 12:6). (Judges 3:30.)
They relied upon the Lord.—Isaiah 10:20. (Authorised Version, “stay upon.”)
And Abijah pursued after Jeroboam, and took cities from him, Bethel with the towns thereof, and Jeshanah with the towns thereof, and Ephrain with the towns thereof.(19) Took cities from him.—The three cities and their districts were only temporarily annexed to Judah. According to 1Kings 15:17-21, Baasha, King of Israel, attempted in the next reign to fortify Ramah, which was only about five miles north of Jerusalem. He had probably recovered these towns before doing so (Bertheau).
Jeshanah.—Not mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament. Probably identical with Ἰσάνας of Josephus (Ant. xiv. 15, § 12); site unknown. Syriac, Shālā; Arabic, Sāiā.
Ephrain.—So the Heb. margin; Heb. text, Ephron; and so LXX., Vulg., Syriac, Arabic. Mount Ephron (Joshua 15:9) was situated too far to the south to be intended here. Perhaps Ophrah, near Bethel (Judges 6:11), or the town called Ephraim (John 6:54)—especially if Ephrain be the right reading—which also was near Bethel, according to Josephus (Bell. Jud. iv. 9, §9), is to be understood. Ophrah and Ephraim may be identical.
The Arabic adds: “And Zāghār with the towns thereof.”
Neither did Jeroboam recover strength again in the days of Abijah: and the LORD struck him, and he died.(20) Neither did Jeroboam recover strength.—And Jeroboam retained strength no longer. LXX. καὶ οὐκ ἔσχεν ἰσχὺν Ιεροβοαμ ἔτι. See 1Chronicles 29:14 (the same phrase).
And the Lord struck him, and he died.—All that is known of Jeroboam’s death is that it took place two years after that of Abijah (1Kings 15:8-9). The expressions of the text cannot mean, as Zöckler suggests, “visited him with misfortune till his death.” His death is regarded as a judicial visitation (compare the use of the same Hebrew phrase, 1Samuel 25:38). The verse, then, states that during the rest of Abijah’s reign Jeroboam remained powerless to injure his neighbour; and that the circumstances of his death were such that men recognised in them “the finger of God.” It is not likely that the reference is to the event of 2Chronicles 13:15 (Bertheau), nor to the death of his son (1Kings 14:1-8), as Keil supposes.
But Abijah waxed mighty, and married fourteen wives, and begat twenty and two sons, and sixteen daughters.(21) But Abijah waxed mighty.—And Abijah strengthened himself, after his life-and-death struggle with Jeroboam. (See on 2Chronicles 12:13.)
And married fourteen wives, and begat twenty-two sons and sixteen daughters.—Abijah reigned only three years altogether. He must, therefore, have had most of these wives and children before his accession. (2Chronicles 11:21-23 may be said to imply this; see Note on 2Chronicles 11:23.) A stop should be placed after the first clause, thus: “And Abijah strengthened himself. And he took him fourteen wives, and begat twenty-two sons,” etc. The two facts are merely placed side by side, though a tacit contrast may be suggested between the number of Abijah’s off-spring, and the speedy extirpation of the house of Jeroboam.
And the rest of the acts of Abijah, and his ways, and his sayings, are written in the story of the prophet Iddo.(22) And his ways and his sayings.—Or works. The same word has just been rendered acts. There is an alliteration in the Hebrew, u-derākhav u-debhārav.
Story.—Midrash. See margin. For the source here referred to, see Introduction, § 6.