Now in the eighteenth year of king Jeroboam began Abijah to reign over Judah.
Verse 1. - In the eighteenth year. Reading this literally, it will appear that Rehoboam had completed a full seventeen years.
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.
Verse 2. - Michaiah the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah. As before noted (2 Chronicles 11:20), and as in the parallel (1 Kings 15:2), this name is one with "Maachah, daughter of Absalom" (parallel, Abishalom). The different alphabetic characters may be attributed to error, and that error the error of transcription merely. As in our note (2 Chronicles 11:20), the word "daughter," as in many similar cases, stands for granddaughter. Thus the father of Maachah was Uriel of Gibeah, and her mother Tamar, daughter of Absalom. Josephus ('Ant.,' 8:10. § 1) proffers us this connecting link of explanation. On the other hand, Rabbi Joseph's Targum on Chronicles says that Uriel means Absalom, but was a name used to avoid the use of Absalom. We have no clue as to which out of many Gibeahs is here intended. The Hebrew word (גִבְעָח) signifies a hill with round top, and hence would easily give name to many places. The following are the chief places of the name (as classified by Dr. Smith's 'Bible Dictionary,' 1:689-691):
1. Gibeah in the mountain district of Judah (Joshua 15:57; 1 Chronicles 2:49).
2. Gibeath among the towns of Benjamin (Joshua 18:28).
3. The Gibeah (1 Samuel 7:1; 2 Samuel 6:3, 4).
4. Gibeah of Benjamin (Judges 19, 20.), between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. This should strictly be quoted either as "Gibeah belonging to Benjamin," or "Geba (גֶּבַע) of Benjamin" (see also 1 Samuel 13, 14; 2 Samuel 23:29; 1 Chronicles 11:31; Hosea 5:8; Hosea 9:9; Hosea 10:9).
5. Gibeah of Saul (1 Samuel 10:26; 1 Samuel 15:34; 2 Samuel 21:6). Josephus ('Bell, Jud.,' 5:2. § 1) states what helps to the identifying of the place as the modern Tuleil-el-ful, about thirty stadia from Jerusalem (see also Isaiah 10:28-32). The Gibeah of 1 Samuel 22:6; 1 Samuel 23:19; 1 Samuel 26:1, is this Gibeah of Saul.
6. Gibeah in the field (Judges 20:31). Lastly, our Authorized Version gives us seven other Gibeahs, only translating this word, e g. "The hill of the foreskins" (Joshua 5:3); "The hill of Phinehas" (Joshua 24:33); "The hill of Moreh" (Judges 7:1); "The hill of God" (1 Samuel 10:5); "The hill of Haehilah" (1 Samuel 23:19; 1 Samuel 26:1); "The hill of Ammah" (2 Samuel 2:24); "The hill Gareb" (Jeremiah 31:39).
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.
Verse 3. - It is not within the province of an expositor to assert dogmatically that numbers like these in this verse should be deprived of one cipher, and that the slaughter of ver. 17 must be, consequently, similarly discounted. It would be, however, a great relief to faith to be able to give proof that this treatment would be true to fact. At present the numbers can be shown to be consistent with other numbers, such as those of the entire man-population (1 Chronicles 21:5; 2 Chronicles 11:13-17); and this seems the best that can be said in support of them. It does not, however, suffice to bring comfortable conviction. It is remarkable, among the difficulties that the question entails, that we do not get any satisfactory explanation as to how such vast numbers of slain bodies were disposed of in a compass of ground comparatively so small.
And Abijah stood up upon mount Zemaraim, which is in mount Ephraim, and said, Hear me, thou Jeroboam, and all Israel;
Verse 4. - Mount Zemaraim. This mount is not mentioned elsewhere. Presumably it was a mountain or hill above the place called Zemaraim, mentioned in Joshua 18:22 as in Benjamin's allotment, and mentioned between the places called Beth ha-Arabah (i.e. the Jordan valley) and Bethel. Accordingly, it may be that itself lay between these two, or near enough to them one or both. This will quite suit our connection as placing the hill near the borders of Benjamin and Ephraim. It is said to be in Mount Ephraim; i.e. in the range of Mount Ephraim, which was one of considerable length, running through the midst of what was afterwards called Samaria, from the Plain of Esdraelon to Judah. Zemaraim may be so named from the Zemarite tribe, who were Hamites, and related to the Hittites and Amorites (Genesis 10:18; 1 Chronicles 1:16), descendants of Canaan; there are some faint traces of their having wandered from their northern settlements into mid and south Palestine. The Septuagint render Zemaraim by the same Greek as Samaria, Σομόρων.
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?
Verses 5-12. - The idea of Abijah in this religious harangue, addressed or supposed to be addressed to the kingdom of the ten tribes, was good, and the execution was spirited. While, however, he preaches well to others, there are not wanting signs that he can blind himself as to some failure of practice on his own part. The points of the argument running through his harangue are correct, skilfully chosen, and well and religiously thrust home on the heart of his supposed audience. The practical trust of himself and his army are testified to in vers. 14, 15, and abundantly rewarded. This sequel-practical trust is the best credential of the sincerity of his foregoing appeal and harangue. Verse 5. - Gave the kingdom... to David for ever. With the thrice-repeated "for ever" of what we call 2 Samuel 7:13-16, and the very emphatic language of the fifteenth verse in that passage, in the memory of Abijah, no one can say he was not justified by the letter and to the letter in what he now says. At the same time, how is it that Abijah does not in all fairness quote the matter of 2 Chronicles 6:16 last clause, and of its parallel, 1 Kings 8:25 last clause, and of Psalm 89:28-37; Psalm 132:12? Covenant of salt (see Leviticus 2:13; Numbers 18:19; Ezekiel 43:24; Mark 9:49). The use of salt was ordered first for the meal offerings, which, consisting mainly of flour, did not need it as an antiseptic; afterwards it was ordered for "all" offerings, including the "burnt offering:" as surely as leaven was proscribed, salt was prescribed (Leviticus 2:11). "The covenant of salt" meant the imperish-ableness and irrevocableness of the engagement made between the two parties to the covenant The widespread and deeply significant use of it among other and heathen nations is remarkable indeed, and is attested by Pliny ('Hist. Natal 31:41) in forcible words: "Nulla (sacra) conficiuntur sine mola salsa" (Her., 2 Sat. 3:200; Virgil, 'AEn.,' 2:133; Hom., ' Iliad,' 1:449). Some think it a sufficient explanation of the text, "covenant of salt," that, especially in the East, solemn engagements and vows were often recognized and strengthened by hospitalities, as shown to guests, and of these salt was an indispensable element. It is true that some of the ancient indications and descriptions of friendship and close friendships turned on phrases (similar ones, indeed, still existing) into which the word "salt" entered, but that these phrases arose from the fact that salt was so general a constituent of human food seems insufficient explanation, where we can find one of a more direct and more directly religious, or, as the case might be (e.g. with heathen sacrifices), superstitious birth. Religion and superstition between them have been the most world-wide, incalculable, and untraceable originators and disseminators of half the possible phrases of human language!
Yet Jeroboam the son of Nebat, the servant of Solomon the son of David, is risen up, and hath rebelled against his lord.
Verse 6. - The servant of Solomon. 1 Kings 11:28 is evidently the apter reference for this verse, rather than 26, as generally given.
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.
Verse 7. - Are gathered... have strengthened themselves. The aorist tense is needed for the rendering in both these cases; e.g. "And vain men gathered to him, and strengthened themselves against him." Vain men; Hebrew, רֵקִים. This word, and one very slightly different in form, and their adverb, occur in all forty-one times; rendered in the Authorized Version "empty" nineteen times, "vain" eighteen times, and "without cause," "to no purpose," and "void" the remaining four times. It is the word that is used of the "empty" pit of Joseph (Genesis 37:24); of the "empty ears" of corn (Genesis 41:27); of "empty" pitchers and other vessels (Judges 7:16; 2 Kings 4:3; Jeremiah 14:3; Jeremiah 51:34; Ezekiel 24:11). And in all the other cases expresses metaphorically the emptiness of head, of heart, or of reason, with the same simple force of language appropriate, it appears, then as now. Children of Belial; Hebrew, בְלִיַּעַל. This word is found twenty-seven times, and, including seven marginal options, is rendered in the Authorized Version "Belial" twenty-three times; the four exceptions being "wicked" three times, and "naughty" once. The derivation of it marks the one expressive meaning of "without profit." Young and tender-hearted. Hard as it is to put these objections to the credit of a man forty-one years of age (see our note, 2 Chronicles 10:8; 2 Chronicles 12:13) at all, yet, if so, they can only be explained as some do explain them, of a blamable ignorance, inexperience, and instability.
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.
Verses 8, 9. - The five succeeding thrusts of these two verses, prefaced by the somewhat self-conscious but, nevertheless, validly pleaded orthodoxy of his own position, are well delivered by Abijah. Jeroboam is scathed
(1) for his confidence in a great multitude;
(2) for his golden calves for gods;
(3) for what amounted necessarily to the excommunication and repudiation of the priests of the Lord, time- and nation-honoured;
(4) for the mere manufacture of a new-fangled priesthood, and that after the modal of nations foreign and heathen;
(5) for the fact that, when these were made, they that made them, and the gods for whom they were made, were all three "like to" one another - no true people, no true priests, and no gods at all! A young bullock and seven rams The consecration sacrifice for the whole line of priests was "one young bullock and two rams without blemish" (Exodus 29:1, 15, 19; Leviticus 8:2). Of course, Jeroboam felt his own position in the matter so weak, that each false, illegitimate candidate for the priestly service must bring his sacrifice, and that a larger one by five rams than the divinely ordered one of Moses.
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.
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:
Verses 10, 11. - The professions summarized in these two verses were confessedly formally true of the king and priests and nation, although Abijah and kingdom certainly did not carry a clean conscience in them (Matthew 15:8; Mark 12:33; 1 Samuel 15:22; Isaiah 1:11, 16, 19). They were, moreover, beyond a doubt really true of multitudes of individuals in the kingdom of Judah and Benjamin. And these were "the salt of the" kingdom (Matthew 5:13). They burnt... sweet incense (so our 2 Chronicles 2:4; Exodus 30:7; Revelation 8:3, 4). The pure table... the candlestick. Although ten of each of these were made, only one was used, or only one at the time (see our note on 2 Chronicles 4:8, compared with 2 Chronicles 29:18; 1 Kings 7:48). We have not forsaken him... ye have forsaken him. If all the difference that these words have it in them to express could have been put to the credit of Abijsh, what tremendous strength would have now belonged to his position and to his heart!
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.
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.
Verse 12. - The concluding utterances of Abijah certainly did not fall below what had preceded or the occasion in itself; and the echoes of them, while they died on the ear, must have lived, indeed, and stirred life in the hearts of many (Joshua 5:14; Numbers 10:9; Numbers 31:6; our ver. 14, and ch. 5:12, 13).
But Jeroboam caused an ambushment to come about behind them: so they were before Judah, and the ambushment was behind them.
Verses 13-16. - These verses purport to tell how Jeroboam, with all his vastly preponderating numbers (ver. 3), left nothing undone to secure the victory, and resorted even to the ambushment described; how, on the other hand, Abijah and his people honoured God by their cry and confident shout, and were delivered because they trusted in him (1 Samuel 17:45-47), and as follows, ver. 18, "relied upon the Lord God of their fathers."
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.
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.
And the children of Israel fled before Judah: and God delivered them into their hand.
And Abijah and his people slew them with a great slaughter: so there fell down slain of Israel five hundred thousand chosen men.
Verse 17. - Slain; Hebrew, חֲלָלִים. Even if we accept for a moment the immense numbers written here and elsewhere as authentic, a considerable deduction may be made from our difficulty by virtue of the fact that this word need not mean to describe the actually slain. It occurs about ninety-one times. Of these, in our Authorized Version, it is found rendered, including marginal options, as many as fifteen times "wounded," or by even a less severe meaning. However, whether "slain" or "wounded and slain," the alleged, numbers of our present text are, in our opinion, incredibly enormous.
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.
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.
Verse 19. - Bethel. Abijah was, perhaps, the rather permitted to take this city as the head-quarters of Jeroboam's irreligious worship. Jeshanah. A place not known elsewhere in Scripture by this name, which by derivation means "old." Grove (Dr. Smith's 'Bible Dictionary,' 1. p. 1035) quotes Josephus ('Ant.,' 14:15.§ 12) as speaking of a place so named, the scene of a battle between Herod and Antigonus's general, Pappus, but Josephus does not assign its site. Ephrain; or, according to Chethiv, Epron. Grove (Dr. Smith's 'Bible Dictionary,' 1. p. 569) says that conjecture has identified it with the Ephraim of 2 Samuel 13:23, with the Ophrah of Joshua 18:23, and with the Ephraim of John 11:54; possibly the modern El-Taiyibeh (Dr. Robinson, 1:44), about five miles from Bethel.
Neither did Jeroboam recover strength again in the days of Abijah: and the LORD struck him, and he died.
Verse 20. - The Lord struck him; and he died. The writer of Chronicles here, for brevity's sake, and not to recur to his name again, records the death of Jeroboam, which, however, did not happen till after Abijah's death, in the second year of Asa's reign (1 Kings 14:20; 1 Kings 15:25). That the Lord struck him, may glance at the fearful announcement conveyed to him through his wife by Ahijah (1 Kings 14:6-16).
But Abijah waxed mighty, and married fourteen wives, and begat twenty and two sons, and sixteen daughters.
Verse 21. - Waxed mighty. For this our Authorized Version reads, "waxed fat and wanton" (Hebrew, יִתְחַזֵּק), and grew too like his father Rehoboam and his grandfather Solomon, forgetting the "Law" (Deuteronomy 17:17).
And the rest of the acts of Abijah, and his ways, and his sayings, are written in the story of the prophet Iddo.
Verse 22 - The story of the Prophet Iddo, If this be the same work as that mentioned in 2 Chronicles 12:15 (see our note there),it is, at any rate, not called by the same title, but by the name well known for memoirs, of Midrash.