Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament2 CHRONICLES 13
SAVAGE CIVIL WAR BETWEEN NORTHERN AND SOUTHERN ISRAEL
II. ABIJAH (915-913 B.C.)
VAST ARMIES CONFRONT EACH OTHER
In the eighteenth year of king Jeroboam began Abijah to reign over Judah. Three years reigned he in Jerusalem: and his mother's name was Micaiah the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah. And there was war between Abijah and Jeroboam. And Abijah joined battle with an army of valiant men of war, even four hundred thousand chosen men: and Jeroboam set the battle in array against him with eight hundred thousand chosen men, who were mighty men of valor.
There are a number of variations here as compared with 1 Kings 15:1-8, for different spellings of the king's name and the names of his mother and of her father; and we have no good explanation of this. As frequently noted, many people in that day were known by more than one name. His mother's name, as given here, is that of a man.
For some, these tremendously large numbers of the troops on each side of the conflict are also considered to be a problem. One common understanding of it is the very great possibility that the word thousand was from a technical word that really meant a military unit that could have been much smaller than a literal thousand. We accept the numbers as given here, because they are far more trustworthy than 20th-century guesses by critical scholars.
The big point in this paragraph is that Jeroboam's army outnumbered Abijah's two to one.
ABIJAH'S ADDRESS BEFORE THE ARMY OF JEROBOAM
And Abijah stood up upon mount Zemaraim, which is in the hill-country of Ephraim, and said, Hear me, O Jeroboam and all Israel: Ought ye not to know that Jehovah, the God of Israel, gave the kingdom over Israel to David for ever, even to him and to his sons by a covenant of salt? Yet Jeroboam the son of Nebat, the servant of Solomon the son of David, rose up, and rebelled against his lord. And there were gathered unto him worthless men, base fellows, that strengthened themselves against Rehoboam the son of Solomon, when Rehoboam was young and tender-hearted, and could not withstand them. And now ye think to withstand the kingdom of Jehovah in the hand of the sons of David; and ye are a great multitude, and there are with you the golden calves which Jeroboam made you for gods. Have ye not driven out the priests of Jehovah, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites, and made you priests after the manner of the peoples 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, Jehovah is our God, and we have not forsaken him; and [we have] priests ministering unto Jehovah, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites in their work: and they burn unto Jehovah every morning and every evening burnt-offerings and sweet incense: the showbread 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 Jehovah our God; but ye have forsaken him. And, behold, God is with us at our head, and his priests with the trumpets of alarm to sound an alarm against you. O children of Israel, fight ye not against Jehovah, the God of your fathers; for ye shall not prosper.
Upon mount Zemaraim in the land of Ephraim
(2 Chronicles 13:4). By penetrating that far into Israel's territory, Abijah had made a very stupid move, giving Jeroboam the opportunity to surround him and cut him off from retreat. Perhaps God allowed him to do this in order that Judah could not claim a victory that was solely due to God's intervention.
When Jeroboam was young and tender-hearted
(2 Chronicles 13:7). This was a falsehood, for the Chronicler tells us that Rehoboam was forty-one years old when he began to reign (2 Chronicles 12:13). The falsehood here was not that of the Chronicler but of Abijah. The Chronicler accurately reported the speech as it was recorded in the commentary of the prophet Iddo.
There can be no doubt that whatever portion of Jeroboam's vast army was in hearing distance of this address by Abijah was thoroughly demoralized and intimidated by it. What Abijah said here was known to be true by everyone in Israel.
The great significance of the passage is its reference to the sacred religious regalia that God through Moses had ordained in the Pentateuch for the tabernacle, and which had been incorporated by Solomon into the temple. It should be remembered that all of this knowledge of the Pentateuch and its contents was common public information centuries before the discovery of that alleged document in the reign of Josiah.
Abijah was an evil king (1 Kings 15:3); but the speech he made here was loaded with significant truth. It is of special interest that Abijah knew nothing of the critical canard that those golden calves were in any manner symbols of Jehovah. They were indeed no gods, as Abijah said; and everything pertaining to the true worship of Jehovah, even its priesthood, had been thrown out of the country by Jeroboam. Note also that Jeroboam's army had brought along their golden calves into the battle.
THE BATTLE, JEROBOAM'S DEFEAT, AND ABIJAH'S DEATH
But Jeroboam caused an ambushment to come about behind them: so they were before Judah, and the ambushment was behind them. And when Judah looked back, behold, the battle was before and behind them; and they cried unto Jehovah, 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. Thus the children of Israel were brought under at that time, and the children of Judah prevailed, because they relied upon Jehovah, the God of their fathers. And Abijah pursued after Jeroboam, and took cities from him, Beth-el with the towns thereof, and Jeshanah with the towns thereof, and Ephron with the towns thereof. Neither did Jeroboam recover strength again in the days of Abijah: and Jehovah smote him, and he died. But Abijah waxed mighty, and took unto himself fourteen wives, and begat twenty and two sons, and sixteen daughters. And the rest of the acts of Abijah, and his ways, and his sayings, are written in the commentary of the prophet Iddo.
Regarding the huge numbers of the troops engaged in this battle, Curtis (Madsen) characterized them as `Midrash,'F1 which is a critcal code-word for `false.' However the same writers admitted that, "The number of Jeroboam's warriors is exactly the same as the number credited to Israel in the census taken by Joab."F2 To this writer it appears to be an altogether gratuitous and unfounded allegation that, "These numbers are utterly unhistorical."F3 Oh yes, there are unexplained discrepancies here; but, so what? one may read conflicting biographies of John F. Kennedy! The Chronicler was merely quoting the public records, in this case, the commentary of the prophet Iddo; and there is no dependable authority today for setting aside as "unhistorical" any of this material. This IS the history, as it has come down to us. It is of no importance that some do not believe it. Neither do they believe that God created heaven and earth.
A little reflection will support the proposition so eloquently propounded in this chapter that Judah's victory was of God. They were fighting two tribes against ten! They were surrounded! Jeroboam was a conceited, mad killer determined to take the whole world if he had been able to do so. Why did he fail? This chapter has the correct answer.
Furthermore, Abijah was not the reason for God's intervention upon behalf of Judah. He was an evil king. "He walked in all the sins of his father, which he had done before him; and his heart was not perfect with Jehovah ... Nevertheless for David's sake ... God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem, to set up his son after him" (1 Kings 15:3-4). This was vitally related to God's purpose of eventually bringing in the Messiah to provide an opportunity for all mankind to be saved. It was that fundamental truth that required the intervention of God Himself in the events of this chapter.
Footnotes for 2 Chronicles 13
1: International Critical Commentary, Chronicles, p. 374