Saturday, October 1, 2016

Bible Commentary - 2 Chronicles 13

In this chapter, Abijah wins a massive victory over the armies of Jeroboam.

For this chapter, I would like to study three aspects of the narrative.  First, I will compare and contrast between this chapter and the corresponding passage in 1 Kings 15:1-8, which also describes the life of Abjiah.  Second, I will discuss this chapter in light of the three principles that God lays out in 2 Chronicles 7, which I have previously described.  Third, I will compare and contrast the descriptions of Abjiah and Jeroboam, who are offered in this chapter as two different models for kingship.

Out of these three aspects, the first two have been ongoing studies throughout 2 Chronicles, so they should be familiar to my readers.  The third aspect is relatively new to this chapter, but I think it's apt because the Chronicler is all but directly comparing the two rulers in how they became king and how they engage each other in battle.  More on this later.

Let's begin by contrasting this chapter against 1 Kings 15:1-8.  These two passages are quite different, in a couple ways.  First, the present chapter is much longer and more detailed than the Kings equivalent.  Second, the narrative in Kings has a substantially negative assessment of Abijah, while the present chapter is substantially positive about him.  1 Kings 15:6 acknowledges the warfare between Abijah and Jeroboam, but it also asserts that Abijah was unfaithful to the LORD and his kingdom was only maintained for the sake of David (1 Kings 15:3-4).  On the other hand, verses 8-12 make a remarkably strong statement about how faithless the northern kingdom was being in so many ways, "but as for us" (v. 10), Judah, they are maintaining the covenant and following all of the rules and regulations and God is their king, etc, etc.

I'm not sure how to reconcile these differing visions of Abijah other than to say that it's a difference of opinion between the northern-centric book of Kings and the southern-centric book of Chronicles.  Since Abijah himself is a king of Judah, Chronicles is perhaps more likely to view him charitably.  In addition, since Chronicles itself is deeply interested in the Davidic succession, the priestly ministry and the temple worship, Abijah's speech in verses 4-12 is directly in line with Chronicles's larger theological interest.

My NIV commentary suggests that Kings and Chronicles may simply reflect the "mixture of good and evil" that you find in people everywhere.  I find that explanation unconvincing, but in the end I simply don't know why these two descriptions of the same person are so different when Chronicles was almost certainly derived from Kings (and other books) as a literary source.

The second aspect we should study is how this chapter reflects the three principles that God lays out to Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7.  Those three principles are: if Israel (Judah) repents, God would forgive them; if Israel's king rules the same way as David, God will establish his kingdom forever; if Israel continues to sin, God will cast them out of the promised land.

What we see in this chapter is that the king of Judah is claiming obedience to the LORD.  In fact, he claims that as the descendant of David he is the rightful king and that the northern tribes under Jeroboam are sinning by rebelling against him.  Abijah also personally maligns Jeroboam as being the leader of "worthless men... scoundrels" (v. 7) who usurped Rehoboam when Rehoboam was not strong enough to fight back.  This is a remarkably different perspective from what we saw in 1 Kings 11:29-39 where in that passage, the northern kingdom is given to Jeroboam by the LORD because of Solomon's sin.  Jeroboam may have been a sinner personally (1 Kings 12-14), but he didn't steal the kingdom or attain it by his own strength or wisdom: it was given to him by the LORD.  This is sharply different from the present chapter, where Abijah basically says that Jeroboam and his followers sinned by ever taking part of the kingdom at all.  It's also noteworthy that the passage describing Solomon's sin and the kingdom being given to Jeroboam was omitted entirely from 2 Chronicles.  In this way, 2 Chronicles presents a much more positive image of Solomon, and also a much more negative perspective of Jeroboam, who is now imagined as a rebel against God as well as Rehoboam.

Notwithstanding the substantial difference between Kings and Chronicles, I think this chapter is another example of the second principle.  Abijah is describing himself as a godly man (which the Chronicler seems to take at face value), and as a result he and Judah are able to defeat their adversaries.  Meanwhile, Jeroboam is defeated, and he "did not recover strength in the days of Abijah" (v. 20) and he later dies.

All of this leads me to the third topic I would like to discuss, which is to compare Abijah with Jeroboam.  I think there are a lot of aspects to this, some of which I have already touched on.

First, they invert positions.  In the beginning of the chapter, Jeroboam comes from a position of strength and Abijah is in a position of weakness.  We see this through their respective militaries, where Jeroboam has twice the strength of Abijah (v. 3).  At the end of the chapter, "Jeroboam did not again recover strength", but "Abijah became powerful".  Abijah becomes increasingly powerful while Jeroboam is destroyed.  This inversion is dictated not by Abijah's cunning in battle, but because Abijah is faithful to the covenant.

This leads me to my second point.  Abijah is described as a righteous man who obeys the covenant, while Jeroboam is a rebel against God, worshiping his own idols, "resisting the kingdom of the LORD" (v. 8).  Abijah's righteousness telegraphs his victory in advance, and we are supposed to infer that this is the true source of power for Abijah's kingdom.

As a related point, Abijah and Jeroboam become kings through different ways.  Abijah becomes king through Davidic succession, while Jeroboam becomes king by overpowering Rehoboam with the help of worthless men and scoundrels.  From this perspective, it stands to reason that Jeroboam would remain a sinful man because it was only through his own strength that he became king.  Or, at least that's what Chronicles would have you think.

Third, Abijah and Jeroboam have very different approaches to battle.  The way that I interpret this battle is that Jeroboam had a stronger force (800,000 vs. 400,000) and he was also a superior tactician.  While Abijah is busy monologuing, Jeroboam is busy dividing his forces to "set an ambush" behind him (v. 13).  This leaves Abijah in a pretty horrible military position, so their best option is to "cry to the LORD" and blow trumpets and stuff like that.  However, as we learn, dependence on the LORD is actually a greater power than physical strength and leadership, and "God routed Jeroboam", granting victory to Abijah and Judah.

In conclusion, we can see that in spite of all of Judah's problems, the LORD is still willing to help them whenever the king and the people turn to him.

In the next chapter, we continue with the life and kingship of Asa, the son of Abijah.

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