If Rehoboam had obeyed the letter of the law, then Abijah would never have been king! The laws of inheritance, given in Deuteronomy chapter 21, clearly stated the rights of the firstborn where a man had more than one wife. The son of a preferred wife was not to inherit the portion of an older son born to a wife who had fallen out of favour. Abijah had older brothers and was himself the son of Maachah, the third of Rehoboam’s eighteen wives, the daughter, or more likely, grand-daughter of Absalom, 2 Chr. 11. 18-22. So, as a result of his father’s partial affections, Abijah succeeded to the throne on the death of Rehoboam.
It is characters such as Abijah who cause some believers to almost despair of understanding the seeming complexities of the books of Kings and Chronicles and move on to rather clearer waters in their daily reading. To explain what we mean, consider the following details: In 1 Kings chapter 14 we are introduced to the son of Jeroboam, who is also called Abijah, and dies as a child. In the same chapter we read of a prophet called Ahijah. Then we come in chapter 15 to the son of Rehoboam who, to make things more difficult, is called Abijam in 1 Kings and Abijah in 2 Chronicles! We then discover that his mother’s name is given differently in the two records and, to complete the confusion, in 1 Kings nothing good is recorded of him, while in 2 Chronicles nothing directly bad. But, don’t give up when you come to a section of the word of God like this one; remember our God is not the author of confusion and there are no contradictions in the inspired word. With careful and prayerful study and by comparing scripture with scripture, you will be able to unravel the apparent difficulties; you will enjoy the scriptures more, and discover important practical lessons for your blessing and benefit.
It may be that the key to understanding the significance of Abijah’s life and achievements is found in the seeming ambiguity of the record. His life and reign were marked by inconsistency; but before we reflect on the record of scripture regarding Abijah, we would do well to spend a few moments considering his mother. We have already noted that she was the grand-daughter of Absalom and it would appear that she inherited something of his rebellious spirit. We learn this not from the record of Abijah, but from that of Asa, the son who succeeded him. Maachah is recorded as also the mother of Asa. Again, this may well be grand-mother, or it may be that Abijah’s wife, Asa’s mother, died young in years and Maachah fulfilled the mother’s role. What we do know for certain is that she was an idolater, 1 Kgs. 15. 13, and Asa took steps to eradicate her influence when he came to power.
Bearing this in mind we turn our attention again to Abijah and draw the conclusion that because he lacked the example of a godly mother, ‘he walked in all the sins of his father’, 1 Kgs. 15. 3. What a responsibility it is to nurture and raise a family through those early formative years when lasting impressions are made. But what a privilege it is, given that responsibility, to be able to seek daily guidance from the Lord in order that right decisions are made.
No doubt home and parental influence had a significant bearing on the young Abijah, but the Spirit of God identifies the underlying problem, ‘his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God’, there was something lacking. ‘Not perfect’ means incomplete and what he lacked was that vital link with his God, that desire to walk in the right way. Although he was descended from David through both his parents, a perfect heart is not hereditary, individual responsibility must be faced.
We note, however, that Abijah’s tenure of office was dependent on the Lord’s appreciation of David, 1 Kgs. 15. 4. What a gracious God we have, how often do we stop to consider that maybe some of the blessings we enjoy come to us because of the faithfulness of those of a past generation, those who kept the lamp of testimony burning when few in number and weak of frame? Abijah was assured of a continuing line of succession to ‘establish Jerusalem’, the place where the Lord’s heart and eyes were centred, 2 Chr. 7. 16.
In 1 Kings chapter 15 verse 5 the Spirit of God continues to bear testimony to David as one who ‘turned not aside … all the days of his life’, then He adds ‘save only in the matter of Uriah’; a note of warning to emphasize the far-reaching effects of sin. Abijah was of the fourth generation and sadly neither his father Rehoboam nor his grand-father Solomon had given much of a lead in moral integrity. The word of God would remind us of our proneness to failure, our need to remain watchful. In the history of the ten tribes, how often are we reminded of the sin of Jeroboam which blighted and polluted the generations that followed?
The record of Abijah in 1 Kings closes with a brief summary of his reign which was characterized by constant strife. The relentless feud with Jeroboam and the northern tribes was a persistent feature of his life while his father lived, and this continued throughout his own three-year reign until his death. Jeroboam was an Ephraimite, Rehoboam was of Judah, they were of the same kin, yet they were adversaries. It is sad to think that friction between brethren can be perpetuated and even passed on to the next generation without resolution.
When we turn our attention to 2 Chronicles chapter 13, a rather different picture emerges. There is no record of Abijah following in ‘the sins of his father’, but rather, almost the whole of the narrative is taken up with just one day in his life, a day when a great victory was won, ‘because they relied upon the Lord God of their fathers’, 2 Chr. 13. 18. It has been a feature of battles down the course of history for the army general to address his troops with encouraging words just prior to engaging the enemy. In Abijah’s case this was done not only to strengthen the resolve of his own forces, but from a vantage point and with enough volume to challenge and intimidate the much larger force of Jeroboam. Abijah’s well constructed oration was based (as with all good preachers) around three points. First, he challenged the validity of Jeroboam’s authority by reminding him that the whole kingdom rightfully belonged to David and his descendents. This was confirmed by ‘the Lord God of Israel’, by an unchangeable, incorruptible, ‘covenant of salt’, a perpetual promise, v. 5; Jeroboam was just a usurper. Secondly, he reminded the ten tribes that the true priesthood of Israel belonged to the line of Aaron and the only acceptable offerings were those associated with the altar and order appointed by the Lord. Jeroboam had surrounded himself with false people, v. 7, false gods, v. 8, and a false priesthood, v. 9. Thirdly, Abijah reveals the main weapon in his armoury, ‘God himself is with us for our captain’, v. 12, and because of this he concludes, ‘ye shall not prosper’.
Such fine words would have done credit to Hezekiah or Josiah in their day, but coming from a man who ‘walked in all the sins of his father’, they seem strangely hollow. Idolatry was still rife even in Judah and the legacy left to Asa, the son of Abijah, was ‘altars of strange gods … high places … images and groves’, 2 Chr. 14. 3. If our words are to carry weight, then our life must show evidence of reality. Good practice must always go before, and accompany, good preaching! All that Abijah said was true, but it was totally lost on Jeroboam! While Abijah was rallying his troops, Jeroboam was laying plans for the battle! A detachment of soldiers was moved surreptitiously to the rear of Judah’s army. An ambush was laid which doubtless would have won the day, with Abijah needing to fight on two fronts. But Judah, instead of trying to outmanoeuvre their adversary, ‘cried unto the Lord’, and, remembering the promise of Numbers chapter 10 verse 9, ‘the priests sounded with the trumpets’. Surely there are lessons here for us. When the adversary seems to surround us, when ‘the enemy shall come in like a flood’, Isa. 59. 19, we have a sure defence and well proven armour, Eph. 6. 11-18.
The Lord, ever true to His word, enabled Judah to accomplish a remarkable victory against overwhelming odds. It was a mortal blow to Jeroboam; he never recovered strength again in the days of Abijah. How sad that the nation, and indeed we in our present day, so often fail to appreciate the vast resources at our disposal in times of need.
Abijah, on his part, followed the family tradition of multiple wives and, although the record of his life is brief, we can be sure that the inspired chronicler has written all we need to know about him. The rest of his career is lost to us in the writings of the prophet Iddo, 2 Chr. 13. 22.