The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Now in the eighteenth year of king Jeroboam began Abijah to reign over Judah.2Chronicles 13:1-12.
1. Now in the eighteenth year of king Jeroboam began Abijah to reign over Judah.
2. He reigned three years in Jerusalem. His mother's name also was Michaiah ["Maachah the daughter of Abishalom;" in Kings, which is doubtless correct. "Michaiah," which is elsewhere a man's name, is a corruption of Maachah] the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah. And there was war between Abijah and Jeroboam.
3. And Abijah set the battle in array [began the battle (1Kings 20:14)] 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.
4. ¶ And Abijah stood up upon mount Zemaraim [not elsewhere mentioned; and it is uncertain (Speaker's Commentary) whether we ought to connect it with the city of the same name noticed in Joshua among the towns allotted to Benjamin (Joshua 18:22). The mountain seems to have lain south of Beth-el (see 2Chronicles 13:19), upon the border of the two kingdoms. It has not yet been identified] which is in mount Ephraim [the hill country of Ephraim], and said, Hear me, thou Jeroboam, and all Israel;
5. Ought ye not to know [literally, is it not to you to know?] that the Lord God of Israel gave the kingdom over Israel to David for ever [Abijah omits to notice that the gift of the kingdom to David was conditional. "If thy children will keep my covenant and my testimony that I shall teach them, their children also shall sit upon thy throne for evermore" (Psalm 132:12. Compare Psalm 89:30-32)], even to him and to his sons by a covenant of salt [i.e., a sacred and inviolable covenant (see Numbers 18:19.)]?
6. Yet Jeroboam the son of Nebat, the servant [the subject] of Solomon the son of David, is risen up, and hath rebelled against his lord.
7. And there are gathered unto him vain men [i.e., "low fellows," "persons of the baser sort" (Comp. Judges 9:4; 2Samuel 6:20)] the children of Belial, and have strengthened themselves against Rehoboam the son of Solomon, when Rehoboam was young and tenderhearted [rather, a youth and soft of heart, fainthearted], and could not withstand them [did not show himself strong or firm].
8. And now ye think to withstand the kingdom [literally, "to show yourselves strong before the kingdom "] of the Lord 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 representative (see 1Chronicles 29:23)]; and ye be a great multitude, and there are with you golden calves [Canon Barry thus paraphrases: "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)], which Jeroboam made you for gods.
9. Have ye not cast out [banished (Jeremiah 8:3)] 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 [We (Speaker's Commentary) should have expected "a bullock and two rams," as this was the offering which God had required at the original consecration of the sons of Aaron (Exodus 29:1; Leviticus 8:2). But it appears that Jeroboam, for reasons of his own, enlarged the sacrifice, and required it at the consecration of every priest], the same may be a priest of them that are no gods.
10. 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:
11. And they burn unto the Lord 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] burnt sacrifices and sweet incense: the shewbread also set they in order upon the pure table [another reading is: "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)]; 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 [the observance of these details of ritual is called "keeping the charge of Jehovah" (see Leviticus 8:35), and neglect of them is "forsaking" him].
12. And, behold, God himself is with us [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"], 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.
The Ideal Abijah
WE forget Abijah's character in his eloquence. He carries a spell with him. Judging from this speech, one would suppose him faultless, entirely noble in every aspiration and impulse, and sublimely religious and unselfish. The whole Abijah is not here. This is the ideal Abijah. Who ever shows himself wholly upon one occasion? Who does not sometimes go forth in his best clothing? We must read the account of Abijah which is given in the Kings before we can correctly estimate the Abijah who talks in the Chronicles. It is, perhaps, encouraging that whilst men are upon the earth they should not be so dazzlingly good as to blind their fellow-men. Yet it is pitiful to observe how men can be religious for the occasion. Nearly all men are religious at a funeral: few men are religious at a wedding. Abijah has a great cause to serve, and he addresses himself to it not only with the skill of a rhetorician but with the piety of a mind that never tenanted a worldly thought God knows the whole character: how bright we are in points, how dark in many places; how lofty, how low: knowing all, he judges correctly, and his mercy is his delight. Sometimes it would seem as if judgment were forgotten in the abundance of his clemency, in the river of his tears. "Our God is a consuming fire:" yet "God is love." As man is manifold, so is God manifold. Neither God nor man is to be judged by one aspect, or one attribute, or one quality; we must comprehend, so far as we may be able, the whole circuit of character and purpose before we can come to a large and true conclusion. But as we have to do with the ideal Abijah, let us hear what he has to say in his ideal capacity; we will forget his faults whilst we listen to the music of his religious eloquence.
Abijah comes before us like a man who has a good cause to plead. He fixes his feet upon a mountain as upon a natural throne, and from its summit he addresses a king and a nation, and he addresses his auditors in the sacred name of "the Lord God of Israel." He will not begin the argument at a superficial point, or take it as starting from yesterday's new raw history, history hardly settled into form; he will go back, and with great sweep of historical reference he will establish his claim to be heard.
"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?" (2Chronicles 13:5).
The binding covenant, the covenant that even pagans would not break. If you have eaten salt with a man you can never speak evil of him with an honest heart; you must forget your criticism in the remembrance of the salt. You are at liberty to decline intercourse and fellowship and confidence; you are perfectly at liberty to say, I will have nothing to do with thee in any association whatsoever; but you cannot be both friend and enemy, you cannot eat salt with a man and smite him in the face or wound him in the heel, or hurt him in any way, at any time, in any line or point. That was pagan morality! We are fallen a long way behind it in many cases: for what Christian is there who could not eat all the salt a man has, and then go out and speak about him with bitterness, plunder him, frustrate his plans, anticipate him in some business venture, and laugh at him over his misplaced confidence? Abijah recognised the perpetuity of the covenant. The kingdom was given to David for ever—if not in words, yet in spirit; if chapter and verse cannot be quoted, yet the whole spirit of the divine communion with David meant eternity of election and honour. It is right to hold up the ideal covenant; it is right that even men who themselves have broken covenants should insist that covenants are right. We must never forget the ideal. Our prayers must express our better selves. A dying thief may pray. Again and again we have to fall back upon the holy doctrine that a man is not to be judged in his character by the prayers which he offers, inasmuch as his prayers represent what he would be if he could.
Abijah having to deal with a perpetual covenant charges Jeroboam with breaking it—
"Yet Jeroboam the son of Nebat, the servant of Solomon the son of David, is risen up, and hath rebelled against his Lord" (2Chronicles 13:6).
All rebellion is wrong, unless it arises from a sense of injustice, untruthfulness, dishonesty. No man has a right to dissent from the national Church unless his dissent be founded upon conscience, a right conception of the nature of the kingdom of Christ upon the earth, which leads him to say to certain men, Stand off! No part of the empire has a right to arise against the central authority, of which itself constitutes a part, merely for the sake of expressing political prejudice or selfish design. Every rebellion must be put down that cannot justify itself by the very spirit and genius of justice. Separation becomes schism when it merely expresses a whim, an aversion, of a superficial or technical kind; and every rebellion is wickedness, is born of the spirit of the pit, that cannot justify itself by appeals to justice, nobleness, liberty, God. Yet our rebellions have made our history. We should have been in slavery but for rebellion. The rebels are the heretics that have created orthodoxy. We owe nothing to the indifferent, the languid, the selfish, the calculating, the let-alone people who simply want to eat and drink and sleep and die. That they were ever born is either an affront to nature, or the supreme mystery of human life. Abijah, therefore, is perfectly right when he insists upon mere rebellion being put down: but when rebellion expresses the spirit of justice and the spirit of progress, the new revelation, the new day, all the Abijahs that ever addressed the world can only keep back the issue for a measurable period.
The accusation of Abijah was that Jeroboam had "gathered unto him vain men, the children of Belial," for "vain men" read "sons of worthlessness," empty fellows, who will join any mob that pays best; men who will cheer any speaker for half-a-crown an hour, and put out anybody on any plea on any side for extra remuneration. Where do these men come from? Whose language do they speak? Whose image and superscription do they bear? They are in every country; they worship in the sanctuary of mischief, they bow down at the altar of selfishness; they know not what they do: they will make a cross for a day's wages. Evil company follows evil men. Worthless fellows are soon dissatisfied with the company of righteousness; the intercourse becomes monotonous, suffocating. A bad man could not live in heaven. It is not in the power of mercy to save men from hell; for they carry hell with them; they are perdition.
Who can wonder if desecration followed in the steps of worthlessness?
"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" (2Chronicles 13:9).
Let them bring the offering, and then they may become priests and do what they please at altars that have no foundations, the incense of which is a cloud that heaven will not absorb. William Rufus declared that Church bread was sweet bread. How many men have eaten Church bread who ought to have died of hunger! What responsibility attaches to some people in this matter! Church bread ought never to be given away, ought never to be dishonoured with the name of a "living." No man should be in the Church who could not make five times the money out of it that he ever made in it; it should be felt that if he put forth all his power, both his hands, his whole mind and strength, he could be the greatest man in the commonwealth. Jeroboam would admit any one to the altar; he would make room if there was none; he would cast out a priest of the Lord to make room for a priest of Belial. This is the accusation which Abijah brings against Jeroboam and his company of rebels.
Now he turns to state his own case; he tells us what he and his people are:—
"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: 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" [The observance of these details of ritual is called "keeping the charge of Jehovah" (see Leviticus 8:35), and neglect of them is "forsaking" him (see ver. 10, ante, p. 268)] (2Chronicles 13:10-11).
What a character he gives himself! Let us remember that we are dealing with an ideal man, and not with the real personality. Take this, however, as an ideal representation, how perfect it is in every line! "The Lord is our God:" We have a sound and vital theology; we have a clear upward look, no cloud conceals the face divine; no idols have we, no images of wood, no pillars, no groves, no high places where idolatry may be performed as an entertainment. The man reasons well; he insists upon having corner-stones in any edifice or argument he puts up; when he accuses, he goes back to the covenant of salt; when he claims a right position, he claims that it is a theological one: he holds the right God. Losing the right theology, we lose all the detail along with it. When the conception of God is wrong, no other conception can be right. It is only bold, because it is true, to say, that if a man has not—not the right God, but—the right desire after the right God, he cannot keep correct weights and scales; the custom house, the inland revenue, the excise,—call it what you please,—may to some extent keep him up to the right mark, but in his soul he takes in every customer that comes near him; if he does not he loses sleep. This applies to the so-called heathen as well as to the Christian. It is not necessary that a man should have a clear and perfect revelation of God, but that in his heart he feels that he is a creature, not a creator; a subject, not a sovereign; that he is under responsibility, and not above it: in that proportion only can he deal righteously and nobly with his fellow men.
"And the priests, which minister unto the Lord, are the sons of Aaron, and the Levites wait upon their business" (2Chronicles 13:10).
Here is apostolic succession before the time of the invention of the term. Here is an excellent pedigree, a most complete genealogy:—our priests are in the Aaronic line, and the Levites know their business, and keep to it; everything is in order in our Church. That is beautiful, and that is right; we need not shrink from adding, that is necessary. We must have nothing to do with men who are not in the Aaronic and apostolic succession; they must not occupy our pulpits, they must not be allowed to make pulpits of their own; no man must sell them wood or stone with which to construct a pulpit; they must be forbidden by the genius of law from ever preaching or attempting to preach. When we let go the doctrine of apostolic succession we let go a vital treasure and blessing. We may differ as to our definition of "apostolic succession," but surely there can be no difference among frank and enlightened hearts and minds as to what apostolic succession is. No man is in the apostolic succession who is not in the apostolic spirit, and no man is out of the apostolic succession who is animated by the spirit of the apostles. That is not a spirit which is conferred by the tips of any fingers: that is the gift of God.
Do you see your calling, brethren? God hath chosen you. What a Church is God's! not a Church of waxworks, all made at one factory, and all charged for in one invoice; but living men, characterised by innumerable individualities, some broad as the firmament, others beautiful and tender as little flowers that can only grow in the fullest sun-warmth; some military in argument and in discipline, hers mighty, persuasive in pathos and sympathy and tenderness. There is no monotony in God: one star differeth from another star in glory: no two blades of grass are microscopically identical: there is a common likeness in the worlds and in the sub-economies of nature, but the more penetrating our vision is made by mechanical and scientific aids the more wondrous in difference are discovered to be the very things which are supposed to be identical. We must never allow the apostolic succession to be handed about without its being accompanied by the apostolic spirit. Every man is in the apostolic succession who believes in the apostles, who follows them as they followed Christ, and who would know nothing among men but Jesus Christ and him crucified.
"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" (2Chronicles 13:11).
At that time piety was mechanical. It could not be otherwise. God never forces history. The days come, each with its own burden and its own blessing, its own dawn and its own apocalypse. We cannot have to-day what is due tomorrow. God's seasons move in measured revolution, and come to us in orderly and timely procession, and no man can hasten them by lighting his camp fire, or striking his matches, or kindling his little inflammable powder. We cannot imitate the sun. Some have tried to mimic the stars: but where is the image of the sun that the sun has not obliterated by one mid-day look? The time came when all these ordinances were set aside; there was to be no more burning, there was to be no morning sacrifice and evening sacrifice, and sweet incense, or shewbread, or candlestick of gold and lamps thereof for evening burning.—"Ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more: but ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel." So we may misuse history by going back and making that necessary which has already been abrogated. We may thus ill-treat the day of rest, by measuring it and weighing it in Jewish scales. We may cast a cloud over the day of jubilee that comes every week, by measuring its beginning and its ending by Jewish arithmetic: we may make the whole week sabbatic by Christian consecration. There will always be ordinances, because whilst man is in the body he needs external helps, collateral assistances and auxiliaries; he is not always equally awake, he is not always equally spiritual; he needs the communion of saints, the coming together in holy fellowship, all the associations of a sacred time and a sacred place, and through the active yet subtle ministry of these he comes to feel that he is in touch with God. "Here in the body pent" we need such aids as can penetrate our prison and minister to the liberty of the soul.
Now Abijah says', as a kind of climax—
"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" (2Chronicles 13:12).
How steadfastly he abides by the altar! He cannot be tempted one step from the throne of God. His appeal is sublime because it is religious. It is historically religious—"The Lord God of your fathers." It would seem to be a solemn thing to cut off oneself from all the currents of history, to bury our fathers over again in a deeper grave, yea to bury them at night-time, so that when the morning came we could not tell where they were interred. Abijah will have a historic line. He maintains the doctrine of philosophic and personal heredity and organic unity: he will insist upon it that the men of his day represented the men of dead generations, and were to do what they would have done had they then lived. Not only was it historically religious, but it was religion accentuated by motives, such as act most powerfully upon human conduct—"for ye shall not prosper." That appeal they could understand! The double appeal constitutes God's address to men. He is bound to point out consequences, though he would not have life built upon them. There is no other way of getting at certain people than by telling them that if they believe not they shall be—damned! They are so curiously and fearfully made that only hell can excite their attention. The preacher does not declare this doctrine of fire, or mere penalty, for the sake of revealing God and acting upon human thought and conduct. He knows it is an appeal more or less tinctured with possible selfishness: he cannot but despise the man who asks for heaven simply because he has smelt the fire of hell. But the Christian preacher will begin where he can. He has to do with all classes and conditions of men. All men do not occupy the highest point of thought, do not approach the kingdom of heaven from the noblest considerations, and he is the wise pastor, he has the great shepherd-heart, who receives men by night, by day, through the gate of fear, through the portals of love: who keeps the door ajar for men, not knowing when they may come home. He is but a poor preacher, and he knows it, who bids people come to God that they may get to heaven; but he is aware that some people can only understand through the medium of such terms, if ever; and he only hopes for them that by experience they may eventually rise to a nobler level, and desire God for God's own sake. He only is in the Spirit of Christ who Would pray as much, give as much, suffer as much, if he knew he had to die this night, and be blotted out for ever, as he would do and give if he knew he were this night going into everlasting glory. To be good in order to buy heaven is not to be good. To be religious in order to escape hell is not to be religious. Yet we must always so judge human nature as to provide for people who can only act through fear, and through love and hope of reward. Their education will be continued and completed, and some day they will look back upon their infantile beginning and pity themselves. The great thing, however, is to begin. If we are afraid of hell, let us ask great questions. If we are in hope of heaven, let us begin to do great services. Hell and heaven have nothing to do with it in reality, but they have to do a great deal with it initially and instrumentally and educationally.
What was the upshot of the war? Who needs inquire? When omnipotence goes forth to war, what can be the issue of the battle? When God takes his glittering sword, and his hand lays heavy in judgment,—can grasshoppers stand before him? Oppose a wooden fence to a boundless conflagration, and you may act almost rationally—most rationally—as compared with those who set a grasshopper to oppose the march of God.
Almighty God, we know that thou art our Father in heaven, that thou dost take care of us day by day, that we have nothing that we have not received, that every good gift and every perfect gift cometh down from the Father of light—we know this, and it is our life's one great joy. We stand in this truth, and are firm and glad. Our peace flows like a river whilst our faith lays hold upon God. Thou art our Father: we are thy children. Thou dost not deny us, nor leave us, nor disavow us; but with continual affection and care thou dost claim and keep us every one. We are prodigals indeed; still thou dost keep the house for us, and for our return thou dost wait with all the patience and eagerness of undying love. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; yet still thou art our Father, looking for us, waiting for us, seeking and saving us every day. Behold us in thine house: may we now see a light above the brightness of the sun—the full shining of God's infinite love—chasing away all darkness, filling the whole space with tender light, and giving us to feel that the bright creation is the house of God and the gate of heaven. Open the gates we have often tried but cannot open. Make friends for us in the great world. When we go out to fight life's battle may we fight it under the banner of righteousness. Keep us every one. We fall into thy hands, we have no fear; we know nothing of tomorrow because thou dost know all about it, and thou wilt charge it with light and blessing and duty as thou pleasest, and not withhold from us the strength needful to bear its burden. We pray at the cross, in sight of the sacrificial blood, and we trust our poor prayer to the infinite intercession of our Saviour and Priest in heaven. Amen.