April 27, 2003
© 2003, J.W. Carter
The Old Testament book of Kings introduces us to the experience of early Israel following the reign of David. We find David described as a "man after God's own heart," who led Israel as a Godly king, wandering from His purpose only when he sinned against Bathsheba and her husband. He turned the throne over to his son, Solomon, following significant conflict among his own sons. Solomon reigned forty years, but wandered away from God's will as he became obsessed with building Israel and placating his many foreign wives. He also placed the Canaanites into forced labor and the Israelites into conscripted labor in order to continue his building projects. He passed the throne on to his son, Rehoboam, who out of a lack of experience and wisdom attempted to rule Israel with an iron fist of burden, continuing his father's conscription of the people. Those tribes, other than his own tribe of Judah, simply refused to acknowledge such an unreasonable King, and chose Jereboam as their king, splitting the nation of Israel into the southern kingdom of Judea, and the northern kingdom containing the other ten landed tribes, referred to, from that point forward, as Israel. Solomon led the nation away from God through the institution of Canaanite worship throughout Israel. It was this environment into which his son became king.
Now in the eighteenth year of king Jeroboam the son of Nebat reigned Abijam over Judah. 2Three years reigned he in Jerusalem. And his motherís name was Maachah, the daughter of Abishalom.
It was not typical for ancient historians to use numbered years in the formation of the narrative since no such convention existed in the region until the birth of Jesus Christ. Instead, references were made to who were the people in positions of authority at the time. Because of this, we do have a relatively rich history of the kings and the periods of their reigns. It is not difficult to ascertain an estimate of the dates when this information is known. When Rehoboam's son, Abijam, took over the throne, Jereboam had been the king in the northern kingdom of Israel for 18 years, placing Rehoboam's reign over Judah at just over 18 years, possibly as many as 21. The split of the nations took place shortly after Rehoboam became king, possibly after a period as short as a few days.
One needs only to go back to the family of David to recognize how the nation was turned from God so quickly. Maachah, the mother of Abijam, was apparently the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah and Tamar, making her the granddaughter of David's rebel son, Absalom. Her background and upbringing would have been more in line with those who rebelled against David, more than those who would have followed him. She was the favorite of Rehoboam's eighteen wives. It is evident that her influence played a big part in the apostasy of the nation through the years.
And he walked in all the sins of his father, which he had done before him: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father.
Rehoboam tried to live up to his image of his father, Solomon, who sought to reign over the people with an iron-fist and who led them into Canaanite worship. Rehoboam was quite successful in that endeavor. He actively led the nation of Israel into merging with the culture of the Canaanites, the very sin that God had clearly commanded Joshua to avoid. In fact, the command to Joshua was to destroy all of the Canaanites in the land so that such could not happen. However, after taking a foothold in the promised land, Joshua failed to complete that command, resulting in an Israel that is scattered among the Canaanites, even to this day. Just as Rehoboam sought to take the leadership pattern of his father Solomon, so did Abijam of his father, Rehoboam. The nation was slipping further and further away from God's design for the nation.
Nevertheless for Davidís sake did the LORD his God give him a lamp in Jerusalem, to set up his son after him, and to establish Jerusalem: 5Because David did that which was right in the eyes of the LORD, and turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.
Though the sons of David had led the nation away from God, the promise had been made by God to David of a son who would reign in righteousness for ever. When we think of the reign of David, we often focus on the sin he committed against Bathsheba and Uriah, a grievous event that often overshadows the positive events of a forty-year reign in which David led the nation in the worship of the Lord. We see the degradation of the spiritual integrity of the kings of Israel, and the resultant degradation of the spiritual integrity of Israel continuing after the reign of David. However, God is always true to His promise, and because of that promise to David, God still has a plan that will restore Israel even in the midst of such godless chaos.
And there was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam all the days of his life. 7Now the rest of the acts of Abijam, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? And there was war between Abijam and Jeroboam. 8And Abijam slept with his fathers; and they buried him in the city of David: and Asa his son reigned in his stead.
When Jeroboam led the ten northern tribes of Israel to their independence from the Judean king, Rehoboam wanted to invade Israel with his armies and restore the kingdom by force. However, the Lord impressed upon Rehoboam to abstain from war with his cultural brothers. However, the stress between the nations did not diminish and there was a continual pattern of conflict between the two nations, in this verse euphemistically referred to as Rehoboam and Jeroboam. Rather than to seek peace between the nations, Abijam continued to lead the nations in conflict to the point of open warfare. However, deep within Abijam there was a spark of remembrance of the Lord. In a skirmish with Israel, (Ch. 13:3-22) and facing certain defeat, Abijam and his troops were delivered after his prayer to the Lord.
And in the twentieth year of Jeroboam king of Israel reigned Asa over Judah. 10And forty and one years reigned he in Jerusalem. And his motherís name was Maachah, the daughter of Abishalom.
We see again the name of the dowager queen, Maachah, as her influence in the kingdom of Judea continues through the reign of another of her sons, Asa, the brother of Abijam. However, unlike the reigns of his brother and of Rehoboam, Asa's reign is about 40 years, roughly the same duration as that of both David and Solomon. Obviously, Abijam's reign was short. Though peppered with the battles with Israel, those few short years did bring some peace with the northern nation as a result of Abijam's successes in battle. Consequently, Asa's reign started in a period of relative peace.
And Asa did that which was right in the eyes of the LORD, as did David his father. 12And he took away the sodomites out of the land, and removed all the idols that his fathers had made.
Asa was not like his brother, Abijam. Asa knew the Lord and remembered the ways of David, his Great-Great-Grandfather. Asa sought to restore the land of Judah to spiritual integrity under the Lord, Yahweh. A large part of the worship of the Canaanites involved prostitution, inspired by the premise that sexual relations among the people would inspire sexual relations among the gods, resulting in fertility in their crops and in their own lives. It was this sin of physical prostitution that had the strongest hold on the the children of Israel. Asa started by banning the practice of male prostitution and removing the images of the fertility gods that had been raised up under the kingdoms of Rehoboam and Solomon from places of Jewish activity, including the temple itself.
And also Maachah his mother, even her he removed from being queen, because she had made an idol in a grove; and Asa destroyed her idol, and burnt it by the brook Kidron.
Asa differed from the previous kings also in his relationship with the queen mother. Solomon was influenced by his Egyptian wife and his other pagan wives to introduce pagan worship into Israel. Rehoboam with his wife, Maachah, continued the practice, and after the reign of Rehoboam, Maachah continued to influence the nation with her pagan practices. However, Asa stood up against the queen mother, declaring her actions ungodly and heretical. She had built an Asherah pole, a altar of pagan prostitution worship, and Asa destroyed the pole and burned it publicly outside the East wall of the city of Jerusalem for all to see. Maachah's long period of influence in Israel had come to an end. The parallel history in the book of Chronicles, chapter 15,
But the high places were not removed: nevertheless Asaís heart was perfect with the LORD all his days.
The "high places" refer to the various altars scattered around the nation where worship was taking place. God had commanded that the people worship in the temple in Jerusalem. By setting up the :high places", Solomon had moved worship out of the temple and among the practices of the Canaanite culture. Consequently, outside of the influence of the temple, the high places sprouted Asherah poles, etc. Though Asa had been successful in his efforts to restore spiritual integrity to the Jewish people, the Canaanite practices lingered among the altars scattered throughout the land. This failure perpetuated the conflict between the Lord's plan for Israel and their penchant to return to the pagan practices of the land. However, Asa served as a very good king and made great strides at bringing the nation back to God. His reign was characterized by rebuilding of the temple facilities and victory over attacks from warring nations.
And he brought in the things which his father had dedicated, and the things which himself had dedicated, into the house of the LORD, silver, and gold, and vessels.
Since the nation had moved so far from God in the previous 60 years (a period beyond the memory of the nation), the temple contents had reflected the changes. Asa gathered together the sacred items that had been dedicated to use within the temple, and restored them to their proper place, displacing the pagan objects that had been brought in. Asa also continued the practice of dedication, recognizing publicly the purpose and function of the Temple of the Lord, and setting aside objects for use within the temple with the clear purpose of honoring God.
And there was war between Asa and Baasha king of Israel all their days. 17And Baasha king of Israel went up against Judah, and built Ramah, that he might not suffer any to go out or come in to Asa king of Judah.
In the third year of Asa's reign, Jeroboam the king of the northern kingdom of Israel had died, and was succeeded by his son, Nadab who reined only two years before he was assassinated by Baasha in a coup to take over the throne. Baasha was, therefore, the second king of the northern kingdom. He spent his first few years as king securing the throne and building the infrastructure of the nation. However, the enriched vitality and strengthening of the southern kingdom of Judah was interpreted as a threat to him, even to the point of drawing away citizens who wished to return to the worship of the Lord under a godly king. In an effort to isolate his people from Asa, Baasha seized the city of Ramah, only a few miles north of Jerusalem, cutting off communication and trade between Israel and Judah. The period of relative peace that Asa had been experiencing was coming to an end. Asa felt a need to take action, and though his pattern was generally one of seeking God, in the stress of the moment, Asa, recognizing his position as King, took action himself, taking an action that might be considered by many to be surprising and inappropriate.
Then Asa took all the silver and the gold that were left in the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the kingís house, and delivered them into the hand of his servants: and king Asa sent them to Benhadad, the son of Tabrimon, the son of Hezion, king of Syria, that dwelt at Damascus, saying, 19There is a league between me and thee, and between my father and thy father: behold, I have sent unto thee a present of silver and gold; come and break thy league with Baasha king of Israel, that he may depart from me.
The "house of the LORD" that is referred to here is the temple in Jerusalem. Asa, apparently felt that he could not stand with his armies against the armies of Israel, and sought instead to make an alliance with the pagan nation of Syria. Unlike Solomon who had treasures from which to draw, the only source of such treasures in Asa's day was the temple, and those treasures were placed there by him, and dedicated to God by him. Asa took those treasures and gave them to the king of Syria as a gesture of peace and covenant in order establish an alliance against Israel. How could Asa have done such a thing, given his demonstrated record of godly choices? Did Asa reserve God for spiritual decisions while rely on himself for political ones? There is little doubt that in such a time of stress Asa sought out the counsel of other leaders of Judah, and these would not have shared his personal appreciation for the temple objects. We find that Asa, like his brother and fathers, listened to advice from peers rather than turning to God for answers. God has the power to protect His remnant, and the power to save the Temple if that is His will. However, Asa took it upon himself to find a solution. From a strategic standpoint, Asa's decision was a good one, and would result in the defusing of the situation. Baasha was not intimidated at all by the armies of Israel, "softened by their faith in the LORD." However, the same could not be said for the armies of Syria who had the power to annihilate Israel. So, against the law of Moses, Asa sought an alliance with the pagan nation of Syria, and to add insult to the sin, used the temple treasures to purchase the contract.
So Benhadad hearkened unto king Asa, and sent the captains of the hosts which he had against the cities of Israel, and smote Ijon, and Dan, and Abelbethmaachah, and all Cinneroth, with all the land of Naphtali. 21And it came to pass, when Baasha heard thereof, that he left off building of Ramah, and dwelt in Tirzah.
The results of Asa's pact with Syria was dramatic. The Syrian armies entered Israel with a vengeance killing many of the men of Israel and destroying several of its southern cities. In the past, peace with Israel had been maintained by David's firm hold on them. It was only in previous years that the hold that Israel and Judah had in Syria had lessened, and the hatred for the Jews by these Arabs ran deep. When the kingdom of Israel divided, Syria naturally stood against the Judean king, a position now shared with the northern nation. Under the principle that friendships are attained through shared enemies, the northern alliance was loosely formed. However, when offered the treasures of Jerusalem, Ben-Hadad saw the profit of changing his allegiance and moved against Israel. Not only did Ben-Hadad gain the treasures, but also gained access to the trade routes that Baasha had blocked.
Then king Asa made a proclamation throughout all Judah; none was exempted: and they took away the stones of Ramah, and the timber thereof, wherewith Baasha had builded; and king Asa built with them Geba of Benjamin, and Mizpah.
Baasha fled Ramah for the safety of the north, and Asa followed his exit by dismantling the fortifications in Ramah that Baasha had built. Asa then restored the position of the city as a city of peace rather than one of fortification.
The rest of all the acts of Asa, and all his might, and all that he did, and the cities which he built, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? Nevertheless in the time of his old age he was diseased in his feet. 24And Asa slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David his father: and Jehoshaphat his son reigned in his stead.
The book of Chronicles includes more information on the end of Asa's life. Asa started serving as King with an ideal of returning the nation of Israel to the Lord. He made great strides in destroying much of the pagan influence in the nation, restoring the purpose and use of the temple, and restarting the observances of Mosaic worship. However, with the alliance with Syria came great changes in Asa's life, whether it was a result of that decision, or whether the alliance was a result of those changes that were already taking place. Asa's respect for the temple and for the Lord had been diminished, evidenced by his pillaging of the temple treasury in order to affect the Syrian alliance. At the end of his days, Asa showed that he had moved further and further away from God.
We see in the lives of the first kings of Israel the consequences of following wrong leadership models, seeking self-definition in one's sources of worldly influence rather than in God. Though God admonishes every believer to abide in Him (John 15), there is probably no set of individuals in ancient Israel who were more admonished to do so than its kings. God did not desire the nation to have kings, but rather sought allegiance for himself. In the kings we see the impact of such an allegiance. Instead of relying upon God, the people relied on their Kings. However, each king was a product of his own up-brining, creating a world-view far different from that of the God they have been called to serve.
David was a good king, but not a very good father. The conflicts in his family would ultimately bring down his dynasty. Even Solomon did not understand David's relationship with God, and sought to reign like David without that relationship. Turning from God, Solomon brought up Rehoboam apart from that relationship. Continually down through the kings we see that loss of relationship and how Israel drew further and further from God. Even Asa sought to restore the nation to what it was under King David, but lacked the relationship with God that David had. Consequently, he was powerless to make the right decisions in significant situations, eventually giving up his interest in the restoration, and joining the remainder of the kings in their apostasy.
Following the Lord God is predicated by relationship. Without a relationship with God, a person is lost and separated from Him for eternity. We saw the kings try to play the game, but their powerlessness would always result in their demise and their continued separation from God. Only through a relationship with God can any person find the true peace, joy, and blessing that God promises. That relationship is available to all who will seek Him as Lord. In the Old Testament there always remained the hope of the Messiah who would come and save the people. Christians know that the Messiah came in the Christ Jesus, who saves people from the sin we have seen demonstrated in Israel. Anyone who will turn to God through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, accepting Jesus as Lord will be eternally saved from the condemnation that comes from having no relationship with God: eternal separation from Him. Instead all who come to Christ will find eternal fellowship and relationship with Him, with God, empowered to overcome the evil of this world, rather than inspired to follow it as was evidenced by the ancient kings of Israel and Judah.
Patterson, R.D. and Austel, Hermann J. (1988) 1 & 2 Kings, Expositor's Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein Ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. pp. 124-131.