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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
1 Kings 14

 

 

Verses 1-20

DOOM OF THE HOUSE OF NEBAT

1 Kings 14:1-20

"Whom the gods love die young."

-EPICTET.

THE other story about Jeroboam is full of pathos; and though here, too, there are obvious signs that, in its present form, it could hardly have come from a contemporary source, it doubtless records a historic tradition. It is missing in the Septuagint, though in some copies the blank is supplied from Aquila’s version.

Jeroboam was living with his queen at Tirzah when as a judgment on him for his neglect of the Divine warning, his eldest and much loved son, Abijah, fell sick. Torn with anxiety the king asked his wife to disguise herself that she might not be recognized on her journey, and to go to Shiloh, where Ahijah the prophet lived, to inquire about the dear youth’s fate. "Take with you," he said, "as a present to the prophet ten loaves, and some little cakes for the prophet’s children, and a cruse of honey."

Jeroboam remembered that Ahijah’s former prophecy had been fulfilled, and believed that he would again be able to reveal the future, and say whether the heir to the throne would recover. The queen obeyed; and if she were indeed the Egyptian princess Ano, it must have been for her a strange experience. Through the winding valley, she reached the home of the aged prophet unrecognized. But he had received a Divine intimation of her errand; and though his eyes were now blind with the gutta serena, he at once addressed her by name when he heard the sound of her approaching footsteps. The message which he was bidden to pronounce was utterly terrible; it was unrelieved by a single gleam of mitigation or a single expression of pity. It reproached and denounced Jeroboam for faithless ingratitude in that he had cast God behind his back; it threatened hopeless and shameful extermination to all his house. His dynasty should be swept away like dung. The corpses of his children should be left unburied and be devoured by vultures and wild dogs. The moment the feet of the queen reached her house the youth should die, and this bereavement, heavy as it was, should be the sole act of mercy in the tragedy, for it should take away Abijah from the dreadful days to come, because in him alone of the House of Jeroboam had God seen something good. The avenger should be a new king, and all this should come to pass "even now."

This speech of the prophet is given in a rhythmical form, and has probably been mingled with later touches. It falls into two strophes (1 Kings 14:7-11, 1 Kings 14:12-16) of 3+2 and 2+3 verses. The expressions "thou hast done above all that were before thee, for thou hast gone and made thee other gods" (1 Kings 14:9) hardly suits the case of Jeroboam; and the omission by the LXX of the prophecy of Israel’s ultimate captivity, together with the treatment of the prophecy by Josephus, throw some doubt on 1 Kings 14:9, 1 Kings 14:15, and 1 Kings 14:16. They seem to charge Jeroboam with sanctioning Asherim, or wooden images of the nature-goddess Asherah, of which we read in the history of Judah, but which are never mentioned in the acts of Jeroboam, and do not accord with his avowed policy. These may possibly be due to the forms which the tradition assumed in later days.

The awful prophecy was fulfilled. As the hapless mother set foot on the threshold of her palace at beautiful Tirzah the young prince died, and she heard the wail of the mourners for him. He alone was buried in the grave of his fathers, and Israel mourned for him. He was evidently a prince of much hope and promise, and the deaths of such princes have always peculiarly affected the sympathy of nations. We know in Roman history the sigh which arose at the early death of Marcellus:-

"Ostendent terris hunc tantum fata neque ultra Esse sinent. Nimium vobis, Romana propago, Visa potens, superi, propria haec si dona fuissent, Heu miserande puer, si qua fate aspera rumpas Tu Marcellus eris."

We know the remark of Tacitus as he contemplates the deaths of Germanicus, Caius, and Drusus, Piso Licinianus, Britannicus, and Titus, breves atque infaustos Populi Romani amores.

We know how, when Prince William was drowned in the White Ship, Henry of England never smiled again; and how the nation mourned the deaths of Prince Alfonso, of the Black Prince, of Prince Arthur, of Prince Henry, of the Princess Charlotte, of the Duke of Clarence and Avondale. But these untimely deaths of youths in their early bloom, before their day,

"Impositique rogis juvenes ante ora parentum."

are not half so deplorable as the case of those who have grown up like Nero to blight every hope which has been formed of them. When Louis le Bien-Aime lay ill of the fever at Metz which seemed likely to be fatal, all France wept and prayed for him. He recovered, and grew up to be that portent of selfish boredom and callous sensuality, Louis XV It was better that Abijah should die than that he should live to be overwhelmed in the shameful ruin which soon overtook his house.

It was better far that he should die than that he should grow up to frustrate the promise of his youth. He was beckoned by the hand of God, "because in him was found some good thing towards the Lord God of Israel." We are not told wherein the goodness consisted, but Rabbinic tradition guessed that in opposition to his father he discountenanced the calf-worship and encouraged and helped the people to continue their visits to Jerusalem. Such a king might indeed have recovered the whole kingdom, and have dispossessed David’s degenerate line. But it was not to be. The fiat against Israel had gone forth, though a long space was to intervene before it was fulfilled. And God’s fiats are irrevocable, because with Him there is no changeableness neither shadow of turning.

"The moving finger writes, and having writ,

Moves on; nor all thy piety nor wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,

Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it."

But the passage about Abijah has a unique preciousness, because it stands alone in Scripture as an expression of the truth that early death is no sign at all of the Divine anger, and that the length or brevity of life are matters of little significance to God, seeing that, at the best, the longest life is but as one tick of the clock in the eternal silence. The promise to filial obedience, "that thy days may be long," in the Fifth Commandment is primarily national; and although undoubtedly "length of days" then, as now, was regarded as a blessing, {See Job 12:12 Psalms 21:4 Proverbs 3:2-16} yet the blessing is purely relative, and wholly incommensurate with others which affect the character and the life to come. This passage may be the consolation of many thousands of hearts that ache for some dear lost child. "Is it well with the child? It is well!" The story of Cleobis and Biton shows how fully the wisest of the ancients had recognized the truth that early death may be a boon of God to save His children from being snared in the evil days. "Honorable age, says the Book of Wisdom, is not that which standeth in length of time, nor that is measured by number of years. But wisdom is the grey hair unto men, and an unspotted life is old age. He pleased God, and was beloved of Him: so that living among sinners he was translated. Yea, speedily was he taken away, lest that wickedness should alter his understanding, or deceit beguile his soul. He, being made perfect in a short time, fulfilled a long time: for his soul pleased the Lord: therefore He hastens to take him away from among the wicked." It is the truth so beautifully expressed by Seneca: "Vita non quam diu sed quam bene acta refert"; by St. Ambrose: "Perfecta est aetas, ubi perfecta est virtus"; by Shakespeare:-

"The good die early

And they whose hearts are dry as summer dust

Burn to the socket";

and by Ben Jonson:-

"It is not growing like a tree

In bulk, doth make man better be:

Or standing long an oak, three hundred year,

To fall, a log at last, dry, bald and sere";

"A lily of a day Is fairer far in May,

Although it fall and die that night-

It was the plant and flower of Light.

In small proportions we just beauties see,

And in short measures life may perfect be"

It is recorded also on the tomb of a gallant youth, in Westminster Abbey, "Francis Holles, who died at eighteen years of age after noble deeds":-

"Man’s life is measured by the work, not days;

Not aged sloth, but active youth, hath praise."


Verses 21-31

THE EARLIER KINGS OF JUDAH

1 Kings 14:21-31; 1 Kings 15:1-24

THE history of "the Jews" begins, properly speaking, from the reign of Rehoboam, and for four centuries it is mainly the history of the Davidic dynasty.

The only records of the son of Solomon are meager records of disaster and disgrace. He reigned seventeen years, and his mother, the Ammonitess Naamah, occupied the position of queen-mother. She was, doubtless, a worshipper in the shrine which Solomon had built for her national god, Molech of Ammon, who was the same as the Ashtar-Chemosh of the Moabite stone-the male form of Ashtoreth. Whether her son was twenty-one or forty-one when he succeeded to the throne we do not know. His attempted expedition against Jeroboam was forbidden by Shemaiah; but ineffectual and distressing war smoldered on between the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. If Jeroboam sinned by the erection in the old sanctuaries of the two golden calves, Rehoboam surely sinned far more heinously. He not only sanctioned the high places-which in him may have been very venial, since they held their own unchallenged till the days of Hezekiah-but he allowed stone obelisks (Matstseboth) in honor of Baal, and pillars (Chammanim) of the Nature-goddess (Asherah) to be set up on every high hill and under every green tree. Worse than this, and a proof of the abyss of corruption into which the evil example of Solomon had beguiled the nation, there were found in the land the Kedeshim, the infamous eunuch-ministers of a most foul worship. In spite of Temple and priesthood, "they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the Lord drave out before the children of Israel." Since Rehoboam thus sinned so much more heinously than his northern compeer we can hardly admire the conduct of the Levites, who, according to the chronicler, fled southward in swarms from the innovations of the son of Nebat. The Scylla of calf-worship was incomparably less shameful than the Charybdis of these heathen abominations.

Such atrocities could not be left unpunished. Where the carcass is the eagles will gather. In the fifth year of Rehoboam, Shishak, King of Egypt, put an end to the short-lived glories of the age of Solomon. Of his reason for invading Palestine we know nothing. It was probably mere ambition and the love of plunder, stimulated by stories which Jeroboam may have brought to him about the inexhaustible riches of Jerusalem. He is the first Pharaoh whose individuality was so marked as to transcend and replace the common dynastic name. He was astute enough to seize the opportunity of self-aggrandisement which offered itself when Jeroboam took refuge at his court; but the conjecture that former friendly relations induced Jeroboam to invite the services of Shishak for the destruction of his rival, is rendered impossible if Egyptologists have correctly deciphered the splendid memorial of his achievements which he twice carved on the great Temple of Amon at Karnak. There the most conspicuous figure is the colossal likeness of the king. His right hand holds a sword; his left-grasps by the hair a long line which passes round the necks of a troop of thirty-eight mean and diminutive Jewish captives. The smaller figure of the god Amon leads other strings of one hundred and thirty-three captives, and the third king from his left hand bears a name which Champollion deciphered Yudeh-Malk, which he took to mean King of Judah. If the interpretation were correct, we should here have a picture of the son of Solomon. On the other figures are the names of the cities of which they were kings or sheykhs. Among these are not only the names of southern towns, like Ibleam, Gibeon, Bethhoron, Ajalon Mahanaim, but even of Canaanite and Levitic cities in the Northern Kingdom, including Taanach and Megiddo. Shashonq (as the monuments call him) came with a huge and motley army of many nationalities, among whom were Libyans, Troglodyte and Ethiopians. This host was composed of twelve hundred chariots, sixty thousand horsemen, and a numberless infantry of mercenaries. Such an invasion, though it was little more than an insulting military parade and predatory incursion rendered resistance impossible, especially to a people enervated by luxury, Shishak came, saw, and plundered. His chief spoil was taken from the poor dishonored Temple and the king’s palace. Judah specially grieved for the loss of the shields of gold which hung on the cedar pillars of the house of the forest of Lebanon, {1 Kings 10:17}-apparently both those which Solomon had made, and those which David had consecrated from the spoils of Hadadezer, King of Zobah. Perhaps a great soul would hardly have been consoled by putting mean substitutes m their place. Rehoboam, however, made bronze imitations of them in the guard-room, and marched in pomp to the Temple preceded by his meanly armed runners, "as though everything was the same as before." "The bitter irony with which the sacred historian records the parade of these counterfeits," says Stanley, "may be considered as the keynote to this whole period. They well represent the ‘brazen shields’ by which fallen churches and kingdoms have endeavored to conceal from their own and their neighbor’s eyes that the golden shields of Solomon have passed away from them." The age of pinchbeck follows the age of gold, and a Louis XV succeeds Le Grand Monarque.

Rehoboam had many sons, and he "wisely" {2 Chronicles 11:23} gave them, by way of maintenance, the governorship of his fenced cities. That "he sought for them a multitude of wives" was perhaps a stroke of worldly policy, but an unwise and unworthy one. But their little courts and their little harems may have helped to keep them out of mischief. They might otherwise have destroyed each other by mutual jealousies.

Rehoboam was succeeded by his son Abijam. There is a little doubt as to the exact name of this king. The Book of Chronicles calls him Abijah, 1 Kings 15:1; 1 Kings 15:7-8, he is called Abijam. As the curious form Abijam seems to be unmeaning, it has been precariously conjectured that dislike to his idolatries led the Jews to alter a name which means "Jehovah is my Father." Some doubt also rests on the name of his mother. She is here called "Maacha, the daughter of Abishalom," but in Chronicles "Michaiah, the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah." Maachah was perhaps the granddaughter of Absalom, whose beautiful daughter Tamar (named after his dishonoured sister) may have been the wife of Uriel. In that case her name, Maachah, was a name given her in reminiscence of her royal descent as a great-granddaughter of the princess of Geshur, who was mother of Absalom. All sorts of secrets, however, sometimes lie behind these changes of names. She was the second, but favorite wife of Rehoboam; and Abijam, who was not the eldest son, owed his throne to his father’s preference for all that we are here told of Abijam is that "his heart was not perfect with Jehovah his God," and that "he walked in all the sins of his father"; though "for David’s sake his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem"; and that, after a brief reign of three years-i.e., of one year and parts of two others-he slept with his fathers. For "the rest of his acts and all that he did," the historian refers us to the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah: he does not trouble himself with military details. The chronicler, referring to the Commentary of Iddo, {2 Chronicles 13:22} adds a great deal more. Jeroboam, he says, went out against him with eight hundred thousand men. Abijam, who had only half the number, stood on Mount Zemaraim in the hill country of Ephraim, and made a speech to Jeroboam and his army.

He reproached him with rebellion against his father when he was "young and tender-hearted," and with his golden calves, and his non-Levitical priests. He vaunted the superiority of the Temple priests with their holocausts and sweet incense and shewbread and golden candlestick, which priests were now with the army. Jeroboam sets an ambuscade, but at the shout of the men of Judah is routed with a loss of five hundred thousand men, after which Abijah recovers "Bethel with the towns thereof," and Jeshanah and Ephron (or "Ephraim") completely humbling the northern king until "the Lord smote him and he died." After this Abijah waxes mighty, has fourteen wives, twenty-two sons, and sixteen daughters.

If we had read two accounts so different, and presenting such insuperable difficulties to the harmonist, in secular historians, we should have made no attempt to reconcile them, but merely have endeavored to find which record was the more trustworthy. If the pious Levitical king of 2 Chronicles 13:1-22 be a true picture of the idolater of 1 Kings 15:3, it is clear that the accounts are difficult to reconcile, unless we resort to incessant and arbitrary hypotheses. But the earlier authority is clearly to be preferred when the two obviously conflict with each other. As it is we can only say that the kings of whom the chronicler approves are, as it were, clericalised, and seen "through a cloud of incense," all their faults being omitted. The edifying speech of Abijah, and his boast about purity of worship, sounds most strange on the lips of a king who-if he "walked in all the sins of his father"-suffered his people to be guilty of a worship grossly idolatrous, including the toleration of Bamoth, Chammanim, and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree; and of all the abominations of the neighboring idolaters, -a state of things infinitely worse than the symbolic Jehovah-worship which Jeroboam had set up. Yet such was the strange syncretism of religion in Jerusalem, of which Solomon had set the fatal example, that (as we learn quite incidentally) Abijah seems to have dedicated certain vessels-part of his warlike spoils-to the service of the Temple. {1 Kings 15:15} They were perhaps intended to supply the gaps left by the plundering raid of Shishak.

After this brief and perplexing, but apparently eventful reign, Abijah was succeeded by his son Asa, whose long reign of forty-one years was contemporary with the reigns of no less than seven kings of Israel-Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Omri, Tibni, and Ahab.

We are told that-aided perhaps by such prophets as Hanani and Azariah, son of Oded (or Iddo)-"he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord." Of this he gave an early, decisive, and courageous proof.

When he succeeded to the throne at an early age his grandmother Maachah still held the high position of queen-mother, This great lady inherited the fame and popularity of Absalom, and was a princess both of the line of David and of Tolmai, King of Geshur. She was, and always had been, an open idolatress. Asa began his reign with a reformation. He took away the contemptible idols (Gilloolim) which his fathers had made, and suppressed the odious Kedeshim; or he at least made a serious, if an unsuccessful, effort to do so. As to the high places we have a direct verbal contradiction. Here we are told that "they were not removed," whereas the chronicler says that "he took them away out of all the cities of Judah," but afterwards that "the high places were not taken away out of Israel," in spite of Asa’s heart being perfect all his days. The explanation would seem to be that he made a partial attempt to anticipate the subsequent reformation of Hezekiah, but was defeated by the inveteracy of popular custom. He did, however, take the great step of branding with infamy the impure idolatry of the queen-mother, and he degraded her from her rank. She had made an idol, which is significantly called "a fright" or "a horror" (Miphletzeth), to serve as an emblem of the Nature-goddess. It was probably a phallic symbol which he indignantly cut down, and burnt it, where all pollutions were destroyed, in the dry wady of the Kidron. In the fifteenth year of his reign he dedicated in the Temple "silver and gold and vessels," consecrated by his father and himself for this purpose. He also restored the great altar in the porch of the Temple, which in the course of more than sixty years had fallen into neglect and disrepair.

For ten years the land had rest under this pious king, though war was always smouldering between him and Baasha: In the eleventh year, however, according to the chronicler, "Zerach the Ethiopian" attacked him with an army of a million Sushim and Lubim and three hundred chariots, and suffered an immense defeat in the Valley of Zephathah, "the watch-tower" at Mareshah. It was the sole occasion in sacred history in which an Israelite army met and defeated one of the great world powers in open battle, and it was deemed so remarkable a proof of Divine interposition that Asa, encouraged by the prophet Azariah, invited his people to renew their covenant with God.

More alarming to Asa was the action of Baasha in fortifying Ramah in the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s reign. This was a veritable of the most dangerous kind, for Ramah, in the heart of Benjamin, was only five miles north of Jerusalem. In Abijah’s signal defeat of Jeroboam and capture of Bethel, Jeshanah, and Ephron be historical, these towns must not only have been speedily recovered, but Baasha had even pushed towards Jerusalem, five miles south of Bethel. Had Ramah been left undisturbed it would have been a thorn in the side of Judah, as Deceleia was in Attica, and Pylos in Messenia. Ash saw that the demolition of this fortress was a positive necessity. Since he was too weak to effect this, he stripped both his own palace and the Temple of the treasures with which he had himself enriched them, and sent them as a vast bribe to Benhadad I, King of Damascus, begging him to renew the treaty which had existed between their fathers, and to invade the kingdom of Baasha. This step shows to what a depth of weakness Judah had fallen, for Benhadad was a son of Tabrimmon, the son of Hezion (probably Rezon) of Damascus; so that here we have the great-grandson of Solomon stripping Solomon’s Temple of its consecrated vessels wherewith to bribe the grandson of the petty rebel freebooter, whose whole present kingdom had once been a part of Solomon’s dominions! The policy was successful. It is easy for us now to condemn it as unpatriotic and short-sighted, but to Asa it seemed a matter of life or death. Benhadad invaded Israel, and mastered its territory in the tribe of Naphtali, from Ijon and Abel-beth-maachah on the waters of Merom down to Chinnereth or the Lake of Gennesareth. {See Numbers 34:11; Joshua 8:27} Baasha in alarm abandoned his attempt to blockade Jerusalem, and retired to Tirzah for the protection of his own kingdom. Thereupon Ash proclaimed a levy of all Judah to seize and dismantle Ramah, and with the ample materials which Baasha had amassed he fortified Geba to the north of Ramah {Joshua 21:17; 2 Kings 23:8} and Mizpah (probably Neby Samwyl, to the north of the Mount of Olives), where he also sank a deep well for the use of the garrison. He thus effectually protected the frontier of Benjamin. He built, as Bossuet says, "the fortresses of Judah out of the ruins of those of Samaria," and thus set us the example of making holy use of hostile and heretical materials. We should have thought that the invitation of Benhadad was, in a worldly point of view, brilliantly successful, and that it saved the kingdom of Judah from utter ruin. It involved, however, a dangerous precedent, and Hanani rebuked Asa for having done foolishly.

After a powerful and useful reign Asa was attacked with gout in his feet two years before his death. The chronicler reproaches him for seeking "not to Jehovah but to the physicians" in his "exceeding great disease." If this was a sin, it is one of which we are unable to estimate the sinfulness from this meager notice, it has been conjectured that it may have some reference to the name Asa, which, if written Asjah, might mean "whom Jehovah heals." It belongs, however, to the theocratic standpoint of the chronicler, who condemns everything which bears the aspect of a worldly policy. He slept with his fathers in a tomb which he had built for himself, and was buried with unusual magnificence, amid the burning of many spices.

We are not surprised that the historian should not mention the invasion of Zerah, since he refers us for the wars of Asa to the Judaean annals. It is much more remarkable that he wholly omits all reference to the prophetic activity of which the chronicler speaks as exercised in this reign. He had evidently formed a very high estimate of Asa, with none of the shadows and drawbacks which in the later annalist seemed to point to a marked degeneracy of character in his later days. On the favorable side the historian does not mention the high and eulogistic encouragement which the king received from Azariah, the son of Oded; nor the multitude which joined him out of Israel; nor the cities which he took from the hill country of Ephraim; nor his restoration of the altar. He even passes over the solemn league and covenant which he made with Judah and Benjamin and many members of the Ten Tribes in his fifteenth year, at a festival celebrated with an immense sacrifice, and with shouting and trumpets and cornets and a great exultant oath. {2 Chronicles 15:1-15} On the unfavorable side he does not tell us that Hanani the Seer rebuked him for summoning the help of the Syrians instead of relying on Jehovah; and that Asa was in a rage because of this thing, and shut up Hanani in the "House of the Stocks," and "oppressed some of the people at the same time," apparently because they took part with the prophet. {2 Chronicles 16:9-10} For none of these events does the chronicler refer us to any ancient authority. They came from separate records, perhaps written in prophetic commentaries and unknown to the compiler of the Kings. But whatever may have been the failings or shortcomings of Asa it is clear that he must be ranked among the more eminent and righteous sovereigns of Judah.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Kings 14:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/1-kings-14.html.

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