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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
1 Kings 15

 

 

Verses 1-24

1

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.


Verses 25-34

NADAB BAASHA ELAH

1 Kings 15:25-34; 1 Kings 16:1-10

"Wheresoever the carcass is, there will the vultures be gathered together."

- Matthew 24:28

JEROBOAM slept with his fathers and went to his own place, leaving behind him his dreadful epitaph upon the sacred page. His son Nadab succeeded him. In his reign of twenty-two years the first king of Israel had outlived Rehoboam and his son Abijah. Asa, the great grandson of Solomon, was already on the throne of Judah. Of Nadab we are told next to nothing. The appreciation of the kings of Israel tends to drift into the meager formula that they did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, and in his sin wherewith he caused Israel to sin. In the second year of his reign Nadab was engaged in a wearisome military expedition against Gibbethon in the Shephelah, which belonged to the Philistines. It was a Levitical city in the tribe of Dan, which had been assigned to the Kohathites, and its siege continued for twenty-seven years with no apparent result. {Joshua 19:44; Joshua 21:23 1 Kings 15:27; 1 Kings 16:15} That the Philistines, who had been so utterly crushed by David and who were an insignificant power, should have thus been able to assert themselves once more, is a proof of the weakness to which Israel had been reduced. While Nadab was thus occupied, an obscure conspirator, Baasha, son of Ahijah, of the tribe of Issachar, actuated perhaps by tribal jealousy, or stirred up as Jeroboam had been before him and as Jehu was after him by some prophetic message, conspired against him, and slew him. As soon as this military revolt had placed Baasha on the throne he fulfilled the frightful curse which Ahijah had uttered against the House of Jeroboam. He absolutely exterminated the family of Nebat, and left him neither kinsman nor friend to avenge his death. He seems to have been a powerful soldier, and he inflicted severe humiliation on the Southern Kingdom until Asa bribed Benhadad to invade his territory. He reigned at Tirzah for twenty-four years, of which nothing is recorded but the ordinary formula. Towards the close of his reign he received from the prophet Jehu, the son of Hanani, the message of his doom. Jehu must have been at this time a young prophet. According to the Chronicles his father Hanani rebuked Asa for the alliance which (as we shall see) he made with the Syrian against Baasha {2 Chronicles 16:7-10} and he himself rebuked Jehoshaphat for his alliance with Ahab, and lived to be his annalist. {2 Chronicles 20:34} Like Amos, he lived in Judah, but prophesied also against a king of Israel. He told Baasha that God, who had exalted him out of the dust to be king of Israel, should inflict on his family the same terrible extirpation which He had inflicted on the House of Jeroboam, whose sins he had, nevertheless, followed.

Baasha "slept with his fathers," and his son Elah succeeded him. Elah seems to have been an incapable drunkard, and reigned in Tirzah for less than two years. While he was drinking himself drunk, not even secretly in his own palace, but in the house of his chamberlain Arza-a shamelessness which was regarded as an aggravation of his offense {Hosea 7:3-7}-he was murdered by Zimri, the captain of half of his chariots, and the revolting tragedy of massacre was enacted once again. The fact that Baasha was a man of no distinction, but "exalted out of the dust" {1 Kings 16:2} probably added to the weakness of his dynasty.

From such meager records of horror there is not much to learn beyond the general truth of the nemesis which dogs the heels of crime; but there is one significant clause which throws great light on the judgment which we are asked to form of these events. The prophet Jehu rebukes Baasha for showing himself false to the destiny to which God had summoned him. He implies, therefore, that Baasha had some Divine sanction for the revolution which he headed; and certainly in his slaughter of the House of Jeroboam he was the instrument of a Divine decree. Yet we are expressly told that "he provoked the Lord to anger with the work of his hands, in being like the House of Jeroboam, and because he killed him," or, as it is rendered in the Revised Version margin, "because he smote it." This is not the only place where we find that a man may be in one sense commissioned to do a deed of blood, yet in another sense may be held guilty for fulfillment of the commission. The prophecy of extirpation had been passed, but the cruel agent of its accomplishment was not thereby condoned. God’s decrees are carried out as part of the vast scheme of Providence, and He may use guilty hands to fulfill His purposes. King Jehu is His minister of vengeance, but the tiger-like ferocity with which he carried out his work awoke God’s anger and received God’s punishment. The King of Babylon fulfils the purpose for which he had been appointed, but his ruthlessness receives its just recompense. The wrath of man may accomplish the decrees of God, but it worketh not His righteousness. Herod and Pontius Pilate, Jews and Gentiles, priests and Pharisees, rulers and the mob may rage against Christ, but all they can accomplish is "whatsoever God’s hand and God’s counsel determine before to be done."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Kings 15:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/1-kings-15.html.

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Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
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