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In our last lesson, we learned about how Yahweh instigated a massive civil war in Israel after the death of the idolatrous King Solomon. The nation was split into two kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah in the south. As we start this lesson, the evil Jeroboam is still ruling in the north when Solomon’s son Rehoboam dies in the south. Rehoboam [RAY-uh-BO-um] is succeeded by his son Abijah [uh-BEE-juh] (who is also called Abijam). As a true descendant of David, Abijah naturally feels like the legitimate king and he views Jeroboam as a rebel imposter. Blowing off the fact that Yahweh intentionally fractured Israel in order to punish the faithlessness of the Davidic line, Abijah has decided that God will help him win back all of the territory that his father lost. In 2 Chronicles 13 we read about how Abijah collects his army of 400,000 warriors and goes marching to the border to tell Jeroboam off. The king of the north pulls together 800,000 warriors of his own and goes to meet his pesky neighbor (remember that most of Israel sided with Jeroboam during the revolt). We’ll learn about the result of this face off in a moment. But first, we need to understand something about the texts we’re working off of.
TWO DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES
In Lesson 10, we learned about how there are two different series of books which give us chronological summaries of the kings of Israel. One is the Samuel-Kings series, and the other is the Chronicles series.
We covered 1&2 Samuel as well as 1 Chronicles back in Period 4 (Lesson 10). And now as we move past Solomon, we’re jumping back and forth between 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles. Both of these books are describing the reigns of the kings of Israel during Period 5. But there’s one major difference between these two historical series: Chronicles only cares about the kings of Judah. Suppose America gets into a ten year war with Russia. Later on, two historians write about it. One tries to take a neutral position and jumps back and forth between the American viewpoint and the Russian viewpoint. The second historian is a patriotic Russian and he only focuses on the war from the perspective of his own rulers. Naturally in this second volume, Americans are going to be cast in a negative light—they’ll be depicted as nasty foreigners who assaulted Russia for no reason. This is what is going on in Kings and Chronicles. Our chronicler is clearly a fan of the south, and he blatantly ignores the royal line in the north. After all, David’s line is the true royal line—anyone else is just an imposter. The only time we hear about the kings of the north in 2 Chronicles is when they have an interaction with the kings of the south. So Chronicles is about the kings of Judah, while the author of Kings leaps back and forth between the two nations.
It’s always a treat when we have multiple records of the same events. Duplicate records mean more details will be given, because no one tells a story in exactly the same way. To get a full picture of Israel’s history, we have to constantly jump back and forth between these two series of books, and that is what we’ll be doing in our lessons. Now then, back to our war…
Abijah’s effort to reunite Israel back under one crown is only described in 2 Chronicles. The author of Kings has other priorities in mind, so he doesn’t bother with this account. But in 2 Chronicles, we find a long, dramatic speech from Abijah in which he reminds everyone that it was the Davidic line that Yahweh chose to be the kings of Israel. Trying to psych out Jeroboam’s army, Abijah calls out:
“And now you plan to resist the kingdom of Yahweh, which is in the hands of David’s descendants. You are indeed a vast army and you have with you the golden calves that Jeroboam made to be your gods. But didn’t you drive out the priests of Yahweh, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites, and make priests of your own as the peoples of other lands do? Whoever comes to consecrate himself with a young bull and seven rams may become a priest of what are not even gods.
As for us, Yahweh is our God, and we have not forsaken Him. The priests who serve Yahweh are sons of Aaron, and the Levites assist them… We are observing the requirements of Yahweh our God. But you have forsaken Him. God is with us; He is our Leader. His priests with their trumpets will sound the battle cry against you. People of Israel, do not fight against Yahweh, the God of your ancestors, for you will not succeed.” (2 Chron. 13:8-12)
What Abijah doesn’t realize is that while he’s been giving his self-righteous speech, Jeroboam has sent men sneaking around the back of his army. When Abijah launches his attack, he gets counterattacked by swords on all sides and suddenly realizes that he’s trapped in a circle of death. Well, this isn’t how things were supposed to work out. Where is Yahweh? The army of Judah starts wailing to God for help. Then the priests sound the “go get ‘em” signal on their trumpets and all the soldiers get a renewed sense of courage. They fight back with determination, and God grants them a miraculous victory. Soon 500,000 Israelites are lying dead on the ground and King Abijah has reclaimed at least some of the cities that Jeroboam had stolen. It wasn’t at all the sweeping victory he had hoped for, but it was something.
Now in our last lesson, Yahweh cursed Jeroboam’s entire family line as payback for Jeroboam inventing two golden calves for Israel to worship in His place. In 2 Chronicles, we read:
“Jeroboam did not regain power during the time of Abijah. Yahweh struck him down and he died.” (2 Chron. 13:20)
Our chronicler really doesn’t like those nasty kings of the north. And to hear him tell it, Abijah was a shining star who Yahweh richly blessed with power and a bunch of children. But when we read about Abijah (who is also called Abijam) in 1 Kings 15, we get a very different story.
“Abijam walked in all the sins of his father which he had committed before him; and his heart was not wholly devoted to Yahweh his God, like the heart of his father David. But for David’s sake, Yahweh his God allowed his descendants to continue ruling, shining like a lamp, and He gave Abijam a son to rule after him in Jerusalem.” (1 Kings 15:3-4)
The author of Kings doesn’t try to whitewash anyone. His goal is to point out who obeyed Yahweh and who didn’t. Abijah obviously didn’t because he “walked in all the sins of his father.” Abijah’s father was Rehoboam, who was an idolatrous yuck. Clearly Abijah’s pretty speech about Judah being loyal to Yahweh was not as sincere as it sounded. After all, how can a king see his land covered in worship shrines to other idols and then claim to be fully devoted to Yahweh? Abijah is a greedy liar who just wanted to expand his empire. He definitely gets a frowny on our chart of kings.
ASA, King of Judah
Not all kings are equal. Some live for a very long time while others are just a flash in the pan. Abijah only lasts three years before he dies and the crown passes to his son Asa [A-suh]. Meanwhile, Jeroboam is still working through his 22 year reign in the north.
Asa will be our longest king yet: 41 years. He comes onto the scene in a blaze of glory and starts purging his kingdom of idols. Well, sort of. We’ll find that most of the kings who try to start spiritual revivals tend to fizzle out before all the work is done.
Asa did what was pleasing and good in the sight of Yahweh his God. He removed the foreign altars and the pagan shrines. He smashed the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah [ASH-er-uh] poles. He commanded the people of Judah to seek Yahweh, the God of their ancestors, and to obey His law and His commands. Asa also removed the pagan shrines, as well as the incense altars from every one of Judah’s towns. So Asa’s kingdom enjoyed a period of peace. (2 Chron. 14:2-5)
We’re definitely cheering for Asa so far. Notice the reference to sacred pillars and Asherah poles. We’re going to find many references to Asherah poles in the Bible. No one knows exactly what they were, but they basically served as a representation of the goddess Asherah. But who is Asherah?
BAAL & ASHERAH
All of the nations in this area are serving manmade gods. Every god has a bunch of folklore attached to it. Certain gods are friends with other gods. Certain gods don’t like other gods. Certain gods are stronger and other gods are weaker. It’s all a bunch of make believe rubbish, but this is how stupid people get when they reject the real God.
Now you have your male gods and your female gods. Baal is a male god, and he comes up more in the Bible because he’s considered to be one of the higher ranking gods. Baal was associated with weather control, which is of supreme importance to agricultural nations. Baal is outranked by big daddy god El. We don’t hear much about El in the Bible, but El was believed to have a queen named Asherah. So Asherah was the top female goddess, and she was also called “the Queen of Heaven” (which the same title we use for Mary in some branches of the Church today—yikes!).
Every god had its worshiping paraphernalia. Asherah’s equipment included some physical object which is referred to as Asherah poles (or plural Asherim) in the Bible. People are always setting these dumb things up and then later someone else comes along and takes them down. And of course Yahweh finds all of this quite insulting.
BACK TO ASA
Now in 1 Kings 15, we learn that our good king Asa is boldly defying his grandmother (who was the mother of Abijah) in his war against idolatry, because grandma is a very big fan of Asherah.
He even deposed his grandmother Maacah from her position as queen mother because she had made an obscene Asherah pole. Asa cut down her obscene pole and burned it in the Kidron [KID-drawn] Valley. (1 Kings 15:13)
After making all of these grand reforms, Asa enjoys some years of peace in his kingdom. To a king, “peace” means that none of your neighbors are trying to attack you. But then along comes the king of Cush with a million men and 300 chariots. Asa only has 300,000 men, but he calls out to Yahweh for help and we can assume he was a lot more sincere than his greedy father was. Yahweh responds with a miraculous victory and the Cushites get spanked.
So Yahweh defeated the Cushites in the presence of Asa and the army of Judah, and the enemy fled. Asa and his army pursued them as far as Gerar [GIR-rawr], and so many Cushites fell that they were unable to rally. They were destroyed by Yahweh and His army, and the army of Judah carried off a vast amount of plunder. (2 Chron. 14:12-13)
Notice how our author gives Yahweh the glory for this victory. The author of Kings is good about this as well, and it’s this recognition of God’s involvement in everything that makes the Bible such a refreshing history book to read.
Asa is clearly on a winning streak, but apparently he hasn’t done a thorough job of purging idolatrous equipment from the land. Along comes a prophet named Azariah [azz-uh-RYE-uh], who says:
“Listen to me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: Yahweh is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.” (2 Chron. 15:2)
Azariah goes on to remind Asa of all the troubles that used to plague Judah when the people were obsessing over their idols. Asa picks up on the hint and finishes purging the land of the remaining idol statues and altars. Then he gathers everyone together for a massive sacrifice to Yahweh, they recommit to the Covenant He established with Israel back in Period 2, and we’re told that some people from the northern kingdom defect to the south when they see the spiritual revival happen. Well, this is excellent. We finally have a good king.
NADAB, King of Israel
Three years into Asa’s 41 year reign, Jeroboam dies in the north and he’s succeeded by his son Nadab [NAY-dabb]. Nadab only lasts two years and we’re told that he followed his father’s rotten example. Along comes a man named Baasha [BAW-shah] who sneaks up on the king in the middle of a battleground and strikes him down. Exit Nadab.
BAASHA, King of Israel
Now when you try to steal someone else’s throne, you should expect some arguments, because crowns are supposed to be passed from father to son, not from father to outside traitor. As soon as Baasha seizes power, he immediately executes the rest of Jeroboam’s descendants, fulfilling the prophecy that we learned about in our last lesson. Yahweh had said that because Jeroboam had treated Him so hatefully by creating two golden calf gods for Israel to worship (and crediting those lifeless lumps of metal for rescuing Israel from Egypt), Jeroboam’s family line would be snuffed out and all of his descendants would have their bodies eaten by wild animals. This all comes true as Baasha hacks down every relative of the royal line that he can find. You don’t bother to bury your enemies—especially when you’re in a hurry to catch them all. So the bodies become food for the animals, just as Yahweh predicted.
Once Baasha takes the throne, Asa’s life gets complicated. We’re told that the two kings are constantly at war with each other. Baasha becomes such a pain in the neck that Asa finally turns to the king of Aram [uh-RAM] (aka Syria) for help. Aram is north of Israel while Judah is to the south. Once Aram launches an attack on Baasha from the north, Baasha has to lay off Judah in order to defend himself.
This “run to the foreigners for help” strategy that Asa has just used is majorly insulting to Yahweh. Why? Because He’s God Almighty—is He not strong enough to defend His own people? Instead of turning to Yahweh, Asa has turned to the demon worshiping Arameans [AIR-uh-ME-ins] (aka Syrians). God is very ticked about all this, and when God gets mad at someone, along comes a prophet.
At that time Hanani [HAN-nuh-nigh] the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him: “Because you relied on the king of Aram and not on Yahweh your God, the army of the king of Aram has escaped from your hand. Were not the Cushites and Libyans a mighty army with great numbers of chariots and horsemen? Yet when you relied on Yahweh, He delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of Yahweh range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him. What a fool you have been! From now on you will be at war.” (2 Chron. 16:7-9)
Trust and dependency are two critical soul attitudes that our Gods want from us, and we’ll find Yahweh talking about these things throughout the Old Testament. If Asa had first consulted Yahweh and Yahweh had told him to ask Aram for help, that would have been alright. But to act like created specks are more helpful than God Almighty? That’s totally unacceptable. In this speech, Yahweh says He is going to stir up trouble between Asa and his new ally. This is a common way that Yahweh responds to alliances that are formed without His approval: He intentionally turns friends against each other just to prove how useless human alliances are. If you want real help, you need to look to the Almighty God, not some fickle human.
Now this is Asa’s cue to repent of his rebellion. If he had, Yahweh would no doubt have been as gracious with him as He was towards David. But Asa doesn’t repent. Instead, he explodes in anger and throws Hanani into jail. Then he becomes a nasty oppressor and starts abusing his citizens.
To encourage Asa to get over himself, Yahweh strikes him with a nasty foot disease. And yet we’re told that Asa refused to ask Yahweh for help. Instead, he would only talk to his human doctors. Well, now he’s really being a brat and so Yahweh refuses to cure him.
BAASHA IS CURSED
While Asa is throwing tantrums in the south, there’s more trouble brewing in the north. Instead of recognizing that Yahweh is the One who let him gain control of Israel, Baasha is acting just like the sleazy Jeroboam and worshiping those aggravating calf gods. Yahweh is seething, and what does that mean? It’s time for another prophet.
This message from Yahweh was delivered to King Baasha by the prophet Jehu [JAY-who] son of Hanani: “I lifted you out of the dust to make you ruler of My people Israel, but you have followed the evil example of Jeroboam. You have provoked My anger by causing My people Israel to sin. So now I will destroy you and your family, just as I destroyed the descendants of Jeroboam son of Nebat [neh-BAT]. The members of Baasha’s family who die in the city will be eaten by dogs, and those who die in the field will be eaten by vultures.” (1 Ki. 16:1-4)
Since he was the one who chopped down all of Jeroboam’s relatives, this threat really hits home for Baasha. Not that the little twerp repents. That would be too easy. Instead, we’re just told that he dies and we go on to his successor: Elah [E-law].
ELAH, King of Israel
While Asa is developing foot problems in the south, Baasha’s son Elah takes the throne in the north. We don’t know much about Elah, because he only reigned two years before he was assassinated by his own servant—a man named Zimri [ZIM-ree]. Zimri was obviously trusted because he was put in charge of half of Elah’s military chariots. But one day when Elah was getting plastered with alcohol, Zimri snuck in and killed him. Then, as is always the first order of business for an assassin, Zimri hunted down and killed all of Baasha’s family line so that no one would be left of the royal family to try and challenge him. Once again, a prophecy of Yahweh’s is fulfilled to the letter.
ZIMRI, King of Israel
Sometimes the whole conspiracy thing really backfires on you. When word spreads that Zimri has murdered Elah and slaughtered the rest of the current royal family, the people decide that they just aren’t in the mood to follow a chariot commander. Instead, they choose a different man—an army commander—to be their new king. His name is Omri [awm-REE] and the first thing he does is rally his troops to go and sack the city that Zimri is hiding out in. When Zimri hears that the city has fallen into Omri’s hands, he does what all brave men do: he commits suicide. He runs into the royal house and sets fire to it, burning himself to death in the flames. So after a seven day reign, it’s suicide by arson. So much for Zimri.
OMRI, King of Israel
People are fickle, and just when Omri tries to get going, half of his citizens decide that they’d rather have a man named Tibni [TIBB-nee]. So Omri kills Tibni and at last the people settle down.
We don’t know much about Omri except that he moves the capital of the northern kingdom to a city called Samaria. This is a critical move, and Samaria is going to be a very important place from now on. When Yahweh later sacks the northern kingdom, it’s the capital city Samaria which will be targeted by the foreign invaders. When you want to conquer a nation, you always go for the capital.
Besides establishing Samaria, we’re told that Omri was super wicked. We’re told he was worse than everyone before him and that he acted as idolatrous as nasty Jeroboam. That’s all we know about him, but that’s enough to give him the double frowny.
Whew! We’ve been tearing through the kings in this lesson, and now it’s time to pause and see how we’re doing. While Asa has been sniveling in the south and watching his foot disease worsen, the kings of the north have been butchering each other right and left.
As we learned in Lesson 11, “BC” means “Before Christ” and BC years count down to zero as we move forward in time. On our chart we see that Omri became king in 880 BC, so we’re about 900 years before Jesus will come. At this point, a future Messiah is not even a concept in the minds of Israel and Judah. They’re too busy sacrificing their children to idols, wallowing in perversity, and worshiping lumps of gold to think they’re in need of spiritual salvation.
So, who’s up next? Will the south improve on bratty Asa? Will the north get a break from all the butchering? We’ll find out in our next lesson.
UP NEXT: Know Your Bible Lesson 14: Ahab & Elijah
Click here to see all the lessons in this series.