It seems that soon after the events of the man of God recorded in 1 Kings 13, Jeroboam received another jolt – his son was struck with a serious sickness (1 Kings 14:1). The word used of the age of his son in verse 12 is used of Ishmael at 17 years old and it is quite feasible that he was a teenager. Jeroboam was concerned to know what would happen to his son. In a time of great need he didn’t turn to his golden calf for advice but wanted the opinion of the prophet Ahijah; surely his prophecy had come exactly to pass. Albeit, Jeroboam seemed to have forgotten Ahijah’s warnings.

Jeroboam didn’t want to go himself, so he told his wife to disguise herself and go to the prophet. This is a rather childish view of God. Jeroboam believes that the prophet Ahijah, through God’s power, can foretell the future of their son but cannot see through his wife’s disguise! The Hebrew word for “disguise” literally means to duplicate, to create a double. This is what Jeroboam’s whole reign had turned into, a giant deception where he had duplicated a system of worship and pretended it was something else. Ahijah lived at Shiloh, a former site of the tabernacle, a witness to times when Yahweh had been worshipped in the northern tribes.

When Jeroboam’s wife got to Shiloh she found that the disguise was pointless as the old prophet was blind. Jeroboam didn’t know this, as he had lost contact with a man who could have been a good spiritual mentor had Jeroboam decided to go God’s way not his own. Blindness is in itself a symbol of the state of the nation of Israel.

The dire warning

Yahweh revealed to Ahijah who it was that was coming and the message he should deliver. His words to Jeroboam’s wife are based on his initial warning to Jeroboam in 1 Kings 11. Just like Solomon he had not walked in God’s ways; so just as the kingdom had been taken from Solomon it would be taken from Jeroboam. Jeroboam needed to face up to his own wickedness; he had done more evil than all that had gone before him, including Saul (1 Kings 14: 9). He had promoted false worship and cast Yahweh behind his back. So God would destroy his house and remove it as one removes the filth of dung. None of that house would have an honourable burial (v11).

The worst news was for Jeroboam’s wife. Her son would die; but she wouldn’t see it. The whole nation would mourn for him, as he had a reputation for being a good young person. The death of Abijah would be God’s mercy because God also saw some good in him. Perhaps he had even grown up in Jerusalem when Jeroboam was Solomon’s servant and had been attracted to Yahweh the God of Israel. How could God’s mercy be seen in his death? For of all of the seed of Jeroboam he was the only one to have an honourable, peaceful burial. Yahweh had already planned judgment on the house of Jeroboam and wanted to spare this son from it.

God would raise up another king, Baasha, who would cut off the house of Jeroboam, but would do no better. So it was to be that from the rising of Jeroboam unto the destruction of his house would be a mere 24 years. It was not just a punishment on Jeroboam but on all the ten tribes who had followed him into wickedness. Ahijah told Jeroboam’s wife that Israel would be like a reed in the water (v15) continually shaken with no periods of peace, just like a reed in the Jordan buffeted by the spring snowmelt pouring down. The deeds of Jeroboam would lead to the destruction of the nation. Ahijah told Jeroboam’s wife that he would give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam. He not only sinned himself but encouraged others to join in his sin. What worse indictment could there be that he had not only corrupted himself but corrupted others.

Jeroboam’s wife went home, and according to the word of Ahijah her son died. Jeroboam had another sign from God, another warning. As a stubborn man of the flesh he would not turn back, he would not change. While verse 19 acknowledges his warfare, it does not record his horrific defeat at the hands of Abijah (2 Chron 13). He may have reigned five years longer than Rehoboam but he paved the way for the total devastation of the ten tribes.

A war of pride – 2 Chronicles 13

There can have been fewer more dreadful days in the history of God’s ecclesia, than the war between Judah and Ephraim recorded in 2 Chronicles 13. In one day 500,000 sons of God lay dead on the mountains of Ephraim. This is more than all of the men that live in the sprawling city of Adelaide in which I live. There could not have been a single village or family untouched by the horror of this tragedy. The 300,000 survivors would have a gruesome job of burying the dead. Wives waited in vain for husbands to return. “Mum, when will dad be home?” – but dad was a corpse on mount Ephraim; he was never coming home. Many a young woman would never marry because fiancés and possible future husbands were dead. The ten tribes were set back enormously until Ahab could only put a tiny army of 7,000 into the battlefield like two little flocks of kids. How could such a thing ever happen? The simple answer in 2 Chronicles 13 seems to be the intransigence and stubborn pride of Jeroboam and Israel. But there is a almost certainly a deeper answer in a punishment of the 10 tribes for their acquiescence to the institution of idol worship.

Rehoboam and Jeroboam had fought against each other in smaller contests (1 Kings 14:30). Yet Abijah put into battle 400,000 valiant men of war (Heb gibbor chayil) and Jeroboam put into battle 800,000 mighty men of valour (same Hebrew term gibbor chayil) (2 Chron 13:3). The term “set … in array” (v3) is almost always translated “to bind” – here the two divisions of the nation were bound together to kill each other. Then Abijah, having taken the initiative, seems to have got ‘cold feet’; he was outnumbered two to one.

Abijah’s appeal – 2 Chronicles 13:4–12

Abijah, king of Judah, stood on Mount Zemaraim to appeal to Jeroboam. Jeroboam was unlikely to listen but Abijah’s appeal didn’t really help. We may all have appealed to someone but really not thought out our approach too well at all. Abijah started off (v5–7) by suggesting that Jeroboam had illegally stolen the kingdom off his father Rehoboam. This was 17 years ago, but the southern kingdom of Judah had not come to grips with it. Abijah claimed that the seed of David had a permanent promise (“a covenant of salt”) on the throne of David. While that was true, the Davidic covenant raised the case of punishment for failure (2 Sam 7:14) and the mercy which would not depart (2 Sam 7:15) did not guarantee rulership of the whole nation. Abijah ignored the clear declaration of Yahweh through the prophet Ahijah (1 Kings 11). Then he claimed that Jeroboam rose up and rebelled against his father; again, only partially correct because this was of Yahweh. Abijah defended his father’s honour when his father had done foolishly. Further, he claimed that Jeroboam had gathered empty men to rise up against the young and innocent Rehoboam. The 40 year old Rehoboam was hardly “young and tender-hearted” and made a deliberate decision to ignore the wise advice of the old men and follow the foolish advice of his peers.

Abijah’s appeal moved on to safer territory. Although Jeroboam had put a great multitude into the field how could he expect success when Jeroboam had made Israel golden calves which they had accepted as their gods? (v8). They had cast out Yahweh’s priests and Levites and made anyone with sufficient animals for offering to be a priest (v9). Abijah was right; they were priests of “no gods” (v9) for the golden calves had no power to save. Abijah then made a claim for the superior worship of Judah. There was a truth in what he said. Judah’s god was Yahweh but Jeroboam and Israel with him had forsaken Him. Abijah was a little self-righteous, for he talks as if there were no images and high places and sodomites in place in Judah (1 Kings 14:23–24). Nevertheless, in Judah the priests were busy ministering unto God and the Levites were ready for their business.

Abijah went on to explain how that in Jerusalem, not in Bethel, the daily worship of Yahweh their God continued. Abijah raises four aspects of ritual (v11), matters of worship and honour of God which were more than ritual; for these four elements are key to the life of believers in every age; to us they are like a Christadelphian “survival pack” for the 21st century, helping us avoid more corpses of fallen saints on Mount Ephraim. First was the morning and evening continual burnt sacrifices which represented the nation personally dedicating themselves to their God every day. That dedication may not have been in some conspicuous service, but in the daily life in the home and in the fields and Sabbath day worship. The second element was the sweet incense, their daily prayers rising to the throne of grace. Third was the fellowship with God and each other in the symbol of the shewbread. Last, but equally important, was the daily consumption ofthe Word of God shining forth in a godly character as represented by the lampstand. With a healthy dose of humility these elements of worship would help Judah focus their love and attention on the God of Israel. ‘We guard Yahweh’s service’, said Abijah, ‘but you, Jeroboam and all Israel, have forsaken Him’ (v11).

The last element of Abijah’s appeal was that Jeroboam could not win, for the captain of Judah’s army was Yahweh. With Abijah were the priests with the trumpets (Num 10:1–7) who could release a Jericho-like blast and bring Jeroboam down. “O children of Israel, fight ye not against Yahweh God of your fathers” (v12). The northern ten tribes had ‘gone along’ with Jeroboam. They decided not to bother with Yahweh. They should have obeyed God, not man, and worshipped in Jerusalem rather than Bethel. So this dreadful judgment was against them as much as their king.

Jeroboam defeated

Jeroboam didn’t listen. He was not the sort of person who listened. While Abijah spoke peace, “he was for war” (Psa 120:7). With a superior army Jeroboam executed a superior military strategy of the ambush, previously used so successfully in the final defeat of Ai. Jeroboam, a king of great military capability, had Judah caught. The victory was Jeroboam’s!

Yet as Judah saw the armies of Ephraim before and behind, their priests blew the alarm and the men of Judah shouted to their God. The Father heard; He always listens to the cries of His servants. He smote Jeroboam and all Israel. Then the men of Judah co-operated with God and pursued the army of Israel. Abijah had done wickedly (1 Kings 15:3) and yet God delivered him for he, and Judah, “relied upon Yahweh God of their fathers” (2 Chron 13:18). Jeroboam just couldn’t do it, despite the clear promise of Ahijah. He never learnt to trust in God. This same word for relying is used in the next chapter of Asa, Abijah’s son, who “rested” on his God (2 Chron 14:11; 16:7–8 “rely”). The same word is used in Proverbs 3:5: “lean not unto thy own understanding.” It is too easy to be like Jeroboam and lean on the flesh. Indeed this is really the hard way; it is much easier to rest on our God. It is always worth resting on our Father because He will never let us down.

The consequences of the battle were dreadful. Abijah destroyed the strength of Israel and their towns to Bethel. But Abijah was no reforming Hezekiah to motivate the people to destroy Jeroboam’s calf and altar. Abijah only reigned three years and left behind a nation confused, with Yahweh being worshipped in the Temple while too many individuals served images in the high places.

The end of Jeroboam – 2 Chronicles 13:20

For Jeroboam it was the end. Not only was the nation weakened with on-going political turmoil but he himself never recovered strength (v20). Yahweh struck him and he died, leaving behind a legacy of a damaged kingdom and a pattern of iniquity which every subsequent king after him followed. Instead of a sure house, promised by Ahijah, his son reigned but two years and his dynasty was expunged from the face of the earth. He was destroyed because although he promised much he had provoked his God to anger (1 Kings 15:30). All of our capability, all our potential, is useless unless we learn to rely upon our God and put our trust in Him. The tragic story of Jeroboam is that of a man who knew the God of Israel but never loved Him, never trusted Him, and lost everything in the present and eternally. What a warning for us as we wait for the righteous King to stand in the earth.