The rest of the Book of 2 Chronicles speaks of the kings of the southern kingdom of Judah. These are kings from David’s lineage. The journey begins with Abijah, the son of Rehoboam. Just as there was unrest between Jeroboam and Rehoboam now there is trouble between Abijah and Jeroboam. Enough trouble that they went to war against each other. Two kings removed from Solomon and three from King David and there is already civil war. Abijah is badly outnumbered which is something we have seen before from the troops of the Lord. However, when the Lord is on your side you are never outnumbered! Mount Zemaraim is just south of Bethel, not all that far from Jerusalem. The commentary here about Jeroboam speaks of a man once dedicated to the Lord and to king Solomon but he rose up against both of them and now leads the opposition to the people of Judah, the tribe of King David. Abijah, backed by the power of the Lord stood atop Mount Zemaraim and shouted to Jeroboam of the strength and power of the Lord. He reminded Jeroboam of the covenant God made with His people. It was a salt covenant.
So a bit about salt covenants. There is way more to salt than just as seasoning for French fries. Salt was a valuable commodity in the ancient world. It was used not only to season food but to preserve it. It was used to pay Roman soldiers and the phrase worth his salt refers to one who has earned his or her pay. To enact a salt covenant sometimes two people making a covenant or promise would eat salt together in the presence of witnesses. But salt was also carried as legal tender and men carried a leather pouch of salt with them. To make a covenant each man would take a pinch of salt from their leather bags and put it into the other mans bag. Because salt looked the same there was no way they could pick their salt out of the pouch, breaking the covenant. That meant the covenant was binding. To the ancients and even those in Jesus day, salt had great value. So, when Jesus told His disciples they were salt He meant they had great value in this world and they have a preserving influence. The same can be said for us today.
In his boldness, Abijah reminded Jeroboam that they are still observing the requirements of the Lord and the Lord is with them. When the priests sounded the trumpets, the men of the northern kingdom would be fighting against the Lord. Perhaps it was a reminder to the northern kingdom of who they once were or, it could have been a reminder to the fighting men of the southern kingdom who were badly outnumbered. Abijah blamed the division of the nation on Jeroboam but it was much more than that. Jeroboam’s rebellion was fueled by Solomon’s disobedience to the covenant and his harsh policies. And Rehoboam’s foolish plan to increase the severity of Solomon’s abuses infuriated the Israelites even more. The blame lay at the feet of all three men, Solomon, Rehoboam, and Jeroboam. Abijah was equating the kingdom of Judah with the kingdom of the Lord, making victory over Israel sound like a foregone conclusion. It was a misrepresentation of the truth. The only problem with all of this was some of the same evil deeds come the northern kingdom were happening in the southern kingdom as well. The heart of Abijah’s argument was that Judah had remained true to the Lord while Israel had forsaken Him.
When Abijah died his son Asa succeeded him. Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord, going so far as to depose his grandmother who had her own Asherah pole for idol worship. There was peace and quiet in the land for ten years before the Cushites, under the command of Zerah, came to attack. They came with a vast army, complete with chariots. Asa took his army out to meet them and they took up battle positions in the south, in the Valley of Zephathah. Asa called upon the Lord his God. Note the pronoun here. Asa claimed the Lord as his God. He recognized there were no other gods like the Lord who helped the powerless against the mighty. He cried out for help from the Lord and asked that man would not defeat Him. And the Lord defeated the Cushites. Those who remained, fled. Egypt was strong at this time and Zerah and the Cushites may well have been mercenaries of his. After this battle the Lord called Azariah to bring a message to Asa. The message was simple but impactful. And it is a message we have read before, many times. It is a reminder that when God’s people are faithful to Him, He is faithful back. When God’s people stand with Him, He stands with them. These were hard times for God’s people. They lived in near constant threat of war. Robbery and crime plagued the nation because there were many who were poor and trying to survive. And the population of Judah was growing because not only did the Godly priests and Levites move south but so did many of the ordinary citizens of Israel when they saw Asa’s zeal for the Lord. Asa did what many before him had done. He called an assembly of the people to reaffirm the covenant between God and His people. Taking an oath was an essential part of covenant making. The people declared their determination to keep the covenant and agreed to accept God’s judgement if they broke it. After the war with Zerah broke the peace, a war which the Lord won, and after they renewed the covenant, Judah once again had rest on all sides.
But, as we have read all too often, the king failed to keep his faith in the Lord. There was a lot of religious syncretism in ancient Israel. Syncretism is the simultaneous worship of various gods. From the time of the judges many Israelites included Canaanite gods in their worship. Because the god El was in some respects considered be analogous with the Lord, many also adopted worship of El’s consort Asherah, assuming her to be Yahweh’s counterpart as well. In the 36th year of Asa’s reign Bashas king of Israel moved to take over Judah. They began building up Ramah which is located about five miles north of Jerusalem. This was a direct and serious threat. But Judah had seen similar threats with the Cushites. They turned to the Lord and he defeated them. This time, Asa did not consult the Lord. He went directly to Ben-Hadad, king of Syria, and offered him all the spoils in the treasuries of the house of the Lord and of the kings house. These were items of value stored in the temple as ordinary revenue. They did not include things dedicated to the Lord. Asa used these things to persuade Ben-Hadad to end his alliance with Baasha. Ben-Hadad agreed to do this which meant Baasha would stop the building of Ramah and leave the southern kingdom alone.
Baasha had exterminated the house of Jeroboam and made Tirzah his capital. He ascended to the throne in the third years of Asa’s reign. He was a thorn in Asa’s side for many years. He continued the golden calf worship started by Jeroboam thereby moving Israel farther and farther from the Lord. After Asa sent tribute to Ben-Hadad, he attacked Baasha from the north. After a reign of 24 years he died a natural death and his son Elah succeeded him. Elah along with every single member of the house of Baasha was killed by Zimri. In the 39th year of Asa’s reign he became diseased in his feet. Gout was very common at this time and Asa sought the help of physicians. The problem wasn’t that Asa used doctors, but that he failed to turn to the Lord in his sickness. When he died he was anointed for burial by spices and ointment. No doubt many of them had a heavy scent to mask the smell of death. And they made a great burning for him. This makes it sound like he was put in a funeral pyre but that is not the case. The burning was a great burning of spices and perfumes to mourn a king’s death. Asa began his reign as a king devoted to the Lord. He ended his reign moving away from Him. That is never a good thing.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W