1 Kings 15: 1-31 Kings Abijam and Asa of Judah, King Nadab of Israel and the Unending Conflict Between the Two Nations

By Oldtidens_Israel_&_Judea.svg: FinnWikiNoderivative work: Richardprins (talk) – Oldtidens_Israel_&_Judea.svg http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/map-of-israel-and-judah-733-bce, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10872389

There are times where the chapter divisions in the bible do not fit the natural divisions in the text, and so instead of dealing with verses thirty-two and thirty-three in this reflection I will keep the majority of the account of King Baasha, after his assassination of King Nadab of Israel, together in the following reflection which primarily deals with chapter sixteen of First Kings.

1 Kings 15:1-8 King Abijam of Judah

Now in the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam son of Nebat, Abijam began to reign over Judah. 2 He reigned for three years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Maacah daughter of Abishalom. 3 He committed all the sins that his father did before him; his heart was not true to the LORD his God, like the heart of his father David. 4 Nevertheless for David’s sake the LORD his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem, setting up his son after him, and establishing Jerusalem; 5 because David did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite. 6 The war begun between Rehoboam and Jeroboam continued all the days of his life. 7 The rest of the acts of Abijam, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah? There was war between Abijam and Jeroboam. 8 Abijam slept with his ancestors, and they buried him in the city of David. Then his son Asa succeeded him.

Abijam’s short rule receives a harsh evaluation from the theological perspective of First Kings. As mentioned earlier, the primary evaluation of the kings of Judah in Israel is in terms of Torah-obedience, a criterion that many of the kings would not have considered central. It is worth comparing the very favorable treatment that Abijam (Abijah) receives in 2 Chronicles 13 and the reports of his fidelity to the LORD and the surprising military victory that is the result of this bold trust. The ongoing war between Israel and Judah is mentioned only in passing in this brief account of King Abijam’s reign. The author of First Kings makes the theological claim that the Davidic dynasty continues because of the LORD’s continuing fondness for the patriarch of this line and the promises made to David.

The introduction of the mother of the king, and her role in the next king’s initial reign has brought about some controversy. Some have suggested that Asa was Abijam’s brother so that Maacah could be the mother of them both, others have gone to the extreme of suggesting a sexual relationship between mother and son, but likely this is a confusion related to Maacah’s role as the ‘queen mother’ (see below). Maacah is not specifically named as a foreigner and her father’s name, Abishalom, is likely related to the name Absalom. Yet, First Kings has previously accused Solomon’s wives of leading to his downfall in religious observance and here will imply that Maacah contributed to the unfaithfulness in Abijam’s reign.

King David will retain his status of being the shining paragon of the Davidic tree, but in a rare moment of candor First Kings remembers the ‘matter of Uriah the Hittite.’ The reign of David in First and Second Samuel is a time of expansion for the people of Israel, and David is remembered for his fidelity to the LORD, but the longer narrative of David in those books is not uniformly positive. David was a warrior king, but he also would deal with significant unrest within his own household and throughout Israel. Yet, the memory of David’s fidelity will be the standard by which all the kings of Israel and Judah will be measured.

1 Kings 15: 9-24 King Asa of Judah and the War With Israel

9 In the twentieth year of King Jeroboam of Israel, Asa began to reign over Judah; 10 he reigned forty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Maacah daughter of Abishalom. 11 Asa did what was right in the sight of the LORD, as his father David had done. 12 He put away the male temple prostitutes out of the land, and removed all the idols that his ancestors had made. 13 He also removed his mother Maacah from being queen mother, because she had made an abominable image for Asherah; Asa cut down her image and burned it at the Wadi Kidron. 14 But the high places were not taken away. Nevertheless the heart of Asa was true to the LORD all his days. 15 He brought into the house of the LORD the votive gifts of his father and his own votive gifts — silver, gold, and utensils.

16 There was war between Asa and King Baasha of Israel all their days. 17 King Baasha of Israel went up against Judah, and built Ramah, to prevent anyone from going out or coming in to King Asa of Judah. 18 Then Asa took all the silver and the gold that were left in the treasures of the house of the LORD and the treasures of the king’s house, and gave them into the hands of his servants. King Asa sent them to King Ben-hadad son of Tabrimmon son of Hezion of Aram, who resided in Damascus, saying, 19 “Let there be an alliance between me and you, like that between my father and your father: I am sending you a present of silver and gold; go, break your alliance with King Baasha of Israel, so that he may withdraw from me.” 20 Ben-hadad listened to King Asa, and sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel. He conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel-beth-maacah, and all Chinneroth, with all the land of Naphtali. 21 When Baasha heard of it, he stopped building Ramah and lived in Tirzah. 22 Then King Asa made a proclamation to all Judah, none was exempt: they carried away the stones of Ramah and its timber, with which Baasha had been building; with them King Asa built Geba of Benjamin and Mizpah. 23 Now the rest of all the acts of Asa, all his power, all that he did, and the cities that he built, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah? But in his old age he was diseased in his feet. 24 Then Asa slept with his ancestors, and was buried with his ancestors in the city of his father David; his son Jehoshaphat succeeded him.

In the narrative of First Kings, the story of King Abijam becomes a foil for his son King Asa. King Abijam continues in the sins of his father Rehoboam and his grandfather Solomon while King Asa is a faithful king in the image of King David. His long reign of forty-one years will overlap seven kings of Israel from four different dynasties. During his reign there is continuity in Judah while Israel endures several internal struggles for power, yet there is an internal struggle within Asa’s reign which results in the removal of the queen mother Maacah and the alteration of the religious practices in the area also probably involved conflict. Yet, First Kings views Asa as one of the kings who is a model of what faithful adherence looks like. The author of First Kings is a political realist even as they evaluate leaders based on their adherence to Torah. The narrator can accept the positive movements towards faithfulness without dwelling for too long on either the remaining high places or the actions of Asa to secure the kingdom’s security using the wealth of the temple. It reminds me of the Christian Realism of Reinhold Neibuhr which tried to meld a serious reckoning with scripture and faith with a realistic approach to the potential of power to be a force of incredible evil and a tool of God’s mysterious working.

In response to the military and economic threat posed by the incursion of King Baasha of Israel and the construction of the defensive position at Ramah to block trade coming out of Jerusalem and prevent migration to Judah from Israel. Ramah is at a key geographical point between eight and nine kilometers (five miles) north of Jerusalem and is a key road juncture for both north-south and east-west travel. The terrain around Jerusalem is hilly and passages through this area are essential for trade and travel and providing a fortification at Ramah effectively isolates Judah. The narrator of First Kings does not view the action of Asa removing gold and silver from the temple and his own household in a negative light nor does the narrator insist upon trusting God exclusively to provide deliverance. There is a political realism that sees this bribe[1] of Ben-hadad to break his alliance with Israel and open up a two front war for King Baasha. The efforts of Asa may be viewed as shrewd by the narrator, and his conscription of the people to remove the stone and timber of Ramah to build two closer fortifications at the strategic points of Geba and Mizpah helps to secure the northern approach to Israel. Geba is the infamous Gibeah of Judges 20 that results in the near elimination of the tribe of Benjamin, but this location only five and a half kilometers (three and a half miles) from Jerusalem is of strategic importance. The scale of Israel is much smaller than we are used to thinking about in modern times with automobiles and airplanes or in modern combat operations. The original border between Judah and Israel near Bethel is only twenty five kilometers (sixteen miles) and is closer than the distance between the city hall of my suburb of Dallas (Frisco) and the next suburb approaching Dallas (Plano) of twenty miles. The territory is hilly, and the gains of this generational conflict are comparatively small. In contrast, the raid of Ben-hadad into Israel covers a distance of almost twice that between Bethel and Jerusalem causing an immediate removal of troops from the south to deal with a northern threat that previous negotiations (and bribes) had made safe prior to Asa’s bribe.

At the end of the account of King Asa there is a curious note about having diseased in his feet in his old age. Scholars have provided several possible explanations for this note about his feet from the infirmity of old age to leprosy or even noting the times where feet can be used as a pseudonym of genitalia to speculate that he contracted a sexually transmitted disease. Ultimately all such queries are speculation into the end of the long reign of a king viewed in a very positive light in 1 Kings who is noted for both the faithfulness he has but also his power. 2 Chronicles 16 also narrates both the alliance with Aram and the diseased feet of Asa in greater detail but uses these events to condemn Asa’s lack of trust in God (because he trusted in the military might of Aram and sought a physicians care rather than appealing to God). Even 2 Chronicles with these critiques of Asa view his time as a return to faithfulness and a time of stability for Judah.

1 Kings 15: 25-31 The Brief Rule of King Nadab of Israel

25 Nadab son of Jeroboam began to reign over Israel in the second year of King Asa of Judah; he reigned over Israel two years. 26 He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, walking in the way of his ancestor and in the sin that he caused Israel to commit.

27 Baasha son of Ahijah, of the house of Issachar, conspired against him; and Baasha struck him down at Gibbethon, which belonged to the Philistines; for Nadab and all Israel were laying siege to Gibbethon. 28 So Baasha killed Nadab in the third year of King Asa of Judah, and succeeded him. 29 As soon as he was king, he killed all the house of Jeroboam; he left to the house of Jeroboam not one that breathed, until he had destroyed it, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by his servant Ahijah the Shilonite — 30 because of the sins of Jeroboam that he committed and that he caused Israel to commit, and because of the anger to which he provoked the LORD, the God of Israel.

31 Now the rest of the acts of Nadab, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel?

In contrast to the long reign of King Asa in Judah, Israel will undergo frequent changes in leadership over the same period. The dynasty of Jeroboam will end only a couple of years after the ascension of his son to power. There has been no repentance after the words of the prophet Ahijah, and now Baasha son of Ahijah (perhaps the same person) is the instrument of God’s judgment on the dynasty of Jeroboam. During a siege of Gibbethon to attempt to recapture[2] a city claimed by the Philistines, King Nadab son of Jeroboam is assassinated by Baasha and then a purge is made of the house of Jeroboam.

First Kings makes the theological statement that the frequent violent transitions in leadership in Israel is a result of God’s judgments on individual kings. From the perspective of societal organization, it is worth considering the other challenges Israel faces in comparison with Judah: ten competing tribes and a large Canaanite base and an ongoing conflict with Judah and the surrounding nations. Many of the dynasties that arise in Israel will come from military leaders who lead a coup (Omri, Jehu, Pekah). (Cogan, 2001, p. 407)

Regardless of the societal challenges that are present in Israel, the narrator of First Kings views them through a theological perspective. It is a theological perspective that looks positively upon the role of prophets in both mediating God’s voice and often God’s judgment. The prophets will be active in setting several of the coups by military leaders in motion and as mentioned above it is possible that a son of a prophet becomes the next king of Israel. The prophets will be a part of the ways in which the LORD, the God of Israel, continues to select the new dynasties in Israel.

[1] Even though the NRSV translates this gift, this term is normally translated as a bribe.

[2] Gibbethon is listed as a Levitical city in the tribe of Dan’s area in Joshua 19:44, 21:23

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