Day 176 (Again): The Puzzle of Abijam/Abijah

“Abijam”: 1583 woodcarving by French book publisher Guillaume Rouillé
15 Now in the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam the son of Nebat, Abijam began to reign over Judah. He reigned for three years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom. And he walked in all the sins that his father did before him, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father. (1 Kings 15:1-3)

13 In the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam, Abijah began to reign over Judah. 2 He reigned for three years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Micaiah the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah. (2 Chronicles 13:1-2)

Most of the time–in fact, EVERY time except for one, there is no difference in the character assessment of a king of Judah between Kings and Chronicles. If 1 Kings says a king did evil in the eyes of the Lord, so does 2 Chronicles. If 2 Chronicles says a king did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, so does 1 Kings.

Every time. Except for this one. 1 Kings is is clear that Abijam “walked in all the sins that his father did before him.” But 2 Chronicles omits the summary statement. It makes no commentary one way or the other about what kind of king Abijah was. In fact, for the entire account of Abijah’s reign in 2 Chronicles, there’s not a hint that he did anything that displeased the Lord. In contrast, his son Asa is described as doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord in both Kings and Chronicles, even though in his last years he didn’t seek God. Instead, he made a treaty with the king of Syria to help him defeat the army of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. And when the prophet confronted him about it, Asa threw him in prison.

So what’s up with this?

First, let’s deal with the question of whether or not these are two different people. After all, they have different names: Abijam and Abijah. Their mothers have two different names: Maacah in 1 Kings and Micaiah in 2 Chronicles. And their mothers’ FATHERS had two different names: Abishalom (which is really Absalom, just to add even more confusion!), and Uriel of Gibeah. Then, as if it couldn’t get more convoluted, King Asa’s mother is listed as Maacah in 2 Chronicles 15:16. Is she a different woman than Asa’s grandmother Micaiah, or is Micaiah the same person as Maacah in 1 Kings; and “mother” in 2 Chronicles 15 is another way to say “grandmother?”

Is your head hurting yet?

Well, Abijam and Abijah are almost certainly the same person. Both 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles describe him as becoming king of Judah in the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam, and both accounts agree that he reigned for three years. Since there could only be one king of Judah at a time (and there’s no indication of a civil war in Judah, ever), they have to be the same person.

So then, why does 2 Chronicles leave out the assessment that Abijah did evil in the eyes of the Lord? There are at least three possibilities:

1. Short Reign=Bad King. Long Reign=Good King

As I talked about in my other Day 176 post, good kings generally (though not always) had long reigns, and bad kings generally (not always) had short reigns. We will see some notable exceptions as we go through our study, but the longest reigning kings of Judah (Asa, Uzziah, and Hezekiah) were all good, while the shortest reigning kings of both Israel and Judah were bad. So it is possible that the writer of 1 Kings was applying some circular reasoning here: Abijam only reigned three years, so he must have been bad. Terrible kings with long reigns, such as Ahab (22 years) and Manesseh (55 years), hadn’t happened yet.

I’ll say one more thing about the variation of names: the name Abijam (1 Kings) means “My father is the sea.” Jews were not a seafaring people, and most of the time in Scripture, the sea is associated with bad things. In contrast, the name Abijah (2 Chronicles) means “My father is Yahweh.” So it served the purpose of the writers of 1 Kings to associate a bad king with the sea, and it made sense for the writers of Chronicles to not call someone a bad king whose father was Yahweh.

2. Relatively Speaking, Abijah wasn’t all that bad.

We aren’t sure exactly when these books were written, but a general consensus is that 1 and 2 Kings were written during the Babylonian captivity (586-522 BC), while 2 Chronicles was written long after the exiles returned (between 450 and 250 BC). So perhaps with a few centuries more time to reflect, the writers of Chronicles may have said, “You know, compared to some of the later kings of Judah, and especially compared to all the kings of Israel, Abijah wasn’t that bad.” History has a way of blurring the edges of even the worst people.

3. It never hurts to say good things about the ones who are writing your history.

As I mentioned above, Chronicles was compiled by the priests after the exiles returned from Babylonian captivity. The first order of business for the returning exiles was to re-establish the Levitical priesthood. So maybe it is no coincidence that Chronicles includes Abijah’s rebuke of Jeroboam, but 1 Kings doesn’t. Look at some of the memorable lines:

  • Have you not driven out the priests of the Lord, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites, and made priests for yourselves like the peoples of other lands? (13:9)
  • We have priests ministering to the Lord who are sons of Aaron, and Levites for their service. They offer to the Lord every morning and every evening burnt offerings and incense of sweet spices, set out the showbread on the table of pure gold, and care for the golden lampstand that its lamps may burn every evening (13:10-11)
  • Behold, God is with us at our head, and his priests with their battle trumpets to sound the call to battle against you (13:12).

When the returning exiles were trying to establish the authority of the priests and the Levites, it made sense to include a speech that emphasized the authority of the priests and the Levites. By the same token, it made sense not to call the king who delivered it a bad king.

4. God can hit a Good Lick with a Crooked Stick

As Tara-Leigh notes in her podcast for today, Abijah might have been a bad king, but he wasn’t wrong about who God is. In his speech/sermon in 2 Chronicles 13, he speaks powerful truths about God, and God defeated a vastly superior force with nothing but a shout from the men of Judah (see 2 Chron 13:15). So Abijam/jah could have been just as evil as 1 Kings describes him, but God’s sovereignty means that he will use every ruler–good and evil–to accomplish his purposes.

Conclusion: Does it Really Matter?

Now, at the end of the day (and it actually is the end of the day as I write this; I’ve been obsessing over this since my quiet time this morning), this entire discussion has been for next level Bible nerds. It doesn’t make a bit of difference in how one understands the authority of God’s Word. God’s Word is authoritative and inspired, and even the minor discrepancies do not change its basic truths.

God is sovereign, God’s word is trustworthy, and God’s people are called to honor Him with every part of their lives, however long that life turns out to be.



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