We do not find that Jeroboam offered to make any answer at all to Abijah’s speech. Though it was much to the purpose, he resolved not to heed it, and therefore he heard it as though he heard it not. He came to fight, not to dispute. The longest sword, he thought, would determine the matter, not the better cause. Let us therefore see the issue, whether right and religion carried the day or no.
I. Jeroboam, who trusted to his politics, was beaten. He was so far from fair reasoning that he was not for fair fighting. We may suppose that he felt a sovereign contempt for Abijah’s harangue. “One stratagem,” thinks he, “is worth twenty such speeches; we will soon give him an answer to all his arguments; he shall soon find himself overpowered with numbers, surrounded on every side with the instruments of death, and then let him boast of his religion and his title to the crown.” A parley, it is probable, was agreed on, yet Jeroboam basely takes the advantage of it, and, while he was treating, laid his ambushment behind Judah, against all the laws of arms. What honour could be expected in a servant when he reigned? Abijah was for peace, but, when he spoke, they were for war, Ps. 120:7.
II. Abijah and his people, who trusted in their God, came off conquerors, notwithstanding the disproportion of their strength and numbers.
1. They were brought into a great strait, put into a great fright, for the battle was before and behind. A good cause, and one which is designed to be victorious, may for a season be involved in embarrassment and distress. It was David’s case. They compassed me about like bees, Ps. 118:10-12.
2. In their distress, when danger was on every side, which way should they look but upwards for deliverance? It is an unspeakable comfort that no enemy (not the most powerful or politic), no stratagem or ambushment, can cut off our communication with heaven; our way thitherward is always open. (1.) They cried unto the Lord, 2 Chron. 13:14. We hope they did this before they engaged in this war, but the distress they were in made them renew their prayers and quickened them to be importunate. God brings his people into straits, that he may teach them to cry unto him. Earnest praying is crying. (2.) They relied on the God of their fathers, depended upon his power to help them and committed themselves to him, 2 Chron. 13:18. The prayer of faith is the prevailing prayer, and this is that by which we overcome the world, even our faith, 1 John 5:4. (3.) The priests sounded the trumpets to animate them by giving them an assurance of God’s presence with them. It was not only a martial but a sacred sound, and put life into their faith. (4.) They shouted in confidence of victory: “The day is our own, for God is with us.” To the cry of the prayer they added the shout of faith, and so became more than conquerors.
3. Thus they obtained a complete victory: As the men of Judah shouted for joy in God’s salvation, God smote Jeroboam and his army with such terror and amazement that they could not strike a stroke, but fled with the greatest precipitation imaginable, and the conquerors gave no quarter, so that they put to the sword 500,000 chosen men (2 Chron. 13:17), more, it is said, than ever we read of in any history to have been killed in one battle; but the battle was the Lord’s, who would thus chastise the idolatry of Israel and own the house of David. But see the sad effect of division: it was the blood of Israelites that was thus shed like water by Israelites, while the heathen, their neighbours, to whom the name of Israel had formerly been a terror, cried, Aha! so would we have it.
4. The consequence of this was that the children of Israel, though they were not brought back to the house of David (which by so great a blow surely they would have been had not the determinate counsel of God been otherwise), yet, for that time, were brought under, 2 Chron. 13:18. Many cities were taken, and remained in the possession of the kings of Judah; as Bethel particularly, 2 Chron. 13:19. What became of the golden calf there, when it came into the hands of the king of Judah, we are not told; perhaps it was removed to some place of greater safety, and at length to Samaria (Hos. 8:5); yet in Jehu’s time we find it at Bethel, 1 Kgs. 10:29. Perhaps Abijah, when it was in his power to demolish it, suffered it to stand, for his heart was not perfect with God; and, not improving what he had got for the honour of God, he soon lost it all again.
Lastly, The death of both of the conquered and of the conqueror, not long after. 1. Jeroboam never looked up after this defeat, though he survived it two or three years. He could not recover strength again, 2 Chron. 13:20. The Lord struck him either with some bodily disease, of which he languished, or with melancholy and trouble of mind; his heart was broken, and vexation at his loss brought his head, probably by this time a hoary head, with sorrow to the grave. He escaped the sword of Abijah, but God struck him: and there is no escaping his sword. 2. Abijah waxed mighty upon it. What number of wives and children he had before does not appear; but now he multiplied his wives to fourteen in all, by whom he had thirty-eight children, 2 Chron. 13:21. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of those arrows. It seems, he had ways peculiar to himself, and sayings of his own, which were recorded with his acts in the history of those times, 2 Chron. 13:22. But the number of his months was cut off in the midst, and, soon after his triumphs, death conquered the conqueror. Perhaps he was too much lifted up with his victories, and therefore God would not let him live long to enjoy the honour of them.