The Bible Story - Volume V
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The Bible Story - Volume V

Chapter 113:

Safety Only Under God!

   Because the people of Judah and Benjamin had turned to idolatry, God allowed a huge Egyptian army to invade Judah and capture many of its towns. When the Egyptians reached Jerusalem, they intended to break through the massive walls and take over the wealthy capital.
   At first God purposed to let the invaders destroy the city's occupants, including King Rehoboam. (II Chronicles 12:1-4.) But he spared them after Rehoboam and other leaders repented of their evil pursuits. (II Chronicles 12:5-7.)

The Temple Looted!

   The Bible doesn't tell how the Egyptians managed to get into the city. Probably it was by means of extra heavy battering rams or wall-scaling apparatus. However it was done, the Israelite soldiers atop the walls undoubtedly took the lives of many of the attackers by showering down arrows, spears, rocks, molten lead and anything else they could pour, throw or drop. At the same time arrows from Egyptian bows downed a great part of the would-be defenders, who would have lived if they hadn't resisted.
   Once the attackers were inside the city, the outnumbered Israelite soldiers surrendered. They expected to be slain. When the Egyptians merely took away their weapons, they had reason to be puzzled. They didn't know that Shishak had given an order that no Israelite in Jerusalem should be put to death unless he resisted. What Shishak didn't know was that the God of Israel had planted in the Egyptian king's mind the decision to give that order.
   It was a bitter episode for Rehoboam when Shishak, followed by his officers and flanked by Egyptian troops strode into the palace where the Israelite king and other leaders nervously waited.
   "I am disappointed," Shishak said as he looked about, omitting any formalities that could take place between two kings, even under such unusual circumstances. "I assumed you would meet me in that part of your palace where you usually receive visiting dignitaries. I have heard that the furnishings there are somewhat unique."
   Rehoboam knew that his conqueror was telling him that he wished to be conducted to the throne room with its many treasures. He bowed very slightly, and tremblingly led the way. When Shishak saw the ornate, ivory throne, so resplendently bejeweled, his dark eyes glittered with admiration. He walked slowly about, taking in the costly objects in the vast room, but his gaze kept returning to the magnificent throne Solomon had designed.
   Scarcely able to control his excitement, Shishak demanded to be shown through the rest of the palace and through the temple. He knew that other treasures were stored elsewhere, and forced the Israelites to disclose the location of the secret rooms, far below ground. After Shishak and his officers were satisfied that they had located most of the wealth of the city, scores of their men poured into the palace, temple and treasury to seize valuable objects and pack them in the costly rugs, draperies and curtains that were at hand. Everything the Egyptian leaders desired was taken. Even the ivory throne was dismantled to be moved to Egypt. Shishak had no intention of leaving such a prize behind, even if it cost the lives of all the Egyptians required to carry it across the desert.
   One might wonder what happened to the Tabernacle equipment and furnishings in the sacred rooms of the temple. If Shishak had any awe for the God of Israel, probably he wouldn't have attacked Judah. Having little or no fear of the Creator, he therefore wouldn't leave anything of special value. But God caused Shishak to leave enough furnishings to carry on the temple service. (II Chronicles 13:11.)

Egyptian Bondage Again

   When the king of Egypt left Jerusalem with the greatest amount of wealth any conqueror had ever taken from a city, that wasn't the complete cost to the Israelites. Because the people of Judah would remain subject to Egypt, Shishak demanded that they send a regular tribute to him. Such tributes might not have been possible to raise if the Egyptians had devastated the land and ruined the economy. This drain of wealth to Egypt fulfilled the prophecy of Shemaiah that Judah would become a servant to Egypt. (II Chronicles 12:8-9; I Kings 14:25-26.)
   In the next few years Judah partly recovered from the invasion. Rehoboam's close brush with death caused him to apply himself more dutifully as ruler. Restoring the costly furnishings of the palace and temple was impossible. Some were replaced by items of much lesser value. Brass shields, for example, took the place of the gold shields of the palace guards. Inexpensive substitutes were made wherever replacements were needed. (I Kings 14:27-28; II Chronicles 12:10-11.)
   What was more important was the establishment of activity at the temple and the halting of pagan religious practices throughout Judah. But in time, as Rehoboam carelessly fell back into his former corrupt habits, the idolatrous customs started to creep back in the land like a poison coursing through a man's bloodstream. Meanwhile, Jeroboam's army continued fighting with Rehoboam's army in occasional small-scale battles. These senseless skirmishes went on all the rest of Rehoboam's life, which ended twelve years after the invasion by the Africans. Solomon's son was buried in Jerusalem where those of the family of David had been entombed. (II Chronicles 12:12-16; I Kings 14:29-31.)
   Abijam, one of Rehoboam's many sons, then became king of Judah. Unhappily, he wasn't much of an improvement over his father, whose tendencies and desires showed up in Abijam. God allowed this young man to reign just long enough three years in order that there would be a continuance of the family of David on the throne and so that he could accomplish at least one outstanding thing in the history of Judah while he was king. (I Kings 15:1-5; II Chronicles 13:1-2.)
   The startling report came to Abijam that Jeroboam had mustered 800,000 troops with which he planned to conquer Judah and became ruler of all twelve tribes. Abijam tried desperately to raise an army of the size of Jeroboam's, but he could get only 400,000 soldiers together. In time he could have increased the number. Time was something he didn't have, inasmuch as Jeroboam might march into Judah any day. Abijam wanted to prevent that. (II Chronicles 13:3.)

"We Know God Is with Us!"

   He took his army north toward Tirzah, the capital of the ten tribes. The move was none too soon. Jeroboam's army was moving south at the same time. When Abijam learned that the two armies were about to meet, he halted his men at the base of Mt. Zemaraim, a few miles east of Bethel.
   A little later Jeroboam arrived with his men. Confident that he had the upper hand, he halted them very close by, as though defying the southern army to dare to start something. As the tension mounted, a strong voice sounded from somewhere above. Many thousands of eyes looked up to see a lone figure standing on the top of Mt. Zemaraim.
   "Listen to me, Jeroboam!" the figure called down. "Hear me, you men from Tirzah! You should know that God said only those of David's family should always rule the kingdom of Israel, or at least a great part of it. It was an agreement that is to stay in effect as long as there is salt in the sea. In spite of that, Jeroboam desires to become king of all Israel, even though he is not of the royal family. Nor is he worthy to continue to be ruler of even a part of the kingdom because of his idolatry and because of the ways in which he troubled my father when Rehoboam was a young and inexperienced king!"
   By this time Jeroboam and the soldiers of both armies began to recognize the speaker as Abijam, who hoped that he could avert a battle by pointing out that Jeroboam was foolish to attack Judah.
   "Do you actually believe that you can prevail against the army of a tribe that has stayed closer to God than you have?" Abijam continued. "What advantage will your greater numbers be to you as long as you have only your powerless calf images to rely on? And how can you expect victory after having put the priests of God out of your land, replacing them with pagan priests? As for us, we are relying on the God to whom we sacrifice at the temple at Jerusalem. WE KNOW HE IS WITH US. You would be wise to not fight against us. If you do, when you hear the sound of trumpets from the priests who are with us you will know that you are about to fail in battle!" (II Chronicles 13:4-12.)
   As Abijam slipped out of sight, scattered laughter and hoots of derision came from some of Jeroboam's soldiers. Others seemed to be sobered by what they had heard. Many of them didn't get to hear all that Abijam had to say, having been ordered by Jeroboam to quietly leave and go on the double around Mt. Zemaraim and move up to the rear of the army of Judah.
   It was a jolting surprise to Abijam's troops to discover that they were being blocked from the south as well as from the north. Fighting their way free of the two mammoth jaws of humanity appeared impossible. They were so filled with fear that many of them called out loudly to God for help. At a signal from Abijam, who had returned from the top of the mountain, the priests sounded their trumpets with a peal that could be heard for miles.

God Topples House of Israel

   The sound had a strong effect on Jeroboam's men. Abijam's words about what would happen when the horns blew were still fresh in their minds. They paused in their charge, fearing that the sound really could be an ill omen. In those same fateful moments Abijam's troops sensed the uncertainty of their attackers. Encouraged, they forgot about escape and turned to rush at Jeroboam's hesitant men. The noisy shouts and sudden fierce conduct of the southern army unnerved the northern army as though by a miracle. Abruptly the frightened men turned and ran, giving their incited pursuers full opportunity to strike them.
   Hours later the ground around Mt. Zemaraim was littered with half a million corpses from Jeroboam's army. The remaining 300,000, many of them badly injured, managed to escape in all directions. It was an astoundingly quick end to such a large army. Jeroboam fled when he saw that defeat was certain. Abijam and some of his men pursued, but failed to overtake the fugitive.
   After resting for a day from the exhausting strain of battle, Abijam and his men moved on to seize several towns in the nearby regions. The king of Judah didn't plan to take over every town in northern Israel. He wanted only to have control over those that were close to Jerusalem. (II Chronicles 13:13-19.)
   Because of his confidence in God in the conflict with Jeroboam, Abijam became a stronger king for a time. Then his personal interests and pursuits became more important to him than the welfare of the people. In his lifetime he married fourteen wives and was the father of thirty-eight children, an achievement that was almost a career in itself. When he began to fall into his father's ways of living, God allowed his life to come to an end. Otherwise, much of the nation probably would have followed his wrong examples. (I Kings 15:6-8; II Chronicles 13:20-22.)
   Asa, one of Abijam's twenty-two sons, became the next king of Judah. Even as a very young man, he had observed how idolatry had brought so much trouble to Israel. As soon as he came into power he began a strong campaign to rid his domain of evil religious practices by destroying pagan altars, images and places where idols were worshipped. Besides, he gave his officers orders to put out of the country all who were found to be sodomites, degenerate men who often posed as priests at places of idol worship.
   In banishing idolatry, Asa met with an awkward situation in his palace when he found that his grandmother, one of Rehoboam's wives, was an idol worshipper. She had arranged to have a special idol made and set up in a nearby grove for private worship. It was embarrassing to the king to ban the queen dowager from his court, but he had no choice. As for the idol, it was torn down and burned.
   As the purge of his nation progressed, Asa proclaimed that the people should look to God and His Commandments for the only right ways of living, and that only then could they enjoy a time of peace. As a result of changes for the better in the people, there was no war for the next ten years.
   Again crowds thronged to the temple to worship and sacrifice. It was almost as it had been in the early days of Solomon. However, some sacrificed at places they picked themselves, usually close to their homes. The priests and the altar had been established at the temple for that purpose. Other places should have been removed by Asa. It was the one thing he failed to do in his efforts to help Israel. Otherwise, he lived very close to God. (I Kings 15:9-15; II Chronicles 14:1-5.)

Prosperity Invites Looters

   With peace came a measure of prosperity to Judah. It was a time to build new, fortified towns where the borders of the land could be strengthened, and to muster and equip men for better defense. Military might couldn't substitute for God's protection, but if any nation was known to have a small army and poor fortifications, it was almost the same as inviting some greedy king to attack. (II Chronicles 14:6-8.)
   As it happened, a covetous king WAS planning to attack Judah. He was Zerah, leader of a nation of Ethiopians. He wasn't very concerned about the size of Asa's army because he believed that he, Zerah, commanded a much larger number of troops. And he was right. There were a million, plus the drivers, archers, and spearmen of three hundred war chariots!
   Even before Zerah's northbound army had reached the Paran desert south of Canaan, Asa was notified of the invaders by scouts who constantly patrolled the borders of the nation. Judah's king hastily gathered his 300,000 soldiers from Judah and 280,000 archers from Benjamin and took them southward. If there had to be a battle, he preferred to fight it as far from Jerusalem as possible. It wasn't until he came within a few miles of his enemy, in a valley in southern Judah, that he realized how greatly his troops were outnumbered. He had only about half as many men.
   As the two armies faced each other and lined up for battle only a mile or two apart, Asa became very troubled. His capable and experienced officers couldn't give him much encouragement because they felt that the probability of defeat was very great. Asa knew that the lives of over a half million men and the safety of Judah and possibly all Israel depended on the outcome of a fray with the invaders. Only God could alter that obvious outcome. It was time for the king to pray.
   "You know that we must stand against these enemies," Asa said to God, "and you know that they are so numerous that they could surround us. But we will go against them in your name, trusting that you will not let them prevail against us, for if they do, and if we are your people, it would be as though they prevailed against you. If helping us in battle were something you are too weak to do, it would be foolish to ask. We know, though, that you have the power to do anything. We're putting our lives into your merciful hands."
   By then the Ethiopians and their Egyptian allies had spread out all across the southern horizon and to the southeast and southwest, like a gigantic, curved trap ready to snap shut with bone-crushing force on its victims. (II Chronicles 14:9-11.)
   A growing cloud of dust came up from the middle of the valley, heralding the charge of Zerah's chariots, followed at a slower pace by a horde of foot soldiers whose shields, spears and swords glistened sharply in the brilliant sunlight. Shouts from thousands of throats came up the valley like the savage shriek from some kind of massive animal. Only minutes later the rumbling chariots were close, and heading straight toward the ranks of the House of Judah!

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Publication Date: 1987
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