A Healthy or Harmful Heritage

1 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. Nevertheless, for David’s sake the Lord his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem, setting up his son after him, and establishing Jerusalem, because David did what was right in the eyes 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. Now there was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam all the days of his life. The rest of the acts of Abijam and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? And there was war between Abijam and Jeroboam. And Abijam slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city of David. And Asa his son reigned in his place. 1 Kings 15:1-8 ESV

All throughout his record of the kings of Judah and Israel, the author has dropped small hints or clues that provide further insight into the actions of these men. In the case of Rehoboam, the king of Judah, he reveals that “When Rehoboam died, he was buried among his ancestors in the City of David. His mother was Naamah, an Ammonite woman. Then his son Abijam became the next king” (1 Kings 14:31 NLT). Hidden away in these three sentences is a small detail that could easily be overlooked. But this seemingly innocuous fact helps to explain how the spiritual state of God’s chosen people had so quickly deteriorated.

Rehoboam was the son of Solomon, and Solomon had more than 700 wives and 300 concubines. Many of those women were foreign princesses who had been given to Solomon as part of the many peace agreements made between their home countries and Israel. And the author has already revealed that Solomon made many such treaties that required him to marry these women from pagan nations.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. – 1 Kings 11:1-2 NLT

God had strictly forbidden the Israelites from taking wives for themselves from among the nations that lived in the land of Canaan. Long before the people of Israel had entered the land, Moses had clearly communicated God’s prohibition against any fraternization with the enemy.

“When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are about to enter and occupy, he will clear away many nations ahead of you: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These seven nations are greater and more numerous than you. When the LORD your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the LORD will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you.” – Deuteronomy 7:1-4 NLT

But Solomon had chosen to disobey God’s command – in a major way. He had hundreds of foreign wives and, according to the closing verses of 1 Kings 14, he had married a woman from among the Ammonites. And once again, this small detail is intended to shed light on the moral and spiritual state of the nation. To fully grasp the significance of Solomon’s marriage to this woman,  we have to understand that the Ammonites were the descendants of Lot, the nephew of Abraham. But more importantly, their very existence is tied to a sad and sordid event that had taken place in Lot’s life. After Lot and his two daughters had been rescued from the sinful city of Sodom by an angel of the Lord, they found themselves living in a cave in the wilderness. One night, while Lot was drunk, his two daughters had sexual relations with him, resulting in both of them becoming pregnant. And the book of Genesis tells us that “The younger daughter also gave birth to a son and named him Ben Ammi. He is the ancestor of the Ammonites of today” (Genesis 19:38 NLT).

Hundreds of years later, when the people of Israel were making their way from Egypt to the land of Canaan, their distant relatives, the Ammonites, would refuse to assist them. In fact, they would actually attempt to have them cursed. So, God put a permanent ban on the descendants of the Ammonites and Moabites.

No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants for ten generations may be admitted to the assembly of the LORD. These nations did not welcome you with food and water when you came out of Egypt. Instead, they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in distant Aram-naharaim to curse you. But the LORD your God refused to listen to Balaam. He turned the intended curse into a blessing because the LORD your God loves you. As long as you live, you must never promote the welfare and prosperity of the Ammonites or Moabites. – Deuteronomy 23:3-6 NLT

Yet Solomon had chosen to disobey the will of God by marrying an Ammonite princess. And from this unauthorized and illegal union had come the next king of Israel, Rehoboam, a man who proved to be anything but loyal to God. And when Rehoboam died, his son Abijam took his place. But even in announcing Abijam as the next king of Judah, the author drops another not-so-subtle hint regarding this man’s lineage. He states that “His mother’s name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom” (1 Kings 15:2 ESV). To understand the significance of this detail, we have to look at the book of 2 Chronicles.

Rehoboam took as wife Mahalath the daughter of Jerimoth the son of David, and of Abihail the daughter of Eliab the son of Jesse, and she bore him sons, Jeush, Shemariah, and Zaham. After her he took Maacah the daughter of Absalom, who bore him Abijah, Attai, Ziza, and Shelomith. Rehoboam loved Maacah the daughter of Absalom above all his wives and concubines (he took eighteen wives and sixty concubines, and fathered twenty-eight sons and sixty daughters). – 2 Chronicles 11:18-21 ESV

Abishalom is another variation of the name, Absalom. And Abijah and Abijam are one and the same person. So, what’s the point? It is that Rehoboam married a daughter of the very man who had tried to steal the crown from his grandfather, David. And Absalom had succeeded in doing so, if only for a short period of time. Had he managed to complete his coup attempt, Solomon would have never been the next king of Israel. And yet, Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, had married the daughter of the man who had attempted to deny his father his God-given right to the throne of Israel.

There are so many plots and twists to this story that remain hidden from view, but they provide the context for all that we see happening. The individual actions of these men are to be seen as the byproducts of a much bigger problem. The nation of Israel has a long and sordid history of disobedience to God and each successive generation follows in the footsteps of their ancestors, displaying the lingering and infectious nature of sin. And it becomes painfully clear that each indiscretion and act of insubordination, no matter how small, has consequences. Our sins against God can take on a life of their own and, in the same way that an infectious disease can be spread from one person to another, so we can end up passing on our sinful propensities to the next generation. And that is exactly what happened with the son of Rehoboam.

…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 15:3 ESV

Yet, God had his hand on Abijah, giving him victories over Jeroboam and the ten tribes of Israel. But it was not because of anything Abijah had done. God was honoring the faithfulness of David.

But for David’s sake, the Lord his God allowed his descendants to continue ruling, shining like a lamp, and he gave Abijam a son to rule after him in Jerusalem. For David had done what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight and had obeyed the Lord’s commands throughout his life, except in the affair concerning Uriah the Hittite. – 1 Kings 15:4-5 NLT

Not only do our sins have consequences, but our acts of faithfulness can be passed on as well. God was preserving the kingdom of the rebellious Abijah because of the faithfulness of his grandfather. And, amazingly, some of David’s faithfulness had been passed down to his grandson, manifesting itself in a powerful declaration of allegiance to God, spoken to the rival forces of the ten northern tribes.

“Do you really think you can stand against the kingdom of the Lord that is led by the descendants of David? You may have a vast army, and you have those gold calves that Jeroboam made as your gods. But you have chased away the priests of the Lord (the descendants of Aaron) and the Levites, and you have appointed your own priests, just like the pagan nations. You let anyone become a priest these days! Whoever comes to be dedicated with a young bull and seven rams can become a priest of these so-called gods of yours! But as for us, the Lord is our God, and we have not abandoned him.” – 2 Chronicles 13:8-10 NLT

And when the battle ensued, the people of Judah cried out to God, and He delivered them.

So Judah defeated Israel on that occasion because they trusted in the Lord, the God of their ancestors. – 2 Chronicles 13:18 NLT

God gave Abijah and the people of Judah a great victory over their enemies. This rebellious young king, who had inherited many of his father’s worst traits, had managed to lead his people back to the Lord, if only for a moment. Faced with overwhelming odds and the threat of defeat at the hands of Jeroboam and the ten tribes of Judah, Abijah had cried out to God. In that brief, shining moment, the nation of Judah had placed their hope in the Almighty and He had delivered. But sadly, Abijah’s moment of faithfulness proved to be short-lived. And the author simply records: “And Abijam slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city of David. And Asa his son reigned in his place” ( 1 Kings 15:8 ESV).

The legacy continues. But what will be the nature of this new generation of leadership? Will the next king be faithful or faithless? Will he display a heart for God or a hard-headed insistence to live in rebellion against God? Only time will tell.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson