All or Nothing? – The Case of Aviyah (Abijah)
The book of Judges describes how Israel strayed from obedience to God (Judges 2:11 – 23). Before the monarchy was established in Israel we find that the Jewish people swayed back and forth from serving idols to serving God. With the emergence of Samuel the people turned back to God (1Samuel 7:2). This period of loyalty to God lasted throughout the times of Samuel, the reign of Saul and David as well as Solomon. But under Rechav’am (Rehoboam) the son of Solomon the people of Judah went back to do worse than all of the evils that were done before then (1Kings 14:22). This trend continued into the reign of Aviyam (or Aviyah – Abijah) as the prophet records (1Kings 15:3). This was the most sinful generation of Jews up until that time.
Now let us turn to the book of Chronicles. We find Aviyah facing off in battle against the Israelite army of the Northern kingdom. Although outnumbered Aviyah is confident that his Judean army will prevail. The Scriptures tell us how Aviyah stood on a mountain and lectured to the Israelite army about his own loyalty to God and the loyalty of his kingdom. Aviyah speaks of the service in the Temple that is being kept up by the people of Judah and he speaks of the fact that his people have not abandoned the watch of the Lord (2Chronicles 13:4 – 12).
Aviyah and the Judeans were indeed victorious over their Israelite opponents because they relied on the God of their fathers (2Chronicles 13:18).
Let us step back a minute. Didn’t the prophet teach us that this was a sinful generation? Where do we see Aviyah’s humility before God? How can we reconcile the dismal portrait of Aviyah as presented by the prophetic author of the book of Kings with his own assessment of himself as recorded in the book of Chronicles?
This is not the only such contradiction in the Scriptures. The righteous King David says about himself: “For my sins have gone over my head as a heavy burden they are too heavy for me” (Psalm 38:5). Yet the same David declares: “All of His judgments are before me and I have not turned away from His statutes” (Psalm 18:23). So was David a person drowning in sin or was he someone who was loyal to God?
We find the same contradiction concerning the nation of Israel as a whole in their exiled state. In Psalm 44 Israel declares to God: “All this is come upon us but we have not forgotten You nor have we been false to Your covenant” (Psalm 44:18). And the same Israel declares: “We have sinned with our fathers we have done wrong and acted wickedly” (Psalm 106:6).
Through the prophet Jeremiah we learn how God was never pleased with the deeds of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 32:31). Yet God refers to the original state of the city as the “faithful city” (Isaiah 1:21). So which is it?
Hezekiah pleads to God to spare him on account of his own righteousness (2Kings 20:3). But didn’t the prophets teach us that no one is completely righteous (Job 15:16)?
The answer is that there are different levels of God’s judgment. On the one hand no one is justified before God’s absolute justice (Psalm 143:2; Job 9:30,31). On the other hand God is merciful and He factors our humanity into His judgment (Psalm 78:39; 103:14). We need to recognize that even if we were to obey God perfectly He would still owe us nothing because we have given Him only that which he already possesses (Job 35:7). On the other hand we must appreciate the blessing of obedience that God granted us in whichever limited sense we were blessed. God rewards even imperfect obedience; not because He owes anyone anything, but because in His mercy He counts our obedience for us as righteousness.
Both are true. We are sinful and we are loyal to God. The limited loyalty that we were granted directs us to yearn and to strive for greater closeness to God and deeper obedience. And our loyalty to God also directs us to stand tall in our obedience as the righteous Yehoshafat (Jehoshaphat) did before us (2Chronicles 17:6) and thank God for that blessing in our present state.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal