Hurlbut's Story of the Bible  by Jesse Lyman Hurlbut

The First Four Kings of Judah

II Chronicles xii: 1, to xx: 37.

dropcap image OW we turn from the story of the kingdom of Israel in the north to the story of the kingdom of Judah in the south. You read in Story 74 how the Ten Tribes broke away from the rule of King Rehoboam and set up a kingdom of their own under Jeroboam. This division left the kingdom of Judah very small and weak. It reached from the Dead Sea westward to the land of the Philistines on the shore of the Great Sea, and from Beersheba on the south not quite to Bethel on the north; but it held some control over the land of Edom on the south of the Dead Sea. Its chief city was Jerusalem, where stood the Temple of the Land and the palace of the king.

After Rehoboam found that he could no more rule over the Ten Tribes, he tried to make his own little kingdom strong by building cities and raising an army of soldiers. But he did not look to the Lord as his grandfather David had looked; he allowed his people to worship idols, so that soon on almost every hill and in almost every grove of trees there was an image of stone or wood. God was not pleased with Rehoboam and his people, because they had forsaken him for idols. He brought upon the land of Judah a great army from Egypt, led by Shishak, the king of Egypt. They marched over all the land of Judah, they took the city of Jerusalem, and they robbed the Temple of all the great treasure in gold and silver which Solomon had stored up. This evil came upon Judah because its king and its people had turned away from the Lord their God.

After Rehoboam had reigned seventeen years he died, and his son Abijah, became king of Judah. When Jeroboam, the king of Israel, made war upon him, Abijah led his army into the land of Israel. But Jeroboam's army was twice as large as Abijah's, and his men stood not only in front of the men of Judah but also behind them, so that the army of Judah was in great danger of being destroyed. But Abijah told his men to trust in the Lord, and to fight bravely in the Lord's name. And God helped the men of Judah against Israel, and they won a great victory; so that Jeroboam never again came against Judah.

Abijah's reign was short, only three years; and after him came Asa, his son, who was a great warrior, a great builder of cities, and a wise ruler. Against Asa a great army of enemies came up from Ethiopia, which was south of Egypt. Asa drew out his little army against the Ethiopians at a place called Mareshah, in the south of Judah, near the desert. He had no hope of success in his soldiers, because they were so few and the enemies were no many. But Asa called upon the Lord, and said:

"O Lord, it makes no difference to thee whether there are few or many. Help us, O Lord, for we trust in thee; and in thy name we fight this vast multitude. O Lord, thou art our God; let not man succeed against thee."

The Lord heard Asa's prayer, and gave him a great victory over the Ethiopians. Asa took again the cities in the south which had gone over to the side of the Ethiopians, and he brought to Jerusalem great riches, and flocks of sheep, and heads of cattle, and camels, which he had taken from his enemies.

Then the Lord sent to Asa a prophet named Azariah. He said, "Hear me, King Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you while you are with him. If you seek him you shall find him; but if you forsake the Lord he will forsake you. Now be strong, and put away the wickedness out of the land, and the Lord shall reward your work."

Then Asa rebuilt the altar of the Lord which had fallen into decay, and he called upon his people to worship. He went through the land, and broke down the idols, and burned them. He found that his own mother, the queen, had made an idol, and he cut it down and broke it in pieces; and he would not allow her to be queen any longer, because she had worshipped idols.

Until Asa was old he served the Lord; but in his old age he became sick, and in his sickness he did not seek the Lord. He turned to men who called themselves physicians or doctors, but they were men who tried to cure by the power of idols. This led many of Asa's people to worship images, so that when he died there were again idols throughout the land.

Asa's son, Jehoshaphat, was the next king, and he was the wisest and strongest of all the kings of Judah, and ruled over the largest realm of any. When he became king Ahab was king of Israel, of whom we read in Part Fourth. Jehoshaphat made peace with Israel, and united with the Israelites against the kingdom of Syria. He fought against the Syrians in the battle at Ramath-gilead, where King Ahab was slain (see Story 71), and afterward with Ahab's son, Jehoram, he fought against the Moabites. (See Story 73.)

Jehoshaphat served the Lord with all his heart. He took away the idols that had again arisen in the land; he called upon his people to worship the Lord, and he sent princes and priests throughout all Judah to read to the people the law of the Lord, and to teach the people how to serve the Lord.

The Lord gave to Jehoshaphat great power. He ruled over the land of Edom, over the wilderness on the south, and over the cities of the Philistines upon the coast. And Jehoshaphat chose judges for the cities in all the land, and he said to them:

"Remember that you are not judging for men, but for the Lord; and the Lord is with you, and sees all your acts. Therefore fear the Lord, and do his will. Do not allow men to make you presents, so that you will favor them; but be just toward all, and be strong in doing right."

At one time news came to King Jehoshaphat that some of the nations on the east and south and north, Moabites, Ammonites, and Syrians, had banded together against him, and were encamped with a great army at En-gedi, near the Dead Sea. Jehoshaphat called forth his soldiers, but before they went to battle he led them to the Temple to worship the Lord. And Jehoshaphat called upon the Lord for help, saying:

"O Lord, the God of our fathers, art not thou God in heaven? Dost thou not rule over the nations of earth? Is not power thine, so that none can stand against thee? Now, Lord, look upon these hosts who have come against thy people. We have no might against this great company, and we know not what to do; but our eyes look toward thee for help."

Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon one of the Levites, a man named Jahaziel, and he said:

"Hear, ye men of Jerusalem and Judah, and hear, O King Jehoshaphat. Thus saith the Lord, 'Fear not this great host of your enemies, for the battle is not yours, but the Lord's. Go out against them; but you will not need to fight. You shall stand still, and see how the Lord will save you. Do not fear, for the Lord is with you!' "


The priests teach the people

Then Jehoshaphat and all his people worshipped the Lord, bowing with their faces on the ground. And the next day, when they marched against the enemies, the Levites walked in front, singing and praising the Lord, while all the people answered:

"Give thanks to the Lord, for his mercy endureth forever."

When the men of Judah came to the camp of their enemies, they found that a quarrel had risen up among them. The Ammonites and the Moabites began to fight with the rest of the bands, and soon all the host were fighting and killing each other. And when the men of Judah came part of the host were lying dead, and the rest had fled away into the desert, leaving behind them great treasure. So it came to pass as the prophet Azariah had said, they did not fight, but the Lord fought for them, and saved them from their foes.

The place where this strange battle had taken place they named "the valley of Berachah," which means "blessing," because there they blessed the Lord for the help that he had given them. And afterward they came back to Jerusalem with songs, and praises, and the great riches which they had taken. And God gave to King Jehoshaphat peace and rest from his enemies, and great power as long as he lived.


The valley of Jehoshaphat at Jerusalem as seen to-day