The books of 1 and 2 Kings give an instructive account of how obeying God results in blessings for His people, while disobedience brings discipline and wrath. About forty kings are discussed in these books. Most of them “do evil in the sight of the Lord,” and this brings great destruction upon they themselves as well as upon the nations of Israel and Judah. Eventually, their sins result in both nations being taken away to foreign lands as captives.
An example is a king named Abijam who ruled over the southern kingdom of Judah for three years. We are told that “his heart was not loyal to the Lord” (1 Kgs 15:3). The description of Abijam indicates that he did not love the Lord. He promoted idolatry among the Jews, including the depraved use of sacred prostitutes in false worship (14:24).
In light of 1 and 2 Kings, the reader would expect God to severely discipline Abijam and the people. Indeed, there is an indication that He did. The author of Kings says that Judah and Israel–Judah’s brothers to the north–were constantly at war. This was a sign of God’s displeasure with both nations.
Then, after describing how evil Abijam was, the author softens the blow. It seems contradictory when he says that God placed Abijam as a “lamp” in Jerusalem (v 4). In some sense, this evil king was acting as a light. But in what way?
The author tells us. God had made a promise to David. He told him that He would bless him because David was a man whose heart was right with God (vv 4-5). God told David that one of his descendants would rule over Jerusalem forever (2 Sam 7:16). Abijam was a descendant of David. As king, he was a reminder of what God had said. He was like a light, shining on the truth of God’s word.
In the life of Abijam, then, we see both the discipline and grace of God. While God does not overlook the gross sin of this king, He also remembers that the people of Judah are His people and that He has made certain promises to them.
When we read 1 and 2 Kings, we may tend to focus on the severity of God. What happens to the Jews in both Israel and Judah is devastating. Many of them lose their lives. Children die. Cities are destroyed. God’s people become slaves. Recognizing that they brought this destruction upon themselves, we cannot help but realize that God detests sin and punishes it, even when He sees it in His own people.
But we should not overlook God’s grace and faithfulness in these accounts. In fact, these attributes are greater than His severity. In the case of evil king Abijam, we see God’s faithfulness. In the midst of all the rebellion Abijam fomented against God, there is a reminder of the glorious future awaiting Judah and Israel.
Yes, the book of 2 Kings ends with both nations being destroyed because of their sin. God judges His people.
But His grace is even greater. Abijam is a lamp declaring what God has promised. God will bring His people back from captivity. One day, a descendant of David will rule from Jerusalem, and He will rule forever. That descendant will be Jesus Christ.
As believers in Jesus Christ, we can take great encouragement from the account of Abijam. The Lord disciplines us in various ways when we sin. He does it for our own good. At the same time, His grace and faithfulness to the promises He has made to us are even greater than the discipline we so often deserve.
When I read about Abijam, I can’t help but think of the old Christian hymn, “Grace Greater than Our Sin.” The Lord has promised me that I will live with Him forever. I will be His child forever. My sin tells me that I am not worthy of such blessings. But His grace and faithfulness to me is greater than my sin. The last words of the refrain of that hymn drive home that assurance. Talking about God’s grace to His people, the hymn writer concludes: “Grace that is greater than all my sin.”