The details of Abijah's reign of three years are recorded in 1 Kings 15.1‑8, and 2 Chronicles 13. The account in 1 Kings concentrates on the evil of his life but makes no mention of his speech. The record of 2 Chronicles concentrates on his speech and the great battle that he fought against Israel, but makes no mention of his wicked ways. By taking the two portions together we have his speech and the background against which his words should be considered.
Abijah's speech was a classic; preached by a better man the influence of its ministry might have had a more telling effect. As it stands, it is a reminder of the saying, "I cannot hear what you say for watching what you do"; unfortunately many a good word is dulled by the same principle.
It has been well said that many people have two sets of rules; one set for themselves, and another which they apply to all others. Something of this nature is seen in the life of Abijah. On the face of it, what Abijah said was true, but it is clear that he was not governed by his own ministry. If Jeroboam had been right with God he would have been able to point out that there were other considerations to be taken into account. As it was he had no answer to the words of Abijah. He was an idolater who had no knowledge of the living God. His strength, as he saw it was in the size of his army, which was twice the size of Abijah's. The stand that he took was a challenge to God and was, in the end, his undoing. Regardless of the position taken by either king, there were nearly a million and a quarter valiant men of Israel and Judah facing each other on the field of battle, a dreadful situation for the nation to be in.
The opening words of Abijah's speech, "Ought ye not to know that the Lord God of Israel gave the kingdom over Israel to David for ever", were indisputably correct. What was not said, however, was how the kingdom came to be divided, and why these two kings, reigning over two parts of a divided nation, were facing each other with mighty armies.
It is very difficult to accept that Abijah was unaware that the kingdom was divided as a result of his grandfather Solomon's sins, or that he was ignorant of his father's foolish answer to the people as recommended by inexperienced advisers. Instead, he pleaded that his father, Rehoboam, was young and tender‑hearted and that Jeroboam had taken advantage of the situation. Abijah must have been oblivious to the fact that the division of the nation was of God, and that all his words, however telling in content, would not rectify the situation.
What are the lessons to be learned from Abijah and his speech? First it is a reminder that whatever is placed in the hands of man deteriorates. The nation of Israel reached its high water mark under Solomon. He had every advantage and was signally blessed of God, but he lost his heart, dishonoured God, and finally allowed idolatry in the land. Likewise today. The Lord has His ministry on high, the Holy Spirit is indwelling believers down here, and the Word of God is freely available to most, yet divisions and heresies abound on every hand.
Second, however correct the content of what was said, if it does not take into account other relevant considerations, it is really only half‑truth. Abijah ignored his father's mistakes and his grandfather's errors and went back to his great-grandfather David's reign. If the real matter of healing the division had been on his heart he would have sought the face of God, and perhaps in the mercy of God matters would have taken another turn. As it was, God in righteousness came in because of His servant David and gave Abijah a resounding victory. The advantage gained was, of course, short‑term; it did nothing to heal the breach.
Looking over church history many of the divisions which have taken place have been supported by great speeches in defence of the actions taken. Reading statements in isolation, the conviction often arises that if the same effort had been put into healing as was put into defence of division, more might have been salvaged.
However, one great comfort is sure. There is a man, God's Man, into whose hands will be placed the reigns of government. When He takes over, there will be no deterioration. He will reign in righteousness, and then, and only then, will there be lasting peace and blessing.