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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1So Abijah slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city of David: and Asa his son reigned in his stead. In his days the land was quiet ten years.
Asa his son reigned - If Rehoboam was (1 Kings 12:8 note) not more than 21 years old at his accession, Asa, when he mounted the throne, must have been a mere boy, not more than 10 or 11 years of age.
The land was quiet ten years - The great blow struck by Abijah 2 Chronicles 13:15-19, his alliance with Syria 1 Kings 15:19, and the rapid succession of sovereigns in Israel during the earlier part of Asa's reign 1 Kings 15:25-33, would naturally prevent disturbance on the part of the northern kingdom. The tender age of Asa himself would be a bar to warlike enterprises on the part of Judah.
2And Asa did that which was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God:
3For he took away the altars of the strange gods, and the high places, and brake down the images, and cut down the groves:
4And commanded Judah to seek the LORD God of their fathers, and to do the law and the commandment.
5Also he took away out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the images: and the kingdom was quiet before him.
Images - See the margin, sun-images; and Leviticus 26:30 note.
6And he built fenced cities in Judah: for the land had rest, and he had no war in those years; because the LORD had given him rest.
7Therefore he said unto Judah, Let us build these cities, and make about them walls, and towers, gates, and bars, while the land is yet before us; because we have sought the LORD our God, we have sought him, and he hath given us rest on every side. So they built and prospered.
The land is yet before us - i. e., "unoccupied by an enemy" - "the land is open to us to go where we please." Compare Genesis 13:9. The fortification of the strongholds would be an act of rebellion against Egypt, and it might be expected that the Egyptians would endeavor to put a stop to it.
8And Asa had an army of men that bare targets and spears, out of Judah three hundred thousand; and out of Benjamin, that bare shields and drew bows, two hundred and fourscore thousand: all these were mighty men of valour.
The men of Judah served as heavy-armed troops, while the Benjamites were light-armed. Their numbers accord well with those of 2 Chronicles 13:3. As the boundaries of Judah had been enlarged 2 Chronicles 13:19, and as for ten years at least there had been no war 2 Chronicles 14:1, the effective force had naturally increased. It was 400, 000; it is now 580, 000.
9And there came out against them Zerah the Ethiopian with an host of a thousand thousand, and three hundred chariots; and came unto Mareshah.
Zerah the Ethiopian is probably Usarken (Osorkon) II, the third king of Egypt after Shishak, according to the Egyptian monuments. Osorkon II may have been by birth an Ethiopian, for he was the son-in-law, not the son, of the preceding monarch, and reigned in right of his wife. The object of the expedition would be to bring Judaea once more under the Egyptian yoke.
An host of a thousand thousand - This is the largest collected army of which we hear in Scripture; but it does not exceed the known numbers of other Oriental armies in ancient times. Darius Codomannus brought into the field at Arbela a force of 1,040, 000; Xerxes crossed into Greece with certainly above a million of combatants.
10Then Asa went out against him, and they set the battle in array in the valley of Zephathah at Mareshah.
The "valley of Zephathah" - not elsewhere mentioned - is probably the broad Wady which opens out from Mareshah (marginal reference) in a northwesterly direction, leading into the great Philistine plain. Zerah, on the advance of Asa, drew off into the wider space of the Wady, where he could use his horsemen and chariots.
11And Asa cried unto the LORD his God, and said, LORD, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O LORD our God; for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitude. O LORD, thou art our God; let not man prevail against thee.
It is nothing ... - i. e., "Thou canst as easily help the weak as the strong."
12So the LORD smote the Ethiopians before Asa, and before Judah; and the Ethiopians fled.
The defeat of Zerah is one of the most remarkable events in the history of the Jews. On no other occasion did they meet in the field and overcome the forces of either of the two great monarchies between which they were placed. It was seldom that they ventured to resist, unless behind walls. Shishak, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, Nebuchadnezzar, were either unopposed or only opposed in this way. On the one other occasion on which they took the field - under Josiah against Necho - their boldness issued in a most disastrous defeat 2 Chronicles 35:20-24. Now, however, under Asa, they appear to have gained a complete victory over Egypt. The results which followed were nicest striking. The Southern power could not rally from the blow, and, for above three centuries made no further effort in this direction. Assyria, growing in strength, finally, under Sargon and Sennacherib, penetrated to Egypt itself. All fear of Egypt as an aggressive power ceased; and the Israelites learned instead to lean upon the Pharaohs for support (2 Kings 17:4; 2 Kings 18:21; Isaiah 30:2-4, etc.). Friendly ties alone connected the two countries: and it was not until 609 B.C. that an Egyptian force again entered Palestine with a hostile intention.
13And Asa and the people that were with him pursued them unto Gerar: and the Ethiopians were overthrown, that they could not recover themselves; for they were destroyed before the LORD, and before his host; and they carried away very much spoil.
14And they smote all the cities round about Gerar; for the fear of the LORD came upon them: and they spoiled all the cities; for there was exceeding much spoil in them.
They smote all the cities round about Gerar - The Philistines of these parts had, it is probable, accompanied Zerah in his expedition.
15They smote also the tents of cattle, and carried away sheep and camels in abundance, and returned to Jerusalem.