Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Abijam and Asa: Figuring Out the Family

Today is the third day in our 28th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  1 Kings 15; 2 Chronicles 13-14; Titus 3.

Okay--I have to admit that sometimes I have a real difficulty understanding the Bible.  And I know i'm not alone.  You probably do, too...especially if you read it in an observant kind of way.  Sometimes things like family trees can get a bit convoluted in my head, and at times the Bible even seems to contradict itself.  I wrestle with things like this.  Here's an example:

In our readings today, we come across two kings of Judah: Abijam and Asa.  Both are direct descendants of King David, and rightful heirs to the throne.  Both of them have as their mother Queen Maacah the daughter of Abishalom (Absalom).  Today, I was reading from the ESV, which is normally my preferred version.  It says in 1 Kings 15:2-6:
Now in the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam the son of Nebat, Abijam began to reign over Judah. He reigned for three years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom. And he walked in all the sins that his father did before him, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father.Nevertheless, for David's sake the Lord his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem, setting up his son after him, and establishing Jerusalem, because David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite. Now there was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam all the days of his life. 

Then, we read about the next king, Asa.  15:8-10 (ESV) says:
And Abijam slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city of David. And Asa his son reigned in his place.  In the twentieth year of Jeroboam king of Israel, Asa began to reign over Judah, 10 and he reigned forty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom.
Next, verse 13 (ESV) says:
He also removed Maacah his mother from being queen mother because she had made an abominable image for Asherah. And Asa cut down her image and burned it at the brook Kidron.

When I read this, I had to do a double-take.  It looks like Abijam and Asa were brothers--both of them the sons of Maacah the daughter of Abishalom.  But Asa was the son of Abijam, and the daughter of Maacah.  In other words, it seems that Abijam was both the father and the brother of Asa--he married his own mother!  Can this be true?

John Wesley's commentary on verse 2 explains this well.  Of Maacah, he writes:
Some conceive that this was Absalom's daughter, called properly Tamar, 2 Samuel 14:27, and from her royal grandmother, 2 Samuel 3:3, Maacah.
Then, Wesley writes on verse 10:
Mother's — That is, his grandmother's, as appears from verse 2, who is called his mother, as David is called Abijam's father, verse 3. And his grand-mother's name may be here mentioned, rather than his mother's, because his mother was either an obscure person, or was dead, or unwilling to take care of the education of her son, and so he was educated by the grand-mother, who, though she poisoned his father Abijam with her idolatrous principles, verse 12, yet could not infect Asa, nor withhold him from prosecuting his good purposes of reforming religion.
 Finally, on verse 13, Wesley writes:
He removed — He took from her either the name and authority of queen regent, which she, having been Rehoboam's wife, and Abijam's mother, took to herself during Asa's minority; or, the dignity of the queen mother, and those guards, or instruments of power, which she had enjoyed and misemployed.
One website, Answering the Athiest, puts it even more succinctly:
 In the KJV, both verse 2 and verse 10 read, "...his mother's name was Maachah, the daughter of Abishalom." In the NKJV, verse 2 reads, "...His mother's name was Maachah the granddaughter of Abishalom." Verse 10 reads, "...His grandmother's name was Maachah the granddaughter of Abishalom." 
The Hebrew word 'em can and is used in a broad sense, just as father ('ab) is used in a general sense at times. The KJV translates literally, the NKJV renders into the English as we would understand it to be. 
There is no contradiction.
This is confusing only if you're using one of those translations which does not differentiate between "mother" and "grandmother."  Normally, I prefer the ESV, but in this case it tripped me up.  When you come across something you don't understand in the Bible, I hope you'll do a little digging like I did today.  Generally, when the Bible doesn't make sense, it's not the Bible's fault--it's our understanding that needs correction.  

To conclude, I'll refer you to Apologetics Press, which I think offers a thorough discussion on verbage.  In an article entitled Who was Abijah's Grandmother? author Eric Lyons writes: 

Less than two decades following the split of the United Kingdom of Israel, Abijah (also called Abijam) began his reign as the second king of Judah—the Southern Kingdom. Following the death of his father, Rehoboam, Abijah reigned for about three years, and typically is remembered more for his God-given victory over Jeroboam and the Northern Kingdom than anything else (see 2 Chronicles 13). Some believe, however, that Abijah’s name is better served as a reminder of one of the most obvious contradictions in the Bible (see McKinsey, 1998, pp. 1,3; Wells, 2001).
According to 1 Kings 15:1-2, “In the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, Abijam became king over Judah. He reigned three years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom” (1 Kings 15:1-2, NAS, emp. added).” Second Chronicles 13:1-2 indicates something different about Abijah’s mother, Maacah (also called Micaiah). The chronicler recorded: “In the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam, Abijah became king over Judah. He reigned three years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Micaiah the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah” (13:1-2, NAS, emp. added). Although initially some might be disturbed by the three variant names listed in these verses (Abijam for Abijah, Maacah for Micaiah, and Abishalom for Absalom), skeptics generally focus their criticism upon the genealogy of Abijah. Was his mother the daughter of Absalom, son of David, or was she the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah?
If the term “daughter” was used only in one sense in the Bible—to mean strictly the direct, physical, female offspring of a parent—then Christians might have a legitimate problem on their hands. In this specific sense, Abijah’s mother, Micaiah, could not be both the “daughter” of Absalom and the “daughter” of Uriel. The truth is, however, like the word “son,” the term “daughter” is used in the Bible in a variety of ways. [NOTE: Aside from using the term “son” to signify son by actual birth, Bible writers used it to mean (1) son-in-law (1 Samuel 24:16; cf. 18:27), (2) grandson (Genesis 29:5; cf. 24:24,29), (3) descendant (Matthew 1:1), (4) son by creation, as in the case of Adam (Luke 3:38), (5) son by education (i.e., disciple—1 Samuel 3:6), etc.] The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia lists several different ways that the term “daughter” is used in Scripture (in addition to the ordinary usage of the word), including: (1) daughter-in-law (Ruth 2:2); (2) female descendant (Luke 1:5; 13:16); (3) the women of a particular place taken collectively (Luke 23:28); (4) women in general (Proverbs 31:29); etc. Since the term “daughter(s)” is used in such a wide variety of ways in Scripture, a genuine contradiction cannot be shown to exist (in this case or in any other) unless it is proven that the same sense of the word is being used. Skeptics have no evidence that the term “daughter” can only be used in the strictest sense in 1 Kings 15:2, therefore the “contradiction” really is just an “allegation.”
There simply is no way of knowing how many times in the Bible the terms “son(s)” and “daughter(s)” are used to mean grandchildren, great-grandchildren, or some other descendant. After reading Genesis 29:5, one might think that Laban was the son of Nahor, but Genesis 24 explains that he actually was Nahor’s grandson (24:24,29; cf. 22:20-24). Consider also Mephibosheth. He is called the “son of Saul” in 2 Samuel 19:24, when actually he was “the son of Jonathan, the son of Saul” (2 Samuel 9:6; 4:4). He literally was Saul’s grandson, though Scripture refers to him once simply as “son of Saul.” These are only two examples where the Bible conveys to the reader that the term “son” was used to mean grandson. One can only wonder how many times the terms “son” and “daughter” are used this way throughout Scripture, and yet unlike the two aforementioned examples, were not fully explained as such.
Regarding Micaiah, most likely she was the granddaughter of Absalom and the daughter of Uriel. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus supports this understanding, saying that Micaiah “was a daughter of Absalom by Tamar” (Antiquities, 8:10:1, emp. added). Tamar was not Absalom’s wife, but his daughter (2 Samuel 14:27), who was named for Absalom’s beloved sister (2 Samuel 13:1). This would mean that Micaiah is actually the daughter of Tamar and Uriel, and the granddaughter of Absalom.
Unbelievers of all sorts are doing whatever they can to find “errors” within the Bible. The particular alleged contradiction regarding the identity of Abijah’s grandfather (whether it is Absalom and Uriel) is merely one example where skeptics have pronounced guilt without sufficient evidence for such a verdict. It seems they could care less about how the Scriptures (and history) use and define biblical words, phrases, idioms, etc. If many skeptics exerted even a small amount of effort to understand the Bible, they would see their “contradictions” for what they really are—unsubstantiated accusations. As an example of the lack of effort exerted by some skeptics to understand the Bible, notice the following comment by Steve Wells, author of the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. He asked: “Who was Abijah’s maternal grandmother? Uriel or Abishalom?” (2001, emp. added). At least four times on Wells’ Web site the question regarding Abijah’s maternalgrandmother is asked. The problem is, neither Uriel nor Abishalom were his grandmother. These were his male ancestors, not female.
If non-Americans interpreted American English words and phrases like skeptics interpret the Bible, can you imagine how frustrated Americans would get with them? Would a foreigner unaware of how many different ways the term “coke” is used in America be justified in calling a southerner a liar for saying that Dr. Pepper is a coke? People in the southeastern United States frequently refer to all sodas as cokes. When someone in Georgia says he wants a coke, it may mean that he wants a specific kind of coke—perhaps a Dr. Pepper. Consider also the non-American who hears three different people at a basketball game say, “That’s my girl.” If, based upon the fact that only one of the three people who made this comment could have been the girl’s father, the foreigner concluded that one or more of those who used this phrase must have lied, would her accusation be foolproof? No. The reason: the phrase “That’s my girl,” has more than one meaning in American culture. A mother or father may use the phrase to mean, “That is my daughter.” But, the expression might also be used by a young man to mean, “That’s my girlfriend,” or by a girl to mean, “That’s my good friend.” Until one can know for sure exactly how the phrase is used in a particular setting, a person is unjustified in his or her accusation of dishonesty.
If skeptics would only give the Bible writers some of the same consideration that they want people today to give them in their discussions and writings, we would not have to write articles such as this one in vindicating the Bible against unproven allegations.

Josephus, Flavius (1987 edition), Antiquities of the Jews, in The Life and Works of Flavius Josephus, transl. William Whiston (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson).
McKinsey, Dennis (1998), “Commentary,” Biblical Errancy, November.
Pollard, Edward Bagby (1996), “Daughter,” International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia(Electronic Database Biblesoft).
Wells, Steve (2001), Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, [On-line], URL:


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your description! So helpful. I was reading this today and was confused enough to look it up. Thanks for your efforts.

Anonymous said...

thank you for the post. The same name used for both Asa and Abijah caught my attention. I liked the "that's my girl" illustration --

Anonymous said...

Nice clarification. It puzzled me too which is why I was checking into it further. The.

Anonymous said...

Although I never doubted the accuracy and inerrancy of the Word, I was a bit baffled by this. Thanks for clearing this up, I do feel that this is what was meant in this passage. And you are correct, the Word itself is never wrong or contradictory, it is just our own perception that needs to be adjusted in order to understand the Word in its fullness.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. This was part of my reading today. I almost didn't look into it, knowing that the confusion was on my side, and that their must be a plausible explanation. . But curiosity got the better of me, and I found this.

Sheila said...

Thank you so much for publishing your insight into the family relationships. I like to figure things out as much as possible before I continue reading.

Dejahn said...

Thank you for your helpful explanation

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I saw this scripture as well and read it about 5 times. I was led to research this specific scripture and came across this post. It was very helpful and gives me a better understanding of the terms used in the Bible.