Jeroboam had proved false to the Lord who had placed him upon the throne of Israel, and the time was come for his overthrow. The Lord, who usually brings forth the rod before He lifts the axe, sent sickness into his house: his son Abijah was sore sick. Then the parents bethought them of an old prophet of God, and desired to know through him what would happen to the child. Fearful lest the prophet should denounce plagues upon him and his child if he knew that the enquirer was the wife of Jeroboam, the king begged the Egyptian princess whom he had married to disguise herself as a farmer's wife, and so get from the man of God a more favourable answer. Poor foolish king, to imagine that a prophet who could see into futurity could not also see through any disguise with which his queen might surround herself! So anxious was the mother to know the fate of her son, that she left his sick-chamber to go to Shiloh to hear the sentence of the prophet. Vain was her clever disguise! the blind prophet was still a seer, and not only discerned her before she entered the house, but saw the future of her family. She came full of superstition to be told her fortune, but she went away heavy, having been told her faults and her doom.
In the terrible tidings which the prophet Ahijah delivered to this wife of Jeroboam, there was only one bright spot, only one word of solace; and I am greatly afraid that it gave no kind of comfort to the heathen queen. The child was mercifully appointed to die, for in him there was "found some good thing toward Jehovah, God of Israel."
We are going to look into the little that we know of the young prince Abijah. His name was a suitable one. A good name may belong to a very bad man; but in this case a gracious name was worthily worn. He called God his Father, and his name signifies that fact. Ab, you know, is the word for Father, and Jah is Jehovah—Jehovah was his Father. I would not have mentioned the name had not his life made it true. Oh, you who bear good Bible names, see that you do not dishonour them!
There was in this child "some good thing toward the Lord God of Israel;" but what was it? Who shall define it? A boundless field for conjecture opens before us. We know there was in him some good thing, but what form that good thing took we do not know. Tradition has made assertions, but as these are mere inventions to fill up a gap, they are scarcely worth mentioning. Our own reflections will, probably, be as near the mark as these improbable traditions. We may learn much from the silence of Scripture: we are not told precisely what the good thing was, because any good thing towards the Lord is a sufficient sign of grace. Though the child's faith is not mentioned, we are sure that he had faith in the living God, since without it nothing in him would have been good towards God; for "without faith it is impossible to please God." He was a child believer in Jehovah, the God of Israel: perhaps his mother left him at his own request to go to the Lord's prophet about him. Many false prophets were around the palace: his father might not have sent to Shiloh, had not the boy pleaded for it. The child believed in the great invisible God, who made the heavens and the earth, and he worshipped Him in faith. I should not wonder, however, if in that child his love was more apparent than his faith; for converted children more usually talk of loving Christ than they do of trusting in Him: not because faith is not in them, but because the emotion of love is more congenial to the child's nature than the more intellectual act of faith. The heart is large in the child, and therefore love becomes his most conspicuous fruit. I have no doubt this child showed an early affection towards the unseen Jehovah, and a distaste for the idols of his father's court. Possibly he displayed a holy horror of the worship of God under the figure of a calf. Even a child would have intelligence enough to perceive that it must be wrong to liken the great and glorious God to a bullock which hath horns and hoofs. Perhaps the child's refined nature also started back from those base priests of the lowest of the land whom his father had raked together. We do not know exactly the form it took, but there it was: "some good thing" was in the child's heart towards Jehovah, God of Israel.
It was not merely a good inclination which was in him, nor a good desire, but a really good, substantial virtue. There was in him a true and substantial existence of grace, and this is far more than a transient desire. What child is there that has not at some time or other, if it has been trained in the fear of God, felt tremblings of heart and desires towards God? Such goodness is as common as the early dew; but alas! it passeth away quite as speedily. The young Abijah possessed something within him sufficiently real and substantial to be called a "good thing"; the Spirit of God had wrought a sure work upon him, and left within him a priceless jewel of grace. Let us admire this good thing, though we cannot precisely describe it.
Let us admire, also, that this "some good thing" should have been in the child's heart, for its entrance is unknown. We cannot tell how grace entered the palace of Tirzah and gained this youthful heart. God saw the good thing, for He sees the least good thing in any of us, since He has a quick eye to perceive anything that looks toward Himself. But how did this gracious work come to the child? We are not told, and this silence is a lesson to us. It is not essential to us to know how a child receives grace. We need not be painfully anxious to know when, or where, or how a child is converted; it may even be impossible to tell, for the work may have been so gradual that day and hour cannot be known. Even those who are converted in riper years cannot all describe their conversion in detail, much less can we expect to map out the experience of children who have never gone into outward sin, but under the restraints of godly education have kept the commandments from their youth up, like the young man in the gospel narrative. How came this child to have this good thing in his heart? So far we know: we are sure that God placed it there; but by what means? The child, in all probability, did not hear the teaching of the prophets of God; he was never, like, young Samuel, taken up to the house of the Lord. His mother was an idolatrous princess, his father was among the most wicked of men, and yet the, grace of God reached their child. Did the Spirit of the Lord operate upon his heart through his own thoughts? Did he think over the matter, and did he come to the conclusion that God was God, and that He must not be worshipped as his father worshipped Him, under the image of a calf? Even a child might see this. Had some hymn to Jehovah been sung under the palace wall by some lone worshipper? Had the child seen his father on that day when he lifted up his hand against the prophet of Jehovah at the altar of Bethel, when suddenly his right hand withered at his side? Did the tears start from the boy's eye when he saw his father thus paralyzed in the arm of his strength? and did he laugh for very joy of heart: when by the prophet's prayer his father was restored again? Did that great miracle of mercy cause him to love the God of Israel? Is it a mere fancy that this may have been so? A withered right hand in a father, and that father a king, is a thing a child is pretty sure to be told of, and if it be restored by prayer the wonder would naturally fill the palace, and be spoken of by everybody, and the prince would hear of it. Or what if this little child had a godly nurse? What if some girl like her that waited upon Naaman's wife was the messenger of love to him? As she carried him to and fro, did his nurse sing him one of the songs of Zion, and tell him of Joseph and Samuel? Israel had not yet so long forsaken her God as to be without many a faithful follower of the God of Abraham, and perhaps by one of these sufficient knowledge was conveyed to the child to become the means of conveying the love of God to his soul. We may conjecture, but we may not pretend to be sure that it was so, nor is there any need that we should be. If the sun be risen it matters little when the day first dawned. Be it ours when we see in children some good thing to rest content with that truth, even if we cannot tell how it came there. God's electing love is never short of means to carry out its purpose: He can send His effectual grace into the heart of Jeroboam's family, and while the father is prostrate before his idols the Lord can find a true worshipper for Himself in the king's own child. "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast Thou ordained strength because of Thine enemies." Thy footsteps are not always seen, O God of grace, but we have learned to adore Thee in Thy work, even when we discern not Thy way.
This "good thing" is described in a certain measure. It was a "good thing toward Jehovah, the God of Israel." The good thing looked towards the living God. In children there often will be found good things towards their parents: let these be cultivated—but these are not sufficient evidences of grace. In children there will sometimes be found good things towards amiability and moral excellence: let all good things be commended and fostered, but they are not sure fruits of grace. It is towards God that the good thing must be that saves the soul. Remember how we read in the New Testament of repentance towards God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. The way the face of the good thing looks is a main point about it. There is life in a look. If a man be travelling away from God, every step he takes increases his distance from Him; but if his face be toward the Lord, he may be only capable of a child's tottering step, but yet he is moving nearer and nearer every moment. There was some good thing in this child towards God, and that is the most distinguishing mark of a truly good thing. The child had love, and there was in it love to Jehovah. He had faith, but it was faith in Jehovah. His religious fear was the fear of the living God; his childlike thoughts, and desires, and prayers, and hymns, went towards the true God. This is what we desire to see not only in children, but in adults; we wish to see their hearts turned to the Lord, and their minds and wills moving towards the Most High.
In this dear child, that "good thing" wrought such an outward character that he became exceedingly well beloved. We are sure of that, because it is said "all Israel shall mourn for him." He was probably the heir to his father's crown, and there were godly but grieved hearts in Israel that hoped to see times of reform when that youth should come to the throne; and perhaps even those who did not care about religion, yet somehow had marked the youth, and observed his going in and out before them, and had said, "He is Israel's hope; there will be better days when that boy becomes a man;" so that when Abijah died, he alone of all his race received both tears and a tomb; he died lamented, and was buried with respect, whereas all the rest of Jeroboam's house were devoured of dogs and vultures. It is a very blessed thing when there is such a good thing in our children that they come to be beloved in their little spheres. They have not all the range which this young prince enjoyed so as to secure universal admiration; but still the grace of God in a child is a very lovely thing, and it draws forth general approbation. Youthful piety is a very touching thing to me; I see the grace of God in men and women with much thankfulness, but I cannot perceive it in children without shedding tears of delight. There is an exceeding beauty about these rosebuds of the Lord's garden; they have a fragrance which we find not in the fairest of earth's lilies. Love is won for the Lord Jesus in many a heart by these tiny arrows of the Lord, whose very smallness is a part of their power to penetrate the heart. The ungodly may not love the grace which is in the children, but since they love the children in whom that grace is found, they are no longer able to speak against religion as they otherwise would have done. Yea, more, the Holy Spirit uses these children for yet higher ends, and those who see them are often impressed with desires for better things.