Battle of Zemaraim

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The Battle of Zemaraim (957 BC by Ussher,[1] 912 BC by Thiele[2]) was the bloodiest battle in all the intermittent wars between the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Israel.[3] Here King Abijam of the Southern Kingdom engaged a force twice the size of his own and routed it, killing over 60% of the enemy forces.

Disposition of Forces

Zemaraim (Zeh-mah-RAH-yeem)[4] is the name of a town and a highland north of Jerusalem in the Mount Ephraim region.[4][5] This town belonged to the Benjamite tribe[4] and was thus in loyal Southern Kingdom territory. Bethel, where Jeroboam I had set up one of his two golden calves, was nearby.

This battle was greater by several orders of magnitude than the border skirmishes that had marred Northern-Southern relations ever since the Great Revolt. Who initiated this fresh outbreak of open warfare, and for what cause, the Bible does not explain, nor does any secular source treat this battle in any way. That Abijam had acceded to his throne a year before, upon the death of his father Rehoboam, suggests that Jeroboam thought that he could strike a killing blow against Judah once and for all. This, however, is speculation.

Abijam came to the field with 430,000 "chosen men." Jeroboam I met him with 800,000 men.[6]

Abijam's Speech

Abijam stood on the highest peak and shouted an oration to the other side. In it, he reminded them:

  1. That their kingdom had its origins in rebellion against the House of David,
  2. That Jeroboam had set up an idolatrous religious system based on golden calves, one at Bethel and one in Danite territory,
  3. That, further to this, Jeroboam had expelled the Levites from his land and had chosen his own priestly class who could have no qualification whatsoever, and finally
  4. That in the Southern Kingdom the worship of the One True God was still practiced.

That last was probably hypocritical of Abijam, because he never made an effort to counter the idolatrous cults that Rehoboam, too, had allowed to flourish in his kingdom. Nevertheless, Abijam was clearly putting his trust in God on this battlefield.

The Combat

Jeroboam detached a force of unknown size to ambush Abijam's forces from the rear. When the Southerners saw this, they did not panic, but instead cried out to God. In so doing, they rallied and turned the tide decisively in their favor. Jeroboam's army broke and ran, with Abijam and his Southerners in hot pursuit. In all, Jeroboam lost five hundred thousand men, more than half his strength. He also lost Bethel, and the nearby districts of Jeshanah and Ephrain.


  1. James Ussher, The Annals of the World, Larry Pierce, ed., Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003 (ISBN 0890513600), pgh. 488
  2. Leon J. Wood, A Survey of Israel's History, rev. ed. David O'Brien, Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1986 (ISBN 031034770X), p. 289
  3. II_Chronicles 13:1-20
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Ewing, W. "Entry for Zemaraim." International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, MA, DD, gen. ed. Retrieved June 21, 2007.
  5. Authors unknown. "Entry for Zemaraim." The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. Retrieved June 21, 2007.
  6. Some authorities suggest that these improbably large numbers might result from misunderstanding of the original text by later copyists.

See also