I’ve decided to combine chapters 23-25, since they all have to do with David organizing the Temple duties. Technically, I should include chapter 26 as well, since it covers the same ground, but the post is going to be long enough as it is. So I will be lumping those duties in with the military and civil affairs of chapter 27 instead.
To introduce this section, the Chronicler situates it in David’s old age, when he has resigned from power and made Solomon king in his place. Clearly, he has trouble letting go, since here he is dictating all the civil and cultic duties. In fact, much of the following chapters has David scheduling shifts for a Temple that has not yet been built, that will be built after his death. The David of Chronicles has absolutely no faith in Solomon whatsoever.
In any case, he gathers the leaders of his son’s kingdom around him, both secular and religious, to deliver his orders.
David begins by numbering the Levites. Now, I might think that David would be a little more hesitant to try that sort of thing again after what happened last time (see 1 Chron. 21), but what do I know?
In any case, he manages to find 38,000 Levites over the age of 30. This age agrees with Num. 4:3, where only men between the ages of 30 and 50 are eligible for Temple service. Things get a bit complicated later on, but we’ll deal with that in the appropriate spot.
Of the 38,000 Levites, David decrees that 24,000 of them will work in the Temple, 6,000 will serve as officers and judges, 4,000 will be gatekeepers, and 4,000 will be musicians.
And this is where things start to get a bit more complicated. There appear to be two lists of Levite chiefs, the first in 1 Chron. 23:7-23, and the second in 1 Chron. 24:20-31. The former is nearly organized into the descendants of Gershom, Kohath, and Merari (the sons of Levi). The latter seems to have attempted the same, but is a complete mess. I’m assuming its been corrupted, and while there are some overlapping names, there are plenty of differences.
In between the two lists, we are told that the priests Zadok and Ahimelech helped David to organize the priests. To me, this suggests that the first list (ch.23) is in the wrong spot. Perhaps an editor realized that the ch.24 list was hopelessly corrupted, and decided to provide a “clean” version, then unfortunately copy+pasted into the wrong spot. We’ve all been there.
The list in 1 Chron. 24:20-31 goes:
- Shubael, son of Amram;
- Jehdeiah, son of Shubael;
- Isshiah, son of Rehabiah;
- Shelomoth, of the Izharites;
- Jahath, son of Shelomoth;
- The sons of Hebron: Jeriah (their chief), Amariah, Jahaziel, and Jekameam;
- Micah, son of Uzziel;
- Shamir, son of Micah;
- Isshiah, brother of Micah;
- Zechariah, son of Isshiah;
- Mahli and Mushi, the sons of Merari;
- Beno, son of Jaaziah;
- The sons of Merari: Jaaziah, Beno, Shoham, Zaccur, and Ibri;
- Eleazar, son of Mahli (who had no sons);
- Jerahmeel, son of Kish;
- The sons of Mushi: Mahli, Eder, and Jerimoth.
In contrast, the list in 1 Chron. 23 goes:
- The sons of Gershom: Ladan (named Libni in 1 Chron. 6:17) and Shimei;
- The sons of Ladan: Jehiel (their chief), Zetham, and Joel – in 1 Chron. 6:20, Libni’s son is named Jahath, who fathered Zimmah, who fathered Joah, names that are kinda sorta similar-ish to Jehiel, Zetham, and Joel;
- The sons of Shimei: Shelomoth, Haziel, and Haran;
- The additional sons of Shimei: Jahath (their chief), Zina, Jeush, and Beriah (neither Jeush nor Beriah had many sons, so their lineages were merged).
- The sons of Kohath: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel;
- The sons of Amram: Aaron and Moses;
- The sons of Moses: Gershom and Eliezer;
- Shebuel, son of Gershom;
- Rehabiah, son of Eliezer (the text notes that Rehabiah was Eliezer’s only son, but that he himself had many);
- Shelomith, son of Izhar;
- The sons of Hebron: Jeriah (their chief), Amariah, Jahaziel, and Jekameam;
- The sons of Uzziel: Micah (their chief) and Isshiah.
Aaron’s lineage is presented out of order, sandwiched between the two lists of Levites. We are given only the list of his sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. We are reminded that Nadab and Abihu died young (as described in Leviticus 10), and that they had no children.
- The sons of Merari: Mahli and Mushi;
- The sons of Mahli: Eleazar and Kish (here, we are told that Eleazar died without sons, so that his daughters married the sons of Kish; In 1 Chron. 6:29, however, neither of these characters appear, and Mahli has only one son, Libni);
- The sons of Mushi: Mahli, Eder, and Jeremoth.
Summarizing the list, 1 Chron. 23:24 tells us that these were all the descendants of Levi over the age of 20. Back at the beginning of the chapter, only the men over the age 30 were counted (1 Chron. 23:3). While the age of 30 corresponds with Num. 4:3, Num. 8:24 tells us instead that Levites over the age of 25 are to serve in the Temple. Clearly, there’s a discrepancy here in how old a Levite must be to get the job.
James Bradford Pate offers the suggestion that the work itself would begin at 30, but that training might start earlier.
Another possibility is that the age requirement was lowered over time, and that each number references a source written at a different point in Israel’s history. According to Pate: “Ezra 8:15-20 seems to indicate that post-exilic Israel had difficulty finding Levites; thus, it would make sense that requirements for Levitical service would become a bit looser at that time.” Another possibility is that David anticipated the Temple’s needs would be greater than the needs of the tabernacle, and lowered the age to accommodate the change.
Finishing off the chapter, we hear David’s rationale in ordering the Levites: They are no longer needed for the carrying of the tabernacle, and must thus be organized for their new duties in the Temple.
Helping David to organize the other priests are Zadok (descended from Eleazar, son of Aaron) and Ahimelech (descended from Ithamar, Aaron’s other son).
The work is recorded by a scribe named Shemaiah, son of Nethanel – a Levite. According to my New Bible Commentary, “the stress is not so much on his being a Levite, but that he was not the royal scribe” (p.381). I’m not sure why this is important, except perhaps to show that the organizing of the priests was conducted by David, the individual, rather than the crown as a representation of secular authority. From what I’ve gathered, it seems that there was, historically, some tension between the secular and religious authorities, as both tried to use the other to their own ends.
We also learn that the work was witnessed by (perhaps with input from) the king, the secular leaders, Zadok, Ahimelech, and all the chief priests and Levites.
In the counting, it comes out that there are 16 households in Eleazar’s lineage, but only 8 in Ithamar’s lineage, totalling 24. These 24 households were then organized into numbered groups, which would take turns performing the Temple’s duties. The text doesn’t explain this system, apparently presuming pre-existing knowledge, but I gather that each group would serve for about two weeks a year. Such a system would allow the priests to maintain their own affairs, coming in only once a year (plus the big festivals) to tend the Temple. Further, since the lunar months don’t correspond perfectly to the solar year, the season in which each group is on duty would rotate, ensuring that one group isn’t always stuck with, say, service during a major harvest when it would be a pretty big imposition to be away from home.
The lots, in order, fell to the following chiefs:
Turn Up The Music
The Chronicler has several lists of musicians, including 1 Chron. 6:31-48, 1 Chron. 15:16-24, 1 Chron. 16:4-7 (which mentions only Asaph as the chief musical director), 1 Chron. 16:37-42 (in which Heman and Jeduthun appear together). It goes without saying that there are some pretty major discrepancies (perhaps referring to different points in time).
The main three lineages in charge of the music are the sons of Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun – who lead as well as father the other leaders among the musicians (and are explicitly placed under the control of the king). Jeduthun, while he appears in 1 Chron. 16:37-42, is elsewhere replaced with Ethan. The instruments they play are the harps, lyres, and cymbals.
The text makes the connection between music and prophesying explicit throughout this chapter, particularly 1 Chron. 25:1. That bears remembering, and is a delicious clue to the form of worship at the time.
The sons of Asaph are: Zaccur, Joseph, Nethaniah, and Asharelah.
The sons of Jeduthun are in charge of prophesying with lyres in the thanksgivings and praises to God. They are: Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Shimei, Hashabiah, and Mattithiah (the only one I’ve found identified among the lyre players in 1 Chron. 15:21). Incidentally, the text tells us that Jeduthun had six sons in all (1 Chron. 25:3), but the Masoretic Text lists only 5, omitting Shimei.
The sons of Heman are: Bukkiah, Mattaniah, Uzziel, Shebuel, Jerimoth, Hananiah, Hanani, Eliathah, Giddalti, Romamtiezer, Joshbekashah, Mallothi, Hothir, and Mahazioth.
There are few interesting things going on with Heman’s family. The first is that the names of his sons, from Hananiah to Mahazioth, seem to form a pattern. According to my New Bible Commentary, making it work requires “taking the consonantal text and occasionally dividing the words otherwise” (p.381). When this is done, the result is a phrase, which my study Bible translates as: “Be gracious, O Lord, be gracious to me; thou art my God, whom I magnify and exalt, my help when in trouble; I have fulfilled (or spoken), he has increased visions.”
If we assume that this is true and historical, it’s extremely interesting – certainly far more so than something as trite as theme-ing J names, as the Duggars have done. It’s certainly fitting for a man associated with music (and apparently, with the authorship of at least one Psalm – Ps. 88).
But it’s a rather long phrase, and it seems to put an awful lot of faith into being able to complete it. Well, why not? Heman is specifically identified as the king’s seer, and we are told that God had promised to exalt him (in the context of the number of children he had). Perhaps, given that the phrase doesn’t begin until his sixth child, we can deduce when he received this promise from God.
The other interesting thing going on with Heman is that we are told that he had 14 sons and 3 daughters, and that they “were all under the direction of their father in the music in the house of the Lord” (1 Chron. 25:6, emphasis mine). The implication seems to be that the daughters are included in this. In his post about the verse, Claude Mariottini points to other women associated with music, such as Miriam (Exodus 15), Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11:34), and the women who greet Saul with music (1 Sam. 18:6). This points to some really cool hints of the roles women were allowed to occupy, at least in the tribal period and early monarchy.
The total number of trained musicians is given as 288, compared to the 4,000 in 1 Chron. 23:5. This isn’t a discrepancy if the 288 number refers only to those “trained in singing” (1 Chron. 25:7), while the total number of musicians is actually 4,000.
As with the priests, the musicians are also divided into groups. These are, under Asaph:
- Gedaliah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
- Zaccur (and his 12 brethren and sons);
- Izri (and his 12 brethren and sons);
- Nethaniah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
- Bukkiah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
- Jesharelah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
- Jeshaiah(and his 12 brethren and sons);
- Mattaniah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
- Shimei (and his 12 brethren and sons);
- Azarel (and his 12 brethren and sons);
- Hashabiah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
- Shubael (and his 12 brethren and sons);
- Mattithiah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
- Jeremoth (and his 12 brethren and sons);
- Hananiah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
- Joshbekashah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
- Hanani (and his 12 brethren and sons);
- Mallothi (and his 12 brethren and sons);
- Eliathah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
- Hothir (and his 12 brethren and sons);
- Giddalti (and his 12 brethren and sons);
- Mahazioth (and his 12 brethren and sons);
- Romamtiezer (and his 12 brethren and sons).
Assuming that Joseph is also accompanied by his 12 brethren and sons (he is the only one for whom this is not specified), and assuming that the leaders are not counted, this total comes out to 288.
Only those musicians under Asaph are listed. It’s possible, especially given the mention of Asaph as the leader of those who invoke God before the ark in 1 Chron. 16:4-7, that Asaph was in charge of the singers, while those under Jeduthun and Heman were charged with instruments only.