1-2 Chronicles: Conclusion

2 Comments

As we finally come to the close of 2 Chronicles, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the two books and on some trends I noticed in my reading.

When I wrote my introduction to 1-2 Chronicles, I mentioned that commentaries have seen a two-fold purpose to the books: The first is to provide a model for the ideal kingdom that could be, and the second to warn of what might happen if those who return from the exile fail to bring that kingdom about.

That does seem to bear out in the text, at least for the most part. Though, of course, the Chronicler’s motives do seem to be a little more complicated than that.

The Narrative Arc

I was interested to note how uninterested the Chronicler seems to be in Judah’s final years. Even the destruction of the Temple, which I would have assumed to be an important moment for the Chronicler’s narrative, comes to us only as a summarized version of what we find in Kings.

This disinterest seems to begin after Hezekiah (whose chapters are greatly expanded from the account we have in Kings). Running with this, I considered 1-2 Chronicles as if it ended with Hezekiah’s death. I also cut the non-narrative genealogies from the beginning, since their purpose feels very distinct from the rest of the books.

This left me with a national story that begins with a Golden Age, passes through a human (and morally complex) age, into a depraved age, and then ends with a reformer. As far as stories go, this feels much more mythically satisfying that the books as they are.

It also hints at a clearer purpose. This truncated story shows us what perfection looks like, shows us what realistic goals looks like, and shows us what happens if those goals fail to be met. Then, through Hezekiah, we are given a blueprint for reform.

I suspect that might be why the Chronicler gave Hezekiah a Passover, stealing Josiah’s thunder to do so. Hezekiah was known as a Not Bad king, and a Not Bad king in the middle of the story would ruin the narrative flow. And so the climax, the great restorative Passover, was given to him.

With no story left, the Chronicler hurried through what remained, dropping information that he doesn’t seem to view as strictly necessary (for example, no queen mothers are named after the reign of Hezekiah).

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Chronicler wasted the final kings of his story, though. I saw a sort of allegory in the retelling of Manasseh, who sinned, was taken captive to Babylon, repented, was sent home, then set to work cleaning up Judah. In Manasseh, the Chronicler tells Israel’s story – though it concludes with a warning, as Manasseh dies and Judah falls once again into the hands of a bad king. “Be diligent,” the story tells the post-exilic Israelites. “Make sure you clean up the land right.” (That doesn’t, of course, mean that the events of Manasseh’s life – even those unique to the Chronicler – didn’t happen. Merely that the Chronicler may have chosen to include those details with a purpose in mind.)

Affairs Of Temple And State

Most commentaries highlight the Chronicler’s emphasis on the Temple – in particular, the priests, the Levites, and the musicians (and wherever those groups overlap). I can definitely see what is meant – there are many places where the Chronicler will add Levites and musicians to verses that are otherwise copied directly from Kings – but it wasn’t nearly as outrageous as I was expecting.

The main difference comes early on, when the musicians are linked very tightly to David. The Temple belongs to Solomon, the law belongs to Moses, and music belongs to David.

While this doesn’t necessarily indicate favouratism, it does seem to indicate familiarity. I agree with the commentaries that the Chronicler does talk like someone who was raised or educated in the cultic musical tradition.

But there’s more to it. Specifically, the focus on the divisions – on the idea that every priest and every Levite has his proper place. This, though, I think falls into the blueprint category, as the Chronicler tries to explain how the society ought to be organized for the coming exiles.

Though I note that affairs of state – except where they touch on purity matters, such as the restriction on making deals with foreign nations – are omitted. The exiles would have been the leadership, and I’m sure a good many of them remained close to leadership in Babylon. They wouldn’t have needed instruction in that regard.

There seems to be an almost messianic hope (though perhaps for a collective messiah, rather than an individual) for a restoration of both the Davidic monarchy and the Temple. However, the Temple’s restoration feels more urgent and important for the Chronicler. In reading these books, I got the sense that the king’s role was to act as provider and protector of the Temple, and this is certainly important. However, kings also come with risk, as they often fail to align with the Temple’s interests.

Throughout my reading, the best kings (outside of the idealized united monarchy) always seem to be those who are under a priest’s thumb – an idea made explicit in 2 Chronicles 24:2.

Cause and Effect

The Chronicler clearly believed that the good are rewarded and the bad are punished. Sometimes, when the guilt is collective, punishment may be delayed for a repentant king (particularly as we get closer to the Chronicler’s own time, and we can make our assumptions about why that may be!). But in most cases, karma is instantaneous.

This philosophy is toxic for some very important reasons that I won’t go into because this isn’t an ethics blog, but the Chronicler does temper it somewhat with the insistence that repentance will always be heard.

I think we can tie this in with the observation James Bradford Pate highlighted about lateness as a theme in Hezekiah. The Passover is celebrated and accepted despite being late, just as a post-exilic Passover after a long lapse would be accepted.

The Chronicler’s beliefs in cause and effect likely explain two important areas where he deviates from Kings: The deaths of Manasseh and of Josiah.

Manasseh – despite being known for his evil deeds – died peacefully, while Josiah – who was known for his goodness – died in battle. To leave these stories as they stand in Kings would be a direct contradiction of the Chronicler’s apparently beliefs. And so we see that Manasseh actually repented, and Josiah actually disobeyed God in the end.

The cause and effect morality comes through very strongly when the Chronicler talks about battles. When Judah wins, it wins by supernatural means – faith, it seems, is the best weapon.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

The Chronicler’s position on the northern tribes seems rather clear: He accepts them as part of the ideal Israel, yet views them as being “in rebellion” (2 Chron. 10:18) against that ideal. And so we see a disinterest in the stories and history of the northern tribes, and even perhaps an animosity toward its “illegitimate” monarchy. But at the same time, there is a hope that they will, one day, cease to be in rebellion and return to the true Israel. We can see this most plainly when Hezekiah invites them to his Passover, and they come.

Burials seem to be very important to the Chronicler, and there’s a lot of judgement in where he allows his kings to be entombed. Only the kings who reach a certain standard of goodness are eligible for burial among the other kings, while the baddies must find their own resting places. There are times when the Chronicler directly contradicts Kings to make this happen, which strikes me as odd for a narrative that, in other ways, presents itself as a historical account. I wonder if the burial locations of the kings were known in his time, or were they destroyed by the Babylonians (or even subsequent kings!)? I can’t imagine that the burial locations would have been well-known, or the Chronicler wouldn’t have dared to contradict what was common knowledge. On the other hand, if the locations were unknown, or if different traditions were in circulation, that would have given him a tool to judge his kings by the location of their burial.

The Chronicler adds a lot of details about construction, specifically about which kings built what during their reigns. I can’t think of a possibly motive for this, except perhaps to highlight the importance of building up Judah’s infrastructure. It could just be that the Chronicler had access to a separate source that contained this information, or perhaps he worked a summer in an office that issued building permits. Who knows?

Many kings get a bit of a makeover. The most obvious examples are, of course, David and Solomon – the Chronicler’s golden boys. But I saw examples of it elsewhere. Even Manasseh, who isn’t particularly liked by the Chronicler, loses his slaughter of the innocents. There seems to be a moral line that the Chronicler will not allow his kings to cross – perhaps a sensible boundary when he seems to be arguing for the monarchy’s reinstatement.

As in Kings, Chronicles seems to conflate monarch and nation (to be fair, this is a problem that goes well beyond the Bible). When the king sins, it is seen as appropriate to punish the nation. And, yet, there seems to be an exception to this – when the king repents, the nation may be spared in his lifetime, but the judgement remains even after his passing.

It is this same anonymity of all but the elite that allows for the “Myth of an Empty Land.” Only by ignoring the existence and value of the poor can the Chronicler tell us that Judah lay fallow during the exile – in direct contradiction of 2 Kgs 25:12. But, again, this isn’t an ethics blog, so we move on…

The last thing I want to mention was brought up by John Collins in A Short History of the Hebrew Bible. In the chapter on Chronicles, he mentions the importance of the book of the law discovered by Josiah – or, rather, it’s lack of importance. In Kings, the book’s importance was clear, and finding it acts as a climax for the account. Here, however, the impact of finding the book is somewhat diluted in several ways. One is that Josiah’s reforms begin before he finds the book, negating much of the impact it had in Kings. Another is that the book of the law is mentioned elsewhere in Chroniclers, such as 2 Chron. 17:9, when Jehoshaphat sent it out into the land to teach the people.

Conclusion

Up until this point, I’ve been reading the Old Testament as it is presented in my RSV. However, there’s no particular reason to stick to that order, so I’ve decided to take the order given by Kenneth C. Davis in Don’t Know Much About the Bible, which takes into consideration both theme and chronology.

Because of this, my next book will be Lamentations, which I will begin on February 1, 2016. As usual, I’ve eaten through my post buffer, and having to write these things the night before they’re do is a huge downer! So the break is to let me build up a healthy buffer again. Since Lamentations is fairly short, I may then go straight into Amos, but we’ll see.

2 Chronicles 33: Manasseh the Repentant

Leave a comment

The Chronicler agrees with the general impression of Manasseh and his son Amon given to us in 2 Kings 21, though there are some rather significant differences between the two accounts.

We begin when Manasseh is raised to the throne at the age of twelve. 1 Kgs 21:1 tells us that his mother’s name was Hephzibah – a detail that the Chronicler omits. Unless I am mistaken, this is the first time that the Chronicler doesn’t give us a queen mother’s name that is found in Kings (both sources neglected Ahaz’s mother). It could have been an error, but there’s always the intriguing possibility that it was an intentional choice, and the fun speculation about why that might have been. The fact that Manasseh was only 12, and therefore likely under the control of a regent for several years, offers up a few possibilities.

But whether on his own or shared at times, Manasseh managed to rule for 55 years, though neither source thinks those were very good ones.

Manasseh, you see, doesn’t seem to have been quite on board with the whole YHWH cult thing. All of Hezekiah’s hard work is undone as Manasseh goes around building altars to Baals and making Asherahs (though both appear in the singular in 2 Kgs 21:3, but the pluralization definitely makes it sound worse!), and worshipping “all the host of heaven” (2 Chron. 33:3). From what I can find, it seems that the host of heaven either refers to God’s heavenly court (perhaps angels, perhaps other gods, perhaps a non-unified Trinity if that’s your bent) or to celestial bodies. Though I don’t suppose the two are mutually exclusive.

Manasseh also burned his sons in offering in the valley of the son of Hinnom. You’ll remember this as the same place where Ahaz sacrificed his own sons in 2 Chron. 28:3. The location is identified with child sacrifice elsewhere, such as 2 Kgs 23:10, where Josiah defiles the area so that no one would sacrifice their children to Molech there any more. Wikipedia identifies Gehenna as the Aramaic version of the name, and argues that the association with the cult of Molech led to the name being used figuratively to refer to hell (or a hell-like concept). However, 2 Kgs 21:6 only has Manasseh sacrifice a single son, and the location of the ritual is not indicated. So either the Chronicler was working with another source, or he placed Manasseh’s rituals in the valley of Hinnom because of the place’s reputation.

Manasseh practised soothsaying and augury and sorcery, and he dealt with wizards and mediums.

He also added several altars, dedicated to the host of heaven, and an idol to the Temple. In 2 Kgs 21:7, the idol is specified as a “carved image of Asherah,” while the Chronicler doesn’t indicate that the idol was for any god other than YHWH. While he doesn’t specify that the idol was of God, it seems like he would tell us if it wasn’t.

Under Manasseh’s seduction, the people of Judah were led to evil beyond even what the Canaanites had managed.

Predictably, God wasn’t particularly pleased.

Bringing Manasseh Around

The Chronicler tells us that God tried to speak to Manasseh and his people, but they didn’t listen. Strangely, he doesn’t bother to give us God’s words, nor does he tell us – as Kings does – that they were relayed through prophets. 2 Kgs 21:10-15, on the other hand, gives us God’s lengthy curse so terrible that it is sure to induce ear tingles in anyone who hears it.

I’m often confused by the details that the Chronicler chooses to leave out – in this case cutting what has been presented as God’s own words. I suppose he felt that his audience would already be familiar with them from other sources, but it just seems so… odd.

Having gone unheard, God reached for the next best thing: the Assyrian army.

I found it interesting that the Chronicler frames the arrival of the Assyrians as a punishment, even though the same thing happened to Hezekiah. It reminds me a bit of the modern “personal Jesus” who punishes the people I don’t like by making them lose their keys, but rewards me for faithfulness by helping me find mine.

Manasseh taken captive, by Bernard Picart and Louis Surugue, 1728

Manasseh taken captive, by Bernard Picart and Louis Surugue, 1728

Though I suppose the attack got a little more serious this time, as Manasseh himself was taken to Babylon in fetters. His captivity earns no mention in Kings. That said, my study Bible tells me that Manasseh’s name does appear in an inscription as “a vassal of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal, sometimes under suspicion. Thus the Babylonian captivity of Manasseh is historically possible.”

James Bradford Pate argues that there may be some evidence that Assyrians released captive monarches who “repented” by submitting to their authority. From there, Pate raises the possibility that Manasseh’s subsequent building projects (which we will get to shortly) had more to do with protecting Assyria’s southern border from the Egyptians than strengthening Judah.

As for why the Assyrians would take Manasseh to Babylon rather than to an Assyrian city, I have no answers. Pate offers a possible solution, but I lack the knowledge base to tackle the question.

In any case, the Chronicler writes that it is in Babylon that Manasseh finally cried out to God and humbled himself, and it is for this reason that he was sent back to Jerusalem. Once home, he set to work trying to undo the damage he had done, taking down the altars to foreign gods and the idol from the Temple and tossing them outside the city (though, it’s worth noting, no destroying them, and no mention is made of Kidron – the place where all idols go to die).

He also restored God’s own altar and made some sacrifices and commanded the people of Judah to worship God. Unfortunately, it was too late, and the people of Judah are not easily unseduced. Though the Chronicler does note that they at least only worshipped God, even if they did so at the high places.

Manasseh’s repentance isn’t found in Kings, and the Chronicler doesn’t mention Manasseh’s slaughter of the innocents (presumed by many commentaries to be the faithful followers of God) from 2 Kgs 21:16. The New Bible Commentary argues that Manasseh’s repentance might have occurred very late in his reign, which would make his reforms “too little, too late” for Kings to bother mentioning (p.392). Other commentaries argue that Kings focused on the harm done by the kings leading up to Josiah to better emphasize the saviour aspect of the boy-king, whereas the Chronicler perhaps had reason to soften the rough edges of the Davidic dynasty as he was trying to argue for its desirable return. Another possibility, of course, is that Manasseh was a complex and sometimes contradictory person, as are we all, and that his life was compressed and contorted by different authors to fit their own two-dimensional image of him.

Other than that, Manasseh seems to have set himself to working on Judah’s defences: building up a a very tall outer wall around the city of David, and appointing commanders in all the fortified cities of Judah. As in other places, the Chronicler adds unique passages detailing construction projects that are not found in Kings. The obvious explanation for this is that he had access to a source that lists the building works of each king, though I can’t help but wonder if he had a purpose for these details.

For the rest of the acts of Manasseh, including his prayer to “his God” (2 Chron. 33:18 – not the emphasis on possession, which underscores Manasseh’s repentance), as well as the words of the seers who spoke to him in the name of God, the Chronicler sends us to the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. But for information on his prayer and how God received it, as well as a list of all his sins and the sites on which he built high places and Asherim before he humbled himself, the Chronicler asks us to consult the Chronicles of the Seers.

When Manasseh dies, he is buried in his own home, as is proper for a king who wasn’t terribly berries. However, the Chronicler’s Shadow Council of Burial actually agrees with Kings for once, as 2 Kgs 21:18 puts the king’s corpse in the garden of his house.

Enter Amon

After his death, Manasseh was succeeded by his son, Amon. As was the case with Manasseh, Amon’s queen mother is skipped over (2 Kgs 21:19 gives us Meshullemeth as her name). Also as was the case with his father, Amon was just awful, though the Chronicler doesn’t explain why he failed to listen to Manasseh’s conversion.

Amon’s reign began when he was 22 years old, and lasted for a mere two years. In this time, he made sacrifices to all the idols Manasseh had made, and he failed to humble himself the way his father had.

In the end, Amon was murdered by his own servants, in his own house. In retaliation, his subjects killed the conspirators, and they made Josiah, Amon’s son, king.

Interestingly, the Chronicler fails to tell us where Amon was buried, though 2 Kgs 21:26 puts him in the garden with his father.

2 Chronicles 32: Hezekiah’s Better Side

Leave a comment

Hezekiah’s Passover, which gets no mention in Kings, took up three chapters. That leaves us with only a single chapter to cover all of the content from 2 Kgs 18-20. It goes without saying that the story ends up a wee bit abbreviated. And since the Chronicler seems to have decided that the Hezekiah is a stand up kinda guy, that abbreviation frequently ends up making him look better.

We begin with the Assyrian assault on Judah, though it’s introduced rather awkwardly: “After these things and these acts of faithfulness [referring to the Passover and religious revival] Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah” (2 Chron. 32:1). With all the ado made in our readings so far about faithfulness keeping enemies at bay, I found this first – as it is constructed – rather striking.

Of course, the Chronicler does try to soften the blow when he has Sennacherib only lay siege on Judah’s cities in the hope of taking them, whereas he succeeds in taking them in 2 Kgs 18:13.

Hezekiah meets with his officers to form their strategy, and they decide to focus on defence. So they stop up the water coming to Jerusalem from springs outside the city, making an extended siege more difficult for the Assyrians. Though not mentioned until 2 Chron. 32:30, tradition and 2 Kgs 20:20 credit Hezekiah with the construction of the Siloam tunnel, which would have been a far more defensible means of getting water into the city.

He also built up the city’s defensive structures, as well as a stockpile of weapons and shields. And while he really should have done so earlier, he at least took the time now to appoint commanders for his armies.

In discussing these preparations, James Bradford Pate noted that the Chronicler seems to generally approve of building up Judah’s strength for defence or conquest, but only so long as it doesn’t involve other nations. Hiring mercenaries or forming alliances always seems to earn a punishment, ostensibly because it displays a lack of trust in God to provide protection and victory. Yet, Pate points out, aren’t Hezekiah’s preparations essentially the same thing?

For Pate, a difference is that involving other nations might lead to compromise. I would add that alliances, such as the one Kings describes between Hezekiah and Egypt, probably weren’t founded on friendship between two equal parties. In a case like that, it’s doubtful that Egypt would have needed Judah’s aid so much as Judah needed Egypt’s. That kind of arrangement, though called an alliance, might well have been something more like a vassal agreement, and therefore a show of weakness as far as the Chronicler was concerned.

Building up Judah’s own strength is the opposite of that – it is increasing strength. If the Chronicler were to wear a trucker hat, it would likely read, “Make Judah great again!”

All of these preparations are in marked contrast to 2 Kgs 18, where Hezekiah’s response to Sennacherib’s advances is to capitulate immediately. He asks Sennacherib for a price, then pays it by stripping the Temple. (Though, ultimately, the gesture appears to have been futile, as both Hezekiah’s still end up with the Assyrians at Jerusalem’s walls.)

Back to Chronicles, Hezekiah gathers all of his commanders together in the square by the city gate. Though gathering the nation’s entire leadership structure together in a confined space may not seem like a particularly inspired plan, it does allow Hezekiah to give them all a nice little pep talk about how the Assyrians are nothing to be concerned about, “for there is one greater with us than with [Sennacherib]” (2 Chron. 32:7).

The Siege

During all this, Sennacherib was busy besieging Lachish with his entire force. Unable to make it to Jerusalem himself, he sent some servants to tell the people of the city that Hezekiah was misleading them, condemning them to die by famine and thirst.

The Death of Sennacherib, by an unknown Italian master, c.1300

The Death of Sennacherib, by an unknown Italian master, c.1300

Shouting in the language of Judah so that the people inside the city could hear and understand, the Assyrians ask how Hezekiah can claim that God will stand by them when he has been dismantling so many of God’s altars. We may take this either as further evidence of the YHWH cult’s evolution, or as evidence of Sennacherib’s own ignorance of the Jerusalem religion.

The messengers go on to boast of Sennacherib’s many conquests, and of the many gods who have so been unable to protect their peoples against him: “No god of any nation or kingdom has been able to deliver his people from my hand or from the hand of my fathers” (2 Chron. 32:15).

This all plays out somewhat differently in 2 Kgs 18, where representatives of Hezekiah go out to meet Sennacherib’s messengers and implore them to speak Aramaic so that the denizens of Jerusalem won’t understand their taunts (they, of course, refuse). In that account, the Assyrians make similar accusations about Hezekiah destroying God’s shrines, but also add that Egypt won’t be able to save Jerusalem either. The Chronicler makes no mention of Hezekia’s alliance with Egypt.

2 Chron. 32:20 has Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz praying and crying out to heaven, but leaves out all the detail (including Isaiah’s prophecy) from 2 Kgs 19:14-34.

In both accounts, God sends an angel to slaughter Sennacherib’s army, though 2 Kgs 19:35 has the angel kill 185,000 soldiers, apparently indiscriminatingly, while 2 Chron. 32:21 mentions no number and targets the commanders and “mighty warriors.” In both cases, the result is the same: the Assyrian army is forced to retreat in shame.

When Sennacherib, back in his own homeland, enters the temple of his god, he is murdered by his own sons. The Chronicler’s language (or, perhaps, his translators’) suggests that this occurred as soon as he returned from the failed conquest of Judah, and perhaps because of it (to ask for forgiveness, or perhaps to express anger at having been let down). 2 Kgs 19:36-37, however, do not seem to connect the circumstances of Sennacherib’s death to Judah.

If there really were bodies left on the field after the Assyrian retreat, I would imagine that these accounts exaggerate the damage that the defending army had been able to do to the invading army, and that Sennacherib’s sudden retreat likely had more to do with pressing matters at home (as his eventual fate suggests).

However victory was achieved, the Chronicler tells us that Hezekiah was exalted in the sight of all nations for it, and received many gifts and tributes.

In Closing

The story of Hezekiah’s illness and Isaiah’s use of a festively appropriate figgy pudding in 2 Kgs 20:1-11 is almost entirely glanced over. All we get is a little mention of Hezekiah being ill, God answering his prayers, and Hezekiah not appreciating it because he was too proud (2 Chron. 32:25).

This caused wrath to come down on both him and Judah, but Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem humbled themselves, and God stayed his hand. Hezekiah was therefore able to continue accumulating his wealth.

The Chronicler briefly mentions envoys from Babylon who come to Hezekiah, but tells us only that God kept mum to see what Hezekiah would do. This would be a very strange detail without the context from 2 Kgs 20:12-19, where Hezekiah shows off his wealth to the Babylonians. He is then rebuked by Isaiah, who tells him that all the nice stuff he’s shown them will one day be taken – along with the people of Judah – off to Babylon. Hezekiah treats this as good news because it means that it won’t happen during his own lifetime.

And thus our section on Hezekiah comes to a close. For more information, the Chronicler sends us to the writings of Isaiah the Prophet in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel.

The council of funerary technicians apparently approved of Hezekiah, for he was buried among his fathers, and all of Judah and Jerusalem did him honours. He was succeeded by his son, Manasseh.

2 Chronicles 29-31: Dedicated and Dedicating

Leave a comment

Sorry for the lateness! But at least my tardiness is thematically relevant! 

We now move into Hezekiah, who is one of the greats. He gets a lot of page space, too, with three chapters in 2 Kgs 18-20 and four chapters in 2 Chron. 29-32. But for all that, the breadth is really missing. Essentially, Hezekiah whips up a religious revival, but, like so many of his predecessors, he fell short at the very end.

We begin with Hezekiah’s record entry: He was 25 years old when his reign began, and he ruled for 29 years. His mother’s name was Abijah, daughter of Zechariah.

On the first day of the first month of the first year of his reign, Hezekiah decided to purify the Temple. This needs a bit of unpacking, because while it’s certainly possible that it truly refers to the first day of Hezekiah’s reign, it seems like rather incredible timing in light of 2 Chron. 30:1, where Hezekiah postpones the Passover celebration for a month. Passover is normally held in Nissan, the first month, meaning that Hezekiah would have had to just happen to start his first day on our equivalent of January 1. This seems lie rather too unlikely, so I think it’s reasonable to assume that the author means that Hezekiah started his focus on the Temple on the first day of his first full year.

Which gives us a new question: Why would Hezekiah wait before turning his attention to the Temple – especially when it will mean not being ready in time for Passover and having to delay the celebration. One possibility is that the new year, as a new beginning, was just too symbolically resonant to pass up even if it meant delaying the Passover. Another has to do with the Chronicler’s own motives. I’ll discuss this in more detail later, but there may be a theme of lateness in Chronicles that, perhaps, relates to the rebuilding of the cultic structure.

In any case, Hezekiah reopened the Temple and began purging it of inappropriate cultic items on the first day of the first year of his reign – whatever that happens to mean.

Not to get too nitpicky, but the detail about reopening the doors of the Temple is in line with 2 Chron. 28:24, where Ahaz closed the Temple’s doors, but does not align with 2 Kgs 16:10-16, where it’s apparent that Ahaz continued the use of the Temple for worship. The New Bible Commentary harmonizes this by arguing that the author would not have considered the worship of foreign gods as real worship (p.391), making the closing of the doors a symbolic description (or perhaps it was the inner sanctuary doors that were literally closed).

Hezekiah then gathered up the priests and Levites and, in keeping with the idea of a fresh start, told them all to sanctify first themselves, then the Temple. He gives his reasoning for this in a speech about how their parents had forsaken God, and this is why their fathers have fallen to swords and their sons, daughters, and wives have been taken into captivity.

If this sounds a bit like a post-exilic formula to you, I would agree. That said, 2 Chron. 28 does feature an awful lot of warfare and taking into captivity.

The priests and Levites got to work under the leadership of:

  • Kohathites: Mahath son of Amasai, and Joel son of Azariah;
  • Merarites: Kish son of Abdi, and Azariah son of Jehallelel;
  • Gershonites: Joah son of Zimmah, and Eden son of Joah;
  • Of the sons of Elizaphan: Shimri and Jeuel;
  • Of the sons of Asaph: Zechariah and Mattaniah;
  • Of the sons of Heman: Jehuel and Shimei;
  • Of the sons of Jeduthun: Shemaiah and Uzziel.

Together, on the 8th day of the month, they brought all the uncleanness that had gathered in the Temple, though the Chronicler doesn’t mention Moses’s Nehushtan (2 Kgs 18:4). All the refuse is brought out to the brook of Kidron – Kidron being the favoured place for idol disposal (as we saw in places like 1 Kgs 15:13, 2 Kgs 23:4-6, and 2 Chron. 15:16).

The sanctification process takes eight days, ending on the 16th of the month. When they tell Hezekiah that they are done, he gathers up the Jerusalem city officials to make a big sacrifice and splash lots of blood around. Hezekiah then stations Levitical musicians in the Temple to sing the words of David and of Asaph the seer.

The Passover Celebration

It took a while to get the Temple (and its officiants) up to snuff, so Hezekiah conferred with the “princes” (likely meaning the people of his court with social clout, rather than his own sons) and they decided to postpone the Passover until the second month. The measure was necessary because the priests still hadn’t finished sanctifying themselves, and the people hadn’t had a chance to make it to Jerusalem.

Brant Clements, of Both Saint and Cynic, points out that the idea of celebrating a belated Passover when either travelling or purity requirements can’t be met on time can find precedent in Num. 9:9-11.

In discussing the possibility that Hezekia’s Passover might be a fabrication, James Bradford Pate brings up the idea that the Chronicler wouldn’t invent such a messy, chaotic, and delayed celebration. However, Pate cites 2 Chron. 24:5-6 as another example of delay, and proposes that perhaps there is a purposeful theme to be found. Specifically, Pate ties it to the post-exilic “lateness”, both forgiving the lateness itself and “exhorting the post-exilic Jews to get on the ball.” Sort of a “better late than never” message.

From the 'Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum', by Guillaume Rouille

From the ‘Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum’, by Guillaume Rouille

The reason that the historicity of Hezekiah’s Passover is that it isn’t found in 2 Kings, and Josiah’s proclamation in 2 Kgs 23:21-23 certainly seems to indicate that, if there had been a grand Passover in Hezekiah’s time, Josiah wasn’t aware of it. Turning back to Pate, he presents the argument that the author of Kings was trying to be literary – he wanted to highlight Josiah, and mentioning a similar Passover in the context of Hezekiah would have diluted that story. So the absence of the Passover in 2 Kings doesn’t necessarily indicate that Hezekiah’s Passover is a fabrication.

At this point the story is a bit muddled, and there may be some time-skipping. There could have been multiple sacrifice events, but I’m picking a chronology and sticking with it. However, I am noting that the text isn’t nearly as clear.

Hezekiah sends invitations out to all of Judah, as well as all of Israel, encouraging everyone “from Beer-sheba to Dan” (2 Chron. 30:5) to attend the Passover in Jerusalem. The language here mimics the language of the unified nation – both pre-monarchy and unified. The use of the phrase “from Beer-sheba to Dan” serves to underscore the point, as it’s a phrase we’ve seen quite a bit before when referring to the nation as a whole (see, for example, Judges 20:1, 1 Sam. 3:20, 2 Sam. 3:10, 2 Sam. 17:11, 1 Kgs 4:25). My Study Bible calls Hezekiah’s invitation a “prophetic hope of the return of the northern tribes to their former loyalty to Jerusalem”, and compares it to Ezek. 37:15-23.

The invitation explains that the Passover hasn’t been properly kept, and the people need to do better. But if they come now and are good, then their children and brethren’s captors will show compassion, and perhaps allow them to return home.

It really is hard not to see some post-exilic sentiments creeping in here.

Incidentally, John Collins writes in A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible that there is “a famous letter from Elephantine in Egypt in the late fifth century B.C.E. regarding the observance of the Passover, but letters are anachronistic in the time of Hezekiah, some 300 years earlier” (p.233).

Unfortunately, most of the people just laughed at Hezekiah’s couriers. Only a few men of Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun came out to Jerusalem. I think it’s reasonable to conclude that we have some anti-Samarianism cropping in here. But also, my New Bible Commentary points out that the fact that “Hezekiah’s messengers went only as far as Zebulun suggests that in the far north of Galilee the Israelite elements had already disappeared” (p.392). Turning back to Collins, he notes that the “fact that emissaries are sent to Ephraim and Manasseh presupposes that the northern kingdom of Israel is no more. Yet, amazingly, the Chronicler has not even mentioned the destruction of Samaria by the Assyrians” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.233).

Even so, the assembly in Jerusalem was quite impressive, and perhaps it was a good thing that so few Samarians showed up because the priests couldn’t keep up with all the sacrifices. Eventually, the Levites had to step in to fill the gaps, “for the Levites were more upright in heart than the priests in sanctifying themselves” (2 Chron. 29:34).

Many commentaries note the dig at non-Levitical priests, but more interesting is the idea that the priests are the ones doing all the slaughtering, causing the backlog problem. The New Bible Commentary, for example, notes that it should normally be the worshiper’s job to slaughter the offerings, so the issue shouldn’t really be an issue in the first place (p.392). I’m seeing verses like Ex. 12:3-6, Deut. 16:5-6, and Lev. 1:1-6 in support of this, though I personally found all those verses to be rather ambiguous.

Unfortunately, many of the people in the congregation (specifically many from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun) had failed to properly cleanse themselves, yet ate the Passover offerings anyway. Hezekiah addressed them in prayer, saying that God pardons all who seek them out, even if they aren’t doing it by the rules – sort of an Old Timey equivalent of “it’s the thought that counts” – a sentiment that quite surprised me but, in retrospect, makes a lot of sense in the post-exilic context, when the Chronicler must be absolutely frantic about just  getting the Israelites back “to the old ways,” even if they aren’t quite perfect about it.

Also worthy of note is, as Victor Matthews points out in Manners  Customs of the Bible, the way in which the king’s involvement in cultic practices has been diminishing as we make our way down the line:

While David was credited with establishing the temple priesthood (1 Chr 15:1-24), and Solomon was recognized as significantly reorganizing it (1 Kgs 2:35), the Levitical priesthood eventually disputed the idea of the king as both political and religious leader. Over time, the Levites gained more complete control of the sacrificial rituals; and the king, while still an advocate for the people with God, took a secondary role. For example, whereas Solomon functions in a priestly role by offering sacrifices, prayers, and blessings at the dedication of the temple (1 Kgs 8), generations later, Hezekiah offers only a brief prayer on behalf of the people, as the priests and Levites offer sacrifices during the reinstatement of the Passover (2 Chr 30:13-27). (p.130)

Still, Hezekiah’s prayer is seen as pivotal, and it is when God hears it that he heals the people (though, of course, it’s unclear what is actually meant by that – were there miraculous physical healings, or were the people spiritually healed?).

The feast of the unleavened bread lasted for seven days. At the end of this time, the people rushed out into all the cities of Judah and broke up the pillars, Asherim, high places, and altars they could find in the territories of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh, destroying them all before heading home.

Administration

The Passover over, Hezekiah turns his attention to appointing the divisions of the priests and Levites. The priests may have been taking control over the religious side of ancient Israelite life, but it’s clear that there was still a strong interplay between the secular and religious powers.

Hezekiah also provided the priests with regular offerings to make, and commanded the people living in Jerusalem to give the priests the portions they were due, “that they might give themselves to the law of the Lord” (2 Chron. 31:4) – which I interpreted to mean that the people of Jerusalem are to support the Temple so that the priests can focus their energies on God, rather than on subsistence.

It’s interesting that Hezekiah only tells the inhabitants of Jerusalem to give to the priests, whereas elsewhere the rules have been universal.

In any case, the people of Israel give abundantly anyway. So abundantly that special chambers had to be prepared in the Temple to store it all, and the person in charge of these donations was Conaniah the Levite (with his brother, Shimei, as his second-in-command). Conaniah was also assisted by Jehiel, Azaziah, Nahath, Asahel, Jerimoth, Jozabad, Eliel, Ismachiah, Mahath, and Benaiah, who had all been appointed by Hezekiah and the Temple’s chief officer, Azariah.

Kore son of Imnah, a Levite, was keeper of the east gate and was in charge of freewill offerings, as well as apportioning the contribution reserved for God. He was assisted by Eden, Miniamin, Jeshua, Shemaiah, Amariah, and Shecaniah, who distributed the donations out to the priests in their cities, according to their divisions.

2 Chronicles 28: Big Bad Ahaz

Leave a comment

After a run of good kings, we’re about due for a bad one, and this one is really bad. Unfortunately, our sources can’t seem to agree on exactly what he did. The Kings parallel for this chapter is 2 Kgs 16, and the two are quite different.

The basic biographical details remain the same in both sources: Ahaz was 20 years old when he became king, and he reigned for 16 years. Interestingly, his mother is not named in either source – rather odd for the Judean kings.

The summary of his rule is bad. Israel bad. But the Chronicler tells us that he made molten images of Baal, burned incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and made his sons pass through fire (likely meaning that he sacrificed them, as several translations have it). Kings, however, only has him worshipping outside of the Temple and making a single son pass through fire.

Whatever his crimes, God punishes him by sending enemies against Judah. The first is Syria, though the Chronicler doesn’t name the responsible king (given as King Rezin in 2 Kgs 16:5), and many Judahites are taken captive back to Damascus.

Israel’s Invasion

The next enemy is Israel, led by King Pekah son of Remaliah. In Kings, Pekah manages to besiege Jerusalem, but isn’t able to conquer it, and that is all that we hear of the attack.

In the Chronicler’s version, however, Pekah thoroughly defeats Ahaz, slaying 120,000 Judahite men of valour in a single day. One of their member, named Zichri, murders Ahaz’s son Maaseiah, his palace commander Azrikam, and his second in command Elkanah.

The Israelites also take spoils and 200,000 women and children captives back to Samaria. When they reach the city, however, they are met by the prophet Oded. Oded appeals to them not to keep the captives, highlighting the kinship between the Israelites and the Judahites, because their war was only one because of God’s anger against the Judahites – yet have the Israeltes themselves not done plenty to anger God as well?

Four chiefs pay attention to Oded’s words: Azariah son of Johanan, Berechiah son of Meshillemoth, Jehizkiah son of Shallum, and Amas son of Hadalai. They go out to meet the incoming army and command them not to bring the captives into Samaria lest they bring guilt down on Israel, “in addition to our present sins and guilt” (2 Chron. 28:13 – which, I will venture, is a fabricated quote).

So the army gives the captives over to the four chiefs, who cloth them with their own spoils, provide them with food and water, mount the feeble up on donkeys, and bring them to their kin in Jericho. Then they retreat back to Samaria.

Ahaz Betrayed

In the Kings account, Ahaz appears to the king of Assyria, Tilgath-pileser (here called Tilgath-pilneser) for help against the Syrians and Israelites. In that version of the story, the Assyrians agree, and they conquer Syria and kill its king.

2 Chronicles 28Here, however, Ahaz appeals for help against the Edomites, who joining the party in Judah and taking captives (while in 2 Kgs 16:6, the Edomites are only taking back land that Judah had previously taken from them, and instead of taking captives, they send the settled Judahites back to Judah proper).

The Chronicler also throws in a mention of Philistines, absent in 2 Kings 16, who are raiding and conquering several of Judah’s cities.

Another major difference is that, here, Tilgath-Pilneser refuses, joining in on Judah’s beat down rather than coming to Ahaz’s aid.

This causes a problem for the list of Ahaz’s sins, however. In Kings, Ahaz goes to Damascus to meet with Tilgath-pileser. While there, he is so impressed with their altar that he has a replica built in Jerusalem – the building carried out by the priest Uriah.

The Chronicler, however, has Ahaz taking up the worship of the Syrian gods, after seeing the Syrians win their battles. So while the Chronicler has Ahaz impressed with the power of the Syrian gods, Kings has the Syrians defeated and their king killed. And while he does take the design for the Syrian altar, his interest seems to be purely aesthetic, and there’s no indication that he worshipped any god other than Yahweh on it.

And while in both sources, Ahaz raids the Temple for treasures, it’s only in Chronicles that he shuts up its doors (while Kings certainly seems to indicate that worship continued there). In Chronicles, Ahaz also built altars all around Jerusalem and made high places all over Judah.

On a roll, the Chronicler gives us one final difference when he has the dead Ahaz buried in the city, not in the tombs of the kings of Israel. In 2 Kgs 16:20, however, it’s clear that he is buried with his ancestors. The Chronicler seems to like the idea of a burial council that decides the worthiness of each king after his death.

2 Chronicles 27: Nothing to see here, folks!

2 Comments

When a chapter is particularly short or lacking in content that allows for commentary, I tend to lump it in with another chapter, a more exciting chapter, so that each post has approximately the same word weight. Unfortunately, when I started 2 Chronicles, I instead went through very short blurbs on each chapter and organized them thematically, instead. So while this chapter is very short, a piddling nine verses with nary a controversial one, I’ve already pre-dated all of my blog posts and don’t feel like having to go back and do it again. And so, dear reader, I give you King Jotham, in all his lack of glory.

Uzziah, oatham, and Achaz, by Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1511-1512

Uzziah, oatham, and Achaz, by Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1511-1512

Jotham gets an even briefer treatment in 2 Kings 15:33-38. There, we learn that he was 25 years old when he became king, and his reign lasted for 16 years. His mother’s name was Jerushah, the daughter of Zadok. We were also told that he built up some of the Temple’s fortifications.

The Chronicler adds to Jotham’s building projects, giving him some cities in the hill country of Judah, as well as some forts and towers on the wooded hills.

And while both authors tell us that he was a good king, in the way of his father, the Chronicler adds the addendum that he did not, as his father did, “invade the temple of the Lord” (2 Chron. 27:2).

The Chronicler also adds that he beat the Ammonites, and that he collected a tribute of 100 talents of silver, 10,000 cors of wheat, and 10,000 cors of barley for three years in a row.

The more interesting difference, however, is in what the Chronicler leaves out. Specifically, 2 Kgs 15:37, where God sends more enemies (King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah) against Jotham. I can see three reasons for this omission:

  1. Error, perhaps the Chronicler’s eye skipped and he just forgot this verse;
  2. Though not stated, it’s possible that Jotham lost these battles, which would conflict with the Chronicler’s assessment that Jotham was mighty (2 Chron. 27:6);
  3. God sends enemies as punishments, which doesn’t really jive with the impression the Chronicler has been giving of Judah in this period.

And that’s it for Jotham. He died, he was buried with his forefathers, and his deeds were recorded in the Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah.

2 Chronicles 26: The Leper of Jerusalem

Leave a comment

In this chapter, we get the story of King Uzziah, who appears in Kings as Azariah. As with several of our other kings, his story is quite expanded here over what we had in in 2 Kgs 14:21-22 and 2 Kgs 15:2-7.

We open after Amaziah’s death, when Uzziah was only 16. Once again, we have a king who was placed on his throne by the people, not by succession laws, not by his own power.

We learn that his mother’s name was Jecoliah of Jerusalem, and that his reign lasted for 52 years. We also learn that he was a good king, “according to all that his father Amaziah had done” (2 Chron. 26:4). This is… rather different from the Chronicler’s estimation of Amaziah, and is quite different from the impression we will be getting of Uzziah as we read on. I also found it rather interesting that the Chronicler omits that Uzziah failed to stamp out the high places, which we find in 2 Kgs 15:4.

Instead, we are told that Uzziah was good and sought God and prospered for as long as he was under the influence of Zechariah – who is otherwise unknown, but seems to mirror Jehoiada in 2 Chron. 24:2. The point seems to be that Judah’s kings behave as long as they are kept firmly in the hands of the priests.

Of Uzziah’s deeds, we learn that he built Eloth and restored it to Judah, a detail in common with 2 Kgs 14:22. Like James Bradford Pate, I noticed the oddness of the order – should he have recaptured the city first, and then rebuilt it? I’m sure the order is either a coincidence or meant to show emphasis, but I found it interesting.

Uzziah’s other accomplishments include fighting the Philistines and breaking down the walls of Gath, Jabneh, and Ashdod. It seems that he was able to take enough Philistine territory – and hold it – to build some towns.

With God’s help, Uzziah also won some battles against the Arabs living in Gurbaal, as well as the Meunites. (This is one of the very few mentions of the Meunites in our text, another being in 2 Chron. 20:1. I discussed them a bit more in my post about that chapter.) He collected tribute from the Ammonites, and was generally a very strong king.

Not all of his attention was outwardly focused, however, as he built several towers both in Jerusalem itself and out in the wilderness, and he hewed out many cisterns to support his vast herds.

Uzziah’s Military Might

Of his armies, the Chronicler tells us that they were under the command of Hananiah, but seem to have been mustered by Jeiel the secretary, and Maaseiah the officer. The army contained 307,500 men, organized under 2,600 clan heads. We are told that Uzziah equipped them with shields, spears, helmets, coats of mail, bows, and stones for slinging. He also built engines on the towers and the corners (presumably meaning that they were positioned along the walls) to shoot arrows and large stones.

I was struck by the mention of mail, since it seems like that should be a bit too advanced for the time period. After briefly searching on Wikipedia, I find that Uzziah is dated to the 8th century BCE, while the first examples of mail don’t come around until the 4th century (and among the Etruscans).

This leaves us with three possibilities:

  1. Translation error: It could be that the original text reads something more like “scale armour,” but the translators made an inaccurate choice.
  2. Author error: It could be that the author is talking about technology from his own time, perhaps something still new enough that it would sound really impressive when projected back onto Uzziah. That said, the Chronicler is likely still a little early to know about mail armour.
  3. No error: It’s not completely outside the realm of possibility that the Israelites invented chain mail, but only made a few because they were too labour intensive, and none of those survived to be found by archeologists. It’s extremely unlikely that chain mail was in circulation so early, and even less likely that it would have been in use in Israel, but the possibility deserves mention.

I should note that other translators have handled 2 Chron. 26:14 differently. The NIV has “coats of armor” (which could certainly be applied to scale armor), while the KJV gives us “habergeons” (which can be used for either scale or mail). Other translations variously use “amor” (without qualifiers), “body armor,” and even “breastplates.” Based on this, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that the fault for the anachronistic oddity belongs squarely to the RSV translators.

I was struck by the wall engines as well, which sounds like the torsion-powered engines of the Romans, like the ballista. The ballista itself doesn’t seem to have been in use until the 5th century BCE, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t predecessors in use prior to that date. It’s also possible for us to blame this on possibility #2 listed above.

But whatever his equipment, we are told that Uzziah was “marvellously helped, till he was strong” (2 Chron. 26:15), which is just a wonderful turn of phrase!

But he grew too proud

Unfortunately for Uzziah, pride goeth before a fall (or so claims Proverbs 16:18). As his power grew, he started to think a little too much of himself – so much so that he dared to take on the duties of priest.

In a story that is not even hinted at in Kings, Uzziah entered the Temple to burn incense. Eighty-one, led by Azariah, ran after him in an attempt to stop him. They tried to remind Uzziah that only priests have the right to be in the sanctuary, but this only angered Uzziah. And as he grew angry, a bout of leprosy broke out on his forehead.

When this happened, he fled from the Temple, but was stricken by the leprosy for the rest of his life – a detail confirmed by 2 Kgs 15:5, though no reason is given there for the disease.

The King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy, by Rembrandt, 1635

The King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy, by Rembrandt, 1635

As I read this, I wondered if it was Uzziah’s presence in the sanctuary that was punished, or his anger at the priests. Would God have been willing to overlook the incensed intrusion if he had left when asked by the priests? Perhaps we can see this as another example of the Chronicler privileging the priests – as he seems to be punishing Uzziah more for his disobedience of the 80 priests than his presence in the sanctuary.

For the rest of his life, Uzziah had to live in a separate dwelling place. Strangely, however, the text tells us that he had to live separately because he was excluded from the Temple, rather than being excluded from both palace and Temple because of his leprosy – which would have been my expectation if this were based on traditions like the one we see in Lev. 13:46.

Instead, this looks like yet another example of the Chronicler privileging the priesthood – where it is exclusion from the faith (as expressed on earth through the Temple) that warrants social exclusion.

In any case, Uzziah is forced into retirement, and his son – Jotham – governs in his place. When he dies, we learn that he is buried “with his fathers in the burial field which belonged to the kings” because he was a leper (2 Chron. 26:23). Trying to make sense of this statement, James Bradford Pate asks if it could mean that Uzziah was buried near the other kings, but not with them, because of his leprosy.

My own thinking is that perhaps his overstepping in the Temple was overlooked because he was already punished with the leprosy. We’ve seen with other kings that there seems to be some secret committee that decides, upon each king’s death, whether or not he warrants burial among the other kings. In this case, perhaps they decided to overlook Uzziah’s sin because of his leprosy.

For the remainder of Uzziah’s acts, the Chronicler sends us to the writings of the prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz.

2 Chronicles 25: The vicissitudes of Amaziah

Leave a comment

Much like his father’s, Amaziah’s reign is marked by great early faithfulness followed by a descent into idolatry. This time, however, we don’t have a shadowy priest/puppeteer to blame.

In this chapter, which is largely derived from 2 Kgs 14, we find a 25 year old Amaziah as his takes his father’s throne. His father, if you’ll remember, was murdered in his bed to avenge his killing of the prophet Zechariah (son of the high priest Jehoiada).

Once Amaziah took power, he wasn’t long in avenging his father. As soon as he has stabilized himself in his new position, he had the conspirators killed (we saw the same kind of court cleansing with Solomon in 1 Kgs 2, and Jehoram in 2 Chron. 21). Amaziah did, however, spare their children, which the Chronicler tells us was in accordance with the law of Moses (quoting Deut. 24:16).

The Edomite War

In 2 Kgs 14:7, we are told that Amaziah defeated 10,000 Edomites and captured Sela (which he renamed Joktheel). The Chronicler gives us quite a bit more detail:

It begins, as all good battles do, with preparation. Amaziah assembles his army, mustering any males over the age of 20 – this comes out to a total of 300,000 men, a much smaller number than Asa musters in 2 Chron. 14:8.

Amaziah fled to Lachish

Amaziah fled to Lachish

In addition to his native army, Amaziah also hires 100,000 Israelites for 100 talents of silver. God isn’t too happy about this, of course, and sends a prophet to change his mind. The argument is the same that we’ve heard quite a bit: Trust in God because victory comes from him, not from superior numbers. Besides, “the Lord is not with Israel, with all these Ephraimites” (2 Chron. 25:7). Amaziah doesn’t seem to contest this line of reasoning, but is worried about all the money he’s spent on the mercenaries going to waste. the prophet reassures him, saying that God is capable of giving him far more wealth than that.

Since Amaziah is still in the loyal portion of his reign, he listens to the prophet and sends the Israelite mercenaries back.

We finally come to the events of 2 Kgs 14:7, where Amaziah leads his army out to the Valley of Salt and kills 10,000 men of Seir. The Chronicler doesn’t mention Seir’s capture or renaming to Joktheel, but adds that Amaziah also took 10,000 Edomites captive (though he promptly tossed them off a cliff).

While this is going on, the spurned Israelites double back and attack Judah while it’s defenceless. They kill 3,000 Judahites, but this appears to be a fairly straightforward raid and they head back to Israel with their spoils. The Chronicler never tries to explain this loss, despite Amaziah doing as he was told.

In this story, the Chronicler never tells us why Amaziah killed the Edomite captives. The most likely explanation is that this was a show of force, a decimation to prevent future resistance. I also tried to think of it in light of the Israelite flanking attack: Perhaps Amaziah’s intention was to bring the captives (or at least a portion of them) back to Judah as slaves. But when he heard of the Israelite attack, he had to rush back and couldn’t afford the time to bring the slaves along. Or perhaps he feared their number, worrying that leaving too many Edomites alive could mean getting caught between two armies. Better to decimate the Edomites while his military power is concentrated in Edom, then return to deal with the Israelites without having to fear for his back.

Whatever the explanation, Amaziah doesn’t seem to have been in too much of a hurry to bring Edomite idols back to Judah, setting them up for worship. This detail is absent in the Kings account, but may be hinted at in 2 Kgs 14:3, where Amaziah is described as “follow[ing] the example of his father Joash” (Joash having turned to idolatry in his later life).

The Chronicler doesn’t give us any information about Amaziah’s motivations, but there are some possibilities:

  • It could have been another act to demoralize the Edomites and, perhaps, bring them back into the vassalage after they seceded in 2 Chron. 21. The point would be to, effectively, take their gods as hostages. As for setting up their worship in Judah, it could just be the Chronicler’s failure to imagine the possession of idols without their worship. Or perhaps Amaziah, a monolatrist, wasn’t comfortable with the possibility of angering the Edomite gods by cutting them off from worship.
  • One possibility that seems to be favoured by religious commentaries is that, having won such a great victory, Amaziah believed that the Edomite gods had changed sides.

In any case, God isn’t happy, and he sends another anonymous prophet to harangue Amaziah. This time, his argument is actually fairly compelling: Why would you worship the Edomite gods when they couldn’t even protect the Edomites?

The Thistle of Lebanon

Listening to the advice of his councillors, Amaziah sends an invitation to battle to King Joash of Israel. In response, Joash tells him a parable about a thistle who asks the cedar to give his daughter to marry the thistle’s son, but then a wild beast passes by and tramples the thistle. Just in case Amaziah doesn’t get it, Joash explains: Amaziah is full of boasting about his defeat of Edom, but that will only provoke trouble.

In 2 Kgs 14, Joash’s response makes a little more sense. Amaziah, full of his victory, decides to go after another neighbour. Here, however, it’s hard not to read Amaziah’s invitation as retaliation for the Israelite raid – but then Joash’s parable doesn’t fit quite so nicely.

In any case, Amaziah doesn’t listen (according to the Chronicler, God prevents him from listening so that he can use the ensuing war to punish him) and the two armies face each other at Bethshemesh. Israel wins and Amaziah is captured.

Joash then goes after Jerusalem, knocking down many of its walls, taking captives (including Obededom, who is not mentioned in the 2 Kgs account), and taking spoils from both Temple and palace.

We never learn of how Amaziah came to be freed, only that he outlived Joash by 15 years. Back in Jerusalem, a conspiracy grew against him and he was eventually forced to flee to Lachish. He was followed, though, and slain there, and the conspirators brought his corpse back to Jerusalem for burial.

In summary, the Chronicler tells us that Amaziah ruled for 29 years and that his mother’s name was Jehoaddan of Jerusalem. For more information, we are referred to the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel.

2 Chronicles 24: Joash’s Bildungsroman

Leave a comment

This chapter mostly follows 2 Kgs 12, though of course with some important changes.  We begin with a summary of Joash’s rule: He made it 40 years, his mother’s name was Zibiah of Beersheba, he had two wives (who were procured for him by Jehoiada), and he was a great king!

… At least as long as Jehoiada was priest. After that, not so much.

So we begin when Joash is seven years old and has just been crowned. We don’t get many details of his reign, except that he decided to start a restoration project on the Temple to replace the stuff Athaliah’s sons had appropriated for their Baal worship. An expensive restoration project.

His first fundraising strategy was to send priests and Levites throughout Judah to collect money from the people. With haste!

Unfortunately, the Levites did not haste, and the funds weren’t flooding in as Joash had hoped. In Kings, it’s implied that the priests are collecting the funds, just not using it for renovations (with a fairly strong indication that there’s some corruption going on). It’s a rather difficult story, since the Chronicler is clearly setting the goodness up as being Jehoiada’s doing (and, as we shall see, Joash will waste no time in disappointing God once Jehoiada is no longer around). And yet we can clearly see that it is Joash who is pushing for the Temple renovations, and he holds Jehoiada responsible for the failure in raising the funds (without any contradiction from the Chronicler).

Incidentally, Joash’s fundraising efforts are referred to as the “tax levied by Moses” (2 Chron. 24:6). This seems to refer to the tax Moses collected in Exodus 30:12-16, which seems to have been a one-time collection for the building of the tent of meeting. It seems that Joash understood this to be, instead, a tax that could be collected at any time for Temple purposes.

Joash then moves on to a second strategy – he commands that the collection chest be placed outside the gate house of the Temple, and for the people to come in and donate directly, without the priests as intermediaries. Judah’s leaders rejoice at the opportunity to pay taxes and fill the coffers with all the haste that the priests had not managed. This chapter may be the product of an IRS worker’s fantasies.

Whenever the chest is full, the Levites have to hand it offer to the king’s secretary and the officer of the chief priest, who would then give it to the people in charge of the renovations. Soon, the Temple is repaired and even improved!

And when the workers had finished, they had enough left over for Joash and Jehoiada to use in making ritual utensils for the Temple.

The Post-Jehoiada Era

But time is master of us all and Jehoiada succumbed at the tender age of 130, and he was buried among the kings of David’s dynasty “because he had done good in Israel” (2 Chron. 24:16).

Murder of Zechariah, by William Brassey Hole

Murder of Zechariah, by William Brassey Hole

It doesn’t take long for things to go south after that. When the leaders of Judah came to make obeisance to the king, they fail to visit the Temple – choosing instead to visit the Asherim and idols.

God, of course, is mildly miffed. So he sends prophets to Judah to bring them back in line, but of course they won’t listen. Even worse, one of the prophets happens to be Jehoiada’s own son, Zechariah, and the people stone him to death. (We’re told that the people conspire against them, likely meaning that they faked legal charges as Jezebel did of Naboth in 1 Kgs 21:1-16.) As he died, Zechariah called out to God to avenge him.

God doesn’t take long to fulfil that request, and he sends the Syrians to loot Judah before the end of the year. They win, even though their army is small, and kill “all the princes” of Judah (2 Chron. 24:23).

When the Syrians left, they left Joash severely wounded. His own servants – Zabad son of Shimeath the Ammonitess and Jehozabad son of Shimrith the Moabitess – conspired against him out of loyalty to Zechariah, and they murder him in his bed.

I noticed that both of the servants are apparently non-Israelites, and both are identified in relation to their mothers. Both details seem rather surprising, and I can’t help but wonder if they are significant. In 2 Kgs 12:21, the servants are Jozacar son of Shimeath and Jehozabad son of Shomer, who are not identified by their nationality. The spelling differences seem fairly common when foreigners are named.

Though he was buried in the city of David, Joash was not buried in the tomb of the kings, while Jehoiada the priest was! At least, here Joash wasn’t buried with the kings, while he was buried “with his fathers” in 2 Kgs 12:20-21.

James Bradford Pate raises an interesting point: We’ve seen this happen a fair bit in Chronicles – kings are buried, or not, in the tomb of the kings based on their goodness. He rightfully asks who is making these burial decisions?

For more information on Joash’s sons and the oracles against him, as well as the rebuilding of the Temple, the Chronicler sends us to the Commentary on the Book of the Kings.

2 Chronicles 23: Coup and counter-coup

Leave a comment

In the last chapter, King Ahaziah died very early on in his reign, leaving no suitable heirs. His mother, Athaliah, took advantage of the situation and declared herself queen (attempting to slaughter the remaining members of David’s dynasty to secure her position). Only Joash survived, having been hidden by his aunt, Jehoshabeath.

Jehoshabeath happened to be married to Jehoiada, a priest, and so was able to hide Joash in the Temple. It isn’t explicitly explained how this worked – did Athaliah not know where he was because she, not being a priest, wasn’t allowed into the inner parts of the Temple? If this is the case, was it not a problem for Joash to be there? Alternatively, was she aware of him but would not defile the Temple by dragging him out?

Heck, even if she didn’t know that Joash was being kept in the Temple, she must have suspected that he would be taken there, since she knew who Jehoshabeath was married to. Yet she apparently did not search the Temple – rather odd behaviour for an idolater “in the way of Ahab” who was heavily motivated to make sure that the child was found and killed.

The most likely possibility that I can think of that doesn’t involve Athaliah respecting the sanctity of the Temple is if, as far as she knew, Joash was already dead. And perhaps he really was, and the Joash who was hidden in the Temple was an imposter produced by Jehoiada to justify his coup. After all, he’s definitely the cui who bonos the most, having raised Joash and undoubtedly having a great deal of influence over the soon-to-be boy king.

It’s a fun theory, anyway.

Getting the band back together

2 Chron. 23 mostly follows 2 Kgs 11:4-20, with most of the changes to increase (or add) the involvement of priests and the use of music. The scene opens in the 7th year of Athaliah’s reign, when Joash had been in hiding for six years.

Jehoiada gathers together a posse of military leaders: Azariah son of Jeroham, Ishmael son of Jehohanan, Azariah son of Obed, Maaseiah son of Adaiah, and Elishaphat son of Zichri. These commanders were not named in 2 Kgs 11.

Athaliah's Dismay, by Solomon Alexander Hart, c.1858

Athaliah’s Dismay, by Solomon Alexander Hart, c.1858

Another difference is that the 2 Kgs 11 coup has a strong military flavour to it, as Jehoiada only gathered together ” the captains of the Carites and of the guards” (2 Kgs 11:4). Here, however, the coup seems more inclusive, as Jehoiada gathers up Levites and family leaders as well, bringing them all to the Temple to present Joash. The implication seems to be that the boy had been, until this point, presumed dead, or at least missing.

Finally having someone to centre their coup around, the leaders make their plan. The plan, while still a little confusing, was clearer in the 2 Kgs 11 account: The guards Jehoiada brings in are to launch their attack when they either come on or go off duty, or perhaps take advantage of a changing of the guard to attack.

Here, however, the shift changing has to involve priests, Levites, and gatekeepers, and Jehoiada is very concerned about people coming into the Temple. Anyone who enters, perhaps in an attempt at retreat, is to be killed. Or perhaps his point is that the Temple is their bastion, and they are to cut down Athaliah’s soldiers as they attempt to enter. The Chronicler also wants to make sure we understand that Jehoiada is in no way attempting to “dismiss the divisions” (2 Chron. 23:8), perhaps indicating that he won’t just assign guards based on loyalty, but will rather seek loyalty from the guards who are already assigned.

One thing that interests me in this chapter is the way in which Joash is referred to. He is at times called “the king” (2 Chron. 23:7), long before he is any such thing, apparently making the point that Athaliah’s reign lacked legitimacy. At other times, however, he’s referred to as “the king’s son” (2 Chron. 23:11), indicating that he is not a true king finally given the crown he deserved all along, but rather deserving of becoming the king through his parentage. It may be a quibble, but I had fun looking at when each term is used. Joash is called king when Jehoiada and the others are planning the coup, but he becomes a king’s son when he is brought out for his coronation after the coup’s success. Like his legitimacy needed to be emphasized while things were still up in the air, but they could revert to more customary titles once loyalties were assured.

Treason! Treason!

Jehoiada arms the rebels with David’s spears and shields, which had been kept in the Temple. They hold a coronation ceremony for Joash and call out, “Long live the king!”

They make such a racket that Athaliah hears them, so she goes to the Temple to see what’s going on. When she finds Joash, with all the military captains rejoicing and all the trumpeters trumpeting, she rends her clothes and cries out, “Treason! Treason!”

Jehoiada doesn’t want her killed in the Temple, however, so he has the captains drag her outside first before they kill her.

After that, there’s another covenant ceremony with the people, and they finish up the day by tearing down the Temple of Baal and murdering its priest, Mattan, before its altars. They then bring Joash to his palace, from which he had escaped six years previously, and set him on the throne. Just a usual Sabbath, really.

We are told that Jehoiada then sets up the guards and Levites in the way that David had instructed and in accordance with the laws of Moses.

Older Entries