1 Kings 15-16: A House Divided

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The following chapters take us into the first few decades after the deaths of Rehoboam and Jeroboam. Important dates are given as references to the Xth year of the other half’s king’s reign – an interesting relational dating system that could only work in a divided monarchy. By necessity, this means that we skip around in the chronology a little. The story begins in Judah for Abijam and Asa, then moves up into Israel for Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Omri, and Ahab.

Abijam

Abijam came to power in the 18th year of Jeroboam’s reign, and ruled a total of three years. His mother was Maacah, the daughter of Abishalom, who seems to be identified by some with Absalom, making Maacah David’s granddaughter.

Of Abijam’s reign, we’re told only that he failed to live up to David’s greatness – though at least here, for once, the narrator admits that David’s greatness was slightly complicated by that whole Uriah business (1 Kgs 15:5). We also learn that hostilities continued between Israel and Judah during his reign, with the rather out-of-place verse: “Now there was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam all the days of his life” (1 Kgs 15:6). It may be possible to explain away by seeing Rehoboam as a reference to his family rather than to the individual, but this seems a stretch. Given that the wording is very similar to 1 Kgs 14:30 and that the verse is not found here in the Septuagint, it seems likely that it’s inclusion here was in error.

No information is given about the circumstances of Abijam’s death, but he only ruled for three years.

Asa

Asa gets the best assessment of anyone in these two chapters. He is crowned king in the 20th year of Jeroboam and ruled for a rather impressive forty-one years. Weirdly, though he is described as Abijam’s son, his mother is also Maacah, the daughter of Abishalom. Either this is an extraordinary coincidence, terribly incestuous, or there’s an error somewhere – it could be that Maacah’s name is duplicated, or that Asa and Abijam were brothers.

The narrator’s principal definition of an awesome king is that Asa cracked down a bit on non-approved cultic practices. Namely, he put away the male cultic prostitutes (no word on the female ones), and removed his mother from her position as Queen Mother because she had commissioned an Asherah – which Asa had cut down and burned. He also brought votive gifts to the Temple, both his own and some from his father. His only failing was that he didn’t take down the high places.

During Asa’s reign, the king of Israel – Baasha, whom we’ll learn about shortly – built Ramah, barring the border between the two nations and apparently serving a defensive function. Given its proximity to Jerusalem (about 8km, or 4 miles), this may have been an aggressive structure as well, or at least perceived as such. In response, Asa took all the silver and gold from both Temple and palace treasuries, and brought it to King Benhadad of Syria. It seems that Benhadad had been supporting Baasha, but he was successfully bribed to switch sides – conquering Ijon, Dan, Abelbethmaacah, all of Chinneroth, and all of Naphtali.

Defeated, Baasha stopped building Ramah. It’s also implied that, as a consequence of this defeat, he dwelt in Tirzah – suggesting that perhaps he was building Ramah with the intention of moving Israel’s capitol there and had to retreat back to Tirzah, which we know from 1 Kgs 14:17 was the current capitol. Once Baasha had retreated, Asa ordered all of Judah (“none was exempt” – 1 Kgs 15:22) to carry away the stones and timber of Ramah, using them instead to build Geba in Benjamin and Mizpah. It seems that few lessons were learned regarding the dangers of conscription.

In his old age, Asa suffered from diseased feet, which my New Bible Commentary speculates may have been dropsy (p.340). After his death, he was succeeded by his son, Jehoshaphat.

Israel

Nadab

Back in Israel, Jeroboam was succeeded by his son, Nadab, in the second year of Asa’s reign. The narrator found him unworthy, and so, apparently, did others. He only managed to rule for two years before Baasha, the son of Ahijah of Issachar, revolted and killed Nadab at Gibbethon. It’s not spelled out, but since we are told that Gibbethon belonged to Philistia, it seems probable that Baasha took advantage of the battle to turn on his king.

Baasha

Baasha was crowned in the third year of Asa’s reign, and his first act as king was to slaughter all the remaining members of Jeroboam’s house – not an uncommon practice when trying to found a new dynasty. He ruled a total of twenty-four years, with Tirzah as his capitol. Of course, our narrator was no fan.

During Baasha’s reign, there was a new prophet: Jehu, son of Hanani. He was no fan of Baasha either. He prophesies that God is displeased that Baasha is no better than his predecessors and, as punishment, will see his house utterly destroyed.

Elah

In the 26th year of Asa, Elah inherited the crown of Israel from his father. Unfortunately, his reign was troubled from the start. While he was getting plastered, Zimri – the commander of half of Elah’s chariots – murdered him. It seems significant that Zimri commanded only half of the chariots – I’m not sure if this would have been common practice, or if this is meant to signify that there were already divisions happening.

Either way, Elah was deposed in the 27th year of Asa.

Zimri

While clearly a go-getter, Zimri failed to get all his ducks in a row before taking the crown through murder. After only seven days, during which he just barely had time to murder every male kin and friend of Baasha’s dynasty, he fell.

Elah’s troops had been encamped at Gibbethon, perhaps continuing the conflict that saw Nadab’s death. When they heard of Elah’s murder, they made their commander, Omri, king. Omri brought the army back to Tirzah and besieged the city. Clearly seeing that he wasn’t going to hold on to the power he’d only just taken, Zimri set the citadel of the king’s house on fire, with himself inside.

Just as a point of interest, the term used for the men associated with Baasha’s dynasty in 1 Kgs 16:11 in the King James Bible is “one that pisseth against a wall.” This is, apparently, how men are to be defined by people who clearly never met a woman who does a lot of hiking or camping.

Amri, by Guillaume Rouille, 1553

Amri, by Guillaume Rouille, 1553

Omri

Despite having the support of the soldiers under his command, Omri’s transition was not particularly smooth. Half of Israel followed Tibni, son of Ginath. While Omri defeated Tibni, the fact that Zimri’s rise and fall occured in the 27th year of Asa yet Omri’s reign is not said to have begun until the 31st year of Asa, it seems that the conflict between the two men lasted four years.

We’re told that Omri reigned a total of twelve years, six of which were in Tirzah. Yet to make the numbers of work, four of those years would have been the years of civil war, giving him only two solid years in Tirzah. After that, he bought land from a man named Shemer for two talents of silver, and built on it the city of Samaria. Not only was this the new capitol of Israel, Israel itself soon came to be known as Samaria.

Despite the text’s assessment of Omri as evil, he seems to have been quite important. From Micah 6:16, it seems that he was known for instituting some kind of legal reform, though no details are preserved. Omri is also the first Hebrew king for which we have direct non-biblical evidence:

The Moabite Stone, which was discovered in 1868, tells of the conflict between Mesha, king of Moab, and Omri, who humbled Moab for many years but was eventually defeated (ANET, 321). The inscription is remarkable for the similarty it shows between the religion of Moab and that of Israel. Mesha acts at the behest of his god, Chemosh, just as the Israelites act at the behest of YHWH. Most remarkable is that Mesha boasts of having slaughtered every man, woman, and child in Nebo, “for I had devoted them to destruction for (the god) Ashtar-Chemosh.” Omri’s son, Ahab, is mentioned in the Monolith Inscription of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser as having contributed two thousand chariots and ten thousand foot soldiers to an Aramean coalition that halted an Assyrian advance (ANET, 279). Assyrian records continued to refer to Israel as “the house of Omri” long after Omri’s descendants had ceased to rule. Omri and Ahab were kings to be reckoned with. There is much more evidence outside the Bible for their power and influence than was the case with Solomon. (Collins, A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.137,138)

Ahab

In the 38th year of Asa, Omri was succeeded by his son, Ahab. Though described by the text as just the absolute worst, Ahab seems to have been able to maintain a bit of stability in the unstable nation of Israel, ruling for an impressive twenty-two years. He was married to a woman named Jezebel, whose name should be familiar to any cultural Christian. She was the daughter of King Ethbaal of Sidonia and, through her, Ahab came to serve Baal. Not only does he make an Asherah, he also builds a temple for Baal in Samaria. As in the case of his father, we have an independent attestation of Ahab’s existence.

Somewhat out of place in this narrative, we get a note about a man named Hiel of Bethel who rebuilt Jericho. We’re told that the foundation of the city came at the cost of his first-born son, Abiram, and that the gates were built at the cost of his youngest son, Segub. This is all, says the narrative, a fulfilment of Joshua’s prophecy, given in Joshua 6:29. The most charitable reading has the two boys either having their deaths attributed to the construction (as we saw Bathsheba’s first son’s death attributed to David’s sin in 2 Samuel 12), or perhaps both sons assisted in the construction and died accidentally. There’s no reason to assume that Joshua’s prophecy predicted a future event, as opposed to Joshua’s prophecy, written after the events, describing events that it full well knew would come later when Jericho was rebuilt.

A third possibility, and perhaps the likeliest, was that these were ritual killings, human sacrifices intended to bless the construction. These sorts of sacrifices (both human and animal) have been found in much of the world, and knowledge of them survived in folk mythology even longer (as we see in this German legend). The Encyclopedia of Death and Dying quotes a book by Nigel Davies:

In the sanctuary in Gezer were found two burnt skeletons of six-year-old children and the skulls of two adolescents that had been sawn in two. At Meggido a girl of fifteen had been killed and buried in the foundations of a large structure. Excavations show that the practice of interring children under new buildings was widespread and some were evidently buried alive. (Davies, Nigel. Human Sacrifice in History and Today. New York: William Morrow and Co., 1981, p. 61)

1 Kings 14: Punish the good

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The chapter begins with a story about Jeroboam’s domestic life, of course used as yet another rant about the evils of idolatry. According to my New Bible Commentary, this passage is absent from the Septuagint, “but fragments are found in the extra passage in LXX 12:24a-n” (p.338). There’s a further explanation given by the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, hosted by BibleHub.

When Jeroboam’s son, Abijah, falls ill, Jeroboam sends his unnamed wife in disguise to consult with the prophet Ahijah – the same prophet who announced Jeroboam’s subsequent rise to power in 1 Kings 11:29-39. He may have selected Ahijah in the hopes that, given their history together, Ahijah would have made a favourable pronouncement (though where this sits with God’s well versus human magic is unclear).

But that wouldn’t explain why he sent his wife in disguise. Claude Mariottini offers one possible explanation:

A possible reason Jeroboam sent his wife was because he was afraid of what the prophet would say about his religious apostasy. Thus, he sent his wife disguised as a poor woman with a humble gift in order to gain a more favorable judgment from the prophet.

Of course, as is so common in our text, rationales are not forthcoming. And even when they are, they tend to confuse rather than clarify.

The unnamed wife brings along an offering – payment for the interview. Before she arrives, however, God tips Ahijah off and, despite the fact that he is old and blind, he recognises her based on the sound of her footsteps alone.

Jeroboam sets up two golden calves, from the Bible Historiale, 1372

Jeroboam sets up two golden calves, from the Bible Historiale, 1372

He tells her how disappointed God is that Jeroboam didn’t prove himself to be as wonderful as David. God accuses Jeroboam, via his wife, of making other gods, molten images, and Asherim – the first we’ve heard of it – and, in retribution, God will bring evil down on Israel. Jeroboam will lose his dynasty, his people who die in cities will be eaten by dogs and his people who die in the country will be eaten by birds.

Ahijah sends the woman home, telling her that her son will die as soon as she returns and that he will be the only one to receive a proper burial – because “in him there is found something pleasing to the Lord” (1 Kgs 14:13). After that, Israel will be uprooted and scattered.

It’s difficult to see why, after being told that her return would spell her son’s death, Jeroboam’s wife went home. I’m sure that, as far as the narrative templates go, she would have been compelled to return, or perhaps her return was meant only to be an indication of the time frame rather than the parameter requirement. Still, it’s troubling to think that she would have done anything other than stay away.

As it is, though, the wife returns and Abijah dies.

In closing, we’re told to consult the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel if we want more information on Jeroboam’s reign (a frustrating impossibility, of course). In total, he reigned for twenty-two years, and was succeeded by his son, Nadab.

Across the border

The ending of the chapter belongs to Rehoboam. We are told that he was forty-one when he became king, and that he reigned for a total of 17 years. Just on point of interest, the LXX tells us in its addition to 1 Kings 12 that Rehoboam was crowned at 16 and that he only reigned for 12 years. The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges points out that his actions do seem more like the foolishness of a younger man, perhaps because they haven’t met quite so many foolish middle aged and older people as I’ve had the insincere pleasure of encountering. That said, it would make sense given the emphasis on the “young men” he chooses to listen to in 1 Kings 12:8.

We find out here that Rehoboam’s mother’s name was Naamah – an Ammonite – and that the situation in Judah was absolutely atrocious. Not only was there worship in high places, there were also pillars and Asherim all over the place. In fact, there were even “male cult prostitutes in the land” (1 Kgs 14:24).

In the fifth year of Rehoboam’s reign, Jerusalem was attacked by the Egyptians, led by Shishak, almost certainly the Kushite Pharaoh Sheshonk I. The Egyptians looted the Temple and the palace, taking, among other things, Solomon’s golden shields – presumably the same he commissioned in 1 Kings 10:16-17.

Rehoboam replaced the shields, but only with bronze – perhaps indicating that the Egyptians’ looting hurt worse than explicitly indicated. Rehoboam also chose to keep the shields in his guardhouse rather than in his palace. Whenever he went to the Temple, he had his guardsmen wear the shields, then return them back to the guardhouse. The inclusion of the detail is not explained, but may possibly be to indicate that Judah was hit so hard that the decorative shields had to be put to double use.

Despite Rehoboam’s retreat in 1 Kings 12:21-24, we’re told that Rehoboam and Jeroboam were at constant war. Given the situation, it seems likely to have been a cold war, perhaps with occasional sparks of violence, rather than a full blown prolonged campaign.

The rest of the details of Rehoboam’s reign are to be found in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah. When he died, he was succeeded by his son, Abijam. Sadly, it seems that the hard times left the two kingdoms not only with a dearth of gold, but also of first names.

The Kings of Judah and Israel

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There seems to be some wiggle room in the dates given for the various kings of Israel and Judah. We’ll be seeing several instances of overlapping reigns, totals that don’t add up, and other problems. This is, it seems, compounded once the dates are verified against external references, such as the names and dates from Egypt or Assyria. As a result, the dates my New Bible Commentary settles on are wildly different form the dates John Collins has settled on for his Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible. For my own purposes, I’ll be following the latter. For ease of reference, here’s the chart:

Kings of Judah Kings of Israel
Rehoboam 922-915 Jeroboam 922-901
Abijah (Abijam) 915-873
Asa 913-873 Nadab 901-900
Baasha 900-877
Elah 877-876
Zimri 876
Omride Era
Omri 876-869
Jehoshaphat 873-849 Ahab 869-850
Ahaziah 850-849
Jehoram 849-843 Jehoram 849-843
Ahaziah 843-842 Jehu Dynasty
Jehu 843-815
Athaliah 842-837
Joash 837-800
Jehoahaz 815-802
Amaziah 800-783 Jehoash 802-786
Uzziah (Azariah) 783-742 Jeroboam II 786-746
Assyrian Intervention
Jotham 742-735 Zechariah 746-745
Shallum 745
Menahem 745-737
Pekahiah 737-736
Ahaz 735-727/715 Pekah 736-732
Hoshea 732-722
Hezekiah 727/715-687
Fall of Samaria 722
Manasseh 687-642
Amon 642-640
Josiah 640-609
Jehoahaz 609
Jehoiakim 609-598
Jehoiachin 598-597
Babylonian capture of Jerusalem 597
Zedekiah 597-586
Destruction of Jerusalem 586