2 Chronicles 17-18: The Old Switcheroo

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Jehoshaphat’s narrative, as Asa’s, is considerably bloated. While he takes up only a single chapter in Kings (1 Kgs 22) – which he must share with King Ahab of Israel – the Chronicler gives him four chapters.

Cultic Concerns

2 Chron. 17 kicks us off on a fairly positive note, and is largely unique to Chronicles.

We learn that Jehoshaphat was a faithful king, that he “walked in the earlier ways of his father” (2 Chron. 17:3 – as opposed to Asa’s later days in which he forgot to turn to God in his moments of need). He sought God to the exclusion of other gods, so God established his rule and built up his wealth.

Contradicting 1 Kgs 22:43, we learn that Jehoshaphat succeeded where his father had fallen short, and he removed all the high places and Asherim from Judah. (We can play the same games we played with Asa and say that he did fail to remove the YHWH shrines, but that he managed to oust the shrines to other gods that had cropped up since Asa’s purges. If we want to.)

In the third year of his reign, he sent his princes throughout Judah, in the company of Levites and priests, to teach the law to the people. The princes he sent were: Benhail, Obadiah, Nethanel, and Micaiah. The Levites who went along were: Shemaiah, Nethaniah, Zebadiah, Asahel, Shemiramoth, Jehonathan, Adonijah, Tobijah, and Tobadonijah. The priests were: Elishama and Jehoram.

There are two questions that might be raised by this passage. The first is raised by the New Bible Commentary, which claims that it would have been prohibitively expensive to equip all these priests and princes with scrolls (p.388 – it also brings up the claim of widespread illiteracy, but easily smacks it down. Princes and priests would be just the sorts of people to have had access to education, at least so far as reading is concerned).

I find the claim difficult to swallow. Would scrolls have been expensive? Sure! But prohibitively so? Especially since we don’t actually know what they were carrying along with them. Was it the whole Pentateuch? Or merely a short-ish list of laws that, later, became the basis for parts of it? If we allow that it might have been a shorter text, and that it was only needed in 16 copies (assuming that each prince and priest carried his own), it seems well within the range of what a sufficiently-motivated monarch could manage.

Let’s not forget how many texts are mentioned as sources and references throughout Chronicles alone, written by court chroniclers and prophets (where there’s a difference). If the seer Iddo could get his hands on paper, couldn’t the king?

The second question, raised by James Bradford Pate, is why princes were sent along with the priests. One possibility he gives is that the princes were there to teach the secular law, while the priests taught the religious laws. I suspect, however, that such a dichotomy is rather anachronistic. Certainly, having now read through the Pentateuch, there’s little indication that its authors would have understood the difference.

Another possibility Pate raises is that the princes were there to give the priests backing, to make it clear that they taught with the king’s authority. A third is that they were there to serve the Chronicler’s own ends, to provide a precedent for members of the laity teaching cultic law, as he says was happening in synagogues in the Chronicler’s own time.

Personally, I suspect that this is just further evidence of theological evolution. In many cultures of the ancient Near East, secular and religious duties were conflated, with the roles of the king and high priest being filled by the same individual. It seems that the same was true in the early monarchy as, in 2 Sam. 8:18, we learn that David’s sons were priests. Why couldn’t Jehoshaphat’s sons also be priests? The Chronicler typically tries to erase these bread crumbs from his sources, but may have left this passage as Jehoshaphat’s devotion – that he would send his own sons out with the priests to, say, lead by example. He almost certainly added Levites to whatever his original source might have said, and perhaps made priests into a distinct category (as opposed to, say, “Jehoshaphat’s sons and other priests”). Perhaps he felt that was enough to fudge over his religion’s history, and bring it in line with his current belief system.

Military Might

We also learn about Jehoshaphat’s military might. We learn that he garrisoned all the fortified cities of Judah, as well as the surrounding land. He also garrisoned the cities of Ephraim that Asa had conquered (perhaps a reference to what might have fallen to him during Syria’s Benhadad’s attack on Israel in 2 Chron. 16).

He surrounded himself with soldiers and mighty men. In Jerusalem, his army commanders from Judah were:

  • Adnah, who oversaw 300,000 men;
  • Jehohanan, who oversaw 280,000 men;
  • and Amasiah, son of Zichri, who was a volunteer for the service of God and oversaw 200,000 men.

The commanders from Benjamin were:

  • Eliada, who was one of the mighty men and oversaw 200,000 archers;
  • and Jehozabad, who oversaw 180,000 men.

These were only the commanders in Jerusalem, and there were plenty more scattered about in the fortified cities.

Jehoshaphat’s power grew, and he built up fortresses and store-cities, not to mention the contents of those stores. All the surrounding nations were so afraid of God that they left Judah alone. In fact, some even made gifts and tributes to Jehoshaphat, including the Philistines and the Arabs. (This verse is used to support the possibility that Zerah, from 2 Chron. 14, had been an Arab king rather than an Ethiopian one, and that this “gift” arrangement was a result of that conflict.)

Consulting Micaiah

2 Chron. 18 is taken almost verbatim from 1 Kgs 22, and is pretty much all that the author of Kings felt worthy of mentioning about Jehoshaphat. The Chronicler doesn’t much bother with the northern kingdom, but makes an exception of Ahab for Jehoshaphat’s presence in the story. Where there are differences, it is usually to trim some of Ahab’s narrative detail, or to enhance Jehoshaphat’s.

While 2 Chron. 17 paints a rather rosy picture of Jehoshaphat, we learn here that he made a marriage alliance with Ahab. In real terms, whatever respite it might have brought in the multi-generational conflicts between the two half-nations seems like it would have been a blessing (to use the term in a secular sense), particularly for border communities. To the theologically motivated Chronicler, however, it was no such thing.

After a few years, Jehoshaphat visits Ahab in the Israelite capital of Samaria. To make Jehoshaphat seem more like a highly honoured guest, the Chronicler adds a detail about Ahab slaughtering a great many sheep and oxen for Jehoshaphat and his retinue.

2 Chronicles 17-18It is during this trip that Ahab asks Jehoshaphat to join him in attacking Ramoth-gilead, which had fallen into Syrian hands. Jehoshaphat agrees, but asks that they consult with God first.

The scene is painted in surprising detail, with the two kings in their full display. They are arranged in their robes, on their thrones, at the entrance of the gate of Samaria, and 400 sycophantic prophets were before them, all prophesying that they should go, that God would deliver Ramoth-gilead into their hands.

One prophet in particular, Zedekiah son of Chenaanah, goes above and beyond with the theatrics. He makes himself iron horns, and declares that God will use them to push the Syrians until they are all destroyed. The other 399 prophets agree.

But Jehoshaphat isn’t quire sure, and he asks for a 401st opinion. As it happens, there is one prophet, Micaiah son of Imlah, who had not been invited. Micaiah, you see, is an absolute Debbie Downer. But he is summoned at Jehoshaphat’s insistence.

When the kings’ messenger finds Micaiah, he tells him what the other prophets have said, and warns him to bring his own prophecies in line. But Micaiah, man of integrity, insists that he will say whatever God tells him to say, and not a word contrary.

Despite this pledge, he ends up agreeing with the other prophets when he is before the kings.

Ahab is suspicious. Malaise Micaiah would never say something so rousingly positive! And Micaiah confesses his lie, that his vision was actually of all Israel scattered upon the mountain, “as sheep that have no shepherd” (2 Chron. 18:16).

You see, he saw a vision of God on his throne, surrounded by his heavenly court. God announced that he wanted a way to lure Ahab to his doom in Ramoth-gilead. Members of the court made a few suggestions until, finally, one spirit suggested putting lies in the mouths of the prophets, assuring Ahab that he would succeed in his battle against the Syrians.

Zedekiah, a bit of a sore loser, punches Micaiah in the face, and asks him how the Spirit of God went from him into Micaiah. Micaiah responds that he will know on the day that he goes into an inner chamber to hide himself. Whatever that is supposed to mean (perhaps there was a second part of the story, one involving Zedekiah, that we no longer have?).

Ahab, also a sore loser, has Micaiah imprisoned and fed nothing but bread and water until Ahab returns in peace. To which Micaiah replies that he will only return in peace if God has not spoken through him [Micaiah]. Personally, I think something about “guess I’ll die on bread and water, then!” would have had more zing, but I’m not the author here.

Despite his insistence that Micaiah be consulting, Jehoshaphat doesn’t appear to have been particularly moved by what he had to say, and he goes to Ramoth-gilead with Ahab.

James Bradford Pate rightly asks why Jehoshaphat would have gone along with Ahab after Micaiah’s words. It seems very inconsistent. He also asks why Jehoshaphat, if he was so powerful, would have consented to an alliance with Ahab in the first place. Pate answers both by suggesting that the Chronicler may have been a little too generous, and that Jehoshaphat was the weaker party in the alliance. This explains why he might have been obligated to go along with Ahab’s plan despite whatever reservations he may have had.

Personally, I think it’s equally likely that Jehoshaphat’s insistence on a second opinion is the fictional addition (perhaps to make him look good by having him doggedly seek out God’s will, or perhaps to make Micaiah look good by introducing him as a prophet with a reputation for bucking authority).

As for the idea that it had to have been Jehoshaphat seeking the alliance, I’m not sure that we can make that assumption. The two might have been equally matched, or Jehoshaphat might have accepted a royal Israelite wife as a vassal price. For all we know, there was an exchange of brides. It’s also possible that Jehoshaphat was the stronger party in absolute terms, but not strong enough to thoroughly crush Israel. He might then have sought an alliance just to put an end to the border skirmishes that seem to have been going on since his great-grandfather’s day.

The Battle

We have a little more confusion with the battle itself. Before going in to fight, Ahab decides to disguise himself, and has Jehoshaphat wear Ahab’s robes.

If we assume historicity, it seems strange that Jehoshaphat would have agreed to this. One possibility, though, is that they believed Jehoshaphat would be protected by not being Ahab, but that a disguise might protect Ahab by confusing the Evil Eye (or equivalent). We see plenty of similar folk traditions, like not giving a newborn a name (keeping them liminal and therefore safe from curses) until they are past the high risk early days.

As for dressing Jehoshaphat up like Ahab rather than simply putting both kings in disguise, it would have been necessary for the army to see that they had a leader (morale and whatnot), and this was clearly Ahab’s venture. Therefore, Ahab had to be seen to be on the battlefield, even if it wasn’t actually him. And having the substitute still be a monarch might not have violated the honour of the engagement.

Another possibility is simply that the story is a fabrication, following the typical pattern of a “you can’t escape your fate” fable. These stories often have fairly ridiculous set ups, with characters behaving in terribly odd ways in attempts to save themselves, only to bring themselves right into the situation they had been trying to avoid.

As it happens, the king of Syria had commanded his chariot captains to focus on killing Ahab, at the expense of going after his soldiers. As planned, they focus on Ahab (who is actually Jehoshaphat in disguise) and pursue him.

Jehoshaphat is spared when he cries out to God, and God draws away (or “seduces,” apparently) the chariot captains. Still, one of them drew his bow, just on a lark, and shot into the fray. Predictably, it just so happens to strike Ahab, and thus he is delivered his fatal wounds.

Kings gives us some more details of Ahab’s slow and gruesome death, but the Chronicler tells us only that he propped himself up in his chariot, facing the Syrians as he attempted retreat, until evening. He died with the sun.

1 Chronicles 12: Like a magnet

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We continue our coverage of David’s magnetic charisma. The section begins with a group of Benjaminites who defected to David during his stay at Ziklag (the town he was given by the Philistine king Achish in exchange for his raiding in 1 Sam. 27:5-12). The Chronicler makes absolutely certain that no reader can come away from this passage without realizing that the Benjaminites, despite being Saul’s kinsmen, chose to follow David while the two men were in open conflict. The point is clear: Even Saul’s own tribesmen realized that David was the better man.

This is likely why the Benjaminites are listed first, despite the Gadites being the first to join David chronologically. The point of David’s fitness to rule Israel is better made with Benjaminite defectors.

Coronation of King David, from the Paris Psalter, 10th cent.

Coronation of King David, from the Paris Psalter, 10th cent.

Of these Benjaminites, we learn that they were ambidextrous, capable of shooting arrows and slinging stones with either hand. The association between Benjaminites and handedness is nothing new. They are specifically associated with left-handedness in Judges 20:15-16, and the Benjaminite hero Ehud is left-handed in Judges 3:15. As James Page points out, it’s likely that they were left-handed, but forced by superstition to train with their right hands until they came to be known for being ambidextrous.

They were led by Ahiezer and his second-in-command, Joash, both sons of Shemaah of Gibeah. This, too, reinforces David’s powers of attraction, as Gibeah was Saul’s home town.

Other notable Benjaminites to join David include:

  • Jeziel and Pelet, sons of Azmaveth;
  • Beracah;
  • Jehu of Anathoth;
  • Jeremiah;
  • Jahaziel;
  • Johanan;
  • Jozabad of Gederah;
  • Eluzai;
  • Jerimoth;
  • Bealiah;
  • Shemariah;
  • Shephatiah the Haruphite;
  • The Korahites: Elkanah, Isshiah, Azarel, Joezer, and Jashobeam;
  • Joelah and Zebediah, sons of Jeroham of Gedor;
  • And Ishmaiah of Gibeon, who is said to be a leader of the Thirty (1 Chron. 12:4) despite not getting a mention in the last chapter, and the fact that Abishai is named the leader of the Thirty in both 2 Sam. 23:18-19 and 1 Chron. 11:20. It could be an error, or perhaps Ishmaiah led the Thirty at one time, and Abishai at another.

The Gadites

The Gadites come next. They came to David while he was “at the stronghold in the wilderness” (1 Chron. 12:8), which is likely a reference to Adullam. This would make them the first tribe to join David, listed second here because their joining isn’t quite as important, from a propagandic point of view, as the Benjaminites.

They are described as having faces like those of lions, which echoes Moses’s words in Deut. 33:20-21. Their speciality was fighting with shield and spear, and they were as swift as gazelles when in the mountains.

They were led by Ezer, and the other leaders were, in order: Obadiah, Eliab, Mishmannah, Jeremiah, Attai, Eliel, Johanan, Elzabad, Jeremiah, and Machbannai. Each of these chiefs led a company of at least a hundred men, with the largest company being over a thousand strong.

They crossed the Jordan in the first month, when it would have been overflowing and likely a rather dangerous crossing. Not only that, but they put to flight those on either bank.

James Pate notes that this isn’t the first time the Gadites were first:

The Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary believes it is significant that the tribe of Gad was the first Israelite tribe to side with David.  Building on such Jewish sources as Genesis Rabbah 99:2 and the Midrash Lekach Tov, it notes that Gad is notorious for firsts: it was the first tribe to enter the land of Canaan, it was the first to accept David as king when David was still in exile from King Saul, and Elijah (perhaps a Gadite) will be the first to recognize the Messiah.

The Spirit Clothes Himself

While David was staying at a stronghold (again, this seems to be a reference to Adullam, though the place isn’t named), some men from Benjamin and Judah approached and David came out to meet him. This would have been during David’s time on the run, and it must have been concerning if Benjaminites were among those who approached (see, for example, 1 Sam. 23:15-29).

David asks if the men approach as friends – in which case he welcomes them – or as enemies – in which case he hopes that God will punish them (evidence, perhaps, of his dire situation at that point in his political career).

The spirit comes upon Amasai, prompting him to declare the visitors’ allegiance to David, and offering him their help. Interestingly, the literal phrase is that “the spirit clothed himself with Amasai,” which is just a delightful phrase. I’m rather disappointed with the RSV’s decision to render it as “the Spirit came upon Amasai” (1 Chron. 12:18) when such a poetic phrasing was readily available.

David seems to be so moved by Amasai’s declaration that he appoints the visitors as officers over his troops.

Interestingly, Amasai doesn’t appear elsewhere, and it seems that either Abishai or Amasa was meant.

Manasseh’s Defectors

The next group to join David happens in the context of Saul’s final battle against the Philistines, while David was still working for one of the Philistine kings. As was the case in 1 Sam. 29-30, we are assured that David took no part in the battle. However, it’s somewhat disconcerting that, in both narratives, it is not David who asks not to fight against Saul and the Israelites. Rather, it’s the Philistines themselves who express concern that he might defect, and so send him home. Those who would defend David would argue that this was, in fact, David’s plan, but there really isn’t anything in the text (in either place) that indicates this to be the case.

On his way back to Ziklag, David passes through the territory of Manasseh. As he does so, several men desert their tribe to join him: Adnah, Jozabad, Jediael, Michael, Jozabad, Elihu, and Zillethai. They commanded thousands, and they helped David fight an unnamed and unreferenced band of raiders.

And so, day by day, David’s army grew larger.

On To Hebron

Finally, we cycle back to where we were in 1 Chron. 11, with the Israelites meeting at Hebron “to turn the kingdom of Saul over to [David]” (1 Chron. 12:23). Each tribe is listed with the men they brought along:

  • Judah: 6,800
  • Simeon: 7,100
  • Benjamin: 3,000 (the majority of whom were newly converted from Saul’s side)
  • Ephraim:20,800
  • The Cis-Jordan half of Manasseh: 18,000
  • Issachar: 200 chiefs, plus the men they commanded (of Issachar, the Chronicler tells us that they understood the times and knew what Israel ought to do – 1 Chron. 12:32 – whatever that’s supposed to mean)
  • Zebulun: 50,000
  • Naphtali: 1,000 commanders, with 37,000 men
  • Dan: 28,600
  • Asher: 40,000
  • The Transjordan tribes (Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh): 120,000

The Levites are also listed along with the others, but are interestingly divided into two groups: The house of Aaron, led by the prince Jehoiada, had 3,700, and Zadok leading 22 commanders. Paul Davidson (Is That In The Bible) sees this as “evidence in the biblical texts of rival priestly groups vying for control of the temple and other religious positions.”

Brant Clements (Both Saint and Cynic) notes that, “interestingly, the more remote tribes send far greater numbers of soldiers.” The numbers are clearly fictional, but this observation seems like it should be significant. Perhaps even more so if the numbers are not historical.

The Israelites all met with the purpose of making David their king. They stayed at Hebron for three days, during which they feasted and made preparations.