1 Chronicles 13-14: Bringing Home The Ark… Almost

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These two chapters follow 2 Sam. 5:11-25 and 2 Sam. 6:1-13 rather closely, though reversing their order.

David gets the idea to fetch the ark from Kiriath-jearim, where it’s been sitting in Abinadab’s house. It’s not mentioned here, but the ark had been captured by the Philistines in 1 Samuel 4, and was returned to the Israelites in 1 Samuel 6 after it had caused an idol of Dagon to fall and break, and caused an epidemic of some kind to spread through the cities of Philistia. Since then, it had been held by Abinadab.

But before David goes for the ark, he first asks the leaders of Israel for their agreement. It seems odd that David should ask permission like this, and I wonder if it’s an indication of how precarious his hold on Israel still was at that time. I see some commenters arguing that the ark was a sort of glue to bind all the tribes, and that bringing it to Jerusalem symbolically joined the Hebrew people in faith as well as politics. Yet the fact that no one seems to have bothered with it in years (as evidenced by David’s statement that the ark had been neglected in the time of Saul – 1 Chron. 13:3 – used by the Chronicler here as a subtle-ish indictment of Saul) adds to the evidence that the ark was part of a local, perhaps Shilonite, cult that David (assuming his historicity) made a part of the state religion. We might compare this to Constantine’s adoption of Christianity as the state religion in an effort to unite a disparate empire.

In any case, they fetch the ark and load it onto a new cart, with Uzzah and Ahio driving it while David and the other Israelites sing and play music in a procession ahead of it.

Unfortunately, the oxen stumble when the ark reaches the threshing floor of Chidon, causing the ark to wobble. When Uzzah puts out his hand to steady it, God kills him. (Incidentally, this happens at the threshing floor of Nacon in 2 Sam. 6:6, not Chidon.)

This freaked David out, and he decided not to bring the ark back to Jerusalem as he had originally intended. Instead, he takes it to the house of Obededom the Gittite, and leaves it there for three months. This worked out nicely for Obededom, however, since his household was blessed while the ark resided there.

The narrative ends here, leaving out (at least for now) the remainder of the ark’s journey to Jerusalem, during which David danced naked in the procession, angering his wife Michal (2 Sam. 6).

Settling In

The next portion, taken from 2 Sam. 5:11-16, is rather out of place in the Chronicler’s organization. Whereas in 2 Samuel, we have a summary of David’s life in Jerusalem placed after his conquest of the city, the narrative here is interrupted by the moving of the ark, disrupting the narrative flow.

First, David needs a house. For this, we have King Hiram of Tyre, who sends messengers to David along with cedar trees, masons, and carpenters to build him a palace. It is at this point that it apparently dawns on David that he really is, truly, king of Israel (1 Chron. 14:2, 2 Sam. 5:12).

We then learn of the children born to David in Jerusalem, which, oddly, corresponds better to 2 Sam. 5 than it does to the same list in 1 Chron. 3 (though isn’t identical to either version). The children are:

  • Shammua (which matches 2 Sam. 5:14, but he appears as Shimea in 1 Chron. 3:5);
  • Shobab;
  • Nathan;
  • Solomon;
  • Ibhar;
  • Elishua (which matches 2 Sam. 5:15, but he appears as Elishama in 1 Chron. 3:6);
  • Elpelet (who is missing from 2 Sam. 5:14-16, but could correspond to the first instance of Eliphelet in 1 Chron. 3:6);
  • Nogah (who is missing from 2 Sam. 5:14-16, but present in 1 Chron. 3:7);
  • Nepheg;
  • Japhia;
  • Elishama;
  • Beeliada (who appears as Eliada in both 2 Sam. 5:16 and 1 Chron. 3:8;
  • And Eliphelet.

James Pate notes that the Chronicler, generally, tries to make David abide by the Torah (we’ll see an example of this later one when he burns some idols). This may be evidence of the cult’s evolution: “The Torah as a book probably existed more fully when I Chronicles was written than when II Samuel was written, and so the Chronicler conformed David’s actions to what was commonly believed to be God’s will in the Chronicler’s time: the Torah.”

Yet, here, David is said to take multiple wives, in direct contradiction to Deut. 17:17. The rule appears to be directly addressing Solomon, who, according to 1 Kings 11, was led into idolatry by his many wives. So why was David’s breaking of this rule allowed to slip by?

One obvious answer is that David’s multiple wives were known (certainly, we’ve seen separate stories for a few of his wives, namely Abigail, Bathsheba, and Michal), and erasing that common knowledge would have been impossible for the Chronicler. So the Chronicler simply lets the many wives slip through without commentary, perhaps hoping that no one will notice what it says about David’s relationship to the covenantal laws.

Another possibility is that the prohibition on many wives for a king wasn’t added until later on, or perhaps was added at around the same time as the Chronicler was writing and hadn’t achieved enough status to warrant addressing yet.

Fighting Philistines

Continuing the story from 2 Sam. 5:17-25, the Philistines hear that Israel has a new king and, worse yet, it’s David (who had so recently been in the employ of the Philistine king Achish). They decide to come after him (perhaps hoping to take advantage of the instability of a new king, particularly a new king of a new dynasty). But David finds out that they are coming, and he leads his army out to meet them.

Portrait of a captured Peleste (Philistine), relief from Medinet Habu, Thebes, photographed by Erich Lessing

Portrait of a captured Peleste (Philistine), relief from Medinet Habu, Thebes, photographed by Erich Lessing

The Philistines were raiding in the valley of Rephaim when David asked God if he should attack, if God will grant him victory. God responds in the affirmative to both questions, and David defeats the Philistines at Baal-perazim.

As the Philistines flee, they leave behind their religious idols. In the 2 Sam. 5:21 version, David and his men carry the idols away, implying that they will either put them to use (as the Danites carried off Micah’s idol in Judges 18), or perhaps melt them down for their valuable metals.

The implications appear to unsettle the Chronicler, who adds that David commanded the abandoned idols to be burned (which would be in accordance with Deut. 7:25). We can see, here, the Chronicler taking the opportunity of an ambiguity (it’s possible to accept that the Israelites of 2 Sam. 5 carried off the idols in order to burn them, if we squint and turn our heads to the side a bit) to clean David up, and bring him more in line with later theology.

Not quite sufficiently beaten, the Philistines come back to raid the valley. Again, David asks God what he should do. This time, however, God tells him not to attack right away. Instead, David should stow himself on the other side of some balsam trees, and only go out to fight when he hears the sound of marching over the tops of the trees, “for God has gone out before you to smite the army of the Philistines” (1 Chron. 14:15).

There are a couple of ways to interpret this. One is that the sound of marching over the tops of the trees is the sound of God’s heavenly army closing in to lead the charge.

Another is that this describes an ambush situation, where David is to hide behind some trees until he can hear the enemy’s marching – meaning that they are in the right position – before revealing his own position by attacking.

James Pate presents a third possibility: That the sound is actually the wind going through the trees, and that it would then mask the sound of David’s attack. This, again, would give David’s army the advantage of surprise.

In any case, David obeys and defeats the Philistines. After that, his fame spread, and all nations feared him.

2 Samuel 5: Up the water shaft

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With all of Saul’s heirs either dead or crippled, the way is cleared for David to finally fulfil the promise God made way back in 1 Sam. 16. All the tribes of Israel gather at Hebron, saying that David was always the real military leader even while Saul was king. They also reiterate that God had said that David would become king of Israel. So David’s kingship is explained in two parts: the first being his personal actions (as a leader in the war against the Philistines), and the second being God’s will. It’s an interesting break from the Deuteronomist idea that leaders are leaders through God’s will only (though distanced a little by the claim being placed into the mouths of the Israelites, and therefore possibility made in ignorance).

Once the Israelites are done stroking David’s ego, he makes a covenant with them and the deal is sealed. Unless I’m mistaken, it is in this chapter that the narrator first refers to David as “the king” (2 Sam. 5:8).

The narrator then summarizes his reign, saying that he was 30 years old when he became king, and ruled 40 more (7.5 of them in Hebron ruling only over Judah, and 33 of them over all of Israel from Jerusalem).

Taking Jerusalem

Now that we know that David will spend most of his reign in Jerusalem, we must find out how he gets there.

The story is a little confusing, but what I get from it is that David first sets his eyes on Jerusalem and moves toward it. Believing themselves sufficiently safe behind their walls, the Jebusites living in Jerusalem taunt David, saying, “the blind and the lame will ward you off” (2 Sam. 5:6). The implication seems to be that they believe their defences to be so strong that they would hold even if manned only by the disabled.

In response, David takes the stronghold of Zion and commands his men to go “attack the lame and the blind, who are hated by David’s soul” (2 Sam. 5:8). Yikes.

His response could easily be seen simply as a one-liner response to the Jebusite taunt – they say they could hold him off with only disabled people, so David says “so let’s go kill the disabled.” Slightly less charitably, it could be that he’s turning their insult around to claim that all Jebusites are disabled (which makes sense in context, but is certainly not PC).

Water Shaft, from Friends and Heroes

Water Shaft, from Friends and Heroes

And if that were the end of it, it could be marked off as just some macho man posturing. Unfortunately, the narrator then says that David’s expressed hatred for the disabled is the reason why “the blind and the lame shall not come into the house” (2 Sam. 5:8), presumably meaning the Temple and referencing rules like those found in Leviticus 21-22. While coming from the pen of a narrator writing long after David’s death, this addition changes David’s statement from a mere (if ill-conceived) one-liner in response to a taunt, to an expression of actual hatred for the disabled. Major yeeesh.

While the account is somewhat glossed over, it seems that David’s men were able to get around Jerusalem’s defences and infiltrate the city by exploiting a weakness in the city’s water supply (he has them climb up the “water shaft,” which I can only imagine refers to either a well or a sewer).

Once David takes Zion, he calls it the City of David, which sounds just a tough egotistical. But at least he seems to treat it well, as we learn that he builds up the city around it.

We’re also told that he receives some wood, carpenters, and masons from King Hiram of Tyre (suggesting that David is being taken seriously by neighbouring rulers), and they build him a palace.

We also get another summary of his family’s growth. This time, the mothers of his children are not named. We learn only that he has increased his concubine store, and that he has several more sons and daughters (daughters are specifically mentioned this time), named Shammua, Shobab, Nathan, Solomon, Ibhar, Elishua, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Eliada, and Eliphelet.

Why Jerusalem?

Jerusalem has a bit of a confusing history. We were told in Judges 1:8 that the city was conquered by Judah and burned, and it’s implied in 1 Sam. 17:54 that it’s in Israelite hands. Yet in Judges 1:21, we’re told that Benjamin failed to take the city, and it is clearly in the hands of the Jebusites in Judges 19:11 and 2 Samuel 5.

Despite the discrepancy, we see a hint at why David may have chosen Jerusalem – it was clearly claimed by both Judah in Judges 1:8 (his tribe) and Benjamin in Judges 1:21 (Saul’s tribe).

Being Jebusite, the city was not currently owned by any Israelite tribe. As Victor Matthews points out in Manners & Customs of the Bible, the choice would perhaps “remove the hint of favoratism towards his own tribe” (p.84), while still being well-defensible (once that water shaft issue is addressed) and fairly centrally located.

Basically, Jerusalem was the Israelite version of Ottawa.

Philistines incoming

We’re not privy to the break between David and the Philistines, and here David’s former alliance goes entirely unmentioned. But it seems that the Philistines figured out that David was no longer on their side once he became king of the their enemies, because they move out against him.

The narrative is sparing in details, but it seems that David had some warning of the Philistine advance and had time to hide himself in a stronghold.

There are two battles between the Israelites and the Philistines narrated, both taking place in the valley of the Rephaim (remember the Rephaim?). In both cases, David first asks God if he should move against the Philistines.

In the first battle, God says yes and David defeats the Philistines, naming the place Baalperazim – meaning “the Lord of breaking through” and referring to the way that “the Lord has broken through my enemies before me, like a bursting flood” (2 Sam. 5:20). There’s no indication here that it’s anything other than a poetic expression giving God credit for the victory, rather than God literally taking an active part in the battle.

The second time, God tells David to sneak around the Philistines and hide among the balsam trees. They are then to wait until they hear the sound of marching in the tops of the trees (presumably the sound of the wind rustling the leaves), at which time they will know that God has gone ahead to kill the Philistines for them. This time, God’s role is seen to be literal.

It seems that both stories may simply be origin stories for the location’s name.

At the end of the first battle, we’re told that the routed Philistines leave behind their idols, and that David and his men carry them off. This could be seen as retribution for the Philistine theft of the ark in 1 Sam. 4, or as another example of the same concept – stealing gods as a way of decreasing the enemy’s morale.

In the beginning of the chapter, the Israelites credited David’s right to the crown in part to his leadership in battle. Here, the author(s) seems to be trying to reclaim the “God first, God only” view, having David very explicitly seeking out God’s counsel and following his instructions, and giving God a role (a very major role in the second case) in the military victory.