2 Chronicles 11-12: The Life and Times of Rehoboam

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In 1 Kings 12, Jeroboam split the nation of Israel in two, and Rehoboam rushed immediately to Jerusalem to assemble his armies and try to subdue the seceding northern kingdom. n 2 Chron. 10:18, however, Rehoboam first fled from Jerusalem, and only then did he return to muster soldiers from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.

From then on, 2 Chron. 11:1-4 largely matches the account found in 1 Kgs 12:21-24. In both cases, he manages to gather 180,000 warriors, but is stopped when God, speaking through the prophet Shemaiah, commands him to turn back rather than fight against his own brethren.

The Chronicler does change one detail. While Shemaiah addresses “King Rehoboam of Judah, son of Solomon, and to all the house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the rest of the people” in 1 Kgs 12:23, the address is to “King Rehoboam of Judah, son of Solomon, and to all Israel in Judah and Benjamin” in 2 Chron. 11:3. We see that the Chronicler refuses to allow the name of Israel to belong exclusively to the northern kingdom, instead emphasizing that it is the southern kingdom that remains the true kingdom, the true Israel.

The Bubastite Portal at Karnak, depicting a list of city states conquered by Shoshenq I

The Bubastite Portal at Karnak, depicting a list of city states conquered by Shoshenq I

Though this passages implies that the two kingdoms were able to amicably split, or at least to split without bloodshed, this doesn’t seem to have been the case. We have to wait until 2 Chron. 12:15 to hear of it, but it seems that there was near-constant conflict between the two kingdoms.

Of his reign, we learn that Rehoboam built up Judah’s defenses, particularly in the cities of Bethlehem, Etam, Tekoa, Bethzur, Soco, Adullam, Gath, Mareshah, Ziph, Adoraim, Lachish, Azekah, Zorah, Aijalon, and Hebron. He also made sure that the fortresses were strong and well supplied (likely in event of a siege). We are told that this allowed him to keep hold of Judah and Benjamin, even if he wasn’t able to retake Israel.

Complicating matters a little, the New Bible Commentary notes that all the cities mentioned are in the south, and proposes that the Chronicler was mistaken – that the fortifications were not defenses against northern Israel, but rather either in anticipation of Shishak’s invasion (which we will discuss shortly) or rebuilding after it (p.386). The details of Rehoboam’s fortifications are absent in Kings, so it could be that the Chronicler was using a different source and simply guessed at Rehoboam’s motivations.

The Chronicler isn’t particularly interested in the goings on of the northern kingdom, but we do learn of Jeroboam’s idolatry. It seems that he cast out all the priests and Levites from his territory, so they and other faithful came as refugees to Rehoboam (enough refugees to strengthen Judah and secure Rehoboam’s hold over the remnant of his country for three years). Meanwhile, Jeroboam appointed priests of his own (which we see him doing in 1 Kgs 12:31 and 1 Kgs 13:33) to tend to the high places and idols.

Of the idols, we earn that there were calves and satyrs (or goats, or goat-demons, depending on the translation).We already knew of Jeroboam’s calves, of course, from 1 Kgs 12:25-33, but the satyrs are new. James Bradford Pate notes that “there is no evidence in Syro-Palestine that Israelites worshiped deities who had the form of animals”. Rather, the calves were seen as seats on which god might sit, not worshiped as gods themselves. So how do the goats fit in? Pate proposes that Jeroboam may have been introducing a new faith of an Egyptian flavour, having spent some time there. But I can’t help but wonder if it might be a reference to the same folk religion that gave us the scapegoat ritual from Leviticus 16:8.

Family Life

Of his family life, we learn that Rehoboam married Mahalath, who was the daughter of Jerimoth, who was the son of David and Abihail. This Abihail was the daughter of Eliab, who was the son of Jesse. Confused? That’s understandable, because we’re getting into “I’m my own grandpa” territory. Using 1 Chron. 2:13-16, I made this to illustrate:

Rehoboam's Genealogy

With Mahalath, Rehoboam had three sons: Jeush, Shemariah, and Zaham.

Rehoboam also married Maacah, daughter of Absalom (so, another cousin). 2 Sam. 14:27 says that Absalom had only one daughter, named Tamar, though it’s possible that Tamara was the only one that the author of Samuel felt was worth mentioning (due to her name being significant). In any case, they had the following sons” Abijah, Attai, Ziza, and Shelomith.

Of all his wives and concubines (of which he had 18 and 60, respectively), Rehoboam loved Maacah the most.

Altogether, Rehoboam had 28 sons and 60 daughters. Likely due to his affection for Maacah, he placed her eldest son Abijah, as his chief prince and heir. We’ve seen this circumventing of primogeniture for the sake of a favoured wife before. On example is with Bathsheba, and the conspiracy between herself and Nathan to have Solomon crowned, versus Abiathar in the pro-Adonijah faction.

We are told that Rehoboam dealt wisely, and that he distributed his sons through all the districts of Judah and Benjamin, and provided them with wives. The idea could have been to give them each a little power, keep them content, so that they don’t rise up like David’s sons. Or perhaps the idea was to maintain his hold on what little nation was left to him by making local rulers of his own dynasty.

A Stumble

Returning to Kings as a source material (specifically, 1 Kgs 14:21-31), we learn that, once Rehoboam felt like his rule was firmly established, he forsook God, and “all Israel with him” (2 Chron. 12:1). It doesn’t seem that he left the YHWH cult so much as that he wasn’t seen to be paying as much attention to it as he should, having grown complacent.

The mention of “all Israel” here is interesting. It could be that the Chronicler is using the term, as above, to underline that Judah and Benjamin are the true Israel. I think that’s much more likely than the idea that Rehoboam had managed to maintain so much influence in the northern kingdom.

In any case, the description of Rehoboam’s indiscretion lacks much of the detail from 1 Kgs 14:22-24.

In the fifth year of Rehoboam’s reign, King Shishak of Egypt (almost certainly the pharaoh Shoshenq I) invaded Judah. He came with 1,200 chariots, 60,000 horsemen, and countless others. He swept through Rehoboam’s fortified cities, and made it as far as the walls of Jerusalem.

Judah’s leadership fled to the city. While they are gathered, God addresses them through the prophet Shemaiah, saying that this has all happened because they have strayed from God. The princes humble themselves and, as a result, God decides not to obliterate them. Instead, he will merely make them serve Shishak (likely as vassals), “that they may know my service and the service of the kingdoms of the countries” (2 Chron. 12:8). I think the idea is that they found the worship of God too onerous to bother with, so he will show them the alternative.

Shishak plundered Jerusalem, taking the Temple and palace treasures back to Egypt. Specifically, he took Solomon’s golden shields, which Rehoboam had to replace with shields of bronze. Rehoboam gave these ersatz shields to his officers of the guard, and had them bear the shields whenever they accompanied him to the Temple.

I’m not sure why the shields are mentioned, out of all the treasures that must have been take, but I quite like the Artscroll’s explanation, as given by James Bradford Pate: That Rehoboam’s sin had been not to take God’s worship seriously enough. So now he has this visual reminder of his failing every time he goes to the Temple to keep him in line.

Conclusion

With the end of 2 Chron. 12, we learn that Rehoboam was 41 years old at his coronation, and that he ruled for 17 years. Throughout that time, he was in conflict with Jeroboam.

His mother’s ame was Naamah the Ammonite, and he was succeeded by his son, Abijah. For more information, the Chronicler directs us to the Chronicles of Shemaiah the prophet and of Iddo the seer.

1 Chronicles 11: David’s uncomplicated rise

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Skipping straight from Saul’s death in the last chapter to David’s ascension as king, the Chronicler leaps right over the succession conflicts of 2 Samuel 2-4. In this narrative, David’s rise was effortless and conflict-less.

Right from the start, we see all of Israel congregating in Hebron to declare David as their new king. Repeating their speech almost verbatim from 2 Sam. 5:1-3, they reinforce David’s claim by saying that he had truly been the one leading them from the start, even while Saul was king in name. They make a covenant with David, and Samuel anoints him.

1 Chronicles 11 - Samuel anointing DavidWith all of Israel on his side, David turned toward Jerusalem. The Jebusites taunt David, saying that he will never enter his city. But then, wooops, he conquers it anyway. Parts of the story are copied word-for-word from 2 Sam. 5:6-10, except that all references to David’s hatred for people with physical disabilities are replaced by his vow to promote the first person to kill Jebusites (or perhaps to rush forward at the Jebusites) to the rank of chief and commander. This seems like a fairly awful way to pick leaders, given that leadership skills aren’t terribly correlated with “rush into battle and kill stuff” skills. I get that the point is to reward bravery, but this seems like the Peter Principle in action. The point is only more clearly made when we find out that it is Joab who goes first, earning his place as chief. And we all know how well that turned out (1 Kgs. 2:5-6).

My New Bible Commentary notes that Joab’s promotion here would seem to conflict with 2 Samuel, where Joab is already functioning as commander prior to the taking of Jerusalem. Yet, “the commander-in-chief of the king of Judah would not automatically have become commander-in-chief of the king of all Israel” (p.375). In other words, it’s possible that Joab was already commander, but had to re-earn his position in the new national government. Assuming historicity for a moment, this doesn’t seem unreasonable.

James Pate notes a problematic difference between this chapter and 2 Sam. 5:6-10: Whereas in 2 Samuel, David seems to have chosen Jerusalem as his capitol because it was centrally located and because it did not belong to any particular tribe (therefore avoiding the argument of favouritism), the Chronicler gives David complete support from all Israel before he turns to Jerusalem, and in fact shows a pan-tribal attacking army. So why, then, would David have needed to take Jerusalem? Pate discusses the issue in his post.

Once David took Jerusalem, it began to be known as the city of David. He and Joab then set to work repairing the city (and presumably building it up), and thus did David become ever greater.

The Mighty Men

The rest of the chapter lists the men of David’s elite army. It is nearly identical to the list found in 2 Sam. 23:8-39, though with additional names added to the end. One theory is that the 2 Samuel version ended with Uriah to rhetorically underscore the evil that David had done to him in 2 Sam. 11, whereas the Chronicler may have been working with a more complete list.

We begin with the elite of the elite, known as the Three. The group’s leader was Jachobeam, a Hachmonite, who once killed 300 enemies with his spear at one time (the number is 800 in 2 Sam. 23:8, but the difference could be caused by confusion with another warrior, Abishai, who killed 300 in 2 Sam. 23:18 and 1 Chron. 11:20).

The other two members of the Three are mashed together here, apparently due to a scribal error. In 2 Sam. 23:9-12, we learn of two members of the group: Eleazar son of Dodo the Ahohite and Shammah son of Agee the Hararite. In the 2 Samuel version, Eleazar was with David when they defied the Philistines. The Israelite army was routed, but Eleazar kept fighting until his arm grew weary – long enough to win the battle. When the Israelites returned, it was only to strip the dead. As for Shammah, the Israelite army was again routed, but Shammah stood in a plot of lentils, defending it until the Philistines were defeated.

The Chronicler’s version, however, tells us only of Eleazar, and how he was with David at Pasdammim when the Philistines gathered against them. Even though the Israelites were routed, he stood his ground in a field of barley and defeated the Philistines. It’s rather easy to see how a scribe’s eye might skip in two such similar stories.

Before getting into the Thirty, we learn of three men from the band of Thirty (there’s no indication that they are the Three) who came to David while he was in hiding in the cave of Adullam (his stay is narrated in 1 Sam. 22:1-5) while the Philistines occupied Bethlehem.

David seems to have been feeling rather sorry for himself, and said (with much sighing, I imagine) that he wished he could have some water to drink from one of the wells of Bethlehem. These three members of the Thirty heard him (or perhaps overheard him, depending on the interpretation) and took it upon themselves to go fetch that water for David. So they snuck through the Philistine guards, into Bethlehem, and drew the water.

When they returned, however, David refused to drink it. Instead, he poured it onto the ground, saying: “Shall I drink the lifeblood of these men?” (1 Chron. 11:19). How David looks in this story depends entirely on the reader’s interpretation. If he had asked his men who fetch him the water, then his actions are just awful. But if he was just moping about, feeling sorry for himself, and they happened to overhear him and did something foolish that he hadn’t wanted them to do, then he is some degree of less awful. At least no Beckets were killed this time.

The chief of the Thirty was Abishai, Joab’s brother. Like Jachobeam, he too killed 300 enemies at one go with a spear. The other member of the Thirty whose deeds are worth mentioning is Benaiah son of Jehoiada, of Kabzeel, the captain of David’s bodyguards. He killed two whole ariels of Moab, which I’m sure is very impressive whatever an ariel is. He also killed a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen, the significant of which is lost on me, but I’m sure that too is very impressive. He also duelled a very large Egyptian who wielded a spear like a weaver’s beam. Benaiah lunged in with his staff and, snatching the oversized spear from the Egyptian’s hands, killed him with his own weapon.

The rest of the Thirty are given as a simple list:

  1. Asahel brother of Joab
  2. Elhanan son of Dodo of Bethlehem
  3. Shammoth of Harod
  4. Helez the Pelonite
  5. Ira son of Ikkesh of Tekoa
  6. Abiezer of Anathoth
  7. Sibbecai the Hushathite
  8. Ilai the Ahohite
  9. Maharai of Netophah
  10. Heled son of Baanah of Netophah
  11. Ithai son of Ribai of Gibeah, of the Benjaminites
  12. Benaiah of Pirathon
  13. Hurai of the brooks of Gaash
  14. Abiel the Arbathite
  15. Azmaveth of Baharum
  16. Eliahba of Shaalbon
  17. Hashem the Gizonite
  18. Jonathan son of Shagee the Hararite
  19. Ahiam son of Sachar the Hararite
  20. Eliphal son of Ur
  21. Hepher the Mecherathite
  22. Ahijah the Pelonite
  23. Hezro of Carmel
  24. Naarai the son of Ezbai
  25. Joel the brother of Nathan
  26. Mibhar son of Hagri
  27. Zelek the Ammonite
  28. Naharai of Beeroth, the armor-bearer of Joab and son of Zeruiah
  29. Ira the Ithrite
  30. Gareb the Ithrite
  31. Uriah the Hittite
  32. Zabad son of Ahlai
  33. Adina son of Shiza, the Reubenite, who was a leader among the Reubenites and was accompanied by 30 of his brethren
  34. Hanan son of Maacah
  35. Joshaphat the Mithnite
  36. Uzzia the Ashterathite
  37. Shama son of Hotham the Aroerite
  38. Jeiel, Shama’s brother
  39. Jediael son of Shimri
  40. Joha, brother of Jediael, a Tizite
  41. Eliel the Mahavite
  42. Jeribai son of Elnaam
  43. Joshaviah, also a son of Elnaam
  44. Ithmah the Moabite
  45. Eliel
  46. Obed
  47. Jaasiel the Mezobaite

These are, of course, way more than thirty men. It seems that the name of David’s elite company was chosen for its neat roundedness (or perhaps its accuracy at some earlier date).

1 Chronicles 4-5: The Tribal Histories

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In these two chapters, we get something of an infodump on the tribes of Judah, Simeon, Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. The portions about Judah and Simeon (1 Chron. 4) seem largely taken from Joshua 15 and Joshua 19, respectively. It seems that the two tribes were rather closely related, and that Simeon was at some point absorbed into Judah.

In 1 Chron. 5, we get the Transjordan tribes: Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (the Transjordan portion of the tribe).

Judah

We begin with the sons of Judah: Perez, Hezron, Carmi, Hur, and Shobal. Following Shobal’s line, we get Reaiah, and Reaiah’s son Jahath. Jahath was the father of Ahumai and Lahad. These, we are told, were the families of the Zorathites.

It’s clear right from here that this is a very different kind of history than the one we got a few chapters ago. This list of Judah’s sons bears little resemblance to the one we got in 1 Chron. 2:3-8. More to the point, I recognize many of the names as place names. I think it likely that this is a list of founders (mythical or otherwise) of the various settlements in Judah.

If I read the grammar correctly, we then skip over to a Hur, son of Ephrathah (the founder, or “father” of Bethlehem). He had two sons: Etam, Penuel, and Ezer. Etam’s children were Jezreel, Ishma, and Idbash (plus a daughter, Hazzelelponi), Penuel fathered Gedor, and Ezer fathered Hushah.

Ashhur, Tekoa’s father, had two wives: Helah and Naarah. Naarah gave birth to Ahuzzam, Hepher, Temeni, and Haahashtari. Helah gave birth to Zereth, Izhar, and Ethnan.

Koz fathered Anub, Zobebah, and the families of Aharhel (the son of Harum).

We start seeing a little more detail with Jabez, who “was more honorable than his brothers” (1 Chron. 4:9). His name, which means “he giveth pain,” was given to him by his mother after what appears to have been a particularly difficult labour. We are told that Jabez prayed to God to bless him, give him more land, and not hurt him. His prayer was granted, inspiring a Bruce Wilkinson book titled The Prayer of Jabez, which has been accused of flirting with the prosperity gospel (the essence of which is that praying and giving all your money to your pastor will lead to earthly prosperity).

It’s easy enough to see how this mini-story might lend itself to something like the prosperity gospel (though I can’t say that Wilkinson actually falls into that, since I haven’t read the book). However, given the cultural context and the power names were thought to have had, it seems likely that this was just a little detail meant to show that, through faith, Jabez was able to overcome the curse of his name.

Chelub was brother to Shuhah and father of Mehir, and Mehir was father of Eshton. Eshton, in turn, fathered Bethrapha, Paseah, and Tehinnah. Tehinnah fathered Irnahash. These guys were from a place called Recah.

Kenaz fathered Othniel and Seraiah. Othniel fathered Hathath and Meonothai. Meonothai fathered Ophrai. Seraiah fathered Joab, who fathered Geharashim (which, we are told, was so called because they were craftsmen – 1 Chron. 4:14).

Caleb, the son of Jephunneh (almost certainly the same Caleb as can be found in Joshua 15:13-19), had the following sons: Iru, Elah, and Naam. Elah fathered Kenaz. My New Bible Commentary points out that this Caleb’s genealogy does not link up at any point, reinforcing the notion that he was a non-Israelite who was adopted into Judah (p.373).

A Jehallelel fathered Ziph, Ziphah, Tiria, and Asarel, while an Ezrah fathered Jether, Mered, Epher, and Jalon. Mered married Bithiah, the daughter of a Pharaoh, and they produced Miriam, Shammai, and Ishbah (Ishbah fathered Eshtemoa). Mered also had a Jewish wife, who bore Jered (who fathered Gedor), Heber (who fathered Soco), and Jekuthiel (who fathered Zanoah).

Someone by the name of Hodiah married a sister of Naham. Their sons were the fathers of Keilah the Garmite and Eshtemoa the Maacathite.

A Shimon fathered Amnon, Rinnah, Benhanan, and Tilon. Ishi fathered Zoheth and Benzoheth (a rather strange arrangement, given that “Benzoheth” would mean “son of Zoheth”).

Shelah, Judah’s son, fathered Er (father of Lecah), Laadah (father of Mareshah), and the families of the linen workers of Bethashbea.

Jokim and the men of Cozeba, Joash, and Saraph ruled in Moab, but returned to Lehem. They were the potters and inhabitants of Netaim and Gederah, and lived there to work for the king. My New Bible Commentary brings up an interesting note: “Archeology has shown that the potter’s craft was hereditary” (p.373). The more you know.

Simeon

For the second part of 1 Chron. 4, we turn to Simeon. I noted above that Simeon was apparently absorbed into Judah at some point. It’s a point that many of my sources claim without commentary or explanation. A fact that I found rather frustrating.

It took a little bit of a digging, but I started to find some textual clues. For example, Genesis 49:5-7 links Simeon with Levi – the landless priestly tribe – and promises to “divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.” By the time we get to Moses’s blessing in Deut. 33, Simeon is absent entirely.

As for its absorption into Judah, specifically, we can turn to Joshua 15:26-32, where several of Simeon’s towns are listed as being allotted to Judah.

The final piece comes from this very chapter. When the towns of Simeon are listed, the passage ends by stating that: “These were their cities until David reigned” (1 Chron. 4:32). I find that this one small verse is solidifying the perception of David that I got through reading 1-2 Samuel and 1 Kings – that he was a local warlord who came to control his tribe and, from there, continued his warlord-y activities. Evidently, that seems to have included an ongoing campaign against surrounding tribes.

We also learn in 1 Samuel 27:6 that David came into possession of Ziklag, one of the towns we will see listed as those belonging to Simeon.

From this, it seems rather clear that Simeon had ceased to be a distinct group long before the Chronicler came to write his account (despite the fact that they seemed to have maintained some kind of separate identity, at least for a while, as “they kept a genealogical record” – 1 Chron. 4:33). So why would the Chronicler bother to include them in his treatment of the tribes? The obvious answer is that the first portion of Chronicles is meant to present an ideal Israel, of which Simeon is a part.

As with Judah, the genealogy is clearly not meant to be such. We begin with a list of sons which deviates rather significantly from what we’ve seen before. Here, Simeon’s sons are Nemuel, Jamin, Jarib, Zerah, and Shaul. In Genesis 46:10, Nemuel is Jemuel, Jarib seems to be Jachin, Zerah seems to be Zohar, Ohad is added, and only Jamin and Shaul remain unchanged.

The next connection is unclear, as we are told that “Shallum was his son” (1 Chron. 4:25), but the “his” is not identified. From there, Shallum’s son is Mibsam, who fathered Mishma.

The sons of Mishma are Hammuel, Zaccur, and Shimei (though the grammar makes it possible that this is a lineage, Mishma to Hammuel to Zaccur to Shimei). Shimei had 16 sons and 6 daughters, but his brothers didn’t have many children, “nor did all their family multiply like the men of Judah” (1 Chron. 4:27). We see this represented in Numbers where, in the first census, the tribe held 59,300 men capable of fighting (Num. 1:22-23), whereas by the time of the second census, they had only 22,200 (Num. 26:12-14).

The text goes on to list their cities, which roughly corresponds to their allotment in Jos. 19:2-8: Beersheba, Moladah, Hazarshual, Bilhah (appearing as Balah in Joshua), Ezem, Tolad (appearing as Eltolad in Joshua), Bethuel (appearing as Bethul in Joshua), Hormah, Ziklag, Bethmarcaboth, Hazarsusim (appearing as Hazarsusah in Joshua), Bethbiri (possibly corresponding to Joshua’s Bethlebaoth), and Shaaraim (possibly corresponding to Joshua’s Sharuhen), which they controlled until David’s reign. This list is only missing Sheba from Joshua’s version.

Next come their villages, which again corresponds to Jos. 19:2-8: Etam (which does not appear in Joshua), Ain, Rimmon, Tochen (which does not appear in Joshua), and Ashan. The Joshua version also adds a town called Ether, making the count five here and four in Joshua.

While the tribe of Simeon, as a whole, was shrinking, some families seem to have been doing all right. The following princes’ houses “increased greatly” (1 Chron. 4:38: Meshobab, Jamlech, Joshah son of Amaziah, Joel, Jehu son of Joshibiah (the son of Seraiah son of Asiel), Elioenai, Jaakobah, Jeshohaiah, Asaiah, Adiel, Jesimiel, Benaiah, and Ziza son of Shiphi (the son of Allon son Jedaiah son of Shimri son of Shemaiah).

These princes migrated to the better pastureland in Gedor, in lands that used to belong to the descendants of Ham. In the days of King Hezekiah of Judah, they came and destroyed the Meunim who were living there, and settled down (it seems that they had maintained a nomadic lifestyle up until that point, see the reference to tents in 1 Chron. 4:41).

Another group, or perhaps an offshoot group, went to Mount Seir. These were led by the sons of Ishi: Pelatiah, Neariah, Rephaiah, and Uzziel. There, they killed off the remnant of the Amalekites.

Reuben

Reuben’s section kicks off 1 Chron. 5. Right off the bat, we are given an explanation for why he does not appear at the head of the list despite being the first-born son of Jacob (here consistently called Israel). It is, of course, because he “polluted his father’s couch” (1 Chon. 5:1), presumably a reference to his sleeping with his father’s concubine in Gen. 35:22.

From The History of Joseph and His Brethren, illustration by Owen Jones, 1869

From The History of Joseph and His Brethren, illustration by Owen Jones, 1869

Instead, continues the Chronicler, Reuben’s special portion (a “double portion,” according to Deut. 21:15-17) transferred to the sons of Joseph. This makes little sense to me, since Joseph was not the next in line. Looking at Gen. 29-30, we see that the next children were, in order, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. Since Simeon and Levi were “scattered,” that leaves Judah as the principle inheritor (which would make sense). However, 1 Chron. 5:1 specifically states that “his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph,” who wasn’t born until Gen. 30:23-24, making him the penultimate son (Benjamin being the youngest).

The explanation is, of course, both that Joseph received a “double portion” by having both of his sons inherit as if they were his brothers, and in the fact that both Ephraim and Manasseh were large tribes in control of comparatively large patches of territory. But in the personification story, it makes little sense.

The narrative then moves on to the sons of Reuben, listed here as: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi. This corresponds neatly to the list found in Num. 26:5-6, but for some reason doesn’t include the further descendants from Num. 26:7-9 (was the Chronicler not interested? Or did he not have access to the complete list?).

We then move on to the lineage of Joel, whose connection to Reuben’s genealogy is not clear, but at least the final of which was a Reubenite chieftain. It goes from Joel, to Shemaiah, to Gog, to Shimei, to Micah, to Reaiah, to Baal, and finally to Beerah, who was carried into exile by Assyria’s Tilgath-pilneser.

His (I assume this refers back to Beerah) kinsmen were Jeiel (a chief), Zechariah, and Bela. Bela was the son of Azaz, who was the son of Shema, who was the son of Joel. Perhaps the same Joel as above. Joel lived in Aroer, as far as Nebo and Baalmeon, but it seems that the group’s territory was forced east as their herds multiplied.

While Saul was king, the Reubenites fought and won against the Hagrites.

Gad

Strangely, this section does not list the sons of Gad (which can be found in Gen. 46:16), but rather goes straight into a discussion of its prominent members. Except that this doesn’t match the similar list found in Num. 26:15-18.

Here, the descendants of Gad who live “in the land of Bashan as far as Salecah” (1 Chron. 5:11) are: Joel the chief (the same as the Reubenite Joel?), Shapham, Janai, and Shaphat. They had the following kinsmen: Michael, Meshullam, Sheba, Jorai, Jacan, Zia, and Eber. These seven were the sons of Abihail, who was the son of Huri, who was the son of Jaroah, who was the son of Gilead, who was the son of Michael, who was the son of Jeshishai, who was the son of Jahdo, who was the son of Buz. Their chief seems to have been a certain Ahi son of Abdiel (who was the son of Guni).

These names were all recorded in the days of King Jotham of Judah and King Jeroboam of Israel. The importance of these men is not stated, and they were likely included simply because they were names that the Chronicler had available to him.

Just as a point of interest, it seems that the Moabite Stone (or Mesha Stele) specifically mentions the men of Gad. From this, we know that Gad was known as its own tribal identity at least in this point of time – around 840 BCE.

The Hagrite War

Before finishing up the record of the Transjordan tribes, the narrative turns to a description of war against the Hagrites, likely the same as was mentioned above.

The Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh had great warriors who did normal warrior things and had normal warrior equipment. In this account, there were 44,760 men, across the three tribes, who were ready to fight. The number is almost certainly inflated, of course.

This massive number of soldiers moved against the Hagrites. Specifically, these Hagrites: Jetur, Naphish, and Nodab. The Transjordan tribes cried out to God during the battle and, because of this (and surely not their massive numbers), they won the war. This allowed them to carry off 50,000 camels, 250,000 sheep, 2,000 donkeys, and 100,000 people. Unfortunately, the number of people they were able to carry off was diminished by the high casualties on the loser’s side, “because the war was of God” (1 Chron. 5:22).

The Hagrites seem to have been an Arab group. The name itself sounds rather like Hagar, Sarah’s handmaiden and the mother of Ishmael. That’s flimsy enough, but two of the Hagrite names (Jetur and Naphish) can be found in the list of Ishmael’s sons in Gen. 25:12-15.

The half-tribe of Manasseh

Finally, we reach the final Transjordan tribe. It might seem strange that the details about the war against the Hagrites was crowbarred in the middle, but the reason will shortly become apparent.

The description of the half-tribe of Manasseh (that would be the portion of it located in the Transjordan) begins by emphasizing just how numerous they were.

The house heads were: Epher, Ishi, Eliel, Azriel, Jeremiah, Jodaviah, and Jahdiel. These men are described as mighty warriors and famous men, despite the fact that I‘ve never heard of them.

Unfortunately, they transgressed against God by worshipping the “gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them: (1 Chron. 5:25). Because of this, God sent Assyria’s Pul and Tilgath-pilneser to conquer and take them into exile.

In other words, the exact opposite of what happened in the war against the Hagrites, where the people prayed to God instead of being unfaithful.

All three Transjordan tribes were taken into exile, and brought to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the river Gozan, where they live even “to this day” (1 Chron. 6:26). This list corresponds, despite the absence of Medes, to the one given in 2 Kgs 17:6 and 2 Kgs 18:11-12.

James Pate points to one possible take-away of this story: That the Transjordan tribes doomed themselves by choosing lands for themselves, rather than waiting for God’s allotment (Numbers 32). However, as he points out, the victory against the Hagrites seems to argue against this interpretation, since they were still granted victory so long as they continued to be faithful to God.

Thoughts

In reading these two chapters, I was struck by how haphazard it seems. While the author(s) of Judges and Deuteronomy each employed a predictable formula to organize their subjects, adding details here and there, these accounts present quite different kinds of information for each tribe. It feels as though the Chronicler only had access to whatever records each tribe happened to keep, the priorities of each tribe depending on its particular flavour.

Names are included without much rhyme or reason. Perhaps censuses were taken, so these were just the names the Chronicler had available.

1 Chronicles 1-2: The Never-ending List

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They say it’s important to begin a story in media res, start with a bang, start with something that will grip your audience and leave them salivating for more.

The Chronicler took this advice and decided to do the precise opposite. And so we begin 1 Chronicles with what is little more than an incredibly tedious list of names. This isn’t even like Genesis, where at least “the begats” were interspersed with narrative. No, not here. Our very first paragraph is composed of thirteen names and one conjunction. It certainly does set a tone!

There are, of course, many theories as to why the Chronicler should choose to begin this way. My study Bible argues that the genealogies are provided to “make it clear that he [the Chronicler] was dealing with the true Chosen People.” Personally, I liked James Pate’s thought that:

I Chronicles may have genealogies as a way to affirm a societal structure in post-exilic Israel and to connect it with pre-exilic Israel, to tell Israel who she is, and to convey that God is preserving God’s people, notwithstanding the exile.  There were a lot of people-groups that became lost once they went into exile, but I Chronicles may be trying to demonstrate that Israel did not.

In the beginning…

To being our journey, the Chronicler condenses all of Genesis 5 into these names: “Adam, Seth, Enosh; Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared; Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech; Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth” (1 Chronicles 1:1-4).

Here, Brant Clements notes that this is first mention of Adam that we’ve seen since Genesis 5:5, and that he will not be mentioned again in the Old Testament. “Adam actually featured more strongly in the New Testament. The ancient Hebrews didn’t put much emphasis on him at all.” It’s a very interesting observation, and clearly an indication of theological evolution. I hope that we get to find out some more about that when we finally reach the New Testament (in, oh, about five years).

Up until Noah, this is a list of generational patriarchs, a direct line from father to son to grandson, and so on. But abruptly, without any indication of change, it presents us with three brothers: Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah.

That’s because it’s with Noah’s sons that we see our first ethnic branching.

The sons of Japheth: According to my study Bible, the sons of Japheth represent Indo-European populations. The section is taken from Genesis 10, and the sons are Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras.

In the next generation, the sons of Gomer are Ashkenaz, Diphath (who appears as Riphath in Gen. 10:3), and Togarmah. The sons of Javan are Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Rodanim (who appears as Dodanim in Gen. 10:4).

It’s worth noting that Javan (literally Ionia) represents the Greeks. According to James Pate, the discrepancy between Dodanim (Gen. 10:4) and Rodanim (1 Chron. 1:7) may be due simply to the fact that the “d” and “r” sounds are represented in Hebrew with letters that look similar and may have been confused at some point by some hapless copier. Pate goes on to propose another possibility:

Relying on Mefaresh’s interpretation, which is based on Genesis Rabbah 37:1, the Artscroll says that, when Israel sins, the people-group subjugates Israel and is called the Rodanim, from the Hebrew root r-d-h, which means ruling or oppressing.  If Israel controls the people-group, however, the people-group is called the Dodanim, for it is telling Israel that she is its friend, or dod.

Of course, this presents a number of problems, but it’s certainly an interesting proposition.

The sons of Ham: Ham’s sons are Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. In the next generation, the sons of Cush are Seba, Havilah, Sabta, Raama (here spelled without an ‘h’ at the end, though he has one later in the same verse, as well as in Gen. 10:7), and Sabteca. We are also told that Cush was the father of Nimrod, who “began to be a mighty one in the earth” (1 Chron. 1:10). In the generation after that, we have the sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan.

Back up the line to Egypt, his sons were Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, Pathrusim, Casluhim (whom the Chronicler tells us fathered the Philistines), and Caphtorim.

Next comes Canaan, for whom the pretence of personification is dropped. Rather than naming his sons, we are told instead that he was the father of Sidon, Heth, the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites.

The sons of Shem: The final son of Noah is the sire of the Semitic group, the population from which Abraham will emerge. The sons of Shem are Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, Aram, Uz, Hul, Gether, and Meshech (who appears as Mash in Gen. 10:23). This is either an error or deviates quite a bit from the Genesis 10 version, in which Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash are the sons of Aram, and the grandsons of Shem.

In the next generation, Arpachshad was the father of Shelah, who in turn was the father of Eber. Eber had two sons: Peleg and Joktan. Joktan was the father of Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, Ebal (given as Obal in Gen. 10:28), Abimael, Sheba, Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab.

Father of sand, father of stars

We move next to Abraham, who is descended from Shem by way of Arpachshad, Shelah, Eber, Peleg, Reu, Serug, Nahor, and Terah. This portion is lifted from Genesis 11:10-26. Abraham had two sons: Isaac and Ishmael.

The sons of Ishmael: This section is lifted from Gen. 25:12-16. I’ve always found it an interesting twist that Ishmael should be the first born, yet did not inherit divine attention. We see this motif a great deal in Genesis, of younger sons usurping their older brothers. It would be nice to have an explanation for this, though I suppose it could be as simple as inversion of expectation making for psychologically satisfying (and entertaining) stories. Ishmael, of course, sired the Arabic people.

Ishmael was the father of Nebaioth, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah.

A painting of Abraham's departure, by József Molnár 1849

A painting of Abraham’s departure, by József Molnár 1849

The sons of Keturah: Though 1 Chron. 1:28 implied that Abraham only had Ishmael and Isaac, we know from Gen. 25:1-4 that Abraham remarried after his wife Sarah’s death, a woman named Keturah. Here (1 Chron. 1:32), she is demoted to the status of concubine.

Through her, Abraham was the father of Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. In the next generation, Jokshan fathered Sheba and Dedan (the same two sons given to Raamah in 1 Chron. 1:9). Jokshan’s brother, Midian, fathered Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah.

The sons of Isaac: We next move over to Abraham’s son by his first wife, Sarah. Isaac had two sons, Esau and Israel. Esau is the progenitor of the Edomites. Israel was born with the name of Jacob, but received the name Israel after an encounter with the Divine. While Genesis used the two names inconsistently, he is here referred to only as Israel.

Esau’s sons were: Eliphaz, Reuel, Jeush, Jalam, and Korah. In the next generation, Eliphaz fathered Teman, Omar, Zephi (appears as Zepho in Gen. 36:11), Gatam, Kenaz, Timna, and Amalek. Reuel fathered Nahath, Zerah, Shammah, and Mizzah. These are taken from Genesis 36:10-14, where Timna appears as a concubine of Eliphaz, not as his son, and she is the mother of Amalek.

The sons of Seir: We run into a difficulty here, since this is the first mention of a Seir. So where is he meant to fit? My study Bible notes that Seir is “another name for Edom”, referencing Gen. 36:8, and in Gen. 36:20, we learn of a Seir the Horite who lived in Edom. Yet none of this helps to explain how Seir is meant to fit into this genealogy.

In any case, Mystery Seir’s sons are Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan. He also had a daughter, named as a full sister of Lotan, by the name of Timna.

In the next generation, Lotan fathered Hori and Homam (appearing as Hemam in Gen. 36:22). Shobal fathered Alian (appearing as Alvan in Gen. 36:23), Manahath, Ebal, Shephi (appearing as Shepho in Gen. 36:23), and Onam. Zibeon fathered Aiah and Anah (he either fathered a daughter by the same name, or there is some confusion – in Gen. 36:2, Zibeon had a daughter named Anah, who married Esau). Anah (Seir’s son, not Zibeon’s) fathered Dishon. And Dishon (again, Seir’s son) fathered Hamran (appearing as Hemdan in Gen. 36:26), Eshban, Ithran, and Cheran. Ezer fathered Bilhan, Zaavan, and Jaakan (appearing as Akan in Gen. 36:27). Dishan fathered Uz and Aran.

The kings of Edom: Before Israel had a king of its own, Edom had plenty. This record may be compared to Gen. 36:31-43. They begin with Bela son of Beor, who ruled from Dinhabah. When he did, Jobab son of Zerah, of Bozrah, took over. After him came Husham, of the lands of the Temanites. Then Hadad son of Bedad, who defeated Midian and ruled from Avith. Then came Samlah of Masrekah. Then Shaul of Rehoboth. Then Baalhanan son of Achbor. Then another Hadad (appearing as Hadar in Gen. 36:39), whose city was Pai (which appears as Pau in Gen. 36:39) and whose wife was Mehetabel daughter of Matred, daughter of Mezahab.

The chiefs of Edom were Timna, Aliah (appearing as Alvah in Gen. 36:40), Jetheth, Oholibamah, Elah, Pinon, Kenaz, Teman, Mibzar, Magdiel, and Iram.

The sons of Israel: These are, of course, our twelve tribes. Israel fathered Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Joseph, Benjamin, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. This is, of course, parallel to Genesis 35:22-26.

Focus on Judah

The next few chapters cover will cover each individual tribe in excruciating detail. But we begin with Judah, who fathered Er, Onan, and Shelah, via Bathshua the Canaanite.

God killed Er for wickedness (and Onan, but not mentioned here), which leads to Judah impregnating Er’s wife, Tamar, himself. This produced two more sons: Perez and Zerah. This rather sordid story can be found in Genesis 38.

In the next generation, Perez fathered Hezron and Hamul (this corresponds to Gen. 46:12). His brother, Zerah, fathered Zimri (appearing as Zabdi in Jos. 7:1), Ethan, Heman, Calcol, and Dara. If several of these names seem familiar, it might be because they appear in 1 Kings 4:31, as the men of great wisdom to which Solomon is favourably compared. Except, of course, that the version in Kings describes them as the sons of Mahol, not Zerah.

We then skip to a Carmi, who fathers Achar. Achar is described as “the troubler of Israel” (1 Chron. 2:7). Carmi’s link to the rest of the genealogy is omitted, and the description of Achar as “the troubler of Israel” suggests a story with which the reader ought to be familiar. One possibility is that Achar is the Achan from Joshua 7, who cursed the Hebrew army by keeping some of the spoils of war. He is identified in Jos. 7:1 as “the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah.” This would explain his inclusion here. Except, of course, that it completely screws up the timeline of the Hebrews’ sojourn in Egypt.

In very next verse, we return to the explicit relations with Ethan, who fathered Azariah.

The sons of Perez: Back over to the line of Perez, we move down through his son, Hezron, who fathered Jerahmeel, Ram, and Chelubai. Much later, we learn that Hezron, at the age of sixty, married the daughter of Machir (the father of Gilead). Through her, he had a final son named Segub, who fathered Jair. Jair controlled 23 cities in Gilead until Geshur and Aram conquered a bunch of them.

In the next generation, Ram fathered Amminadab, who fathered Nahshon (described here as the “prince of the sons of Judah” – 1 Chron. 2:10). Through Nahshon, we get Salma (who appears as Salmon in Ruth 4:18-22), through whom we get Boaz (the love interest of the book of Ruth), and through him Obed. Then, through Obed, we get Jesse.

The sons of Jesse: Jesse fathered Eliab, Abinadab, Shimea, Nethanel, Raddai, Ozem, and David. Though only these seven sons are listed here, 1 Sam. 16:10-11 and 1 Sam. 17:12 both explicitly state that he had eight (of which David was the youngest).

He also had daughters: Zeruiah and Abigail. Zeruiah gave birth to some rather plot critical characters: Abishai, Joab, and Asahel, who play a fairly important part in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings. Abigail married Jether the Ishmaelite (named Ithra the Israelite in 2 Sam. 17:25), and bore Amasa. It’s interesting that the children of David’s sisters should be worth mentioning, but not those of his brothers.

 

The sons of Jerahmeel: The narrative is jumping around quite a bit, making it difficult to follow. We now bounce back to Jerahmeel, Hezron’s eldest. Jerahmeel is a bit difficult, since he is listed specifically as being a member of the tribe of Judah here, yet 1 Sam. 27:10 and 1 Sam. 30:29 refer to the Jerahmeelites as if they were a separate, non-Israelite, group. To smooth this over, my New Bible Commentary argues that “it is much simpler to suppose that the descendants of Jerahmeel, who in any case were settled in the south of Judea, retained their nomadic habits longer, and so in the days of David were reckoned separately from the rest of Judah” (p.372).

Jerahmeel fathered Ram, Bunah, Oren, Ozem, and Ahijah. In the next generation, Ram fathered Maaz, Jamin, and Eker.

Jerahmeel also had a second wife, Atarah, who bore Onam. Onam fathered Shammai and Jada. Shammai fathered Nadab and Abishur. Abishur married a woman named Abihail, and they had Ahban and Molid. Nadab fathered Seled (who died childless) and Apparim, who fathered Ishi. Ishi fathered Sheshan, who fathered Ahlai.

Despite what I said just above, we are told that Sheshan had no sons (this isn’t necessarily a contradiction, as Ahlai might either have died young or been born after the events I am about to relate). To continue his line, he married his daughter to his Egyptian slave, Jarha, and they had Attai.

Brian Shwimmer (of the University of Manitoba’s Department of Anthropology) addresses this in the broader context of inheritance:

Inheritance by daughters imposed a particular difficulty, which is acknowledged in several biblical passages. After Moses first promulgates the rule (Numbers), he is confronted with a problem: if females inherit land from their fathers they will pass it on to their children and therefore into the patrimony of another tribe or lineage. His solution is to institute a parallel cousin marriage regulation. Thus a woman who inherits from her father is to marry her father’s brother’s son so that property will automatically be retained within the wider patriline. A second mechanism for maintaining the continuity of lineage holdings was to marry inheriting daughters to household slaves. Since these dependants had no partilineages of their own, their children were by default incorporated into their mothers’ lineages. The arrangement of marriages to slaves created a number of segments that originated with female rather than male founders (see I Chronicles 2:34-36 for an example.) This institution directly mirrors a solution to the reverse problem of a daughterless family among the Akan, a matrilineal people of West Africa.

The reference to Numbers, of course, relates to the daughters of Zelophehad, whose story can be found in Numbers 27 and Numbers 36.

Attai fathered Nathan, who fathered Zabad, who fathered Ephlal, who fathered Obed, who fathered Jehu, who fathered Azariah, who fathered Helez, who fathered Eleasah, who fathered Sismai, who fathered Shallum, who fathered Jekamiah, who fathered Elishama.

After all that, we move back up the line to Onam’s second son, Jada, who fathered Jether (who died childless) and Jonathan. Jonathan fathered Peleth and Zaza.

A Tale of Two Calebs

I am moving the two sections about Calebs to the bottom for special treatment. The first originally began with 1 Chron. 2:18. The mention of a Caleb is rather odd. It appears to be yet another sui genesis dynasty. In looking for more information, I am finding that the consensus makes Caleb a variant spelling of Chelubai, making him the son of Hezron, grandson of Perez. Except that that Caleb will be mentioned later on, leaving this one still without explanation.

Whoever he is, this Caleb married a woman named Azubah. The verse (1 Chron. 2:18) is rather difficult to parse out, suggesting that Caleb had sons with both Azubah and Jerioth. My interpretation was that this might refer to an arrangement similar to the one used by Abraham in Genesis 16. My New Bible Commentary, however, argues that “either Jerioth was another name of Azubah, or there is a textual corruption” (p.372). The Commentary goes on to suggest that the original wording might have had Azubah give birth to a daughter, Jerioth, who in turn had the sons who will shortly be listed. In any case, Caleb had the following sons: Jesher, Shobab, and Ardon. After Azubah died, Caleb married Ephrath (later listed as Ephrathah, compare 1 Chron. 2:19 to 1 Chron. 2:24), who gave birth to Hur.

Caleb, who apparently lived up to his name (kelev means “dog”), impregnated his father’s wife, Ephrathah – though he at least waited until his father was dead. Through her, he fathered Ashhur, who fathered Tekoa. (There is no mention of either of them being put to death, which would be required by Leviticus 20:11.)

In the next generation, Hur fathered Uri, and Uri fathered Bezalel. This appears to be the same as Bezaleel, named in Exodus 31:2.

Further down (I’m putting it here for convenience), we will get another section headed: “The sons of Caleb the brother of Jerahmeel” (1 Chron. 2:42). The two genealogies are different, though my New Bible Commentary insists that the names here are meant to supplement the ones above. To me, this suggests that either Caleb was a quasi-mythic figure in a few different spots, each with their own traditions that had to be amalgamated, or there were a few different Calebs that somehow became conflated.

In any case, the Caleb specifically identified as the brother of Jerahmeel fathered Mareshah, who fathered Ziph and Hebron. Hebron fathered Korah, Tappuah, Tekem, and Shema. Shema fathered Raham, who fathered Jorekeam. While Rekem fathered Shammai. Shammai fathered Maon, who fathered Bethzur.

This Caleb also had a concubine named Ephah, who bore Haran, Moza, and Gazez. Haran also fathered a Gazez, though hopefully a different one.

There is another sui genesis patriarch listed among the descendants of Caleb: Jahdai. Jahdai fathered Regem, Jotham, Geshan, Pelet, Ephah, and Shaaph.

Caleb had yet another concubine, this one named Maacah. She bore Sheber and Tirhanah. We are told that she was also the mother of Shaaph (if the same as above, the implications are even more headache-inducing). Shaaph fathered Madmannah and Sheva. Sheva fathered Macbenah, and was the father of Gibea.

Finally, Caleb had a daughter, Achsah. It is on this basis this Caleb is identified with Caleb the Kenizzite, who appears, for example, in Joshua 14:6, and who also had a daughter by the same name (Jos. 15:17). The theory, if I understand it correctly, goes that he may have been an honorary Israelite, perhaps adopted into Hezron’s family.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that several of Caleb’s descendants are also the names of towns. So are we to understand that Caleb (and his lineage) founded those towns? Or that these individuals gave their names to the towns that they founded?

The sons of Hur: I am continuing this out of order, just to keep Hur in the same section as Caleb. Hur was the son of Ephrathah (called Ephrath in 1 Chron. 2:19), Caleb’s second wife. He fathered Shobal (who “fathered” Kiriath-jearim), Salma (who “fathered” Bethlehem), and Hareph (who “fathered” Beth-gader).

Shobal’s sons were Haroeh, and half of Manuhoth. Yeah, I’m scratching my head as well.

The families of Kiriath-jearim were the Ithrites, the Puthites, the Shumathites, and the Mishraites. From these came the Zorathites and the Esthaolites. The families of Bethlehem were the Netophathites, Atrothbethjoab, the Zorites, and half of the Manahathites. The families of the scribes who lived in Jabez were the Tirathites, the Shimeathites, and the Sucathites. These, we are told, were the Kenites who came from Hammath, the father of the house of Rechab.

And now I think I need to go detox my brain for a while.

2 Samuel 22-23: Of champions and praise

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The following chapters contain two poems (one in each), followed by a list of David’s champions. The first poem, found in 2 Samuel 22, is nearly identical to Psalm 18. There are also several similarities to the poems of Moses from Deut. 32 and Deut. 33, such as the references to rain and the comparison between God and a rock.

The first poem

The first poem is a song of thanksgiving to God for delivering David from his enemies. Given the specific mention of Saul as one of them, my impression is that the poem was meant to have been written shortly after Saul’s death.

"[God] rode on a cherub" (2 Sam. 22:11)

“[God] rode on a cherub” (2 Sam. 22:11)

God is variously described as a rock, a shield, and the agent of David’s delivery. He also seems to be described as a sort of storm god, which may be an insight into early conceptions of Yahweh.

It’s all well and good until we get to the bit about why God did all these things and it becomes rather clear that David is either delusional, or he wrote this very early on:

He delivered me, because he delighted in me. The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God. (2 Sam. 22:20-22).

You know, except that bit where God cursed him to be endlessly troubled after he stole another man’s wife and then had him killed.

Whether or not it was actually written by David, however, is highly questionable. There is, for example, a reference to the Temple in 2 Sam. 22:7, which won’t be built until after David’s death. That makes the insistence that David’s enemies were smashed because of David’s perfect righteousness all the more headscratchy, since the business with Uriah must have taken place already. It seems that the propaganda machine was well underway in Ancient Israel.

The second poem

The second poem claims to have been composed by David as his last words (like Jacob’s words in Genesis 48, or Moses’s final blessing in Deuteronomy 33). In this poem, he claims to be channeling God directly – something that David has otherwise been unable to do, relying instead on priests and prophets. In this poem, it seems that David is claiming to actually be a prophet.

My study Bible notes that this poem appears to have been corrupted and may be only a fragment. It describes the benefits of a worthy ruler, reiterates the “everlasting covenant” (2 Sam. 23:5) that God has made with David, and condemns “godless men” (2 Sam. 23:6) that must only be dealt with using violence.

It’s rather ironic, and perhaps intentional on some editor’s part, that the poem describes a just ruler as being “like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth” (2 Sam. 23:4), given the story we just had in 2 Sam. 21 about a famine that may have been caused by a drought. Since it was determined to be Saul’s fault, the placement of this poem appears to be a little dig at Saul’s expense.

David’s champions

The second half of 2 Sam. 23 lists David’s various champions, organized into two groups: an elite force called The Thirty, and a super elite force called The Three.

The Three:

  1. Joshebbasshebeth the Tahchemonite has the honour of being both the chief of The Three, as well as the member of David’s entourage with the most unpronounceable name. He killed eight hundred men at the same time using only a spear.
  2. Eleazar, son of Dodo, son of Ahohi, stayed at David’s side when the Philistines attacked and the other Israelites fled. Together (though presumably with a bit of help), they managed to defeat the Philistines and win the day.
  3. Shammah, son of Agee the Hararite, also stayed at David’s side in a similar encounter against the Philistines (or perhaps the same one). Once again, they won despite the odds.

Before we launch in to the names of The Thirty, we’re first told a story in which there was a Philistine garrison in Bethlehem, David’s home town. This may refer to the same conflict we read about in 2 Samuel 5:17-26.

Around harvest time, David wished out loud for some water from the Bethlehem well. He was overheard by the top three of The Thirty, here unnamed, who then sneaked into Bethlehem, drew water from the well, and brought it back to David. In a bit of a jerk move, David poured it on the ground instead of drinking it, saying that he was offering it to God rather than drinking “the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives” (2 Samuel 23:17).

After that story, we get a list of The Thirty:

  1. Abishai, Joab’s brother, is the chief of the band. Though he was able to kill three hundred people with a spear, this was not enough to make the cut for The Three.
  2. Joab’s other brother, Asahel, is named as one of The Thirty, suggesting that either David’s champion order began really early (since Asahel was killed in 2 Sam. 2:23, before David became king of Israel), or, according to my study Bible, he may have been included “on an honorary basis” (p.410).
  3. Benaiah, son of Jehoiada of Kabzeel, killed two “ariels” of Moab. My study Bible merely notes that the word’s meaning is unknown, though my New Bible Commentary says that the literal meaning is “lion of God” – guessing that Benaiah either fought literal lions, or else there was a kind of Moabite warrior that was “referred to metaphorically as lions” (p.314). He also fought a lion that was definitely literal, in the snow no less! Then topped it all off by killing a handsome Egyptian. The Egyptian had a spear while Benaiah had only staff, but he managed to wrestle the spear away from the Egyptian and kill him with it. This is presumably the same Benaiah who had charge of the Cherethites and Pelethites in 2 Sam. 8:18 and 2 Sam. 20:23.
  4. Next is Elhanan, son of Dodo of Bethlehem – who is either the brother of Eleazar or there were two guys named Dodo running around.
  5. Shammah of Harod.
  6. Elika of Harod.
  7. Helez the Paltite.
  8. Ira, son of Ikkesh of Tekoa.
  9. Abiexer of anathoth.
  10. Mebunnai the Hushathite.
  11. Zalmon the Ahohite.
  12. Maharai of Netophah.
  13. Heleb, son of Baanah of Netophah.
  14. Ittai, son of Ribai of Gibeah, of the Benjaminites.
  15. Benaiah of Pirathon.
  16. Hiddai of the brooks of Gaash.
  17. Abialbon the Arbathite.
  18. Azmaveth of Bahurim.
  19. Eliahba of Shaalbon.
  20. The sons of Jashen.
  21. Jonathan.
  22. Shammah the Hararite.
  23. Ahiam, son of Sharar the Hararite.
  24. Eliphelet, son of Ahasbai of Maacah.
  25. Eliam, son of Ahithophel of Gilo. This may be the same Eliam who is named as Bathsheba’s father in 2 Sam. 11:3.
  26. Hezro of Carmel.
  27. Paarai the Arbite.
  28. Igal, son of Nathan of Zobah.
  29. Bani the Gadite.
  30. Zelek the Ammonite.
  31. Naharai of Beeroth.
  32. Joab’s armour-bearer.
  33. Ira the Ithrite.
  34. Gareb the Ithrite.
  35. Uriah the Hittite. I wonder if a clever author/editor placed Uriah last on the list to draw attention to him, given the story we have involving him.

The text closes off by telling us that there were thirty-seven in all. This appears to have been an editor’s insert, perhaps attempting to explain that the name, The Thirty, was a rounding. Even so, arriving at that number involves a bit of guesswork. For example, it could be that Joab, as the commander of all David’s forces (2 Sam. 20:23), was implicitly included. With him and the assumption that Jashen had two sons, we arrive at thirty-seven.

According to my New Bible Commentary, Jonathan (#21) should be the son of Shammah, which would remove Shammah from the list. The book also suggests that The Three should be included in the number. It’s all very muddled.

1 Samuel 20: David finally figures out that Saul doesn’t like him

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Chapter 20 feels awkward following the last few chapters, despite the note in the first verse telling us that the events take place after David’s escape to Naioth. The chapter makes far more sense if we assume that it came from a separate tradition, one in which David only suspects that Saul has turned against him.

My New Bible Commentary, which frequently argues against the multi-source hypothesis, tries to explain away the oddity by casting this chapter as an attempt to convince Jonathan of the threat:

Certainly after the events of ch. 19 David can have been in no real doubt as to Saul’s intentions; but this chapter does not in fact suggest that he had – rather to the contrary (v. 3). It was Jonathan who could not believe it of his father (v. 2). (p.298)

Which sort of works. We could read it as Jonathan believing that 1 Sam. 19:6 ended the matter, naively believing that his father has passed through his wanting to kill David phase. But then we have to believe that what follows – with Saul tossing a spear at David and David escaping and all the assassins – happened without Jonathan’s knowledge. The same Jonathan who confidently declares in 1 Sam. 20:2 that his father tells him absolutely everything.

The result, then, of accepting the New Bible Commentary‘s view is seeing Jonathan as an absolute naif.

Which seems to fit the portrayal of him in this chapter, honestly. When David asks Jonathan what he’s done for Saul to want to kill him, Jonathan tells him not to worry because he won’t die. And I’m just like, that wasn’t the question, you fool. (Allowing, of course, for translation and rhetoric.)

Jonathan’s reasoning is that Saul tells him everything, so he will know if Saul is plotting to kill David. David, however, isn’t so sure. Saul knows that the two of them are buddies, he argues. The implication being that he might control the outflow of information in Jonathan’s presence as a result. “Truly, as the Lord lives and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death” (1 Sam. 20:3).

The Plan

David and Jonathan come up with a plan to prove, once and for all, whether Saul is trying to kill David. David will go into hiding for three days. If, during that time, Saul asks after him, Jonathan is to say that he’d asked permission to go to Bethlehem for a sacrifice – a family affair. Interestingly, this is the same cover Samuel gave in 1 Sam. 16:2-3 to avoid arousing suspicion when going to anoint David.

If Saul accepts the explanation, David will know that it’s safe to return to court. If, however, Saul is angry, they will know that he is determined to do bad things to David. Because, apparently, two spear-throwing incidents weren’t evidence enough.

David and Jonathan, by Cima da Conegliano, ca. 1505-1510

David and Jonathan, by Cima da Conegliano, ca. 1505-1510

Their conversation continues and Jonathan again answers the wrong question. They plan a communication system to allow Jonathan to get news to David without arousing suspicion, then they renew their vows to each other. In the midst of it, Jonathan says: “should it please my father to do you harm, the Lord do so to Jonathan, and more also” (1 Sam. 20:13). I haven’t read ahead, but this sounds like some major foreshadowing.

On the first night of David’s hiding, Saul notices his absence at dinner. He figures that David must have accidentally become ritually unclean and shrugs it off. On the second night, however, he becomes suspicious (as we read in Exodus-Deuteronomy, most instances of uncleanliness are purged by evening, so the explanation doesn’t hold up over a second day).

He asks Jonathan where David is, and Jonathan gives the planned excuse about the sacrifice in Bethlehem. Saul becomes slightly irritated, calling Jonathan a “son of a perverse, rebellious woman” (1 Sam. 20:30), going on to say: “Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness?”

If we take the view that David and Jonathan don’t just like each other but like like each other, it seems that this could be a reference to that. Another possibility is that Saul is recognizing David as competition for the crown – Jonathan’s competition. So long as Jonathan is on Team David, “neither you not your kingdom shall be established” (1 Sam. 20:31). The “shame” he speaks of, then, would be of turning against the interests of his family by not pursuing the creation of a dynasty.

To punctuate his argument, Saul then throws a spear at his son.

This is a guy who is apparently known for throwing spears at people, as he did so in 1 Sam. 18:10-11, then again in 1 Sam. 19:10. You’d think there’d be a point (no pun intended) where people would just refuse to be in a room with Saul if he has a spear nearby.

In accordance with their plan, Jonathan heads out to the field and fires an arrow, directing his servant to fetch it in the way that would tell David that it is most definitely not safe for him.

Despite all the secret signals, they end up meeting up and having a long chat anyway, during which they re-confirm their bond, kiss, and cry a lot.

Not that both times Jonathan has saved David so far, it has involved David hiding in a field (1 Sam. 19:1-3).

 

1 Samuel 17: David and Goliath

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It’s so obvious that this chapter offers up a different story for David’s entry into the royal circle from that of the last that even my New Bible Commentary offers up only a half-hearted attempt to explain away the multi-document hypothesis. In the last chapter, we find a shepherd boy David who is brought into the royal court because his music playing helps Saul deal with his tormenting evil spirit. He becomes well-loved and is soon made Saul’s armour-bearer. Here, however, shepherd boy David finds himself on a battlefield and defeats the Big Baddie of the Baddies, thus becoming introduced to Saul.

The strongest argument I can see that these are meant to be part of a single narrative is that we’re dealing with some time-skipping and flashbacks. As evidence, we might cite 1 Sam. 16:18, where David is recommended to Saul as a “man of war,” even though in 1 Sam. 17, he is clearly inexperienced in that area. So the proper narrative chronology may be that David is anointed by Samuel, walks onto the battlefield to slay Goliath, becomes known to Saul as a fighter, then is recommended to Saul as a musician as well, ending up as Saul’s armour-bearer. Will not entirely far-fetched, there’s really no indication in the text that this was the intended narrative.

My New Bible Commentary tries to argue that when Saul asks who the heck that kid who just killed the giant is, what he actually meant was “what’s his last name?” His first name being already known since he is already a musician in Saul’s court.

To further complicate things, even this chapter may not be from a single source. According to Collins:

There are actually two stories here. The first is found in 17:1-11, 32-40, 42-48a, 49, 51-54. The second is in 17:12-31, 41, 48b, 50, 55-58; 18:1-5, 10-11, 17-19, 29b-30. The verses that make up the second story are missing from the Old Greek translation. It is generally agreed that in this case the Greek preserves the older text. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.120-121)

A valley divides them

The chapter opens with those big bad Philistines amassing near Socoh, in Judah. Saul musters his own army in response, so each side camps atop a mountain, a valley running between them.

Every day – for forty days – a Philistine champion by the name of Goliath of Gath comes out to call for single combat. Whichever champion wins, his side wins the war.

The description we get of Goliath is an imposing one, despite the lack of agreement. According to Deane at Remnant of Giants, there are two major possibilities, depending on the manuscripts one chooses to read:

In some manuscripts of 1 Samuel 17, Goliath is 4½ cubits, which at approximately 18 inches or 45cm per cubit (as general estimates) is 6 feet 8 inches or 2.02 metres. In other textual witnesses, Goliath is 6½ cubits, that is, 9 feet 7 inches or 2.93 metres. Texts in which Goliath’s height is only 4½ cubits are also missing many of the verses found in most modern translations of 1 Samuel 17  (with the notable exception of Codex Alexandrinus) . The missing verses are 1 Samuel 17.12-31 and 55-58, and almost only appear where Goliath’s height is given as 6½ cubits.

A height of 6’8″ is certainly tall, but not what we could consider giant today. However, Deane adds that that “the average height of people in this region in the late centuries B.C. was about 3½ cubits (a little over 5 foot).” At the time, then, even our low option would be fairly impressive (albeit within the range of human possibility).

The assumption, then, is that the figure was impressive to begin with, but apparently not impressive enough for a later editor. If you’re wondering how Goliath stacks up against other giants in the Bible, Deane has another post up comparing both possible heights to an estimated height for King Og of Bashan (based on the size of his bed/coffin described in Deut. 3:11). At an estimated 11’10”, King Og cuts a far more impressive figure than even the tallest Goliath.

(And if you’re interested in how the Bible has influenced later literature, Deane also has a post comparing David and Goliath to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.)

Highlighting Goliath’s impressiveness, we’re given a list of all his armour and weaponry. This seems to be making the Deuteronomist theological point that victory in battle stems form God’s approval, not might or skill.

The shepherd boy

We turn then to David, who is described as “the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah” (1 Sam. 17:12), as though we hadn’t just spent a chapter learning that. He has seven brothers, though the same three are named as in 1 Sam. 16: Eliab, Abinadab, and Shammah. Tradition apparently forgot the names of the other four, or perhaps the number of brothers was rounded up to give David an auspicious number of male siblings.

Goliath's head, from the Grimani Breviary, 1515-1520

Goliath’s head, from the Grimani Breviary, 1515-1520

Eliab, Abinadab, and Shammah are all fighting in Saul’s army, while David goes back and forth from battlefield to Bethlehem so that he can feed his father’s sheep. One day, Jesse, David’s father, sends David to the battlefield with food for his brothers and for the commanders of Saul’s army. Apparently concerned about the wellfare of his sons, Jesse asks David to bring back some token from his three brothers, proving, I suppose, that they are well.

David’s timing is impeccable, and he arrives just as the Israelite army is heading into battle. He reaches his brothers and is chatting with them when Goliath steps out from among the Philistines and issues his challenge, yet again. David overhears the terrified Israelites talking about how the one who steps up as Israel’s champion and wins will be rewarded with many riches and Saul’s daughter.

I was a little confused about David’s actions here. It seems that he is going around the camp trying to urge someone to step forward, perhaps doing it in a shaming way. Either way, his brother Eliab stops him. He assumes that David has left the sheep unattended so that he could come out and watch the battle, it being several thousand years before TV. David seems to brush him off, arguing that he was just talking, then resumes his call for a champion. If I’ve interpreted this passage correctly, it seems that the narrator wishes to establish that David has some humility – that he stepped up because no one else would, and only after asking everyone else to do it first. This seems reinforced by having Eliab directly accuse him of being a glory hog, so the narrator can show David being conspicuously not one.

There’s also some mirroring going on. Eliab’s rejection of David seems to recall Joseph’s rejection by his older brothers in Genesis 37. It also mirrors the discounting of David’s older brothers from 1 Sam. 16. There, Samuel initially assumes that Eliab must be the future king, but God tells him not to be fooled by appearances. God, we are told, “sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). We see that played out here were David is the only one from among Jesse’s sons to stand up to Goliath.

 The duel

Saul hears about David going around camp trying to drum up a champion, and he has David brought to him (though it’s unclear why since it seems like everyone is going around saying similar things). Here, for the first time, David volunteers to slay Goliath.

Saul tries to dissuade him, arguing that David is just a kid (despite his description as a “man of war” in 1 Sam. 16:18), whereas Goliath is a seasoned fighter. But David argues that he has loads of experience fighting lions and bears to defend his father’s flock, even going so far as to grab the predators by the beard.

Given that the deal Goliath proposed would have Israel serve Philistia if their champion loses, it seems rather strange for Saul to go for such a Hail Mary candidate. But whatever his reasoning, he gives his blessing.

Saul tries to equip David as best he can, loading him with armour and a sword. However, David “tried in vain to go, for he was not used to them” (1 Sam. 17:39). It seems that the armour is so heavy that David can’t even walk in it! Instead, he goes out with nothing but his staff, a handful of stones, and his sling.

There’s a theological reason for this, of course – the same one that spent so much ink listing Goliath’s amour and weapons. The Deuteronomist shtick is that battles are not won by superior skill, or numbers, or weaponry. Rather, battles are won (or lost) according solely to the will of God. By pushing an unmatched fight to the extreme, the point is all the more strongly made.

According to Victor Matthews, there could also be a historical underpinning to the dynamic:

Although the Philistines and Canaanites began to experiment with an iron-based military technology in the twelfth and eleventh centuries B.C., the metal of choice throughout this period remained bronze. Israelites also used bronze weapons, but their lack of metallurgical knowledge, and the Philistine monopoly over the tin trade, probably forced many of their soldiers to use slings and farm implements to defend themselves. Some iron weapons were undoubtedly captured during raids by Israelite forces, but without the knowledge of metallurgy to repair and fabricate new weapons out of scrap metal, they would have become useless eventually. This may explain why the forces under Joshua chose to burn the chariots of the northern coalition of Canaanite kings rather than use them themselves (Josh 11:9). The Israelites could not repair the chariots, and they did not want to leave them behind for Canaanites to use against them in the future. Also, the chariots would have been of little use to Israelite bands operating out of the rugged hill country. (Manners & Customs in the Bible, p.59-60)

When they meet, Goliath and David banter a bit. Goliath makes fun of David for being dressed as a shepherd boy, and David responds: “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied (1 Sam. 17:45).

Notice, also, that David’s retort positions him not as the champion of Israel (which is the whole point of the duel – that the battle be resolved by each side providing a champion for single combat), but rather he is the champion of God.

There’s some more posturing, and David’s speech is fairly dripping with Deuteronomistiness: “All this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand” (1 Sam. 17:47).

David then draws his sling and smacks Goliath in the forehead with a stone. The Philistine falls, and then David takes his sword and beheads him. It’s unclear from the text whether it was the stone or the beheading that did the actual killing. Or, rather, both are said to. The important point is that David defeated Goliath while “there was no sword in the hand of David” (1 Sam. 17:50).

His job done, David stows Goliath’s armour in his tent – though we may ask which tent given that David had only just arrived from Bethlehem, and it hardly seems that the armour would be of much use to anyone given the size issue. David then takes Goliath’s head to Jerusalem.

When Saul saw David go out against the Philistines, he asked Abner, his general, who the boy is, and Abner doesn’t know. Once Goliath is dead, David tells Saul that he is the son of Jesse.

1 Samuel 16: The boy with the beautiful eyes

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One of my most vivid memories of Sunday School as a child was colouring in a picture of of little boy David standing on a hilltop with his flock of sheep. Now, finally, we meet shepherd boy David!

At the end of the last chapter, God had removed his protection from Saul’s reign. Now, God tells Samuel to dry his tears and fill up his oil horn, ’cause Saul’s replacement is in Bethlehem.

Samuel, however, isn’t so sure that he wants to make the journey. Understandably, he fears the repercussions if Saul finds out that he is gallivanting around anointing overthrowers. So God provides him with a cover story – he is to bring a heifer along, so he can tell anyone who asks that he is going to make a sacrifice (though it isn’t clear why he would be choosing that location in particular).

Samuel anointing David, Dura-Europos Synagogue, Syria

Samuel anointing David, Dura-Europos Synagogue, Syria

For reasons that aren’t stated, the elders of Bethlehem are terrified of Samuel. They meet him “trembling” (1 Sam. 16:4), asking if he comes in peace. There’s no given reason for the elders to be afraid. I might have thought that, given the new animosity between Samuel and Saul, they might be afraid that Samuel’s presence might cause problems. But their question, “Do you come peaceably?” (1 Sam. 16:4) suggests that it is Samuel himself that they fear.

According to God, the chosen one is one of Jesse the Bethlehemite’s sons. Samuel goes to Jesse and has him parade his sons before him.

When the first comes out, Samuel is wowed. He is certain that Eliab must be the new king. But God tells him not to judge a book by its cover, or “the height of his stature” (1 Sam. 16:7).

Seven sons in total are presented, but God rejects them all. Perhaps confused, Samuel asks if there might not be some more sons hidden away somewhere. Jesse confesses that that the youngest remains, but he is out tending sheep. I suppose this is meant to highlight David’s humbleness, that even when the running was down to just eight people, he was still not considered to have enough of a chance to be brought in. Once again, we see the point made that God is choosing the leaders, that they are not – like Abimelech – seeking out power for themselves.

David is fetched. He is a “ruddy” boy with “beautiful eyes” (1 Sam. 16:12). God gives a nod and Samuel anoints him. His job done, Samuel heads back to Ramah.

As with Saul in 1 Sam. 9, David’s name isn’t revealed until the last possibly moment. Even though the intended audience almost certainly knew who the story was about, the technique adds a slight suspense (or, at least, the humour of knowing that suspense is intended).

Saul’s illness

The scene changes and we come to Saul. The spirit of God has left him and, in their place, God sent him an evil spirit that torments him. The description is of episodes or fits, so it could be something like epilepsy.

His servants recommend finding a musician who can play through Saul’s fits, perhaps to calm him. Another servant says that he has heard of a particularly fine musician, a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite. I think you can guess who he has in mind.

Despite the Sunday School colouring picture of the young boy barely able to hold up his shepherd’s crook, this David is described as “skilful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence” (1 Sam. 16:18). It could be that this description was earned after the spirit of the God came into David, though, since there’s no indication of the passage of time.

Saul is impressed by his new musician, and quickly makes him armour-bearer.

Christopher Rollston provides some other examples of stories from the Near East in which kings – particularly kings who took power by suspicious means – who were chosen for their kingship by their respective gods. Whether or not David overthrew Saul, the fact remains that Saul failed to establish a dynasty and David took over. Tongues wag in a situation like that.

Ruth 2: The first meeting

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Chapter 2 introduces us to Boaz. He is “a man of wealth” (Ruth 2:1) – though this means only that he’s an upper level farmer – and a kinsman of Noami’s husband, Elimelech. He isn’t closely related enough to be legally responsible for the women, as would be the case in a situation where the Levirate marriage applies.

To feed herself and her mother-in-law, Ruth decides to go out to the fields (it’s harvest time) and do some gleaning. This refers to the charitable structure in which remnants from harvesting are to be left in the fields for the poor to gather (Lev. 19:9-10, Lev. 23:22, Deut. 24:19-22).

When Ruth gets to the part of the field that belongs to Boaz, he calls out to the reapers: “The Lord be with you!” (Ruth 2:4), and they all respond in kind. Then he notices Ruth and asks his servant, the overseer of the reapers, who she is: “Whose maiden in this?” (Ruth 2:5). The overseer explains that she is a Moabite who returned with Naomi, mentioning that she has been gleaning ” from early morning until now, without resting even for a moment” (Ruth 2:7).

This passage is mentioned in Bill Gothard’s Advanced Seminar Textbook. In his section on the Seven Phases of a Godly Courtship, he uses the story of Ruth to illustrate each phase. In the first step, where the man is to show “the richness of his preparation,” his test is to show a desire to learn about his intended’s family. This makes an assumption about the cultural context of the question – one that really doesn’t seem justified. As Libby Anne puts it:

This is accompanied by the verse where Boaz asks his servant “whose damsel is this?” Contrary to Gothard’s interpretation, this could simply have been the ancient equivalent of asking for a girl’s phone number. More seriously, Boaz asks this when he first arrives on the scene, before being impressed by her. So perhaps this is simply the equivalent of asking “hey, who’s the new girl?”

(Incidentally, her blog post goes through each of the seven phases and is worth reading for anyone who can stomach evangelical patriarchal conceptions of courtship.)

I think that Libby Anne is correct. This is not Boaz initiating courtship by taking an interest in his intended’s family, but rather a way of establishing the identity of a new face on his field. It’s a far less creepy interpretation than the one put forward by Gothard.

Special Favours

Boaz now addresses Ruth directly, telling her to keep gleaning his fields and not move on to another. He positions her among his servants, telling her to follow his female servants, gleaning after them, and to drink from the water that’s been drawn for his working servants if she gets thirsty.

In response, Ruth prostrates herself and asks him why she should be considered special, even though she is a foreigner.

Boaz pouring barley into Ruth's veil, by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, c.1650

Boaz pouring barley into Ruth’s veil, by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, c.1650

Boaz responds that he’d heard of her faithfulness to her mother-in-law. To this, Ruth responds that he’s being very kind, “you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not one of your maidservants” (Ruth 2:13).

On the surface, it seems that Boaz is just extending a favour to someone he’s heard good things about, and Ruth is being duly grateful.

In a 5 Minute Bible episode, Tim Bulkeley suggested a slightly different interpretation. Have a listen the episode, but what I took from it is that he presents this story as being something of a culture clash: Boaz, a farmer, comes from a rigid culture in which roles are well-defined. As someone who is reasonably high up in his society’s hierarchy (he is described as a “man of wealth” in Ruth 2:1), he sees himself as a sort of benevolent dictator. He condescends to notice Ruth and her situation, and to help out in a very uninvolved way (he lets her glean his fields, which he must do anyway, and lets her drink the water that has been drawn by the labour of his servants).

Ruth, for her part, comes from a semi-nomadic society where roles are more fluid. She asked Boaz’s taskmaster, out of courtesy, for permission to glean after the workers. Boaz then swoops in acting a bit pompous in his role of saviour. It’s possible, then, that Ruth’s response is a little snarky. Rather than humbly gushing about how kind he’s being even though she isn’t in his household and doesn’t consider herself worthy of being so much as a servant to him, perhaps she is using a little snark to remind him that she isn’t one of his servants.

I’ve followed Bulkeley’s advice and read the book twice, once seeing her character as humble and once as snarky. While I feel that both fit, I like snarky Ruth a whole lot better.

Denise Dick Herr looks at how Ruth and Boaz typify the differences between male and female speech. Her article covers the whole of Ruth and is a very thought-provoking read. In this particular conversation, she notes that Boaz approaches Ruth first, indicating that he knows the problems she faces (though, notably, focusing only on Ruth’s material needs), and lists the solutions he is willing to provide. His speech is written in imperatives – she may follow his reapers, she may drink his servants’ water.

Ruth, on the other hand, shows a focus on establishing her place in her relationship with Boaz. She does not thank him for what he is giving her, but rather asks him why she has found favour with him.

Dick Herr notes, also, that Boaz uses significantly more words than Ruth, pointing to modern research showing that when men and women talk to each other, men tend to dominate the conversation and speak a great deal more than women.

So there are many different ways to approach this text, and many ways to view the characters. It’s a short story, but rich in complexity and realism.

The rest of the day

At mealtime, Boaz calls Ruth over and offers her some bread dipped in wine. When she finishes, Boaz instructs his reapers to let her glean “even among the sheaves” (Ruth 2:15), and even to pull some out from the bundles and leave them for her. As my study Bible puts it, “he authorizes a little generous cheating on her behalf” (p.326).

By evening, she had gleaned a whole ephah of barley!

She returned to Naomi and shared with her what was left from the meal Boaz had given her earlier. Naomi, impressed with Ruth’s gleaning, asks her where she worked and who gave her the food. When Ruth tells her about Boaz, Naomi recognises him as a relative.

In closing, Naomi is pleased that Ruth has been given permission to stick close to Boaz’s female servants, since if she were alone, she might be molested (Ruth 2:22). There’s safety in numbers, apparently.

So until the end of the barley and wheat harvests, Ruth continues to glean from Boaz’s fields.

Ruth 1: Going home

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We remain in the days of the judges for the story of Ruth. In that time, a famine drove the Ephrathite Elimelech out of his home in Bethlehem (which is in the territory of Judah). He found his greener pastures in Moab and settled there with his wife, Naomi, and two sons, Mahlon and Chilion.

The detail of the famine driving out the family is an interesting one, and it connects Elimelech to patriarchs like Abraham (who went to Egypt while there was a famine in Israel in Genesis 12) and Jacob (who also goes to Egypt during a famine in Canaan in Genesis 42). I can see three possibilities for the inclusion of this detail here:

  1. The story in this book is the literal, historical truth and this is how it began.
  2. Famines happened often enough for this to be a plausible literary device to get the family into Moab.
  3. There is a deliberate literary attempt to connect the book of Ruth to the stories of the patriarchs.

Given some later details that I’ll talk about when I get to them, I think that some combination of #2 and #3 is most likely.

Elimelech died in Moab, and his sons took Moabite wives – Orpah and Ruth. After about ten years, Mahlon and Chilion also died, apparently without having had any surviving children.

Thus our scene is set.

The Return

With nothing left for her in Moab and having heard that the hard times are over in Israel, Naomi decides to return to her own natal lands. Before she leaves, she urges her daughters-in-law to return to their own natal homes, there to hopefully start again in new marriages:

Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find a home, each of you in the house of her husband! (Ruth 1:8-9)

It’s interesting that she talks of their mother’s home, not their father’s. Ruth seems to me a very feminine story, one that is focused on the domestic sphere concerns of finding a secure place for one’s own family, rather than with the grander political concerns of the past books we’ve read.

Ruth 1 - Naomi entreating Ruth, by William Blake, 1795

Naomi entreating Ruth, by William Blake, 1795

Even Genesis, which focused on households rather than nations, was preoccupied with who begat whom, and how much livestock was owned, and which wells were owned by whom. What mattered about the household was who owned it, who was its patriarch.

Here, however, what matters is who will care for the women when they return, who will fuss over them, who will try to find them new husbands. Naomi does not send the younger women back to the homes of their fathers, but to the arms of their mothers.

The daughters-in-law initially refuse, but Naomi emphasises that she has nothing to offer them, she has no more sons to give them in a Levirate marriage. “Would you therefore refrain from marrying?” (Ruth 1:13). Over and over again, she calls them “daughters” – not “daughters-in-law,” but “daughters.” It’s sweet, and it shows the depth of the relationship between the three women. Even though Naomi is old and would have no one to care for her if the younger women should leave her, she sends them away for their own benefit, calling them her “daughters” as she does so.

They weep, and Orpah kisses Naomi, complying with her request. Ruth, however, “clung to her” (Ruth 1:14). When Naomi tries once again to encourage Ruth to return to her family, she replies:

Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following you; for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your God my God; where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. (Ruth 1:16-17).

In researching this chapter, I saw Ruth’s speech here used to hold her up as an exemplar because she – a foreigner – converts to the worship of God. But that’s not how I read it at all. To me, the god she is agreeing to worship is irrelevant, she is following Naomi. If Naomi worshipped Baal, Ruth would convert to the worship of Baal.

This is not a story about one woman’s steadfast faith in God, it is a story of two women who love each other and who will care for each other even when they are cut off from all social protection and support. This isn’t a religious story, it’s a human story.

The two women arrive in Bethlehem. While the “whole town” (Ruth 1:19) is stirred by their return, it seems that only the women greet them. “Is this Naomi?” they ask.

Naomi, grieving for her lost family and poor fortunes, tells them not to call her Naomi. Rather, she says, “call me Mara [bitter], for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:20).

Background Information

Brant Clements of Both Saint and Cynic points out that the names of these characters seem to have been carefully chosen:

The names of the characters in this book are symbolic. Mahlon means “sick” and Chilion means “failing.” These two die just five verses into the first chapter. Their father’s name, Elimelech, means “God is king” and is fitting for the book’s premonarchical setting. Naomi means “pleasant” but when she falls on hard times she renames herself Mara, meaning “bitter.” Orpah’s name means “the back of the neck;” she turns away from Naomi. Ruth, on the other hand, means “friend” and she proves a true friend to her mother-in-law. Finally the name Boaz means something like “in him is strength.”

This use of names leads me to think that the book of Ruth is a work of  historical fiction. That does not mean that all of the characters and events in the story are fictional. Even Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter includes historical people and events.

Also, when Naomi tries to encourage her daughters-in-law to return to their families, she argues that she has no more sons to give them. This would refer to the Levirate marriage, outlined in Deut. 25:5-6. Essentially, if a man dies without kids, his widow should marry one of his brothers. Her firstborn is then counted as the child of her first husband, able to carry on that line. We saw this kind of marriage in action in Genesis 38.

According to Collins:

This law prevented the widow from marrying outside the family, thereby alienating the family property, but it also was a way of ensuring that the widow would be taken care of. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.269)

It meant that she would have a new protector/home in patriarchal society. In Naomi and Ruth’s case, however, no brothers exist. By remaining with Naomi, Ruth can only expect to live on the margins as a beggar, since without a relative to marry she would – as Naomi puts it – have to “refrain from marrying” (Ruth 1:13).

It’s also important that Ruth is a Moabite. Women like her are said to have tempted Jewish men away from YHWH in Numbers 25, and in Deut. 23:3, we are told that they are absolutely never ever to be allowed into the assembly of the Lord “even into the tenth generation.”

Those books were about politics, and their concern was about the threats of miscegenation to existing power structures. The book of Ruth, however, is about ordinary people, people who find love and support where they can.

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