2 Kings 24: The Twilight of Jerusalem

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The region seems to be in turmoil, with Judah caught in the middle as Egypt and Babylon clash.

Jehoiakim, who had been installed by the Egyptian Pharaoh in 2 Kings 23:34, now apparently finds himself vulnerable as Egypt’s power wanes to Babylon’s waxing. As the text tells us, “And the king of Egypt did not come again out of his land, for the king of Babylon had taken all that belonged to the king of Egypt from the Brook of Egypt to the river Euphrates” (2 Kings 24:7). So Judah spends three years as a vassal to Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon.

Nebuchadnezza II, from Firaxis's Civilization V

Nebuchadnezzar II, from Firaxis’s Civilization V

After three years, Jehoiakim rebelled against Babylon, and was soon under attack by bands of Chaldeans, Syrians, Moabites, and Amonites. As usual, the text is light on explanation, but we might conclude that losing their vassal status, becoming a fairly small, weak state nation with no superpower protector, might have made Judah an easy target for roving bands.

The mention of the Chaldeans complicates this a bit. It was the Chaldean tribe that took control of Babylon during the Neo-Babylonian era, a dynasty of which Nebuchadnezzar was a member. From the context, it doesn’t seem that these Chaldeans were acting on Babylon’s request, however. The reference is likely to members of the geographic/ethnic group instead.

This, our narrator assures us, was “surely” (2 Kings 24:3) at God’s command for the crimes of Manasseh. He are reminded of 2 Kings 21:16, that Manasseh filled the streets of Jerusalem with the blood of the innocent.

The Short Siege

Things only get worse after Jehoiakim’s death. He was succeeded by his son, Jehoiakin (who, I am convinced, was named solely to confuse me). He was 18 years old when he became king, and reigned a mere three months. In that time, he apparently managed to convince our narrator that he was one of the bad kids.

Just as he was coming to power, Babylon besieged Jerusalem and Jehoiakin surrendered. He was then taken prisoner, along with the rest of the family (including his mother, Nehushta), much of Jerusalem’s wealth, and all it’s skilled labour – leaving behind only the poorest people. This, we are told, happened in the eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (2 Kings 24:12), which is the first time I can recall a dating anchored on a king outside of Judah or Israel.

Jehoiakin was replaced as king, but his career was far from over. In Lawrence Mykytiuk’s 50 People in the Bible Confirmed Archaeologically, we learn that Jehoiakin is mentioned:

in four Babylonian administrative tablets regarding oil rations or deliveries, during his exile in Babylonia (Raging Torrent, p. 209; ANEHST, pp. 386–387). Discovered at Babylon, they are dated from the tenth to the thirty-fifth year of Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylonia and conqueror of Jerusalem. One tablet calls Jehoiachin “king” (Text Babylon 28122, obverse, line 29; ANET, p. 308). A second, fragmentary text mentions him as king in an immediate context that refers to “[. . . so]ns of the king of Judah” and “Judahites” (Text Babylon 28178, obverse, col. 2, lines 38–40; ANET, p. 308). The third tablet calls him “the son of the king of Judah” and refers to “the five sons of the king of Judah” (Text Babylon 28186, reverse, col. 2, lines 17–18; ANET, p. 308). The fourth text, the most fragmentary of all, confirms “Judah” and part of Jehoiachin’s name, but contributes no data that is not found in the other texts.

This seems to indicate that Jehoiakin lived to be at least 45 years old, with more than half of his life in Babylonian captivity.

Back in Judah, Nebuchadnezzar installed Jehoiakin’s uncle, Mattaniah as king – renaming him Zedekiah. Zedekiah was 21 years old, and managed to keep his crown for 11 years. His mother was Hamutal, making him Jehoahaz’s full brother.

The chapter break is rather abrupt, occurring in mid-sentence in my RSV. We learn only that Zedekiah rebelled against the hand that crowned him.

1 Kings 8: Consecration

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According to Collins, it’s a feature of the Deuteronomist that key turning points are marked by speeches (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.94). Some of the others we’ve seen have been Joshua’s speech in Joshua 1 to make the beginning of the conquest, and its mirror in Joshua 23 to mark its conclusion. In 1 Samuel 12, Samuel’s speech marked the dawn of the monarchy. Here, Solomon’s speech rings in the first temple era.

He begins by assembling all the elders of Israel, the tribal heads, and the leaders of the “fathers’ houses” (1 Kgs 8:1), a change in the language of “all Israel” that we’ve seen previously. Another change has been the use of “Israel” alone as a designation for the people, rather than Israel and Judah. This could either indicate the work of a different author, or it could be a subtle signal that the schism had largely been quelled by this point.

The gathering occurs in Ethanim, which would put it around September-October. When compared to the completion of the construction in 1 Kgs 6:38, it seems that eleven months had elapsed. According to my study Bible, it could be that the consecration was postponed so that it could coincide with the New Year.

The ark was brought up from where it was being kept in the City of David, along with its tent and accompanying stuff, to the new temple. It seems that the priests and Levites carried the gear while the rest of the people made sacrifices before it. When the ark is placed in the inner sanctuary (under the wings of the cherubim), its carrying poles were visible and were still there “to this day” (1 Kgs 8:8), allowing us to date that particular passage to sometime prior to the destruction of temple.

We’re told that there was nothing inside the ark except the two tables of stone Moses had received at Horeb (1 Kgs 8:9). This struck me as odd as I was sure I could remember other items being mentioned. However, once I looked it up, I realized that the jar of manna (Exodus 16:33-34) and Aaron’s staff (Numbers 17:10) had only been placed in front of the ark, not necessarily inside. It seems that this is not a unique misremembering, as the author of Hebrews seems to have done the same thing (Hebrews 9:3-4). That said, I still find it interesting that neither the jar of manna nor the staff are mentioned here as being among the relics moved into the temple (an omission that may or may not be significant).

Apparently, this whole passage is a fair bit shorter in the LXX – which, as we’ve seen so far for 1 Kings, may indicate that it was originally shorter and only elaborated in the Hebrew after the Septuagint was written. Another possibility is, of course, that the LXX was corrupted and portions of it lost.

1 Kings 8 - ConsecrationFinally, it seems that during the ceremony, “a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud” (1 Kgs 8:10-11). While the imagery is clearly meant to evoke the pillar of cloud from the exodus (Exodus 14:19), yet it reminded me of my stint at a Catholic school. At Christmas, we were packed off to our patron church to sing in the choir. Unfortunately, the one year I participated, whoever was in charge had decided to use far too much incense – well beyond what was reasonable even for Catholics. Rather than sing, the entire choir suffered a prolonged coughing fit and my friend, who was an actual practising Catholic unlike your humble narrator, had to be taken outside because it had made her feel so ill. I could imagine the priests, still new to the whole temple business and unaccustomed to solid, windowless walls, might have accidentally used far too much incense and been forced out of the building on the temple’s inaugural ministering.

The spiel

The first part of Solomon’s speech was, according to the LXX, taken from the Book of Jashar (mentioned as a source in Joshua 10:13 and 2 Sam. 1:18). It is also, according to my study Bible, the work of the first Deuteronomist editor (close to the end of the monarchy, prior to the fall of Jerusalem). In it, Solomon declares that God has fulfilled his promise not to have a temple built by any tribe until now. David had wanted to build a temple, to his credit, yet the task had been saved for Solomon. Now, Solomon has fulfilled his destiny and the temple is built.

The second part of Solomon’s speech is also, apparently, mostly from the first Deuteronomist. In it, he makes liberal use of thees and thous, which seems rather protestant for someone in the tenth century BCE. In it, he goes on with the usual shtick about David’s dynasty lasting forever, though only so long as his descendants are as godly as he was (which, if we remember, was so godly that he was deposed at least once in his lifetime, and possibly twice).

The only thing that really stands out in the chapter is Solomon’s insistence that the building of the temple was proper. It seems that the tradition of the mobile, tent-dwelling god was a strong one, perhaps even right up until the first temple was destroyed (or perhaps the destruction ignited a wave of doubt). Solomon concedes that no temple can contain god, revealing a shift from the discrete God who can possess and enter a temple or icon (or even a God whose power is limited to geographic bounds) toward a god who can be ever-present – a necessity for an exiled religious community.

Solomon argues that his temple does not attempt to contain God, but merely to house his name and to direct his eye so that he can listen to prayers. Which seems contrary to the idea of an omnipresent God, explained only, it seems, by the fact that Solomon wanted to excuse his actions (and the Deuteronomist author likely didn’t want to hand over the argument to those who would worship at alternative shrines).

He then moves on to specific situations in which he would implore God to pay attention:

  • If a man sins against his neighbour and the two are made to swear an oath at the altar, the guilty party is to be condemned by God. Clearly an arrangement that would have put an awful lot of judiciary power into the hands of the priests, and therefore subject to nasty things like bribery. Especially since the method by which the guilty is to be condemned is not specified.
  • When the people are defeated because they’ve been so terribly sinful (the possibility that they might simply be defeated regardless of their purity is never allowed), they should be forgiven if they repent.
  • If a foreigner (it seems a true foreigner is meant here, rather than a sojourner – or non-Israelite resident of Israel) comes to Israel to seek out God, God should listen to them.
  • God should side with the Israelites if they pray toward the temple prior to battle.
  • If the people sin (“for there is no man who does not sin” – 1 Kgs 8:46) and are punished with exile, they should be returned to Israel if they repent.

Obviously, these are all phrased as requests rather than an indication of the order of things – a hope rather than an expectation. Throughout this portion, particularly after the bit about foreigners, the idea that the people might be exiled by an enemy and might hope for a return to Israel is mentioned several times. This would indicate that at least one author or editor was working after the fall of Jerusalem.

My New Bible Commentary, which does not like the multi-authorship idea one bit, argues instead that the mentions of exile are simply realism. The Israelites had not experienced it themselves when 1 Kings was authored, but would be aware of the practice, and would have known that it was likely that at least some portion of their population would find themselves in exile and one point or another. To defend the assertion, the authors argue: “Hammurabi’s law Code, among other documents that are much earlier than Solomon, speaks of redeeming captives and returning them to their own lands” (p.332). In other words, the authors of 1 Kings would have been familiar with both the concept of exile and of return.

In 1 Kgs 8:22, Solomon stands before God. This requires some cultural context, since standing over someone is usually (though not always) seen as an aggressive/dominant act in my culture. My New Bible Commentary helps: “Solomon is described as standing in prayer. Art from the Ancient Near East always indicates the inferior standing and the superior seated. Thus kings are represented as standing before a sitting deity” (p.332). We see the break between the first and second Deuteronomist editors when, in 1 Kgs 8:54, he stands from a kneeling position. This my New Bible Commentary explains away by implying that Solomon was so overwhelmed that he fell to his knees during his speech.

To end the consecration, the people sacrifice 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep, plus other miscellaneous offerings made in the courtyard because the altar was too small for so much at once. Israel then feasted for seven days (or two weeks, according to the Masoretic Text, says Both Saint and Cynic). The chapter closes with Solomon sending everyone packing on the eighth day.

Numbers 34: Redistribution of wealth

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It’s not even theirs yet, but the Israelites have decided that it’s already time to start planning how they will divvy up the loot. There’s a relevant saying, something about chickens hatching.

They begin by setting out the boundaries of the ideal Israelite country:

  1. The southern side should include some of the wilderness of Zin, along the border of Edom. The boundary will start in the east from the southern tip of the Salt Sea (which some translations give as the Dead Sea), then south of Akrabbim, cross the wilderness of Zin, and south of Kadeshbarnea. From there, it should go on to Hazaraddar, and then on from Azmon to the Brook of Egypt (which may be the Nile, or something else, who knows?), ending at the Mediterranean.
  2. The western boundary should be the coast of the Mediterranean.
  3. The northern side should run from the Mediterranean to Mount Hor (which is confusing because the Mount Hor we’ve been reading about is to the south of Canaan. Apparently, there are two of them?). From there, the boundary goes out to the entrance of Hamath, ending at Zedad. It then goes to Ziphron, ending at Hazarenan.
  4. The eastern boundary should run from Hazarenan to Shepham, then down to Riblah (on the east side of Ain), and then along the slopes east of the Sea of Chinnereth (which some translations give as the Sea of Galilea). Then hit should head down along the Jordan and end at the Salt/Dead Sea.

According to my Study Bible, the northern border wasn’t actually reached until the time of David – citing 2 Sam. 8:3-14 and 1 Kg. 8:65 (p.210). If true, that leaves us with two options: Either the boundaries presented here are an accidental anachronism written by someone living after the time of David, or the boundaries were written in/modified to legitimize Israelite claims to those lands.

Gad, Reuben, and half of Manasseh have all gotten their spots already, so they don’t have to be part of this process. The Levites are also excluded because, as with the census, they get their own chapter. For the rest, God selects a leader for each tribe to handle the assigning of lands:

  • Judah: Caleb, son of Jephunneh
  • Simeon: Shemuel, son of Ammihud
  • Benjamin: Elidad, son of Kislon
  • Dan: Bukki, son of Jogli
  • Joseph, Manasseh: Hanniel, son of Ephod
  • Joseph, Ephraim: Kemuel, son of Shiphtan
  • Zebulun: Elizaphan, son of Parnak
  • Issachar: Paltiel, son of Azzan
  • Asher: Ahihud, son of Shelomi
  • Naphtali: Pedahel, son of Ammihud