2 Chronicles 28: Big Bad Ahaz

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After a run of good kings, we’re about due for a bad one, and this one is really bad. Unfortunately, our sources can’t seem to agree on exactly what he did. The Kings parallel for this chapter is 2 Kgs 16, and the two are quite different.

The basic biographical details remain the same in both sources: Ahaz was 20 years old when he became king, and he reigned for 16 years. Interestingly, his mother is not named in either source – rather odd for the Judean kings.

The summary of his rule is bad. Israel bad. But the Chronicler tells us that he made molten images of Baal, burned incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and made his sons pass through fire (likely meaning that he sacrificed them, as several translations have it). Kings, however, only has him worshipping outside of the Temple and making a single son pass through fire.

Whatever his crimes, God punishes him by sending enemies against Judah. The first is Syria, though the Chronicler doesn’t name the responsible king (given as King Rezin in 2 Kgs 16:5), and many Judahites are taken captive back to Damascus.

Israel’s Invasion

The next enemy is Israel, led by King Pekah son of Remaliah. In Kings, Pekah manages to besiege Jerusalem, but isn’t able to conquer it, and that is all that we hear of the attack.

In the Chronicler’s version, however, Pekah thoroughly defeats Ahaz, slaying 120,000 Judahite men of valour in a single day. One of their member, named Zichri, murders Ahaz’s son Maaseiah, his palace commander Azrikam, and his second in command Elkanah.

The Israelites also take spoils and 200,000 women and children captives back to Samaria. When they reach the city, however, they are met by the prophet Oded. Oded appeals to them not to keep the captives, highlighting the kinship between the Israelites and the Judahites, because their war was only one because of God’s anger against the Judahites – yet have the Israeltes themselves not done plenty to anger God as well?

Four chiefs pay attention to Oded’s words: Azariah son of Johanan, Berechiah son of Meshillemoth, Jehizkiah son of Shallum, and Amas son of Hadalai. They go out to meet the incoming army and command them not to bring the captives into Samaria lest they bring guilt down on Israel, “in addition to our present sins and guilt” (2 Chron. 28:13 – which, I will venture, is a fabricated quote).

So the army gives the captives over to the four chiefs, who cloth them with their own spoils, provide them with food and water, mount the feeble up on donkeys, and bring them to their kin in Jericho. Then they retreat back to Samaria.

Ahaz Betrayed

In the Kings account, Ahaz appears to the king of Assyria, Tilgath-pileser (here called Tilgath-pilneser) for help against the Syrians and Israelites. In that version of the story, the Assyrians agree, and they conquer Syria and kill its king.

2 Chronicles 28Here, however, Ahaz appeals for help against the Edomites, who joining the party in Judah and taking captives (while in 2 Kgs 16:6, the Edomites are only taking back land that Judah had previously taken from them, and instead of taking captives, they send the settled Judahites back to Judah proper).

The Chronicler also throws in a mention of Philistines, absent in 2 Kings 16, who are raiding and conquering several of Judah’s cities.

Another major difference is that, here, Tilgath-Pilneser refuses, joining in on Judah’s beat down rather than coming to Ahaz’s aid.

This causes a problem for the list of Ahaz’s sins, however. In Kings, Ahaz goes to Damascus to meet with Tilgath-pileser. While there, he is so impressed with their altar that he has a replica built in Jerusalem – the building carried out by the priest Uriah.

The Chronicler, however, has Ahaz taking up the worship of the Syrian gods, after seeing the Syrians win their battles. So while the Chronicler has Ahaz impressed with the power of the Syrian gods, Kings has the Syrians defeated and their king killed. And while he does take the design for the Syrian altar, his interest seems to be purely aesthetic, and there’s no indication that he worshipped any god other than Yahweh on it.

And while in both sources, Ahaz raids the Temple for treasures, it’s only in Chronicles that he shuts up its doors (while Kings certainly seems to indicate that worship continued there). In Chronicles, Ahaz also built altars all around Jerusalem and made high places all over Judah.

On a roll, the Chronicler gives us one final difference when he has the dead Ahaz buried in the city, not in the tombs of the kings of Israel. In 2 Kgs 16:20, however, it’s clear that he is buried with his ancestors. The Chronicler seems to like the idea of a burial council that decides the worthiness of each king after his death.

2 Chronicles 25: The vicissitudes of Amaziah

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Much like his father’s, Amaziah’s reign is marked by great early faithfulness followed by a descent into idolatry. This time, however, we don’t have a shadowy priest/puppeteer to blame.

In this chapter, which is largely derived from 2 Kgs 14, we find a 25 year old Amaziah as his takes his father’s throne. His father, if you’ll remember, was murdered in his bed to avenge his killing of the prophet Zechariah (son of the high priest Jehoiada).

Once Amaziah took power, he wasn’t long in avenging his father. As soon as he has stabilized himself in his new position, he had the conspirators killed (we saw the same kind of court cleansing with Solomon in 1 Kgs 2, and Jehoram in 2 Chron. 21). Amaziah did, however, spare their children, which the Chronicler tells us was in accordance with the law of Moses (quoting Deut. 24:16).

The Edomite War

In 2 Kgs 14:7, we are told that Amaziah defeated 10,000 Edomites and captured Sela (which he renamed Joktheel). The Chronicler gives us quite a bit more detail:

It begins, as all good battles do, with preparation. Amaziah assembles his army, mustering any males over the age of 20 – this comes out to a total of 300,000 men, a much smaller number than Asa musters in 2 Chron. 14:8.

Amaziah fled to Lachish

Amaziah fled to Lachish

In addition to his native army, Amaziah also hires 100,000 Israelites for 100 talents of silver. God isn’t too happy about this, of course, and sends a prophet to change his mind. The argument is the same that we’ve heard quite a bit: Trust in God because victory comes from him, not from superior numbers. Besides, “the Lord is not with Israel, with all these Ephraimites” (2 Chron. 25:7). Amaziah doesn’t seem to contest this line of reasoning, but is worried about all the money he’s spent on the mercenaries going to waste. the prophet reassures him, saying that God is capable of giving him far more wealth than that.

Since Amaziah is still in the loyal portion of his reign, he listens to the prophet and sends the Israelite mercenaries back.

We finally come to the events of 2 Kgs 14:7, where Amaziah leads his army out to the Valley of Salt and kills 10,000 men of Seir. The Chronicler doesn’t mention Seir’s capture or renaming to Joktheel, but adds that Amaziah also took 10,000 Edomites captive (though he promptly tossed them off a cliff).

While this is going on, the spurned Israelites double back and attack Judah while it’s defenceless. They kill 3,000 Judahites, but this appears to be a fairly straightforward raid and they head back to Israel with their spoils. The Chronicler never tries to explain this loss, despite Amaziah doing as he was told.

In this story, the Chronicler never tells us why Amaziah killed the Edomite captives. The most likely explanation is that this was a show of force, a decimation to prevent future resistance. I also tried to think of it in light of the Israelite flanking attack: Perhaps Amaziah’s intention was to bring the captives (or at least a portion of them) back to Judah as slaves. But when he heard of the Israelite attack, he had to rush back and couldn’t afford the time to bring the slaves along. Or perhaps he feared their number, worrying that leaving too many Edomites alive could mean getting caught between two armies. Better to decimate the Edomites while his military power is concentrated in Edom, then return to deal with the Israelites without having to fear for his back.

Whatever the explanation, Amaziah doesn’t seem to have been in too much of a hurry to bring Edomite idols back to Judah, setting them up for worship. This detail is absent in the Kings account, but may be hinted at in 2 Kgs 14:3, where Amaziah is described as “follow[ing] the example of his father Joash” (Joash having turned to idolatry in his later life).

The Chronicler doesn’t give us any information about Amaziah’s motivations, but there are some possibilities:

  • It could have been another act to demoralize the Edomites and, perhaps, bring them back into the vassalage after they seceded in 2 Chron. 21. The point would be to, effectively, take their gods as hostages. As for setting up their worship in Judah, it could just be the Chronicler’s failure to imagine the possession of idols without their worship. Or perhaps Amaziah, a monolatrist, wasn’t comfortable with the possibility of angering the Edomite gods by cutting them off from worship.
  • One possibility that seems to be favoured by religious commentaries is that, having won such a great victory, Amaziah believed that the Edomite gods had changed sides.

In any case, God isn’t happy, and he sends another anonymous prophet to harangue Amaziah. This time, his argument is actually fairly compelling: Why would you worship the Edomite gods when they couldn’t even protect the Edomites?

The Thistle of Lebanon

Listening to the advice of his councillors, Amaziah sends an invitation to battle to King Joash of Israel. In response, Joash tells him a parable about a thistle who asks the cedar to give his daughter to marry the thistle’s son, but then a wild beast passes by and tramples the thistle. Just in case Amaziah doesn’t get it, Joash explains: Amaziah is full of boasting about his defeat of Edom, but that will only provoke trouble.

In 2 Kgs 14, Joash’s response makes a little more sense. Amaziah, full of his victory, decides to go after another neighbour. Here, however, it’s hard not to read Amaziah’s invitation as retaliation for the Israelite raid – but then Joash’s parable doesn’t fit quite so nicely.

In any case, Amaziah doesn’t listen (according to the Chronicler, God prevents him from listening so that he can use the ensuing war to punish him) and the two armies face each other at Bethshemesh. Israel wins and Amaziah is captured.

Joash then goes after Jerusalem, knocking down many of its walls, taking captives (including Obededom, who is not mentioned in the 2 Kgs account), and taking spoils from both Temple and palace.

We never learn of how Amaziah came to be freed, only that he outlived Joash by 15 years. Back in Jerusalem, a conspiracy grew against him and he was eventually forced to flee to Lachish. He was followed, though, and slain there, and the conspirators brought his corpse back to Jerusalem for burial.

In summary, the Chronicler tells us that Amaziah ruled for 29 years and that his mother’s name was Jehoaddan of Jerusalem. For more information, we are referred to the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel.

2 Chronicles 21: Falling Bowels

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After Jehoshaphat’s death, his son Jehoram takes over. To avoid confusion between the kings of Judah and Israel, both named Jehoram, Kings refers to the northern monarch as Joram.

Jehoshaphat also had some other sons, who are named for poignancy: Azariah, Jehiel, Zechariah, Azariah, Michael, and Shephatiah. Jehoshaphat made sure that they were all well-provided for with riches and cities to control, but Jehoram got the crown for being the eldest.

This seems to have been a poor time to select an heir through primogeniture, because Jehoram is pretty awful. So awful, in fact, that he murders all of his brothers “and also some of the princes of Israel” (2 Chron. 21:4 – likely referring to the leaders of Judah, rather than the royal offspring of the northern kingdom) as soon as his power is established enough to get away with it.

This mass murder, which seems like it would be rather memorable, escapes mention in Kings. We did, however, see Solomon doing similar things in 1 Kgs 2, which the Chronicler forgot to mention.

Jehoram also undid the work of his predecessors, building high places around the hill country and leading the people into false faith. This was, it seems, because he was married to Ahab’s daughter. Though not exactly explicit, it’s implied that this marriage corrupted him, like some kind of religious contagion.

Enemies At The Gates

Jehoram’s brutal ways failed to buy him peace. During his tenure, Edom seceded, declaring their own king. The writing is a little unclear, but it seems that Jehoram was surrounded, possibly in a fortified town under siege by the Edomites. He seems to have waited until nightfall, then made a sortie, likely hoping to catch the Edomites unprepared.

From the 'Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum', by Guillaume Rouille

From the ‘Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum’, by Guillaume Rouille

In the 2 Kgs 8:20-22 version, the attempt fails when his army flees, and because of this he was unable to bring the Edomites back under heel and they remained free “to this day.” Here, however, he succeeds in defeating the Edomites, and yet we get the same sentence about them remaining free “to this day” (2 Chron. 21:10). The change makes the story nonsensical, and it’s hard to imagine why the Chronicler would have wanted to give Jehoram the victory anyway, especially when his last addition is have Jehoram murder all of his brothers.

Libnah also revolted, which is mentioned in 2 Kgs 8:22, but the Chronicler adds an explanation: It’s because Jehoram had abandoned God.

For good measure, God raised the Philistines and Arabians against Judah. They loot the country, taking Jehoram’s stuff, his sons, and his wives, leaving him only his youngest son, Jehoahaz. I couldn’t help but note the order in which this list is presented: Stuff, sons, and wives.

In English, the usual convention is to list items in order of descending importance, rather insultingly making Jehoram’s stuff as the most important item taken from him. Another possibility is that the list saves the best for last, building up to the most important item, Jehoram’s wives. It seems odd, given the value placed on sons and how infrequently wives are mentioned, let alone named. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but it just struck me as odd to bury Jehoram’s sons in the middle.

This pillaging and murder/kidnapping also escapes mention in Kings. Again, you’d think the elimination of most of the royal family would be a memorable event.

The Punishment

The Chronicler can’t let anyone’s sins pass without comment, so Elijah writes a nasty letter to Jehoram, giving him the usual godly message (though seeming to condemn Jehoram’s multiple fratricide only in afterthought). Incidentally, John J. Collins writes in A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible that the “reference to a letter is anachronistic. The use of letters only becomes common in Israel after the Babylonian exile” (p.233).

As punishment, God will bring a plague on Judah. This plague is rather special, as it will affect Judah’s people, its children and wives (mentioned as separate categories from people, which I choose to overlook as a possible translation issue), as well as its possessions. Even Jehoram himself will contract it, his bowels becoming diseased “until your bowels come out” (2 Chron. 21:15).

The inclusion of Elijah here seems unlikely. Commentaries all seem to agree that he would almost certainly have already ascended by this point (since, in 2 Kgs 3, we see Elisha prophesying during Jehoshaphat’s reign, and he would have been unlikely to be active on his own until after Elijah had left the scene).

This gives us a new perspective on the mention of Jehu son of Hanani in 2 Chron. 19:2. While I found ways to explain that anachronistic inclusion, seeing it happen a second time makes it all rather suspicious. It seems likely that the Chronicler is pulling in names of known prophets into whose mouths he can place his own condemnations.

In any case, the plague Elijah predicted never makes an appearance, but we do see God attack Jehoram’s bowels. Though never mentioned in Kings, the Chronicler tells us that Jehoram’s bowels finally came out after two years, killing him in agony.

On that horrifying note…

We learn that Jehoram “departed with no one’s regret” (2 Chron. 21:20), and his people didn’t even bother to light a fire in his honour. When they buried him, they didn’t put him in the tomb of the kings.

Jehoram was 32 years old when he became king, and he ruled for 8 years. He was pretty awful, but God spared his destiny for David’s sake.

1 Chronicles 18: A Nation At War

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This chapter very closely resembles 2 Samuel 8. In fact, they are (very nearly) identical in their descriptions of David’s military exploits.

We encounter our first difference in the very first verse. After defeating the Philistines, David takes control of Gath and its villages. In 2 Sam. 8:1, David takes control of Methegammah, instead. This could be a correction on the Chronicler’s part, as Biblehub suggests that the name is, actually, no name at all, and should have been translated to read that David “took control of the mother city” rather than rendering the phrase as a proper noun. To complicate matters, the Septuagint version of 2 Sam. 8:1 reads that David took tribute from Philistia, with no mention of a city at all.

David’s next exploits are against Moab, whom he defeats and makes his vassals. The 2 Sam. 8:2 version is far more gruesome, reading: “He also defeated the Moabites and, making them lie down on the ground, measured them off with a cord; he measured two lengths of cord for those who were to be put to death, and one length for those who were to be spared. And the Moabites became servants to David and brought tribute.” It seems that the Chronicler kept the first and last parts of the verse, but struck out that nasty middle bit.

But why? Why was David so cruel toward Moab (particularly as his own ancestress, Ruth, was a Moabite, and the Moabite king sheltered David’s parents while he was on the run from Saul (1 Sam. 22:3-4)? And why did the Chronicler omit the detail? I think it likely that the second question is answered by the fact that the first can be asked.

As for the first, James Pate mentions an answer given by Rashi: “According to Rashi, the reason that David had an ax to grind against Moab was that, when his family was there taking refuge, the Moabites slaughtered all but one of David’s brothers (the one survivor being Elihu, who is mentioned in I Chronicles 27:18).”

The Hadadezer Chronicles

The next section of the chapter focuses on King Hadadezer of Zobah, who came to the Euphrates to build a monument (1 Chron. 18:3), or perhaps to restore his power (2 Sam. 8:3). This sounds like a possible contradiction, but really isn’t. It’s the flag principle of ownership, where planting a flag or building a monument is a statement of ownership over the surrounding area.

David defeats the Philistines, by master of Otto van Moerdrecht, c.1430

David defeats the Philistines, by master of Otto van Moerdrecht, c.1430

This seems to have been too close for comfort, as David went on the attack. The blow was devastating, with the Israelites heading home with 1,000 chariots, 7,000 horsemen, and 20,000 infantry that had recently belonged to Zobah. The number is a little scaled down in 2 Sam. 8:4, where only 700 horsemen are taken (though the Septuagint translation agrees with Chronicles, perhaps indicating that the inflated figure was the original one). Having little use for chariots in the Israelite terrain, David hamstrung all the horses, saving only enough to power 100 chariots.

The Syrians (or Arameans, if you prefer) try to help Hadadezer, but David killed 22,000 of them, defeating them so completely that he was able to place Israelite garrisons in Syria and it his vassal.

We also learn that David was able to capture a number of golden shields that had been carried by Hadadezer’s servants, bringing them to Jerusalem. A golden shield is a purely decorative item (a metal as soft as gold has very few practical uses), and I wonder if they had been brought as part of some sort of ceremony to consecrate Hadadezer’s intended monument. In any case, they ended up in Jerusalem.

David was also able to take a great deal of bronze from Tibhath and Cun, two of Hadadezer’s cities. In 2 Sam. 8:8, the two cities are named Betah and Berothai. The 2 Sam. 8 reference ends here, with David acquiring the bronze. Here, however, the Chronicler adds a detail: That this bronze would later be used by Solomon in making the bronze sea, pillars, and vessels for his temple.

The final chapter in the Hadadezer saga involves Tou, king of Hamath – who appears as Toi in 2 Sam. 8:9, while the Septuagint version of the same verse agrees with the Chronicler. It seems that Tou and Hadadezer had been butting heads quite a bit lately, so Tou is quite pleased at David’s success. To thank him, he sends his own son, Hadoram (or Joram, as 2 Sam. 8:10 would have it) to David along with a large gift of gold, silver, and bronze.

Along with Tou’s gift, David dedicates all of the gold and silver he has managed to carry off from his wars to God (his wars against Edom, Moab, the Ammonites, the Philistines, and Amalek are all listed).

Further Details

Of the Edomites, we learn that they were defeated by Abishai son of Zeruiah, who managed to kill 18,000 of them in the Valley of Salt. After this defeat, David was able to place garrisons in Edom and the Edomites became his vassals. Interestingly, the verses (1 Chron. 18:12-13) are identical, word for word, to those found in 2 Sam. 8:13-14, with one little exception: 2 Sam. 8 gives the victory to David, not to Abishai (Abishai is not mentioned at all in 2 Sam. 8).

This isn’t a contradiction, since we commonly attribute victories to particular generals or, going a step higher, to monarchs, rather than to the individuals that make up the army. The contradiction disappears as soon as we acknowledge that everyone higher up the chain of command from grunts gets a claim to credit in our silly hierarchical systems.

What’s interesting about the passage is that it is the author of Samuel who credits David, while the Chronicler hands the victory over to Abishai instead. Given the Chronicler’s fawning over David, it just seems rather odd that he would take this one little deed away from him.

We are told that “David reigned over all Israel; and he administered justice and equity to all his people” (1 Chron. 18:14). James Pate rightly wonders if this justice and equity was applied to the conquered lands as well, given that it comes at the close of a list of conquests. To resolve the issue, he posits that “maybe the point of v 14 is that David could finally devote his energies to reigning now that he had subdued any external threats to Israel’s security.”

I suspect that’s probably what was meant, though I would expand it a little. I think that David’s conquests (and the bringing of riches into Jerusalem) were seen as part of David’s administering of justice and equity. By winning his wars, he brought honour and riches to the nation, elevating it and its people.

The chapter closes with a list of David’s cabinet:

  • Joab son of Zeruiah had control of the army;
  • Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud was the recorder;
  • Zadok son of Ahitub and Ahimelech son of Abiathar were priests (Abiathar is named as Ahimelech’s son, not his father, in 1 Sam. 22:20 and 1 Sam. 23:6, though it’s not inconceivable that a grandson might share a name with his grandfather);
  • Shavsha was the secretary (Shavsha’s name seems to vary quite a bit. He appears as Shisha in 1 Kgs. 4:3, Seraiah in 2 Sam. 8:17, and Sheva in 2 Sam. 20:25. My New Bible Commentary explains this with the possibility that he was a foreigner, with a name that Hebrew scribes weren’t quite sure what to do with (p.379));
  • Benaiah son of Jehoiada had control over the Cherethites and the Pelethites;
  • And David’s sons were the king’s chief officials (a change from being priests in 2 Sam. 8:18, undoubtedly due to the Chronicler’s discomfort with the idea of Judahite priests).

2 Kings 16: Redecorating

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For this chapter, we head back to Judah, and to King Ahaz.

Ahaz came to his crown in the seventeenth year of Israel’s Pekah, when he was twenty years old. He lasted a total of sixteen years, during which he did not impress our narrator in the least.

Of his bad deeds, we learn that he sacrificed his own son. Or, made him “pass trough the fire,” which certainly seems to be a euphemism for child sacrifice. Not all interpretations agree, however, as I noted when the phrase appeared in Deuteronomy 18. It could also refer to some sort of trial by ordeal or a symbolic action. This might find some support in Numbers 31:23, when talking about symbolically passing objects through fire in order to consecrate them. Those objects that would not survive the fire were to be consecrated with water instead. It’s not inconceivable that the same intention of the consecrated “object” making it through the fire intact applied to the child sacrifices as well.

Our narrator here tells us that this practice was once common among the original inhabitants of the area, before God drove them out to make room for the Hebrew people. Certainly, we’ve seen the practice of passing children “through fire” associated with Molech, as in Leviticus 18:21.

In addition to this, Ahaz is described as walking “in the way of the kings of Israel” (2 Kgs 16:3) – which presumably refers to the worship at idols – and worshipping personally at the high places and under every green tree (it’s hard to imagine how he had time for anything else if he really was worshipping at every green tree!).

Conflicts

Meanwhile, it seems that Syria and Israel have been harassing Judah (led my Rezin and Pekah, respectively). They get as far as besieging Ahaz, but fail to conquer him.

The harassment is enough that it apparently gives Edom the opportunity to take back Elath and expel all the settled Judahites in the region.

2 Kings 16Clearly desperate, Ahaz appeals to Assyria’s Tiglath-pileser for air, offering a tribute of gold and silver from both temple and royal palace. Tiglath-pileser accepts the offering and takes Damascus from Syria, killing King Rezin and taking the locals captive. This practice of taking conquered peoples out of their homelands is a growing theme, as we’ve been seeing.

Ahaz goes to Damascus to meet with Tiglath-pileser, and there sees the local altar. He’s so impressed with its design that he sends a model back to the temple priest, Uriah. By the time he returns to Jerusalem, his own version has been completed, and he has it installed in temple altar’s place (moving the original altar to the north side of the new addition).

The wording here was a little fuzzy to me, but it seems that Ahaz has the original altar continue to be used for all the regular sacrifices, but he reserves the new altar for his own personal use – which appears to be divination.

While he was at it, he made a bunch of other decorative changes to the temple, generally taking things down. This was done “because of the king of Assyria” (2 Kgs 16:18). I initially interpreted this to mean that he had entered a vassal contract with the Assyrians, and that one of the terms was the importation of the Assyrian national religion. However, my study Bible sees it to mean that many of the temple installations were removed as further tributes to the Assyrians (or perhaps part of the original tribute, but simply presented out of chronological order).

My New Bible Commentary notes that, from this point onward, Judah was a vassal state of Assyria.

As per our formula, the chapter closes with the death of Ahaz and the ascension of his son, Hezekiah.

2 Kings 14-15: Precarious Politics

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My eyes are glazing over with the timelines, but my New Bible Commentary is very adamant that there are discrepancies. I’m inclined to take them at their word, since they seem so uncomfortable with it. They variously try to explain discrepancies through co-regencies, pretenders, and attempts to erase predecessors from the record following a coup. A fourth option that they don’t acknowledge is simple error – typos, guesswork to fill in incomplete records, and differences in regional record keeping are all perfectly plausible explanations.

We begin with Amaziah, who took the crown of Judah in the second year of Israel’s Joash. He was 25 years old when he became king, and he ruled for 29 years. His mother was Jehoaddin, a Jerusalem local.

Amaziah was great, but our narrator wants to make sure we understand that he wasn’t as great as David. His major downside is that he failed to destroy the “high places” – local centres of worship.

When Amaziah settled into his crown, he went after the conspirators who had murdered his father in 2 Kgs 12:20-21. He did, at least, spare their children, “according to what is written in the book of the law of Moses” (2 Kgs 14:6) – a reference to Deut. 24:16, and not Deut. 5:9-10.

Amaziah and Jehoash go to war

Back in 2 Kings 13:10-13, in the overview of the Israelite monarchy, we learned that Jehoash fought against Amaziah. Despite the fact that Jehoash’s death was recorded there, the narrative now brings us back to fill out the details of the war between Judah and Israel (because all the name repetitions wouldn’t be confusing enough without time skipping). This time, however, we get things from Judah’s point of view.

At some point during his reign, Amaziah defeated the Edomites – killing ten thousand of them and securing Shela (which he renamed Joktheel).

He later sent messengers to Jehoash, king of Israel, asking for a face-to-face meeting. Jehoash responds with a parable in which a thistle asks a cedar for their children to marry, then a wild beast comes by and tramples the thistle. (The parable may be a reference to – or using the same established conventions as – the one found in Judges 9:8-15.) He concludes by warning Amaziah: You’ve beaten the Edomites and are giddy with your success, but don’t provoke trouble lest you lead to your (and Judah’s) downfall.

2 Kings 14-15The meaning seems clear enough: Jehoash sees Amaziah as below him (just a thistle to his cedar), and he’ll end up getting trampled in a completely unrelated event if he tries to arrange a marriage with Jehoash? I’m not sure the parallels are quite straight. Regardless, the insult seems clear.

What’s less clear is the reason for it. When Jehoash says, “Be content with your glory, and stay at home” (2 Kgs 14:10), it makes me think that Amaziah was so pumped by his success against Edom that he was planning on coming after Israel next.

Certainly, what comes next seems to bear out this interpretation, since we’re told that Amaziah wouldn’t listen and, therefore, the two nations met in battle at Beth-shemesh.

Unfortunately for Amaziah, Israel wins the day and he is captured. Jehoash then pushed forward to Jerusalem, crashing through its walls, sacking the city, and taking hostages. Though not stated here, my study Bible suggests that the hostages were taken in exchange for Amaziah’s return. This seems plausible, and there’s no contradicting mention here of Amaziah’s return to Jerusalem, where we find him later in the chapter.

The narrative skips forward to Jehoash’s death, after which he is succeeded by his son, Jeroboam.

Back to Judah, Amaziah outlived Jehoash by 15 years. He finally died at the hands of another conspiracy (perhaps related to the one that killed his father in 2 Kgs 12:20-21, or maybe retribution for Amaziah’s slaughter of the last conspirators, or maybe just a sign of how unstable the region was at the time). The conspiracy forced Amaziah to flee to Lachish, and it’s there that he was killed. His body was returned to Jerusalem for burial.

The narrative tells us that his son, Azariah (elsewhere called Uzziah), was made king at the age of 16. I was unclear whether he simply succeeded his father, or if he was perhaps the centre of the coup that saw his father killed. The phrasing is ambiguous enough that I was able to concoct a narrative in which Azariah is crowned, and that this prompted Amaziah to flee to Lachish.

Of Azariah’s reign, we learn only that he built a place to Elath and “restored it to Judah” (2 Kgs 14:22). I wasn’t sure what this meant, but my study Bible suggests that it may have been a seaport that could be restored once the Edomites were pushed back.

The reign of Jeroboam II

The narrative then moves back to Israel, where Jeroboam took the crown in the fifteenth year of Judah’s Amaziah. He reigned for forty-one years and, like his predecessors, carried on the sins of the first Jeroboam.

Which seems like such an odd complaint, since it’s clear that that the kings of Judah are doing the same (in keeping the high places). Yet while this qualifies as a mere first strike for the kings of Judah, it damns the kings of Israel – despite how anachronistic the demand for a fully centralized cult seems to be.

Of Jeroboam’s reign, we learn that he restored the borders of Israel, acting as God’s agent in sparing Israel from destruction. All of this was in fulfilment of the prophecy delivered by Jonah – yes, that Jonah.

After his death, Jeroboam was succeeded by his son, Zechariah.

The reign of Azariah

We then skip back down to Judah, where Amaziah’s son, Azariah, took the crown in the 27th year of Israel’s Jeroboam. As above, he came to power at 16, and he ruled for 52 years. His mother, another Jerusalem native, was named Jecoliah. He gets God’s stamp of approval, despite the fact that he did not remove the high places.

At some point during his reign, Azariah became a leper and shut himself away. Though he continued as king in name, his son, Jotham, took over governance.

A limestone tablet was found in Jerusalem with the inscription: “Hither were brought the bones of Uzziah, King of Judah: not to be opened.” This is through to refer to Azariah, though the tablet has been dated to the first century CE. One theory is that Azariah’s corpse may have later been reburied, and that the tablet was made at that time.

Israel changing hands

Over the next few years, we see Israel changing hands multiple times – a testament to the political instability in the region.

In the 38th year of Judah’s Azariah, Zechariah succeeded his father. He ruled for a mere six months, though that was long enough for our narrator to condemn him (once again for continuing the cultic practices of Jeroboam).

He was killed by Shallum, son of Jabesh. This is, of course, in fulfilment of the prophecy that Jehu’s dynasty would last only until the fourth generation, as per 2 Kgs 10:30.

Shallum’s reign began in the 39th year of Azariah, and lasted only a single month. He was murdered by Menahem, son of Gadi.

Menahem seems to have brought a little stability to Israel, keeping hold of his crown for ten years. In that time, or perhaps during his coup, he sacked Tappuah and “ripped up all the women in it who were with child” (2 Kgs 15:16). This rather horrifying act seems to have been a convention of sorts, as we saw Elisha prophecy in 2 Kings 8:12 that Hazael would do the same. Was it really something people in the region were doing, perhaps as a form of psychological warfare? Or is this propaganda meant to highlight the savagery of enemies? Perhaps both…

Menahem receives the same judgement as all the kings of Israel – he was evil ni the way of Jeroboam. During his rule, the Assyrians harassed Israel, lead by a king identified here as Pul (though my study Bible indicates that this is just another name for Tiglath-pileser III). Menahem collected a total of 1,000 talents of silver, taxed from the wealthy men of Israel (50 shekels each, which is apparently the equivalent of about $25), to bribe Pul against attacking. It works, and Pul is turned away.

In the 50th year of Azariah’s reign in Judah, Menahem died and was succeeded by his son, Pekahiah. He, too, was evil in Jeroboam’s way, but lasted only two years before being murdered by his captain, Pekah (aided by fifty Gileadites).

Despite his beginnings, Pekah managed to hold on to power for twenty years, though he spent them losing Israel piece by piece to the Assyrians. We see here the beginning of a diaspora as the Assyrians carry off the Israelites they capture back to Assyria.

Pekah’s rule ended as it began, with a coup. In the 2th year of Judah’s Jotham, Hoshea deposed Pekah and installed himself as king. Though not mentioned here, it seems that an Assyrian inscription has Tiglath-pileser claiming to have placed Hoshea on the throne, perhaps as a puppet.

Back to Judah, we learn that Jotham began his rule in the second year of Israel’s Pekah. He was 25 years old at his ascension, and lasted for sixteen years. His mother’s name was Jerusha, identified as the daughter of Zadok. As with his predecessors, he is judged generally good, but shame about those high places.

Of his rule, we’re only told here that he built the upper gate of the temple, and that his rule saw harassment from Syria (under Rezin) and Israel (under Pekah). He was succeeded by his son, Ahaz.

2 Kings 8: The Expedient

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We return to the narrative of the Shunammite woman, here identified instead by her relationship to The Boy Who Lived. Elisha is again showing her some special favour by warning her of a coming famine that would last seven years. Following his advice, she packs up her family and moves to Philistia to wait out the disaster.

At the end of the seven years, the family returns and the woman appeals to the king of Israel (still unnamed) for the restoration of her house and lands. As luck would have it (or perhaps it was orchestrated by Elisha), she happens to arrive just as Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, is telling the king of Israel all about her son’s miraculous resurrection. She is able to confirm the story and, awed, the king not only restores all her stuff, he even backdates it to the time she left Israel.

Gehazi’s leprosy (acquired in 2 Kgs 5:27) isn’t mentioned here. Commentaries mostly seem to explain this by assuming that the stories are presented out of order, and that the healing of Naaman has not yet occurred. It could also be a simple omission on the narrator’s part, or it could be that the two stories come from separate traditions (one of which does not include a leprous Gehazi).

However, I noticed that the description of Gehazi’s skin as being “white as snow” sounded familiar and, sure enough, it is the same description used of Miriam’s leprosy in Numbers 12:10. In Miriam’s case, her condition only seems to have lasted for seven days (or less). It’s possible, then, that the disease referred to was a short-lived one (perhaps infection, so that Gehazi caught it from Naaman), and that Gehazi’s skin condition had cleared up prior to this chapter. This would, however, appear to conflict with Elisha’s curse that the condition would affect Gehazi’s descendants as well, unless he simply means that they would all contract a bout of it at some point.

That said, given the possibility of different traditions or the stories simply being out of order, it’s unnecessary to look quite so far for an explanation.

Another thing I noticed about this story is that the property is described as belonging to the Shunammite woman, and the king of Israel restores it to her. In fact, her husband is not mentioned at all in this chapter. It’s possible that she is a widow by this time (her husband is described as old in 2 Kgs 4:14), though she’s never referred to as such.

Benhadad’s Illness

In 2 Kgs 1:2-4, Ahaziah, the king of Israel, was ill. Wanting to know if he would recover, he sent messengers out to Ekron to ask the god Baalzebub after his fate. Here, we get something of a reversal. It is Benhadad, the king of Syria, who is ill, and he sends out a messenger to ask YHWH if he will recover.

Ashurnasirpal II, British Museum, London

Ashurnasirpal II, British Museum, London

Taking advantage of the fact that Elisha is in Damascus, Benhadad sends out Hazael with gifts. Elisha predicts that Benhadad will recover from his illness, but he is still fated to die. There is a difficult passage in here where it seems that Elisha stares at Hazael until Hazael is ashamed, or perhaps Elisha and Hazael stare at each other until Elisha is ashamed, or Hazael stares at Elisha until Elisha is ashamed, or… you get the point. It’s a nice bout of the pronoun game that unnecessarily complicates the passage. At the end, Elisha begins to weep.

Hazael asks why Elisha is weeping, and the latter responds that Hazael will do some really awful things to Israel. Hazael seems confused, and asks how someone of his status could possibly manage to do that. Elisha then reveals that Hazael will become king of Syria. When Hazael returns to his king, he relates only that Benhadad will recover from his illness. The next day, however, he suffocates Benhadad in his bed and declares himself king.

There’s some question here about what’s going on: Was Hazael going to kill Benhadad all along (which would make sense of the earlier passage, if Elisha sees the future and stares at Hazael, who feels some shame at what he’d been planning), or did Elisha plant the idea in Hazael’s mind (and therefore was himself ashamed at what he was about to do)? Some commentaries argue that God wanted to punish Israel and had decided to use Hazael for that purpose (which would fit with 1 Kgs 19:14-18), yet needed Elisha to nudge Hazael to make it happen.

We also see some more of the odd conflation of Elijah and Elisha. In 1 Kgs 19:15, God commanded Elijah to anoint Hazael king of Syria – which he never did (at least not that was narrated). Yet it seems that Elisha is, if not anointing, at least announcing Hazael’s social ascent.

Interestingly, it seems that King Shalmaneser III of Assyria wrote about Hazael’s usupring of the Syrian crown, describing him as the “son of a nobody” (meaning someone outside of the dynastic line). No mention is made of the method, though.

Dynastic Details

We return to the dynastic records with Jehoram, who took the crown of Judah in the fifth year of Israel’s Joram (Joram being a variation of Jehoram, clearly employed to make this confusing chronology slightly less so). The record here seems to agree with 2 Kgs 3:1, though not with 2 Kgs 1:17 (unless, as I’ve mentioned previously, we write in a co-reign). He was 32 years and ruled for 8 years (a figure that apparently varies quite a bit between versions, like as beleaguered scribes tried to make all the dates match).

Our author has a dim view of Jehoram, largely, it seems, because of his marriage to Ahab’s daughter. Still, he stayed his hand against Judah for David’s sake.

While Jehoram’s greatest fault seems to be his marriage, it was also during his reign that Judah lost control over Edom and Libnah. It seems that King Joram of Israel tried to take advantage of the situation by going after Edom for himself (or perhaps he was trying to help Judah put down the rebellion). Unfortunately for him, he was overwhelmed by the Edomite forces. He managed to fight his way free, but by then his army had already routed.

After Jehoram came Ahaziah, ascending in the twelfth year of Joram of Israel. He was twenty-two years old, and reigned for only one year. His mother was Athaliah, listed here as the granddaughter of Omri, presumably the daughter of Ahab who married Jehoram. Our narrator wasn’t a fan of Ahaziah either, and for the same reason that he disliked his father – his close relationship with the kings of Israel (in this case by parentage rather than marriage).

The only note we get here about Ahaziah’s single year as king is that he fought against King Hazael of Syria alongside King Joram of Israel. During the conflict, Joram was injured at Ramoth-gilead, and Ahaziah went to visit him while he was recovering in Jezreel.

1 Kings 11: Mistakes were made

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When it comes to women, Solomon has gotta catch them all – or at least a multi-national representative sample. Over his lifetime, he manages to accumulate 700 wives and 300 concubines (almost certainly hyperbole, though such numbers – and higher – are not unheard of for kings), brought in from many nations, including some that God specifically forbade (a reference to passages like Deut. 7:1-4).

The passage is clearly meant to be a shock, an indication of just how far Solomon had fallen, though it’s the sin seems more to be the foreignness of the women than their number.

Solomon led astray, by Giovanni Battista Venanzi, 1668

Solomon led astray, by Giovanni Battista Venanzi, 1668

As Solomon ages, we are told that his wives began to steer him toward their foreign gods, even though God had specifically told Solomon not to stray! Solomon builds a “high place” dedicated to Chemosh (the Moabite god) and Molech (the Ammonite god), and his wives build some high places of their own.

At first reading, I assumed that this meant that Solomon was a polytheist (or at least taking Pascal’s Wager to its logical conclusion), but now I’m wondering if accommodating his wives’ faiths might not simply have been part of the marriage deal. The women are described as princesses, and the marriages are diplomatic. Dogmatically cutting off the women from something as deeply meaningful as the worship of their natal lands could have caused trouble. It’s entirely possible, then, that Solomon remained personally faithful to YHWH, but provided accommodations for the other faiths in his household.

Regardless, God is a jealous god, and he decides that he will give Israel to Solomon’s “servant” (1 Kgs 11:11). Only, for David’s sake, he will wait until after Solomon has died before doing it. The use of Israel here refers to the northern tribes, as will be made clear later on. Once again, it seems rather clear that Deut. 17:14-20 was written specifically with Solomon in mind.

Adversaries

As punishment for Solomon tolerating other gods, God raises up three adversaries to make trouble for David’s dynasty.

The first is Hadad of Edom. We’re told that David campaigned in Edom, and that Joab slaughtered every male Edomite (it’s not clear whether this was at David’s command or just another example of Joab being Joab). Either way, it’s clearly hyperbole.

Hadad was only a child (or perhaps a young man) when this happened, and he fled with a small retinue to Egypt, where he was given shelter and the Pharaoh’s sister-in-law for a wife. He seems to have had a fairly close relationship with the Pharaoh, as his son, Genubath, was weaned by the queen and raised alongside the princes. He asked to return to Israel once he hears that David has died.

Incidentally, the queen is named Tahpenes. My New Bible Commentary claims that this is “believed to be an Egyptian title meaning ‘the wife of the king'” (p.336), making it the equivalent of “Pharaoh,” rather than a personal name. However, I didn’t find very much support for this online. Instead, sources like this one seem to agree that Tahpenes seems related to the name of a city, and that both mean “Head of the Age.”

The second adversary is Rezon, the son of Eliada. The grammar is a little fuddled, but either Rezon or Eliada fled from King Hadadezer of Zobah, and Rezon became a bandit leader. With his band, he returned to Damascus and was made the king of Syria. The trajectory of fleeing a court, raising an army, and returning to take power is eerily similar to David’s own rise. Incidentally, it seems that we may have some independent attestations for King Hadadezer.

The final adversary is internal, and this one has God’s backing. Jeroboam, son of Nebat and Zeruah, was an Ephraimite and a servant of Solomon. Remember back in 1 Kgs 11:11, where God said he would give Israel to one of Solomon’s servants? Yeah, the author just stuck a big neon sign pointing directly at Jeroboam.

Jeroboam was put in charge of the forced labour raised from “the house of Joseph” (1 Kgs 11:29), meaning from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, during the construction of the Millo. One day, he left Jerusalem and met the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite. It seems that Shiloh was not destroyed as implied by 1 Samuel 6, and was still a location of sufficient cultic significance to still be producing prophets.

Ahijah tore his robe (which we are told was new, so we can know that he really meant it) into twelve pieces in some rather obvious symbolism. He handed Jeroboam ten of those pieces, indicating that God would grant Jeroboam leadership of ten tribes (the northern tribes). One piece of the robe is to belong to Solomon, for David’s sake. The twelfth piece is never mentioned – there are several theories circulating for why this might be the case, but nothing seems particularly definitive.

If he is faithful, Jeroboam will get his dynasty (albeit only a temporary one) once Solomon has died.

It seems that Jeroboam was not quite willing to wait that long, or perhaps had thought to get a head start at winning the support of the northern tribes, because Solomon tried to kill him. In a story that feels rather similar to David’s escape from Saul to the court of a foreign king, Jeroboam flees to Egypt and the court of King Shishak – the first Pharaoh to be mentioned by name. He remains there until Solomon’s death.

King Shishak is thought to be Sheshonk I, the founder of the Kushite dynasty in Egypt. He is known to have lead a campaign into Canaan, which might explain why two out of our three adversaries found protection and support in Egypt. A great strategy for winning military campaigns is to destabilize a country by stirring up and supporting internal dissent.

Finishing up the chapter, we are directed to the book of the acts of Solomon if we’d like to know more details about Solomon’s reign. But for text itself, the author is content to simply tell us that he reigned forty years, died, and was succeeded by his son, Rehoboam.

2 Samuel 8: Israel’s Board of Directors

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In this chapter, we get what appears to be a summary of David’s reign, focusing mostly on his military exploits. We find out, for example, that he captured Methegammah after finally defeating the Philistines. If you’re anything like me, you probably sighed with relief, glad that the intense suspense over the fate of Methegammah is finally over.

Or perhaps you looked online and found that the correlating passage in 1 Chronicles 18:1 replaces Methegammah with “Gath and its villages.” Depending on chronological order, this may help to explain how a Githite – someone from Gath – like Obededom came to be trusted with the ark of the covenant in 2 Samuel 6.

David them defeated Moab. As I learned in reading World War Z by Max Brooks, to decimate means to kill one in every ten, usually as a punishment for the group. If that sounds terrible, gird your loins. David has the Moabites lie on the ground in three lines. He then kills two of the lines and makes the third his vassals.

This strays quite far from the prescribed rule in Deut. 2:9 – “Do not harass Moab or engage them in battle, for I will not give you any of its land as a possession, since I have given Ar as a possession to the descendants of Lot.” It’s also a little odd given David’s own apparent connection to the Moabite Ruth, as given in Ruth 4:17, and his trust in the Moabites to keep his family safe in 1 Sam. 22:3-4.

Of course, it’s not too far off from Judges 3:28-30, and Saul’s own enmity in 1 Sam. 14:47.

King David In Prayer, by Pieter de Grebber, c.1635-1640

King David In Prayer, by Pieter de Grebber, c.1635-1640

Next, David defeats Hadadezer, son of Rehob and king of Zobah, the only named individual enemy in this chapter. We are told that he had attempted to restore his power at the Euphrates (though we don’t know how or why or when he lost it). David met him there and took 1700 horsemen and 20,000 foot soldiers, who apparently willingly join the Israelites.

He also keeps enough horses for 100 chariots, but hamstrings the rest. The Israelite antipathy toward chariots from Joshua 11:6 is clearly still live and well. I’ve read but not confirmed that much of ancient Palestine’s terrain, being rather hilly, was unsuitable for chariots. This would also have meant that the Israelites would not necessarily know how to use them effectively. Ultimately, it clearly wouldn’t have made sense for David to keep the chariot horses, and leaving them would have place them back into the hands of his enemies, so I understand the logic behind disposing of the horses in some way, though hamstringing seems a little cruel.

After David defeats Hadadezer, the Syrians of Damascus come to his defense. Of course, David beats them as well, slaying 22,000 Syrians.He then puts garrisons in Aram (where the Syrians were from), making the Syrians his vassals.

We also find out that David took several golden shields from Hadadezer and brought them to Jerusalem, which immediately made me think of Pontius Pilate’s golden shields, though I suppose the tone of the event was likely quite different. David also pillaged a lot of bronze from Hadadezer’s cities, Betah and Berothai.

But it wasn’t all conquering and bloodshed! When King Toi of Hamath heard about David’s exploits, he sent his son, Joram, to David as an emissary. Joram greets and congratulates David, because Toi and Hadadezer had been at war, and the enemy of my enemy is apparently my friend. Joram brought with him gifts of silver, gold, and bronze, which David dedicated to God along with all gold and silver he’d pillaged from the subdued nations, listed here as Edom, Moab, the Ammonites, the Philistines, Amalek, and Hadadezer (who continues to be, inexplicably, a personal enemy).

According to my New Bible Commentary, the mention of Edom here may be in error, as the Hebrew reads “Aram”/Syria (p.305).

We find out that David is making a name for himself, that he slew 18,000 Edomites, and that he put garrisons in Edom and made them his vassals.

David’s Cabinet

To close off the chapter, we find out about some of the key players in David’s administration:

  • Joab so of Zerniah was in charge of David’s army.
  • Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud was David’s recorder.
  • Zadok son of Ahitub and Ahimelech son of Abiathar were his high priests.
  • Seraiah was secretary.
  • Benaiah son of Jehoiada was in charge of the Cherethites and Pelethites (possibly a foreign mercenary contingent).
  • David’s sons served as priests.

The mention of Ahimelech here may be an error, since paternity is reversed in all previous mentions. This isn’t definitive, though, since it’s always possible that Abiathar had a son, named after the child’s grandfather, who succeeded him.

Zadok’s paternity is interesting, since Ahitub is named in 1 Sam. 22:20 as the father of Ahimelech. While it’s completely plausible that this is just a coincidence, it may indicate that Zadok and Ahimelech are related to each other in some way, possibly brothers or cousins. Or it could be that records were kept well enough that names were remembered, but not so well that anyone could recall who was supposed to fit where, so that multiple authors arranged them in different combinations to construct conflicting genealogies.

The mention of David’s sons serving as priests is an interesting one, since David is so explicitly not a Levite. In combination with David taking a central role in the cultic procession of 2 Samuel 6, Abinadab’s charge of the ark and the naming of his son, Eleazar, as its caretaker in 1 Samuel 7, we can see clear evidence of how the priesthood evolved over time in ancient Palestine. Assuming, of course, that David’s sons were priests of YHWH.

As for Zadok and why there should be two high priests, my New Bible Companion presents the following theories:

It has been widely conjectured, however, that Zadok was not even a Levite; he may in that case have been priest in Jerusalem to ‘God Most High’ (Gn. 14:18) before David’s capture of the city (as H. H. Rowley suggested). But an equally attractive possibility, which accepts the biblical genealogies, is that Saul had made Zadok high priest after the Nob slaughter. It seems considerably more likely that David should have tried to placate the followers of Saul, by uniting Saul’s high priest with his own, that that he should have accepted the pre-Israelite (?Jebusite) priest of Jerusalem. One might add that since David himself seems to have become in some sense a priest-king, ‘after the order of Melchizedek’ (Ps. 110:4), there will scarcely have been any place in the hierarchy for an existing Jerusalem priest. (p.305-306)

1 Samuel 22: The Nob Slaughter

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Having escaped from Gath, David hides himself in a cave near Adulam. He is, apparently, the worst at hiding, because his family hears that he’s there and come out to meet him. As do approximately 400 people in distress, in debt, and in discontent (the three Ds of any rebel army worth its salt). David becomes their leader.

He then makes his way to Mizpeh, in Moabite territory, and asks the king of Moab to look after his parents for a while, at least until David has a chance to figure out where his little rebellion is heading. According to the Book of Ruth, David is related to the Moabites, so he may have been able to claim kinship for the favour.

David leaves Mizpeh when a prophet, named Gad, tells him to. Again, we see that David is positively aligned with religious figures. From there, he then goes to the forest of Hereth, which would place him in the territory belonging to the tribe of Judah.

Saul, in Gibeah, hears about David. Unfortunately, we know he’s in a bad mood because he is described as having “his spear in his hand” (1 Sam. 22:6). He asks his court what they think David will offer them for defecting, since none of them had told him about Jonathan’s alliance to David (though 1 Sam. 20:30 makes it quite clear that he knew).

His speech makes the conflict sound inter-tribal to my eyes. He addresses his court as “Benjaminites” (1 Sam. 22:7), for example. This could simply imply that his close court is comprised of Benjaminites, but David’s position makes it clear that exceptions were made. The fact, also, that Saul is in Gibeah and David in the forest of Hereth suggests a possible border issue (Benjamin and Judah were neighbours). If I go out on a limb, I might wonder if perhaps what we are seeing is a story of tribes competing with each other for supremacy, with Saul declaring himself king of Israel as leader of Benjamin and David declaring himself king of Israel as leader of Judah. This would certainly explain why the Philistines in 1 Sam. 21:11 believed David to be king.

It could also be that the united monarchy was not a single event, one in which loose tribal alliances become a single nation overnight with the popular acclaim of a single leader. Rather, perhaps Saul ruled Benjamin, and perhaps he had a protector/vassal agreement with a few other tribes. It would make the transition more gradual, and help to explain why Saul refers to his entourage as “Benjaminites.”

It’s also worth noting that Saul’s rave paints David as a revolutionary, not as a fugitive. From his perspective, David is raising an army with intent to overthrow him. And it is certainly true that David is raising an army! Only, the authors, who aren’t necessarily trying to paint David as perfect but certainly think he’s a pretty cool dude, have soldiers simply flock to David of their own volition, presumably intending later on to force David’s hand into overthrowing Saul. So far, he has consistently been painted as defensive in his relationship with Saul.

Doeg the Edomite, whom we met in 1 Sam. 21:7, is the only one in Saul’s entourage who speaks up. He says that he saw David at Nob, and that Ahimelech fed him, consulted God for him, and armed him.

The slaughter

Saul is understandably furious. He has just found out that the high priest of his nation has just been helping a traitor and enemy of the state. We might see Ahimelech as a good guy because history remembers David as a good guy, but I think that if the same situation were to play out today, Ahimelech would, at best, be a controversial figure.

Doeg kills Ahimelech, from the Macclesfield Psalter, c.1330

Doeg kills Ahimelech, from the Macclesfield Psalter, c.1330

Of course, none of that excuses what Saul does next.

He summons Ahimelech and asks him why he conspired with David against him. Ahimelech turns it around, arguing: “And who among all your servants is so faithful as David” (1 Sam. 22:14). Not only does this explain his own behaviour (since David is such a loyal servant, how could Ahimelech possibly have known that they had fallen out?), it also argues in David’s favour (if David is faithful, then the responsibility for the rift falls on Saul).

Saul goes straight for the ultra-baddie title and orders his entourage to kill Ahimelech and all the priests. Showing just how tenuous Saul’s grasp on the throne is (or has become), his entourage refuses. This also fits with the portrayal of Saul that we saw, for example, in 1 Sam. 15:24 – a king with very little authority.

Only Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s little Renfield, is willing to raise his hand against the priests. He kills Ahimelech and 84 other priests. Apparently all on his own, he also slaughtered the people of Nob – men, women, children, infants, and even livestock. It’s rather hard to imagine how he would have managed this. Only one man, Ahimelech’s son Abiathar, escapes and flees to David’s side.

When he tells David what happened, David is suitably contrite, realizing that he shares some of the responsibility for what had happened. He invites Abiathar to remain with him and promises him protection.

The slaughter of the priests is apparently a continuance of the prophecy in 1 Sam. 2:31.

As an aside, I’ve noticed that Saul seems always to use “son of” designations, avoiding the use of personal names. He seems to be the only character who does this so consistently, but I don’t know what that means.

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