Amos 9: Shaking Things Up

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Amos 9 begins with Amos’s fifth vision, in which he sees God standing beside the altar. Which altar is not specified, but the the implies that Amos had a specific altar in mind (accepting the limitations of finding linguistic clues in a translation, obviously). Given the focus of Amos’s prophecies, it seems reasonable that he means Bethel.

There, God issues a command: Smash the capitals (the uppermost part of a column – these are load-bearing structures) until the thresholds shake; shatter them on the heads of the people. If anyone survives, God will clean them up with the sword. No one will escape.

The fact that God is standing by his own altar is significant – Amos has been clear that God’s beef is with Israel’s crappy social justice record, and that it is for this reason that they will be destroyed (we saw this just recently, in Amos 8:5-6).

When we talk about the religion of God as Amos saw it, passages like Amos 5:21-24 make it clear that he wasn’t talking about showing up to church at the correct times and diligently paying tithes. For Amos, social justice is a core feature of the religion, and any version that does not include it (or views it as some nice but optional extra) is loathed by God.

Amos driven from Israel, by Doré

Amos driven from Israel, by Doré

According to Amos’s God, the people deserve to be destroyed because they have marginalized the role of social justice in their faith. It is their religion that condemns them, and so it is their temple collapsing down upon their heads that will kill them.

We can also tie this back to the idea that God will no longer speak to the people, as expressed in Amos 8:11-12. The altar will be destroyed because the people have lost the privilege of access to it.

The image also lends an immediacy to the vision. When Amos’s audience hear his words, they know the capitals he’s talking about, they know what they look like, they can visualize them falling. It contextualizes and personalizes the vision, so that the destruction is not merely something that will happen, but something that will happen right here.

The last thing I wanted to touch on with this verse is that God is speaking a command: “Smite the capitals” (Amos 9:1), he says. Who is this command being issued to? Is it Amos himself? Is the point that Amos will destroy the people (psychologically? or condemn them because now they have no “they know not what they do” excuse?) by revealing the Truth of his visions to them?

Is the command issued to the Israelites? Is it even a command, or merely a rhetorical way of describing what the people are already doing to themselves?

In the RSV, the word “command” appears a number of other times in Amos, such as when God commands “the sword” (Amos 9:4) to slay the Israelites (he does not command the wielders of the swords, but the concept of swords – or violence – more generally). So perhaps God is commanding the capitals themselves to shake.

And with that, I think we can conclude our discussion of the first verse.

Next, God explains that there can be no escape for Israel:

  • Though they dig into Sheol, God will pull them up. Sheol being the place of the dead (as we saw in places like Gen. 37:35), typically imagined under the ground. I interpreted this to mean that the people will find no rest in death.
  • Though they climb to heaven, God will knock them down.
  • Though they hide themselves on the top of Mount Carmel (apparently a sacred site, and seems to have been associated with the prophet Elijah, as in 1 Kgs 18), God will find and take them.
  • Though they “hide from my sight” (Amos 9:3) at the bottom of the sea, God will command the serpent to bite them. On the kind of serpent meant, my study Bible refers me to the Leviathan in Job 41.
  • Though they go into captivity, God will still command the sword to slay them.

God has set his eyes on them with evil intent.

Jim Linville sees a progression as we move through these five visions, and the way in which Amos seems to fade as a presence: “The mediating role of the locusts and fire, and the ensnaring ambiguity of the אנך and the fruit basket are replaced with the direct order that the temple is to be destroyed” (“Visions and Voices”, Biblical Studies on the Web, vol.80, p.39).

Doxologies

My study Bible refers to Amos 9:5-6 as the “third doxology” – a doxology being a liturgical formula of praise to a deity. The other two are Amos 4:13 and Amos 5:8-9.

In it, God is described as the one who touches the earth and causes it to melt. This is a cause for mourning, but we also seem to have some hint of hope. As in Amos 8:8, we are told that the land, under God’s touch, rises and sinks like the Nile. As I noted in my post about Amos 8, the rising and sinking is a reference to the annual flooding of the Nile, and may be meant to evoke “the symbolic expectation of subsequent renewal, as the Nile’s flooding brings silt that makes the river’s watershed fertile.” This will be especially relevant soon.

God is described as having built his upper chambers in the heavens, and his vaults on the earth. Typically, the upper chambers are where the family lives in two-story architecture, since they have the benefit of being both the coolest in hot climates (being aired out more easily, being more removed from the dust of the street, etc) and warmest in cold climates (benefiting from the body heat rising from any cattle kept below). Essentially, this makes the whole (known) universe into God’s personal home.

As in Amos 5:8-9, God is described almost as a nature deity. Here, he is the one who calls waters up from the sea and pours them down over the earth.

Moral Superiority

In much of our readings, there has been a sense that the Israelite people are special – chosen and nurtured and guided by God, entitled (through their specialness, if not their worthiness) to his unique focus. In Amos 9:7-10, however, Amos sets the record straight.

God begins by asking, “Are you not like the Ethiopians to me?” (Amos 9:7). I’m not sure Ethiopians are important here, except that they are an example of a fairly distant group of people. We have a very similar conception here in North America, and “Are people in Africa not at least as important to me as you?” would work just effectively for us today.

God admits that he did bring the Israelites out of Egypt, but then adds that he did the same for the Philistines (out of Caphtor) and Syrians (out of Kir). On this passage, Collins writes:

The significance of the exodus was that it marked Israel as a special people YHWH. Amos does not deny that God brought Israel out of Egypt, but he radically questions its significance. It was the same God who brought the Philistines from Caphtor (Crete) and the Arameans from Kir (location unknown, but cf. Amos 1:5; 2 Kgs 16:9). For Amos, YHWH is the God of all peoples and responsible for everything that happens, good and bad. The movements of the Arameans and Philistines were just as providential as those of the Israelites. In the eyes of God, Israel is no different than the Ethiopians. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.158)

Regarding Caphtor, Claude Mariottini describes it as “a possible reference to Crete.” In the same post, he writes: “The origin of the Philistines is debated. Egyptian records include them as one of the groups of people known as the Sea Peoples. The Sea Peoples invaded Egypt during the reign of Ramses III. Archaeologists believe that the Sea Peoples originated in the Aegean area.”

As for Kir, it is elsewhere associated not with the place the Syrians are from, but as the place to which they are exiled (Amos 1:5 and 2 Kgs 16:9).

God tells the speaker to “behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom” (Amos 9:8). The sudden switch to the third person when he has, up until this point, been speaking directly to the audience, is rather jarring. But I suspect that “Lord God” is being used in a way similar to the royal “we” – emphasizing importance (though with very different implications), and perhaps even using “Lord God” as if it were a title. He then switches back into the first person to say that “I” will destroy that sinful kingdom, but not completely.

What is meant by this is illustrated in the next passage. When God shakes up Israel (echoing the shaking of the capitals in Amos 9:1), he will do so “as one shakes with a sieve” (Amos 9:9) – in other words, to sift out impurities. In this case, the impurities are pebbles, and none of them will pass through.

In addition to the idea of culling, the image also invokes a scattering. Instead of having a single clump of – say – ground wheat, the individual particles will be separated from each other, and scattered “among all the nations.”

And now for something completely different

After all of that, Amos 9:11-15 sounds downright hopeful. Instead of focusing on all the destruction, we are suddenly given a vision of restoration, and even of comfort!

So it’s not surprising that many argue against the authenticity of this section. And there certainly are aspects of this section that seem difficult to interpret in a way that would allow for authenticity. The easiest example is the reference to the return of a Davidic dynasty – a dynasty that had not, in Amos’s time, fallen.

As I was reading through my notes in preparation for this chapter, it seemed like a fairly obvious conclusion. Now, though, I’m not so sure. The greatest argument against authenticity is that hope seems to be absent throughout the rest of Amos, so this sudden twist is out of character. But as I’ve already pointed out, there are two instances where the destruction of Israel is compared to the flooding of the Nile (Amos 8:8 and Amos 9:5) – a predictable flooding that recedes, leaving behind silt that makes the Nile watershed renowned for its fertility. So without looking any further, we already have two instances in which Amos’s vision of Israel’s destruction promises an After (and, perhaps just as importantly, an After that is particularly fertile).

That doesn’t mean that the section isn’t a later addition, but I’m not seeing it as nearly so obvious as many commentaries make it seem.

Amos has frequently referred to a day, a day in which judgement and destruction will come. But that day is two-sided. In that day, God will also raise up the “booth” (Amos 9:11) of David that had fallen. He will repair its branches and rebuild it as in the old days.

This is, obviously, the most difficult verse to explain away if we want to argue for the section’s authenticity. I’m not sure it’s impossible, though. While the dynasty of David was still in power at this time (and wouldn’t fall for a fair while), it was not ruling over Israel. In that sense, it had indeed fallen from its old status, and controlled a much smaller portion of the Israelite population. Perhaps the point isn’t that it would be restored from nothing, but that it would be rebuilt from what was left.

I was intrigued by the reference to a “booth” of David, while all our other readings have called it the “house” of David. A booth part of a nomadic tent structure. It feels meaningful that David is associated with tents (which evokes imagery of nomadic life) while God talks about destroying the capitals (which are part of settled architecture).

It evokes an image of raising all that has been built and starting over from scratching, coming in to Israel in booths as in the time of the exodus.

In addition to being rebuilt, Israel will come to possess what is left of Edom, as well as all the nations “who are called by my name” (Amos 9:12).

In these coming days, says God:

  • The plowman will overtake the reaper;
  • The trader of grapes will overtake the one who sows the seed;
  • The mountains will drip with sweet wine, and the hills will flow with it.

These promised blessings may be a reference to Lev. 26:5: “And your threshing shall last to the time of vintage, and the vintage shall last to the time of sowing; and you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely.”

God will restore Israel’s fortunes, and the Israelites will rebuilt their ruined cities. They will be replanted in the land (as the banks of the Nile must be replanted after every flood), and they will never again be plucked up.

And with that, we come to the end of Amos.

Amos 8: Oh my sweet summer fruit

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Returning to the formula of Amos’s first and second visions, his fourth begins with, “Thus the Lord God showed me” (Amos 8:1).

This time, God is showing Amos a basket of summer fruit, and he tells him that the end is coming for the people of Israel. On that day, temple music will become wailing and many will die.

There’s some wordplay here, as Jim Linville points out: “Amos sees a basket of summer fruit, קיץ qays, but upon identifying it, YHWH announces the end קץ qes of Israel” (“Vision and Voices: Amos 7-9.” Biblical Studies on the Web, Vol.80, p.34).

The pun is wonderful. It isn’t just the use of homophones (near homophones?), but in this case the summer fruit can also be seen to represent Israel – which, under Jeroboam, was bloated with prosperity. According to Amos, this abundance warns of Israel’s fall just as the abundance of summer harvests warns of coming winter.

My RSV gives Amos 8:3 as: “The dead bodies shall be many; in every place they shall be cast out in silence.” Other translations, however, have something more along the lines of: “Many are the corpses, in every place he has cast. Silence!”

This second translation is important for Linville, who asks who the intended speaker of the exclamation might be. One possibility is that it is YHWH himself, commanding silence from the people so that they can hear the warning that follows. Another possibility is that he is demanding “silent awe” from those who have survived as they survey the dead. Or perhaps he speaks to the dead, who will never speak again.

Linville also proposes that it could be from Amos, who sees where God is going with this and begs for him not to speak it aloud. Or perhaps the exclamation is “a warning to himself not to interfere.” Linville’s final suggestion is that Amos is demanding “silence from God’s victims when he himself is coerced into declaring their doom” (“Vision and Voices,” p.35).

Hear This

After this, the narrative switches to direct speech for a while as the speaker, presumably Amos, addresses the audience. He calls to them to listen, naming them those who trample the needy and the poor.

The speaker accuses the listener of asking when the new moon will end so they can sell grain, or when it’s the sabbath so they can sell wheat? I initially interpreted this as meaning that they were using the cultic calendar to time their economic activities, rather than using the festivals as reminders of God’s true command: Justice. My study Bible, however, interprets the passage as meaning that the “merchants are impatient for the holy days to pass so they can resume their fraudulent business.”

The visions of Amos, 16th cent.

The visions of Amos, 16th cent.

The speaker accuses the listener of making the ephah small and the shekel great, of dealing deceitfully with false balances. This is clearly a reference to the use of scales in transactions, and merchants rigging them in their own favour.

The listener is accused of selling the refuse of wheat and, as in Amos 2:6, the listener is accused of buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes. As I noted in my post on Amos 2: “This is likely a reference to bribery in the justice system, rather than a real buyer’s market in the slave trade.”

Swearing by the pride of Jacob (which God abhors, as per Amos 6:8), God vows never to forget “their” (Amos 8:7) deeds. The use of “their” really threw me, because suddenly the speaker is no longer speaking to the listeners, but about them! I get the impression of God and Amos, standing around the water cooler, dissing the Israelites just loudly enough that the Israelites can hear but quietly enough for it not to be obvious that it’s intentional.

Then comes some more doom-and-gloom as God vows that the land itself will tremble, and that all who dwell within it will mourn. All of it will rise up like the Nile, be tossed about, and sink (a reference to the annual flooding of the Nile – perhaps with the symbolic expectation of subsequent renewal, as the Nile’s flooding brings silt that makes the river’s watershed fertile).

On that day, God promises to make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth during the day (perhaps an echoing of Amos 5:18, where Amos promises that the day of the Lord is “darkness, and not light”). God will turn feasts into mourning, and he will turn songs into lamentations.

He promises to bring sackcloth to every loin and baldness to every head. Given the context, I suspect that the threat of baldness refers to hair cutting/shaving as part of mourning. In any case, God promises to make it like the mourning for an only son – implying that the destruction will be complete, and leave Israel without a future lineage.

Famine

Amos’s God promises a famine but, unlike what we’ve seen in so many other places, this is not a famine for bread or water. Rather, it is a famine of hearing the words of God. The people will wander from sea to sea seeking the word of God, but they won’t find it.

When I was a child, the concept of hell was described to me as separation from God. It seems that Amos has similar ideas.

On the coming day, even the young will faint for thirst. Those who worship Ashimah of Samaria and say: “as thy god lives, O Dan” and those who say “as the way of Beersheba lives” (Amos 8:14) will fall and never rise again. In other words, as my study Bible puts it: “The patron deities of pagan shrines, from the farthest north (Dan) to the farthest south (Beer-sheba), will be of no help on that day.”

The Linville article I am mercilessly quote-mining this evening notes an evolution in the sorts of punishments Amos envisions: “Rather than predict the end of the shrines of Isaac, the sanctuaries of Israel, and the house of Jeroboam (Amos 7,9, matters reintroduced by Amaziah, in 7,10-13), the fourth vision attacks the people directly. The subsequent oracles give reasons for this: social injustice has motivated God’s action (8,4-6)” (“Vision and Voices”, p.34).

Amos 3-4: Disciplinary Strategies

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In Amos 1-2, it was easy to see a structure. I had noted at the time that Amos seemed to be drawing the Samarians in with some bravado about how terrible foreign nations are, then drawing ever closer until he dropped the bomb: indicting Samaria itself.

I see a few similar rhetorical tactics in Amos 3-4, but they are shorter. I’m getting the impression that the book of Amos is a collection of arguments/prophecies, rather than something that would have been meant as a complete treatise.

Most of Amos 3-4 is told as if it were the direct words of Gods (“spoken against you” – Amos 3:1), though with periodic speech tags in case anyone forgets.

Amos 3 begins by identifying Israel as a chosen people (or “family,” as they are called here). As Collins points out, “this should be good news.” Instead, however, it is because God has only known (in the biblical sense) Israel that the nation will be punished. “Election only means greater responsibility” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.156).

A Rhetorical Questioning

Amos 3:3-8 contains a series of rhetorical questions, culminating with the argument that God is the agent of Samaria’s suffering. The questions themselves are ones of obviousness, along the lines of “Is the pope Catholic?”

They start off rather unrelated to the point being made: Do two people walk together unless they have, at some point, met each other? Does a lion roar in the forest when he has no prey? (While I typically think of lions as being savannah dwellers, the Asiatic lion can, apparently, live in forests, and would have been the lion Amos was most familiar with.)

The questions inch closer to the point: Can a trumpet be blown in a city without making the people afraid?

And, finally: Can evil befall a city without it being God’s doing?

After the questions, we are told that God does not act without revealing it to the prophets (Amos 3:7). This, then, leads into:

The lion has roared;
who will not fear?
The Lord God has spoken;
who can but prophesy? (Amos 3:8)

This is clearly a call back to Amos 1:2, but also reinforces the argument. God causes evil => God lets the prophets know when he does so => I have heard God tell me so, and am therefore compelled to tell you.

See the Oppression!

The reader is bidden to witness the tumult and oppression in Samaria. Clearly, Amos is one of them SJWs, because this injustice is prompting punishment from God.

The imagery is striking: Just as a shepherd might pull a few body parts out of a lion’s mouth, so will some small minority of Israelites be rescued from Samaria’s fate (Amos 3:12). The implication is clear – you may survive what’s coming, but you won’t be whole.

The letter V depicting the Prophet Amos, miniature from the Bible of Souvigny, 12th cent.

The letter V depicting the Prophet Amos, miniature from the Bible of Souvigny, 12th cent.

Special mention is made of the altars at Bethel, whose horns will be cut off. These would be Jeroboam’s altars, built in 1 Kgs 12:25-33.

God will also destroy all the fancy houses, including the houses of ivory. An ivory house is mentioned in 1 Kgs 22:39, which my study Bible identifies as a Samarian palace “decorated with carved ivory inlay and containing furniture so decorated.” (It seems that some of these ivory inlays have survived.)

The listing of the palaces that will be destroyed concludes with “and the great houses shall come to an end” (Amos 3:15), which seems to be another example of a pun on the word “house” (which can mean both a physical structure and a dynasty). One of the more elaborate examples of these came in 1 Chron. 17:1-15, where David and God keep offering to build houses for each other, variously meaning palaces, dynasties, and temples.

Amos then turns his attention to the women of Samaria, whom he calls “cows of Bashan” (Amos 4:1). Bashan, it seems, was a “fertile area in Transjordan” (Collins, A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p. 156), meaning that they are basically being called “fat cows.”

The women’s crimes are pretty terrible. You see, they have oppressed the poor, crushed the needy, and asked their husbands for something to drink. Yikes. Fat cows and hen-peckers? For this, their days are numbered and they will be cast forth into Harmon.

Next come the cultic practices, as God, via Amos, invites the Samarians to keep sinning at Bethel and Gilgal (both associated with prophets in 2 Kgs 2:1-2). They are invited to keep bringing their sacrifices and tithes, and to “publish them” as they so love to do (Amos 4:5).

The mention of the shrines made me wonder if it was a Deuteronomistic criticism of worship outside of the Jerusalem Temple. However, what follows makes it seem more like the criticism is of the pomp and circumstance, and the publicity of it all. It rang similar to Matthew 6:5, calling out the public display of pious peacocking as hypocrisy.

Collins points to another possibility, that ritual “gave the people a false sense of security, since they felt they were fulfilling their obligations to their God when in fact they were not. For this reason, sacrifices, even if offered at great expense, were not only irrelevant to the serve of God, but actually an impediment to it. The service of God is about justice. It is not about offerings at all” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p. 158).

Expecting A Different Result

There have been portions of tonight’s reading that I’ve appreciated (the mentions of social justice, the condemnation of religious hypocrisy), and parts that have made me gag (the overt patriarchy of Amos’s condemnation of wives who presume). But the second half of Amos 4 is just plain silly.

In it, God lists all the punishments he’s given Samaria, ending each with, “yet you did not return to me.”

See, I’m a parent. I don’t go with the whole punishment thing as a general rule because the concept is rather silly. Most of what we read as “misbehaviour” actually turns out to be age-appropriate responses to asking too much from itty-bitty people. When I adjust my expectations and plan ahead for the unavoidable, nearly all “disciplinary” issues disappear. What remains can almost always be dealt with through teaching.

Punishments usually end up being counter productive, because punishing a child for age-appropriate behaviours doesn’t actually fix the problems. All it does is either break the child so they become unable to cope and meet their own needs, or it fosters an adversarial relationship that will then require parents to maintain constant vigilance in order to maintain the family hierarchy. Neither of which sounds like a positive outcome to me.

So here we have a God who sees the same behaviours repeated over and over again, and responds every time with punishments. And even though these punishments are clearly not working, he doggedly sticks to this one strategy while wringing his hands because it never ever works.

It reads like bad comedy.

The punishments themselves are:

  • Giving the people clean teeth and lack of bread;
  • Withholding rain when it was still 3 months before the harvest;
  • Arbitrarily withering some fields and not others;
  • Smiting with blight and mildew, laying waste to gardens and vineyards, devouring fig and olive trees with locusts;
  • Sending a pestilence (in the manner of Egypt);
  • Slaying Samaria’s young men with the sword and carrying away its horses;
  • Making the stench of Samaria’s camps go up their nostrils (I do believe this is scatological);
  • And overthrowing bits of Samaria, “as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah” (Amos 4:11 – you may notice the POV break here).

I just happened to be reading Peter Brown’s Through the Eye of a Needle, and I came on the following relevant passage, given the mention of the harvest:

Before the time of the harvest, rich and poor alike waited. The Mediterranean is notorious for the variability of its harvests, due to unstable climatic conditions. The carefully tended fields were menaced by flattening cloudbursts, by random scything by hailstorms, and by the perpetual menace of prolonged drought (along its eastern and southern shores) and of “dry” winters (winters without snow and thus without moisture) in the plateaus of its hinterlands, notably in Anatolia. “Harvest shocks” caused by unforeseen shortfalls in the crops were the norm. In all areas except Egypt, yields could vary by over 50 percent from year to year.

Not surprisingly, therefore, wealth was widely thought of as lying in the hands of the gods. A good harvest was the smile of God or of the gods spreading across an obedient landscape. In 311, one of the last pagan emperors (the eastern emperor Maximin Daia) informed the citizens of Tyre that his persecution of the Christians had pleased the gods. The weather itself had changed for the better:

“Let them look at the standing crops already flourishing with waving heads in the broad fields, and at the meadows, glittering with plants and flowers, in response to abundant rains and to the restored mildness and softness of the atmosphere.” (p.12)

After all of that, though, the sermon just sort of… fizzles. Because all these punishments haven’t worked, God will send more. “Prepare to meet your God” (Amos 4:12).

Then it derails entirely, telling us that he who makes mountains and creates wind is the God of hosts. It seems that I’m not the only one who feels that the passage seems odd in this spot, and the authenticity of Amos 4:13 is questioned, mostly because “the passages are abrupt in their context” (New Bible Commentary, p.728).

Amos 1-2: Finger Pointing

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Amos opens with a thesis statement in the third person: “The words of Amos […] which he saw concerning Israel” (Amos 1:1).

This statement is mixed in with some biographical information, telling us that Amos was among the shepherds of Tekoa, and that he saw the words when Uzziah was king in Judah and Jeroboam son of Joash was king in Israel, two years before an earthquake.

With regards to his profession as a shepherd, the particular word used is only used in one other place: 2 Kgs 3:4, in reference to the king of Moab. The king of Moab, of course, would hardly be some lowly peasant. Given that Amos was apparently literate, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to see him as the same category of shepherd – the owner of a large flock that was tended by employees.

Claude Mariottini discusses Amos’s occupation in more detail in a blog post.

God Roared

The section proper begins with a verse that reads almost like an incantation:

The Lord roars from Zion,
and utters his voice from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds mourn,
and the top of Carmel withers.

If the verse is original to Amos, the fact that the geographical markers are all from the southern kingdom seems rather odd. There’s something just so Deuteronomistic about Jerusalem as the place from which God is roaring. According to Collins, that’s one reason why this verse is considered by many to be an addition from after the Babylonian exile (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.159).

The use of the term “Zion” is interesting as well, since it’s not a word that’s come up a whole lot in our readings so far. We saw it a fair bit in Lamentations, which is dated to the Babylonian exile. Other than that, we’ve only seen it used a sprinkling of times in Kings and Chronicles, and once in 2 Sam. 5:7, which Wikipedia gives as the earliest use of the word. This seems to be fairly compelling evidence in support of Collins’s assertion.

The Condemnations

The condemnations themselves follow a pattern:

  1. It begins with the phrase: “Thus says the Lord.” According to Claude Mariottini, this phrase is frequently found in prophetic books, and would have been used by royal messengers speaking on behalf of a king to a designated individual (as in the case with Rabshakeh, envoy from King Sennacherib of Assyria to King Hezekiah of Judah in 2 Kgs 18:19).
  2. “For three transgressions of [transgressor], and for four, I will not revoke punishment.” The phrase likely means something along the lines of “three transgressions would have been bad enough, but you’ve gone and had four of them!” (Except, of course, with the specific numbers being literally figurative.)
  3. This is followed by a surprisingly brief explanation of their crimes…
  4. And a surprisingly brief explanation of the punishment that awaits them. This largely involves a fire that will consume their walls and strongholds (except in the case of Israel).
  5. Closing each condemnation (except for those of Tyre and Edom), Amos concludes with: “says the Lord God.”

Amos 1:3-5
Target: Damascus, Syria
Transgressions: They threshed Gilead, which we read about in 2 Kgs 10:32-33.
Punishment: God will send fire down on the house of Hazael, and it will devour the strongholds of Benhadad (both Hazael and Behadad were kings of Syria). The people of Syria will be forced into exile to Kir. This will indeed happen when the Assyrians take Damascus in 2 Kgs 16:9. Also of interest is that Amos himself seems to believe that the Syrians originated from Kir (Amos 9:7).

Russian icon of the prophet Amos, from the Iconostasis of Transfiguration Church, Kizhi monastery, in Karelia, Russia, 18th cent.

Russian icon of the prophet Amos, from the Iconostasis of Transfiguration Church, Kizhi monastery, in Karelia, Russia, 18th cent.

Amos 1:6-8
Target: Gaza, Philistia
Transgressions: For carrying a whole people into exile, and for selling them to Edom.
Punishment: God will send fire onto the wall of Gaza, destroying her strongholds. The inhabitants will be cut off from Ashdod and the one who holds the scepter of Ashkelon. God will turn his hand against Ekron and the last of the Philistines will die. This all happened when Assyria took over in a series of campaigns (Gaza fell to Tiglath-Pileser in 734BCE, Ashdod to Sargon in 711BCE, and Ashkelon and Ekron to Sennacherib in 701BCE).

Amos 1:9-10
Target: Tyre
Transgressions: For selling people to Edom, and for forgetting the covenant of brotherhood (this latter likely a reference to the close relationship between Tyre and Israel during the reigns of David and Solomon, as per 2 Sam. 5:11 and 1 Kgs 5:1).
Punishment: God will set fire to the wall of Tyre and devour its strongholds. This prophecy also came true, this time when Tyre became a tributary to Assyria and then fell to Nebuchadnezzar 585BCE, after a lengthy siege. It was then destroyed by Alexander the Great in 332BCE.

Amos 1:11-12
Target: Edom
Transgressions: For having pursued his brother with the sword, without pity. Edom was perpetually torn by anger and wrath.
Punishment: God will send fire down on Teman, and it will devour the strongholds of Bozrah. This prophecy also came true, as Edom was destroyed by the Babylonians in the 6th century BCE.

Amos 1:13-15
Target: The Ammonites
Transgressions: For having ripped up pregnant women in Gilead to enlarge their borders. This war against Gilead doesn’t seem to have been recorded anywhere else.
Punishment: God will send fire down to the wall of Rabbah, devouring its strongholds. This will happen with great shouting in the day of battle, and with a tempest in the day of the whirlwind. The Ammonite king and princes will be taken into exile.

Amos 2:1-3
Target: Moab
Transgressions: For having burned to lime the bones of the Edomite king. This is an interesting complaint. While the crimes of the other foreign nations can be read as offenses against Israel (the big Israel, the one that includes Judah), this is a crime against another foreign nation. As Collins puts it, “this is a crime of one Gentile against another and can only be viewed as a crime against humanity. Amos operates with a concept of universal justice, such as we often find in the wisdom literature” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.156).
Punishment: Fire will rain down upon Moab (though not, at least, it’s walls) and devour the strongholds of Kerioth. Moab will die amid uproar, shouting, and the sound of the trumpet. Its ruler and its princes will be slain.

Amos 2:4-5
Target: Judah
Transgressions: For rejecting the law of God and failing to keep his statutes. For having been led astray by their lies, in the way their fathers walked. This passage is sometimes considered to have been added by a later editor, in large part because of how closely the writing resembles that of the Deuteronomical books.
Punishment: God will bring fire down on Judah devour the strongholds of Jerusalem. Of course, this came to pass in 2 Kgs 24-25.

Turning to Israel

While the authenticity of certain passages is in question, the rhetorical flow works quite well. First, Amos lures his readers/listeners in by raging at the other guy. Then he moves a little closer with the next batch, raging at nations considered ‘cousins’: Edom is mythically descended from Jacob’s brother (Gen. 25:19-34), while the Moabites and Ammonites are descended from Lot (Gen. 19:36-38). Circling ever closer, Amos turns to Judah.

And then Amos pounces, throwing the sins of Israel into their faces.

The sins of Israel are many:

  • They sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes. This is likely a reference to bribery in the justice system, rather than a real buyer’s market in the slave trade.
  • They trampled the heads of the poor into the dust. This seemed fairly self-evident to me, but the New Bible Commentary made it all about real estate, saying that they were begrudging the poor even the small amount of dust that they put on their heads when mourning (p.731). This could be a translation issue, or perhaps I’m just not getting it, but it’s certainly a powerful image.
  • A man and his father have sex with the same woman, thus profaning God’s holy name. This is generally prohibited in Lev. 20:11, but it seems that many commentaries read this as a condemnation of cultic prostitution (which would explain the reference to God’s holy name). The man and the father would therefore not necessarily be literal, but an indication that the whole of the community is involved in this sin. Of course, once interpretation does not exclude the other, and a double meaning may have been intended.
  • They lay down beside every altar (clearly, Israel wasn’t quite monotheistic enough), upon garments taken in pledge (likely a reference to the same string of laws that gave us Deut. 24:17, prohibiting the taking of a widow’s clothing in pledge).
  • They drink the wine of those who have been fined in the house of their God. The idea that enforcement agencies might profit from greater fines for smaller infractions is certainly still a problem.

Amos breaks the pattern by reminding his audience that God destroyed the Amorites for them – even though the Amorites were as tall as cedars and as strong as oaks. God brought them out of Egypt and led them through the wilderness, then gave them the Amorite lands to call their own. He raised prophets and Nazirites (a person who voluntarily makes a vow, as discussed in Num. 6) from among them, and yet… And yet they have made the Nazirites drink wine and commanded the prophets not to prophecy (a sore point for Amos, I’m sure).

Apparently, the authenticity of this passage about prophets and Nazirites (Amos 2:11-12) is in question, and it’s not hard to see why. It does break the pattern of the condemnations.

In punishment for all of this, God will press them down. Flight will perish from the swift, strength will vanish from the strong, even the mightiest won’t be able to save themselves from the coming punishment. It will be so bad that even the stout of heart will flee naked. Harsh times, indeed.

So, did Amos’s prophecies come true? Well, yes, but given a large enough time frame, foreseeing the doom of just about any nation is a sure bet. One possibility I’m seeing is that of a late authorship – if the book was written during the Deuteronomic reforms or into the exile, the events Amos is predicting would already have been known, and perhaps setting them in the mouth of Amos, or setting Amos in the time of Jeroboam, served a different purpose. Sifting through the arguments for either side is well above my pay grade, but the commentaries I tend to trust the most seem unanimous in the idea that Amos is largely authentic with some possible late additions.

Lamentations 5: Remember, O Lord

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I found the fifth ode to be an easier read than the others, less challenging. It’s certainly the shortest, as the crow counts words, but I also found it to have the most easily-grasped structure. Bob MacDonald has some interesting notes on the poetry of the ode, but I’ll just stick to content.

More so than the other four odes, it can be fairly well summarized by its opening verse: “Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us; behold, and see our disgrace!” (Lam. 5:1)

What follows is a lengthy description of said disgrace, with most verses containing an inversion of the desired/previous (assumed) social order. I say “assumed” because I suspect that there may be an element of romanticising of the before-days. I find it difficult to believe that women were not raped before the coming of Babylon (Lam. 5:11), or that much of the population was not hard driven (Lam. 5:5) or forced to stagger under heavy loads (Lam. 5:13). Perhaps these things became more common, or perhaps they started to affect the literate classes as well as the poor, but I find it unlikely that a substantial portion of the Israelite population was not forced to labour under unfair conditions while under solid Israelite rule.

Nebuzaradan burns down the temple, from Petrus Comestor's "Bible Historiale", 1372

Nebuzaradan burns down the temple, from Petrus Comestor’s “Bible Historiale”, 1372

The complaints are fairly standard for what we’ve seen so far. There are several mentions of starvation and hard labour, and there’s the rape I mentioned above. Other than that, there are several complaints of the high having been brought low: The idea that Israel’s crown has fallen (Lam. 5:16), and that even princes now find themselves hung by their hands (Lam. 5:12).

But a few of the complaints stood out, for various reasons:

The first (in order) is the complaint that the Israelites now have to pay for the water and wood they use (Lam. 5:4), which is certainly timely given the water crisis in Michigan (both Flint more recently, and the shut offs in Detroit not too long ago). This idea that having to pay others for basic necessities of life as a sign of exile and things gone shockingly wrong strikes me especially in light of the Christian Right’s often libertarian leanings. But it’s also, I think, another commentary on the “high brought low,” as the Israelites are cut off from the means of self-sufficiency.

The narrator complains that it is their fathers who did the sinning, but they are dead and it is the present generation who must suffer as punishment (Lam. 5:7). It feels like there’s almost a sense of injustice at such a moral system, though of course the narrator never goes so far as to directly question God.

Lam. 5:8 complains that the Israelites are ruled by slaves. This struck me as rather strange, and I wondered if it might be an imperialistic assumption – that foreigners are meant to be slaves, and yet here they are as rulers. My Study Bible, however, notes that: “Important posts were sometimes given to slaves of the king.” In other words, the verse may well be literal – in that the Israelites are working under overseers who are, in fact, slaves.

The narrator tells us that Mount Zion has become desolate, and that it is prowled by jackals. Jackals, who have powerful stomachs that can even digest (and derive nutrition from) bones, are often associated with graveyards and the dead in ancient mythologies (having, in times of desperation, dug up corpses to supplement their diet). The Egyptian god of embalming, Anubis, is frequently associated with jackals, though apparently that’s been complicated by recent research. In any case, the point seems to be clear: The holy centre of Israel is now as desolate as a graveyard.

God’s Reign

The final four verses of the ode work well as a conclusion. God’s power is established, and the narrator makes a plea for Israel to be restored. And yet, the very final verse, Lam. 5:22, wonders if perhaps God is just too angry, and Israel is utterly rejected.

2 Chronicles 36: So This Is The End…

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In our final chapter, the Chronicler condenses material from the end of 2 Kgs 23 all the way through 2 Kgs 25. It almost feels like he’s tripping over himself to get to the end. To me, that suggests that the Chronicler’s focus lies earlier. But we can talk about that in my next post.

We open after Josiah’s death, when the people crown his 23-year-old son, Jehoahaz. Within three months, however, the Egyptians had deposed him and taken him back to Egypt as a captive. In his place, they set up Jehoahaz’s brother, Eliakim, whom they renamed Jehoiakim – perhaps choosing such a similar name in the hopes that no one would notice.

James Bradford Pate offers a discussion of these name changes. In particular, he notes that the names forced onto Israelites by foreign powers often seem to be honouring the Israelite God. In this case, he explains that Eliakim means “My God Raises”, while Jehoiakim means “The Lord Raises”. “The two names essentially mean the same thing, only the latter identifies God by his personal covenant name. The king of Egypt changed Eliakim’s name to a name that was devoutly Yahwist, Israelite, and similar in meaning to Eliakim.” Strange indeed, and you can see more of that discussion over in his blog post.

Jehoiakim was 25 years old when he was installed by the Egyptians, making him Josiah’s older son. So why had the people of the land installed a younger son in 2 Chron. 36:1? We may be getting a glimpse of at least two factions in the Israelite political landscape – perhaps one that favoured vassalage to Egypt and another that favoured independence. Perhaps it was the People’s Front of Judea that installed a younger, but more amenable, son as king.

The problem with this theory is that both kings are deemed to have done evil in both Chronicles and Kings. It seems that both authors would have liked a pro-independence king, so perhaps something else was going on.

In any case, Jehoiakim lasted a whole 11 years. During this time, Egypt’s power was waning while Babylon’s strength was rising again. This spelled trouble for the Egypt-installed Jehoiakim.

The Chronicler skips over the episode in 2 Kgs 24:1-2, where Nebuchadnezzar took control of Judah, keeping Jehoiakim has his puppet. After three years, Jehoiakim tried to rebel, leaving Judah open to attack from its neighbours (Chaldeans, Syrians, Moabites, and Ammonites are named).

Instead, we skip right to when Judah was attacked by Nebuchadnezzar, and Jehoiakim was taken to Babylon in fetters (along with many vessels taken from the Temple).

After Jehoiakim came his son, Jehoiachin (called Jehoiakin in Kings), who was only 8 years old (2 Chron. 36:9). Or maybe he was 18 (2 Kgs 24:8). If the Chronicler is correct, I wonder what people who believe in an “age of responsibility” make of it when the Chronicler judges him a bad king. More likely, though, the Chronicler typo’d.

In any case, Jehoiachin only lasted for 3 months and a handful of days before Nebuchadnezzar came after him, too. He, like his father, was taken to Babylon along with more loot from the Temple.

Incidentally, Jehoiachin’s career continued beyond his stint as king of Judah. In Lawrence Mykytiuk’s 50 People in the Bible Confirmed Archaelogically, we learn that Jehoiachin 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 Jehoiachin lived to be at least 45 years old, with much of his life in Babylonian captivity.

The Final King

After tucking Jehoiachin safely away, Nebuchadnezzar appointed his brother (2 Chron. 36:10), or perhaps his uncle (2 Kgs 24:17) as king in his place.

He was only 21 years old and, like his father or brother, he lasted 11 years. Unfortunately, he failed to humble himself before the prophet Jeremiah, and we all know what that means.

Though the Chronicler doesn’t bother to mention it, it seems that the new king, Zedekiah, was also named by the foreign ruler who installed him (2 Kgs 24:17 gives his original name as Mattaniah). James Bradford Pate gives the meaning of Zedekiah as “Yah is righteous”. He will later be punished for rebelling against Nebuchadnezzar, so Pate wonders if perhaps the Babylonian king had given him that name in the “hope that the LORD would righteously punish Zedekiah if Zedekiah rebels.” Or, at the very least, that Zedekiah would believe that. Nebuchadnezzar needn’t believe it himself.

What’s really interesting about this is that the Chronicler also charged Zedekiah with rebelling against Nebuchadnezzar – which he deems bad because Nebuchadnezzar had made him swear fealty by God. So even though the Chronicler seems very much against dealings with foreign powers, that seems to be trumped by his feelings against breaking an oath made by invoking God. And suddenly, his name becomes very salient.

From about this point on, the author of Kings provides precise date references – down to the very day – for every event. The Chronicler has kept none of these.

The Exile of Babylon, by Marie Odile de Laforcade

The Exile of Babylon, by Marie Odile de Laforcade

Zedekiah’s sins are many, and under his leadership the people were all exceedingly awful. The “leading priests” (2 Chron. 36:14) are included in this group, which I found rather interesting. Why only the leading priests, while the rest of the people are dismissed en masse? My best guess is that this is another example of the Chronicler’s favouritism – notice that only the leading priests are mentioned, not the Levites and not the musicians?

God kept sending prophets to warn the Israelites, because he had so much compassion and hoped that they would turn back from their terrible doings. But they mocked the prophets, and they polluted the Temple, and God just got angrier and angrier.

In the end, he sent the “king of the Chaldeans” (2 Chron. 36:17) after them.

By this point in Kings, the author had been using the term Babylonian and Chaldean interchangeably. The Chaldeans, you see, had taken control of babylon during the Neo-Babylonian era, founding the dynasty that had produced Nebuchadnezzar. So, technically, both terms might apply.

When the Chaldeans/Babylonians come, they slay the young men with swords – even in the Temple! The Chronicler tells us that they had no compassion whatsoever for the Israelites – not even the young or the old, man or woman. This sounds just awful, but lacks the gruesome details of 2 Kgs 25, in which Zedekiah is blinded after being forced to watch his sons killed, so that their deaths are the last thing he ever sees.

Nebuchadnezzar then takes vessels from the Temple (again??), as well as all the other treasures from both Temple and palace. He took the princes of Israel captive to Babylon and had Jerusalem’s walls, palaces, and Temple torn down and burned.

Anyone who survived the assault was taken in servitude to Babylon, where they remained captive until the rise of Persia. All of this, we are told, was in fulfilment of Jeremiah’s prophecy, and so the land kept its Sabbath (apparently referring to sabbatical years, as per Deut. 15 and Lev. 25:1-7, where the land is left fallow) for 70 years.

This is called the “Myth of an Empty Land” – the idea that Israel just sat there, empty, waiting for the return of its people. Claude Mariottini discusses the myth in some more detail in a blog post, and Victor Matthews writes, in Manners & Customs of the Bible, that the myth is “reflected in the later disputes between the returning exiles and the Samaritans, and other “peoples of the land”” (p.138).

The impression is also in direct conflict with the account in Kings, in which we are specifically told that the poorest were left behind to tend the land (2 Kgs 25:12).

To Be Continued

The Chronicler doesn’t bother mentioning the ill-fated Babylonian governor, Gedaliah.

Instead, we end on a high note, skipping right to King Cyrus of Persia, whose spirit was stirred by God in his first year to allow the Israelites to return and to commission the building of a second Temple.

According to my study Bible, these last few verses are almost identical to the first few of the book of Ezra. It may be that they were once a single book, and the repetition was a way of indicating that the story doesn’t end here. My study Bible also proposes that, since 2 Chronicles is the final book of the Hebrew Old Testament, the words were added here by a later editor “so that the Old Testament would not end on a note of doom.”

Kings tried something similar by ending with Jehoiachin – in Babylon but freed from captivity, as if to hint at a hope for a renewed Davidic dynasty.

2 Chronicles 34-35: Josiah the Reformer

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The story of King Josiah here is basically in agreement with 2 Kgs 22-23, at least as far as the macro structure is concerned. But, as usual, there are quite a few important deviations.

In the last chapter, King Amon was assassinated by his own subjects. If it had been an attempted coup on the dynasty, the conspiracy failed and Amon was avenged. Personally, though, I like to imagine that Amon (like Manasseh before him) was a challenge to the authority of the priests, diluting their control over the nation by allowing (and perhaps even encouraging) other faiths and forms of worship. In my headcanon, the priests orchestrated the assassination of Amon, then scapegoated the individual assassins and installed Amon’s son – an eight year old child they could keep under their direct influence for several years, at least – on the throne.

I’m finding some evidence for my little conspiracy theory in the first big deviation from the Kings account. See, in Kings, Josiah is just going about his business, ruling the country, until the 18th year od his reign when the priest Hilkiah happens to find the Book of the Law somewhere in a Temple cellar. When it is read to Josiah, he has a conversation experience and gets to work trying to purify the nation.

This order of events is just a little too perfect, and hints at revisionism and propaganda. Biblical scholars tend to assume that either Hilkiah or Josiah wrote (or commissioned) the Book the Law, and that the finding of an ancient text was merely to give it a sense of added authority.

Once we allow for this, the conversion narrative no longer makes much sense. Rather, we should see a pattern of reform leading up to the finding of the book (people rarely change their entire outlook through epiphanies, no matter how satisfying that narrative may be in conversion stories).

Here, however, we see Josiah hit the ground running. He is already seeking God in the 8th year of his reign (when he was 16, so perhaps the relevance here is that he began to seek God independently, as an adult – or near enough – with personal agency). A mere four years later, he begins a religious purging of Judah and Jerusalem.

Despite occurring several years earlier, the Chronicler’s account of the purge is similar to Kings. It’s the usual fare of removing high places, cutting down Asherim, and destroying graven and molten images – which he is said to have personally overseen.

In 2 Kgs 23:20, Josiah has the priests serving at these high places slaughtered over their altars, defiling the shrines. The Chronicler doesn’t mention this slaughter, but keeps the detail of turning the shrines and images into dust and sprinkling the dust over the graves of the people who had sacrificed to them – a difficult feat unless those people are dead, though the Chronicler does not credit Josiah with their deaths. In any case, sprinkling the ashes onto graves is another example of religious defilement.

The New Bible Commentary gives us an extra possible reason to believe the Chronicler’s order of events: “The main reason for the gradual introduction of the reformation was that it was political as well as religious. In Josiah’s 8th year (632 BC) Ashurbanipal, the last great king of Assyria had just died. Failure to worship the Assyrian gods, and even more the removal of their symbols and altars from the Temple, would be regarded as a sign of rebellion. Josiah and his advisers evidently decided that they must act slowly to find out the repercussions” (p.393).

In other words, it may be that tearing down the altars that had been set up during vassalage to Assyria was an attempt at establishing independence.

There also seems to have been an expansionist (or revivalist) side to Josiah’s reforms. While not stated outright as an attempted conquest, we read that Josiah went out to the “ruins” (2 Chron. 34:6) of the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, Simeon, and even as far as Naphtali, destroying their altars and Asherim as well. While cast in religious terms, this seems like it could indicate a failed conquest attempt to re-establish what might have been seen as Israelites “traditional” borders.

Jeroboam’s shrine, which Josiah destroys in 2 Kgs 23:15, is never mentioned here. Presumably because the Chronicler just doesn’t see it as relevant as anything other than yet another idolatrous shrine, whereas the author of Kings seems to have been very concerned about its existence.

Temple Maintenance

By the 18th year of his reign, Josiah had succeeded in purging the territory under his control. After that, he set his sights on making repairs to the temple.

To accomplish this, he sent Shaphan son of Azaliah (the secretary), Maaseiah (the governor of Jerusalem), and Joah son of Joahaz (the recorder) to oversee the repairs. They approach the high priest, Hilkiah, and give him the money that had been collected for the Temple from Manasseh, Ephraim, all the remnants of Israel, Judah, Benjamin, and Jerusalem.

In 2 Kgs 22:3, only Shaphan is sent to Hilkiah, and the northern territories are not mentioned. Bringing them up here may be more historically accurate, if we assume that Josiah had, in fact, been leading a military/religious campaign in the northern territories. There may have been spoils even if he was unable to hold the lands. Another possibility is that this detail was included by the Chronicler as a sort of invitation to the northern territories, a message that it isn’t too late to cease being “in rebellion” against the true nation of Israel (2 Chron. 10:18).

The funds are delivered to the workmen in charge of repairing the house. In 2 Kings 22:7, Josiah instructs the officials not to do any accounting of the money given to the workmen because they are just so gosh darn honest. The Chronicler omits this detail, but does tell us that the workmen worked “faithfully” (2 Chron. 34:12). Either way, it seems that these contractors had excellent reputation. (I’m sure there’s a “my my, how things have changed” joke to be made, but that seems too easy.)

The workmen were under the oversight of Jahath and Obadiah, who were Levites. Meanwhile, all the musically-inclined Levites were in charge of overseeing the burden bearers. Others acted as scribes, officials, and gatekeepers.

The Book of Law

In Kings, the circumstances of finding the Book aren’t really explained. He just sort of casually brings up that, oh, by the way, he’s found this ancient book written by Moses. Here, however, the narrative is much more fluid – interesting, given that the finding of the Book seems to have been so much more narratively important and pivotal for the author of Kings, and yet…

According to the Chronicler, the Book was found in a storeroom as they were bringing out the money for the Temple repairs.

Of course, we don’t actually know what the Book is. We are told that it was written by Moses, suggesting that it may have been something from the Pentateuch. Given clues from Kings, the Book is often understood to have been a proto form of our book of Deuteronomy (and some commentaries go so far as to narrow it down to an early form of Deut. 12-16).

Conveniently, neither Kings nor Chronicles gives us any more information about it, such as when it was supposed to have been lost. Some commentaries argue that it may have been hidden away by the priests during Manasseh’s purges in 2 Kgs 21:16.

More likely, however, I think that the Book was commissioned or composed by either Josiah or Hilkiah (or both), as both would have had plenty of reason to do so. If the Book really is an early form of Deuteronomy, then the emphasis on the Jerusalem cult and the Temple may have been an attempt to hold on to power in rocky times. Given that Josiah’s predecessor was assassinated, we know that there must have been some amount of instability. And binding the worship of YHWH to the Temple would certainly have served the Temple priesthood (under Hilkiah’s authority) quite well.

But back to the story, both versions have Hilkiah tell Shaphan about the Book, and it is Shaphan who brings it to Josiah while making his report on the Temple’s repairs.

When Shaphan reads the Book out to Josiah, Josiah tears his clothes in grief and fear that God’s commands haven’t been followed. But just in case there’s been a mistake, he sends Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Abdon son of Micah (who is called Achbor son of Micaiah in 2 Kgs 22:12), Shaphan, and Asaiah the king’s servant to consult with God.

Hilkiah & co. go to Huldah the prophetess, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tokhath son of Hasrah (called Shallum son of Tikvah son of Harhas in 2 Kds 22:14), the keeper of the wardrobe.

For reasons that should be obvious, Huldah is an important figure for feminist scholars. Like Deborah and Miriam, she is a woman who was seen to have the authority to speak with God and on his behalf. Unfortunately, her prophecy also happens to be wrong.

Huldah tells Josiah’s servants that yes, God is really angry that Judah hasn’t been following his laws, and yes, he does intended to destroy them all. However, because Josiah has repented (which he has only done because he happened to have found the Book, which hardly seems fair to the rest of the nation), he will go to his grave in peace and won’t have to witness the coming evil.

Which, if we want to be really generous, can technically be considered correct, as he will die at the hands of the Egyptians, not the coming evil of Babylon. Also, since Josiah will be joining a battle between two other nations, neither of whom are at war directly with Judah, we can also argue that he will technically be going to his grave in a time of peace, even if he does so because of a fatal battle wound.

Josiah gathers up the leadership of Judah and assembles the congregation at the Temple. In the list of people gathered, 2 Chron. 34:30 replaces the “prophets” from 2 Kgs 23:2 with “Levites”. It’s an interesting choice. I could see him adding Levites, since he adds Levites all over the place, but why remove the prophets?

Two verses later, in 2 Chron. 34:32, he writes that Josiah makes “all who were present in Jerusalem and in Benjamin stand to [the book].” Why mention Benjamin specifically, but not Judah? It’s an odd detail.

In any case, once the people are assembled, Josiah reads the Book out to them and makes a renewed covenant.

On the importance of the Book of Law, Collins writes:

The long-term effects of the reform were more profound than anyone could have anticipated in 621 B.C.E. Less than a generation later, Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed and the leading citizens were taken into exile in Babylon. The exiles in Babylon had to live without their temple, but they had “the book of the law,” which acquired new importance in this setting. Henceforth, Judaism would be to a great degree a religion of the book. Study of the law would take the place of sacrifice. The synagogue would gradually emerge as the place of worship, first for Jews outside the land of Israel, later even within Israel itself. These changes took place gradually, over centuries, but they had their origin in the Deuteronomic reform, which put a book at the center of religious observance for the first time. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.91)

Josiah’s Passover

In Kings, Josiah’s Passover is a really big deal. Here, however, it comes only a few short chapters after an extraordinarily similar Passover hosted under Hezekiah, and the effect is rather diluted.

Iosias sepultus in mausoleum patrum, by Salvador Dali, 1967

Iosias sepultus in mausoleum patrum, by Salvador Dali, 1967

In both accounts, we are told that “no passover like it had been kept in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet; none of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as was kept by Josiah” (2 Chron. 35:18, with a very similar passage in 2 Kgs 23:22-23). This is, of course, a problem because of Hezekiah, so why did the Chronicler keep the statement unmodified?

James Bradford Pate allows the possibility that it could have been an error, a careless copying of Kings, but points out the fact that the verse is not copied word-for-word (Kings says that a Passover of this kind had not been seen since the times of the judges, rather than the days of Samuel). It’s had to see what the Chronicler’s point was. 

I’ve seen some commentaries claim that Josiah may have invented the Passover as part of his reforms. Personally, I find that unlikely. It seems more probably that it was a local ceremony that Josiah brought to the national stage.

Tremendous quantities of lambs and bulls are slaughtered for the ceremony. Interestingly, they seem to have been offered as gifts, with Josiah giving the sacrificial animals to the common people, the princes giving them to the people and to the priests and Levites, the head honchoes of the Temple (Hilkiah, Zechariah, and Jehiel) giving them to the priests, and the Levite leadership giving them to the Levites. It’s unclear whether anyone had to bring sacrifices of their own to this “first” Passover, but it seems unlikely given the numbers involved.

Interestingly, though the Passover is so important to Kings, the author skips over it fairly quickly – giving us the whole account in 2 Kgs 23:21-23. Here, however, the Chronicler expands the narrative to describe the celebration itself, perhaps providing a model for the ceremony’s reinstatement in his own time.

The Chronicler describes the mass-splashings of blood, the flaying of carcases, and of course all priests and Levites stand around according to their divisions, as they always seem to be doing in Chronicles.

The Levites cook up the animals and distribute them out to the people. They also cook for themselves and for the priests, who were too busy slaughtering to cook for themselves.

Asking the important questions, Brant Clements wonders whether the Passover lambs were roasted or boiled: “The translations mostly say “roasted” though the Hebrew literally says “boiled with fire.” Exodus 12:8-9 said the lamb should be roasted. Deuteronomy 16:7 said boil it.” He recommends grilled and served with mint jelly, and I can’t help but agree.

When the Passover was over, they celebrated the feast of the unleaven bread for seven days.

During this time, Josiah told the Levites who were teaching around Israel and who had remained holy to God to return to the Temple (an offer they refuse in 2 Kgs 23:9). He also instructs them to return the ark to the Temple – a detail omitted by Kings. Josiah tells them that they needed carry the ark on their shoulders any more, so they can make themselves useful around the Temple.

And if you’re wondering why the ark wasn’t already in the Temple in the first place, so am I! Was it taken into hiding during Manasseh’s religious purge? The New Bible Commentary likes the idea that it might have been removed from the Temple temporarily for repairs (p.393), though I don’t see how that can be taken from the text. It also proposes that the text should read: “From the time that they placed the holy ark in the house which Solomon… [sic] built, you have had nothing to carry on your shoulders, so now serve the Lord your God and his people Israel” – which would no longer indicate that the ark was not in the Temple, but merely allude to how useless the Levites have been since they had charge of it.

My thinking is that the reference to the ark here may be an error, confusing it with the tabernacle that was left with Zadok at Gibeon in 1 Chron. 16:39-40. It could also be something entirely separate, another tribal ark that was in use in a local cult that Josiah was trying to consolidate with the national religion.

Fighting Egyptians

King Neco of Egypt – who is likely Neco II and for some reason not referred to as Pharaoh as he is in 2 Kgs 23 – went to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates. According to Wikipedia, the Egyptians were fighting against the Babylonians, in aid of their allies, the Assyrians. This may be significant if the New Bible Commentary‘s assertion that Josiah’s religious reforms may have been an opportunistic expression of independence from Assyrian control. It would certainly give us Josiah’s motive for getting involved.

According to my study Bible, Assyria had mostly fallen to Medes and Chaldea, and everyone in the area seemed to be taking advantage of its weakness. Certainly, the Assyria Wikipedia page describes something that might properly be called a ‘pile on’.

In 2 Kgs 23, he merely rushes in and his killed. The Chronicler, however, has Neco send Josiah an envoy, asking him why he is coming to fight when the conflict is none of his business. The Chronicler goes even further, having Neco say: “God has commanded me to make haste. Cease opposing God, who is with me, lest he destroy you” (2 Chron. 35:21).

So that’s a pretty big bomb to drop – why is God with the Egyptians? Why is God sending the Egyptians out to fight Babylonians? Why does Josiah go anyway, disguising himself to do so? Why did he “not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God” (2 Chron. 35:22)?

One possibility requires us to look ahead a bit, as the Babylonians will be the ones who destroy the Temple and take the Israelites into exile. Are we to infer, then, that God was sending Egypt up to hold the Babylonian’s back, to weaken them and prevent them from becoming the superpower they would soon become, in an attempt to spare Jerusalem? But then Josiah interfered and ruined the plan?

Or could it be as simple as the Chronicler trying to bend history into his ideology? The Chronicler has been clear throughout that obedience earns reward and disobedience earns punishment. This is never more clear than when it comes to battles, where Judah’s enemies are beaten by supernatural means, despite overwhelming numbers, again and again. To have Josiah simply fall in battle is too problematic, it doesn’t fit, therefore he must have done something for God not to be on his side. He had to disobey God in the end.

And for that, he was struck by archers and fatally wounded. His servants took him from his chariot and brought him to Jerusalem. The implication of 2 Chron. 35:23-24 is that he then died in Jerusalem, though 2 Kgs 23:29-30 seems to imply that it was his corpse that was brought home. That’s a fairly trivial detail, though, and both passages are rather open to interpretation.

When he died, Josiah was buried in the tomb of his fathers (as good kings are), and he was mourned by all of Judah and Jerusalem. Jeremiah uttered a lament for him (though the prophet isn’t mentioned in Kings), and singers have spoken of Josiah in their laments to this day.

In all, Josiah ruled for 31 years. For the rest of his acts, the Chronicler sends us to the Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah. As with the rest of our recent kings, the Chronicler has failed to mention his mother’s name, though 2 Kgs 22:1 gives it as Jedidah, daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath.

2 Chronicles 26: The Leper of Jerusalem

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In this chapter, we get the story of King Uzziah, who appears in Kings as Azariah. As with several of our other kings, his story is quite expanded here over what we had in in 2 Kgs 14:21-22 and 2 Kgs 15:2-7.

We open after Amaziah’s death, when Uzziah was only 16. Once again, we have a king who was placed on his throne by the people, not by succession laws, not by his own power.

We learn that his mother’s name was Jecoliah of Jerusalem, and that his reign lasted for 52 years. We also learn that he was a good king, “according to all that his father Amaziah had done” (2 Chron. 26:4). This is… rather different from the Chronicler’s estimation of Amaziah, and is quite different from the impression we will be getting of Uzziah as we read on. I also found it rather interesting that the Chronicler omits that Uzziah failed to stamp out the high places, which we find in 2 Kgs 15:4.

Instead, we are told that Uzziah was good and sought God and prospered for as long as he was under the influence of Zechariah – who is otherwise unknown, but seems to mirror Jehoiada in 2 Chron. 24:2. The point seems to be that Judah’s kings behave as long as they are kept firmly in the hands of the priests.

Of Uzziah’s deeds, we learn that he built Eloth and restored it to Judah, a detail in common with 2 Kgs 14:22. Like James Bradford Pate, I noticed the oddness of the order – should he have recaptured the city first, and then rebuilt it? I’m sure the order is either a coincidence or meant to show emphasis, but I found it interesting.

Uzziah’s other accomplishments include fighting the Philistines and breaking down the walls of Gath, Jabneh, and Ashdod. It seems that he was able to take enough Philistine territory – and hold it – to build some towns.

With God’s help, Uzziah also won some battles against the Arabs living in Gurbaal, as well as the Meunites. (This is one of the very few mentions of the Meunites in our text, another being in 2 Chron. 20:1. I discussed them a bit more in my post about that chapter.) He collected tribute from the Ammonites, and was generally a very strong king.

Not all of his attention was outwardly focused, however, as he built several towers both in Jerusalem itself and out in the wilderness, and he hewed out many cisterns to support his vast herds.

Uzziah’s Military Might

Of his armies, the Chronicler tells us that they were under the command of Hananiah, but seem to have been mustered by Jeiel the secretary, and Maaseiah the officer. The army contained 307,500 men, organized under 2,600 clan heads. We are told that Uzziah equipped them with shields, spears, helmets, coats of mail, bows, and stones for slinging. He also built engines on the towers and the corners (presumably meaning that they were positioned along the walls) to shoot arrows and large stones.

I was struck by the mention of mail, since it seems like that should be a bit too advanced for the time period. After briefly searching on Wikipedia, I find that Uzziah is dated to the 8th century BCE, while the first examples of mail don’t come around until the 4th century (and among the Etruscans).

This leaves us with three possibilities:

  1. Translation error: It could be that the original text reads something more like “scale armour,” but the translators made an inaccurate choice.
  2. Author error: It could be that the author is talking about technology from his own time, perhaps something still new enough that it would sound really impressive when projected back onto Uzziah. That said, the Chronicler is likely still a little early to know about mail armour.
  3. No error: It’s not completely outside the realm of possibility that the Israelites invented chain mail, but only made a few because they were too labour intensive, and none of those survived to be found by archeologists. It’s extremely unlikely that chain mail was in circulation so early, and even less likely that it would have been in use in Israel, but the possibility deserves mention.

I should note that other translators have handled 2 Chron. 26:14 differently. The NIV has “coats of armor” (which could certainly be applied to scale armor), while the KJV gives us “habergeons” (which can be used for either scale or mail). Other translations variously use “amor” (without qualifiers), “body armor,” and even “breastplates.” Based on this, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that the fault for the anachronistic oddity belongs squarely to the RSV translators.

I was struck by the wall engines as well, which sounds like the torsion-powered engines of the Romans, like the ballista. The ballista itself doesn’t seem to have been in use until the 5th century BCE, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t predecessors in use prior to that date. It’s also possible for us to blame this on possibility #2 listed above.

But whatever his equipment, we are told that Uzziah was “marvellously helped, till he was strong” (2 Chron. 26:15), which is just a wonderful turn of phrase!

But he grew too proud

Unfortunately for Uzziah, pride goeth before a fall (or so claims Proverbs 16:18). As his power grew, he started to think a little too much of himself – so much so that he dared to take on the duties of priest.

In a story that is not even hinted at in Kings, Uzziah entered the Temple to burn incense. Eighty-one, led by Azariah, ran after him in an attempt to stop him. They tried to remind Uzziah that only priests have the right to be in the sanctuary, but this only angered Uzziah. And as he grew angry, a bout of leprosy broke out on his forehead.

When this happened, he fled from the Temple, but was stricken by the leprosy for the rest of his life – a detail confirmed by 2 Kgs 15:5, though no reason is given there for the disease.

The King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy, by Rembrandt, 1635

The King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy, by Rembrandt, 1635

As I read this, I wondered if it was Uzziah’s presence in the sanctuary that was punished, or his anger at the priests. Would God have been willing to overlook the incensed intrusion if he had left when asked by the priests? Perhaps we can see this as another example of the Chronicler privileging the priests – as he seems to be punishing Uzziah more for his disobedience of the 80 priests than his presence in the sanctuary.

For the rest of his life, Uzziah had to live in a separate dwelling place. Strangely, however, the text tells us that he had to live separately because he was excluded from the Temple, rather than being excluded from both palace and Temple because of his leprosy – which would have been my expectation if this were based on traditions like the one we see in Lev. 13:46.

Instead, this looks like yet another example of the Chronicler privileging the priesthood – where it is exclusion from the faith (as expressed on earth through the Temple) that warrants social exclusion.

In any case, Uzziah is forced into retirement, and his son – Jotham – governs in his place. When he dies, we learn that he is buried “with his fathers in the burial field which belonged to the kings” because he was a leper (2 Chron. 26:23). Trying to make sense of this statement, James Bradford Pate asks if it could mean that Uzziah was buried near the other kings, but not with them, because of his leprosy.

My own thinking is that perhaps his overstepping in the Temple was overlooked because he was already punished with the leprosy. We’ve seen with other kings that there seems to be some secret committee that decides, upon each king’s death, whether or not he warrants burial among the other kings. In this case, perhaps they decided to overlook Uzziah’s sin because of his leprosy.

For the remainder of Uzziah’s acts, the Chronicler sends us to the writings of the prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz.

2 Chronicles 19-20: Jumping Jehoshaphat!

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The second half of Jehoshaphat’s story begins with the king’s return to Jerusalem from his ill-fated adventures with Ahab.

Unfortunately for him, the matter isn’t quite settled yet. He must first deal with Jehu, the son of Hanani the seer. Jehu, as it happens, has taken up the family business, and is ready to accost the king!

He berates Jehoshaphat for “[helping] the wicked and [loving] those who hate the Lord” (2 Chron. 19:2). God, you see, doesn’t seem to have entered his “love thine enemies” phase just yet (or perhaps we should read that more literally – it is our enemies who must be loved, but God is allowed some pettiness). While Jehu never specifics what he’s talking about, the placement and topic implies that he means Jehoshaphat’s alliance with Ahab. In any case, God is mad but at least Jehoshaphat has been a complete jerk to people of other faiths, so he’ll let this one go.

We have another mention of a prophet named Jehu son of Hanani, who goes to Baasha, king of the northern kingdom (1 Kgs 16:1-4). Just glancing at my chart o’ kings, we can see that Baasha’s rule seems to have ended around 877 BCE and Jehoshaphat’s rule began around 873 BCE – close enough for both events to occur within the lifetime of a single plausible prophet.

Commentators all seem to disagree, however, and probably for very good reasons. They put the two appearances 50 years apart, making it unlikely (though still not impossible) for Jehu’s mission to overlap both kings.

It’s possible that the Chronicler wanted to insert an explicit condemnation of Jehoshaphat’s dealings with the northern kingdom, and he had Jehu’s name from his source materials in Kings. Adopting the name of a recognized authority to give your words more weight was viewed far more favourably in antiquity than it is now, so it’s not impossible that this explains Jehu’s appearance here.

My New Bible Commentary proposes a second solution (p.388): That Jehu was given the same name as his grandfather (as was Hanani). This king of repeat naming isn’t exactly unheard of either.

Legal Reforms

We know from the book of Judges that individual communities had (titular) ways of dealing with local disputes. As the nation moved in a more national direction, the monarch was understood as a judge writ large. But that kind of power just doesn’t scale well.

That’s Victor Matthews’s interpretation, as he writes: “During the early monarchy, royal judicial authority was held as a prerogative of the king, and little delegation of authority to local judges was allowed. However, by the reign of King Jehoshaphat (ca. 873-849 B.C.), the complexity of running the nation of Judah, and the sheer number of cases, led to a major reform of the judicial system” (Manners & Customs of the Bible, p.119).

The Triumph of Jehoshaphat, by Jean Fouquet, 1470-1475

The Triumph of Jehoshaphat, by Jean Fouquet, 1470-1475

So while Jehoshaphat hides from his errors in Jerusalem, he appoints judges throughout the country and urges them to take their jobs seriously (not to take partiality, to avoid partiality, etc.) because they are doing God’s work, not humanity’s.

We saw a similar story in Ex. 18:13-27, where Moses found that the needs of a whole people were just too much for a single leader to tend. In that story, it took Moses’s father-in-law to convince him that it was time to delegate. Jehoshaphat needed no such prompting.

Incidentally, we’ve seen the Chronicler allude to Moses quite a bit, but I haven’t noticed it since Solomon’s passing. Given the perfect opportunity here, I think it’s safe to say that the Chronicler was only interested in casting David and Solomon as Mosaic figures and is now just really into miraculous battle scenes.

To supervise these local judges, Jehoshaphat appoints the high priest, Amariah, over the Levitical judges, and one of the king’s chief officers, Zebadiah, over the civil judges.

I found the dichotomy rather interesting, since the books of ordinances didn’t really seem to see a distinction between religious and secular life.

Realizing that local judges may not be quite enough, Jehoshaphat also appoints a supreme court of sources, based in Jerusalem and comprised of Levites, priests, and family heads. They exist to clarify matters of law and to oversee disputed cases. Again he urges them to take their job seriously, and again he appoints the chief priest Amariah as their leader (Zebadiah, however, is set as governor of the house of Judah and in charge of the king’s matters). Levites serve as this supreme court’s officers.

This mention of judges isn’t found in Kings, and it seems rather convenient that, according to my study Bible, Jehoshaphat’s name means “the Lord judges.” It’s possible that the Chronicler used the occasion of Jehoshaphat’s name to insert some subtle instructions for how to handle judicial matters once the kingdom is re-established.

Yet Another Miraculous Battle

It what the New Bible Commentary sees as the fulfilment of Jehu’s prophecy in 2 Chron. 19:1-3 (p.388), an army moves against Judah. This time, it is comprised of Moabites, Ammonites, and some of the Meunites, apparently coming from Edom.

Wait, Meunites? It seems we have a mystery group. From what I can tell, they only seem to appear in Chronicles and other books that were apparently written from the same historical vantage point (they appear in Ezra 2:50, Nehemiah 7:52, 1 Chron. 4:41, and 2 Chron. 26:7). It seems likely that the Meunites were anachronistically written into this story.

When Jehoshaphat finds out that the army is coming, he becomes afraid and seeks out God. He declares a national fast, and gathers the people for an assembly. This is, of course, accompanied by the usual speech while all of Judah (explicitly including women and children) look on.

The Spirit of God delivers, broadcasting through a member of the crowd – Jahaziel son of Zechariah son of Benaiah son of Jeiel son of Mattaniah, a Levite in the line of Asaph (whose historicity may be confirmed by archeologists). He calls out for them not to fear the large number of enemies approaching, for God himself will be taking them on. He instructs the people to assemble east of the wilderness of Jeruel tomorrow. No fighting will be necessary, just show up with popcorn. (The speech has echoes of Deut. 20.)

Jehoshaphat and the Judahites all face-plant, and the Korahites sing out God’s praises.

The next morning, the Judahites woke early and head out to the meeting place. Jehoshaphat gives another speech, this time about believing in God and his prophets. While God had never asked for it, “the people” (2 Chron. 20:21) suggest that singers be appointed to lead the procession, and Jehoshaphat agrees.

As the singers sing, we learn that God set up an ambush. Ambushes typically require bodies – were there fighting angels? I had fun imaging the Edomite-affiliated army being surrounded by the mist Mashadar like in the final battle of Wheel of Time. The New Bible Commentary went a little more realistic and images retaliation from the inhabitants of the overrun lands (p.389). But I think, given the next passage, that we’re meant to understand that this was an ambush of a more spiritual kind. The ambush, you see, turns the allied armies against each other, so that they destroy each other before ever reaching the gathered Judahites.

When the Judahites arrive at their watchpost, they find the invaders slaughtered with no survivors. You’d think there’d be at least one – the one to kill the final comrade – but no. Firm believers in “waste not, want not,” the Judahites rush out into the battlefield to scavenge. They find much cattle, many goods, many clothes, and plenty of precious things. They loaded themselves up until they could carry no more.

On the fourth day, the Judahites gathered again to bless God – this time in the Valley of Beracah, giving the name to the location (which my study Bible says means “blessing”). Then they return to Jerusalem, pleased as punch.

When surrounding nations hear about this miraculous battle, they became afraid and left Judah in peace.

This story, as with many of the Chronicler’s miraculous battles, doesn’t appear in Kings. It does, however, share some general similarities with the invasion of Israel by Moab in 2 Kgs 3:4-27. In that story, the Moabites take advantage of Ahab’s death to rebel against Israel, and Israel’s new king, Jehoram, calls out to Jehoshaphat for help. The prophet in that story is Elisha, and God grants them victory out of his regard for Jehoshaphat. Whether the Chronicler adapted that story, both refer to the same historical event in their own special way, or the two are simply different stories with a few coincidental similarities.

Wrap Up

We definitely return to Kings for the ending of Jehoshaphat’s story.

After the victory over the Edomite-affiliated army, Jehoshaphat joins in an alliance with King Ahaziah of Israel. Ahaziah was a bad bad man, and Jehoshaphat apparently has trouble learning lessons.

Together, the kings build some ships to go to Tarshish. A prophet named Eliezer son of Dodavahu of Mareshah prophesied against this venture, warning that Jehoshaphat will be destroyed by it, but the kings go ahead with it anyway. Of course, the ships were wrecked before they ever reach Tarshish. (In the 1 Kgs 22:48 version, no prophet appears and the wrecking of the ships is not seen as a judgement).

Despite Eliezer’s claims, this episode doesn’t seem to have any bearing on Jehoshaphat’s fate. He is not stricken by any foot disease, or tossed from a window and eaten by dogs, or overthrown by a new dynasty.

Instead, he dies at the perfectly respectable age of 60, having ruled for 25 years.

His mother’s name was Azubah daughter of Shilhi. He is deemed a good and godly king, despite the fact that he failed to remove the high places (agreeing with 1 Kgs 22:42-43, but contradicting 2 Chron. 17:5-6) and his people were not homogeneous in their cultic preferences.

For more information, the Chronicler sends us in search for the chronicles of Jehu son of Hanani, which are recorded in the Book of the Kings of Israel.

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.

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