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 8-9: Solomon’s Stuff

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In these two chapters, the Chronicler fawns some more over Solomon, his wisdom, and his wealth. It’s terribly dull. Awfully dull. However, this is the last set of chapters about the Super Awesome Mega Kings of Israel Who Are Awesome, and we’ll be getting into the histories on Monday. That should be a lot more fun.

We open with some miscellaneous constructions and expansions:

Solomon rebuilt the cities that King Huram gave him, which he then settled with Israelites. Of course, in 1 Kgs 9:10-14, it is Solomon who cedes the cities to King Hiram, not the other way around. In that passage, he did so either in direct exchange for goods, or in gratitude for Hiram’s business during the construction of the Temple. Here, not only is the direction of the gifting changed, but no reason is given. Many commentaries try to smooth the discrepancy over by arguing that Solomon had only given the cities to Hiram temporarily, perhaps as collateral until he could pay off all the goods Hiram was sending. That reads an awful lot into the text, however, since no such arrangement is described. In both passages, we learn of only a single trade, with the direction of that trade completely reversed.

On the subject, James Bradford Pate writes:

I tend to believe that there are two separate agendas in I Kings and II Chronicles.  I Kings is trying to explain why those cities came to be called Cabul, which is rather disparaging.  The reason, in I Kings 9, goes back to Hiram’s dissatisfaction with those cities.  II Chronicles 8, however, is presenting Huram as adoring and subordinating himself to Solomon, and thus giving Solomon cities.  And Solomon rebuilding the cities and settling Israelites in them occurs within the context of his projects of expansion and building, which we read about in the subsequent verses.

We are told that Solomon conquered Hamath-zobah. The last time we heard from Hamath, their king was so happy that David had defeated King Hadadezer of Zobah that he sent his son to David with a load of gifts (2 Sam. 8:9-12, 1 Chron. 18:9-11). It was unclear whether the gifts were meant as a one-time show of gratitude or part of a more formal vassalage. One would hope that, whatever their arrangement, it was over before Solomon took sword to the region. Of course, this raises a second issue – the Chronicler seems to believe that Solomon was chosen to build the Temple because he was unbloodied (mentioned several times, such as 1 Chron. 22:7-10), yet here we see him conquering regions. Is it okay because he’s already finished the Temple?

The text tells us that Solomon built Tadmor in the wilderness. Commentaries seem to agree that the text should read “Tamar” instead, since it’s unlikely that Solomon would have been building anything in the region of Tadmor.

The text also tells us that he built several store-cities in Hamath, and that he built Upper and Lower Beth-horon (which were fortified cities), Baalath (though it is not explained why he was building towns with “Baal” in the name), plus more store-cities and special cities for his chariots and horsemen.

Of Slaves and Overseers

The Chronicler tells us that Solomon enslaved all the non-Israelites who still lived within his borders, and that their descendants are still enslaved “to this day” (2 Chron. 8:8). This a problem we’ve encountered before with the Chronicler, since he clearly doesn’t mean his own day. So is the phrase simply the product of careless copying from sources, or is there a point the Chronicler intended to make?

As in Kings, we are told that Solomon made no slaves from Israelites. It’s hard to see, however, how the distinctions might have been made, given that there were certainly intermarriages. Was there a “one drop” rule? Or were only parents of one gender taken into account?

Finally, we learn that Solomon appointed 250 chief officers to oversee the people, compared to 550 officers in 1 Kgs 9:23. This seems like an error, and likely is – the Chronicler frequently deviates from the numbers in Samuel and Kings. However, the New Bible Commentary points out that we arrive at the same total – 3,850 – by adding together 1 Kgs 5:16 and 1 Kgs 9:23, or by adding 2 Chron. 2:18 and 2 Chron. 8:10 (p.386). So are the Chronicler’s two figures in error and the sums a coincidence? Or did his source material organize the overseers differently from the author of Kings? Given the number of variants in Chronicles, I suspect that we’re more likely than not to find coincidences like this, especially if we start adding figures from difference places and otherwise manipulating them. We get into bibliomancy territory, where we’re bound to find some way to make the numbers work. But I could certainly be wrong.

Social Shuffling

Though the account of Solomon’s marriage to an Egyptian princess (1 Kgs 3:1) is omitted by the Chronicler, we do learn of her existence when he moves her into a house he’s built for her. References to her house can be found in 1 Kgs 7:8 and 1 Kgs 9:24, but the Chronicler adds an explanation for the move when Solomon declares: “My wife shall not live in the house of David king of Israel, for the places to which the ark of the Lord has come are holy” (2 Chron. 8:11). It’s not clear why he felt the need to add this explanation, but it comes off rather gross. I suppose the meaning is that she, as a foreigner, has no right to live so near the ark, but would this have applied to all foreigners? Or is the Chronicler trying to address Solomon’s adopting/tolerance of his wives’ religions by having him be so finicky that he won’t even let his foreign wife live near the ark?

In 2 Chron. 8:12-15, we learn that Solomon was in the habit of making offerings before the vestibule (altered from 1 Kgs 9:25, where Solomon made his sacrifices directly before God – like to avoid the appearance that this king played the priest). He did so on all the days required by Mosaic law (such as the Sabbaths and the annual feasts). According to David’s instructions, he appointed the Temple’s staff, “for so David the man of God had commanded” (2 Chron. 8:14).

The Queen of Sheba

2 Chron. 9 begins with a visit from the queen of Sheba, lifted from 1 Kgs 10:1-13. We are told that Solomon had a reputation for his great wisdom, so she came to test his reputation with hard questions. Solomon performed suitably, since “there was nothing hidden from Solomon which he could not explain to her” (2 Chron. 9:2). She is terribly impressed by his answers, by the house he’s built (though it’s unclear whether this refers to his palace or to the Temple), the food he serves, his court, and his sacrifices to God. She is so impressed, in fact, that “there was no more spirit in her” (2 Chron. 9:4).

The Queen of Sheba, by Isabella Colette

The Queen of Sheba, by Isabella Colette

Unfortunately, these hard questions aren’t in any way preserved. It would have been very interesting to see them, as well as Solomon’s answers. Not only because it would give us the chance to see if he really did turn out to be right, but also because it would tell us what kinds of questions they were – philosophical? scientific? religious? all of the above?

In any case, the queen pronounces Solomon even wiser than his reputation, and that his wives and servants are quite lucky to have him.

She gives Solomon 120 talents of gold, plus a few other luxuries. In return, Solomon agrees to give the queen whatever she asks for (though her request, if any, is never told), and she returns home.

Solomon’s Wealth

There’s a bit in both 2 Chron.8 and 2 Chron. 9 about Solomon and Huram’s joint trading ventures to Ophir. In 2 Chron. 8:18, they manage to earn Solomon 450 talents of gold (compared to 420 talents in 1 Kgs 9:27-28). In 2 Chron. 9:10-11, they bring back gold, precious stones, and algum wood (which Solomon used to make steps for the Temple and instruments for the temple musicians).

2 Chron. 9:21 gives us another expedition with Huram, this time to Tarshish. It seems they went every three years to bring back gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.

We learn that Solomon made 666 talents of gold a year (an auspicious number!), in addition to what the traders brought. He also received tributes from many nations.

Solomon made 200 large shields of beaten gold, using 600 shekels of gold per shield, which were put in the House of the Forest of Lebanon. He also made himself an ivory throne, inlaid with gold. It had six steps, with a lion on either side of each step, and a golden footstool. There were standing lion armrests on either side.

His drinking cups were all made of gold, and all the kings of the earth sought out his wisdom (which must have been quite a swim for those in the Americas). All of them, of course, brought gifts. Solomon brought so much wealth into Jerusalem that “silver was not considered as anything in the days of Solomon” (2 Chron. 9:2), silver was as common as stone, and cedar as common as sycamore.

Solomon had 4,000 horse and chariot stalls. He had 12,000 horsemen, who were stationed in Jerusalem and in special chariot cities. He imported his horses from Egypt and elsewhere. In 2 Chron. 1:14-17, we were told that he had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horses, and that his horses were imported from Egypt and Kue, then exported to the Hittites and Aramites. In 1 Kgs 4:26, he had 40,000 stalls of horses (used for chariots) and 12,000 horsemen.

Conclusion

The Chronicler’s “Further Reading” section includes three books we no longer have access to: the history of Nathan the prophet, the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and the visions of Iddo the seer (concerning Jeroboam son of Nebat).

Solomon reigned in Jerusalem for 40 years and, when he died, he was buried in the city of David. He was succeeded by his son, Rehoboam.

Closing up our account of Solomon, we can note that the Chronicler left out most of the less flattering accounts, such as pretty much all of 1 Kgs 11, as he had done with David. Let’s see how the other kings fare!