2 Chronicles 1: A Heavenly Gift

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Our opening chapter of 2 Chronicles is mostly drawn from 1 Kings 3, in which Solomon receives wisdom from God, genie-style. This skips over much of the political details from the 1 Kings account, such Solomon’s purging of the court in 1 Kings 2, and his political marriage to a princess of Egypt in 1 Kgs 3:1-2.

Instead, the narrative of David’s and Solomon’s reign is bridged by telling us that God was on Solomon’s side, and he made Solomon “exceedingly great” (2 Chron. 1:1).

At Gibeon

In the Chronicler’s version, Solomon assembles the Israelite elite at Gibeon, where the tent of meeting and Bezalel’s altar (built in Exodus 27:1-2) are located, to make a sacrifice. The ark, we are told, was not there, since David had brought it to Jerusalem. There, the assembly makes a rather large sacrifice (a thousand burnt offerings in all).

This deviates quite a bit from the 1 Kings 3 version, for reasons that should be fairly apparent. Gibeon, you see, was a high place (a rather prominent one, if 1 Kgs 3:3-4 is to be believed). So why is Solomon making such big sacrifices at Gibeon when God has been so very clear that worship must take place only in Jerusalem?

The author of 1 Kings solves this problem by assuring readers that Solomon really did love God, but he had this terrible vice of making sacrifices at high places. The Chronicler, however, really wants Solomon to be a good guy, so he fudges it by making it very clear that there was a legitimate altar (tied to Moses via Bezalel) at Gibeon.

The Chronicler also makes it very clear that Solomon wasn’t alone, but had the support of Israel’s leadership. While 1 Kings mentions only Solomon going to Gibeon, the Chronicler has Solomon assemble Israel’s elite there first, and the lot of them making their sacrifice together.

The Wish

During his stay at Gibeon, Solomon is approached by God and offered one wish. Strangely, this is explicitly said to have occurred in a dream in 1 Kgs 3:5, and again in 1 Kgs 3:15, but no mention is made of a dream in 2 Chron. 1. Instead, the Chronicler tells us only that conversation occurred “in that night” (2 Chron. 1:7).

For his one wish, Solomon asks for wisdom and knowledge (which would technically be two wishes, but God doesn’t seem bothered) so that he is better able to lead God’s people.

Specifically, he mentions that he would use the wisdom and knowledge to “go out and come in” (2 Chron. 1:10). It’s a strange phrase, and really stands out. James Bradford Pate notes that the phrase is generally meant in a military context, but this hardly applies to a king  who, we have been told several times, will rule over an era of peace.

Solomon's Dream, by Marc Chagall

Solomon’s Dream, by Marc Chagall

But when I did a search for the phrase, I found that it was uttered by Moses in all three instances that I could dig up in a 3 second search (in Num. 27:15-17, the episode in which Joshua is chosen as Moses’s successor, Moses expresses the need for someone “who shall go out before them and come in before them”; In his blessing, Moses tells the people that they will be blessed when they come in and go out if they follow the rules (Deut. 28:1-6); And when Moses announces his impending death, he describes himself as being too old for going out and coming in (Deut. 31:1-2). So while Pate argues that the phrase may have had non-military applications, I wonder if the point isn’t more just to connect Solomon to Moses.

This isn’t the first time that the Chronicler seems to be trying to connect Solomon and David to Moses. In 1 Chron. 22, David’s instructions to Solomon had phrases and constructions that seemed to have been lifted straight out of Moses’s instructions to Aaron in Deut. 31. In 1 Chron. 28, David’s instructions to Solomon have a very similar feel to God’s instructions to Moses in Exodus 25. Lastly, the freewill offering in 1 Chron. 29 may be a mirroring of the freewill offering Moses receives for the construction of the tabernacle in Exodus 35.

Once or twice is a coincidence, but given that we’ve only seen the phrase “going out and coming in” in connection to Moses, and given that the Chronicler has been adding details that are strongly reminiscent of Moses, it feels deliberate.

Both here and in 1 Kings, God is so happy that Solomon asked for wisdom (to be used for others) rather than something to benefit himself that he decides to give Solomon his wisdom and lots of riches and honour.

In the interaction, God expresses his joy that Solomon asked for wisdom instead of things like the death of an enemy. Of course, those of us who have read 1 Kings 2 will now that, by this point in the chronology, Solomon’s already taken care of all that!

After this episode, Solomon returns from Gibeon, and the Chronicler skips over the story of Solomon’s judgement over the two harlots narrated in 1 Kgs 3:16-28. James Bradford Pate mentions a theory that this indicates a difference in focus. In Kings, the main purpose of Solomon’s acquired wisdom is so that he may judge the people (which is them exemplified with a case study). By contrast, the purpose of Solomon’s wisdom here is to make him suitable for the task of building the Temple (making him into the king his father always doubted that he’d be). I should note that Pate does not agree with this theory.


Closing out the chapter, the Chronicler copies a description of Solomon’s wealth and position from 1 Kgs 10:26-29. It begins with Solomon stationing a fair number of chariots and horsemen in Jerusalem and in special chariot cities.

We are also told that, under Solomon, gold and silver became as common as stone in Jerusalem, and cedar as common as sycamore. He also seems to have made Jerusalem into something of a trade hub, moving horses from Egypt and Kue to the Hittites and Syria.

1 Chronicles 21: The Plague That Founded A Temple

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1 Chronicles 21 closely parallels the story of David’s ill-fated census in 2 Samuel 24. It’s worth taking a moment to wonder why this story was included at all, given that the Chronicler has tended to omit the other stories of David’s sins.

The most obvious answer is given to us at the end of the story (which, thanks to some sloppy chapter breaks, appears in 1 Chron. 22:1): It tells us how the threshing floor of Ornan/Araunah the Jebusite, on which the Temple would one day be built, was acquired. Given the premium that the Chronicler puts on the building of the Temple, this story may have just been too big a deal to leave out.

There might also have been a mitigating factor that made the story less unpalatable to the Chronicler. Unlike the other tales of David’s sins, David is not his own master here. Rather, 2 Sam. 24 has God inciting him. So while it is acknowledged – by David himself in 2 Sam. 24:17 – as David’s error, it’s possible that the Chronicler may have been able to fudge over his misgivings for this story in a way that he wasn’t for, say, the rape of Bathsheba or the taking of Abigail (or the deaths of their husbands).

Enter Satan

In 2 Sam. 24, the story begins with God characteristically angry at Israel. No particular reason is given for this anger. Maybe it was just a day ending in “Y”. This goes a bit beyond the overreactions we’ve seen so far, though, because God seems to understand that he doesn’t have a good reason to be mad at Israel here. He’s itching to punish them, but they’ve disappointed by failing to provide him with an excuse.

So he’s got to make them give him an excuse.

The text tells us that he incites David, causing David to sin by taking a census. This then provides God with the excuse he’s been longing for.

Here, right from our very first verse, we see a change. Rather than God inciting David because he’s having a bad eon and needs a puppy to kick around, we have Satan rising up against Israel and nudging David.

This is our first glimpse of Satan. We’ve seen the word before, though. In Numbers 22, the angel who stands in Balaam’s way is described as his adversary, his satan. But this is the first time we see capital-s Satan, a discrete individual rather than adjective.

The easiest explanation for the change is that the Chronicler was (rightfully) uncomfortable with what 2 Sam. 24 implies about God’s character. This would reflect, as J.R. Porter puts it in The New Illustrated Companion to the Bible, “the view of postexilic Judaism that God is the only source of goodness, and that the source of evil must therefore be sought elsewhere” (p.122). This would be in contrast with the Deuteronomic view that God is the ultimate source and controller of all things, good and evil. (For more on this, Paul Davidson has a great post up about the evolution of Satan (and God) on his blog.)

But this feels like a very modern view of Satan to me, and I’m not sure that the thinking around the figure had solidified to quite that extent by the Chronicler’s time. Mike Heiser, of Naked Bible, points to the possibility that there may not actually be that much of a contradiction between our two accounts. Rather than seeing this as our first instance of Satan(noun), we could just see the same God of 2 Sam. 24 referred to as satan(adjective). That would make this passage a stepping stone in the development of Satan as an independent character, one in which God’s aspects have begun to take on different designations (one of which will, eventually, be turned from title into proper noun).

As a bit of an aside, I’m finding “satan” translated both as “adversary” and as “accuser.” This has struck me because the two words have very different implications. An adversary works against our interests, and so the Adversary who incites David seems to be orchestrating his fall. By contrast, an accuser may simply be holding us accountable, so the Accuser who incites David may be attempting something more like a cleansing through fire, with the end goal of purifying and bettering David and his kingdom (we’re talking theology here, so we can bypass the ethical questions this would raise).

Why a census?

But whomever incites David, the story has the feel of a post hoc rationalization. This may be assuming too much historicity, but it feels as though a plague happened to come some amount of time after David conducted a census, and the two events were then connected causally in people’s minds.

So if we assume that there was a David and that he conducted a census, we might wonder why?

The most obvious answer is, of course, money. David may have just been working on next year’s budget and wanted to know how much tax revenue he could expect (or realistically demand). The second most obvious answer, supported by explicit connection between the men counted and their ability to wield swords (not to mention the fact that the taking of the census is given over to the military leadership), is that it had to do with knowing how large a military David might be able to muster.

James Bradford Pate points to the Jewish commentator, Malbim, for some possible specifics: “because many Israelites had followed David’s son Absalom rather than David when Absalom was revolting, David was doubtful that he could rely on getting volunteers for his military, and thus he resorted to the draft.”

Collecting the Numbers

David puts Joab in charge of conducting the census. In both versions of the story, Joab protests, asking David why he should want to do such a thing? In 1 Chron. 21, Joab correctly argues that conducting a census would bring guilt down on Israel.

This is a pretty big departure from the Joab we know and rather strongly dislike. The Joab we saw in 1-2 Samuel was, if not a baddie, at least a sycophantic, amoral murderer. To have him be the mouthpiece of warning against the census is completely out of character.

It’s like that Joab’s protests against the census in 2 Sam. 24:3 simply made him an easy character – already involved in the story, already voicing discontent – for the Chronicler to use. It would certainly have meant less revision than, for example, bringing Gad the seer in early.

But the Chronicler goes beyond simply tacking an extra phrase to Joab’s dialogue. In this version, when Joab returns with the census numbers, he omits Levi and Benjamin from the count so that David never has accurate numbers to begin with. He does this because David’s “command was abhorrent to Joab” (1 Chron. 21:6).

So why make Joab the voice of God here? Why make him the goodie of the story?

The possibility remains that Joab was merely convenient, and perhaps the Chronicler sought to lessen David’s sin by never giving him the information he had sought in the first place (or, perhaps, spare the reader from the sin of knowing it by indicating that the number is incorrect).

Or perhaps the Chronicler is picking up more on the sycophantic rather than the amoral aspect of Joab’s personality. If David is an archetypal king, than Joab’s steadfast loyalty (steadfast to the point of murder) might be seen as a good thing. And if the census is sinful and will backfire on David, then it makes sense for his loyal servant to warn him against it. So perhaps we shouldn’t see Joab as taking God’s side in this chapter, but rather taking the side of David’s best interests.

In 2 Sam. 24:5-8, we get a description of the commanders’ journey through the nation as they count the people. The Chronicler, however, cuts all of that out.

The numbers are quite different as well. In 1 Chron. 21, Joab reports that there are 1,100,000 men who draw swords in Israel, and 470,000 in Judah. Compared to 800,000 men in Israel and 500,000 men in Judah listed in 2 Sam. 24:9.


The punishment portion of the story begins with an introduction: “God was displeased with this thing, and he smote Israel” (1 Chron. 21:7). This is followed by David repenting. Depending on our reading, this could be implying that that David repents because of God’s smiting. It seems fairly obvious, however, that the verse about God smiting Israel is an introduction to the story that is to come, and is not meant to have occurred prior to David’s repentance. (The issue is new to Chronicles, since verse 1 Chron. 21:7 does not appear in the 2 Sam. account.)

In any case, David does repent, and God (via Gad, David’s seer), gives David a choice of punishments:

  1. Three years of famine (the Hebrew version of 2 Sam. 24:13 says seven years, but three clearly has better flow);
  2. Three months of devastation from David’s enemies;
  3. Three days of plague.

David declares that he chooses to put himself in the hands of God rather than the hands of men, and everyone claps themselves on the back as though that were a clear answer. Except, of course, that David’s response only excludes the second choice, not the famine or the plague. Yet it is assumed that he meant to choose the plague, and we carry on.

The pestilence comes, and 70,000 men die.

David praying, by Maître François, c.1475-80

David praying, by Maître François, c.1475-80

Next, we have a slightly more troubling chronological blip. First, the text implies that God stops his angel of pestilence at Ornan’s threshing floor, and David builds an altar there as a commemoration (and, I would assume, a thanksgiving for the ending of the plague). However, the text then implies that David builds the altar for the purpose of stopping the plague. Unlike our first blip, this one occurs in 2 Samuel as well (2 Sam. 24:21). As we look at this section, I will assume the latter reading, that the building of the altar occurred first, and that it is this that caused God to repent and stop his angel.

This means that we skip over 1 Chron. 21:15, where God stops the angel just in time. Instead, we find David looking up to find the angel standing “between earth and heaven” (1 Chron. 21:16), his drawn sword stretching out over Jerusalem. This imagery is new. The version in 2 Sam. 24:16 is more concise, having only the angel (unseen by David) stretching his hand over Jerusalem.

Seeing the angel ready to destroy Jerusalem, David and the elders cloth themselves in sackcloth and fall on their faces. Then David cries out to God, asking why he should kill so many innocent people when it was he, David, who had sinned? This is, of course, an excellent question, and one that never receives an answer. Unless the answer is God’s decision to end the plague, except that he’d already said he would end it after three days, and now I think I’ve just paradoxed myself.

One must wonder if this David – who sees the blatant immorality of slaughtering citizens for the sins of their king (though not, as it happens, of slaughtering that king’s family) – regrets his earlier trust in God’s mercy (1 Chron. 21:13).

Via a game of telephone involving an angel and Gad (David’s seer), God tells David to put up an altar on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite (called Araunah in 2 Sam. 24:16).

Settling Matters

The narrative then goes to the threshing floor, where Ornan is at work. He looks up from his threshing and sees the angel – presumably with its sword still pointed toward Jerusalem. At the sight, his four sons (who are absent from 2 Sam. 24) hide themselves.

David arrives, and Ornan does his obeisances. What follows reads like a taarof farce: David offers to pay full price for the threshing floor so that the plague can be averted, Ornan insists that he give the field (along with the oxen, wood, and wheat for offerings) as a donation, but David counter-refuses and insists on paying for the full price.

David will not, he says, take “for the Lord” (1 Chron. 21:24) what belongs to someone else. This statement is far more ironic when it appears in 2 Sam. 24:24, where it is surrounded by stories in which David seems to have no problem at all taking things that belong to other people for himself (and even killing them to do so).

In the end, the two agree that David will pay 600 shekels of gold – quite an inflation of the 40 shekels of silver he paid in 2 Sam. 24:24. In 2 Samuel, the implication seems to be that the amount is a compromise between Araunah’s desire to give the land (and oxen) for free, and David’s desire to pay for it. Here, on the other hand, the Chronicler seems to be uncomfortable with David cheaping out on the site where the Temple will one day be built.

As an alternative explanation, my New Bible Commentary proposes that the figure in 2 Samuel was the price for the threshing floor alone, whereas the number here is for the whole site (p.380).

Which is all well and good, but what I’m wondering is if this sale is exempt from the Jubilee (Lev. 25:8-13)?

When David builds and consecrates the new altar with a sacrifice, God “answered him with fire from heaven upon the alter of burnt offering” (1 Chron. 21:26). As with many of the fancy poetic imagery in this chapter, the miracle portion of the sacrifice does not appear in 2 Sam. 24:25.

And while 2 Sam. 24:25 merely tells us that, after the altar is built, the plague was averted, the Chronicler describes the angel re-sheathing its sword.

And while the 2 Samuel version ends there, the Chronicler fills in some more detail. It seems that David started doing his sacrificing at this site because Moses’s tabernacle (and its altar) were still at Gibeon. This made it unreachable for David because “he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the Lord” (1 Chron. 21:30). This raises more questions than it answers, but the intention seems to be that there is now a single place where sacrifices may happen. That place, as we will learn in 1 Chron. 22:1 (really part of this story, but cut off by a sloppy numberer), is the site where the Temple will later be built.

The connection between Araunah’s threshing floor and the Temple is never mentioned in 2 Samuel. This could be because it was information that wasn’t available to the original author of this story (if, for example, the first version was written prior to the Temple’s construction). It could also be that the author of 2 Samuel assumed that this would be common knowledge among his readers, and thus didn’t require repeating. For the Chronicler, the building of the Temple is a pretty major event, and this story is presented because of its connection. As an added incentive, the connection adds a nice conclusion to the story. David asked for his sin to be expiated, cleansed through punishment. So after his kingdom suffered the plague, they receive the (promise of a) gift – a central Temple. It’s like an image of a flower blossoming in a landscape that has recently been ravaged by fire. It has a resonance to it.

What’s wrong with a census, anyway?

One of the big questions raised by this chapter is, what can possibly be so terrible about counting a few people?

James Bradford Pate quotes an author who looks to Exodus 30:12-13, where those who are counted in a census must pay a tribute in order to avoid a retributive plague. Clearly, the connection was established in the superstitions of Israel.

In the same post, he mentions that it could have to do with superstitions surround people’s names, and/or with the jeopardy inherent in a census taken for draft purposes (since an individual recorded may become an individual called, and perhaps then an individual killed on the battlefield).

I considered it more from the leadership’s perspective, where a census may be considered a form of “jinxing.” To count the people just seems to tempt fate to send a plague and lower the number.

Another possibility is that the sin is one of pride. The 2 Chron. account makes it seem like David wants to count his people in the same way that Scrooge McDuck likes to count his coins. Or perhaps it’s an issue of trust. Turning back to Pate, he offers the possibility that a census shows a lack of faith in God as the provider of victories, regardless of the numbers involved.

1 Chronicles 15-16: A Meandering Path

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David has decided that it is now, finally, time to bring the ark the rest of the way to Jerusalem. His reasoning isn’t explicitly explained, but there are two likely candidates that jumped out at me: The first and more flattering of the two is that, seeing the blessings on Obededom’s household, David realizes that God wasn’t angry that the ark was being moved, but rather that it was being moved incorrectly (in this case, because those moving it were not Levites, as per Num. 1:51). Therefore, once David has appointed Levites to move the ark, it becomes safe and the procession can continue.

The second explanation is that David saw all the blessings the ark was bringing to Obededom, and he wanted to get in on that.

In either case, he begins by building palaces for himself and pitching a tent for the ark. An odd statement, certainly. I realize that it was culturally known that the temple wasn’t built until Solomon, and that there may have been religious objections to housing the symbol of a nomad god in a permanent structure, but mentioning that David built palaces (plural, mind) for himself, yet merely pitched a tent for the ark seems strange to my modern sensibilities (not to mention my cultural assumptions regarding what a “house of God” ought to look like). Even within a proper context, however, mentioning David’s building projects here seems somewhat out of place.

There’s some odd narrative time skipping in these two chapters, resulting in the ark having been brought to its resting place at least once (possibly twice) before the procession is actually concluded. I suspect that this may be an artefact of the Chronicler’s use of multiple sources, or perhaps just some grammar troubles (one of my greatest difficulties in writing is trying to keep my tenses straight, so I totally get it).

There is also much dwelling on the names of the priests, as well as their roles. I’ll mention those at the end, though, because there’s a lot of them and they are fairly disruptive to the flow. That said, it certainly helped me to understand the commentaries who argue that the Chronicler may have been a musician!

The Journey

Once David had built his palaces and cleared a little camping plot for the ark, he gathered Israel about him and announced that Levites must be the ones to carry and tend to the ark.

He told the priests, Zadok and Abiathar, and the Levite chiefs to sanctify themselves prior to approaching the ark (this would likely involve rituals like fasting, abstaining from sexual contact, and washing). David explains his theory that God attacked the first time (killing Uzzah) because the ark was not being carried by Levites. This is an addition to the story in 2 Samuel 6, which makes no mention of Levites (likely an anachronistic one, as well, since it seems there’s evidence to suggest that the Levitical caste didn’t emerge until later).

The priests do as they are told, and they carry the ark on their shoulders using poles, as per God’s instructions (relayed via Moses, then David).

David dances before the ark, from the Morgan Bible, 1240-1250

David dances before the ark, from the Morgan Bible, 1240-1250

The priests appoint a number of singers, as well as musicians of various varieties to play in the procession and “raise sounds of joy” (1 Chron. 15:16). There are harps, lyres, cymbals, and trumpets. There’s even a conductor, Chenaniah.

Taking from 2 Sam. 6:12-15, the procession goes to the house of Obededom to fetch the ark and they bring it to Jerusalem. There are two main differences between this version and the one in 2 Samuel: The first is that we get a whole lot more detail about the music played in the procession. The second is that David is clothed, this time wearing a robe of fine linen in addition to his ephod. The priests of the procession are also wearing robes of fine linen.

Another possible difference is in the time/location of the sacrifices. In 2 Sam. 6:13, a sacrifice (one ox and one fatling) is made when those who bear the ark have gone six paces. In 1 Chron. 15:26, however, seven bulls and seven rams are sacrificed “because God helped the Levites who were carrying the ark”. Reading far too much into the text, it would seem that the 2 Sam. 6 priests tentatively lift the ark, and thank God right away when they survive the test. In 1 Chron. 15, however, the implication seems to be that they give thanks when the journey is completed, perhaps because God somehow made their burden light or saved them from any accidental stumble that could result in a situation like the one that led to Uzzah’s death. But this is bringing a lot into the text, and there’s no reason why the 1 Chron. 15 version can’t be taken to mean the same as the 2 Sam. 6 version.

As they approach Jerusalem, Michal (here, as in 2 Sam. 6:16, identified only as the daughter of Saul) sees David dancing and she hates him. In 2 Sam. 6:20-23, the reason for Michal’s hatred of David is apparently because he was dancing naked, uncovered save for the ephod, disgracing himself. It’s easy to see how afraid she might be, after her father’s house fell and her whole family was slaughtered. She has ever reason to want David to act the proper king, a king who won’t be judged weak or unfit and deposed. Here, however, the conversation is absent, and Michal’s reasoning is unstated. The implication, then, is that she hated him because she was Saul’s daughter (as this is the only detail we are given of her), and is perhaps seen as further proof of Saul’s dynastic unfitness.

The ark finally makes it to its new tend, and sacrifices are made. David blesses the people in God’s name, and he distributes a loaf of bread, a portion of meat, and a raisin cake to every Israelite (including, for once, the women).

A good deal of 1 Chron. 16 is given to a special thanksgiving song David gives to Asaph and the other musically-inclined priests. It’s a fairly ordinary praise song, much like the ones we’ve had before. God is great, we should seek God, he’s done wonderful works, the descendants of Abraham and Jacob are his chosen people, God has protected them. God is to be “held in awe above all gods” (1 Chron. 16:25), who are but idols while God is actually in heaven. The natural world exults in God for God is good. Also, if God wouldn’t mind delivering his chosen people from other nations – so that we can thank him for it, of course – that’d be great.

What’s interesting about this son in particular is that it appears to be a cobbling together of a few different Psalms. Specifically:

  • 1 Chron. 16:8-22 is taken from Psalms 105:1-15;
  • 1 Chron. 16:23-33 is taken from Psalms 96:1-13;
  • And 1 Chron. 16:34-36 is taken from Psalms 106:1 and Psalms 106:47-48.

Perhaps even more interesting, “none of the three psalms used is Davidic and all are later, possibly even post-exilic” (New Bible Commentary, p.378). This would certainly explain the final verses of the poem, which talk about deliverance from other nations (1 Chron. 16:34-36) – something that would have been salient for the Chronicler, but not so much for the rising star of David who has recently destroyed the Philistines. James Pate proposes that the verses could refer to prisoner’s of war – perhaps some Israelites had been taken in David’s recent battles against the Philistines – and the hope that they should be returned.

Another interesting detail about the song is that it is the only place in all of 1 Chronicles where Jacob is referred to by that name, rather than as Israel.

All the people say “Amen!” and David leaves the priests to their business. The Israelites head home, and David goes to bless his house.

The Priests

Priests and their roles are listed at several points through 1 Chron. 15-16. It begins when David is setting up a location for the ark, and he gathers the Levites to him. They are represented by their leaders:

  • 120 Kohathites, led by Uriel;
  • 220 Merarites, led by Asaiah;
  • 130 Gershomites, led by Joel;
  • 200 Elizaphanites, led by Shemaiah;
  • 80 Hebronites, led by Eliel;
  • And 112 Uzzielites, led by Amminadab.

David then commands these chiefs to appoint musicians from among their sub-tribes to play loudly before the ark as it is being transported. The Levites appoint Heman son of Joel, and Asaph son of Berechiah. The Merarites (listed as though a distinct group from the Levites) appoint Ethan son of Kushaiah, as well as some underlings: Zechariah, Jaaziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattithiah, Eliphelehu, and Mikneiah. Listed here, as though the role is a musical one, are also Obededom and Jeiel, appointed as gatekeepers.

Next, we get a breakdown of the musicians by instrument as they play before the ark in its procession:

  • Sounding the bronze cymbals: Heman, Asaph, and Ethan;
  • Playing the harps (according to Alamoth – apparently some unknown musical term): Zechariah, Aziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Maseiah, and Benaiah;
  • Leading with the lyres (according to the Sheminith – some other unknown musical term): Mattithiah, Eliphelehu, Mikneiah, Obededom, Jeiel, and Azaziah;
  • Blowing the trumpets before the ark: Shebaniah, Joshaphat, Nethanel, Amasai, Zechariah, Benaiah, and Eliezer;
  • Lastly, the conductor: Chenaniah.

Berechiah and Elkanah are designated as the ark’s gatekeepers. Then, a verse later, we are told that Obededom and Jehiah are also the gatekeepers (1 Chron. 15:23-24).

Once the procession arrives in Jerusalem and the ark is settled into its new tent, David appoints some Levites to minister to it, led by Asaph, who is to sound the cymbals.

To the harps and lyres, David appoints Zechariah, Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obededom, and Jeiel.

Finally, David appoints Benaiah and Jahaziel to blow the trumpets continually (1 Chron. 16:6), though one hopes that they were at least allowed to take turns.

The sons of Jeduthun are appointed to the gate, which apparently includes Obededom (here identified as a son of Jeduthun) and Hosah (conspicuously not identified as a son of Jeduthun).

Jeduthun himself, along with Heman, are given charge of the trumpets and cymbals at Gibeon, where the tabernacle has been left in Zadok’s charge. There is no reason given for why the ark has been separated from its tabernacle and moved into a new tent, but it appears that worship continued at both sites.

One possibility involves the nomadic nature of the early YHWH cult. If David hoped to nurture a more urban society, detaching the local god from its tent would have been a priority. He might not have felt confident enough to to build a permanent temple yet, but he could at least separate the ark from its tabernacle (which had, as evidenced by this chapter, become a locus of worship in its own right). This is, of course, pure fancy and utterly unsupported as far as I know.


Obededom is a strange figure in these chapters. Is he the same Obededom who housed the ark in 1 Chron. 13:13? And why is he shoehorned so forcefully into 1 Chron. 15-16?

He is mentioned three times as a gatekeeper:

  • When he and Jeiel are counted among the Merarite musicians (1 Chron. 15:17-18);
  • When he and Jehiah are added, as if as afterthoughts, when Berechiah and Elkanah are listed as gatekeepers (1 Chron. 15:23-24);
  • As a son of Jeduthun, who are appointed to the gate (1 Chron. 16:37-38).

This is, of course, in addition to his mentions as a musician.

The way in which he is mentioned feels very forced, particularly in 1 Chron. 15:23-24. I feel like there must be a reason for this.

If this Obededom is the same as the Gittite in 1 Chron. 13:13, it introduces a possible problem. The term “Gittite” is usually used to refer to people from Gath – a city under Philistine control. If Obededom is a Philistine, then he is not an Israelite, and he is certainly not a Levite.

That’s not a certainty, though. It could be that Obededom is merely an Israelite from Gath, or perhaps the name “Gath” was used in a few different place names and the designation of Gittite does not even refer to the Philistine city.

James Pate imagines that Obededom, having had direct experience with the ark and received its blessings while it was in his home, followed it to Jerusalem. It’s an amusing image!

1 Chronicles 13-14: Bringing Home The Ark… Almost

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These two chapters follow 2 Sam. 5:11-25 and 2 Sam. 6:1-13 rather closely, though reversing their order.

David gets the idea to fetch the ark from Kiriath-jearim, where it’s been sitting in Abinadab’s house. It’s not mentioned here, but the ark had been captured by the Philistines in 1 Samuel 4, and was returned to the Israelites in 1 Samuel 6 after it had caused an idol of Dagon to fall and break, and caused an epidemic of some kind to spread through the cities of Philistia. Since then, it had been held by Abinadab.

But before David goes for the ark, he first asks the leaders of Israel for their agreement. It seems odd that David should ask permission like this, and I wonder if it’s an indication of how precarious his hold on Israel still was at that time. I see some commenters arguing that the ark was a sort of glue to bind all the tribes, and that bringing it to Jerusalem symbolically joined the Hebrew people in faith as well as politics. Yet the fact that no one seems to have bothered with it in years (as evidenced by David’s statement that the ark had been neglected in the time of Saul – 1 Chron. 13:3 – used by the Chronicler here as a subtle-ish indictment of Saul) adds to the evidence that the ark was part of a local, perhaps Shilonite, cult that David (assuming his historicity) made a part of the state religion. We might compare this to Constantine’s adoption of Christianity as the state religion in an effort to unite a disparate empire.

In any case, they fetch the ark and load it onto a new cart, with Uzzah and Ahio driving it while David and the other Israelites sing and play music in a procession ahead of it.

Unfortunately, the oxen stumble when the ark reaches the threshing floor of Chidon, causing the ark to wobble. When Uzzah puts out his hand to steady it, God kills him. (Incidentally, this happens at the threshing floor of Nacon in 2 Sam. 6:6, not Chidon.)

This freaked David out, and he decided not to bring the ark back to Jerusalem as he had originally intended. Instead, he takes it to the house of Obededom the Gittite, and leaves it there for three months. This worked out nicely for Obededom, however, since his household was blessed while the ark resided there.

The narrative ends here, leaving out (at least for now) the remainder of the ark’s journey to Jerusalem, during which David danced naked in the procession, angering his wife Michal (2 Sam. 6).

Settling In

The next portion, taken from 2 Sam. 5:11-16, is rather out of place in the Chronicler’s organization. Whereas in 2 Samuel, we have a summary of David’s life in Jerusalem placed after his conquest of the city, the narrative here is interrupted by the moving of the ark, disrupting the narrative flow.

First, David needs a house. For this, we have King Hiram of Tyre, who sends messengers to David along with cedar trees, masons, and carpenters to build him a palace. It is at this point that it apparently dawns on David that he really is, truly, king of Israel (1 Chron. 14:2, 2 Sam. 5:12).

We then learn of the children born to David in Jerusalem, which, oddly, corresponds better to 2 Sam. 5 than it does to the same list in 1 Chron. 3 (though isn’t identical to either version). The children are:

  • Shammua (which matches 2 Sam. 5:14, but he appears as Shimea in 1 Chron. 3:5);
  • Shobab;
  • Nathan;
  • Solomon;
  • Ibhar;
  • Elishua (which matches 2 Sam. 5:15, but he appears as Elishama in 1 Chron. 3:6);
  • Elpelet (who is missing from 2 Sam. 5:14-16, but could correspond to the first instance of Eliphelet in 1 Chron. 3:6);
  • Nogah (who is missing from 2 Sam. 5:14-16, but present in 1 Chron. 3:7);
  • Nepheg;
  • Japhia;
  • Elishama;
  • Beeliada (who appears as Eliada in both 2 Sam. 5:16 and 1 Chron. 3:8;
  • And Eliphelet.

James Pate notes that the Chronicler, generally, tries to make David abide by the Torah (we’ll see an example of this later one when he burns some idols). This may be evidence of the cult’s evolution: “The Torah as a book probably existed more fully when I Chronicles was written than when II Samuel was written, and so the Chronicler conformed David’s actions to what was commonly believed to be God’s will in the Chronicler’s time: the Torah.”

Yet, here, David is said to take multiple wives, in direct contradiction to Deut. 17:17. The rule appears to be directly addressing Solomon, who, according to 1 Kings 11, was led into idolatry by his many wives. So why was David’s breaking of this rule allowed to slip by?

One obvious answer is that David’s multiple wives were known (certainly, we’ve seen separate stories for a few of his wives, namely Abigail, Bathsheba, and Michal), and erasing that common knowledge would have been impossible for the Chronicler. So the Chronicler simply lets the many wives slip through without commentary, perhaps hoping that no one will notice what it says about David’s relationship to the covenantal laws.

Another possibility is that the prohibition on many wives for a king wasn’t added until later on, or perhaps was added at around the same time as the Chronicler was writing and hadn’t achieved enough status to warrant addressing yet.

Fighting Philistines

Continuing the story from 2 Sam. 5:17-25, the Philistines hear that Israel has a new king and, worse yet, it’s David (who had so recently been in the employ of the Philistine king Achish). They decide to come after him (perhaps hoping to take advantage of the instability of a new king, particularly a new king of a new dynasty). But David finds out that they are coming, and he leads his army out to meet them.

Portrait of a captured Peleste (Philistine), relief from Medinet Habu, Thebes, photographed by Erich Lessing

Portrait of a captured Peleste (Philistine), relief from Medinet Habu, Thebes, photographed by Erich Lessing

The Philistines were raiding in the valley of Rephaim when David asked God if he should attack, if God will grant him victory. God responds in the affirmative to both questions, and David defeats the Philistines at Baal-perazim.

As the Philistines flee, they leave behind their religious idols. In the 2 Sam. 5:21 version, David and his men carry the idols away, implying that they will either put them to use (as the Danites carried off Micah’s idol in Judges 18), or perhaps melt them down for their valuable metals.

The implications appear to unsettle the Chronicler, who adds that David commanded the abandoned idols to be burned (which would be in accordance with Deut. 7:25). We can see, here, the Chronicler taking the opportunity of an ambiguity (it’s possible to accept that the Israelites of 2 Sam. 5 carried off the idols in order to burn them, if we squint and turn our heads to the side a bit) to clean David up, and bring him more in line with later theology.

Not quite sufficiently beaten, the Philistines come back to raid the valley. Again, David asks God what he should do. This time, however, God tells him not to attack right away. Instead, David should stow himself on the other side of some balsam trees, and only go out to fight when he hears the sound of marching over the tops of the trees, “for God has gone out before you to smite the army of the Philistines” (1 Chron. 14:15).

There are a couple of ways to interpret this. One is that the sound of marching over the tops of the trees is the sound of God’s heavenly army closing in to lead the charge.

Another is that this describes an ambush situation, where David is to hide behind some trees until he can hear the enemy’s marching – meaning that they are in the right position – before revealing his own position by attacking.

James Pate presents a third possibility: That the sound is actually the wind going through the trees, and that it would then mask the sound of David’s attack. This, again, would give David’s army the advantage of surprise.

In any case, David obeys and defeats the Philistines. After that, his fame spread, and all nations feared him.

1 Chronicles 12: Like a magnet

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We continue our coverage of David’s magnetic charisma. The section begins with a group of Benjaminites who defected to David during his stay at Ziklag (the town he was given by the Philistine king Achish in exchange for his raiding in 1 Sam. 27:5-12). The Chronicler makes absolutely certain that no reader can come away from this passage without realizing that the Benjaminites, despite being Saul’s kinsmen, chose to follow David while the two men were in open conflict. The point is clear: Even Saul’s own tribesmen realized that David was the better man.

This is likely why the Benjaminites are listed first, despite the Gadites being the first to join David chronologically. The point of David’s fitness to rule Israel is better made with Benjaminite defectors.

Coronation of King David, from the Paris Psalter, 10th cent.

Coronation of King David, from the Paris Psalter, 10th cent.

Of these Benjaminites, we learn that they were ambidextrous, capable of shooting arrows and slinging stones with either hand. The association between Benjaminites and handedness is nothing new. They are specifically associated with left-handedness in Judges 20:15-16, and the Benjaminite hero Ehud is left-handed in Judges 3:15. As James Page points out, it’s likely that they were left-handed, but forced by superstition to train with their right hands until they came to be known for being ambidextrous.

They were led by Ahiezer and his second-in-command, Joash, both sons of Shemaah of Gibeah. This, too, reinforces David’s powers of attraction, as Gibeah was Saul’s home town.

Other notable Benjaminites to join David include:

  • Jeziel and Pelet, sons of Azmaveth;
  • Beracah;
  • Jehu of Anathoth;
  • Jeremiah;
  • Jahaziel;
  • Johanan;
  • Jozabad of Gederah;
  • Eluzai;
  • Jerimoth;
  • Bealiah;
  • Shemariah;
  • Shephatiah the Haruphite;
  • The Korahites: Elkanah, Isshiah, Azarel, Joezer, and Jashobeam;
  • Joelah and Zebediah, sons of Jeroham of Gedor;
  • And Ishmaiah of Gibeon, who is said to be a leader of the Thirty (1 Chron. 12:4) despite not getting a mention in the last chapter, and the fact that Abishai is named the leader of the Thirty in both 2 Sam. 23:18-19 and 1 Chron. 11:20. It could be an error, or perhaps Ishmaiah led the Thirty at one time, and Abishai at another.

The Gadites

The Gadites come next. They came to David while he was “at the stronghold in the wilderness” (1 Chron. 12:8), which is likely a reference to Adullam. This would make them the first tribe to join David, listed second here because their joining isn’t quite as important, from a propagandic point of view, as the Benjaminites.

They are described as having faces like those of lions, which echoes Moses’s words in Deut. 33:20-21. Their speciality was fighting with shield and spear, and they were as swift as gazelles when in the mountains.

They were led by Ezer, and the other leaders were, in order: Obadiah, Eliab, Mishmannah, Jeremiah, Attai, Eliel, Johanan, Elzabad, Jeremiah, and Machbannai. Each of these chiefs led a company of at least a hundred men, with the largest company being over a thousand strong.

They crossed the Jordan in the first month, when it would have been overflowing and likely a rather dangerous crossing. Not only that, but they put to flight those on either bank.

James Pate notes that this isn’t the first time the Gadites were first:

The Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary believes it is significant that the tribe of Gad was the first Israelite tribe to side with David.  Building on such Jewish sources as Genesis Rabbah 99:2 and the Midrash Lekach Tov, it notes that Gad is notorious for firsts: it was the first tribe to enter the land of Canaan, it was the first to accept David as king when David was still in exile from King Saul, and Elijah (perhaps a Gadite) will be the first to recognize the Messiah.

The Spirit Clothes Himself

While David was staying at a stronghold (again, this seems to be a reference to Adullam, though the place isn’t named), some men from Benjamin and Judah approached and David came out to meet him. This would have been during David’s time on the run, and it must have been concerning if Benjaminites were among those who approached (see, for example, 1 Sam. 23:15-29).

David asks if the men approach as friends – in which case he welcomes them – or as enemies – in which case he hopes that God will punish them (evidence, perhaps, of his dire situation at that point in his political career).

The spirit comes upon Amasai, prompting him to declare the visitors’ allegiance to David, and offering him their help. Interestingly, the literal phrase is that “the spirit clothed himself with Amasai,” which is just a delightful phrase. I’m rather disappointed with the RSV’s decision to render it as “the Spirit came upon Amasai” (1 Chron. 12:18) when such a poetic phrasing was readily available.

David seems to be so moved by Amasai’s declaration that he appoints the visitors as officers over his troops.

Interestingly, Amasai doesn’t appear elsewhere, and it seems that either Abishai or Amasa was meant.

Manasseh’s Defectors

The next group to join David happens in the context of Saul’s final battle against the Philistines, while David was still working for one of the Philistine kings. As was the case in 1 Sam. 29-30, we are assured that David took no part in the battle. However, it’s somewhat disconcerting that, in both narratives, it is not David who asks not to fight against Saul and the Israelites. Rather, it’s the Philistines themselves who express concern that he might defect, and so send him home. Those who would defend David would argue that this was, in fact, David’s plan, but there really isn’t anything in the text (in either place) that indicates this to be the case.

On his way back to Ziklag, David passes through the territory of Manasseh. As he does so, several men desert their tribe to join him: Adnah, Jozabad, Jediael, Michael, Jozabad, Elihu, and Zillethai. They commanded thousands, and they helped David fight an unnamed and unreferenced band of raiders.

And so, day by day, David’s army grew larger.

On To Hebron

Finally, we cycle back to where we were in 1 Chron. 11, with the Israelites meeting at Hebron “to turn the kingdom of Saul over to [David]” (1 Chron. 12:23). Each tribe is listed with the men they brought along:

  • Judah: 6,800
  • Simeon: 7,100
  • Benjamin: 3,000 (the majority of whom were newly converted from Saul’s side)
  • Ephraim:20,800
  • The Cis-Jordan half of Manasseh: 18,000
  • Issachar: 200 chiefs, plus the men they commanded (of Issachar, the Chronicler tells us that they understood the times and knew what Israel ought to do – 1 Chron. 12:32 – whatever that’s supposed to mean)
  • Zebulun: 50,000
  • Naphtali: 1,000 commanders, with 37,000 men
  • Dan: 28,600
  • Asher: 40,000
  • The Transjordan tribes (Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh): 120,000

The Levites are also listed along with the others, but are interestingly divided into two groups: The house of Aaron, led by the prince Jehoiada, had 3,700, and Zadok leading 22 commanders. Paul Davidson (Is That In The Bible) sees this as “evidence in the biblical texts of rival priestly groups vying for control of the temple and other religious positions.”

Brant Clements (Both Saint and Cynic) notes that, “interestingly, the more remote tribes send far greater numbers of soldiers.” The numbers are clearly fictional, but this observation seems like it should be significant. Perhaps even more so if the numbers are not historical.

The Israelites all met with the purpose of making David their king. They stayed at Hebron for three days, during which they feasted and made preparations.

1 Chronicles 9: The Returning

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Concluding all our previous genealogies, we are told that this is as had been recorded in “the Book of the Kings of Israel” (1 Chron. 9:1), which shouldn’t be confused with the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel, which is cited throughout 1-2 Kings.

The fact that only Israel is named in the title of this source, particularly given the Judahite/Jerusalem focus of Chronicles, is a little odd. Some commentaries I’ve looked at have explained this away by saying that, with the fall of northern kingdom and, in particular, in the post-exilic community, the kingdom of Judah (re-)appropriated the name. This would make sense, given how frequently Jacob is referred to as Israel in Chronicles so far. It seems that this name is being thoroughly claimed for a national identity.

For another possibility, we turn to the Septuagint, which calls it “the Book of the Kings of Israel and Juda.” We’ll see a similar title later on, “the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel” (2 Chron. 16:11). Suggesting that perhaps the source’s original title named both, and that it was corrupted here to refer only to Israel.

This is one of those instances where not knowing Hebrew is very frustrating. In English, the phrase is: “and these are written in the Book of the Kings of Israel. And Judah was taken into exile” (1 Chron. 9:1). It doesn’t take much – moving the period, a wee grammatical fudging – to change the book’s title. Is the same the case in Hebrew? The Septuagint’s translators seem to have thought so (or, at least, the English translators of the Septuagint’s Greek translators, just to add an extra layer to my frustration).

Moving on, we learn that Judah (referring in this case, I presume, to the southern kingdom rather than to the tribe) was taken into exile in Babylon, which was of course because of their unfaithfulness. This brings us to the list of the first individuals to return, who are categorized as: “Israel, the priests, the Levites, and the temple servants” (1 Chron. 9:2). This seems to suggest that the author holds those devoted to the cult apart from the laity, from Israel proper.

If we skip over to the King James Version, the “temple servants” are instead called the Nethinim. James Pate ties these Nethinim servants either to Numbers 31:47 / Ezra 8:20, where Moses gives a number of prisoners of war over to the Levites, or to the Gibeonites who, in Joshua 9, were given to the Levites by Joshua after they tricked him into not slaughtering them (in the first scenario, they are foreign captives, while in the second they merely pretend to be). Pate as a more detailed explanation in his post.

My New Bible Commentary notes at this point that “no effort is made to link the names of this chapter with the detailed genealogies in the preceding chapters” (p.375). This might lead a lesser woman to gently knock her forehead against her desk and wonder what the point of the last eight chapters might have been.

The Inhabitants of Jerusalem

We begin with a few of the people of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh, who returned to live in Jerusalem. A few commenters note the odd list. Judah and Benjamin were both closely tied to Jerusalem, so they make sense, but why Ephraim and Manasseh? The consensus among those commenters who brother to mention the detail seems to be that Ephraim and Manasseh comprised a fairly large portion of the northern kingdom. Including them here gives the sense of universality – of the idea that these first re-settlers are properly representative of Israel. This isn’t quite taken all the way, as none of the individuals listed appear to be from either of those tribes.

From the tribe of Judah, we have:

  • Uthai, son of Ammihud, son of Omri, son of Imri, son of Bani, descended from the sons of Perez;
  • Asaiah and his sons, of the Shilonites;
  • Jeuel, who was descended from Zerah;
  • And 690 of their kinsmen.

From the tribe of Benjamin, we have:

  • Shallu son of Meshullam, son of Hodaviah, son of Hassenuah;
  • Ibneiah son of Jeroham;
  • Elah son of Uzzi, son of Michri;
  • Meshullam son of Shephatiah, son of Reuel, son of Ibnijah;
  • And 956 of their kinsmen.

Of the priests, we get:

  • Jedaiah
  • Jehoiarib
  • Jachin
  • Azariah son of Hilkiah, son of Meshullam, son of Zadok, son of Meraioth, son of Ahitub, the chief officer of the house of God (commenter consensus seems to be that this was an unknown title that probably did not refer to the high priest);
  • Adaiah son of Jeroham, son of Passhur, son of Malchijah;
  • Maasai son of Adiel, son of Jahzerah, son of Meshullam, son of Meshillemith, son of Immer;
  • And 1760 of their kinsmen.

The first thing that occurred to me when reading this list is that it’s extremely messy. There really doesn’t seem to me any unifying formula, which speaks either to corruption or, my preferred explanation in this case, a cobbling together of numerous sources.

Levitical Families

We turn next to the Levites. I found it strange that they should be listed separately from the priests of 1 Chron. 9:10-13, unless we are seeing a distinction being made between the Levitical priests and the non-Levitical priests.

Of the Levites themselves, we have:

  • Shemaiah son of Hasshub, son of Azrikam, son of Hashabiah, descended from Merari;
  • Bakbakkar, Heresh, Galal, and Mattaniah, the sons of Mica, son of Zichri, son of Asaph;
  • Obadiah son of Shemaiah, son of Galal, son of Jeduthun;
  • And Berechiah son of Asa, son of Elkanah, who lived in the villages of the Netophathites.

We then move on to a list of individuals performing specific cultic duties. Again, the separate listing makes it seem as though we’re talking about a separate category – were the gatekeepers not Levites?

Of this section, my New Bible Commentary also notes that the purpose of including so many names of people involved in cultic duties was not necessarily the importance of the names themselves, but rather to “stress that the post-exilic community was primarily a religious community” (p.276).

In any case, the gatekeepers who were stationed at the king’s gate (on the east side) were:

  • Shallum, the chief of the gatekeepers;
  • Akkub;
  • Talmon;
  • Ahiman;
  • And their kinsmen.

The gatekeepers working in the Levite camp who were in charge of the services, and who were the keepers of the thresholds of the tent, were the Korahites. They were led by Shallum son of Kore, son of Ebiasaph, son of Korah. Previously, their leader had been Phinehas son of Eleazar, “the Lord was with him” (1 Chron. 9:20). This would be the Phinehas from Numbers who murdered Zimri and his Moabite lover/wife Cozbi in Num. 25:7-8, thereby ending God’s plague du jour.

Jewish captives with camel and baggage on their way into exile. Detail of the Assyrian conquest of the Jewish fortified town of Lachish (battle 701 BCE) Part of a relief from the palace of Sennacherib at Niniveh, Mesopotamia (Iraq)

Jewish captives with camel and baggage on their way into exile. Detail of the Assyrian conquest of the Jewish fortified town of Lachish (battle 701 BCE) Part of a relief from the palace of Sennacherib at Niniveh, Mesopotamia (Iraq)

Finally, we have Zechariah son of Meshelemiah, who was the gatekeeper at the entrance of the tent of meeting.

There were 212 gatekeepers in total. The text here tells us that these offices were established by David and the prophet Samuel, despite the inclusion of Phinehas among their number above. They were arranged into four groups, each being in charge of a cardinal direction, and each having its own chief. These four chief gatekeepers were Levites (does that mean that the others weren’t? Or didn’t need to be?), and they were also in charge of both chamber and treasury of the temple. 

These gatekeepers had to lodge near (or perhaps within the broader complex) of the temple, so that they could be present to watch over the temple – as was their duty – and to open the gates every morning. But lest they become lonely, their kinsmen were required to come in from their respective villages once every seven days to be with them. 

Those who were in charge of the utensils used in cultic services were required to count them whenever they were brought in or out. Others were in charge of the furniture, others of the vittles. The sons of the priests were in charge of mixing the spices, and Mattithiah son of Shallum the Korathite was in charge of making the flat cakes. Other Kohathites were in charge of preparing show-bread for each sabbath.

After the gatekeepers, we get the singers, who were also Levites. They lived in the temple, and “were on duty day and night” (1 Chron. 9:33) as musicians, and therefore had no other responsibilities.

Before we leave the Levites, James Pate brings up an interesting point about which group(s) were to have the high priesthood, and that there seems to have been different opinions on the matter:

Should it go through Aaron’s son Ithamar (through whom Eli and Abiathar came), or Aaron’s son Eleazar (though whom Phinehas and, according to the Chronicler, Zadok came)?  I’m not saying that there is any place in the Hebrew Bible that supports Ithamar, but it is interesting to me that Ithamar’s descendants were the high priests in I-II Samuel, when God had promised Eleazar’s son Phinehas an everlasting priesthood in Numbers 25:13, plus Phinehas appears to be the high priest in Judges 20:28.  What happened to Phinehas?  Was the priesthood taken away from him and given to Ithamar’s line?  Could the Jewish story of how God removed God’s presence from Phinehas be (at least in part) an attempt to address this question?  In any case, Phinehas’ line got the high priesthood back, assuming that Zadok was the descendant of Phinehas.

The Family of Saul

Without any segue, we move from a listing of the returnees back in time to another genealogy of Saul, a repetition (with differences) of 1 Chron. 8:29-40. It seems significant that the return is bracketed by Israel’s first king.

We open in Gibeon with Jeiel, called the father of Gibeon. With his wife, Maacah, Jeiel’s sons were: Abdon, Zur, Kish, Baal, Ner, Nadab, Gedor, Ahio, Zechariah (who appears as Zecher in 1 Chron. 8:31), and Mikloth. The addition of Ner to the sons of Jeiel is rather important, since it connects Saul’s lineage directly to Jeiel (which 1 Chron. 8 fails to do).

Mikloth fathered Shimeam (who appears as Shimeah in 1 Chron. 8:32), while Ner fathered Kish. Kish was the father of Saul. Saul, in turn, fathered Jonathan, Malchishua, Abinadab, and Eshbaal.

Jonathan fathered Meribbaal, who fathered Micah. Micah fathered Pithon, Melech, Tahrea, and Ahaz. Ahaz fathered Jarah (who appears as Jehoaddah in 1 Chron. 8:36), and Jarah fathered Alemeth, Azmaveth, and Zimri. Zimri fathered Mozam (who appears as Moza in 1 Chron. 8:36) who fathered Binea. From Binea, we get Rephaiah (who appears as Rephah in 1 Chron. 8:37), from whom we get Eleasah, who fathered Azel. Azel fathered Azrikam, Bocheru, Ishmael, Sheariah, Obadiah, and Hanan.

We are now officially up to date and ready to begin the narrative portion of the book!

1 Chronicles 8: False Start

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For this penultimate genealogical chapter, we turn back to Benjamin. The tribe has already been covered in 1 Chron. 7:6-12, and there seems to be considerable discussion as to why it should then be repeated here (one theory being that the chapter 7 version was originally intended to be about Zebulun and Dan, but was made to be about Benjamin through corruption).

Assuming that the chapter 7 version really is meant to be about Benjamin, the first thing that stands out is that the construction is different here. In chapter 7, the lineage followed a “the sons of A were…” formula, whereas here, we get a “A fathered B” formula. There’s no reason for the Chronicler to switch back and forth between these formulas, unless the Chronicler is simply copying whatever is being used by his source materials. This, alone, strongly suggests that two separate sources are being used for each of these lineages. (I mean, the fact that that the two contain rather extreme variants makes this rather conclusive, but I thought the note about formulas was rather interesting.)

Another detail worth noting is that the chapter 7 version had more commonalities with Gen. 46:21, whereas the version we get here seems more similar to Num. 26:38-41. Even so, there are more differences than common points. It seems that the Benjaminites were either terrible record keepers, or perhaps a certain usurping dynasty did a little expunging when it came into power.

We begin with Benjamin’s sons: Bela, Ashbel, Aharah, Nohah, and Rapha. Bela and Ashbel both appear in Num. 26:38, but the rest of the names, from either list, don’t match. My New Bible Commentary makes an interesting observation here: The construction in this passage names “Bela his first-born” (1 Chron. 8:1), whereas in 1 Chron. 7:6, we got “Bela, Becher, and Jediael.” According to the Commentary, “In Hebrew, ‘Becher’ and ‘firstborn’ have the same consonants” (p.375). It’s possible, therefore, that the source the Chronicler used in chapter 7 (evidently the same source as was used in Genesis 46:21) incorrectly interpreted the title of “first-born” as a proper name, the same of a second son.

We next move down through Bela (the only son of Benjamin who is named in all four of our lineages!), whose sons were: Addar, Gera, Abihud, Abishua, Naaman, Ahoah, Gera, Shephuphan, and Huram.

It’s perhaps getting redundant to point out that the sons of Bela bear no resemblance whatsoever to the sons listed in 1 Chron. 7:7. We do a little better in Num. 26:40, where his sons are named Ard and Naaman (Ard might be a corruption, or vice versa, of Addar, and Naaman is present in both lists).

The inclusion of two sons named Gera is likely yet another scribal error.


We next come to the sons of Ehud. This, of course, poses a problem since no Ehud has been mentioned so far. According to my New Bible Commentary, this might be caused by a mistake similar to the one that birthed Becher. Abihud, named in 1 Chron. 8:3, may have originally been two separate words, which would replace “Abihud” with “[Gera] the father of Ehud” (p.375).

Some commentaries identify him as the left-handed Ehud the Benjaminite, who was the son of Gera, named in Judges 3:15. This would, of course, require that Ehud be Gera’s son, which would in turn require the assumption I mentioned above regarding Abihud.

The descendants of Ehud lived in Geba, and were taken into exile to Manahath. His sons were: Naaman, Ahijah, and Gera (of which the text says “Gera, that is, Heglam” – 1 Chron. 8:7). Gera fathered Uzza and Ahihud.


From Ehud, we move on to someone named Shaharaim, whose connection to Benjamin’s lineage is not stated. We are told that he had sons in Moab, after he had sent away his wives, Hushim and Baara.

Benjamin and Joseph

Benjamin and Joseph

We might wonder what Shaharaim was doing raising a family in Moab, rather than in the Benjaminite tribal lands. The obvious answer was that he was escaping a famine, just like Elimelech in Ruth 1:1. We see the same famine-driven movements a few times in Genesis, as well.

More perplexing is the phrase “after he had sent away Hushim and Baara his wives” (1 Chron. 8:8). James Pate provides a few possible explanations, but I think that the most compelling is that he divorced Hushim and Baara, then later took a new wife (perhaps a Moabite) with whom he had children in Moab.

We then learn that he had sons with Hodesh, his wife (presumably the one he married after divorcing Hushim and Baara). These sons were: Jobab, Zibia, Mesha, Malcam, Jeuz, Sachia, and Mirmah. The name ‘Mesha’ stood out at me, since it’s the name of the king recorded in the Mesha Stele. It seems that Shaharaim was giving his sons good Moabite names.

He also had some sons by his earlier wife, Hushim: Abitub and Elpaal. Elpaal fathered Eber, Misham, and Shemed. Shemed is said to have built Ono and Lod.

Other Expat Benjaminites

Beriah and Shema are named, though disconnected from the previous lineage. I initially thought them further sons of Elpaal, but the grammar is rather tricky. Of them, we learn that they lived in Aijalon, and that they (or their descendants) fought against the people of Gath, which would mean Philistines.

The list continues, shifting to a different formula. In this one, we get a list of names first, then we are told whose sons they are. It’s a rather annoying way of presenting information, I must say! In any case, the sons of Beriah are: Ahio, Shashak, Jeremoth, Zebadiah, Arad, Eder, Michael, Ishpah, and Joha.

We then move back up to the sons of Elpaal, perhaps further sons or perhaps we are dealing with a different Elpaal: Zebadiah, Meshullam, Hizki, Heber, Ishmerai, Izliah, and Jobab.

Disconnected from Shaharaim’s lineage, we get the sons of Shimei: Jakim, Zichri, Zabdi, Elienai, Zillethai, Eliel, Adaiah, Beraiah, and Shimrah.

Then the sons of Shashak: Ishpan, Eber, Eliel, ABdon, Zichri, Hanan, Hananiah, Elam, Anthothijah, Iphdeiah, and Penuel.

Jeroham’s sons were: Shamsherai, Shehariah, Athaliah, Jaareshiah, Elijah, and Zichri. These, we are told, lived in Jerusalem.  (Perhaps along with the Jebusites, as per Judges 1:21, or perhaps during the Davidic dynasty, or perhaps even in post-exilic times – it’s rather impossible to situation the lineage in time.)

Living in Gibeon, we get Jeiel – named the father of Gibeon – and his wife Maacah. Their sons are: Abdon, Zur, Kish, Baal, Nadab, Gedor, Ahio, Zecher, and Mikloth. Mikloth fathered Shimeah.

There’s an odd verse here: “Now these also dwelt opposite their kinsmen in Jerusalem, with their kinsmen” (1 Chron. 8:33). It seems odd that this should refer to Jeiel’s family, right after we are told that they were living in Gibeon. One possibility is that the sons moved to Jerusalem from Gibeon. Another is that Gibeon is geographically quite close to Jerusalem, and perhaps either fell under Jerusalem’s authority, or there was at least a good deal of traffic between the two towns. Yet another is that this verse is meant to apply to the next lineage, and not to Jeiel’s.

The Genealogy of Saul

In the final section of the chapter, we learn the lineage of Saul, beginning with Ner, who fathered Kish, who fathered Saul (1 Chron. 8:33). This contradicts 1 Sam. 9:1, where Kish is the son of Abiel. Further, if we look to 1 Sam. 14:51, we find Kish and Ner listed as brothers, both the sons of Abiel.

Another detail worth pointing out is that 1 Sam. 9:1 goes further back. It begins with Aphiah, who fathers Becorath, who fathers Zeror, who fathers Abiel, and only then do we get to Kish. Did the Chronicler not have access to those additional generations? Or did he choose not to include them?

The sons of Saul are listed as: Jonathan, Malchishua, Abinadab, and Eshbaal. In 1 Sam. 14:49, Saul’s sons are listed as: Jonathan, Ishvi, and Malchishua. This could be an error, or perhaps Ishvi was another of Eshbaal’s names; a nickname, for example. It could also be an error that Abinadab is omitted, or perhaps he died young and the author didn’t find him worth listing. This latter view is supported by 1 Samuel 31:6, where we learn that Saul and his “three” sons died on the battlefield. Either Abinadab was added to 1 Chron. 8:33 by error, or he was dead prior to the events of 1 Sam. 31:6 (or otherwise out of the picture, but I feel like David’s account would require an explanation for bypassing Abinadab in the succession).

Jonathan fathered Meribbaal, who fathered Micah. Micah fathered Pithon, Melech, Tarea, and Ahaz. Ahaz fathered Jehoaddah, who fathered Alemeth Azmaveth, and Zimri. Zimri fathered Moza, and Moza fathered Binea. Binea fathered Raphah, who fathered Eleasah, who fathered Azel. Azel’s sons are: Azrikam, Bocheru, Ishmael, Sheariah, Obadiah, and Hanan.

Azel also had a brother, Eshek, who fathered Ulam, Jeush, and Eliphelet. Ulam fathered (directly or indirectly, sons and grandsons) 150 mighty warriors).

It’s worth noting that there is a son of Saul named Ishbosheth in 2 Sam. 2:8 and elsewhere. Ishbosheth would be translated as “man of shame”, as opposed to Eshbaal, which would be “man of Baal.” The son of Jonathan named Meribbaal (“Baal contends”) here is apparently the same person as Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth (“From the mouth of shame”), appearing in 2 Sam. 4:4 and elsewhere.

The reason for the author of 2 Samuel to altar these names is theological, concealing the honouring of Baal in the names of the sons of Israel’s first anointed king, and the beloved of the second. It seems clear that Saul and Jonathan worshipped Baal, instead of or as well as YHWH, and that the author of Samuel wanted to fudge that over.

That much is obvious, but the more interesting question is why the Chronicler would keep the original names intact. He could be working with a different source, one that hadn’t bowdlerized the names.

Another possibility is that the Chronicler views David as the true first king of Israel, the perfect monarch to which all others must be compared. It’s “Golden Age” thinking, where there was a perfect time when everything was set up the way God wanted it, and that we fell from that state of grace. The existence of prior YHWH-approved king complicates that narrative, especially if our archetypal king overthrew that original dynasty in a coup.

This provides the motivation to disparage Saul and his dynasty, to deny its legitimacy and therefore to argue that David was actually the first true YHWH-approved king. Keeping hints that the Saulide dynasty worshipped Baal certainly achieves that purpose, if subtly.

1 Kings 9: Hints of trouble

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God last phoned home in 1 Kings 3, where he gifted Solomon some wisdom (among other things). Like an absent father who does try to keep in touch sometimes, God calls in to congratulate Solomon for having build “all that Solomon desired to build” (1 Kgs 9:1), what with the temple and the palace, and a bunch of fortifications, and the palace for his Egyptian queen, and whatnot.

The conversation is fairly typical Deuteronomist fair: Follow the rules and all will be well, disobey and I’ll exile you. This time, he has a temple to point to and can tell Solomon that “this house will become a heap of ruins” (1 Kgs 9:8) if he’s disobeyed. Interestingly, he points again to David as both a religious exemplar and as an example of the rewards for faithfulness. You know, the David who lost a child and then his throne at least once (possibly twice) because God was angry with him. But now the gears have shifted and he is the paragon king. It’s the privilege of the dead, I suppose.

Dream of Solomon, by Luca Giordano, 1693

Dream of Solomon, by Luca Giordano, 1693

The rest of the chapter hints at Solomon’s mismanagement of Israel as he focused on his grandiose building projects. We’re told that he gave twenty cities to King Hiram of Tyre, who had previously sold him the wood for use in construction. It would be an odd thank you gift, since Solomon paid for the wood, and is made odder still when we learn that King Hiram sent Solomon 120 talents of gold. This suggests that Solomon sold parts of the country to Tyre. But Solomon seems to be a jerk to his friends as well as his subjects, as Hiram was quite disappointed in the cities when he visited them. So disappointed, in fact, that “they are called the land of Cabul to this day” (1 Kgs 9:13). The meaning of Cabul is unknown, but seems related to “like nothing.”

This is followed by a list of Solomon’s building projects, which required forced labour to build. The list includes something called “the Millo,” which is mentioned as already existing in 2 Sam. 5:9, so either Solomon improved it, rebuilt it, or one of the sources was in error. The list also includes Gezer, which we are told was conquered from the Canaanite inhabitants by Pharaoh. Despite burning the city down and slaughtering its inhabitants, Pharaoh thought it was still a suitable dowry, and gave it to Solomon along with his daughter. Solomon then rebuilt it.

Apparently contradicting 1 Kgs 5:13, we’re here told that the forced labour Solomon used was of the non-Israelite variety. Instead, he forcibly enslaved all the other ethnic groups left in the country, such as the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. Unlike the Israelite levy, these other enslaved groups remained enslaved “to this day” (1 Kgs 9:21). It’s possible that the distinction is in the type of forced labour, that when the text reads that “of the Israelites Solomon made no slaves” (1 Kgs 9:22), what is meant is that they are merely forced to work for the government for a defined period of time, but that their status is not changed to slave. It could also be that the brute labour was to be done by the non-Israelites, whereas the Israelite levy was to work as overseers and such (which appears to be supported by this chapter).

There’s a very brief mention of Solomon’s cultic activities, telling us that he made offerings three times a year at the temple. Knowledge of the context is assumed, unfortunately, but it seemed to me that Solomon was acting as a Priest King, leading the sacrifices at three major festivals per year. If that’s correct, then we see something of a continuation of the Mosaic tradition, with the strict division between king and priest not being introduced until later on. This would all be supported by 2 Samuel 8:18, where David’s sons were made priests despite being Judahites, not Levites. It seems that, at the time of the early monarchy, the royal family was still intimately involved in the ritual life of the nation.

There’s a final note about one of Solomon’s trade ventures. Despite the disappointment of the twenty cities, King Hiram continues to be on Team Israel and helps Solomon build a bunch of ships for a trade mission to Ophir so that Solomon can get gold.

1 Kings 3-4: Solomon tries to cut a baby in half


The court cleared of dissent, Solomon starts working on external politics – marrying the daughter of an Egyptian Pharaoh. He brought her to the city of David, pending the completion of his own house (presumably here meaning “palace” rather than “dynasty”) and the wall around Jerusalem.

The Deuteronomist editor slips in a bit about how “the people were sacrificing at high place,” though this is excusable for the time being because “no house had yet been built for the name of the Lord” (1 Kgs 3:2). We know by content that this is the Deuteronomist talking, but we know to look because it makes no sense in context. This location for the verse seems to have been chosen only because of the mention of construction preceding it, and the mention of Solomon worshipping at high places following.

In fact, the source material seems to approve quite plainly of Solomon’s worship at the high places, saying that he did it because he “loved the Lord” (1 Kgs 3:3). Solomon, we are told, was quite a fan of these high places (and of God!), and sacrificed a hyperbolic amount. In particular, he made a huge sacrifice at Gibeon, which occasioned God’s appearance in his dreams.

Like some sort of magical fish, God offers to grant one wish. Solomon chooses wisdom, and God is so pleased with the choice that he just grants riches, honour, and long life, too – so long as Solomon always obeys God, of course. Then again, the bar is set rather low, since God only requires that Solomon walk on God’s road “as your father David walked” (1 Kgs 3:14) – has he been reading the same book I’ve been reading?

Solomon is so pleased with how that dream, went (and who wouldn’t be!) that he rushes back to Jerusalem to make another offering before the ark.

Practical Wisdom

The next seems to have been included to show us an example of Solomon’s new-found wisdom in action. It takes place while he sites in judgement, apparently bridging the gap between local chieftain and king, since it seems unlikely that a king would have the time to see more than a symbolic handful of petitioners – a lesson Moses learned way back in Exodus 18 and Deuteronomy 16.

Victor Matthews says that Solomon may have taken up the task for political reasons:

These shifts [introduction of monarchy and movement of population to urban centres] contributed to significant changes in legal customs and the administration of justice in ancient Israel. Naturally the Israelite kings, like their ancient Near Eastern counterparts (see the preface to Hammurabi’s code in ANET, 164), wished to exercise as much control over the law and its enforcement as possible in order to increase their own authority. This meant the king had to be identified with dispensing of justice to all segments of society, especially the weak. The ideal, perhaps best exemplified by Solomon’s judging of the two prostitutes (1 Kgs 3:16-28), was to create the perception that he was a “just king.” With this accomplished, it would be more likely that people would look to him first for justice. (Manners & Customs of the Bible, p.119)

The scene is very similar to David’s dealings with Ziba and Mephibosheth back in 2 Samuel 19. In that case, David had granted Mephibosheth’s lands to Ziba after the latter claims that the former failed to support David when he fled Jerusalem. When David returns, Mephibosheth claims that Ziba had lied. In this case, two prostitutes come before Solomon, claiming that they had given birth within three days of each other and, while alone in the house one night, one of them had lain on her baby, suffocating it by accidentally. Now, each are claiming that the mother of the dead child secretly switched it for the other woman’s living child.

The Judgement of Solomon, by Peter Paul Rubens, c,1617

The Judgement of Solomon, by Peter Paul Rubens, c.1617

When David had dealt with Ziba and Mephibosheth, he tried to resolve the argument by splitting the lands in half, so that each would get a share. Solomon claims that he will do the same here, fetching a sword to cut the baby in half so that each woman could have a share.

When the solution was given, both Mephibosheth and the (presumably) true mother gave up their claim (the other woman demanding the child’s death so that “it shall be neither mine nor yours” – 1 Kgs 3:26), preferring that the land/baby be whole and out of their possession, rather than divided/dead and only half theirs. David shrugged and accepted Mephibosheth’s relinquishing of his claim to the lands. Solomon, by contrast, declares her to be the true mother and gives her the baby, whole.

This story only really works in contrast to David’s, so that we can see Solomon’s wisdom boost in contrast to how David dealt with a similar issue. But neither story works except in contrast to the other. David dealt horribly with Ziba and Mephibosheth, rewarding a man who seems to have been opportunistic and perfectly willing to betray his master (not something a king should particularly be encouraging – though the fact that David does certainly goes a way toward explaining how his reign came to be so troubled), while screwing over a cripple whose livelihood was probably put into question by the ruling.

In Solomon’s case, there was really only one way to resolve the issue, and it depended entirely on one woman (and only the one) relinquishing her claim. Any other outcome would have required Solomon to either reveal his bluff or murder a baby – neither which, I imagine, would have particularly endeared him to his people.

The second woman had recently lost her baby and resorted to kidnapping a replacement. While it’s certainly possible that she might have been so bitter that she would rather see a second baby die rather than live in a house with a healthy baby who wasn’t her own, that seems far from the only way she could have responded. So unless Solomon’s wisdom included clairvoyance, I think his gambit was far more of a long shot than the narrative implies – unless, of course, he really was perfectly willing to murder the baby.

Incidentally, Tim Bulkeley points out that neither woman is called “mother” by the narrative, only by Solomon and only at the very end when he renders his judgement. He also mentions that when the one who is determined to be the true mother is moved by “compassion” (1 Kgs 3:26) to relinquish her claim, the word used is etymologically related to the word for “womb.”

Solomon’s Administration

Chapter 4 begins with Solomon’s cabinet. From the very first, there’s some confusion as we are told that Azariah, the son of Zadok was the priest, while a few verses later has both Zadok and Abiathar as priests (Abiathar, of course, having been deposed earlier). Explaining Abiathar’s presence requires that we assume that some time-hopping is going on, but Azariah is more complicated. I can only guess, but it’s possible that Azariah’s role is as a family priest, perhaps tending exclusively to Solomon and his household, while Zadok and Abiathar are meant to be the co-high priests, in charge of all the other priests. Sort of like the difference between a family chaplain and a pope.

We also get another Azariah, this time the son of Nathan, who is in charge of the officers. Zabud, also the son of Nathan, is another priest and king’s friend. My first thought was that both of these Nathans were Nathan the Prophet, though it seems more probable given the lack of honorific that he was David’s son, mentioned in 2 Sam. 5:14.

  • Elihoreph and Ahijah, the sons of Shisha, served as secretaries;
  • Jehoshaphat, son of Ahilud, was recorder;
  • Benaiah, son of Jehoiada, was commander of the army;
  • Ahishar was in charge of the palace;
  • Adoniram, son of Abda, was in charge of the forced labor.

We’re also told that Solomon appointed twelve officers, overseers of the various territories in the nation. Interestingly, these territories do not “conform to the old tribal boundaries,” as my study Bible puts it. These officers seem to be in charge of collecting taxes, providing food for the king and his household (apparently each being responsible for one month of the court’s needs per year). These officers were:

  1. Ben-hur over the hill country of Ephraim
  2. Ben-decker over Makaz, Shaal’bim, Bethshemesh, and Elonbeth-hanan
  3. Ben-hesed over Arubboth
  4. Ben-abinadab over Naphathdor (and he was married to Taphath, Solomon’s daughter)
  5. Baana, son of Ahilud, over Taanach, Megiddo, and Bethshean
  6. Ben-geber over Ramoth-gilead
  7. Ahinadab, son of Iddo, over Mahanaim
  8. Ahimaaz over Naphtali (and he was married to Basemath, Solomon’s daughter)
  9. Baana, son of Hushai, over Asher and Bealoth
  10. Jehoshaphat, son of Paruah, over Issachar
  11. Shimei, son of Ela, over Benjamin
  12. Geber, son of Uri, over Gilead
  13. An unknown officer over Judah

The count is more than twelve, perhaps indicating that the unknown officer over Judah was separate from the others, perhaps meaning that Judah was exempt from the taxes Solomon required of the other regions. If so, this looks more like a primary tribe collecting tribute from vassal tribes than a real unified nation.

I also find it interesting that Solomon has married two of his daughters to these regional leaders, particularly when he’s clearly dabbling in external politics. There’s probably nothing to it, but it makes me wonder if perhaps Solomon was still working to settle a turbulent court. He either executed or exiled all the major threats, and I wonder if this is evidence of him trying to secure internal allies through marriage. (Though Crusader Kings II has taught me that these internal unions can be quite a double-edged sword, since they give the descendants of those courtiers hereditary claims to the crown that may cause problems for your successors.)

Despite the mention of taxes and forced labour, we’re assured that everyone in Judah and Israel was happy, and that Solomon’s kingdom was very large. We’re given a list of the provisions he went through in one day, which I assume indicates the size of his court rather than the size of his belly. It seems a bit much even if it’s for his entire family.

We get some gushing about the awesome number of horses, chariots, and horsemen, not to mention the stables required to house such numbers. This detail – clearly presented here in a positive light – obviously comes from a different source than Deut. 17:16.

The boundaries of Solomon’s kingdom are rather unlikely. The fact that they fit with the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 15 suggests that they are likely a romanticized fantasy of the nations “glory days,” rather than an accurate description of a small, new nation just beginning to emerge from its origins as a tribal confederacy.

Solomon’s Wisdom

To close off the chapter, we get another reminder that Solomon was so terribly wise. In fact, he was so wise that he “surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt” (1 Kgs 4:30) – though the only demonstration we’ve seen so far leaves me rather unconvinced. Unless he is meant to only seem wise by comparison.

Solomon is mentioned to be wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, as well as the sons of Mahol: Heman, Calcol, and Darda. Clearly, this is a reference the reader is supposed to get.

We’re told that he composed 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs, and that he seems to have had a fair bit of knowledge of the natural sciences (or liked nature themes in his songs and proverbs, I suppose). People came from “all the kings of the earth” to seek out his wisdom, clearly implying that – at least as far as threatening to cut babies in half was concerned – Solomon was better than any other king.

2 Samuel 21: The Giants of Gath

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The remaining chapters of 2 Samuel are considered a sort of Appendix, relaying various bits and bobs that fit, thematically and chronologically, with the preceding book before the narrative continues in 1 Kings 1.

This chapter in particular appears to take place prior to 2 Sam. 9. The theory goes that Samuel initially ended with 2 Sam. 8, with the material of chapters 9-20 “having been suppressed for a time, though finally restored,” according to my study Bible (p.385). Thus, when 2 Sam. 21 was added, it came from different sources and did not fit chronologically with the rest of the book. We’ll notice, for example, that at least one story is a repeat (albeit with a surprising change), and a few details seem to come from a different source than what we’ve been mostly been reading so far.

While the last four chapters of 2 Samuel clearly come from different sources, they do seem to have been arranged with care. My New Bible Commentary notes that “the six sections contained in these four chapters are arranged chiastically: natural disaster, military exploits, poem, poem, military exploits, natural disaster” (p.312).


There was a famine in Israel for three years in a row. The people are suffering and, finally, David calls on God. One might wonder why he let the famine get into its third year before doing this, but I suppose it just takes that long before a palace starts to feel the pinch.

Of course, God shows a bit of his own weird sense of time, because he claims to have sent the famine as punishment for Saul killing the Gibeonites (a story not recorded in our text). Israel had sworn not to kill them (Jos. 9:3-27, albeit through trickery), but Saul had done so anyway “in his zeal” (2 Sam. 21:2). We’ve had hints of this zeal in, for example, the story of the witch of Endor (1 Sam. 28:9). This paints a picture of a Saul who was very concerned with establishing a Yawehist Israelite homogeneity, compared to David’s liberal use of Philistines and other non-Israelites in his personal guard.

Why Israel should be punished now for Saul’s actions is left unexplained. A cynic might wonder if perhaps David wanted to find a reason for the famine that he could bring back to his people, but didn’t want it to be anything that was his fault (particularly if we’re placing this story fairly early on in his rule). In fact, isn’t it convenient that the famine is a punishment against his deposed predecessor? Doesn’t that just every so nicely discourage any lingering support for Saul?


David goes to the Gibeonites and asks them what can be done to appease them. It seems that God’s retributive justice was not initiated by himself, but rather by a Gibeonite curse that either took this long to come into effect, or they’ve been biding their time until the responsible party is dead and his dynasty collapsed.

The Gibeonites claim that they do not want to be repaid in blood or gold, except that they do actually want seven of Saul’s sons to be hanged on the mountain of God at Gibeon – which sounds an awful lot like the blood vengeance they claimed not to be asking for. This only avoids being a contradiction if a) the number seven is a symbolic one, replacing the one-to-one killing of a blood vengeance, or b) the nature of the killing is ritually/legally different from a blood vengeance. In other words, if this is meant to be a human sacrifice to God rather than a tribal justice matter.

David agrees to their terms, though we get a clunky, clearly added later note that he spares Mephibosheth because of his oath to Jonathan. Instead of Mephibosheth, he chooses Armoni and Mephibosheth (a case of name recycling, at one end or another) – the sons of Saul and his concubine Rizpah. It seems that some of Saul’s survived him, though 1 Sam. 31 implied that they all died with him at the battle of Gilboa.

For the other five, he got the five sons of Michal, Saul’s daughter, and Adriel, son of Barzillai the Meholathite. Obviously an issue because it is Merab who married Adriel in 1 Sam. 18:19. Also a problem because we were told in 2 Sam. 6:23 that Michal died childless.

Some theories have been proposed to fix the discrepancy; for example, that Merab’s sons were given to Michal to bring up. Others, such as my RSV, simply change the name to Michal to “fix” the error. According to Paul Davidson of Is That In The Bible?, there are some problems with this bandaid:

(1) We have already shown that the mention of Merab marrying Adriel in 1Sam 18 is a separate tradition and a later addition to 1 Samuel. It is difficult to assume “Merab” is the correct reading once we realize that the earlier reference to Merab’s marriage – the very passage scholars would like to harmonize 2Sam 21 with – is a later insertion. (2) The LXX confirms the reading of “Michal” in 2Sam 21:8, which means that if there was such an error, it was very widespread, and it happened before the LXX was produced. (3) Josephus, Pseudo-Jerome, and rabbinic sources confirm the reading of “Michal” and propose harmonizations. (4) Targum Jonathan appears to have been based on a vorlage that reads “Michal”, and it solves the problem by asserting that Michal simply raised the children on behalf of Merab.

The record is clearly a bit dodgy, however you cut it.

These seven sons and grandsons of Saul are hanged and God is appeased (despite the excuse that God is appeased because the Gibeonites withdraw their curse, this still smells rather strongly of human sacrifice).


So the Gibeonites are happy, but poor Rizpah isn’t. She camps out at the spot where her two sons are left hanging and keeps all the carrion eaters away until the rain comes (it being the sign that the drought-induced famine would soon be over). From context cues, it seems that the bodies were left hanging the entire summer, from late April or May until the Autumn.

Rizpah, by Peter Graham, c.1850

Rizpah, by Peter Graham, c.1850

When David hears of Rizpah’s vigil, we’re told that he fetched Saul and Jonathan’s bones from Jabesh Gilead and buries them along with the bones of the men sacrificed by the Gibeonites in Zela, the tomb of Saul’s father. It is after the funeral that God finally relented and the famine was over.

The text seems to want to tell us that Rizpah’s grief convinced David to bury Saul and Jonathan’s bones, yet he expressed more than enough grief himself to do it way back in 2 Sam. 1. It makes it rather difficult to believe that it had never occurred to David before now to give them a proper burial – particularly Jonathan, whom he claimed to love so much.

It’s difficult not to see the political motivations behind David’s decision to bury them now. It could be that he needed this big show of love for Saul and Saul’s dynasty to avoid repercussions from Saul’s remaining supporters. Or perhaps it was an attempt to show that he didn’t give in to the Gibeonites’ demands too readily.

It could also be to smooth over the fact that David had allowed the men’s bodies to hang, exposed to the elements, for what could be as long as six months – a huge insult, as well as a clear violation of the law (Deut. 21:23).

In fact, the entire Gibeonite desire for revenge (particularly its timing) looks awfully suspicious. A cynic might wonder if David used a natural disaster as an excuse to get rid of a bunch of Saul’s descendents and thereby solidify his own hold to power.

Philistine Aggression

The Philistines are at it again! In this chapter, we hear of four Philistine champions, all descended from giants, and the Israelite heroes who defeated them.

There’s Ishbibenob, whose spear weighed as much as three hundred shekels of bronze. With a new sword in hand, he comes after David, but Abishai steps in (again) and kills the threat. After this, David’s men forbid him from coming out to fight with them, “lest you quench the lamp of Israel” (2 Sam. 21:17). If I were to venture a guess, I’d say it was known that David did not participate in his own military campaigns. Some people, like the author of this passage, tried to excuse his absence. Others, like the author of 2 Samuel 11, clearly did not approve.

The next champion is Saph, dispatched by Sibbecai the Hushathite.

The third might be a little familiar: Goliath the Gittite, once again armed with a spear like a weaver’s beam (2 Sam. 21:19; 1 Sam. 17:7). This time, however, he is defeated by Elhanan, son of Jaareoregim. According to Kenneth C. Davis, “the King James translators of 1611 tried to cover up the discrepancy by inserting the words “brother of” before the second mention of Goliath, but older texts don’t bear that version out” (Don’t Know Much About the Bible, p.177).

Paul Davidson has a discussion of the episode on Is That In The Bible? that I recommend, but here’s an excerpt:

It is commonly thought by scholars that this was the original Goliath legend, for various reasons. In the earliest folktales, it was the champion Elhanan who slew Goliath when Israel was threatened by an ancient race of giants. Elhanan, Abishai, and Jonathan were all members of the Shalishim (the “Thirty”), a group of elite warriors who are listed in 2Sam 23. (Sibbecai is also included in the parallel list in 1 Chr 11:10–47.) Later on, as the figure of David the warrior king became more important to Jews and the other characters more obscure, the story of Goliath was retold with David as the hero instead.

The last Philistine champion is unnamed, but we’re told that he had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, and was slain by Jonathan, the son of Shimei and David’s nephew.

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