Amos 5-6: Lamentations

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Amos 5-6 give us a lamentation very similar to what we read in the book of Lamentations. The difference is largely one of tense – Lamentations bemoans the horror that has happened, while Amos is looking forward to a coming horror.

As in Lamentations, Israel is feminized. And, again, we see the theme of friendlessness, the “virgin Israel” (Amos 5:2) is forsaken in her own lands, and no one will help her.

The Day of the Lord

Amos warns that the “day of the Lord” (Amos 5:18) is coming. He bemoans those who look forward to the day of God, because it is a day of darkness, not one of light. To look forward to such a day would be like to flee from a lion only to encounter a bear (Amos 5:19).

Given a lot of the context, the “day of the Lord” seems to refer to a day of judgement. And, given the commentaries, that’s definitely how many others seem to read it. But Collins gives an interesting alternative possibility:

In later times it came to mean the day of judgement. In this context, however, it clearly refers to a cultic celebration, perhaps the Festival of Tabernacles or Sukkoth, which was known as “the feast of YHWH” in later times. Tabernacles was celebrated at the end of the grape harvest. It was a joyful festival, marked by drinking wine. It was a day of light, in the sense of being a joyful occasion. For Amos, however, the day of the Lord was darkness and not light, gloom with no brightness. He is sweeping in his rejection of the sacrificial cult, in all its aspects. Instead, he asks that “justice roll down like waters.” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.157)

In other words, this could be Amos condemning the excess of a festival, rather than naming the anticipated day of judgement. Either interpretation could easily fit the context.

But if the “day of the Lord” does refer to a day of judgement, Amos has very clear ideas of what it will look like and why it’s deserved. The people of Samaria hate those who “reprove in the gate” and those who speak the truth (Amos 5:10), which sounds rather personal coming from a prophet. They also trample the poor and take from them exactions of wheat. While Amos certainly cares about social justice issues, his personal pique seems just a tad more important.

Amos warns the people that though they’ve built lovely stone houses, they won’t get to live in them. Though they’ve planted nice vineyards, they won’t get to dink the wine. Because God knows how great their sins are, and he knows that the people of Samaria afflict the righteous, turn aside the needy at the gate, and take bribes (the city gate being where justice is served – or, as the case may be not).

Because of all these things, God will destroy the strong. The cities will be decimated, and there will be wailing in all quarters when God “will pass through the midst of you” (Amos 5:17).

The only chance will be to seek God, and to seek good instead of evil. Bring justice back to the gates (Amos 5:15) and maybe God will be gracious.

I Despise Your Feasts

God calls to the people of Samaria to “seek me and live” (Amos 5:4), but not to bother at Bethel, Gilgal, or Beersheba.

God hates their feasts and their solemn assemblies. The people make their offerings, but God won’t accept them. He even asks that they take away the noise of their songs (a strong contrast to what we read in Chronicles!).

Amos, by John Sargent

Amos, by John Sargent

Instead of all this pomp and ceremony, “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). It’s a hard argument to disagree with.

For Collins, the problem isn’t necessarily with the ceremonies themselves, but rather that they “gave the people a false sense of security, since they felt they were fulfilling their obligations to their God when in fact they were not. For this reason, sacrifices, even if offered at great expense, were not only irrelevant to the service of God, but actually an impediment to it” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.158).

God, via Amos, asks if the people brought him sacrifices and offerings during their forty years of wandering in the desert (Amos 5:25). In the context,this seems to be used to call back to a state of purity, when justice (rather than ritual) reigned. Therefore, the only answer Amos could have expected from his audience is a “no.” This is a problem in light of the Pentateuch, where the origins of ritual traditions are tied to the exodus.

In Amos 5:25, God promises to take the Samarian people into exile to Damascus because they worshiped idols, including the Assyrian gods Sakkuth and Kaiwan. According to Collins, this could be a problem for the dating of Amos. Because while Samaria was, in fact, eventually destroyed by Assyrians:

[T]he Assyrian threat was not in evidence during the reign of Jeroboam and developed only in the reign of Tiglath-pileser III, whose reign began about the time of Jeroboam’s death. Amos never mentions Assyria in his oracles, but a few passages refer to the punishment of exile, which was typical Assyrian policy (5:5,27). These oracles are more easily explained if they are dated somewhat later, when Assyria was a threat to Israel. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.155)

I Abhor Your Pride

Amos 6 is quite a bit shorter than the preceding chapter, and mostly focuses on the pride of Samaria.

It begins with a lament for those who feel at ease or secure, whether in Zion or Samaria (Amos 6:1). That tossing in of Jerusalem seems so casual, and yet there it is.

Amos asks, is Samaria better than Calneh or Hamath (according to my study Bible, these were important commercial centres in Assyria), or Gath (an important Philistine city)? Or is their territory greater than yours?

Amos predicts woe coming to the wealthy: Those who lie on ivory beds, those who eat lamb and calf, those who drink drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves, those who sing idle songs, those who, like David, invent for themselves instruments of music (Amos 6:5). After reading the fawning over David in Chronicles, this dismissal of him as something of a layabout really struck me. In any case, these creatures of wealth and comfort would be the first to go into exile, and their revelry will pass away. This did, of course, prove to come true.

God hates the pride of Jacob, he hates his strongholds, and so he has commanded that the great houses be smitten into fragments and the small houses into bits (Amos 6:11).

Though Samaria may congratulate itself for its military prowess, God will raise a nation against it (Amos 6:13-14).

Returning to rhetorical questions, Amos asks if horses run on rocks, or if oxen are used to plow the sea? Though the answers are apparently obvious no, the people have Samaria have managed to turn justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood (Amos 6:12). In other words, the injustice seen in Samaria is a perversion of the natural order.

A Celestial Deity

Before I leave Amos 5-6, I wanted to mention Amos 5:8:

He who made the Pleiades and Orion,
and turns deep darkness into the morning,
and darkens the day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea
and pours them out upon the surface of the earth,
the Lord is his name.

This makes God seem like an amalgam of typical Near Eastern male nature deities. God is the god of the stars, of the sun and moon, and of rain. It feels deliberate, like Amos is asserting that his god is the true god of these things, and that the worship of these things (either directly or through other gods) is idolatry. Maybe.

2 Chronicles 8-9: Solomon’s Stuff

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

We open with some miscellaneous constructions and expansions:

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

On the subject, James Bradford Pate writes:

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

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

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

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

Of Slaves and Overseers

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

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

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

Social Shuffling

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

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

The Queen of Sheba

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

The Queen of Sheba, by Isabella Colette

The Queen of Sheba, by Isabella Colette

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

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

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

Solomon’s Wealth

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

2 Chronicles 5-7: Consecrating the Temple

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In these three chapters, we see Solomon bringing the ark of the covenant into the new Temple, then consecrating the building. I apologize in advance because it’s all painfully boring. I had steeled myself for the early chapters of 1 Chronicles, having been warned that it would just be a list of names. However, I actually found myself enjoying them. Comparing the lists to their occurrences in other books of the Old Testament was actually quite fun, like a scavenger hunt. This chapters about the Temple, however, are making my eyes fuzzy.

Bringing Home the Ark

With the construction finished, Solomon’s first order of business is re-homing the ark. The narrative takes up all of 2 Chron. 5, and largely matches up with the same narrative found in 1 Kgs 8:1-11.

The ark isn’t alone. First, Solomon moves in all the knick-knacks and bits-and-bobs he and David had collected for it. Then, in the 7th month, he assembled the elders and leaders of Israel. They formed a procession before the ark, making sacrifices along the way. The Levites (who are called “priests” in 1 Kgs 8:3) carry the ark, as well as the tent of meeting and holy vessels.

When they get to the Temple, the ark is placed in the inner sanctuary, in its spot beneath the cherubim wings. The poles, which remained with the ark, are so long that they can be seen from the inner sanctuary’s antechamber (but, the Chronicler assures us, not from outside!).

The poles, we are told, “are there to this day” (2 Chron. 5:9). Except that they clearly aren’t. I mean, obviously they aren’t to this day, but they weren’t to the Chronicler’s day, either. So why is this sentence here? Did our Chronicler just zone out for a bit while copying from his sources? Is there some broader theological point that I’m missing? To quote Geoffrey Rush in Shakespeare In Love, it’s a mystery.

The ark, we learn, contains only Moses’s two tablets, which had been placed there at Horeb. The location of the covenant’s reception is consistent with the Chronicler’s source, 1 Kgs 8:9, as well as Deuteronomy (see Deut. 29:1). It does not, however, match Exodus (see Ex. 31:18 or Ex. 34:4), nor Leviticus (see Lev. 26:46 or Lev. 27:34), where the covenant was received at Sinai.

When I read here that there was nothing else in the ark, I narrowed my eyes and hissed “gotcha!” As, apparently, I also did when I read the same thing in 1 Kings 8. See, I’m very clever to have remembered Aaron’s staff and the pot of manna, but not quite clever enough to remember that neither of these items is ever described as having been placed in the ark, merely in front of (see Ex. 16:33-34 for the manna, and Num. 17:10 for the staff). My sole consolation is that my error is a common one. So common, in fact, that the author of Hebrews 9:3-4 did it as well. So I suppose I can say that I made an error of biblical proportions.

While we’re on the subject, it’s worth noting that neither the staff nor the manna is mentioned here, either in the ark or in its accompanying luggage.

After the priests had all been sanctified, they and the musicians (who are mentioned only in the Chronicler’s version of events) were forced to stop their ministrations when the Temple filled with smoke.

As I read this, it occurred to me that the ark could have doubled-up as a large censer. It’s often associated with clouds (see Ex. 24:16, Ex. 40:35, Num. 10:34), so perhaps something was burned inside the ark in order to, literally, create a “smokescreen.” If that’s the case, it might be the basis of the story of Nadab and Abihu, told in Lev. 10:1-3. In that story, the two priests incorrectly load their censers, and both are burned to death as a result. It could be that the story originated as a cautionary tale for priests tending the ark, as whatever they burned there could be quite volatile. (Where as the immediate death in Num. 2:40 seems to be more about protecting the cultic mysteries.) Perhaps the fuel used in the ark was a little unstable, and sometimes it would smoke too much and force the priests out of the Temple. This is all unsubstantiated fancy, of course, but fun to think about.

Dedication and Consecration

2 Chron. 6-7 mostly follow 1 Kgs 8:12-66. I’ll note content changes as we go along, but I’m given to understand (via Dr. Joel Hoffman of God Didn’t Say That) that there are quite a few grammatical differences between the two accounts, suggesting that the Chronicler wasn’t just copying mechanically from his source. To me, this suggests that what is left the same is meaningful, as it was done so with intention.

The ark carried into the temple, from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, early 15th cent.

The ark carried into the temple, from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, early 15th cent.

Solomon begins with an evocation, in which he states that God has said “he would dwell in thick darkness” (2 Chron. 6:1). It’s impossible to tell, in English, whether God’s statement should be read as an imperative (“God desires to dwell in thick darkness”) or a prediction (“God would one day dwell in thick darkness”). I’d be interested to know if the difference is clearer in the Hebrew. In any case, this and the next verse serve to introduce the Temple.

Solomon blesses the assembly, then gives yet another speech about God’s greatness, his fulfilling of promises, and all the other usual blather. It would be nice if these guys could hire a new speech writer every once and a while.

In his speech, Solomon says that God once had no Temple and no king, but that between David and this lovely new Temple, he now has both (2 Chron. 6:4-6). This pretty strongly implies that, as far as the Chronicler is concerned, there was no king before David (and this is new, the passage doesn’t occur in 1 Kgs 8). Yet, we know that the Chronicler knew about Saul, and that he expected his audience to know about Saul (1 Chron. 10 is devoted to the guy). The point is clearly that David is the first true king, but does that mean that the Chronicler does not believe, as the author of 1 Sam. 9 did, that God chose Saul to be Israel’s first king?

In the 1 Kgs 8 version of events, we get a Quantum Solomon who is both standing (1 Kgs 8:22) and kneeling (1 Kgs 8:54-55) during the dedication of the Temple. Here, the Chronicler fixes up the story by having Solomon stand before the altar, his hands spread out. He then kneels, with his hands stretched up to the sky. The only weirdness that remains is the position of Solomon’s hands, where we seem to get some repetition.

The Chronicler adds another detail: Instead of simply being in front of the altar, Solomon is standing on a special bronze platform. According to my study Bible, this could be meant as a sort of ‘safe zone’, so that Solomon can perform the ceremony on this one occasion even though the spot before the altar was exclusively reserved for priests. This could reflect a change in custom, perhaps as Israel sought to differentiate itself from other nearby religions that did not distinguish overmuch between the roles of king and priest (or, heck, between god and priest, if we’re willing to skip over to Egypt). If so, there may be other clues as to widening gap between the secular and the religious roles – in 2 Sam. 8:18, we are told that David’s sons served as priests.

The emphasis of Solomon’s speech is mostly on the idea that the Temple is not meant to contain God, but rather to serve as a focus for God’s attention. So that vows made at the Temple are particularly binding, and apologies for sins made at the Temple are more likely to be heeded (if, for example, the people want to end a punishment, such as drought, plague, or famine). Solomon also mentions that foreigners are welcome to worship God at the Temple, if they want to.

Solomon also includes provisions for people who are unable to come to the Temple. He asks God to listen to the prayers of soldiers, directed toward Jerusalem, when they are out fighting God’s wars. Lastly, he asks (rather poignantly, given the Chronicler’s perspective) that God listen to the prayers of Israelites who have been taken captive abroad.

The 1 Kgs 8 version of the dedication ends with another reference to the Exodus and to Moses. Somewhat surprisingly, given the Chronicler’s penchant for referencing Moses, he omits this. Instead, he replaces it with a bit about David that follows Ps 132:8-10 fairly closely.

Once Solomon is finally done talking, a fire comes down from heaven to consume the burnt offering (though is it still a burnt offering if God himself burns it? At that point, it’s just an offering that will then be burned). Someone apparently messed up the fuelling of the ark again, however, and God’s “glory” filled the Temple, driving out the priests. The Israelite masses saw the fire and worshipped. This whole bit about the fire, including the repetition of the priests being forced out of the Temple, is not found in the 1 Kgs 8 telling.

The Israelites feasted for seven days, then held a solemn assembly on the 8th day. On the 23rd day of the 7th month, the people were finally dismissed and returned to their homes. In 1 Kgs 8:65, the people are merely sent home on the 8th day, and there’s no mention of a solemn assembly.

The Chronicler tells us that the people returned to their homes with gladness in their hearts because of the goodness that God had shown to David and Solomon (2 Chron. 7:10), though the parallel verse (1 Kgs 8:66) mentions only David.

Wrapping things up, God appears personally to Solomon to let him know that he approves of what’s been done and, of course, issue a few threats. This passage is mostly lifted from 1 Kgs 9:1-9, and includes special concern that the Isrealites not go off to worship other gods (if they do, they will be plucked out of Israel and God will make an example of them, lovely).

1 Chronicles 18: A Nation At War

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

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

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

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

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

The Hadadezer Chronicles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Details

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

2 Kings 25: The Fall of the House of David

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I mentioned in the last chapter that the Chaldeans were the tribal group that had taken control of Babylon, and the Neo-Babylonian Empire – the empire that Judah is currently dancing with – was ruled by a Chaldean dynasty.

While at the time, I was making the argument that the mention of “Chaldeans” was meant to indicate a group separate from those directly under Babylonian control (in other words, not the state army). Here, however, “Chaldeans” is apparently used interchangeably with “Babylonians.” I will still be trying to use whichever term the text uses in that instance, just in case, but I’m not perceiving that a distinction is being made.

Zedekiah’s Rebellion

At the very end of the last chapter, Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon. It’s unclear why he would have done this, particularly since he had been installed by Babylon in the first place, but the results were disastrous.

From this point onwards, the dates are given with absolute precision. No longer are we learning only the year of an event, but also the month and even the day.

So in the 10th day of the 10th month of the 9th year of Zedekiah’s reign, Babylon retaliated, besieging Jerusalem. The siege lasts about a year and a half before the famine in Jerusalem became unbearable.

In what appears to be a desperate bid to save himself, Zedekiah breaches his own wall and, with a bunch of soldiers, makes a run for it at night, heading for the Arabah. The venture fails, however, and the Chaldeans soon overtake the fleeing Hebrews. They manage to capture Zedekiah and bring him before Nebuchadnezzar.

Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, by David Roberts, 1850

Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, by David Roberts, 1850

As punishment, they make Zedekiah watch as they kill his sons, then put out his eyes. The last thing he ever saw was the murder of his children.

He was then bound and taken to Babylon.

The city now fallen, Nebuchadnezzar’s captain of the bodyguard, Nebuzaradan, burned the city to the ground – including Solomon’s temple. The Chaldean soldiers even tore down the city’s walls. All the people remaining, regardless of their allegiances, were taken off into exile (except, we are told, for the very poorest, who are left behind to tend the farms).

The fall of Jerusalem occurs, we are told, in the 19th year of Nebuchadnezzar’s rule. Unless I’ve missed something, the math adds up, as Nebuchadnezzar had already ruled 8 years by the time he installed Zedekiah as king of Judah (2 Kings 24:12), and Zedekiah ruled 11 years (2 Kings 24:18).

Presumably before setting the fires, the Chaldeans raid the temple for its metals – particularly bronze, silver, and gold. Anything too large to be carried off whole was broken down. It’s difficult to imagine how much gold was left after Nebuchadnezzar did the same thing in 2 Kings 24:13, but it seems that they were able to find something.

After razing the city, Nebuzaradan took the chief priest (Seraiah), second priest (Zephaniah), the three keepers of the temple’s threshold, the military commander, the commander’s secretary, the give men of the king’s council, and 60 other unspecified men. Be brought them to Nebuchadnezzar, who had them killed.

Tim Bulkeley points out that the description of the razing of Jerusalem isn’t nearly as awful as some of the other sieges we’ve read about. On the whole, it seems that Babylon was almost kind in their treatment of the Judahites. And yet, at the same time, the horror of the destruction was a much greater blow to the Jewish psyche. After all, Jerusalem was the seat of God’s power, and what did it say about God to have it destroyed? That, of course, is what the Hebrew people in exile had to sort out.

The Unfortunate Gaffer

The Babylonians have another go at installing a local man to govern Judah – this time as governor rather than as king. They choose Gedaliah, the son of Josiah’s advisor Ahikam (2 Kings 22:12). Though not of the royal dynasty, he would clearly have been well positioned to know what needed to be known about the nation’s governance, and would have all the right connections.

Apparently quite soon after, a number of men present themselves to Gedaliah at Mizpah (apparently a temporary replacement capitol following the destruction of Jerusalem) to swear their allegiance. Among them were: Jehoanan son of Kareah, Seraiah son of Tanhumeth, Jazaniah son of ‘the Maacathite’, and Ishmael son of Nethaniah. This last was, apparently, a member of the previously-royal Judahite dynasty.

When the men swear their allegiance, Gedaliah delivers a short speech in which he urges them not to fear the Chaldean occupation. So long as they serve Babylon, he says, everything will be fine!

Unfortunately for me, all was not fine. Just a few months later, Ishmael gathered together ten men and murdered Gedaliah, along with both Jewish and Chaldean people with him. After that, they flew to Egypt in fear of the Chaldeans.

It’s hard to imagine what Ishmael was hoping to achieve. Was he trying to restore his dynasty? Become king himself? Or was it simply an act of defiance?

The book ends with Jehoiachin, who had been in exile 37 years when Evil-merodach (who has one of the best names in the Bible so far) became king of Babylon. He “graciously freed” Jehoiachin (2 Kings 25:27), and treated him extremely well and with high honour – even going so far as seating him higher than all of the other kings (presumably excluding himself) in Babylon.

My study Bible explains that there may be a very good reason for concluding the book in this way: “The writer may have used this information to end hi sbook with a note of modest hope, as though to say (in spite of 24.9): the Davidic dynasty has not been snuffed out.”

 

2 Kings 23: To Little, Too Late

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This chapter mostly focuses on Josiah’s rather violent religious reforms. But first, he gathers all the people together at the temple to read out his new Book of Law, and to reconsecrate Judah under the covenant.

The reforms themselves are everything we’ve come to expect. Altars to other gods (and astral bodies) are destroyed, Asherah are burned, priests are murdered.

One thing that stands out is the length to which Josiah goes, not just to destroy non-approved shrines, but to totally desecrate them. He murders priests over their altars, burning their bones there in mock sacrifice. He cuts down the Asherim and fills the holes with human bones. He burns religious objects and spreads the ashes “upon the graves of the common people” (2 Kings 23:6).

Amidst all of that, there is a mention of priests that I believe refers to priests of YHWH serving at local shrines. These, Josiah seems to invite to serve in Jerusalem, but they refuse to come. Even so, however, they “ate unleavened bread among their brethren” (2 Kings 23:9). In trying to make sense of this, my New Bible Commentary suggests that we may interpret this to mean that “these priests were admitted to the sacred meal but were not allowed to sacrifice” (p.366). However, the impression I got was that it was the priests who refused Josiah’s reforms, rather than that they were barred from participating. It is, without a doubt, a difficult passage to make sense of.

A final act worth mentioning is Josiah’s destruction of Jeroboam’s shrine at Bethel, which has been causing so much hand-wringing through our narrative. Just to be an extra jerk about it, he digs up corpses from nearby tombs and burns them on Jeroboam’s altar to defile it.

As he’s looking for more bodies to defile altars, Josiah comes upon a particular monument and asks the locals about it. They tell him that it’s the tomb of a Judahite prophet who had predicted what Josiah is currently doing to the Bethel shrine. This sounds an awful lot like the unnamed prophet from 1 Kings 13.

I had pointed out at the time that the chapter had a very “folk myth” feel to it. In it, the unnamed prophet tells Jeroboam that his altar will someday be destroyed by a Davidic king named Josiah. Jeroboam, furious, raises his hand to command that the prophet be arrested. This hand withers, until the prophet takes pity on Jeroboam and restores it.

I noted that the story was very out of place among the histories. In particular, the fact that such a specific prophecy was made, yet had no impact on any of the named characters (despite the fact that Jeroboam witnessed a very specific and very powerful miracle) strongly suggests that it was added to the record of Jeroboam’s reign, probably after the fact. Given the explicit mention of Josiah, it seems likely that one of Josiah’s supporters either wrote the story from whole cloth, or adapted some local folk tradition for propagandic purposes. As Brant Clements of Both Saint and Cynic puts it, the prophecy is “suspiciously specific.”

Finding some measure of respect for the dead – or, at least, this dead – Josiah commands that this tomb remain unmolested, along with the bones of another prophet, this one from Samaria. Again, this second prophet is not identified. My study Bible suggests that the mention of Samaria “is probably an error for Bethel,” perhaps suggesting that there is some special grave for local prophets. However, I saw it as a reference to the Israelite prophet mentioned later on in 1 Kings 13 (though I’m not sure why Josiah should preserve that grave).

While our narrative talks about destroying, burning, and grinding up ashes, Victor Matthews suggests that perhaps Josiah wasn’t quite as thorough as he’d like us to think:

Archaeological findings from this period include fragments of a horned altar found incorporated into a wall at Arad. That the altar was dismantled and used in the construction of a non-sacred structure suggests an attempt to eliminate sacrificial activity at Arad. (Manners & Customs of the Bible, p.98)

Back in Jerusalem, Josiah enacts one final reform: the “restitution” of the Passover celebration. I use scare quotes because it’s not really clear what the history of the celebration is. I’ve seen some commenters suggest that Josiah invented the practice, which I personally find unlikely. The narrative itself claims that it was done up until the days of the judges, and then not again until now (in Josiah’s 18th year). Personally, I find it likely that it was a local festival that perhaps had been celebrated for quite a while, and that Josiah simply made part of the centralized/orthodox version of the YHWH cult that he was trying to create.

But not all was well

Josiah was a wonderful king, and close to God’s heart. In fact, there had never been and never will be a king who gave himself so entirely over to God. But, unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough. God had already decided to erase Judah, and to cast away the city and temple he had chosen for himself, mostly because of that big baddie Manasseh. It’s hard not to read this account as personal.

Despite the prophecy in 2 Kings 22:20, there is war. Although Josiah seems to have brought his fate on himself.

The narrative tells us that Neco, pharaoh of Egypt, went to the king of Assyria. At this time, Josiah decided to meet the pharaoh at Megiddo, where their armies clash and Josiah is killed.

A small kneeling bronze statuette, likely Necho II, now residing in the Brooklyn Museum

A small kneeling bronze statuette, likely Necho II, now residing in the Brooklyn Museum

My study Bible helps to fill in the details, explaining that Assyria had mostly fallen to Medes and Chaldea (though it seems that nearly everyone in the area was taking advantage of Assyria’s weakness – the Wikipedia page describes something of a pile-on), but was still fighting to survive. Egypt, Assyria’s ally at that time, may have been moving to help fight some other enemy. Since Judah had so recently been a vassal state (or perhaps still was), it would have made sense for them to join the fray in the hopes of further weakening Assyria, and perhaps scooping up some of its lands.

In any case, it appears to have been the wrong choice, and Josiah’s corpse was brought back to Jerusalem in a chariot for burial.

With Josiah dead, the people raise his son, Jehoahaz, to succeed him. Jehoahaz, son of Hamutal, was 23 years old at the time, and lasted a mere 3 months. He was deposed by Pharaoh Neco, imprisoned, then died in Egypt.

Neco installed a successor of his own choosing: Josiah’s other son, Eliakim (whom the Pharaoh renames Jehoiakim). The condition of Jehoiakim’s rule appears to have been vassalage, and the new king of Judah pays a tribute to Egypt.

Jehoiakim was 25 years old and the son of Zebidah. He lasted 11 years. Both sons are described as evil, though it’s difficult to imagine how Jehoahaz had the time to prove himself such.

There are a few tantalizing hints here as to Judah’s political landscape. Perhaps the biggest is that Jehoahaz, who was appointed by the people, was the younger of Josiah’s two sons. For whatever reason, the Judahites decided to forego the tradition of primogeniture to give him the crown.

Perhaps the fact that Egypt crowned Jehoiakim can give us a clue. It may be reasonable to assume that Jehoiakim had expressed a desire to give in to Egypt, whereas Jehoahaz was in favour of resistance. We may be seeing a glimpse, then, of competing factions within Judah. The fact that the narrative condemns both as evil complicates matters, and I’m really not sure what to make of that.

In any case, we are clearly approaching the fall of Judah.

2 Kings 18-19: God Versus Assyria

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It seems that despite Hoshea’s removal from power and the destruction of Israel as a nation, Hoshea’s son Elah managed to succeed his father. It seems that the political situation in Israel/Samaria is a little more complex than the text has so far indicated.

The narrative turns back toward Judah where, in the third year of Israel’s Elah, Hezekiah came to power. He was 25 years old when he took the crown, and ruled for a total of 29 years. When compared to 2 Kings 16:2 and run a little math, we find that Jezekiah must have been born when his father, Ahaz, was only 11 years old. Hezekiah’s mother was Abi, the daughter of Zechariah.

Hezekiah gets, by far, the best review of all the kings we’ve seen so far (including David since, despite our current author’s nostalgic view, he did not get such a great review while he was the star of the story). God just adored Jezekiah.

What did he do to merit such credit? He finally destroyed those pesky high places, broke pillars, and cut down the Asherah. He also broke Moses’ bronze serpent (made in Numbers 21:6-9) because people had been burning incense to it and calling it Nehushtan.

The position of our author seems rather clear: that the object belonged to Moses and was later worshipped as a symbol (or perhaps an actual deity) in itself. This is rather interesting given that the serpent appears to have been one of the symbols of Baal, and likely a part of the pre-Israelite Canaanite religion. So it seems that this pre-Israelite symbol survived the evolution of the YHWH cult, its pagan associations erased as it is given a compatible origin story, up until this point. Suggesting that perhaps its non-Israelite origins were still known at this point in our narrative, despite the co-existing association to Moses.

He also rebelled against Assyria, and killed many Philistines.

Assyria Ascending

There is a brief nod to the events in Israel, mostly repeating 2 Kings 17:5-6. In the fourth year of Hezekiah and the seventh year of Hoshea, Shalmaneser besieged Samaria, taking it three years later. The Israelites were deported because they had failed to obey God.

This seems to have been included to serve as a contrast as we begin the narrative of Assyria’s attack on Judah, juxtaposing the non-god-fearing Israelites to the (now) god-fearing Judahites under Hezekiah’s leadership.

A decade later, in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah, Assyria comes after Judah. This time, however, it is led by King Sennacherib. The Assyrians seem to have made quite a bit of headway through Judah, conquering “all fortified cities of Judah” (2 Kgs 18:13) – Jerusalem is not explicitly excluded from this description. Hezekiah tells Sennacherib to withdraw, to which Sennacherib responds with a price: 300 talents of silver and 300 talents of gold.

Despite his big talk, Hezekiah is willing to pay, though it means stripping the gold from the doors and pillars of the temple.

Incidentally, it seems that Sennacherib’s own records confirm this interaction (at least in its broad strokes): “He [Sennacherib] claims to have laid siege to 46 walled cities and many villages, to have taken 200,150 people, and to have shut up Hezekiah in Jerusalem ‘as a bird in a cage’. His figure, ‘300 talents of gold, 800 talents of silver, plus many other items’, is in close agreement” (New Bible Commentary, p.362).

From here, the narrative dives straight into what appears to be a description of an active siege on Jerusalem (which, spoilers, ends with Assyria’s retreat). Given that the rest of this narrative is unnecessary if Hezekiah successfully met Sennacherib’s demands, it has been argued that there are actually two conflict events being described: One in which Assyria is paid off, and one in which they are forced to abandon their campaign for reasons that we will discuss later on. There doesn’t appear to be any direct evidence for this “two campaign” theory, but the narrative hardly makes sense otherwise.

My personal feeling here is that Hezekiah paid tribute to Assyria after the initial show of force, but perhaps refused to pay a later tribute, much as Hoshea did in 2 Kings 17. As in Israel’s case, this would have led to Assyria’s retaliation.

Proceeding with this assumption, I will discuss the remainder of the narrative as though it refers to a separate incident.

Assyria’s Return

Assyria’s army is encamped at Lachish (as it was in 2 Kings 18:14, during the “first invasion”). They send three representatives to Jerusalem, here identified as the Tartan, the Rabsaris, and the Rabshakeh (according to the New Bible Commentary, these are the Akkadian terms for ‘second in command,’ a high military official, and probably a civil official, respectively, p.363). From this point onward, the titles are used as if they were given names.

King Hezekiah, artist unknown, 17th cent, located in the choir of Sankta Maria kyrka in Åhus, Sweden

King Hezekiah, artist unknown, 17th cent, located in the choir of Sankta Maria kyrka in Åhus, Sweden

The representatives call out for Hezekiah, but Judah’s king sends three representatives of his own instead: Eliakim son of Hilkiah (who is described as being “over the household,” which I took to mean he was the steward), Shebnah (the secretary), and Joah son of Asaph (the recorder).

The Rabshakeh seems to assume that Judah is relying on Egypt to protect them (again, this is very reminiscent of Hoshea’s rebellion in 2 Kings 17:4). He then asks if Judah would rely on their god when Hezekiah himself has been destroying so many of God’s shrines? It’s hard to determine if this is meant to be a joke about Assyria’s lack of understanding of the Hebrew religion, or if it’s further evidence that the local shrines were very much still an important part of the folk religion. Likely a bit of both.

The Rabshakeh ends with a baiting wager: Assyria will give Judah 2,000 horses if they can produce enough riders for them. The intention of this bait is made clear as Rabshakeh asks how Judah expects to fight off Assyria’s captains when they rely on Egypt for their chariots and cavalry?

These interactions certainly indicate that there was far more to Judah and Israel’s relationship with Egypt than we see explained in our text.

Rabshakeh’s final insult reads more like editorializing, as he declares that it is on behalf of Judah’s own God that they have come – reiterating the punitive nature of Judah’s troubles. It seems unlikely that the Assyrian would have taken this position.

Eliakim, Shebnah, and Joah ask Rabshakeh to speak to them in Aramaic rather than “the language of Judah,” so that the people on the walls – who are apparently within earshot – would not understand. Rabshakeh refuses, saying that his master has sent him to speak to them all, as they are all doomed to eat their own dung and drink their own urine. He does seem like a lovely fellow, no? In any case, this seems like a refusal to acknowledge Hezekiah’s representatives as a special diplomatic class. Rabshakeh is addressing Judah as a whole, he is not there to negotiate.

Isaiah’s Prophecy

There appear to be two separate versions of what happens next:

In the first, Rabshakeh calls out loudly in the language of Judah, telling the Judahites not to be deceived by Hezekiah’s claims that God can save them from Assyria. Assyria has defeated all other gods, and it would be better for the people of Judah to simply surrender now. The words have little effect, however, as the people keep their silence as per Hezekiah’s orders.

Hezekiah rends his clothes and wears sackcloth, and goes into the temple. He also sends Eliakim, Shebna, and the senior priests – all also wearing sackcloth – to seem the prophet Isaiah (yes, that one) to ask him to encourage God to defend his honour after he has been insulted by the Assyrians.

Isaiah reassures Hezekiah’s representatives that they need not fear the Assyrians because God “will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land” (2 Kings 19:7).

In the second version, we get a strange detail of Rabshekah hearing that his king has left Lachish to fight against Libnah. When the Assyrian king hears about Tirhakah, the king of Ethiopia, he sends messengers to Hezekiah warning him not to think that God will be able to preserve Judah when all other gods have fallen before Assyria. (The threat is clearly the same one Rabshekah gave earlier).

There’s no explanation of why Sennacherib is fighting Libnah, or what any of this has to do with Tirhakah. It’s all made even more confusing by the fact that, according to my study Bible, Tirhakah was not even the king of Egypt yet (though he was apparently a general first, and that this could be a reference to him in that position instead).

Hezekiah brings the letters to the temple and prays that God would pay attention to Judah’s plight: “Incline thy ear, O Lord, and hear; open thy eyes, O Lord, and see” (2 Kings 19:16). He acknowledges that the Assyrians have defeated the local gods of every other nation they have conquered, but those, insists Hezekiah, were man-made gods, made of wood and stone. They were not like YHWH.

Enter Isaiah, who confirms that God has heard Hezekiah’s prayer. What follows is a lengthy poem that I found rather inaccessible. However, there is a bit about how current events were long planned as a punishment. God ends by giving a sign: The Judahites will eat only what grows of itself this year and the next, but will resume farming in the third year. Those who survive will then “again take root downward, and bear fruit upward” (2 Kings 19:30). This seems to indicate that perhaps there will not be the security to farm, due to attacks and raids, over the next two years.

However, says God via Isaiah, the King of Assyria will never enter Jerusalem, nor shoot arrows into it, nor lay siege to it. Instead, he will be routed because God protects Jerusalem for David’s sake. According to the New Bible Commentary, this part of the prophecy is in conflict with Sennacherib’s own version of the campaign. In it, he mentions a rampart, which would indicate a siege (p.363).

That night, the angel of the lord killed 185,000 people in the Assyrian camp, so that the rest of the soldiers woke in the morning to find the bodies. Because of this, Sennacherib retreated back to Nineveh. At some point after that (the text implies a connection, though it seems that many years had passed), Sennacherib was worshipping in the temple of Nisroch when two of his sons, Adramelech and Sharezer, murdered him and escaped to Ararat. A third son, Esarhaddon, then took the crown.

Brant Clements notes that the Assyrian records make no mention of the loss of 185,000 soldiers, though of course this isn’t exactly proof that it didn’t happen.

However, it is clear that something caused the Assyrians to turn back from Jerusalem. Some interpreters, trusting in the biblical account of the mysterious deaths, suggest a plague in the Assyrian camp. Others point to Sennacherib’s troubled end, suggesting that civil unrest at home forced him to abandon the campaign. Certain among the faithful credit God – as does the text. These aren’t, of course, mutually exclusive explanations.

2 Kings 17: Of the ashes, Samaria is born

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We’ll see a few different editorial layers in this chapter. The essence of it is that Israel falls, its people are displaced, and the land repopulated with people from other nations. So, of course, the Deuteronomists are all over that, fighting for line space in attempts to turn the event into a moral lesson for Judah (which, of course, would suffer the same fate some 150 years later).

The styles differences and individual particular concerns are easily read through the text. My study Bible specifically identifies passages its editors identify as having been composed by the second Deuteronomist (who already knew that Judah would also fall) and a third who wanted to make absolutely clear that the Samaritans (as the inhabitants of Israel would be known after the nation was conquered) were absolutely incorrect in their worship of YHWH.

The Fall of Hoshea

The opening has our familiar formula as we return to Israel. In the twelfth year of Judah’s King Ahaz, Hoshea son of Elah became king in Israel. We had covered this much in 2 Kings 15, learning that Hoshea took over the crown in a coup in a time when that was clearly in vogue.

I noted then that an Assyrian inscription has the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser directly involved in the coup, perhaps installing Hoshea as a puppet. This seems to have been a poor choice.

Hoshea reigned for nine years, walking in the way of evil (though at least not in the same evil way as his predecessors, though the statement is not clarified). In that time, Israel was a vassal of Assyria, and he paid an annual tribute to Shalmaneser V.

At some point, and for reasons that are not explained, he started communicating with So, the king of Egypt, and stopped paying tribute to Assyria. If Egypt made promises that it reneged on, it’s not mentioned here, and it seems rather foolish of Hoshea to simply stop making tributes. Unfortunately, with so little information on the internal politics and pressures, it’s hard to figure out what he may have been thinking.

A note should be made on the Egyptian king, So, as our Egyptian records give us no such person. Nicolas Grimal suggests two possibilities: The first is that So refers not to a person, but is “a mistaken Hebrew spelling of the city of Sais.” If this is the case, it would be something like a foreign dignitary saying that he’s “contacting Washington.” Glancing at the Egyptian pharaohs, we find that the king would have been Tefnakht. However, Grimal continues, Israel would not have been in much contact with Tefnakht. Rather, they would be in contact with Tanis (“The location of Tanis in the eastern Delta was naturally convenient for relations with Syria-Palestine.”). This region was under the control of Osorkon IV, in which case King So could be an over-correction. (A History of Ancient Egypt, p.342)

My New Bible Commentary, on the other hand, proposes either Shabaka or Shabataka as the likely king. Both of these suggestions seem too late to be likely candidates, however. Another possibility offered up by the NBC is that So could be a mistaken reference, not to a king, but to Sibu, “a ‘Tartan’ or general of Egypt whom [Sargon] defeated at Raphia in 720” (p.361).

Assyria’s vengeance is somewhat swift: Hoshea is imprisoned and Samaria under siege. It’s not explained what Hoshea was doing outside of Samaria in the first place (since the narrative makes clear that he was taken prisoner before the attack on the city began), though I’ve seen suggestions that, perhaps with his plans regarding Egypt falling through, he might have gone to Shalmaneser’s court to beg forgiveness.

2 Kings 17The siege against Samaria lasts for three years. While not mentioned in our text, we know from Assyria’s records that, during this time, Shalmaneser died and was replaced by Sargon II.

When Samaria fell, the Assyrians took the Israelites captive and brought them back to Assyria, repopulating the country with people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim.

Sargon’s own records seem to confirm this. According to the New Bible Commentary, Sargon “records for his first year that he beseiged and took Samaria, carried away 27,290 inhabitants and other plunder, and settled people from other lands there” (p.361).

Brant Clements, over at Both Saint and Cynic, writes that deporting “an entire population was impracticable. The Assyrians probably carried the rich, the powerful, and the elite into exile leaving the poor and powerless behind.” I’m sure he’s right, but Sargon’s number of 27,290 is absurdly high for that to be the case (though likely inflated for propagandic purposes). The goal of this kind of displacement would have been to remove those with the resources and social power to organize a rebellion, severing them from their power bases, from the plebeian armies they might raise, and even from other potential co-conspirators. This was done by scattering them in strange lands.

A tale of national destruction could never be complete without some victim-blame-y moralizing, so we get some editorializing about how this disaster only happened because the Israelites had so sinned, even though God had brought them out of Egypt. The complaints are lengthy, and we’ve seen them so many times that I could probably just type them up by rote. I won’t, though, because I suspect that would be as tiresome for you as  it would be for me.

I will note, however, a quick intrusion from a secondary editor who reminds us that Judah totally sucked as well (2 Kings 17:19-20).

The New Samarians

With an all new multicultural immigrant population, Israel rebrands itself as Samaria, and its people as Samaritans.

These Samaritans had a rough beginning in their new home as they suffered through a plague of lion attacks. The king of Assyria is told, as we are, that this is because they do not know or worship the local god.

The theology that comes through in this story shows us a very small god, a god who belongs to a plot of land as much as it belongs to him. God is not a universal god, but the god of this patch of soil. And when that patch’s inhabitants change, they must first acknowledge the local god.

This god is a territorial god.

The Assyrian king seems to have no trouble groking this notion of divinity, and he finds one of the Israelite priests among his captives to send back. The priest is installed in Bethel with instructions to teach the new people of Samaria about their new god, in much the same way that a settler might need to learn the agricultural peculiarities of the region.

The Samaritans, too, seemed to accept that living in Israel means worshipping the god of Israel, and they quickly take up the worship of YHWH. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they are eager to give up their own gods. The Babylonians continued worshipping Succoth-benoth, the Cuthites worshipping Nergal, the Hamathites worshipping Ashima, and the Avvites worshipping Nibhaz and Tartak. The Sepharvites continued to burn their children in the fires of Adrammelech and Anammelech. They simply added YHWH to the pantheons they had brought with them.

Much to our author’s dismay, they quickly took ownership of YHWH, appointing their own priests and setting up their own shrines. Worse yet, they failed to follow God’s statutes and ordinances, even though – our editor reminds us – they ought to have known full well what happened to the last people who failed to follow them!

2 Kings 14-15: Precarious Politics

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

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

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

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

Amaziah and Jehoash go to war

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The reign of Jeroboam II

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

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

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

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

The reign of Azariah

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

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

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

Israel changing hands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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