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 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.

Riches

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 11: David’s uncomplicated rise

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Skipping straight from Saul’s death in the last chapter to David’s ascension as king, the Chronicler leaps right over the succession conflicts of 2 Samuel 2-4. In this narrative, David’s rise was effortless and conflict-less.

Right from the start, we see all of Israel congregating in Hebron to declare David as their new king. Repeating their speech almost verbatim from 2 Sam. 5:1-3, they reinforce David’s claim by saying that he had truly been the one leading them from the start, even while Saul was king in name. They make a covenant with David, and Samuel anoints him.

1 Chronicles 11 - Samuel anointing DavidWith all of Israel on his side, David turned toward Jerusalem. The Jebusites taunt David, saying that he will never enter his city. But then, wooops, he conquers it anyway. Parts of the story are copied word-for-word from 2 Sam. 5:6-10, except that all references to David’s hatred for people with physical disabilities are replaced by his vow to promote the first person to kill Jebusites (or perhaps to rush forward at the Jebusites) to the rank of chief and commander. This seems like a fairly awful way to pick leaders, given that leadership skills aren’t terribly correlated with “rush into battle and kill stuff” skills. I get that the point is to reward bravery, but this seems like the Peter Principle in action. The point is only more clearly made when we find out that it is Joab who goes first, earning his place as chief. And we all know how well that turned out (1 Kgs. 2:5-6).

My New Bible Commentary notes that Joab’s promotion here would seem to conflict with 2 Samuel, where Joab is already functioning as commander prior to the taking of Jerusalem. Yet, “the commander-in-chief of the king of Judah would not automatically have become commander-in-chief of the king of all Israel” (p.375). In other words, it’s possible that Joab was already commander, but had to re-earn his position in the new national government. Assuming historicity for a moment, this doesn’t seem unreasonable.

James Pate notes a problematic difference between this chapter and 2 Sam. 5:6-10: Whereas in 2 Samuel, David seems to have chosen Jerusalem as his capitol because it was centrally located and because it did not belong to any particular tribe (therefore avoiding the argument of favouritism), the Chronicler gives David complete support from all Israel before he turns to Jerusalem, and in fact shows a pan-tribal attacking army. So why, then, would David have needed to take Jerusalem? Pate discusses the issue in his post.

Once David took Jerusalem, it began to be known as the city of David. He and Joab then set to work repairing the city (and presumably building it up), and thus did David become ever greater.

The Mighty Men

The rest of the chapter lists the men of David’s elite army. It is nearly identical to the list found in 2 Sam. 23:8-39, though with additional names added to the end. One theory is that the 2 Samuel version ended with Uriah to rhetorically underscore the evil that David had done to him in 2 Sam. 11, whereas the Chronicler may have been working with a more complete list.

We begin with the elite of the elite, known as the Three. The group’s leader was Jachobeam, a Hachmonite, who once killed 300 enemies with his spear at one time (the number is 800 in 2 Sam. 23:8, but the difference could be caused by confusion with another warrior, Abishai, who killed 300 in 2 Sam. 23:18 and 1 Chron. 11:20).

The other two members of the Three are mashed together here, apparently due to a scribal error. In 2 Sam. 23:9-12, we learn of two members of the group: Eleazar son of Dodo the Ahohite and Shammah son of Agee the Hararite. In the 2 Samuel version, Eleazar was with David when they defied the Philistines. The Israelite army was routed, but Eleazar kept fighting until his arm grew weary – long enough to win the battle. When the Israelites returned, it was only to strip the dead. As for Shammah, the Israelite army was again routed, but Shammah stood in a plot of lentils, defending it until the Philistines were defeated.

The Chronicler’s version, however, tells us only of Eleazar, and how he was with David at Pasdammim when the Philistines gathered against them. Even though the Israelites were routed, he stood his ground in a field of barley and defeated the Philistines. It’s rather easy to see how a scribe’s eye might skip in two such similar stories.

Before getting into the Thirty, we learn of three men from the band of Thirty (there’s no indication that they are the Three) who came to David while he was in hiding in the cave of Adullam (his stay is narrated in 1 Sam. 22:1-5) while the Philistines occupied Bethlehem.

David seems to have been feeling rather sorry for himself, and said (with much sighing, I imagine) that he wished he could have some water to drink from one of the wells of Bethlehem. These three members of the Thirty heard him (or perhaps overheard him, depending on the interpretation) and took it upon themselves to go fetch that water for David. So they snuck through the Philistine guards, into Bethlehem, and drew the water.

When they returned, however, David refused to drink it. Instead, he poured it onto the ground, saying: “Shall I drink the lifeblood of these men?” (1 Chron. 11:19). How David looks in this story depends entirely on the reader’s interpretation. If he had asked his men who fetch him the water, then his actions are just awful. But if he was just moping about, feeling sorry for himself, and they happened to overhear him and did something foolish that he hadn’t wanted them to do, then he is some degree of less awful. At least no Beckets were killed this time.

The chief of the Thirty was Abishai, Joab’s brother. Like Jachobeam, he too killed 300 enemies at one go with a spear. The other member of the Thirty whose deeds are worth mentioning is Benaiah son of Jehoiada, of Kabzeel, the captain of David’s bodyguards. He killed two whole ariels of Moab, which I’m sure is very impressive whatever an ariel is. He also killed a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen, the significant of which is lost on me, but I’m sure that too is very impressive. He also duelled a very large Egyptian who wielded a spear like a weaver’s beam. Benaiah lunged in with his staff and, snatching the oversized spear from the Egyptian’s hands, killed him with his own weapon.

The rest of the Thirty are given as a simple list:

  1. Asahel brother of Joab
  2. Elhanan son of Dodo of Bethlehem
  3. Shammoth of Harod
  4. Helez the Pelonite
  5. Ira son of Ikkesh of Tekoa
  6. Abiezer of Anathoth
  7. Sibbecai the Hushathite
  8. Ilai the Ahohite
  9. Maharai of Netophah
  10. Heled son of Baanah of Netophah
  11. Ithai son of Ribai of Gibeah, of the Benjaminites
  12. Benaiah of Pirathon
  13. Hurai of the brooks of Gaash
  14. Abiel the Arbathite
  15. Azmaveth of Baharum
  16. Eliahba of Shaalbon
  17. Hashem the Gizonite
  18. Jonathan son of Shagee the Hararite
  19. Ahiam son of Sachar the Hararite
  20. Eliphal son of Ur
  21. Hepher the Mecherathite
  22. Ahijah the Pelonite
  23. Hezro of Carmel
  24. Naarai the son of Ezbai
  25. Joel the brother of Nathan
  26. Mibhar son of Hagri
  27. Zelek the Ammonite
  28. Naharai of Beeroth, the armor-bearer of Joab and son of Zeruiah
  29. Ira the Ithrite
  30. Gareb the Ithrite
  31. Uriah the Hittite
  32. Zabad son of Ahlai
  33. Adina son of Shiza, the Reubenite, who was a leader among the Reubenites and was accompanied by 30 of his brethren
  34. Hanan son of Maacah
  35. Joshaphat the Mithnite
  36. Uzzia the Ashterathite
  37. Shama son of Hotham the Aroerite
  38. Jeiel, Shama’s brother
  39. Jediael son of Shimri
  40. Joha, brother of Jediael, a Tizite
  41. Eliel the Mahavite
  42. Jeribai son of Elnaam
  43. Joshaviah, also a son of Elnaam
  44. Ithmah the Moabite
  45. Eliel
  46. Obed
  47. Jaasiel the Mezobaite

These are, of course, way more than thirty men. It seems that the name of David’s elite company was chosen for its neat roundedness (or perhaps its accuracy at some earlier date).

2 Kings 6-7: Elisha versus the Syrians

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The first miracle of this chapter pair is similar to what we’ve been seeing – tricks to show off Elisha’s power without much apparent theological significance.

In it, the sons of the prophets complain that the place where they’ve been living is too small, and ask Elisha for permission to go to the Jordan river and build a new home for themselves there. As a side note, this provides us with some clue about who the sons of the prophets were, since they are living “under [Elisha’s] charge” (2 Kgs 6:1). It seems that these sons, at least, were perhaps Elisha’s apprentices, or under-priests.

As one of the sons is cutting wood, his axe head falls into the water. This is doubly a disaster because it was a loaner. Elisha is able to retrieve the axe head by throwing a stick into the water, causing the iron of the axe head to float.

A Tricky Escape

The next two stories return to the Syria/Israel conflict. In the first, Syria has been raiding Israel and, it seems, setting up ambushes. Sadly for the still unnamed king of Syria, Elisha can apparently hear him at all times (even in his bedroom!) and has been tipping off the unnamed king of Israel.

The Syrian king initially believes that there is a spy, but his servant tells him about Elisha. So the Syrian king decides to eliminate the problem at its root and sends an army out to Dothan to capture Elisha.

When they wake in the morning, Elisha and his retinue find the Syrian army outside. In a scene that seems straight out of a Christian chain letter, one of Elisha’s servants expresses his concern, to which Elisha says: “those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kgs 6:8). With a prayer, he opens the servant’s eyes, allowing him to see a surrounding host of chariots and horses made of fire (perhaps the company Elijah’s horse and chariot came from in 2 Kgs 2:11).

The chariots of fire are a bit of a red herring, though, because Elijah defeats the army by making them all blind. He then goes out and tells them that they’ve gone the wrong way. Never fear, however, because Elisha will lead them to Elisha. My New Bible Commentary notes on the theological problem of a prophet lying, which illustrates the problem of trying to reinterpret humour/power stories as moral tales.

Rather than lead the blind Syrians to himself, however, Elisha takes them strait into the heart of Samaria. When he returns their vision, they realize that they’ve been brought into the power centre of their enemies.

The king of Israel is pleased as punch with the opportunity to rid himself of some enemies, but Elisha refuses. The soldiers are to be treated like POWs: They are to be fed and released. The king acquiesces and, either in fear of Elisha’s power or in gratitude for their treatment, the Syrians stopped raiding Israel.

The Siege of Samaria

Just kidding. The very first thing we learn after being told that the Syrians ceased attacking Israel is that the king of Syria is mustering an army against Israel. He clearly didn’t get the memo. (Or, more likely, the stories have been placed together without too much mind for chronology or continuity.)

Samaria falling to the AssyriansThis time, the Syrian king is named – Benhadad – though the king of Israel still lacks one. While the Syrian king’s name should help us locate the story in time, there’s more than one Benhadad and, without knowing the Israelite king’s name, our window for these Elisha stories is quite broad.

The Syrian army besieges Samaria, resulting in a rather nasty famine. It’s bad enough that the king of Israel is accosted by woman while he’s out walking. She begs for help because she made a deal with another woman that they would eat her son on the first day, and the other woman’s son on the second day. They ate her son, but on the second day the other woman hid her son. The king is suitably heartbroken by the story and rends his clothes, displaying the sackcloth he had been wearing underneath – a gratifying detail that shows that the king’s grief is apparently genuine rather than performed.

For some reason, he blames Elisha for the situation and vows to have him beheaded.

Elisha knows they are coming, however, and bars his door. When they arrive, he tells them that all will soon be well. By tomorrow, he assures them, food will be plenty. One of the king’s captains is doubtful, so Elisha predicts that, while the city will soon be eating, the captain won’t.

The Four Lepers

While all this is going on, four lepers are hanging out by the gates of Samaria, feeling sorry for themselves. Figuring that they will die if they stay where they are and die if they go into the city, they might as well take a chance on the Syrians and the possibility of mercy.

When they get to the Syrian camp, however, they find it empty. It seems that the Syrians fled when they heard the supernatural sounds of a great army descending upon them.

The lepers are rather overjoyed by their discovery and set to work eating from the army’s supplies. They loot the tents, carrying the stuff away and hiding it. After a few trips, however, it occurs to them that they really should let the rest of the Samarians know. It doesn’t seem to be an attack of conscience, though, so much as the fear that they might be punished if it’s found out that they knew and didn’t tell the others.

The king is still cautious, thinking it could be an ambush. On the advice of a servant, he sends out scouts who get as far as the Jordan river following the discards of the fleeing army. Satisfied, the Samarians head out to plunder the Syrian camp, fulfilling Elisha’s prediction.

The doubting captain had been guarding the city gates and was trampled when the hungry citizens rushed out, thereby fulfilling the second part of Elisha’s prophecy. Our narrator repeats the whole interaction between Elisha and the captain, connecting all the dots for any reader who may have forgotten to pay attention. While the story doesn’t explicitly state that the captain was killed as punishment for his doubt (as opposed to a prediction of an event that would have happened regardless), this little moralizing note certainly makes it seem that way.

1 Kings 15-16: A House Divided

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The following chapters take us into the first few decades after the deaths of Rehoboam and Jeroboam. Important dates are given as references to the Xth year of the other half’s king’s reign – an interesting relational dating system that could only work in a divided monarchy. By necessity, this means that we skip around in the chronology a little. The story begins in Judah for Abijam and Asa, then moves up into Israel for Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Omri, and Ahab.

Abijam

Abijam came to power in the 18th year of Jeroboam’s reign, and ruled a total of three years. His mother was Maacah, the daughter of Abishalom, who seems to be identified by some with Absalom, making Maacah David’s granddaughter.

Of Abijam’s reign, we’re told only that he failed to live up to David’s greatness – though at least here, for once, the narrator admits that David’s greatness was slightly complicated by that whole Uriah business (1 Kgs 15:5). We also learn that hostilities continued between Israel and Judah during his reign, with the rather out-of-place verse: “Now there was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam all the days of his life” (1 Kgs 15:6). It may be possible to explain away by seeing Rehoboam as a reference to his family rather than to the individual, but this seems a stretch. Given that the wording is very similar to 1 Kgs 14:30 and that the verse is not found here in the Septuagint, it seems likely that it’s inclusion here was in error.

No information is given about the circumstances of Abijam’s death, but he only ruled for three years.

Asa

Asa gets the best assessment of anyone in these two chapters. He is crowned king in the 20th year of Jeroboam and ruled for a rather impressive forty-one years. Weirdly, though he is described as Abijam’s son, his mother is also Maacah, the daughter of Abishalom. Either this is an extraordinary coincidence, terribly incestuous, or there’s an error somewhere – it could be that Maacah’s name is duplicated, or that Asa and Abijam were brothers.

The narrator’s principal definition of an awesome king is that Asa cracked down a bit on non-approved cultic practices. Namely, he put away the male cultic prostitutes (no word on the female ones), and removed his mother from her position as Queen Mother because she had commissioned an Asherah – which Asa had cut down and burned. He also brought votive gifts to the Temple, both his own and some from his father. His only failing was that he didn’t take down the high places.

During Asa’s reign, the king of Israel – Baasha, whom we’ll learn about shortly – built Ramah, barring the border between the two nations and apparently serving a defensive function. Given its proximity to Jerusalem (about 8km, or 4 miles), this may have been an aggressive structure as well, or at least perceived as such. In response, Asa took all the silver and gold from both Temple and palace treasuries, and brought it to King Benhadad of Syria. It seems that Benhadad had been supporting Baasha, but he was successfully bribed to switch sides – conquering Ijon, Dan, Abelbethmaacah, all of Chinneroth, and all of Naphtali.

Defeated, Baasha stopped building Ramah. It’s also implied that, as a consequence of this defeat, he dwelt in Tirzah – suggesting that perhaps he was building Ramah with the intention of moving Israel’s capitol there and had to retreat back to Tirzah, which we know from 1 Kgs 14:17 was the current capitol. Once Baasha had retreated, Asa ordered all of Judah (“none was exempt” – 1 Kgs 15:22) to carry away the stones and timber of Ramah, using them instead to build Geba in Benjamin and Mizpah. It seems that few lessons were learned regarding the dangers of conscription.

In his old age, Asa suffered from diseased feet, which my New Bible Commentary speculates may have been dropsy (p.340). After his death, he was succeeded by his son, Jehoshaphat.

Israel

Nadab

Back in Israel, Jeroboam was succeeded by his son, Nadab, in the second year of Asa’s reign. The narrator found him unworthy, and so, apparently, did others. He only managed to rule for two years before Baasha, the son of Ahijah of Issachar, revolted and killed Nadab at Gibbethon. It’s not spelled out, but since we are told that Gibbethon belonged to Philistia, it seems probable that Baasha took advantage of the battle to turn on his king.

Baasha

Baasha was crowned in the third year of Asa’s reign, and his first act as king was to slaughter all the remaining members of Jeroboam’s house – not an uncommon practice when trying to found a new dynasty. He ruled a total of twenty-four years, with Tirzah as his capitol. Of course, our narrator was no fan.

During Baasha’s reign, there was a new prophet: Jehu, son of Hanani. He was no fan of Baasha either. He prophesies that God is displeased that Baasha is no better than his predecessors and, as punishment, will see his house utterly destroyed.

Elah

In the 26th year of Asa, Elah inherited the crown of Israel from his father. Unfortunately, his reign was troubled from the start. While he was getting plastered, Zimri – the commander of half of Elah’s chariots – murdered him. It seems significant that Zimri commanded only half of the chariots – I’m not sure if this would have been common practice, or if this is meant to signify that there were already divisions happening.

Either way, Elah was deposed in the 27th year of Asa.

Zimri

While clearly a go-getter, Zimri failed to get all his ducks in a row before taking the crown through murder. After only seven days, during which he just barely had time to murder every male kin and friend of Baasha’s dynasty, he fell.

Elah’s troops had been encamped at Gibbethon, perhaps continuing the conflict that saw Nadab’s death. When they heard of Elah’s murder, they made their commander, Omri, king. Omri brought the army back to Tirzah and besieged the city. Clearly seeing that he wasn’t going to hold on to the power he’d only just taken, Zimri set the citadel of the king’s house on fire, with himself inside.

Just as a point of interest, the term used for the men associated with Baasha’s dynasty in 1 Kgs 16:11 in the King James Bible is “one that pisseth against a wall.” This is, apparently, how men are to be defined by people who clearly never met a woman who does a lot of hiking or camping.

Amri, by Guillaume Rouille, 1553

Amri, by Guillaume Rouille, 1553

Omri

Despite having the support of the soldiers under his command, Omri’s transition was not particularly smooth. Half of Israel followed Tibni, son of Ginath. While Omri defeated Tibni, the fact that Zimri’s rise and fall occured in the 27th year of Asa yet Omri’s reign is not said to have begun until the 31st year of Asa, it seems that the conflict between the two men lasted four years.

We’re told that Omri reigned a total of twelve years, six of which were in Tirzah. Yet to make the numbers of work, four of those years would have been the years of civil war, giving him only two solid years in Tirzah. After that, he bought land from a man named Shemer for two talents of silver, and built on it the city of Samaria. Not only was this the new capitol of Israel, Israel itself soon came to be known as Samaria.

Despite the text’s assessment of Omri as evil, he seems to have been quite important. From Micah 6:16, it seems that he was known for instituting some kind of legal reform, though no details are preserved. Omri is also the first Hebrew king for which we have direct non-biblical evidence:

The Moabite Stone, which was discovered in 1868, tells of the conflict between Mesha, king of Moab, and Omri, who humbled Moab for many years but was eventually defeated (ANET, 321). The inscription is remarkable for the similarty it shows between the religion of Moab and that of Israel. Mesha acts at the behest of his god, Chemosh, just as the Israelites act at the behest of YHWH. Most remarkable is that Mesha boasts of having slaughtered every man, woman, and child in Nebo, “for I had devoted them to destruction for (the god) Ashtar-Chemosh.” Omri’s son, Ahab, is mentioned in the Monolith Inscription of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser as having contributed two thousand chariots and ten thousand foot soldiers to an Aramean coalition that halted an Assyrian advance (ANET, 279). Assyrian records continued to refer to Israel as “the house of Omri” long after Omri’s descendants had ceased to rule. Omri and Ahab were kings to be reckoned with. There is much more evidence outside the Bible for their power and influence than was the case with Solomon. (Collins, A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.137,138)

Ahab

In the 38th year of Asa, Omri was succeeded by his son, Ahab. Though described by the text as just the absolute worst, Ahab seems to have been able to maintain a bit of stability in the unstable nation of Israel, ruling for an impressive twenty-two years. He was married to a woman named Jezebel, whose name should be familiar to any cultural Christian. She was the daughter of King Ethbaal of Sidonia and, through her, Ahab came to serve Baal. Not only does he make an Asherah, he also builds a temple for Baal in Samaria. As in the case of his father, we have an independent attestation of Ahab’s existence.

Somewhat out of place in this narrative, we get a note about a man named Hiel of Bethel who rebuilt Jericho. We’re told that the foundation of the city came at the cost of his first-born son, Abiram, and that the gates were built at the cost of his youngest son, Segub. This is all, says the narrative, a fulfilment of Joshua’s prophecy, given in Joshua 6:29. The most charitable reading has the two boys either having their deaths attributed to the construction (as we saw Bathsheba’s first son’s death attributed to David’s sin in 2 Samuel 12), or perhaps both sons assisted in the construction and died accidentally. There’s no reason to assume that Joshua’s prophecy predicted a future event, as opposed to Joshua’s prophecy, written after the events, describing events that it full well knew would come later when Jericho was rebuilt.

A third possibility, and perhaps the likeliest, was that these were ritual killings, human sacrifices intended to bless the construction. These sorts of sacrifices (both human and animal) have been found in much of the world, and knowledge of them survived in folk mythology even longer (as we see in this German legend). The Encyclopedia of Death and Dying quotes a book by Nigel Davies:

In the sanctuary in Gezer were found two burnt skeletons of six-year-old children and the skulls of two adolescents that had been sawn in two. At Meggido a girl of fifteen had been killed and buried in the foundations of a large structure. Excavations show that the practice of interring children under new buildings was widespread and some were evidently buried alive. (Davies, Nigel. Human Sacrifice in History and Today. New York: William Morrow and Co., 1981, p. 61)

1 Kings 11: Mistakes were made

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

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

Solomon led astray, by Giovanni Battista Venanzi, 1668

Solomon led astray, by Giovanni Battista Venanzi, 1668

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

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

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

Adversaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Kings 10: Picking the brain

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1 Kings 3 was something of a pony show for Solomon’s wisdom. We get the same thing here, and once again it is a woman who is used as a prop to bear witness to how awesome Solomon is.

This time, rather than a prostitute, we have a queen. It’s not stated whether she was queen consort or queen in her own right, though the exchange of gifts with Solomon certainly seems to suggest that this was a diplomatic visit in which the queen had the authority to make and receive gifts.

The Visit of the Queen of Sheba, by Edward Poynter, 1890

The Visit of the Queen of Sheba, by Edward Poynter, 1890

It’s unknown where Sheba actually is. The standard assumption is that it was in south-west Arabia, in the area that is now Yemen. It’s also been suggested that it was a colony of Sheba in north Arabia, where my study Bible says that “a number of queens are known to have ruled” (p.431). A less likely explanation is that Sheba was in Ethiopia, and that the queen went home pregnant (founding a Davidic dynasty there).

The flattering cover story for the queen’s visit is that she’s heard of Solomon’s great wisdom and amazing wealth, of his “affairs and of [his] wisdom” (1 Kgs 10:6). So when she arrives, she puts him to the test with “hard questions” (1 Kgs 10:1), likely riddles or questions covering a breadth of knowledge. Solomon, of course, passes with flying colours, as “there was nothing hidden from the king which he could not explain to her” (1 Kgs 10:3). She’s so impressed by his wisdom and fancy court that she gives him a bunch of riches.

Between that and the success of the trade missions to Ophir, it seems that Solomon might just be able to get the country back on track before he has to sell off more pieces of it. He manages to send the queen home with an impressive quantity of gifts.

A listing of Solomon’s riches is made, as well as the various treasures he has made: everything from instruments, to decorative shields, to a great ivory throne, to a bunch of fancy dishes. He was just totally the best in a way that is likely exaggerated by nostalgia. It’s hard not to imagine, though, that Solomon was whom the author of Deut. 17:16-17 had in mind.

Among all the lists of fancy things he has, an unknown animal is listed that is usually translated as either peacocks or baboons. Claude Mariottini has an explanation of why translations differ.

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.

2 Samuel 24: David conducts a sinsus

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This chapter is very confusing in a number of ways: The narrative seems to skip around a bit chronologically, and the underlying theological assumptions are something of a mystery.

The story begins with God angry at Israel and Judah again. Because he’s so angry, he decides to incite David against Israel and Judah by making David take a census. The reason for God’s anger is never stated, the reason for wanting to create a divide between David and the Israelites/Judahites is never stated, the rationale that has a census create that divide is never stated. We’re still on our very first sentence and I’m already totally lost. It’s just that kind of story.

For whatever reason, conducting a census is a Very Bad Thing. The rationale is never explained, though all the guesses I’ve seen run along the same lines as the Got Questions? article: “in those times, a man only had the right to count or number what belonged to him. Israel did not belong to David; Israel belonged to God.”

Of course, that answer isn’t without problems, since God is the one who compelled David to take the census, as he did in Exodus 30 and Numbers 26, where doing so was not a sin.

The only way out would be for us to interpret the idea that God compelled David to conduct a census in the same way that he hardened Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus – that the statement is one of belief in God’s absolute power, that all things happen under his control, rather than that he directly commanded David to hold a census.The purposes seem to be the same as well – directing the leader so that he would have an excuse to kill lots of people. Yet he is quoted as speaking directly to David, which gives a different impression.

My New Bible Companion suggests that the plan was to punish the Israelites and Judahites for “the sin of rebellion (against David)” (p.314). This would explain why it is the people who will be punished and why God’s stated desire is to “incite David against them” (2 Sam. 24:1), but is contradicted by the entire device of making David call for a sinful census to accomplish it.

Still, the taking of a census is apparently so inherently and obviously wrong that Joab – when he and the other army commanders are asked to count up all the battle-worthy men of Israel of Judah – protests. He asks David why he would ask for such a thing, to which David replies something to the effect of “because I said so.”

It’s interesting to note that Joab is again shown to be advising David, trying to steer him toward a better course of action, as he did when David’s plan to get rid of Uriah in 2 Samuel 11 was too hamfisted.

In the end, though, David is king and the king’s word is law, so his commanders conduct a census all through Israel and Judah, including Kadesh, Sidon, and Tyre, which “were not truly in Israel or Judah, even when under the control of David” (RSV, p.411). In all, they find 800,000 men in Israel and 500,000 in Judah, a far greater number than is at all likely.

Attack of conscience

The census in, David suddenly has the eerie feeling that he’s made a terrible mistake.

By morning, Gad the prophet arrives with news – there will be a punishment for the census, however David will be allowed to choose which he would prefer:

  1. Three years of famine;
  2. Three months of fleeing from his enemies;
  3. Or three days of plague.

As a side note, we’ve met Gad before, way back in 1 Samuel 22:5, where he warned David not to stay put. Though he is identified here as David’s seer, these are the only two mentions we get of him.

Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, by Francesco Hayez, 1866

Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, by Francesco Hayez, 1866

David chooses the third option, claiming that he would rather be in God’s hands than in the hands of a human foe. This does not, however, explain why he did not choose the first option.

The choices themselves are interesting. The first, of course, happened just a few chapters ago, in 2 Samuel 21. The second has happened twice, when David was fleeing from Saul beginning in 1 Samuel 20, and when he was fleeing from Absalom in 2 Samuel 15. That leaves the third option as the only one David hasn’t tried yet.

Seventy thousand people die of the plague, though the text reassures us that God stops his rampage before reaching Jerusalem. He does get quite close, though, stopping at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite (which will apparently become the site of the future temple Solomon will build).

The phrasing seems to suggest that God decided to stop, then David begged him to stop, then he actually stopped. However, it makes more sense to take the bit about God stopping at Araunah’s threshing floor as a sort of introduction to the portion of the story that tells us how he was compelled to stop. Or perhaps the muddling of the chronology was an editor/author’s way of letting the audience know that God don’t take no instructions from nobody, by giving his decision to stop primacy in the narrative.

Seeing the mass destruction caused by the plague, David appeals to God. He is upset that God is killing so many innocent people just because he sinned. David is speaking directly to God when he calls him out. It’s a scene very reminiscent of Abraham’s appeal in Genesis 18.

Although his plea is still rather distasteful by modern standards. Rather than kill all these innocent civilians, argues David, why not kill all my innocent family members instead?

To end the plague, Gad instructs David to build an altar at Araunah’s threshing floor – implying that it is David’s action that will end the plague, and not that God had already decided to end it (or that the three days are up).

Araunah offers David the location, some animals to sacrifice, and some stuff to burn, but David refuses. He will not sacrifice what he has not paid for. Instead, he pays fifty shekels of silver for the location and animals, builds the altar, makes the sacrifice, and everyone gets to go home happy.

My study Bible notes that “fifty shekels of silver would be worth about twenty dollars” (p.412). Unfortunately, the note does not elaborate, but that seems like a very small sum to pay for so much. It seems that while David was too proud to pay nothing, paying next to nothing suited his conscience just fine. Perhaps it was an honour thing – allowing David to say that he paid for the location while also allowing Araunah to say that it was a gift.

2 Samuel 22-23: Of champions and praise

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The following chapters contain two poems (one in each), followed by a list of David’s champions. The first poem, found in 2 Samuel 22, is nearly identical to Psalm 18. There are also several similarities to the poems of Moses from Deut. 32 and Deut. 33, such as the references to rain and the comparison between God and a rock.

The first poem

The first poem is a song of thanksgiving to God for delivering David from his enemies. Given the specific mention of Saul as one of them, my impression is that the poem was meant to have been written shortly after Saul’s death.

"[God] rode on a cherub" (2 Sam. 22:11)

“[God] rode on a cherub” (2 Sam. 22:11)

God is variously described as a rock, a shield, and the agent of David’s delivery. He also seems to be described as a sort of storm god, which may be an insight into early conceptions of Yahweh.

It’s all well and good until we get to the bit about why God did all these things and it becomes rather clear that David is either delusional, or he wrote this very early on:

He delivered me, because he delighted in me. The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God. (2 Sam. 22:20-22).

You know, except that bit where God cursed him to be endlessly troubled after he stole another man’s wife and then had him killed.

Whether or not it was actually written by David, however, is highly questionable. There is, for example, a reference to the Temple in 2 Sam. 22:7, which won’t be built until after David’s death. That makes the insistence that David’s enemies were smashed because of David’s perfect righteousness all the more headscratchy, since the business with Uriah must have taken place already. It seems that the propaganda machine was well underway in Ancient Israel.

The second poem

The second poem claims to have been composed by David as his last words (like Jacob’s words in Genesis 48, or Moses’s final blessing in Deuteronomy 33). In this poem, he claims to be channeling God directly – something that David has otherwise been unable to do, relying instead on priests and prophets. In this poem, it seems that David is claiming to actually be a prophet.

My study Bible notes that this poem appears to have been corrupted and may be only a fragment. It describes the benefits of a worthy ruler, reiterates the “everlasting covenant” (2 Sam. 23:5) that God has made with David, and condemns “godless men” (2 Sam. 23:6) that must only be dealt with using violence.

It’s rather ironic, and perhaps intentional on some editor’s part, that the poem describes a just ruler as being “like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth” (2 Sam. 23:4), given the story we just had in 2 Sam. 21 about a famine that may have been caused by a drought. Since it was determined to be Saul’s fault, the placement of this poem appears to be a little dig at Saul’s expense.

David’s champions

The second half of 2 Sam. 23 lists David’s various champions, organized into two groups: an elite force called The Thirty, and a super elite force called The Three.

The Three:

  1. Joshebbasshebeth the Tahchemonite has the honour of being both the chief of The Three, as well as the member of David’s entourage with the most unpronounceable name. He killed eight hundred men at the same time using only a spear.
  2. Eleazar, son of Dodo, son of Ahohi, stayed at David’s side when the Philistines attacked and the other Israelites fled. Together (though presumably with a bit of help), they managed to defeat the Philistines and win the day.
  3. Shammah, son of Agee the Hararite, also stayed at David’s side in a similar encounter against the Philistines (or perhaps the same one). Once again, they won despite the odds.

Before we launch in to the names of The Thirty, we’re first told a story in which there was a Philistine garrison in Bethlehem, David’s home town. This may refer to the same conflict we read about in 2 Samuel 5:17-26.

Around harvest time, David wished out loud for some water from the Bethlehem well. He was overheard by the top three of The Thirty, here unnamed, who then sneaked into Bethlehem, drew water from the well, and brought it back to David. In a bit of a jerk move, David poured it on the ground instead of drinking it, saying that he was offering it to God rather than drinking “the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives” (2 Samuel 23:17).

After that story, we get a list of The Thirty:

  1. Abishai, Joab’s brother, is the chief of the band. Though he was able to kill three hundred people with a spear, this was not enough to make the cut for The Three.
  2. Joab’s other brother, Asahel, is named as one of The Thirty, suggesting that either David’s champion order began really early (since Asahel was killed in 2 Sam. 2:23, before David became king of Israel), or, according to my study Bible, he may have been included “on an honorary basis” (p.410).
  3. Benaiah, son of Jehoiada of Kabzeel, killed two “ariels” of Moab. My study Bible merely notes that the word’s meaning is unknown, though my New Bible Commentary says that the literal meaning is “lion of God” – guessing that Benaiah either fought literal lions, or else there was a kind of Moabite warrior that was “referred to metaphorically as lions” (p.314). He also fought a lion that was definitely literal, in the snow no less! Then topped it all off by killing a handsome Egyptian. The Egyptian had a spear while Benaiah had only staff, but he managed to wrestle the spear away from the Egyptian and kill him with it. This is presumably the same Benaiah who had charge of the Cherethites and Pelethites in 2 Sam. 8:18 and 2 Sam. 20:23.
  4. Next is Elhanan, son of Dodo of Bethlehem – who is either the brother of Eleazar or there were two guys named Dodo running around.
  5. Shammah of Harod.
  6. Elika of Harod.
  7. Helez the Paltite.
  8. Ira, son of Ikkesh of Tekoa.
  9. Abiexer of anathoth.
  10. Mebunnai the Hushathite.
  11. Zalmon the Ahohite.
  12. Maharai of Netophah.
  13. Heleb, son of Baanah of Netophah.
  14. Ittai, son of Ribai of Gibeah, of the Benjaminites.
  15. Benaiah of Pirathon.
  16. Hiddai of the brooks of Gaash.
  17. Abialbon the Arbathite.
  18. Azmaveth of Bahurim.
  19. Eliahba of Shaalbon.
  20. The sons of Jashen.
  21. Jonathan.
  22. Shammah the Hararite.
  23. Ahiam, son of Sharar the Hararite.
  24. Eliphelet, son of Ahasbai of Maacah.
  25. Eliam, son of Ahithophel of Gilo. This may be the same Eliam who is named as Bathsheba’s father in 2 Sam. 11:3.
  26. Hezro of Carmel.
  27. Paarai the Arbite.
  28. Igal, son of Nathan of Zobah.
  29. Bani the Gadite.
  30. Zelek the Ammonite.
  31. Naharai of Beeroth.
  32. Joab’s armour-bearer.
  33. Ira the Ithrite.
  34. Gareb the Ithrite.
  35. Uriah the Hittite. I wonder if a clever author/editor placed Uriah last on the list to draw attention to him, given the story we have involving him.

The text closes off by telling us that there were thirty-seven in all. This appears to have been an editor’s insert, perhaps attempting to explain that the name, The Thirty, was a rounding. Even so, arriving at that number involves a bit of guesswork. For example, it could be that Joab, as the commander of all David’s forces (2 Sam. 20:23), was implicitly included. With him and the assumption that Jashen had two sons, we arrive at thirty-seven.

According to my New Bible Commentary, Jonathan (#21) should be the son of Shammah, which would remove Shammah from the list. The book also suggests that The Three should be included in the number. It’s all very muddled.

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