1 Chronicles 9: The Returning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Inhabitants of Jerusalem

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

From the tribe of Judah, we have:

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

From the tribe of Benjamin, we have:

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

Of the priests, we get:

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

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

Levitical Families

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

Of the Levites themselves, we have:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Family of Saul

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

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

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

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

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

Exodus 20: The Ten Commandments

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God gives Moses ten thou-shalt-nots:

  1. “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3). This language suggests that other gods exist, but that God claims exclusive worship from the Hebrews. Taken alone, it’s a rather weak argument, but taken with all the other passages we’ve been covering over the last few chapters and it seems rather clear that the ancient Hebrews were Henotheists.
  2. The next is a prohibition against graven images, or any likeness of anything found in heaven or on earth. The fact that this is an actual commandment makes it doubly hilarious when certain groups insist on having carvings of stone tablets inscribed with the commandments displayed in courthouses. An interesting point brought up by Collins on page 41 of his Introduction to the Hebrew Bible is that this commandment suggests that we are the idols. Just as other groups were making figures in their gods’ images, we were created in the image of our god.
  3. No taking God’s name in vain. In Genesis 2, I talked about the power of names. There, the power was in choosing names, while here it’s in speaking it. In many ancient cultures, knowing someone or something’s “secret name” gives you the ability to control them or cast spells on them. Here, God is talking about his secret name, YHWH. So the prohibition is about using God’s name when reciting a spell or curse to control God and make him do your bidding. Think of the phrase “God dammit!” or “God damn it!”
  4. Keep the Sabbath. This applies to individuals, as well as to their servants, cattle, and even any foreigners staying in their cities. This is actually a very progressive rule and the only commandment that isn’t either concerned with cultic segregation or with obvious behaviours that are were already prohibited in every culture.
  5. The Ten Commandments, c.1480-1490

    The Ten Commandments, c.1480-1490

    Honour your parents.

  6. No murder.
  7. No adultery.
  8. No stealing.
  9. No “false witness against your neighbor” (Exod. 20:16). This seems to suggest that it isn’t lying that’s wrong, but rather lying against someone. So telling grandma that you love the reindeer sweater she knitted you with the real bells attached wouldn’t actually be a sin because that lie is for someone.
  10. No coveting your neighbour’s possessions, including their house, wife, servant, ox, ass, or anything else. Sorry, ladies.

The second commandment understandably made some Roman Catholics rather nervous, so they sweep it under the carpet by combining it with #1 and expanding #10 into two separate commandments (no coveting your neighbour’s house and no coveting his stuff, either!).

Some Jews will see the first part of the chapter, called the declaration (where God introduces himself as the speaker), as the first commandment. They then also combine #1 and #2 to fix the numbering.

Some have noticed that 10 seems like a rather arbitrary number, and that the ten commandments could really be condensed into just two:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KiCEJoX9kE

 

Or, if you’d prefer, just one: “Don’t be a dick.”

Do not fear

So God is yapping away at Moses, and all the while the rest of the Israelites hear only thunder claps and the sound of a trumpet (which was associated with cultic occasions). Having presumably never been caught out in a storm before, they start to get pretty freaked out, so they ask Moses to make sure that God doesn’t address the crowd lest they be killed.

To which Moses replies: “Do not fear; for God has come to prove you, and that the fear of him may be before your eyes, that you may not sin” (Exod. 20:20). Soo… God will keep the people from sinning by scaring the bajeezus out of them, so they shouldn’t be afraid? What’s Moses trying to accomplish here?

Altars of earth

God wants an “altar of earth” built and sacrifices made there in any place where “I cause my name to be remembered” (Exod. 20:24). He does allow for stones to be used in their construction, but they must not be hewn. “For if you wield your tool upon it you profane it” (Exod. 20:25).

My study bible says that this is in contrast to the fancy pagan altars.

Unfortunately, my study bible is distressingly silent on the next part. “And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not exposed on it” (Exod. 20:26). So basically, God really doesn’t want your “tool” anywhere near his altar!

But seriously, this probably has something to do with wearing robes, and people’s ability to see up said robes when someone is climbing stairs.

Additional notes

God then re-emphasises that people shouldn’t be making idols. “You shall not make gods of silver to be with me” (Exod. 20:23). I wanted to touch on this because it’s a nice illustration of how utterly alien the Bible is to what most modern day people believe. Today, we have no problem with the idea that God can create people, but this shows a mutual creative power. God seems to believe that people can create other gods by making idols. So the ban on idolatry, really, is so that the creative power flows only in one direction.

I also wanted to mention a titbit that came up while God was giving his commandments. He says to Moses: “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me” (Exod. 20:5). Quite contrary to the individualism of “Christian-founded” America, the Bible is all about collective guilt and collective salvation.

Exodus 15: Songs of praise

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Miriam by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, 1872

Miriam by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, 1872

Now that they are out of Egypt and the Egyptians are dead, the Hebrews take some time to sing their praises to God.

The first song is quite long and we’re told that it was sung by “Moses and the people of Israel” (Exod. 15:1). What’s interesting about this song is that it never thanks God for delivering the people from Egypt. Instead, the focus is all on how “the Lord is a man of war” (Exod. 15:3), with a right hand that “shatters the enemy” (Exod. 15:6).

The closest the song comes to acknowledging their new-found freedom is when they sing about being lead into Canaan, where God puts the fear of, well, God into the people of Philistia, Edom, Moab, and Canaan (Exod. 15:14-16).

It’s a brutal song that glorifies violent resolutions to diplomatic conflict.

One interesting verse goes: “Who is like thee, O Lord, among the gods?” (Exod. 15:11). The existence  of other gods appears to be assumed, and the distinction is merely made that God is the most powerful. Passages like these make it clear that the early Hebrews were henotheists.

Miriam’s timbrel

Miriam is described as Aaron’s sister, which would presumably make her Moses’ sister as well. Tradition has Miriam as the sister who watched over baby Moses when their mother placed him in the reeds back in Exodus 2. She’s also described here as a prophetess.

Miriam grabs a timbrel and leads the Hebrew women in a song of their own, which is much shorter and, according to my study bible, from a much older tradition. Even so, it covers the same ground as the first.

Bitterness

The Hebrews start off their journey through the wilderness of Shur, but start to get a bit desperate after three days without finding water. When they finally find some at Marah, the water tastes bitter. If playing Oregon Trail has taught me anything, it’s that there’s typhoid in them thar water sources!

Not to worry, though, because God shows Moses a tree that, when dunked in the water, purifies it and makes it taste sweet.

We close our chapter as the Hebrews make their camp at Elim – a lovely place with twelve springs and seventy palm trees!

Exodus 13: Child sacrifice!

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God, not quite satisfied with having killed all the first-born among the Egyptians, now sets his sights on the Hebrews.

Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt by József Molnár

Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt by József Molnár

“Consecrate to me all the first-born; whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine” (Exod. 13:2). This applies only to the males, of course.

Now, the symbolism here is fairly obvious. In a culture where livelihoods depend on cattle being born, and where worth is determined by the continuation of one’s lineage, sacrificing the first places a great deal of trust in God that he will provide more.

This chapter seems to show a cultural shift from an era in which child sacrifice is the religious norm to one in which it is not. Perhaps this is a different way of perceiving/explaining the same shift fictionalised in the story of Abraham and Isaac. So while the personal story of Abraham and Isaac has the son replaced with an animal, so this corporate story offers the alternative of “redeeming” sons by substituting an animal.

Incidentally, many Jews today perform a ritual called Pidyon ha-Ben, which involves giving a small sum of money to a kohein in lieu of sacrificing a first-born son.

Into the wilderness

God and the Israelites set off towards Canaan. But instead of taking lovely straight route “by way of the land of the Philistines” – where there’s a lot of fighting, so God is worried that the Israelites will get scared and turn back – he takes them “by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea” (Exod. 13:17-18).

The idea that they are trying to avoid the land of the Philistines seems a bit problematic. If we accept the Pharaoh of this section to be Ramses II, that would put the Exodus at around 1213 BCE. But the Philistine civilization wasn’t established until 1175 BCE, a full 40 years later. Does anyone have a plausible explanation for this?

In any case, they are carting around the bones of Joseph, which is a nod back to Genesis 50 where Joseph predicts that God will lead the Israelites out of Egypt and that they will take his bones with them.

“And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night a pillar of fire to give them light” (Exod. 13:21). This sounds pretty impressive until you think about it for a moment and realize that this sounds remarkably like some guy at the front holding a brazier. It’s times like these that poetic language really obfuscates.

Exodus 1: Rebellious Midwives

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There’s a new king in Egypt and he’s concerned about the Hebrew population growth. This isn’t entirely unwarranted since the Hebrew women are having, on average, 51.6 children each. One might assume that the Egyptians were circulating videos like this one on EgyptTube.

Pharaoh decrees the drowning of every new male offspring among the Israelites by Michiel van der Borch, 1332

Pharaoh decrees the drowning of every new male offspring among the Israelites by Michiel van der Borch, 1332

So this pharaoh is concerned that if the Hebrew population keeps expanding, they might fight on the non-Egyptian side in a war against Egypt, or they might “escape from the land” (Exod. 1:10). So the rhetoric is slightly different from what one hears at the modern TeaParty rally…

His solution to the ‘Hebrew problem’ is to set “taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens” (Exod. 1:11). He has them build the cities of Pithom and Ramses. But this doesn’t seem to work. “The more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad” (Exod. 1:12).

Since making them “serve with rigor” (Exod. 1:14) didn’t curb the Hebrew population, he goes to the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, and tells them to kill all the male babies they deliver. I just want to take a moment to point out that there is a Hebrew population large enough to get Pharaoh’s knickers in a twist and there’s only two, two, midwives to service them all. This is a serious midwife shortage!

Well, Shiphrah and Puah are decent human beings – or, you know, they “feared God” (Exod. 1:17), cause being afraid is really the only reason not to kill babies – and they spare the boys. The Pharaoh catches on pretty quickly and asks the midwives what’s going on, to which they reply: “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and are delivered before the midwife comes to them” (Exod. 1:19), which is just absolutely brilliant! Perhaps if Pharaoh didn’t work them with such rigour, they wouldn’t be so vigorous!

God’s so happy that Shiphrah and Puah fear him that he gives them families. This isn’t a reward for saving all the babies, this is just because they fear him sufficiently. Blwerk!

Pharaoh decides to step things up a notch and he commands all his people to throw any baby boys born to the Hebrews into the Nile, allowing only the girls to live.

David Plotz has an interesting article over at Blogging the Bible about this chapter. He finds it interesting that the Hebrew people are enslaved after Joseph’s brothers enslave him, and how the Egyptian sons will be killed after they kill the Hebrew sons… He also brings up an interesting observation that totally flew by me – that the word “slave” isn’t mentioned anywhere in this chapter. The Hebrews are worked hard, but they aren’t called slaves. He finds this strange considering how liberally the word is used elsewhere in the text.