October 9, 2015
11. 1-2 Chronicles, Bible, Old Testament
1 Chronicles, Aaron, Abiathar, Abiezer, Abner, Adiel, Adlai, Ahijah, Ahithophel, Ahohite, Ammiel, Ammizabad, Amramite, Anathoth, Archite, Asahel, Asaph, Azarel, Azaziah, Azmaveth, Azriel, Baalhanan, Benaiah, Benjamin, Benjaminite, Bible, Chelub, Chenaniah, Dan, David, Dodai, Elam, Eliehoenai, Eliezer, Elihu, Elzabad, Ephraim, Ephraimite, Ezri, Gadite, Gederite, Gershom, Gershonite, Gilead, Hachmoni, Hagrite, Hashabiah, Hebronite, Heldai, Helez, Hilkiah, Hosah, Hoshea, Hushai, Hushathite, Iddo, Ikkesh, Ira, Ishmaelite, Ishmaiah, Israel, Issachar, Izharite, Izrahite, Jaasiel, Jashobeam, Jathniel, Jazer, Jaziz, Jediael, Jehdeiah, Jehiel, Jehieli, Jehohanan, Jehoiada, Jehozabad, Jeremoth, Jerijah, Jeroham, Jeshaiah, Joab, Joah, Joash, Joel, Jonathan, Joram, Jordan, Judah, Kemuel, Kish, Korahite, Kore, Ladan, Levi, Levite, Maacah, Maharai, Manasseh, Manassite, Merari, Meronothite, Meshelemiah, Michael, Moses, Naphtali, Ner, Nethanel, Netophah, Netophathite, Obadiah, Obed, Obededom, Obil, Old Testament, Omri, Othni, Othniel, Pedaiah, Pelonite, Perez, Peullethai, Pirathon, Ramathite, Rehabiah, Rephael, Reubenite, Sachar, Samuel, Saul, Semachiah, Shallecheth, Shamhuth, Shaphat, Sharon, Sharonite, Shebuel, Shelemiah, Shelomoth, Shemaiah, Shephatiah, Shephelah, Shimei, Shimri, Shiphmite, Shitrai, Shuppim, Sibbecai, Simeonite, Tebaliah, Tekoite, Uzziah, Uzzielite, Zabdi, Zabdiel, Zadok, Zebadiah, Zebulun, Zechariah, Zerahite, Zeruiah, Zetham, Zichri
I mentioned in my last post that, while 1 Chron. 26 deals with more Temple-related positions, I was going to lump it in with the civic positions of 1 Chron. 27 for the sake of I-wanted-to-go-to-bed.
It’s a good thing, too, because there are parts of 1 Chron. 26 that gave me some trouble. I suspect that there’s been some textual garbling, or perhaps I’m just overtired (I write – though it won’t be posted for a month – as my son begins kindergarten, and adjusting to the new routine is taking its toll on everyone!).
In any case, on with post!
We begin with the gatekeepers, whose gates will not be built for quite a while. Even if we accept that David did all of the planning work for the Temple, assembled all the materials, and then assigned the gatekeepers just before his death, 1 Kgs 9:10 tells us that the Temple still won’t be built until 20 years into Solomon’s reign. Given that we’ve already been told that David hasn’t bothered to count anyone under the age 20, the very youngest of the men he selects will be around 40 years old by the time any gates are around for them to keep. There’s a pretty good chance that many of these men will die before they ever see the job they’ve been assigned.
The chiefs of the army, by James Tissot
The only way to get around this is if we assume that David lived on for nearly two decades after he ceded his crown to Solomon. In which case, these assignments may have been given on his deathbed, perhaps as the Temple neared completion. Or perhaps the Chronicler is merely attributing to David what his sources (or the sources of his sources) had attributed to Solomon because he had a personal/theological/political reason to connect David directly to the origins of these positions. I’ll let Occam decide.
The leadership of the gatekeepers is held by a handful of families:
From among the Korahites, we get Meshelemiah son of Kore, who is descended from Asaph. He is joined by his sons: Zechariah (who upgraded from guarding the tent of meeting in 1 Chron. 9:21), Jediael, Zebadiah, Jathniel, Elam, Jehohanan, and Eliehoenai. Altogether, there are 18 members of his group.
In Obededom’s family, we get his sons: Shemaiah, Jehozabad, Joah, Sachar, Nethanel, Ammiel, Issachar, and Peullethai. Shemaiah’s sons, who were men of “great ability” (1 Chron. 26:6) were: Othni, Rephael, Obed, Elzabad, Elihi, and Semachiah. Altogether, there were 62 men in this from descended from Obededom (though he is described as being in a group of 68 in 1 Chron. 16:37-38 – albeit as ministers of the ark).
From Merari, we have Hosah and his sons: Shimri (who becomes the leader of his household by his father’s decree, even though he wasn’t the firstborn), Hilkiah, Tebaliah, and Zechariah. Altogether, the sons and brethren of Hosah produce 13 members for the group.
There are a few familiar names here, such as Asaph and Obededom – both of whom are musicians. It seems that maybe the duties of gatekeeper and of musician were related in some way.
And speaking of Obededom, that name is definitely familiar. If this is the same person, we saw David entrusting the ark into his care for three months (1 Chron. 13:13-14), he – along with Jeiel – is listed as both a gatekeeper and a singer in 1 Chron. 15:18-21, then again as a musician (1 Chron. 16:5), and as a both musician and gatekeeper (1 Chron. 16:37-38). Clearly, the man was involved.
As with the other Temple staff, the gatekeepers are divided into groups. This time, however, each group is responsible for a different gate, rather than a different time of year:
- The east gate group is led by Shelemiah, with 6 people working each day;
- The north gate group is led by Shelemiah’s son, Zechariah (described as a “shrewd counsellor” in 1 Chron. 26:14), with 4 people working each day;
- The south gate group is led by Obededom, with 4 people working each day;
- The storehouse group is led by the sons of Obededom (all of them? do they rotate?), with 2 and 2 (presumably there were two doors) people working each day;
- The west gate group is led by Shuppim and Hosah, with 4 people at the road each day, and 2 at the “parbar” (the meaning of which is apparently unknown).
This all presents us with two problems. The first is the math. If we look at each place where it mentions the number of gatekeepers, none of our numbers add up:
- 93 is the total of members mentioned in each group above (1 Chron. 26:1-11);
- 24 is the total of the people said to work each day at each gate;
- 212 is the number of gatekeepers in 1 Chron. 9:22;
- 4,000 is the number of Levites that David assigns as gatekeepers in 1 Chron. 23:5.
The closest I can rationalize is that the 24 is the number working each day, but each group actually has a four day rotation. This gives us a total of 96 members, which would be our 93 figure plus Meshelemiah, Obededom, and Hosah. We can further assume that these are leaders, specifically, and that they have around 4,000 men at their command. That still leaves out the 212 figure, but I’m afraid I’m at a loss for that one.
The second problem we have is that the gates haven’t been built yet. So how do we know that one of the gates is named Shallecheth (1 Chron. 26:16)? How can David (via the Chronicler) describe one of the gates as the one with the road? Just how detailed are David’s plans?
If we assume that the Chronicler is assigning to David the job of assigning these roles for some personal/political/theological purpose, where do the names actually come from? Are these the first gatekeepers assigned once the Temple was built? It’s all very confusing.
The second half of 1 Chron. 26 is given to the treasurers. This portion is a little garbled, but the best I can figure it is this: Ahijah, a Levite, oversaw all the treasuries. Under him, we have the Temple treasuries (in the charge of Jehieli, Zetham, and Joel) and the treasuries of dedicated gifts (in the charge of Shelomoth).
While Jehieli is here described as the father of Zetham and Joel (1 Chron. 26:22), the three of them are brothers (sons of Ladan the Gershonite) in 1 Chron. 23:8.
There’s also something in there about someone named Shebuel, another Gershonite, who was in charge of the Amramites, Izharites, Hebronites, and Uzzielites, who all looked over the treasuries.
Shelomoth, who is in charge of the treasuries of dedicated gifts, is the son of Zichri, son of Joram, son of Jeshaiah, son of Rehabiah, son of Eliezer. These dedicated gifts would be the things that David and the other prominent leaders of Israel had dedicated, plus any spoils of battle, plus the things that Samuel, Saul, Abner son of Ner, and Joab son of Zeruiah had dedicated. (Though Samuel, Saul, Abner, and likely Joab all died long before the Temple was built, it’s quite possible that they would have dedicated stuff to the ark/tabernacle, and that these were transferred over to the Temple holdings once there was a Temple to transfer to.)
Chenaniah and his sons (of the Izharites) are appointed throughout Israel as officers and judges.
There are also a number of men who are appointed for vaguer duties, simply for “all the work of the Lord and for the service of the king” (1 Chron. 26:30), whatever that means. In the CisJordan, this falls to 1700 Hebronites, led by Hashabiah. In the TransJordan, there are 2700 men under the direction of Jerijah (the chief of the Hebronites).
This category is a little fuzzier. It seems that these men are in charge of the army (though I see some commenters claiming that they were in charge of David’s bodyguard only, which makes the number terribly absurd). They are divided into 12 divisions, each serving for one month out of the year. This is the same system we saw for the priests in 1 Chron. 24:7-19, albeit serving for twice the length of time. A rotation system like this would allow the individuals to fulfil their civic duties, while still leaving them the time to look after their personal households.
The divisions are led by:
- Jashobeam son of Zabdiel (he is descended from Perez) – There is a Jashobeam, albeit the son of Hachmoni, who served as the chief of David’s Three (1 Chron. 11:11);
- Dodai the Ahohite – There is no Dodai among David’s mighty men, but there is an Eleazar, who is the son of Dodo the Ahohite in 1 Chron. 11:12;
- Benaiah son of Jehoiada (the priest) – He was one of David’s Thirty, and in charge of David’s bodyguard (1 Chron. 11:22-25). While he features a fair bit in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings, this is the first time it’s mentioned that his father was a priest. Referring to the story in 1 Kings 2 where Joab tries to hide from Solomon by clinging to the horns of the altar, James Bradford Pate wonders if “Solomon assign[ed] this task [to kill Joab] specifically to Benaiah because Benaiah was the son of priest and thus had a right to enter the sanctuary?”;
- Asahel, Joab’s brother, and his son Zebadiah after him – This fudges up our timeline a bit, since the text heavily implies that these divisions are set up in David’s old age, after he ceded his crown to Solomon (1 Chron. 23:1-2), but Asahel died in 2 Sam. 3, when David still ruled from Hebron (he wouldn’t become king of Israel until 2 Sam. 5). So when was Asahel able to run the fourth month?’
- Shamhuth the Izrahite (there is no match for Shamhuth, unless he is Shammoth of Harod, described as one of the “warriors of the armies” in 1 Chron. 11:26-47);
- Ira son of Ikkesh the Tekoite (another of the “warriors of the armies”);
- Helez the Pelonite, of the sons of Ephraim (another of the “warriors of the armies”);
- Sibbecai the Hushathite, of the Zerahites (another of the “warriors of the armies”);
- Abiezer of Anathoth, a Benjaminite (another of the “warriors of the armies”);
- Maharai of Netophah, of the Zerahites (another of the “warriors of the armies”);
- Benaiah of Pirathon, of the sons of Ephraim (another of the “warriors of the armies”);
- Heldai the Netophathite, of Othniel (the closest match is Heled son of Baanah of Netophah, who is one of the “warriors of the armies”).
The Tribal Chiefs
We turn now to what appears to be the results of David’s ill-fated census from 1 Chron. 21, the leaders of each tribe:
- Reuben: Eliezer son of Zichri;
- Simeon: Shephatiah son of Maacah;
- Levi: Hashabiah son of Kemuel;
- Aaron: Zadok;
- Judah: Elihu, described as one of David’s brothers (possibly Eliab from 1 Sam. 16:6 and 1 Chron. 2:13);
- Issachar: Omri son of Michael;
- Zebulun: Ishmaiah son of Obadiah;
- Nephtali: Jeremoth son of Azriel;
- Ephraim: Hoshea son of Azaziah;
- CisJordan half of Manasseh: Joel son of Pedaiah;
- TransJordan half of Manasseh: Iddo son of Zechariah;
- Benjamin: Jaasiel son of Abner;
- Dan: Azarel son of Jeroham.
There are a few interesting things going on here. The first, of course, is that both Gad and Asher are omitted. The second is that Aaron is listed as a separate tribe. I won’t even try to unpack that, but Paul Davidson does discuss the evolution of the tribes and how they are presented on his blog, Is that in the Bible?
We are reminded that David hadn’t bothered to count up the number of people under the age 20. We are also told that Joab had started counting, but didn’t finish (a reference to 1 Chron. 21:5-6, in which Joab chose not to count Levi and Benjamin in defiance of David). Even so, the counting still earned God’s wrath, and so it was never entered in the chronicles of King David. Except, of course, that numbers are given in both 1 Chron. 21:5-6 and 2 Sam. 24:9 (albeit wildly different numbers).
To finish up, we get the “miscellaneous other” category of civil positions:
- Charge of the king’s treasuries: Azmaveth son of Adiel;
- Charge of the national treasuries: Jonathan son of Uzzian;
- Command over the field workers: Ezri son of Chelub;
- Charge of the vineyards: Shimei the Rathmathite;
- Charge of the wine cellars and the produce from the vineyards: Zabdi the Shiphmite;
- Charge of the sycamore and olive trees in the Shephelah: Baalhanan the Gederite;
- Charge of the stores of oil: Joash;
- Charge of the herds that pasture in Sharon: Shitrai the Sharonite;
- Charge of the herds in the valleys: Shaphat son of Adlei;
- Charge of the camels: Obil the Ishmaelite;
- Charge of the female donkeys: Jehdeiah the Meronothite (the male donkeys are, it seems, allowed to just run wild!);
- Charge of the flocks: Jaziz the Higrite.
David’s sons are tutored by Jonathan, David’s uncle (who is described as a counsellor, a man of understanding, and a scribe), and Jehiel son of Hachmoni.
At first, the king’s counsellor is Ahithophel. He was then succeeded by Jehoiada son of Benaiah, and Abiathar. Elsewhere, the warrior Benaiah is described as the son of Jehoiada. It’s possible that this is the same Benaiah, and that he gave his son the same name as his father.
Joab, of course, commanded David’s army.
Finally, there’s Hushai the Archite, who is described as the “king’s friend” (1 Chron. 27:33), which has to be the saddest job title. Curious, I poked around to see what this is all about. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Hushai the King’s Friend. He appeared in 2 Sam. 15:32-37, described in the same terms. There, David sends him back into Jerusalem to spy on Absalom after he’s been forced into hiding, which he does in 2 Sam. 16:15-19. In 2 Sam. 17, Hushai is able to use his position at Absalom’s side to convince him not to hunt David down right away (giving Hushai time to warn David to flee).
As for the phrase itself, it’s clearly a title. In the roster of Solomon’s cabinet 1 Kgs 4:1-6, we find Zabud son of Nathan serving as Solomon’s king’s friend. But where did the title come from, and what did the position entail?
I’m finding several throwaway references to the title being Egyptian in origin, imported. But other sources claim that the Egyptian title refers to what is essentially a courtier class, a way of designating a group of people as those closest to the king, rather than a position that would, presumably, come with its own set of responsibilities. Obviously, I lack the expertise in all relevant fields to say which side has the right in this.
But I did find a hint that the title might possibly be Canaanite in origin. In Genesis 26:26, King Abimelech of Gerar comes to negotiate with Isaac. He is accompanied by two men: His advisor Ahuzath, and his army commander Phicol. Some translations, such as the KJV, give Ahuzath as Abimelech’s friend, rather than his advisor.
Of course, none of the commentaries I could lay my hands on gave any explanation of the different translation choices. Because why would they do something so helpful? In desperation, I thought to check a translation of the Septuagint, just to see what it says. Sure enough, Abimelech shows up to the meeting with Phichol, and with “Ochozath his friend”.
So my conclusion is that “King’s Friend” was definitely an official position, with its own responsibilities (possibly similar to that of advisor or confidant), and I’m tentatively assuming that it’s a Canaanite custom rather than an Egyptian one.
August 17, 2015
11. 1-2 Chronicles, Bible, Old Testament
1 Chronicles, Aaron, Abdi, Abdon, Abihu, Abijah, Abishua, Adaiah, Ahimaaz, Ahimoth, Ahitub, Aijalon, Alemeth, Amariah, Amasai, Amaziah, Amminadab, Amram, Amzi, Anathoth, Anem, Aner, Asaiah, Asaph, Ashan, Asher, Ashtaroth, Assir, Azariah, Baaseiah, Bani, Bashan, Benjamin, Berechiah, Beth-horon, Beth-shemesh, Bezer, Bible, Bileam, Bukki, Caleb, Daberath, David, Debir, Ebiasaph, Eleazar, Eliab, Eliel, Elkanah, Ephraim, Eshtemoa, Ethan, Ethni, Gad, Galilee, Gath-rimmon, Geba, Gershom, Gershomite, Gezer, Gilead, Golan, Haggiah, Hammon, Hashabiah, Hebron, Heman, Heshbon, Hilen, Hilkiah, Hukok, Iddo, Israel, Issachar, Ithamar, Izhar, Jahath, Jahzah, Jattir, Jazer, Jeatherai, Jehozadak, Jephunneh, Jericho, Jeroham, Jerusalem, Joah, Joel, Johanan, Jokmeam, Jordan, Judah, Kedemoth, Kedesh, Kiriathaim, Kishi, Kohath, Kohathite, Korah, Levi, Levite, Libnah, Libni, Mahanaim, Mahath, Mahli, Malchijah, Malluch, Manasseh, Mashal, Mephaath, Meraioth, Merari, Merarite, Michael, Miriam, Moses, Mushi, Nadab, Nahath, Naphtali, Nebuchadnezzar, Old Testament, Phinehas, Ramoth, Rehob, Reuben, Rimmono, Samuel, Seraiah, Shallum, Shaul, Shechem, Shemer, Shimea, Shimei, Simeon, Solomon, Tabor, Tahath, Toah, Uriel, Uzzah, Uzzi, Uzziah, Uzziel, Zadok, Zebulun, Zephaniah, Zerah, Zerahiah, Zimmah, Zophai, Zuph
We next turn our attentions to the tribe of Levi. It’s worth noting both how detailed a treatment they get compared to the other tribes, and the fact that they are placed in the very middle of the genealogies, just as they were physically placed in the middle of the camp in Numbers 2. It’s hard to ignore the symbolism.
Roughly speaking, the narrative begins with the priestly genealogies, then discusses the temple musicians, and ends by looking at the territories under direct Levitical control.
The genealogy portion seems to be based on Exodus 6:16-25, but with some variations.
The sons of Levi are: Gershom, Kohath, and Merari. There’s some duplication of information as each section serves a different purpose that sometimes requires the same information. However, since my purpose is different than the Chronicler’s, I’ll be condensing a little.
The sons of Kohath are: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. From Amram came Aaron, Moses, and Miriam. From Aaron, we get Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. From this point, we follow Eleazar down in a direct line:
- Azariah: According to 1 Kgs 4:2, Azariah was Zadok’s son, not his grandson. However, this wouldn’t be the first time that “son” might have been used simply to mean “a descendant of.”
- Azariah: The text specifies that he was priest when Solomon built the temple.
- Jehozadak: The text indicates that he was taken into exile by Nebuchadnezzar after the fall of Jerusalem.
Aaron, from the Frauenkirche, Dresden
There is apparently some discussion as to whether or not Zadok (#9 on this list) was really of Levitical descent. Apparently, the Jebusite Hypothesis argues that Zadok was a priest in Jerusalem, serving the Jebusite god El Elyon, when it was conquered by David. Further, it argues that David may have appointed him as high priest as an appeasement to the conquered residents of the city (not only offering some continuity of leadership, but also bridging David’s god and their own).
In support of this, the similarity between Zadok’s name and the names of pre-Israelite inhabitants of Jerusalem is pointed out (for example, Melchizedek in Gen. 14:18 and Adonizedek in Jos. 10:1).
Some apparently also cite his role in Nathan and Bathsheba’s conspiracy to place Solomon on the throne, instead of Adonijah (1 Kgs 2). The argument goes that Solomon, born in Jerusalem, would have been preferred over Adonijah, who was born in Hebron.
The second lineage of Kohath: We also get a secondary list of the sons of Kohath, which is clearly not the same as above, beginning with Amminadab, and tracing down:
- Ebiasaph (appearing as Abiasaph in Ex. 6:24)
A few sources I looked at suggested that Amminadab might be an error here (albeit a strange one). Drawing from Exodus 6:21, they argue that Izhar may have been meant instead, which would certainly make a lot more sense.
We then get a list of descendants of someone named Elkanah, who is clearly not the Elkanah who was a descendant of Kohath. The grammar is a little fudgy, but it looks like he had two sons: Amasai and Ahimoth. Then, through Ahimoth, we get:
The sons of Samuel: In 1 Chron. 6:28, switch briefly over to a Samuel, who is presumably the Samuel of 1-2 Samuel, and meant to be related to the just-named Elkanah. This works for a little while, since 1 Samuel 1:1 names Samuel’s father Elkanah, and his grandfather Jeroham. It breaks down after that, however, as Jeroham is the son of Elihu, who is the son of Tohu, who is the son of Zuph. (A genealogy that matches better occurs below, in the discussion of musicians.)
Further, since Zuph is specifically named as an Ephraimite, we have to do a bit of juggling to make him also a Levite. It’s not impossible, since we could imagine a Levitical line living in Ephraim’s territory being identified by their geographical location rather than tribal descent. It’s worth noting that there were Kohathite territories within Ephraim (listed later in 1 Chron. 6:66-69).
In this case, however, there are too many pieces that don’t fit. It seems that, the Chronicler (who at least one of his sources) wished to shoe-horn Samuel into the Levitical line to excuse the fact that he was performing cultic duties. The problem with that, though, is that Samuel is seen making burnt offerings (for example, 1 Sam. 7:10), so why not place him directly in the Aaronic line? And why not mention in 1 Samuel that he was of Levitical descent?
In any case, the sons of Samuel are listed, in order, as Joel and Abijah.
The sons of Gershom are: Libni and Shimei. Gershom, by the way, is sometimes spelled Gershon. Given the phonetic similarity, I’m assuming this is just an error, and I will use the two forms interchangeably. Gershom traces the line down through Libni:
The sons of Merari are: Mahli and Mushi. Going down through Mahli, we get:
David is credited with founding the musical portion of the tabernacle service (or, at least, with reforming the system). When he initially brought the ark to Jerusalem, he appointed to “[minister] with son before the tabernacle of the tent of meeting” (1 Chron. 6:32). When Solomon built the temple, they moved with the ark.
The lineages are presented in reverse order. I’ll re-arrange them as a descent just to make the lineages more comparable to the ones we had above. Keeping in mind that it is the final member of the line who was appointed by David. I’ve bolded the appointees.
From the Kohathites:
- Heman the singer
If the Samuel listed as Heman’s grandfather is meant to be the Samuel who went around anointing Israel’s first few kings, the lineage matches much better than the one we got in 1 Chron. 6:25-28. The only differences are easily attributable to phonetic variations or scribal sloppiness (Eliel is listed as Elihu in 1 Samuel 1:1, and Toah as Tohu).
A second musician, Asaph, is identified as Heman’s brother in 1 Chron. 6:39. However, given the differences in the lineage, it seems probable that the term is meant to mean “brother in craft,” rather than as a description of a blood tie. His lineage is as follows:
The obvious problem here is that generations are skipped. Gershom’s sons are Libni and Shimei in 1 Chron. 6:17. Jahath isn’t listed until 1 Chron. 6:20, as the son of Libni (Gershom’s grandson). Shimei is missing from the 1 Chron. 6:20 version. After that, the comparison breaks down entirely, as the 1 Chron. 6:21 version continues with Joah, while this list continues through Ethan.
The first two errors can be fairly easily explained either as accidental errors, or as the Chronicler finding himself with a list containing a lovely symbolically resonant fourteen generations between Levi and Asaph, yet finding that it does not quite match his other source. He may have sacrificed Libni in order to include Shimei while still preserving the desired number of generations.
The final error also isn’t too difficult to explain, as there is nothing to say that Zimmah had only one son. His eldest might well have been Joah, while Asaph was descended from a secondary branch.
From the Merarites: The Merarites put forward one appointee, Ethan. His lineage goes:
The sons of Aaron: But only descendants of Aaron were allowed to make offerings, at least in the Chronicler’s time. His lineage is repeated down to Ahimaaz, and is identical to the one in 1 Chron. 6:4-8.
In 1 Chron. 6:54, the narrative moves into a discussion of the territories controlled by the tribe of Levi. This list corresponds largely to the one in Joshua 21, even presenting them in the same order (first to the Kohathites, then the Gershonites, then the Merarites).
Kohathite Cities: To the Kohathites, specifically the descendants of Aaron, Judah provided the following cities of refuge: Hebron, Libnah, Jattir, Eshtemoa, Hilen, Debir, Ashan, and Beth-shemesh. An added detail is given about Hebron: While the Levites get the town’s surrounding pasture lands, the fields and villages belong to Caleb son of Jephunneh.
Simeon won’t be listed here as a contributing tribe, but Ashan is allotted to them in Jos. 19:7. This suggests that Simeon had already been absorbed by Judah by the time the Chronicler’s source was written.
From Benjamin, the Kohathites received: Geba, Alameth, and Anathoth.
At this point, the text tells us that the Kohathites control 13 towns (1 Chron. 6:60), but the actual count reveals only 11. By comparing the list to Jos. 21:13-19, we can assume that Juttah and Gibeon were accidentally dropped by the Chronicler (or a subsequent scribe).
There appears to be a corruption of the text in 1 Chron. 6:61. The corresponding spot in Joshua is Jos. 21:5, where we learn that the Kohathites receive ten further towns from Ephraim, Dan, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. The towns are not named in either location.
From Ephraim, they received Shechem, Gezer, Jokmeam, Beth-horon, Aijalon, and Gathrimmon.
The cities contributed by Dan aren’t listed, but Jos. 21:23-24 names both Aijalon and Gathrimmon as coming from Dan. This seems to be another scribal error.
From the half-tribe of Manasseh, they received Aner and Bileam.
Gershomite Cities: Gershom received thirteen cities from Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and Manasseh.
From the half-tribe of Manasseh, they received: Golan in Bashan, and Ashtaroth. From Issachar, they received Kedesh, Daberath, Ramoth, and Anem. From Asher, they received Mashal, Abdon, Hukok, and Rehob. And from Naphtali, they received Kedesh in Galilee, Hammon, and Kiriathaim.
Merarite Cities: Merari received twelve cities from Reuben, Gad, and Zebulun.
From Zebulun, they received Rimmono and Tabor. In the Transjordan, they received from Reuben: Bezer, Jahzah, Kedemoth, and Mephaath. From Gad, they received Ramoth in Gilead, Mahanaim, Heshbon, and Jazer.
I only get a count of ten cities, rather than the twelve claimed, but there is some grammatical weirdness around 1 Chron. 6:78 that could account for the discrepancy.
January 9, 2015
09. 1-2 Samuel, Bible, Old Testament
2 Samuel, Araunah, Aroer, Beersheba, Bible, Canaanite, Dan, David, Gad, Gilead, Hittite, Hivite, Jazer, Jebusite, Jerusalem, Joab, Judah, Kadesh, Negeb, Old Testament, Sidon, Tyre
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:
- Three years of famine;
- Three months of fleeing from his enemies;
- 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
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.
May 5, 2014
06. Joshua, Bible, Old Testament
Aaron, Abiezer, Achsah, Achshaph, Achzib, Adadah, Adamah, Adaminekeb, Addar, Adithaim, Adullam, Adummim, Ahiman, Aijalon, Ain, Akrabbim, Allammelech, Almon, Amad, Amam, Ammonite, Amorite, Anab, Anaharath, Anak, Anakim, Anathoth, Anim, Aphek, Aphekah, Arab, Arabah, Arba, Archite, Aroer, Ashan, Ashdod, Asher, Ashkelon, Ashnah, Ashtaroth, Asriel, Ataroth, Atarothaddar, Avvim, Azekah, Azmon, Aznothtabor, Baalah, Baalath, Baalathbeer, Baalgad, Balaam, Balah, Bamothbaal, Bashan, Bealoth, Beeroth, Beersheba, Beeshterah, Beneberak, Benjamin, Beor, Beten, Beth-hoglah, Beth-horom, Beth-shaen, Beth-shean, Beth-shemesh, Bethanath, Bethanoth, Betharabah, Betharabahb, Bethaven, Bethbaalmeon, Bethdagon, Bethel, Bethemek, Bethjeshimoth, Bethlebaoth, Bethlehem, Bethmarcaboth, Bethpazzez, Bethpelet, Bethpeor, Bethtappuah, Bethul, Bethzur, Bezer, Bible, Biziothiah, Bozkath, Cabbon, Cabul, Caleb, Canaanite, Carmel, Chepharammoni, Chesalon, Chesil, Chesulloth, Chinnereth, Chislothtabor, Chitlish, Dabbesheth, Daberath, Dan, Dannah, Debir, Dibon, Dilan, Dimnah, Dimonah, Dor, Dumah, Ebez, Ebron, Eder, Edom, Edrei, Eglon, Ekron, Eleazar, Elon, Elteke, Eltekeh, Eltekon, Eltolad, Emek-keziz, Enam, Endor, Engannim, Engedi, Enhaddah, Enhazor, Enrogel, Enshemesh, Entappuah, Ephraim, Eshan, Eshtaol, Eshtemoa, Eshtemon, Esthaol, Ether, Ethkazin, Evi, Exem, Ezem, Gad, Gath, Gath-hepher, Gathrimmon, Gaza, Geba, Gebalite, Gederah, Gederoth, Gederothaim, Gedor, Gershonite, Geshurite, Gezer, Gibbethon, Gibeah, Gibeon, Gilead, Gilgal, Giloh, Golan, Goshen, Great Sidon, Hadashah, Haeleph, Halhul, Hali, Hammath, Hammon, Hammothdor, Hannathon, Hapharaim, Hazar-gaddah, Hazarshual, Hazarsusah, Hazor, Hazor-hadattah, Hebron, Helek, Heleph, Helkath, Hepher, Heshbon, Heshmon, Hezron, Hinnom, Hoglah, Holon, Horem, Hormah, Hosah, Hukkok, Humtah, Hur, Ibleam, Idalah, Iim, Iphtah, Iphtah-el, Iron, Irpeel, Irshemesh, Issachar, Ithlah, Ithnan, Jabneel, Jagur, Jahaz, Jahzah, Jair, Janim, Janoah, Japhia, Japhletite, Jarmuth, Jattir, Jazer, Jebus, Jebusite, Jehud, Jephunneh, Jericho, Jerusalem, Jezreel, Jokdeam, Jokneam, Joktheel, Joppa, Jordan, Joseph, Joshua, Judah, Juttah, Kabzeel, Kadesh, Kadeshbarnea, Kain, Kanah, Karka, Kartah, Kartan, Kattath, Kedemoth, Kedesh, Keilah, Kenaz, Kenizzite, Kerioth-hezron, Kibzaim, Kinah, Kiriath-jearim, Kiriathaim, Kiriatharba, Kiriathbaal, Kiriathsannah, Kiriathsepher, Kishion, Kohathite, Lachish, Lahmam, Lakkum, Lebanon, Lebaoth, Lebo-hamath, Leshem, Levi, Libnah, Lower Beth-horon, Luz, Maacathite, Maarath, Machir, Machirite, Madmannah, Mahalab, Mahanaim, Mahlah, Makkedah, Manasseh, Maon, Maralah, Mareshah, Mearah, Medeba, Megiddo, Mejarkon, Mephaath, Merarite, Michmethath, Middin, Midian, Migdalel, Migdalgad, Milcah, Mishal, Misrephothmaim, Mizpeh, Moladah, Moses, Mount Baalah, Mount Ephron, Mount Hermon, Mount Jearim, Mount Seir, Naamah, Naarah, Nahalal, Naphath, Naphtali, Neah, Negeb, Neiel, Nephtoah, Nexib, Nibshan, Noah, Nun, Og, Old Testament, Ophni, Ophrah, Othniel, Parah, Perizzite, Philistine, Pisgah, Rabbah, Rabbith, Rakkath, Rakkon, Ramah, Ramoth, Reba, Rehob, Rekem, Remeth, Rephaim, Reuben, Rimmon, Salecah, Sansannah, Sarid, Sepher, Sexacah, Shaalabbin, Shaaraim, Shahazumah, Shamir, Sharuhen, Sheba, Shechem, Shema, Shemida, Sheshai, Shihor, Shihorlibnath, Shikkeron, Shilhim, Shiloh, Shimron, Shion, Shunem, Sibmah, Sidonian, Sihon, Simeon, Socoh, Stone of Bohan, Taanach, Taanath-shiloh, Tabor, Talmai, Tanaach, Tappuah, Taralah, Telem, Timnah, Timnathserah, Tirzah, Tyre, Ummah, Upper Beth-horon, Valley of Achor, Valley of Jazreel, Wadi Arnon, Wadi Kanah, Wadi of Egypt, Wilderness of Zin, Zaanannim, Zanoah, Zebulun, Zela, Zelophehad, Zemaraim, Zenan, Zer, Zerethshahar, Ziddim, Ziklag, Zior, Ziph, Zorah, Zur
Always a bit of a Debbie Downer, God begins by telling Joshua that he’s getting old and that there is still much land to be conquered. He then proceeds to list these lands in Josh. 13:2-6.
The narrator follows up by describing the boundaries of the land under Israelite control on the east side of the Jordan, reminding us once more about how Moses defeated King Og and King Sihon (will he ever stop going on about that?). We are told that the Israelites had failed to drive out the Geshurites and Maacathites, who still live within Israel “to this day” (Josh. 13:13).
The actual allocation sections are a little scattered, so I’ll deal with the content out of order. In Josh. 18, Joshua tells the tribes who still require lands to each send out three men to scout the land and write descriptions of it. When they return, Joshua will use a lottery system to divide it among the tribes. This all takes place at Shiloh.
Because the place names are extremely boring, I will just list verse references plus any detail that happens to attract my interest. Here are the tribal allocations:
Judah: Josh. 15:1-12, 20-63. Though God had promised to Joshua that no one would be able to stand against him (Josh. 1:5), the people of Judah were not able to drive out the Jebusites, who were the people living in Jerusalem. Because of this, “the Jebusites live with the people of Judah in Jerusalem to this day” (Josh. 15:63).
Reuben: Josh. 13:15-23. Amid the listing of territories, we are reminded that the Israelites killed Balaam, “who practiced divination” (Josh. 13:22). This was, if you remember, a totally awkward twist from Numbers 31.
Gad: Josh. 13:24-28. In Josh. 13:27, we are told that Gad gets “the rest of the kingdom of King Sihon. This conflicts with Josh. 13:21, where we are told that Reuben is to receive “all the kingdom of King Sihon.” The biblical penchant for exaggeration is all well and good, but probably a terrible idea when relating tribal land allocations…
Manasseh (eastern half/Machir): Josh. 13:29-31, 17:3-6. In Josh. 17, we are reminded of Zelophehad’s daughters – Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah – who are to receive an inheritance in their own right. Here, the women are given their lands.
Manasseh (western half): Josh. 17:7-13. Once more, the Israelites are unable to kill off all the native inhabitants, so that the Manassites have to wait until they strong enough to enslave the Canaanites.
Ephraim: Josh. 16:1-10. Once again, we are told that they were unable to drive some people out – the Canaanites of Gezer remain and, we are told, have been enslaved.
Benjamin: Josh. 18:11-26.
Simeon: Josh. 19:1-9. Though the apportioning of land was supposed to have been fair, for some reason Joseph had given too much to Judah. So when he gets to Simeon, he doesn’t have enough territory to give and has to carve pieces out from Judah and give them over. Mastermind Joshua strikes again. You’d think he’d have planned ahead a little…
Zebulun: Josh. 19:10-16.
Issachar: Josh. 19:17-23. Excavations began on what is believed to be Anaharath, one of Issachar’s towns, somewhat recently!
Asher: Josh. 19:24-31.
Naphtali: Josh. 19:32-39.
Dan: Josh. 19:40-48. We are told that Dan took land from Leshem, renaming it “Dan” after their ancestor. Unfortunately, they are given Zorah and Eshtaol, which had already been given to Judah back in Josh. 15:33. Poor Joshua just cannot wrap his head around how this stuff works…
Levi: Josh. 21:1-45. Though they get no territory per se, the Levites do get cities, as well as a little pasture land. A portion of the Kohathites are given thirteen towns from Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin. The rest of the Kohathites get ten towns from Ephraim, Dan, and Manasseh. The Gershonites get thirteen towns from Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and Manasseh. The Merarites get twelve towns from Reuben, Gad, and Zebulun. We are told that Caleb had been given the fields and villages of one of the towns now being given to the Levites.
Caleb and Joshua
Caleb: Josh. 14:6-15, 15:13-19. You’ll remember Caleb has the scout who (with or without Joshua) stood against the other scouts in their position that the Israelites should not rush into the Promised Land. I can’t recall if Moses promised him his own land as a reward at the time, but the text here says that he did. And so, while Joshua is drawing all his lots, Caleb approaches and demands his reward. Though he is 85 years old now, he claims that he is still strong enough to fight and, therefore, would like to be granted the hill country where he had initially seen the Anakim (the giants he saw in Numbers 13). Joshua agrees, giving him Hebron – previously named Kiriatharba. The Arba in the name is the “greatest man among the Anakim” (Josh. 14:15). Incidentally, there’s a discussion over at Remnant of Giants about whether “Anakim” here should refer to a specific group of people, or whether it is used more broadly as a term for giants.
We have to wait until the next chapter and half of Judah’s allotment before we find out what happens next. Caleb heads up to Hebron and defeats Anak’s three sons, Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai. Having now a taste for blood, he heads off to fight Debir, offering his daughter, Achsah, as a wife for anyone who conquers it for him. Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s brother, takes him up on the offer and marries his niece. She tells her new husband to ask her father for a field and they are given some land in the Negeb. Later, while dismounting a donkey (presumably not an unflattering nickname for Othniel), she asks her father for water springs as well. Caleb gives her a few.
It’s a cute story, but we were told in Josh. 11:21 that it was Joshua who had defeated the Anakim in Hebron and Debir.
Joshua: Josh. 19:49-51. Now that all the lands are distributed, God tells the Israelites to give Joshua some land, too. I love this little detail – we are specifically told that the Israelites gave Joshua his land (on God’s command), just in case anyone dared to wonder if perhaps Joshua was skimming a little from the top for himself! Of course, we’re also told that he specifically asked for the town they gave him, so it still feels a little like a stacked deck. Either way, he receives Timnathserah, which is in his tribe’s – Ephraim – land.
In Josh. 20, the cities of refuge are appointed. You will remember these cities from Numbers 35. We had been told that there should be six of them in total, and they are:
- Kedesh in Naphtali’s territory
- Shechem in Ephraim’s territory
- Kiriatharba (Hebron) in Judah’s territory
- Bezer in Reuben’s territory
- Ramoth in Gad’s territory
- Golan in Manasseh’s territory
The latter three had already been appointed in Deuteronomy 4.
The tribe of Joseph (composed of Manasseh and Ephraim) complain to Joshua that they are too numerous for the amount of land they were given. Joshua, who sadly lacks a head for numbers, also managed to muck up Judah’s portion (giving them too much) in Josh. 19:9. To solve the problem, Joshua sends them into the forests belonging to the Perizzites and Rephaim to clear some space for themselves.
But, reply Manasseh and Ephraim, those guys have chariots of iron! (Josh. 17:16) Joshua reassures them that they will be fine, and that they will drive out the Canaanites even though they have chariots of iron and are very strong.
November 25, 2013
04. Numbers, Bible, Old Testament
Abraham, Amorite, Aroer, Ataroth, Atroth, Baalmeon, Bashan, Beon, Bethharan, Bethnimrah, Bible, Caleb, Canaan, Dibon, Elealeh, Eleazar, Eshcol, Gad, Gilead, Havothjair, Heshbon, Isaac, Jaazer, Jacob, Jair, Jazer, Jephunneh, Jogbehah, Jordan, Joseph, Joshua, Kadeshbarnea, Kenath, Kenizzite, Kirjathaim, Machir, Manasseh, Moses, Nebo, Nimrah, Nobah, Numbers, Nun, Og, Old Testament, Reuben, Shebam, Shibmah, Shophan, Sihon
While hanging out in Gilead, along the east bank of the Jordan river, representatives of the tribes of Gad and Reuben come to Moses, Eleazar, and the other tribal leaders. They point out that the lands they’re in now are actually kinda nice, and they’d really be rather quite content to just stay here.
Moses shames Gad and Reuben for letting “your brethren go to the war while you sit here” (v.6). He asks them if they would discourage the rest by bailing now, and reminds them of how their forefathers had discouraged the people after the scouting episode in Numbers 13. Remember, he says, God sentenced us to 40 years in the wilderness after that!
“Behold,” says Moses. “You have risen in your fathers’ stead, a brood of sinful men, to increase still more the fierce anger of the Lord against Israel! For if you turn away from following him, he will again abandon them in the wilderness; and you will destroy all this people” (v.14-15).
Bit much? Sure. Bad enough that David Plotz is left rather uncomfortable with the Moses character arc:
Moses’ indignation comes from nowhere and seems entirely undeserved. […] Again, it’s hard not to feel that the brilliant and humane prophet who has dominated the Torah is slipping away, and that he has suddenly become an old, angry, vindictive tyrant.
I don’t think that Plotz is being fair here. An army can’t function if soldiers keep dropping out, en masse, along the way. If all the tribes are going to get their own land, all the tribes have to fight for it. Otherwise, the first couple get to settle down, and the remaining tribes will be too few in number to continue the campaign.
Moses has, absolutely, been acting like a tyrant. But I don’t think that’s the case in this particular chapter. Rather, Moses is telling Gad and Reuben that they don’t just get to take theirs and run. They have to stick it through until everyone gets their share.
I may not agree with the whole holy war / take the land through slaughter thing, but if you’re going to do it, at least do it as a team.
Gad and Reuben respond with a compromise. They propose that they build fortified cities “for our little ones” (v.16) and sheepfolds for their flocks, then march out with the Israelite army. That way, at least their animals, wives, and children would be safe while they fight. “We will not return to our homes until the people of Israel have inherited each his inheritance” (v.18).
Proving that Moses is not nearly as unreasonable in this chapter as Plotz made him out to be, he agrees to this compromise. Since he won’t be crossing the Jordan personally, he conveys the deal to Eleazar and Joshua.
The punishment if Gad and Reuben fail to uphold their part of the bargain is, by the way, incredibly light as far as biblical threats go. Moses says to Eleazar and Joshua that if Reuben and Gad don’t pull through, “they shall have possessions among you in the land of Canaan” (v.30). That’s right, if they fulfil their end of the bargain, they get the nice lands that they want. If they don’t, they get the perfectly fine lands that were originally planned for them. This is “old, angry, vindictive tyrant” Plotz is so concerned about?
As you can see from the map, Manasseh also has a little patch of land over on the east side of the river. They get stuck in here, totally as if they’d been in the deal from the beginning, as Moses dedicates the lands to the three tribes. Verses 34-42 just list all the various towns that the three tribes build.
October 25, 2013
04. Numbers, Bible, Old Testament
Ammonite, Amorite, Ar, Arad, Arnon, Atharim, Bamoth, Bashan, Beer, Bible, Book of the Wars of the Lord, Canaanite, Chemosh, Dibon, Edom, Edrei, Heshbon, Hormah, Iye Abarim, Jabbok, Jahaz, Jazer, Mattanah, Medeba, Moab, Moses, Mount Hor, Nahaliel, Negeb, Nophah, Numbers, Oboth, Og, Old Testament, Pisgah, Sihon, Suphah, Waheb, Zahab, Zered Valley
It doesn’t rain unless it pours. Numbers is an odd book; a good half of the chapters are nothing but Levitical drudgery, and then we get chapters like these, where the narratives just seem to be breathlessly jammed together.
As the Hebrews are travelling through Atharim, they are attacked by the king of Arad, a Canaanite. This appears to have been a small skirmish, since we’re given no death tally and only told that he took some of the Hebrews captive.
The Hebrews then call to God for help and, while reticent to provide them with the necessities of subsistence, he seems quite happy to help when it involves killing people.
With God’s help, the Hebrews are able to “utterly destroy” the Canaanites, as well as their cities. Because of this, they name the area Hormah, which my Study Bible notes means “destruction.”
Waaay back in Numbers 14:39-45, we heard of a different battle in which some of the Hebrews run up into the hill country and are attacked by the Amalekites and Canaanites. In that battle, the Hebrews are destroyed and their remainder pursued “even to Hormah” (Num. 14:45).
The similarities between the two stories are interesting: the initial defeat at the hands of Canaanites, and the mention of Hormah. A possible interpretation of this Numbers 21 story is that it is a continuation, explaining what happened after the Hebrews (whether the initial group or the larger group following) arrived at Hormah and retaliated.
Enter the serpents
From Mount Hor, the Hebrews set out to go around Edom (having been denied through-passage in Numbers 20). On the way, however, the people start griping again about the lack of variety in their diet. As punishment, God sends “fiery serpents” (v.6) among them, the poison killing everyone bitten.
Moses and the Brazen Serpent, by Sébastien Bourdon, 1653-1654
Moses prays on behalf of the people and God, once again, relents. However, while sending miracles that kill masses of people is easy-peasy for God, removing them seems to be a bit on the “rock so heavy even God cannot lift it” side of things, so he needs Moses to perform some magic.
To pull this one off, Moses must build an idol – specifically, a bronze serpent set on a pole. Anyone who has been bitten and sees the idol will survive.
I think that this is a similar situation to the Golden Calf story. Indeed, we’ll see in 2 Kings 18:4 that this idol – later called Nehushtan – was considered in violation of the cultic prohibitions and was destroyed.
According to J.R. Porter:
This is the origin of the bronze serpent that stood in the Temple of Jerusalem. It was originally a symbol of Canaanite religion, but is here attributed to Moses, although its original significance as part of a cult involving serpent worship has been neutralized. (The New Illustrated Companion to the Bible, p.61)
The symbolism of the serpent as a sign of healing was not at all uncommon in the Near East. The Rod of Asclepius is probably the one most people are familiar with (even if they don’t know the name), though there are plenty of other examples.
I think it’s probable that this symbol was in circulation and somehow got included in Hebrew cultic iconography. At some point, the icon was associated with Moses, and this story made it into Numbers. At some later point, there was an iconoclast crackdown and the idol was destroyed.
It seems to me that the bronze serpent is quite clearly a violation of the Exodus 20:4 prohibition of idolatry. Even if the idol is commissioned by God, it’s still an idol (and, one might argue, all idols are commissioned by a god or gods).
Brant Clemens of Both Saint and Cynic explains that “idolatry has been defined as the sin of mistaking the good for the best.” To extrapolate, the idol – at the time of its creation – is seen as merely an earthly tool for God’s use, not a conduit or representation of God himself. Once this changed and people started worshipping the idol, it was destroyed.
Interesting side-note, Brant also mentioned that “the snake on the pole is used in Christian art (and preaching, I’m sure) as a figure of Christ on the cross.” This was totally new to me but, when I was searching for images to use for this post, I had no trouble finding examples of it.
Journey to Moab
We haven’t had a proper son in quite a while, and someone apparently realized that they weren’t meeting quota. Through the rest of this chapter, we get three of them, all up next to each other like it’s perfectly normal to stuff all the songs in one place or something.
A long section of the chapter simply lists the pit-stops taken by the travellers:
- Iye Abarim, west of Moab
- The Zered Valley
- Alongside the Arnon, which is the border between Moab and the Amorites
- Quite interlude to quote a poem from the lost Book of the Wars of the Lord
- Beer, which means “well,” where the people break into song about how awesome wells are
- The wilderness of Mattanah
- The valley in Moab where the top of Pisgah overlooks the wasteland
Defeat of Sihon and Og
In a near-identical passage to their request of the king of Edom in Numbers 20, the Hebrews ask Sihon, king of the Amorites, for permission to pass through his territories.
Once again, they are refused. This time, however, the refusal apparently comes with a rather brutal and – if the text is to be taken at face value – totally uncalled for attack.
Sihon and his army find the Hebrews at Jahaz, where the Hebrews retaliate and conquer his lands “from the Arnon to the Jabbok” (v.24). But they are stopped at the Ammonite border because they have hard, protective shells.
Then we get our third, and final, song of the chapter, which goes on about how woe’d and destroyed the enemies of the Hebrews are, and how the Israelites have settled in the lands that they formerly owned.
After their victory, Moses sends spies to Jazer and the Israelites drive out the Amorite residents. They then head up toward Bashan and fight against the army of King Og at the battle of Edrei, which the Hebrews win.