2 Chronicles 13: A Short But Much Embellished Reign

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2 Chronicles 13 presents us with quite a different picture of King Abijah’s reign than does his portion of 1 Kings 15. For starters, even the name is different, as Abijah is known as Abijam in Kings. On this, Brant Clements, of Both Saint and Cynic, says:

The name Abijam is made up of two components which mean “father” and “sea.” So “Abijam” means something like “father of the sea” or “the sea is my father.” the components of Abijah mean “father” and “YHWH.” The name can only mean “YHWH is my father.”

I can’t confirm the Hebrew, but this explanation is certainly in keeping with what we are about to read.

But first, there’s another mystery to touch on: That of Abijah’s mother. In 2 Chron. 11:20, her mother was Maacah, daughter o Absalom. This appears to agree with 1 Kgs 15:2, where her name was Maacah, daughter of Abishalom. I noted in my last post, however, that Absalom is said to have had only one daughter, Tamar (2 Sam. 14:27), though it’s always possible that another Absalom was meant, or that Tamar was the only daughter that the author of Samuel felt worth mentioning.

Putting Absalom aside for a moment, there is a far bigger issue here, as 2 Chron. 13:2 gives Abijah’s mother as Micaiah, daughter of Uriel of Gibeah.

The War

Abijah ruled for a measly 3 years (on which both Chronicles and Kings agree). Kings saw little in this short reign worth mentioning, dismissing Abijam as just another sinful ruler who was allowed to rule and to pass on the crown to his son only because of God’s great love for David. Of the conflict between Judah and Israel, we learn only that it continued throughout Abijam’s reign (1 Kgs 15:6-7), but no details are given.

The Chronicler, however, seems to want to make a pious holy warrior out of Abijah. He writes of a great standoff, with a mere 400,000 men on Judah’s side and and a whole 800,000 men on Israel’s side (the numbers, of course, are absurd, likely meant only to represent a great many, and to emphasize that Jeroboam’s great many was a great many manier than Abijah’s).

From the 'Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum', by Guillaume Rouille

From the ‘Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum’, by Guillaume Rouille

Before the battle begins, Abijah stands on Mount Zemaraim, in the hill country of Ephraim, to give a speech. As a side note, I find it interesting that the Chronicler obviously means the northern kingdom when he uses the term “all Israel” here (2 Chron 13:4, 2 Chron. 13:15), whereas in the last two chapters he has frequently used the phrase to underscore the legitimacy of Judah as the true inheritors of the name.

The speech is typically long-winded, and it covers all our bases: God gave kingship to David’s dynasty, putting Jeroboam and the “worthless scoundrels” (2 Chron. 13:7) who follow him in rebellion against God himself. They took advantage of Rehoboam when he was young and unstable in his role, unable to force them back into line.

He berates them for thinking that they can win, just because they have greater numbers and golden calves. After all, he says, they have cast out the priests of God, making their own priests out of any foreigner with the money to buy his initiation.

There are problems with this speech, of course. For one thing, Rehoboam may have been inexperienced and new to his position, but he was not young – he was 41 when he took the crown, according to 2 Chron. 12:13. Abijah also fudges over what Rehoboam did to encourage the rebellion, and that God himself had said that the rebellion was his will. Yet, as we shall see, none of this seems to matter much.

Not only does Jeroboam have the advantage of numbers, he is also able to set up an ambush to flank Abijah’s army in a pincer maneuver. The point the Chronicler is making, clearly, is that it would have been impossible for Jeroboam to lose through natural means, given all his advantages.

When the Judahite soldiers see that they are fighting on two fronts, they call out to God and the priests blow their trumpets. And so God defeated Jeroboam, routing them so that Abijah’s men can make easy slaughter (killing a whole 500,000 of them).

Not quite trusting in his readership to pick up on the subtle themes and messages of his work, the Chronicler makes it clear: Judah won because they relied on God (2 Chron. 13:18).

Cleaning up after the battle, Abijah pursued Jeroboam, taking cities as he went: Bethel, Jeshanah, and Ephron (all, apparently, border towns). Jeroboam never recovered from this defeat and eventually died, while Abijah grew mightily.

Concluding Abijah’s reign, we learn that he had 14 wives, 22 sons, and 16 daughters. For the rest of his deeds and sayings, consult the now lost story of the prophet Iddo.

1 Samuel 7: Getting back in good graces

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We begin chapter 7 with another attack from the crappy chapter break monster! Taking up from the last chapter, the men of Kiriath-jearim (the Levites of 1 Sam. 6:15 have apparently disappeared) bring the ark to Abinadab. While the ark was in his hands, Abinadab consecrated his son, Eleazar (presumably not the same Eleazar who was high priest after Aaron) so that he could have charge of it.

It doesn’t seem that anyone considers either Abinadab or Eleazar to have been a high priest, yet it seems strange that they should have charge of the ark and not be so. Just as it’s strange that the ark should have sat in Philistine hands for seven months without anyone mounting a rescue, and no one seems to know what to do with it now that it’s back. It seems to me that perhaps the ark was a local cultic object, perhaps from the Shiloh region, and that the rest of the Israelites didn’t really care that much about it. At least at that time.

The ark remains in Kiriath-jearim for twenty years while the people do a lot of “lamenting” (1 Sam. 7:2), which, in context, likely means something like praying for help against the Philistines.

Sam’s Career

There are fifty-five chapters in the combined books of Samuel, and chapter 7 already brings us into the titular hero’s dotage.

The ark drops from the story, and there doesn’t seem to be any indication that Samuel misses it, or tries to get it back, or sees himself as Eli’s successor in its care, or even knows that it’s back from Philistia. Rather, we just see Samuel yelling at the people for having adopted Baals and Ashtaroth. If only they’d put them away, he says, God would save them from the Philistines. The people, without mention of complaint or hesitance, do so. According to my study Bible, this mention of foreign gods is likely a Deuteronomist addition. Certainly, the narrative flows perfectly well with 1 Sam. 7:3-4 removed.

He then gathers all (all!) the people at Mizpah. We’ve seen this location a few times before, mostly in Judges. It’s where Laban and Jacob swear an oath in Genesis 31:48-50. In Judges, it seems to have been quite strongly associated with mustering armies: It’s where the Israelites mustered against the Ammonites in Judges 10:17, and where the other tribes mustered against the Benjaminites in Judges 20. It is also associated with Jephthah in Judges 11. Now, it’s where Samuel prays over the people and has them perform a sort of cleansing ritual in which they confess to their sins.

360_ark_covenant_0215Once the people are purified, Samuel turns his attentions to Philistia. Or, rather, the Philistines find out that the Israelites are gathering and assume the (probably accurate) worst. The Israelites are afraid of the approaching Philistines, so they ask Samuel to continually pray for them while they fight. It’s a bit like Moses’s arm waving during the battle against the Amalekites in Exodus 17, except that Samuel makes a “whole burnt offering” (1 Sam. 7:9) – likely meaning that the whole animal is burned up, with no portion saved for human consumption – instead.

It works. When the Philistines advance, God “thundered with a mighty voice” (1 Sam. 7:11), confusing and routing them. Whether intentional or not, this story provides a contrast to the last battle against the Philistines. In both cases, it looks – at least to me – like the sacred is being used fetishistically, in the sense that some object is brought or ritual performed in the belief that it will cause God to grant victory. The only meaningful difference, it seems, is that Samuel is a Good Guy, whereas the last battle had no such leader-hero. Or perhaps there’s some theological nuance that I’m missing.

Having achieved his first victory against the Philistines, Samuel sets up a monument – a stone that he names Ebenezer (or “stone of help”). If that names sounds familiar, it’s because it’s where the Israelites mustered against the Philistines in 1 Samuel 4 – the battle that preceded the one in which the ark was lost. Either we have two separate stories of battles against the Philistines in connection to Ebenezer (at least one of which confused the source of the name), or Samuel is being delightfully snarky.

In 1 Sam. 7:13-14, we are told that the Philistines are permanently subdued, and that all the cities they had taken are returned to the Israelites (including Ekron and Gath – two of the Philistine pentapolis). Not only that, but Samuel also somehow managed to bring peace between Israel and the Amorites.

Of course, there’s a problem with that; if Samuel did indeed achieve all of this, then Saul’s career (coming up shortly) makes no sense. So my New Bible Commentary proposes a different reading, arguing that these verses are a summary of Samuel’s entire career, “not just the part of it that preceded Saul’s becoming king” (p.290). In other words, this chapter may be crediting Samuel with what will later be credited to the monarchy. It may be evidence of that ‘judge vs. monarch’ ideological conflict I mentioned earlier.

Closing up, we’re told that Samuel judged in a circuit, moving between Bethel, Gilgal, Mizpah, and his home in Ramah (building an altar in this last location, a detail that evidently made it passed the editors). I checked out these locations on my study Bible map and they seem to be in a fairly small geographical region. Much smaller than would be expected from a prophet known to all of Israel (1 Sam. 3:20).