2 Chronicles 11-12: The Life and Times of Rehoboam

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In 1 Kings 12, Jeroboam split the nation of Israel in two, and Rehoboam rushed immediately to Jerusalem to assemble his armies and try to subdue the seceding northern kingdom. n 2 Chron. 10:18, however, Rehoboam first fled from Jerusalem, and only then did he return to muster soldiers from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.

From then on, 2 Chron. 11:1-4 largely matches the account found in 1 Kgs 12:21-24. In both cases, he manages to gather 180,000 warriors, but is stopped when God, speaking through the prophet Shemaiah, commands him to turn back rather than fight against his own brethren.

The Chronicler does change one detail. While Shemaiah addresses “King Rehoboam of Judah, son of Solomon, and to all the house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the rest of the people” in 1 Kgs 12:23, the address is to “King Rehoboam of Judah, son of Solomon, and to all Israel in Judah and Benjamin” in 2 Chron. 11:3. We see that the Chronicler refuses to allow the name of Israel to belong exclusively to the northern kingdom, instead emphasizing that it is the southern kingdom that remains the true kingdom, the true Israel.

The Bubastite Portal at Karnak, depicting a list of city states conquered by Shoshenq I

The Bubastite Portal at Karnak, depicting a list of city states conquered by Shoshenq I

Though this passages implies that the two kingdoms were able to amicably split, or at least to split without bloodshed, this doesn’t seem to have been the case. We have to wait until 2 Chron. 12:15 to hear of it, but it seems that there was near-constant conflict between the two kingdoms.

Of his reign, we learn that Rehoboam built up Judah’s defenses, particularly in the cities of Bethlehem, Etam, Tekoa, Bethzur, Soco, Adullam, Gath, Mareshah, Ziph, Adoraim, Lachish, Azekah, Zorah, Aijalon, and Hebron. He also made sure that the fortresses were strong and well supplied (likely in event of a siege). We are told that this allowed him to keep hold of Judah and Benjamin, even if he wasn’t able to retake Israel.

Complicating matters a little, the New Bible Commentary notes that all the cities mentioned are in the south, and proposes that the Chronicler was mistaken – that the fortifications were not defenses against northern Israel, but rather either in anticipation of Shishak’s invasion (which we will discuss shortly) or rebuilding after it (p.386). The details of Rehoboam’s fortifications are absent in Kings, so it could be that the Chronicler was using a different source and simply guessed at Rehoboam’s motivations.

The Chronicler isn’t particularly interested in the goings on of the northern kingdom, but we do learn of Jeroboam’s idolatry. It seems that he cast out all the priests and Levites from his territory, so they and other faithful came as refugees to Rehoboam (enough refugees to strengthen Judah and secure Rehoboam’s hold over the remnant of his country for three years). Meanwhile, Jeroboam appointed priests of his own (which we see him doing in 1 Kgs 12:31 and 1 Kgs 13:33) to tend to the high places and idols.

Of the idols, we earn that there were calves and satyrs (or goats, or goat-demons, depending on the translation).We already knew of Jeroboam’s calves, of course, from 1 Kgs 12:25-33, but the satyrs are new. James Bradford Pate notes that “there is no evidence in Syro-Palestine that Israelites worshiped deities who had the form of animals”. Rather, the calves were seen as seats on which god might sit, not worshiped as gods themselves. So how do the goats fit in? Pate proposes that Jeroboam may have been introducing a new faith of an Egyptian flavour, having spent some time there. But I can’t help but wonder if it might be a reference to the same folk religion that gave us the scapegoat ritual from Leviticus 16:8.

Family Life

Of his family life, we learn that Rehoboam married Mahalath, who was the daughter of Jerimoth, who was the son of David and Abihail. This Abihail was the daughter of Eliab, who was the son of Jesse. Confused? That’s understandable, because we’re getting into “I’m my own grandpa” territory. Using 1 Chron. 2:13-16, I made this to illustrate:

Rehoboam's Genealogy

With Mahalath, Rehoboam had three sons: Jeush, Shemariah, and Zaham.

Rehoboam also married Maacah, daughter of Absalom (so, another cousin). 2 Sam. 14:27 says that Absalom had only one daughter, named Tamar, though it’s possible that Tamara was the only one that the author of Samuel felt was worth mentioning (due to her name being significant). In any case, they had the following sons” Abijah, Attai, Ziza, and Shelomith.

Of all his wives and concubines (of which he had 18 and 60, respectively), Rehoboam loved Maacah the most.

Altogether, Rehoboam had 28 sons and 60 daughters. Likely due to his affection for Maacah, he placed her eldest son Abijah, as his chief prince and heir. We’ve seen this circumventing of primogeniture for the sake of a favoured wife before. On example is with Bathsheba, and the conspiracy between herself and Nathan to have Solomon crowned, versus Abiathar in the pro-Adonijah faction.

We are told that Rehoboam dealt wisely, and that he distributed his sons through all the districts of Judah and Benjamin, and provided them with wives. The idea could have been to give them each a little power, keep them content, so that they don’t rise up like David’s sons. Or perhaps the idea was to maintain his hold on what little nation was left to him by making local rulers of his own dynasty.

A Stumble

Returning to Kings as a source material (specifically, 1 Kgs 14:21-31), we learn that, once Rehoboam felt like his rule was firmly established, he forsook God, and “all Israel with him” (2 Chron. 12:1). It doesn’t seem that he left the YHWH cult so much as that he wasn’t seen to be paying as much attention to it as he should, having grown complacent.

The mention of “all Israel” here is interesting. It could be that the Chronicler is using the term, as above, to underline that Judah and Benjamin are the true Israel. I think that’s much more likely than the idea that Rehoboam had managed to maintain so much influence in the northern kingdom.

In any case, the description of Rehoboam’s indiscretion lacks much of the detail from 1 Kgs 14:22-24.

In the fifth year of Rehoboam’s reign, King Shishak of Egypt (almost certainly the pharaoh Shoshenq I) invaded Judah. He came with 1,200 chariots, 60,000 horsemen, and countless others. He swept through Rehoboam’s fortified cities, and made it as far as the walls of Jerusalem.

Judah’s leadership fled to the city. While they are gathered, God addresses them through the prophet Shemaiah, saying that this has all happened because they have strayed from God. The princes humble themselves and, as a result, God decides not to obliterate them. Instead, he will merely make them serve Shishak (likely as vassals), “that they may know my service and the service of the kingdoms of the countries” (2 Chron. 12:8). I think the idea is that they found the worship of God too onerous to bother with, so he will show them the alternative.

Shishak plundered Jerusalem, taking the Temple and palace treasures back to Egypt. Specifically, he took Solomon’s golden shields, which Rehoboam had to replace with shields of bronze. Rehoboam gave these ersatz shields to his officers of the guard, and had them bear the shields whenever they accompanied him to the Temple.

I’m not sure why the shields are mentioned, out of all the treasures that must have been take, but I quite like the Artscroll’s explanation, as given by James Bradford Pate: That Rehoboam’s sin had been not to take God’s worship seriously enough. So now he has this visual reminder of his failing every time he goes to the Temple to keep him in line.

Conclusion

With the end of 2 Chron. 12, we learn that Rehoboam was 41 years old at his coronation, and that he ruled for 17 years. Throughout that time, he was in conflict with Jeroboam.

His mother’s ame was Naamah the Ammonite, and he was succeeded by his son, Abijah. For more information, the Chronicler directs us to the Chronicles of Shemaiah the prophet and of Iddo the seer.

2 Chronicles 10: Dirty Jokes and Tyranny

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With Solomon dead, we now come to the story of Rehoboam’s almost immediate bungling of his reign and the fracturing of Israel. The story is largely lifted from 1 Kgs 12.

As I was reading this chapter, I tried to think of how it would have come across if I had read Chronicles first, rather than Samuel and Kings. How would I have explained the sudden falling apart of a unified Israel, an Israel that had just seen two glorious, successful, wealthy, wonderful kings?

As it is, however, I’ve already read about Israel’s troubled beginnings – its first monarch who dies on the battlefield, David’s usurping of Ishbosheth’s crown, his son Absalom’s rebellion(s), Sheba’s rebellion, the succession dispute between Adonijah and Solomon, as well as the hint of David’s forced abdication. With those details in mind, it seems little wonder that Israel should fracture under a weaker king – particularly early in his reign, before he’s really had a chance to find his footing. (In fact, it may be that Solomon was only spared his son’s fate by David’s co-rule, lending his unsteady early years the authority they might otherwise have lacked.)

But in the 2 Chron. 10 version, the secession really seems to come out of left field. Even more so because of the Chronicler’s insistence that Solomon did not enslave Israelites (2 Chron. 8:7-10), or that the slaves he did make were not Israelites (2 Chron. 2:17-18). This leaves the people’s complaint in this chapter wholly without context.

And I’m not sure that was an accident. By letting them voice a complain while stripping the narrative of its base, the Chronicler makes the Israelites seem like whiny fools – even while doing nothing to spare Rehoboam’s reputation.

Rehoboam’s Tragic Coronation

While Solomon was crowned at Gibeon, where the tabernacle was being kept, Rehoboam’s coronation takes place at Shechem, though no reason is given for the choice.

Interestingly, we are told that Rehoboam went to Shechem because that’s where the people of Israel had gathered to make him king – implying that his succession was the people’s choice. Funny turn of phrase given that, before the end of the very same chapter, most of Israel would renounce him.

Division, by William Brassey Hole

Division, by William Brassey Hole

Among the people who have gathered to welcome Rehoboam as their king was Jeroboam son of Nebat. The Chronicler tells us only that he had been hiding from Solomon in Egypt, and that he came back when he learned of Solomon’s death. We have to turn to 1 Kgs 11:26-40 to learn that God had promised Jeroboam a portion of the united Israel. As a result of this prophecy, Jeroboam rebelled and Solomon tried to have him killed, prompting his escape to Egypt.

Jeroboam’s role in the crowd’s demands isn’t described. Instead, the crowd declares that Solomon had “made our yoke heavy” (2 Chron. 10:4), and they ask for a kinder, gentler touch from his son.

Rehoboam needs to mull this over, so he sends his people away for three days. During this time, he consults with the old men of Israel (those who had served Solomon), who tell him to listen to the people, to loosen up his grip, and they serve him forever.

Instead, Rehoboam decides to listen to the young men he’d grown up with, who tell him to tell the people that, “my little finger is thicker than my father’s loins” (2 Chron. 10:10) and to promise to replace Solomon’s whips with scorpions.

Unsurprisingly, the Israelites aren’t particularly pleased by this answer, so they make like bananas. Only Judah remains loyal to Rehoboam.

All of this, we learn, is according to God’s plan, as revealed to Jeroboam by Ahijah the Shilonite (narrated only in 1 Kgs 11:26-40).

Divergent

At this point, our narratives split. In 1 Kgs 12:20-24, Rehoboam amassed an army to subdue the rebelling half-nation. Before they can really get going, however, God speaks to Rehoboam through the prophet Shemaiah, telling him not to fight “your kindred the people of Israel” (1 Kgs. 12:24). And so without a single shot fired (or whatever the iron age equivalent might be – without a single sword rattled, maybe?), the Judahites give up their claim to Israel and all head home in time for brunch.

Here, however, Rehoboam sends a slaver – Hadoram – after them. The insult is rather clear to see, given the nature of the instigating complaint. The Israelites react precisely as you might expect: They stone Hadoram to death.

My study Bible claims that the 1 Kgs 12 version was changed because it “reveals the weakness of Judah”, referring to 1 Kgs 12:20: “There was no one who followed the house of David, except the tribe of Judah alone. The closest the Chronicler comes to this is to say that: “Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day” (2 Chron. 10:19).

I’m not sure I see the weakness angle, however. The Chronicler may have omitted the 1 Kgs 12:20 line, but he added the detail that Rehoboam was forced to flee from Jerusalem – the seat of his power.

Rather, I think the difference is one of focus. While the verse in Kings is seen from Israel’s perspective, with Judah as the oddity, the Chronicler’s version sees David’s dynasty remaining in the same position, but with Israel in ongoing rebellion. It is Israel that is the oddity – a nation that persistently refuses to acknowledge its true monarch. And that, I think, is more in line with the Chronicler’s overall motive than trying to save Rehoboam’s reputation.

1 Chronicles 12: Like a magnet

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We continue our coverage of David’s magnetic charisma. The section begins with a group of Benjaminites who defected to David during his stay at Ziklag (the town he was given by the Philistine king Achish in exchange for his raiding in 1 Sam. 27:5-12). The Chronicler makes absolutely certain that no reader can come away from this passage without realizing that the Benjaminites, despite being Saul’s kinsmen, chose to follow David while the two men were in open conflict. The point is clear: Even Saul’s own tribesmen realized that David was the better man.

This is likely why the Benjaminites are listed first, despite the Gadites being the first to join David chronologically. The point of David’s fitness to rule Israel is better made with Benjaminite defectors.

Coronation of King David, from the Paris Psalter, 10th cent.

Coronation of King David, from the Paris Psalter, 10th cent.

Of these Benjaminites, we learn that they were ambidextrous, capable of shooting arrows and slinging stones with either hand. The association between Benjaminites and handedness is nothing new. They are specifically associated with left-handedness in Judges 20:15-16, and the Benjaminite hero Ehud is left-handed in Judges 3:15. As James Page points out, it’s likely that they were left-handed, but forced by superstition to train with their right hands until they came to be known for being ambidextrous.

They were led by Ahiezer and his second-in-command, Joash, both sons of Shemaah of Gibeah. This, too, reinforces David’s powers of attraction, as Gibeah was Saul’s home town.

Other notable Benjaminites to join David include:

  • Jeziel and Pelet, sons of Azmaveth;
  • Beracah;
  • Jehu of Anathoth;
  • Jeremiah;
  • Jahaziel;
  • Johanan;
  • Jozabad of Gederah;
  • Eluzai;
  • Jerimoth;
  • Bealiah;
  • Shemariah;
  • Shephatiah the Haruphite;
  • The Korahites: Elkanah, Isshiah, Azarel, Joezer, and Jashobeam;
  • Joelah and Zebediah, sons of Jeroham of Gedor;
  • And Ishmaiah of Gibeon, who is said to be a leader of the Thirty (1 Chron. 12:4) despite not getting a mention in the last chapter, and the fact that Abishai is named the leader of the Thirty in both 2 Sam. 23:18-19 and 1 Chron. 11:20. It could be an error, or perhaps Ishmaiah led the Thirty at one time, and Abishai at another.

The Gadites

The Gadites come next. They came to David while he was “at the stronghold in the wilderness” (1 Chron. 12:8), which is likely a reference to Adullam. This would make them the first tribe to join David, listed second here because their joining isn’t quite as important, from a propagandic point of view, as the Benjaminites.

They are described as having faces like those of lions, which echoes Moses’s words in Deut. 33:20-21. Their speciality was fighting with shield and spear, and they were as swift as gazelles when in the mountains.

They were led by Ezer, and the other leaders were, in order: Obadiah, Eliab, Mishmannah, Jeremiah, Attai, Eliel, Johanan, Elzabad, Jeremiah, and Machbannai. Each of these chiefs led a company of at least a hundred men, with the largest company being over a thousand strong.

They crossed the Jordan in the first month, when it would have been overflowing and likely a rather dangerous crossing. Not only that, but they put to flight those on either bank.

James Pate notes that this isn’t the first time the Gadites were first:

The Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary believes it is significant that the tribe of Gad was the first Israelite tribe to side with David.  Building on such Jewish sources as Genesis Rabbah 99:2 and the Midrash Lekach Tov, it notes that Gad is notorious for firsts: it was the first tribe to enter the land of Canaan, it was the first to accept David as king when David was still in exile from King Saul, and Elijah (perhaps a Gadite) will be the first to recognize the Messiah.

The Spirit Clothes Himself

While David was staying at a stronghold (again, this seems to be a reference to Adullam, though the place isn’t named), some men from Benjamin and Judah approached and David came out to meet him. This would have been during David’s time on the run, and it must have been concerning if Benjaminites were among those who approached (see, for example, 1 Sam. 23:15-29).

David asks if the men approach as friends – in which case he welcomes them – or as enemies – in which case he hopes that God will punish them (evidence, perhaps, of his dire situation at that point in his political career).

The spirit comes upon Amasai, prompting him to declare the visitors’ allegiance to David, and offering him their help. Interestingly, the literal phrase is that “the spirit clothed himself with Amasai,” which is just a delightful phrase. I’m rather disappointed with the RSV’s decision to render it as “the Spirit came upon Amasai” (1 Chron. 12:18) when such a poetic phrasing was readily available.

David seems to be so moved by Amasai’s declaration that he appoints the visitors as officers over his troops.

Interestingly, Amasai doesn’t appear elsewhere, and it seems that either Abishai or Amasa was meant.

Manasseh’s Defectors

The next group to join David happens in the context of Saul’s final battle against the Philistines, while David was still working for one of the Philistine kings. As was the case in 1 Sam. 29-30, we are assured that David took no part in the battle. However, it’s somewhat disconcerting that, in both narratives, it is not David who asks not to fight against Saul and the Israelites. Rather, it’s the Philistines themselves who express concern that he might defect, and so send him home. Those who would defend David would argue that this was, in fact, David’s plan, but there really isn’t anything in the text (in either place) that indicates this to be the case.

On his way back to Ziklag, David passes through the territory of Manasseh. As he does so, several men desert their tribe to join him: Adnah, Jozabad, Jediael, Michael, Jozabad, Elihu, and Zillethai. They commanded thousands, and they helped David fight an unnamed and unreferenced band of raiders.

And so, day by day, David’s army grew larger.

On To Hebron

Finally, we cycle back to where we were in 1 Chron. 11, with the Israelites meeting at Hebron “to turn the kingdom of Saul over to [David]” (1 Chron. 12:23). Each tribe is listed with the men they brought along:

  • Judah: 6,800
  • Simeon: 7,100
  • Benjamin: 3,000 (the majority of whom were newly converted from Saul’s side)
  • Ephraim:20,800
  • The Cis-Jordan half of Manasseh: 18,000
  • Issachar: 200 chiefs, plus the men they commanded (of Issachar, the Chronicler tells us that they understood the times and knew what Israel ought to do – 1 Chron. 12:32 – whatever that’s supposed to mean)
  • Zebulun: 50,000
  • Naphtali: 1,000 commanders, with 37,000 men
  • Dan: 28,600
  • Asher: 40,000
  • The Transjordan tribes (Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh): 120,000

The Levites are also listed along with the others, but are interestingly divided into two groups: The house of Aaron, led by the prince Jehoiada, had 3,700, and Zadok leading 22 commanders. Paul Davidson (Is That In The Bible) sees this as “evidence in the biblical texts of rival priestly groups vying for control of the temple and other religious positions.”

Brant Clements (Both Saint and Cynic) notes that, “interestingly, the more remote tribes send far greater numbers of soldiers.” The numbers are clearly fictional, but this observation seems like it should be significant. Perhaps even more so if the numbers are not historical.

The Israelites all met with the purpose of making David their king. They stayed at Hebron for three days, during which they feasted and made preparations.

1 Chronicles 10: Saul in Brief

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Virtually no time at all is spent on Saul’s time holding the reins of Israel. Despite giving his genealogy two separate spots (1 Chron. 8:29-40; 1 Chron. 9:35-44) to Saul’s lineage and devoting the better part of 1 Chron. 10 to his death, his life gets a mere two verses in 1 Chron. 13-14. Interestingly, the only thing we learn about his life comes after the story of his death (and gets even less treatment than the story of his bones).

It’s clear that the Chronicler felt that Saul needed some kind of mention, but wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. Even more intriguing is that the Chronicler assumes knowledge of Saul’s story. If 1-2 Samuel had been lost and we only had the chapters we’ve read so far in 1 Chronicles, it would be difficult to piece together that Saul was Israel’s first monarch, and impossible to guess that he was anointed as a God-chosen king.

This makes it rather clear that the Chronicler viewed David as the true founder of the Israelite monarchy, and perhaps wished to downplay the role Saul played in the cultural shift from loose tribal associations led by local judges.

Saul’s Death

And so our narrative jumps straight from the genealogies to the story of Saul’s death, our only bridge a listing of Saul’s lineage. The story in this chapter is copied almost word-for-word from 1 Sam. 31:1-13.

The Suicide of Saul, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1561

The Suicide of Saul, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1561

We begin with Philistia and Israel at war, and Israel is losing. Many are killed on Mount Gilboa, including Saul’s sons Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua, and many are routed. Saul is injured by archers and, afraid of falling into Philistine hands, he asks his armour-bearer to kill him. The armour-bearer, afraid, refuses. Out of options, Saul draws his own sword and kills himself, after which his armour-bearer does the same.

With the battle lost and their king dead, the Israelites flee from their cities, leaving them open to Philistine occupation.

The next day, the Philistines are stripping the dead on the battlefield when they come upon Saul’s body. The Philistines take Saul’s armour and head, and they send messengers throughout Philistia to proclaim news of their victory to both people and gods.

From this point onward, the narrative in 1 Chron. 10 diverges from 1 Sam. 31: They bring Saul’s armour to the temple of their gods (1 Sam. 31:10 has it the temple of Ashtaroth) and fasten his head in the temple of Dagon (while in 1 Sam. 31:10, they fasten his body to the wall of Bethshan). Neither of these is necessarily a contradiction. “Ashtaroth” is the plural form of the goddess Ashtoreth, which could easily be rendered as the “gods” of 1 Chron. 10:10. And while his head might have gone into the temple of Dagon, his body might also have gone to the wall of Bethshan. But the divergence is still interesting; how did it come about, and why?

In both accounts, the people of Jabesh-gilead hear about what’s been done to Saul’s body, so they come to reclaim it and the bodies of Saul’s sons (marching all night in 1 Sam. 31:12, though the detail is omitted here).They bring the bodies back to Jabesh and bury the bones under the oak of Jabesh, while in 1 Sam. 31:12-13, they burn the bodies first and then bury the bones under a tamarisk tree. In both accounts, they then fasted for seven days.

While 1 Samuel provides some context for Jabesh’s loyalty, it is entirely absent here. Why did the people of Jabesh go through the trouble of reclaiming the bodies of the royal family, and why not some other group? From 1 Sam. 11, we can guess that it’s because Saul had freed Jabesh from Nahash the Ammonite.

Saul’s Family

Many commentors bring up the question of whether Saul’s family died with him or not. 1 Chron. 10:6 (“Thus Saul died; he and his three sons and all his house died together”) certainly seems to suggest that they were all killed at the same time. Yet the verse omits the clause “on the same day together” found in 1 Sam. 31:6. This better allows for the interpretation that the Chronicler is summarizing the fall of Saul’s family over a period of time (which can therefore include Ishbosheth, who managed to hang on for a little while longer – 2 Samuel 2:8-11).

The lineages in 1 Chron. 8:29-40 and 1 Chron. 9:35-44 make it rather clear that the Chronicler knew the house of Saul survived. I think this forces us to conclude that the phrase “all his house died together” (1 Chron. 10:6) is poetic rather than literal. Saul’s house – his dynasty, his family’s social position – died as a result of the events of the battle at Mount Gilboa, even if some members survived, even if one member continued to call himself king.

This rhetoric isn’t new. Over and over again in our readings, we have seen the claim that a particular group of people was entirely destroyed (such as the claim about the Amalekites in 1 Sam. 15:7-8) only to have the group reappear later (as when David utterly destroys them again in 1 Sam. 27:8-9). In the Old Testament, it seems, to kill the entirely of a group of people should be interpreted to mean that they were entirely brought low, entirely defeated, even if some members survive.

Saul’s Reign

Of Saul’s life, we learn only that he was killed for his unfaithfulness: His refusal to keep the command of the Lord (presumably referring to passages like Leviticus 19:31) when he consulted with a medium instead of seeking guidance from God.

Of course, when the story is narrated in 1 Sam. 28:6-7, Saul did consult God but God failed to answer him. It was only then, in desperation, that he turned to alternative means. So why the discrepancy?

One possibility is that Saul consulted with a medium, and that is a sin. The reasons don’t matter, there are no mitigating factors. He broke the commandment, and thus he was judged. A second possibility is that the means through which he consulted with God were unsatisfactory (or, alternatively, that he demanded word from God rather than passively waiting for God’s word – and, worse, actively sought alternatives when God was not forthcoming).

James Pate adds the possibility that Saul’s motive lacked a desired purity. “[O]ne can pray to God in pursuit of one’s own agenda, which is different from actually seeking God.” Given what we know of the Urim (which Saul used, according to 1 Sam. 28:6), it’s possible that he did receive an answer, just not the answer he wanted.

It is for this reason that God killed him and turned his kingdom over to David.

Here, a few commentors point out a contradiction: Did God kill Saul, or did Saul kill himself? It seems rather obvious, however, that the phrase used in 1 Chron. 10:14 is meant to mean that God orchestrated Saul’s fall, the situation which made his death inevitable. It is therefore just as true to say that God killed him as it is to say that he killed himself.

Here, James Pate points out that, in Genesis 49:10, Jacob predicted that Judah would possess a sceptre. This raises an issue of free will, since it implies that God knew even then that Benjamin’s turn with the crown would be short lived, that Saul would sin and his dynasty would be lost. Pate discusses the issue at more length in his post, but since this falls under theology, I won’t be touching it.

1 Chronicles 1-2: The Never-ending List

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They say it’s important to begin a story in media res, start with a bang, start with something that will grip your audience and leave them salivating for more.

The Chronicler took this advice and decided to do the precise opposite. And so we begin 1 Chronicles with what is little more than an incredibly tedious list of names. This isn’t even like Genesis, where at least “the begats” were interspersed with narrative. No, not here. Our very first paragraph is composed of thirteen names and one conjunction. It certainly does set a tone!

There are, of course, many theories as to why the Chronicler should choose to begin this way. My study Bible argues that the genealogies are provided to “make it clear that he [the Chronicler] was dealing with the true Chosen People.” Personally, I liked James Pate’s thought that:

I Chronicles may have genealogies as a way to affirm a societal structure in post-exilic Israel and to connect it with pre-exilic Israel, to tell Israel who she is, and to convey that God is preserving God’s people, notwithstanding the exile.  There were a lot of people-groups that became lost once they went into exile, but I Chronicles may be trying to demonstrate that Israel did not.

In the beginning…

To being our journey, the Chronicler condenses all of Genesis 5 into these names: “Adam, Seth, Enosh; Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared; Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech; Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth” (1 Chronicles 1:1-4).

Here, Brant Clements notes that this is first mention of Adam that we’ve seen since Genesis 5:5, and that he will not be mentioned again in the Old Testament. “Adam actually featured more strongly in the New Testament. The ancient Hebrews didn’t put much emphasis on him at all.” It’s a very interesting observation, and clearly an indication of theological evolution. I hope that we get to find out some more about that when we finally reach the New Testament (in, oh, about five years).

Up until Noah, this is a list of generational patriarchs, a direct line from father to son to grandson, and so on. But abruptly, without any indication of change, it presents us with three brothers: Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah.

That’s because it’s with Noah’s sons that we see our first ethnic branching.

The sons of Japheth: According to my study Bible, the sons of Japheth represent Indo-European populations. The section is taken from Genesis 10, and the sons are Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras.

In the next generation, the sons of Gomer are Ashkenaz, Diphath (who appears as Riphath in Gen. 10:3), and Togarmah. The sons of Javan are Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Rodanim (who appears as Dodanim in Gen. 10:4).

It’s worth noting that Javan (literally Ionia) represents the Greeks. According to James Pate, the discrepancy between Dodanim (Gen. 10:4) and Rodanim (1 Chron. 1:7) may be due simply to the fact that the “d” and “r” sounds are represented in Hebrew with letters that look similar and may have been confused at some point by some hapless copier. Pate goes on to propose another possibility:

Relying on Mefaresh’s interpretation, which is based on Genesis Rabbah 37:1, the Artscroll says that, when Israel sins, the people-group subjugates Israel and is called the Rodanim, from the Hebrew root r-d-h, which means ruling or oppressing.  If Israel controls the people-group, however, the people-group is called the Dodanim, for it is telling Israel that she is its friend, or dod.

Of course, this presents a number of problems, but it’s certainly an interesting proposition.

The sons of Ham: Ham’s sons are Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. In the next generation, the sons of Cush are Seba, Havilah, Sabta, Raama (here spelled without an ‘h’ at the end, though he has one later in the same verse, as well as in Gen. 10:7), and Sabteca. We are also told that Cush was the father of Nimrod, who “began to be a mighty one in the earth” (1 Chron. 1:10). In the generation after that, we have the sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan.

Back up the line to Egypt, his sons were Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, Pathrusim, Casluhim (whom the Chronicler tells us fathered the Philistines), and Caphtorim.

Next comes Canaan, for whom the pretence of personification is dropped. Rather than naming his sons, we are told instead that he was the father of Sidon, Heth, the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites.

The sons of Shem: The final son of Noah is the sire of the Semitic group, the population from which Abraham will emerge. The sons of Shem are Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, Aram, Uz, Hul, Gether, and Meshech (who appears as Mash in Gen. 10:23). This is either an error or deviates quite a bit from the Genesis 10 version, in which Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash are the sons of Aram, and the grandsons of Shem.

In the next generation, Arpachshad was the father of Shelah, who in turn was the father of Eber. Eber had two sons: Peleg and Joktan. Joktan was the father of Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, Ebal (given as Obal in Gen. 10:28), Abimael, Sheba, Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab.

Father of sand, father of stars

We move next to Abraham, who is descended from Shem by way of Arpachshad, Shelah, Eber, Peleg, Reu, Serug, Nahor, and Terah. This portion is lifted from Genesis 11:10-26. Abraham had two sons: Isaac and Ishmael.

The sons of Ishmael: This section is lifted from Gen. 25:12-16. I’ve always found it an interesting twist that Ishmael should be the first born, yet did not inherit divine attention. We see this motif a great deal in Genesis, of younger sons usurping their older brothers. It would be nice to have an explanation for this, though I suppose it could be as simple as inversion of expectation making for psychologically satisfying (and entertaining) stories. Ishmael, of course, sired the Arabic people.

Ishmael was the father of Nebaioth, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah.

A painting of Abraham's departure, by József Molnár 1849

A painting of Abraham’s departure, by József Molnár 1849

The sons of Keturah: Though 1 Chron. 1:28 implied that Abraham only had Ishmael and Isaac, we know from Gen. 25:1-4 that Abraham remarried after his wife Sarah’s death, a woman named Keturah. Here (1 Chron. 1:32), she is demoted to the status of concubine.

Through her, Abraham was the father of Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. In the next generation, Jokshan fathered Sheba and Dedan (the same two sons given to Raamah in 1 Chron. 1:9). Jokshan’s brother, Midian, fathered Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah.

The sons of Isaac: We next move over to Abraham’s son by his first wife, Sarah. Isaac had two sons, Esau and Israel. Esau is the progenitor of the Edomites. Israel was born with the name of Jacob, but received the name Israel after an encounter with the Divine. While Genesis used the two names inconsistently, he is here referred to only as Israel.

Esau’s sons were: Eliphaz, Reuel, Jeush, Jalam, and Korah. In the next generation, Eliphaz fathered Teman, Omar, Zephi (appears as Zepho in Gen. 36:11), Gatam, Kenaz, Timna, and Amalek. Reuel fathered Nahath, Zerah, Shammah, and Mizzah. These are taken from Genesis 36:10-14, where Timna appears as a concubine of Eliphaz, not as his son, and she is the mother of Amalek.

The sons of Seir: We run into a difficulty here, since this is the first mention of a Seir. So where is he meant to fit? My study Bible notes that Seir is “another name for Edom”, referencing Gen. 36:8, and in Gen. 36:20, we learn of a Seir the Horite who lived in Edom. Yet none of this helps to explain how Seir is meant to fit into this genealogy.

In any case, Mystery Seir’s sons are Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan. He also had a daughter, named as a full sister of Lotan, by the name of Timna.

In the next generation, Lotan fathered Hori and Homam (appearing as Hemam in Gen. 36:22). Shobal fathered Alian (appearing as Alvan in Gen. 36:23), Manahath, Ebal, Shephi (appearing as Shepho in Gen. 36:23), and Onam. Zibeon fathered Aiah and Anah (he either fathered a daughter by the same name, or there is some confusion – in Gen. 36:2, Zibeon had a daughter named Anah, who married Esau). Anah (Seir’s son, not Zibeon’s) fathered Dishon. And Dishon (again, Seir’s son) fathered Hamran (appearing as Hemdan in Gen. 36:26), Eshban, Ithran, and Cheran. Ezer fathered Bilhan, Zaavan, and Jaakan (appearing as Akan in Gen. 36:27). Dishan fathered Uz and Aran.

The kings of Edom: Before Israel had a king of its own, Edom had plenty. This record may be compared to Gen. 36:31-43. They begin with Bela son of Beor, who ruled from Dinhabah. When he did, Jobab son of Zerah, of Bozrah, took over. After him came Husham, of the lands of the Temanites. Then Hadad son of Bedad, who defeated Midian and ruled from Avith. Then came Samlah of Masrekah. Then Shaul of Rehoboth. Then Baalhanan son of Achbor. Then another Hadad (appearing as Hadar in Gen. 36:39), whose city was Pai (which appears as Pau in Gen. 36:39) and whose wife was Mehetabel daughter of Matred, daughter of Mezahab.

The chiefs of Edom were Timna, Aliah (appearing as Alvah in Gen. 36:40), Jetheth, Oholibamah, Elah, Pinon, Kenaz, Teman, Mibzar, Magdiel, and Iram.

The sons of Israel: These are, of course, our twelve tribes. Israel fathered Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Joseph, Benjamin, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. This is, of course, parallel to Genesis 35:22-26.

Focus on Judah

The next few chapters cover will cover each individual tribe in excruciating detail. But we begin with Judah, who fathered Er, Onan, and Shelah, via Bathshua the Canaanite.

God killed Er for wickedness (and Onan, but not mentioned here), which leads to Judah impregnating Er’s wife, Tamar, himself. This produced two more sons: Perez and Zerah. This rather sordid story can be found in Genesis 38.

In the next generation, Perez fathered Hezron and Hamul (this corresponds to Gen. 46:12). His brother, Zerah, fathered Zimri (appearing as Zabdi in Jos. 7:1), Ethan, Heman, Calcol, and Dara. If several of these names seem familiar, it might be because they appear in 1 Kings 4:31, as the men of great wisdom to which Solomon is favourably compared. Except, of course, that the version in Kings describes them as the sons of Mahol, not Zerah.

We then skip to a Carmi, who fathers Achar. Achar is described as “the troubler of Israel” (1 Chron. 2:7). Carmi’s link to the rest of the genealogy is omitted, and the description of Achar as “the troubler of Israel” suggests a story with which the reader ought to be familiar. One possibility is that Achar is the Achan from Joshua 7, who cursed the Hebrew army by keeping some of the spoils of war. He is identified in Jos. 7:1 as “the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah.” This would explain his inclusion here. Except, of course, that it completely screws up the timeline of the Hebrews’ sojourn in Egypt.

In very next verse, we return to the explicit relations with Ethan, who fathered Azariah.

The sons of Perez: Back over to the line of Perez, we move down through his son, Hezron, who fathered Jerahmeel, Ram, and Chelubai. Much later, we learn that Hezron, at the age of sixty, married the daughter of Machir (the father of Gilead). Through her, he had a final son named Segub, who fathered Jair. Jair controlled 23 cities in Gilead until Geshur and Aram conquered a bunch of them.

In the next generation, Ram fathered Amminadab, who fathered Nahshon (described here as the “prince of the sons of Judah” – 1 Chron. 2:10). Through Nahshon, we get Salma (who appears as Salmon in Ruth 4:18-22), through whom we get Boaz (the love interest of the book of Ruth), and through him Obed. Then, through Obed, we get Jesse.

The sons of Jesse: Jesse fathered Eliab, Abinadab, Shimea, Nethanel, Raddai, Ozem, and David. Though only these seven sons are listed here, 1 Sam. 16:10-11 and 1 Sam. 17:12 both explicitly state that he had eight (of which David was the youngest).

He also had daughters: Zeruiah and Abigail. Zeruiah gave birth to some rather plot critical characters: Abishai, Joab, and Asahel, who play a fairly important part in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings. Abigail married Jether the Ishmaelite (named Ithra the Israelite in 2 Sam. 17:25), and bore Amasa. It’s interesting that the children of David’s sisters should be worth mentioning, but not those of his brothers.

 

The sons of Jerahmeel: The narrative is jumping around quite a bit, making it difficult to follow. We now bounce back to Jerahmeel, Hezron’s eldest. Jerahmeel is a bit difficult, since he is listed specifically as being a member of the tribe of Judah here, yet 1 Sam. 27:10 and 1 Sam. 30:29 refer to the Jerahmeelites as if they were a separate, non-Israelite, group. To smooth this over, my New Bible Commentary argues that “it is much simpler to suppose that the descendants of Jerahmeel, who in any case were settled in the south of Judea, retained their nomadic habits longer, and so in the days of David were reckoned separately from the rest of Judah” (p.372).

Jerahmeel fathered Ram, Bunah, Oren, Ozem, and Ahijah. In the next generation, Ram fathered Maaz, Jamin, and Eker.

Jerahmeel also had a second wife, Atarah, who bore Onam. Onam fathered Shammai and Jada. Shammai fathered Nadab and Abishur. Abishur married a woman named Abihail, and they had Ahban and Molid. Nadab fathered Seled (who died childless) and Apparim, who fathered Ishi. Ishi fathered Sheshan, who fathered Ahlai.

Despite what I said just above, we are told that Sheshan had no sons (this isn’t necessarily a contradiction, as Ahlai might either have died young or been born after the events I am about to relate). To continue his line, he married his daughter to his Egyptian slave, Jarha, and they had Attai.

Brian Shwimmer (of the University of Manitoba’s Department of Anthropology) addresses this in the broader context of inheritance:

Inheritance by daughters imposed a particular difficulty, which is acknowledged in several biblical passages. After Moses first promulgates the rule (Numbers), he is confronted with a problem: if females inherit land from their fathers they will pass it on to their children and therefore into the patrimony of another tribe or lineage. His solution is to institute a parallel cousin marriage regulation. Thus a woman who inherits from her father is to marry her father’s brother’s son so that property will automatically be retained within the wider patriline. A second mechanism for maintaining the continuity of lineage holdings was to marry inheriting daughters to household slaves. Since these dependants had no partilineages of their own, their children were by default incorporated into their mothers’ lineages. The arrangement of marriages to slaves created a number of segments that originated with female rather than male founders (see I Chronicles 2:34-36 for an example.) This institution directly mirrors a solution to the reverse problem of a daughterless family among the Akan, a matrilineal people of West Africa.

The reference to Numbers, of course, relates to the daughters of Zelophehad, whose story can be found in Numbers 27 and Numbers 36.

Attai fathered Nathan, who fathered Zabad, who fathered Ephlal, who fathered Obed, who fathered Jehu, who fathered Azariah, who fathered Helez, who fathered Eleasah, who fathered Sismai, who fathered Shallum, who fathered Jekamiah, who fathered Elishama.

After all that, we move back up the line to Onam’s second son, Jada, who fathered Jether (who died childless) and Jonathan. Jonathan fathered Peleth and Zaza.

A Tale of Two Calebs

I am moving the two sections about Calebs to the bottom for special treatment. The first originally began with 1 Chron. 2:18. The mention of a Caleb is rather odd. It appears to be yet another sui genesis dynasty. In looking for more information, I am finding that the consensus makes Caleb a variant spelling of Chelubai, making him the son of Hezron, grandson of Perez. Except that that Caleb will be mentioned later on, leaving this one still without explanation.

Whoever he is, this Caleb married a woman named Azubah. The verse (1 Chron. 2:18) is rather difficult to parse out, suggesting that Caleb had sons with both Azubah and Jerioth. My interpretation was that this might refer to an arrangement similar to the one used by Abraham in Genesis 16. My New Bible Commentary, however, argues that “either Jerioth was another name of Azubah, or there is a textual corruption” (p.372). The Commentary goes on to suggest that the original wording might have had Azubah give birth to a daughter, Jerioth, who in turn had the sons who will shortly be listed. In any case, Caleb had the following sons: Jesher, Shobab, and Ardon. After Azubah died, Caleb married Ephrath (later listed as Ephrathah, compare 1 Chron. 2:19 to 1 Chron. 2:24), who gave birth to Hur.

Caleb, who apparently lived up to his name (kelev means “dog”), impregnated his father’s wife, Ephrathah – though he at least waited until his father was dead. Through her, he fathered Ashhur, who fathered Tekoa. (There is no mention of either of them being put to death, which would be required by Leviticus 20:11.)

In the next generation, Hur fathered Uri, and Uri fathered Bezalel. This appears to be the same as Bezaleel, named in Exodus 31:2.

Further down (I’m putting it here for convenience), we will get another section headed: “The sons of Caleb the brother of Jerahmeel” (1 Chron. 2:42). The two genealogies are different, though my New Bible Commentary insists that the names here are meant to supplement the ones above. To me, this suggests that either Caleb was a quasi-mythic figure in a few different spots, each with their own traditions that had to be amalgamated, or there were a few different Calebs that somehow became conflated.

In any case, the Caleb specifically identified as the brother of Jerahmeel fathered Mareshah, who fathered Ziph and Hebron. Hebron fathered Korah, Tappuah, Tekem, and Shema. Shema fathered Raham, who fathered Jorekeam. While Rekem fathered Shammai. Shammai fathered Maon, who fathered Bethzur.

This Caleb also had a concubine named Ephah, who bore Haran, Moza, and Gazez. Haran also fathered a Gazez, though hopefully a different one.

There is another sui genesis patriarch listed among the descendants of Caleb: Jahdai. Jahdai fathered Regem, Jotham, Geshan, Pelet, Ephah, and Shaaph.

Caleb had yet another concubine, this one named Maacah. She bore Sheber and Tirhanah. We are told that she was also the mother of Shaaph (if the same as above, the implications are even more headache-inducing). Shaaph fathered Madmannah and Sheva. Sheva fathered Macbenah, and was the father of Gibea.

Finally, Caleb had a daughter, Achsah. It is on this basis this Caleb is identified with Caleb the Kenizzite, who appears, for example, in Joshua 14:6, and who also had a daughter by the same name (Jos. 15:17). The theory, if I understand it correctly, goes that he may have been an honorary Israelite, perhaps adopted into Hezron’s family.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that several of Caleb’s descendants are also the names of towns. So are we to understand that Caleb (and his lineage) founded those towns? Or that these individuals gave their names to the towns that they founded?

The sons of Hur: I am continuing this out of order, just to keep Hur in the same section as Caleb. Hur was the son of Ephrathah (called Ephrath in 1 Chron. 2:19), Caleb’s second wife. He fathered Shobal (who “fathered” Kiriath-jearim), Salma (who “fathered” Bethlehem), and Hareph (who “fathered” Beth-gader).

Shobal’s sons were Haroeh, and half of Manuhoth. Yeah, I’m scratching my head as well.

The families of Kiriath-jearim were the Ithrites, the Puthites, the Shumathites, and the Mishraites. From these came the Zorathites and the Esthaolites. The families of Bethlehem were the Netophathites, Atrothbethjoab, the Zorites, and half of the Manahathites. The families of the scribes who lived in Jabez were the Tirathites, the Shimeathites, and the Sucathites. These, we are told, were the Kenites who came from Hammath, the father of the house of Rechab.

And now I think I need to go detox my brain for a while.

1 Kings 12: Things Fall Apart

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Unfortunately for Rehoboam, he does not get off to a very good start. We were told in the last chapter that this would happen because of Solomon’s polytheism (or perhaps merely his tolerance of his wives’ faiths), but here we see that Rehoboam’s actions might well have led to the fall of the united monarchy without any divine help.

In the beginning of the chapter, Rehoboam heads to Shechem for his coronation. This is a strong indication that the issues that have plagued the monarchy since its very beginning with Saul have never really gone away. After all, Jerusalem is both the religious and political capital of the monarchy, so why wouldn’t Rehoboam be crowned there? Unless he was, and then needed to a separate coronation in the north, showing us that the two regions had been maintaining their separate identities – never a good sign for a nation that wishes to be united.

Looking at the narrative so far, we see that the north originally formed the monarchy under Saul, possibly encompassing only the northern tribes until the south joined up (we see him chosen by lot in 1 Sam. 10:21, and then later elected in 1 Sam. 11:15). It could be that the monarchy was initially a northern alliance, which the south joined up for defense against the Philistines. Later, of course, David ruled only over Judah for seven years (2 Sam. 2:4) before replacing the Benjaminite monarchy in 2 Sam. 5:3. Later, particularly in 2 Sam. 20, we see David struggling to maintain the united monarchy. Things get much worse under Solomon where he appears to be enslaving and over-taxing the northern tribes to support Jerusalem and Judah, making it clear that he saw Judah as the true nation, and the other tribes as subjects states.

But Solomon was an established king, and therefore difficult to challenge. It’s much easier to resist a newbie. So when Rehoboam comes to Shechem to be crowned, Jeroboam comes up out of Egypt to meet him there and, with the backing of “all the assembly of Israel” (1 Kgs 12:3), he presented Rehoboam with an ultimatum: Either ease up from the way Solomon has been treating the northern tribes, or the north will no longer serve the Judahite king.

Despite the claim in 1 Kgs 9:22 that Israelites were not counted among the forced labourers, but were instead given the cushier jobs, it seems here that the situation was quite a bit worse. In fact, even Rehoboam soon admits that Solomon used a whip against the Israelites, which is not something I imagine would be done to overseers so much as by overseers.

It seems notable that the word used for Solomon’s treatment of the Israelites is “yoke,” which, as my New Bible Commentary points out, is “used elsewhere concerning the subjugation of a foreign nation” (p.337).

Rehoboam takes up the shovel

Rehoboam isn’t sure what to do, so he asks for three days to think it over. In a story that sounds like it’s straight out of a Boomer’s “kids these days” article, he first approaches the old men, who tell him to acquiesce now and get to keep his nation. All well and good, but then he goes to the young men who advice him instead to tell the Israelites that “my little finger is thicker than my father’s loins” (1 Kgs 12:10), and that as hard as they found it under Solomon, Rehoboam will only make it harder. Rehoboam, of course, chooses to listen to his buddies.

Rehoboam, wall painting from the Basel Town Hall Council Chamber, by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1530

Rehoboam, wall painting from the Basel Town Hall Council Chamber, by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1530

The story is hilarious and awful, but it also rings extremely true. How often have politicians bought their own propaganda and behaved in such atrocious ways? The story also serves to show us that, even though Rehoboam was doomed to see his nation splinter because of his father’s actions, it’s not like he was an innocent party. He’s certainly not Bathsheba’s first son.

The Israelites, of course, are unimpressed. They ask: “What portion have we in David?” (1 Kgs 12:16), the phrasing nearly identical to that used in the last great division in 2 Sam. 20:1, clearly reinforcing that the united monarchy was the abnormality, not the divided one. So all of Israel abandoned Rehoboam, save for the cities in Judah – though the phrasing seems to be indicating that the individuals who remained loyal to Rehoboam were not all Judahites. It seems that there had some migration outside of traditional tribal boundaries, and that perhaps the people from other tribes who were living in Judahite cities chose to remain there rather than migrate back north. None of this is stated explicitly, though, so I may well be reading too much into the narrative.

Rehoboam, being an overconfident jerkwad, decides to send in Adoram as his mediator. It’s hard to imagine that this was anything other than a deliberate insult from a man who still believed that he was too powerful to be challenged, since Adoram is his overseer of forced labour (likely the same as Adoniram, mentioned in 1 Kgs 4:6 and 1 Kgs 5:14). Predictably, the Israelites see the statement for what it is and react by stoning Adoram to death. Apparently only now realizing, yes, he really is about to lose half his nation and, yes, he is currently on the wrong side of the fledgeling border, Rehoboam flees back to Jerusalem.

The narrator tells us that “Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day” (1 Kgs 12:19). Yet despite the use of the word “rebellion,” I’m not feeling much resentment toward Israel. Throughout, the narrative seems clear that Jeroboam was acting with God’s approval, and even under God’s guidance. Further, both Solomon and Rehoboam are described as fully deserving the loss of their united nation. So we’re left with a sort of tug-o-war between the theological idea that the nation only fails when it is deserved, and the political resentment against the rebels. It feels like this was definitely propaganda meant for an internal audience.

Aftermath

When Rehoboam reaches Jerusalem, he raises an army of 180,000 men (an obvious exaggeration) from both Judah and Benjamin – though it seems that the inclusion here of Benjamin is thought to have been an editorial insert to bring the total number of tribes up to twelve. Though in contradiction to 1 Kgs 12:20, my study Bible suggests that perhaps the tribe of Benjamin was “split in the division,” allowing Rehoboam to both remain king only over Judah (as a complete tribe) and for him to be able to raise soldiers from Benjamin, though I can’t imagine those soldiers’ feelings would have been uncomplicated.

Either way, this suppression never seems to go anywhere as Rehoboam is called back by a prophecy, delivered through Shemaiah, instructing him not to bother. Rehoboam packs it in and sends everyone home.

Back in Israel, Jeroboam quickly realizes that he won’t remain king for long if Jerusalem is still the centre of Hebrew worship. Not only is there the influence factor, where his people will be going into Jerusalem and there be exposed to anti-Jeroboam propaganda, there’s also the strong possibility that his peoples’ faith will be held hostage by Rehoboam and the priests loyal to him.

To eliminate this vulnerability, Jeroboam makes two golden calves, one in Bethel and one in Dan. He also makes temples in several high places, and appoints priests of his own – who are explicitly not Levites, as though this were a bad thing and as though we hadn’t seen the Judahites appointing non-Levite priests as well.

The golden calves are obviously important. It’s possible that the golden calf story in Exodus 32:4 was meant as an indictment of Jeroboam’s shrines. However, it’s also possible that the calves were part of a pre-existing exodus/YHWH tradition that Jeroboam was appealing to, and which later authors disparaged in Exodus 32, once that aspect of the cult had fallen out of favour. After all, the bull was also used by the Baal cult.

It may also be important to note that Jeroboam’s words here, “Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (1 Kgs 12:28), are very similar to Aaron’s words, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:4). The use in both of the plural “gods,” which sort of makes sense here given the two calves but is absolutely out of place in Exodus 32, suggests that the two passages are connected.

As Collins explains, “Jeroboam may have drawn a parallel with an older tradition about the exodus to led legitimacy to his revolt, but it is also possible that the celebration of the exodus became central to the cult of YHWH only at this time” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.137).

The choice of Bethel as a site is an obvious one given its cultic significance (mentioned in Genesis 28 and Genesis 35). Dan also seems to have had some religious significance, a hint of which can be found in Judges 18:29-31.

We’re told that Jeroboam initiated a special festival, likely the new year, on the 15th day of the eighth month. According to Victor Matthews, it could be that Jeroboam was “reverting to an old agrarian calendar that was followed in the north before David and Solomon centralized Israel’s worship in Jerusalem. Such a calendar would reflect the difference harvest seasons in the Levant, which varied according to the temperature ranges of specific regions” (Manners & Customs of the Bible, p.90).

Between this, the calves, the non-Levite priests, and the multiple shrines, it looks an awful lot like Jeroboam was reinstating the legitimacy of the folk religion – likely still practised by most of his subjects – that Solomon had attempted to turn into a politically-controlled state cult. While the only grievance specifically mentioned in this chapter is of Solomon’s use of forced labour from Israel, it may well be that the Israelites were not happy about the changes he had been making to their faith, either.

Finally, we’re told that Jeroboam build (or, rather, rebuilt, or perhaps expanded) Shechem and Penuel. Building up Shechem makes sense, as a capitol would require better defences and more infrastructure than a regular city. His reasons for construction in Penuel aren’t explained, however its location in the Transjordan offers up a few possibilities. Given its strategic location, it may have been “an attempt to keep the Transjordan areas from Rehoboam.” The New Bible Commentary also suggests that “it may have been connected with the invasion of Sheshonq (Shishak) who mentions Penuel on the inscription telling of his campaign, but there is no OT record of this” (p.337).

This last bit is an intriguing line of thought. So far, Sheshonq has been the only named Pharaoh of Egypt (1 Kgs 11:40). Combined with the connection between Jeroboam and the exodus narrative (as exemplified by the mention of the golden calves above), it could be that the memory of an exodus, or perhaps of an exodus specifically from Egypt, could have begun as a story of refugees fleeing from Sheshonq’s invasion. It seems quite plausible that this became a seminal event in the cultic worship of Israel, or that the details of fleeing from Egypt were simply grafted onto an existing migration narrative. If anyone knows a bit more about the context and how plausible this interpretation might be, I’d love some additional information!

This chapter also gives us a good hint as to why David has been so idealized in recent chapters, despite the far more complicated view of him in 2 Samuel. As Victor Matthews explains:  “Despite his attempts to consolidate power through political and religious reforms, Jeroboam still lacked one thing that his rival Rehoboam possessed. This was the sense of legitimacy that comes from multigenerational dynastic rule. Rehoboam had made mistakes, but loyalty to the Davidic line kept him in power, at least in Judah, and protected his descendants on the throne for the next three centuries. The tradition of an “everlasting covenant” with David’s house (2 Sam 7:18-29; 1 Kgs 11:34-39) grew in importance and influence over the years” (Manners & Customs of the Bible, p.92).

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.

2 Samuel 20: Joab is just not having it

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Now that he’s back in Jerusalem, David’s first order of business is to deal with those pesky ten concubines who’ve been raped (2 Sam. 16:22) because he abandoned them (2 Sam. 15:16). Obviously, they can’t be comforted and then welcomed back into the household! No, instead David shuts them away in a house, under guard, until the day they die.

The fact that anyone would see David as good man or good king when he shows himself, again and again, to be so casual and cruel toward the women subject to his power (and even those under his protection in a patriarchal society) is absolutely sickening. Whether it’s locking away these concubines because of their rape (which only happened because he abandoned them in the first place), or his indifference to the rape of his daughter Tamar, or his questionable behaviour toward both Bathsheba and Abigail, his treatment of Michal, David is outrageous in the way he treats women.

Sheba’s Rebellion

Meanwhile, the unrest continues. The Benjaminites, still clearly put out by the loss of the crowd, produce Sheba, son of Bichri. When he rejects David’s kingship, we’re told that “all the men of Israel” (2 Sam. 20:2) joined him, while Judah remained loyal to David.

David tasks his new general, Amasa, with gathering up all Judah’s soldiers within three days so that they can deal with the rebellion. For reasons unstated, Amasa fails to do this in time – was the task impossible? Did he try to sabotage David’s efforts by dallying because his loyalty remains with Absalom? Did he just fail due to incompetence? The text never tells us, even though the reason behind Amasa’s failure utterly changes how we can interpret this chapter.

Realizing that Amasa does not have this situation under control, David asks Abishai to handle it. Why Abishai, rather than his brother Joab? Some of the commentaries I’ve read say that David is trying to push Joab out because he is still angry about Abner’s murder in 2 Samuel 3:27 (the idea being that Joab had too much power to simply be dismissed, so David is trying to slowly exclude him from the clique, Queen Bee style). Other commentaries claim that David may have been too proud, after dismissing Joab in favour of Amasa, to admit that he’d made a bad call and bring Joab back.

It could also be that, after setting Joab aside for political reasons (bringing in Amasa, who had been Absalom’s general, may have been a move to bring the rebels back on his side), he may have wondered if he could still trust him. Would Joab still be on his side after being so cruelly treated?

Abishai heads out with the Cherethites and Pelethites. Whether or not with David’s blessing, Joab tagged along too. Or, perhaps, did more than just tag along, since he quickly took charge and Abishai falls into the background.

Met along the way

Amasa, still afield, meets up with the rebel-hunters in Gibeon. Joab, in a move that would have Harlequin readers quivering, “took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him” (2 Samuel 20:9), then, during their embrace, stabbed him in the stomach so hard that Amasa’s entrails spilled out.

Joab, it seems, did not like being replaced.

Still, his anger seems focused on Amasa, rather than on David. In fact, the text gives us the possibility that he killed Amasa not because he was replaced by him, but because he failed to rouse the army quickly enough. In other words, this could be yet another example of Joab getting rid of someone who has made themselves a liability to David. And, of course, it also gives us the possibility that David was behind this murder as well – Amasa fought against, David, after all. It could be that David made him a general to assuage those who had gone to Absalom, but had no intention of letting him go unpunished.

Joab leaves Amasa’s body in the middle of the road. He posts a man over it to tell people who remain faithful to David to join Joab – presumably the men in Amasa’s band. Eventually, we’re told, someone decides to drag Amasa’s corpse off the road and into a field, covering it with a cloth.

Joab & co. carry on after Sheba.

The end of a rebellion

Joab chases Sheba all the way to Abel of Bethmaacah, where his retinue has apparently dwindled down to his own clan (the Bichrites). It seems that the claim that Sheba was joined by all of Israel was hyperbolic. It could be that the verse only meant that Sheba had followers from several different clans (indicating that this was not a single clan’s rebellion), or it could have been intended as anti-Israel propaganda.

Joab at Abel, from the Morgan Bible, c.1240-1250

Joab at Abel, from the Morgan Bible, c.1240-1250

When Joab arrives, his retinue knocks the city walls down. Before they can do any more damage, however, a local wise woman calls out to Joab. It seems from her words that Abel had a reputation for wisdom, and was perhaps a place that people would go to for conflict resolution. Given this, would Joab truly destroy the city?

Joab is swayed without any fuss, and offers the wise woman a deal: He will spare the city, so long as they hand over Amasa. The wise woman agrees and, soon, Amasa’s severed head is tossed over the city walls to Joab.

His task done, Joab returns to Jerusalem – apparently never considering that David might be angry with him for killing Amasa, or that he might not be getting his old job back just because Amasa is dead. The fact that he is, in fact, restored lends credence to the idea that David, for whatever reason, implicitly (or perhaps explicitly) condoned Amasa’s murder.

It’s worth noting that, once again, Joab has been used to put down a rebellion. In A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, Collins notes: “As in several previous incidents, however, Joab and his brother are the ones who shed the blood. If there is guilt because of violence, it can be imputed to them rather than to David” (p.129).

David’s cabinet

To close off the chapter, an editor put in a note about the composition of David’s cabinet. It’s mostly a repeat of 2 Samuel 8:15-18, though with a few notable differences.

Joab, once again, is listed as having command of Israel’s army (note the name “Israel,” which once again seems to refer to the whole nation including Judah, suggesting a different author/editor from the last few chapters). In fact, this may be the reason for the inclusion of this note – to explicitly show that Joab has returned to his former position.

Benaiah, son of Jehoiada, is still in control of the Cherethites and Pelethites. Jehoshaphat is still recorder. Zadok and Ahimelek are still priests.

Adoram is a new addition, having been appointed as overseer of forced labour. Seraiah the secretary, however, has been removed from the list.

Finally, we are told that David’s personal priest is Ira the Jairite, replacing David’s sons. This may be a reference to the fact that David’s sons have, for the most part, met their ends recently.

1 Samuel 25: Uppity women

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Before getting into the main story, we find out that Samuel is dead. The delivery is every bit as brutal in the text, too, though I apologize to anyone who had gotten attached.

Of his death, we are told only that it happened, that the people grieved, and that he was buried in his house at Ramah. My study Bible notes simply, “the brevity of the obituary is surprising” (p. 365). No kidding.

My New Bible Commentary wonders if the note might not have been added to make a theological point, noting that it occurs right after Saul acknowledges that David will succeed him as king of Israel. From this perspective, Samuel’s death serves to punctuate that story, declaring Samuel’s mission to find a proper king for Israel officially over.

David in the wilderness

For the rest of the chapter, we return to David’s adventures in the wilderness. He is now holed up in the wilderness of Paran or, perhaps, the wilderness of Maon (the Septuagint reading). My study Bible notes that the latter is more plausible, as Paran would put David too far south.

How David manages to keep his 600 followers fed is something of a mystery. My study Bible emphasises that the area would have been quite arid, though 600 is a lot of mouths to feed even for lush ground. It helps to explain why he has been moving so much. It’s also worth keeping in mind as we try to understand the story of his interaction with Nabal.

David and Abigail, by Joseph Schonmann

David and Abigail, by Joseph Schonmann

So David is hanging out in the wilderness with his 600 followers, and he’s doing something. He and some other people in the story claim that he’s a sort of Robin Hood figure, just hanging out and protecting shepherds from wannabe bandits. Take the fancy speeches out, however, and a rather different picture is painted.

David sends ten messengers out to a wealthy shepherd by the name of Nabal. It’s in the middle of sheep shearing, apparently a festival time, and David wants his followers fed. Nabal, whose name means something like “fool”, refuses. He asks who is this David who makes such a claim of him – “There are many servants nowadays who are breaking away from their masters” (1 Sam. 25:10). Why should he feed David’s followers when he has his own to feed?

When the messengers report back to David, he is furious. One interpretation has him angry because the laws of hospitality have been violated – a tremendous insult. Another suggests that perhaps David is a bandit leader and this is how he’s keeping his followers fed. Either way, he orders 400 of his followers to arm up, leaving the remaining 200 to guard their stuff, and marches out. His intention is to kill every male under Nabal’s authority (presumably meaning both livestock and people). Hilariously, the King James Version has the euphemism “any that pisseth against the wall” (1 Sam. 25:22) in place of “male.” Apparently, this is a defining characteristic of masculinity!

Meanwhile, Nabal’s wife, Abigail, hears about the messengers. Unlike her foolish husband, she is “of good understanding and beautiful” (1 Sam. 25:3). Without telling her husband, she quickly pulls together a feast and rushes out to meet David.

When she reaches him, she throws herself at his feet and brown noses for 8 verses straight. She assumes the guilt in the incident because her husband is a total nincompoop and she failed to hear of David’s messengers sooner – an interesting argument, to be sure. During her speech, she references God appointing David “prince over Israel” (1 Sam. 25:30) in the future, suggesting (perhaps an unintentional anachronism) that David’s bid for the crown was broadly known.

David thanks her for staying his hand and preventing him from taking on the bloodguilt of murdering all the wall pissers.

When Abigail returns home, she finds Nabal partying and drunk, and she decides not to tell him about what she’s done (and the danger he was so recently in). The next morning, once he’s sobered up a little, Abigail tells him and his “heart died within him, and he became as a stone” (1 Sam. 25:37) – suggesting some kind of stroke – and he conveniently dies ten days later. David gives thanks to God for getting the foolish Nabal out of the way and sends in a petition for Abigail’s hand in marriage. She accepts.

Overshadowed by such a great “first meeting” story, David also marries a woman from Jezreel named Ahinoam. We are told that he technically has only two wives at this point because Saul has married Michal off to Palti, son of Laish (much as he did Michal’s sister in 1 Sam. 18:19).

1 Samuel 22: The Nob Slaughter

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Having escaped from Gath, David hides himself in a cave near Adulam. He is, apparently, the worst at hiding, because his family hears that he’s there and come out to meet him. As do approximately 400 people in distress, in debt, and in discontent (the three Ds of any rebel army worth its salt). David becomes their leader.

He then makes his way to Mizpeh, in Moabite territory, and asks the king of Moab to look after his parents for a while, at least until David has a chance to figure out where his little rebellion is heading. According to the Book of Ruth, David is related to the Moabites, so he may have been able to claim kinship for the favour.

David leaves Mizpeh when a prophet, named Gad, tells him to. Again, we see that David is positively aligned with religious figures. From there, he then goes to the forest of Hereth, which would place him in the territory belonging to the tribe of Judah.

Saul, in Gibeah, hears about David. Unfortunately, we know he’s in a bad mood because he is described as having “his spear in his hand” (1 Sam. 22:6). He asks his court what they think David will offer them for defecting, since none of them had told him about Jonathan’s alliance to David (though 1 Sam. 20:30 makes it quite clear that he knew).

His speech makes the conflict sound inter-tribal to my eyes. He addresses his court as “Benjaminites” (1 Sam. 22:7), for example. This could simply imply that his close court is comprised of Benjaminites, but David’s position makes it clear that exceptions were made. The fact, also, that Saul is in Gibeah and David in the forest of Hereth suggests a possible border issue (Benjamin and Judah were neighbours). If I go out on a limb, I might wonder if perhaps what we are seeing is a story of tribes competing with each other for supremacy, with Saul declaring himself king of Israel as leader of Benjamin and David declaring himself king of Israel as leader of Judah. This would certainly explain why the Philistines in 1 Sam. 21:11 believed David to be king.

It could also be that the united monarchy was not a single event, one in which loose tribal alliances become a single nation overnight with the popular acclaim of a single leader. Rather, perhaps Saul ruled Benjamin, and perhaps he had a protector/vassal agreement with a few other tribes. It would make the transition more gradual, and help to explain why Saul refers to his entourage as “Benjaminites.”

It’s also worth noting that Saul’s rave paints David as a revolutionary, not as a fugitive. From his perspective, David is raising an army with intent to overthrow him. And it is certainly true that David is raising an army! Only, the authors, who aren’t necessarily trying to paint David as perfect but certainly think he’s a pretty cool dude, have soldiers simply flock to David of their own volition, presumably intending later on to force David’s hand into overthrowing Saul. So far, he has consistently been painted as defensive in his relationship with Saul.

Doeg the Edomite, whom we met in 1 Sam. 21:7, is the only one in Saul’s entourage who speaks up. He says that he saw David at Nob, and that Ahimelech fed him, consulted God for him, and armed him.

The slaughter

Saul is understandably furious. He has just found out that the high priest of his nation has just been helping a traitor and enemy of the state. We might see Ahimelech as a good guy because history remembers David as a good guy, but I think that if the same situation were to play out today, Ahimelech would, at best, be a controversial figure.

Doeg kills Ahimelech, from the Macclesfield Psalter, c.1330

Doeg kills Ahimelech, from the Macclesfield Psalter, c.1330

Of course, none of that excuses what Saul does next.

He summons Ahimelech and asks him why he conspired with David against him. Ahimelech turns it around, arguing: “And who among all your servants is so faithful as David” (1 Sam. 22:14). Not only does this explain his own behaviour (since David is such a loyal servant, how could Ahimelech possibly have known that they had fallen out?), it also argues in David’s favour (if David is faithful, then the responsibility for the rift falls on Saul).

Saul goes straight for the ultra-baddie title and orders his entourage to kill Ahimelech and all the priests. Showing just how tenuous Saul’s grasp on the throne is (or has become), his entourage refuses. This also fits with the portrayal of Saul that we saw, for example, in 1 Sam. 15:24 – a king with very little authority.

Only Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s little Renfield, is willing to raise his hand against the priests. He kills Ahimelech and 84 other priests. Apparently all on his own, he also slaughtered the people of Nob – men, women, children, infants, and even livestock. It’s rather hard to imagine how he would have managed this. Only one man, Ahimelech’s son Abiathar, escapes and flees to David’s side.

When he tells David what happened, David is suitably contrite, realizing that he shares some of the responsibility for what had happened. He invites Abiathar to remain with him and promises him protection.

The slaughter of the priests is apparently a continuance of the prophecy in 1 Sam. 2:31.

As an aside, I’ve noticed that Saul seems always to use “son of” designations, avoiding the use of personal names. He seems to be the only character who does this so consistently, but I don’t know what that means.

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