Amos 7: Thus God Showed Me

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There are two parts to Amos. In the first, he describes three visions given to him by God. This section has a very folktale feel to it, as the first two visions establish a pattern, then the third breaks it (in folk tales, heroes often encounter something – a trial, a request, a question, etc – three times, with the third altering the pattern in some important way).

All three emphasise that the visions come from God, but we can also see how the pattern is established and then broken with these initiating lines. The first and second visions begin identically: “Thus the Lord God showed me” (Amos 7:1, Amos 7:4). The third, however, begins with: “He showed me” (Amos 7:7). Same meaning, but the different phrasing sets up the different outcome.

In the first two visions, God shows Amos some disaster he’s cooking up (the first is locusts who will eat all the grass, and the second is a fire that will devour the land).

Amos begs God to stop the disaster, and both times he asks:

How can Jacob stand?
He is so small!

Both times, God is moved by Amos’s speech and repents, staying his hand.

In the third vision, however, God is no longer showing Amos his destruction. Rather, he seems to be trying to convince Amos of the destruction’s rightness, giving him his reason for judgement rather than just showing him the results of it.

So in this third vision, Amos finds God standing beside a wall, holding a plumb line in his hand. Maybe. Apparently, the word used here isn’t known anywhere else, and there’s some debate about what it might mean. But though a number of objects are suggested (Claude Mariottini gives us the possibility that it might be a type of sword!), a plumb line (or similar) seems to fit the context quite well.

God tells Amos that he is setting a plumb line in the midst of the Israelites, and it is becomes of this that its high places and sanctuaries will be destroyed, and the house of Jeroboam will fall by the sword. A plumb line is used for ensuring that a vertical line is straight (in the way that a level is used for horizontal lines), so the implication is – as my study Bible puts it – that “the people are found warped beyond correction.” This is why they will be – must be – destroyed.

This time, Amos has no response. The implication is clear – he now sees what God has seen, he now knows that the destruction is warranted.

As a side note, the third vision sounds an awful lot like the prediction of destruction against King Manasseh of Judah in 2 Kgs 21:13.

The Exile

In the second part of the chapter, the narrative switches to the third person as it describes Amos being exiled from Israel. Most commentaries claim that Amos 7:10-17 was added by a later editor, and that seems quite likely. It’s just too awkward to have been written by Amos himself.

Amos rebukes Israel's luxury, by Gerhard Hoet

Amos rebukes Israel’s luxury, by Gerhard Hoet

Amaziah is the priest at Bethel, and he’s clearly out of patience for this weird guy who keeps preaching doom and gloom outside his sanctuary. To get rid of him, he appeals to King Jeroboam, claiming that Amos is conspiring against the king by working up the people; He’s been claiming that Jeroboam will die by the sword and that Israel will go into exile.

I’ve seen some commentaries claiming that the reference to Jeroboam’s death here is evidence that this section is original to Amos because Jeroboam does not die by the sword. Why keep the reference to a failed prediction if it isn’t even original to the author?

Maybe there’s more to this in the Hebrew, but the English RSV makes the claim rather silly. In Amos’s own words, we read that the house of Jeroboam will fall by the sword (Amos 7:9), not Jeroboam himself. What we’re reading in Amos 7:11 are the words of Amaziah, his interpretation of what Amos has said. And either the reader is meant to laugh at Amaziah’s incorrect understanding of Amos, or we’re meant to see Amaziah as a liar who twists Amos’s words to get the desired reaction from the king.

We never find out whether Jeroboam gave a crap about Amaziah’s claims, however. All we get is Amaziah himself telling Amos to leave, go prophecy in Judah.

In response, Amos says that he is not a prophet, nor a prophet’s son. Rather, he is a herdsman and a dresser of trees. God took him from his flock and told him to go prophecy to the people of Israel. And since Amaziah has told him not to do as God instructed him, God will make his wife a harlot, cause his children to die by the sword, and cause his land to be parcelled out. Amaziah himself will die in an unclean land, and Israel will go into exile. Yikes.

Much seems to be made of Amos’s claim not to be a prophet, with a lot riding on which tense would be most appropriate – is Amos claiming not to be a prophet, or saying that he wasn’t one until God called to him? The tense changes our interpretation quite considerably.

If his claim is indeed meant to be taken in the present tense, then he may be distancing himself from the guild of prophets, such as those we saw in 2 Kgs 2:3. This could mean that he is admitting that he lacks cultic authority, but that his relationship with God makes him legitimate anyway. Or it could be meant as an implicit indictment of the guild – Amos is claiming to have a direct line to God, unlike those professional charlatans!

According to Claude Mariottini, it may also be significant that Amaziah calls Amos a seer in Amos 7:12: “Amaziah recognized Amos’ authority to preach the Word of God. This is the reason Amaziah did not forbid Amos from preaching. Rather, Amaziah commanded Amos to leave the country and return to his home.” In other words, Amaziah agrees that Amos is a prophet, but could he please speak the words of God from somewhere else?

Amos’s response, that he is not a prophet, might then be in reference to the title that Amaziah uses, though this is complicated by the two using different words. Unless Amos is saying, “You’re right, I’m a seer (someone who receives divine transmissions), not a prophet (a member of a professional guilt who may or may not have any communication with God).” So is his response meant to be a clever twisting of Amaziah’s words to reinforce Amos’s authority?

Amos 1-2: Finger Pointing

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Amos opens with a thesis statement in the third person: “The words of Amos […] which he saw concerning Israel” (Amos 1:1).

This statement is mixed in with some biographical information, telling us that Amos was among the shepherds of Tekoa, and that he saw the words when Uzziah was king in Judah and Jeroboam son of Joash was king in Israel, two years before an earthquake.

With regards to his profession as a shepherd, the particular word used is only used in one other place: 2 Kgs 3:4, in reference to the king of Moab. The king of Moab, of course, would hardly be some lowly peasant. Given that Amos was apparently literate, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to see him as the same category of shepherd – the owner of a large flock that was tended by employees.

Claude Mariottini discusses Amos’s occupation in more detail in a blog post.

God Roared

The section proper begins with a verse that reads almost like an incantation:

The Lord roars from Zion,
and utters his voice from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds mourn,
and the top of Carmel withers.

If the verse is original to Amos, the fact that the geographical markers are all from the southern kingdom seems rather odd. There’s something just so Deuteronomistic about Jerusalem as the place from which God is roaring. According to Collins, that’s one reason why this verse is considered by many to be an addition from after the Babylonian exile (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.159).

The use of the term “Zion” is interesting as well, since it’s not a word that’s come up a whole lot in our readings so far. We saw it a fair bit in Lamentations, which is dated to the Babylonian exile. Other than that, we’ve only seen it used a sprinkling of times in Kings and Chronicles, and once in 2 Sam. 5:7, which Wikipedia gives as the earliest use of the word. This seems to be fairly compelling evidence in support of Collins’s assertion.

The Condemnations

The condemnations themselves follow a pattern:

  1. It begins with the phrase: “Thus says the Lord.” According to Claude Mariottini, this phrase is frequently found in prophetic books, and would have been used by royal messengers speaking on behalf of a king to a designated individual (as in the case with Rabshakeh, envoy from King Sennacherib of Assyria to King Hezekiah of Judah in 2 Kgs 18:19).
  2. “For three transgressions of [transgressor], and for four, I will not revoke punishment.” The phrase likely means something along the lines of “three transgressions would have been bad enough, but you’ve gone and had four of them!” (Except, of course, with the specific numbers being literally figurative.)
  3. This is followed by a surprisingly brief explanation of their crimes…
  4. And a surprisingly brief explanation of the punishment that awaits them. This largely involves a fire that will consume their walls and strongholds (except in the case of Israel).
  5. Closing each condemnation (except for those of Tyre and Edom), Amos concludes with: “says the Lord God.”

Amos 1:3-5
Target: Damascus, Syria
Transgressions: They threshed Gilead, which we read about in 2 Kgs 10:32-33.
Punishment: God will send fire down on the house of Hazael, and it will devour the strongholds of Benhadad (both Hazael and Behadad were kings of Syria). The people of Syria will be forced into exile to Kir. This will indeed happen when the Assyrians take Damascus in 2 Kgs 16:9. Also of interest is that Amos himself seems to believe that the Syrians originated from Kir (Amos 9:7).

Russian icon of the prophet Amos, from the Iconostasis of Transfiguration Church, Kizhi monastery, in Karelia, Russia, 18th cent.

Russian icon of the prophet Amos, from the Iconostasis of Transfiguration Church, Kizhi monastery, in Karelia, Russia, 18th cent.

Amos 1:6-8
Target: Gaza, Philistia
Transgressions: For carrying a whole people into exile, and for selling them to Edom.
Punishment: God will send fire onto the wall of Gaza, destroying her strongholds. The inhabitants will be cut off from Ashdod and the one who holds the scepter of Ashkelon. God will turn his hand against Ekron and the last of the Philistines will die. This all happened when Assyria took over in a series of campaigns (Gaza fell to Tiglath-Pileser in 734BCE, Ashdod to Sargon in 711BCE, and Ashkelon and Ekron to Sennacherib in 701BCE).

Amos 1:9-10
Target: Tyre
Transgressions: For selling people to Edom, and for forgetting the covenant of brotherhood (this latter likely a reference to the close relationship between Tyre and Israel during the reigns of David and Solomon, as per 2 Sam. 5:11 and 1 Kgs 5:1).
Punishment: God will set fire to the wall of Tyre and devour its strongholds. This prophecy also came true, this time when Tyre became a tributary to Assyria and then fell to Nebuchadnezzar 585BCE, after a lengthy siege. It was then destroyed by Alexander the Great in 332BCE.

Amos 1:11-12
Target: Edom
Transgressions: For having pursued his brother with the sword, without pity. Edom was perpetually torn by anger and wrath.
Punishment: God will send fire down on Teman, and it will devour the strongholds of Bozrah. This prophecy also came true, as Edom was destroyed by the Babylonians in the 6th century BCE.

Amos 1:13-15
Target: The Ammonites
Transgressions: For having ripped up pregnant women in Gilead to enlarge their borders. This war against Gilead doesn’t seem to have been recorded anywhere else.
Punishment: God will send fire down to the wall of Rabbah, devouring its strongholds. This will happen with great shouting in the day of battle, and with a tempest in the day of the whirlwind. The Ammonite king and princes will be taken into exile.

Amos 2:1-3
Target: Moab
Transgressions: For having burned to lime the bones of the Edomite king. This is an interesting complaint. While the crimes of the other foreign nations can be read as offenses against Israel (the big Israel, the one that includes Judah), this is a crime against another foreign nation. As Collins puts it, “this is a crime of one Gentile against another and can only be viewed as a crime against humanity. Amos operates with a concept of universal justice, such as we often find in the wisdom literature” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.156).
Punishment: Fire will rain down upon Moab (though not, at least, it’s walls) and devour the strongholds of Kerioth. Moab will die amid uproar, shouting, and the sound of the trumpet. Its ruler and its princes will be slain.

Amos 2:4-5
Target: Judah
Transgressions: For rejecting the law of God and failing to keep his statutes. For having been led astray by their lies, in the way their fathers walked. This passage is sometimes considered to have been added by a later editor, in large part because of how closely the writing resembles that of the Deuteronomical books.
Punishment: God will bring fire down on Judah devour the strongholds of Jerusalem. Of course, this came to pass in 2 Kgs 24-25.

Turning to Israel

While the authenticity of certain passages is in question, the rhetorical flow works quite well. First, Amos lures his readers/listeners in by raging at the other guy. Then he moves a little closer with the next batch, raging at nations considered ‘cousins’: Edom is mythically descended from Jacob’s brother (Gen. 25:19-34), while the Moabites and Ammonites are descended from Lot (Gen. 19:36-38). Circling ever closer, Amos turns to Judah.

And then Amos pounces, throwing the sins of Israel into their faces.

The sins of Israel are many:

  • They sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes. This is likely a reference to bribery in the justice system, rather than a real buyer’s market in the slave trade.
  • They trampled the heads of the poor into the dust. This seemed fairly self-evident to me, but the New Bible Commentary made it all about real estate, saying that they were begrudging the poor even the small amount of dust that they put on their heads when mourning (p.731). This could be a translation issue, or perhaps I’m just not getting it, but it’s certainly a powerful image.
  • A man and his father have sex with the same woman, thus profaning God’s holy name. This is generally prohibited in Lev. 20:11, but it seems that many commentaries read this as a condemnation of cultic prostitution (which would explain the reference to God’s holy name). The man and the father would therefore not necessarily be literal, but an indication that the whole of the community is involved in this sin. Of course, once interpretation does not exclude the other, and a double meaning may have been intended.
  • They lay down beside every altar (clearly, Israel wasn’t quite monotheistic enough), upon garments taken in pledge (likely a reference to the same string of laws that gave us Deut. 24:17, prohibiting the taking of a widow’s clothing in pledge).
  • They drink the wine of those who have been fined in the house of their God. The idea that enforcement agencies might profit from greater fines for smaller infractions is certainly still a problem.

Amos breaks the pattern by reminding his audience that God destroyed the Amorites for them – even though the Amorites were as tall as cedars and as strong as oaks. God brought them out of Egypt and led them through the wilderness, then gave them the Amorite lands to call their own. He raised prophets and Nazirites (a person who voluntarily makes a vow, as discussed in Num. 6) from among them, and yet… And yet they have made the Nazirites drink wine and commanded the prophets not to prophecy (a sore point for Amos, I’m sure).

Apparently, the authenticity of this passage about prophets and Nazirites (Amos 2:11-12) is in question, and it’s not hard to see why. It does break the pattern of the condemnations.

In punishment for all of this, God will press them down. Flight will perish from the swift, strength will vanish from the strong, even the mightiest won’t be able to save themselves from the coming punishment. It will be so bad that even the stout of heart will flee naked. Harsh times, indeed.

So, did Amos’s prophecies come true? Well, yes, but given a large enough time frame, foreseeing the doom of just about any nation is a sure bet. One possibility I’m seeing is that of a late authorship – if the book was written during the Deuteronomic reforms or into the exile, the events Amos is predicting would already have been known, and perhaps setting them in the mouth of Amos, or setting Amos in the time of Jeroboam, served a different purpose. Sifting through the arguments for either side is well above my pay grade, but the commentaries I tend to trust the most seem unanimous in the idea that Amos is largely authentic with some possible late additions.

Lamentations 5: Remember, O Lord

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I found the fifth ode to be an easier read than the others, less challenging. It’s certainly the shortest, as the crow counts words, but I also found it to have the most easily-grasped structure. Bob MacDonald has some interesting notes on the poetry of the ode, but I’ll just stick to content.

More so than the other four odes, it can be fairly well summarized by its opening verse: “Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us; behold, and see our disgrace!” (Lam. 5:1)

What follows is a lengthy description of said disgrace, with most verses containing an inversion of the desired/previous (assumed) social order. I say “assumed” because I suspect that there may be an element of romanticising of the before-days. I find it difficult to believe that women were not raped before the coming of Babylon (Lam. 5:11), or that much of the population was not hard driven (Lam. 5:5) or forced to stagger under heavy loads (Lam. 5:13). Perhaps these things became more common, or perhaps they started to affect the literate classes as well as the poor, but I find it unlikely that a substantial portion of the Israelite population was not forced to labour under unfair conditions while under solid Israelite rule.

Nebuzaradan burns down the temple, from Petrus Comestor's "Bible Historiale", 1372

Nebuzaradan burns down the temple, from Petrus Comestor’s “Bible Historiale”, 1372

The complaints are fairly standard for what we’ve seen so far. There are several mentions of starvation and hard labour, and there’s the rape I mentioned above. Other than that, there are several complaints of the high having been brought low: The idea that Israel’s crown has fallen (Lam. 5:16), and that even princes now find themselves hung by their hands (Lam. 5:12).

But a few of the complaints stood out, for various reasons:

The first (in order) is the complaint that the Israelites now have to pay for the water and wood they use (Lam. 5:4), which is certainly timely given the water crisis in Michigan (both Flint more recently, and the shut offs in Detroit not too long ago). This idea that having to pay others for basic necessities of life as a sign of exile and things gone shockingly wrong strikes me especially in light of the Christian Right’s often libertarian leanings. But it’s also, I think, another commentary on the “high brought low,” as the Israelites are cut off from the means of self-sufficiency.

The narrator complains that it is their fathers who did the sinning, but they are dead and it is the present generation who must suffer as punishment (Lam. 5:7). It feels like there’s almost a sense of injustice at such a moral system, though of course the narrator never goes so far as to directly question God.

Lam. 5:8 complains that the Israelites are ruled by slaves. This struck me as rather strange, and I wondered if it might be an imperialistic assumption – that foreigners are meant to be slaves, and yet here they are as rulers. My Study Bible, however, notes that: “Important posts were sometimes given to slaves of the king.” In other words, the verse may well be literal – in that the Israelites are working under overseers who are, in fact, slaves.

The narrator tells us that Mount Zion has become desolate, and that it is prowled by jackals. Jackals, who have powerful stomachs that can even digest (and derive nutrition from) bones, are often associated with graveyards and the dead in ancient mythologies (having, in times of desperation, dug up corpses to supplement their diet). The Egyptian god of embalming, Anubis, is frequently associated with jackals, though apparently that’s been complicated by recent research. In any case, the point seems to be clear: The holy centre of Israel is now as desolate as a graveyard.

God’s Reign

The final four verses of the ode work well as a conclusion. God’s power is established, and the narrator makes a plea for Israel to be restored. And yet, the very final verse, Lam. 5:22, wonders if perhaps God is just too angry, and Israel is utterly rejected.

Lamentations 2: The Daughter of Zion

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The second ode continues the use of feminine imagery when talking about Jerusalem. While we have encountered the phrase “daughter of Zion” before (Lam. 1:6), the designation really takes over here. I don’t recall the phrase appearing before Lamentations in our readings, and a BibleGateway search confirms that. It seems to appear quite a bit in Isaiah and Micah, as well as Zechariah,  Psalms, and the Son of Solomon.

In fact, the term “Zion” itself doesn’t come up very much in our earlier readings at all. It’s used a handful of times in Kings and Chronicles, and once in 2 Sam. 5:7 (which Wikipedia gives as the earliest use of the word). There seems to have been an inflation in the geographical area that the term refers to – from a single mountain on which a fortress had been build, to the district of Jerusalem where the fortress had stood, to the whole city.

But that phrase, “daughter of Zion”, is an interesting one, and the fact that it doesn’t come up until later writings seems important. The New Bible Commentary agrees, pointing to extant cuneiform inscriptions that refer to “the daughter of …” who is bidden to lament her lot. “The technique may thus have been learnt by the Jews in exile” (p.659). So this phrase, which would go on to be so popular (particularly with Isaiah) seems to have been a borrowing of a Babylonian poetic construction.

God Is The Enemy

In this ode, the focus on God as active agent in bringing punishment down on the Israelites is front and center. The very verse begins: “How the Lord in his anger has set the daughter of Zion under a cloud!” (Lam. 2:1).

Compare this to the first ode, which begins, “How lonely sits the city that was full of people!” (Lam. 1:1). Even though the first ode makes it clear that the punishment was God’s doing, the focus was on the experience of the punishment. Here, however, God as active agent is much more emphasized, as in Lam. 2:5 (“The Lord has become like an enemy”).

The first also mentions Israel’s foes, as in Lam. 1:5 (“Her foes have become the head, her enemies prosper, because the Lord has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions”). Here, however, we get verses like Lam. 2:8:

The Lord determined to lay in ruins
the wall of daughter Zion;
he stretched the line;
He did not withhold his hand from destroying;
he caused rampart and wall to lament;
they languished together.

Even as pawns, the Babylonians are erased from the narrative.

This is a complete tangent and absolute conjecture, but it made me think of the way Pontius Pilate will be treated in the New Testament. While the agent of Jesus’s death, his role is minimized, and his agency almost taken from him (as in Matt 27:24). A plausible reason for this action is that the Christians (or proto-Christians, or however we want to see the early community of Jesus followers) were in the power of the Romans (or, perhaps, were Romans, at least in some number). They may have had very real pressure not to get too finger-pointy.

And so we may be witnessing the same effect here. The exile community, being very much under the power of the Babylonians and likely wishing to stay in their good graces to some extent, would have had an understandable reason to de-emphasize, or even erase, the Babylonian agency in the destruction of Jerusalem.

There may also be a sense of reclamation. Elsewhere in our reading, when the Israelite army defeats an enemy, it is a show of theistic superiority: Israel won because Israel’s God was stronger. Emphasizing the defeat of Israel as God’s work allows the authors to preserve God’s honour.

The Destruction of the Temple

The loss of the Temple was mentioned only briefly in Lam. 1:4, where the roads leading to Zion mourn as no one uses them to attend the feasts (a vague reference, to be sure).

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem, by David Roberts, 1850

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem, by David Roberts, 1850

In the second ode, the destruction of the Temple is a dominant theme. It begins in Lam. 2:1, where God is said to have forgotten his footstool (a reference to the mercy-seat, as in 1 Chron. 28:2).

This comes back again in Lam. 2:6, where God “has broken down his booth like that of a garden, laid in ruins the place of his appointed feasts”, and in Lam. 2:7, where God “has scorned his altar, disowned his sanctuary.”

There is also one direct reference to the exile itself, where the narrator tells us that the daughter of Zion’s “king and princes are among the nations” (Lam. 2:9). But the focus of the ode is clearly on Jerusalem itself, and was done to it, rather than on the status of its people.

The Lamentation

As in the first ode, the second half switches to a first person lament. It begins with a description of the narrator’s own grief – “My eyes are spent with weeping” (Lam. 2:11). It then moves into a description of the how the people have been affected, describing them as starving, dying in the streets, and calling out for their mothers.

In Lam. 2:13-19, the narrator addresses the daughter of Jerusalem directly. He blames her prophets for having given her “false and deceptive visions,” for neglecting to “expos[e] your iniquity” (Lam. 2:14).

The narrator tells Jerusalem that she has been disgraced, and that others jeer at her (Lam. 2:15). And in the final portion of the narrator’s address to Jerusalem, he urges her to “cry aloud,” to cry without cease, and to do so for the sake of her children (Lam. 2:18-19).

Closing off the ode, the narrator addresses God, bemoaning the suffering God has brought to the people. He begins by asking if women should eat their offspring, “the children of their tender care”, and if priests and prophets should be killed in the sanctuary of the Lord (Lam. 2:20). We saw the reality of people eating their children in times of extreme starvation in 2 Kgs 6:28-29, in the context of a siege.

God’s anger, the narrator charges, is causing both young and old to lie in dusty streets and be killed by swords (Lam. 2:21). In Lam. 2:22, the narrator says that God invited terrors, as if to a feast – which is beautiful imagery even as the subject is rather horrific.

The ode closes with a particularly evocative line, highlighting the horror of the Israelites seeing their children killed: “Those whom I dandled and reared my enemy destroyed” (Lam. 2:22).

Israel So Named

The ode brings up an alternative way of referencing Israel, as opposed to Jerusalem itself, that I found worth mentioning.Twice, the narrator talks about ‘Jacob’ (Lam. 2:2, Lam. 2:3) – Israel’s original name before he was given a new one in Genesis 32.

I also found it interesting that Israel is mentioned at all, while the focus of both the first and second odes has been on Jerusalem, with the first only talking about Judah when looking beyond the city.

The narrator also talks about “the daughter of my people” (Lam. 2:11) in a way that suggests this refers to the nation. So where elsewhere the daughter is of the place, we see a shift to her being the daughter of the people themselves, though I’m not sure what that means.

Lamentations 1: The Lonely Widow

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I noticed that there seems to be two distinct parts to this chapter. In the first half, the narrator speaks in the third person, and the main character is Jerusalem personified as a woman. In the second half, beginning with Lam. 1:12, a first person voice takes over. Here, the main character appears to be all of Jerusalem/Judah’s people, personified by a singular “I”.

The New Bible Commentary sees a different division, this time into three parts. The first is Lam. 1:1-7, which it titles “The desolation of Jerusalem.” The second, Lam. 1:8-11, is titled “Sin brings suffering.” The third, “A cry for compassion”, is found in Lam. 12:22. Of course, this division doesn’t contradict mine; it merely focuses on theme rather than narration.

In the opening line of the first ode, we get to see an example of the Myth of an Empty Land, which I discussed in my post on 2 Chronicles 36. Here, Jerusalem is described as having once been full of people, but being now lonely. We know, of course, that this not the case, but the imagery of an empty Jerusalem (or, more broadly, an empty Israel) lying fallow in wait for the exile’s to be returned and replanted does seem to have – if you’ll pardon extending the metaphor a little further – taken root among the exile community.

Jerusalem Herself

The description of Jerusalem-as-a-woman seems to go back and forth between pity and disgust. She is a friendless widow whose children have been taken from her in Lam. 1:1, but by Lam. 1:2, she is abandoned by her lovers. Read with modern eyes, she still struck me as the object of pity, but I can see the implicit accusation of infidelity, in no small part thanks to the Chronicler’s clear feelings against political alliances.

"Judaea Capta" coin depicting a captive Jewish man and a Jewish woman in mourning, struck 71 CE

“Judaea Capta” coin depicting a captive Jewish man and a Jewish woman in mourning, struck 71 CE

In that sense, Jerusalem is seen as a promiscuous woman who had had “improper dealings” with other nations, and now finds herself abandoned by these alliances. The argument is therefore made both against Jerusalem herself for her actions, and against the worthiness of the lovers – in other words, the author of Lamentations seems to agree with the Chronicler’s dim view of political alliances.

These lovers have, in fact, become her enemies, and they prosper by her downfall (Lam. 1:5, Lam 1:10), and they mock her (Lam. 1:7).

The sexual/vaginal imagery continues, and I found that aspect of it rather interesting. On the one hand, Jerusalem’s uncleanness “was in her skirts” (Lam. 1:9) and came about when she allowed her nakedness to be seen (Lam. 1:8). Therefore, we can see that her punishment is seen as a result of her promiscuity with other nations. And so there’s a sort of contagion from without, which we see again when forbidden foreigners are said to have entered her sanctuary (Lam. 1:10 – imagery that I knew must have a sexual double meaning when my inner twelve year old started giggling).

But on the other hand, Jerusalem is also seen as a menstruating woman (Lam. 1:17 – the KJV’s translation appears to be literal, while other translations, such as my RSV, give us “filthy thing” instead). Seen this way, Jerusalem’s uncleanness comes from within, but is also temporary. Every period ends, and so I saw almost a hope toward the end of the ode that there would be a time of cleanness to follow.

Despite this, it is abundantly clear that Jerusalem’s suffering are her own fault. God’s judgement is judged just, and the punishment appropriately deserved by the crime (Lam. 1:5).

And Her People

The second portion of the ode focuses on the suffering of Jerusalem/Judah’s people, as expressed with a singular “I.” Here, we see that when God sent down the metaphorical fires of his punishment, they descended “into my bones” (Lam. 1:13). The punishment was direct and personal, striking the narrator (who stands in for the whole community) to their very core.

In a mirroring of the first part of the poem, we hear that the yoke worn by the speaker was formed by the speaker’s own crimes (Lam. 1:15) and justified by the speaker’s rebellion (Lam. 1:18). We also see the poo-poohing of earthly protections, as the same verse tells us that God flouted the mighty men that the speaker had hoped would protect them.

The speaker, too, called out to lovers for aid, but had been abandoned (Lam. 1:19), and both portions of the poem contain references to starvation (Lam 1:11, Lam. 1:19).

There is some interesting imagery in Lam. 1:15, where we read that the “virgin daughter of Judah” was crushed by God as if she had been in a wine press. Elsewhere, vineyards, wine, and wine presses are used as symbols of success and fertility, and yet here we see that very success and fertility used to crush the symbolic representation of Judah. This reflects the idea in the first part of the poem where we are told that Jerusalem’s riches now belong to her enemies (Lam. 1:10).

I had assumed that the ode would end on a note of hope, perhaps an appeal to God to hear the pain of the speaker and show mercy, something like that. But I see no hint of that. The narrator simply seems to accept their suffering. The only hope shown in the final verses is not that the suffering of the Israelites might end, but rather that it be also inflicted on their enemies. “Let them be as I am” (Lam. 1:21).

2 Chronicles 36: So This Is The End…

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In our final chapter, the Chronicler condenses material from the end of 2 Kgs 23 all the way through 2 Kgs 25. It almost feels like he’s tripping over himself to get to the end. To me, that suggests that the Chronicler’s focus lies earlier. But we can talk about that in my next post.

We open after Josiah’s death, when the people crown his 23-year-old son, Jehoahaz. Within three months, however, the Egyptians had deposed him and taken him back to Egypt as a captive. In his place, they set up Jehoahaz’s brother, Eliakim, whom they renamed Jehoiakim – perhaps choosing such a similar name in the hopes that no one would notice.

James Bradford Pate offers a discussion of these name changes. In particular, he notes that the names forced onto Israelites by foreign powers often seem to be honouring the Israelite God. In this case, he explains that Eliakim means “My God Raises”, while Jehoiakim means “The Lord Raises”. “The two names essentially mean the same thing, only the latter identifies God by his personal covenant name. The king of Egypt changed Eliakim’s name to a name that was devoutly Yahwist, Israelite, and similar in meaning to Eliakim.” Strange indeed, and you can see more of that discussion over in his blog post.

Jehoiakim was 25 years old when he was installed by the Egyptians, making him Josiah’s older son. So why had the people of the land installed a younger son in 2 Chron. 36:1? We may be getting a glimpse of at least two factions in the Israelite political landscape – perhaps one that favoured vassalage to Egypt and another that favoured independence. Perhaps it was the People’s Front of Judea that installed a younger, but more amenable, son as king.

The problem with this theory is that both kings are deemed to have done evil in both Chronicles and Kings. It seems that both authors would have liked a pro-independence king, so perhaps something else was going on.

In any case, Jehoiakim lasted a whole 11 years. During this time, Egypt’s power was waning while Babylon’s strength was rising again. This spelled trouble for the Egypt-installed Jehoiakim.

The Chronicler skips over the episode in 2 Kgs 24:1-2, where Nebuchadnezzar took control of Judah, keeping Jehoiakim has his puppet. After three years, Jehoiakim tried to rebel, leaving Judah open to attack from its neighbours (Chaldeans, Syrians, Moabites, and Ammonites are named).

Instead, we skip right to when Judah was attacked by Nebuchadnezzar, and Jehoiakim was taken to Babylon in fetters (along with many vessels taken from the Temple).

After Jehoiakim came his son, Jehoiachin (called Jehoiakin in Kings), who was only 8 years old (2 Chron. 36:9). Or maybe he was 18 (2 Kgs 24:8). If the Chronicler is correct, I wonder what people who believe in an “age of responsibility” make of it when the Chronicler judges him a bad king. More likely, though, the Chronicler typo’d.

In any case, Jehoiachin only lasted for 3 months and a handful of days before Nebuchadnezzar came after him, too. He, like his father, was taken to Babylon along with more loot from the Temple.

Incidentally, Jehoiachin’s career continued beyond his stint as king of Judah. In Lawrence Mykytiuk’s 50 People in the Bible Confirmed Archaelogically, we learn that Jehoiachin is mentioned:

in four Babylonian administrative tablets regarding oil rations or deliveries, during his exile in Babylonia (Raging Torrent, p. 209; ANEHST, pp. 386–387). Discovered at Babylon, they are dated from the tenth to the thirty-fifth year of Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylonia and conqueror of Jerusalem. One tablet calls Jehoiachin “king” (Text Babylon 28122, obverse, line 29; ANET, p. 308). A second, fragmentary text mentions him as king in an immediate context that refers to “[. . . so]ns of the king of Judah” and “Judahites” (Text Babylon 28178, obverse, col. 2, lines 38–40; ANET, p. 308). The third tablet calls him “the son of the king of Judah” and refers to “the five sons of the king of Judah” (Text Babylon 28186, reverse, col. 2, lines 17–18; ANET, p. 308). The fourth text, the most fragmentary of all, confirms “Judah” and part of Jehoiachin’s name, but contributes no data that is not found in the other texts.

This seems to indicate that Jehoiachin lived to be at least 45 years old, with much of his life in Babylonian captivity.

The Final King

After tucking Jehoiachin safely away, Nebuchadnezzar appointed his brother (2 Chron. 36:10), or perhaps his uncle (2 Kgs 24:17) as king in his place.

He was only 21 years old and, like his father or brother, he lasted 11 years. Unfortunately, he failed to humble himself before the prophet Jeremiah, and we all know what that means.

Though the Chronicler doesn’t bother to mention it, it seems that the new king, Zedekiah, was also named by the foreign ruler who installed him (2 Kgs 24:17 gives his original name as Mattaniah). James Bradford Pate gives the meaning of Zedekiah as “Yah is righteous”. He will later be punished for rebelling against Nebuchadnezzar, so Pate wonders if perhaps the Babylonian king had given him that name in the “hope that the LORD would righteously punish Zedekiah if Zedekiah rebels.” Or, at the very least, that Zedekiah would believe that. Nebuchadnezzar needn’t believe it himself.

What’s really interesting about this is that the Chronicler also charged Zedekiah with rebelling against Nebuchadnezzar – which he deems bad because Nebuchadnezzar had made him swear fealty by God. So even though the Chronicler seems very much against dealings with foreign powers, that seems to be trumped by his feelings against breaking an oath made by invoking God. And suddenly, his name becomes very salient.

From about this point on, the author of Kings provides precise date references – down to the very day – for every event. The Chronicler has kept none of these.

The Exile of Babylon, by Marie Odile de Laforcade

The Exile of Babylon, by Marie Odile de Laforcade

Zedekiah’s sins are many, and under his leadership the people were all exceedingly awful. The “leading priests” (2 Chron. 36:14) are included in this group, which I found rather interesting. Why only the leading priests, while the rest of the people are dismissed en masse? My best guess is that this is another example of the Chronicler’s favouritism – notice that only the leading priests are mentioned, not the Levites and not the musicians?

God kept sending prophets to warn the Israelites, because he had so much compassion and hoped that they would turn back from their terrible doings. But they mocked the prophets, and they polluted the Temple, and God just got angrier and angrier.

In the end, he sent the “king of the Chaldeans” (2 Chron. 36:17) after them.

By this point in Kings, the author had been using the term Babylonian and Chaldean interchangeably. The Chaldeans, you see, had taken control of babylon during the Neo-Babylonian era, founding the dynasty that had produced Nebuchadnezzar. So, technically, both terms might apply.

When the Chaldeans/Babylonians come, they slay the young men with swords – even in the Temple! The Chronicler tells us that they had no compassion whatsoever for the Israelites – not even the young or the old, man or woman. This sounds just awful, but lacks the gruesome details of 2 Kgs 25, in which Zedekiah is blinded after being forced to watch his sons killed, so that their deaths are the last thing he ever sees.

Nebuchadnezzar then takes vessels from the Temple (again??), as well as all the other treasures from both Temple and palace. He took the princes of Israel captive to Babylon and had Jerusalem’s walls, palaces, and Temple torn down and burned.

Anyone who survived the assault was taken in servitude to Babylon, where they remained captive until the rise of Persia. All of this, we are told, was in fulfilment of Jeremiah’s prophecy, and so the land kept its Sabbath (apparently referring to sabbatical years, as per Deut. 15 and Lev. 25:1-7, where the land is left fallow) for 70 years.

This is called the “Myth of an Empty Land” – the idea that Israel just sat there, empty, waiting for the return of its people. Claude Mariottini discusses the myth in some more detail in a blog post, and Victor Matthews writes, in Manners & Customs of the Bible, that the myth is “reflected in the later disputes between the returning exiles and the Samaritans, and other “peoples of the land”” (p.138).

The impression is also in direct conflict with the account in Kings, in which we are specifically told that the poorest were left behind to tend the land (2 Kgs 25:12).

To Be Continued

The Chronicler doesn’t bother mentioning the ill-fated Babylonian governor, Gedaliah.

Instead, we end on a high note, skipping right to King Cyrus of Persia, whose spirit was stirred by God in his first year to allow the Israelites to return and to commission the building of a second Temple.

According to my study Bible, these last few verses are almost identical to the first few of the book of Ezra. It may be that they were once a single book, and the repetition was a way of indicating that the story doesn’t end here. My study Bible also proposes that, since 2 Chronicles is the final book of the Hebrew Old Testament, the words were added here by a later editor “so that the Old Testament would not end on a note of doom.”

Kings tried something similar by ending with Jehoiachin – in Babylon but freed from captivity, as if to hint at a hope for a renewed Davidic dynasty.

2 Chronicles 34-35: Josiah the Reformer

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The story of King Josiah here is basically in agreement with 2 Kgs 22-23, at least as far as the macro structure is concerned. But, as usual, there are quite a few important deviations.

In the last chapter, King Amon was assassinated by his own subjects. If it had been an attempted coup on the dynasty, the conspiracy failed and Amon was avenged. Personally, though, I like to imagine that Amon (like Manasseh before him) was a challenge to the authority of the priests, diluting their control over the nation by allowing (and perhaps even encouraging) other faiths and forms of worship. In my headcanon, the priests orchestrated the assassination of Amon, then scapegoated the individual assassins and installed Amon’s son – an eight year old child they could keep under their direct influence for several years, at least – on the throne.

I’m finding some evidence for my little conspiracy theory in the first big deviation from the Kings account. See, in Kings, Josiah is just going about his business, ruling the country, until the 18th year od his reign when the priest Hilkiah happens to find the Book of the Law somewhere in a Temple cellar. When it is read to Josiah, he has a conversation experience and gets to work trying to purify the nation.

This order of events is just a little too perfect, and hints at revisionism and propaganda. Biblical scholars tend to assume that either Hilkiah or Josiah wrote (or commissioned) the Book the Law, and that the finding of an ancient text was merely to give it a sense of added authority.

Once we allow for this, the conversion narrative no longer makes much sense. Rather, we should see a pattern of reform leading up to the finding of the book (people rarely change their entire outlook through epiphanies, no matter how satisfying that narrative may be in conversion stories).

Here, however, we see Josiah hit the ground running. He is already seeking God in the 8th year of his reign (when he was 16, so perhaps the relevance here is that he began to seek God independently, as an adult – or near enough – with personal agency). A mere four years later, he begins a religious purging of Judah and Jerusalem.

Despite occurring several years earlier, the Chronicler’s account of the purge is similar to Kings. It’s the usual fare of removing high places, cutting down Asherim, and destroying graven and molten images – which he is said to have personally overseen.

In 2 Kgs 23:20, Josiah has the priests serving at these high places slaughtered over their altars, defiling the shrines. The Chronicler doesn’t mention this slaughter, but keeps the detail of turning the shrines and images into dust and sprinkling the dust over the graves of the people who had sacrificed to them – a difficult feat unless those people are dead, though the Chronicler does not credit Josiah with their deaths. In any case, sprinkling the ashes onto graves is another example of religious defilement.

The New Bible Commentary gives us an extra possible reason to believe the Chronicler’s order of events: “The main reason for the gradual introduction of the reformation was that it was political as well as religious. In Josiah’s 8th year (632 BC) Ashurbanipal, the last great king of Assyria had just died. Failure to worship the Assyrian gods, and even more the removal of their symbols and altars from the Temple, would be regarded as a sign of rebellion. Josiah and his advisers evidently decided that they must act slowly to find out the repercussions” (p.393).

In other words, it may be that tearing down the altars that had been set up during vassalage to Assyria was an attempt at establishing independence.

There also seems to have been an expansionist (or revivalist) side to Josiah’s reforms. While not stated outright as an attempted conquest, we read that Josiah went out to the “ruins” (2 Chron. 34:6) of the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, Simeon, and even as far as Naphtali, destroying their altars and Asherim as well. While cast in religious terms, this seems like it could indicate a failed conquest attempt to re-establish what might have been seen as Israelites “traditional” borders.

Jeroboam’s shrine, which Josiah destroys in 2 Kgs 23:15, is never mentioned here. Presumably because the Chronicler just doesn’t see it as relevant as anything other than yet another idolatrous shrine, whereas the author of Kings seems to have been very concerned about its existence.

Temple Maintenance

By the 18th year of his reign, Josiah had succeeded in purging the territory under his control. After that, he set his sights on making repairs to the temple.

To accomplish this, he sent Shaphan son of Azaliah (the secretary), Maaseiah (the governor of Jerusalem), and Joah son of Joahaz (the recorder) to oversee the repairs. They approach the high priest, Hilkiah, and give him the money that had been collected for the Temple from Manasseh, Ephraim, all the remnants of Israel, Judah, Benjamin, and Jerusalem.

In 2 Kgs 22:3, only Shaphan is sent to Hilkiah, and the northern territories are not mentioned. Bringing them up here may be more historically accurate, if we assume that Josiah had, in fact, been leading a military/religious campaign in the northern territories. There may have been spoils even if he was unable to hold the lands. Another possibility is that this detail was included by the Chronicler as a sort of invitation to the northern territories, a message that it isn’t too late to cease being “in rebellion” against the true nation of Israel (2 Chron. 10:18).

The funds are delivered to the workmen in charge of repairing the house. In 2 Kings 22:7, Josiah instructs the officials not to do any accounting of the money given to the workmen because they are just so gosh darn honest. The Chronicler omits this detail, but does tell us that the workmen worked “faithfully” (2 Chron. 34:12). Either way, it seems that these contractors had excellent reputation. (I’m sure there’s a “my my, how things have changed” joke to be made, but that seems too easy.)

The workmen were under the oversight of Jahath and Obadiah, who were Levites. Meanwhile, all the musically-inclined Levites were in charge of overseeing the burden bearers. Others acted as scribes, officials, and gatekeepers.

The Book of Law

In Kings, the circumstances of finding the Book aren’t really explained. He just sort of casually brings up that, oh, by the way, he’s found this ancient book written by Moses. Here, however, the narrative is much more fluid – interesting, given that the finding of the Book seems to have been so much more narratively important and pivotal for the author of Kings, and yet…

According to the Chronicler, the Book was found in a storeroom as they were bringing out the money for the Temple repairs.

Of course, we don’t actually know what the Book is. We are told that it was written by Moses, suggesting that it may have been something from the Pentateuch. Given clues from Kings, the Book is often understood to have been a proto form of our book of Deuteronomy (and some commentaries go so far as to narrow it down to an early form of Deut. 12-16).

Conveniently, neither Kings nor Chronicles gives us any more information about it, such as when it was supposed to have been lost. Some commentaries argue that it may have been hidden away by the priests during Manasseh’s purges in 2 Kgs 21:16.

More likely, however, I think that the Book was commissioned or composed by either Josiah or Hilkiah (or both), as both would have had plenty of reason to do so. If the Book really is an early form of Deuteronomy, then the emphasis on the Jerusalem cult and the Temple may have been an attempt to hold on to power in rocky times. Given that Josiah’s predecessor was assassinated, we know that there must have been some amount of instability. And binding the worship of YHWH to the Temple would certainly have served the Temple priesthood (under Hilkiah’s authority) quite well.

But back to the story, both versions have Hilkiah tell Shaphan about the Book, and it is Shaphan who brings it to Josiah while making his report on the Temple’s repairs.

When Shaphan reads the Book out to Josiah, Josiah tears his clothes in grief and fear that God’s commands haven’t been followed. But just in case there’s been a mistake, he sends Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Abdon son of Micah (who is called Achbor son of Micaiah in 2 Kgs 22:12), Shaphan, and Asaiah the king’s servant to consult with God.

Hilkiah & co. go to Huldah the prophetess, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tokhath son of Hasrah (called Shallum son of Tikvah son of Harhas in 2 Kds 22:14), the keeper of the wardrobe.

For reasons that should be obvious, Huldah is an important figure for feminist scholars. Like Deborah and Miriam, she is a woman who was seen to have the authority to speak with God and on his behalf. Unfortunately, her prophecy also happens to be wrong.

Huldah tells Josiah’s servants that yes, God is really angry that Judah hasn’t been following his laws, and yes, he does intended to destroy them all. However, because Josiah has repented (which he has only done because he happened to have found the Book, which hardly seems fair to the rest of the nation), he will go to his grave in peace and won’t have to witness the coming evil.

Which, if we want to be really generous, can technically be considered correct, as he will die at the hands of the Egyptians, not the coming evil of Babylon. Also, since Josiah will be joining a battle between two other nations, neither of whom are at war directly with Judah, we can also argue that he will technically be going to his grave in a time of peace, even if he does so because of a fatal battle wound.

Josiah gathers up the leadership of Judah and assembles the congregation at the Temple. In the list of people gathered, 2 Chron. 34:30 replaces the “prophets” from 2 Kgs 23:2 with “Levites”. It’s an interesting choice. I could see him adding Levites, since he adds Levites all over the place, but why remove the prophets?

Two verses later, in 2 Chron. 34:32, he writes that Josiah makes “all who were present in Jerusalem and in Benjamin stand to [the book].” Why mention Benjamin specifically, but not Judah? It’s an odd detail.

In any case, once the people are assembled, Josiah reads the Book out to them and makes a renewed covenant.

On the importance of the Book of Law, Collins writes:

The long-term effects of the reform were more profound than anyone could have anticipated in 621 B.C.E. Less than a generation later, Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed and the leading citizens were taken into exile in Babylon. The exiles in Babylon had to live without their temple, but they had “the book of the law,” which acquired new importance in this setting. Henceforth, Judaism would be to a great degree a religion of the book. Study of the law would take the place of sacrifice. The synagogue would gradually emerge as the place of worship, first for Jews outside the land of Israel, later even within Israel itself. These changes took place gradually, over centuries, but they had their origin in the Deuteronomic reform, which put a book at the center of religious observance for the first time. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.91)

Josiah’s Passover

In Kings, Josiah’s Passover is a really big deal. Here, however, it comes only a few short chapters after an extraordinarily similar Passover hosted under Hezekiah, and the effect is rather diluted.

Iosias sepultus in mausoleum patrum, by Salvador Dali, 1967

Iosias sepultus in mausoleum patrum, by Salvador Dali, 1967

In both accounts, we are told that “no passover like it had been kept in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet; none of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as was kept by Josiah” (2 Chron. 35:18, with a very similar passage in 2 Kgs 23:22-23). This is, of course, a problem because of Hezekiah, so why did the Chronicler keep the statement unmodified?

James Bradford Pate allows the possibility that it could have been an error, a careless copying of Kings, but points out the fact that the verse is not copied word-for-word (Kings says that a Passover of this kind had not been seen since the times of the judges, rather than the days of Samuel). It’s had to see what the Chronicler’s point was. 

I’ve seen some commentaries claim that Josiah may have invented the Passover as part of his reforms. Personally, I find that unlikely. It seems more probably that it was a local ceremony that Josiah brought to the national stage.

Tremendous quantities of lambs and bulls are slaughtered for the ceremony. Interestingly, they seem to have been offered as gifts, with Josiah giving the sacrificial animals to the common people, the princes giving them to the people and to the priests and Levites, the head honchoes of the Temple (Hilkiah, Zechariah, and Jehiel) giving them to the priests, and the Levite leadership giving them to the Levites. It’s unclear whether anyone had to bring sacrifices of their own to this “first” Passover, but it seems unlikely given the numbers involved.

Interestingly, though the Passover is so important to Kings, the author skips over it fairly quickly – giving us the whole account in 2 Kgs 23:21-23. Here, however, the Chronicler expands the narrative to describe the celebration itself, perhaps providing a model for the ceremony’s reinstatement in his own time.

The Chronicler describes the mass-splashings of blood, the flaying of carcases, and of course all priests and Levites stand around according to their divisions, as they always seem to be doing in Chronicles.

The Levites cook up the animals and distribute them out to the people. They also cook for themselves and for the priests, who were too busy slaughtering to cook for themselves.

Asking the important questions, Brant Clements wonders whether the Passover lambs were roasted or boiled: “The translations mostly say “roasted” though the Hebrew literally says “boiled with fire.” Exodus 12:8-9 said the lamb should be roasted. Deuteronomy 16:7 said boil it.” He recommends grilled and served with mint jelly, and I can’t help but agree.

When the Passover was over, they celebrated the feast of the unleaven bread for seven days.

During this time, Josiah told the Levites who were teaching around Israel and who had remained holy to God to return to the Temple (an offer they refuse in 2 Kgs 23:9). He also instructs them to return the ark to the Temple – a detail omitted by Kings. Josiah tells them that they needed carry the ark on their shoulders any more, so they can make themselves useful around the Temple.

And if you’re wondering why the ark wasn’t already in the Temple in the first place, so am I! Was it taken into hiding during Manasseh’s religious purge? The New Bible Commentary likes the idea that it might have been removed from the Temple temporarily for repairs (p.393), though I don’t see how that can be taken from the text. It also proposes that the text should read: “From the time that they placed the holy ark in the house which Solomon… [sic] built, you have had nothing to carry on your shoulders, so now serve the Lord your God and his people Israel” – which would no longer indicate that the ark was not in the Temple, but merely allude to how useless the Levites have been since they had charge of it.

My thinking is that the reference to the ark here may be an error, confusing it with the tabernacle that was left with Zadok at Gibeon in 1 Chron. 16:39-40. It could also be something entirely separate, another tribal ark that was in use in a local cult that Josiah was trying to consolidate with the national religion.

Fighting Egyptians

King Neco of Egypt – who is likely Neco II and for some reason not referred to as Pharaoh as he is in 2 Kgs 23 – went to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates. According to Wikipedia, the Egyptians were fighting against the Babylonians, in aid of their allies, the Assyrians. This may be significant if the New Bible Commentary‘s assertion that Josiah’s religious reforms may have been an opportunistic expression of independence from Assyrian control. It would certainly give us Josiah’s motive for getting involved.

According to my study Bible, Assyria had mostly fallen to Medes and Chaldea, and everyone in the area seemed to be taking advantage of its weakness. Certainly, the Assyria Wikipedia page describes something that might properly be called a ‘pile on’.

In 2 Kgs 23, he merely rushes in and his killed. The Chronicler, however, has Neco send Josiah an envoy, asking him why he is coming to fight when the conflict is none of his business. The Chronicler goes even further, having Neco say: “God has commanded me to make haste. Cease opposing God, who is with me, lest he destroy you” (2 Chron. 35:21).

So that’s a pretty big bomb to drop – why is God with the Egyptians? Why is God sending the Egyptians out to fight Babylonians? Why does Josiah go anyway, disguising himself to do so? Why did he “not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God” (2 Chron. 35:22)?

One possibility requires us to look ahead a bit, as the Babylonians will be the ones who destroy the Temple and take the Israelites into exile. Are we to infer, then, that God was sending Egypt up to hold the Babylonian’s back, to weaken them and prevent them from becoming the superpower they would soon become, in an attempt to spare Jerusalem? But then Josiah interfered and ruined the plan?

Or could it be as simple as the Chronicler trying to bend history into his ideology? The Chronicler has been clear throughout that obedience earns reward and disobedience earns punishment. This is never more clear than when it comes to battles, where Judah’s enemies are beaten by supernatural means, despite overwhelming numbers, again and again. To have Josiah simply fall in battle is too problematic, it doesn’t fit, therefore he must have done something for God not to be on his side. He had to disobey God in the end.

And for that, he was struck by archers and fatally wounded. His servants took him from his chariot and brought him to Jerusalem. The implication of 2 Chron. 35:23-24 is that he then died in Jerusalem, though 2 Kgs 23:29-30 seems to imply that it was his corpse that was brought home. That’s a fairly trivial detail, though, and both passages are rather open to interpretation.

When he died, Josiah was buried in the tomb of his fathers (as good kings are), and he was mourned by all of Judah and Jerusalem. Jeremiah uttered a lament for him (though the prophet isn’t mentioned in Kings), and singers have spoken of Josiah in their laments to this day.

In all, Josiah ruled for 31 years. For the rest of his acts, the Chronicler sends us to the Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah. As with the rest of our recent kings, the Chronicler has failed to mention his mother’s name, though 2 Kgs 22:1 gives it as Jedidah, daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath.

2 Chronicles 33: Manasseh the Repentant

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The Chronicler agrees with the general impression of Manasseh and his son Amon given to us in 2 Kings 21, though there are some rather significant differences between the two accounts.

We begin when Manasseh is raised to the throne at the age of twelve. 1 Kgs 21:1 tells us that his mother’s name was Hephzibah – a detail that the Chronicler omits. Unless I am mistaken, this is the first time that the Chronicler doesn’t give us a queen mother’s name that is found in Kings (both sources neglected Ahaz’s mother). It could have been an error, but there’s always the intriguing possibility that it was an intentional choice, and the fun speculation about why that might have been. The fact that Manasseh was only 12, and therefore likely under the control of a regent for several years, offers up a few possibilities.

But whether on his own or shared at times, Manasseh managed to rule for 55 years, though neither source thinks those were very good ones.

Manasseh, you see, doesn’t seem to have been quite on board with the whole YHWH cult thing. All of Hezekiah’s hard work is undone as Manasseh goes around building altars to Baals and making Asherahs (though both appear in the singular in 2 Kgs 21:3, but the pluralization definitely makes it sound worse!), and worshipping “all the host of heaven” (2 Chron. 33:3). From what I can find, it seems that the host of heaven either refers to God’s heavenly court (perhaps angels, perhaps other gods, perhaps a non-unified Trinity if that’s your bent) or to celestial bodies. Though I don’t suppose the two are mutually exclusive.

Manasseh also burned his sons in offering in the valley of the son of Hinnom. You’ll remember this as the same place where Ahaz sacrificed his own sons in 2 Chron. 28:3. The location is identified with child sacrifice elsewhere, such as 2 Kgs 23:10, where Josiah defiles the area so that no one would sacrifice their children to Molech there any more. Wikipedia identifies Gehenna as the Aramaic version of the name, and argues that the association with the cult of Molech led to the name being used figuratively to refer to hell (or a hell-like concept). However, 2 Kgs 21:6 only has Manasseh sacrifice a single son, and the location of the ritual is not indicated. So either the Chronicler was working with another source, or he placed Manasseh’s rituals in the valley of Hinnom because of the place’s reputation.

Manasseh practised soothsaying and augury and sorcery, and he dealt with wizards and mediums.

He also added several altars, dedicated to the host of heaven, and an idol to the Temple. In 2 Kgs 21:7, the idol is specified as a “carved image of Asherah,” while the Chronicler doesn’t indicate that the idol was for any god other than YHWH. While he doesn’t specify that the idol was of God, it seems like he would tell us if it wasn’t.

Under Manasseh’s seduction, the people of Judah were led to evil beyond even what the Canaanites had managed.

Predictably, God wasn’t particularly pleased.

Bringing Manasseh Around

The Chronicler tells us that God tried to speak to Manasseh and his people, but they didn’t listen. Strangely, he doesn’t bother to give us God’s words, nor does he tell us – as Kings does – that they were relayed through prophets. 2 Kgs 21:10-15, on the other hand, gives us God’s lengthy curse so terrible that it is sure to induce ear tingles in anyone who hears it.

I’m often confused by the details that the Chronicler chooses to leave out – in this case cutting what has been presented as God’s own words. I suppose he felt that his audience would already be familiar with them from other sources, but it just seems so… odd.

Having gone unheard, God reached for the next best thing: the Assyrian army.

I found it interesting that the Chronicler frames the arrival of the Assyrians as a punishment, even though the same thing happened to Hezekiah. It reminds me a bit of the modern “personal Jesus” who punishes the people I don’t like by making them lose their keys, but rewards me for faithfulness by helping me find mine.

Manasseh taken captive, by Bernard Picart and Louis Surugue, 1728

Manasseh taken captive, by Bernard Picart and Louis Surugue, 1728

Though I suppose the attack got a little more serious this time, as Manasseh himself was taken to Babylon in fetters. His captivity earns no mention in Kings. That said, my study Bible tells me that Manasseh’s name does appear in an inscription as “a vassal of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal, sometimes under suspicion. Thus the Babylonian captivity of Manasseh is historically possible.”

James Bradford Pate argues that there may be some evidence that Assyrians released captive monarches who “repented” by submitting to their authority. From there, Pate raises the possibility that Manasseh’s subsequent building projects (which we will get to shortly) had more to do with protecting Assyria’s southern border from the Egyptians than strengthening Judah.

As for why the Assyrians would take Manasseh to Babylon rather than to an Assyrian city, I have no answers. Pate offers a possible solution, but I lack the knowledge base to tackle the question.

In any case, the Chronicler writes that it is in Babylon that Manasseh finally cried out to God and humbled himself, and it is for this reason that he was sent back to Jerusalem. Once home, he set to work trying to undo the damage he had done, taking down the altars to foreign gods and the idol from the Temple and tossing them outside the city (though, it’s worth noting, no destroying them, and no mention is made of Kidron – the place where all idols go to die).

He also restored God’s own altar and made some sacrifices and commanded the people of Judah to worship God. Unfortunately, it was too late, and the people of Judah are not easily unseduced. Though the Chronicler does note that they at least only worshipped God, even if they did so at the high places.

Manasseh’s repentance isn’t found in Kings, and the Chronicler doesn’t mention Manasseh’s slaughter of the innocents (presumed by many commentaries to be the faithful followers of God) from 2 Kgs 21:16. The New Bible Commentary argues that Manasseh’s repentance might have occurred very late in his reign, which would make his reforms “too little, too late” for Kings to bother mentioning (p.392). Other commentaries argue that Kings focused on the harm done by the kings leading up to Josiah to better emphasize the saviour aspect of the boy-king, whereas the Chronicler perhaps had reason to soften the rough edges of the Davidic dynasty as he was trying to argue for its desirable return. Another possibility, of course, is that Manasseh was a complex and sometimes contradictory person, as are we all, and that his life was compressed and contorted by different authors to fit their own two-dimensional image of him.

Other than that, Manasseh seems to have set himself to working on Judah’s defences: building up a a very tall outer wall around the city of David, and appointing commanders in all the fortified cities of Judah. As in other places, the Chronicler adds unique passages detailing construction projects that are not found in Kings. The obvious explanation for this is that he had access to a source that lists the building works of each king, though I can’t help but wonder if he had a purpose for these details.

For the rest of the acts of Manasseh, including his prayer to “his God” (2 Chron. 33:18 – not the emphasis on possession, which underscores Manasseh’s repentance), as well as the words of the seers who spoke to him in the name of God, the Chronicler sends us to the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. But for information on his prayer and how God received it, as well as a list of all his sins and the sites on which he built high places and Asherim before he humbled himself, the Chronicler asks us to consult the Chronicles of the Seers.

When Manasseh dies, he is buried in his own home, as is proper for a king who wasn’t terribly berries. However, the Chronicler’s Shadow Council of Burial actually agrees with Kings for once, as 2 Kgs 21:18 puts the king’s corpse in the garden of his house.

Enter Amon

After his death, Manasseh was succeeded by his son, Amon. As was the case with Manasseh, Amon’s queen mother is skipped over (2 Kgs 21:19 gives us Meshullemeth as her name). Also as was the case with his father, Amon was just awful, though the Chronicler doesn’t explain why he failed to listen to Manasseh’s conversion.

Amon’s reign began when he was 22 years old, and lasted for a mere two years. In this time, he made sacrifices to all the idols Manasseh had made, and he failed to humble himself the way his father had.

In the end, Amon was murdered by his own servants, in his own house. In retaliation, his subjects killed the conspirators, and they made Josiah, Amon’s son, king.

Interestingly, the Chronicler fails to tell us where Amon was buried, though 2 Kgs 21:26 puts him in the garden with his father.

2 Chronicles 32: Hezekiah’s Better Side

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Hezekiah’s Passover, which gets no mention in Kings, took up three chapters. That leaves us with only a single chapter to cover all of the content from 2 Kgs 18-20. It goes without saying that the story ends up a wee bit abbreviated. And since the Chronicler seems to have decided that the Hezekiah is a stand up kinda guy, that abbreviation frequently ends up making him look better.

We begin with the Assyrian assault on Judah, though it’s introduced rather awkwardly: “After these things and these acts of faithfulness [referring to the Passover and religious revival] Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah” (2 Chron. 32:1). With all the ado made in our readings so far about faithfulness keeping enemies at bay, I found this first – as it is constructed – rather striking.

Of course, the Chronicler does try to soften the blow when he has Sennacherib only lay siege on Judah’s cities in the hope of taking them, whereas he succeeds in taking them in 2 Kgs 18:13.

Hezekiah meets with his officers to form their strategy, and they decide to focus on defence. So they stop up the water coming to Jerusalem from springs outside the city, making an extended siege more difficult for the Assyrians. Though not mentioned until 2 Chron. 32:30, tradition and 2 Kgs 20:20 credit Hezekiah with the construction of the Siloam tunnel, which would have been a far more defensible means of getting water into the city.

He also built up the city’s defensive structures, as well as a stockpile of weapons and shields. And while he really should have done so earlier, he at least took the time now to appoint commanders for his armies.

In discussing these preparations, James Bradford Pate noted that the Chronicler seems to generally approve of building up Judah’s strength for defence or conquest, but only so long as it doesn’t involve other nations. Hiring mercenaries or forming alliances always seems to earn a punishment, ostensibly because it displays a lack of trust in God to provide protection and victory. Yet, Pate points out, aren’t Hezekiah’s preparations essentially the same thing?

For Pate, a difference is that involving other nations might lead to compromise. I would add that alliances, such as the one Kings describes between Hezekiah and Egypt, probably weren’t founded on friendship between two equal parties. In a case like that, it’s doubtful that Egypt would have needed Judah’s aid so much as Judah needed Egypt’s. That kind of arrangement, though called an alliance, might well have been something more like a vassal agreement, and therefore a show of weakness as far as the Chronicler was concerned.

Building up Judah’s own strength is the opposite of that – it is increasing strength. If the Chronicler were to wear a trucker hat, it would likely read, “Make Judah great again!”

All of these preparations are in marked contrast to 2 Kgs 18, where Hezekiah’s response to Sennacherib’s advances is to capitulate immediately. He asks Sennacherib for a price, then pays it by stripping the Temple. (Though, ultimately, the gesture appears to have been futile, as both Hezekiah’s still end up with the Assyrians at Jerusalem’s walls.)

Back to Chronicles, Hezekiah gathers all of his commanders together in the square by the city gate. Though gathering the nation’s entire leadership structure together in a confined space may not seem like a particularly inspired plan, it does allow Hezekiah to give them all a nice little pep talk about how the Assyrians are nothing to be concerned about, “for there is one greater with us than with [Sennacherib]” (2 Chron. 32:7).

The Siege

During all this, Sennacherib was busy besieging Lachish with his entire force. Unable to make it to Jerusalem himself, he sent some servants to tell the people of the city that Hezekiah was misleading them, condemning them to die by famine and thirst.

The Death of Sennacherib, by an unknown Italian master, c.1300

The Death of Sennacherib, by an unknown Italian master, c.1300

Shouting in the language of Judah so that the people inside the city could hear and understand, the Assyrians ask how Hezekiah can claim that God will stand by them when he has been dismantling so many of God’s altars. We may take this either as further evidence of the YHWH cult’s evolution, or as evidence of Sennacherib’s own ignorance of the Jerusalem religion.

The messengers go on to boast of Sennacherib’s many conquests, and of the many gods who have so been unable to protect their peoples against him: “No god of any nation or kingdom has been able to deliver his people from my hand or from the hand of my fathers” (2 Chron. 32:15).

This all plays out somewhat differently in 2 Kgs 18, where representatives of Hezekiah go out to meet Sennacherib’s messengers and implore them to speak Aramaic so that the denizens of Jerusalem won’t understand their taunts (they, of course, refuse). In that account, the Assyrians make similar accusations about Hezekiah destroying God’s shrines, but also add that Egypt won’t be able to save Jerusalem either. The Chronicler makes no mention of Hezekia’s alliance with Egypt.

2 Chron. 32:20 has Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz praying and crying out to heaven, but leaves out all the detail (including Isaiah’s prophecy) from 2 Kgs 19:14-34.

In both accounts, God sends an angel to slaughter Sennacherib’s army, though 2 Kgs 19:35 has the angel kill 185,000 soldiers, apparently indiscriminatingly, while 2 Chron. 32:21 mentions no number and targets the commanders and “mighty warriors.” In both cases, the result is the same: the Assyrian army is forced to retreat in shame.

When Sennacherib, back in his own homeland, enters the temple of his god, he is murdered by his own sons. The Chronicler’s language (or, perhaps, his translators’) suggests that this occurred as soon as he returned from the failed conquest of Judah, and perhaps because of it (to ask for forgiveness, or perhaps to express anger at having been let down). 2 Kgs 19:36-37, however, do not seem to connect the circumstances of Sennacherib’s death to Judah.

If there really were bodies left on the field after the Assyrian retreat, I would imagine that these accounts exaggerate the damage that the defending army had been able to do to the invading army, and that Sennacherib’s sudden retreat likely had more to do with pressing matters at home (as his eventual fate suggests).

However victory was achieved, the Chronicler tells us that Hezekiah was exalted in the sight of all nations for it, and received many gifts and tributes.

In Closing

The story of Hezekiah’s illness and Isaiah’s use of a festively appropriate figgy pudding in 2 Kgs 20:1-11 is almost entirely glanced over. All we get is a little mention of Hezekiah being ill, God answering his prayers, and Hezekiah not appreciating it because he was too proud (2 Chron. 32:25).

This caused wrath to come down on both him and Judah, but Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem humbled themselves, and God stayed his hand. Hezekiah was therefore able to continue accumulating his wealth.

The Chronicler briefly mentions envoys from Babylon who come to Hezekiah, but tells us only that God kept mum to see what Hezekiah would do. This would be a very strange detail without the context from 2 Kgs 20:12-19, where Hezekiah shows off his wealth to the Babylonians. He is then rebuked by Isaiah, who tells him that all the nice stuff he’s shown them will one day be taken – along with the people of Judah – off to Babylon. Hezekiah treats this as good news because it means that it won’t happen during his own lifetime.

And thus our section on Hezekiah comes to a close. For more information, the Chronicler sends us to the writings of Isaiah the Prophet in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel.

The council of funerary technicians apparently approved of Hezekiah, for he was buried among his fathers, and all of Judah and Jerusalem did him honours. He was succeeded by his son, Manasseh.

2 Chronicles 29-31: Dedicated and Dedicating

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Sorry for the lateness! But at least my tardiness is thematically relevant! 

We now move into Hezekiah, who is one of the greats. He gets a lot of page space, too, with three chapters in 2 Kgs 18-20 and four chapters in 2 Chron. 29-32. But for all that, the breadth is really missing. Essentially, Hezekiah whips up a religious revival, but, like so many of his predecessors, he fell short at the very end.

We begin with Hezekiah’s record entry: He was 25 years old when his reign began, and he ruled for 29 years. His mother’s name was Abijah, daughter of Zechariah.

On the first day of the first month of the first year of his reign, Hezekiah decided to purify the Temple. This needs a bit of unpacking, because while it’s certainly possible that it truly refers to the first day of Hezekiah’s reign, it seems like rather incredible timing in light of 2 Chron. 30:1, where Hezekiah postpones the Passover celebration for a month. Passover is normally held in Nissan, the first month, meaning that Hezekiah would have had to just happen to start his first day on our equivalent of January 1. This seems lie rather too unlikely, so I think it’s reasonable to assume that the author means that Hezekiah started his focus on the Temple on the first day of his first full year.

Which gives us a new question: Why would Hezekiah wait before turning his attention to the Temple – especially when it will mean not being ready in time for Passover and having to delay the celebration. One possibility is that the new year, as a new beginning, was just too symbolically resonant to pass up even if it meant delaying the Passover. Another has to do with the Chronicler’s own motives. I’ll discuss this in more detail later, but there may be a theme of lateness in Chronicles that, perhaps, relates to the rebuilding of the cultic structure.

In any case, Hezekiah reopened the Temple and began purging it of inappropriate cultic items on the first day of the first year of his reign – whatever that happens to mean.

Not to get too nitpicky, but the detail about reopening the doors of the Temple is in line with 2 Chron. 28:24, where Ahaz closed the Temple’s doors, but does not align with 2 Kgs 16:10-16, where it’s apparent that Ahaz continued the use of the Temple for worship. The New Bible Commentary harmonizes this by arguing that the author would not have considered the worship of foreign gods as real worship (p.391), making the closing of the doors a symbolic description (or perhaps it was the inner sanctuary doors that were literally closed).

Hezekiah then gathered up the priests and Levites and, in keeping with the idea of a fresh start, told them all to sanctify first themselves, then the Temple. He gives his reasoning for this in a speech about how their parents had forsaken God, and this is why their fathers have fallen to swords and their sons, daughters, and wives have been taken into captivity.

If this sounds a bit like a post-exilic formula to you, I would agree. That said, 2 Chron. 28 does feature an awful lot of warfare and taking into captivity.

The priests and Levites got to work under the leadership of:

  • Kohathites: Mahath son of Amasai, and Joel son of Azariah;
  • Merarites: Kish son of Abdi, and Azariah son of Jehallelel;
  • Gershonites: Joah son of Zimmah, and Eden son of Joah;
  • Of the sons of Elizaphan: Shimri and Jeuel;
  • Of the sons of Asaph: Zechariah and Mattaniah;
  • Of the sons of Heman: Jehuel and Shimei;
  • Of the sons of Jeduthun: Shemaiah and Uzziel.

Together, on the 8th day of the month, they brought all the uncleanness that had gathered in the Temple, though the Chronicler doesn’t mention Moses’s Nehushtan (2 Kgs 18:4). All the refuse is brought out to the brook of Kidron – Kidron being the favoured place for idol disposal (as we saw in places like 1 Kgs 15:13, 2 Kgs 23:4-6, and 2 Chron. 15:16).

The sanctification process takes eight days, ending on the 16th of the month. When they tell Hezekiah that they are done, he gathers up the Jerusalem city officials to make a big sacrifice and splash lots of blood around. Hezekiah then stations Levitical musicians in the Temple to sing the words of David and of Asaph the seer.

The Passover Celebration

It took a while to get the Temple (and its officiants) up to snuff, so Hezekiah conferred with the “princes” (likely meaning the people of his court with social clout, rather than his own sons) and they decided to postpone the Passover until the second month. The measure was necessary because the priests still hadn’t finished sanctifying themselves, and the people hadn’t had a chance to make it to Jerusalem.

Brant Clements, of Both Saint and Cynic, points out that the idea of celebrating a belated Passover when either travelling or purity requirements can’t be met on time can find precedent in Num. 9:9-11.

In discussing the possibility that Hezekia’s Passover might be a fabrication, James Bradford Pate brings up the idea that the Chronicler wouldn’t invent such a messy, chaotic, and delayed celebration. However, Pate cites 2 Chron. 24:5-6 as another example of delay, and proposes that perhaps there is a purposeful theme to be found. Specifically, Pate ties it to the post-exilic “lateness”, both forgiving the lateness itself and “exhorting the post-exilic Jews to get on the ball.” Sort of a “better late than never” message.

From the 'Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum', by Guillaume Rouille

From the ‘Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum’, by Guillaume Rouille

The reason that the historicity of Hezekiah’s Passover is that it isn’t found in 2 Kings, and Josiah’s proclamation in 2 Kgs 23:21-23 certainly seems to indicate that, if there had been a grand Passover in Hezekiah’s time, Josiah wasn’t aware of it. Turning back to Pate, he presents the argument that the author of Kings was trying to be literary – he wanted to highlight Josiah, and mentioning a similar Passover in the context of Hezekiah would have diluted that story. So the absence of the Passover in 2 Kings doesn’t necessarily indicate that Hezekiah’s Passover is a fabrication.

At this point the story is a bit muddled, and there may be some time-skipping. There could have been multiple sacrifice events, but I’m picking a chronology and sticking with it. However, I am noting that the text isn’t nearly as clear.

Hezekiah sends invitations out to all of Judah, as well as all of Israel, encouraging everyone “from Beer-sheba to Dan” (2 Chron. 30:5) to attend the Passover in Jerusalem. The language here mimics the language of the unified nation – both pre-monarchy and unified. The use of the phrase “from Beer-sheba to Dan” serves to underscore the point, as it’s a phrase we’ve seen quite a bit before when referring to the nation as a whole (see, for example, Judges 20:1, 1 Sam. 3:20, 2 Sam. 3:10, 2 Sam. 17:11, 1 Kgs 4:25). My Study Bible calls Hezekiah’s invitation a “prophetic hope of the return of the northern tribes to their former loyalty to Jerusalem”, and compares it to Ezek. 37:15-23.

The invitation explains that the Passover hasn’t been properly kept, and the people need to do better. But if they come now and are good, then their children and brethren’s captors will show compassion, and perhaps allow them to return home.

It really is hard not to see some post-exilic sentiments creeping in here.

Incidentally, John Collins writes in A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible that there is “a famous letter from Elephantine in Egypt in the late fifth century B.C.E. regarding the observance of the Passover, but letters are anachronistic in the time of Hezekiah, some 300 years earlier” (p.233).

Unfortunately, most of the people just laughed at Hezekiah’s couriers. Only a few men of Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun came out to Jerusalem. I think it’s reasonable to conclude that we have some anti-Samarianism cropping in here. But also, my New Bible Commentary points out that the fact that “Hezekiah’s messengers went only as far as Zebulun suggests that in the far north of Galilee the Israelite elements had already disappeared” (p.392). Turning back to Collins, he notes that the “fact that emissaries are sent to Ephraim and Manasseh presupposes that the northern kingdom of Israel is no more. Yet, amazingly, the Chronicler has not even mentioned the destruction of Samaria by the Assyrians” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.233).

Even so, the assembly in Jerusalem was quite impressive, and perhaps it was a good thing that so few Samarians showed up because the priests couldn’t keep up with all the sacrifices. Eventually, the Levites had to step in to fill the gaps, “for the Levites were more upright in heart than the priests in sanctifying themselves” (2 Chron. 29:34).

Many commentaries note the dig at non-Levitical priests, but more interesting is the idea that the priests are the ones doing all the slaughtering, causing the backlog problem. The New Bible Commentary, for example, notes that it should normally be the worshiper’s job to slaughter the offerings, so the issue shouldn’t really be an issue in the first place (p.392). I’m seeing verses like Ex. 12:3-6, Deut. 16:5-6, and Lev. 1:1-6 in support of this, though I personally found all those verses to be rather ambiguous.

Unfortunately, many of the people in the congregation (specifically many from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun) had failed to properly cleanse themselves, yet ate the Passover offerings anyway. Hezekiah addressed them in prayer, saying that God pardons all who seek them out, even if they aren’t doing it by the rules – sort of an Old Timey equivalent of “it’s the thought that counts” – a sentiment that quite surprised me but, in retrospect, makes a lot of sense in the post-exilic context, when the Chronicler must be absolutely frantic about just  getting the Israelites back “to the old ways,” even if they aren’t quite perfect about it.

Also worthy of note is, as Victor Matthews points out in Manners  Customs of the Bible, the way in which the king’s involvement in cultic practices has been diminishing as we make our way down the line:

While David was credited with establishing the temple priesthood (1 Chr 15:1-24), and Solomon was recognized as significantly reorganizing it (1 Kgs 2:35), the Levitical priesthood eventually disputed the idea of the king as both political and religious leader. Over time, the Levites gained more complete control of the sacrificial rituals; and the king, while still an advocate for the people with God, took a secondary role. For example, whereas Solomon functions in a priestly role by offering sacrifices, prayers, and blessings at the dedication of the temple (1 Kgs 8), generations later, Hezekiah offers only a brief prayer on behalf of the people, as the priests and Levites offer sacrifices during the reinstatement of the Passover (2 Chr 30:13-27). (p.130)

Still, Hezekiah’s prayer is seen as pivotal, and it is when God hears it that he heals the people (though, of course, it’s unclear what is actually meant by that – were there miraculous physical healings, or were the people spiritually healed?).

The feast of the unleavened bread lasted for seven days. At the end of this time, the people rushed out into all the cities of Judah and broke up the pillars, Asherim, high places, and altars they could find in the territories of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh, destroying them all before heading home.

Administration

The Passover over, Hezekiah turns his attention to appointing the divisions of the priests and Levites. The priests may have been taking control over the religious side of ancient Israelite life, but it’s clear that there was still a strong interplay between the secular and religious powers.

Hezekiah also provided the priests with regular offerings to make, and commanded the people living in Jerusalem to give the priests the portions they were due, “that they might give themselves to the law of the Lord” (2 Chron. 31:4) – which I interpreted to mean that the people of Jerusalem are to support the Temple so that the priests can focus their energies on God, rather than on subsistence.

It’s interesting that Hezekiah only tells the inhabitants of Jerusalem to give to the priests, whereas elsewhere the rules have been universal.

In any case, the people of Israel give abundantly anyway. So abundantly that special chambers had to be prepared in the Temple to store it all, and the person in charge of these donations was Conaniah the Levite (with his brother, Shimei, as his second-in-command). Conaniah was also assisted by Jehiel, Azaziah, Nahath, Asahel, Jerimoth, Jozabad, Eliel, Ismachiah, Mahath, and Benaiah, who had all been appointed by Hezekiah and the Temple’s chief officer, Azariah.

Kore son of Imnah, a Levite, was keeper of the east gate and was in charge of freewill offerings, as well as apportioning the contribution reserved for God. He was assisted by Eden, Miniamin, Jeshua, Shemaiah, Amariah, and Shecaniah, who distributed the donations out to the priests in their cities, according to their divisions.

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