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.

1 Chronicles 26-27: More Officials

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I mentioned in my last post that, while 1 Chron. 26 deals with more Temple-related positions, I was going to lump it in with the civic positions of 1 Chron. 27 for the sake of I-wanted-to-go-to-bed.

It’s a good thing, too, because there are parts of 1 Chron. 26 that gave me some trouble. I suspect that there’s been some textual garbling, or perhaps I’m just overtired (I write – though it won’t be posted for a month – as my son begins kindergarten, and adjusting to the new routine is taking its toll on everyone!).

In any case, on with post!

The Gatekeepers

We begin with the gatekeepers, whose gates will not be built for quite a while. Even if we accept that David did all of the planning work for the Temple, assembled all the materials, and then assigned the gatekeepers just before his death, 1 Kgs 9:10 tells us that the Temple still won’t be built until 20 years into Solomon’s reign. Given that we’ve already been told that David hasn’t bothered to count anyone under the age 20, the very youngest of the men he selects will be around 40 years old by the time any gates are around for them to keep. There’s a pretty good chance that many of these men will die before they ever see the job they’ve been assigned.

The chiefs of the army, by James Tissot

The chiefs of the army, by James Tissot

The only way to get around this is if we assume that David lived on for nearly two decades after he ceded his crown to Solomon. In which case, these assignments may have been given on his deathbed, perhaps as the Temple neared completion. Or perhaps the Chronicler is merely attributing to David what his sources (or the sources of his sources) had attributed to Solomon because he had a personal/theological/political reason to connect David directly to the origins of these positions. I’ll let Occam decide.

The leadership of the gatekeepers is held by a handful of families:

From among the Korahites, we get Meshelemiah son of Kore, who is descended from Asaph. He is joined by his sons: Zechariah (who upgraded from guarding the tent of meeting in 1 Chron. 9:21), Jediael, Zebadiah, Jathniel, Elam, Jehohanan, and Eliehoenai. Altogether, there are 18 members of his group.

In Obededom’s family, we get his sons: Shemaiah, Jehozabad, Joah, Sachar, Nethanel, Ammiel, Issachar, and Peullethai. Shemaiah’s sons, who were men of “great ability” (1 Chron. 26:6) were: Othni, Rephael, Obed, Elzabad, Elihi, and Semachiah. Altogether, there were 62 men in this from descended from Obededom (though he is described as being in a group of 68 in 1 Chron. 16:37-38 – albeit as ministers of the ark).

From Merari, we  have Hosah and his sons: Shimri (who becomes the leader of his household by his father’s decree, even though he wasn’t the firstborn), Hilkiah, Tebaliah, and Zechariah. Altogether, the sons and brethren of Hosah produce 13 members for the group.

There are a few familiar names here, such as Asaph and Obededom – both of whom are musicians. It seems that maybe the duties of gatekeeper and of musician were related in some way.

And speaking of Obededom, that name is definitely familiar. If this is the same person, we saw David entrusting the ark into his care for three months (1 Chron. 13:13-14), he – along with Jeiel – is listed as both a gatekeeper and a singer in 1 Chron. 15:18-21, then again as a musician (1 Chron. 16:5), and as a both musician and gatekeeper (1 Chron. 16:37-38). Clearly, the man was involved.

As with the other Temple staff, the gatekeepers are divided into groups. This time, however, each group is responsible for a different gate, rather than a different time of year:

  • The east gate group is led by Shelemiah, with 6 people working each day;
  • The north gate group is led by Shelemiah’s son, Zechariah (described as a “shrewd counsellor” in 1 Chron. 26:14), with 4 people working each day;
  • The south gate group is led by Obededom, with 4 people working each day;
  • The storehouse group is led by the sons of Obededom (all of them? do they rotate?), with 2 and 2 (presumably there were two doors) people working each day;
  • The west gate group is led by Shuppim and Hosah, with 4 people at the road each day, and 2 at the “parbar” (the meaning of which is apparently unknown).

This all presents us with two problems. The first is the math. If we look at each place where it mentions the number of gatekeepers, none of our numbers add up:

  • 93 is the total of members mentioned in each group above (1 Chron. 26:1-11);
  • 24 is the total of the people said to work each day at each gate;
  • 212 is the number of gatekeepers in 1 Chron. 9:22;
  • 4,000 is the number of Levites that David assigns as gatekeepers in 1 Chron. 23:5.

The closest I can rationalize is that the 24 is the number working each day, but each group actually has a four day rotation. This gives us a total of 96 members, which would be our 93 figure plus Meshelemiah, Obededom, and Hosah. We can further assume that these are leaders, specifically, and that they have around 4,000 men at their command. That still leaves out the 212 figure, but I’m afraid I’m at a loss for that one.

The second problem we have is that the gates haven’t been built yet. So how do we know that one of the gates is named Shallecheth (1 Chron. 26:16)? How can David (via the Chronicler) describe one of the gates as the one with the road? Just how detailed are David’s plans?

If we assume that the Chronicler is assigning to David the job of assigning these roles for some personal/political/theological purpose, where do the names actually come from? Are these the first gatekeepers assigned once the Temple was built? It’s all very confusing.

The Treasurers

The second half of 1 Chron. 26 is given to the treasurers. This portion is a little garbled, but the best I can figure it is this: Ahijah, a Levite, oversaw all the treasuries. Under him, we have the Temple treasuries (in the charge of Jehieli, Zetham, and Joel) and the treasuries of dedicated gifts (in the charge of Shelomoth).

While Jehieli is here described as the father of Zetham and Joel (1 Chron. 26:22), the three of them are brothers (sons of Ladan the Gershonite) in 1 Chron. 23:8.

There’s also something in there about someone named Shebuel, another Gershonite, who was in charge of the Amramites, Izharites, Hebronites, and Uzzielites, who all looked over the treasuries.

Shelomoth, who is in charge of the treasuries of dedicated gifts, is the son of Zichri, son of Joram, son of Jeshaiah, son of Rehabiah, son of Eliezer. These dedicated gifts would be the things that David and the other prominent leaders of Israel had dedicated, plus any spoils of battle, plus the things that Samuel, Saul, Abner son of Ner, and Joab son of Zeruiah had dedicated. (Though Samuel, Saul, Abner, and likely Joab all died long before the Temple was built, it’s quite possible that they would have dedicated stuff to the ark/tabernacle, and that these were transferred over to the Temple holdings once there was a Temple to transfer to.)

Other Officials

Chenaniah and his sons (of the Izharites) are appointed throughout Israel as officers and judges.

There are also a number of men who are appointed for vaguer duties, simply for “all the work of the Lord and for the service of the king” (1 Chron. 26:30), whatever that means. In the CisJordan, this falls to 1700 Hebronites, led by Hashabiah. In the TransJordan, there are 2700 men under the direction of Jerijah (the chief of the Hebronites).

Commanders

This category is a little fuzzier. It seems that these men are in charge of the army (though I see some commenters claiming that they were in charge of David’s bodyguard only, which makes the number terribly absurd). They are divided into 12 divisions, each serving for one month out of the year. This is the same system we saw for the priests in 1 Chron. 24:7-19, albeit serving for twice the length of time. A rotation system like this would allow the individuals to fulfil their civic duties, while still leaving them the time to look after their personal households.

The divisions are led by:

  1. Jashobeam son of Zabdiel (he is descended from Perez) – There is a Jashobeam, albeit the son of Hachmoni, who served as the chief of David’s Three (1 Chron. 11:11);
  2. Dodai the Ahohite – There is no Dodai among David’s mighty men, but there is an Eleazar, who is the son of Dodo the Ahohite in 1 Chron. 11:12;
  3. Benaiah son of Jehoiada (the priest) – He was one of David’s Thirty, and in charge of David’s bodyguard (1 Chron. 11:22-25). While he features a fair bit in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings, this is the first time it’s mentioned that his father was a priest. Referring to the story in 1 Kings 2 where Joab tries to hide from Solomon by clinging to the horns of the altar, James Bradford Pate wonders if “Solomon assign[ed] this task [to kill Joab] specifically to Benaiah because Benaiah was the son of priest and thus had a right to enter the sanctuary?”;
  4. Asahel, Joab’s brother, and his son Zebadiah after him – This fudges up our timeline a bit, since the text heavily implies that these divisions are set up in David’s old age, after he ceded his crown to Solomon (1 Chron. 23:1-2), but Asahel died in 2 Sam. 3, when David still ruled from Hebron (he wouldn’t become king of Israel until 2 Sam. 5). So when was Asahel able to run the fourth month?’
  5. Shamhuth the Izrahite (there is no match for Shamhuth, unless he is Shammoth of Harod, described as one of the “warriors of the armies” in 1 Chron. 11:26-47);
  6. Ira son of Ikkesh the Tekoite (another of the “warriors of the armies”);
  7. Helez the Pelonite, of the sons of Ephraim (another of the “warriors of the armies”);
  8. Sibbecai the Hushathite, of the Zerahites (another of the “warriors of the armies”);
  9. Abiezer of Anathoth, a Benjaminite (another of the “warriors of the armies”);
  10. Maharai of Netophah, of the Zerahites (another of the “warriors of the armies”);
  11. Benaiah of Pirathon, of the sons of Ephraim (another of the “warriors of the armies”);
  12. Heldai the Netophathite, of Othniel (the closest match is Heled son of Baanah of Netophah, who is one of the “warriors of the armies”).

The Tribal Chiefs

We turn now to what appears to be the results of David’s ill-fated census from 1 Chron. 21, the leaders of each tribe:

  1. Reuben: Eliezer son of Zichri;
  2. Simeon: Shephatiah son of Maacah;
  3. Levi: Hashabiah son of Kemuel;
  4. Aaron: Zadok;
  5. Judah: Elihu, described as one of David’s brothers (possibly Eliab from 1 Sam. 16:6 and 1 Chron. 2:13);
  6. Issachar: Omri son of Michael;
  7. Zebulun: Ishmaiah son of Obadiah;
  8. Nephtali: Jeremoth son of Azriel;
  9. Ephraim: Hoshea son of Azaziah;
  10. CisJordan half of Manasseh: Joel son of Pedaiah;
  11. TransJordan half of Manasseh: Iddo son of Zechariah;
  12. Benjamin: Jaasiel son of Abner;
  13. Dan: Azarel son of Jeroham.

There are a few interesting things going on here. The first, of course, is that both Gad and Asher are omitted. The second is that Aaron is listed as a separate tribe. I won’t even try to unpack that, but Paul Davidson does discuss the evolution of the tribes and how they are presented on his blog, Is that in the Bible?

We are reminded that David hadn’t bothered to count up the number of people under the age 20. We are also told that Joab had started counting, but didn’t finish (a reference to 1 Chron. 21:5-6, in which Joab chose not to count Levi and Benjamin in defiance of David). Even so, the counting still earned God’s wrath, and so it was never entered in the chronicles of King David. Except, of course, that numbers are given in both 1 Chron. 21:5-6 and 2 Sam. 24:9 (albeit wildly different numbers).

David’s Stewards

To finish up, we get the “miscellaneous other” category of civil positions:

  • Charge of the king’s treasuries: Azmaveth son of Adiel;
  • Charge of the national treasuries: Jonathan son of Uzzian;
  • Command over the field workers: Ezri son of Chelub;
  • Charge of the vineyards: Shimei the Rathmathite;
  • Charge of the wine cellars and the produce from the vineyards: Zabdi the Shiphmite;
  • Charge of the sycamore and olive trees in the Shephelah: Baalhanan the Gederite;
  • Charge of the stores of oil: Joash;
  • Charge of the herds that pasture in Sharon: Shitrai the Sharonite;
  • Charge of the herds in the valleys: Shaphat son of Adlei;
  • Charge of the camels: Obil the Ishmaelite;
  • Charge of the female donkeys: Jehdeiah the Meronothite (the male donkeys are, it seems, allowed to just run wild!);
  • Charge of the flocks: Jaziz the Higrite.

David’s sons are tutored by Jonathan, David’s uncle (who is described as a counsellor, a man of understanding, and a scribe), and Jehiel son of Hachmoni.

At first, the king’s counsellor is Ahithophel. He was then succeeded by Jehoiada son of Benaiah, and Abiathar. Elsewhere, the warrior Benaiah is described as the son of Jehoiada. It’s possible that this is the same Benaiah, and that he gave his son the same name as his father.

Joab, of course, commanded David’s army.

Finally, there’s Hushai the Archite, who is described as the “king’s friend” (1 Chron. 27:33), which has to be the saddest job title. Curious, I poked around to see what this is all about. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Hushai the King’s Friend. He appeared in 2 Sam. 15:32-37, described in the same terms. There, David sends him back into Jerusalem to spy on Absalom after he’s been forced into hiding, which he does in 2 Sam. 16:15-19. In 2 Sam. 17, Hushai is able to use his position at Absalom’s side to convince him not to hunt David down right away (giving Hushai time to warn David to flee).

As for the phrase itself, it’s clearly a title. In the roster of Solomon’s cabinet 1 Kgs 4:1-6, we find Zabud son of Nathan serving as Solomon’s king’s friend. But where did the title come from, and what did the position entail?

I’m finding several throwaway references to the title being Egyptian in origin, imported. But other sources claim that the Egyptian title refers to what is essentially a courtier class, a way of designating a group of people as those closest to the king, rather than a position that would, presumably, come with its own set of responsibilities. Obviously, I lack the expertise in all relevant fields to say which side has the right in this.

But I did find a hint that the title might possibly be Canaanite in origin. In Genesis 26:26, King Abimelech of Gerar comes to negotiate with Isaac. He is accompanied by two men: His advisor Ahuzath, and his army commander Phicol. Some translations, such as the KJV, give Ahuzath as Abimelech’s friend, rather than his advisor.

Of course, none of the commentaries I could lay my hands on gave any explanation of the different translation choices. Because why would they do something so helpful? In desperation, I thought to check a translation of the Septuagint, just to see what it says. Sure enough, Abimelech shows up to the meeting with Phichol, and with “Ochozath his friend”.

So my conclusion is that “King’s Friend” was definitely an official position, with its own responsibilities (possibly similar to that of advisor or confidant), and I’m tentatively assuming that it’s a Canaanite custom rather than an Egyptian one.

1 Chronicles 23-25: The Assignments

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I’ve decided to combine chapters 23-25, since they all have to do with David organizing the Temple duties. Technically, I should include chapter 26 as well, since it covers the same ground, but the post is going to be long enough as it is. So I will be lumping those duties in with the military and civil affairs of chapter 27 instead.

To introduce this section, the Chronicler situates it in David’s old age, when he has resigned from power and made Solomon king in his place. Clearly, he has trouble letting go, since here he is dictating all the civil and cultic duties. In fact, much of the following chapters has David scheduling shifts for a Temple that has not yet been built, that will be built after his death. The David of Chronicles has absolutely no faith in Solomon whatsoever.

In any case, he gathers the leaders of his son’s kingdom around him, both secular and religious, to deliver his orders.

The Levites

David begins by numbering the Levites. Now, I might think that David would be a little more hesitant to try that sort of thing again after what happened last time (see 1 Chron. 21), but what do I know?

In any case, he manages to find 38,000 Levites over the age of 30. This age agrees with Num. 4:3, where only men between the ages of 30 and 50 are eligible for Temple service. Things get a bit complicated later on, but we’ll deal with that in the appropriate spot.

Of the 38,000 Levites, David decrees that 24,000 of them will work in the Temple, 6,000 will serve as officers and judges, 4,000 will be gatekeepers, and 4,000 will be musicians.

And this is where things start to get a bit more complicated. There appear to be two lists of Levite chiefs, the first in 1 Chron. 23:7-23, and the second in 1 Chron. 24:20-31. The former is nearly organized into the descendants of Gershom, Kohath, and Merari (the sons of Levi). The latter seems to have attempted the same, but is a complete mess. I’m assuming its been corrupted, and while there are some overlapping names, there are plenty of differences.

In between the two lists, we are told that the priests Zadok and Ahimelech helped David to organize the priests. To me, this suggests that the first list (ch.23) is in the wrong spot. Perhaps an editor realized that the ch.24 list was hopelessly corrupted, and decided to provide a “clean” version, then unfortunately copy+pasted into the wrong spot. We’ve all been there.

The list in 1 Chron. 24:20-31 goes:

  • Shubael, son of Amram;
  • Jehdeiah, son of Shubael;
  • Isshiah, son of Rehabiah;
  • Shelomoth, of the Izharites;
  • Jahath, son of Shelomoth;
  • The sons of Hebron: Jeriah (their chief), Amariah, Jahaziel, and Jekameam;
  • Micah, son of Uzziel;
  • Shamir, son of Micah;
  • Isshiah, brother of Micah;
  • Zechariah, son of Isshiah;
  • Mahli and Mushi, the sons of Merari;
  • Beno, son of Jaaziah;
  • The sons of Merari: Jaaziah, Beno, Shoham, Zaccur, and Ibri;
  • Eleazar, son of Mahli (who had no sons);
  • Jerahmeel, son of Kish;
  • The sons of Mushi: Mahli, Eder, and Jerimoth.

In contrast, the list in 1 Chron. 23 goes:

Gershom

  • The sons of Gershom: Ladan (named Libni in 1 Chron. 6:17) and Shimei;
  • The sons of Ladan: Jehiel (their chief), Zetham, and Joel – in 1 Chron. 6:20, Libni’s son is named Jahath, who fathered Zimmah, who fathered Joah, names that are kinda sorta similar-ish to Jehiel, Zetham, and Joel;
  • The sons of Shimei: Shelomoth, Haziel, and Haran;
  • The additional sons of Shimei: Jahath (their chief), Zina, Jeush, and Beriah (neither Jeush nor Beriah had many sons, so their lineages were merged).

Kohath

  • The sons of Kohath: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel;
  • The sons of Amram: Aaron and Moses;
  • The sons of Moses: Gershom and Eliezer;
  • Shebuel, son of Gershom;
  • Rehabiah, son of Eliezer (the text notes that Rehabiah was Eliezer’s only son, but that he himself had many);
  • Shelomith, son of Izhar;
  • The sons of Hebron: Jeriah (their chief), Amariah, Jahaziel, and Jekameam;
  • The sons of Uzziel: Micah (their chief) and Isshiah.

Aaron’s lineage is presented out of order, sandwiched between the two lists of Levites. We are given only the list of his sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. We are reminded that Nadab and Abihu died young (as described in Leviticus 10), and that they had no children.

Merari

  • The sons of Merari: Mahli and Mushi;
  • The sons of Mahli: Eleazar and Kish (here, we are told that Eleazar died without sons, so that his daughters married the sons of Kish; In 1 Chron. 6:29, however, neither of these characters appear, and Mahli has only one son, Libni);
  • The sons of Mushi: Mahli, Eder, and Jeremoth.

Summarizing the list, 1 Chron. 23:24 tells us that these were all the descendants of Levi over the age of 20. Back at the beginning of the chapter, only the men over the age 30 were counted (1 Chron. 23:3). While the age of 30 corresponds with Num. 4:3, Num. 8:24 tells us instead that Levites over the age of 25 are to serve in the Temple. Clearly, there’s a discrepancy here in how old a Levite must be to get the job.

James Bradford Pate offers the suggestion that the work itself would begin at 30, but that training might start earlier.

Another possibility is that the age requirement was lowered over time, and that each number references a source written at a different point in Israel’s history. According to Pate: “Ezra 8:15-20 seems to indicate that post-exilic Israel had difficulty finding Levites; thus, it would make sense that requirements for Levitical service would become a bit looser at that time.” Another possibility is that David anticipated the Temple’s needs would be greater than the needs of the tabernacle, and lowered the age to accommodate the change.

Finishing off the chapter, we hear David’s rationale in ordering the Levites: They are no longer needed for the carrying of the tabernacle, and must thus be organized for their new duties in the Temple.

Assignments

Helping David to organize the other priests are Zadok (descended from Eleazar, son of Aaron) and Ahimelech (descended from Ithamar, Aaron’s other son).

The work is recorded by a scribe named Shemaiah, son of Nethanel – a Levite. According to my New Bible Commentary, “the stress is not so much on his being a Levite, but that he was not the royal scribe” (p.381). I’m not sure why this is important, except perhaps to show that the organizing of the priests was conducted by David, the individual, rather than the crown as a representation of secular authority. From what I’ve gathered, it seems that there was, historically, some tension between the secular and religious authorities, as both tried to use the other to their own ends.

We also learn that the work was witnessed by (perhaps with input from) the king, the secular leaders, Zadok, Ahimelech, and all the chief priests and Levites.

In the counting, it comes out that there are 16 households in Eleazar’s lineage, but only 8 in Ithamar’s lineage, totalling 24. These 24 households were then organized into numbered groups, which would take turns performing the Temple’s duties. The text doesn’t explain this system, apparently presuming pre-existing knowledge, but I gather that each group would serve for about two weeks a year. Such a system would allow the priests to maintain their own affairs, coming in only once a year (plus the big festivals) to tend the Temple. Further, since the lunar months don’t correspond perfectly to the solar year, the season in which each group is on duty would rotate, ensuring that one group isn’t always stuck with, say, service during a major harvest when it would be a pretty big imposition to be away from home.

The lots, in order, fell to the following chiefs:

  1. Jehoiarib;
  2. Jedaiah;
  3. Harim;
  4. Seorim;
  5. Malchijah;
  6. Mijamin;
  7. Hakkoz;
  8. Abijah;
  9. Jeshua;
  10. Shecaniah;
  11. Eliashib;
  12. Jakim;
  13. Huppah;
  14. Jeshebeab;
  15. Bilgah;
  16. Immer;
  17. Hezir;
  18. Happizzez;
  19. Pethahiah;
  20. Jehezkel;
  21. Jachin;
  22. Gamul;
  23. Delaiah;
  24. Maaziah.

Turn Up The Music

The Chronicler has several lists of musicians, including 1 Chron. 6:31-48, 1 Chron. 15:16-24, 1 Chron. 16:4-7 (which mentions only Asaph as the chief musical director), 1 Chron. 16:37-42 (in which Heman and Jeduthun appear together). It goes without saying that there are some pretty major discrepancies (perhaps referring to different points in time).

The main three lineages in charge of the music are the sons of Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun – who lead as well as father the other leaders among the musicians (and are explicitly placed under the control of the king). Jeduthun, while he appears in 1 Chron. 16:37-42, is elsewhere replaced with Ethan. The instruments they play are the harps, lyres, and cymbals.

The Choristers, by James Tissot, 1896-1900

The Choristers, by James Tissot, 1896-1900

The text makes the connection between music and prophesying explicit throughout this chapter, particularly 1 Chron. 25:1. That bears remembering, and is a delicious clue to the form of worship at the time.

The sons of Asaph are: Zaccur, Joseph, Nethaniah, and Asharelah.

The sons of Jeduthun are in charge of prophesying with lyres in the thanksgivings and praises to God. They are: Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Shimei, Hashabiah, and Mattithiah (the only one I’ve found identified among the lyre players in 1 Chron. 15:21). Incidentally, the text tells us that Jeduthun had six sons in all (1 Chron. 25:3), but the Masoretic Text lists only 5, omitting Shimei.

The sons of Heman are: Bukkiah, Mattaniah, Uzziel, Shebuel, Jerimoth, Hananiah, Hanani, Eliathah, Giddalti, Romamtiezer, Joshbekashah, Mallothi, Hothir, and Mahazioth.

There are few interesting things going on with Heman’s family. The first is that the names of his sons, from Hananiah to Mahazioth, seem to form a pattern. According to my New Bible Commentary, making it work requires “taking the consonantal text and occasionally dividing the words otherwise” (p.381). When this is done, the result is a phrase, which my study Bible translates as: “Be gracious, O Lord, be gracious to me; thou art my God, whom I magnify and exalt, my help when in trouble; I have fulfilled (or spoken), he has increased visions.”

If we assume that this is true and historical, it’s extremely interesting – certainly far more so than something as trite as theme-ing J names, as the Duggars have done. It’s certainly fitting for a man associated with music (and apparently, with the authorship of at least one Psalm – Ps. 88).

But it’s a rather long phrase, and it seems to put an awful lot of faith into being able to complete it. Well, why not? Heman is specifically identified as the king’s seer, and we are told that God had promised to exalt him (in the context of the number of children he had). Perhaps, given that the phrase doesn’t begin until his sixth child, we can deduce when he received this promise from God.

The other interesting thing going on with Heman is that we are told that he had 14 sons and 3 daughters, and that they “were all under the direction of their father in the music in the house of the Lord” (1 Chron. 25:6, emphasis mine). The implication seems to be that the daughters are included in this. In his post about the verse, Claude Mariottini points to other women associated with music, such as Miriam (Exodus 15), Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11:34), and the women who greet Saul with music (1 Sam. 18:6). This points to some really cool hints of the roles women were allowed to occupy, at least in the tribal period and early monarchy.

The total number of trained musicians is given as 288, compared to the 4,000 in 1 Chron. 23:5. This isn’t a discrepancy if the 288 number refers only to those “trained in singing” (1 Chron. 25:7), while the total number of musicians is actually 4,000.

As with the priests, the musicians are also divided into groups. These are, under Asaph:

  1. Joseph;
  2. Gedaliah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  3. Zaccur (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  4. Izri (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  5. Nethaniah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  6. Bukkiah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  7. Jesharelah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  8. Jeshaiah(and his 12 brethren and sons);
  9. Mattaniah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  10. Shimei (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  11. Azarel (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  12. Hashabiah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  13. Shubael (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  14. Mattithiah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  15. Jeremoth (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  16. Hananiah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  17. Joshbekashah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  18. Hanani (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  19. Mallothi (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  20. Eliathah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  21. Hothir (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  22. Giddalti (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  23. Mahazioth (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  24. Romamtiezer (and his 12 brethren and sons).

Assuming that Joseph is also accompanied by his 12 brethren and sons (he is the only one for whom this is not specified), and assuming that the leaders are not counted, this total comes out to 288.

Only those musicians under Asaph are listed. It’s possible, especially given the mention of Asaph as the leader of those who invoke God before the ark in 1 Chron. 16:4-7, that Asaph was in charge of the singers, while those under Jeduthun and Heman were charged with instruments only.

1 Chronicles 12: Like a magnet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other notable Benjaminites to join David include:

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

The Gadites

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Spirit Clothes Himself

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

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

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

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

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

Manasseh’s Defectors

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

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

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

On To Hebron

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

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

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

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

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

1 Chronicles 9: The Returning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Inhabitants of Jerusalem

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

From the tribe of Judah, we have:

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

From the tribe of Benjamin, we have:

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

Of the priests, we get:

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

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

Levitical Families

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

Of the Levites themselves, we have:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Family of Saul

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

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

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

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

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

1 Chronicles 8: False Start

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For this penultimate genealogical chapter, we turn back to Benjamin. The tribe has already been covered in 1 Chron. 7:6-12, and there seems to be considerable discussion as to why it should then be repeated here (one theory being that the chapter 7 version was originally intended to be about Zebulun and Dan, but was made to be about Benjamin through corruption).

Assuming that the chapter 7 version really is meant to be about Benjamin, the first thing that stands out is that the construction is different here. In chapter 7, the lineage followed a “the sons of A were…” formula, whereas here, we get a “A fathered B” formula. There’s no reason for the Chronicler to switch back and forth between these formulas, unless the Chronicler is simply copying whatever is being used by his source materials. This, alone, strongly suggests that two separate sources are being used for each of these lineages. (I mean, the fact that that the two contain rather extreme variants makes this rather conclusive, but I thought the note about formulas was rather interesting.)

Another detail worth noting is that the chapter 7 version had more commonalities with Gen. 46:21, whereas the version we get here seems more similar to Num. 26:38-41. Even so, there are more differences than common points. It seems that the Benjaminites were either terrible record keepers, or perhaps a certain usurping dynasty did a little expunging when it came into power.

We begin with Benjamin’s sons: Bela, Ashbel, Aharah, Nohah, and Rapha. Bela and Ashbel both appear in Num. 26:38, but the rest of the names, from either list, don’t match. My New Bible Commentary makes an interesting observation here: The construction in this passage names “Bela his first-born” (1 Chron. 8:1), whereas in 1 Chron. 7:6, we got “Bela, Becher, and Jediael.” According to the Commentary, “In Hebrew, ‘Becher’ and ‘firstborn’ have the same consonants” (p.375). It’s possible, therefore, that the source the Chronicler used in chapter 7 (evidently the same source as was used in Genesis 46:21) incorrectly interpreted the title of “first-born” as a proper name, the same of a second son.

We next move down through Bela (the only son of Benjamin who is named in all four of our lineages!), whose sons were: Addar, Gera, Abihud, Abishua, Naaman, Ahoah, Gera, Shephuphan, and Huram.

It’s perhaps getting redundant to point out that the sons of Bela bear no resemblance whatsoever to the sons listed in 1 Chron. 7:7. We do a little better in Num. 26:40, where his sons are named Ard and Naaman (Ard might be a corruption, or vice versa, of Addar, and Naaman is present in both lists).

The inclusion of two sons named Gera is likely yet another scribal error.

Ehud

We next come to the sons of Ehud. This, of course, poses a problem since no Ehud has been mentioned so far. According to my New Bible Commentary, this might be caused by a mistake similar to the one that birthed Becher. Abihud, named in 1 Chron. 8:3, may have originally been two separate words, which would replace “Abihud” with “[Gera] the father of Ehud” (p.375).

Some commentaries identify him as the left-handed Ehud the Benjaminite, who was the son of Gera, named in Judges 3:15. This would, of course, require that Ehud be Gera’s son, which would in turn require the assumption I mentioned above regarding Abihud.

The descendants of Ehud lived in Geba, and were taken into exile to Manahath. His sons were: Naaman, Ahijah, and Gera (of which the text says “Gera, that is, Heglam” – 1 Chron. 8:7). Gera fathered Uzza and Ahihud.

Shaharaim

From Ehud, we move on to someone named Shaharaim, whose connection to Benjamin’s lineage is not stated. We are told that he had sons in Moab, after he had sent away his wives, Hushim and Baara.

Benjamin and Joseph

Benjamin and Joseph

We might wonder what Shaharaim was doing raising a family in Moab, rather than in the Benjaminite tribal lands. The obvious answer was that he was escaping a famine, just like Elimelech in Ruth 1:1. We see the same famine-driven movements a few times in Genesis, as well.

More perplexing is the phrase “after he had sent away Hushim and Baara his wives” (1 Chron. 8:8). James Pate provides a few possible explanations, but I think that the most compelling is that he divorced Hushim and Baara, then later took a new wife (perhaps a Moabite) with whom he had children in Moab.

We then learn that he had sons with Hodesh, his wife (presumably the one he married after divorcing Hushim and Baara). These sons were: Jobab, Zibia, Mesha, Malcam, Jeuz, Sachia, and Mirmah. The name ‘Mesha’ stood out at me, since it’s the name of the king recorded in the Mesha Stele. It seems that Shaharaim was giving his sons good Moabite names.

He also had some sons by his earlier wife, Hushim: Abitub and Elpaal. Elpaal fathered Eber, Misham, and Shemed. Shemed is said to have built Ono and Lod.

Other Expat Benjaminites

Beriah and Shema are named, though disconnected from the previous lineage. I initially thought them further sons of Elpaal, but the grammar is rather tricky. Of them, we learn that they lived in Aijalon, and that they (or their descendants) fought against the people of Gath, which would mean Philistines.

The list continues, shifting to a different formula. In this one, we get a list of names first, then we are told whose sons they are. It’s a rather annoying way of presenting information, I must say! In any case, the sons of Beriah are: Ahio, Shashak, Jeremoth, Zebadiah, Arad, Eder, Michael, Ishpah, and Joha.

We then move back up to the sons of Elpaal, perhaps further sons or perhaps we are dealing with a different Elpaal: Zebadiah, Meshullam, Hizki, Heber, Ishmerai, Izliah, and Jobab.

Disconnected from Shaharaim’s lineage, we get the sons of Shimei: Jakim, Zichri, Zabdi, Elienai, Zillethai, Eliel, Adaiah, Beraiah, and Shimrah.

Then the sons of Shashak: Ishpan, Eber, Eliel, ABdon, Zichri, Hanan, Hananiah, Elam, Anthothijah, Iphdeiah, and Penuel.

Jeroham’s sons were: Shamsherai, Shehariah, Athaliah, Jaareshiah, Elijah, and Zichri. These, we are told, lived in Jerusalem.  (Perhaps along with the Jebusites, as per Judges 1:21, or perhaps during the Davidic dynasty, or perhaps even in post-exilic times – it’s rather impossible to situation the lineage in time.)

Living in Gibeon, we get Jeiel – named the father of Gibeon – and his wife Maacah. Their sons are: Abdon, Zur, Kish, Baal, Nadab, Gedor, Ahio, Zecher, and Mikloth. Mikloth fathered Shimeah.

There’s an odd verse here: “Now these also dwelt opposite their kinsmen in Jerusalem, with their kinsmen” (1 Chron. 8:33). It seems odd that this should refer to Jeiel’s family, right after we are told that they were living in Gibeon. One possibility is that the sons moved to Jerusalem from Gibeon. Another is that Gibeon is geographically quite close to Jerusalem, and perhaps either fell under Jerusalem’s authority, or there was at least a good deal of traffic between the two towns. Yet another is that this verse is meant to apply to the next lineage, and not to Jeiel’s.

The Genealogy of Saul

In the final section of the chapter, we learn the lineage of Saul, beginning with Ner, who fathered Kish, who fathered Saul (1 Chron. 8:33). This contradicts 1 Sam. 9:1, where Kish is the son of Abiel. Further, if we look to 1 Sam. 14:51, we find Kish and Ner listed as brothers, both the sons of Abiel.

Another detail worth pointing out is that 1 Sam. 9:1 goes further back. It begins with Aphiah, who fathers Becorath, who fathers Zeror, who fathers Abiel, and only then do we get to Kish. Did the Chronicler not have access to those additional generations? Or did he choose not to include them?

The sons of Saul are listed as: Jonathan, Malchishua, Abinadab, and Eshbaal. In 1 Sam. 14:49, Saul’s sons are listed as: Jonathan, Ishvi, and Malchishua. This could be an error, or perhaps Ishvi was another of Eshbaal’s names; a nickname, for example. It could also be an error that Abinadab is omitted, or perhaps he died young and the author didn’t find him worth listing. This latter view is supported by 1 Samuel 31:6, where we learn that Saul and his “three” sons died on the battlefield. Either Abinadab was added to 1 Chron. 8:33 by error, or he was dead prior to the events of 1 Sam. 31:6 (or otherwise out of the picture, but I feel like David’s account would require an explanation for bypassing Abinadab in the succession).

Jonathan fathered Meribbaal, who fathered Micah. Micah fathered Pithon, Melech, Tarea, and Ahaz. Ahaz fathered Jehoaddah, who fathered Alemeth Azmaveth, and Zimri. Zimri fathered Moza, and Moza fathered Binea. Binea fathered Raphah, who fathered Eleasah, who fathered Azel. Azel’s sons are: Azrikam, Bocheru, Ishmael, Sheariah, Obadiah, and Hanan.

Azel also had a brother, Eshek, who fathered Ulam, Jeush, and Eliphelet. Ulam fathered (directly or indirectly, sons and grandsons) 150 mighty warriors).

It’s worth noting that there is a son of Saul named Ishbosheth in 2 Sam. 2:8 and elsewhere. Ishbosheth would be translated as “man of shame”, as opposed to Eshbaal, which would be “man of Baal.” The son of Jonathan named Meribbaal (“Baal contends”) here is apparently the same person as Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth (“From the mouth of shame”), appearing in 2 Sam. 4:4 and elsewhere.

The reason for the author of 2 Samuel to altar these names is theological, concealing the honouring of Baal in the names of the sons of Israel’s first anointed king, and the beloved of the second. It seems clear that Saul and Jonathan worshipped Baal, instead of or as well as YHWH, and that the author of Samuel wanted to fudge that over.

That much is obvious, but the more interesting question is why the Chronicler would keep the original names intact. He could be working with a different source, one that hadn’t bowdlerized the names.

Another possibility is that the Chronicler views David as the true first king of Israel, the perfect monarch to which all others must be compared. It’s “Golden Age” thinking, where there was a perfect time when everything was set up the way God wanted it, and that we fell from that state of grace. The existence of prior YHWH-approved king complicates that narrative, especially if our archetypal king overthrew that original dynasty in a coup.

This provides the motivation to disparage Saul and his dynasty, to deny its legitimacy and therefore to argue that David was actually the first true YHWH-approved king. Keeping hints that the Saulide dynasty worshipped Baal certainly achieves that purpose, if subtly.

2 Samuel 21: The Giants of Gath

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The remaining chapters of 2 Samuel are considered a sort of Appendix, relaying various bits and bobs that fit, thematically and chronologically, with the preceding book before the narrative continues in 1 Kings 1.

This chapter in particular appears to take place prior to 2 Sam. 9. The theory goes that Samuel initially ended with 2 Sam. 8, with the material of chapters 9-20 “having been suppressed for a time, though finally restored,” according to my study Bible (p.385). Thus, when 2 Sam. 21 was added, it came from different sources and did not fit chronologically with the rest of the book. We’ll notice, for example, that at least one story is a repeat (albeit with a surprising change), and a few details seem to come from a different source than what we’ve been mostly been reading so far.

While the last four chapters of 2 Samuel clearly come from different sources, they do seem to have been arranged with care. My New Bible Commentary notes that “the six sections contained in these four chapters are arranged chiastically: natural disaster, military exploits, poem, poem, military exploits, natural disaster” (p.312).

Famine

There was a famine in Israel for three years in a row. The people are suffering and, finally, David calls on God. One might wonder why he let the famine get into its third year before doing this, but I suppose it just takes that long before a palace starts to feel the pinch.

Of course, God shows a bit of his own weird sense of time, because he claims to have sent the famine as punishment for Saul killing the Gibeonites (a story not recorded in our text). Israel had sworn not to kill them (Jos. 9:3-27, albeit through trickery), but Saul had done so anyway “in his zeal” (2 Sam. 21:2). We’ve had hints of this zeal in, for example, the story of the witch of Endor (1 Sam. 28:9). This paints a picture of a Saul who was very concerned with establishing a Yawehist Israelite homogeneity, compared to David’s liberal use of Philistines and other non-Israelites in his personal guard.

Why Israel should be punished now for Saul’s actions is left unexplained. A cynic might wonder if perhaps David wanted to find a reason for the famine that he could bring back to his people, but didn’t want it to be anything that was his fault (particularly if we’re placing this story fairly early on in his rule). In fact, isn’t it convenient that the famine is a punishment against his deposed predecessor? Doesn’t that just every so nicely discourage any lingering support for Saul?

Revenge

David goes to the Gibeonites and asks them what can be done to appease them. It seems that God’s retributive justice was not initiated by himself, but rather by a Gibeonite curse that either took this long to come into effect, or they’ve been biding their time until the responsible party is dead and his dynasty collapsed.

The Gibeonites claim that they do not want to be repaid in blood or gold, except that they do actually want seven of Saul’s sons to be hanged on the mountain of God at Gibeon – which sounds an awful lot like the blood vengeance they claimed not to be asking for. This only avoids being a contradiction if a) the number seven is a symbolic one, replacing the one-to-one killing of a blood vengeance, or b) the nature of the killing is ritually/legally different from a blood vengeance. In other words, if this is meant to be a human sacrifice to God rather than a tribal justice matter.

David agrees to their terms, though we get a clunky, clearly added later note that he spares Mephibosheth because of his oath to Jonathan. Instead of Mephibosheth, he chooses Armoni and Mephibosheth (a case of name recycling, at one end or another) – the sons of Saul and his concubine Rizpah. It seems that some of Saul’s survived him, though 1 Sam. 31 implied that they all died with him at the battle of Gilboa.

For the other five, he got the five sons of Michal, Saul’s daughter, and Adriel, son of Barzillai the Meholathite. Obviously an issue because it is Merab who married Adriel in 1 Sam. 18:19. Also a problem because we were told in 2 Sam. 6:23 that Michal died childless.

Some theories have been proposed to fix the discrepancy; for example, that Merab’s sons were given to Michal to bring up. Others, such as my RSV, simply change the name to Michal to “fix” the error. According to Paul Davidson of Is That In The Bible?, there are some problems with this bandaid:

(1) We have already shown that the mention of Merab marrying Adriel in 1Sam 18 is a separate tradition and a later addition to 1 Samuel. It is difficult to assume “Merab” is the correct reading once we realize that the earlier reference to Merab’s marriage – the very passage scholars would like to harmonize 2Sam 21 with – is a later insertion. (2) The LXX confirms the reading of “Michal” in 2Sam 21:8, which means that if there was such an error, it was very widespread, and it happened before the LXX was produced. (3) Josephus, Pseudo-Jerome, and rabbinic sources confirm the reading of “Michal” and propose harmonizations. (4) Targum Jonathan appears to have been based on a vorlage that reads “Michal”, and it solves the problem by asserting that Michal simply raised the children on behalf of Merab.

The record is clearly a bit dodgy, however you cut it.

These seven sons and grandsons of Saul are hanged and God is appeased (despite the excuse that God is appeased because the Gibeonites withdraw their curse, this still smells rather strongly of human sacrifice).

Funerals

So the Gibeonites are happy, but poor Rizpah isn’t. She camps out at the spot where her two sons are left hanging and keeps all the carrion eaters away until the rain comes (it being the sign that the drought-induced famine would soon be over). From context cues, it seems that the bodies were left hanging the entire summer, from late April or May until the Autumn.

Rizpah, by Peter Graham, c.1850

Rizpah, by Peter Graham, c.1850

When David hears of Rizpah’s vigil, we’re told that he fetched Saul and Jonathan’s bones from Jabesh Gilead and buries them along with the bones of the men sacrificed by the Gibeonites in Zela, the tomb of Saul’s father. It is after the funeral that God finally relented and the famine was over.

The text seems to want to tell us that Rizpah’s grief convinced David to bury Saul and Jonathan’s bones, yet he expressed more than enough grief himself to do it way back in 2 Sam. 1. It makes it rather difficult to believe that it had never occurred to David before now to give them a proper burial – particularly Jonathan, whom he claimed to love so much.

It’s difficult not to see the political motivations behind David’s decision to bury them now. It could be that he needed this big show of love for Saul and Saul’s dynasty to avoid repercussions from Saul’s remaining supporters. Or perhaps it was an attempt to show that he didn’t give in to the Gibeonites’ demands too readily.

It could also be to smooth over the fact that David had allowed the men’s bodies to hang, exposed to the elements, for what could be as long as six months – a huge insult, as well as a clear violation of the law (Deut. 21:23).

In fact, the entire Gibeonite desire for revenge (particularly its timing) looks awfully suspicious. A cynic might wonder if David used a natural disaster as an excuse to get rid of a bunch of Saul’s descendents and thereby solidify his own hold to power.

Philistine Aggression

The Philistines are at it again! In this chapter, we hear of four Philistine champions, all descended from giants, and the Israelite heroes who defeated them.

There’s Ishbibenob, whose spear weighed as much as three hundred shekels of bronze. With a new sword in hand, he comes after David, but Abishai steps in (again) and kills the threat. After this, David’s men forbid him from coming out to fight with them, “lest you quench the lamp of Israel” (2 Sam. 21:17). If I were to venture a guess, I’d say it was known that David did not participate in his own military campaigns. Some people, like the author of this passage, tried to excuse his absence. Others, like the author of 2 Samuel 11, clearly did not approve.

The next champion is Saph, dispatched by Sibbecai the Hushathite.

The third might be a little familiar: Goliath the Gittite, once again armed with a spear like a weaver’s beam (2 Sam. 21:19; 1 Sam. 17:7). This time, however, he is defeated by Elhanan, son of Jaareoregim. According to Kenneth C. Davis, “the King James translators of 1611 tried to cover up the discrepancy by inserting the words “brother of” before the second mention of Goliath, but older texts don’t bear that version out” (Don’t Know Much About the Bible, p.177).

Paul Davidson has a discussion of the episode on Is That In The Bible? that I recommend, but here’s an excerpt:

It is commonly thought by scholars that this was the original Goliath legend, for various reasons. In the earliest folktales, it was the champion Elhanan who slew Goliath when Israel was threatened by an ancient race of giants. Elhanan, Abishai, and Jonathan were all members of the Shalishim (the “Thirty”), a group of elite warriors who are listed in 2Sam 23. (Sibbecai is also included in the parallel list in 1 Chr 11:10–47.) Later on, as the figure of David the warrior king became more important to Jews and the other characters more obscure, the story of Goliath was retold with David as the hero instead.

The last Philistine champion is unnamed, but we’re told that he had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, and was slain by Jonathan, the son of Shimei and David’s nephew.

1 Samuel 14: Rambo has a bite of honey

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When chapter 14 opens, Saul is hanging out by “the pomegranate tree” near Gibeah (evidently a once-known landmark) with his 600 men. It occurs to me that perhaps the 600, down from the 3,000 he began 1 Sam. 13 with, may be all that are left after the desertions in the last chapter. If so, it makes his decision to proceed with the sacrifice without the tardy Samuel seem quite a bit more reasonable. With his army is Ahijah, the great-grandson of Eli (via Phinehas) and evidently the new high priest as he is said to be carrying the ephod.

I had gotten the impression that the high priest status had transferred to Samuel at Eli’s death because Eli’s sons were corrupt, but it apparently merely hopped that generation. There’s also no hint here of how the priesthood survived the destruction of Shiloh, or if the office has relocated to Kiriath-jearim to be with the ark, if the ark has been moved (it was only supposed to be there for 20 years – 1 Sam. 7:2), etc.

Jonathan and his unnamed armour-bearer decide to sneak out of the camp and assault a nearby Philistine garrison, Rambo-style. They tell no one that they are leaving.

1 Sam 14When they reach the outskirts of the Philistine camp, they decide to reveal themselves. If they Philistines tell them to wait there, they agree that they will do so. If they Philistines beckon them over, they will approach. The latter will be taken as a sign that God has delivered the garrison to them, for some reason.

The Philistines chide them, saying “look, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hid themselves” (1 Sam. 14:11), referencing 1 Sam. 13:6. It seems that they believe Jonathan and his armour-bearers to be defectors. So the Philistines call them over, promising to “show you a thing” (1 Sam. 14:12). What the “thing” is, or whether it’s part of their teasing, is never revealed, because Jonathan and his armour-bearer go full River Tam as soon as they get near, killing 20 Philistines.

This causes a panic among the Philistines, no doubt fanned by a timely earthquake.

Saul’s watchmen see the Philistines running about, so he orders a headcount and discovers that Jonathan and the armour-bearer are missing. Having apparently figured out what’s going on, Saul decides to press his advantage. He tells Ahijah to bring the ark. Maybe. Apparently, the LXX has Saul call for the ephod here, which makes more sense in context.

Before Ahijah can do anything, they hear the tumult growing in the Philistine camp, and Saul tells Ahijah to “withdraw your hand” (1 Sam. 14:19). This suggests that Saul wanted to go after the panicking Philistines, but he wanted to check in with God for permission first (presumably by using the Umim and Thummim kept in the ephod for divination). When it became obvious that the Philistines were easy pickings, he decided to just go for it.

The battle depiction is rather confusing, but what I take from it is that the Philistines are just completely irrational in their fear and are fighting each other as much as they are fighting the Israelites. The battle is so one-sided that the Israelites who had hidden all come out, and even the Israelites who had joined the Philistines switch back to Saul’s side.

The lack of weapons among the Israelites is, apparently, no longer a concern.

The Bite

For reasons not given, Saul makes an oath: “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies” (1 Sam. 14:24). Here are a few possible reasons for the vow:

  • The narrative chronology is muddled, and he actually made this vow before going into battle in the hopes that it would ensure his victory (fasting as a prayer amplifier is far from unknown). The fact that the Israelites are already faint from hunger before the Philistines are defeated suggests that this may be the case.
  • I’ve seen it argued that the vow is meant to expunge his earlier faux pas with the sacrifice. This would be ironic since – as we shall soon find out – this too is a rash decision that meddles in cultic matters and will end up backfiring.
  • Or the point is just to show that Saul keeps doing stuff that fall under religious jurisdiction without consulting the proper authorities, reinforcing the rationale for denying him his dynastic posterity.

Unfortunately, Jonathan doesn’t get the memo. If we accept the explanation that Saul made his vow before going after the Philistines, it could be that Jonathan is still returning from his Ramboing and, therefore, didn’t hear it.

This is important, because the army finds a honey field (a forest with honey, according to my translation, but I’ve seen arguments that the term for “forest” could also mean hives. It’s possibly, then, that they stumbled upon an apiary). Jonathan pokes at a honeycomb with his staff and has a taste. Much like me when I eat chocolate, Jonathan’s “eyes became bright” (1 Sam. 14:27).

A companion tells him about Saul’s vow, but Jonathan seems not to interpret this as a danger to himself. Rather, he argues that the vow was a bad idea because now the soldiers are so hungry that they are too weak to slaughter the Philistines. In his argument, Jonathan says that it would have been “better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found” (1 Sam. 14:30).

The argument seems strange given the prohibition on taking spoils during a holy war (a prohibition illustrated in Joshua 7, though one that has already been applied inconsistently elsewhere). Still, the story seems to mirror the story of Jephthah’s vow, and Jonathan seems to highlight that it is not a good idea to make rash oaths.

The soldiers are so starved (after only a day, albeit one of battle) that they “flew upon the spoil” (1 Sam. 14:32). Unfortunately, in their hurry, they eat the Philistine livestock with the blood – prohibited in Gen. 9:4, Lev. 19:26, and Deut. 12:16. Additionally, it seems that they are slaughtering the animals as they find them, rather than having priests do it on altars.

Saul tries to remedy the issue by having a rock brought, making a an altar for the people to bring the livestock to for slaughtering.  With that, the issue seems resolved.

Saul then suggests a night attack on the Philistines, but the priest says that should be hanging out with God instead. Saul calls on God, asking him if they should proceed against the Philistines, but God does not answer him. They assume that this is a result of some unknown sin.

Using the Umim and Thumim, they first ask whether the sin is in either Saul or Jonathan, or in the people. The Umim is drawn, indicating that it is either in Saul or Jonathan. The stones are drawn again, revealing that the sin was in Jonathan. This prompts Jonathan to confess to the honey-eating.

It seems that the story about the soldiers eating livestock without draining the blood was an insert, or else the chapter loses narrative continuity. Presumably, it was intended to explain the origins of an altar associated with Saul.

Both Jonathan and Saul agree that Jonathan should be put to death, but the people protest. According to my New Bible Commentary, this shows Saul to be “an insecure king outvoted by his troops” (p. 294). Surprisingly, God is apparently okay with the people ransoming Jonathan’s life, presumably by substituting an animal as in the story of Abraham’s son, Isaac, in Genesis 22.

Saul’s deeds and family

The chapter closes with a brief summary of Saul’s deeds and a listing of his nearer relatives.

We are told that he fought enemies on all sides: The Moabites, the Ammonites, the Edomites, the Philistines, the Amalekites, and the kings of Zobah.

We are told about his children: his sons Jonathan, Ishvi, and Malchishua, and his daughters Merab and Michal.

Saul’s wife is named Ahinoam, the daughter of Ahimaaz. His army commander is his cousin, Abner, the son of Ner (Saul’s uncle).

1 Samuel 10: The making of a king

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1 Sam. 9 was supposedly from the Early Source, the one that still had good things to say about the monarchy. Yet, as I pointed out in that post, the chapter is easily read as a comedy with Saul as the punchline. Here, the first half (1 Sam. 10:1-16) is said to be a continuation of that source, before we switch for the latter portion of the narrative, which is from the Late Source. The first half of the chapter has a very different texture to it from 1 Sam. 9, though, and I have trouble seeing them as a single source (except for one little detail that I think you’ll spot when we get to it).

The chapter picks up on the morning after Saul and Samuel meet. Saul’s servant has been sent off, and Samuel wanted to teach Saul about God. Before doing this, however, he starts oiling up Saul’s head and kissing him. Only then does he finally tell Saul that God wants to make him king of Israel. Despite the late reveal, Saul doesn’t seem to protest the oiling much. Perhaps he thought Samuel was helping him to get rid of nits?

Interestingly, when the people asked for a king, they said that they specifically wanted someone who would lead them into battle (1 Sam. 8:20). Here, Samuel charges Saul with saving “them from the hand of their enemies round about” (1 Sam. 10:1). It seems that everyone is on the same page.

Next, Samuel gives Saul three signs that he will soon see:

  1. As he passes by Rachel’s tomb (near Bethlehem), he will meet two men who will tell him that the donkeys have been found and that his father is worried about him.
  2. At the oak of Tabor, he will meet three men who are heading toward the sanctuary at Bethel. One of them will be carrying three kids (an extremely impressive feat to anyone who has ever seen goats close up – he’ll likely be bald by the end of his journey), one will be carrying three loaves of bread, and the third will be carrying a skin of wine. They will give Saul two of their loaves of bread.
  3. When he arrives at Gibeath-elohim (where, we are told, there is a Philistine garrison), he will meet a band of prophets coming down from the high place (some kind of altar or sanctuary) playing music and prophesying. At this time, “the spirit of the Lord will come mightily upon you, and you shall prophesy with them and be turned into another man” (1 Sam. 10:6).

When all these signs occur, Saul may “do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you” (1 Sam. 10:7).

Samuel anoints Saul, from the Nuremberg Bible of 1483

Samuel anoints Saul, from the Nuremberg Bible of 1483

The purpose of the signs isn’t exactly clear. It could be an acknowledgement that Saul may be struggling to believe that he could leave his house to look for some donkeys and come home the king of Israel. Perhaps these signs are meant to prove to him that God really has chosen him.

It could also be that the signs are meant to be seen symbolically. Just off the top of my head, it could be that #1 is meant to tie up the loose ends of his previous life, #2 is meant to show that he will have the support of the people (or something about taxes), and #3 will align him with God and bind together the office of holy man and king.

In closing, Samuel tells Saul that he will come before him at Gilgal at some unspecified future date, and they will make offerings. Then, Saul will have to wait seven days for further instructions.

The first two signs happen backstage, and we pick up the story again with Saul hanging out with the ecstatics at Gibeath-elohim. The people are amazed to see him prophesying (which, from the context, likely means something like speaking in tongues and was probably quite a spectacle). They can hardly believe that Saul, the guy who can’t even find his donkeys in the morning, is out there with holy men. This generates a new proverb: “Is Saul also among the prophets?” (1 Sam. 10:12), which must have been some sort of analogue to the modern “Does the pope shit in the woods?”

At some point in all of this, Saul meets his uncle and gives him the run-down re: the donkey situation. It’s cool, he says, because Samuel told him that they had been found. Notably, he specifically does not mention all the monarchy business, though we are not told why. It is also unclear why he is debriefing his uncle rather than his father. In fact, it’s an odd passage altogether.

The Lottery

One possible reason for Saul not telling his uncle about the monarchy business is that Samuel is about to conduct a lottery to select Israel’s king, and it might look rather bad if word got out that the thing was rigged.

So Samuel gathers the people together at Mizpah, because of course the people are gathered at Mizpah. Quoting God, he says that the people have rejected him [God] and demanded a king. This, as you can tell, signifies that we’ve officially switched to the Late Source, which isn’t too thrilled with this monarchy business.

To choose the king (or, more likely, to divine the person God has in mind), Samuel sets up a lottery. The tribe of Benjamin wins the tribe round, the Matrites win the family round, and Saul wins the individual round.

All is going well so far except, wait, where’s Saul?

The people can’t find him anywhere, so they finally ask God for help in finding the new king. He has “hidden himself among the baggage” (1 Sam. 10:22), says God. Classic Saul.

At this point, I imagine that the Israelites are probably having second thoughts about the whole monarchy business. Still, he is very tall, and his height impresses most of the people. That’s enough for them and they proclaim him king.

Samuel tells everyone the rights and duties of kingship, writes these in a now-unknown book, then sends everyone home.

The chapter ends by telling us that Saul has lots of supporters, but there are some who haven’t been totally swayed by his height and still doubt his abilities to save them. These people are described as “worthless fellows” and contrasted with the “men of valor” who support Saul (1 Sam. 10:26-27).

We saw something like this – though not quite so pronounced – in Judges, particularly with Gideon in Judges 6. It could be that Saul is described in such an unflattering light to highlight the idea that he was not chosen for his personal qualities. In other words, he did nothing to deserve his appointment to the kingship. Rather, his successes are all God’s.

Certainly, the mention of “the spirit of the Lord [coming] mightily upon [him]” (1 Sam. 10:6) connects him to the judges, many of whom had a similar experience using much the same words (in English, anyway). So I think it’s reasonable to use Judges to better understand what’s going on with Saul.

1 Samuel 9: The Great Ass Chase

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In our narrative so far, we’ve been setting the scene for the emergence of the first king of Israel. The people have asked for a monarchy and, despite his reservations, God is going to give them one.

We open with Saul, a wealthy Benjaminite who is exceedingly tall and handsome, and we are given his lineage (all the way back to his great-great-great-grandfather). Between his lengthy lineage and personal physique, there is little question that this is a guy we need to be paying attention to. As Tim Bulkeley puts it: “You can’t get into hero school unless you’re tall and handsome.”

But then we take a sudden turn. Rather than going off into heroics, or turning a lion into a beehive, or whatever, Saul’s great quest is to go find some donkeys. You see, his father – Kish – has lost some of his donkeys, and he entrusts his tall, handsome son with their retrieval.

Collins writes in A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible that “this story speaks volumes about early Israelite society. Lost donkeys were a matter of concern for prophets and for future kings” (p.118).

Now, according to my study Bible and to Collins’s handy textbook, the last chapter was written by the anti-monarchy source, whereas this one was written by the pro-monarchy/pro-Saul source. According to them, when Samuel appears as a local “man of God” in 1 Sam. 9, it is because this source did not view him as the super special national hero that he was in, say, 1 Sam. 7-8. Here, he is a local seer who happens to play a role in the anointing of the true hero of the story – Saul.

Further, the monarchy is no longer seen as something that the Israelites asked for and God grudgingly obliged. Rather, it is a gift from God, freely given.

But then I read Tim Bulkeley’s spin, and my perception of this story changed quite dramatically. Since I find Bulkeley’s version far more interesting, I’m going to stick to that one as we proceed.

Shilly-Shallying Around

So Saul and his servant search for the donkeys high and low. Several place names are given in their search, none of which sounded familiar. Bulkeley suggests that perhaps the names were chosen because of their sound – Shalisha and Shalim, said too fast, might indeed trip the tongue. As Bulkeley puts it, perhaps the point is that Saul is “shilly-shallying around.” (That doesn’t mean that these were not real places – they may have been little known villages chosen because they evoked images of backwater, as well as for their sound.)

Saul’s servant plays a comedic foil. While Saul rides around not finding these donkeys (and, really, how far could they have gone?), his servant makes a solid proposal – why not ask the local man of God, see if he can help? Saul, portrayed as the kind of guy who chronically forgets to bring his wallet when he leaves home, naysays the plan because he has nothing to offer the seer as payment. In an amusing reversal, it is the servant who has the necessary money.

Donkey and rider, by Saul Raskin, 1929

Donkey and rider, by Saul Raskin, 1929

This is the Beleaguered Assistant trope, in which the assistant is the one who has to do most of the work and suffer most of the consequences, yet reaps none of the benefits. In this case, we have Saul who is handsome, rich, and about to stumble into becoming king, yet the servant who put him on the necessary path doesn’t even get a name.

When they arrive at a well near the town where the man of God is said to live, they stop to ask a group of maidens for directions. This is another trope that should be familiar, since we’ve seen it play out with Rebekah in Genesis 24, Rachel in Genesis 29, and  Zipporah in Exodus 2.

As Bulkeley points out, the directions the maidens give are repetitive, almost breathless-sounding. Are they babbling because Saul is such a hottie? Or perhaps because they are conscious of their fictionality and the trope of meeting maidens by the well, so they are expecting one of them to soon be married?

But Saul fails to seal the deal. In fact, he seems to have no idea of the proper literary conventions for this kind of meeting. Just to reinforce the point that perhaps he isn’t the sharpest bulb in the basket, Saul listens to these maidens tell him half a dozen time that he will totally meet Samuel as soon as he steps into the town, and that he really can’t miss him because everyone else is waiting for Samuel to start the feast so no one else will be there.

Yet when Saul walks into town and sees a guy, he asks him for directions to Samuel’s house, apparently failing to even consider that he might be talking to the man of God himself.

Meanwhile, we get a flashback telling us that Samuel was expecting Saul, having gotten God’s memo about the king-to-be arriving shortly. You’ll note that Samuel’s name has not been mentioned until this moment, making the “OMG, Samuel was the man of God all along!” reveal all the more dramatic.

So Saul doesn’t recognize Samuel, but Samuel recognizes Saul. Samuel reveals his identity and tells Saul not to worry about the donkeys – they’ve already been found and, in any case, he’ll have his pick of donkeys soon enough. Saul doesn’t catch on and seems rather confused that Samuel would take an interest in a mere Benjaminite, “from the least of the tribe of Israel” (1 Sam. 9:21).

In the context of the story, there’s no reason for Saul to guess that he might go out one morning looking for donkeys only to find himself crowned king of all Israel. But for the audience – who almost certainly already know about Saul and that he will be king – his interactions with Samuel must have been quite funny.

Samuel wines and dines Saul, seating him at the head of the table, giving him what appears to have been choice cuts of meat, then prepares a bed for him. In the morning, Samuel asks Saul out for a walk-and-talk and tells him to send his servant on. Saul himself must stay behind so that Samuel might “make known to you the word of God” (1 Sam. 9:27).

Positive Portrayal

Is this really the positive portrayal of Saul that my study Bible claims it to be? If we assume that the answer is yes, then the MacGuffin of the donkeys serves to show that Saul did not go out looking to become king. He was – at least in the beginning – a humble man who was totally surprised when God chose him out of the blue. He even argues against his special treatment from Samuel: “Am I not a Benjaminite, from the least of the tribe of Israel?” (1 Sam .9:21).

On the other hand, Saul consistently fails in this story. He fails to find the donkeys, he fails to have something on him with which to pay the seer, he fails to secure a bride at the well, he fails to recognize Samuel, and he fails to realize why Samuel takes an interest in him. As Brant Clements puts it: “this sets the tone for Saul’s entire kingship. Overall he will be a failure. He will not establish a dynasty. He will die by suicide. Preemption, disappointment, and subverted expectations are the hallmarks of Saul’s story.”

Whether we buy it outright or not, it seems that Bulkeley’s reading of this story as poking fun at Saul is, at the very least, plausible. It makes a fool of the king-to-be even while it tells of his rise.