2 Chronicles 34-35: Josiah the Reformer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Temple Maintenance

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Josiah’s Passover

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

Iosias sepultus in mausoleum patrum, by Salvador Dali, 1967

Iosias sepultus in mausoleum patrum, by Salvador Dali, 1967

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fighting Egyptians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Chronicles 28: Big Bad Ahaz

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After a run of good kings, we’re about due for a bad one, and this one is really bad. Unfortunately, our sources can’t seem to agree on exactly what he did. The Kings parallel for this chapter is 2 Kgs 16, and the two are quite different.

The basic biographical details remain the same in both sources: Ahaz was 20 years old when he became king, and he reigned for 16 years. Interestingly, his mother is not named in either source – rather odd for the Judean kings.

The summary of his rule is bad. Israel bad. But the Chronicler tells us that he made molten images of Baal, burned incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and made his sons pass through fire (likely meaning that he sacrificed them, as several translations have it). Kings, however, only has him worshipping outside of the Temple and making a single son pass through fire.

Whatever his crimes, God punishes him by sending enemies against Judah. The first is Syria, though the Chronicler doesn’t name the responsible king (given as King Rezin in 2 Kgs 16:5), and many Judahites are taken captive back to Damascus.

Israel’s Invasion

The next enemy is Israel, led by King Pekah son of Remaliah. In Kings, Pekah manages to besiege Jerusalem, but isn’t able to conquer it, and that is all that we hear of the attack.

In the Chronicler’s version, however, Pekah thoroughly defeats Ahaz, slaying 120,000 Judahite men of valour in a single day. One of their member, named Zichri, murders Ahaz’s son Maaseiah, his palace commander Azrikam, and his second in command Elkanah.

The Israelites also take spoils and 200,000 women and children captives back to Samaria. When they reach the city, however, they are met by the prophet Oded. Oded appeals to them not to keep the captives, highlighting the kinship between the Israelites and the Judahites, because their war was only one because of God’s anger against the Judahites – yet have the Israeltes themselves not done plenty to anger God as well?

Four chiefs pay attention to Oded’s words: Azariah son of Johanan, Berechiah son of Meshillemoth, Jehizkiah son of Shallum, and Amas son of Hadalai. They go out to meet the incoming army and command them not to bring the captives into Samaria lest they bring guilt down on Israel, “in addition to our present sins and guilt” (2 Chron. 28:13 – which, I will venture, is a fabricated quote).

So the army gives the captives over to the four chiefs, who cloth them with their own spoils, provide them with food and water, mount the feeble up on donkeys, and bring them to their kin in Jericho. Then they retreat back to Samaria.

Ahaz Betrayed

In the Kings account, Ahaz appears to the king of Assyria, Tilgath-pileser (here called Tilgath-pilneser) for help against the Syrians and Israelites. In that version of the story, the Assyrians agree, and they conquer Syria and kill its king.

2 Chronicles 28Here, however, Ahaz appeals for help against the Edomites, who joining the party in Judah and taking captives (while in 2 Kgs 16:6, the Edomites are only taking back land that Judah had previously taken from them, and instead of taking captives, they send the settled Judahites back to Judah proper).

The Chronicler also throws in a mention of Philistines, absent in 2 Kings 16, who are raiding and conquering several of Judah’s cities.

Another major difference is that, here, Tilgath-Pilneser refuses, joining in on Judah’s beat down rather than coming to Ahaz’s aid.

This causes a problem for the list of Ahaz’s sins, however. In Kings, Ahaz goes to Damascus to meet with Tilgath-pileser. While there, he is so impressed with their altar that he has a replica built in Jerusalem – the building carried out by the priest Uriah.

The Chronicler, however, has Ahaz taking up the worship of the Syrian gods, after seeing the Syrians win their battles. So while the Chronicler has Ahaz impressed with the power of the Syrian gods, Kings has the Syrians defeated and their king killed. And while he does take the design for the Syrian altar, his interest seems to be purely aesthetic, and there’s no indication that he worshipped any god other than Yahweh on it.

And while in both sources, Ahaz raids the Temple for treasures, it’s only in Chronicles that he shuts up its doors (while Kings certainly seems to indicate that worship continued there). In Chronicles, Ahaz also built altars all around Jerusalem and made high places all over Judah.

On a roll, the Chronicler gives us one final difference when he has the dead Ahaz buried in the city, not in the tombs of the kings of Israel. In 2 Kgs 16:20, however, it’s clear that he is buried with his ancestors. The Chronicler seems to like the idea of a burial council that decides the worthiness of each king after his death.

2 Chronicles 26: The Leper of Jerusalem

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In this chapter, we get the story of King Uzziah, who appears in Kings as Azariah. As with several of our other kings, his story is quite expanded here over what we had in in 2 Kgs 14:21-22 and 2 Kgs 15:2-7.

We open after Amaziah’s death, when Uzziah was only 16. Once again, we have a king who was placed on his throne by the people, not by succession laws, not by his own power.

We learn that his mother’s name was Jecoliah of Jerusalem, and that his reign lasted for 52 years. We also learn that he was a good king, “according to all that his father Amaziah had done” (2 Chron. 26:4). This is… rather different from the Chronicler’s estimation of Amaziah, and is quite different from the impression we will be getting of Uzziah as we read on. I also found it rather interesting that the Chronicler omits that Uzziah failed to stamp out the high places, which we find in 2 Kgs 15:4.

Instead, we are told that Uzziah was good and sought God and prospered for as long as he was under the influence of Zechariah – who is otherwise unknown, but seems to mirror Jehoiada in 2 Chron. 24:2. The point seems to be that Judah’s kings behave as long as they are kept firmly in the hands of the priests.

Of Uzziah’s deeds, we learn that he built Eloth and restored it to Judah, a detail in common with 2 Kgs 14:22. Like James Bradford Pate, I noticed the oddness of the order – should he have recaptured the city first, and then rebuilt it? I’m sure the order is either a coincidence or meant to show emphasis, but I found it interesting.

Uzziah’s other accomplishments include fighting the Philistines and breaking down the walls of Gath, Jabneh, and Ashdod. It seems that he was able to take enough Philistine territory – and hold it – to build some towns.

With God’s help, Uzziah also won some battles against the Arabs living in Gurbaal, as well as the Meunites. (This is one of the very few mentions of the Meunites in our text, another being in 2 Chron. 20:1. I discussed them a bit more in my post about that chapter.) He collected tribute from the Ammonites, and was generally a very strong king.

Not all of his attention was outwardly focused, however, as he built several towers both in Jerusalem itself and out in the wilderness, and he hewed out many cisterns to support his vast herds.

Uzziah’s Military Might

Of his armies, the Chronicler tells us that they were under the command of Hananiah, but seem to have been mustered by Jeiel the secretary, and Maaseiah the officer. The army contained 307,500 men, organized under 2,600 clan heads. We are told that Uzziah equipped them with shields, spears, helmets, coats of mail, bows, and stones for slinging. He also built engines on the towers and the corners (presumably meaning that they were positioned along the walls) to shoot arrows and large stones.

I was struck by the mention of mail, since it seems like that should be a bit too advanced for the time period. After briefly searching on Wikipedia, I find that Uzziah is dated to the 8th century BCE, while the first examples of mail don’t come around until the 4th century (and among the Etruscans).

This leaves us with three possibilities:

  1. Translation error: It could be that the original text reads something more like “scale armour,” but the translators made an inaccurate choice.
  2. Author error: It could be that the author is talking about technology from his own time, perhaps something still new enough that it would sound really impressive when projected back onto Uzziah. That said, the Chronicler is likely still a little early to know about mail armour.
  3. No error: It’s not completely outside the realm of possibility that the Israelites invented chain mail, but only made a few because they were too labour intensive, and none of those survived to be found by archeologists. It’s extremely unlikely that chain mail was in circulation so early, and even less likely that it would have been in use in Israel, but the possibility deserves mention.

I should note that other translators have handled 2 Chron. 26:14 differently. The NIV has “coats of armor” (which could certainly be applied to scale armor), while the KJV gives us “habergeons” (which can be used for either scale or mail). Other translations variously use “amor” (without qualifiers), “body armor,” and even “breastplates.” Based on this, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that the fault for the anachronistic oddity belongs squarely to the RSV translators.

I was struck by the wall engines as well, which sounds like the torsion-powered engines of the Romans, like the ballista. The ballista itself doesn’t seem to have been in use until the 5th century BCE, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t predecessors in use prior to that date. It’s also possible for us to blame this on possibility #2 listed above.

But whatever his equipment, we are told that Uzziah was “marvellously helped, till he was strong” (2 Chron. 26:15), which is just a wonderful turn of phrase!

But he grew too proud

Unfortunately for Uzziah, pride goeth before a fall (or so claims Proverbs 16:18). As his power grew, he started to think a little too much of himself – so much so that he dared to take on the duties of priest.

In a story that is not even hinted at in Kings, Uzziah entered the Temple to burn incense. Eighty-one, led by Azariah, ran after him in an attempt to stop him. They tried to remind Uzziah that only priests have the right to be in the sanctuary, but this only angered Uzziah. And as he grew angry, a bout of leprosy broke out on his forehead.

When this happened, he fled from the Temple, but was stricken by the leprosy for the rest of his life – a detail confirmed by 2 Kgs 15:5, though no reason is given there for the disease.

The King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy, by Rembrandt, 1635

The King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy, by Rembrandt, 1635

As I read this, I wondered if it was Uzziah’s presence in the sanctuary that was punished, or his anger at the priests. Would God have been willing to overlook the incensed intrusion if he had left when asked by the priests? Perhaps we can see this as another example of the Chronicler privileging the priests – as he seems to be punishing Uzziah more for his disobedience of the 80 priests than his presence in the sanctuary.

For the rest of his life, Uzziah had to live in a separate dwelling place. Strangely, however, the text tells us that he had to live separately because he was excluded from the Temple, rather than being excluded from both palace and Temple because of his leprosy – which would have been my expectation if this were based on traditions like the one we see in Lev. 13:46.

Instead, this looks like yet another example of the Chronicler privileging the priesthood – where it is exclusion from the faith (as expressed on earth through the Temple) that warrants social exclusion.

In any case, Uzziah is forced into retirement, and his son – Jotham – governs in his place. When he dies, we learn that he is buried “with his fathers in the burial field which belonged to the kings” because he was a leper (2 Chron. 26:23). Trying to make sense of this statement, James Bradford Pate asks if it could mean that Uzziah was buried near the other kings, but not with them, because of his leprosy.

My own thinking is that perhaps his overstepping in the Temple was overlooked because he was already punished with the leprosy. We’ve seen with other kings that there seems to be some secret committee that decides, upon each king’s death, whether or not he warrants burial among the other kings. In this case, perhaps they decided to overlook Uzziah’s sin because of his leprosy.

For the remainder of Uzziah’s acts, the Chronicler sends us to the writings of the prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz.

2 Chronicles 23: Coup and counter-coup

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In the last chapter, King Ahaziah died very early on in his reign, leaving no suitable heirs. His mother, Athaliah, took advantage of the situation and declared herself queen (attempting to slaughter the remaining members of David’s dynasty to secure her position). Only Joash survived, having been hidden by his aunt, Jehoshabeath.

Jehoshabeath happened to be married to Jehoiada, a priest, and so was able to hide Joash in the Temple. It isn’t explicitly explained how this worked – did Athaliah not know where he was because she, not being a priest, wasn’t allowed into the inner parts of the Temple? If this is the case, was it not a problem for Joash to be there? Alternatively, was she aware of him but would not defile the Temple by dragging him out?

Heck, even if she didn’t know that Joash was being kept in the Temple, she must have suspected that he would be taken there, since she knew who Jehoshabeath was married to. Yet she apparently did not search the Temple – rather odd behaviour for an idolater “in the way of Ahab” who was heavily motivated to make sure that the child was found and killed.

The most likely possibility that I can think of that doesn’t involve Athaliah respecting the sanctity of the Temple is if, as far as she knew, Joash was already dead. And perhaps he really was, and the Joash who was hidden in the Temple was an imposter produced by Jehoiada to justify his coup. After all, he’s definitely the cui who bonos the most, having raised Joash and undoubtedly having a great deal of influence over the soon-to-be boy king.

It’s a fun theory, anyway.

Getting the band back together

2 Chron. 23 mostly follows 2 Kgs 11:4-20, with most of the changes to increase (or add) the involvement of priests and the use of music. The scene opens in the 7th year of Athaliah’s reign, when Joash had been in hiding for six years.

Jehoiada gathers together a posse of military leaders: Azariah son of Jeroham, Ishmael son of Jehohanan, Azariah son of Obed, Maaseiah son of Adaiah, and Elishaphat son of Zichri. These commanders were not named in 2 Kgs 11.

Athaliah's Dismay, by Solomon Alexander Hart, c.1858

Athaliah’s Dismay, by Solomon Alexander Hart, c.1858

Another difference is that the 2 Kgs 11 coup has a strong military flavour to it, as Jehoiada only gathered together ” the captains of the Carites and of the guards” (2 Kgs 11:4). Here, however, the coup seems more inclusive, as Jehoiada gathers up Levites and family leaders as well, bringing them all to the Temple to present Joash. The implication seems to be that the boy had been, until this point, presumed dead, or at least missing.

Finally having someone to centre their coup around, the leaders make their plan. The plan, while still a little confusing, was clearer in the 2 Kgs 11 account: The guards Jehoiada brings in are to launch their attack when they either come on or go off duty, or perhaps take advantage of a changing of the guard to attack.

Here, however, the shift changing has to involve priests, Levites, and gatekeepers, and Jehoiada is very concerned about people coming into the Temple. Anyone who enters, perhaps in an attempt at retreat, is to be killed. Or perhaps his point is that the Temple is their bastion, and they are to cut down Athaliah’s soldiers as they attempt to enter. The Chronicler also wants to make sure we understand that Jehoiada is in no way attempting to “dismiss the divisions” (2 Chron. 23:8), perhaps indicating that he won’t just assign guards based on loyalty, but will rather seek loyalty from the guards who are already assigned.

One thing that interests me in this chapter is the way in which Joash is referred to. He is at times called “the king” (2 Chron. 23:7), long before he is any such thing, apparently making the point that Athaliah’s reign lacked legitimacy. At other times, however, he’s referred to as “the king’s son” (2 Chron. 23:11), indicating that he is not a true king finally given the crown he deserved all along, but rather deserving of becoming the king through his parentage. It may be a quibble, but I had fun looking at when each term is used. Joash is called king when Jehoiada and the others are planning the coup, but he becomes a king’s son when he is brought out for his coronation after the coup’s success. Like his legitimacy needed to be emphasized while things were still up in the air, but they could revert to more customary titles once loyalties were assured.

Treason! Treason!

Jehoiada arms the rebels with David’s spears and shields, which had been kept in the Temple. They hold a coronation ceremony for Joash and call out, “Long live the king!”

They make such a racket that Athaliah hears them, so she goes to the Temple to see what’s going on. When she finds Joash, with all the military captains rejoicing and all the trumpeters trumpeting, she rends her clothes and cries out, “Treason! Treason!”

Jehoiada doesn’t want her killed in the Temple, however, so he has the captains drag her outside first before they kill her.

After that, there’s another covenant ceremony with the people, and they finish up the day by tearing down the Temple of Baal and murdering its priest, Mattan, before its altars. They then bring Joash to his palace, from which he had escaped six years previously, and set him on the throne. Just a usual Sabbath, really.

We are told that Jehoiada then sets up the guards and Levites in the way that David had instructed and in accordance with the laws of Moses.

1 Chronicles 15-16: A Meandering Path

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David has decided that it is now, finally, time to bring the ark the rest of the way to Jerusalem. His reasoning isn’t explicitly explained, but there are two likely candidates that jumped out at me: The first and more flattering of the two is that, seeing the blessings on Obededom’s household, David realizes that God wasn’t angry that the ark was being moved, but rather that it was being moved incorrectly (in this case, because those moving it were not Levites, as per Num. 1:51). Therefore, once David has appointed Levites to move the ark, it becomes safe and the procession can continue.

The second explanation is that David saw all the blessings the ark was bringing to Obededom, and he wanted to get in on that.

In either case, he begins by building palaces for himself and pitching a tent for the ark. An odd statement, certainly. I realize that it was culturally known that the temple wasn’t built until Solomon, and that there may have been religious objections to housing the symbol of a nomad god in a permanent structure, but mentioning that David built palaces (plural, mind) for himself, yet merely pitched a tent for the ark seems strange to my modern sensibilities (not to mention my cultural assumptions regarding what a “house of God” ought to look like). Even within a proper context, however, mentioning David’s building projects here seems somewhat out of place.

There’s some odd narrative time skipping in these two chapters, resulting in the ark having been brought to its resting place at least once (possibly twice) before the procession is actually concluded. I suspect that this may be an artefact of the Chronicler’s use of multiple sources, or perhaps just some grammar troubles (one of my greatest difficulties in writing is trying to keep my tenses straight, so I totally get it).

There is also much dwelling on the names of the priests, as well as their roles. I’ll mention those at the end, though, because there’s a lot of them and they are fairly disruptive to the flow. That said, it certainly helped me to understand the commentaries who argue that the Chronicler may have been a musician!

The Journey

Once David had built his palaces and cleared a little camping plot for the ark, he gathered Israel about him and announced that Levites must be the ones to carry and tend to the ark.

He told the priests, Zadok and Abiathar, and the Levite chiefs to sanctify themselves prior to approaching the ark (this would likely involve rituals like fasting, abstaining from sexual contact, and washing). David explains his theory that God attacked the first time (killing Uzzah) because the ark was not being carried by Levites. This is an addition to the story in 2 Samuel 6, which makes no mention of Levites (likely an anachronistic one, as well, since it seems there’s evidence to suggest that the Levitical caste didn’t emerge until later).

The priests do as they are told, and they carry the ark on their shoulders using poles, as per God’s instructions (relayed via Moses, then David).

David dances before the ark, from the Morgan Bible, 1240-1250

David dances before the ark, from the Morgan Bible, 1240-1250

The priests appoint a number of singers, as well as musicians of various varieties to play in the procession and “raise sounds of joy” (1 Chron. 15:16). There are harps, lyres, cymbals, and trumpets. There’s even a conductor, Chenaniah.

Taking from 2 Sam. 6:12-15, the procession goes to the house of Obededom to fetch the ark and they bring it to Jerusalem. There are two main differences between this version and the one in 2 Samuel: The first is that we get a whole lot more detail about the music played in the procession. The second is that David is clothed, this time wearing a robe of fine linen in addition to his ephod. The priests of the procession are also wearing robes of fine linen.

Another possible difference is in the time/location of the sacrifices. In 2 Sam. 6:13, a sacrifice (one ox and one fatling) is made when those who bear the ark have gone six paces. In 1 Chron. 15:26, however, seven bulls and seven rams are sacrificed “because God helped the Levites who were carrying the ark”. Reading far too much into the text, it would seem that the 2 Sam. 6 priests tentatively lift the ark, and thank God right away when they survive the test. In 1 Chron. 15, however, the implication seems to be that they give thanks when the journey is completed, perhaps because God somehow made their burden light or saved them from any accidental stumble that could result in a situation like the one that led to Uzzah’s death. But this is bringing a lot into the text, and there’s no reason why the 1 Chron. 15 version can’t be taken to mean the same as the 2 Sam. 6 version.

As they approach Jerusalem, Michal (here, as in 2 Sam. 6:16, identified only as the daughter of Saul) sees David dancing and she hates him. In 2 Sam. 6:20-23, the reason for Michal’s hatred of David is apparently because he was dancing naked, uncovered save for the ephod, disgracing himself. It’s easy to see how afraid she might be, after her father’s house fell and her whole family was slaughtered. She has ever reason to want David to act the proper king, a king who won’t be judged weak or unfit and deposed. Here, however, the conversation is absent, and Michal’s reasoning is unstated. The implication, then, is that she hated him because she was Saul’s daughter (as this is the only detail we are given of her), and is perhaps seen as further proof of Saul’s dynastic unfitness.

The ark finally makes it to its new tend, and sacrifices are made. David blesses the people in God’s name, and he distributes a loaf of bread, a portion of meat, and a raisin cake to every Israelite (including, for once, the women).

A good deal of 1 Chron. 16 is given to a special thanksgiving song David gives to Asaph and the other musically-inclined priests. It’s a fairly ordinary praise song, much like the ones we’ve had before. God is great, we should seek God, he’s done wonderful works, the descendants of Abraham and Jacob are his chosen people, God has protected them. God is to be “held in awe above all gods” (1 Chron. 16:25), who are but idols while God is actually in heaven. The natural world exults in God for God is good. Also, if God wouldn’t mind delivering his chosen people from other nations – so that we can thank him for it, of course – that’d be great.

What’s interesting about this son in particular is that it appears to be a cobbling together of a few different Psalms. Specifically:

  • 1 Chron. 16:8-22 is taken from Psalms 105:1-15;
  • 1 Chron. 16:23-33 is taken from Psalms 96:1-13;
  • And 1 Chron. 16:34-36 is taken from Psalms 106:1 and Psalms 106:47-48.

Perhaps even more interesting, “none of the three psalms used is Davidic and all are later, possibly even post-exilic” (New Bible Commentary, p.378). This would certainly explain the final verses of the poem, which talk about deliverance from other nations (1 Chron. 16:34-36) – something that would have been salient for the Chronicler, but not so much for the rising star of David who has recently destroyed the Philistines. James Pate proposes that the verses could refer to prisoner’s of war – perhaps some Israelites had been taken in David’s recent battles against the Philistines – and the hope that they should be returned.

Another interesting detail about the song is that it is the only place in all of 1 Chronicles where Jacob is referred to by that name, rather than as Israel.

All the people say “Amen!” and David leaves the priests to their business. The Israelites head home, and David goes to bless his house.

The Priests

Priests and their roles are listed at several points through 1 Chron. 15-16. It begins when David is setting up a location for the ark, and he gathers the Levites to him. They are represented by their leaders:

  • 120 Kohathites, led by Uriel;
  • 220 Merarites, led by Asaiah;
  • 130 Gershomites, led by Joel;
  • 200 Elizaphanites, led by Shemaiah;
  • 80 Hebronites, led by Eliel;
  • And 112 Uzzielites, led by Amminadab.

David then commands these chiefs to appoint musicians from among their sub-tribes to play loudly before the ark as it is being transported. The Levites appoint Heman son of Joel, and Asaph son of Berechiah. The Merarites (listed as though a distinct group from the Levites) appoint Ethan son of Kushaiah, as well as some underlings: Zechariah, Jaaziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattithiah, Eliphelehu, and Mikneiah. Listed here, as though the role is a musical one, are also Obededom and Jeiel, appointed as gatekeepers.

Next, we get a breakdown of the musicians by instrument as they play before the ark in its procession:

  • Sounding the bronze cymbals: Heman, Asaph, and Ethan;
  • Playing the harps (according to Alamoth – apparently some unknown musical term): Zechariah, Aziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Maseiah, and Benaiah;
  • Leading with the lyres (according to the Sheminith – some other unknown musical term): Mattithiah, Eliphelehu, Mikneiah, Obededom, Jeiel, and Azaziah;
  • Blowing the trumpets before the ark: Shebaniah, Joshaphat, Nethanel, Amasai, Zechariah, Benaiah, and Eliezer;
  • Lastly, the conductor: Chenaniah.

Berechiah and Elkanah are designated as the ark’s gatekeepers. Then, a verse later, we are told that Obededom and Jehiah are also the gatekeepers (1 Chron. 15:23-24).

Once the procession arrives in Jerusalem and the ark is settled into its new tent, David appoints some Levites to minister to it, led by Asaph, who is to sound the cymbals.

To the harps and lyres, David appoints Zechariah, Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obededom, and Jeiel.

Finally, David appoints Benaiah and Jahaziel to blow the trumpets continually (1 Chron. 16:6), though one hopes that they were at least allowed to take turns.

The sons of Jeduthun are appointed to the gate, which apparently includes Obededom (here identified as a son of Jeduthun) and Hosah (conspicuously not identified as a son of Jeduthun).

Jeduthun himself, along with Heman, are given charge of the trumpets and cymbals at Gibeon, where the tabernacle has been left in Zadok’s charge. There is no reason given for why the ark has been separated from its tabernacle and moved into a new tent, but it appears that worship continued at both sites.

One possibility involves the nomadic nature of the early YHWH cult. If David hoped to nurture a more urban society, detaching the local god from its tent would have been a priority. He might not have felt confident enough to to build a permanent temple yet, but he could at least separate the ark from its tabernacle (which had, as evidenced by this chapter, become a locus of worship in its own right). This is, of course, pure fancy and utterly unsupported as far as I know.

Obededom

Obededom is a strange figure in these chapters. Is he the same Obededom who housed the ark in 1 Chron. 13:13? And why is he shoehorned so forcefully into 1 Chron. 15-16?

He is mentioned three times as a gatekeeper:

  • When he and Jeiel are counted among the Merarite musicians (1 Chron. 15:17-18);
  • When he and Jehiah are added, as if as afterthoughts, when Berechiah and Elkanah are listed as gatekeepers (1 Chron. 15:23-24);
  • As a son of Jeduthun, who are appointed to the gate (1 Chron. 16:37-38).

This is, of course, in addition to his mentions as a musician.

The way in which he is mentioned feels very forced, particularly in 1 Chron. 15:23-24. I feel like there must be a reason for this.

If this Obededom is the same as the Gittite in 1 Chron. 13:13, it introduces a possible problem. The term “Gittite” is usually used to refer to people from Gath – a city under Philistine control. If Obededom is a Philistine, then he is not an Israelite, and he is certainly not a Levite.

That’s not a certainty, though. It could be that Obededom is merely an Israelite from Gath, or perhaps the name “Gath” was used in a few different place names and the designation of Gittite does not even refer to the Philistine city.

James Pate imagines that Obededom, having had direct experience with the ark and received its blessings while it was in his home, followed it to Jerusalem. It’s an amusing image!