1 Chronicles 19-20: The Case of the Missing Wife

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Chapter 19 parallels 2 Samuel 10, skipping the story of David finding Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son. The author of Samuel seemed to be trying to lessen the perception of David as a usurper by emphasizing his positive relationship with Saul’s heir, his rival. And so the love David and Jonathan shared is emphasized, and David is shown to extend great kindness to Jonathan’s son (even though Mephibosheth, and his descendants, could easily become David’s rivals – whether or not Mephibosheth was being kept in David’s court as a prisoner/hostage is a different discussion).

The Chronicler, however, simply is not interested in Saul’s failed dynasty. As far as he is concerned, it was a false start, lacking in the legitimacy of David’s true dynasty. Given this, portraying David’s relationships with his rival Saulides becomes unimportant, and the Chronicler merely skips over those details.

At War Again

King Nahash of the Ammonites has died, and is succeeded by his son, Hanun. As in 2 Sam. 10, the text tells us that Nahash had been good to David, so David wishes to be good to his son in return. Though both versions of the story mention this, Nahash’s actual faithful dealings are not recorded. All we hear about him prior to this episode is that he was harassing the citizens of Jabesh-gilead in 1 Sam. 11. This provides an opportunity for Saul to achieve his first military victory.

In any case, David decides to send messengers to console Hanun in his mourning. At least, that’s what the text tells us. Hanun and his court immediately suspect that the messengers are actually spies, scouting out their lands in preparation for an invasion. This isn’t an unreasonable assumption, given all the aggressive wars David has been fighting in the last few chapters. And since we have no record of Nahash’s faithful dealings with David, only his history of antagonism toward Israel under Saul, it’s hard not to side with the new king.

Hanun mistreats David's messengers, from 'Speculum humanae salvationis', c.1450

Hanun mistreats David’s messengers, from ‘Speculum humanae salvationis’, c.1450

There is a further strike against David’s story: Deut. 23:3-6 forbids such kindnesses toward the Ammonites (and Moabites). James Pate discusses some possible loopholes, and of course we can always argue that this story comes from a different tradition than the prohibition in Deuteronomy and therefore cannot legitimately be applied. Still, I’m siding with Hanun’s suspicion on this one.

Unfortunately, Hanun’s retaliation seems rather ill-considered, as he shaves and partially disrobes the messengers before sending them back to David. The men are so humiliated that David tells them to stay in Jericho until their bears have grown back in (in many cultures, particularly around the middle east, facial hair is seen as a sign of adulthood – often not allowed to grow in until a man is married; in shaving the messengers’ beards, Hanun was emasculating them, symbolically removing their status as the patriarchs of their families).

The text tells us that the Ammonites quickly realize their mistake, that they’ve made an enemy out of a potential friend, and that it is for this reason that they gather up an army. It seems more likely, however, than the shaving of the messengers was, in itself, a declaration of war. I realize that Hanun was new to his crown, and that new kings can sometimes be a little overzealous in trying to establish their power (and with good reason, since factions often use the occasion of a new and inexperienced king to reshuffle power structures), yet the act seems far too pointed and hostile to be explained as a simple miscalculation.

In any case, they spend 1,000 talents of silver on mercenary chariots (32,000 of them) and horsemen from Mesopotamia, Aramaacah, and Zobah. For comparison, Amaziah will later hire 100,000 men for a mere 100 talents in 2 Chron. 25:6. The numbers are a little different in 2 Sam. 10:6, however, where the Ammonites hire 20,000 infantry, plus 1,000 men with the king of Maacah, and 12,000 men of Tob (suggesting that the figure for the number of chariots in this chapter is the sum of the total number of men – charioteers or no – listed in 2 Sam. 10; the king of Maacah, and presumably his 1,000 men, are listed separately in 1 Chron. 19:7).

When David learns that the Ammonites are mustering, he sends Joab out to deal with them.

The battle doesn’t go well for Joab, however, and he is surrounded. Thankfully, Joab comes up with the amazing, clever, and totally realistically likely to win strategy of splitting his army in half so he can focus on each front separately. He keeps command of the half fighting the Syrians, while he puts his brother Abishai in charge of fighting the Ammonites. The idea is that they will divide and conquer, helping each other out if either half becomes overwhelmed.

When Joab advances on the Syrians, they flee before him. When the Ammonites see that their allies are fleeing, they, too, flee, and Joab returns to Jerusalem victorious.

Having been defeated, the Syrians send out messengers to the other half of the Syrian army, led by Shophach, which was located on the other side of the Euphrates.

Realizing that the Syrian forces are about to return in force, David gathers up a large army and crosses the Jordan to meet them. The Syrians are routed, and the commander, Shophach, is killed. The Israelites also kill 7,000 charioteers and 40,000 infantry (1 Chron. 19:18), whereas 2 Sam. 10:18 has them kill 700 charioteers and 40,000 horsemen.

In the Spring…

Chapter 20 begins as 2 Samuel 11 did, in the springtime, when kings are wont to make war. As in the case of 2 Samuel 11, it is Joab who leads the army out to harass Ammonites and besiege Rabbah, while David remains in Jerusalem.

The Chronicler keeps the verse, though it reflects poorly on David (kings are meant to go to war in the spring, so what is David doing staying behind?). He does not, however, keep the story that follows. In fact, Bathsheba is mentioned only once in all of Chronicles, and that is as the mother of Solomon in 1 Chron. 3:5, where she is referred to as Bathshua.

And so instead of using the opportunity of his staying behind to rape the wife of Uriah (a loyal member of David’s inner circle) and then cover up the crime by arranging for Uriah to be killed in battle, the Chronicler’s David is merely staying behind in Jerusalem until Joab is victorious.

Skipping forward to 2 Sam. 12:30-21, once Joab takes the city of Rabbah, David comes up to collect its king’s crown – a huge honking thing weighing a whole talent of gold (I am assured that this is a lot, and James Pate discusses some of the theories that have been proposed to allow David to wear such a heavy thing).

In addition to the crown, David returns from the war in which he did not participate with quite a lot of booty, including an enslaved population. It seems that they didn’t stop at Rabbah – though it is the only city mentioned – but instead went on to take the rest of the Ammonite cities before returning to Jerusalem.

Skipping over many of the less utopic episodes of David’s career – including the incestuous rape of his daughter, his son’s rebellion, David’s flight from Jerusalem, the execution of more of Saul’s descendants, and the general disgruntlement of the northern tribes – the Chronicler takes us all the way to 2 Sam. 21:18-22, when the Israelites are again at war with the Philistines.

This time, they are to fight at Gezer (which is God in 2 Sam. 21:18). It is here that Sibbecai the Hushathite slew Sippai (called Saph in 2 Sam. 21:18), who was descended from giants. After that, the Philistines were subdued for a while.

But not a long while. In another war, Elhanan son of Jair slew Lahmi, who was the brother of Goliath. Yes, that Goliath. In the corresponding passage, Elhanan slew Goliath himself, and no mention is made of Lahmi (2 Sam. 21:19 – which the KJV alters to bring into alignment with 1 Chron. 20:5 and to avoid contradiction with 1 Sam. 17:49-51).

In yet another war, there was a tall, six-fingered, six-toed man who was also descended from giants, and who was defeated by Jonathan, David’s nephew through Shimea.

Regarding Goliath, Paul Davidson has a really great deconstruction of the “so who actually killed Goliath?” problem on his blog, Is That In The Bible? Over at Remnants of Giants, Dr. Deane Galbraith looks at efforts to diagnose Goliath’s gigantism and why that may or may not (mostly not) be supportable by the text.

Judges 3: Wherein we find lots of “dirt”

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God is very concerned that the new generations of Israelites aren’t paying the iron price for their stuff, so he sends some people over to “test” them (Judges 3:1):

  • 5 Philistine lords
  • The Canaanites
  • The Sidonians
  • And a bunch of Hivites

Unfortunately, this testing backfires a little and the Israelites start bedding down with their antagonisers – living with the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, intermarrying and “serving the Baals and the Asheroth” (Judges 3:7). This mirrors, with a slight difference, the formula we saw earlier, when the Israelites “served the Baals and the Ashtaroth” (Judges 2:13).

Othniel, son of Kenaz

The first judge is our old friend, Othniel, the circumstances of whose marriage we saw in Joshua 13:17 and Judges 1:13.

God sells the Israelites into the hands of King Chushanrishathaim of Aram-naharaim, which my RSV renders as Mesopotamia. The people are oppressed for eight years before God takes pity on them and raises up Othniel, Caleb’s nephew. Under his leadership, Israel finds peace for forty years, until Othniel’s death.

It’s quite interesting to see these two little snippets of stories. It suggests a much larger story that didn’t make it in.

Ehud, son of Gera

After Othniel dies, the people go right back to their wicked ways, so God sells them to King Eglon of the Moabites (who defeats Israel with the help of the Ammonites and the Amalekites). Israel is oppressed for eighteen years.

This King Eglon, we are told, was rather on the corpulent side. According to Jack Collins, Eglon’s name is something of a joke:

Eglon’s name (Heb. עֶגְלוֹן), it’s worth noting, bears a striking resemblance to the Hebrew words ‘egel (עֵגֶל), meaning “fatted calf,” and ‘agol (עָגֹל), “round,” so the non-Hebrew reader has already missed that the villain of the piece is essentially named “King Swolencalf.”

When God enters the reconciliation phase of his relationship with Israel, he brings up Ehud, son of Gera, of the tribe of Benjamin. Ehud, by the way, is left-handed. This is important to the story, but it is also something of a joke. As Jack Collins explains, “Benjamin” means “son of the right hand.”

Ehud rescues Israel, by Ford Madox Brown

Ehud rescues Israel, by Ford Madox Brown

His left-handedness gives him the advantage he needs. When he is selected to bring a tribute to the Moabites, he straps a sword to his right side, under his clothes. The text doesn’t spell this out, but it seems that any weapons-checking would have assumed that he would have been armed on the left side (a right-handed fighter would cross his arm over to his left side to draw), so they would have missed a weapon hidden on the wrong side.

Once the Israelites make their tribute, they make to leave but Ehud hangs back, telling King Eglon that he has a secret message. King Eglon dismisses his staff and takes Ehud up to “cool roof chamber” (Judges 3:20), which is apparently a bathroom (I’m assuming that the coolness refers to a draft, which would tame the smell?). I didn’t pick up on this when reading, but Brant Clements suggests that perhaps the idea is to give Ehud his private audience while sitting on the toilet as a sort “see what I think of you Israelites” message.

Once Ehud and King Eglon are alone, Ehud – badass that he is – says “I have a message from God for you” (Judges 3:20) and stabs the king through the belly with his sword. He thrusts the sword in so deep that the hilt goes in. He stabs so hard that “the dirt came out” (Judges 3:22). I think that means either that he punctured the king’s intestines, or perhaps that the king defecated. Either way, it’s quite clear from the context that “dirt” is a euphemism.

His job done, Ehud locks the door and escapes (or escapes and then locks the door, depending on your reading).

The servants come to check on their master but determine that he must just be focusing really hard on his business, so they delay in unlocking the door and discovering the body. It seems possible that the smell of the “dirt” makes them think that their master is live and well and happily voiding his bowels in the company of that Israelite guest.

His business done, Ehud runs to Seirah, sounds a trumpet to gather the Israelites, and marches on the Moabites while they are leaderless. Ten thousand Moabites are killed, “all strong, able-bodied men” (Judges 3:29), and Israel gets to rest for the next 80 years.

I really enjoyed Jack Collins’s two posts on this story, which go into quite a bit of detail on the many puns used. The story was funny on first reading, but absolutely hilarious with the commentary Collins provides. Go read Part 1 and Part 2.

And since it’s obligatory, I’ll close off this section with a mention of Deut. 2:9, where God tells Moses: “Distress not the Moabites, neither content with them in battle.”

Shamgar, son of Anath

Shamgar is hardly worth a mention – or, at least, that’s what the author(s) thought. We are told merely that he killed 600 Philistines with an oxgoad (a ‘goad’ being a spiked stick used for driving cattle, according to freedictionary).

His section ends with what is clearly an editor insert: “he too delivered Israel” (Judges 3:31). Ah, so that’s what he was doing with that oxgoad!