1 Chronicles 4-5: The Tribal Histories

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In these two chapters, we get something of an infodump on the tribes of Judah, Simeon, Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. The portions about Judah and Simeon (1 Chron. 4) seem largely taken from Joshua 15 and Joshua 19, respectively. It seems that the two tribes were rather closely related, and that Simeon was at some point absorbed into Judah.

In 1 Chron. 5, we get the Transjordan tribes: Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (the Transjordan portion of the tribe).

Judah

We begin with the sons of Judah: Perez, Hezron, Carmi, Hur, and Shobal. Following Shobal’s line, we get Reaiah, and Reaiah’s son Jahath. Jahath was the father of Ahumai and Lahad. These, we are told, were the families of the Zorathites.

It’s clear right from here that this is a very different kind of history than the one we got a few chapters ago. This list of Judah’s sons bears little resemblance to the one we got in 1 Chron. 2:3-8. More to the point, I recognize many of the names as place names. I think it likely that this is a list of founders (mythical or otherwise) of the various settlements in Judah.

If I read the grammar correctly, we then skip over to a Hur, son of Ephrathah (the founder, or “father” of Bethlehem). He had two sons: Etam, Penuel, and Ezer. Etam’s children were Jezreel, Ishma, and Idbash (plus a daughter, Hazzelelponi), Penuel fathered Gedor, and Ezer fathered Hushah.

Ashhur, Tekoa’s father, had two wives: Helah and Naarah. Naarah gave birth to Ahuzzam, Hepher, Temeni, and Haahashtari. Helah gave birth to Zereth, Izhar, and Ethnan.

Koz fathered Anub, Zobebah, and the families of Aharhel (the son of Harum).

We start seeing a little more detail with Jabez, who “was more honorable than his brothers” (1 Chron. 4:9). His name, which means “he giveth pain,” was given to him by his mother after what appears to have been a particularly difficult labour. We are told that Jabez prayed to God to bless him, give him more land, and not hurt him. His prayer was granted, inspiring a Bruce Wilkinson book titled The Prayer of Jabez, which has been accused of flirting with the prosperity gospel (the essence of which is that praying and giving all your money to your pastor will lead to earthly prosperity).

It’s easy enough to see how this mini-story might lend itself to something like the prosperity gospel (though I can’t say that Wilkinson actually falls into that, since I haven’t read the book). However, given the cultural context and the power names were thought to have had, it seems likely that this was just a little detail meant to show that, through faith, Jabez was able to overcome the curse of his name.

Chelub was brother to Shuhah and father of Mehir, and Mehir was father of Eshton. Eshton, in turn, fathered Bethrapha, Paseah, and Tehinnah. Tehinnah fathered Irnahash. These guys were from a place called Recah.

Kenaz fathered Othniel and Seraiah. Othniel fathered Hathath and Meonothai. Meonothai fathered Ophrai. Seraiah fathered Joab, who fathered Geharashim (which, we are told, was so called because they were craftsmen – 1 Chron. 4:14).

Caleb, the son of Jephunneh (almost certainly the same Caleb as can be found in Joshua 15:13-19), had the following sons: Iru, Elah, and Naam. Elah fathered Kenaz. My New Bible Commentary points out that this Caleb’s genealogy does not link up at any point, reinforcing the notion that he was a non-Israelite who was adopted into Judah (p.373).

A Jehallelel fathered Ziph, Ziphah, Tiria, and Asarel, while an Ezrah fathered Jether, Mered, Epher, and Jalon. Mered married Bithiah, the daughter of a Pharaoh, and they produced Miriam, Shammai, and Ishbah (Ishbah fathered Eshtemoa). Mered also had a Jewish wife, who bore Jered (who fathered Gedor), Heber (who fathered Soco), and Jekuthiel (who fathered Zanoah).

Someone by the name of Hodiah married a sister of Naham. Their sons were the fathers of Keilah the Garmite and Eshtemoa the Maacathite.

A Shimon fathered Amnon, Rinnah, Benhanan, and Tilon. Ishi fathered Zoheth and Benzoheth (a rather strange arrangement, given that “Benzoheth” would mean “son of Zoheth”).

Shelah, Judah’s son, fathered Er (father of Lecah), Laadah (father of Mareshah), and the families of the linen workers of Bethashbea.

Jokim and the men of Cozeba, Joash, and Saraph ruled in Moab, but returned to Lehem. They were the potters and inhabitants of Netaim and Gederah, and lived there to work for the king. My New Bible Commentary brings up an interesting note: “Archeology has shown that the potter’s craft was hereditary” (p.373). The more you know.

Simeon

For the second part of 1 Chron. 4, we turn to Simeon. I noted above that Simeon was apparently absorbed into Judah at some point. It’s a point that many of my sources claim without commentary or explanation. A fact that I found rather frustrating.

It took a little bit of a digging, but I started to find some textual clues. For example, Genesis 49:5-7 links Simeon with Levi – the landless priestly tribe – and promises to “divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.” By the time we get to Moses’s blessing in Deut. 33, Simeon is absent entirely.

As for its absorption into Judah, specifically, we can turn to Joshua 15:26-32, where several of Simeon’s towns are listed as being allotted to Judah.

The final piece comes from this very chapter. When the towns of Simeon are listed, the passage ends by stating that: “These were their cities until David reigned” (1 Chron. 4:32). I find that this one small verse is solidifying the perception of David that I got through reading 1-2 Samuel and 1 Kings – that he was a local warlord who came to control his tribe and, from there, continued his warlord-y activities. Evidently, that seems to have included an ongoing campaign against surrounding tribes.

We also learn in 1 Samuel 27:6 that David came into possession of Ziklag, one of the towns we will see listed as those belonging to Simeon.

From this, it seems rather clear that Simeon had ceased to be a distinct group long before the Chronicler came to write his account (despite the fact that they seemed to have maintained some kind of separate identity, at least for a while, as “they kept a genealogical record” – 1 Chron. 4:33). So why would the Chronicler bother to include them in his treatment of the tribes? The obvious answer is that the first portion of Chronicles is meant to present an ideal Israel, of which Simeon is a part.

As with Judah, the genealogy is clearly not meant to be such. We begin with a list of sons which deviates rather significantly from what we’ve seen before. Here, Simeon’s sons are Nemuel, Jamin, Jarib, Zerah, and Shaul. In Genesis 46:10, Nemuel is Jemuel, Jarib seems to be Jachin, Zerah seems to be Zohar, Ohad is added, and only Jamin and Shaul remain unchanged.

The next connection is unclear, as we are told that “Shallum was his son” (1 Chron. 4:25), but the “his” is not identified. From there, Shallum’s son is Mibsam, who fathered Mishma.

The sons of Mishma are Hammuel, Zaccur, and Shimei (though the grammar makes it possible that this is a lineage, Mishma to Hammuel to Zaccur to Shimei). Shimei had 16 sons and 6 daughters, but his brothers didn’t have many children, “nor did all their family multiply like the men of Judah” (1 Chron. 4:27). We see this represented in Numbers where, in the first census, the tribe held 59,300 men capable of fighting (Num. 1:22-23), whereas by the time of the second census, they had only 22,200 (Num. 26:12-14).

The text goes on to list their cities, which roughly corresponds to their allotment in Jos. 19:2-8: Beersheba, Moladah, Hazarshual, Bilhah (appearing as Balah in Joshua), Ezem, Tolad (appearing as Eltolad in Joshua), Bethuel (appearing as Bethul in Joshua), Hormah, Ziklag, Bethmarcaboth, Hazarsusim (appearing as Hazarsusah in Joshua), Bethbiri (possibly corresponding to Joshua’s Bethlebaoth), and Shaaraim (possibly corresponding to Joshua’s Sharuhen), which they controlled until David’s reign. This list is only missing Sheba from Joshua’s version.

Next come their villages, which again corresponds to Jos. 19:2-8: Etam (which does not appear in Joshua), Ain, Rimmon, Tochen (which does not appear in Joshua), and Ashan. The Joshua version also adds a town called Ether, making the count five here and four in Joshua.

While the tribe of Simeon, as a whole, was shrinking, some families seem to have been doing all right. The following princes’ houses “increased greatly” (1 Chron. 4:38: Meshobab, Jamlech, Joshah son of Amaziah, Joel, Jehu son of Joshibiah (the son of Seraiah son of Asiel), Elioenai, Jaakobah, Jeshohaiah, Asaiah, Adiel, Jesimiel, Benaiah, and Ziza son of Shiphi (the son of Allon son Jedaiah son of Shimri son of Shemaiah).

These princes migrated to the better pastureland in Gedor, in lands that used to belong to the descendants of Ham. In the days of King Hezekiah of Judah, they came and destroyed the Meunim who were living there, and settled down (it seems that they had maintained a nomadic lifestyle up until that point, see the reference to tents in 1 Chron. 4:41).

Another group, or perhaps an offshoot group, went to Mount Seir. These were led by the sons of Ishi: Pelatiah, Neariah, Rephaiah, and Uzziel. There, they killed off the remnant of the Amalekites.

Reuben

Reuben’s section kicks off 1 Chron. 5. Right off the bat, we are given an explanation for why he does not appear at the head of the list despite being the first-born son of Jacob (here consistently called Israel). It is, of course, because he “polluted his father’s couch” (1 Chon. 5:1), presumably a reference to his sleeping with his father’s concubine in Gen. 35:22.

From The History of Joseph and His Brethren, illustration by Owen Jones, 1869

From The History of Joseph and His Brethren, illustration by Owen Jones, 1869

Instead, continues the Chronicler, Reuben’s special portion (a “double portion,” according to Deut. 21:15-17) transferred to the sons of Joseph. This makes little sense to me, since Joseph was not the next in line. Looking at Gen. 29-30, we see that the next children were, in order, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. Since Simeon and Levi were “scattered,” that leaves Judah as the principle inheritor (which would make sense). However, 1 Chron. 5:1 specifically states that “his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph,” who wasn’t born until Gen. 30:23-24, making him the penultimate son (Benjamin being the youngest).

The explanation is, of course, both that Joseph received a “double portion” by having both of his sons inherit as if they were his brothers, and in the fact that both Ephraim and Manasseh were large tribes in control of comparatively large patches of territory. But in the personification story, it makes little sense.

The narrative then moves on to the sons of Reuben, listed here as: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi. This corresponds neatly to the list found in Num. 26:5-6, but for some reason doesn’t include the further descendants from Num. 26:7-9 (was the Chronicler not interested? Or did he not have access to the complete list?).

We then move on to the lineage of Joel, whose connection to Reuben’s genealogy is not clear, but at least the final of which was a Reubenite chieftain. It goes from Joel, to Shemaiah, to Gog, to Shimei, to Micah, to Reaiah, to Baal, and finally to Beerah, who was carried into exile by Assyria’s Tilgath-pilneser.

His (I assume this refers back to Beerah) kinsmen were Jeiel (a chief), Zechariah, and Bela. Bela was the son of Azaz, who was the son of Shema, who was the son of Joel. Perhaps the same Joel as above. Joel lived in Aroer, as far as Nebo and Baalmeon, but it seems that the group’s territory was forced east as their herds multiplied.

While Saul was king, the Reubenites fought and won against the Hagrites.

Gad

Strangely, this section does not list the sons of Gad (which can be found in Gen. 46:16), but rather goes straight into a discussion of its prominent members. Except that this doesn’t match the similar list found in Num. 26:15-18.

Here, the descendants of Gad who live “in the land of Bashan as far as Salecah” (1 Chron. 5:11) are: Joel the chief (the same as the Reubenite Joel?), Shapham, Janai, and Shaphat. They had the following kinsmen: Michael, Meshullam, Sheba, Jorai, Jacan, Zia, and Eber. These seven were the sons of Abihail, who was the son of Huri, who was the son of Jaroah, who was the son of Gilead, who was the son of Michael, who was the son of Jeshishai, who was the son of Jahdo, who was the son of Buz. Their chief seems to have been a certain Ahi son of Abdiel (who was the son of Guni).

These names were all recorded in the days of King Jotham of Judah and King Jeroboam of Israel. The importance of these men is not stated, and they were likely included simply because they were names that the Chronicler had available to him.

Just as a point of interest, it seems that the Moabite Stone (or Mesha Stele) specifically mentions the men of Gad. From this, we know that Gad was known as its own tribal identity at least in this point of time – around 840 BCE.

The Hagrite War

Before finishing up the record of the Transjordan tribes, the narrative turns to a description of war against the Hagrites, likely the same as was mentioned above.

The Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh had great warriors who did normal warrior things and had normal warrior equipment. In this account, there were 44,760 men, across the three tribes, who were ready to fight. The number is almost certainly inflated, of course.

This massive number of soldiers moved against the Hagrites. Specifically, these Hagrites: Jetur, Naphish, and Nodab. The Transjordan tribes cried out to God during the battle and, because of this (and surely not their massive numbers), they won the war. This allowed them to carry off 50,000 camels, 250,000 sheep, 2,000 donkeys, and 100,000 people. Unfortunately, the number of people they were able to carry off was diminished by the high casualties on the loser’s side, “because the war was of God” (1 Chron. 5:22).

The Hagrites seem to have been an Arab group. The name itself sounds rather like Hagar, Sarah’s handmaiden and the mother of Ishmael. That’s flimsy enough, but two of the Hagrite names (Jetur and Naphish) can be found in the list of Ishmael’s sons in Gen. 25:12-15.

The half-tribe of Manasseh

Finally, we reach the final Transjordan tribe. It might seem strange that the details about the war against the Hagrites was crowbarred in the middle, but the reason will shortly become apparent.

The description of the half-tribe of Manasseh (that would be the portion of it located in the Transjordan) begins by emphasizing just how numerous they were.

The house heads were: Epher, Ishi, Eliel, Azriel, Jeremiah, Jodaviah, and Jahdiel. These men are described as mighty warriors and famous men, despite the fact that I‘ve never heard of them.

Unfortunately, they transgressed against God by worshipping the “gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them: (1 Chron. 5:25). Because of this, God sent Assyria’s Pul and Tilgath-pilneser to conquer and take them into exile.

In other words, the exact opposite of what happened in the war against the Hagrites, where the people prayed to God instead of being unfaithful.

All three Transjordan tribes were taken into exile, and brought to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the river Gozan, where they live even “to this day” (1 Chron. 6:26). This list corresponds, despite the absence of Medes, to the one given in 2 Kgs 17:6 and 2 Kgs 18:11-12.

James Pate points to one possible take-away of this story: That the Transjordan tribes doomed themselves by choosing lands for themselves, rather than waiting for God’s allotment (Numbers 32). However, as he points out, the victory against the Hagrites seems to argue against this interpretation, since they were still granted victory so long as they continued to be faithful to God.

Thoughts

In reading these two chapters, I was struck by how haphazard it seems. While the author(s) of Judges and Deuteronomy each employed a predictable formula to organize their subjects, adding details here and there, these accounts present quite different kinds of information for each tribe. It feels as though the Chronicler only had access to whatever records each tribe happened to keep, the priorities of each tribe depending on its particular flavour.

Names are included without much rhyme or reason. Perhaps censuses were taken, so these were just the names the Chronicler had available.

1 Samuel 13: The Great Falling Out

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The chapter opens with something of a mystery. According to John Hobbins’s translation, the opening line reads: “Saul was a year old when he became king, and he was king over Israel for two years.”

Clearly, Kish didn’t send his one-year-old out to fetch donkeys, and I think we can assume that a one-year-old can’t have a son out leading armies (we will be meeting his son Jonathan shortly). Even if we accept the possibility of a narrative jumbling – in which case the events in which Samuel is clearly an adult may have taken place after his coronation – it would be too unusual for an infant to be a dynasty founder without it getting a mention.

Far more likely, we have a corruption of the record. It could be that the earliest text had correct figures that were later dropped, or perhaps the original author didn’t know and used these numbers as a place-holder.

Hobbins goes on to mention other variations of the passage that contain more realistic figures:

There are ancient witnesses that supply a plausible age for Saul at the beginning of his reign – the Lucianic recension of the Old Greek has 30 years; the Syriac has 21 – but there are no grounds for thinking that either goes back to an earlier stage of the text in which Saul’s age when he became king was not lacking.

If anything, the presence of different figures suggests, to me, that later scholars were concerned about the absence of realistic figures and included their best guesses – arriving at different conclusions or possibly drawing from different traditions.

If we assume a late composition date, it’s not unreasonable for the author not to have access to the actual figures. Which raises the question of why he would bring up the topic at all. It could be that the point is to indicate that these events aren’t occurring right after the events of 1 Sam. 12. Rather, time has passed, perhaps quite a few years.

Saul at war

Saul selects 3,000 soldiers, sending the remainder home. He keeps 2,000 of them with him at Michmash while his son, Jonathan, leads the remainder in a raid against the Philistine garrison at Geba.

Saul reproved by Samuel for not obeying the commandments of the Lord, by John Singleton Copley, 1798

Saul reproved by Samuel for not obeying the commandments of the Lord, by John Singleton Copley, 1798

For all that the Philistines are the baddies in these stories, Saul is clearly on the offensive. When Jonathan wins, Saul blows a trumpet to signal that the tides have turned, and to call the people to Gilgal (raising the question of why he’d dismissed them in the first place).

When they hear of it, the Philistines muster 30,000 charioteers, 6,000 cavalry, and innumerable footsoldiers. They gather at Michmash, where Saul had so recently been.

The number of Philistines has the Israelites quaking in their boots, and many hide “in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns” (1 Sam. 13:6). In apparent reference to 1 Sam. 10:8, Saul waits seven days for Samuel, but Samuel doesn’t show. Saul, seeing his people starting to desert and having no idea where Samuel is or if he’s even coming, takes matters into his own hands. He orders that a sacrifice be performed without Samuel.

When Samuel arrives, he is furious. He declares that, by crossing the church/state barrier, Saul has broken God’s commandments. “But now,” he says, “your kingdom shall not continue” (1 Sam. 13: 14).

There’s the impression that Samuel may not have taken too well to the loss of his secular authority. We see a hint of this in 1 Sam. 8:7, where God tries to reassure Samuel that it is he who is rejected, not Samuel. Now that we see Samuel so furious, I wonder if it’s not because Saul has attempted to erode his last little corner of power.

Or, if we read in some allegory, it could well be that this story presents a conflict between secular and religious authorities at a time when secular authorities were just forming in the region. It seems that Samuel, as a stand-in for religious authority, is attempted to create and preserve a role for his “team” within the context of the new monarchy.

We now learn that the Philistines have, in their attempt to control Israel, forbidden smithing (not an unknown strategy – when she defeated the Oirats, the Mongolian queen Mandukhai forbade the use of knives even for eating). This indicates a power well beyond that suggested so far. Or, perhaps, it is hyperbole intended to ramp up the suspense of the story.

As a practical detail, we learn that the Israelites have had to turn to Philistine smiths to tend their tools, paying a pim (1/2 shekel) for work on ploughshares and mattocks, and 1/3 shekel for sharpening axes and setting goads.

Only Saul and Jonathan are armed with proper weapons. Which all makes it rather impressive that Jonathan was able to defeat the garrison at Gibeah.

 

Judges 9: On power plays and death curses

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For this chapter, Gideon has fully transformed into his Jerubbaal form. While Gideon refused kingship in Judges 8:23, Jerubbaal, it seems, took it. Or, perhaps we misunderstood Gideon’s words in Judges 8:23, and he was actually making a theological point rather than a refusal. Sort of a “yes, I’ll wear the crown, but God will be your true king” sort of thing.

Abimelech, one of Jerubbaal’s bastard sons – born of a concubine (Judges 8:31) or slave/servant (Judges 9:18) – decides that perhaps he should inherit his father’s title after Jerubbaal’s passing. But first, he needs supporters.

Abimelech travels to Shechem, where his mother’s family is from.

I find it rather curious that Shechem has had so many mentions both in Joshua and Judges – far more than a site I would have assumed would have had more importance, like Jerusalem. I found it especially surprising because, prior to this project, I’d never heard of it.

My study Bible says of the city that it was “the most important city and sanctuary in north central Palestine. It guarded the important east and west highway which passed between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim” (p.305). Baalberith, the god the people began worshipping in Judges 8:33 and who will make an appearance in a couple verses, is, according to my study Bible, named “the lord of the covenant” and was “the god of Shechem.” It’s significant that this is also, if you’ll recall, where Joshua’s covenant ceremony took place in Joshua 24.

It’s also worth noting that Abimelech’s name  means “my father, the king,” and is the perfect name for someone “claiming the inherited right to rule (wiki). It was also, according to the same source, a common name among Philistine kings. You will probably remember another Abimelech who slept with both Sarah (Abraham’s wife) and Rebekah (Isaac’s wife).

Back to the story, Abimelech asks his mother’s family to sow dissent, telling them to go out and ask everyone “What is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal rule over you, or that one rule over you?” (Judges 9:2). He compels them to work on his campaign by reminding them of their blood tie.

The campaign works and Abimelech soon has Shechem on his side. They even fund his efforts, giving him seventy pieces of silver from the temple of Baalberith (one for each of Jerubbaal’s sons?), which he uses to hire “worthless and reckless fellows” (Judges 9:4).

The Rise of Abimelech, by Kevin Rolly

The Rise of Abimelech, by Kevin Rolly

Abimelech then travels to Ophrah (Gideon’s home-base in Judges 6) and kills all seventy of his brothers. Well, except that Jerubbaal had seventy sons of which Abimelech himself was one, so that would leave only 69 brothers. Also, he missed one. Jotham, Jerubbaal’s youngest, hides like the son of Gideon that he is, and thereby escapes death.

The people of Shechem, now joined by the people of Bethmillo who are never mentioned again, gather by the oak pillar at Shechem to name Abimelech their king. It was under this same oak that Joshua set up a large stone after composing his book of law (Josh. 24:26).

Jotham returns one last time, standing atop Mount Gerizim and yelling some weird parable about Ents choosing a king. The olive tree, fig tree, and vine all refuse the title, but the bramble accepts it on condition that the offer is sincerely made. If not, warns the bramble, “let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon” (Judges 9:15).

If that’s too trippy for you, Jotham helpfully spells it out – Abimelech, as a bastard, is as lowly and useless as a bramble, and if the offer of kingship is not sincerely made, then Abimelech and Shechem will both be destroyed.

With this, Jotham drops his mic and goes back into hiding. Clearly, his parentage is beyond doubt.

Big Trouble In Little Shechem

Abimelech rules Israel for three years. Notice that the text specifically says Israel in Judges 9:22, even though the story is very clearly focused on the Shechem region.

Indeed, when trouble begins to brew, it is the “men of Shechem” (Judges 9:23) who are divided from Abimelech, not the men of Israel.

Though God is otherwise quite absent from this story, he does get the credit for Shechem’s dissent, having sent “an evil spirit” (Judges 9:23) between Abimelech and the city. This is explained as punishment for the murder of Abimelech’s brothers (Abimelech for doing it, Shechem for giving him the means). Interestingly, it is not punishment for, say, being associated with Baalberith (Judges 9:4).

After this, the narrative gets a little hectic. As best as I can figure, the Shechemites take to banditry, but it’s also a covert attack on Abimelech himself (Judges 9:25).

Then Gaal, son of Ebed, moves to Shechem. He and the Shechemites harvest their grapes, tread on them, celebrate, go to the house of their god (unspecified), and “reviled Abimelech” (Judges 9:27). I can’t figure out what the significance is of the pastoral backdrop, except perhaps that we’re supposed to understand that Gaal is winning over the Shechemites by working with them, or perhaps that the Shechemites are drunken to the point of suggestibility by their post-harvest revelry.

Gaal incites the Shechemites by asking why they should serve Abimelech. Didn’t Abimelech’s father Jerubbaal and his officer Zebul both “serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem?” (Judges 9:28) I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. The only other reference I can find to Hamor is way back in Genesis 34, when Jacob is staying near Shechem and Hamor’s son rapes/has sex with Jacob’s daughter Dinah. I’m assuming that the mention here refers to some story that has not been included in the text.

At least we find out who Zebul is fairly quickly – he is “the ruler of the city” (Judges 9:30). Presumably, Abimelech is ruling the region (or all of Israel), and Zebul is his officer appointed to Shechem. Indeed, we will soon find out that Abimelech’s court is in Arumah.

So Zebul finds out about Gaal’s grumblings, and he sends word to Abimelech. He tells Abimelech to hide in the fields around Shechem at night and, in the morning, rush the city. If all goes according to plan, Gaal and his supporters will rush out to meet him and then Abimelech “may do to them as occasion offers” (Judges 9:33).

Abimelech follows his officer’s instructions. When Gaal spots his army, he tells Zebul, but Zebul insists that he must just be seeing things. But when Gaal insists, Zebul says “I thought you said Abimelech was just a nobody. If he’s just a nobody, go out and face him!”

Goaded, Gaal rushes out, is defeated, flees, and many die. His work done, Abimelech goes back to Arumah and Zebul casts Gaal’s family out of Shechem.

The next day, people go out into the fields, so Abimelech slays them. He then takes Shechem, razes it, and sows it with salt. None of this is really explained, except insofar as it was predicted by Jotham’s parable.

The survivors of Shechem hide in the temple of Elberith (Judges 9:46). It’s worth noting that no one in this story appears to be especially concerned with YHWH. Abimelech turned to Baalberith for support, and the Shechemites turn to Elberith for protection. Jotham and Gaal’s faiths are never mentioned. The only mention we really get of YHWH is the note that he is the one who turns Shechem and Abimelech against each other as punishment for the slaying of Gideon’s other sons.

Abimelech, once compared to brambles, goes to Mount Zalmon and collects a bunch of brushwood, which he then uses to set the temple of Elberith on fire, killing the thousand men and women inside.

For no particular reason, he then heads out to Thebez and makes to burn them down as well, but a woman throws a millstone down from the battlements of the tower and it lands on Abimelech’s head, crushing his skull. Dying, he begs his amour-bearer to kill him so that no one can say that he was killed by a woman (an interesting mirroring of Jael’s work in Judges 4).

As the chapter concludes, we are told that this was all part of Jotham’s curse. The end.

Judges 6-8: Gideon’s 300

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Israel was at rest for forty years, presumably under Deborah as judge. At the end of that time, the cycle resets and God gives the Israelites over to Midian for seven years. The Midianites, who are suddenly joined by the Amalekites and miscellaneous eastern peoples, harass the Israelites so much that they build “dens” (Judges 6:2) in the mountains – defensible caves and strongholds. They harass the Israelites, and come through with so many people and cattle that they are “like locusts” (Judges 6:5), both in number and in the effect they have on the land. They’ve apparently bounced back quite admirably from the culling they received Num. 31:7, 16-17.

The situation is so terrible that it prompts God to give a big lecture and then he appoints his new judge, Gideon.

Gideon’s appointment story reminded me a lot of Moses’s call from Exodus 3. First, there’s the presence of Midianites (though in Moses’s case, of course, he was rather friendly with them). But the real connection is that Gideon is the first “hero” called since Moses who goes through the refusal stage of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth. The idea behind the refusal is that only a narcissist would accept becoming God’s Special BFF without protest. An initial refusal of the position demonstrates humility, therefore signifying to the audience that the hero is worthy of the position.

Gideon is visited by a figure who is alternately God and an angel of God – something we saw a bit of in Genesis, such as Gen. 16:10-11 and Gen. 22:11, then again in Balaam’s story in Numbers 22, and then not again until Judges.

This angel sits under an oak at Ophrah, on land belonging to Joash the Abiezrite. Gideon, his son, was beating out wheat in the wine press instead of out in the open “to hide it from the Midianites” (Judges 6:11).

Right from the start, Gideon challenges God. When the angel tells him that “the Lord is with you” (Judges 6:12), Gideon asks how that can be when the situation is so terrible. What happened, he asks, to the great deeds of the exodus? To which God replies, “do not I send you?” (Judges 6:14). That got a good chuckle out!

Gideon proceeds to make various excuses for why he can’t possibly be the deliverer of the Israelites – the Abiezrites are the weakest clan in Manasseh, and he has the lowest status within it. It reminded me of all the excuses Moses made when faced with a similar situation. God, however, still maintains that Gideon will do fine because he will have God at his side.

Still unsure, Gideon (who clearly never read Deut. 6:16) proposes a test and asks the angel/God to hang around for a bit. He runs off and prepares a meal, then brings it back to the where the angel/God is still waiting under the tree, offering the meal. God tells him to put the meal on a rock and to pour broth over it. That done, God touches it with the tip of his staff and it bursts into flame. The miraculous fire at the time of the call is another connection to the Moses story – and I wonder if the pouring of the broth over the food is intended to give the miracle a little more oomph, since it would pre-emptively shoot down any objections that perhaps Gideon’s meatloaf is just so dry that it spontaneously combusts like underbrush in a drought. Though the parameters of the test were never stated, this seems to satisfy Gideon – for now.

Unfortunately, it satisfies him too well, and Gideon freaks out as it dawns on him that he has seen God face-to-face (this being a death sentence, as per Exod. 33:20). God reassures him – “Peace be to you; do not fear, you shall not die” (Judges 6:23).

Altar Real Estate

Like the patriarchs of Genesis, Gideon builds an altar that “to this day still stands at Ophrah” (Judges 6:24) on the spot where he communed with God. Details like this and the references to the “angel of the Lord” make me wonder if this story may not have originated from the same tradition that later birthed Genesis. Certainly, it seems that the bulk of the story comes from a very different set of traditions than the other books we’ve read so far.

Now that God has his altar at Ophrah, he asks Gideon to pull down his father’s altar to Ball and cut down his father’s Asherah – two separate monuments to two separate gods located on the same real estate.

The wording is a little confusing, but it seems that Gideon uses one of his father’s bulls to do this work, then builds (another?) altar to God, then sacrifices a second of his father’s bulls using the wood from the Asherah. I’m not sure whether these are two separate bulls, or if Joash’s second best bull is being used to both purposes.

I was somewhat shocked that God would ask Gideon to use the wood from the Asherah to build the sacrificial pyre since it would have been consecrated to another God. There’s no mention of, for example, reusing the materials from Baal’s altar in the building of the new one. I haven’t looked into it, but I’ve heard whispers that Asherah may have been proto-God’s consort before Judaism got all monotheistic. I’m just using a little wild conjecture but, if that’s the case, is it possible that using wood from an Asherah was at one time part of how sacrifices were supposed to be made to God, at least in a particular region?

Gideon, who seems to be depicted truly as the “least” (Judges 6:15). When we first see him, he is working in hiding, then demurs from God’s call, and now is willing destroy his father’s altars only under the cover at night for fear of his family and the townsfolk.

In the morning, the townsfolk see what happen and tell Joash to bring out his son. Despite the fact that Gideon had worked at night for fear of his family and the fact that the altars were his fathers, Joash seems quite firmly on Team Gideon.

He faces the mob, and he says: “If he [Baal] is a god, let him content for himself” (Judges 6:31) – a message that I truly wish were preached from the pulpit a bit more often. It seems to work because the townsfolk are not mentioned again.

Even though Joash is the one who says this, we are told that this is how Gideon earns his new name – Jerubbaal, which means “Let Baal content against him” (Judges 6:32).

On this name, my study Bible says:

The explanation given of the name Jerubbaal is not the natural one; the bearer of such a name was certainly a worshiper of Baal, not an antagonist.

This leads me to wonder if perhaps this portion of the story wasn’t invented to explain away a name that was associated with Gideon.

Abbie from Better Than Esdras asks, in a similar vein, if perhaps Gideon might not have originated as a Canaanite folk hero.

The Battle

With enemies amassing, “the Spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon” (Judges 6:34), which I assume is just another way of saying that he girded his loins.

Gideon calls out to Asher, Zebulun, Naphtali, and the rest of Manassehfor help. Before moving out, however, Gideon wants to make absolutely sure that God will be with him. Rather than simply asking for confirmation, he instead sets up a new test.

First, Gideon sets out a fleece of wool and tells God that, in the morning, the fleece should be wet with dew but not the ground around it. On the second morning, the fleece should be dry while the ground is wet. God abides.

Convinced, Gideon/Jerubbaal assembles his army and gets ready to head out. This time, it’s God’s turn to have reservations. He’s concerned that the gathered army of 32,000 men is too impressive – when they win, they will surely think that it was their number that won the battle and not God.

God would like the defeat of the Midianites (who are sporadically accompanied by Amalekites and assorted eastern peoples) to be an obvious miracle, so he proposes tests to reduce the number of soldiers in Gideon’s army.

  1. Anyone who is fearful is told to head home. This leaves only 10,000 soldiers, but the number is still too high for God’s liking.
  2. God has Gideon send the soldiers down to the river and take a drink. Those who lap at the water with their tongues like a dog may remain, while those who kneel to drink must go home. This leaves the 300 most savage and uncivilized Israelites – Gideon’s very own 300.

Timid Gideon who prefers hiding in wine presses and in the dark of night is woken in the wee hours and told to attack. Anticipating that he’ll object, God pre-empts any further testing and just tells Gideon to take his servant, Purah, and eavesdrop on the Midianite camp.

There, Gideon overhears two men talking. One of them has had a dream wherein a cake of barley bread tumbled into camp and crushed a tent. His friend interprets the dream, seeing the barley bread as a stand-in for Joshua’s sword. Because nothing says “sword” like a loaf of bread shaped to tumble.

My study Bible helpfully supplements this interpretation – the barley bread is a symbol of a settled, agrarian society (the Israelites), while the tent symbolises a nomadic culture (which the Midianites apparently are).

What follows is a bit of trickery – or, at least, I read it as such. I get the sense from both Better Than Esdras (where it is described as “SO WEIRD”) and Both Saint and Cynic (who refers to the Israelite army being “armed with pottery jars” but makes no reference to their purpose) that perhaps this is not the obvious interpretation I thought it was.

The Israelites position themselves in companies on different sides of the Midianite encampment perimeter. They all carry trumpets and torches, but the torches are kept inside jars. Once they are in position, they smash the jars and blow the trumpets. In my interpretation, the strategy here is to use the jars to hide the light from the torches during the approach (depending on the shape of these jars, it could allow for a focused beam of light so that the soldiers can see where they are going without being seen by the Midianites). When they smash the jars, the torches are revealed. Combined with their positions and the blowing of the trumpets, they would give the illusion that their number is far greater, which is what scares the Midianites, prompting them to flee.

The text implies that all the Midianites flee and that there is no actual battle at this point.

Ephraim’s Victory

With the Midianites fleeing, Gideon sends word to Ephraim to kill off the deserters coming their way. The Ephraimites manage to capture two Midianite chieftains, Oreb and Zeeb. They kill Oreb at a rock of the same name, and Zeeb at a winepress of the same name.

But all of this happens after something of a river-hopping chase. Being unfamiliar with the geography, I noticed nothing strange about the description of the movements. Abbie, from Better Than Esdras, however, did a little more research than I:

The Midianites flee. The average reader wouldn’t realize it, but the OSE [Oxford Study Bible] editors note that the places they flee to are all east of the Jordan (outside of Canaan). If you’ve been paying ANY attention you’ll know all the action has taken place in Ephraim, west of the Jordan. So, logically, the Midianites have crossed the Jordan. TAKE NOTE OF THIS.

[She then quotes Judges 7:24-25]

See any problems? The Ephraimites are trying to prevent the Midianites from crossing the Jordan… and apparently they succeed (the fords are held, right?) But the Midianites, we know from their locations, just crossed the river. Major, major contradictions here. And then what is up with the king’s heads? Which side of the river are they even headed towards? HAHAHA.

How to solve these contradictions? Sift out the sources. After a lot of puzzlement, here is my FINAL ANSWER. I believe that the main text of chapter 7 ends abruptly partway through verse 22. Then, 7:22b-7:24 is a short bridge, drawn from several fragments. Finally, 7:25-8:3 is a cohesive insert. The text beginning 8:4 apparently continues the main story from Chapter 7.

The chieftains dispatched, the Ephraimites turn on Gideon, angry that they were not called in to the war efforts earlier. Gideon mollifies them by arguing that the capture of Oreb and Zeeb was a greater victory than the ruse at the Midianite camp.

Zebah and Zalmunna

Gideon and his 300 men pursue two more chieftains, Zebah and Zalmunna (or, more likely, origin stories for locations known as Oreb and Zeeb got associated with the story of Gideon’s triumph over Midian and something to do with two kings, and we’re seeing two very different versions of the same story).

Bataille de Gédéon contre les Madianites, by Nicolas Poussin, 1625-1626

Bataille de Gédéon contre les Madianites, by Nicolas Poussin, 1625-1626

The soldiers are exhausted, so they stop at Succoth and ask for bread. The residents of Succoth refuse, saying that Gideon hasn’t yet caught Zebah and Zalmunna (which I see some people interpret as a taunt, though I saw it as choosing the side they anticipate will be the winner, having seen how much smaller Gideon’s army is). Furious, Gideon tells them that he’s busy right now, but when the chieftains are caught, he’ll come back and flay the people of Succoth with thorns and briars.

Still hungry, the Israelites stop in Penuel and the same thing happens, only this time Gideon says that he will return and break down their tower.

Eventually, the 301 Israelites catch up to Zebah, Zalmunna, and their 15,000 men in Karkor. Gideon’s army attacks and wins. This is clearly not the timid Gideon we’ve seen so far who hides in the shadows. Rather, the Gideon of this portion of the story resembles more the Israelite-hero-who-kills-everything archetype we’ve seen so much of.

He returns to Succoth with his two prisoners and confronts a young man they find from the city. The young man – under what conditions it is not described – gives up the names of Succoth’s 77 elders. Gideon confronts the elders, presenting his captive chieftains, and then “taught the men of Succoth” (Judges 8:16) by flaying them, as promised, with his thorns and briars. He then moves on to Penuel and takes down their tower, slaying their men too, for good measure.

I think it’s rather clear that there was a story in which Gideon asked for help from a town, was rejected, and then got revenge, though different areas had attributed it to different towns. These two divergent threads were then stitched back into the same narrative by the Judges editor.

Having shown off Zebah and Zalmunna to his enemies, Gideon then questions them about men they killed at Tabor. To chieftains confess to having killed them, and Gideon reveals that “they were my brothers, the sons of my mother” (Judges 8:19). Wait, what??

According to J.R. Porter:

[Gideon] seems to have been originally a simple folk-hero of a small clan group, who was remembered as one who upheld the fundamental social institution of the blood-feud by slaughtering the two kings of Midian who had killed his brothers (Judg. 8.18-21). (The New Illustrated Companion to the Bible, p. 68)

In other words, there seems to have been a story where, instead of being called by God to liberate the Israelites, Gideon was instead on a personal quest for revenge. I wonder if Gideon and Jerubbaal might not have originally been separate figures who were combined at some point, and then given an origin story that better fit with the Judges pattern of judges being elected to free Israel from the hands of some enemy.

That the story had originally been of revenge rather that freedom is the only way that I can see to explain his reaction when the chieftains confess to the killing: “if you had saved them alive, I would not slay you” (Judges 8:19). I don’t think we have any example of the hero from a freedom narrative sparing the enemy leaders, but in the context of a blood feud, Gideon would have no basis for killing them if his brothers still lived.

At first, Gideon tells his eldest son, Jether, to kill the chieftains (wait, if he was the “least” in his family back in Judges 6, does that mean that his status was lower, even, than his own son? How on earth did literalphilia ever become a thing?). Jether, taking after his dad, refuses, and the text tells us that it’s because he was so young. Surprisingly, he is not stricken down or killed for his refusal, and Gideon simply does the job himself.

Monarchy and Heresy

Having seen him in action, the Israelites ask Gideon to become their king, and for his position to be hereditary. Gideon refuses (Judges 8:23).

He does, however, ask a favour of his soldiers – he asks them all to give him the gold earrings they had taken from their enemies, who have suddenly transformed from Midianites to Ishmaelites. These, he melts down with the crescent jewellery he’d taken from the Midianite kings, and uses the gold to build an ephod. This he sets up in Ophrah, presumably near the (two) altar(s) he made for God.

The Ishmaelites, if you’ll remember, are the descendants of Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, whom he abandoned in the wilderness. He is considered by Muslims to be the father of Arabs. It struck me that the text should associate these Ishmaelites with crescents twice, that symbol being today associated with Islam.

Wikipedia confounds any conclusions I might draw from this, however, as it seems to have been a symbol in use around the Ancient Near East.

The building of the ephod turns out to be a rather bad idea because “all Israel played the harlot after it, there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family” (Judges 8:27).

Thing is, we have no idea what an ephod is.

Brant Clements discusses the object:

Previously we encountered the word in reference to a priestly garment (Exodus 25:7). That doesn’t seem to be what Gideon made.No, Gideon made some kind of object of worship (an idol). I suspect that, like the priestly garment, it may have been used for divination, but that’s just speculation on my part. Whatever it was, Gideon’s ephod was problematic because people worshiped it.

The Israelites have forty years of rest under Gideon, during which time he has seventy sons via many wives. One, Abimelech, was born of a concubine. We’ll hear more about him later.

When Gideon dies, the Israelites turn to Baalberith as their god.

Joshua 13-21: Land allotments, oh my!

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Always a bit of a Debbie Downer, God begins by telling Joshua that he’s getting old and that there is still much land to be conquered. He then proceeds to list these lands in Josh. 13:2-6.

The narrator follows up by describing the boundaries of the land under Israelite control on the east side of the Jordan, reminding us once more about how Moses defeated King Og and King Sihon (will he ever stop going on about that?). We are told that the Israelites had failed to drive out the Geshurites and Maacathites, who still live within Israel “to this day” (Josh. 13:13).

The actual allocation sections are a little scattered, so I’ll deal with the content out of order. In Josh. 18, Joshua tells the tribes who still require lands to each send out three men to scout the land and write descriptions of it. When they return, Joshua will use a lottery system to divide it among the tribes. This all takes place at Shiloh.

ChariotsBecause the place names are extremely boring, I will just list verse references plus any detail that happens to attract my interest. Here are the tribal allocations:

Judah: Josh. 15:1-12, 20-63. Though God had promised to Joshua that no one would be able to stand against him (Josh. 1:5), the people of Judah were not able to drive out the Jebusites, who were the people living in Jerusalem. Because of this, “the Jebusites live with the people of Judah in Jerusalem to this day” (Josh. 15:63).

Reuben: Josh. 13:15-23.  Amid the listing of territories, we are reminded that the Israelites killed Balaam, “who practiced divination” (Josh. 13:22). This was, if you remember, a totally awkward twist from Numbers 31

Gad: Josh. 13:24-28. In Josh. 13:27, we are told that Gad gets “the rest of the kingdom of King Sihon. This conflicts with Josh. 13:21, where we are told that Reuben is to receive “all the kingdom of King Sihon.” The biblical penchant for exaggeration is all well and good, but probably a terrible idea when relating tribal land allocations…

Manasseh (eastern half/Machir): Josh. 13:29-31, 17:3-6. In Josh. 17, we are reminded of Zelophehad’s daughters – Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah – who are to receive an inheritance in their own right. Here, the women are given their lands.

Manasseh (western half): Josh. 17:7-13. Once more, the Israelites are unable to kill off all the native inhabitants, so that the Manassites have to wait until they strong enough to enslave the Canaanites.

Ephraim: Josh. 16:1-10. Once again, we are told that they were unable to drive some people out – the Canaanites of Gezer remain and, we are told, have been enslaved.

Benjamin: Josh. 18:11-26.

Simeon: Josh. 19:1-9. Though the apportioning of land was supposed to have been fair, for some reason Joseph had given too much to Judah. So when he gets to Simeon, he doesn’t have enough territory to give and has to carve pieces out from Judah and give them over. Mastermind Joshua strikes again. You’d think he’d have planned ahead a little…

Zebulun: Josh. 19:10-16.

Issachar: Josh. 19:17-23. Excavations began on what is believed to be Anaharath, one of Issachar’s towns, somewhat recently!

Asher: Josh. 19:24-31.

Naphtali: Josh. 19:32-39.

Dan: Josh. 19:40-48. We are told that Dan took land from Leshem, renaming it “Dan” after their ancestor. Unfortunately, they are given Zorah and Eshtaol, which had already been given to Judah back in Josh. 15:33. Poor Joshua just cannot wrap his head around how this stuff works…

Levi: Josh. 21:1-45. Though they get no territory per se, the Levites do get cities, as well as a little pasture land. A portion of the Kohathites are given thirteen towns from Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin. The rest of the Kohathites get ten towns from Ephraim, Dan, and Manasseh. The Gershonites get thirteen towns from Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and Manasseh. The Merarites get twelve towns from Reuben, Gad, and Zebulun. We are told that Caleb had been given the fields and villages of one of the towns now being given to the Levites.

Caleb and Joshua

Caleb: Josh. 14:6-15, 15:13-19. You’ll remember Caleb has the scout who (with or without Joshua) stood against the other scouts in their position that the Israelites should not rush into the Promised Land. I can’t recall if Moses promised him his own land as a reward at the time, but the text here says that he did. And so, while Joshua is drawing all his lots, Caleb approaches and demands his reward. Though he is 85 years old now, he claims that he is still strong enough to fight and, therefore, would like to be granted the hill country where he had initially seen the Anakim (the giants he saw in Numbers 13). Joshua agrees, giving him Hebron – previously named Kiriatharba. The Arba in the name is the “greatest man among the Anakim” (Josh. 14:15). Incidentally, there’s a discussion over at Remnant of Giants about whether “Anakim” here should refer to a specific group of people, or whether it is used more broadly as a term for giants.

We have to wait until the next chapter and half of Judah’s allotment before we find out what happens next. Caleb heads up to Hebron and defeats Anak’s three sons, Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai. Having now a taste for blood, he heads off to fight Debir, offering his daughter, Achsah, as a wife for anyone who conquers it for him. Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s brother, takes him up on the offer and marries his niece. She tells her new husband to ask her father for a field and they are given some land in the Negeb. Later, while dismounting a donkey (presumably not an unflattering nickname for Othniel), she asks her father for water springs as well. Caleb gives her a few.

It’s a cute story, but we were told in Josh. 11:21 that it was Joshua who had defeated the Anakim in Hebron and Debir.

Joshua: Josh. 19:49-51. Now that all the lands are distributed, God tells the Israelites to give Joshua some land, too. I love this little detail – we are specifically told that the Israelites gave Joshua his land (on God’s command), just in case anyone dared to wonder if perhaps Joshua was skimming a little from the top for himself! Of course, we’re also told that he specifically asked for the town they gave him, so it still feels a little like a stacked deck. Either way, he receives Timnathserah, which is in his tribe’s – Ephraim – land.

The Remainder

In Josh. 20, the cities of refuge are appointed. You will remember these cities from Numbers 35. We had been told that there should be six of them in total, and they are:

  1. Kedesh in Naphtali’s territory
  2. Shechem in Ephraim’s territory
  3. Kiriatharba (Hebron) in Judah’s territory
  4. Bezer in Reuben’s territory
  5. Ramoth in Gad’s territory
  6. Golan in Manasseh’s territory

The latter three had already been appointed in Deuteronomy 4.

The tribe of Joseph (composed of Manasseh and Ephraim) complain to Joshua that they are too numerous for the amount of land they were given. Joshua, who sadly lacks a head for numbers, also managed to muck up Judah’s portion (giving them too much) in Josh. 19:9. To solve the problem, Joshua sends them into the forests belonging to the Perizzites and Rephaim to clear some space for themselves.

But, reply Manasseh and Ephraim, those guys have chariots of iron! (Josh. 17:16) Joshua reassures them that they will be fine, and that they will drive out the Canaanites even though they have chariots of iron and are very strong.