2 Chronicles 2-4: Arts & Crafts

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In these chapters, after so much build up, we finally get to see the building of the Temple. Maybe it would have made a better climax for an audience that fluently knew terms like “cubit” and “talent,” but as a modern reader, it’s a slog. Generally speaking, if your climax is a slog, you’re doing something wrong.

Oh, I’m sure that the Chronicler achieved his goals of making the Temple’s wealth seem rather impressive and presenting a sort of blueprint for the construction of Temple 2.0, but the narrative impact is sorely lacking.

With The Aid of Tyre

As in 1 Kings 5, Solomon enlists the help of Tyre. The basic story in both chapters is that Solomon asks King Huram of Tyre (who appears as King Hiram in the Samuel-Kings accounts) to provide wood in exchange for food offerings and labourers to do the actual felling. King Hiram agrees, the two kings butter each other up a bit, and everyone is happy. Of course, the differences are in the details.

In 2 Chron. 2:1, we are told that “Solomon purposed to build a temple for the name of the Lord, and a royal palace for himself.” I found that the sentence felt rather out of place with what we’ve seen so far from the Chronicler. Up until this point, the build up has been very focused on the construction of the Temple; to mention a royal palace in the same breath almost suggests and equivalence that doesn’t fit.

The second issue is with the phrase “Solomon purposed,” as if there were no plans for a Temple up until Solomon decided that a Temple would be a lovely use for that empty mount. Until this verse, it has been David who purposed the building of a Temple, driving Solomon toward that goal. This shift to Solomon’s purposes feels rather too abrupt.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Chronicler had copied this verse from another source. If he did, though, it doesn’t seem to have been 1 Kgs 5:1-6, where Solomon “purposed” to build a Temple (1 Kgs 5:5), but not a palace. He does, of course, also build himself a palace, which is described in 1 Kgs 7:1-12 (though, ironically, absent from the 2 Chron. account), but no mention of it is made during his interactions with Tyre.

It’s possible that the Chronicler had a reason to add the palace to Solomon’s To Do list at this point. After all, David already got wood for the Temple’s construction from Tyre in 1 Chron. 22:2-5. The easiest way for the Chronicler to fudge this is to add a reference to a personal palace, thus increasing the wood needed from the amount that David had anticipated.

It was a perfect plan, but if that’s the case, the Chronicler wasn’t quite as attentive to detail as he should have been. When Solomon initiates contact with King Huram, he cites David’s order of wood for the construction of his palace (2 Chron. 2:3, which is narrated in 2 Sam. 5:11), not for the Temple (which would put it in line with 1 Chron. 22:2-5). Someone fire that scribe!

We see a minor difference in the payment the two kings agree upon. Here, Solomon offers wheat, barley, wine, and oil, whereas 1 Kgs 5:11 mentions only the wheat and oil.

The interaction is peppered with performed humility and praises of God – interestingly, these latter come from Huram as well. This isn’t necessarily a problem since, as the New Bible Commentary says: “In a polytheistic society politeness to a neighbour’s god cost[sic] nothing” (p.384). The Chronicler adds a bit to this fawning, but the tone remains the same.

James Bradford Pate offers the possibility that some of the changes between our two accounts could be to implicitly put Solomon above Huram. One way of doing this is to give Huram more to say about God’s greatness. Another comes at the very beginning: In 1 Kgs 5:1, it is Hiram who initiates contact (a fairly standard check-in to make sure that an alliance remains despite a new brow under the crown), whereas it is Solomon to initiates the interaction in 2 Chron. 2 – almost implying that he commanded Huram’s service as one might a vassal.

A final difference between our two accounts is that, in his reply, Huram specifies that he will send the resources by raft to Joppa, from where Solomon can bring them to Jerusalem. The reference to Joppa is left out of the 1 Kgs 5 version.

Skilled and Unskilled Labour

In the 2 Chron. 2 account, Solomon asks King Huram to send him a skilled craftsman, someone who can work with gold, silver, bronze, and iron, as well as fabrics (specifically purple, crimson, and blue fabrics, though I’m not sure why the colour matters). As I’ve done a fair bit of work in IT, this sort of job ad looks pretty familiar in its impossibility. Could a single person really be a master in all of these crafts? For only $25,000 a year with benefits?

Building of the Temple of Jerusalem, by Jean Fouquet, c.1470

Building of the Temple of Jerusalem, by Jean Fouquet, c.1470

Despite the absurdity of the requirements, King Huram knows just the man: Huram-abi. Not only that, but he’s part Israelite, too, as his mother is from the tribe of Dan (though she is from Naphtali in 1 Kgs 7:13-14). Another difference between the two accounts is that, in 2 Chron. 2, Solomon asks King Huram to send someone, whereas in 1 Kgs 7:13-14, Solomon is said to have invited Hiram (as he is there called) directly (which is not necessarily a contraction, as the invitation could mean a request for an unspecified individual who happened to be Hiram).

The bigger difference, though, is in the requirements themselves. In 1 Kgs 7:13-14, Hiram is only a master of bronze, not of all that other stuff. This meshes with the Chronicler’s own account later on, in the list of all the things Huram-abi built for the Temple found in 2 Chron. 4:11-18: They are all bronze!

So why did Solomon request all those other skills, and why was Huram’s parentage switched over to Dan? Probably because it connects him to Bezalel and Oholiab, the craftsmen Moses puts in charge of building the tabernacle. Bezalel’s skills in metalworking (omitting iron) are listed in the same order as Huram-abi’s in Ex. 31:3-5 and Ex. 35:31-33. As for Huram-abi’s competency with fabrics, these mirror Bezalel and Oholiab’s from Ex. 35:35, write down to the colours (and so we know why Huram-abi’s competency in working with certain colours was brought up!). Finally, Oholiab is from the tribe of Dan (Ex. 31:6, Ex. 35:34), so switching Huram-abi’s parentage makes more sense.

I’ve noted before that the Chronicler seems to be trying quite hard to tie the constructions of the Temple to Moses’s constructions in Exodus, and this seems to be yet more evidence of that. As Brant Clements points out, it could be that this mirroring is intended to legitimate the Temple as a central place of worship, an acceptable replacement for the tabernacle.

As for Solomon outsourcing the skilled work, my New Bible Commentary puts it rather bluntly: “Archaeology has fully borne out Israel’s backwardness in the arts at this time” (p.384). Ouch.

As important as skilled labour might be, so is the unskilled. For this, Solomon turns again to foreigners. Specifically, he finds himself 153,600 “aliens” hanging about Israel, and assigns 70,000 to bear burdens, 80,000 to quarry in the hills, and 3,600 to oversee the rest. The figure appears in the same in 2 Chron. 2:2 and 2 Chron. 2:17-18, though there are only 3,300 overseers in 1 Kgs 5:15-16. A more important is that neither 2 Chron. 2:2 nor 1 Kgs 5:13-18 mentions that these workers were sojourners or foreigners (in fact, 1 Kgs 5:13 describes them as “a levy of forced labor out of all Israel”, strongly implying that they were native Israelites). It’s only in 2 Chron. 2:17-18 that they are cast as outsiders.

James Bradford Pate notes also that the Chronicler omits the details from 1 Kgs 5:13-18, and specifically its mention of Solomon employing Israelite workers. Pate lists a few possibilities for this, including:

  • The author of Kings seems to be critical of Solomon for enslaving the Israelites, and the Chronicler generally tends to avoid unfavourable details;
  • The Chronicler may be trying to emphasize the idea that Israel is dominant over foreign peoples (with the added irony that these foreigners, who had fought against God’s people, are now being forced to build his Temple).

Construction Begins

2 Chron. 3 opens with construction beginning on Mount Moriah, where God had appeared to David at Ornan’s threshing floor. This appearance belongs to the Chronicler, narrated in 1 Chron. 21:16, but missing from 2 Sam. 24:16.

The mention here that the threshing floor was located on Mount Moriah is utterly new. Nowhere else is the Temple mound given such a name. In fact, the only other place in which the name “Moriah” appears is in Gen. 22:2, where it is the area in which the mountain where Abraham tries to sacrifice Isaac is located (not even the name of the mountain itself).

I posted a little while ago about a theory that Hebron had once been the most important Hebrew holy site, but the area was difficult to defend. So as the government changed and the need arose for an easily defensible location, propaganda began to elevate Jerusalem as the most important holy site. I mentioned the theory at the time because I like it, it has a ring of truthiness that I find appealing. But it seems odd that such a grand attempt to shift the cultural/cultic focus should only survive in this one small passage (and not even anywhere else in the Chronicler’s own account, despite being directly relevant in 1 Chron. 21).

As in 1 Kgs 6:1, though phrased quite differently, construction began in the second month of the fourth year of Solomon’s reign. Following the “narrative” of Kings, dimensions and materials are given in excruciating detail. For the sake of my sanity, I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice it to say that the description keeps pretty well to 1 Kgs 6 and the description of the pillars found in 1 Kgs 7:15-17. The differences I was able to dredge up are:

  • The vestibule’s height is given as 120 cubits in 2 Chron. 3:4, yet the total height of the Temple is only 30 cubits in 1 Kgs 6:2;
  • Without figures, 1 Kgs 6 does mention quite a bit of gold, but I’m given to understand that the 600 talents of gold mentioned in 2 Chron. 3:8 is unrealistically high. That said, 1 Chron. 22:14 has David setting aside 100,000 talents of gold and Israel’s elite contribute an additional 5,000 talents and 10,000 darics in 1 Chron. 29:7, so I’m not sure why the commentaries are so over-awed by the 600 talent figure;
  • 1 Kgs 6:31 describes the doors of the inner sanctuary, which are absent from Chronicles. Instead, 2 Chron. 3:14 has a veil in their place (which is absent from the Kings account). The most likely explanation is that we’re seeing an evolving tradition (it’s worth noting that it is the veil that wins out, as we see it being used in Matthew 27:51);
  • The bronze pillars, Jachin and Boaz, are 18 cubits high in 1 Kgs 7:15, but only 35 cubits tall in 2 Chron. 3:15.

The Equipment

The next chapter presents us with the Temple’s furnishings, and is every bit as boring as you might imagine. It mostly corresponds to 1 Kgs 7:23-51, though with a few minor differences, of course.

The most interesting difference is that the Chronicles account includes a bronze altar, which is not mentioned in 1 Kgs 7, nor even in the summary of stuff later on in 2 Chron. 4. We do see it mentioned as an existing Temple feature in 1 Kgs 8:64 and 2 Kgs 16:14, but with no mention of its provenance.

There is a bronze altar built in Exodus 27:1-5, though it seems strange to give Solomon credit for its construction (unless the Chronicler is trying to mirror Moses again by having Solomon also build a bronze altar? That seems a stretch, though).

Another possibility is that the Chronicler knew of a bronze altar, and accidentally gave the credit of its construction both to Solomon (here) and to David (1 Chron. 21:18, which was lifted from 2 Sam. 24:18-19).

We find a few minor discrepancies, as well. For example, 2 Chron. 4:5 has Solomon building 3,000 baths, whereas he builds only 2,000 in 1 Kgs 7:26.

As a point of interest, Steve Wells uses the measurements given for the molten sea to calculate that the Biblical value of pi is only 3.

1 Chronicles 21: The Plague That Founded A Temple

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1 Chronicles 21 closely parallels the story of David’s ill-fated census in 2 Samuel 24. It’s worth taking a moment to wonder why this story was included at all, given that the Chronicler has tended to omit the other stories of David’s sins.

The most obvious answer is given to us at the end of the story (which, thanks to some sloppy chapter breaks, appears in 1 Chron. 22:1): It tells us how the threshing floor of Ornan/Araunah the Jebusite, on which the Temple would one day be built, was acquired. Given the premium that the Chronicler puts on the building of the Temple, this story may have just been too big a deal to leave out.

There might also have been a mitigating factor that made the story less unpalatable to the Chronicler. Unlike the other tales of David’s sins, David is not his own master here. Rather, 2 Sam. 24 has God inciting him. So while it is acknowledged – by David himself in 2 Sam. 24:17 – as David’s error, it’s possible that the Chronicler may have been able to fudge over his misgivings for this story in a way that he wasn’t for, say, the rape of Bathsheba or the taking of Abigail (or the deaths of their husbands).

Enter Satan

In 2 Sam. 24, the story begins with God characteristically angry at Israel. No particular reason is given for this anger. Maybe it was just a day ending in “Y”. This goes a bit beyond the overreactions we’ve seen so far, though, because God seems to understand that he doesn’t have a good reason to be mad at Israel here. He’s itching to punish them, but they’ve disappointed by failing to provide him with an excuse.

So he’s got to make them give him an excuse.

The text tells us that he incites David, causing David to sin by taking a census. This then provides God with the excuse he’s been longing for.

Here, right from our very first verse, we see a change. Rather than God inciting David because he’s having a bad eon and needs a puppy to kick around, we have Satan rising up against Israel and nudging David.

This is our first glimpse of Satan. We’ve seen the word before, though. In Numbers 22, the angel who stands in Balaam’s way is described as his adversary, his satan. But this is the first time we see capital-s Satan, a discrete individual rather than adjective.

The easiest explanation for the change is that the Chronicler was (rightfully) uncomfortable with what 2 Sam. 24 implies about God’s character. This would reflect, as J.R. Porter puts it in The New Illustrated Companion to the Bible, “the view of postexilic Judaism that God is the only source of goodness, and that the source of evil must therefore be sought elsewhere” (p.122). This would be in contrast with the Deuteronomic view that God is the ultimate source and controller of all things, good and evil. (For more on this, Paul Davidson has a great post up about the evolution of Satan (and God) on his blog.)

But this feels like a very modern view of Satan to me, and I’m not sure that the thinking around the figure had solidified to quite that extent by the Chronicler’s time. Mike Heiser, of Naked Bible, points to the possibility that there may not actually be that much of a contradiction between our two accounts. Rather than seeing this as our first instance of Satan(noun), we could just see the same God of 2 Sam. 24 referred to as satan(adjective). That would make this passage a stepping stone in the development of Satan as an independent character, one in which God’s aspects have begun to take on different designations (one of which will, eventually, be turned from title into proper noun).

As a bit of an aside, I’m finding “satan” translated both as “adversary” and as “accuser.” This has struck me because the two words have very different implications. An adversary works against our interests, and so the Adversary who incites David seems to be orchestrating his fall. By contrast, an accuser may simply be holding us accountable, so the Accuser who incites David may be attempting something more like a cleansing through fire, with the end goal of purifying and bettering David and his kingdom (we’re talking theology here, so we can bypass the ethical questions this would raise).

Why a census?

But whomever incites David, the story has the feel of a post hoc rationalization. This may be assuming too much historicity, but it feels as though a plague happened to come some amount of time after David conducted a census, and the two events were then connected causally in people’s minds.

So if we assume that there was a David and that he conducted a census, we might wonder why?

The most obvious answer is, of course, money. David may have just been working on next year’s budget and wanted to know how much tax revenue he could expect (or realistically demand). The second most obvious answer, supported by explicit connection between the men counted and their ability to wield swords (not to mention the fact that the taking of the census is given over to the military leadership), is that it had to do with knowing how large a military David might be able to muster.

James Bradford Pate points to the Jewish commentator, Malbim, for some possible specifics: “because many Israelites had followed David’s son Absalom rather than David when Absalom was revolting, David was doubtful that he could rely on getting volunteers for his military, and thus he resorted to the draft.”

Collecting the Numbers

David puts Joab in charge of conducting the census. In both versions of the story, Joab protests, asking David why he should want to do such a thing? In 1 Chron. 21, Joab correctly argues that conducting a census would bring guilt down on Israel.

This is a pretty big departure from the Joab we know and rather strongly dislike. The Joab we saw in 1-2 Samuel was, if not a baddie, at least a sycophantic, amoral murderer. To have him be the mouthpiece of warning against the census is completely out of character.

It’s like that Joab’s protests against the census in 2 Sam. 24:3 simply made him an easy character – already involved in the story, already voicing discontent – for the Chronicler to use. It would certainly have meant less revision than, for example, bringing Gad the seer in early.

But the Chronicler goes beyond simply tacking an extra phrase to Joab’s dialogue. In this version, when Joab returns with the census numbers, he omits Levi and Benjamin from the count so that David never has accurate numbers to begin with. He does this because David’s “command was abhorrent to Joab” (1 Chron. 21:6).

So why make Joab the voice of God here? Why make him the goodie of the story?

The possibility remains that Joab was merely convenient, and perhaps the Chronicler sought to lessen David’s sin by never giving him the information he had sought in the first place (or, perhaps, spare the reader from the sin of knowing it by indicating that the number is incorrect).

Or perhaps the Chronicler is picking up more on the sycophantic rather than the amoral aspect of Joab’s personality. If David is an archetypal king, than Joab’s steadfast loyalty (steadfast to the point of murder) might be seen as a good thing. And if the census is sinful and will backfire on David, then it makes sense for his loyal servant to warn him against it. So perhaps we shouldn’t see Joab as taking God’s side in this chapter, but rather taking the side of David’s best interests.

In 2 Sam. 24:5-8, we get a description of the commanders’ journey through the nation as they count the people. The Chronicler, however, cuts all of that out.

The numbers are quite different as well. In 1 Chron. 21, Joab reports that there are 1,100,000 men who draw swords in Israel, and 470,000 in Judah. Compared to 800,000 men in Israel and 500,000 men in Judah listed in 2 Sam. 24:9.

Punishment

The punishment portion of the story begins with an introduction: “God was displeased with this thing, and he smote Israel” (1 Chron. 21:7). This is followed by David repenting. Depending on our reading, this could be implying that that David repents because of God’s smiting. It seems fairly obvious, however, that the verse about God smiting Israel is an introduction to the story that is to come, and is not meant to have occurred prior to David’s repentance. (The issue is new to Chronicles, since verse 1 Chron. 21:7 does not appear in the 2 Sam. account.)

In any case, David does repent, and God (via Gad, David’s seer), gives David a choice of punishments:

  1. Three years of famine (the Hebrew version of 2 Sam. 24:13 says seven years, but three clearly has better flow);
  2. Three months of devastation from David’s enemies;
  3. Three days of plague.

David declares that he chooses to put himself in the hands of God rather than the hands of men, and everyone claps themselves on the back as though that were a clear answer. Except, of course, that David’s response only excludes the second choice, not the famine or the plague. Yet it is assumed that he meant to choose the plague, and we carry on.

The pestilence comes, and 70,000 men die.

David praying, by Maître François, c.1475-80

David praying, by Maître François, c.1475-80

Next, we have a slightly more troubling chronological blip. First, the text implies that God stops his angel of pestilence at Ornan’s threshing floor, and David builds an altar there as a commemoration (and, I would assume, a thanksgiving for the ending of the plague). However, the text then implies that David builds the altar for the purpose of stopping the plague. Unlike our first blip, this one occurs in 2 Samuel as well (2 Sam. 24:21). As we look at this section, I will assume the latter reading, that the building of the altar occurred first, and that it is this that caused God to repent and stop his angel.

This means that we skip over 1 Chron. 21:15, where God stops the angel just in time. Instead, we find David looking up to find the angel standing “between earth and heaven” (1 Chron. 21:16), his drawn sword stretching out over Jerusalem. This imagery is new. The version in 2 Sam. 24:16 is more concise, having only the angel (unseen by David) stretching his hand over Jerusalem.

Seeing the angel ready to destroy Jerusalem, David and the elders cloth themselves in sackcloth and fall on their faces. Then David cries out to God, asking why he should kill so many innocent people when it was he, David, who had sinned? This is, of course, an excellent question, and one that never receives an answer. Unless the answer is God’s decision to end the plague, except that he’d already said he would end it after three days, and now I think I’ve just paradoxed myself.

One must wonder if this David – who sees the blatant immorality of slaughtering citizens for the sins of their king (though not, as it happens, of slaughtering that king’s family) – regrets his earlier trust in God’s mercy (1 Chron. 21:13).

Via a game of telephone involving an angel and Gad (David’s seer), God tells David to put up an altar on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite (called Araunah in 2 Sam. 24:16).

Settling Matters

The narrative then goes to the threshing floor, where Ornan is at work. He looks up from his threshing and sees the angel – presumably with its sword still pointed toward Jerusalem. At the sight, his four sons (who are absent from 2 Sam. 24) hide themselves.

David arrives, and Ornan does his obeisances. What follows reads like a taarof farce: David offers to pay full price for the threshing floor so that the plague can be averted, Ornan insists that he give the field (along with the oxen, wood, and wheat for offerings) as a donation, but David counter-refuses and insists on paying for the full price.

David will not, he says, take “for the Lord” (1 Chron. 21:24) what belongs to someone else. This statement is far more ironic when it appears in 2 Sam. 24:24, where it is surrounded by stories in which David seems to have no problem at all taking things that belong to other people for himself (and even killing them to do so).

In the end, the two agree that David will pay 600 shekels of gold – quite an inflation of the 40 shekels of silver he paid in 2 Sam. 24:24. In 2 Samuel, the implication seems to be that the amount is a compromise between Araunah’s desire to give the land (and oxen) for free, and David’s desire to pay for it. Here, on the other hand, the Chronicler seems to be uncomfortable with David cheaping out on the site where the Temple will one day be built.

As an alternative explanation, my New Bible Commentary proposes that the figure in 2 Samuel was the price for the threshing floor alone, whereas the number here is for the whole site (p.380).

Which is all well and good, but what I’m wondering is if this sale is exempt from the Jubilee (Lev. 25:8-13)?

When David builds and consecrates the new altar with a sacrifice, God “answered him with fire from heaven upon the alter of burnt offering” (1 Chron. 21:26). As with many of the fancy poetic imagery in this chapter, the miracle portion of the sacrifice does not appear in 2 Sam. 24:25.

And while 2 Sam. 24:25 merely tells us that, after the altar is built, the plague was averted, the Chronicler describes the angel re-sheathing its sword.

And while the 2 Samuel version ends there, the Chronicler fills in some more detail. It seems that David started doing his sacrificing at this site because Moses’s tabernacle (and its altar) were still at Gibeon. This made it unreachable for David because “he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the Lord” (1 Chron. 21:30). This raises more questions than it answers, but the intention seems to be that there is now a single place where sacrifices may happen. That place, as we will learn in 1 Chron. 22:1 (really part of this story, but cut off by a sloppy numberer), is the site where the Temple will later be built.

The connection between Araunah’s threshing floor and the Temple is never mentioned in 2 Samuel. This could be because it was information that wasn’t available to the original author of this story (if, for example, the first version was written prior to the Temple’s construction). It could also be that the author of 2 Samuel assumed that this would be common knowledge among his readers, and thus didn’t require repeating. For the Chronicler, the building of the Temple is a pretty major event, and this story is presented because of its connection. As an added incentive, the connection adds a nice conclusion to the story. David asked for his sin to be expiated, cleansed through punishment. So after his kingdom suffered the plague, they receive the (promise of a) gift – a central Temple. It’s like an image of a flower blossoming in a landscape that has recently been ravaged by fire. It has a resonance to it.

What’s wrong with a census, anyway?

One of the big questions raised by this chapter is, what can possibly be so terrible about counting a few people?

James Bradford Pate quotes an author who looks to Exodus 30:12-13, where those who are counted in a census must pay a tribute in order to avoid a retributive plague. Clearly, the connection was established in the superstitions of Israel.

In the same post, he mentions that it could have to do with superstitions surround people’s names, and/or with the jeopardy inherent in a census taken for draft purposes (since an individual recorded may become an individual called, and perhaps then an individual killed on the battlefield).

I considered it more from the leadership’s perspective, where a census may be considered a form of “jinxing.” To count the people just seems to tempt fate to send a plague and lower the number.

Another possibility is that the sin is one of pride. The 2 Chron. account makes it seem like David wants to count his people in the same way that Scrooge McDuck likes to count his coins. Or perhaps it’s an issue of trust. Turning back to Pate, he offers the possibility that a census shows a lack of faith in God as the provider of victories, regardless of the numbers involved.