2 Chronicles 17-18: The Old Switcheroo

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Jehoshaphat’s narrative, as Asa’s, is considerably bloated. While he takes up only a single chapter in Kings (1 Kgs 22) – which he must share with King Ahab of Israel – the Chronicler gives him four chapters.

Cultic Concerns

2 Chron. 17 kicks us off on a fairly positive note, and is largely unique to Chronicles.

We learn that Jehoshaphat was a faithful king, that he “walked in the earlier ways of his father” (2 Chron. 17:3 – as opposed to Asa’s later days in which he forgot to turn to God in his moments of need). He sought God to the exclusion of other gods, so God established his rule and built up his wealth.

Contradicting 1 Kgs 22:43, we learn that Jehoshaphat succeeded where his father had fallen short, and he removed all the high places and Asherim from Judah. (We can play the same games we played with Asa and say that he did fail to remove the YHWH shrines, but that he managed to oust the shrines to other gods that had cropped up since Asa’s purges. If we want to.)

In the third year of his reign, he sent his princes throughout Judah, in the company of Levites and priests, to teach the law to the people. The princes he sent were: Benhail, Obadiah, Nethanel, and Micaiah. The Levites who went along were: Shemaiah, Nethaniah, Zebadiah, Asahel, Shemiramoth, Jehonathan, Adonijah, Tobijah, and Tobadonijah. The priests were: Elishama and Jehoram.

There are two questions that might be raised by this passage. The first is raised by the New Bible Commentary, which claims that it would have been prohibitively expensive to equip all these priests and princes with scrolls (p.388 – it also brings up the claim of widespread illiteracy, but easily smacks it down. Princes and priests would be just the sorts of people to have had access to education, at least so far as reading is concerned).

I find the claim difficult to swallow. Would scrolls have been expensive? Sure! But prohibitively so? Especially since we don’t actually know what they were carrying along with them. Was it the whole Pentateuch? Or merely a short-ish list of laws that, later, became the basis for parts of it? If we allow that it might have been a shorter text, and that it was only needed in 16 copies (assuming that each prince and priest carried his own), it seems well within the range of what a sufficiently-motivated monarch could manage.

Let’s not forget how many texts are mentioned as sources and references throughout Chronicles alone, written by court chroniclers and prophets (where there’s a difference). If the seer Iddo could get his hands on paper, couldn’t the king?

The second question, raised by James Bradford Pate, is why princes were sent along with the priests. One possibility he gives is that the princes were there to teach the secular law, while the priests taught the religious laws. I suspect, however, that such a dichotomy is rather anachronistic. Certainly, having now read through the Pentateuch, there’s little indication that its authors would have understood the difference.

Another possibility Pate raises is that the princes were there to give the priests backing, to make it clear that they taught with the king’s authority. A third is that they were there to serve the Chronicler’s own ends, to provide a precedent for members of the laity teaching cultic law, as he says was happening in synagogues in the Chronicler’s own time.

Personally, I suspect that this is just further evidence of theological evolution. In many cultures of the ancient Near East, secular and religious duties were conflated, with the roles of the king and high priest being filled by the same individual. It seems that the same was true in the early monarchy as, in 2 Sam. 8:18, we learn that David’s sons were priests. Why couldn’t Jehoshaphat’s sons also be priests? The Chronicler typically tries to erase these bread crumbs from his sources, but may have left this passage as Jehoshaphat’s devotion – that he would send his own sons out with the priests to, say, lead by example. He almost certainly added Levites to whatever his original source might have said, and perhaps made priests into a distinct category (as opposed to, say, “Jehoshaphat’s sons and other priests”). Perhaps he felt that was enough to fudge over his religion’s history, and bring it in line with his current belief system.

Military Might

We also learn about Jehoshaphat’s military might. We learn that he garrisoned all the fortified cities of Judah, as well as the surrounding land. He also garrisoned the cities of Ephraim that Asa had conquered (perhaps a reference to what might have fallen to him during Syria’s Benhadad’s attack on Israel in 2 Chron. 16).

He surrounded himself with soldiers and mighty men. In Jerusalem, his army commanders from Judah were:

  • Adnah, who oversaw 300,000 men;
  • Jehohanan, who oversaw 280,000 men;
  • and Amasiah, son of Zichri, who was a volunteer for the service of God and oversaw 200,000 men.

The commanders from Benjamin were:

  • Eliada, who was one of the mighty men and oversaw 200,000 archers;
  • and Jehozabad, who oversaw 180,000 men.

These were only the commanders in Jerusalem, and there were plenty more scattered about in the fortified cities.

Jehoshaphat’s power grew, and he built up fortresses and store-cities, not to mention the contents of those stores. All the surrounding nations were so afraid of God that they left Judah alone. In fact, some even made gifts and tributes to Jehoshaphat, including the Philistines and the Arabs. (This verse is used to support the possibility that Zerah, from 2 Chron. 14, had been an Arab king rather than an Ethiopian one, and that this “gift” arrangement was a result of that conflict.)

Consulting Micaiah

2 Chron. 18 is taken almost verbatim from 1 Kgs 22, and is pretty much all that the author of Kings felt worthy of mentioning about Jehoshaphat. The Chronicler doesn’t much bother with the northern kingdom, but makes an exception of Ahab for Jehoshaphat’s presence in the story. Where there are differences, it is usually to trim some of Ahab’s narrative detail, or to enhance Jehoshaphat’s.

While 2 Chron. 17 paints a rather rosy picture of Jehoshaphat, we learn here that he made a marriage alliance with Ahab. In real terms, whatever respite it might have brought in the multi-generational conflicts between the two half-nations seems like it would have been a blessing (to use the term in a secular sense), particularly for border communities. To the theologically motivated Chronicler, however, it was no such thing.

After a few years, Jehoshaphat visits Ahab in the Israelite capital of Samaria. To make Jehoshaphat seem more like a highly honoured guest, the Chronicler adds a detail about Ahab slaughtering a great many sheep and oxen for Jehoshaphat and his retinue.

2 Chronicles 17-18It is during this trip that Ahab asks Jehoshaphat to join him in attacking Ramoth-gilead, which had fallen into Syrian hands. Jehoshaphat agrees, but asks that they consult with God first.

The scene is painted in surprising detail, with the two kings in their full display. They are arranged in their robes, on their thrones, at the entrance of the gate of Samaria, and 400 sycophantic prophets were before them, all prophesying that they should go, that God would deliver Ramoth-gilead into their hands.

One prophet in particular, Zedekiah son of Chenaanah, goes above and beyond with the theatrics. He makes himself iron horns, and declares that God will use them to push the Syrians until they are all destroyed. The other 399 prophets agree.

But Jehoshaphat isn’t quire sure, and he asks for a 401st opinion. As it happens, there is one prophet, Micaiah son of Imlah, who had not been invited. Micaiah, you see, is an absolute Debbie Downer. But he is summoned at Jehoshaphat’s insistence.

When the kings’ messenger finds Micaiah, he tells him what the other prophets have said, and warns him to bring his own prophecies in line. But Micaiah, man of integrity, insists that he will say whatever God tells him to say, and not a word contrary.

Despite this pledge, he ends up agreeing with the other prophets when he is before the kings.

Ahab is suspicious. Malaise Micaiah would never say something so rousingly positive! And Micaiah confesses his lie, that his vision was actually of all Israel scattered upon the mountain, “as sheep that have no shepherd” (2 Chron. 18:16).

You see, he saw a vision of God on his throne, surrounded by his heavenly court. God announced that he wanted a way to lure Ahab to his doom in Ramoth-gilead. Members of the court made a few suggestions until, finally, one spirit suggested putting lies in the mouths of the prophets, assuring Ahab that he would succeed in his battle against the Syrians.

Zedekiah, a bit of a sore loser, punches Micaiah in the face, and asks him how the Spirit of God went from him into Micaiah. Micaiah responds that he will know on the day that he goes into an inner chamber to hide himself. Whatever that is supposed to mean (perhaps there was a second part of the story, one involving Zedekiah, that we no longer have?).

Ahab, also a sore loser, has Micaiah imprisoned and fed nothing but bread and water until Ahab returns in peace. To which Micaiah replies that he will only return in peace if God has not spoken through him [Micaiah]. Personally, I think something about “guess I’ll die on bread and water, then!” would have had more zing, but I’m not the author here.

Despite his insistence that Micaiah be consulting, Jehoshaphat doesn’t appear to have been particularly moved by what he had to say, and he goes to Ramoth-gilead with Ahab.

James Bradford Pate rightly asks why Jehoshaphat would have gone along with Ahab after Micaiah’s words. It seems very inconsistent. He also asks why Jehoshaphat, if he was so powerful, would have consented to an alliance with Ahab in the first place. Pate answers both by suggesting that the Chronicler may have been a little too generous, and that Jehoshaphat was the weaker party in the alliance. This explains why he might have been obligated to go along with Ahab’s plan despite whatever reservations he may have had.

Personally, I think it’s equally likely that Jehoshaphat’s insistence on a second opinion is the fictional addition (perhaps to make him look good by having him doggedly seek out God’s will, or perhaps to make Micaiah look good by introducing him as a prophet with a reputation for bucking authority).

As for the idea that it had to have been Jehoshaphat seeking the alliance, I’m not sure that we can make that assumption. The two might have been equally matched, or Jehoshaphat might have accepted a royal Israelite wife as a vassal price. For all we know, there was an exchange of brides. It’s also possible that Jehoshaphat was the stronger party in absolute terms, but not strong enough to thoroughly crush Israel. He might then have sought an alliance just to put an end to the border skirmishes that seem to have been going on since his great-grandfather’s day.

The Battle

We have a little more confusion with the battle itself. Before going in to fight, Ahab decides to disguise himself, and has Jehoshaphat wear Ahab’s robes.

If we assume historicity, it seems strange that Jehoshaphat would have agreed to this. One possibility, though, is that they believed Jehoshaphat would be protected by not being Ahab, but that a disguise might protect Ahab by confusing the Evil Eye (or equivalent). We see plenty of similar folk traditions, like not giving a newborn a name (keeping them liminal and therefore safe from curses) until they are past the high risk early days.

As for dressing Jehoshaphat up like Ahab rather than simply putting both kings in disguise, it would have been necessary for the army to see that they had a leader (morale and whatnot), and this was clearly Ahab’s venture. Therefore, Ahab had to be seen to be on the battlefield, even if it wasn’t actually him. And having the substitute still be a monarch might not have violated the honour of the engagement.

Another possibility is simply that the story is a fabrication, following the typical pattern of a “you can’t escape your fate” fable. These stories often have fairly ridiculous set ups, with characters behaving in terribly odd ways in attempts to save themselves, only to bring themselves right into the situation they had been trying to avoid.

As it happens, the king of Syria had commanded his chariot captains to focus on killing Ahab, at the expense of going after his soldiers. As planned, they focus on Ahab (who is actually Jehoshaphat in disguise) and pursue him.

Jehoshaphat is spared when he cries out to God, and God draws away (or “seduces,” apparently) the chariot captains. Still, one of them drew his bow, just on a lark, and shot into the fray. Predictably, it just so happens to strike Ahab, and thus he is delivered his fatal wounds.

Kings gives us some more details of Ahab’s slow and gruesome death, but the Chronicler tells us only that he propped himself up in his chariot, facing the Syrians as he attempted retreat, until evening. He died with the sun.

1 Chronicles 15-16: A Meandering Path

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

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

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

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

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

The Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Priests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obededom

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

He is mentioned three times as a gatekeeper:

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

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

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

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

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

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