Amos 9: Shaking Things Up

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Amos 9 begins with Amos’s fifth vision, in which he sees God standing beside the altar. Which altar is not specified, but the the implies that Amos had a specific altar in mind (accepting the limitations of finding linguistic clues in a translation, obviously). Given the focus of Amos’s prophecies, it seems reasonable that he means Bethel.

There, God issues a command: Smash the capitals (the uppermost part of a column – these are load-bearing structures) until the thresholds shake; shatter them on the heads of the people. If anyone survives, God will clean them up with the sword. No one will escape.

The fact that God is standing by his own altar is significant – Amos has been clear that God’s beef is with Israel’s crappy social justice record, and that it is for this reason that they will be destroyed (we saw this just recently, in Amos 8:5-6).

When we talk about the religion of God as Amos saw it, passages like Amos 5:21-24 make it clear that he wasn’t talking about showing up to church at the correct times and diligently paying tithes. For Amos, social justice is a core feature of the religion, and any version that does not include it (or views it as some nice but optional extra) is loathed by God.

Amos driven from Israel, by Doré

Amos driven from Israel, by Doré

According to Amos’s God, the people deserve to be destroyed because they have marginalized the role of social justice in their faith. It is their religion that condemns them, and so it is their temple collapsing down upon their heads that will kill them.

We can also tie this back to the idea that God will no longer speak to the people, as expressed in Amos 8:11-12. The altar will be destroyed because the people have lost the privilege of access to it.

The image also lends an immediacy to the vision. When Amos’s audience hear his words, they know the capitals he’s talking about, they know what they look like, they can visualize them falling. It contextualizes and personalizes the vision, so that the destruction is not merely something that will happen, but something that will happen right here.

The last thing I wanted to touch on with this verse is that God is speaking a command: “Smite the capitals” (Amos 9:1), he says. Who is this command being issued to? Is it Amos himself? Is the point that Amos will destroy the people (psychologically? or condemn them because now they have no “they know not what they do” excuse?) by revealing the Truth of his visions to them?

Is the command issued to the Israelites? Is it even a command, or merely a rhetorical way of describing what the people are already doing to themselves?

In the RSV, the word “command” appears a number of other times in Amos, such as when God commands “the sword” (Amos 9:4) to slay the Israelites (he does not command the wielders of the swords, but the concept of swords – or violence – more generally). So perhaps God is commanding the capitals themselves to shake.

And with that, I think we can conclude our discussion of the first verse.

Next, God explains that there can be no escape for Israel:

  • Though they dig into Sheol, God will pull them up. Sheol being the place of the dead (as we saw in places like Gen. 37:35), typically imagined under the ground. I interpreted this to mean that the people will find no rest in death.
  • Though they climb to heaven, God will knock them down.
  • Though they hide themselves on the top of Mount Carmel (apparently a sacred site, and seems to have been associated with the prophet Elijah, as in 1 Kgs 18), God will find and take them.
  • Though they “hide from my sight” (Amos 9:3) at the bottom of the sea, God will command the serpent to bite them. On the kind of serpent meant, my study Bible refers me to the Leviathan in Job 41.
  • Though they go into captivity, God will still command the sword to slay them.

God has set his eyes on them with evil intent.

Jim Linville sees a progression as we move through these five visions, and the way in which Amos seems to fade as a presence: “The mediating role of the locusts and fire, and the ensnaring ambiguity of the אנך and the fruit basket are replaced with the direct order that the temple is to be destroyed” (“Visions and Voices”, Biblical Studies on the Web, vol.80, p.39).

Doxologies

My study Bible refers to Amos 9:5-6 as the “third doxology” – a doxology being a liturgical formula of praise to a deity. The other two are Amos 4:13 and Amos 5:8-9.

In it, God is described as the one who touches the earth and causes it to melt. This is a cause for mourning, but we also seem to have some hint of hope. As in Amos 8:8, we are told that the land, under God’s touch, rises and sinks like the Nile. As I noted in my post about Amos 8, the rising and sinking is a reference to the annual flooding of the Nile, and may be meant to evoke “the symbolic expectation of subsequent renewal, as the Nile’s flooding brings silt that makes the river’s watershed fertile.” This will be especially relevant soon.

God is described as having built his upper chambers in the heavens, and his vaults on the earth. Typically, the upper chambers are where the family lives in two-story architecture, since they have the benefit of being both the coolest in hot climates (being aired out more easily, being more removed from the dust of the street, etc) and warmest in cold climates (benefiting from the body heat rising from any cattle kept below). Essentially, this makes the whole (known) universe into God’s personal home.

As in Amos 5:8-9, God is described almost as a nature deity. Here, he is the one who calls waters up from the sea and pours them down over the earth.

Moral Superiority

In much of our readings, there has been a sense that the Israelite people are special – chosen and nurtured and guided by God, entitled (through their specialness, if not their worthiness) to his unique focus. In Amos 9:7-10, however, Amos sets the record straight.

God begins by asking, “Are you not like the Ethiopians to me?” (Amos 9:7). I’m not sure Ethiopians are important here, except that they are an example of a fairly distant group of people. We have a very similar conception here in North America, and “Are people in Africa not at least as important to me as you?” would work just effectively for us today.

God admits that he did bring the Israelites out of Egypt, but then adds that he did the same for the Philistines (out of Caphtor) and Syrians (out of Kir). On this passage, Collins writes:

The significance of the exodus was that it marked Israel as a special people YHWH. Amos does not deny that God brought Israel out of Egypt, but he radically questions its significance. It was the same God who brought the Philistines from Caphtor (Crete) and the Arameans from Kir (location unknown, but cf. Amos 1:5; 2 Kgs 16:9). For Amos, YHWH is the God of all peoples and responsible for everything that happens, good and bad. The movements of the Arameans and Philistines were just as providential as those of the Israelites. In the eyes of God, Israel is no different than the Ethiopians. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.158)

Regarding Caphtor, Claude Mariottini describes it as “a possible reference to Crete.” In the same post, he writes: “The origin of the Philistines is debated. Egyptian records include them as one of the groups of people known as the Sea Peoples. The Sea Peoples invaded Egypt during the reign of Ramses III. Archaeologists believe that the Sea Peoples originated in the Aegean area.”

As for Kir, it is elsewhere associated not with the place the Syrians are from, but as the place to which they are exiled (Amos 1:5 and 2 Kgs 16:9).

God tells the speaker to “behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom” (Amos 9:8). The sudden switch to the third person when he has, up until this point, been speaking directly to the audience, is rather jarring. But I suspect that “Lord God” is being used in a way similar to the royal “we” – emphasizing importance (though with very different implications), and perhaps even using “Lord God” as if it were a title. He then switches back into the first person to say that “I” will destroy that sinful kingdom, but not completely.

What is meant by this is illustrated in the next passage. When God shakes up Israel (echoing the shaking of the capitals in Amos 9:1), he will do so “as one shakes with a sieve” (Amos 9:9) – in other words, to sift out impurities. In this case, the impurities are pebbles, and none of them will pass through.

In addition to the idea of culling, the image also invokes a scattering. Instead of having a single clump of – say – ground wheat, the individual particles will be separated from each other, and scattered “among all the nations.”

And now for something completely different

After all of that, Amos 9:11-15 sounds downright hopeful. Instead of focusing on all the destruction, we are suddenly given a vision of restoration, and even of comfort!

So it’s not surprising that many argue against the authenticity of this section. And there certainly are aspects of this section that seem difficult to interpret in a way that would allow for authenticity. The easiest example is the reference to the return of a Davidic dynasty – a dynasty that had not, in Amos’s time, fallen.

As I was reading through my notes in preparation for this chapter, it seemed like a fairly obvious conclusion. Now, though, I’m not so sure. The greatest argument against authenticity is that hope seems to be absent throughout the rest of Amos, so this sudden twist is out of character. But as I’ve already pointed out, there are two instances where the destruction of Israel is compared to the flooding of the Nile (Amos 8:8 and Amos 9:5) – a predictable flooding that recedes, leaving behind silt that makes the Nile watershed renowned for its fertility. So without looking any further, we already have two instances in which Amos’s vision of Israel’s destruction promises an After (and, perhaps just as importantly, an After that is particularly fertile).

That doesn’t mean that the section isn’t a later addition, but I’m not seeing it as nearly so obvious as many commentaries make it seem.

Amos has frequently referred to a day, a day in which judgement and destruction will come. But that day is two-sided. In that day, God will also raise up the “booth” (Amos 9:11) of David that had fallen. He will repair its branches and rebuild it as in the old days.

This is, obviously, the most difficult verse to explain away if we want to argue for the section’s authenticity. I’m not sure it’s impossible, though. While the dynasty of David was still in power at this time (and wouldn’t fall for a fair while), it was not ruling over Israel. In that sense, it had indeed fallen from its old status, and controlled a much smaller portion of the Israelite population. Perhaps the point isn’t that it would be restored from nothing, but that it would be rebuilt from what was left.

I was intrigued by the reference to a “booth” of David, while all our other readings have called it the “house” of David. A booth part of a nomadic tent structure. It feels meaningful that David is associated with tents (which evokes imagery of nomadic life) while God talks about destroying the capitals (which are part of settled architecture).

It evokes an image of raising all that has been built and starting over from scratching, coming in to Israel in booths as in the time of the exodus.

In addition to being rebuilt, Israel will come to possess what is left of Edom, as well as all the nations “who are called by my name” (Amos 9:12).

In these coming days, says God:

  • The plowman will overtake the reaper;
  • The trader of grapes will overtake the one who sows the seed;
  • The mountains will drip with sweet wine, and the hills will flow with it.

These promised blessings may be a reference to Lev. 26:5: “And your threshing shall last to the time of vintage, and the vintage shall last to the time of sowing; and you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely.”

God will restore Israel’s fortunes, and the Israelites will rebuilt their ruined cities. They will be replanted in the land (as the banks of the Nile must be replanted after every flood), and they will never again be plucked up.

And with that, we come to the end of Amos.

2 Chronicles 24: Joash’s Bildungsroman

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This chapter mostly follows 2 Kgs 12, though of course with some important changes.  We begin with a summary of Joash’s rule: He made it 40 years, his mother’s name was Zibiah of Beersheba, he had two wives (who were procured for him by Jehoiada), and he was a great king!

… At least as long as Jehoiada was priest. After that, not so much.

So we begin when Joash is seven years old and has just been crowned. We don’t get many details of his reign, except that he decided to start a restoration project on the Temple to replace the stuff Athaliah’s sons had appropriated for their Baal worship. An expensive restoration project.

His first fundraising strategy was to send priests and Levites throughout Judah to collect money from the people. With haste!

Unfortunately, the Levites did not haste, and the funds weren’t flooding in as Joash had hoped. In Kings, it’s implied that the priests are collecting the funds, just not using it for renovations (with a fairly strong indication that there’s some corruption going on). It’s a rather difficult story, since the Chronicler is clearly setting the goodness up as being Jehoiada’s doing (and, as we shall see, Joash will waste no time in disappointing God once Jehoiada is no longer around). And yet we can clearly see that it is Joash who is pushing for the Temple renovations, and he holds Jehoiada responsible for the failure in raising the funds (without any contradiction from the Chronicler).

Incidentally, Joash’s fundraising efforts are referred to as the “tax levied by Moses” (2 Chron. 24:6). This seems to refer to the tax Moses collected in Exodus 30:12-16, which seems to have been a one-time collection for the building of the tent of meeting. It seems that Joash understood this to be, instead, a tax that could be collected at any time for Temple purposes.

Joash then moves on to a second strategy – he commands that the collection chest be placed outside the gate house of the Temple, and for the people to come in and donate directly, without the priests as intermediaries. Judah’s leaders rejoice at the opportunity to pay taxes and fill the coffers with all the haste that the priests had not managed. This chapter may be the product of an IRS worker’s fantasies.

Whenever the chest is full, the Levites have to hand it offer to the king’s secretary and the officer of the chief priest, who would then give it to the people in charge of the renovations. Soon, the Temple is repaired and even improved!

And when the workers had finished, they had enough left over for Joash and Jehoiada to use in making ritual utensils for the Temple.

The Post-Jehoiada Era

But time is master of us all and Jehoiada succumbed at the tender age of 130, and he was buried among the kings of David’s dynasty “because he had done good in Israel” (2 Chron. 24:16).

Murder of Zechariah, by William Brassey Hole

Murder of Zechariah, by William Brassey Hole

It doesn’t take long for things to go south after that. When the leaders of Judah came to make obeisance to the king, they fail to visit the Temple – choosing instead to visit the Asherim and idols.

God, of course, is mildly miffed. So he sends prophets to Judah to bring them back in line, but of course they won’t listen. Even worse, one of the prophets happens to be Jehoiada’s own son, Zechariah, and the people stone him to death. (We’re told that the people conspire against them, likely meaning that they faked legal charges as Jezebel did of Naboth in 1 Kgs 21:1-16.) As he died, Zechariah called out to God to avenge him.

God doesn’t take long to fulfil that request, and he sends the Syrians to loot Judah before the end of the year. They win, even though their army is small, and kill “all the princes” of Judah (2 Chron. 24:23).

When the Syrians left, they left Joash severely wounded. His own servants – Zabad son of Shimeath the Ammonitess and Jehozabad son of Shimrith the Moabitess – conspired against him out of loyalty to Zechariah, and they murder him in his bed.

I noticed that both of the servants are apparently non-Israelites, and both are identified in relation to their mothers. Both details seem rather surprising, and I can’t help but wonder if they are significant. In 2 Kgs 12:21, the servants are Jozacar son of Shimeath and Jehozabad son of Shomer, who are not identified by their nationality. The spelling differences seem fairly common when foreigners are named.

Though he was buried in the city of David, Joash was not buried in the tomb of the kings, while Jehoiada the priest was! At least, here Joash wasn’t buried with the kings, while he was buried “with his fathers” in 2 Kgs 12:20-21.

James Bradford Pate raises an interesting point: We’ve seen this happen a fair bit in Chronicles – kings are buried, or not, in the tomb of the kings based on their goodness. He rightfully asks who is making these burial decisions?

For more information on Joash’s sons and the oracles against him, as well as the rebuilding of the Temple, the Chronicler sends us to the Commentary on the Book of the Kings.

2 Chronicles 22: The very brief reign of Ahaziah

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In the last chapter, we learned that all but one of Jehoram’s sons were either kidnapped or killed by the Philistines and Arabs, leaving him with only his youngest – Jehoahaz.

In this chapter, we take up the story of Jehoahaz, now called Ahaziah, after his father’s death. This new name is an odd nut, as the Chronicler doesn’t refer to him as Jehoahaz at all after 2 Chron. 21. My suspicion is that the Chronicler was working with two different sources, each of which used a different name for the king. The fact that the passage in which his name is Jehoahaz (when we learn that his brothers were all eliminated from the running by the Philistines and Arabs) has no corollary in Kings is evidence that the discrepancy comes from using multiple sources.

It doesn’t appear to be a contradiction, though. My New Bible Commentary indicates that the two names are actually the same, given differently: Jehoahaz is Yah + ahaz, while Ahaziah is ahaz + Yah. “Both mean ‘Yahweh has grasped'” (p.389).

I mentioned above that Kings doesn’t mention the elimination of Ahaziah’s older brothers, nor does it in any way indicate his position in birth order (2 Kgs 8:24). Another difference that caught my eye is that, in 2 Chron. 22:1, it is “the inhabitants of Jerusalem” who make Ahaziah king after his father’s death.

The idea that he was made king by “the inhabitants of Jerusalem” seems like it must be significant, since it deviates from the normal formula in which sons simply reign in the stead of their fathers (as Ahaziah is said to do in 2 Kgs 8:24).

It seems that the phrase must refer to the fact that Ahaziah was Jehoram’s youngest son, so his coronation would violate primogeniture. When primogeniture has been violated in the past, we are told that the king ordered it so, so the phrase might be an indication that Jehoram did not make arrangements, leaving it up to the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do so.

But if his brothers had been killed, Ahaziah would have become the eldest (living) son of Jehoram, so the inhabitants of Jerusalem wouldn’t have needed to make any decision. This gives us the possibility that that at least some of his brothers weren’t killed, perhaps they were still living, but held captive in foreign lands. Perhaps this is why a public decision was needed to bypass the normal line of succession.

A second possibility is that the Chronicler simply made a mistake. In Kings, there is another Jehoahaz, the son of King Josiah of Judah. In 2 Kgs 23:30, we learn that Jehoahaz, though not the oldest surviving son of Josiah, was selected to rule by “the people of the land.” The similarity is uncanny, and I can’t help but wonder if the Chronicler simply confused the two Jehoahazes.

I mean, we certainly know that the Chronicler wasn’t above the odd error. For example, we learn in 2 Chron. 22:2 that Ahaziah was 42 years old when he began his reign. In 2 Chron. 21:20, Jehoram was 32 when he began his reign and he reigned for 8 years, making him 40 when he died. This would make Ahaziah two years older than his father. I can file a good deal of implausibility away as miracles, but that just seems silly. Ahaziah’s age in 2 Kgs 8:26, 22, is more plausible. It’s still a bit weird if Ahaziah is to be Jehoram’s youngest son, but not impossible.

Ahaziah’s mother was Athaliah, Ahab’s daughter and the granddaughter of Omri. We learn that she gave Ahaziah bad advice, which led him into the same kind of evil as Ahab (likely meaning that she wasn’t a strict Yahwehist, or at least not in the same way that the Chronicler would like).

Jehu’s Coup

Only a year into his reign, Ahaziah joined King Jehoram of Israel in fighting King Hazael of Syria. During the fight, Jehoram (or Joram – the Chronicler uses both versions) is injured and returns to Jezreel to recuperate, and Ahaziah joins him there with a bouquet and a Get Well Soon card.

Joash is saved, by Michel Martin Drolling

Joash is saved, by Michel Martin Drolling

This gives God the perfect opportunity to get him. See, God has set up a man named Jehu son of Nimshi to destroy Ahab’s dynasty, so putting Ahaziah and Jehoram in the same location allows God to get rid of both at a single swoop.

Ahaziah and Jehoram are forced to go out meet Jehu, presumably in battle. During this, while Jehu is “executing judgement upon the house of Ahab” (2 Chron. 22:8), Jehu kills Ahaziah’s nephews (who had been attending him).

Jehu next goes after Ahaziah, finding him hiding in Samaria. Ahaziah is caught and brought before Jehu, who has him put to death. This account is different from the one found in 2 Kgs 9:27-28, where Ahaziah was simply caught while in the process of fleeing.

Ahaziah’s body is recovered and buried as Jehoshaphat’s grandson, likely meaning that he was given the kingly honours that his father was not. Ahaziah’s death, coming only a year into his reign, left no one in David’s dynasty capable of ruling.

Athaliah’s Coup

Ahaziah’s mother, Athaliah, took the opportunity to claim the crown for herself. To secure her position, she tried to have every surviving member of her husband’s family murdered. Unfortunately for her, she missed on – her grandson, Ahaziah’s infant son, Joash.

Ahaziah’s sister, Jehoshabeath, fetched Joash and hid him away with his nurse in a bed-chamber. She was then somehow able to sneak him over to the Temple, where he lived with her and her husband, Jehoiada the priest (who is curiously absent from the priestly line in 1 Chron. 6) for six years while Athaliah held wore the crown.

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 19-20: The Case of the Missing Wife

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

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

At War Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Spring…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Chronicles 18: A Nation At War

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This chapter very closely resembles 2 Samuel 8. In fact, they are (very nearly) identical in their descriptions of David’s military exploits.

We encounter our first difference in the very first verse. After defeating the Philistines, David takes control of Gath and its villages. In 2 Sam. 8:1, David takes control of Methegammah, instead. This could be a correction on the Chronicler’s part, as Biblehub suggests that the name is, actually, no name at all, and should have been translated to read that David “took control of the mother city” rather than rendering the phrase as a proper noun. To complicate matters, the Septuagint version of 2 Sam. 8:1 reads that David took tribute from Philistia, with no mention of a city at all.

David’s next exploits are against Moab, whom he defeats and makes his vassals. The 2 Sam. 8:2 version is far more gruesome, reading: “He also defeated the Moabites and, making them lie down on the ground, measured them off with a cord; he measured two lengths of cord for those who were to be put to death, and one length for those who were to be spared. And the Moabites became servants to David and brought tribute.” It seems that the Chronicler kept the first and last parts of the verse, but struck out that nasty middle bit.

But why? Why was David so cruel toward Moab (particularly as his own ancestress, Ruth, was a Moabite, and the Moabite king sheltered David’s parents while he was on the run from Saul (1 Sam. 22:3-4)? And why did the Chronicler omit the detail? I think it likely that the second question is answered by the fact that the first can be asked.

As for the first, James Pate mentions an answer given by Rashi: “According to Rashi, the reason that David had an ax to grind against Moab was that, when his family was there taking refuge, the Moabites slaughtered all but one of David’s brothers (the one survivor being Elihu, who is mentioned in I Chronicles 27:18).”

The Hadadezer Chronicles

The next section of the chapter focuses on King Hadadezer of Zobah, who came to the Euphrates to build a monument (1 Chron. 18:3), or perhaps to restore his power (2 Sam. 8:3). This sounds like a possible contradiction, but really isn’t. It’s the flag principle of ownership, where planting a flag or building a monument is a statement of ownership over the surrounding area.

David defeats the Philistines, by master of Otto van Moerdrecht, c.1430

David defeats the Philistines, by master of Otto van Moerdrecht, c.1430

This seems to have been too close for comfort, as David went on the attack. The blow was devastating, with the Israelites heading home with 1,000 chariots, 7,000 horsemen, and 20,000 infantry that had recently belonged to Zobah. The number is a little scaled down in 2 Sam. 8:4, where only 700 horsemen are taken (though the Septuagint translation agrees with Chronicles, perhaps indicating that the inflated figure was the original one). Having little use for chariots in the Israelite terrain, David hamstrung all the horses, saving only enough to power 100 chariots.

The Syrians (or Arameans, if you prefer) try to help Hadadezer, but David killed 22,000 of them, defeating them so completely that he was able to place Israelite garrisons in Syria and it his vassal.

We also learn that David was able to capture a number of golden shields that had been carried by Hadadezer’s servants, bringing them to Jerusalem. A golden shield is a purely decorative item (a metal as soft as gold has very few practical uses), and I wonder if they had been brought as part of some sort of ceremony to consecrate Hadadezer’s intended monument. In any case, they ended up in Jerusalem.

David was also able to take a great deal of bronze from Tibhath and Cun, two of Hadadezer’s cities. In 2 Sam. 8:8, the two cities are named Betah and Berothai. The 2 Sam. 8 reference ends here, with David acquiring the bronze. Here, however, the Chronicler adds a detail: That this bronze would later be used by Solomon in making the bronze sea, pillars, and vessels for his temple.

The final chapter in the Hadadezer saga involves Tou, king of Hamath – who appears as Toi in 2 Sam. 8:9, while the Septuagint version of the same verse agrees with the Chronicler. It seems that Tou and Hadadezer had been butting heads quite a bit lately, so Tou is quite pleased at David’s success. To thank him, he sends his own son, Hadoram (or Joram, as 2 Sam. 8:10 would have it) to David along with a large gift of gold, silver, and bronze.

Along with Tou’s gift, David dedicates all of the gold and silver he has managed to carry off from his wars to God (his wars against Edom, Moab, the Ammonites, the Philistines, and Amalek are all listed).

Further Details

Of the Edomites, we learn that they were defeated by Abishai son of Zeruiah, who managed to kill 18,000 of them in the Valley of Salt. After this defeat, David was able to place garrisons in Edom and the Edomites became his vassals. Interestingly, the verses (1 Chron. 18:12-13) are identical, word for word, to those found in 2 Sam. 8:13-14, with one little exception: 2 Sam. 8 gives the victory to David, not to Abishai (Abishai is not mentioned at all in 2 Sam. 8).

This isn’t a contradiction, since we commonly attribute victories to particular generals or, going a step higher, to monarchs, rather than to the individuals that make up the army. The contradiction disappears as soon as we acknowledge that everyone higher up the chain of command from grunts gets a claim to credit in our silly hierarchical systems.

What’s interesting about the passage is that it is the author of Samuel who credits David, while the Chronicler hands the victory over to Abishai instead. Given the Chronicler’s fawning over David, it just seems rather odd that he would take this one little deed away from him.

We are told that “David reigned over all Israel; and he administered justice and equity to all his people” (1 Chron. 18:14). James Pate rightly wonders if this justice and equity was applied to the conquered lands as well, given that it comes at the close of a list of conquests. To resolve the issue, he posits that “maybe the point of v 14 is that David could finally devote his energies to reigning now that he had subdued any external threats to Israel’s security.”

I suspect that’s probably what was meant, though I would expand it a little. I think that David’s conquests (and the bringing of riches into Jerusalem) were seen as part of David’s administering of justice and equity. By winning his wars, he brought honour and riches to the nation, elevating it and its people.

The chapter closes with a list of David’s cabinet:

  • Joab son of Zeruiah had control of the army;
  • Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud was the recorder;
  • Zadok son of Ahitub and Ahimelech son of Abiathar were priests (Abiathar is named as Ahimelech’s son, not his father, in 1 Sam. 22:20 and 1 Sam. 23:6, though it’s not inconceivable that a grandson might share a name with his grandfather);
  • Shavsha was the secretary (Shavsha’s name seems to vary quite a bit. He appears as Shisha in 1 Kgs. 4:3, Seraiah in 2 Sam. 8:17, and Sheva in 2 Sam. 20:25. My New Bible Commentary explains this with the possibility that he was a foreigner, with a name that Hebrew scribes weren’t quite sure what to do with (p.379));
  • Benaiah son of Jehoiada had control over the Cherethites and the Pelethites;
  • And David’s sons were the king’s chief officials (a change from being priests in 2 Sam. 8:18, undoubtedly due to the Chronicler’s discomfort with the idea of Judahite priests).

2 Kings 24: The Twilight of Jerusalem

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The region seems to be in turmoil, with Judah caught in the middle as Egypt and Babylon clash.

Jehoiakim, who had been installed by the Egyptian Pharaoh in 2 Kings 23:34, now apparently finds himself vulnerable as Egypt’s power wanes to Babylon’s waxing. As the text tells us, “And the king of Egypt did not come again out of his land, for the king of Babylon had taken all that belonged to the king of Egypt from the Brook of Egypt to the river Euphrates” (2 Kings 24:7). So Judah spends three years as a vassal to Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon.

Nebuchadnezza II, from Firaxis's Civilization V

Nebuchadnezzar II, from Firaxis’s Civilization V

After three years, Jehoiakim rebelled against Babylon, and was soon under attack by bands of Chaldeans, Syrians, Moabites, and Amonites. As usual, the text is light on explanation, but we might conclude that losing their vassal status, becoming a fairly small, weak state nation with no superpower protector, might have made Judah an easy target for roving bands.

The mention of the Chaldeans complicates this a bit. It was the Chaldean tribe that took control of Babylon during the Neo-Babylonian era, a dynasty of which Nebuchadnezzar was a member. From the context, it doesn’t seem that these Chaldeans were acting on Babylon’s request, however. The reference is likely to members of the geographic/ethnic group instead.

This, our narrator assures us, was “surely” (2 Kings 24:3) at God’s command for the crimes of Manasseh. He are reminded of 2 Kings 21:16, that Manasseh filled the streets of Jerusalem with the blood of the innocent.

The Short Siege

Things only get worse after Jehoiakim’s death. He was succeeded by his son, Jehoiakin (who, I am convinced, was named solely to confuse me). He was 18 years old when he became king, and reigned a mere three months. In that time, he apparently managed to convince our narrator that he was one of the bad kids.

Just as he was coming to power, Babylon besieged Jerusalem and Jehoiakin surrendered. He was then taken prisoner, along with the rest of the family (including his mother, Nehushta), much of Jerusalem’s wealth, and all it’s skilled labour – leaving behind only the poorest people. This, we are told, happened in the eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (2 Kings 24:12), which is the first time I can recall a dating anchored on a king outside of Judah or Israel.

Jehoiakin was replaced as king, but his career was far from over. In Lawrence Mykytiuk’s 50 People in the Bible Confirmed Archaeologically, we learn that Jehoiakin is mentioned:

in four Babylonian administrative tablets regarding oil rations or deliveries, during his exile in Babylonia (Raging Torrent, p. 209; ANEHST, pp. 386–387). Discovered at Babylon, they are dated from the tenth to the thirty-fifth year of Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylonia and conqueror of Jerusalem. One tablet calls Jehoiachin “king” (Text Babylon 28122, obverse, line 29; ANET, p. 308). A second, fragmentary text mentions him as king in an immediate context that refers to “[. . . so]ns of the king of Judah” and “Judahites” (Text Babylon 28178, obverse, col. 2, lines 38–40; ANET, p. 308). The third tablet calls him “the son of the king of Judah” and refers to “the five sons of the king of Judah” (Text Babylon 28186, reverse, col. 2, lines 17–18; ANET, p. 308). The fourth text, the most fragmentary of all, confirms “Judah” and part of Jehoiachin’s name, but contributes no data that is not found in the other texts.

This seems to indicate that Jehoiakin lived to be at least 45 years old, with more than half of his life in Babylonian captivity.

Back in Judah, Nebuchadnezzar installed Jehoiakin’s uncle, Mattaniah as king – renaming him Zedekiah. Zedekiah was 21 years old, and managed to keep his crown for 11 years. His mother was Hamutal, making him Jehoahaz’s full brother.

The chapter break is rather abrupt, occurring in mid-sentence in my RSV. We learn only that Zedekiah rebelled against the hand that crowned him.

2 Kings 13: The rule of the J names

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Note: This post is coming a bit late and I missed Friday’s. Oops! I’ve eaten through my buffer and am now writing on deadlines (or, rather, not). Sorry!

Much of this chapter continues the chronology Israel’s rulers. Unfortunately, nearly all of them have names that start with Js and there are loads of repeats, so it can get pretty confusing. I found that I needed to refer back to the timeline I posted in March to be able to follow along.

We begin in the twenty-third year of Joash’s reign in Judah, when Jehu is replaced by Jehoahaz. He ruled for seventeen years, but was terrible in the way of Jeroboam (in other words, he either maintained or failed to destroy the rural shrines).

Of course, it’s hard to imagine a ruler of one country abolishing his local forms of worship to bow instead to a newer form completely under the political control of a rival king. Still, we’re apparently counting this as a sin.

A sin so bad that God punished Israel by putting it into the hands of Hazael, king of Syria (followed by his son, Benhadad).

To his credit, Jehoahaz did call out to God, and God listened by sending the Israelites a saviour who, it seems, managed to get Israel a temporary reprieve from Syria’s attacks. But because the Israelites still didn’t destroy their local centres of worship (and this time the presence of Asherah is also mentioned – which may or may not have once/still been part of the broader YHWH cult), the Syrians returned with a vengeance.

The construction sounds an awful lot like the formula used in Judges. Except that the focus is on the monarchy. That means that a) the king is the one calling out to God, rather than the people, and b) whoever the saviour is or what their deeds were goes completely unmentioned.

After Jehoahaz’s death, he was succeeded by Jehoash (also called Joash in one instance). Jehoash’s reign lasted for sixteen years, during which he continued to allow local expressions of faith, in the way of Jeroboam. Otherwise, all we get in this quick summary is that he fought against King Amaziah of Judah (who followed King Joash). After his death, he was succeeded by yet another Jeroboam.

Elisha’s Terminal Illness

Elisha has fallen sick, and we’re told that it’s the illness that will eventually kill him. There’s no reason to think that people would have known this at the time, though he’s been active in enough stories to peg his age somewhere around “very advanced,” so it’s hard to imagine that his death wasn’t anticipated.

So King Jehoash of Israel comes to him weeping, and calls out: “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” (2 Kgs 13:14), a phrase that is a clear call back to Elisha’s own words to Elijah in 2 Kgs 2:12, and that make as little sense here as they did then. I can only assume that it’s a Humpty Dumpty reference and move on from there.

Joash Shooting the Arrow of Deliverance, by William Dyce, 1844

Joash Shooting the Arrow of Deliverance, by William Dyce, 1844

As a final living miracle, Elisha instructs the king to draw a bow. He lays his hands over the king’s hands and tells him to fire out through the window. When the Jehoash does so, Elisha announces that this signals the impending victory over Syria.

This story is similar to God telling Joshua to hold his javelin out toward Ai in Jos. 8:18. In both cases, there’s a question of whether this counts as sympathetic magic.

In particular, this case has a trial aspect. Jehoash is then instructed to take the remaining arrows and strike the ground with them. He does so three times, then stops. Elisha is furious because it means that he will only beat Syria three times, not the five or six times needed to really defeat Syria. So because Jehoash did not properly complete the ritual, the victory he had asked for would only be half-way achieved. It really is hard to see this as anything other than sympathetic magic.

When Elisha dies, he is buried in an area where Moabites are known to invade in the spring. At some later point in time, another funeral is being held in the area when the Moabites are seen approaching. The attendees panic, tossing the corpse into Elisha’s grave, and flee. When the corpse lands on Elisha – specifically, when it touches Elisha’s bones – the man revives.

The story cuts off there, but we might imagine that he would be rather unhappy to find himself in the middle of a Moabite raid. We can imagine how brief his return might have been.

Also, was Elisha’s grave just sitting open? Was the man being buried in the same tomb as Elisha?

Syria’s Succession

While Hazael, king of Syria, continually harassed Israel during Jehoahaz’s reign, God never allowed Israel to be destroyed completely. This is attributed in part to how “gracious” he is (2 Kgs 13:23 – just try and read that without sarcasm), and in part because of the covenant he had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

When Hazael died, he was succeeded by his son, Benhadad. Perhaps profiting from the destabilization that usually accompanies a change in leadership, Jehoash was able to retake many of the Israelite cities Syria had conquered – these, then, are the three victories he earned himself earlier with Elisha.

2 Kings 9: Coup

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In our last chapter, we read that King Joram of Israel and King Ahaziah of Judah were fighting against King Hazael of Syria. While they were fighting at Ramoth-Gilead, Joram was injured, so he and Ahaziah retreated to Jezreel until Joram’s recovery. We can gather from this chapter that a fair portion of the army was left behind. And it’s there that we find Jehu, a commander of the Israelite army that Elijah had been told to anoint as king way back in 1 Kings 19:15-18 (his reign is intended as a punishment for Israel, which is perhaps not the most desirable quality to be hired for).

Elijah failed to carry out most of the jobs God gave him, though at least in the last chapter (where Elisha anointed Hazael), we could chalk it up to a conflation of the two prophets. Here, however, even Elisha outsources the work.

In what looks extraordinarily like a set up for a practical joke, Elisha tasks one of the sons of the Prophets with going to Ramoth-Gilead, splash some oil at Jehu, then run away. Which he does, inviting Jehu into a house and pouring oil over him. He delivers a quick speech about bringing down the house of Ahab and getting vengeance on Jezebel, then flees.

Jehu’s servants are obviously confused by their leader now dripping with oil and the weird guy who just dashed off toward the horizon. At first, Jehu refuses to explain (displaying the typical humility we’ve been associated with our prophet-anointed leaders), but at least explains that he has been anointed the new king of Israel. His followers respond by removing their clothes and putting them “under him on the bare steps” (2 Kgs 9:13), apparently as a way of declaring their support for Jehu. Finishing off the ceremony, they blow some trumpets and proclaim him their king.

It points to the fluidity of the monarchy. We saw Saul anointed by a prophet and then, separately, accepted by the people in 1 Sam. 9-11. While he was still king, the same prophet then anointed David in 1 Sam. 16:13. More recently, Hazael was anointed while another king of Syria still ruled (2 Kings 8). It seems that getting anointed by a prophet was an important step in a successful coup.

My New Bible Commentary suggests the possibility that Jehu and his commanders had already been considering a coup (prompted by the mention of the commanders being “in council” in 2 Kgs 9:5). Whether or not that’s the case, Jehu is certainly quite amenable to the suggestion – just as Hazael was in the last chapter.

To Jezreel

Having been declared Israel’s new king by its army, Jehu immediately locks Ramoth-Gilead down to prevent word of it from getting to Joram. When he rides out toward Jezreel, it’s under the cover of secrecy, giving Joram no chance to prepare a defence.

Jehu can’t hide from Jezreel’s watch, however, and they see his army’s approach. Unfortunately for Joram, the messenger he sends out to ask if Jehu comes in peace is convinced to switch sides, joining the advance on Jezreel. When the same happens with a second messenger, Joram decides that he needs to talk to Jehu for himself. If you want something done right…

When Joram leaves the protection of Jezreel, he brings Ahaziah along with him. As it just so happens, the two kings meet the rebels on Naboth’s vineyard – the stealing of which led to the cursing of Jezebel and her husband’s dynasty in 1 Kings 21. When they come face to face, Joram – ever hopeful – asks again if Jehu has come in peace. “What peace can there be, so long as the harlotries and the sorceries of your mother Jezebel are so many?” (2 Kgs 9:22) is the reply. So, basically, that’s a no.

Realizing that he’s in big trouble, Joram reels around and tries to flee, but Jehu shoots him in the back with an arrow. The death is perhaps a little more honourable than Hazael’s suffocation of Benhadad, but only by a smidge. Jehu has his aide, Bidkar, toss the body onto Naboth’s old land to fulfil the curse from 1 Kings 21:17-19.

Ahaziah remains, at least for now. When he tries to flee, Jehu pursues him and his men manage to shoot the king of Judah as well. He doesn’t die instantly as Joram had, however. Instead, he makes it all the way to Megiddo before he falls, and is then conveyed back to Jerusalem for burial. We also get a rather out-of-place verse telling us that Ahaziah began his reign in the eleventh year of Joram (2 Kings 9:29), which is not only appearing at the wrong end, but also conflicts with 2 Kings 8:25.

The Fall of Jezebel

It’s hard not to feel for Jezebel as she sees Jehu coming, presumably knowing that he’s just killed her son and is now coming after her. Instead of trying to run away as both Joram and Ahaziah had done, she dresses herself in queenly regalia and faces Jehu from her window. She knows what’s coming, yet she meets her fate head on and in the full dignity of her station.

Jezebel eaten by dogs by Léon Comerre

Jezebel eaten by dogs by Léon Comerre

Or she’s a dirty dirty whore who was so vain that she took the time to put on her whore paint and shriek out of her window before getting her totally justified comeuppance. Either interpretation is perfectly valid. Really. (Does my eye-roll transcend the information superhighway?)

As Jehu approaches, Jezebel calls him a “Zimri” – a reference to another Israelite military coup leader who murdered his king. The accusation is both an apt comparison and a curse, since Zimri was himself deposed after only seven days. The story can be found in 1 Kings 16:8-20.

Rather than respond to the accusation, Jehu calls out to any of Jezebel’s servants who might be on his side, asking them to throw her down. Two or three eunuchs respond, tossing their mistress from the window, after which her body was trampled by Jehu’s horses.

Jehu took the time to eat and drink, presumably in celebration, before finally calling for Jezebel’s body to be properly buried, as befits her status as a king’s daughter (she was the daughter of Ethbaal, king of Sidon, 1 Kings 16:31). By that time, however, her corpse had been eaten by dogs, leaving nothing more than that her skull, feet, and the palm of her hands. Basically, it’s the exact opposite of a mob hit.

To close off the story, we get Jehu justifying his actions by calling it all the will of God, as prophesied by Elijah in 1 Kings 21:23 (though Jehu’s version adds a few gruesome details).

2 Kings 8: The Expedient

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We return to the narrative of the Shunammite woman, here identified instead by her relationship to The Boy Who Lived. Elisha is again showing her some special favour by warning her of a coming famine that would last seven years. Following his advice, she packs up her family and moves to Philistia to wait out the disaster.

At the end of the seven years, the family returns and the woman appeals to the king of Israel (still unnamed) for the restoration of her house and lands. As luck would have it (or perhaps it was orchestrated by Elisha), she happens to arrive just as Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, is telling the king of Israel all about her son’s miraculous resurrection. She is able to confirm the story and, awed, the king not only restores all her stuff, he even backdates it to the time she left Israel.

Gehazi’s leprosy (acquired in 2 Kgs 5:27) isn’t mentioned here. Commentaries mostly seem to explain this by assuming that the stories are presented out of order, and that the healing of Naaman has not yet occurred. It could also be a simple omission on the narrator’s part, or it could be that the two stories come from separate traditions (one of which does not include a leprous Gehazi).

However, I noticed that the description of Gehazi’s skin as being “white as snow” sounded familiar and, sure enough, it is the same description used of Miriam’s leprosy in Numbers 12:10. In Miriam’s case, her condition only seems to have lasted for seven days (or less). It’s possible, then, that the disease referred to was a short-lived one (perhaps infection, so that Gehazi caught it from Naaman), and that Gehazi’s skin condition had cleared up prior to this chapter. This would, however, appear to conflict with Elisha’s curse that the condition would affect Gehazi’s descendants as well, unless he simply means that they would all contract a bout of it at some point.

That said, given the possibility of different traditions or the stories simply being out of order, it’s unnecessary to look quite so far for an explanation.

Another thing I noticed about this story is that the property is described as belonging to the Shunammite woman, and the king of Israel restores it to her. In fact, her husband is not mentioned at all in this chapter. It’s possible that she is a widow by this time (her husband is described as old in 2 Kgs 4:14), though she’s never referred to as such.

Benhadad’s Illness

In 2 Kgs 1:2-4, Ahaziah, the king of Israel, was ill. Wanting to know if he would recover, he sent messengers out to Ekron to ask the god Baalzebub after his fate. Here, we get something of a reversal. It is Benhadad, the king of Syria, who is ill, and he sends out a messenger to ask YHWH if he will recover.

Ashurnasirpal II, British Museum, London

Ashurnasirpal II, British Museum, London

Taking advantage of the fact that Elisha is in Damascus, Benhadad sends out Hazael with gifts. Elisha predicts that Benhadad will recover from his illness, but he is still fated to die. There is a difficult passage in here where it seems that Elisha stares at Hazael until Hazael is ashamed, or perhaps Elisha and Hazael stare at each other until Elisha is ashamed, or Hazael stares at Elisha until Elisha is ashamed, or… you get the point. It’s a nice bout of the pronoun game that unnecessarily complicates the passage. At the end, Elisha begins to weep.

Hazael asks why Elisha is weeping, and the latter responds that Hazael will do some really awful things to Israel. Hazael seems confused, and asks how someone of his status could possibly manage to do that. Elisha then reveals that Hazael will become king of Syria. When Hazael returns to his king, he relates only that Benhadad will recover from his illness. The next day, however, he suffocates Benhadad in his bed and declares himself king.

There’s some question here about what’s going on: Was Hazael going to kill Benhadad all along (which would make sense of the earlier passage, if Elisha sees the future and stares at Hazael, who feels some shame at what he’d been planning), or did Elisha plant the idea in Hazael’s mind (and therefore was himself ashamed at what he was about to do)? Some commentaries argue that God wanted to punish Israel and had decided to use Hazael for that purpose (which would fit with 1 Kgs 19:14-18), yet needed Elisha to nudge Hazael to make it happen.

We also see some more of the odd conflation of Elijah and Elisha. In 1 Kgs 19:15, God commanded Elijah to anoint Hazael king of Syria – which he never did (at least not that was narrated). Yet it seems that Elisha is, if not anointing, at least announcing Hazael’s social ascent.

Interestingly, it seems that King Shalmaneser III of Assyria wrote about Hazael’s usupring of the Syrian crown, describing him as the “son of a nobody” (meaning someone outside of the dynastic line). No mention is made of the method, though.

Dynastic Details

We return to the dynastic records with Jehoram, who took the crown of Judah in the fifth year of Israel’s Joram (Joram being a variation of Jehoram, clearly employed to make this confusing chronology slightly less so). The record here seems to agree with 2 Kgs 3:1, though not with 2 Kgs 1:17 (unless, as I’ve mentioned previously, we write in a co-reign). He was 32 years and ruled for 8 years (a figure that apparently varies quite a bit between versions, like as beleaguered scribes tried to make all the dates match).

Our author has a dim view of Jehoram, largely, it seems, because of his marriage to Ahab’s daughter. Still, he stayed his hand against Judah for David’s sake.

While Jehoram’s greatest fault seems to be his marriage, it was also during his reign that Judah lost control over Edom and Libnah. It seems that King Joram of Israel tried to take advantage of the situation by going after Edom for himself (or perhaps he was trying to help Judah put down the rebellion). Unfortunately for him, he was overwhelmed by the Edomite forces. He managed to fight his way free, but by then his army had already routed.

After Jehoram came Ahaziah, ascending in the twelfth year of Joram of Israel. He was twenty-two years old, and reigned for only one year. His mother was Athaliah, listed here as the granddaughter of Omri, presumably the daughter of Ahab who married Jehoram. Our narrator wasn’t a fan of Ahaziah either, and for the same reason that he disliked his father – his close relationship with the kings of Israel (in this case by parentage rather than marriage).

The only note we get here about Ahaziah’s single year as king is that he fought against King Hazael of Syria alongside King Joram of Israel. During the conflict, Joram was injured at Ramoth-gilead, and Ahaziah went to visit him while he was recovering in Jezreel.

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