About fifty years ago, my dad took me down
to the G.C. Murphy store in our hometown
and bought me my first Bible.

This calendar year, I’m reading through the Bible at a rate of about 22 chapters a week (1189 total chapters divided by 52 weeks) and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

This week I’ve been studying 1 Chronicles, a book that I’ve read very little! The two Chronicles aren’t among the more popular Bible books. For Christians, they pertain more directly to post-exilic Judaism, while we tend to see post-exilic Judaism as the background and “backdrop” for Jesus. Even the ancient rabbis tended to neglect Chronicles because of the perception of an idealized past. As my Jewish Study Bible notes, “Jews of antiquity accepted the version of the accounts preserved in the earlier Deuteronomistic sources of Samuel and Kings over that of Chronicles” (p. 1714).

Walter Brueggemann and Tod Linafel write: “[T]he text makes a wondrous sweep of the entire past and drives it freely and imaginatively into the historical specificity of post exilic Judaism upon which the text wants to reflect and to which it wants to bear witness. Thus the books are a revised version of Israel’s memory in the context and under the impact of the Persian context of Judaism; in the context of Persia as a dependent colony of the empire, Judaism’s only chance for freedom of thought, faith, and action is through the maintenance of a liturgical practice and sensibility”(1). So we Christians shouldn’t see post-exilic Judaism only as Jesus’ background but as the living and ongoing faith that bears witness to us, too.

The Harper’s Bible Commentary points out that Genesis through 2 Kings is the primary history of the Bible, telling the long story from Creation to the fall of Judah. But Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Esther form an important secondary history, carrying the biblical story from Creation into the early post-exilic era when the Jews were allowed to return to the land and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple during the Persian era. “The OT presents us, then, with two alternative tellings of the history of the Israelite people. Their difference in outlook does not necessarily make either of them unreliable; it only reinforces the fact that the telling of any story or any history must be selective and must reflect the intentions of some person or group” (p. 80).

“The narrative of the Primary History may be described as one of fair beginnings and foul endings” (p. 75). That is, the promise to Abraham of descendants and land comes to an end with the Babylonian exile. All the leaders of that long story had problems. “There is not a lot of difference between Genesis 6:5-7 and 2 Kings 17:18-23; when God sees that humankind’s thoughts are ‘only evil continually,’ he is sorry that he created them and determines to ‘blot’ them out of the face of the ground by a great food. Things are not very different when the Israelite people over many generations do ‘wicked things, provoking the Lord to ‘anger’ (2 Kings 17:11)” (p. 78). Whether or not 2 Kings ends on a note of hope is open to debate.

Admittedly, 1 Chronicles distills the long story of Adam to David into nine chapters of genealogies. But the Secondary History, coming from the post-exilic time and written for Jews struggling with a new era, is more hopeful. Emphasizing King David fits the author’s purpose: in Chronicles, “[t]he history of the monarchy… seems to be primarily a history of the establishment and maintenance of the worship of God,” a concern that carries over into Ezra and Nehemiah as the people rebuild the temple and Jerusalem (p. 79). Although Esther is set in Persia rather than the land, that book affirms the providential continuation of the Jewish people even in foreign lands (p. 79). Even the genealogies are implicitly hopeful, demonstrating the continuity of God’s people from ancient times. It makes sense, then, that these books conclude the Jewish canon, effectively pointing to Jews toward their remarkable future.

(The history of God’s people continues with the book of Daniel–probably from the 100s BCE–in apocryphal books like Maccabees, then in the Mishnah and Talmud, as Second- and Post-Temple Judaism transformed into Rabbinic Judaism, and all the history and witness of the Jews during the subsequent two millennia. The New Testament provides scriptural history of the messianic subgroup of Jews known as Christians, a faith that eventually became prominently Gentile.)

1 and 2 Chronicles have numerous differences with Samuel and King—contrasting narratives and theologies that emerged from different historical circumstances and different audiences. I feel impatient with folks who say things like “Every word of the Bible is true” and “You shouldn’t interpret the Bible, you should obey it.” Both ideas neglect the wonderful complexity of the Bible. Here are a few contrasts that I learned this week:

* Negative aspects of David and Solomon are largely omitted.

* Chronicles focuses on the temple and worship and less on governmental issues. The Levites, mentioned very seldom in Samuel and Kings, figure strongly in Chronicles.

* Chronicles notes the division of the kingdom but mostly leaves out the northern kings, focusing instead on the Davidic kings of Judah. Chronicles aims to demonstrate the continuity of God’s providence for the people, while the break-off northern kingdom was illegitimate and ended after two hundred years.

* About half of Chronicles is “new” material, found nowhere else in the Bible. In fact, another name of the book is Paralipomenon, meaning “things left to the side” or “things omitted.” For instance, Chronicles mentions 13 prophets who don’t appear in Samuel or Kings.

* A major contrast with Samuel and Kings is theological: God’s rewards and punishments happen more quickly. Each generation experiences the consequences of its actions. This in turn encourages each new generation to stay faithful to God and the covenant.

(For more comparisons, see: http://markhaughwout.com/Bible/Kings_and_Chronciles_comparison.htm, sbsinternational.org/resource-material/chronicles/?wpdmdl=1034&ind=6http://thecenterforbiblicalstudies.org/resources/introductions-to-the-books-of-the-bible/1-and-2-chronicles/)

1 and 2 Chronicles has four sections. 1 Chr. 1-9 are genealogies that connect post-exilic Jews all the way back to Creation. 1 Chr. 10-29 move briefly through Saul’s life (leaving out all the drama between Saul and David) and narrate the reign of David, ending with the ascendency of Solomon. 2 Chr. 1-9 tell us of Solomon’s reign, especially focusing upon the temple. The last section, 2 Chr. 10-36 tell of the southern kingdom, its fall, and the early restoration(2).

* Early genealogies, 1:1-54, which we also find in Genesis.

* Genealogies of the 12 Tribes, 2:1-9:44
As the Harper’s Bible Commentary points out, it’s notable (and consistent with the Chronicler’s purpose) that Judah and his descendants are listed first, because it’s the tribe of David. Otherwise Judah, who was not the oldest son, would have been down the list. Some of the names are not found elsewhere in the Bible, and the nine generations between Judah and David are too few, given the 900 years between the two men (p. 345). Similarly, the care given to the descendants of Benjamin (chapter 8), one of the surviving tribes. Chapter 9, which is related to Nehemiah 11, provides key people in the post-exilic time (p. 348-349).
If you’re looking for biblical names for your children, you might (or might not) consider some of the names in these chapters, like Phuvah (1 Chr. 7:1), Anub (1 Chr. 4:8), Koz (1 Chr. 4:3), Ziph (1 Chr. 2:42), and Hazelelponi (1 Chr. 4:3).

* The deaths of Saul and his sons, 10:1-14.

* David’s kingdom, 11:1-12:40. With none of the preceding drama between David and Saul, David rises quickly with the approval of “all Israel,” and takes Jerusalem. Many names listed in these chapters are only found here (p. 350).

* The Ark of the Covenant, 13:1-14, 15:1-16:43. Significantly, the priest and Levites are indicated to be part of the effort (p. 351).

* David’s military campaigns, 14:1-17, 18:1-20:8. Again, the account leaves out some of David’s more brutal actions—omitting his crimes with Uriah and Bathsheba, giving only a small attention to the war with Absalom, and others.

* God’s covenant with David, 17:1-27. As the same book notes, this passage along with 2 Samuel 7 are among the Bible’s most significant sections, where God blesses David and promises the kingdom to him and his descendants (p. 352).

* David’s census, 21:1-30. In Chronicles, Satan rather than God incites David to authorize the census.

* Beginning of the temple, 22:1-19. Chapters 22, 28, 29 basically unite the work of David and Solomon (p. 353), and we have none of the intrigue of succession that we find at the beginning of 1 Kings.

* Divisions of the Levites, 23:2-26:32, and more of David’s officials, 27:1-34. Again, the Levites and priests are important in the story because they have provided continuity of worship from Davidic times to the post-exilic era.

* David’s final words to the people, 28:1-29:19, 29:26-30. Remember that, in 1 Kings, we have different kinds of “last words” from David—urging the death of Joab, etc. In 1 Chronicles, his final speech and blessings are beautiful words, full of psalm-like petition and thanksgiving.

* Solomon begins as king, 23:1, 29:20-25.

Although it runs to 36 chapters, next week I’ll study all of 2 Chronicles.


1. Walter Brueggemann and Tod Linafelt, An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination (2nd edition, Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 409.

2. Ibid., 411-413.

My well used Bible dictionary,
that my grandmother gave me
when I was 14 in 1971.

This week I’ve been studying 2 Chronicles. See my last post for general information about both books. This book continues the history of Israel under Solomon, notes the the division of the kingdom into Israel (Ephraim) and Judah, and then focuses on the history of Judah and its kings.

The first section, chapters 1-9, tell of the reign of Solomon:
His wisdom, 1:1-17
The construction and furnishing of the Temple, 2:1-5:14
Solomon’s prayer, and God’s glory fills the sancturary, 6:1-7:22
Other aspects of Solomon’s reign, chapters 8-9

The section, short section tells of the division of the Kingdom under Rehoboam and Jeroboam, chapters 10 through 12.

The third, long section is the history of Judah, chapters 13 through 36
Abijah, chapter 13
Asa, chapters 14 through 16
Jehoshaphat, chapters 17 through 20
Jehoram, chapter 21
Ahaziah, 22:1-9
Athaliah usurps the throne, 22:10-12
Joash, chapters 23 and 24
Amaziah, chapter 25
Uzziah, chapter 26
Jotham, chapter 27
Ahaz, chapter 28
Hezekiah, chapters 29 through 32
Manasseh, 33:1-20
Amon, 33:21-25
Josiah, chapters 34 and 35
Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah of Judah, 36:1-16
The end of the southern kingdom, 36:17-21
The decree of Cyrus of Persia, 538 BCE, 36:22-23

The Harper’s Bible Commentary has several interesting points:

* “While agreeing with the Deuteronomistic historian that the Temple is not God’s dwelling (1 Kings 5:3) but the place where his name dwells, emphasis [in 2 Chr. 2-8] falls primarily upon the Temple as a place of worship and sacrifice” (pp. 357-358). But also, “the terminology associated with the building of the Temple and with Huramabi is heavily dependent upon the tabernacle narrative [in Ex. 28 and 35],” with Huramabi becoming a hero along with Bazalel and Oholiab (Ex. 31) (p. 358). Another connection with the Torah, along with the placing of the Ark inside the sanctuary, is the dating of the temple from the 480th year since the Exodus (2 Chr. 3:1-5:10), and the identifying of the site not only with Araunah’s threshing floor at the end of 2 Samuel but also with Mt. Moriah in Gen. 22:2 (p. 358).

* 2 Chr. 7:14 is a very famous verse, which I’ve seen applied to the United States. The original context is, of course, the confidence that the Chronicler wants to inculcate in the returning exile. “It has been observed that, especially in the words of vs. 14, four avenues of repentance are uncovered (to humble oneself, pray, seek, turn) that will lead to God’ hearing, forgiving, and healing of people and land and that such a theology is meant to proclaim to the exiles that no circumstances are too formidable to prevent God from fulfilling his promise. These terms are indeed the heart of the writer’s theology from this point on and point to the dedication of the Temple as the beginning of a new era in Israel’s history” (p. 359).

* The portrayal of Solomon omits negative aspects of Solomon that we find in 1 Kings (pp. 359-360). In the post-Solomonic history, the good and bad kings of Judah reflect the evaluations of 2 Kings, although with some expansions and omissions. Stories like Abijah’s successful battles against the forces of Jeroboam reflect the Chronicler’s theology that faithfulness to God brings success, and evil brings defeat (p. 361). Similarly, the reign of Asa, well-respected by the Deuteronomistic historian, is characterized by the successes of faithfulness and the difficulties resulting form his lapses (p. 362). Similarly Josh, a little later, while Jehoshaphat’s reign is highly regarded.

* It’s worth noting that the Syro-Ephraimite War (about 735-732 BCE), found in 2 Kings 15:5-6 and 2 Chr. 28:5-8, will connect us later to Isaiah chapter 7, where that prophet spoke to circumstances in the northern and southern kingdoms (p. 367). The northern kingdom (sometimes called Ephraim as well as Israel) tried to break away from Assyrian influence. Syria and Israel (then under King Pekah) invaded Judah but failed to depose King Ahaz and failed to conquer Jerusalem. But idolatry spread through Judah during Ahaz’s reign, and Ahaz even paid the Assyrian ruler Tiglath-Pileser III with treasures from the temple.

* In 2 Chronicles as well as 2 Kings, Hezekiah and Josiah are lauded as wonderful kings, although the Chronicler gives the most space and praise to Hezekiah (p. 368). As in 2 Kings, Josiah labored under the shadow of his evil predecessor Manasseh. Yet Manasseh, too, gets grace; the Chronicler states that Manasseh humbled himself and prayed to God, and God restored him. If even the horrible Manasseh regains God’s grace, there is hope for all of us! (In the Apocrypha, “the Prayer of Manasseh” is a moving prayer dating from the 2nd or 1st centuries BCE: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Prayer+of+Manasseh&version=CEB)

* 2 Chronicles omits numerous details about the last kings of Judah but has the interesting story that the land law fallow for seventy years following the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem (2 Chr. 36:17-21), a necessary sabbath rest that connects us back to Lev. 26:34-39 and ahead to Jeremiah 25:11-13 and 29:10-14 (p. 371).

* Finally, the edict of Cyrus of Persia allows the return of the people to the land, and 2 Chr. 36:22-23 is repeated almost verbatim in the next book, Ezra (1:1-3a) (p. 371):

“In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in fulfilment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom and also declared in a written edict: ‘Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him! Let him go up.’” (NRSV)


Brueggemann and Linafelt point out that these are the final verses of the Jewish Bible—since the Jewish Bible concludes with 2 Chronicles. The two authors invite us to compare those verses with Malachi 4:5-6, which are the final verses of the Christian Old Testament:

“Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.” (NRSV)

“Both endings concern futures—but futures staged very differently. It is important that this difference be honored and taken seriously, Judaism in a particular focus on land and Torah, Christianity with its focus on a Messiah for both Gentiles and Israel… In the midst of that difference, however, our judgment is that Jews and Christians must read together as long as we are able and as far as we can… Because both Malachi 4:5-6 and 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 end in anticipation… [i]t remains for us to keep reading, aware of distinctions, respectful of differences, grateful for what is held in common, a future with many shapes given by the God of all futures.” (Walter Brueggemann and Tod Linafelt, An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination (2nd edition, Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 416.)


Leslie C Allen’s introduction in the New Interpreter’s Bible(1) has an interesting section on the way “exile” functions both literally and metaphorically in Chronicles. In literal terms, the Chronicler interprets the history as a series of exiles (corresponding to different deportations at the end of the pre-exilic period). But the Chronicler also envisioned two different kinds of literal restorations: the return of the people to the land, and also the return of the Davidic monarchy (p. 301).

The Chronicler also thinks of the exile in metaphorical terms. This metaphorical use is crucially important for the ongoing history of Judaism and the beginning of Christianity. We find this metaphorical sense in other places of the Bible: the hope reflected in Psalms 85 and 126, the prayers in the upcoming Ezra 9 and Nehemiah 9, and the way Daniel 9 depicts the exile as lasting not 70 years but 70 times 7. Prof. Allen notes that the Chronicler uses three biblical texts to teach hope in God’s restoration: (1) 2 Chr. 36:21 connects to Lev. 26:34-35 to describe the land’s desolation as a sabbath rest, (2) Jer. 29:10-19 is referenced by the Chronicler to emphasize God’s promised restoration, and (3) Ezekiel 18 is a moral counterpart to the Chronicler’s “teaching of immediate retribution” with “each generation…controlling their own destiny, free to start again with or against the Lord” (pp. 302-303, quotation from page 303).


Professor Allen calls Chronicles “the Bible’s best-kept secret,” absent from the Revised Common Lectionary, and less often explored than Samuel and Kings. The forbidding 1 Chr. 1-9 may be one reason, he writes. But once you get past the genealogies (which do have a theological purpose of their own), a Bible explorer can begin to dig into the wonderful, pastoral theology that emphasizes God’s grace, forgiveness, and an always hopeful future (pp. 299, 301)


1. Leslie C. Allen, “The First and Second Books of Chronicles,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. III (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999).


This calendar year, I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

As I was studying 2 Chronicles last week, the following passage stopped me, and I remembered a word study that I made a few years ago.

Now when the priests came out of the holy place (for all the priests who were present had sanctified themselves, without regard to their divisions), all the levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kindred, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with one hundred and twenty priests who were trumpeters, it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord, and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord,
‘For he is good,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever’,
the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God(2 Chronicles 5:11-14).

That word “glory” has rich meanings, back to passages we’ve looked at and forward to the New Testament. The word can mean honor/renown, or beauty/magnificence, or heaven/eternity itself. St. Ignatius’s famous motto was Ad maiorum Dei gloriam, “to the greater glory of God.” I always took this to mean, “to increase God’s renown (through our devotion and service),” but the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner notes that we also share in God’s own life as we serve God.[1]

When I was a little kid, we learned that catchy song “Do Lord”, with its image of sharing God’s life eternally.

I’ve got a home in Glory Land that outshines the sun
I’ve got a home in Glory Land that outshines the sun
I’ve got a home in Glory land that outshines the sun
Way beyond the blue.

I was little and misunderstood what “outshines” means. Instead of “shines brighter than the sun,” I thought it mean “sunny outside.” So I had an image of Heaven as being outdoors and pleasant, like summer days with no school.

If you “go deep” into Bible study, it’s fun sometimes to take a word or a theme and see how it is used among Bible passages. When I first wrote this, for instance, I found this now-broken link,  http://members.cox.net/decenso/Glory%20of%20God.pdf, which provided many Bible references to God’s glory, including references to the departure of God’s glory (e.g. 1 Samuel 4, when the ark was captured), the promise of God’s presence and manifestation, the presence of God’s majesty in creation (Ps. 97:6), and the glory of God that we know and see in Jesus (Heb. 1:3, Col. 1:19, Col. 2:9, 1 Cor. 2:8, Rom. 9:23  Eph. 1:18, Col. 1:27 Acts 2:3).

Carey C. Newman, writing in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of The Bible (pages 576-580) notes that the biblical words for “glory” are kavodh and doxa; that second word provides the root for “orthodox” and “doxology.” Newman states that the word applied to God can mean appearance or arrival, as at Sinai or the Tent of Meeting or the Temple. This is the special Presence of God (Shekinah), sometimes depicted in “throne” visions (as in the famous Ezekiel 1 and Daniel 7, and also the non-canonical 1 Enoch 14), and also the presence of God which dwells in the tabernacle (as in the Priestly history, e.g. Exodus 40:34-38).[2] Moses and Aaron are able to mediate between the people and God, because at this point in the biblical history, God’s glory is dangerous, as in Lev. 9, when the sons of Aaron are killed, and also the later story in 2 Samuel 6, when well-meaning Uzzah touched the ark when it was being carried improperly on a wagon. The presence of God is also associated with the cherubim and the mercy seat (Ex. 25:22, Num. 12:89, Deut. 33:26, 1 Sam. 4:4, Ps. 18:10, Ezek. 9:3, 10:4, Heb. 9:5).

God’s glory dwelled in Solomon’s Temple (2 Chr. 5:13-14), and frighteningly departed from it prior to the Babylonian conquest (Ezekiel  8-11). Biblical scholar Jacob Milgrom likens Solomon’s Temple to Dorian Gray’s picture: the people’s sins “collected” there, necessitating periodic sin offerings in order to remove the uncleanness. Gammie notes, though, that the people’s sins became so dire, numerous and ongoing, that these offerings no longer sufficed, even those of the Day of Atonement. Thus, the result of which was the loss of God’s Shekinah and inevitable foreign conquest of Judah and Jerusalem.[2]

Glory is not the same thing as holiness, but God’s glory and God’s holiness are closely connected as attributes of God and aspects of God’s manifestation—as well as the discipleship we pursue “for the glory of God.” It is difficult to find a modern analogy to the biblical idea of holiness: something powerful and necessary to handle properly (like fire or electricity) but also something “contagious,” from which one must be cleansed through prescribed means. One had to perform purity rites when one touched something unclean/unholy, like blood or a dead body. One had to perform sacrifices and priestly activities in a prescribed way, not to endure nit-picky rules but in order to handle something very powerful in a safe way.

The holiness of God is reflected in Israel’s life in the Torah’s distinctions between unclean and clean, holy and common, and sacred and profane. We may wonder about the ideas of cleanness and uncleanness because of texts like Acts 10:9-16, but in Israel, these were God-given parameters for how to live and how to relate properly to God, not only according to God’s expressed will but according to God’s revealed nature, the Holy God who dwells in Israel. (cf. Zech. 2:13-8:23; 14:20-21). As we read in Ezra and Nehemiah, these God-given parameters were crucially important for the people’s faithfulness and well-being.

God stipulates holiness on the part of his people because he desires to create Israel as his own people and to be in covenant with them. To be associated with God is a call to be pure and clean as well. I become impatient when people isolate the Ten Commandments from other biblical material (as, for instance, important statements in the history of law, or as general moral guidelines). The commandments function as those things, but you must notice that they are first given in context with God’s covenant with the people of Israel. God first gathers the people at Sinai and makes a covenant with them (Ex. 19), and only then gives them laws. Within those laws, in turn, God provides means for repentance and atonement for sin. In other words, God’s grace and love always precedes and encompasses the ethical aspects of God’s will, not vice versa; you could say his glory is revealed in love.[3]

Holiness not only has distinctions of clean and unclean, but also justice and righteousness—again, reflecting the glory of God as the just and righteous Lord. Holiness is never understood (properly at least) as only a concern for right ritual, cleanness, and restoration from uncleanness. Israel also witnesses to God through acts of justice, provision, and care for the needy (Lev. 19; Ps. 68:5). As the Baker Dictionary puts it, “it is the indication of the moral cleanness from which is to issue a lifestyle pleasing to Yahweh and that has at its base an other-orientation (Exod. 19:6; Isa. 6:5-8). Every possible abuse of power finds its condemnation in what is holy. Those who live in fear because of weakness or uselessness are to experience thorough protection and provision based on the standards of righteousness that issue from God’s holy reign (Exod. 20:12-17; Lev. 19; Ps. 68.:5).”[4]

Among other aspects of God’s glory, there is also a “royal theology” of glory, e.g. the books of Chronicles and also Psalm 24, where God’s glory, the human king, and the establishment of the Jerusalem sanctuary are all connected. As Newman states, “The regular enjoyment of Yahweh’s divine presence, his Glory, forms a central part of Temple liturgy and democraticizes the unqualified blessing of God upon king, Temple, nation, and world. Glory in a royal context assures of Yahweh’s righteous and benevolent control over all.”[5]

Newman continues: the biblical concept of Glory also has to do with judgment, as in Jer. 2:11-13, Hosea 10:5-6, and others. God demands holiness from his people and eventually God must deal with sin. But God’s glory also connects to forgiveness, restoration, and hope—notably in the poetry of Second Isaiah: “The arrival of Yahweh [in the transformed Jerusalem] not only restores what once was—the glories of a Davidic kingdom—but also amplified. Mixing Sinai with royal imagery, the prophet [Second Isaiah] speaks of a day when the Lord will once again “tabernacle” in Zion. This time, however, Yahweh will “create” a new  (and permanent) place for his Glory to rest.[6] (p. 577).

According to Newman, there are several important aspects of the New Testament theology of glory.[7] All these references are worth looking up and thinking about.

*  The continued use of glory to mean God’s appearance and presence (Acts 7:55, Heb. 9:5, etc.)

*  The Son of Man theme is connected to glory and the throne of glory (Mark 8:38/Matt. 16:27; 19:28; Luke 9:26; Mark 13:26/Matt. 24:30; 25:31; Acts 7:55, 2 Peters 1:17).

*   The many depictions of glory as an eschatological blessing: Jude 24, Heb. 2:10, Rev. 15;8, Rev. 21:11, et al.)  As Paul says, the glories of redemption make present day suffering pale in comparison (Rom. 5:2, Rom. 8:18, also 1 Pet. 4:13 and 5:1). At that time we will share in glory (2 Thess. 1:9-10, etc.).

*  But this future glory is not just a long-from-now time, but also something we share in Christ now, as in Col. 1:17, 3:4, Titus 2:13)

*  Also glory as resurrection, as in Rom. 6;4, 1 Cor. 15;25, Phil. 2:5-11, 1 Tim. 3:16, 1 Peter 1:21, Rev. 5:12-13, et al. Hebrew 2:9 applies Ps. 8 to Jesus even though it is not a “messianic” psalm.

*  And glory and Christology, as in the beautiful Heb. 1:1-14.

*  Paul also calls Jesus the Lord of Glory (Eph. 1:17) and connects Jesus to the glory of god in 2 Cor. 4:6, and 2 Cor. 3:18.

We can see two aspects of the powerful quality of holiness in Jesus’ life and death. Notice that when certain people (and demons) in the Gospels encounter Jesus, they want him to go away (Matt. 8:34, Mark 1:23-25, Luke 8:37, even Luke 7:6). That’s not because he was unpleasant; it was because they perceived that he was holy—and holiness is dangerous for mortals to encounter, as we’ve seen in some of the Old Testament stories. People thought that Jesus had to be approached in a way befitting God’s powerful holiness.

As God’s glory “dwelled” in the tabernacle and temple, now that glory dwells in Jesus: John 1:14 doesn’t just mean that Jesus lived among the people of his time, but that the glory of God itself was visible and present in Jesus (also Heb. 1:1-4). If blood has a power (related to cleanness, uncleanness, and holiness) powerful enough to cover people’s sins in the days of the tabernacle and temple, the shed blood of Jesus (in traditional theology about the Atonement) is powerful enough to cover people’s sins, 2000 years later and beyond.

Ideas of holiness that reflects God’s glory are strong New Testament themes, too. The purity and justice to which Christians are called are Spirit-given gifts and, as such, are God’s own holiness born within us which empower our witness to others (e.g., 2 Cor. 5:21, 2 Pet. 1:4). As one writer puts it, “[God’s] character unalterably demands a likeness in those who bear his Name. He consistently requires and supplies the means by which to produce a holy people (1 Peter 1:15-16).”[8]

God’s glory and holiness extends to the sanctification of believers, who are called hagioi, “saints” or “holy ones,” over 60 times in the NT. As one writer puts it, the outward aspects of holiness in the OT are “radically internalized in the New Testament believer.” “They [the believer/saints] are to be separated unto God as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1) evidencing purity (1 Cor. 6:9-20; 2 Cor. 7:1), righteousness (Eph. 4:24, and love (1 Thess. 4:7; 1 John 2:5-6, 20; 4:13-21). What was foretold and experienced by only a few in the Old Testament becomes the very nature of what it means to be a Christian through the plan of the Father, the work of Christ, and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.”[9]

Thus, New Testament ideas of glory stress Jesus’ dwelling among us, and the gift of the Holy Spirit in believers. If you appreciate the Old Testament passages about the in-dwelling of God’s glory, you may be taken aback by the idea that the Lord God Almighty, whose glory was so dangerous to approach, is present in us NOW through the Holy Spirit.

In fact, as a spiritual exercise, read biblical passages that reflect a very “majestic” view of God’s glory (e.g., Exodus 40:34-38 and Deut. 5:22-27), in conjunction with passages like Romans 3:21-26, Heb. 1:1-4, and Heb. 4:14-16.  Don’t think that the more “scary” passages about God’s glory have been superseded by the New Testament; think instead about how the same God who dwelt among the Israelites now dwells with you in the Holy Spirit—exactly the same God upon whom you call when you’re desperate and in trouble, who will help you!

(This post is adapted from an earlier post on another blog: http://changingbibles.blogspot.com/2012/04/ill-be-moving-these-posts-to-journey.html)


1. Karl Rahner, “Being Open to God as Ever Greater,” Theological Investigations, Vol. VII, Further Theology of the Spiritual Life 1 (New York: Seabury Press, 1977), pp. 25-46.

2. Carey C. Newman, “Glory,” The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of The Bible, D-H, Vol. 2 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007), pp. 576-580.

3. For all this discussion, see John G. Gammie, Holiness in Israel (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), 38-41.

4. “Holiness,” in Walter A. Elwell (ed.), Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), page 451.

5. Newman, 577.

6. Newman, 577.

7. Newman, 578-580.

8. “Holiness,” 340-344.

9. “Holiness,” 343.

I also found this interesting article via Twitter: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/roger-isaacs/how-did-the-biblical-glor_b_905944.html

This week I’ve been studying 1 Kings. The book covers roughly 110 years of history, from the ascendency of Solomon, through the division of the kingdom, to the deaths of King Jehoshaphat of Judah and Ahaziah of Israel.
Writing in The New Interpreter’s Bible (Vol. 3, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999), Choon-Leong Seow writes (p. 6), “Arguably the most challenging task for the interpreter of Kings is to make sense of it in one’s own day and age.”  He notes that there are heartwarming stories like Solomon’s wisdom and justice (1 King 3:4-15, 3:16-18), and also the compelling stories of Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 18:1-46, 2 Kings 5:1-19). But more difficult to interpret—and make applicable for the present day–are the lists of kings, details about the temple, administrative material, and also very violent material (e.g., 2 Kings 9:1-10:36, strange stories (e.g. Elisha and the axe head: 2 Kings 6:1-7), and ethnically difficult material, like the succession narrative (1 Kings 1:1-2:46).

As the book opens, David was old and in poor health. The family enlisted the young Abishag to keep him warm. Son Adonijah, who after all is the next in line for the throne, prepared to succeed his father, supported by Joab and Abiathar but opposed by Zadoc, Nathan, Shimei, and others. Nathan and Bathsheba intervened in favor of Solomon, whom David chose—-and Solomon is anointed (chapter 1). David charged Solomon to be faithful to the Lord and keep the commandments—-but also Solomon should also deal with Joab because of the bloodguilt of the deaths of Abner and Amasa (2 Samuel 16), and handle other matters. When David died, Solomon had Joab killed, and also Adonijah, who betrayed his own plot to seize the throne via his request to marry Abishag (chapter 2).

Solomon reigned with God-given wisdom, brilliantly settling the matter of the two mothers (chapter 3). He appointed court officials, to the benefit of Israel and Judah and spread the kingdom as far as the Euphrates and down to the border with Egypt (chapter 4) He prepared for the building of the temple, using forced labor from among the people (chapter 5), and when the temple was completed it was a truly magnificent edifice (chapters 6-7). The ark was brought to the temple, and the glory of the Lord filled the place. Solomon offered a prayer before the altar of God and established the worship of God and festivals at the temple (chapter 8). God gave a conditional covenant with Solomon, echoing the Deuteronomistic theology of God’s continued blessings to the people as long as they remained faithful (9:1-9).

Solomon’s fame spread (9:10-28), and his wealth and splendor increased (10:14-29), and he was visited by the famous Queen of Sheba (10:1-13). She has a surprisingly small “walk on” (her story is repeated in 2 Chr. 9:1-12), considering that she’s also mentioned in the New Testament (Matt. 12:42, Luke 11:31), the Qur’an (27:23-44), and is the subject of artwork, music by Handel and Gounod, and many cultural references. The unnamed monarch captured the popular imagination over the centuries!

But Solomon took foreign wives and earned God’s disapproval; in response, God promised to divide the kingdom after Solomon had died. God also raised up adversaries against Solomon, who eventually died after forty years on the throne. His son Rehoboam succeeded him (chapter 11), but the new king alienated the northern tribes when their representative Jeroboam unsuccessfully sought relief from Solomon’s heavy taxes. The northern tribes broke from the Davidic dynasty and established their own, northern kingdom (Israel, sometimes called Ephraim in prophetic books), leaving the tribe Judah (in combination with Benjamin) as the remaining tribe that comprised the southern kingdom (Judah) Jeroboam became the new king, and established calf worship at Bethel and Dan (chapter 12).

Spoiler alert: The northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians in 722 BCE and the people were assimilated into Assyrian society, with some of the people eventually becoming the Samaritans. (Samaria is the central region of the land, earlier associated with the tribes Ephraim and Manasseh.) “The ten lost tribes of Israel” is not a biblical phrase but it does come from the Assyrian conquest. The southern kingdom, Judah, lasted until the Babylonians conquered them and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in 586 BCE. This history is found in 2 Kings.

The stories of the divided kingdom extend from 1 Kings 12 through 2 Kings 17, while the stories of the southern kingdom continue to the end of 2 Kings. In the north, there were nine dynasties: Jeroboam and Nadab; Baasha and Elah; Zimri;  Omri, Ahab, Ahaziah, and Joram; Jehu, Jehoahaz, Jehoash (Joash), Jeroboam II, and Zachariah; Shallum; Menahem (Gadi) and Pekahiah; Pekah, and Hoshea. Jeroboam set the stage for the history of apostasy and idolatry in the northern kingdom, dooming it across its two-hundred year existence. The southern kingdom did have good, reform-minded kings like Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, and later Hezekiah and Josiah. But as Choon-Leong Seow points out, the sins of King Manasseh (Hezekiah’s successor) were so terrible that God’s judgment upon Judah became inevitable, too (Choon-Leong Seow, “The First and Second Books of Kings,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. III (Abingdon Press, 1999), 4-7).

The southern kingdom had only one royal dynasty, that of David and Solomon. Thus, although the monarchy ended with the exile, the hope for a restored Davidic monarchy continued—and became a basis of New Testament theology about Jesus.

Here are the kings through the end of 1 Kings. I’ve read that the chronology of Kings is difficult to untangle, but these approximate dates come from charts in Bernhard W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament (third edition, Prentice Hall, 1975).

Jeroboam of Israel (922-901), 13:1-14:20
Rehoboam of Judah (922-915), 14:21-31
Abijam of Judah (915-913), 15:1-8
Asa of Judah (913-873), 15:9-24
Nadab of Israel (901-900), 15:25-31
Baasha of Israel (900-877), 15:32-16:7
Elah and Zimri of Israel (877-876), 16:8-20
Omri of Israel (876-869), 16:21-27
Ahab of Israel (869-850),16:28-22:40
Jehosphaphat of Judah (873-849), 22:41-50
Ahaziah of Israel (849), 22:51-53

During Ahab’s reign (with his memorably evil wife Jezebel), we have the remarkable career of the prophet Elijah, perhaps the most important prophet of all. He appears on the scene in 17:1 without fanfare or background. We have several incidents in his life, and a few more in 2 Kings.

The drought and Elijah’s miracles, 17:1-18:19
The confrontation with the prophets of Baal, 18:20-40
The miracle of the rain, 18:41-46
Elijah flees to Mount Horeb and hears the “still small voice” of God and is returned to service, 19:1-18
Ahab and the vineyard of Naboth, 21:1-29
Here is a nice summary of Elijah’s career: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/elijah

from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kings_of_Israel_and_Judah

Some other aspects of these chapters:

* Rabbi Telushkin points out aspects of the “unwisdom” of Solomon: his thousand women, the fact that he—-the builder of God’s Temple—-became a follower of the gods Ashtoreth and Milcom (1 Kings 11:4-5), his forty thousand horses (1 Kings 5:6, compare Deut. 17:16-17), the forced labor he imposed on his subjects, and other aspects: the wisdom that God gave to Solomon in the beginning was lost as Solomon’s reign went on (Biblical Literacy, 248-249). Unfortunately, his son Rehoboam lacked Solomon’s earlier wisdom, or else the division of the kingdoms might not have occurred (p. 253).

* Rabbi Telushkin notes that the temple was apparently 180 feet long, 90 feet wide, and 50 feet high, likely with a massive surrounding area. The most important room was the Holy of Holies that housed the ark and the Ten Commandments tablets, into which only the high priest could enter. David could not build the temple because hew as a man of bloodshed (1 Chronicles 28:3), leaving the work to Solomon, involving over 3000 overseers (1 Kings 5:27-30) but resulting in heavy indebtedness (1 Kings 9:1). “To this day, Orthodox Jews pray three times a day for the Temple’s restoration and the reinstitution of the sacrifices offered there” (p. 251) but not all Jews do, and the fact that the Dome of the Rock is built on the site, a new Temple is very unlikely (ibid., pp. 250-251).

* What is the purpose of the strange, ethically ambiguous story of the two prophets in 1 Kings 13?  The theologian Karl Barth puts the moral implication of the story in the background—the lies of the prophet from Bethel—and focuses upon the objective nature of God’s word, which is true and trustworthy regardless of human behavior (Brevard S. Childs, Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 142-143).

* Asa of Judah (15:9-24) is one of the few good kings among these, for he eliminated aspects of foreign worship. Other kings are considered in shorter narratives—except for Ahab, whose evil exploits are “exemplary of the kind of behavior that led finally to the destruction of the Northern Kingdom” (Harper’s Bible Commentary, p. 318). Of course, the adventures of Elijah find their context in the prophet’s opposition to the king and queen.

* Elijah is an angry, confrontational prophet in the scriptures. But in Jewish folk tales, he is kind and lovable; Rabbi Telushkin writes, “Countless generations of Jewish children have waited expectantly at the Passover Seder for him to make a secret appearance to sip wine form the cup (kos Eliyahu) prepared for him. Jewish tradition also teaches that he appears at every circumcision, where a special chair (kissei Eliyahu) is set aside for him… [in] many folk tales… he appears miraculously to save poor Jews and those threatened by antisemites” (Biblical Literacy, p. 254).

* As a result of the evil plot to get rid of Naboth so that the king could have his vineyard, the Lord passes judgment upon the king and queen and their sons. The sentences do come to pass, though not right away. Ahab is killed by a randomly shot arrow (22:29-38), Jezebel dies in the predicted gruesome way (2 Kings 9:30-37), and their sons are all killed (2 Kings 10:1ff). These are examples of the numerous places in the Bible where the reader may connect the dots between God’s word and the result.

* Finally: somewhere in my childhood TV watching, I heard the oath, “Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat!” It sounds like something Yosemite Sam would’ve said, but I’m not sure. I looked it up, and learned that it’s an oath (substituting for “Jesus!”) that can be traced to the 1800s: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-jum2.htm


Bible in a Year: 2 Kings, and Some Connections

“The Flight of the Prisoners” by James Tissot (1836-1902)

This week I’ve been studying 2 Kings. The book covers over 260 years, from the death of King Ahaziah of Israel through the fall of the northern kingdom to the fall of the southern kingdom.

This book is the conclusion of what scholars have called the Deuteronomistic history, beginning with Deuteronomy and including Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings. The hypothesized source for the narrative provides a theological explanation for the fall of Judah, as well as a bridge to a return from exile. Remember that these books (Joshua through Kings) are called the Former Prophets in the Jewish Bible, because the prophets are important figures among these narratives, and the upcoming prophetic books speak to the historical and theological circumstances of the kingdoms.

My Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible points out some important aspects of 1 and 2 Kings. One is that the narratives not only including kingly history but stories of everyday people affected by government policies. Notice how both Elijah and Elisha take the time to help those in need.

Another aspect: true power lies not in the kings, but in the word of God expressed in the prophets (p. 482-483). In fact, the narratives express a suspicion of power, whether used for good or bad purposes (p. 484).

Still another aspect is that God is involved in public life as well as the hearts of individuals (p. 484).

And also, the books express the reality that security is of God alone—not even the sources of the people’s trust, like the Davidic kingdom and Solomon’s temple, are secure if God is not safeguarding them (p. 532).

As with interpreting the Torah, one must seek faithful ways to interpret narratives and provisions from an ancient time. An Iron Age monarchy and society differs from our contemporary technological society and representative democracy. But the books of Kings “suggest that a life that recognizes and confesses vulnerability is a life of well-being an power through God… a life that involves releasing our tight grip on all our arrangements for power so that God may inaugurate hopeful newness. For the Church, that is a familiar message. It is the witness of the cross, ever challenging, ever compelling” (ibid., p. 533).


Here are highlights of 2 Kings. Some of my books indicate that the chronologies of the text are difficult to reconcile. These approximate dates of the prophets and the kings’ reigns come from chronological charts in Bernhard W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament (third edition, Prentice Hall, 1975).

The first block of material is the history of the divided kingdom to the revolt of Jehu.

* Death of Ahaziah of Israel (849), 1:1-18; he beseeches Baalzebub for help instead of the Lord.

* Elijah and Elisha, 2:1-25: Elijah is taken into heaven in a fiery chariot, and Elisha assumes his mantle and embarks on his prophetic ministry—beginning with his famous curse of 42 little boys who called him “baldhead.” For more on Elisha’s “adventures,” see for instance http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/elisha

* Jehoram of Israel (849-842), 3:1-27, and his successful campaign against the Moabites.

* Miracles and other works of Elisha, 4:1-8:15. Among his miracles, he promised a son to the Shunammite woman and later raises the son from the dead and otherwise helps her; he made poisonous stew edible; he healed the Gentile Naaman of his leprosy; he fed a hundred people with a little food; he makes man’s iron ax head float so that he could recover it; and others.

* Jehoram of Judah (849-842), 8:16-24
Ahaziah of Judah (842), 8:25-29
Jehu of Israel (842-815), 9:1-10:1-36. Elisha anionts Jehu, who with his men kill Jezebel, and then Jehoram, and Ahaziah was also mortally wounded. Jehu and his men subsequently kill all of Ahab’s family, avenging the death of Naboth (9:21, 25, 26), and also massacre worshipers of Baal. Jehu’s faithfulness to God resulted in a substantial dynasty (15:12) but Jehu did not continue to follow God’s laws (10:31), and so the Lord trims off parts of Israel (10:32-36).

* Athaliah and Joash of Judah (842-837, 837-800), 11:1-21
Joash’s reforms, 12:1-21. He repairs the temple and also uses temple gold to make Hazel of Aram withdraw from Jerusalem.

* Jehoahaz of Israel  (815-801), 13:1-9
Jehoash/Joash of Israel (801-786); Elisha’s death, 13:10-13:25.
Amaziah of Judah (800-783), 14:1-22, who warred against Israel.
Jeroboam II of Israel (786-746), 14:23-29, who did evil, but God saved the kingdom for the time being.

About here, it should be noted that the prophets Amos and Hosea prophesied to the Northern Kingdom in about the 740s and 750s.

* Azariah/Uzziah of Judah (783-742), 15:1-7, who did what was right but also did not remove the foreign altars and so God struck him with leprosy.
Remember that the northern prophet Isaiah dated his prophetic call to the year King Uzziah died (Isaiah 6:1).

* Chapter 15: stories of horrible violence, bribery, conspiracy, idolatry, and assassination, though ending with the reign of Uzziah’s son Jothan, who like his father was righteous yet did n’t remove the false offerings.
Zechariah of Israel (746-745), 15:8-12
Shallum of Israel (one month in about 745), 15:13-16
Menahem of Israel (745-738), 15:17-22
Pekahiah of Israel (738-737), 15:23-26
Pekah of Israel (737-732), 15:27-31
Jotham of Judah (742-735), 15:32-38

* Ahaz of Judah (737-715), 16:1-20, who was an evil ruler, but he saved Judah from the threats of Aram and Israel by paying tribute to Assyria’s ruler Tiglath-pileser.

* Finally the northern kingdom is attacked and conquered by Assyria during the reign of the last king, Hoshea of Israel. 17:1-6. The Deuteronomistic historian comments extensively on the sins that led to Israel’s fall (17:7-23), and describes the resettlement of the area. Among the new settlers were the people who became known as Samaritans. (Samaria is the area of the land’s central region, earlier associated with the tribes Ephraim and Manasseh.)

Here are Assyrian reliefs from that time period, in the British Museum. (My photos from a 2011 visit)

* From chapter 18 to the end of 2 Kings, the kings are of Judah:
Hezekiah (715-687), 18:1-8-20:1-21. Hezekiah was righteous and also tore down the high places, false idols, and other idols. Even the bronze snake of Moses’ time had become an idol, and he destroyed it (18:4). But he faced the challenge of the Assyrians, too, who besieged Jerusalem. The mockery of Assyrian representatives hastens the divine deliverance. (2 Kings 19 is identical to Isaiah 37, and that prophet is a key focuser in both.)

* Manasseh (687-642), 21:1-18, Hezekiah’s son, was very wicked and did much evil. This is the last straw. Although 2 Chronicles 33:11-19 records the king’s repentance, God’s judgment against Judah was now certain because of Manasseh’s idolatry and violence.

* Amon of Judah (642-640), 21:19-26, was also evil, but

* Josiah (640-609), 22:1-25:30, was a righteous king who prepared the temple, and in doing so recovered the book of the law (probably the text of Deuteronomy 12-26) and with great sorrow sought to renew the covenant and to initiate reforms throughout the kingdom. Sadly, God’s wrath was still kindled against Judah, and Josiah was killed in an unfortunate meeting with Pharaoh Neco.

The prophets Zephaniah (about 628-622), Jeremiah (about 626-587), Habakkuk (about 605), and Ezekiel (about 593-573) are from this general period, while 2 Isaiah was exilic: about 540.

* Jehoahaz (609), 23:31-33, briefly reigned, but he was taken captive by the Pharaoh. His successor Eliakim/Jehoiakim (609-598, 23:34-24:6, also did evil in God’s sight, as did Jehoiachin (598-597), 24:7-12.  In his eighth year as king, he was taken prisoner by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who looted Jerusalem and carried away many inhabitants. Nebuchadnezzar installed Jehoiachin’s uncle Zedekiah as king. But Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem and the terrible end of Zedekiah and his sons (25:1-7). Jerusalem was destroyed and the temple was burned, demolished, and looted. Nebuchadnezzar appointed the ill-fated Gedaliah to be governor of the land of Judah (25:22-26).

Remember all the history of the tribes of Israel in Genesis, Joshua, and Judges? That all comes to an end in 2 Kings, with only Judah, Benjamin, and the priestly tribe Levi remaining. Is the promise of God to Abraham–many descendants, and a land of their own–finished, too?

The conclusion of the book is a sign of hope: the Judahite ruler Jehoiachin (who is, of course, of the family of David) is freed from prison and is well treated for the rest of his life (25:27-30). Tragic as the situation is for God’s people, this is a sign of hope that God has not abandoned his covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David. Yet–as we saw with the conclusion of Deuteronomy–faithfulness to God will likely continue without attachment to the land.


One of my older books comments this way about the end of 2 Kings: “Whilst there is life, there is hope; we may not despair. God can turn the dungeon, when he pleases, into a palace. When our friend the great King shall sit on the throne of his kingdom, then he shall loose the bands of death, change the prison garments of his saints, clothe them with immortality, and placing their throne next his own, make them sit down with him, and reign in glory everlasting” (Rev. Thomas Haweis, The Evangelical Expositor; or, a Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. 1 (Glasgow, Blackie & Son, 1834), p. 678).


It would be good to recap the historical books that we’ve traversed, make some connections, and to look ahead. The following material is from one of my other blogs.

* The historical books Joshua through Kings have several major themes. One is the keeping of the covenant: God will reward faithfulness and will eventually punish wickedness and apostasy. A recurring reminder is the way God redeemed his people from Egypt (e.g., 1 Kings 6;1, 8:9, 16, 21, 51, 53; 9:9; 12:28; 2 Kings 17:36; 21:15), a reminder which is of course a significant aspect of the Torah. So the historical books connect back to the Torah in narrating (1) God’s faithfulness across the centuries, and (2) the people’s failure to keep their part of the covenant—especially because their kings have failed.

* Another major theme is experience of the Land (ha-aretz)—the land promised to Israel since Abram in Genesis 12. As we saw in the Torah, God guides his people, establishes his covenant with them, gives them his law, and leads them to the Land under the leadership of Moses and then Joshua. Holding and keeping the Land, though, remains a challenge across the centuries: the campaigns and conquests of Joshua are only the beginning of that story.(1)

* Connected to the Land is the history of the monarchy. Commentators like Anderson note that while the tribal confederacy of the Judges period had problems with faithfulness and idolatry, those problems were different from other nations in that they were defined by their covenant to the Lord. But once Israel had a king, an additional temptation was added: becoming a nation like any other nation. Certainly God’s power was operative, for instance, in the selection of Saul and David and the ongoing life of the people, especially in light of the Philistine threat. But, as Anderson notes, the true successors of the judges were the prophets rather than the kings: “the religious faith of the Confederacy [the Judges] survived its collapse and found new expression in Israel’s prophetic movement. Israel was not allowed to identify a human kingdom with the Kingdom of God, for Yahweh alone was king.”(2)

Unfortunately, that meant that Israel and Judah had eventually to collapse, as warned by the prophets, in order that the remnant could become truly faithful to the covenant.

When we explore the stories of David and his successors, we notice difficulties building. Although Israel became a renowned kingdom (occasioning the famous Queen of Sheba’s visit in 1 Kings 10:1-10), we also hear of the horror of the hanging of Saul’s seven sons (and the tragic figure of the concubine Rizpah: 2 Sam. 21:1-14), continued conflict with the Philistines (2 Sam. 21:15-22), terrible results of David’s census (2 Sam. 24), the rebellions and difficulties within David’s own family (2 Sam. 9-20 and 1 Kings 1-2), the many stories of violence and idolatry and corruption among the narratives of the kings, and eventually the division of the kingdom following Solomon’s death.(3)

On the other hand, the possibilities of monarchy gave rise to the hope for a future king who would reunite the people and regain and surpass the possibilities of peace and prosperity—as we read in the famous messianic passages that we specially embrace during Advent and Christmas: Isaiah 7:10-17, 9:2-7, and 11:1-9.

Thus, within these stories, David emerges as a kind of “typology” for God’s rule.(4) The two mountains, Sinai and Zion, stand for the two covenants of God, and Nathan’s prophecy (2 Samuel 7) links David’s descendants to God’s Sinai covenant. All earlier ambivalence about a monarchy changes to a confidence in God’s rulership through David’s line–God’s remarkable commitment to his people via David. And since David is identified with Jerusalem (Zion) in his selection of that place as capital, Zion became identified as God’s own city, the city of God’s peace (Ps. 46, 48, 76, and others).(5)

Of course, the line of David, also celebrated in the psalms (2, 20, 31, 45, and others) connects to the later messianic hope that grows in Israel’s history and, for Christians, finds fulfillment in Jesus.

* Another theme of these biblical books is the Jerusalem temple. The Temple, promised to David and constructed during Solomon’s reign, is connected to the history of the Tabernacle before it (Ex. 35-40) and, of course, to the Land itself. David’s hope for a great, permanent house in the Land for God is not fulfilled, but his son Solomon constructs the facility (2 Sam. 7, 1 Kings 5-8). Like the monarchy, the Temple did not survive the collapse of Judah and Jerusalem in 586 (1 Kings 25:8, 9, 13-17), but the Temple serves in Israelite memory through the exile in, for instance, the dynamic vision of a restored Temple in Ezekiel 40-48. Following the exile, the high priest Jeshua and the governor Zerubbabel, helped by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, supervise the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 3-6). After the Old Testament period, Herod the Great began work on a restored temple in 20-19 BC, a building effort still going on during Jesus’ time. Herod’s temple was finally completed, ironically, just a few years before the Romans destroyed it in 70 AD.

* The fall of Jerusalem in about 586 BC and the subsequent exile of the people in Babylon in 586-536 BC (2 Kings 24:18-25:30 and Jer. 52:1-34) are key events for the entire Bible.(6) Even if you’re a regular Bible reader you may miss the tremendous significance of the exile; the whole Bible radiates before and after that catastrophe.(7) We know little about the forty years in the wilderness (passed over in silence between Numbers 17:13 and 20:1), and we also have comparatively little history in the Bible about the exile itself, besides 2 Kings 25, Jeremiah 52, Lamentations, Psalms 79 and 137.(8) But the whole biblical history beginning with God’s promises to Abraham comes to a catastrophic turning point at the exile; much of the prophetic writings in the Bible reflect issues before, during, and after the exile; and the promises of God to David for a future Davidic monarchy become a great hope of Israel following the exile. The upcoming books of Ezra and Nehemiah record the post-exilic efforts to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple and to reestablish the people on the Land. (9) That post-exilic hope is understood in the New Testament as being fulfilled in Christ.(10)

In addition to these themes and connections, we find numerous other connections within the biblical books:

* The connection of Noah’s curse of Canaan (Gen. 9:25-26) with the Canaanite tribes who figure throughout the historical books.(11)

* The ongoing theme of the Amalekites (Ex. 17:8-16, Num. 13-14, Deut. 25:17, 19, Judges 3:13, 1 Sam. 15, et al.), connecting Joshua with Saul and later Hezekiah (1 Chr. 4:41-43).(12)

* The ongoing theme of Bethel (Josh. 18:21-22, Judges 1:22-26, 20:18, 26-28, 1 Sam. 7:16, 1 Kings 12:26-32, 2 Kings 17:27-28, 2 Kings 23:15-23, Ezra 2:28, Neh. 7:32, 11:31).(13)

* The connection of the places Gilgal (Josh. 4:19-5:12, 1 Sam. 11:15, 13:1-10) and also Gibeon (Josh. 9:3-27, 2 Sam. 2:12-3:1. As one commentator puts it, “The story [of Gibeonites] signals radical Davidic centralization by highlighting Joshua’s fulfillment of Yahweh’s command.” But also these Joshua stories connect to the law of herem (Deut. 7:1-6, 20:16-18), wherein God requires the annihilation of the people and prohibits the taking of spoils, a requirement at which Saul failed in his handling of the Amalekites.(14)

We also find interconnections of the historical books with the New Testament. Anyone struggling with the relevance of the historical books with Christian faith can take comfort that these books are foundational for our faith.

* The great themes of Yahweh’s covenant and salvation. The name “Joshua” is in Hebrew the same name as “Jesus,” meaning “Yahweh saves.”

* The theme of the Land. The Land is not spiritualized in the Old Testament the way that it tends to be in the New. In the Old, we speak of the actual land and its possession. Deutero-Isaiah begins to move in a more spiritual direction (Isa. 44:24ff, 49:14ff), and in the New Testament, Jesus himself becomes the “place” where God dwells (John 1:14).(15)

* The theme of the Kingdom of God. The phrase is not used in the Old Testament, but the kingdom of God is the principle theme of Jesus’ preaching and connects with God’s sovereignty through Israel’s history. As Graeme Goldworthy puts it, “While the Old Testament is everywhere eloquent in describing the sovereignty of God in history to work out his purposes, Jesus declares that he is the goal of that sovereign working of God.”(16)

* The theme of a new kind of monarchy under David’s descendant, Jesus. In his person and work, Jesus brings themes like the Lamb of God, the sufferings of David, and the suffering servant of Isaiah into the theme of the king of Israel: thus, when Jesus is killed, the charge against him is “king of the Jews.”(17) But in his suffering and death is victory over sin and death, and the ambiguities of the Israelite monarchy are understood to be resolved.

* The theme of the Temple. The New Testament never explicitly mentions the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, an odd omission. Jesus quotes Jeremiah concerning the Temple, and he himself is understood to be the new temple (John 2:20-22). Paul, in turn, calls each of us “temples of the Holy Spirit” in that God’s presence dwells within us (1 Cor. 6:9-10).

* The realities of post-exilic Judaism provide a more subtle connection. Groups like the Pharisees and Sadducees , as well as the Essenes and Zealots, formed in response to the needs of the people during the post-exilic time, as did institutions like synagogues, Sabbath requirements, and festivals to which Jews—many living in different parts of the world after the exile—came to Jerusalem (e.g., John 11:55 and also Acts 2:5-11).

* Not only is the exile a decisive turning point for the whole Bible—a climax of a long drama but also a new beginning for Jews and later for Christians—scholars hypothesize that the compilations and editing of law codes and historical materials happened as during and after the exile. Thus, the exile and the restoration necessitated the composition of the Bible itself!

* Of course, the Jews who became the first Christians were post-exilic Jews who, like other Jews, looked to another kind restoration of Israel’s fortunes. The Christians saw that restoration and monarchical fulfillment in the Jew Jesus, and they based that hope upon exilic texts like Isaiah 40-66.

* It is worth noting that exilic language flavors many Christian hymns, especially those that refer to our heavenly home to which we live in hope. In childhood Vacation Bible School I learned that peppy song “Do Lord” with its evocation of “Glory Land.” I also learned “Bringing in the Sheaves,” based on the post-exilic Psalm 136 and the struggle of returning exiles to reestablish agriculture.


1  An excellent study is Walter Brueggemann, The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith (second edition, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002).

Gordon J. Wenham writes, “The [book of Genesis] begins with the triumphant account of God creating the world in six days and declaring it ‘very good’, and it ends with Joseph confidently looking forward to his burial in the promised land. Judges by contrast opens with the rather ineffective efforts of the Israelite tribes to conquer that land and closes after a most dreadful civil war with the gloomy reflection, ‘In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes’ (21:25).” Story as Torah: Reading Old Testament Narrative Ethically (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000), 45.

2 Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 162-163.  Brevard S. Childs notes that the Old Testament has a presumed “pro-monarchial” source in 1 Sam. 8-12, specifically 9:1-10:16 and 11:1-5, compared with anti-monarchical sources (1 Sam. 8:1-22, 10:17-27, 12:1-25) that view a human king as an act of disobedience to God, the true monarch. Childs looks at the texts’ canonical shape and concludes that, although some of the biblical traditions were hostile to a monarchy, the final form of the text affirms God’s involvement in the monarchy, even though a monarchy was not part of God’s original plan (Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1986], 115). Furthermore, he continues, the career of the greatest monarch, David, becomes deeply significant for Israel’s ongoing hope in God’s redemption (Isa. 9:6-7, Jer. 23:5ff, Ps. 45, 72, 110, and the way David’s speech in 2 Sam. 22 echoes Hanna’s song in 1 Sam. 2). In his Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), Childs sees a similar tension regarding the book of Judges. The book itself connects the moral decline of the period to the lack of a king (18:1, 21:25), but in the anti-monarchical passages of 1 Samuel (e.g. 12:12ff), the office of judges rather than a monarch was God’s intention for Israel. Yet the future hope of Israel lay not in a judge but a Davidic king (150-151).

3 Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 184. Under the kingship of Solomon’s son Rehoboam (1 Kings 12) the kingdom divides between the northern (Israel) and the southern (Judah). A succession of kings rule Israel for the subsequent two hundred years until the Assyrians conquer that land in about 722 BC (2 Kings 12).  The later Babylonians did not compel the resettlement of conquered areas but the Assyrians did. Consequently, the deportation of the tribes in the northern kingdom resulted not only in “the lost tribes of Israel” but also the beginning of the Samaritan (2 Kings 17:1-6, 24-41, 18:9, 1 Chr. 5:26). Later, those from the southern kingdom who returned from Babylonian exile came into conflict with Samaritans in the years following (Hag. 2:10ff, Ezra 10:2ff, Neh. 4:1ff). See Childs, Biblical Theology, 162.

4  A helpful book to me was Walter Brueggemann, In Man We Trust: The Neglected Side of Biblical Faith (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1972), on the freedom of David.

5 Childs, Biblical Theology, 154-55.

6  Ralph W. Klein, “Exile,” The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007), 367-370.

7 As commentator Choo-Leong Seow notes, Judah was destroyed because of persistent disobedience. (2 Kings 17). The righteous Hezekiah forestalled this judgment (2 Kings 20), but his son Manasseh was the worst of all the kings, on par with the northern king Jeroboam. Even Josiah’s reforms could not reverse God’s judgment following Manasseh’s sins (2 Kings 22:1-23:30). Choon-Leong Seow, “The First and Second Books of Kings,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume V (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999), 5, 6.

8 See Childs, Biblical Theology, 161-163, for several aspects of the period from biblical sources.

9  A book I enjoyed in seminary is Peter R. Ackroyd, Exile and Restoration: A Study of Hebrew Thought in the Sixth Century B.C. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1968).

10 Although Israel’s hope is understood to be fulfilled in Christ, themes of the exile still shape the Bible. As Peter-Ben Smith points out, a key biblical theme, beginning with the Garden Eden, is that we are all in exile and long to be redeemed from exile. He points out that the Christian liturgical traditions are filled with the language of exile, and also the exile functions in theologies of liberation (the struggle for freedom amid oppression) and other contemporary theologies.  The biblical language about Jesus’ death and resurrection connects to Passover, which of course concerns the earlier exile of Egyptian slavery. Peter-Ben Smith, “Ecumenism in Exile,” World Council of Churches’ website, http://www.oikoumene.org/en/programmes/the-wcc-and-the-ecumenical-movement-in-the-21st-century/relationships-with-member-churches/60th-anniversary/contest/essay-ecumenism-in-exile.html. Accessed 2012.

11 These and the following scripture references are from Robert B. Coote, “The Book of Joshua,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume II, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 559.

12 Coote, “The Book of Joshua,” 561.

13 Coote, “The Book of Joshua,” 562.

14  Coote, “The Book of Joshua,” 562, 566 (quotation on page 562)

15  Brueggemann, The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith, chapter 10.

16  Goldworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible, 52-53.

17  Goldworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible, 53.

We are moving along through biblical history. Here is an approximate timeline:

c. 1800-1600: Abraham and his family through Jacob’s children (Genesis)
c. 1600-1200s: Egypt, Exodus, and conquest of the Land (Exodus through Joshua)
1200s-1000: Period of the Judges (Judges, Ruth)
1000-922: The united monarchy (Saul, David, Solomon), (1 and 2 Samuel, 1 Kings 1-11, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles 1-9)
922-722: The divided monarchy (1 Kings 12 to 2 Kings 17).
722 -586: The kingdom of Judah (2 Kings 18-25, 2 Chronicles 10-36)
586-539: The exile
538-332: Judah during Persian rule (Ezra and Nehemiah)

Between the Old and New Testaments:
332-165: Judea during Hellenistic Rule
165-63: The period of the Maccabees and Hasmoneans

The New Testament period:
6 BCE – 135 CE: The Roman provence of Judea

It was also during the era of Hellenistic Judaism and the Roman occupation that Judaism as we know it began to develop, including the fixing of the canon. Rabbinic Judaism developed for the needs of diaspora faith after the Second Temple was destroyed; the Mishnah, for instance, dates from about 200 CE and the Gemara from about 500 CE.


This week, I’m studying Ruth and then 1 Samuel 1-17. If we continue reading from Judges straight into 1 Samuel, we get a more or less continuous narrative, because Eli (1 Samuel 1) is both the high priest at Shiloh (where we left off in Judges with the Benjaminites’ rape of the women at Shiloh) and the next-to-last judge of Israel. After Eli, Samuel becomes the final judge of Israel and makes possible the transition of Israelite rulership from judges to kings. We find this narrative continuity in the Jewish Bible, wherein Ruth appears near the end of the canon.

In the Christian Old Testament, Ruth is placed between Judges and 1 Samuel. At this place in the canon, Ruth becomes both a lovely contrasting narrative from the era of the judges (allowing for the marriage practices of the time), and also provides a genealogical bridge to the upcoming stories of David.

The story is familiar to many of us. Three women—the Israelite Naomi and her Moabite daughters in law Ruth and Orpah—find themselves widowed. (The Moabites, whose land was just outside the Land, are biblical characterized as descendants of the union of Lot and his oldest daughter, Gen. 19:37-38.) When Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem, Orpah returns to Moab but Ruth chooses to stay with Noami. There follows a familiar story, with some suspense, of how Naomi and Ruth work together to gain the favor of Boaz, a kinsman to Naomi. Boaz goes along with the plan. Although another kinsman is closer in relation (and thus more eligible to marry Ruth), Boaz fulfills legal requirements and they are able to marry. The book concludes with a reminder that their child Obed was the grandfather of David, and that Boaz was a descendant of Perez (whom we met back in Genesis 38).

I forget where I read that the book of Ruth provides a counterpart to other Bible passages where Hebrew marriages to non-Hebrew women were frowned up. In Ezra 9-10, for instance, the man were ordered to divorce their foreign wives. But in Ruth, a Hebrew man marries a Moabite woman—and they’re forebears of King David himself!


One of the theological themes of Deuteronomistic theology is that God is the true Lord and King of Israel. This was established in the Exodus covenant and reiterated in Deuteronomy 29 and Joshua 24. The writer of Judges laments, over and over, that “everyone did as he saw fit” because Israel had no king. But the irony is that Israel had a king—the Lord—and turned instead to Canaanite deities and, at the end, the society degenerated into war among the tribes.

Here are some notes that I took a few years ago, which has significance for this upcoming section of Bible reading. In his book Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1986, p. 115), Brevard S. Childs (whom I had as a professor in 1979) notes that the OT scholar Julius Wellhausen identified a “promonarchial source in 1 Samuel 8-12, specifically 9:1-10:16 and 11:1-5. Those texts affirm the new Israelite monarchy, while 8:1-22, 10:17-27, 12:1-25 “regarded the rise of the kingdom as a rejection of God’s true rain”…and saw it as an act of disobedience which emulated Israel’s pagan nations.” Later, the OT scholar Gerhard Von Rad reinterpreted those passages as complementary rather than contradictory. Following Von Rad but also looking to the canonical shape of the text, Childs believes that the anti-monarchical source “brackets the earlier source at both beginning and end (p. 116), but that the pro-monarchical source still has power because “God is still deeply involved in the rise of the monarchy even when it was not according to his original plan for Israel (p. 116). Thus Israel has to choose for God or against God, whether ruled by a king or not (p. 117).

Even though the anti-monarchical source questions the properness of an Israelite king—because Yahweh is Israel’s true king, and the previous rulership of Israel had been the shofetim (judges)—the career of David becomes significant for Israel’s messianic hope: for instance, Isa. 9:6-7, Jer. 23:5ff, and Psalms like 45, 72, and 110 (Childs, pp. 119-120). Thus, even though the monarchy was not according to God’s original plan, God incorporated the monarchy—and specifically King David—as a “type of God’s kingdom.” (In another example, Childs further argues, with von Rad in mind, that the “succession narrative 2 Samuel 9-20 and 1 Kings 1-2 has not been artificially broken up by 2 Samuel 21-24, but that those four chapters places David’s career in context with the messianic hope of Israel, precisely as David’s speech in chapter 22 echoes Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2: p. 118.)

All kinds of interesting connections there! Of course, in New Testament affirmation, David and his kingdom become precursors and “types” of Christ (the great descendent of David and member of David’s tribe, Judah) and his kingdom.

1 Samuel begins when the ark of the covenant was at the sanctuary at Shiloh. I suppose you could say that Samuel and Jesus are the only two biblical figures whose stories begin prior to their births and extend after their deaths. As the book opens, Hannah, one of the two wives of Elkanah, could not have children and she tearfully beseeched the Lord to let her have a male child, whom she would dedicate to the Lord. Eli, the judge and high priest, blessed her, and the Lord in turn granted her prayer.

(Dr. Laurel Koepf-Taylor, who teaches at Eden Seminary where I’m an adjunct, has written a fascinating book, Give Me Children or I Shall Die: Children and Communal Survival in Biblical Literature (Fortress Press, 2013). She discusses the way that we read the Bible with modern eyes and thus can overlook economic aspects of the narrative, for instance, the fact that in the ancient world a child had economic value. The promised gift of Samuel to God provides God with a replacement leader when Eli’s sons are problematic, and in this “barter,” God opens the womb of Hannah, who because she devoted the “first fruits” to God has an abundant “harvest”: more children after Samuel. See pages 45-46. )

The child Samuel served the Lord with Eli and grew in the spirit (in contrast to the sons of Eli, who were terrible people). The Lord punished Eli and the sons while raising up Samuel to be the new high priest. His fame as a prophet preach through Israel (1:1-3:31).

As the Israelites engaged the Philistines in battle near Ebenezer, they carried the ark with them. But the Philistines routed the Israelites, captured the ark, and killed the two sons of Eli. Hearing the news, Eli himself fell and died. Eli’s daughter-in-law went into labor, and as she died, she named the child Ichabod, meaning “the glory is gone from Israel” (referring to the ark) (chapter 4).

But the presence of the ark, set up at the Philistine temple of Dagon at Ashdod, was dangerous for them, causing damage to the idol itself and causing, of all things, hemorrhoids among the Philistines (chapter 5). Some commentators speculate that the ailment was more like a plague of some kind. In a memorable story, the Philistines put the ark on a wagon and let God providentially guide two cows to pull the ark back to the Israelites. The cows did so, and the ark arrived at Beth-shemesh, where its dangerous holiness caused more casualties (chap. 6). The Israelites subsequently took the ark to Kiriath-jearim, where it remained for twenty years (7:1-4).

(Why wasn’t the ark returned to Shiloh? This is a mystery in the biblical record. Ambiguously referenced in Genesis 49:10, Shiloh was the place where Joshua had set up the Tabernacle, where it remained during the Judges period. But did the Philistines destroy the city when they took the ark? Apparently not, because about two hundred years later, a prophet named Ahijah lived in Shiloh (1 Kings 11, 14). On the other hand, Jeremiah refers to Shiloh as a desolate location (Jer. 7:12-15; 26:5-9). Psalm 78:60 says that the Lord forsook the Tabernacle at Shiloh. One of my seminary profs, B. Davie Napier, commented that the loss of Shiloh was apparently too painful for even Scripture to describe.)

Samuel returned Israel to the Lord. He assembled them at Mizpah, where they ceremonially repented to God, allowing them to route the Philistines. Samuel set up the famous Ebenezer memorial (7:14) and made the rounds each year from his home in Ramah to Bethal, Gilgal, and Mitzvah to judge Israel (chap. 7). Samuel’s sons Joel and Abijah, however, were dishonest and unsuitable as judges. Somehow God did not punish Samuel for lax parenting as God had punished Eli, and the Israelites beseeched Samuel for a king. Samuel advised against it, but the Lord allowed it (chapter 9). Samuel found the handsome Benjaminite Saul and installed him as Israel’s first king (not including the wicked and self-proclaimed monarch Abimelech of Judges) (chapters 9-10). Saul had initial success as a military leader, against the Ammonites (chap 11). Samuel still regretted the new monarchy as a sign of disobedience to God, the true king, but Samuel urges the people to follow and respect Saul, and promises to pray for them (chap. 12).

Saul, and now his son Jonathan too, faces another threat from the Philistines. Samuel stipulated that Saul wait for seven days at Gilgal, when Samuel would make sacrifice. When Samuel didn’t show up, Saul presented the burnt-offering himself. At that point Samuel arrived and pronounced a curse upon Saul’s dynasty (chapter 13). This passage always implied to me that Samuel acted in a very petty way, setting up Saul for failure because he (Samuel) disapproved of the new monarchy.

Sadly for Saul, his missteps continue. In another battle, Saul placed a curse on anyone who ate food before nightfall. But Jonathan, not realizing, had already eaten, and some other troops at as well, all of which withdrew divine favor from the battle (chap. 14). In a battle against the Amalekites, Saul spared the Amalekite king, Agag, and the animals of most value—a violation of God’s holy war stipulations—and then he blames the troops. Samuel scolded him and announced the withdrawal of God’s favor. After that, Samuel and Saul never saw each other again (chap. 15).

These chapters always frustrate me—as if both Samuel and the Lord chose Saul and then let him fail. I’m reading through modern eyes, of course, with leadership philosophy and workplace dynamics in mind.

God instructed Samuel to go among the Bethlehemites to find a new king. Interestingly, God gave him an excuse to use, just in case Saul learned of the errand (16:1-2). Samuel met the sons of Jesse, and while the older brothers were promising, God told Samuel to anoint the youngest son, David. David continued to work as a shepherd but also had a role in the king’s service, wherein he at first had  good relations with Saul (chap. 16).

The Israelites face another threat from the Philistines, presented by the enormous soldier Goliath who taunts the opposing forces. The story (apparently another ancient narrative edited into the history) reintroduces David, who expressed concern about Goliath’s taunts about Israel and its God. David told Saul that he (David) had killed lions and bears from attacking his father’s sheep and so he could manage Goliath, too. Saul gives David armor, which doesn’t fit. So David abandoned army, and set out to the battlefield with just his sling and some stones. We all know how this story turns out! (chap. 17).

Bible in a Year: 1 Samuel 18-2 Samuel 8

Last week I mentioned that the fate of the sacred town of Shiloh is a mystery. So are the Urim and Thummim, holy objects that appear in a few Old Testament readings like today’s.

This website reads: “The Urim (‘lights’) and Thummim (‘perfections’) were gemstones that were carried by the high priest of Israel on the ephod / priestly garments. They were used by the high priest to determine God’s will in some situations. Some propose that God would cause the Urim and Thummim to light up in varying patterns to reveal His decision. Others propose that the Urim and Thummim were kept in a pouch and were engraved with symbols identifying yes / no and true / false…. [But] No one knows the precise nature of the Urim and Thummim or exactly how they were used … They are first mentioned in the description of the breastplate of judgment (Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8). When Joshua succeeded Moses as leader over Israel, he was to receive answers from God by means of the Urim through Eleazar the high priest (Numbers 27:21). The Urim and Thummim are next mentioned in Moses’ dying blessing upon Levi (Deuteronomy 33:8). The following Scriptures likely also speak of the Urim and Thummim: Joshua 7:14-18; 1 Samuel 14:37-45; and 2 Samuel 21:1.” This site also notes that they are referred to one last time in the Bible, in Ezra 2:63.

The Jewish Encyclopedia has a much longer section on the oracles, as does this site. The objects also mentioned in the Book of Mormon and in LDS theology. The words themselves could translate Lights and Perfections, or Lights and Truth, or Divine Doctrines and Truth. The phrase “light and truth” (Lux et Veritas) became the motto of both Indiana University, where I used to teach, and also Yale University, where I got my masters degree. The Yale shield has the Hebrew words with the Latin phrase. That’s where I first learned about these sacred objects once so important for the Israelites, and so I become nostalgic for New England as I write all this.


This week I’ve been studying 1 Samuel 18 through 2 Samuel 8. Back in Deuteronomy 17:14-20, the narrative has Moses warning the Israelites concerning a king. 1 Samuel reflects both pro- and anti-monarchical viewpoints; 12:17 even attributes the demand for a monarchy to the people’s wickedness! The selection, anointment, and then divine rejection of Saul seems to attribute ambivalence even to God. Saul, “little in his own eyes” (1 Sam. 15:17) and afflicted with distress (16:14) nevertheless leads Israel for forty years in campaigns against the Philistines and others.

After David killed Goliath (chapter 17), the rest of 1 Samuel reflects contrasting and intersecting narratives of Saul and David. Saul offered David his daughter Michal, for whom David paid the gory bridal price (18:20-29), but Saul was jealous of David’s battlefield success and subsequent fame. Both Michal and Jonathan—who of course is David’s dear friend—helped David escape from Saul. At one point David was cared for by the priest Ahimelech, and Saul has the priest and eighty-five others killed in retaliation. We have two contrasting stories where David was in a good position to kill Saul but did not, and Saul affirmed David’s greater righteousness (chapters 24, 26).

Among these adventures, we also find the story of David, Abigail, and Nabal; Nabal was foolish and surly and refused to cooperate with David, while the much wiser Abigail assisted him. She became one of his wives following Nabal’s death (chap. 25). (I don’t know if you’re like me in taking some comfort in encountering a family name among the Bible stories: my mother’s grandmother was named Abigail, although she spelled it Abagail, and that was also my mother’s middle name.)

Samuel died, and his death is announced twice in the Bible (25:1, 28:3). While David went into Philistine country to continued raids with his men against several enemies of Israel, Saul—who was unable to gain direction from God through various means–sought the advice of the spirit of Samuel via a medium. Samuel’s spirit only predicts Saul’s upcoming death at the hands of the Philistines (chap. 28). While David and his troops continued successful attacks against the Amalekites (chap. 29-30), Saul’s three sons (Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua) were killed and the badly wounded Saul took his own life rather than become prisoner of the Philistines (chap. 31).

David was heartbroken at the news of the deaths and the Israelites’ defeat. An Amalekite messenger had come to David and falsely reported he had killed Saul at Saul’s request–and David puts him to death for slaying the Lord’s anointed king.

(As someone with lifelong mild depression, never suicidal but sometimes downcast and always cheered by music, I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for Saul for a long time. He had no precedent to follow as king, he certainly had no solid person to turn to—Samuel fails utterly on that regard; his pronouncements of God’s rejection surely made Saul’s condition worse—and Saul spent much of his reign in warfare, a psychologically battering experience to say the least. Here is an interesting article that speculates on Saul’s psychology.)

From: http://www.biblenews1.com/maps/maps.html

In a series of stories of conquest and unification efforts (1 Samuel 1-8), David achieved what even Joshua couldn’t quite do: united the northern and southern tribes.

He mourned Saul and Jonathan, lamenting them in a song that he taught to the people (chapter 1). He was anointed king of the house of Judah (2:1-7). Meanwhile, Saul’s son Ishbaal began to reign over Israel and reigned two years, kept in power by the army commander Abner, while David was king at Hebron over Judah (2:1-7). A battle ensued, wherein the forces of Abner were beaten—and in that context we’re introduced to Joab, Abishai, and Ashahel, who are David’s sister’s sons. Asahel foolishly pursued Abner and was killed. For the time being, the other two brothers make peace with Abner.

Civil War between the royal houses of David and Saul continued. Abner aspired to the kingship himself and sought a covenant with David, and the king and Abner made peace. Joab, though, was frustrated with David and went out and assassinated Abner on his own. David pronounced a curse upon Joab and his family but, as we will see in upcoming chapters, David retained him as commander of royal forces. (Joab seems to me a character like Luca Brasi in The Godfather, a faithful ally who is also a really, really dangerous person to be handled carefully.) Though David lamented Abner’s death, I wonder if that was at least partly a ploy to keep the covenant with Ishbaal intact. But Ishbaal’s own days were numbered; he was slain and beheaded, and David had the brothers who killed him executed (chapters 3-4). This assassination, too, worked to David’s advantage.

The ten northern tribes of Israel made covenant with David and anointed him king of all the tribes. He remained seven years in Hebron, then he was able to capture Jerusalem from the Jebusites and established that place as the City of David. Repelling the subsequent attack from the Philistines, David had the ark brought to Jerusalem, where he famously danced before the ark, losing most of his clothes in the process. One man died in the process of the ark coming to Jerusalem, because the ark was improperly carried on a wagon and the man came into direct contact with it (chapter 6).

Glad that the ark was in the city, and likely overwhelmed by his successes and power, David worked through the prophet Nathan to seek God’s permission to build a house for the Lord. God declined—God had not needed a house up till that time after all—but God promised to David a dynasty, and a successor to David would build God a house. David’s prayer of submission is often cited as a model of humility to the Lord’s will (chapter 7). Chapter 8 recounts the way God gave David continuing victories over several groups: Philistines, Moabites, Edomites, Ammonites, and others. Joab was military commander, Jehoshaphat was recorder, Zadoc was priest, and others comprised the king’s government that “administered justice and equity to all his people” (chapter 8).

I’m stopping here because I’ve read my weekly goal, but also because the upcoming 2 Samuel 9-20 and 1 Kings 1-2 have long been called “the Succession Narrative,” a hypothesized early narrative that demonstrates both David’s legitimacy as king and Solomon’s legitimacy as heir (though Solomon was not David’s first born, not even close).

But here’s just a little more about Jerusalem. David captured the city from the Jebusites during his reign (2 Sam. 5:6-10), in about 998 BC. The word Yerushalayimactually means “city of peace.” The city first appears in Joshua 10, and this 2 Samuel passage is the first biblical reference to the word Zion (ziyon), of uncertain meaning but perhaps “citadel”. David brought the ark to Jerusalem, thus sanctifying Zion Hill (2 Sam. 6:10-12). Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem on the proximate Mount Moriah, which meant that the name Zion was applied not only to the particular hill named Zion but also the temple mount (Isa. 8:18, 18:7, 24:23, Joel 3:17, Micah 4:7), and eventually all of Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:21, Ps. 48, 69:35, 133:3, Isaiah 1:8, and others. The name Zion came to also apply to God’s people (Ps. 126:1, 129:5, Isa. 33:14, 34:8, 49:14, 52:8), and in the New Testament, for heaven (Heb. 12:22). All this is from a book my grandmother gave me forty-six years ago, the Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, page 914. See my blog notes, here, for more Bible references to Jerusalem.

Bible in a Year: 2 Samuel 9-24

This week I’m studying 2 Samuel 9-24. In biblical studies 2 Samuel 9-20 and 1 Kings 1-2 are called the Succession Narrative, because the material is mostly concerned with the successor of David and the warfare among David and his sons. 2 Samuel 21-24 fills out the narrative with other events of David’s reign. Next time, I’ll do all of 1 Kings.

I thought back to Moses and wondered about their family; it’s interesting that Moses’ and Zipporah’s children have little role in the Bible. They were the sons Gershom and Eliezer (Exodus 18:3 and 1 Chronicles 23:15), and daughters, if any, aren’t mentioned. David, on the other hand, had numerous sons and perhaps more daughters via several wives and concubines. (Although concubines did not have the privileges of full wives, children of concubines were equal in the family to children of the wives.) In 2 Samuel 2, we have the short list of David’s sons, and later, 1 Chronicles 3:1-9 provides this longer list:

“These are the sons of David who were born to him in Hebron:
the firstborn Amnon, by Ahinoam the Jezreelite;
the second Daniel [Chileab], by Abigail the Carmelite;
the third Absalom, son of Maacah, daughter of King Talmai of Geshur;
the fourth Adonijah, son of Haggith;
the fifth Shephatiah, by Abital;
the sixth Ithream, by his wife Eglah;
six were born to him in Hebron, where he reigned for seven years and six months. And he reigned for thirty-three years in Jerusalem.
These were born to him in Jerusalem: Shimea, Shobab, Nathan, and Solomon, four by Bath-shua [Bath-sheba], daughter of Ammiel;
then Ibhar, Elishama, Eliphelet, Nogah, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Eliada, and Eliphelet, nine.
All these were David’s sons, besides the sons of the concubines; and Tamar was their sister [she was daughter of Maacah, full sister of Absalom].”

Chileab (aka Daniel) is not mentioned again in the Bible. The players for succession are Amnon and Absalom, and later Adonijah and Solomon.

David still has family members of Saul to contend with. Chapter 9 tells of David’s kindness to the lame Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan and grandson of Saul; David restored Saul’s land to Mephibosheth, who technically was heir to the throne. The story forms a connection with earlier stories of Saul and also the stories at the end of 2 Samuel, when David must condemn the sons of Saul.

David also tried to show kindness to Hanun, the new king of the Ammonites, because of his father Nahash’s earlier kindness to David. Hanun, however, did not accept David’s envoys, resulting in a combined force of Ammonites and Arameans against the Israelites. Joab cleverly divided his forces and defeated both—and the Arameans no longer assisted the Ammonites (chapter 10).

Hanun’s refusal to accept David’s offered peace was quite fateful for David (the story telling skill of the biblical authors!), because in the ongoing conflicts with the Ammonites, Uriah the Hittite was among the Israelite fighting forces and thus was absent from his wife, Bathsheba—-and we all know the chain of events that happened when David noticed Bathsheba bathing (chapter 11-12). My Harper’s Bible Commentary (p. 293) points out that one might assume that David’s greatest threats come from outside the kingdom, but the greatest threats are actually in his own life.

A pastor friend helpfully pointed out in one of her reflections that Bathsheba’s “voice” in the story (and in the famous Psalm 51) is virtually non-existent. She is raped and widowed, and loses the child she carries to term, but the story’s focus is almost wholly upon David. Even in Psalm 51, the injustice done to her is in the background of David’s sorrow vis-a-vis God.

Nathan’s parable and accusation is one of scriptures most dramatic and effecting moments (2 Samuel 12:1-14). David repents of his horrible crimes, but God responds with a promise that “the sword shall never depart from your house” (2 Samuel 12:9). Family troubles begin after some years, when David’s son Amnon fell in love with his half-sister Tamar. Using the apparently trusting David, Amnon set up the situation for Tamar to visit him, where he raped her and then angrily sent her away. Tamar was further betrayed by her father, who would not punish Amnon, who was his firstborn. (Compare this story with that of Diana in Genesis 34.)

Another son, the handsome and longhaired Absalom, tricked David into allowing Amnon and other sons to accompany him on a task, giving Absalom the opportunity to kill Amnon in revenge for his sister’s rape (chap. 13). Absalom fled, was brought back to Jerusalem by Joab, but two years later Absalom, who had gained a following, began a revolt against David to take the throne for himself.  David, beseeching God to do as God willed in the situation (15:26), fled Jerusalem, which might have given Absalom the chance to kill him. But Absalom takes the advice of Hushai (who was actually David’s friend) to not do so, giving David a chance to gather his own forces (chapters 14-17). Interestingly, Ahitophel, who had deserted David in favor of Absalom, gave better advice.

Conflict ensued between David’s and Absalom’s forces, and although David wanted Absalom spared, Joab take the opportunity to kill Absalom–the famous story—when Absalom was caught in the branches of a tree (chap. 18). Consumed with grief, David had to be confronted by Joab, who scolded him for ignoring the loyalty of the royal troops (chapter 19). Here again, we see the dangerous Joab acting on his own initiative yet staying committed to the king. A subsequent revolt by a Benjaminite named Sheba was put down by Joab and his forces (chapter 20).

In the so-called appendix, chapters 21-24, David addressed what God identified as the bloodguilt on Saul and his house, because Saul had slain the Gideonites. No further explanation is given in the narrative. David spared Mephibosheth, as he had earlier vowed, but turned over seven of Son’s sons to the Gibeonites, who impaled them on the mountain. Saul’s concubine Rizpath, the mother of two of the men, kept the birds and animals away from the bodies until David gave them a decent burial (chapter 21).

We had met Rizpah back in 2 Samuel 3. The Harper’s Bible Commentary notes that, much like Saul’s daughter Michal (given in marriage to David), Rizpah functions in the story in a voiceless way, like properly exchanged. Later, Michal protests David’s shamelessness and is punished for her confrontation (2 Samuel 6). Here in 2 Samuel 21, Rizpah and her grief at least moves David to do the right thing. The Harper’s book notes: “Both [Michal and Rizpah] remind us that however much the Abners, Joabs, and Davids protest their loyalty, good faith, or piety, it is a soldier’s world in which they seek to wield power” (p. 291).

So often, we read these stories and take away lessons about the piety of David and other characters in this drama. They are good lessons—but we might thereby forget that David and his kingdom were brutal, and women were treated as property to be seized and exchanged.

2 Samuel 22:1-23:7 contain David’s songs of praise to God (virtually identical with Psalm 18), along with the names of David’s warriors (23:8-39), concluding with Uriah. The book ends with a strange story of a census: God was angry at the people for some unexplained reason and incited David to take a census. (In the corresponding story in Chronicles, Satan incited David.) A census would likely result in greater tax revenue for the kingdom. But God did not actually want such a census, and David failed to consult God about it first. A remorseful David accepted God’s punishment, which was a pestilence agains the people, averted finally when David made offerings to God on the altar constructed on the threshing floor of the Jerubite Araunah. One thinks of plagues that God sent to the Israelites in the Torah stories.

The song of David, though, provide an arc back to Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2, praising God for saving God’s people. Remember that Hannah’s song was not only an expression of her happiness at the birth of Samuel, but also introduces us to the stories of Samuel and Kings with its messianic themes.


I was rereading Brevard Childs’ book, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Fortress, 1979). In his chapter on Samuel, he reminds us of overlapping periods of biblical narrative: the period of the Judges is from Judges 2:6 to 1 Samuel 12; then we have the rise of the Israelite kingdom, 1 Sam. 7-15; the story of Saul, 1 Sam 13 to 2 Sam 2, overlapping with the rise of David, 1 Sam 15 to 2 Sam 8. David ascends to the throne, but he is not secure: the “succession narrative” of 2 Sam 9-20 with 1 Kings 1-2 are concerned with David’s sons contending to be king (p. 267).

Citing Gerhard von Rad, Childs also points out the connection of both Samuel and Kings to the prophets. The Jewish Bible calls Joshua through Kings “the former prophets” after all, and in the Jewish Bible, 2 Kings is followed by Isaiah and the rest of the prophets. But reading the Christian Old Testament, where the prophets are placed several books after Kings, it’s good to be reminded of the way prophets are a major aspect of Samuel and Kings alike. Prophecy announces the house of Eli (1 Sam. 2:27-36), and the prophecy of Nathan is vitally important in David’s kingdom. When we get to Kings, we have not only Nathan but Elijah, Elisha, Shemaiah, Micaiah, Jonah, Isaiah, Huldah, and other prophets. As Childs explains, “the prophetic element does not lie simply in the predictive nature of the oracle, but in its integral connection with the whole historical process in which divine judgment and salvation unfolds” (290). Thus, Samuel and Kings are called prophetic books, too.

Childs also points us ahead to the rediscovery of the book of the law in 2 Kings 22-23, and to the destruction of the kingdom and the beginning of the exile in 2 Kings 25. The discovery of the book of the law connects this material back to the Torah and the covenant (pp. 291-292), while the destruction of Jerusalem represents the end of the kingdom, and yet, but “because the writer of Kings does not restrict the presence of God to either the temple or the land, the possibility of renewed blessing is left open to the hope of future generations” (294). Remember that Deuteronomy leaves us on the outskirts of the land, which has the same effect.

In their book An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination (2nd edition, WJK Press, 2012), Walter Brueggemann and Tod Linafelt also write the end of 2 Kings is sufficiently positive that the Deuteronomistic writer aims to connect us back to Nathan’s prophecy of the salvation through the house of David is still open. That, in turn connects us to exilic texts like Isa. 55:3, Jer. 23:5-6, 33:14-16, Ez. 34:23-24, and others that are influenced by messianic hope—and of course, Jesus (p. 190). But all this makes for very unusual history of a royal dynasty, because David’s life and legacy are aspects of God’s sometimes strange plan of salvation. Brueggemann and Linafelt write:

“It is contended.. that the harsh divine judgment visited upon Jerusalem in 587 BCE is not the final word, though it is in context a decisive word. That word of judgment could not be otherwise, given the nonnegotiable requirements of the Torah, so clearly advocated by the historian, so vividly championed by Joshua, and so boldly enacted by Josiah. In this horizon, kings live in a world of Torah. That is attested by the historian; and when kings are weak on Torah, initiative for public leadership gravitates elsewhere, to such odd characters as Elijah, Elisha, and Micaiah ben Imlah, always an alternative in Israelite imagination to kings who negate the Torah. Readers should in the end notice by an odd royal history this is, intended to be precisely that odd!” (p. 190).


A while back I read an article that made an interesting point: we have a positive impression of David from Chronicles and the Psalms, but if we only look at David from the standpoint of 2 Samuel and 1 Kings 1-2, our impression might not be so favorable! He is a flawed hero, for sure. Walter Brueggemann has written a book about the contrasting narratives about David and his place in Israel’s imagination. Here is an excerpt: http://fortresspress.com/product/davids-truth-israels-imagination-and-memory-second-edition


I’m reading through the Bible this year at a rate of about 22 chapters a week (1189 total chapters divided by 52 weeks), and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

This week, I’m studying Joshua. The book of Joshua is a difficult book, full of violence and destruction and no moral reflection about the evils of war. To us, ideas of holy war and mass killing are frightening to read about and demand interpretation. One way of interpreting this material, is to realize that in the Deuteronomic theology of the book, the peoples of the Land were so wicked they had fallen under God’s judgment, and so the advancing Israelites were not only inheritors of God’s promises but also instruments of God’s wrath—similar to the fires of Sodom or the flood waters of Noah. It is a theology for Joshua’s time period and not for all time!

The depicted slaughters seem not to have happened at all. One of my books, The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, has an introduction that explains some of the difficulties of the account of the Israelite conquest (p. 307). Archaeological evidence points to a resettlement of the land in the period 1200-1000 BCE but not of a dramatic destruction of cities as described in Joshua. More likely is a slow process of settlement of Israelites, either as emerging from the peoples of the Land or immigrating from outside (p. 307). But the book of Joshua envisions a bold new beginning to the people, thanks to God’s help, and since the notion of “objective history” was centuries in the future when Joshua was written, the book provides a theological interpretation of events, probably to give confidence to the exiles about God’s faithful care of his people.

Thus, the moral issues of holy war and slaughter are not the concerns of the Deutereonomistic writer; there are plenty of other biblical passages that uphold God’s will for peace and wholeness for the world—including God’s care and love for foreigners. Indeed, “[t]he main thrust of the Old Testament teaching is to show that Yahweh’s steadfast love endures forever and that his love is for all kinds of people…” (Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible, p. 305).

Remember that Deuteronomy ends with the people camped on the east side of the Jordan River, and prior to his death, Moses is able to get a glimpse of the land to the west. As Joshua begins, the book’s namesake receives his commission from the Lord, and Joshua subsequently prepares the people for invasion of the land. The Jericho prostitute Rahab shelters and safeguards two Israelite spies, who escaping their enemies return to Joshua with a favorable report. THIS spy story works out better than the spy story in Numbers, which spelled disaster for the Israelites. (Rahab is praised in the New Testament, Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25, and is a different woman than the one in Matthew 1:5.)

Joshua and the people left their camp at Shittim and moved toward the Jordan River, with the ark of the covenant carried by priests leading the way. The Lord parts the waters of the river so that the people and the ark cross in dryness. They all camp at Gilgal, where the new generation of Israelite men are circumcised, and the passover is celebrated (chapters 1-5). One of my books notes that, by this time, the provision of manna for the people is over, and so the celebration of the passover reflects a return to more typical food consumption, into which a festival like Pesach can be practiced.

I’ll talk about the Jordan River last, but it’s worth commenting here about the theme of circumcision. Circumcision, now widely practiced as a routine medical procedure, has been a sign of God’s covenant with Israel since Genesis 17. (The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 118-119). Thus, in the theology of the book of Joshua, and indeed the theology of the God’s covenant with Israel, the advance upon the Land is properly delayed until several thousand Israelite men can have their foreskins removed. As a theological theme, circumcision figures in the New Testament epistles as Paul seeks to articulate Christian freedom in the context of Jewish heritage.

Joshua 6-12 are stories of conquest. Gilgal was not far from Jericho, the first stop. The spiritual “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” has been stuck in my mind all week because of the famous story of the city’s destruction (chapter 6). Although God had authorized destruction of everyone in the city, and although God authorized the spoils of war placed in the people’s treasury, one Israelite named Achan kept some of the plunder. In the theological interpretation of the story, the sin of the one created hardship for all, and the first advance upon the city of Ai was unsuccessful. Once Achan’s sin was exposed, he was executed, and Ai was successfully taken (7:1-8:29).

Individual and collective responsibility is a significant biblical theme, which we find here as well as other passages. The Torah: A Modern Commentary has a section about it (pp. 1502-1503). Although collective responsibility is sometimes assumed in Bible stories (here in Joshua and also Deut. 5:9, 2 Sam. 3:29 and 21:1ff),  Deuteronomy 24:16 stresses individual responsibility for one’s actions, which Ezekiel 18 teaches as well, and this “became a cornerstone of Israel’s conception of justice” (p. 1503).

Chapters 9-10 concerns the southern kings uniting against Joshua and the people, while the citizens of Gibeon create a scheme to save themselves. The scheme backfired, resulting in the conquest of that city as well as the defeat of the five kings. To prove God’s providential faithfulness, the story teller tells of the unique day when the sun stood still until God gained the victory over the people’s enemies (10:12-14). 10:16-43 shortens the narrative by providing the names of several kings and kingdoms that the people destroyed, “So Joshua defeated the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings; he left no one remaining, but utterly destroyed (kherem) all that breathed, as the Lord commanded (10:40). The conquest of northern Canaan is briefly described in chapter 11, with a similar summary of heroism and providence (11:19-20), and the kings conquered by both Moses and Joshua are remembered (chapter 12). Yet certain areas remained unconquered, though enough land was open for tribal allotment (13:1-7).

13:8-21:45 provide details of land that the Israelite tribes gained. including the trans-Jordan tribes Gad and Reuben and a portion of Manasseh, and including the Levitical cities and the cities of refuge. A helpful site, with a map, is http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/tribes.html I shared more information from that site here: http://changingbibles.blogspot.com/2016/04/tribes-of-israel.html )

Chapter 22 is a transitional chapter that deals with an altar beyond the Jordan for the eastern tribes. It almost leads to war! But the tribes beyond the Jordan (the Reubenites, Gadites, and half-tribe of Manasseh) assured the other tribes of their intentions, satisfying the other tribes (as well the priest Phinehas, son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron).

The book ends with Joshua’s speech in his old age, and the covenant with God is renewed. Joshua dies at age 110 and is buried in his land, the hill country of Ephraim, as is the priest Eleazar. Meanwhile, the bones of Joseph (carried all this time by the Israelites since the Exodus escape from Egypt) are buried at Shechem (24:29-33). One of my books reminds us that both Joseph and Joshua died at the same age, forming another kind of implied connection.

And yet… the story is far from completed. The next Bible book, Judges, provides us contrasting traditions of a land still unconquered, with ongoing conflicts and difficulties that vex the Israelites from outside and from within.


Here is an article about the crossroads town of Shechem, which provides numerous biblical connections. As that article points out, it is the first town tow which Abram and his family arrived (Genesis 12:6), and it was a place where Jacob and his family lived (Gen. 33:17-20, 37:12-17), so that Joseph fatefully left Shechem to go find his brothers. Shechem was the place where Moses pronounced blessings and curses (Deut. 27:4). The town was a city of refuge, and appears in Judges and Kings; it became capital of the northern kingdom after the division during the 900s BCE. Shechem is the location of Jacob’s Well, where Jesus met and talked to the unnamed Samarian woman (John 4:5–6).  Famously, Shechem was the place where Joshua gave his speech to the Israelite tribes, urging them:

Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord (Josh. 24:15, NRSV).


James Tissot, “The Ark Passes Over the Jordan,” c. 1896-1902

About the Jordan River: I wrote about the river in my Lenten Bible study Walking with Jesus through the Old Testament (Westminster John Knox Press, 2015): “[T]he river has tremendous significance in biblical history. Water is frequently a symbol of God’s life and of God’s rescue. God’s splitting of the sea in Exodus is one of the most momentous events of Scripture, but read Joshua 3-4 and you’ll also see how momentous is God’s splitting of the Jordan river… The stories of the Bible [since Abraham] had been building to this moment … Now they were here—and the river split so they could cross on dry land. The short Psalm 114 connects the God of creation with the exodus and with the crossing of the Jordan” (p. 27).

As I write there, too, Gilgal is mentioned in Micah 6:4-5, with the Jordan River implicit in verse 5. These two verse which encapsulate a lot of history:

I brought you up out of Egypt
and redeemed you from the land of slavery.
I sent Moses to lead you,
also Aaron and Miriam.
My people, remember
what Balak king of Moab plotted
and what Balaam son of Beor answered.
Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord (NIV)

Gilgal and the Jordan are also mentioned in 2 Kings 2, where Elijah splits the river and is soon taken up into Heaven, after which Elisha inherits his spirit. Gilgal is also the place where Samuel anointed Saul. Jesus was baptized near the place, too. Drawing all these connections together, this place where the Israelites crossed the Jordan brings together several important biblical figures: Abraham and Moses and Aaron and Miriam and Joshua and Jesus, Moses and Balaam and Joshua, Samuel and David and Jesus, Elijah and Elisha and John and Jesus  (pp. 27-28).

And … certainly “crossing the Jordan” is a spiritual metaphor for eternal life that many of us hold dear.  I’ve saved a bottle of Jordan River water for many years.

This week, I’m studying Judges. We’re moving along through biblical history and are now about seven or eight hundred years after Abraham, in the time between the conquests of Joshua and the rise of David. It’s worth noting that Jerusalem, first mentioned by name in Joshua 10, is mentioned in Judges as a city where Jebusites live along with Benjaminites; Jerusalem is not yet completely claimed by the Israelites (Joshua 15:63, Judges 1:8, 1:21), and neither government nor cult is centered there.

The Hebrew word translated “judge” is shofet, plural shofetim. These leaders were non-hereditary chieftains who led Israelite tribes in the years between the Conquest and the beginning of the Monarchy, a span probably of a century and a half or so, although a literal reading of the book implies 400 years (note 1 below). Such a long period of time is unlikely if we date David’s reign as beginning about 1000 BCE and the Exodus in about the 1300s BCE.

The shofetim were champions whom the Lord raised up to help God’s people, following periods when the people forgot the Lord, worshiped Canaanite deities, and then suffered God’s punishment in the form of foreign domination and military oppression. Twelve such champions are named: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, and Samson. The last two judges, whom we meet in 1 Samuel, are Eli and Samuel; it is the unsuitability of Samuel’s sons, Joel and Abiah, to function as judges that precipitate calls for an Israelite king. The biblical text does not generally describe these leaders as “a judge” but uses the verb form: they “judged Israel”.

The Jewish Study Bible‘s introduction to Judges makes note of differences between this biblical book and other Deutereonomistic literature. The book was edited at some point, probably after the Assyrian conquest of the North in 722 BCE, and now is part of the Deuteronomic narrative (pp. 509-510). But although Judges fits into that overall worldview, Deuteronomy calls for a centralized worship for Israel and is critical of human monarchy for a people properly ruled by God–but Judges has no similar interest in a centralized cult and expresses regret, over and over, that the people had no earthly king to guide them.

The author of Judges perhaps had a point of view about who should be Israel’s king. Gordon J. Wenham (Story as Torah: Reading Old Testament Narrative Ethically, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000) sees evidence of “anti-Saul” and “pro-David” attitudes in Judges. For instance, chapters 19-21 are sharply critical of the Benjaminites, in particular the towns of Gibeah and Jabesh-Gilead. But according to 1 Sam. 11:4, 31:11-13, these are Saul’s hometown and burial place, respectively. Wenham notes that other places in Judges could be “anti-Saul polemic,” and the more praising depiction of the tribe of Judah as well as the story of Othniel seem more pro-David, since of course Judah is David’s tribe (p. 70). And the horrifying brutality and with which Judges ends can be read as an illustration of why Israel needs a new kind of leadership and a new way of life in Canaan–exactly what David provided (p. 69).

Judges begins with a dual introduction. The first (1:1-2:5), recounting the conquests by the tribes of Judah and Simeon and the incomplete conquests of Benjamin, Joseph, Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan. It is a different picture of the conquest, one of tense cohabitation with the non-Israelites peoples, than we get in Joshua which implies a swift and decisive occupation of the land. In Judges, it is the southern tribe of Judah that has the most success against their enemies.

The second introduction (2:5-3:6) tells of the death of Joshua and the death of his generation. But the new generation “did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and worshipped the Baals” (2:10-11). Thus begins the cycles of apostasy, attacks from the non-Israelite peoples against then, the Lord’s deliverance through the shofetim, and the years of peace that followed. These narratives comprise Judges 3:5-16:31, and refer to the leaders of particular tribes and locales. (Hebrews 11:32 mentions Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah as heroes of faith: why didn’t that author include Deborah???)

1. Othniel (3:7-3:11). He was the only judge from the tribe of Judah.

2. Ehud, a Benjaminite (3:12-3:30. He was able to assassinate the fat Moabite king Eglon by sinking a sword into Eglon’s enormous stomach.

3. Shamgar (3:31), who killed 600 philistines with an oxgoad (cattle prod).

4. Deborah, a prophetess, who judged Israelite form the Ephraim hill country, and who along with Barak of the Naphtali tribe subdued several Canaanite groups (chapters 4-5). Rabbi Telushkin (see note 2) calls Deborah a kind of Joan of Arc for Israel, although Deborah survived her own conflict and made possible forty years of peace. She is certainly one of the notable women of the Bible!

5. Gideon, of the Manasseh tribe who lived at Ophrah. His stories of faith are certainly ones that I learned in childhood Sunday school, and much later I was surprised to learn how “dark” the other Judges stories are (chapters 6-8).

Chapter 9 concerns Abimelech, Gideon’s son, who killed his seventy brothers (with the exception of Jothan, who fled in time), so that he (Abimelech) could set himself up as king of the Manasseh tribe at Shechem. He was not a judge in the sense that God’s Spirit raised him to lead the people, but rather he took over through murder and intrigue. His ambitions ended in battle and his death. Rabbi Telushkin notes that Jothan is the author of the Bible’s first parable, his story of the bramble.

Back to the legitimate judges:

6. Tola, of Ephraim (10:1-2)

7. Jair, a Gileadite (10:3-5)

8. Jephthah, another Gileadite (10:6-12:7). We perhaps remember him best because of the awful story of his daughter—and Rabbi Telushkin notes that, under Torah law, his vow was actually invalid. From the Jephthah stories, we also get the famous story of shibboleth, during the armed conflict between his forces and the Ephraim tribe.

9. Ibzan of Bethlehem (12:8-10)

10. Elon, a Zebulunite (12:11-12)

11. Abdon (12:13-15). “He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys” (12:14).

12. Samson, of the tribe of Dan (chapters 13-16). His stories are so well known!

After the stories of Samson, the judges are no longer mentioned, and the book ends with a dual conclusion. First, the story of Micah the Ephraimite, who made his own idols, who also had a Levite as his priest, all of which the Danites took from him (chapters 17-18).

The second conclusion is surely the darkest section in the whole Bible, with the gang-rape of the Levite’s concubine by men of the Benjamite tribe, and the Levite’s subsequent dismemberment of the woman. War among the Israelite tribes ended with the slaughter of many Benjaminites. The book concludes with surviving Benjaminites abducting women from a festival at Shiloh, so that they could have wives.

If we continue reading into 1 Samuel, the story keeps going, because Eli (1 Samuel 1) is both the high priest at Shiloh and the next-to-last judge of Israel—and then Samuel becomes the final judge of Israel and makes possible the transition of Israelite rulership from judges to kings.

Fortunately, we get an interlude: the book of Ruth, which I’ll study next week. At this place in the canon, Ruth provides both a happy story from the era of the judges, and provides a genealogical bridge to the upcoming stories of David.

But the stories of Samuel are also great sources of hope—because the Israelites needed help in turning things around. “Never has the Israelite religion so clearly been in danger of dying. Something radical, it is clear, must occur if this fate is to be avoided. And something radical does occur. God sends a prophet, a man named Samuel. It is he who is charged with ensuring that Abraham and Moses’ vision not be extinguished (note 3).

Judges also has an overall message that is a source of hope for any age. J. Clinton McCann, who teaches at Eden Seminary where I’m an adjunct, writes, “The people reap what they sow. But just as in Judges God repeatedly delivers the people, so beyond Judges God continues to try. God never fails to be with his people, and God continues to will for them and for all humanity a with-God life. Hence, by demonstrating the destructive consequences of disobedience, Judges calls the People of God in all times and places to the worship and submission that promise life” (note 3).


1.  1 Kings 6:1 refers to 480 years between the Exodus and the fourth year of Solomon’s reign. See “Judges: Introduction from the NIV Study Bible”, https://www.biblica.com/bible/online-bible/scholar-notes/niv-study-bible/intro-to-judges The Jewish Study Bible notes that this chronology disagrees with a tabulation of years expressed in Judges: about 299 years of judgeship and 111 years of foreign subjugation. As with Joshua, archeological evidence has so far not agreed with either chronology.

2. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Biblical Literacy: The Most Important People, events, and Israels of the Hebrew Bible (William Morrow, 1997), the chapter on the Judges.

3. Telushkin, p. 187.

4.  Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), p. 344.

Continuing my “Bible in a Year” posts from my “Journeys Home” blog.

In upcoming posts about the Bible, I’ll write about the Jews’ return to the land, the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple during the post-exilic years 539-432 BCE (Ezra and Nehemiah), the reaffirmation of the covenant during those years, the survival of exiled Jews in Persia (Esther), and the victory of Jews over the Seleucids who tried to establish Greek worship at the Second Temple during the 2nd century BCE (1 and 2 Maccabees).

It’s important to remember the ways that Judaism continued to survive and remain faithful to the Lord during the subsequent decades and centuries, often amid Christian persecution of Jews. The following is a brief explanation of the Talmud, the writings which have been central for Rabbinic Judaism, the mainstream form of Judaism since the 500s CE. Tragically, as that linked article discusses, Talmud and its study have been the focus of anti-Semitic attacks over the centuries, with material taken out of context or completely fabricated. See also this site concerning Christian persecution of Talmud study.

As Judaism developed during the post-exilic period, the canonization of the Scriptures was one crucial development. The writing and editing of the Jewish Tanakh likely began just prior to and then during and after the exile, while canonization was a process that happened between the Hasmonean period and the 200s CE. (Canonization of the Christian Old Testament was a much longer process; in addition to the weighing-in of other councils, the councils of Carthage [397] and Trent [1546] established the Roman Catholic canon, as did Eastern authorities concerning the Orthodox Christian canon; but Martin Luther [1534] removed deuterocanonical OT books to an appendix, useful for reading but non-scriptural.)

By the first century CE, the term rabbi (“my master”) became common to refer to a learned Jewish teacher. Also by that time, competing factions existed in Judaism: the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Zealots. An ascetic group, the Essenes, also lived during this time, said to be successors of the Zadokite priests that began in the times of David and Solomon. Here is an explanation of differences among these groups: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/pharisees-sadducees-and-essenes Early Christianity emerged during this time as well.

After the First Jewish–Roman War (66–73 CE) and the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Jews found themselves in a traumatic situation that rivaled the disaster of 586 BCE. How would the faith survive without a temple? Without a priesthood? How would Jewish traditions survive? The Zealots all died at Masada in 73; the Sadducees faded from history; and the the Essenes also disappeared. The Christian sect became a predominantly Gentile religion, retaining Jewish scripture and reconfiguring aspects of Jewish theology. Jewish vitality remained with the Pharisees, who saw Jewish law as the focus of Jewish life, and they helped shift the focus from temple offerings to tzedakah, study, and synagogues.

In this situation, a tradition called the Oral Torah had to be compiled and written down. The Written Torah was the scriptural five books of Moses, but an oral tradition attributed to Moses’ teachings had been passed down over the centuries; Orthodox Jews believe that this tradition was safeguarded through the Judges and Prophets and Second Temple-era sages. After the unsuccessful revolt of Simon Bar Kochba (132-136 CE), Romans forbade Jews from returning to Jerusalem—further exiling Jews, and further necessitating a way to preserve Jewish faith and traditions. By about 200 CE, Pharisaic Judaism had segued into Rabbinic Judaism as a rabbi named Judah ha Nasi (Rabbi Judah the Patriarch) began to edit these oral traditions and discussions about Jewish law into a readable form during the early 200s CE.

The first compilation and written/edited form of the Oral Torah is called the Mishnah. Rather than a law code, it is a study book (or rather, several books) containing the varieties of discussions and opinions of the sages. Rabbi Judah drew from many sources in his compilation and recorded discussions in a way to help with memorization. These are by no means uniform opinions. If the sages differed on when morning prayers should begin, what defines a Jewish marriage, and many other topics, the differences are recorded. Here are some sample passages: https://people.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/TalmudMidrash/MishnahSamples.html

The Mishnah has six orders (sedarim): agriculture (Seder Zeraim), sacred times (Seder Moed), women and personal status (Seder Nashim), damages (Seder Nezikin), holy things (Seder Nodashim), and purity laws (Seder Tohorot). Each order is divided into tractates, and each tractate has chapters, and each chapter contains halakhot (laws) of the Tannaim, who were the sages from the era of the Mishnah (like Rabbis Akiva, Hillel, Shammai, and many others: see this site).

The word Tosefta means “addition,” and the Tosefta is a body of material that further explains Torah laws, details about laws, and provides extra material to the Mishnah. The Tosefta is three times as large as the Mishnah, although it is also structured with six orders. There are different theories as to whether the Tosefta is older than the Mishnah and was originally and independent body of opinion, or whether it was compiled and written later in order to broaden the material of the Mishnah, which does not include rabbinic discussions preserved in the Tosefta. Editions of the Babylonian Talmud provide the Tosefta at the end of each tractate.

What is the Talmud? Talmud is the comprehensive collection of the Oral Law that encompasses the Mishnah (200s CE) and the Gemara (500s CE). Talmud is discussion of the Mishnah but also the Mishnah itself.

The word Gemara (from the word gamar study) refers to the rabbinic commentary discussions about the Mishnah. You could say that the Talmud is the Mishnah plus Gemara, with material from the Tosefta as well. The sages of the Gemara (the period 200-500 CE) are referred to with the term Amoraim (see this site); the Amoraim expounded on and explained the Oral Law transmitted by the earlier Tannaim.

The site “My Jewish Learning” has this: “Although it is organized in accordance with the structure of the six orders of the Mishnah, mishnaic teaches are, for the Gemara, the launch pad for diverse topics: prayer, holy days, agriculture, sexual habits, contemporary medical knowledge, superstitutions, crumble and civil law. The Germara contains both Halakhah (legal material) and Aggadah (narrative material). [My emphasis] Aggadah includes historical material, biblical commentaries, philosophy, theology, and wisdom liberature. Stories reveal information about life in ancient ties, among Jews and between Jews and their neighbors, and folk customs. All of these genres are blended together with the halakhic material, in what is sometimes described as a stream-of-conscious fashion filled with meaningful tangents and digressions… [T]he Gemara … explains unclear words or phrasing [in the Mishnah]… provides precedents or examples to assist in application of the law and offers alternative opinions from sages of the Mishnah and their contemporaries [Tannaim]. Whereas the Mishnah barely cites biblical verses, the Gemara for every law discussed introduces these connections between the biblical text and the practices and legal opinions of its time. It also extends and restricts applications of various laws, and even adds laws on issues left out of the Mishnah entirely…. Multiple opinions of sages are weighed against one another, often without presenting a conclusion.” myjewishlearning.com/article/gemara-the-essence-of-the-talmud

There are two versions of the Talmud; the second and later one is the more comprehensive. Scholars of the Land of Israel (especially the Galilean cities of Tiberias and Caesarea) published what is now called the Talmud Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud) during the period 350-400 CE. Unfortunately, Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor, persecuted Jews and the Jerusalem Talmud remained incomplete. Meanwhile, scholars at Jewish academies in Sura, Pumbedita, and Mata Mehasia published their own discussions in about 500 CE: this material is called the Talmud Bavli, or the Babylonian Talmud. Usually, the words Gemara and Talmud refer to the Babylonian Talmud. The language of the both Talmuds are dialects of Hebrew and Aramaic.

Long after the Amoraim, rabbinic commentators continued to discuss the law and the opinions of the sages, and so the Talmud was never a “finished” body of work. Not surprisingly, it is a vast work, running several volumes, and has been translated into English. Here is a site that provides the Bavli in Hebrew and English translation: https://www.sefaria.org/texts/Talmud Notice how it’s organized according to the Mishnah sedarim that I listed above: agriculture (Zeraim), sacred times (Moed), women and personal status (Nashim), damages (Nezikin), holy things (Kodashim), and purity laws (Tohorot).

Different bodies within Judaism today view the Talmud differently. To generalize: Orthodox Jews consider the Oral Torah as inspired and authoritative, of Mosaic origin; Conservative Jews also honor the sanctity of Oral Torah and view Talmud as complementary to Torah study; Reform Jews retain Talmud studies in rabbinical seminaries but do not consider the Talmud as binding today.

Another, smaller body of material is the Pirkei Avot (“Ethics of Our Fathers”), a text which is often published separately and found in many prayer books, and which has inspired its own commentaries. Technically, the Pirkei Avot is part of the Mishnah, specifically the ninth tractate (with six chapters) in the Seder Nezikin, which in turn is the fourth order of the Mishnah. The Pirkei Avot is popular because it provides ethical principles of the rabbis and give us a sense of who they were and their devotion to Torah. “The worldview espoused by the rabbis quoted here emphasizes learning, service of God, discipleship, ethical behavior, humility, and fair judgment… A rabbi is introduced, often, but not always, as a disciple or son of the preceding rabbi, and the text then offers one or more teachings by this rabbi” (myjewishlearning.com/article/pirkei-avot-ethics-of-our-fathers/ )

For all of this material, I relied upon the helpful articles at the site My Jewish Learning (myjewishlearning.com). Subsequently I made a donation to the site. More detailed articles on the Mishnah and Talmud can be found at jewishencyclopedia.com and jewishvirtuallibrary.org/mishnah. My grateful thanks goes out to an esteemed Jewish friend and colleague who read and commented on the essay; any remaining errors are mine.

*****It’s a depressing coincidence, that King Louis IX of France (St. Louis) was a persecutor of Jews who ordered Talmud scrolls confiscated (see this site), while the German ship the MS St. Louis (named for the city) carried Jewish refugees from Germany in 1939 but was turned away from the U.S., Canada, and Cuba, and many of those Jews perished in the Holocaust (see this site). On the other hand, St. Louis City and County has a strong and diverse Jewish community today.


Here is a wonderful statement that explains the devotion to study (which, after all, is based on words of God, Deut 6:7): http://www.aish.com/atr/Why_Study_Torah.html


The Torah is such a rich section of the Bible. Although I finished Deuteronomy in the previous post, here are a few more thoughts about the Torah, gleaned from some of my other blog sites.

The author of the “Judaism 101” site writes, “Each week in synagogue, we read (or, more accurately, chant, because it is sung) a passage from the Torah. This passage is referred to as a parshah. The first parshah, for example, is Parshat Bereishit, which covers from the beginning of Genesis to the story of Noah. There are 54 parshahs, one for each week of a leap year, so that in the course of a year, we read the entire Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy) in our services. … We read the last portion of the Torah right before a holiday called Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Law), which occurs in October, a few weeks after Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). On Simchat Torah, we read the last portion of the Torah, and proceed immediately to the first paragraph of Genesis, showing that the Torah is a circle, and never ends.

“In the synagogue service, the weekly parshah is followed by a passage from the prophets, which is referred to as a haftarah. Contrary to common misconception, ‘haftarah’ does not mean ‘half-Torah.’ The word comes from the Hebrew root Fei-Teit-Reish and means ‘Concluding Portion’. Usually, haftarah portion is no longer than one chapter, and has some relation to the Torah portion of the week.”

This is from http://www.jewfaq.org/readings.htm , which also has the list of weekly Torah and Haftarah readings. This site, https://www.hebcal.com/sedrot/ , also provides the daily and weekly readings for recent and upcoming years according to how Simchat Torah falls.

Remember that in Judaism, “the prophets” is not only Isaiah through Malachi, but also Joshua through II Kings, or the later and former prophets, respectively. The Ketuvim, or writings, have no formal cycle of readings, although the Five Megillot (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther) are read on particular festivals, and Psalms are found throughout the Siddur (prayer book).

The Torah may be the most ambivalent portion of the Bible for Christians. Some Christians won’t touch the statutes with the proverbial long pole—unless, of course, some of the laws are suitable to prove a point, and the laws become God’s eternal word which other people have violated.

We Christians should remember a few things about the Torah. The first is that much of material was not originally meant to be applicable for us Gentiles (Acts 15, Gal. 3:3-5). These are laws for Jews to do God’s will and to set them apart as God’s people. The distinction you often hear—the moral laws are applicable for Christians but the ceremonial laws are not—is not a biblical distinction at all, because in the Torah, all of life—worship, legal translations, daily behavior, diet, and so on—are of a whole piece. In his love, God has given the Hebrews a precious expression of his will.  God shares this religious heritage with us Gentiles because of his love and this material is part of our religious heritage because of God’s favor (Rom. 11:17-24).(

In contrast to Paul’s theology about the law in Romans and Galatians, Judaism has not historically viewed the law as a means of self-justification and self-salvation; the law has been God’s wonderful gift to follow. Paul, however, was adamant that the laws were unnecessary for Gentile converts to Christianity; even more than the moral law, he stressed the law of the guidance of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-26). Now, we see the law through Christ, who fulfilled all righteousness and took the consequences of our law breaking onto himself (2 Cor. 5:21). But Paul upholds the law (Rom. 3:31), to show how Christ’s perfect (law-keeping) life is now a gift of life to us; thanks to Christ, the Torah is precious to us Gentiles, too.

Arguing thus, Paul stayed within the Torah and went back before Moses to Abraham to show how God’s favor touches people through their faith apart from the law (Rom. 4). (Jesus did a similar thing, going prior to Moses to God’s first intentions: Matt. 10:2-9). The question remains for Christians: how does the law still apply? A classic solution is to view the law in three ways: as a restraint to the wicked (the political use), as the law that brings us to Christ’s salvation (Gal. 3:24, the theological use), and then the “third use of the law,” which is to give content to the love of Christ which we display as we’re transformed by the Spirit (Gal. 6:2).

Furthermore, the Torah is foundational for Christians in other ways so obvious that we take them for granted. A Bible explorer will discover interesting “arcs” and connections between the Torah and the New Testament. One is the idea of the covenant, for now God has extended his covenant to include non-Jews (Rom. 3:29-30). Another is the idea of blood for atonement forgiveness of sins (Rom. 3:25). Christ’s blood was shed and now there is no longer need for sacrifice (Heb. 9:11-14).

Still another idea is the faithfulness and righteousness of God, a Torah theme strongly defended in Romans 3 in Paul’s preaching of Christ.

Here are a few additional connections:

The Creation and New Creation (2 Cor. 5:17, Rev. 21:1)
Adam and the Second Adam (Rom. 5:12-21)
The faith of Abraham, in some important ways the key to the whole Bible (Gen. 12:1-3, Rom. 4, Heb. 11:8-22)
The manna in the wilderness and the Eucharistic bread (Ex. 16:1-21, John 6:25-40).
The covenant, the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and the Eucharist (Ex. 24:3-8; Lev. 7:12, 22:29, Ps. 107:22, 116:17, Amos 4:5, Mark 14:22-25 and parallels, 1 Cor. 11:25)
The healing serpent and the healing of Christ (Num. 21:8-9; John 3:14-15)
The condemnation in Deuteronomy of a condemned criminal “hanging on a tree” (Deut. 21:22-23; John 19:31, Gal. 3:13)
The salvation of Noah’s ark (1 Peter 3:20-21)
The role of Moses (Heb. 3:1-6, 11:23-28)
Moses’ shining face (Ex. 34:29-35, 1 Cor. 3:12-18)
The drink offering (Ex. 29:38-41, Lev. 23:12, 13, 18, Phil. 2:12-18, 2 Tim. 4:6-8)
The priesthood of Aaron (Heb. 7:11-14, 9:1-10:18)(20)
The “rest” of the Promised Land (Heb. 3:7-4:13)
The Pascal Lamb (Ex. 12:11; 1 Cor. 5:7)
The two great commandments (Deut. 6:4-5, Lev. 19:18, Mark 12:28-34, Gal. 5:14).

Also: Deuteronomy’s authorization of and limitations on role and authority (under the Torah) of the king, which in turn shapes the later prophetic theologies concerning the righteous Davidic king of Israel—which in turn shapes Christians’ vision of Jesus. (I found an interesting article about the Deuteronomistic theology of the monarchy: http://www.academia.edu/218248/_The_Reconceptualization_of_Kingship_in_Deuteronomy_and_the_Deuteronomistic_Historys_Transformation_of_Torah_)


Back in 2015 (http://changingbibles.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-pentateuch.html), I took notes from the enjoyable article on the Pentateuch in the New Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary. The author, R. W. L. Moberly, discusses issues of interpretation and content. For instance, narrative tensions can be found throughout the various books. Isaac’s blessing of his two sons (Genesis 27) implies that Isaac was near death; but Isaac died years later, after Jacob returns from his fourteen years with Laban (Genesis 29:15-30, 35:27-29) (p. 432). The number of Israelites who left Egypt seem to be a comparatively smaller group—that can be accommodated by twelve springs and by water produced from a rock (Ex. 15:27, 17:6). But elsewhere the narrative describes the group as 600,000 men on food, not including women and children, or nearly two millions people (p. 433).

Another contrast is the status of women: Exodus 20:17 places “wife” after “house,” while the corresponding commandment in Deuteronomy (5:21) places wife before house. Similarly, Deuteronomy 22:22 makes a woman accountable for her actions, although in Genesis, when Sarah is taken into Pharaoh’s harem (and later Abimelech’s), it is Abraham who is accountable (Genesis 12:18-19, 20:10) (p. 433).

Still another contrast is the difference between the Ten Commandments, usually in small details, but notably in the difference between the Exodus and Deuteronomy versions of the Sabbath commandment, where two different reasons for the commandment are given (Ex. 20:11, Deut. 5;15) (p. 433).

The article lists several similar examples, reflecting the different traditions that have been brought together in the writing and editing of what became the canonical text. But I was particularly interested in points made in the section “Genesis as ‘the Old Testament of the Old Testament’” (p. 434-435). The focus is on the fact that, in Exodus 3:13-15, God reveals the divine name to Moses as a new name, and in Exodus 6:2-3, it is stated that the patriarchs knew God, not as YHWH but as El Shaddai. But in Genesis, God uses the divine name (Gen. 15:7, 28:13), and the name is frequently used throughout the book (p. 434).

A possible explanation is that, for the hypothesized writers named as the Elohist and the Priestly sources, the divine name was made known to Moses but not before, while the source called the Jahwist used the divine name all along, in Genesis 2, in Gen. 4:26, and so on. Still, these different traditions were preserved together when Genesis was written. (Another explanation is that the divine name was familiar to the authors and used in the text, even if it is anachronistic: p. 435.)

Moberly writes that the divine name becomes attached to the covenant of Moses and therefore to holiness and exclusivity (as in Exodus 12, where the Egyptians did not know the true God.) And yet, the Lord named by the divine name YHWH is traditionally called the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—Moses’ forebearers. As Moberly puts it, “The one God can apparently be known in markedly different ways. This poses the ancient problem: how should one recognize as religiously authoritative material that is full of religious practices different from or even forbidden by Mosaic torah (compare, e.g., Jacob’s setting up a pillar in Gene. 28:18 with the strong prohbition of such in Deut. 16:22)?” (p. 435).

Moberly suggests that the patriarchs “become types and/or figures of Israel” for instance, Abraham’s journey to Egypt. The Abraham stories aren’t rewritten to reflect later religious realities but they remain authoritative heritage for Israel. Christians, of course, do the same thing in their interepretation of Abraham, Moses, and other aspects of the Old Testament (p 435).

Another interesting point made in the article concerns the Shema, not only Deut. 6:4-5 but also Deut. 6:6-9. Christians tend to ignore 6-9 as Jewish practices. Yet Christians feel scriptural obligations to follow other teachings of scripture (as in the “do this” of 1 Cor. 11:23-26, et al.). It’s just that Christians have appropriated other practices for their own heritage. “Of course, some Christians traditionally have practiced equivalent to those of Deut. 6:6-9, most obviously int he regular recital of the Lord’s Prayer and in the display of the prime Christian symbol of the cross—often on a necklace but also over the gates of critics in the historic Christian empire of Byzantium, where they symbolically depicted the identity and allegiance of the place one was entering, just as Deut. 6:9 envisages the working of the Shema doing for Israel’s homes (private space) and cities (public space). Deuteronomy does not envisage the recital and display of an equivalent to the Shema, but of the Shema itself. Yet Christians only receive Deuteronomy as part of the larger canon of Scripture… and that makes the difference” (p. 437).

I often fuss about Christians who declare that the Bible shouldn’t be interpreted, only obeyed. It’s such an uninformed if well-intentioned declaration about the Bible, a book with richness and contrasting viewpoints that reward ongoing study and interpretation.


Connecting the Torah and the Prophets

The Torah is read in a yearly cycle in synagogue worship (the weekly portion or parshah), accompanied by a related reading from the Prophets (the haftarah). This week I went back to the lists of those readings to learn their meaningful connections, perhaps unexplored by most Christians. The following is gleaned from W. Gunther Plaut, The Haftarah Commentary (Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1996): first the name of the parshah, then the Torah portion, then the haftarah. I focused on the Ashkenazic readings; in a few cases, Sephardic congregations have different haftarot.

Genesis 1:1-6:8: the creation story
Isaiah 42:5-43:11: the creation of Israel is linked to creation of the universe

Genesis 6:9-11:32: the punishments and redemption during the time of Noah
Isaiah 54:1-55:5: the redemption from punishment and exile is at hand

Lekh Lekha
Genesis 12:1-17:27: stories of Abraham
Isaiah 40:27-41:16: God remembers and cares for Israel, children of Abraham

Genesis 18:1-22:24: God promises Abraham and Sarah a song
II Kings 4:1-4:37: Elijah’s miraculous help for the Shunammite woman

Chayei Sarah
Genesis 23:1-25:18: Abraham looks for a wife for Isaac
I Kings1:1-1:31: David’’s need for a suitable successor

Genesis 25:19-28:9: the struggles of Jacob and Esau
Malachi 1:1-2:7: a reiteration of the primacy of Jacob over Esau

Genesis 28:10-32:3: Jacob’s sojourn in Aram
Hosea 12:13-14:10: Hosea’s use of that story

Genesis 32:4-36:43: Jacob and the angel
Hosea 11:7-12:12: Hosea’s use of that story as a metaphor for his home and for the nation

Genesis 37:1-40:23: Joseph is sold into slavery
Amos 2:6-3:8: Amos’ Israelite contemporaries would sell out an innocent person

Genesis 41:1-44:17: Pharaoh’s dream
I Kings 3:15-4:1: Solomon’s dream

Genesis 44:18-47:27: reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers
Ezekiel 37:15-37:28: the reunited stick

Genesis 47:28-50:26: Jacob gives his last words to his sons
I Kings 2:1-12: David gives his last words to Solomon

Exodus 1:1-6:1: Israel’s enslavement in Egypt
Isaiah 27:6-28:13; 29:22-29:23: Israel’s sins and troubles

Exodus 6:2-9:35: the plagues of Egypt
Ezekiel 28:25-29:21: the coming humiliation of Egypt, which had forsaken Israel

Exodus 10:1-13:16: Pharaoh vs. God
Jeremiah 46:13-46:28: Pharaoh Necho, who killed King Josiah, will be defeated

Beshalach (Shabbat Shirah)
Exodus 13:17-17:16: Defeat of the enemy Egypt and the people’s song
Judges 4:4-5:31: Deborah’s song of the defeat of Canaanite enemies

Exodus 18:1-20:23: The Sinai revelation
Isaiah 6:1-7:6; 9:5-9:6: the revelation of God to Isaiah

Exodus 21:1-24:18: release of the Hebrew slaves
Jeremiah 34:8-34:22; 33:25-33:26: Jeremiah’s response when Judah rulers would not free slaves

Exodus 25:1-27:19: construction of the Tabernacle
I Kings 5:26-6:13: construction of the Temple

Exodus 27:20-30:10: the Tabernacle altar
Ezekiel 43:10-43:27: the future Temple sanctuary

Ki Tisa
Exodus 30:11-34:35: the Golden Calf
I Kings 18:1-18:39: the priests of Baal

Exodus 35:1-38:20: building a sanctuary
I Kings 7:40-7:50: building a sanctuary

Exodus 38:21-40:38: the craftsman Bezalel who worked on the Tabernacle
I Kings 7:51-8:21: the craftsman Hiram who worked on the Temple

Leviticus 1:1-5:26: sacrifices
Isaiah 43:21-44:23: the proper sacrifices

Leviticus 6:1-8:36: sacrifices
Jeremiah 7:21-8:3; 9:22-9:23: sacrifice alone cannot please God, who also demands righteous deeds

Leviticus 9:1-11:47: deaths of Aaron’s sons when they approach the Holy Fire improperly
II Samuel 6:1-7:17: the death of Uzzah who touches the holy Ark improperly

Leviticus 12:1-13:59: skin diseases
II Kings 4:42-5:19: the story of Elisha and Naaman

Leviticus 14:1-15:33: skin diseases
II Kings 7:3-7:20: the story of the four lepers

Acharei Mot
Leviticus 16:1-18:30: forbidden sexual relations
Ezekiel 22:1-22:19: denouncing sexual licentiousness

Leviticus 19:1-20:27: ethical requirements, with warnings
Amos 9:7-9:15: Amos’ warnings to the kingdom

Leviticus 21:1-24:23: priestly duties
Ezekiel 44:15-44:31: priests of the future Temple

Leviticus 25:1-26:2: family titles to land
Jeremiah 32:6-32:27: Jersmiah buys a parcel of land

Leviticus 26:3-27:34: blessings and curses
Jeremiah 16:19-17:14: Jeremisah’s assurance of blessings

Numbers 1:1-4:20: census in the wilderness
Hosea 2:1-2:22: the people will be as numerous as sands of the sea

Numbers 4:21-7:89: Nazarites
Judges 13:2-13:25: Nazarites

Numbers 8:1-12:16: the Tabernacle candlestick
Zechariah 2:14-4:7: vision of the candelabrum of the Temple

Numbers 13:1-15:41; the spies
Joshua 2:1-2:24: the spies

Numbers 16:1-18:32: Korah’s attempt to replace Moses
I Samuel 11:14-12:22: the people’s seeming attempt to replace God with a human king

Numbers 19:1-22:1: Moses’ request to the Amorite king
Judges 11:1-11:33: Jephthah’s negotiations with the Amorites

Numbers 22:2-25:9: King Balak (Balaq) wants Balaam to curse Israel
Micah 5:6-6:8: Micah remembers this incident.

Numbers 25:10-30:1: Phineas (Pinchas) and his reward
I Kings 18:46-19:21: the heroism of Elijah

Numbers 30:2-32:42: God’s punishment
Jeremiah 1:1-2:3: Jeremiah’s call to preach warnings

Numbers 33:1-36:13: punishments
Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4: the prophet’s warnings about idolatry

Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22: Moses
Isaiah 1:1-1:27: punishments

The next seven haftarah are haftarah of consolation (Shabbat Nachamu) and all come from Second Isaiah. They are all messages of hope for God’s people Israel. The first is read on the Shabbat after Tisha b’Av, which is the fast that commemorates the Temple’s destruction in 587 BCE. The others are read on successive Sabbaths until the seventh, which is read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah. Thus, as Moses urges faithfulness to the Lord and obedience to his Torah, the Isaiah passages express God’s promises to liberate and provide for Israel.

Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11
Isaiah 40:1-40:26

Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25
Isaiah 49:14-51:3

Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17
Isaiah 54:11-55:5

Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9
Isaiah 51:12-52:12

Ki Teitzei
Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19
Isaiah 54:1-54:10

Ki Tavo
Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8
Isaiah 60:1-60:22

Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20
Isaiah 61:10-63:9

This haftarah is usually read on the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Deuteronomy 31:1-31:30
Isaiah 55:6-56:8: seek the Lord when God is near

Deuteronomy 32:1-32:52: Moses’ farwell song
II Samuel 22:1-22:51: David’s song

Vezot Haberakhah (read on Simchat Torah, when the year’s Torah readings are concluded, and the new year of readings begins)
Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12: death of Moses
Joshua 1:1-1:18: the beginning of Joshua’s leadership

The Judaism 101 site also gives the special Parshiyot and Haftarot for Jewish holidays:

The Judaism 101 author provides this information: “Each week in synagogue, we read (or, more accurately, chant, because it is sung) a passage from the Torah. This passage is referred to as a parshah. The first parshah, for example, is Parshat Bereishit, which covers from the beginning of Genesis to the story of Noah. There are 54 parshahs, one for each week of a leap year, so that in the course of a year, we read the entire Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy) in our services. During non-leap years, there are 50 weeks, so some of the shorter portions are doubled up. We read the last portion of the Torah right before a holiday called Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Law), which occurs in October, a few weeks after Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). On Simchat Torah, we read the last portion of the Torah, and proceed immediately to the first paragraph of Genesis, showing that the Torah is a circle, and never ends.

“In the synagogue service, the weekly parshah is followed by a passage from the prophets, which is referred to as a haftarah. … The word comes from the Hebrew root Fei-Teit-Reish and means ‘Concluding Portion’. Usually, haftarah portion is no longer than one chapter, and has some relation to the Torah portion of the week.

“The Torah and haftarah readings are performed with great ceremony: the Torah is paraded around the room before it is brought to rest on the bimah (podium). The reading is divided up into portions, and various members of the congregation have the honor of reciting a blessing over a portion of the reading. This honor is referred to as an aliyah (literally, ascension)… ”

Working on this post, I discovered that there are yearly and triennial cycles of readings. A rabbi friend explained that the Masoretes (the 6th-10th century CE scholars who helped established the definitive text of the Hebrew Bible) set up the cycle of yearly readings, and other scholars of the Land of Israel established a three-year cycle. The Wikipedia site reads:

“The Triennial cycle of Torah reading may refer either a) to the historical practice in ancient Israel by which the entire Torah was read in serial fashion over a three-year period, or b) to the practice adopted by many Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Renewal congregations starting in the 19th and 20th Century, in which the traditional weekly Torah portions were divided into thirds, and in which one third of each weekly ‘parashah’ of the annual system is read during the appropriate week of the calendar.

“There are 54 parashot in the annual cycle, and 141, 154, or 167 parashot in the triennial cycle as practiced in ancient Israel, as evidenced by scriptural references and fragments of recovered text. By the Middle Ages, the annual reading cycle was predominant, although the triennial cycle was still extant at the time, as noted by Jewish figures of the period, such as Benjamin of Tudela and Maimonides. Dating from Maimonides’ codification of the parashot in his work Mishneh Torah in the 12th Century CE through the 19th Century, the majority of Jewish communities adhered to the annual cycle.

“In the 19th and 20th Centuries, many synagogues in the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Renewal Jewish movements adopted a triennial system in order to shorten the weekly services and allow additional time for sermons, study, or discussion.”

I wonder if we Christians might appreciate the Torah more if we not only delved into the passages themselves but also saw them in relation to Old Testament stories and teachings with which we may be more familiar. It has certainly improved and blessed my knowledge of the books of Scripture that Jews hold especially dear.



Continuing my “Bible in a Year” series from my “Journeys Home” blog.

Numbers 20 through Deuteronomy 6.

I apologize that this post is nearly twice as long as the others, but I include some material on Deuteronomy that connects that book to the other four Torah books, and also considers the way Deuteronomy looks ahead to the history in Joshua through 2 Kings.

When we arrive at Numbers 20-25, we enter the last year or two of the Wilderness period. When I was a little kid, I learned that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years, and I thought they were on the move and lost all that time! Actually the people remained at Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran, near the edge of the Land. Miriam dies here (20:1), as does Aaron (20:21-29). Though the priesthood continues under his son Eleazar, the founding high priest and his sister pass away short of the Promised Land.

And, of course, Moses is forbidden to enter the Land after the incident of Numbers 20:1-29. In a tragic parallel to the incident of Exodus 17, the people complain for the lack of water, and in anger, Moses strikes the rock rather than (as God required) speaking to it. Moses’ sin does not seem severe enough to warrant God’s judgment. The Torah: A Modern Commentary seeks a possible explanation: Moses does not go to God and intercede for the people as he did in the past; he is more passive and then angry, indicating that he has become wearied in his leadership. But furthermore, the entry into the land requires a warrior-leader like Joshua, whereas Moses has been primarily the prophet and shepherd.

The narrative turns positive in chapter 21, when the people have successful conquests over Arad (21:1-3) and Sihon and Og, 21:10-35), but yet another rebellion occurs 21:4-9, over the quality of food that God provides. Here we find the famous story of the bronze serpent; God sends snakes to torment the people, but anyone who looks at the bronze snake will live (21:4-9, cf. 1 King 18:4). The bronze serpent has been called a type of Christ, as anyone who looks up to Christ will be spiritually healed and live.

In all these stories, the Israelites must trust in God, and if they do, things will go well; if not, disaster follows. This is difficult theology, as I mentioned last week, for we know in our experience that things sometimes go poorly for the best people. We have to remember the context of the scripture, where God is shepherding a resistant people through dangerous circumstances and also teaching them a covenant relationship with God. Our own painful situations aren’t sent by God, but God is close by, loving, and helping.

The section 22:1-24:25 is the well known story of Balak the king of nearby Moab, and the seer Balaam. As the Harper’s Bible Commentary points out, this story happens apart from the Israelites, who don’t realize how God is protecting them from the threat of a curse. Balak sends Balaam to curse the Israelites, which Balaam attempts three times, but each time God allows him to bless the people, making Balaam a kind of prophet of the Lord. Like many kids, I learned the story of Balaam’s donkey at an early age; it’s a kind of folk tale wherein the donkey perceived God’s angel before Balaam, and God allows the ass to speak and testify to God’s presence to his irritated master.

Sadly, chapter 25 is another story of rebellion, this one involving Israelite men who have relations Midian women. The women, in turn, invite them to worship Midian gods, especially Baal of Peor. One of my commentaries comments that this story is placed right after the Balaam stories for ironic effect, showing how the people were unfaithful to God right after God had saved them (see note 1 below). The Baal-peor story is an early example of the connections of idolatry, cult prostitution, and the metaphoric “harlotry” of worshiping gods other than the Lord—a theme that we’ll see in the Prophets. In our own time, we’d call it a very “patriarchal” story, with the women and their sexuality portrayed as negative influences.

The Israelite Phineas takes the initiative and slays the Midianite Cozbi and the Israelite Zimri; since he kills them with a single spear, the two are presumed to be engaging in sex when they are killed. The savagery and divine jealously of this story are troubling; God is like a spurned lover for whom punishment against his beloved is justified. And although he is not to be emulated as a lesson, Phineas’ actions are praised! Where I live, there was a recent news story where a husband killed his wife and then himself, and so these kinds of biblical stories, wherein God is like an enraged husband, are troubling.

In this story, Phineas’ slaying of Zimri and Cozbi stop the plague that God sent agains the Israelites. The 24,000 who die in the plague are likely the end of the old generation.

Now we are on a new generation. Numbers 26 is a census of the twelve tribes, connecting back to the census that opens the book. But this census sets up the concern for how the land will be distributed among the people. The Harper’s Bible Commentary notes that there are correspondences in this concluding section and the earlier chapters, like the celebration of the passover (chapters 9 and 28), the provision for the Levites (chapters 18 and 35), legal issues for women (chapters 5 and 27), and others.

The last long section, chapters 26-36, has a variety of material. Mitzvot about inheritance, sacrifice, and vows (27:1-11, 28:1-30:16) are provided along with the succession of leadership from Moses to Joshua. But Joshua will not have the direct interaction with God that Moses had; as the Harper book reminds us, Moses is a unique leader whose stature in Israel’s history is never reached by subsequent prophets. In the New Testament, the book of Hebrews discusses Jesus’ superiority to Moses, but that also indicates the unique and high place of Moses; only God’s Son can supersede him.

The victory of the Israelites over the Midianites is another savage story. In the context of the narrative, it illustrates the fact that the new generation trusts God as they should, and the debacles of Numbers 13-14 and 25 are reversed. The story of Reuben and Gad also serves to illustrate the right path that the new generation is taking. These two tribes requested to settle outside the boundaries of the Land, that is, on the east side of the Jordan River. The request troubles Moses, who fears a negative response on the part of the people (as in Numbers 13-14), but a compromise is successfully achieved.

Chapters 33-36 conclude Numbers—and would conclude the whole story of the Bible so far, before we even get to Deuteronomy. Chapter 33 summarizes the travels of the Israelites from Egypt and all their campsites. Chapter 34 provides the boundaries of the Land as God gives the tribes this place to live. Chapter 35 establishes cities of refuge and the Levitical cities. Chapter 36 has more material on the daughters of Zelophehad, providing (as the Harper book indicates) a frame for the section of chapters 27-36.

I like to find “story arcs” in the Bible. Good commentaries are essential for me, because otherwise I wouldn’t notice the connections. Exodus 29, which concerns priestly ordination, connects to Leviticus 8-9. The covenant of the Sabbath, Exodus 31:12-17, connects back to Genesis 1: the God who created all things has created a beloved people whose very lives reflect God’s pattern of creation. The laws of Leviticus connect back to the events of Mount Sinai in Exodus 19-24.(16) The stories of the spies and the rebellion of Israel in Numbers 12-14 connect us forward to the book of Joshua and set the stage for the long sojourn in the wilderness. The story of Numbers 20 connects us back to Exodus 17, two similar rebellions of Israel. Of course, the very promise of the Land connects us to Genesis 12 and God’s promise to Abram and his family.

The conclusion of Numbers circles back even further, for as commentators note, the passage describing the land of Canaan and its settlement (chapters 34-36) belongs to the Priestly Source that is also the source of Genesis 1. Thus the promise of land for God’s people reflects God’s love of all creation and God’s desire for new human relationships (see note 2 below).

In the upcoming Deuteronomy: In chapters 29-30 Moses reiterates the covenant to the people and promises that God’s word is not remote in time and space but always very near (Deut. 30:11-14, and chapters 29-30). The reminder and promise of the covenant takes us back to the beginning of the covenant (Ex. 19-24).But Deuteronomy circles back to Genesis as well. “A wandering Aramean was my father,” says Deut. 26:5, meaning Jacob, and the passage 29:5-10 remembers Egyptian bondage, God’s salvation, and circles back again to the promise of the land, which the Israelites are about to enter.

The story could end with Numbers, for the people are about the enter the land and new leadership has been established with Moses’ impending death. It’s interesting to me that these hypothesized ancient accounts like the Priestly Source and others provide this shape of the overall story. We already saw how the Priestly Code is found throughout this material.

With Deuteronomy, we begin a section of the Bible that will extend to the end of 2 Kings Scholars hypothesize a “Deuteronomistic history” that now forms the basis of all this material (see note 3 below).

The Deuteronomistic history continues the theme of the earlier Torah books: the keeping of the covenant. God will reward faithfulness and will eventually punish wickedness and apostasy. So the connection of the historical books and the Torah is, at one level, the failure of the Israelites to keep their part of the covenant faithfully; thus God’s judgment in the form of the Babylonian conquest and exile at the end of 2 Kings. But throughout these centuries, God has remained faithful.

The land is another ongoing theme that we’ll find through the upcoming historical books—the land promised to Israel since Abram in Genesis 12. God guides his people, establishes his covenant with them, gives them his law, and leads them to the Land under the leadership of Moses and then Joshua.  Holding and keeping the Land, though, remains a challenge across the centuries: the campaigns and conquests of Joshua are far the end of the story (see note 4 below).

Eventually we’ll get to the history of the monarchy and the great figure of David, whom we can connect to Moses as the Land’s greatest king, though not a prophet like Moses.

Deuteronomy contains another hypothesized, ancient source of law, the Deuteronomic Code, which is much longer than the Book of the Covenant that we saw earlier. This code stretches across Deut. 12-26 and includes laws about the destruction of Canaanite holy places (ch. 12), apostasy (p. 13), food and tithes (ch. 14), sabbatical year (ch. 15), annual pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Pentecost, and Shavuot, ch. 16), and many other laws about Levites, cities of refuge, rules of warfare, murder, livestock, and so on. While some laws (especially Deut. 13) seem cruel (and were not known to have been carried out), many laws reflect justice issues protecting people’s rights and encouraging social interdependence (32-33). My Harper’s commentary points out aspects that indicate Deuteronomy’s likely authorship during the time of the monarchy, perhaps the reign of Josiah: the indication of a monetary rather than agricultural/barter economy, the fertility rites that tempted God’s people during a later time, the importance of a just judiciary, and the overall importance of reform (pp. 209-210).

There are differences among the laws compared to similar ones in other parts of the Torah. There are also differences in the conception of the priesthood—another connection among all these Scriptures. One of my teachers, Brevard Childs, discusses the distinction of Aaronic and Levitical priests. Childs notes that in Ex. 28-29 and Lev. 8-10—where we find much information about the biblical priests—Aaron and his sons are consecrated to an eternal priesthood. The Aaronic priests performed cultic rites while Levites were responsible for maintenance of the tabernacle (e.g. Num. 1:47ff). But, Childs notes, we don’t find that distinction in Deuteronomy, which describe “Levitical priests” who have cultic responsibilities. We also find no Aaronite clergy in Judges and Samuel; Eli is the chief priest but he is from the Ephraim rather than the Levi tribe. When we get to Chronicles, we return to the separation of priest and Levites that we saw in Exodus and Leviticus.  Scholars like Julius Wellhausen explains the discrepancies in terms of the time period of the material: Ex. 25-40, Leviticus, and Numbers are post-exilic, while Deuteronomy is pre-exilic (i.e., late monarchy, from the time of Josiah), but Childs sees the historical development of the priesthood as largely irretrievable background history for the canonical text, in which the post-exilic form of priesthood has become normative. (See note 5 below).

The ten paragraphs above are from another informal Bible study that I did a few years ago: https://bibleconnections.wordpress.com/connections-2/ Now, back to the text!

Deuteronomy reflects a common practice of covenant renewal and is presented as a long, farewell speech from Moses, who will soon die at the edge of the Land. In the beginning section, chapters 1-3, Moses begins with a recounting of the journeys of the Israelites. The Harper author notes, “Even before Israel left Mount Horeb, it was structure into a society shaped by God’s justice” (p. 213), and this opening section certainly reminds the Israelites of the importance of justice for Israelite and stranger, powerful and powerless alike. It is a timely message for many time periods and many circumstances! Moses also reminds the people of the importance of trust in God, compressing the disaster of Numbers 13-14 and the success of Numbers 21 and 29 (cf. Psalm 136:17-22).

Moses promises God’s faithfulness, recounting the richness of the land and the protection that God provides when the people are obedience (3:12-29, 4:1-40). The section 4-11 (I’m reading 4-6 this week) is a sermon about the mitzvot. Moses preaches about the Ten Commandments and connects them to God’s faithfulness, the Sabbath, the Covenant, and the importance of worship of God alone and of justice.

Chapter 6 is worth quoting as a whole, as it relates to so much else, and it contains the beloved Shema (Hear, O Israel).

“Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the Lord your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, so that you and your children and your children’s children may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

“When the Lord your God has brought you into the land that he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant—and when you have eaten your fill, take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear. Do not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who are all around you, because the Lord your God, who is present with you, is a jealous God. The anger of the Lord your God would be kindled against you and he would destroy you from the face of the earth.

“Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. You must diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his decrees, and his statutes that he has commanded you. Do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may go in and occupy the good land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give you, thrusting out all your enemies from before you, as the Lord has promised.

“When your children ask you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the decrees and the statutes and the ordinances that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your children, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. The Lord displayed before our eyes great and awesome signs and wonders against Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his household. He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land that he promised on oath to our ancestors. Then the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our lasting good, so as to keep us alive, as is now the case. If we diligently observe this entire commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, we will be in the right’” (NRSV).

Here are the parshiyot, Torah readings, and haftarot readings.

Chuqat               Numbers 19:1-22:1             Judges 11:1-11:33
Balaq               Numbers 22:2-25:9             Micah 5:6-6:8
Pinchas               Numbers 25:10-30:1             I Kings 18:46-19:21
Mattot               Numbers 30:2-32:42        Jeremiah 1:1-2:3
Masei               Numbers 33:1-36:13             Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4 (Jeremiah 2:4-28; 4:1-4:2)
Devarim               Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22     Isaiah 1:1-1:27
Va’etchanan       Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11     Isaiah 40:1-40:26


1. Stephen K. Sherwood, C.M.F., Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Brit Olam Series, Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry, COllegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002), 180-181.

2. Thomas B. Dozeman, “The Book of Numbers,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, volume II (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1998), 267-268.

3. The first of several books on this subject is Martin Noth, The Deuteronomistic History (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002; originally published in 1943).

4. An excellent study is Walter Brueggemann, The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith (second edition, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002).

5. Brevard Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 145-150, 152-153.


Deuteronomy 7-34

This week, I’ve been studying Deuteronomy 7-34, thus concluding the book and also the Torah. But Deuteronomy is also the beginning book of the so-called Deuteronomistic History, the hypothesized source that extends through 2 Kings. So we’re ending the section of the Bible most sacred for Jews and also opening to what Jewish Bibles name “the Former Prophets.”

I wrote a lot about the book last week (above). The Jewish Study Bible introduction points out that significant aspects of Judaism derive from Deuteronomy, like the tzitzit, the teffilin, the mezuzah, the Shema, and of course the covenant itself (p. 358). Deuteronomy is written as Moses’ reiteration of the covenant, the mitzvot, and final admonitions as he and the people stand on the plains of Moab just outside the Promised Land—a land that Moses, the last of the generation who fled Egypt, will not enter. The word Deuteronomy means “second law.”

The Deuteronomic Code of chapters 12-26, much longer than the Book of the Covenant in Exodus, includes laws (some new, some found in other Torah books) about the destruction of Canaanite holy places (ch. 12), apostasy (p. 13), food and tithes (ch. 14), sabbatical year (ch. 15), annual pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Pentecost, and Shavuot, ch. 16), and many other laws about Levites, cities of refuge, rules of warfare, murder, livestock, and so on (chs. 29-30). While some laws (especially Deut. 13) seem cruel (and were not known to have been carried out), many laws reflect justice issues protecting people’s rights and encouraging social interdependence (chs. 32-33).

Deuteronomy likely existed independently of other law codes and narratives that we now find in the other four Torah books. The narrative of Josiah’s reforms (2 Kings 22-23) is a key to its origins and eventual canonical shape. (Josiah was king in 641–609 BCE). The book may have originally consisted of the laws of chapters 12-26 along with an introduction and an oath of loyalty (chapter 28) (Jewish Study Bible, p. 358-359). The king hoped to renew the covenant and preserve religious and social traditions in light of a dual threat: the Assyrians, who had already conquered the northern Israelite kingdom, and also the growing threat of Babylon to the east. Among Josiah’s reforms, sacrifices were restricted to one site instead of several: previously sacrifices were made at Bethel, Mitzpah, Gilgal, Mount Carmel, and other places, but Deuteronomy 12 authorizes one place, i.e. Jerusalem (p. 357).

When Babylon did indeed conquer Judah in 586 BCE, material of Deuteronomy was likely added to the “Deuteronomistic history” of Joshua through Kings, and all of it expanded with other traditions. Then, in the period after the Exile, Deuteronomy was added to Genesis through Numbers, which already form a unit from Creation to the outskirts of the Land (pp. 357-359). Further transformation of the text reflects the needs of the post exilic Second Temple period, including the unequivocal monotheism of the Shema (pp. 360-361).

That same essay points out that the book, in effect, has Moses speaking to each new generation. The long monologue delays entry into the Land, which Moses himself cannot enter—and the fact that the Torah itself closes outside of the land has the effect of keeping readers outside the land, too (p. 359). There is a story arc connecting us back to Genesis. Abram was promised the Land to his descendants (Genesis 12), but Abram (Abraham) himself only owned a small area of land as a grave for his wife. Moses does not even have that, and he is buried in an unknown location in Moab near Beth-peor (Deut. 34:6). “Ancient editors have deliberately defined the Torah as a literary unit so as, first, to accommodate the addition of Deuteronomy and, second, to sever it from its logically expected fulfillment. The possession of the land is diverted instead into the next literary unit, which is to say, into the future. So profound a reconfiguration both of the patriarchal promise and of the overall plot is conceivable only in light of the historical experience of exile, which profoundly called the possession of the land into question. Had possession of the land remained central to the covenant, Israelite religion would have collapsed. The fulfillment of the Torah is thus reductional redefined as obedience to the requirements of covenantal law rather than the acquisition of a finite possession” (p. 359).

Deut. 1:1-4:43 is the first discourse of Moses, reviewing the historical circumstances and urging the people to obey the Lord. Deut. 4:44-28:68  is Moses’ second discourse, which contains the “legal corpus” of chapters 12-26. Moses recounts the Ten Commandments (chapter 5), expounds on the first commandment (6:4-25). This week, I’ve studied:

Chapter 7: The war of conquest and the special status of Israel
Chapter 8-10: Moses urges the people not to be proud and self-centered as they live on the land; God has shown many past mercies, even when the people broke the covenant; and so obedience is required for living in the land.
Chapter 11: Additional reminder to practice and teach God’s commandments, for the sake of blessing and not of curse.

The Deuteronomic Law Code for the people’s future
Chapter 12: Sacrificial worship in a single place of worship (rather than multiple places)
Chapter 13: Loyalty to the Lord rather than idolatry
Chapter 14: Clean and unclean animals, and the tithe of produce
Chapter 15: Laws relating to slaves and the poor: economic justice
Chapter 16:1-17: The Passover and other festivals, which also have roots in justice and in God’s blessing.
Chapter 16:18-17:20: Laws concerning courts and an eventual king
Chapter 18: Priests and Levites
Chapter 19: Criminal laws
Chapter 20: Laws of war
Chapter 21-26: Various laws

Chapters 27-30: The renewal of the covenant
Chapters 31-34: Moses’ final words, Moses’ song, his death and burial, the people’s grief.

Among these laws are major social concerns: protection against false accusation (Deut. 5:20, 19:15-21); protection for women (Deut. 21:10-14, 22:13-30); protection of property (Deut. 22:1-4); everyone should get the fruit of their labor (Deut. 24:14, 25:4); everyone should have a fair trial (Deut. 16:18-20); people should not be oppressed if they are in property or disabled (Deut. 23:19, 24:6), and other protections and guarantees. My NRSV Harper Study Bible has a list of all these social concerns with references to several Torah mitzvot (p. 274).

This week I studied a book I really love, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s Biblical Literacy: The Most Important People, Events, and Ideas of the Hebrew Bible (New York: William Morrow, 1997). Here are a few of his insights.

Commenting on Deuteronomy 6:4-9, he writes, “To study Judaism is a moral imperative, because to be good one has to know what one’s duties are and what goodness entails… and this requires study” (p. 489). I wish more Christians considered study as an imperative! So many of us Christians have a high opinion of the Bible as God’s word, which in effect substitutes for actual knowledge of Bible content. We also get our views about society from our politics–as if being a Christian and a Republican or Democrat were identical–rather than studying biblical commandments and social models to inform our world views.

Deuteronomy 16:20 reads, “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue” (NRSV). Telushkin writes that the emphasis on “justice” in this sentence reflects God’s will expressed in the Torah. He notes that although this mitzvah is particularly directed at judges,  “‘Pursuing justice implies that one should become personally involved when hearing about an injustice that one is capable of ameliorating” (p. 492).

Deuteronomy 21:15, 17 et al. stipulates that certain advantages go to the firstborn son—and yet this is not borne out in biblical stories. Think of Bible heroes who were not firstborn sons: Isaac, Moses, David, Solomon and Joseph (the eleventh son). Also, think of Bible heroes who weren’t sons at all!  “As in the case of polygamy, it is clear that although the Bible occasionally acquiesces in a deeply rooted tradition (such as favoring the firstborn), when it find such a tradition to be morally dubious, it finds a way to make its disapproval known” (p. 498).

Deuteronomy 22:6-7 et al. adjoins the humane treatment of animals. Telushkin notes that we find this compassion right away in the Bible: Genesis 24, when both Eliezer and Rebecca express concern for camels. Although humans are allowed to eat animals beginning with the end of Noah’s flood, kindness toward animals is urged throughout the Torah, as in Leviticus 22:28, Deut. 25:5, Jonah 4:11, and elsewhere (pp. 500-501).

“Most people associate biblical law primarily with rituals. Few are aware that one of the Torah’s 613 laws obligates homeowners to make sure that their roofs are safe.” referring to Deut. 22:8. He likens this to putting a fence around a pool: we’re being faithful to the Bible when we ensure that our homes are safe places!

Telushkin notes that some Torah laws are problematic, notably those regarding rape. “Torah law is much less severe regarding rape than modern sensibilities would expect. Although the Torah never adopted the sexist view that a sexually abused woman was in some way ‘asking for it,’ it also did not impose a particularly harsh punishment on the rapist” (p. 505). But the violent responses of family members in Genesis 34 and 2 Samuel 13 reflect “considerably less equanimity” toward rapists than we find in the law itself (p. 505). It is a horrible crime that requires justice and support for the victim.

Regarding the charging of interest (Deut. 23:20-21), he notes that Jews are forbidden to charge interest on loans to follow Israelites though not to foreigners, but the Torah warns against harassing people who are laid in paying, and being cruel to people in need (Deut. 24:10-14, also Lev. 25:35-36). The rabbi comments that Shakespeare’s Shylock is a slander toward Jews.

The Torah contains a traditionally numbered 613 laws. A rabbi friend of mine tells me that about 300 can still be followed today, and all are studied and reflected upon. Here is a site that lists them: http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm The 613 laws of the Torah are set forth and discussed in Telushkin’s book (pp. 513-592 and passim), and in William J. Doorly, The Laws of Yahweh: A Handbook of Biblical Law (New York: Paulist Press, 2002).

Here are the parshiyot, Torah readings, and haftarot readings.

Va’etchanan                  Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11                  Isaiah 40:1-40:26
Eiqev                            Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25                Isaiah 49:14-51:3
Re’eh                            Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17              Isaiah 54:11-55:5
Shoftim                        Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9                Isaiah 51:12-52:12
Ki Teitzei                     Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19              Isaiah 54:1-54:10
Ki Tavo                        Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8                  Isaiah 60:1-60:22
Nitzavim                      Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20                Isaiah 61:10-63:9
Vayeilekh                     Deuteronomy 31:1-31:30                Isaiah 55:6-56:8
Ha’azinu                       Deuteronomy 32:1-32:52                II Samuel 22:1-22:51
Vezot Haberakhah        Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12               Joshua 1:1-1:18(Joshua 1:1-1:9)

In my own reflections on these scriptures, I think of an odd connection: Deuteronomy and Revelation. Deuteronomy concludes the Torah with a stirring call for Jews to keep faithful to the commandments and to remind future generations of God’s mighty works of salvation. Meanwhile Revelation concludes the New Testament with arcane and impenetrable symbols that invite all kinds of wheel-spinning speculation about the end times.

And yet Revelation also calls future generations to faithfulness. Revelation proclaims God’s mighty work of salvation, too (7:10, 11:15, 19:6), and so, in an analogous way to Deuteronomy, we know that there is no ultimate reason for us to lose heart. In the Christian affirmation, although Christ’s final victory lies in the future, that victory is assured. In a variety of ways, the Old and New Testaments affirm God’s own faithfulness! So we can follow God with confidence.