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This week I’ve been studying Job. I’ve almost dreaded revisiting Job, because it’s such a heavy, challenging book. Once I led a church Bible study group on Job, and we had a hard time getting through it!

As the Jewish Study Bible commentators point out, “the book makes three main points, which are interrelated. The first, most obvious point is that human suffering is not necessarily deserved… This point is one that Job argues most forcibly against his friends. Those friends, who are concerned to safeguard the goodness of the Lord (seen as the cause of all things, good or bad), argue the contrary view… This lead to the second point. The claim that all suffering is deserved will inevitably persuade those who hold that view to falsify either the character of the sufferer or the character of God. Thus, Job’s friends argue that Job is a sinner, deserving of his punishment, while Job claims that the Lord has acted unfairly and is indifferent to human suffering. The third point, however, is the most theologically difficult and gives the good its sense of profundity and at the same time its inconclusive conclusion: there is no way of understanding the meaning of suffering. That is, in the Lord’s argument, the reasons for suffering—-if there are any—-are simply beyond human comprehension” (pp. 1499-1500).

Job believes in God and has always sought to lead a righteous life. But he suffers horribly—out of proportion to any sins he committed. Because he believes in God, the punishment (or the abandonment) of God is another source of terrible pain to him. His friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar come to help him, but they recite traditional theologies about suffering that we still hear from well-intended folk: God is not unjust, God may send suffering in order to discipline us, God does punish sin and so Job must’ve sinned but he just can’t admit it (or he’s lying about some hidden sin).

Job is not only suffering: he’s angry at God. The words of his friends make him all the more angry. Job doesn’t understand why God has sent these sufferings (or allowed these sufferings), and God won’t provide him with an answer. Job repeatedly wishes and demands that God respond to his pain.

The book invites all kinds of questions:

* Recalling the compassionate omniscience of God in Psalm 139, we wonder why God allows Satan to mess with Job. The idea of God sending Satan to destroy a good person is, needless to say, troubling.

* Why does God on occasion go silent? It’s a question in Job, but also in the Bible and throughout history. Where was God when the Holocaust was happening? When the Israelites were 400 years in Egyptian slavery? When our world today has over 60 million refugees? When some other horror (take your pick) is happening? When Job was imploring God for a response?

* Does God want us to be angry at him, full of questions when we suffer, as Job was—-especially since God says to his friends, “you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has” (42:7)?

* What happens to Satan at the end of the story? It’s well known that Satan in Job is not the “satanic” force of the New Testament but a (no pun intended) devil’s advocate with God. In Job, he is a character in the prologue but does not appear thereafter.

* Since we affirm that God is close to and compassionate toward people in their suffering (see the Beatitudes, for instance), why isn’t God a little kinder to Job when God does respond (chapters 38-41). God talks about the many and vast wonders of creation and rhetorically asks if Job can make and do all the things God can accomplish. Job wasn’t trying to take God’s place, but rather to gain an answer to his own suffering.

* Of course, Job cannot do all the things God can do, and he repents (42:6). But does he? Commentators have noted that the grammar of Job 42:6 (“therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes”) is ambiguous. Depending on how one translates Job 42:1-6, Job may be repenting of his complaints and resigns himself to God’s will. Or, it may mean that Job repents of his faulty theology about God that sees God in terms of simple rewards and retributions. Or, Job may be speaking ironically—responding to God with sarcasm.

In any case, by the end of the book Job can no longer complain and has entered into a new relationship with God. Perhaps that is a major “moral” of the book! After all, suffering transforms us not only as individuals but also in our relationship with God, and for many of us, we will have deeper insight into and a deeper faith in God once the chaos of our situation has passed (Brueggemann and Linafelt, An Introduction to the Old Testament [WJK Press, 2012], 332-334).

The epilogue of the book makes things all the more complex. Job’s friends have been trying to defend God—to honor the ways of God—while Job has complained bitterly of God. But in the end, God scolds the friends for not speaking rightly and orders them to make sacrifices, while God commends Job for his words! Apparently God does not want to hear shallow and unhelpful theology any more than Job did.

Furthermore, at the end, Job has a new fortune and a new family—and his daughters are said to be beautiful. But the grief remains: his dead children cannot return. Brueggemann and Linafelt point out that God restores Job’s possessions twice over—-which is the Torah mitzvot concerning theft (Exodus 22:7). Does this imply that God stole from Job, and now must restore twofold what God stole? (pp. 335-336)

* Here’s a much more lighthearted question. As a kid, I wondered why is his name pronounced “jobe” and not “jobb” ??

I don’t remember if I got an answer at the time. Later, I read that his name in the original Hebrew, אִיּוֹב which is transliterated ‘iyyobe, has a long O, which in turns carries over into English.

****

Since the theology of rewards and punishments characterize so much of the Old Testament texts—-Deutereonomistic history as well as the Chronicler and also wisdom books like Proverbs—Job seems an outlier in the Bible. As Brueggemann and Lineman write: “Theologically the book takes up old covenantally and sapiential presuppositions, challenges basic premises of Israel’s faith, and refuses any easy resolution of the most difficult theological questions that appear on the horizon of Israel’s faith. It is, moreover, appropriate that the book of Job should follow the book of Psalms in the Hebrew canonical order, for the book of Job takes up the primary genres of the Psalms, especially lament and hymn, waves them into a new coherent dialogue, and pushes both lament and hymn to an emotional, artistic, and theological extremity”  (p. 327).

Here is an outline of the book.

A.  Prose Prologue (1:1-2:13)

Job’s background (1:1-1:5)

Satan gains permission from God to test God, and then takes Job’s wealth and children (1:6-22)

Satan gains permission to afflict Job, and then he gives Job a severe skin disease (2:1-10).

Job’s friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar come on the scene, and sit with him for seven days and
nights.

B.  Job and his friends discuss his situation (3:1-31:40), then Elihu speaks (chapters 32-37). 

Job curses the day he was born, wonders why he didn’t die, and cries in misery (chapter 3)

1. First cycle of speeches (chapters 4-14)

Eiphaz contends that God doesn’t punish the righteous, but sinful people are published and must eventually perish. He asks Job to seek God and to be pleased at God’s chastisements (chapter 5).

Job objects that God won’t let him die, and asks his unfaithful friends for evidence that he has sinned.
He complains to God of his situation (chapters 6-7)

Bildad contends that God doesn’t pervert justice and that God will respond if Job seeks him rightfully (chapter 8).

Job complains that God, sovereign in the universe, ignores his suffering, brings calamity upon the wicked and blameless (chapters 9-10).

Zophar accuses Job of hypocrisy and assures him of restoration if he repents (chapter 11).

Job denies the accusations, defends his incenses, expresses resentment toward his friends, and beseeches God again (chapters 12-14).

2. Second cycle of speeches (chapters 15-21)

Epiphaz says that Job id deluding himself and his words condemn him (chapter 16)

Job accuses his friend of unkindness, believes God is angry at him, and appeals to God for help (chapter 17).

Bildad reproves Job for his stubbornness and contends that the wicked fall into ruin (chapter 18).

Job scolds his friends, and expresses hope in someone who’ll vindicate him (chapter 19).

Zophar believes the misery is the lot of the wicked (chapter 20).

Job replies that the wicked do prosper, and that God will give as God wills to both the wicked and the righteous (chapter 21).

3. Third Cycle of Speeches (chapters 22-37). Notice in these speeches that Zophar does not reply to Job, but young Elihu instead comes on the scene and speaks.

Eliphaz accuses Job of believing that God is unjust (chapter 22).

Job responds that he would face a (court) trial with God, and says again that the wicked do prosper, at the expense of the righteous (chapters 23-24).

Bildad (briefly) responds that no one is righteous before God (chapter 25).

Job complains again that he knows God’s greatness and that he is righteous. He mourns his former, upright position in society that has now been substituted for his suffering condition. He protests again that he is innocent of sickness and falsehood (chapters 26-31).

Elihu steps in. He contradicts Job’s three friends (32) but also tells Job that God chastises people (33). God is not unjust (34-35), but the justice of God and all God’s works are beyond human understanding; his ways are unsearchable (36-37).

C. God answers Job from the whirlwind (38:1-42:6). 

God’s creation is vast (38:4-15), and humans cannot understand its mysteries and variety (38:16-39:30).

Job responds humbly (40:1-5).

God challenges Job, reminding him of the great creatures Behemoth and Leviathan (40:6-41:34).
Job responds that he did not understand and now repents (42:1-6).

D.  Prose Epilogue

God scolds Job’s friends for not having spoken rightly, as Job has! He instructed the friends to offer sacrifices, and Job will pray for them (42:7-9).

God restores Job’s wealth and gives him and his wife more children (42:10-17).

*****

There are many more interesting aspects to the book.

* I agree with the Harper’s Bible Commentary: “Job’s wife deserves better than she receives in this book. Not only does she seem mainly a machine for producing babies [she had ten grown children who died, and then had ten more], but one of Job’s curses on himself turned her in prospect into at the slave and sexual toy of other men (31:9-10)” (p. 432). Furthermore, the daughters are all praised for their beauty, and are named, while Mrs. Job is a faceless and nameless character with just a “walk on.” She suffered horribly in her own right. The book of Job doesn’t advance us beyond the patriarchy that we do find throughout the Bible.

* We should always remember that chapters 2-41 are poetry–and poetry is supposed to be ambiguous and filled with implied meaning. Difficult as the book is, we’d be rewarded with repeated readings with a good commentary.

* When I took a course in Biblical Hebrew years ago, I learned that the book has many difficulties of word meaning, grammatical challenges, and copyists’ problems. Also, the book has an interesting structure that invites scholarly debate. Formally, there are two cycles of speeches with the patterns Eliphaz-Job, Bildad-Job, and Zophar-Job. But in the third cycle, Bildad’s speech is very short, and there is none for Zophar. This has led to speculation that the speeches have been confused, especially since Job’s final speech is longer than his others (chapters 26-31). Perhaps portions of Bildad’s and Zophar’s third speeches became attributed to Job—-or, perhaps, this is the intention of the texts, and the arguments of the friends can go no further and must break off. (My Jewish Study Bible gives a variety of options about how the speeches could be rearranged for a more symmetrical flow: pp. 1500-1502.)

Another issue: Job’s speeches in 27:2-28:28 has Job more “patient,” refusing to curse God, and more confident in justice, compared to his earlier speeches. From this viewpoint, Job’s words would have been more easily been followed by God’s response in chapter 42. On the other hand, the canonical form of the text (in the absence of any other variations of the book’s form) emphases Job’s faith beneath his suffering (Jewish Study Bible, 1504).

* Does Job feel entitled to blessing? If so, he is in good company: none of us feel like we deserve to suffer, all of us have some “why me?” feelings when things go wrong.

Suffering turns us inward in a destructive way. Our pain, after all, is all we can feel. When I had a cancer scare a few years ago, I wasn’t thinking about cancer as a world-wide medical problem (emotionally, anyway), I was concerned about my own health. My Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible puts it well. “Anger boils to the surface of Job’s complaint. it is manifest in bitterness, cutting sarcasm, flagrant overreaction against the friends, and cynicism toward God. Job’s grief immobilizes him, distorts his view of time, gives him sleepless nights and painful days, and saps all his energy. By searching Job’s grief we understand the world and our lives as never before” (p. 722).

My mother was an invalid whom my dad looked after. When my dad died in 1999, I lived five hours away from her but of course promised to handle all her affairs for her and to visit her as often as possible (which I did for thirteen years). Mom said one day, “There isn’t anyone who is in a worse situation than I am.” She wouldn’t believe me when I tried to tell her otherwise, and continued to feel that way when I obtained regular help to come to her home and had all her mail forward to my home to handle. A tragic side effect of grief and suffering is an understandable self-centeredness–and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness—that afflicts many or most of us until something can console us and regain for us a bigger picture.

For Job, God’s theophany, stern and rhetorical as it is, did help Job see that the universe was more vast and intricate and cared-for than he in his misery could see. Sometimes that’s what we need, too—to gain a new sense that we are part of the cycles of birth and decay and death as other creatures, and that God cares for them (us) all. We are guaranteed nothing for our physical lives except our eventual, physical death—but God gives us God’s life so that we will live with God forever.

* I had not thought about Job as a companion to the Psalms, as Brueggeman and Linafelt point out. Of course, it precedes Psalms in the Old Testament and succeeds Psalms in the Jewish Bible. But both books have honest language about God, shockingly so at times, and they made good canonical companions. If God commends Job at the end, God must want all of us to seek God and to seek answers with our own honestly and passion.

*It’s worth remembering that some famous expressions come from Job:

He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21)

…human beings are born to trouble
just as [as surely as] sparks fly upward (Job 5:7)

I have escaped by the skin of my teeth (19:20b)

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God (19:25-26).

What a beautiful way Handel set those two verses to music in Messiah!

We are moving into a new section of the Bible: between the historical books and the prophets (that is, between Esther and Isaiah), we have several books of writings:

Job is the well-known story (a long poem framed by short narrative sections) of a righteous man who suffers terribly. He and his friends try to plumb the mysteries of God’s providence.

The Psalms are 150 songs of praise, complaint, lamentation, penitence, and supplication. They were used in the rebuilt Temple and, eventually, in synagogues and churches.

Proverbs is a collection of sayings, many attributed to Solomon, on topics like morality, knowledge, justice, and other issues of right living.

Ecclesiastes is a moving reflection upon the seasons of life (especially the famous 3:1-8), the difficulties of gaining wisdom, and the ultimate vanity of human striving.

The Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs, or Canticle of Canticles) is an emotional poem of love and longing between two people.

In the Bibles of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, we have two more books:

The Book of Wisdom, or the Wisdom of Solomon, teachings of wisdom and righteousness.

Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Sirach, ethical teachings likely written in the 2nd century BCE.

The Jewish Bible does not contain the Book of Wisdom or Ecclesiasticus, nor do Protestant Old Testaments. The final section of the Jewish Bible, the Ketuvim (Writings), contains: Psalms, Job, and Proverbs; the Five Megillot (Scrolls), which are Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther; and finally, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and 1 and 2 Chronicles.

****

The term “wisdom literature” is often applied to the books Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, the Song of Songs, those two apocryphal books, and also several Psalms such as as 1, 19, 37, 49, 73, and others.

We’ve seen a few ways how the Torah and the historical books of the Bible fit together. Following verse after verse of laws, statutes, and material for Hebrew worship in the Torah, you might expect to find historical accounts of these laws and cultic practices carried out. We do get some, if not as much as we might’ve anticipated: Joshua refers to the law of Moses, 1:7ff, 8:30ff; the stories of David, Uriah, and Bathsheba also reflect concerns for cleansing rituals; and the sins of Solomon are also connected to the laws (Deut. 17:1-17 and 1 Kings 9:26-11:40).(1) But we did see how the Deuteronomic history, by forming the last book of the Torah and opening the subsequent history of the people in the land, provides a narrative of law and promise and judgment across the centuries that draws upon the covenant established in the wilderness. And then in Ezra and Nehemiah, we saw the emergence of a more obviously religious community, established in the law and covenant, with a strong post-exilic hope for a yet-greater restoration. This apparent omission of cultic practices within the historical books alerts us to topics debated in scholarly circles: the extent to which the law was codified before the Exile, the impact of the rediscovery of at least part of the law during Josiah’s reign (2 Kings 22:8 and following), and the extent to which the law became community standard during the post-exilic period (Ezra 3:2, Neh. 13).(2)

Now: how do the Psalms and Wisdom books connect theologically with the Torah and the historical books that we’ve studied so far?

One obvious connection is that the Psalms connect worshipers to King David, the attributed author of several psalms—and, the five sections of the book of Psalms are said to mirror the five books of the Torah. Also, the Psalms connect to the post-exilic period as “the hymn book of the Second Temple,” a description one finds among many biblical scholars. Though some of the psalms are very old by the time of that temple, they were brought together and used in worship during the post-exilic period and far beyond.

Another obvious connection with the historical writings is the attribution of some of the Proverbs, as well as Song of Songs and Eclessiastes, to Solomon. Accepting that attribution, one sees different aspects of that king’s famous wisdom: the importance of practical wisdom, the beauty of human love, and the hard questions that “life” raises. The connection of Wisdom literature to David and Solomon is a reason why these books follow the historical books in the Old Testament; whereas Isaiah through Malachi, which follow 2 Kings in the Jewish Bible, is another possible arrangement.

As far as the ways the Wisdom books connect with Torah and History: we see more contrasts than specific connections.

For instance, as Bernhard Anderson puts it, “The prophetic themes that dominate the Pentateuch [Torah] and the prophetic writings—Israel’s election, the Day of Yahweh, the covenant and the Law, the priesthood and the Temple, prophecy and the messianic hope—are dealt with hardly at all [in the Wisdom books].” Wisdom authors did not address legal and religious obligations (as did the priests of Israel), and usually they did not explicitly communicate God’s own oracles, like the prophets. Only in the apocryphal wisdom books like Ecclesiasticus do we find more linkage of wisdom with law and covenant.(4)

Wisdom literature, instead, aims to uncover some of the lessons a wise person would have learned about “life.” Life experiences, rather than the law per se, guide to moral behavior and correct judgments. Job seeks answers to the problem of his suffering in a series of conversations with his friends, since his religious and moral uprightness implies that his suffering is undeserved.  Ecclesiastes reflects on life’s meaning after long reflection on the problems of suffering, human pride, and God’s providence. The Song of Songs, a happier and more confident book, also reflects the meaning of life as discovered through the experience of God’s creation and human love.

Proverbs, too, is a confident book. You could say that its moral world is close to that of Torah without specifically citing mitzvot. A person’s growth in wisdom and knowledge (compared to the fool who is lazy and unconcerned) is not only recommended, but also ordained by God. As an author in The Interpreter’s Bible puts it, “The highest type of family life is extolled; monogamy is taken for granted; the respect for mother and wife is emphasized throughout; chastity and marital fidelity are enjoined for all. The glutton, drunkard, and sluggard, the robber and oppressor of the poor are all roundly condemned.  Those who live in accordance with wisdom’s laws are prosperous and happy.  A belief in the one true and living God who rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked permeates the book from cover to cover.”(5)

But the mystery of suffering stands out among these books, raising questions about any easy linkage of rewards and punishments to human behavior. Thus, these books form another contrast to the Deuteronomistic theology that we’ve surveyed. For instance, Ecclesiastes famously comes down on the side of life’s utter futility; even pursuing righteousness seems meaningless. Job never finds a simple answer to the reason for his suffering, other than the mysterious ways of God that are beyond human understanding. So many of the psalms, too, are beloved because they are cries to God amid human pain that are so honest and identifiable in our own experience. If you add the book of Lamentations to this mix (as the Jewish Bible does), you find heartbreaking complaints to God for social suffering, wherein the divine judgment seems not to spare the starving innocent.

My Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible has a good summary: “[Sufferings]… remind us that this life is not all there is and that there is a reality beyond this life that is the source of our lasting joy and enduring happiness. We come to see that suffering is only one side of the human experience with God, and we come to depend on him more and more to carry us through it. But there is no celebration in suffering. We live with the stark awareness that even if we could do everything right, life still may not turn out the way we hope or intend… [Yet] all suffering is redeemable.. [In suffering w]e discover the abiding, caring presence of the God who holds each and every one of us in the hollow of his hand…” (pp. 719-720).

There are MANY connections of the Writings with the New Testament.

* Proverbs is often quoted or alluded to in the New Testament. In fact, some of the New Testament’s most well known passages allude to (and sometimes directly quote) particular Proverbs.  Jesus’ words about the wise man and the foolish man who built their homes on rock and sand echo Proverbs 10:25 and 12:7. Jesus also echoes Proverbs 3:28, 11:4, 11:17, 11:28, 16:19, and 30:8-9 during his Sermon on the Mount.  Proverbs 25:21-22 admonishes the wise to take care of one’s enemy rather than retaliate, and the Apostle Paul makes use of the saying in Romans 12:20. Jesus’ maturity (Luke 2:52) echoes Proverbs 3:4. Jesus also alludes to Proverbs 16:1, 18:21, 24:12, 25:6-7, 27:1, 28:24, 29:23 in the course of his teaching (see Matt. 10:19-20, 12:36-37, 16:27, Luke 14:7-11, Luke 12:16-21, Matt. 15:4, 6, Luke 14:11 and 18:14b, respectively).(6)

* The Psalms are also frequently referenced in the New Testament: 2, 22, 34, 69, 78, 89, 110, and 118 especially, but also 33, 35, 39, 50, 102, 105, 106, 107, 116, 119, 135, 145, and 147. Several psalm passages are understood to be fulfilled in, or connected to Jesus (Matt. 13:35 and Ps. 78:3, John 19:24 and Ps. 22:18, John 19:36 and Ps. 34:20, Acts 2:25-35 and Ps. 16:8-11, 132:11, and 110:1).(7) We also find connections in Acts 4:11 and Psalm 118:22, Acts 4:25-26 and Psalm 2:1, Hebrews 1:8 and Psalm 45:6-7, Hebrews 1:10 and Psalm 102:25, and notably Hebrews 1:13 and Psalm 110:1.(8)

The Psalms connect theologically to the New Testament in another important way. My Old Testament prof for a semester, Brevard S. Childs, notes that, “the psalms function to guide Israel, both as individuals and as a community, in the proper response to God’s previous acts of grace in establishing a bond. The psalmist can praise God, complain of his sufferings, plea for a sign of vindication, but through it all and undergirding his response, lies the confession that life is obtained as a gift from God. His conduct is not seen as a striving after an ideal or toward fixed ethical norms, but a struggle to respond faithfully to what God has first done on Israel’s behalf. The response of the psalmist is so intense and directed so personally to God because the possession or loss of life is measured in terms of his relation to God who both ‘kills and makes alive’. Although the terminology of the Old Testament psalms often differs strikingly from Paul’s the theological understanding of man’s relationship to God as one of sheer grace shares much in common.”(3)

* The blamelessness and suffering of Job mirrors that of Christ’s. Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, without specifically referencing or alluding to Job, is in harmony with Job’s values and also promises grace to those who suffer.(9)

* A traditional, allegorical interpretation of the Song of Songs is that it pertains to the Lord and Israel, and to Christ and his church.

* I found a Roman Catholic site that finds citations in the New Testament to the deuterocanonical books: http://www.cathtruth.com/catholicbible/deut.htm It is a bone of contention between Catholics and Protestants that Catholics add too many books to the Old Testament and that Protestants omit important books that connect to New Testament teachings. The difference is not dishonesty on either side but rather different interpretations of the historical process of canonization.

(Quite a bit of this material appeared in an earlier blog post: https://bibleconnections.wordpress.com/connections-2/)

Notes:

1.   Solomon’s sins vis-à-vis the Law are discussed in Marc Zvi Brettler, How to Read the Jewish Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 122-123.

2.  Brevard S. Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 137.

3.  Brevard S. Childs, Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 209-210.

4. Bernhard W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament (third edition, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1975), 531-532 (quote on page 531).

5. Charles T. Fritsch, “Introduction to the Book of Proverbs,” The Interpreter’s Bible, volume 4 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1955), 777.

6. Ibid, 777-778.
7. J. Clinton McCann, Jr., “The Book of the Psalms,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, volume IV (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 672-675.
8.  Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 199. Luke T. Johnson notes how artfully Mark 15:23-27 weaves Psalm verses in his depiction of the crucifixion: Ps. 69:21, Ps. 22:18, Ps. 22:7, Ps. 109:25, Ps. 22:8, Ps. 22:1, Ps. 69:21. Luke T. Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 139. See also my blog post: http://changingbibles.blogspot.com/2016/03/maundy-thursday-and-good-friday.html
9. “Job, Theology of,” in Elwell, ed., Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible, 419

I decided that as long as I’m undertaking all this extra Bible studying each week, I should also study the Apocrypha—because these are books that I’ve barely studied at all, if ever.

The Apocrypha are books that Protestant Old Testaments lack, because these books are not found in the Jewish Bible (that is, the Masoretic text, the Hebrew and Aramaic text of the Tanakh as accepted in Rabbinic Judaism). The Apocrypha is Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch (including the Letter of Jeremiah), and 1 and 2 Maccabees, plus extra material in Esther and Daniel. (The additions to Daniel include the story of Susanna, the Prayer of Azariah, and the Song of the Three Holy Children.) Roman Catholics include these books as deuterocanonical, “second canon.”

The Eastern Orthodox Old Testament includes these books plus 1 Esdras (see my last post), the Prayer of Manasseh, and 3 Maccabees. Orthodox Christians use the word Anagignoskomena (“worthy to be read”) for the deuterocanonical books–and, like the Catholics (and unlike the Protestants) integrate the books among the canonical books rather than placing them in a separate section. One or two Orthodox traditions include 4 Maccabees, the Book of Odes, and Psalm 151.

It’s interesting to read the history of the selection of biblical books. There is no mystery or intrigue about it, no “suppressing” of bombshell texts, but the history is long and involves several councils of the church and rabbinical decisions within Judaism. As my Harper Bible Commentary describes them, the Apocrypha includes historiography (1 and 2 Maccabees), historical fiction (Tobit, Judith, and 3 Maccabees), an apocalypse (2 Esdras), sapiential works (Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon), exhortations (4 Maccabees and the Letter of Jeremiah), and prayers (Prayer of Manasseh and Prayer of Azariah) (p. 760). The Book of Odes is a collection of songs and prayers from both Testaments, and Psalm 151 is an Eastern Orthodox canonical work found in the Septuagint but not the Masoretic text.

For these informal notes, I’ll mostly stick with deuterocanonical books of the Roman Catholic Bible, with reference to the Anagignoskomena. In these Bibles, the book of Tobit follows Nehemiah.

As the story begins, Tobit is one of the Jews deported by the Assyrians to Ninevah, during Shalmaneser’s reign in about 721 BCE. He was of the tribe of Naphtali, married Anna, and they had a son Tobias. He was devout in his faith even in the foreign situation. For instance, he buried his kinsman who had died because of the king. Burial of the dead made one spiritually unclean because of contact with the corpse, but it was also a great act of love and righteousness, providing care and dignity to someone who obviously cannot thank you. When Sennacherib died, the new king appointed Tobit’s nephew as chief minster, and so Tobit—with Tobias’ help—continued to do good. Unforunately, as Tobit slept outdoors one night, he was blinded by sparrow droppings that fell into his eyes.

Meanwhile, as Tobit prayed for the restoration of his sight, a widowed woman named Sarah prayed for a husband. All her new husbands had been killed by the demon Asmodmus. Scholars note the similarity of Tobit’s story with folktales like “the Grateful Dead” and “the Deadly Bride.” In this case, the angel Raphael comes to the rescue as God hears the prayers of Sarah and Tobit in their separate situations.

Disheartened and thinking that death is near, Tobit sent Tobias to retrieve some money left in the care of a man named Gabael who lived off in Media. Tobias goes, accompanied by companion Raphael, whom Tobias doesn’t realize is an angel. At one point, Tobias washes in the Tigris river and a fish bites his foot. Raphael tells him to gut the fish and save its heart, liver, and gall.

Tobias and Raphael stay at the house of kinsman Raguel—who happens to be the father of widowed Sarah. Tobias asks to marry her but is warned about her husbands who had died. But Raphael instructs Tobias to use the fish’s heart and liver with incense, that that drives the demon away, saving Tobias from death.

Following the wedding celebration, Tobias receives the money from Gabael and, with Sarah, returns to Tobit and Anna. Again with Raphael’s instruction, Tobias places the fish’s gall on Tobit’s eyes, and he regains his sight.

Tobit offers Raphael some of the money in gratitude, but Raphael reveals his true identity as an angel. Tobit prays to God in thankfulness for God’s mercies.

In his later years, Tobit blesses his son and dies, ages 158 years. Tobias eventually dies, too, aged 127.

The book of Judith, which follows Tobit in the Deuterocanonical/Anagignoskomena order, purports to tell of events in the Assyrian era of Israel’s history but is likely from the era of the Maccabees. We are alerted that this is a fictional story, because King Nebuchadnezzar is said to be the Assyrian king—but he was actually the Babylonian ruler.

In part 1 of the book of Judith (chapters 1-7), Holofernes is the commander of Assyrian armies that attack Israel. The king ordered the attacks—not only against Israel but other nations—in response to their refusal to join his campaign against the Medes. Holofernes lay siege to the Israelite town of Bethulia, through which he could advance to Jerusalem. He is advised that the Israelites cannot be conquered unless they first sin against God—but after a month’s siege, the Bethulians are about to surrender. Fortunately, a local header named Uzziah is able to effect a five-day postponement.

Judith appears in Part 2. She was a widow, and strongly objected to the five-day compromise. Honoring God with a prayer for help, she basically asks God to help her lie effectively. She goes to the enemy camp, lies her way in to see Holofernes, and deceives him as well. Smitten with her, and eager to seduce her, he invites her to a banquet. But before he can make any moves, so to speak, he becomes very drunk and passes out. Judith takes his sword, beheads him with two blows, and she and her maid leave the camp with his head in a bag. Returning to Bethulia, Judith showed everyone the severed head, praised God for his help and protection, and urged the men to attack the Assyrians the next day. They do so, successful.

Judith is a hero and sings praises to God. Never remarrying, she lives to the age of 105.

Perhaps because of her feminine sexuality combined with her bold, male-shaming heroism, Judith has been depicted by many artists: Donatello, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Titian, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Caravaggio, Gentileschi, Klimt, Stuck, and numerous others. Beth and I saw the Klimt at the Belvedere in Vienna a few years ago.

The Jewish Women’s Archive Encyclopedia, https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/judith-apocrypha , has a good summary of the book of Judith. You can certainly see the connection of Judith with the judge Deborah, also a fearless champion of her people, and with David, too, in the way she decapitates a dangerous enemy. The author notes that several women of the Bible told lies that had positive consequences—which is an interesting aspect of the Bible narratives! Besides Judith the women are Rebekah, Tamar, the midwives Shiphrah and Puah, Rahab, and Jael.

My Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible notes, that Judith “is a joyous and triumphant book. It revels in the unexpected way the People of God is delivered.” Judith’s fidelity to God along with her confident use of her own feminity–as her ability to deceive believably–makes it a wonderfully compelling story (p. 1472).

*****

This week I’ve been studying 1 and 2 Maccabees, with a quick look at 3 and 4.

1 Maccabees is a deuterocanonical book in the Roman Catholic (the term for Easter Orthodox Bibles is Anagignoskomena). 1 Maccabees is found in the Greek Septuagint but not in the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible, nor in Protestant Old Testaments. Canonical or not, it is an important account of this period of Second Temple Judaism, the decades of Judean independence prior to the Roman occupation, and is the source for the minor Jewish festival Hanukkah. (Here is a good Catholic site about the book. Some Catholic Bibles place 1 and 2 Maccabees after Esther, while other Catholic Bibles place the books at the end, after Malachi.)

1 Maccabees covers about forty years, 174 to 134 BCE. It might be good to see a biblical chronology again:

– Patriarchs: about 1800-1500 BCE (Genesis)
– Exodus, Wilderness, and Conquest: about 1500-1200s BCE (Exodus-Joshua)
– Period of the Judges: 1200s-1000 BCE (Judges)
– The monarchy (Saul, David, Solomon): 1000-922 BCE (1 and 2 Samuel, 1 Kings 1-11, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles 1-9)
– Divided monarchy: 922-722 BCE (1 Kings 12-17, and also Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, and Micah)
– Kingdom of Judah: 722-586 BCE (2 Kings 18-25, 2 Chronicles 10-36, and also Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, and Habakkuk)
– Exile: 586-539 BCE (Lamentations, Psalm 139, et al.)
_ Judah under Persian rule: 539-332 BCE (Ezra-Nehemiah covers about the years 539-432 BCE, while Esther is set during the reign of Xerxes I, who reigned 486-465 BCE. Also, the prophets Second Isaiah, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi)
– Judah during the Hellenistic rule: 332-165 BCE (3 Maccabees, Daniel)
– The Maccabean/Hasmonean period: 165-63 BCE (1, 2, and 4 Maccabees)
– Judea under Roman rule: 63 BCE-135 CE (during which time we have the life of Jesus, the first two generations of the church (30-120 CE), the writings of the New Testament (about 50-100 CE), and the beginnings of Rabbinic Judaism, after the Temple’s destruction in 70 CE).

Our upcoming scriptures, the Prophets, date from the end of the Northern Kingdom in the 700s BCE (Isaiah) down to the 400s BCE of the Persian period (Malachi), while parts of Daniel probably date from the Maccabean period. So the Jewish Bible and Protestant Old Testament end historically with the 400s of the Persian period, with apocalyptic writings in Daniel dating from the Maccabean era, while the churches with deuterocanonical books carry the Old Testament history solidly into the 100s BCE.

Back to 1 Maccabees: At the time, Judah (by now called Judea) is ruled by the Seleucid Empire, the Greek domination that followed Alexander the Great’s empire. Greek culture was influential for Judaism, including the translation of the Bible into Greek; but Greek disrespect for Jewish practices lead to the Jew’s revolt against the Greeks, which is the subject of the book. 1 Macc. 1:1-9:22 concerns the rule of Mattathias, aka Judah the Maccabee (the word means “hammer”), aka Judas Maccabeus. 1 Maccabees 9:23-12:53 focuses on the rule of Judah’s successor Jonathan, and chapters 13-16 concern the rule of Simon.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes, one of the villains of Jewish history, was the Seleucid emperor who launched a bloody attack on Jerusalem, taxes the people, forbids Jewish practices, and then desecrates the Jewish temple by establishing pagan rituals there, including the slaughter of non-kosher animals.

Judas leads the people in ultimately successful campaigns against the Greeks, though at a high cost in casualties. When the temple is retaken and reconsecrated, Judas and his brothers and the whole assembly established a festival of the 25th day of Chislev (Hanukkah) to commemorate the dedication (1 Macc. 4:59).

(Here are good source concerning Hanukkah: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/hannukah and http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday7.htm. I was surprised to learn that the famous story of the lamp–which burned for eight days with only one day of oil–is from the Talmud [Shabbat 21b] rather than Maccabees: http://cojs.org/babylonian_talmud_shabbat_21b-_the_significance_of_hanukkah/ )

Judas’ brother Jonathan becomes high priest and succeeds him. He gains an alliance with Sparta and seeks positive relations with Rome. Later, Simon succeeds him, both as high priest and priest of Judah. He has a successful period of rule until he is murdered by the Greek governor of the region. Simon’s son John Hyrcanus succeeds Simon. This “Hasmonian dynasty” was not a Davidic dynasty but did bring about independence for Jews in the land—encompassing much of the earlier territories—for about a hundred years, first in semi-autonomous relations with the Seleucids and then fully independent until conquered by the Romans in 63 BCE.

2 Maccabees does not, as you might think, continue the history. It begins with letters written by Palestinian Jews to Egyptian Jews, and then becomes an abridgment of a now-lost history by Jason of Cyrene about the Maccabean revolt under the leadership of Judas Maccabeus. The book also includes the stories of Jewish martyres Eleazar, seven brothers, and their mother, under Antiochus’ reign. As this site indicates, it is a very laudatory book toward Judas and Jewish heroism; it includes information not found in 1 Maccabees, and it references Esther. 2 Maccabees is also part of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox canon.

Here is a good Jewish site about the book. That author writes: “One important fact to be noted is the writer’s belief in the bodily resurrection of the dead (see vii. 9, 11, 14, 36; xiv. 16; and especially xii. 43-45). This, together with his attitude toward the priesthood as shown in his lifting the veil which I Maccabees had drawn over Jason and Menelaus, led [scholars] Bertholdt and Geiger to regard the author as a Pharisee and the work as a Pharisaic party document. This much, at least, is true—the writer’s sympathies were with the Pharisees.” (Here is another good site.) Because of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, 2 Maccabees also provides an important theological bridge to the New Testament period.

In fact, 2 Maccabees may be alluded to in the New Testament, especially Hebrews 11:35, “Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection” (NRSV). This does not fit any Old Testament story but does fit the story of the seven brothers in 2 Maccabees 7, a fact that this author uses to defend the canonicity of the deuterocanonical books.

3 Maccabees is found in the Eastern Orthodox canon but not in the Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic canons. 3 Maccabees is not set during the Maccabean age at all but shares with those books the wonderful intervention of God on behalf of God’s people. In this book, Egyptian Jews are persecuted by another Seleucid ruler, Ptolemy IV Philopator, who reigned in 221-203 BCE). Again, Jews are hated because they don’t worship foreign gods, in this case Dionysus, but the story includes a different kind of Gentile persecution: letting inebriated elephants trample imprisoned Jews to death! Ptolemy’s inconsistency, however, and also the intervention of two angels, allow the Jews to be spared. (Here is a good site.)

4 Maccabees is not canonical in any Jewish tradition, nor in any Christian canon except the Georgian Orthodox Church. Another important text for understanding the Second Temple period, the book is a homily to encourage Hellenistic Jews to stay devoted to Torah (18:1) and to hold courageously to “devout reason” that is “sovereign over the emotions” (e.g., 16:1). A sizable portion of the book describes (in gruesome detail) story of 2 Maccabees 6:18-7:42: the martrydom of Eleazer, and the seven brothers and their mother. Stories of martyrs are important in many religions, to help build courage to believers in times of trial. In Judaism, martyrdom is one example of Kiddush HaShem, “sanctification of the name” (of God) through holiness and witness.

Interestingly, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s Bible contains three books–1, 2, and 3 Meqabyan–not found in any other Christian canon, which are different in content from the Maccabees books. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meqabyan

 

 

This week I’ve been studying Ezra and Nehemiah. Originally one book, they tell the story of Judean exiles returning to the land following Cyrus’ decree, from about 539 BCE to about 432 BCE. The final verses of 2 Chronicles, about Cyrus’ decree, are repeated almost verbatim as the first verses of Ezra—so the story continues.

We are now about 1500 years after Abraham–and God’s promise to give him and his wife many descendants and land. What a history followed!–years of Egyptian slavery, escape from Egypt, the Sinai covenant, the construction of the tabernacle, the years of wilderness, the conquest of the land under Joshua, the uncertain period of the judges, establishment of a monarchy, the adventures of David, the establishment of Jerusalem as David’s city, Solomon’s construction of the temple, the divided kingdom and the conquest of Israel, the ministry of the prophets, King Josiah’s reforms, the destruction of the temple and the exile of the people, and now the restoration of the people to the land thanks to the Persian king’s decree.

It’s important to realize how great is Cyrus in biblical imagination: he was considered mashiach, “anointed one” or Messiah, in some of the early post-exilic traditions. Isaiah 44:28 refers to him as “[God’s] shepherd” and as mashiach in 45:1. A rabbi friend tells me that Jews of the time considered Cyrus as such a king because he overthrew the people’s enemies (the Babylonians), facilitated the people’s return to the land and the restoration of their religion, and also he set the stage for their eventual self-rule on the land under a Davidic king.

It’s also important to realize that the Jews saw their exile and restoration in both literal and metaphorical ways. For instance, the Chronicler interprets the history as a series of exiles (corresponding to different deportations at the end of the pre-exilic period), and two different kinds of literal restorations: the return of the people to the land, and also the return of the Davidic monarchy (Leslie C Allen, in the introduction to Chronicles in the New Interpreter’s Bible, p. 301). But the Chronicler also thinks of the exile in metaphorical terms: as the symbolic homelessness of a faithful remnant, that will be followed by a glorious restoration. We find this metaphorical sense in other places of the Bible: the hope reflected in Psalms 85 and 126, the way Daniel 9 depicts the exile as lasting not 70 years but 70 times 7, and the prayers in Ezra 9 and Nehemiah 9 (pp. 302-303). This metaphorical use is crucially important for the ongoing history of Judaism and the beginning of Christianity.

But the Chronicler and the authors of Ezra-Nehemiah depict differently the characteristics of this faithful remnant. For the latter, the Judeans must be a separate people focused upon obedience to the Lord’s Torah; for instance, the men must divorce their foreign wives and send them and their children away. The Chronicler has a more inclusive vision, often referring to “all Israel” that includes the break-off northern tribes and lauding Hezekiah’s efforts at reunification. Yet the Chronicler also affirmed Jerusalem as the place of true worship, so “the chronicler steered a middle course between separatist and assimilationist parties…” (pp. 305-306, quotation on 306).

*****

The following is based on my article, “Ezra and Nehemiah: Bringing a People Home” in Adult Bible Studies, 11:4 (June-July-Aug. 2003), 2-4. Many thanks for the editor at the time, Eleanor Moore.

The two books contain Ezra’s memoir (7:27-9:15), third person stories about him, and Nehemiah’s memoir (1:1-7:73a, 11:1-2, 12:27-43, 13:4-31). Interestingly, although the two men are mentioned together in Neh. 8:9, their memoirs have little or no acknowledgment of one another, making some scholars wonder if, somehow, the chronology of the biblical text has become confused. It’s also interesting that, although personal letters are such a major part of the New Testament, the Old Testament has very few, with the exception of Ezra and Nehemiah, where we find some of these texts.

The book of Ezra begins with Cyrus’ decree that allowed the Judea’s to return to the land from exile. Chapter 1-2 provide an encapsulated account of the members of Judah and Benjamin and the priests and Levites with some of the Temple vessels and utensils. According to Ez. 2:64, 42,360 exiles, plus singers, servants, and livestock, returned, lead by Sheshbazzar and then Zerubbabel and the priest Jeshua. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah particularly extol Zerubbabel* as a great Davidic king, although in Ezra-Nehemiah, he disappears from the narrative after a few chapters. The people give thanks to God, and construction on a new temple begins (2:68-3:13). Samaritans offered to help with the temple construction, but the Judea’s refused their help, and construction ceased for a while. By about 520 BCE, however, construction resumed, and it was dedicated in about 515 BCE (Ez. 4-6).

Priest and scholar Ezra himself came upon the scene in about 458 BCE, with a new group of Judeans. Ezra was a descendant of Aaron and of Zadok (Ez. 7:1-5) and was the son of Seraiah (2 Kings 25:18-21). On arriving to the land, Ezra was heartbroken that so many of the men have foreign wives. He calls the people to confession at the temple, and in time, the foreign wives and the children are sent away (Ezra 7-10). Seemingly Ezra was so eager to make this happen, that the people had to remind him that they were all standing in the rain listening to him and had to devote additional time to set these divorces in motion (Ez. 10:17). As Rabbi Telushkin points out (Biblical Literacy, 389), it’s too bad no one seems to have thought to allow the wives and children into the community through conversion.

Back in Babylon, Nehemiah is a cupbearer to the king. While Ezra as an outstanding, trustworthy and pious leader (Ez. 8:16-18, 25-34), Nehemiah is also a noticeably prayerful leader, constantly offering his work to God and seeking God’s guidance. Prayers like Neh. 1:8-10 are lovely in their intercessory concern and humility. Nehemiah asks King Artaxerxes for permission to go to Jerusalem to help rebuild Jerusalem and its walls. The king does indeed allow him to return. Nehemiah arrives in about 445 BCE and begins his work. (The events of chapter 13 are a little later, from about 432 BCE.) In spite of opposition and economic distress, Nehemiah and the people are able to rebuild the city walls (Neh. 3-7). Chapter 7 recaps the many people who returned from exile—with variations of names and numbers compared to the account in Ezra chapter 2. We find more names in Neh 11-12.

Other good things happen in these two books. Ezra reinstated festivals like Pesach (Ez. 6:19-22) and Sukkoth (Neh. 8:13-18). Nehemiah reinstated the Sabbath (10:31, 13:15-22), support of the priests (Neh. 13:10-14), support of the temple (10:32-39) and related reforms. The reading and subsequent study of the scroll of Teaching (Neh. 8) is one of the great moments in Bible history.

So is the construction of the Second Temple on the place of Solomon’s. The new temple marks a new era for God’s people, wherein they refocus upon devotion to God—and become a people characterized by worship, righteousness, and mitzvot rather than the rulership of a monarchy. The new era isn’t without poignancy, as we read in Ezra 3:10-13.

“When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel; and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord,

‘For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures for ever towards Israel.’

And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.”

An African American preacher, whom I heard a few years ago, calls this passage, “the Gospel shout and the blues moan.” In such situations, both are necessary–praise for the blessings of God, and grief at what has passed.

****

In the Protestant Old Testament, Nehemiah is followed by Esther, then Job. It’s worth noting that, at this point in the Bible, some churches include additional, apocryphal books. In the Roman Catholic Old Testament, Nehemiah is followed by Tobit and Judith, then Esther, and 1 and 2 Maccabees. In the Eastern Orthodox Old Testament, the order is 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Nehemiah, Tobit, Judith, and Esther, then 1, 2, and 3 Maccabees.

Ezra is so significant, that other books carry his name. The apocalyptic book 2 Esdras is called 4 Esdras in the Roman Catholic apocrypha. Although this 2 Esdras/4 Esdras is an apocryphal book, some Roman Catholic Bibles refer to Ezra and Nehemiah as 1 and 2 Esdras. To make things more confusing, Eastern Orthodox Bibles name Ezra-Nehmiah as 2 Esdras, with 1 Esdras being an ancient Greek version that is nearly the same text as Ezra (which, as part of the Hebrew Bible, is originally Hebrew and Aramaic)—and this Greek 1 Esdras is called 3 Esdras in the Roman Catholic apocrypha.

Ezra is crucially important for Judaism. The faith of Judaism (the faith of Judah) really begins at this time: the faith devoted to Yahweh via the Torah. Ezra was a priest but also “a kind of proto-Rabbi who also has the authority of a prophet,” establishing priniciples of Torah interpretation that are “at the heart of rabbinic interpretation” (Jewish Study Bible, 1670). See also these informative articles: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-babylonian-exile
http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/after-the-babylonian-exile The Talmud states that “Ezra would have been worthy of receiving the Torah for Israel had not Moses preceded him” (Sanhedrin 21b), and his public reading of the Torah “democratized” Judaism’s heritage, “making it as much the posses of the common laborer as of the priest” (Biblical Literacy, 388)

My Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible also contrasts Ezra and Nehemiah as biblical examples of professional religious workers and faithful laity. The prayerfulness and humility of Nehemiah–who doesn’t necessarily seek appreciation but does want to be remembered—is also a lovely example for all of us (p. 683).

Finally: a personal shout-out to a distant relative, Ezra Griffith (1789-1860), one of the early settlers of my home area around Brownstown, Illinois. https://paulstroble.wordpress.com/2016/07/24/twin-pumps-on-the-national-road/ I’ve never met anyone named Ezra but at one time it wasn’t an uncommon first name. One of Ezra’s descendants, Chester Griffith, was a Brownstown friend of my grandmother’s and got me interested in Sunday school attendance as a kid because he (Chester) had fifty years of perfect attendance.

* Although the genealogies of Mathew and Luke are from different sources than 1 Chronicles, Zerubbabel is listed in both gospels as an ancestor of Jesus.

******

 

This week I’m studying Esther. Remember, a few posts ago, when I said that Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Esther form an important secondary history within the Bible, 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. These books are not by the same presumed authors, just as the primary history (Genesis through Kings) was written and edited by multiple people. While the primary history ends on a note of uncertain hope, the secondary history, coming from the post-exilic time and written for Jews struggling with a new era, is more hopeful. 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 (Harper’s Bible Commentary, 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).

Of course, it became crucially important for Judaism to be a faith observed in lands other than the Promised Land. When I studied Deuteronomy in that earlier post, I learned how the long pause with which the Torah ends—the speech of Moses as the people are poised to enter the Land—had the literary effect of delaying entry into the land—and ensuring that God’s covenant and commandments were not confined to one geographical region (Jewish Study Bible, p. 359). The Book of Esther illustrates the wonderful fact that the Jewish people will endure no matter where they live, even amid Gentile hostility and violence.

This source discusses that Esther gives confidence to diaspora Jews to be able to survive and even thrive in foreign lands, and thus she is similar to Tobit, Daniel, and Nehemiah. The fact that she is a woman makes her heroism especially noteworthy. Haweis writes, “[Esther] contains a narrative of a horrid plot, to cut off at a stroke, all the Jews who were dispersed through the provinces of Babylon; but God disappointed the wicked design, and turned it to the destruction of the contriver…. the finger of God is evidently seen, extricating the Jews from their difficulties, and encouraging by their example, the faith and hope of his people in their deepest distresses; showing how attentive he is to their prayers, and that, as he exalteth the lowly, those who walk in pride he is able to abase” (Rev. Thomas Haweis, The Evangelical Expositor; or, a Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. 1 (Glasgow, Blackie & Son, 1834), 814)

My wife Beth and I enjoyed studying Esther a few years ago with our Sunday school class in Akron, OH. As the book opens, King Ahasuerus of Persia (aka Xerxes I, 485-465 BCE) held a big feast, and while he was drunk, he commanded that his queen Vashti come and show the guests her great beauty. Although the text doesn’t say, he may have expected her to visit the feast nude. Vashti refused his order, and so Ahusuerus, on the advice his wise men, ordered Vashti deposed, setting in motion a kind of contest for a new beautiful queen. After so viewing many young women, the king selected Esther, whom unbeknownst to him was a Benjaminite Jew living in exile. An orphan, she lived with her older cousin Mordecai, who looked after her. Soon she became the new queen.

After a while, Mordecai learned of a plot to assassinate the king—information he relayed to the king through Esther. It resulted in the execution of the conspirators. Not knowing the background of his own queen, the king became influenced by his vizier, Haman the Agagite, that Jews were a threat and should all be killed. Mordecai had accidentally set in motion that threat: Haman had demanded that Mordecai prostrate himself before Haman in respect, but Mordecai had refused. Agagites, after all, were descendants of the Amalakites, long time enemies of the Jews (as we’ve seen in other writings).

While Mordecai urged other Jews to fast, he also planned with Esther to deal with the situation. At an opportune time, Esther approached the king with a request, that he and Haman attend a banquet she was planning.

That night, the king couldn’t sleep and called for the nation’s chronicles to be read aloud. He remembered than that Mordecai had not yet been rewarded for his service in exposing the assassination plot, so he asked Haman about a proper reward for one loyal to the king, and Haman suggested the royal insignia and apparel. Haman thought he himself was going to be the honoree.

At the banquet, the king was quite smitten with his queen—he had already allowed her to come uninvited into his presence, a potentially fatal move on her part—and during this banquet, she courageous revealed that she was a Jew and that Haman was plotting to kill at the Jews. Her and Mortecai’s risky plan worked: the king promptly ordered that Haman be hanged (on the gallows Haman had built for Mordecai), the Jews were saved, and Mordecai became prime minister.

Rabbi Telushkin makes an interesting connection of Mordecai to Joseph: Hebrews who gained a powerful position in a non-Jewish government, and who accomplished the betterment of his people (Biblical Literacy, p. 378.

Interestingly, God is never referred to or named in the book of Esther, although the practice of fasting presumes a religious orientation. The absence of God doesn’t mean an ontological absence of God; the Bible doesn’t always spell out God’s ways. The apocryphal/deuterocanonical “Additions to Esther” do add more explicitly religious elements to the book.

On the other hand, Rabbi Telushkin notes that Esther’s name is a variation of the Near Eastern goddess Astar (her Hebrew name was Hadassah), and she married a non-Jew (the king), indicating that she may have been an assimilated Jew. But she certainly took the side of her people when the time came (Biblical Literacy, 375-376).

Esther is one of “the Five Scrolls” (“Five Megillot”). Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther are grouped together among the final, Writings (Ketuvim) section of the Jewish Bible. Each book is read during certain Jewish holidays: Song of Songs on the Sabbath of Passover, Ruth on Shavuot, Lamentations on the Ninth of Av, Ecclesiastes on the Sabbath of Sukkot, and Esther on Purim.

The minor festival of Purim is one of the great legacies of the book. The word “purim” means “lots,” which is what Haman threw in order to select a date for the death of the Jews—so the festival’s very name scoffs the antisemite’s failed attempt. One of my favorite sites, Judaism 101, http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday9.htm, has this:

“The primary commandment related to Purim is to hear the reading of the book of Esther. …It is customary to boo, hiss, stamp feet and rattle gragers (noisemakers) whenever the name of Haman is mentioned in the service. The purpose of this custom is to ‘blot out the name of Haman.’

“We are also commanded to eat, drink and be merry. According to the Talmud, a person is required to drink until he cannot tell the difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordecai,’ though opinions differ as to exactly how drunk that is. A person certainly should not become so drunk that he might violate other commandments or get seriously ill. In addition, recovering alcoholics or others who might suffer serious harm from alcohol are exempt from this obligation.

“In addition, we are commanded to send out gifts of food or drink, and to make gifts to charity. The sending of gifts of food and drink is referred to as shalach manos (lit. sending out portions). Among Ashkenazic Jews, a common treat at this time of year is hamentaschen (lit. Haman’s pockets). These triangular fruit-filled cookies are supposed to represent Haman’s three-cornered hat. …”

That site also calls attention to interesting, thought-provoking connections of Purim with the Nuremberg War Crime trials and also the death of Stalin—who, if he hadn’t had died (near Purim) in 1953, would have carried out a plan to deport Jews.

 

 

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.

Notes:

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)

Notes:

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)

Notes:

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.

Notes:

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.

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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).

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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