Wednesday, July 31, 2013

2 Kings 12:1-14:29


After the carnage of the previous chapters Israel and Judah both settle down to a period of relatively pure worship of YHWH. Of course, Israel still has those golden calves and worship centers at Bethel and Dan which the author(s) of Kings see as illegitimate. And there are high places here and there in both nations. But for the most part, worship has been brought under control.

In these chapters we once again have identically named kings in Israel and Judah. Joash and Jehoash are the same name in Hebrew. The two forms of the name are used interchangeably for both monarchs. I will try to be consistent in using Joash for the king of Israel and Jehoash for the king of Judah.

As king of Judah, Jehoash commissions the priests to repair the temple in Jerusalem. The priests, apparently unwilling to spend money out of their own pockets on the project, procrastinate. Jehoash, with the priest Jehoaida, comes up with a new plan to fund the project. The priests are no longer in charge. The temple is revamped.

When Aramean king Hazael threatens the city of Jerusalem, Jehoash bribes him off with treasures taken from the temple. This has been done before (1 Kings 15:18). It will happen again (2 Kings 18:15).

Jehoash is murdered by his servants. Their motivation is not specified here but 2 Chronicles 24 says that it was because Jehoash killed the son of the priest Jehoiada. Jehoash's son Amaziah succeeds him. Amaziah will deal with the men who killed his father (2 Kings 14:5).

Chapter 13 takes us back to the northern kingdom where Jehu's son, Jehoahaz, succeeds his father. Jehoahaz persists in the "sins of Jeroboam" that is, the worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan, unauthorized festivals, and appointing priests from tribes other than Levi (1 Kings 12:26-32). YHWH is not happy. In a simple one-to-one correspondence, we are told that Hazael of Aram is therefore able to defeat Israel repeatedly. When Jehoahaz turns to YHWH, an unnamed "savior" rescues the nation. Nevertheless, Jehoahaz's reign is assessed negatively. That darn Asherah pole (a symbol of goddess worship) is left standing in Samaria.

Joash ascends to the throne when his father, Jehoahaz, dies. He's no good either.

When the prophet Elisha is sick on his deathbed, Joash visits him. Joash, echoing Elisha's own words at the ascension of his mentor Elijah, cries "The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" Elisha has Joash shoot an arrow out the window and then strike a bundle of arrows against the ground. Joash hits the ground three times. Elisha says he should have hit the ground more. Now he will only have three victories over Aram.

Even in death, Elisha is a powerful man of God. His bones bring a dead man back to life. I wonder what the Moabite raiders thought of that.

True to Elisha's words, Joash defeats the Arameans three times and recovers some of Israel's cities.

Chapter 14 takes us back to Judah where Amaziah reigns. Amaziah is a good guy though he fails to remove the high places. He is Torah compliant. He kills his father's killers but spares their children (cf. Deuteronomy 24:16).

Why Amaziah seeks war with Joash of Israel is unclear. Maybe he was a vassal king and wanted to get out from under Joash's thumb. Joash tries to dissuade Amaziah with a dense little fable. Amaziah won't back off and suffers a devastating defeat. A portion of Jerusalem's city wall is destroyed.

Years later, Amaziah dies at the hands of conspirators.

Back up north in Israel, Jeroboam II, son of Joash, rises to the throne. He's no good either. Still, YHWH uses him to restore Israel's borders and defeat his enemies.

There is an intriguing mention of a prophet named Jonah, son of Ammitai, in connection with Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:25). Occasionally I will hear the argument put forward that, because Jonah is a historical figure in this account, then the book that bears the name of Jonah must be a historical record. This doesn't follow, of course, as anyone who has seen the movie Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter can attest. Historical figures can be incorporated into fictional stories.

Next: 2 Kings 15-17

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

2 Kings 9:1-11:21


Okay, I goofed. You caught me. When I blogged about 1 Kings 18, where Elijah was sent to anoint Hazael as king of Aram, Jehu as king of Israel, and Elisha as his prophetic successor, I said that the threatened bloodbath by these three never materializes. I don't know what I was smoking that day but, boy howdy, I blew it. I was at least 2/3 wrong. Hazael and Jehu are responsible for the spillage of red vital fluid by the bucketful. I don't think the same can be said of Elisha, but I don't want to get ahead of myself again.

In 2 Kings 10, Elisha sends one of his young colleagues to (re)anoint Jehu as king of the northern kingdom, Israel. This is assuming that Elijah did previously anoint Jehu as he was commanded. That event was not narrated.

Arguably there isa coregency at this time. Jehu is anointed king while Joram still occupies the throne. If this is a coregency, it is short-lived. Jehu musters an army and marches toward Jezreel where Joram and king Ahaziah of Judah are hanging out. The two kings come out of the city. Omitting a lot of detail (read it for yourself) Jehu kills them both. Elijah's prophecy from 1 Kings 18 comes to pass.

Next Jehu marches into Jezreel. Jezebel, Ahab's evil queen, dolls herself up and, from an upper-story window calls Jehu "Zimri." Recall that in 1 Kings 15 it was Zimri who assassinated king Elah of Israel and then ruled for one week before being overthrown by Omri. At Jehu's word, Jezebel's own eunuchs toss her out the window. Her corpse is left where it fell while Jehu has a bite to eat. After lunch, Jezebel's body is found to have been consumed by dogs. More of Elijah's prophecy from 1 Kings 18 is fulfilled.

In chapter 10, Jehu orders the death of Ahab's 70 remaining descendants. Their heads are stacked in two piles. No one of Ahab's family survives. Still more prophecy is fulfilled.

Then Jehu slaughters some of Ahaziah's kin. He makes friends with Jehonadab, a Rechabite. In Jeremiah 35 we will see that the Rehchabites are devoutYahwists who have no tolerance for things Canaanite.

After the execution of Ahaziah's family, Jehu moves on to the capitol city, Samaria. There he assembles the priests of Baal on the pretext of offering a sacrifice to their god. He kills them and turns their temple into a latrine. YHWH is pleased.

Jehu's has purified Israel's worship. Well, mostly. He doesn't remove Jeroboam's golden calves. During his 28 year reign, the Aramaens chip away at Israel's borders reducing the size of Jehu's territory.

Okay, I should probably take a second to note just how repugnant all of this is. Jehu is a fanatic. In modern parlance his actions would be condemned as ethnic cleansing. While the author(s) of 2 Kings might approve of Jehu's deeds, other writers of the Hebrew Bible would not. I do not. I don't believe that God does.

In chapter 11, we are taken back to Judah where Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah, rather than mourning her son's death, takes advantage of the situation. She tries to kill off the entire royal family but one infant, a boy named Joash is hidden from her. Athaliah becomes queen regnant of Judah. When the boy is 7 years old, the priest Jehoaida brings him out of hiding, has Athaliah killed, and puts Joash on the throne. The places of pagan worship are destroyed. For the time being, at least, Baal worship has been rooted out from Israel and Judah.

At what cost is religious purity purchased?

Next: 2 Kings 12-14

Monday, July 29, 2013

2 Kings 6:1-8:29


In his book The Language of God, Francis Collins offers a definition of miracle that I rather like. He uses three criteria, which me may have borrowed from C. S. Lewis. (I no longer own the book. Can anyone confirm or deny this?)

  • First, a miracle must defy the laws of nature.
  • Second, a miracle must be a rare occurence.
  • Third, a miracle must be significant. It must mean something. It should reveal something of God's nature.
The story of the floating axe head (2 Kings 6:1-7) is cool. It certainly meets the first two criteria but I think it fails on the third. Let's face it, this is more of a magic trick than a miracle. I'd like to see it happen. I'm just not sure it says anything meaningful about God.

The next story in the Elisha cycle has Elisha eavesdropping by some remote cognition on the plans of the Aramaen king and his army. This one I think has a better claim to miracle status. The significance is that God favors Israel and, God is generous even to enemies. There are wonderful comic touches in the blind Aramaen soldiers being led into the heart of the capitol and being treated to a feast. "The Aramaens no longer came raiding into the land of Israel (2 Kings 6:23)" at least temporarily.

In the very next verse king Ben-Hadad of Aram beseiges the city of Samaria. Ancient cities were surrounded by walls. The walls provided protection for the citizens but also made seige possible. An enemy army could surround the city, blocking its entrances and exits. Supplied from the outside, the beseigers only needed to wait until conditions in the city deteriorated into hard-to-imagine horror.

Prices for even barely-edible foodstuffs within Samaria are outrageous. Eighty shekels of silver for a donkey's head; five shekels for a cup of dove's dung. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think that kosher law considers either of these things clean.

I know that cannibalism is not lawful. When, in a scene that grimly echoes Solomon's episode in 1 Kings 3, the king of Israel learns of two women who are squabbling over eating a baby, he tears his clothes in grief revealing the sackcloth of repentance he wears underneath. I guess the king needed to blame someone. He sends a messenger to execute the prophet Elisha. Either the king or, in the Hebrew text, his messenger despairs of help from YHWH.

In chapter 7 Elisha predicts that the seige will end the following day. Prices for good foodstuffs will be ridiculously low. The messenger won't live to see it.

YHWH intervenes. The Aramaens abandon their camps in fear.

Some lepers, whose condition puts them outside the city gates, decide that their only hope is to surrender to the Aramaens. They find the camp empty and, after squirrelling a few things away for themselves, inform the people of Samaria. As the Samaritan citizens rush out to loot the Aramaen camp, the messenger is trampled to death.

Elisha is proved right on every count. YHWH is vindicated.

 In chapter 8 we hear more about the Shunnamite woman who befriended Elisha. That Gehazi, who was a leper last we knew, stands before the king suggests that this story is out of sequence.

In a reversal of Ahaziah's actions in 2 Kings 1, when Ben-Hadad of Aram falls ill he sends Hazael (whom Elijah anointed to be king in Ben-Hadad's stead) to ask YWHW, through Elisha, whether he will recover. There is good news and bad news. The good news: Ben-Hadad will recover. The bad news: Hazael smothers him in his bed.

There is a wonderful scene in which Elisha stares long at Hazael and weeps for the evil he will do to Israel. Hazael assumes the throne of Aram.

Meanwhile, down in Judah,  Jehoram becomes king. He's not much good. He marries one of Ahab's daughters and loses control over some of Judah's vassal states.

After Jehoram, Azariah ascends to Judah's throne. He's not much good either. He too marries a daughter of Ahab. Still, YHWH favors Judah for the sake of king David.

Next: 2 Kings 9-11

Sunday, July 28, 2013

2 Kings 4:1-5:27


The acorn does not fall far from the tree. Elisha is a lot like his predecessor, and that is the point of much of 2 Kings 4. The chapter opens with a story in which Elisha performs a miracle of multiplication for a widow, much as Elijah did in 1 Kings 17. Then Elisha raises a bereaved woman's only son from the dead, again much as Elijah did in 1 Kings 17.

The story of the Shunnamite woman's son is full of pathos and drama. I remember hearing it read in a church service at a university chapel some years ago. The lector was a drama student who, I'm sorry to say, chewed the scenery a bit. I can still hear his stentorian voice emphasizing and enunciating every word. "And the lad sneezed! (Pause for effect). Seven times!" It took a great effort of will not to break out laughing.

Elisha is also a lot like Moses. So, as we noted, was Elijah. In Deuteronomy 18 Moses promised that there would be a prophet like himself.  As Moses fed the Israelites in the wilderness, so Elisha feeds a company of 100 prophets. Jesus will also perform miracles of feeding in the Gospels.

Other biblical themes play through this chapter as well. The Shunnamite woman's inability to have children is reminiscent of the stories of Sarah, Hannah, and other "barren" women.

Chapter 5 is taken up by the story of Naaman, the general of Aram's army, a powerful man who is brought low by a skin disease. Repeatedly, and comically, the powerful Naaman is humbled in this narrative. He takes advice from a slave girl. Elisha won't even come out to meet him. He is sent to wash in the Jordan, a river he thinks is inferior to his home waterways. In the end he is both cleansed of his leprosy and converted to the worship of Israel's God. Elisha seemingly grants Naaman permission to participate in the worship of Rimmon (the god of Aram?) as a political expediency.

The point to all of this is that YHWH is superior to the gods of other nations. By extension Israel and Judah are superior to other nations.

Although Elisha will not accept payment for Naaman's healing, his servant Gehazi pursues Naaman to request gifts. As a result, Gehazi is struck with an incurable leprosy that will pass also to his descendants.

Elisha is a non-profit prophet.

Sorry. I couldn't resist.

Next: 2 Kings 6-8

Saturday, July 27, 2013

2 Kings 1:1-3:27


Note: In these chapters there are two kings who have the same Hebrew name. To avoid confusion I will follow the NIV's convention of referring to the king of Judah as Jehoram and the king of Israel as Joram.

A doctrine of biblical inerrancy is nonsense.

The teaching that the Bible (by which is usually meant the 66 books of the Protestant canon) is without error or contradiction is, at best, a self-deceptive wishful thinking and, at worst, a dangerous intellectually dishonest denial of reality.

It would be nice to have an inerrant Bible, a reference book full of facts and answers. Take it down off the shelf, find the right verse for whatever question troubles you, et voila, God's will is revealed in black and white. Unfortunately the Bible doesn't work that way. There are not only contradictory verses in the Bible, there are contradictory voices. The book of Deuteronomy and the book of Job have different views of God.

I think that this is actually some of the beauty of the Bible. It does not dictate a single point of view or a single course of action. Instead it invites us to engage our brains, our hearts, our spirits, our moral sensibilities. The Bible brings us into a conversation about God and with God. The Bible, someone tweeted recently, is not an instruction book; it's a wrestling mat.

 I don't think it's going too far to say that the Bible's errors and contradictions are there by some divine intent, to keep us from making an idol of the book, to remind us of the nature of Scripture, to make us think.

Of course you may hold to a doctrine of inerrancy if you wish. But doing so requires that you explain the many little discrepencies like the one found in 2 Kings 1:17b:

Because Ahaziah had no son, Joram succeeded him in the second year of Jehoram son of Jehoshaphat king of Judah.

and 2 Kings 3:1:

Joram son of Ahab became king of Israel in Samaria in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah and he reigned twelve years.

This is a simple contradiction of fact. It is not terribly important, of course, but it is an error. A Bible with even a small error is not inerrant.

I know that some inerrantists say that the Bible is without error or contradiction only in the autographs that is the writers' original manuscript. This isn't really helpful. First, we do not have the autographs, therefore we do not have an inerrant Bible. This makes a doctrine of inerrancy useless. Second, we have no way of knowing what the autographs actually said. Therefore their inerrancy can neither be proven nor falsified.

There is, of course, an explanation for the discrepancy between 2 Kings 1:17 and 2 Kings 3:1. Creative people committed to the idea that the Bible is inerrant can always come up with an explanation and, in a case where the contradiction occurs within just a page or two, they need to. The question is always how plausible, how likely, how convincing the explanations are. In this case, the contradiction is usually resolved by invoking the notion of coregency.

Coregency occurs when more than one king rules a nation at the same time. We've actually had an instance of coregency in our reading of 1 Kings 16:21. Tibni and Omri were both kings in Israel at that time. I think that there are three factors that differentiate that situation from the problem of when Joram's reign began. First, Tibni and Omri were more rivals than coregents. Second, the nation was divided between these two kings, a circumstance that does not occur here. Third, the text explicitly notes that there were multiple kings.

I suppose that the case of Solomon and David in 1 Kings 1-2 was a coregency, though the narrative suggests that David, nearing death, actually abdicated to his son.

In 2 Kings 15 we will read about Jotham who "took care of the palace" when Azariah was incapacitated with a skin disease. Whether this is actually a coregency is an open question. Jotham does take the throne when Azariah dies. Again, this situation is made explicit in the text.

Actually coregency is a descriptive term and not an explanation at all. Coregency simply means that there were two kings. It doesn't explain why there were two kings. Invoking the concept of coregency gives a name to a situation where, in the timeline of 1-2 Kings, reigns seem to overlap doesn't really increase our knowledge.

Whether the idea of coregency represents an actual situation in ancient Israel and Judah is not clear. It seems to provide a neat way around some discrepancies in the timeline of the books of Kings. Is it too neat? I rather think so. It is a postulate made necessary only by the assumption that the Bible is inerrant. It reads a lot into the text that is not otherwise explicit. (I'm a Lutheran. I'm all about the plain meaning of the text).

One of the things that keeps me from being an inerrantist is the constant need to resort to this sort of explanation.

But back to the story in progress...

When King Ahaziah of Israel is injured, he sends messengers to Ekron to consult Baal-zebub (literally, "The Lord of the Flies," probably a deliberate mocking mispronunciation of Baal zedbul, "Prince Baal"). The messengers are intercepted by a hairy man wearing a leather belt. This is the only description we have of Elijah's appearance. The same description will be applied to John the Baptist in the Gospels. Elijah says that Ahaziah will die. When the king sends troops to fetch Elijah, the prophet calls down fire and kills 100 soldiers. He is powerful, but not terribly nice. Eventually he goes to Azariah and repeats his condemnation. Azariah dies and is succeeded by Joram.

In the second chapter of 2 Kings, Elijah departs this world in a heavenly chariot pulled by flaming horses. This unusual exit, this bodily conveyence to heaven, will play a role in the story of Jesus' transfiguration. Both Elijah and Elisha cause the Jordan river to part, echoing the stories of Joshua parting the same river and Moses parting the Red Sea. Elisha receives a "double portion" of Elijah's power, not twice as much as Elijah had but the share of an inheritance given to the firstborn son.

Like his mentor, Elisha is not to be messed with. He can make poison water sweet. Forty-two boys are mauled by bears for making fun of his baldness. No "sticks and stones can break my bones" here. The punishment seems extreme, but I think this is another way of saying that Elisha is powerful. Elijah and Elisha were warrior prophets.

Joram, king of Israel is no good. He' may not be bad as Ahab, but he's no better than Jeroboam. Ahab was the high-water mark of monarchical depravity in Israel.

When the vassal king of Moab rebels against Israel, Joram joins forces with Jehoshaphat of Judah and the king of Edom in a war. Low on water, the kings consult with Elisha concerning whether to continue against Moab. Elisha shows utter disdain for Joram but, for the sake of Jehoshaphat, and because YHWH loves David's dynasty, Elisha prophesies. Water will be provided. Moab will be defeated.

There is so much water that, when it shines red in the light of dawn, the Moabites think that it is blood. Assuming that the kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom have had a falling out and their armies have slaughtered one another, the Moabites rush to plunder the supposed battlefield. The Moabites are routed. To the horror of YHWH's people, the king of Moab sacrifices his own son.

Apparently music helps Elisha prophecy. Does he lapse into a trance? I wonder.

Next: 2 Kings 4-5

Friday, July 26, 2013

1 Kings 21:1-22:53


When last seen King Ahab of Israel was in a sullen mood over having been scolded for his kindness to the defeated king Ben-hadad of Aram. In chapter 21, we find him sulking again, this time because a neighbor, Naboth, won't sell him a vineyard even though Ahab has made a fair offer. Generous, even. That family property was important in ancient Israel, not to be sold, and even to be returned to the family in the Jubilee year has been established. We can't fault Naboth for his refusal to sell. 

Apart from an irritable nature, The character of Ahab is not always portrayed consistently. Did the final redactor of 1 Kings use different sources? Though he is an idolator and evil without precedent, Ahab is also the recipient of YHWH's blessings in warfare, what is more, YHWH heeds, to some extent, Ahab's repentance. He is sometimes portrayed as weak and indecisive. Rhetorically, this shifts the blame for his wicked ways to Jezebel, his queen. 

Jezebel gets less press than Ahab, but she is consistently portrayed. Jezebel is a thoroughgoing idolator, decisive, and evil to the core. When she finds Ahab moping over the vineyard, Jezebel takes charge. She arranges for two false witnesses to accuse Naboth of blasphemy and treason, capitol offenses. Recall that the Torah requires the testimony of "two or three witnesses" for a guilty verdict. Oh, yeah, it also prohibits perjury. The upshot of all this: innocent Naboth is stoned to death.  Ahab gets the vineyard. 

If Ahab is happy at last the text does not say. Nor could his pleasure have been long-lived. He is summarily confronted by the prophet Elijah who pronounces judgment. Ahab will die on the same spot as Naboth. Jezebel, too, is doomed. Ahab's dynasty will come to a violent end. At this, Ahab does a full garment-ripping, sackcloth-and-ashes repentance. YHWH relents, a little. Judgment will be deferred one generation.  

The last chapter of 1 Kings begins with an odd narrative. Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, comes on the scene with no introduction. Ahab (assuming it is Ahab) is referred to only as "the king of Israel." Surely this story is inserted from another source. At any rate, Jehoshaphat and the king of Israel form an alliance to take Ramoth-gilead (one of the cities of refuge) back from the unnamed (Ben-hadad) king of Aram. 

At Jehoshaphat's insistence, they consult 400 prophets of YHWH. Knowing that the books of Kings favor the southern kingdom, it is notable, but not surprising, that the king of Judah is yhe one to seek YHWH's will. All 400 prophets concur. Ahab should attack and be victorious. One of them, Zedekiah by name, illustrates the point with a pair of iron horns. For some reason Jehoshaphat wants one more prophetic opinion. A prophet named Micaiah is summoned. He, reluctantly, gives the straight story. YHWH commissioned a "lying spirit" to deceive the 400 prophets so that Ahab will die in battle. 

Those who say that the Bible is God's inerrant word and that God doesn't deceive have some 'splainimg to do. This is a tough one to spin positively. Does one need to accept every word of every biblical author as factual, or even revelatory of God's true nature, to be a Christian? I would say not. 

Ainyway, Micaiah gets slapped and thrown into jail. By story's end it appears that, because he was right, he will never get out. 

Despite the fact that he goesninto battle in disguise, the king of Idrael is shot with a random arrow and, by days end, bleeds to death. The dogs lick up his blood and yhe prostitutes bathe in it and may I just say "Ick!"

Ahaziah succeeds Ahab as king of Israel. 

We finally get a proper introduction to king Jehoshaphat of Judah who did right by YHWH, even getting rid of those darn "consecrated workers." His only flaw is a failure to close the shrines. The ancient Israelites and Judahites were not, it seems, good sailors. 

1 Kings ends with a note about Ahaziah of Israel. He was no good. We'll hear more about him. 

Next: 2 Kings 1-3

Thursday, July 25, 2013

1 Kings 18:1-20:43


Senator Barry Goldwater famously said, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." The prophet Elijah seems to feel the same way about the defense of Yahwism. Ancient Yahwism, the worship of YHWH is the distant ancestor, red in tooth and claw, of modern Judaism,Christianity, and Islam. These three monotheistic religions still have extremists among their adherents though, I hope, most of us have evolved from the days of Elijah. 

Parts of the Bible are belligerent,  exclusivistic, and absolutist. Other parts are irenic, inclusivistic, and welcoming. I will let you decide for yourself to which camp this passage belongs and whether that is a good thing. I believe that the Bible invites us into a conversation about God. In open conversation, we are free to disagree. 
In 1 Kings 18 Elijah returns to Israel to announce the end of a three year drought. He has a conversation with Obadiah, King Ahab's chief of staff. Obadiah sheltered 100 prophets of YHWH from queen Jezebel. Long story short, Ahab comes to meet Elijah on Mt. Carmel. Notice who holds power here. On the mountain, in the presence of the assembled Israelites, Elijah, YHWH's lone prophet (what happened to the 100 Obadiah hid?) challenges the 850 pagan prophets of Baal and Asherah to a contest. 

The terms are simple: two altars are built. Two sacrifices are prepared. The true deity can send fire to claim the offering. 

The pagans go first. They pray, do a limping dance, and mutilate themselves to no avail. Elijah mocks. 

When Elijah's turn comes, he ups the ante by having his altar soaked with water. Where he got all that water after 3 years of drought goes unexplained. Elijah prays briefly. Fire comes down. Contest over. 

Elijah is not a magnanimous victor. He has the people, now all filled with YHWH fever, kill the 850 pagan prophets. It had to be a bloodbath.

After a bit of business which sets Ahab to feasting and has Elijah bowing and watching, a rain cloud forms. Ahab goes by chariot to Jezreel, 17 miles from Mt. Carmel. Elijah, on foot, outruns him. 

In chapter 19, Jezebel learns the fate of her 850 pet prophets. Angry, she vows to have Elijah killed. Elijah, in spite of the recent miraculous victory, goes on the lam. 

In a story that loudly echoes Moses and the Exodus, Elijah heads for a theophany on Mt. Horeb, a.k.a. Sinai. He travels 40(!) days and is sustained with miraculous food in the desert. Finally at Horeb, he complains that he is the last faithful servant of YHWH (Again, Obadiah? The hundred hidden prophets?). 

In an incredibly cool, mystical moment in an otherwise bloody and action-packed tale, YHWH reveals himself to Elijah, not in fire, wind, or earthquake, but in a still, small voice, a gentle whisper, a vapor, a silence. 

YHWH assures Elijah that his job isn't done. There are kings to anoint, a successor to inaugurate, and blood left to spill. (The promised slaughter by Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha never really materializes). There are 7,000 faithful Yahwists left in Israel. 

Elijah throws his mantle on Elisha and an idiom is born. Elisha, apparently a wealthy farmer (12 yokes of oxen plowing!) breaks all ties with his past and joins Elijah. 

Chapter 20 tells of war between king Ben-hadad of Aram and Ahab. There are two nameless prophets in this chapter. The first advises Ahab on tactics. YHWH grants Ahab victory not once, but twice. The Arameans misunderstand and underestimate--they misunderestimate--YHWH. The language of ancient international politics and warfare is kind of fun to read.

The second nameless prophet, in one of those great enacted parables, convicts Ahab of doing wrong in making up with Ben-hadad after the fighting ceased. Should've killed him. YHWH is not a gracious winner in these chapters. 

By the way, if a prophet ever asks you to hit him...pop him good.     

<i>Next:1 Kings 21-22</i>

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

1 Kings 15:1-17:24


The books of Kings give brief descriptions of the reigns of the monarchs of Israel and Judah. Said monarchs seem to be constantly at war with one another. These books also take time to tell, at some length, the stories of the prophet Elijah and his similarly named protege Elisha who were active in Israel. 

King Abijam's reign in Judah is brief. He is as bad as his father Rehoboam. Still, YHWH favors Judah for David's sake. YHWH really liked that guy. And why not? David always did right by YHWH "except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite." (I love that little editorial aside in 1Kings 15:5).

Abijam is succeeded by Asa who is a stand-up guy. He removes the "consecrated workers" from Judah. Some translations call them "male temple prostitutes" but I think no one is quite sure what they really were. Asa even removes his grandmother from her role as queen because of her idolatries. The only thing Asa does wrong: he fails to remove those pesky "high places."

Up in Israel king Nadab tules for 2 years before he is overthrown by Baasha. Thus ends Jeroboam's dynasty. Baasha is evil. According to a prophet named Jehu, his line will end up like Jeroboam's. so, it is no surprise when Baasha's successor son, Elah is overthrown by Zimri. 

Zimri sits on Israel's throne only one week before dying as a suicide during a military coup by Omri. Israel is briefly divided between rival kings Omri and Tibni. Tibni's death puts the kingdom in Omri's evil hands alone. Omri establishes the cit of Samaria as Israel's capitol before his death. His son Ahab ascends to the throne. 

Ahab takes the kingship of Israel to new depths of depravity. He marries a Sidonian princess whose name has become synonymous with feminine evil: Jezebel. Together they worship, and encourage ne worship, of foreign gods, rivals to YHWH, idols.

Cue Elijah. 

But before Elijah's sudden entrance, we note that during Ahab's reign Hiel rebuilds the city of Jericho. It costs him the lives of his eldest and youngest sons. Were they human sacrifices? It isn't quite clear. The Hebrew Bible can be reticent about such things. Revisit the story of Jjephthah's daughter (Judges 11)  for another example of this.  At any rate this fulfills the curse that Joshua pronounced (Joshua 6:26). 

Elijah comes on stage unannounced. He tells Ahab that a bad drought is coming. Then he goes to hide out at a brook where YHWH, with the help of some ravens, provides for him. When the brook runs dry Elijah moves in with a gentile widow and her son at Zarephath. They form a little community of trust. YHWH provides for all three. When the boy dies, Elijah invokes YHWH to raise him. 

These scenes will re-echo in the stories of Elisha and Jesus. Jesus will also invoke the story of the widow of Zarephath in Luke 4:26. 

Today's take-away: Elijah is powerful. YHWH is powerful. 

Next: 1 Kings 18-20

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

1 Kings 12:1-14:31


Solomon is dead. Rehoboam is heir apparent to the throne. Israel gathers at Shechem for the coronation. They have one request. "Lighten our labor and we will serve you." Apparently it was not just the Canaanites whom Solomon pressed into labor after all. Somewhere in the editing process, someone wanted to improve Solomon's reputation by denying that he impressed his fellow Israelites into forced labor. In the end, it appears that Solomon was a cruel taskmaster.

 In the narrative present, Rehoboam listens to bad advice. His young advisors tell him to say to Israel "My little finger is thicker than my father's...." Some translations take a cowardly though correct way out and render the word as "waist." Others go with the better, though rather obscure, "loins." The truth is. his advisers tell Rehoboam to assert, in a perfectly vulgar way, that he is a bigger man (wink, nudge) than Solomon was. To be blunt, they want him to tell Israel that his pinky is girthier than his old man's penis. And Solomon, with his 1000 wives and concubines, was quite the stud. 

This, by the way, explains why a man's children are called the "fruit of his loins." 

Meanwhile, Jeroboam has returned. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Israelites reject Rehoboam's offer of harder labor and harsher punishment. Ten tribes secede. Their rallying cry, "To your tents, O Israel" echoes the story of Sheba's rebellion from 2 Samuel 20. From now on "Israel" will refer to the northern kingdom (though not exclusively). The southern kingdom will be known as Judah. As predicted, Jeroboam becomes Israel's king. 

The secessionists assassinate Rehoboam's officer in charge of forced labor. Rehoboam retreats and then musters his troops. A prophet named Shemiah advises against war and Rehoboam stands down. 

In the north, Jeroboam, worried that, because the temple is in Jerusalem his subjects will be drawn toward Judah, builds a couple of worship sites in Israel complete with (ominous chord) golden calves. He even says "Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of Egypt" as Aaron did in Exodus 34. 

Here is a good place to note a theological point and a political point. Theologically, the author(s) of 1-2 Kings think idolatry is a Very Bad Thing with Horrible Consequences. Politically, they favor Judah, Jerusalem, and David's dynasty. 

Chapter 13 tells the curious story of a Judahite prophet who speaks against Jeroboam's altar at Bethel. He "foretells" the rise of a Judahite king named Josiah who will come along in about 300 years. The scare quotes indicate that this story was written after the fact. Among the odd events of this tale: Jeroboam's hand withers and is restored, an Israelite prophet deceives the Judahite prophet into breaking a vow, a lion kills the southerner but does not eat him, and the northerner buries the man in his own grave. 

In spite of the deal with his hand, Jeroboam is undeterred in his idolatrous ways. 

When Jeroboam's son Abijah takes ill, the king sends his wife, in a needless and ineffective disguise, to consult a prophet in Shiloh. The prophet's news is not encouraging. Every man in Israel will be killed, the nation destroyed, and the people scattered.

Oh, and the boy dies. 

Down in Judah, the people are getting all idolatrous. Egypt steals the gold shields that Solomon made. Rehoboam replaces them with bronze replicas. Things ain't what they once was. Rehoboam is succeeded by his son Abijam. 

Ahijah, Abijah, can be tricky keeping all these names straight. 

<i>Next: 1 Kings 15-17</i>

Friday, July 12, 2013

Thursday, July 11, 2013

1 Kings 10:1-11:43


When the queen of Sheba hears of Solomon's wealth an wisdom, she comes to check him out. Whether there was a king of Sheba (or whether she was queen regnant) no one knows. Nor are we quite sure where Sheba was. Modern Yemen is a leading contender. Ethiopians like to claim that the queen came from their land. Oh, and she was impregnated by Solomon and that emporer Haile Selassie I, the "Lion of the Tribe of Judah," was a descendant of Solomon. Rastafarians claim that he was God incarnate.

All of which takes us afield of the passage at hand.

Let's just say that the queen was overwhelmed by what she saw. She brought large quantities of gold, jewels, and spices as gifts. Israel knows unprecedented material wealth in Solomon's day.

The "splendor of Solomon" was a byword that Jesus could use as a negative comparison to the beauty with which God adorns the "lilies of the field" (Matthew 6:28 ff.).

But we learn in chapter 11 that all is not well. Solomon loves many foreign women. To accommodate his many brides and concubines, he builds shrines to foreign gods: Astarte, Chemosh, Molech, and Milcom. YHWH, being by his own admission a "jealous god" (Exodus 20:5 et al.) is none to happy with this. YHWH tells Solomon that he will take most of the kingdom away from him. For David's sake (because David was such a sterling character) YHWH will not divide the kingdom until after Solomon's death.

Solomon has a few enemies. Hadad the Edomite holds a grudge because Joab killed a lot of his kin back in David's day. Rezon, son of Eliada, is the leader of a rebel band. And then there's Jeroboam.

Jeroboam is in charge of Solomon's forced laborers. A prophet named Ahijah is out walking with Jeroboam one day. Ahijah takes off his new cloak and, in one of those object lessons that Israel's prophets were so good at, tears it into 12 pieces. YHWH, Ahijah says, is about to tear Israel apart. Ten tribes will belong to Jeroboam. David's dynasty will have only one tribe, Judah,  left to rule. Solomon, wisely I suppose, tries to eliminate this rival. Jeroboam, also wisely, runs off to Egypt. He'll be back.

Solomon dies. Untold details of his story can be found in the Book of the Acts of Solomon (1 Kings 11:41). If we could only find that book. Solomon's son Rehoboam takes the throne.

The institution of monarchy gets mixed reviews in the Hebrew Bible. Neither YHWH nor Samuel wanted Israel to have a king in the first place. Saul's reign was a flop. David, for all his human foibles, is remembered as a great king. But, oy, those foibles! Solomon was wise and brought great wealth to Israel. Too bad about him marrying those foreign women and worshiping those foreign gods. Can't say we weren't warned though (Deuteronomy 17:17).

We are at the start of another cycle of entropy. Each of the kings of Israel and Judah will be, with limited exceptions, worse than their predecessors.

Next: 1 Kings 12-14

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

1 Kings 8:1-9:28


The temple is complete. Solomon assembles the people. The ark of the covenant is brought up from the section of Jerusalem called "the city of David" and is placed, permanently, in the new worship facility. As happened at the dedication of the tabernacle in Exodus 40, the cloud of YHWH's glory descends upon the temple.

At 8:7 there is mention that the poles of the ark are still visible in the temple "to this day." This would be an important clue toward dating the composition of 1 Kings were one so inclined.

At the beginning of chapter 8 it is said that Solomon offers innumerable animal sacrifices. At the end of the chapter he adds another 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep to the total. The festival last a week, if your believe the Septuagint, or two, if you take the Masoretic text's word for it.

Solomon addresses the people, reminding them of the history behind the construction of the temple. Then he gets to his knees and offers a lengthy prayer. Solomon recognizes that the God of heaven and earth cannot be contained in a building. this is an expansive view of YHWH not shared by all of the Scriptures. Solomon asks YHWH's forgiveness for sinners, both individuals and Israel as a community, who turn toward the temple. Interestingly, he also prays for foreigners who turn toward YHWH's temple. The prayer ends with a petition for those who will be exiled to foreign lands. In narrative time this is a prescient request. It may also be another important clue as to the date of 1 Kings.

In chapter 9 YHWH appears to Solomon for a second time. (The first time was back in chapter 3). God issues a trenchant warning: Have no other gods or YHWH will abandon the temple. Solomon, and then all of Israel, will go after other gods. The temple will be destroyed.

There is an odd event. Solomon gives his old friend King Hiram of Tyre a gift of 20 cities as a return for his help in building the temple. Hiram is not happy with the gift. The cities of Northeast Galilee must not have amounted to much. Hiram calls the area "Cabul" which means something like "good for nothing."

My concerns that Solomon conscripted Israelites into forced labor are allayed at 9:20 ff.  where we read that Solomon only enslaved the Canaanites who remained in the land.

At 9:24 we learn that Solomon built the Millo which seems odd since it was mentioned in the story of David at 2 Samuel 5:9. Maybe he rebuilt it? Maybe the author got the facts confused?

At the end of chapter 9 we learn that Solomon has gone into the shipping business with Hiram of Tyre. It is profitable. It has to be profitable to support Solomon's lavish lifestyle.

Next: 1 Kings 10-11

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

1 Kings 6:1-7:51


In the passage at hand Solomon builds YHWH's temple in Jerusalem. YHWH's traveling days are over. No longer will the Lord live in a nomad's tent. YHWH has a permanent address.

The temple is described in great detail. Some of the specifics are cool. Others are mysterious and weird. The building blocks were all quarry-dressed. The sounds of metal tools are not heard at the temple site. Two bronze pillars named Boaz and Jachin front the place. The "Sea" is a huge water basin supported by 12 bronze oxen. It holds 11,000 gallons of water. Its exact purpose is unspecified, though ritual washing seems likely.

The bronze work was all done by a Tyrian man named Hiram (or "Huram" in some translations). He is not the same as King Hiram who supplied the materials for the construction.

The temple must have been magnificent. It took 7 years to build. Solomon also had a palace built for himself. That took 13 years. Oh, and he had another built for his Egyptian princess wife.That may say something about how YHWH rates....

With the temple completed Israel's politico-religious complex is firmly established.

The artifact pictured above is an ivory pomegranate that some believe may be the only known relic from Solomon's temple. Others believe that it is a fake.

Next: 1 Kings 8-9

Sunday, July 7, 2013

1 Kings 3:1-5:18


After all the machinations and bloodshed, Solomon's throne is secure. Solomon takes the first of many wives, an Egyptian princess showing some foreign relations savvy.
In 1 Kings 3, Solomon goes to one of Israel's "high places" at Gibeon. The high places are worship sites which, after the temple is constructed, will be an ongoing problem. Their unauthorized worship is often associated with paganism. At this point in the ongoing story, with the temple still a future reality, there is no negative sense to worship at the high places.

In a dream, YHWH offers Solomon his choice of gifts. Solomon asks for wisdom and is rewarded with riches and honor as well. Solomon's name is associated with wisdom the way that David's is associated with music. His wisdom is illustrated with a well-known story in which, to determine which of two women is an infant's real mother, he proposes to cut the child in half. The real mother, of course, will do anything to spare her child, even if it means giving the baby to her rival. It's a great story and has been told with countless variations ("Kill us both, Spock!"). That I can imagine different outcomes may say more about me than about Solomon.

Chapter 4 describes Solomon's administration. He levies taxes against his subjects and puts men to forced labor. Still, they are happy and prosperous. Or so we are told.

Solomon wisdom includes knowledge of the natural world. He can expound on the subjects of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish. The wisdom tradition is important in the Hebrew Bible. It produced the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. Among other things, the Hebrew wisdom tradition shows an interest in nature.

In chapter 5, king David's old friend Hiram of Tyre renews relations with Solomon's court. Hiram will provide Solomon with the materials needed to build the temple. When David wanted to build a temple, he was told no. YHWH would build David a house, a dynasty, instead (2 Samuel 7). 1 Kings 5:3 gives an alternate explanation for David's failure to build a temple. He was too busy fighting wars.

Next: 1 Kings 6-7

Saturday, July 6, 2013

1 Kings 1:1-2:46


David, son of Jesse, the bold youth, mighty warrior, and great king is made rather pitiable by old age. Death mocks us all.

When the king is unable to keep warm, his servants recruit a new woman for his harem, a beautiful Shunnamite woman named Abishag. She serves as a kind of human bed warmer. David, we are pointedly told, sleeps with her but does not sleep with her (Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink. Say no more). The king's sexual prowess has abated.

As is typical for women in these biblical narratives, no one asks Abishag how she feels about the arrangement. On the other hand, Bathsheba, the wife David stole from Uriah the Hittite, shows signs of agency in these early chapters of 1 Kings.

A little background: There was a list of David's sons back in 2 Samuel 3. Amnon, David's firstborn is dead, murdered by his half-brother Absalom in revenge for the rape of Tamar. The second son, Chileab, is out of the picture. He is mentioned only once in Scripture. What became of him? No one knows. Absalom, the third born, and the only son with a royal mother is also dead, killed in war by David's unpredictable general Joab (a fact of which David is apparently unaware). Adonijah is the name of David's fourth son.

With the king enfeebled, Adonijah, backed by Joab and the priest Abiathar, makes a play for the throne. Bathsheba conspires with the prophet Nathan to have David declare her own son, Solomon, king instead. Did David really promise the throne to Solomon or is this a lie?

Is this another case of the youngest son triumphing as we see so often in Scripture?

Whatever the case, Solomon ascends to the throne and Adonijah cowers, taking sanctuary at YHWH's altar.

Though we read David's last words back in 2 Samuel 23, he has more to say in 1 Kings 2. In 2 Samuel David's last words were a psalm of praise to YHWH for his "everlasting covenant." David's last words here, in narrative chronology, are an admonition to Solomon to be faithful to YHWH, to reward David's supporter Barzillai, and to take revenge on David's enemy Shimei, and  his betrayer Joab.

After David's death, Adonijah--through Bathsheba--requests a favor of Solomon. He wants to marry David's beautiful, virgin concubine Abishag. Having sex with another man's woman asserts one's superiority over that other man. Solomon has Adonijah put to death in spite of the fact that Adonijah has sought sanctuary at YHWH's altar.

Abiathar the priest, who supported Adonijah's bid for the throne, is removed from office. Shimei is placed under house arrest. When he breaks the terms of his arrest he is executed.

Violence and palace intrigue mark the beginning of 1 Kings. God is good, but politics is dirty business.

Next: 1 Kings 3-5

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Our Story So Far...

I always appreciate it when a television show with a serialized storyline opens with a refresher of salient moments from earlier shows. "Previously on Lost...."

Okay. Lost may not be the best example to use since it abandoned its own continuity with alarming frequency and the show's ending completely copped out on the serialized story. So let's say "Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer...." That's better.

Anyway, in 101 days I have read 10 books of the Bible in their entirety and, if you've been reading along, so have you. It might be useful at this point to review where we've been.

To begin at the beginning, in a mythic prehistory, YHWH, the God of Israel created everything. The first man and woman he put in a garden and everything was hunky-dory until the humans got willful and were kicked out of the garden. Life became more difficult.

In the second human generation, murder was invented. That didn't take long. A few more generations and violence, rapine, and deceit were everywhere. YHWH decided to wash it all away and start over with the family of the only righteous person left. Noah, his kin, and representative animals of every kind were saved from the world-wide deluge.

Once again it didn't take long for things to go south. When humans attempted to scale heaven, YHWH thwarted them by confusing their languages. National divisions were born.

Now, in mythic history, YWHW chooses Abraham and his wife Sarah to be the progenitors of YHWH's special nation. Abraham and Sarah go to live as resident aliens in Canaan. YHWH promises that their descendants will one day own this land. After a long delay, and a couple of false starts, Abraham and Sarah have a son, Isaac. Isaac doesn't do much, but he does marry a woman named Rebekah. They have two sons, Esau and Jacob. It is through Jacob, the younger, that YHWH's covenants will be fulfilled. Jacob cheats his older brother repeatedly, is cheated by his uncle, acquires 2 wives and 2 concubines, has 12 sons, wrestles with YHWH, gets a new name: Israel. Israel's 12 boys become the ancestors of 12 tribes. One of the boys, Joseph, goes to Egypt and becomes a highly placed government official. He brings the rest of the family to Egypt with him.

There were a couple of important family reconciliations in there that I've skimmed right past.

After a few more generations, the numerous offspring of Israel's sons have become slaves in Egypt. YHWH sends Moses, an Israelite who was raised as an Egyptian, to liberate the people. Amid signs and wonders, with a strong right arm and an outstretched hand, YHWH brings the slaves out of Egypt and institutes the festival of Passover. In the wilderness, YHWH gives the Israselites his laws. Lots of laws. YHWH also instructs them to build the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant. The Israelites are rebellious and YHWH decides that the first generation to leave Egypt will not be allowed to enter the land of Canaan. They travel for 40 years in the wilderness.

After Moses' death, Joshua leads the Israelites in their conquest of Canaan. Their conquest is only partial, however, as they fail to kill off all of the land's inhabitants.

At first the Israelites live in their new land as a loose confederation of tribes led, as necessary, by charismatic "judges." It starts out well enough with leaders like Ehud and Deborah, but after a while Israel is judged by people like Jephthah who, because of a rash vow, kills his own daughter, and Samson, who is, frankly, an over-sexed dope. By the end of the book of Judges, Israel has devolved into a state of civil war. The people are crying out for a king such as other nations have.

The story of Ruth, set in the time of the Judges, interrupts the main narrative with a romantic interlude.

Samuel, the last of the judges, anoints Israel's first two kings. Neither Samuel himself nor YHWH are truly in favor of the monarchical enterprise, but they give the people what they want.

The first king, Saul, is faithless and indecisive. YHWH abandons him. He ends his life as a battlefield suicide. He does not establish a dynasty.

The second king, David, is a handsome, gifted, warrior-leader and something of a ladies' man. He establishes his capital at Jerusalem and moves the ark of the covenant there,  making it Israel's center of political administration and worship. Overall David's reign is judged positively but it is not without its problems, palace intrigues, and family dysfunction. Notably, there is a certain matter involving adultery and murder.

There is a pattern of cyclical entropy that runs through this narrative. It will continue through the two books of Kings. YHWH tries something, reaching out to his human creation. Things start out well but soon devolve into a chaotic state. So, YHWH tries again....

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

2 Samuel 22:1-24:25


As we come to the conclusion of 2 Samuel, we  find an assortment of odds and ends.

Songs bracket the books of Samuel. We read Hannah's song of praise in 1 Samuel 2. In 2 Samuel 22 and 23, we have two songs of David. The first is a psalm in which David expresses gratitude for deliverance he was given by Israel's sovereign God. 2 Samuel 22:7 refers anachronistically to the temple, suggesting that this composition comes for a later time. Verses 21-28 tell how God rewarded the speaker for his righteousness. Clearly this was written without the incident of Bathsheba and Uriah in mind.

Chapter 23 begins with a recitation of David's last words even though, in narrative time, David is not yet dying. David speaks as one inspired directly by God. This poem tells of God's everlasting covenant with David and his descendants. Like a wisdom psalm it compares the godless to worthless thorns.

A list of David's mighty men, including the Three and the Thirty (of whom there are 37), contains a few familiar names, and not a few unfamiliar ones. Joab is mentioned in relation to others, but is not himself included among the warriors.

I love the little story about the Three fetching water from behind enemy lines for their thirsty king and David pouring it out as a libation to YHWH (2 Samuel 23:13-17).

In chapter 24, at YHWH's instigation, David takes a census of the Israelites. After the count is in, David confesses that he did wrong in taking the census (that YHWH told him to take!). YHWH offers David his choice of three punishments. David chooses a three day long plague. YHWH sends an angel to inflict the plague. 70,000 people die. David builds an altar and offers sacrifices at the place where the angel stopped. It's a strange story.

In 1 Samuel 8:10 ff. Samuel warned Israel of all the hardships a king would inflict on his subjects. Saul and David together have vindicated Samuel's words.

Next: 1 Kings 1-2

Monday, July 1, 2013

2 Samuel 19:1-21:22


Though the books of Samuel appear to have been compiled from multiple sources, they tell a great, cohesive story. Well, it might be more accurate to say stories as 1 and 2 Samuel relate the interconnected sagas of Saul and David.

Among the fascinating characters of the David saga is Joab, the general of David's army. He seems to be extremely loyal, but rather dangerous and unpredictable. We have seen him treacherously kill Abner. He took it upon himself to kill Absalom in direct contradiction to the king's orders. In the passage at hand, Joab also kills Absalom's general Amasa in spite of the fact, or perhaps because of the fact, that David has appointed Amasa to serve as his own general. But it is also Joab who advises David, rightly, to end his inconsolable weeping for Absalom and act as king lest he lose his kingdom.

It is in these stories of Absalom's rebellion that the people of the north are first called "Israelites" to distinguish them from the southern Judahites.

In victory David is generous to his allies and kind to his enemies. He forgives Shimei, who pelted him with rocks. He negotiates an understanding between Mephibosheth and Ziba. He rewards the gentile Barzillai who provided him with food. The 10 concubines with whom Abasalom had sex are removed from the royal harem but provided for.

David's return to Jerusalem, and his throne, are controversial. The people of Judah, David's kin, welcome him back.  In chapter 20, Sheba, a Benjaminite, kin to Saul, foments a rebellion. The Israelites desert king David. Joab pursues Sheba to a city called Beth Maacah. Under the threat of seige, and at the advice of a wise woman, the citizens of Beth Maacah kill Sheba and toss his head over the city wall to Joab. It's an ugly act but brings peace.

Chapter 20 ends with a list of David's officials. The list is similar to, but not identical with, a similar list in 2 Samuel 8:15 ff.

In chapter 21 the Gibeonites air a grievance that they had with Saul. To appease them, David hands over 7 of Saul's descendants to be executed. Mephibosheth is spared. The corpses of the seven are made a public display. When Rizpah, who is mother to two of the seven, makes a vigil over the dead, keeping the scavengers away, David is moved to do the right thing. He sees that the bodies of Saul and Jonathan, and these seven descendants of Saul, are given decent burial.

Women play interesting roles in these chapters, making peace and inspiring righteousness.

When there is war with the Philistines, David, weary and weak, is sent home by his men.

Some of the exploits of David's men are recounted including a notice that one Elhanan, son of Jaaregorim, the Bethlehemite, killed the giant Goliath the Gittite. Wait. What?

That's right, Elhanan killed Goliath. Some translations try to gloss this contradiction by saying that Elhanan killed the brother of Goliath. Don't be fooled. Neither the Masoretic text nor the Septuagint say "brother of."

This is, very simply, a contradiction in the Bible.

Next: 2 Samuel 22-24