Monday, September 30, 2013

Nehemiah 7:1-73


Walls rebuilt? Check. Gates hung? Check. Officials appointed? Check.

Nehemiah puts his brother Hanani, "along with Hananiah," in charge of Jerusalem. This is a little like saying that he put his brother Bob, along with Robert, in charge. Hanani and Hannaiah are forms of the same name. Most likely they are the same person and the repitition is an ancient transcriptional error. This is why biblical inerrantists insist that inerrancy only applies to the original manuscripts, the "autographs." It is also why a doctrine of inerrancy is useless. The autographs no longer exist. We do not have any inerrant Bibles.

In the case of Ezra/Nehemiah, books that are so clearly compiled from other works, one might ask whether inerrancy extends only to the compiler's work or whether the sources were also inerrant.

Or, one might opt for a more reasonable doctrine of inspiration. Just sayin'.

Anyway, YHWH puts it into Nehemiah's head to look into the records and see who the original returnees to Jerusalem were. He didn't have to look any further than the second chapter of Ezra (or the source behind it) as most of Nehemiah 7 is a direct copy of that chapter.

I have pointed out before that chapter and verse divisions are not original to the biblical texts. Sometimes they were inserted in awkward spots. Chapter 7 ends in midsentence, with a comma in the NIV, an em dash in the NRSV.

Punctuation was also not original to the texts.

Next: Nehemiah 8-9

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Nehemiah 4:1-6:19


The bad guys in this story are Sanballat, governor of Samaria, Tobiah, governor of Ammon, and Geshem the Arab, king of Qedar. These three, like our hero Nehemiah, are all subject and beholden to the Assyrians. They, and presumably their armies, harrass the Jews as they try to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Apparently, they see a fortified city as a threat.

Nehemiah organizes his people so that they are all armed. Some work as others stand guard. Even the workers keep their weapons at hand.

In addition to the external threat of hostile neighbors, there is internal pressure in Jerusalem and Judah. Food shortages lead the well-off to prey upon the poor, giving food in return for colatteral (a legal practice) not actually charging (illegal) interest as the translations suggest. Nehemiah himself is apparently among the lenders. When the poor complain about their debt-slavery, Nehemiah agrees that taking pledges is not good. Under his administration the hungry are fed and the needy cared for. 

Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshen try repeatedly to lure Nehemiah out of the city to kill him. They threaten to report to Artaxerxes that Nehemiah is in rebellion against Assyria. Nehemiah won't rise to their bait. Nor will he take refuge in the temple. He is stalwart and faithful. 

The repair of Jerusalem's walls is completed. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Nehemiah 1:1-3:32


To begin, a little Sunday School humor...

Who is the shortest man in the Bible?


When you get done slapping your thigh over that astounding witticism, I will mention one man even shorter...


Bildad the Shoe-height.

Now that I have that out of my system, let's start with Nehemiah. 

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah seem clearly to be composed from a variety of sources. The presence of Aramaic passages, different first-person narratives, etc. bear this out. Nevertheless, Ezra and Nehemiah were originally treated as a single book. If I have it right, early Christians like Origen and Eusebius divided the books. The Jews followed suit in the 15th century. 

Nehemiah is a faithful Jew who serves as cup-bearer to king Artaxerxes of Assyria. When he learns that the walls of Jerusalem are in disrepair, he says a general prayer of repentance for his own sins and those of his people. Then, with Artaxerxes' permission he travels to Jerusalem. He is also granted the building materials he will need for his project. 

At night Nehemiah scouts the perimeter of the city. When his way becomes impassible, he returns by the way he came. 

In spite of opposition from neighbors, Nehemiah organizes the people of Judah (or is it Judea now?) to repair the walls of Jerusalem. Chapter 3 details who built what. 

Throughout the account, Nehemiah credits YHWH for his successes. 

Next: Nehemiah 4-6

Friday, September 27, 2013

Ezra 8:1-10:44


Other obligations have kept me from updating this blog as frequently as I would like. Please know, dear reader, that I remain committed to this project. (And to painting my deck). The Year of Blogging Biblically will go on.

So let's finish up Ezra.

Sent by King Artaxerxes, Ezra the priest travels to Jerusalem with a posse of 1500 men and unnumbered women and children. Ezra makes sure that Levites are included in the group. They bring rich gifts for the temple. In spite of this they refuse a military escort, preferring to trust in God for safe passage. God does not disappoint.

Once arrived, Ezra is appalled to learn that Judean men have married the women of the land. He tears his hair and clothes, signs of mourning, and says a prayer of repentance on behalf of all the people. After an investigation, Ezra orders the 113 offenders to send their wives and children away.

It is appropriate to be horrified by this. It is also appropriate to remember Jesus' teachings against divorce.

In Ezra's defense, let us note that the returned exiles were determined to preserve the purity of their heritage, their worship, their traditions, and their way of life. This explains, but does not excuse, his actions.

It is heartening to note that there was opposition to Ezra's plan, though the opposition failed. It is useful to keep in mind that when a similar situation recurs in Nehemiah, the solution is less drastic. It is also important to remember that there are other, more inclusive,voices in Scripture, even from the time of Ezra.

It is tempting to skip ahead to read Jonah.

Next: Nehamiah 1-3

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why I Moderate Comments

My blog. My rules. Right?

I sometimes think that I should turn off comments moderation. I hate to stifle conversation. But then my daily email brings notification of a comment like this:

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Stinkin' spammers!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Ezra 4:1-7:28


Jerusalem's neighbors (the book of Ezra calls them "adversaries") offer to help build YHWH's temple in Jerusalem. The Judahites refuse the offer. This has always struck me as both churlish and unwise. I mean, who wouldn't want help with a major building project? The returned deportees were concerned with purity: purity of worship, ethnic purity, ritual purity. They had, after all, struggled to maintain their identity through 70 years of exile. They were in no mood to compromise now. Even if those adversary neighbors, the Samaritans, worshiped the same God, their presence, their practices, and even their help were not welcome.

Unsurprisingly the Samaritans take this rejection badly and petition Ahasuerus (a.k.a. Xerxes) to stop the construction. There is a 17 year delay.

Ezra 4:6-23 interrupts the chronological flow of the narrative. These verses tell of opposition to rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Events here are grouped thematically rather than sequentially.

A curious feature of the book of Ezra is that the letters quoted are written in Aramaic rather than Hebrew. Aramaic was an international language of diplomacy and trade in Ezra's time.

When the Judeans, urged on by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (whose words we will read later in the Old Testament), once again begin work on the temple, the Assyrian governor Tattenai writes to the Emperor Darius for advice. Darius has the royal archives searched. Cyrus's decree is found. Permission is granted to continue construction and the project is even funded and the necessities for worship supplied by the Babylonians. A rather nasty threat of impalement is leveled against anyone who interferes with construction.

The temple is completed. A dedication ceremony reminiscent of the one for Solomon's temple is celebrated. The Passover is observed.

Ezra, the book's namesake finally shows up in chapter 7. He is a priest of impeccable lineage. He is sent by king Artaxerxes from Babylon to Jerusalem and tasked with overseeing temple worship, teaching YHWH's law to the people, and setting up a judicial system.

The chapter ends with the start of a first person account in Ezra's own words.

Next: Ezra 8-10

Leviticus: You Have No Idea


Leviticus: You Have No Idea, by Maurice D. Harris, Cascade Books, 2013, 123 pages.

The biblical book of Leviticus is ancient Israel's guide to holiness. A sometimes perplexing collection of regulations for, among other things, kosher eating, ethical living, the offering of animal sacrifices, and the treatment of skin diseases, Leviticus is remote from modern westerners in both time and culture. Yet it is considered canonical Scripture by both Jews and Christians. What are we to make of this strange book? What are we to do with it?

A typical Christian response is to simply ignore Leviticus. "Oh, that's the Law. That no longer applies to us." Passages from Leviticus occur only twice in the three-year cycle of readings that make up the Revised Common Lectionary. No, that's not quite right. Let me rephrase it. The same passage from Leviticus 19 occurs twice in year A of the Revised Common Lectionary. Still, while Leviticus is largely disregarded by Christians, its two verses condemning male/male copulation are often weighted heavily in arguments about homosexuality. Are there better ways for modern believers to understand and apply the book of Leviticus?

Reconstructionist Rabbi Maurice D. Harris attempts to pave a way for this to happen in his short, pithy book Leviticus: You Have No Idea. This is not a verse-by-verse commentary but a collection of 9 brief, rather personal essays on topics found in Leviticus.

Readers should not skip the book's introduction in which Harris provides a helpful review of the content of Leviticus as well as some of its important themes and concepts.

In his first chapter, Rabbi Harris jumps right in to deal with the topic of homosexuality. He does not try to explain away Leviticus's condemnation of male/male sex. Rather he honestly disagrees with it. (Yes, in spite of what your preacher may have told you, even fervent and devout believers can disagree with the Bible). Even as he disagrees, however, Harris finds in Leviticus a call to the practice of holiness in sexual relations.  I couldn't help but hear an echo of Martin Luther's explanation of the adultery commandment in his Small Catechism in this chapter.

In chapter 2, Harris explores an essential part of the Levitical worldview: the spiritual energies of tahor and tamey (roughly "purity" and "impurity"), forces which exist in the natural world and which either attract or repel God. From this concept Harris develops two applications for today. First, God needs us. We live in partnership with God. Our job is to increase tahor so that God can flourish in the world. This is an appealing idea, though it is antithetical to much of Christian theology. Second, this provides an explanation for the existence of evil. Where human beings, by their increase of tamey, have driven God out, evil flourishes.

In his third chapter, Harris relates how a surly and rebellious Hebrew School student gave him insight into Leviticus's regulations concerning animal sacrifice. Near the conclusion of this chapter, Harris writes that we have "rightly objected to some of the misguided values that Leviticus imposed, but we've not replaced those values with new ones that would represent our generations best effort to define how we can honor the sacred in these areas of our lives: eating, sex, work, rest, etc. In overturning Leviticus entirely, we've created a society in which we live with the absence of a  shared sense of values and of the sacred in these areas of our lives" (pages 40-41). There is a challenge for Christians in this chapter. Harris asks us how we might faithfully proclaim Jesus' teaching that "It is not what goes into a person's mouth that makes them unclean" (Matthew 12:34).

The fourth chapter takes, in this reviewer's opinion, an odd turn. It takes Leviticus's regulations concerning skin disease as a possible pattern for the reform of the United States' broken penal system. It is a strange and intriguing application, and I think Harris knows this. But, Harris's analysis of American justice is spot on and his proposals worthy of consideration. The chapter ends with a nice little midrash on hyssop, the plant used in rituals for cleansing those who suffered skin diseases. In other Scriptures hyssop is connected to kings David and Solomon. From the lowliest offenders to the greatest kings, no one, Harris tells us, is expendable.

In chapter 5 Harris looks at one of the few narrative sections of Leviticus, the story of Nadav and Avihu (Christians may know them as Nadab and Abihu), the priests whom God killed for offering "strange fire." In Harris's analysis this story becomes an analogy for the dangers of religion when used wrongly. Religion can be a force for good and the advancement of the human spirit or an oppressive, dangerous, and destructive power.

In chapter 6 Harris cites 12th century Jewish mystic philosopher Moses Maimonides to the effect that the religion of Leviticus was intended by God to be temporary. Harris asks whether our modern forms of worship are also meant to be temporary. Then he applies Maimonides's principle to biblical notions of marriage. In biblical times legitimate forms of marriage included polygamy, concubinage, and arranged marriages. By Maimonides's time these had been abandoned as contrary to God's intentions. Can we now abandon our taboo against same sex marriage?

Chapter 7 goes beyond Leviticus in looking at biblical norms for government. Since the 1980s, Harris points out, American political discourse has been dominated by the question "How large should government be?" Harris makes a strong case that the Bible's question is "What is a just government?" He writes "The Hebrew Bible contains many different voices and viewpoints on social issues, including economics. Yet one perspective that it presents repeatedly is...that God has the welfare of the poor and vulnerable always at heart, and that the failure of society, including the government, to defend the rights of these needy arouses God's wrath" (page 81).

In chapter 8 Harris uses a passage from Leviticus 26 as the jumping off point for an examination of biblical themes of Exile and Return. These are the common experience of the Jewish people and, I would argue, of all people. Using the experience of his adopted children as an illustration, Harris points out that both states, exile and homecoming, have their challenges and he examines the problematic theology of self-blame that is common among those who have been traumatized.

The ninth chapter is of particular interest to Christians, especially those who are concerned with interfaith relationships. Too often and too easily Christians lapse into what Harris calls "reject and replace" theology, a close ally to the dangerous theology of supercessionism. "Reject and replace" theology rejects the Law and replaces it with faith in Jesus. It is based in false notions about the purpose of the Law in Jewish life. Lutheran and Reformed readers, who have an understanding of the classical "uses of the Law" will find plenty of grist for their theological mills in this chapter. Harris sets the Law into its context in the Hebrew Bible and notes that the Law is sometimes in tension with both narrative and prophecy. He also notes that both Jews and Christians hold, among themselves, a variety of opinions concerning the role of the Law that lead to robust, internal debates.

In a short epilogue Harris explains his love for the book of Leviticus. It is, he says, an "acquired taste." Somehow, I share that taste as I find Leviticus to be a fascinating, if sometimes maddening, book of Scripture. Perhaps Rabbi Harris's little guidebook can help others to acquire a taste for this strange, difficult, rewarding book.

Readers who are bent toward liberal politics and progressive religion will find Leviticus: You Have No Idea  most congenial. I think that all readers--regardless of religious or political persuasion--will find challenges in this book. That is a good thing. Theologically astute reading groups should find Harris's book to be an excellent discussion starter.

If you have a good local independent bookseller, have them order a copy for you.

Full disclosure: I requested and received free of charge a review copy of
Leviticus: You Have No Idea. There were no stipulations or restrictions put on what I have written here. If you have read this far, God bless you. I will mail my copy of this book to the first person to comment on this thread. Be sure to give me your name and mailing address. I promise not to publish your personal information.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Ezra 1:1-3:13


If I understand history correctly, the Assyrians who conquered Israel, the northern kingdom, were particularly harsh in their treatment of defeated peoples. They deported them, scattered them, and did not allow them to maintain their unique ethnic identity. The 10 northern tribes were "lost" to history.

Of course, not all of the Israelites were taken into exile. Only the elite, the wealthy, the powerful, the priests, and princes were deported. The poor and powerless were left to shift for themselves among the foreigners who were relocated into their territory. Some of the remnant intermingled, intermarried, and perhaps to some extent syncretized with the new population. These became the Samaritans. Some of the northern remnant went south to Judah as refugees.

The Babylonians, who later conquered Judah, were arguably kinder than the Assyrians. They, too, deported the wealthy and powerful, but they allowed the exiles to settle in communities and to maintain their unique ethnic traditions. It was the Judahites living in Babylon who most likely began to collect their stories, writings, and songs into a proto-canon. It was in Babylon, as the Judahites tried to preserve their identity, that rabbinic Judaism had its earliest expressions.

Again not all of the people were taken into exile. The wealthy and powerful went to Babylon. The poor stayed behind. Some went as refugees to Egypt.

After the Babylonians a new empire, the Persian empire, arose. King Cyrus of Persia seems to have believed that a happy empire is a peaceful empire. In 539 BCE he issued an edict allowing exiled peoples to return to their homes. Cyrus is kindly remembered in the Hebrew Bible. He is even called the "messiah." 

Not everyone returned from exile. After 60 or 70 years of exile, there were ethnic Israelites who had never seen the homeland. Some had no doubt put down roots, married, become prosperous. They had no reason to go back to a place they'd never seen. I believe this is the beginning of the Diaspora.

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which originally circulated as a single work, is only interested in the exiles who have returned. Those who never left the land are either ignored, or in the case of the Samaritans, disdained. Those who stayed behind in Babylon receive no notice.

I wonder whether the edict recorded in Ezra 1:2-4 in any way resembles the actual historical document. On the one hand, it seems odd that Cyrus would describe himself as a subject of YHWH. On the other hand, if the account here is accurate, he might have been playing to his audience.

Anyway, the great narrative of the Old Testament spans from creation to the return from exile. Every now and then in this story, when things get really bad, YHWH reboots the system. Noah's flood was a reboot. The call of Abraham, the Exodus and settlement of Canaan, and the rise of King David were reboots. Now, the exiles' return is a reboot. Israel, home again, can start over.

But there is hard work ahead.

First an altar to YHWH is built on the site of the old altar. Worship and sacrifices are re-established. A foundation is laid for the temple. The old folks, who had seen the previous temple weep. The young shout with joy.

Next: Ezra 4-7

Monday, September 16, 2013

2 Chronicles 35:1-36:23


King Josiah, so much the hero of 2 Kings, takes a backseat to Hezekiah in Chronicles. His reforms mostly echo those of the earlier monarch. Josiah's Passover is on time (Hezekiah's was a month late) and lasts only one week (Hezekiah's ran two). But the sheer number of lambs, goats, and cattle sacrificed is staggering. 

Were the Passover lambs roasted or boiled? The translations mostly say "roasted" though the Hebrew literally says "boiled with fire." Exodus 12:8-9 said the lamb should be roasted. Deuteronomy 16:7 said boil it. 

Personally, I like my lamb chops grilled. With mint jelly. 

Josiah's death in battle against king Necho of Egypt is given fuller treatment than it received in 2 Kings 23. Necho serves as a prophet of God. He isn't interested in a war with Josiah. Josiah goes into battle in disguise and is mortally wounded. He dies in Jerusalem and Jeremiah composes laments for him. Jeremiah had a reputation for that sort of thing. 

Josiah is followed by Jehoahaz who reigns only 3 months. Before being deposed by Necho. Necho puts Jehoahaz's brother Eliakim on the throne. As a show of power Necho changes Ekiakm's name to Jehoakim. 

Jehoakim is evil. He rules for 11 years and is imprisoned in Babylon. 

He is followed by brother Jehoiachin, another evil king. He rules 3 months an 10 days and is also taken to Babylon. 

Then comes Zedekiah, Jehoiachin's brother in the Hebrew text. The NIV "helpfully" corrects that to "uncle" harmonizing the account with 2 Kings 24:17. 

Jerusalem falls.  Its people are taken into exile. The land is given 70 years of rest according to an oracle of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:11-12). Cyrus of Persia declares that the deported Israelites may return to their homes. The last verses of 2 Chronicles are nearly identical to the opening verses of Ezra. 

1-2 Chronicles got off to a weak start (one man's opinion). These books provide an alternative history or, more accurately a differently nuanced theological interpretation of history, to the one found in 1-2 Kings. The Chronicler is all about the legitimacy of the Davidic dynasty and of the Jerusalem temple. He shows a concern for the unity of "all Israel"--north and south. Like the Deuteronomist, the Chronicler holds that idolatry brings punishment; faithfulness to YHWH is rewarded with prosperity and security. 

Next we begin reading  Ezra and Nehemiah which tell the story of the exiles who returned to Jerusalem. I find these books by turns inspiring and distasteful. The returnees heroically rebuild their city with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other but they also show a xenophobic concern for ethnic purity. 

Next: Ezra 1-3

Sunday, September 15, 2013

2 Chronicles 32:1-34:33


The Chronicler's portrait of king Hezekiah differs radically from the one we read in 2 Kings. There Hezekiah's failings and weaknesses were manifest. He made foreign alliances. He surrendered and paid tribute to Sennecharib. He stripped the gold from the temple to pay the Assyrian king. The Chronicler mentions none of these things. And where, in 2 Kings, YHWH spoke to Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah, in Chronicles, Hezekiah is the direct recipient of divine communications.

But back to the story at hand: When Sennecharib of Assyria advances on Jerusalem, Hezekiah plans to resist him and gives an encouraging speech to the people of the city. The Assyrians lay seige to Jerusalem but when Hezekiah and Isaiah pray, YHWH intervenes, smiting the Assyrians and sending Sennecharib scampering home where his own sons kill him in the temple of his god.

Hezekiah's preparations included damming up the enemy's water supply. He provided water for the city by means of a tunnel which may still exist in Jerusalem today. An article in the most recent issue of Biblical Archeology says that recent scholars doubt the tunnel in question was actually built by Hezekiah.

The Chronicler's account of Hezekiah's illness and recovery are abbreviated from the parallel story in 2 Kings. Hezekiah gets sick, gets healed, and then gets proud. YHWH gets angry but, when Hezekiah and the citizens of Jerusalem humble themselves, God calms down. The pending wrath is delayed for someone else's reign.

Chapter 33 tells the story of the reign of Hezekiah's son, Manasseh. The Chronicler agrees with 2 Kings that Manasseh is an evil king. He engages in all sorts of idolatry, even building altars to other gods in the temple of YHWH.

For all of these offenses, YHWH sends the Assyrian army to conquer Jerusalem. Manasseh is taken captive. Hereafter the Chronicler's account diverges from 2 Kings. In captivity, Manasseh repents. YHWH sends him back to Judah. He fortifies the city. The Judahites, on the other hand, are unrepentant and persist in their idolatry.

After Manasseh's death, his son Amon ascends to the throne. He's as bad as his dad was and thoroughly unrepentant. To no one's surprise he is killed in a palace intrigue.

In Chapter 34 Josiah follows Amon. The Chronicler likes Josiah, but 2 Kings was nuts about him. Josiah purges Judah, and those parts of the northern kingdom that remain, of idols. He begins repair work on the temple, in the midst of which Hilkiah, the priest, discovers the book of the Law. (The sequence of events differs from 2 Kings).

When the prophet Huldah is consulted she announces that YHWH has plans for Jerusalem to be destroyed but, because Josiah is a good guy, it will wait for another king.

Josiah renews YHWH's covenant with Judah.

Next: 2 Chronicles 35-36

Saturday, September 14, 2013

2 Chronicles 28:1-31:21


After good king Jotham, Judah gets bad king Ahaz. He's bad out of the box and never gets better. How bad is he? Let's just say that, in addition to the standard issue idolatries, he makes his sons "pass through fire" which may be code for child sacrifice. 

YHWH uses foreigners and infidels to punish Judah under Ahaz. The Judahites suffer defeat by Aramean and Israelite invaders. The infidels prove more faithful than the Davidic king. At the word of a prophet named Oded they release their captives and return their plunder. Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:35 ff.) may be based partly on the Israelites treatment of their Judahite relatives. 

Under threat from Edomite armies, Ahaz pays tribute to Assyria for protection but receives no help. Taking the wrong lesson from all of this, Ahaz turns to the gods of Aram. He closes YHWH's temple and builds altars on every street corner. 

Upon Ahaz's death, his son Hezekiah takes the throne. If, in the Chronicler's estimation, Ahaz was judah's worst king, Hezekiah is the best. In comparison to the parallel aacount in 2 Kings, The Chronicler puts more emphasis on Hezekiah's religious reforms and less stress on the Assyrian invasion. Hezekiah compares well to David and Solomon. Details of Hezekiah's story echo the accounts of those earlier monarchs. 

In 2 Chronicles 29 Hezekiah makes short work of reopening YHWH's temple. In chapter 30 he invites all Israel, including the remnants of the now vanquished northern kingdom to a Passover festival. The celebration is held a month late, a concession permitted in Numbers 9:9-11. The king prays for the northerners who participate in the festival without being consecrated. YHWH "heals" them--an interesting turn of phrase.  By common consent the featival runs an extra week. 

In a sense "all Israel" (or all that is left) is reunited under Hezekiah. 

Hezekiah reestablishes regular worship in the temple. In chapter 31 Hezekiah rids "all Israel," north and south, of idols. A superabundance of tithes and offerings come in. The priests and Levites are well provided for. 

Next: 2 Chronicles 32-34

Friday, September 13, 2013

2 Chronicles 25:1-27:9


A pattern was established in the story of King Joash (2 Chronicles 24). He began his reign faithful to YHWH and was rewarded with prosperity and success. Later in his reign, Joash worshiped other gods, bringing failure and death. The pattern, reflecting the Chronicler's theology, repeats itself in Joash's son, Amaziah, and his grandson, Uzziah.

Chapter 25 tells the story of Amaziah. His initial faithfulness is shown in the fact that, though he executes men who assassinated his father, he spares their children in keeping with Deuteronomy 24:16. Amaziah flirts with faithlessness when he supplements his army with mercenaries from Israel. An anonymous prophet warns of YHWH's displeasure and Amaziah sends the northerners home, with pay. They aren't happy anyway and vent there anger on some of Judah's cities while Amaziah is off fighting against Seir.

Amaziah is victorious and captures Seir's gods. He goes full tilt boogie into idolatry. Another anonymous prophet tries to warn Amaziah but the king won't listen this time.

In retaliation for the Israelite destruction of Judah's cities, Amaziah declares war againt Israel. King Jehu of Israel replies with a parable: when a puny thornbush seeks an alliance with a mighty cedar, the thornbush is trampled by a wild animal. There can be little doubt about who is the thornbush in this story. The kings engage in war. Amaziah is defeated and captured. The Israelites confiscate the temple's treasures and loot the king's treasuries. Later Amaziah is assassinated. It doesn't pay to play with idols.

In chapter 26 Uzziah succeeds Amaziah. In 2 Kings 15 Uzziah was known as Azariah. I'm happy to report that the NIV does not harmonize these names. The name Uzziah is useful inasmuch as it prevents confusion with the priest Azariah who confronts the king.

Like his father and grandfather Uzziah starts out faithful and is successful. But success goes to his head and Uzziah takes it upon himself to offer incense in the temple, a job reserved for the priests. One must wonder whether Uzziah ever heard of Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10). Unauthorized incense offerings are not a good idea. The priest Azariah and 80 other priests confront the king as he stands at the altar with a thurible in his hand. YHWH gives Uzziah a good case of leprosy. The king flees from the temple.

Uzziah's leprosy was mentioned in 2 Kings 15 but the cause for it is found only in Chronicles.

Chapter 27 is a short one. The story of King Jotham is told in 9 verses. He does right. He stays out of the temple. His reign is successful. And that, apparently, is all we need to know.

Next: 2 Chronicles 28-31

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In Today's Mail

Today I received a review copy of Rabbi Maurice D. Harris's book Leviticus: You Have No Idea. The book looks fascinating. I am eager to read it and will publish my review on this blog as soon as possible. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

2 Chronicles 21:1-24:27


Jehoshaphat is succeeded by his eldest son, Jehoram. Right out of the gate Jehoram is no good. First off he kills his 6 brothers thereby eliminating potential rivals. (The Chronicler didn't mention that Solomon, in 1Kings 2, had done much the same thing). He marries a daughter of Ahab whose name, we will later learn, is Athaliah. His reign is short: 8 years. Jehoram's reign brings bad consequences but, we are told, YHWH remains faithful to the unfaithful house of David. 

Under Jehoram Edom and Libnah rebel. The high places are rebuilt and the people engage in idolatry which, using a standard image from the Hebrew Scriptures, is called "prostitution."

All of this prompts Elijah, the prophet from the north, to send Jehoram a letter. YHWH, he writes, will strike Jehoram's family. The king himself will suffer a lingering bowel disease. Yuck. 

Elijah was a major player in the books of Kings. He gets scant press in Chronicles. The Chronicler isn't much interested in the northern kingdom. 

Philistines and Arabs become the tools of YHWH's vengeance. They attack and conquer Jerusalem. Jehoram's family is carried off, his sons killed. Only The youngest, Ahaziah, is left. Jehoram suffers bowel disease for 2 years. His bowels prolapse. He dies. No one mourns. 

Jehoram died at age 40. His son Ahaziah takes the throne. The Hebrew Bible says that Ahaziah was 42 when his reign began, two years older than his recently deceased father. The NIV helpfully corrects   Ahaziah's age to 22. This still makes Jehoram a young father but at least it's not impossible. 

Ahaziah's reign is even shorter than Jehoram's, just one year long. He listens to bad advisors. He makes an unwise alliance with the king of Israel. He is killed in Jehu's bloody reformation rampage. The Chronicler's account of Ahaziah's death differs significantly from the parallel account in 2 Kings 9. There he was struck down with an arrow while fleeing Samaria.  Here he is brought before Jehu and executed. 

After her son's death, Athaliah seizes the throne of Judah by killing off the royal family. Only The infant Joash, youngest scion of the Davidic line escapes. The priest Jehoiada hides the boy away in the temple for 6 years. 

When Joash is 7 years old, Jehoiada engineers a rebellion. He gathers his forces (including a cadre of Levites who aren't mentioned in 2 Kings) and, at a shift change at the temple, proclaims the boy king, restoring the Davidic line to the throne. The temple of Baal is destroyed. Proper worship is reestablished. The people rejoice. The city is at peace. 

Joash's 40 year reign gets off to a strong start.  In 2 Chronicles 24:7 we are told, somewhat belatedly, that Athaliah's wicked sons had desecrated and looted the temple. Joash begins a project to remodel the temple by reinstituting Moses' tax (Exodus 30:12-16, 38:25-26). After a slow start the money begins to pour  in because, hey, who doesn't love paying taxes? Work on the temple proceeds quickly and smoothly. 

The account of the temple renovation diverges significantly from the parallel in 2 Kings 12.

Jehoiada the priest dies at the godly old age of 130, not quite the longevity of the Patriarchs but not bad. After Jehoiada's death Joash goes wild and Judah goes to hell. Joash leads the people right back into their old idolatrous ways. YHWH sends prophets. Nobody listens. Jehoiada's son Zecahriah tries to call Joash to account. Joash has him killed. 

YHWH sends a small army of Arameans to invade Judah. Joash's larger forces are defeated. Divine retribution, anyone? Joash is left wounded but alive. A palace conspiracy finishes him off.  The once-good king comes to a bad end. 

Next: 2 Chronicles 25-27

Friday, September 6, 2013

2 Chronicles 18:1-20:37


Can you tell that I've had a lot on my mind? The last post was supposed to cover 2 Chronicles 13-17 but I only got through chapter 16. It was totally an oversight on my part. It actually works out nicely, however. Chapter 17 is the beginning of the story of King Jehoshaphat, a story which continues through chapter 20. So because of my mistake I can consider Jehoshaphat's story as a whole in this post.

So, like, I meant to do that. Really.

Chapter 17 begins and ends with descriptions of Jehoshaphat's military strength. In 17:1-6. he stations troops in Judah's fortified cities. In verses 12 ff. his troops are tallied. They number 1,600,000. It's no wonder the neighbors won't fight with Jehoshaphat (v. 10) and the Philistines and Arabs send tribute to Judah.

Jehoshaphat isn't all about the armies, though. He also sends teachers throughout Judah, apparently to instruct them in the ways of YHWH.

In chapter 18, Jehoshaphat makes a marriage alliance with Ahab of Israel. He goes down to Samaria to meet with Ahab. (One always goes up to Jerusalem and down from it). Ahab plays the devil and seduces Jehoshaphat to go with him to war at Ramoth-gilead (verse 2). Most of this chapter is taken verbatim from 2 Kings 22. The Chronicler omits some of the gory details of Ahab's battlefield death. He just isn't much interested in the northern kings. He also makes some small editorial additions. In verse 31, YHWH seduces (the same Hebrew verb as in verse 2) Jehoshaphat's pursuers away from him.

In chapter 19, the prophet Hananiah's son Jehu, a prophet in his own right, confronts Jehoshaphat over his alliance with the wicked Ahab. Still, Jehoshaphat isn't all bad. He did get rid of those pesky sacred poles.

The rest of chapter 19 is taken up with a description of Jehoshaphat's judicial reforms. He appoints judges for the cities of Judah and for Jerusalem. He charges them strictly to be honest, fair, and just in the judgments.

In chapter 20 Jehoshaphat faces an invasion from the east. He orders a fast and offers a prayer reminiscent of Solomon's prayer in chapter 6. A prophet named Jahaziel speaks an oracle with echoes of Deuteronomy 20. YHWH will do all the fighting. Judah need only watch. So, next day, the Judahites sing and praise while YHWH turns the invading armies against one another. YHWH is good at that sort of thing (see Judges 7 and 1 Samuel 14). The invading armies are utterly destroyed. Judah cleans up the spoils of war, which are considerable. No one else dares to invade Judah. The rest of Jehoshaphat's reign is peaceful.

Isn't that the way things go in Chronicles? YHWH rewards those who are faithful to him.

Verses 31-37 are a summary of Jehoshaphat's reign largely taken, but heavily rewritten, from 1 Kings 22:48 ff. In 1 Kings Jehoshaphat builds ships for a merchant trip to Ophir but the ships are wrecked before they sail. Then Ahaziah of Israel approaches Jehoshaphat concering a joint venture which Jehoshaphat refuses. Here, it is Ahaziah who approaches Jehoshaphat before the ships are built. The ships are wrecked because Jehoshaphat has aligned himself with wicked Ahaziah.

The Chronicler disapproves of Jehoshaphat's alliances with the kings of Israel.

All-in-all, Jehoshaphat's reign is assessed positively. If only he gotten rid of those high places (20:30). Except I thought he did (17:6). I'm sure the Chronicler meant to do that.

Next: 2 Chronicles 21-24

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

2 Chronicles 13:1-17:19


In 1 Kings 15, eight verses were dedicated to King Abijam whose mother was Maacah, the daughter of Abishalom. Basically, he was one of those bad kings who disobeyed YHWH. For the sake of Abijam's great-grandfather, David, YHWH allowed the dynasty to continue.

The Chronicler seems very interested in redeeming Abijam's reputation, even to the point of giving him a new name: Abijah. One letter makes a world of difference.

The name Abijam is made up of two components which mean "father" and "sea." So "Abijam" means something like "father of the sea" or "the sea is my father." the components of Abijah mean "father" and "YHWH." The name can only mean "YHWH is my father."

The Chronicler also renames Abijam's mother. The Hebrew text of 2 Chronicles calls her "Micaiah" the daughter of "Uriel of Gibeah." Not surprisingly the NIV obscures this little difference by calling the woman "Maakah" in both books though the discrepancy concerning her father's name is preserved. Maacah/Micaiah creates problems of her own. In first Kings Maacah, daughter of Abishalom is said to be the mother of both Abijam and his son Asa. 2 Chronicles actually resolves this problem by making Abijah's mother Micaiah, daughter of Uriel and calling Asa's mother "Maacah."

At any rate, the Chronicler is so keen on the Davidic kingship that he makes Abijah out to be a good and faithful king. In a battle against the rebellious northern king Jeroboam, Abijah, surrounded and outnumbered, first preaches a sermon to the enemy troops about faithfulness to YHWH and the legitimacy of the Davidic dynasty. Then, with YHWH's help, he routs them thoroughly. The armies are impossibly large. A note in the Harper Collins Study Bible points out that the number of northern casualties is 100,000 more than the total number of U.S. casualties in the entire Second World War.

On the other hand a footnote in the Apologetics Study Bible suggests that, although the archeological record denies the possibility of such large armies, it is possible that archeology is wrong and the Bible is right.

I'll let you decide which is more likely.

The story of Asa begins in 2 Chronicles 14. It, too, is expanded from the parallel account in 1 Kings. Both books agree that Asa was a good king. 1 Kings holds only one thing against him: he failed to remove the high places (1 Kigns 15:14). This is no problem for the Chronicler who simply says that Asa did remove them (2 Chronicles 14:3). Though later the Chronicler disagrees with himself (2 Chronicles 15:17).

Because Asa is faithful to YHWH, his reign is peaceful. He takes advantage of the peace engage in some building projects. There is a period of war when Zerah the Cushite/Ethiopian/Nubian (take your pick, they're all the same) attacks. The invasion is repelled with YHWH's help.

It might be truer to the Chronicler's theology to say that YHWH repelled the invasion with Asa's help.

In 2 Chronicles 15 we meet a prophet named Azariah, son of Oded. He is mentioned only here in the Scriptures. On the basis of Azariah's oracle, Asa cleans up worship in Judah. He even deposes his mother and tears down his her Asherah pole, as was also reported in 1 Kings 15:13.

Chapter 16 tells how Baasha, king of Israel threatens Asa by fortifying the city of Ramah (cf. 1 Kings 15:17 ff.). Asa seeks an alliance with Ben-hadad of Aram. Asa gives the foreign king gifts from the temple treasury. In another passage without parallel, Asa is confronted by a prophet named Hananiah. Hananiah charges the king with failing to trust in YHWH. Though Baasha leaves off the fortification of Ramah, Asa falls out of favor. In anger Asa abuses Hananiah and others. His early faithfulness is now faithlessness. In his last years the king suffers from an unspecified foot disease. He seeks relief from physcians, not YWHW: another failure of faith. Asa dies.

The practice of medicine in ancient times was a far cry from modern scientific medicine. I read another news report recently about parents who were facing criminal charges because their child died needlessly when, for religious reasons, they refused to seek medical attention for a treatable ailment. It is one man's opinion, but these parents deserve to be prosecuted and, if guilty, should feel the full weight of the law.

Next: 2 Chronicles 18-20.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

2 Chronicles 9:1-12:16


In 2 Chronicles 9 the Queen of Sheba visits Solomon. We read about this previously in 1 Kings 10. Then Solomon enters into a trade venture with Huram. In 1 Kings 9 Solomon provided the ships for the venture. Here it is Huram. Verses 13-28 give an accounting of Solomon's vast wealth. I love the detail that "silver was accounted of no worth" during Solomon's reign. In verses 29-30 we are told of Solomon's death.

Just as the Chronicler omitted any reference to David's dalliance with Bathsheba (and participation in her husband's death) so here we learn nothing of Solomon's 1000 wives and concubines or the idolatry into which they led him.

An odd thing to note: in 1 Kings 10 Hiram and Solomon import algum wood. In 2 Chronicles 9 it is called almug wood. No matter how it is spelled, no one seems quite sure what kind of wood this was.

Chapter 10 tells of Rehoboam's ascent to the throne. Although the Chronicler has told us twice that Solomon did not impose forced labor on Israel (2 Chronicles 2:17-18, 8:7-10) Rehoboam, using the same crude sexual boast that we read in 1 Kings 12, insists that he will increase their burden. The northern tribes rebel. Jeroboam, of whom we have heard nothing previously (in 1 Kings 11 we read his backstory) becomes ruler of the northern kingdom.

The Chronicler, loyal to the Davidic throne, shows little interest in the northern kingdom. He mentions it only when necessary.

In chapter 11 Rehoboam does not go to war against Jeroboam. Rehoboam does fortify the cities of Judah just in case. All this we knew from 1 Kings. Now the Chronicler gives us some new information: Levites from the north come streaming into Jerusalem. Jeroboam has put them out of business by appointing his own priests to serve the "goats" (per NIV) or "goat demons" (NRSV) and calves that he made. Apostasy is rampant up north.

Rehoboam is faithful and prosperous for a while. He has 18 wives and 60 concubines. Among them he loves Maacah best. Her child, Abijah, though not the oldest of Rehoboam's sons, will assume the throne.

In chapter 12 Rehoboam proves unfaithful. As a result Shishak, king of Egypt, invades Judah. When Rehoboam and company repent, YHWH grants partial deliverance. Judah will not be destroyed. Instead it will be a vassal state to Egypt. Shishak takes the gold shields that Solomon made as tribute. Rehoboam replaces them with bronze shields. Judah is not so prosperous as it once was.

Chapter 12 ends with the account of Rehoboam's death.

Remember me?

Next: 2 Chronicles 13-17

Monday, September 2, 2013

2 Chronicles 6:1-8:18


It is hard to read these chapters without a strong sense of deja vu. The accounts are taken over almost verbatim from 1 Kings 8-9. The differences, though minor, are telling.

For example, in 1 Kings 8 Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the temple concludes with references to the Exodus. The Chronicler is not much interested in the Exodus and so ends Solomon's prayer with a quote from Psalm 132 which refers to King David.

At 2 Chronicles 7:10 the Chronicler speaks of David "and Solomon" where the parallel in 1 Kings 8:66 mentioned only David.

2 Chronicles 7:12-15 is another addition to the same account from 1 Kings. Here YHWH, in his second appearance to Solomon, gives a direct response to the king's prayer from chapter 6 and promises to respond to petitions made toward the temple.

And in 2 Chronicles 8:2, it says that Solomon rebuilt the cities that Huram had given him. The parallel in 1 Kings 9:11 has Solomon giving cities to Hiram!

I think it might be interesting to do a detailed side-by-side comparison of the parallel passages. Unfortunately I have neither the time nor the inclination to take on such a project at the moment.

Next: 2 Chronicles 9-12