Monday, May 30, 2016

Bible Commentary - 1 Chronicles 19

In this chapter, David defeats the Ammonites and Arameans.

This is largely a continuation of the previous chapter, describing more of David's wars.  The material for this chapter is mostly copied from 2 Samuel 10 with very little modification.  The overall theme and purpose of this chapter is the same as the previous chapter: it is establishing the context for Solomon's construction of the temple by destroying Israel's national enemies and gathering in the wealth of the nations.

This chapter contains two separate stories.  The first story is when the servants of David travel to Nahash's funeral, which is in verses 1-7.  The second story is the battle between Israel and Ammon (plus their allies), which is in verses 8-19.  I would like to share a lesson, or at least something interesting, from each story.

In the first story, it seems like the key tension is between David, who expresses support for Nahash, and Hanun who is distrustful of David.  There's a couple different things we can learn from this story.  First, we can see the troubled history between these two kingdoms.  We know that Israel and Ammon fought many times (for instance, Judges 10:7-9), so it is natural that they would be hostile towards each other and we see that in Hanun's response to David.  In this case, Ammon would be particularly distrustful because Israel has recently engaged in a series of wars against their neighbors, which we read about in the previous chapter.  It seems only natural that Ammon would expect Israel to encroach upon them next.

David and Hanun signify their respective kingdoms, so I think what we see in Hanun's response is generations of malevolence being expressed.  What's surprising to me is that David would look upon Nahash so favorably.  We know from 1 Samuel 11 that Nahash king of Ammon attacked the Israelites in Gilead, and chronologically that is the most recent time we hear about Nahash before this story*, so we don't have any reason to think that David and Nahash have an alliance besides what we read in this chapter.  One thing worth mentioning is that the phrase "I will show kindness to Hanun" in verse 2 has an implication that the two nations had an alliance of some sort.  In fact, the International Standard Version (ISV) translates that phrase as "I will be loyal to Hanun".  If they did have an alliance, it is a surprise to me because of the aforementioned hostility between these nations, but it does make Hanun's response to David's delegation much more disrespectful.

Second, I think this story shows the importance of spies and deception in ancient warfare.  We should remember that Israel sent twelve spies into the promised land before they invaded (Numbers 13); Joshua also sent two spies into Jericho before they invaded that city (Joshua 2).  Besides spying out the land, spies frequently served to find, bribe or threaten people into betraying their city and e.g. open the city gates during a siege or provide some other assistance to the attackers.  This chapter itself shows us how much of a serious threat this could be.  Even though Hanun did not kill the men, he probably stopped them from entering the city or gleaning much information.

Third, this story shows that while David sent his men in friendship, he became the enemy that Hanun feared because of how Hanun responded to him and treated him.  I think it's ironic that Hanun's response created the very enemy that he feared, and resulted in the devastation of his kingdom.  If he had treated David as a friend, he may have kept David as a friend.  I think this is a good lesson for us because I think it's true in general that a lot of people will act similarly to what we expect from them.  If you expect people to be honest and trustworthy, a lot of people step up to those expectations.  Not everyone, but a lot of people.  If you persistently expect people to be stupid or lazy or mean, many people step down to meet those expectations too, because you encourage what you expect from others.  That doesn't mean we should expect everyone to be kind of honest because some people are rotten enough that they will take advantage of you, but I think the majority of people want to be good and kind and honest, and if you create an environment where they are treated like it, they will gradually become that kind of person (if they aren't already).  In this chapter we see the converse, where David is treated like an enemy, so he becomes one.

In the second story, the main part I want to focus on is the two commanders who are helping each other, Joab and Abishai.  I think this is a cool story because we see two men fighting two separate battles, but they make a promise to each other that if one of them starts to lose, the other will go and help him, and vice versa.  Even though they were outnumbered and surrounded, they helped each other and were able to achieve victory.  In the same way, we can strengthen each other even while we are fighting separate battles and together achieve victories that would not be possible alone.  It was after the victory of Joab that the enemies of Abishai fled before him (v. 15).

In the next chapter, the wars conclude with some final battles against the Ammonites and the Philistines.

*We read in 2 Samuel 17 that Shobi son of Nahash brings food and drink to David when he is exiled by his son Absalom, but that is chronologically after the events described in this chapter.  This suggests that there is still some spark of affection between the Ammonites and David, though perhaps they only supported David because they saw him as an insurgent hostile to the current king Absalom at the time, and wanted to encourage division and warfare in Israel.  But that's neither here nor there.

Bible Commentary - 1 Chronicles 18

In this chapter, David defeats his enemies and establishes peace throughout Israel.

The contents of this chapter is substantially copied from 2 Samuel 8, which I have already written about here.  The only variation I can find is that Chronicles omits part of 2 Samuel 8:2 when it says that David killed two thirds of the Moabites, even though the chapter contains references to the many other people that David's armies killed (v. 4, 5, 12) so I'm not sure why the Chronicler thought this one particular massacre was inappropriate.

There are two, or perhaps three, reasons why this material is relevant in Chronicles, again with our thoughts focused on the promises for Israel and the future temple.

First, the wars established the necessary peace for building the temple.  There is a very clear distinction between the lives of David and Solomon.  David made his reputation at first for slaying Goliath and becoming a commander over Saul's army.  He spent much of his life running away from Saul, hiding in the desert, and then later fighting several wars against the Philistines, a civil war against Saul's heir, and internal rebellions led by his own sons.  Solomon, on the other hand, lived in a peaceful and prosperous time and he spent much of his time building the nation.  Even his name means "peace".  This is not accidental; the peace and prosperity that existed in Solomon's time, and the vast army of conscripted workers (1 Kings 5:13-16), would not have been possible without David establishing military dominion over the surrounding nations.  If David had not fought these wars, it would have been left to Solomon's generation to fight these battles and then the temple would have been delayed.

Second, the wars provided the gold and tribute David needed to save up in preparation for the temple.  We see this in the many kinds of tribute that David collects from the Moabites (v. 2), the Arameans (v. 6-8), the gifts from Hamath (v. 10) and plunder from many other nations (v. 11).  We see in v. 11 that David is not gathering this wealth for himself; he is dedicating it to the LORD.  If you remember from 1 Kings 6, the temple is covered in gold all around the holy place and many of the utensils and the small altars are made out of gold.  Where does all this gold come from, though?  A lot of the gold and silver that we see adorning the temple is being looted right now from these hostile nations.  Without this wealth, Solomon could not have built the temple with the same opulence that we later observe.

Third, it shows God's blessing upon David.  I think this is the weakest point because there are many other places where the Chronicler shows God's blessing upon David, so this chapter is not necessary to establish that point.

Also, something that may be confusing is verses 9-10 when it says that a particular king Tou (or Toi) sent messengers to bear David gifts when he defeated the kingdom of Zobah.  We don't really know anything about the situation beyond what is written here, but we can infer from the text that Zobah and Hamath were at war with each other, so the king of Hamath was pleased when he learned that David defeated his enemy.  We don't know for sure, but that is by far the most likely explanation.

Overall, I think we should see this as a necessary step towards building the temple.  In the next chapter, the battles against David's enemies continue.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Bible Commentary - 1 Chronicles 17

In this chapter, God promises that David's son will build the LORD's temple.

The content of this chapter is very similar to 2 Samuel 7 with very little modification, so I won't have much to add here beyond what's covered in my commentary on that chapter.

David sets out to honor God, saying that while he lived in a palace, God still lived in a tent.  He wanted to build a house for God so that the LORD's presence could have a permanent home in Jerusalem.  God's response is that while David will not build a house (temple) for his presence, God will build a house (dynasty) for David.  This is in the original source text from the book of Samuel.

The reference to the exodus (verse 21) is also in the original Samuel source text, but it takes on a new meaning in the post-exilic context of Chronicles.  The references to the temple and the promise of David's everlasting dynasty also take on new meaning to the returning exiles when the book of Chronicles was written, which is why the Chronicler spends so much time on these themes.

There's only one minor deviation between the text here and in 2 Samuel, which is that Chronicles removes the references to Solomon doing wrong and being punished (2 Samuel 7:14) as well as the reference to Saul.  The removal of Saul is consistent with the narrative in this book in general, which discounts the relevance of Saul and Israel's earlier disobedience.  Removing the reference to Solomon's punishment is consistent with the somewhat idealized conception of Solomon that is presented in this book.

For the most part, though, this chapter is about establishing the context for the future temple in Jerusalem.  The temple is central to the narrative in Chronicles, far more so than in Samuel, so this chapter is an integral part of the story.

In the next chapter, David defeats all his enemies, establishes peace throughout his land, and permits him to spend the second half of his life preparing for the temple.

Bible Commentary - 1 Chronicles 16

In this chapter, David places the ark in the tent and appoints Levites to praise God with music.

I think this chapter is straightforward, for the most part, and maybe even seems boring after a first reading, but I think there are a lot of small details that we can glean from.

For starters, we see David associating himself with the priests again.  This is after 1 Chronicles 15:27 when David wore a linen ephod (the clothing worn by priests and Levites).  Now in verse 2, we see David sacrificing the burnt offering and blessing the people.

The first part is very interesting because it's such a strong contrast to king Saul, who in 1 Samuel 13:9-10 offered a burnt offering and was harshly criticized by Samuel for doing so.  Here king David is offering a burnt offering (the Hebrew words are identical in both passages), but he is regarded favorably for doing this.  Why is it that Saul and David can both perform the exact same act, and yet the LORD is angry at one and pleased with the other?  The text doesn't tell us directly, but I think the most likely explanation is that it has to do with the motivations and intent of the two people involved.

When Saul explains himself in 1 Samuel 13:11-12, he makes it clear that he was acting under great pressure because of his own men fleeing and the Philistines gathering for battle.  Saul offers an ostensibly religious reason for offering the sacrifice when he says that he wanted to "ask the favor of the LORD", but from elsewhere in 1 Samuel we know that Saul was much more concerned with his appearance of religiosity before other men (for instance, see 1 Samuel 15:30-31).  It's very likely the reason Saul offered the sacrifice was to rally the morale of his men and convince them that God would grant them success.  He was using the LORD and the offering as a tool to further his own purposes, and the LORD rebukes him for it.  Like the angel makes clear in Joshua 5:13-15, the LORD does not come and fight on our behalf (serving our objectives and purposes), he comes and challenges us if we are going to fight on his behalf, serving his objectives and purposes.  He asks us to join his army, not to join our army.  Of course, we know from elsewhere that the LORD blesses the people who follow him and even in the story of Joshua, we know that Israel was fighting in the promised land to take their inheritance.  There are even places in the bible where it literally says that God is fighting on behalf of his people or on behalf of Israel.

I think the purpose of this story is to speak less about the intentions of the LORD and to speak more about the intentions of Joshua and Saul and David.  We know that the LORD fights on behalf of his people: that's not the point.  The point is, how do we perceive the LORD and how do we perceive our relationship to him?  The contrast between Joshua and Saul could not be greater.  Joshua bowed down before the angel of the LORD and asked, what do you want me to do?  (Joshua 5:14).  Saul, on the other hand, says that he disobeyed the LORD because he was afraid of the people (1 Samuel 15:24).  Even though that is from a different story than when Saul offered the burnt offering, I think it speaks to his motivation and how he perceives the LORD.  Saul is mostly concerned about maintaining his kingdom and keeping the favor of the people.  He uses his faith as a means toward that end, and the LORD clearly objects to Saul's priorities.  In 2 Samuel 6:20-22, David shows that he has little regard for what people think of him: he will leap and dance before the LORD even if it makes him look like a fool, because he was "celebrating before the LORD".  Ironically, he claims that this will win him favor with the people, but it is not his intention or purpose.  He lives before the LORD seeking to do what is right in the LORD's eyes, and that distinguishes him from people like Saul.

In conclusion, Saul offered a sacrifice to boost the morale of his troops; David offers a sacrifice to honor the LORD.  Therefore the sacrifice of David is accepted and the sacrifice of Saul is condemned.

In the second part of verse 2, it says that David blessed the people.  This is again David taking an aspect of priestly ministry, since priestly benediction was like... a thing.  See Numbers 6:22-27 for an example.  I think this is a similar story to what I wrote above.  While David is perhaps infringing on priestly ministry, he is doing it from a heart of devotion to the LORD and therefore he is accepted.

In verse 3 when David distributions a portion of bread and meat to everyone in Israel, I think it's possible this was meant to be offered by the people as a peace offering, since Leviticus 7 explains that after a peace offering is made, the people were supposed to eat a meal, which was done in ancient times to confirm an agreement or covenant between two parties (for other examples, see Genesis 31:54, Exodus 24:11).  Whenever the people offer a peace offering and eat the meal, they are affirming their covenant with the LORD.

Verse 4 explains the four different roles of the Levites: to minister, to celebrate, to thank God and to praise.  In a single word, their role is to worship.

In verse 6, we see trumpets again.  Trumpets play a variety of roles in Israel.  In particular, I am thinking about the two silver trumpets in Numbers 10 that were used for organizing the camp as well as celebrating festivals.  I am also reminded of the seven trumpets that were blown as the people marched around Jericho in Joshua 6:6.  It looks like the trumpets are sometimes used for military purposes and they are sometimes used for celebration.  Here, I think the trumpets are used for celebration as part of the worship.

There are a few minor I want to say about the psalm.  This psalm shares passages with three different chapters from the book of Psalms, in particular Psalms 105, 96 and 106.  It's almost impossible to say which was copied from which, whether this was the original psalm and those three psalms copied material from this one, or vice versa.

This psalm contains various references to the Pentateuch, such as the covenant between God and the patriarchs.  Verses 19-22 seems to be a fairly clear reference to Genesis 20:6-7 when the LORD protected Abraham from Abimelech, which means that the author of this psalm must have been familiar with Genesis.

Verses 15-18 strongly affirms Israel's place in the land, which has an obvious significance to the returning exiles.  Even the return from the exile is referenced in v. 35 when it speaks of gathering the people from the nations.  As with much of Chronicles, this psalm is trying to explain why the promised land should belong to Israel and why God will bless them and establish them there.

Lastly, after the song concludes, David sends the priests and Levites to their stations.  We see some of them left before the ark of the covenant in Jerusalem but others, including Zadok, are sent to the high place in Gibeon.  Interestingly, Abiathar has disappeared from the record again; only Zadok is mentioned.  It's also interesting that we see these two holy places.  If my understanding is correct, I believe at this time that Gibeon is the home of the tabernacle of Moses, which is still treated as a place of worship, and Jerusalem is home to David's new tent with the ark.  I think it's peculiar that they left the tabernacle in Gibeon rather than move it to Jerusalem, and I don't really have an explanation why.  It may have been a political decision to help mend ties between Judah and Benjamin since Gibeon was located in Benjamin.  At this point, Jerusalem is the political center of Israel, so if David centralized all the worship there also, Benjamin may have rebelled.  That's my guess.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Bible Commentary - 1 Chronicles 15

In this chapter, David brings the ark of the covenant back to Jerusalem.

The content for this chapter is derived from 2 Samuel 6:12-16, but with significant expansion.  The story in Samuel tells us the same basic facts, that after the LORD broke out against Uzzah and David left the ark in the home of Obed-Edom that he came to bring it back up to Jerusalem.  It also implies to us in 2 Samuel 6:13 that on the second trip, it was carried up by the Levites according to the statutes.  But Chronicles makes significant elaboration on this point, with over half this chapter dedicated to telling us the names of the Levites who came to carry the ark, David's specific instructions that the Levites are supposed to carry the ark, and the associated worship ministry that David instituted to go along with the ark.

I think this is consistent with the previous chapter, in verse 12 when it says that David's men burned the idols with fire.  In this chapter, I think the Chronicler is trying to be a lot more specific about exactly what David does to dissuade the LORD's wrath.  We could have known the commandments by reading the book of Numbers, but the Chronicler wants to be very specific in verse 15 and tells us that Moses commanded the ark to be carried on the Levites shoulders.  This is why the LORD "broke out" against Uzzah and by implication, against Israel as a whole (v. 13).  Now that the people are following God's commandments, the LORD "helps" the Levites (v. 26).

There is a notable emphasis on the role of the priests and Levites all throughout this chapter.  The Chronicler specifically names all three tribes of the Levites (Gershon, Merari, Kohath) as well as three additional families that are not mentioned (or at least not prominent) in the book of Moses.  None of this material is present in Samuel.  From what I can tell, I think at least some of these families were involved with the Levitical worship ministry under David.  This ministry is mostly ignored in Samuel but it forms a major part of the Chronicles narrative.  It's possible this is because it is an important ministry during the post-exilic reconstruction when Chronicles was written.  We can't know for sure, but it seems plausible at least.

David associates himself with the Levites by wearing a linen ephod, the traditional dress of the priests and Levites.  This is part of the Samuel narrative as well, but I think it takes on added meaning in this chapter which focuses so much on the Levites.  It shows that David is a king who supports the Levites and it's as if David wishes he could be a priest himself.

Verse 11 is a bit awkward.  In context, both Abiathar and Zadok are regarded as "the priest", i.e. co-high priests.  The Law of Moses does not have any provisions for two high priests, there is only supposed to be one.  We know from elsewhere that eventually Abiathar will fall into disrepute as he sides with Adonijah in rebellion against Solomon and the priesthood is taken away from him.  From that point, Zadok is the sole high priest and it seems like many parts of Chronicles are designed to validate Zadok's position as high priest.  So the reference here to both Abiathar and Zadok must be uncomfortable for the Chronicler who sometimes appears to be trying to eliminate Abiathar from the historical record.

The triumphal festival around the ark seems to echo the festival in chapter 12 when David was made king.  In that chapter, the people have a grand celebration, eating and drinking for three days to celebrate the newly crowned king David.  In this chapter, they host an even greater celebration to celebrate the return of the ark of the covenant, bringing back God's presence to Jerusalem.  God is the "great king" over Israel, so it's only appropriate that they would celebrate his return.

Verse 29 is interesting because it references the story of David's ascension over the house of Saul through his political marriage to Michal.  The rest of the story is omitted, both the conflict between David and Saul as well as the situation that led to David's marriage with Michal.  The text presumes that the reader knows this story.  Chronicles also omits the exchange between David and Michal that is recorded in 2 Samuel 6:20-23 which mentions the conflict between David and Saul.

Rather than dwell on these unpleasantries, in the next chapter Chronicles swiftly moves on to describe the new tent for the ark and the Levites' song of praise to God.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Bible Commentary - 1 Chronicles 14

In this chapter, David starts to build his house and defeats the Philistines twice.

The material in this chapter is substantially copied from 2 Samuel 5:11-25 with very little modification.  I think the biggest difference I can find between these two passages is that in the present chapter, v. 12 says that David ordered for the idols to be burned with fire, while in 2 Samuel 5:21, the men of David "carry away" the idols*.  This is probably (but not certainly) another instance of the Chronicler whitewashing the record from Samuel.  "Carrying away" the idols has a much more idolatrous connotation, like if David and his men take the idols in order to worship them or bring them to the temple of something.  Although there is nothing overtly idolatrous in the Samuel account, the Chronicler seemed to want to clarify that David only had his men destroy the idols and they were never worshiped.

I think the more significant change is that this material is copied from 2 Samuel 5, while the story in the previous chapter was from 2 Samuel 6, inverting the order.  I think the overall effect in Chronicles is that it associates David's victories in this chapter with his retrieval of the ark in the previous chapter.  It establishes David as a more pious man (seeking first the symbol of God's presence) and that David's devotion to the LORD results in his present blessings.  This connection appears even stronger as David inquires of the LORD before each of his victories (this is also part of the Samuel narrative).

Besides presenting David positively, I think this is also intended to show that devotion to the LORD is rewarded with victories as well as Israel being "highly exalted".  This connection is present throughout the OT (for instance, Deuteronomy 28 makes it crystal clear), but in this case it looks like the author of Chronicles has reordered the story to make it more obvious.  This is perhaps a product of the Chronicler's time.  With the people returning from the exile, they would possibly feel like they are recipients of the LORD's blessing, and returning to a desolate and hostile land, they would almost certainly feel a strong need for the LORD's blessing.

Similar to the narrative in Samuel, this chapter details David's rise onto the international stage, both with his newfound alliance with Tyre (v. 1) and with the immediate hostilities of the Philistines (v. 8).  The effect of both is to cement his place as the king of Israel.  Not only has Israel themselves recognized David as king, now the other nations recognize him as king - both the nations that support him and those that want to destroy him.  At this point, David is the undisputed ruler over Israel.

The list of children in verses 3-7 is also copied from Samuel with little alteration.  But there is an omission you may not have noticed.  These are all the children who were born in Jerusalem, but David also had sons when he was in Hebron.  At that time he had Amnon, Absalom and Adonijah.  These three sons all commit horrible crimes of different kinds, and both Absalom and Adonijah rebel against David.  However, because of how Chronicles is structured, all of the parts of Samuel that discuss these three men are omitted.  All three of them are referenced in the genealogy (1 Chron 3), but none of them are mentioned anywhere in the narrative portions of Chronicles.  So basically all of the "bad guys" who were born in Hebron are conveniently left out.

Lastly, similar to the narrative of Samuel, Chronicles maintains the parallelism between how the LORD "breaks out" against Uzzah in the previous chapter (1 Chron 13:11) and how the LORD "breaks out" against the Philistines in this chapter (v. 11).  In the previous case, he broke out against a man who did not honor him, and in this chapter he breaks out against the nations that oppose his people.  It goes to show that even when the LORD is breaking out, he is not trying to harm his people: in this case, he breaks out on behalf of his people to bring them victory.

In the next chapter, David realizes that he should not be afraid of the ark and he brings it back to Jerusalem, for real this time.

* For those concerned, the KJV also translates that phrase in 2 Samuel 5:21 as "burned", perhaps because "carrying away" can possibly have the connotation of "dispersing into smoke", but most modern translations disagree with the KJV interpretation.  On the other hand, the phrase in 1 Chron 14:12 is extremely clear that not only were the idols burned, they were "burned with fire".

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Bible Commentary - 1 Chronicles 13

In this chapter, David tries to move the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem.

This chapter is almost entirely copied from 2 Samuel 6, so it has a very similar purpose in the text, demonstrating David's devotion to the LORD (and at the same time, showing that king Saul was not concerned with the presence of the LORD).  In Chronicles, this section immediately follows the coronation banquet in chapter 12, which makes it appear as if this was David's first action as king.  Samuel tells the story slightly differently, but I don't think the difference is significant.

In broad terms, the picture I see here is David's exuberance and passion for God causing all the people to celebrate just as hard (v. 8), but the turn of events in v. 9 is striking.  Even though the people are celebrating God and joyful, they are acting ignorantly of God's command in the Law of Moses.  In particular, Numbers 4:15 specifically states that the holy things (including the ark) are not to be touched, but they were supposed to be carried on poles that would be placed on the shoulders of the Levites.  This is how they were carried throughout Israel's entire time wandering in the desert and this was specifically the ministry of the Levites.  In this chapter, David and the Israelites made a critical mistake by placing the ark of the covenant on a new cart, mimicking the behavior of the Philistines (which is not discussed in Chronicles, but we read that story back in 1 Samuel 6:7).

The Philistines acted in ignorance, being unaware of the Law, and the Israelites also acted ignorantly, following the example of the Philistines.  Even though it looks like Uzzah is doing a good thing (helping to keep the ark from falling), the people were acting contrary to God's command.  If the ark had been carried by the poles, then this situation never would have come up.

David's fear of the ark is not entirely misplaced, but it does show that when he and the other Israelites interacted with the symbol of God's presence, they needed to treat it reverently and according to God's stated will.  God's ark, like God's presence, is only dangerous if we approach it contrary to the path that God has made.  This shows even more clearly in God's treatment of Obed-Edom, where this Levite (presumably) treats the ark well, and God blesses his whole household.

God struck down Uzzah to show that he must be respected, but he blessed Obed-Edom to show that he is not cruel.  God is not capricious: he responds to these two men in accordance with how they treat his presence.  David was afraid because he saw the first part (the death of Uzzah), but over time he will come to see the second part (that God desires to bless his people) and will eventually move the ark to Jerusalem.  I think there are many people in the world who see God as the killer of Uzzah.  They see a judgmental God that is just waiting for us to mess up and then destroy us when we make the smallest mistake.  They don't see the God who blesses Obed-Edom, which is why it's so important that both stories are in the same chapter.  We need to revere God, honor him, and approach his presence the way that he tells us to, but we also need to see that God isn't waiting to destroy us.  He wants us to draw near so that he may bless us.

Even though the ark remains outside of Jerusalem, the blessing of God continues in the next chapter as David defeats the Philistines again.