We’re getting some more throwbacks to King David’s reign, and everyone is flocking to him to support him in battle. “And David came out before them, and he answered and said to them, ‘If you have come to me in peace to help me, my heart will be upon you as one, but if you have come to betray me to my adversaries although there is no injustice in my hands, may the God of our forefathers see and reprove (Chronicles I 12:17).'” What I love about this verse is that it demonstrates that both intention and action are needed in order to fulfill a mission or obligation. David wasn’t satisfied if people came to support him with malicious intent, and only wanted followers who also had loyalty in their hearts. We regularly hear that actions speak louder than words, which is true, but is the most accurate when they’re augmented by intent.
“And all Israel gathered to David to Hebron, saying, ‘Behold, we are your bone and your flesh (Chronicles I 11:1).'” This verse just struck me on so many levels. Today has been a tragic day for the collective family of the Jewish people. Due to rain in Israel, flash floods in the deserts caused the death of nine high school students on a hiking trip. It’s a horrific loss, and there’s a great deal of sadness going around right now. This verse made me think of that, because it seems to summarize the collective nature of Jewish peoplehood. We’re all connected, whether or not we even realize it, through tangible and metaphorical bonds that make us one. So this isn’t just a loss for the immediate families, though they’re of course feeling it on a level that none of us could dream of. But we’re all feeling the heartbreak of senseless loss, and I hope that the collective Jewish people find comfort at this tragic time.
This chapter basically gives us an ‘on one foot’ recap of King Saul’s death. I guess this book really is the coda to everything else, and lots of recaps are forthcoming. “And Saul said to his weapon-bearer, “Draw your sword and pierce me with it, lest these uncircumcised ones come upon me and make a mockery of me,” but his weapon-bearer was unwilling, for he feared greatly, and Saul took the sword and fell upon it (Chronicles I 10:4).” It’s interesting to think about comparing the previous, more long form account of Saul’s demise with this summary version. One thing that I’m reading into this one is that Saul kept his pride until the end, and didn’t want to be humiliated by his enemies. However, rather than his death being a passive one at the hands of someone else, he needed to truly take matters into his own hands and act. While in other contexts I would see this as good advice, to take an active role in making ones own fate rather than waiting for others to do so, when it comes to literally falling on the sword I’m a tad less gung-ho. But as a concept, I appreciate the idea of Saul doing things on his own terms, rather than passively waiting for others to make them happen for him.
“And all Israel traced their genealogy, and behold they are written in the book of the kings of Israel; but the Judeans were exiled to Babylon because of their treachery (Chronicles I 9:1).” I guess genealogy is as good of a reason as any for the days of lists upon lists of names that we’ve been reading. While I’ve made no secret that the lists have been dry and boring for me, I am a huge geek when it comes to genealogy, so I’ll give credit where it’s due. Ever since I was a little girl I loved sitting with my grandparents and hearing stories of the past. Names of people long-dead, who I never had the chance to meet and am only tangentially connected to are burned into my memory because they featured in fantastical stories from another time. However, as much as I personally love genealogy, one thing I haven’t been as good at as I would have hoped is writing it all down. Whereas whoever composed Chronicles wrote down every name, however non-essential, I’ve had it as an ever-present item towards the bottom of my to do list for literally years to create a record of the memories that my grandparents shared. Maybe this is the year when I should do just that – my next project, perhaps?
Amidst the list of names upon names in this chapter, there was one verse that confused me. “And Mikloth begot Shimah, and they too, opposite their brethren, dwelt in Jerusalem with their brethren (Chronicles I 8:32).” How are these guys both opposite and with their brethren? To me, opposite indicates a distinct distance, either physical or emotional, keeping the parties separate. But being with someone is being connected in some way. When it comes to families, there’s always a connection, but unlike in the inherently tribal times of the past, we can choose whether or not to act on it. There are some families that do seem like they’re opposite one another in some, or even most cases, but that doesn’t necessarily keep them from being with one another as well. I’m lucky in that my family is together all the time, and it’s because we want to be. We speak multiple times a day, and work hard to ensure that we spend as much time together as possible. I can’t imagine being opposite from them in any real way, and I know the blessings of being together. I have no idea if what I’m reading into this particular verse is actually there, but that’s what I’m taking from this latest chapter of names.
Now we have the list of most of the lesser-known sons and tribes of Israel. One of the genealogies that we are given is that of Manasseh, which includes the lineage of Zelophehad, father of my favorite biblical feminists. “And Machir took a wife of Huppim and of Shuppim, and the name of his sister was Maacah, and the name of the second was Zelophehad, and Zelophehad had daughters (Chronicles I 7:15).” This throwback to the story of Zelophehad’s daughters is a welcome reminder of these heroines, but is also causing me to question what exactly the purpose of this particular book of Tanakh is. So far all I’ve had are lists of names, mostly obscure ones, and now we’re essentially having one-verse remakes of dramas and stories from earlier texts. I’m not clear on what this is meant to teach, but can definitely say that I’m not surprised this book isn’t widely studied. If I’m setting up for multiple months of this, it’s going to be a long – and sadly dull – end to this project.
This chapter is another one that’s full of names upon names, for straight up sixty-six verses. There are only a few that have content beyond X son of X, repeatedly, so I’m choosing to focus on one of those for my reflection piece today. “And to the sons of Aaron they gave the cities of refuge: Hebron, and Libnah and the open land around it, and Jattir, and Eshtemoa and the open land around it (Chronicles I 6:42).” Cities of refuge are a concept that I’m fascinated by. We haven’t seen them in a few books, but from what I recall, they were places that those charged manslaughter, but not murder, could go to in order to escape blood feuds. I guess it’s important in the context of the text that they served this purpose, but I’m just thinking about all the other categories of people who could use a refuge place and weren’t necessarily being served by any of the communal institutions of the day. Particularly in the age of #MeToo, I’m thinking about women in this era, and how they didn’t exactly have options if they wanted to leave their abusive situations. Or individuals who, for whatever reason, weren’t accepted by their communities and tribes. Did they get refuge somewhere?
Full disclosure: I am fully aware that the point that I’m going to attempt to make from my reading of this chapter is reaching, to say the least, and potentially flat out not in the text. But I’m going with it anyway. This chapter is talking about the genealogy of Jacob’s descendants. “And the sons of Reuben, the firstborn of Israel, for he was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel, but not to be reckoned in the genealogy as firstborn. Because Judah prevailed over his brothers, and the one appointed as prince was to be from him, but the birthright belonged to Joseph (Chronicles I 5:1-2).” Now, as a disclaimer, let me say that I have the best parents in the world, a fact that is exponentially true when comparing our family to the dysfunctional drama of the clan of Jacob. However, one thing that I took from these verses related to something that my parents always said to my siblings and I – that they parent every child differently. Whenever one of us would be upset about a perceived privilege that another one had, or a lack of total equality, they would simply and straightforwardly tell us that each child had and needed different things, and that their parenting would never be uniform. I feel like on some level, we’re seeing that precept in this text, with each son receiving a different portion based on their actions and subsequently what they deserved. With other patriarchs in Tanakh, we see the birthright being given to whoever ‘should’ have it, rather than who deserves it, which leads to its own strife. That’s Jacob’s story in a nutshell, so maybe he did learn from that and on some level chose to parent according to his children, rather than a system.
More and more and more names, these from the tribe of Judah, and each more random than the last. Some mention women, others don’t, and I’m at a bit of a loss for why any of them deserved to be canonized in the most sacred of texts. One name that intrigued me was Jabez. “Now Jabez was more esteemed than his brothers, and his mother named him Jabez, saying, ‘For I bore him in sadness (Chronicles I 4:9).'” I have no memory of having heard of this guy before, so it’s interesting in the first place that he gets a mention and an explanation like this. Each clause of the verse is also full of questions. Regarding the former, we have so many examples of strife between brothers in Tanakh, so I’m wondering if this is just one of many or if it’s a standout example somehow. And why does his relationship with his brothers have anything to do with how he was named and why? Why would his mother have had sadness, to the point that she immortalized that emotion in the name of her son? Does it have to do with his brothers, or is it a totally separate issue? I wonder if the commentators delved into all of this, or if this is all just an aside towards the end of Tanakh, and Jabez is someone who is ultimately lost to history?
I’m doing a slight switch-up today, and instead of focusing on what’s in the text of today’s chapter, I want to actually focus on what – or in this case, who – isn’t there. This chapter continues the trend of delving into the genealogy of our favorite biblical characters, and this time focuses on King David. We get shoutouts to each of his wives for the sons they produced for him. For example, “The fifth, Sephatiah, to Abital; the sixth, Ithream, to Eglah his wife (Chronicles I 3:3).” Fine. However, I can’t help but notice that someone is missing from the chapter. Michal, David’s first wife and queen, King Saul’s daughter, doesn’t even get a mention in this chronology of David. And the sad reason is that it’s because she was barren, and without contributing to his line, seems to have been erased from his life. We see throughout Tanakh that there are women who experience fertility issues, but part of the reason that we even know their stories is that those issues are somehow overcome and they do have the longed-for children (i.e. sons) that they were praying for. But what about Michal? She’s left childless to the end, and now her very existence seems to be ignored. I know we have to read through the context of the time, but it actually breaks my heart that this woman was so brushed aside just because she didn’t give the king sons. So I’m remembering Michal, and all other voiceless women, removed from the pages of text and history because they didn’t do what others expected of them.