I have three items for my blog post today about II Chronicles 11:
1. v 15 states regarding King Jeroboam of Northern Israel (in the KJV):
“And he ordained him priests for the high places, and for the devils, and for the calves which he had made.”
The Hebrew word that the KJV translates as “devils” is sa-ir, which often means a goat (see here). That is why a number of English translations render the term as “goat demon” when it appears within the context of pagan worship.
Raymond Dillard in his Word Biblical Commentary on II Chronicles made some interesting points about II Chronicles 11:15. Jeroboam made priests for the goat-demons and the golden calves he had made. Dillard notes that there is no evidence in Syro-Palestine that Israelites worshiped deities who had the form of animals. Moreover, in this region, gods are usually standing on the backs of calves, meaning that Israelites probably did not worship the calves themselves but the deity who was using the calves as a sort of throne.
Dillard is arguing that the worship of deities in the form of animals was not distinctly Israelite, and yet he does not seem to believe that Jeroboam encouraging this sort of worship was historically implausible. There are icons in Egypt in which deities are depicted in animal form, and Jeroboam spent some time in Egypt when he was on the run from King Solomon. Could Jeroboam have picked up such worship during his stay in Egypt?
2. II Chronicles 11:18-23 states the following (in the KJV):
18 And Rehoboam took him Mahalath the daughter of Jerimoth the son of David to wife, and Abihail the daughter of Eliab the son of Jesse;
19 Which bare him children; Jeush, and Shamariah, and Zaham.
20 And after her he took Maachah the daughter of Absalom; which bare him Abijah, and Attai, and Ziza, and Shelomith.
21 And Rehoboam loved Maachah the daughter of Absalom above all his wives and his concubines: (for he took eighteen wives, and threescore concubines; and begat twenty and eight sons, and threescore daughters.)
22 And Rehoboam made Abijah the son of Maachah the chief, to be ruler among his brethren: for he thought to make him king.
23 And he dealt wisely, and dispersed of all his children throughout all the countries of Judah and Benjamin, unto every fenced city: and he gave them victual in abundance. And he desired many wives.
The Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary presents a variety of Jewish interpretations about this passage. Why were King Rehoboam of Judah’s children intentionally dispersed throughout the tribes of Judah and Benjamin?
Malbim states that it was to prevent a civil war. Rehoboam made his son Abijah a chief and was grooming him to become king, even though Abijah was not the oldest son. Abijah was born to Rehoboam’s favorite wife, Maacah the daughter of David’s son Absalom, and Rehoboam took Maacah after he had taken Mahalath and Abihail and they had borne him sons. Maacah was a late wife to the scene. Rehoboam perhaps feared that his other sons would be jealous of the younger son Abijah and the special authority that Rehoboam was giving to him. Malbim’s point may be that Rehoboam was distributing his other sons throughout Judah and Benjamin and was giving them favors because that would lessen the chance that they could conspire in Jerusalem against Abijah.
Another explanation was offered by Malbim and Ralbag, and this was that Abijah was the one sending his sons throughout Judah and Benjamin, in order to consolidate his own authority.
3. I read an article by Israel Finkelstein, “Rehoboam’s fortified cities (II Chr 11, 5-12): a Hasmonean reality?”, which appeared in Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 123, number 1, 2011, pages 92-107. Finkelstein argues that Rehoboam’s fortified cities—-their location and even some cities’ names—-do not reflect Israel’s post-exilic period but rather the Hasmonean period, which was later. I recall Finkelstein saying in that article that Judah was not really fortified during the post-exilic period, notwithstanding what Nehemiah says, but that the Book of Nehemiah reflects a Hasmonean context in that case. Finkelstein bases this conclusion, at least in part, on archaeology. Similarly, Finkelstein in another article, “The Historical Reality behind the Genealogical Lists in 1 Chronicles” (Journal of Biblical Literature 131/1, 2012, pages 65-63), contends that the genealogies in Chronicles are consistent with the boundaries in the Hasmonean period rather than the post-exilic one.
Finkelstein speculates that the Chronicler may have been presenting Rehoboam as building fortifications in order to highlight that fortifications alone could not save Judah: that they actually did not save Judah because Shishak of Egypt still invaded. Rehoboam could not bypass piety towards God, which, for the Chronicler, was the true path to Israel’s security.
In my readings about Chronicles, I have encountered the view that the Chronicler does not care for Israel making alliances, for he believes that Israel should trust in God instead. Does that mean that the Chronicler is critical of fortifications, as if they are human means for Israel to protect herself as opposed to relying on God for protection? Well, II Chronicles 14:7 depicts the righteous King Asa building them, and his reason for doing so is that the LORD has given Israel rest. The Chronicler does not explicitly criticize Asa for doing so. And yet, later in the chapter, Asa wins against enormous odds by trusting God; later, in II Chronicles 16, Asa is criticized for trusting in an alliance and physicians rather than the LORD. Maybe the Chronicler does not deem fortifications to be that good of a thing. Or perhaps the Chronicler believes they are fine, as long as a king does not rely on them to the exclusion of relying on God. Solomon did some practical things, and the Chronicler does not seem to criticize him for that; rather, he depicts that time as Israel’s golden age.