Saturday, April 26, 2014

I Chronicles 7

This week, I will write about I Chronicles 7 for my weekly quiet time blog post.

I Chronicles 7 contains puzzling details.  I Chronicles 7:14 says that Manasseh had an Aramean concubine.  How could this be the case, if Manasseh was born to Joseph in Egypt (Genesis 41:51) and presumably lived his life and died there?  Egypt is far away from Aram: Egypt is to the south of Palestine, whereas Aram (Syria) is to Palestine’s north.  How did Manasseh have an Aramean concubine?

I Chronicles 7:20-29 states that certain sons of Ephraim, Joseph’s other son who was born in Egypt, were slaughtered by men of Gath (maybe Philistines) when those Ephraimites went down to take away the Gathites’ cattle.  Ephraim mourned over the death of his sons.  Why were these sons of Ephraim near Gath in Palestine, when they lived in Egypt?

What a number of biblical scholars suggest is that I Chronicles posits a strong connection between the Israelites and the land of Israel.  Consequently, whereas other biblical traditions depict the Israelites being away from the land for some time—-in Egypt, or in Babylon—-the Chronicler presents them as continually present in the land.

The Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary, however, offers other explanations.  On how Manasseh in Egypt had an Aramean concubine, it points out that there were trade routes connecting Aram and Egypt, and Manasseh could have met the Aramean woman who became his concubine that way.

On why certain sons of Ephraim were away from Egypt and in Palestine long before the time of the Exodus, the Artscroll offers a variety of explanations, as it draws on Jewish traditions.  Within medieval Jewish tradition, there is the view that there were Philistines (Gathites) in Egypt who were dwelling near the Israelites there, and so the Ephraimites were not going all the way to Gath, but were challenging Gathites who were close to their own backyard.  Another medieval view is that I Chronicles 7:20-29 is about the Conquest after the time of the Exodus: the Ephraimites had left Egypt with the rest of Israel in the Exodus, and they ran into challenges when they came upon Gath.  But Ephraim was said to weep for his sons who died in I Chronicles 7:20-29.  Does that mean that Ephraim was actually alive by the time of the Conquest, that he had lived from the time of Joseph, through Israel’s sojourn in Egypt and the Exodus, all the way to the time of the Conquest—-a time that amounts to hundreds of years, according to some biblical traditions?  Apparently so, according to this particular interpretation.

Another view is that of Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Chassid, who said that the Pharaoh allowed the descendants of Joseph to travel between Egypt and the land of Canaan.  This, according to Rabbi Yehudah, is how the Ephraimites could go to Canaan while their father Ephraim was living in Egypt.  Rabbi Yehudah also refers to I Chronicles 7:24, which states that Ephraim’s daughter built certain cities, which were probably in the land of Canaan.  Even before the Exodus and the Conquest, Rabbi Yehudah argues, the Israelites were in the land of Canaan: they failed militarily, but they managed to establish some presence there.

The story that the Artscroll most focuses on is a rabbinic explanation.  According to this tale, the Ephraimites were wrong to go into Gath and to try to take the Gathites’ cattle.  God had told Abraham that Israel would live in Egypt for hundreds of years (Genesis 15).  Joseph told Israelites they were to leave at the time of the Exodus (Genesis 50:25-26).  The sons of Ephraim, however, had royal blood, were proud, and did not want to stay in Egypt until the time of the Exodus, and so they went to the Promised Land long before the right time, depending on their own strength rather than God.  They got slaughtered.  Hundreds of years later, at the time of the Exodus, God decided not to lead the departing Israelites in the path of the Philistines because of that bad experience that the Ephraimites had long before (see Exodus 13:17).  The tale states that God did not want the departing Israelites to see the bones of the dead Ephraimites and to become discouraged, so God led them by an alternative route.

These are interesting explanations of the puzzling details of I Chronicles 7.  Perhaps there are lessons here about doing things in the right season.  Of course, the problem here is that this can become an excuse for inactivity: people being reluctant to take a step, out of fear that it is not the right season.  I would say that a decent approach would be to look at open doors, test the waters, and take a step, if that looks prudent.  All the while, try to be sensitive to where God may be leading.

I think that Rabbi Yehudah highlighted an important detail in referring to I Chronicles 7:24: sure, the sons of Ephraim failed in their attempt at Conquest, but a daughter of Ephraim built cities in the land of Canaan.  Even if the dreams of Israel were not to be realized fully at that time, they could be partially realized, and in a peaceful manner.

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