Saturday, January 17, 2015

II Chronicles 16

In II Chronicles 16, King Baasha of Northern Israel builds Ramah as a way to block people from going out from or coming into Judah, where King Asa reigns.  Somehow, however, Asa manages to get a message to King Ben-Hadad of Syria in the North, asking him to break his league with Baasha and to help Judah.  Asa gives Ben-Hadad silver and gold, Ben-Hadad then comes in and smites Northern Israelite cities, and Baasha ceases to build Ramah.  Asa uses stones and timber from Ramah to build some of his own cities.  A seer, Hanani, comes to Asa and rebukes him for looking to Syria for help rather than God.  Asa is outraged and throws Hanani into prison, as well as oppresses other people.  Asa gets a dreadful foot disease, but he does not trust in God but rather in physicians.

I have two items.

1.  II Chronicles 16:1 states that Baasha built Ramah in the thirty-sixth year of the reign of Asa.  This causes chronological problems, because Baasha’s reign ended earlier than the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s reign (see I Kings 15:33; 16:8).  There are two solutions that interpreters have posed, and both have their problems.

a.  The first solution is to say that the malchut of Asa in II Chronicles 16:1 does not refer to the time that Asa actually reigned, but rather to the kingdom over which Asa ruled, the Kingdom of Judah.  According to this interpretation, malchut in II Chronicles 16:1 should be translated as kingdom, not as reign.  The Kingdom of Judah started earlier than Asa’s reign, when Northern Israel rebelled against King Rehoboam of Judah, Solomon’s son.  If one interprets II Chronicles 16:1 to mean that Baasha built Ramah thirty-six years after the beginning of the Kingdom of Judah, then the chronological difficulty vanishes, since Baasha was ruling Northern Israel during that time.

But there are problems with this solution.  One problem is that the relevant term in II Chronicles 16:1, le-malchut, usually in Chronicles refers to the reigns of specific kings, not their kingdom.  For example, II Chronicles 35:19 refers to the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah.  The Chronicler here does not intend for us to understand this as Josiah’s kingdom, Judah, for much more than eighteen years passed between the establishment of the Kingdom of Judah under Rehoboam and the reign of Josiah.  Rather, the Chronicler here means the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign.

Another problem I have with this solution is that it seems to me that II Chronicles dates events during Asa’s reign in reference to the years in Asa’s reign, not in reference to the amount of time from Rehoboam’s establishment of Judah.  II Chronicles 15:10 states that Northern Israelites gathered themselves to Asa in the fifteenth year of his reign.  II Chronicles 15:19 says that Asa did not experience war until the thirty-fifth year of his reign.  Yet, II Chronicles 16:1 says that Baasha challenged Judah and built Ramah in the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s reign.  II Chronicles 16:12 states that Asa got his foot disease in the thirty-ninth year of his reign. II Chronicles 16:13 says that Asa died in the forty-first year of his reign.  And, to bring in Kings, I Kings 15:10 states that Asa reigned for forty-one years.

I think that all of these verses are discussing the years of Asa’s reign, not the years from the time that the Kingdom of Judah was established under Rehoboam.  II Chronicles 15:10 mentions the fifteenth year of Asa’s reign, and my impression is that this would not fit the fifteenth year after Rehoboam started the Kingdom of Judah, for Rehoboam ruled seventeen years (II Chronicles 12:13), and Rehoboam’s son Abijah ruled three years (II Chronicles 13:2).  I doubt that Asa had even begun to rule fifteen years after the establishment of the Kingdom of Judah.  Those references to events during Asa’s reign probably concern Asa’s reign, not the time from Rehoboam’s establishment of the Kingdom of Judah.

b.  Another solution is to say that there is a scribal error in II Chronicles 16:1.  Keil-Delitzsch go this route.  They say that, in Hebrew up to the seventh century B.C.E., the Hebrew symbols for ten and thirty look similar and could easily be mistaken for each other.  According to this solution, II Chronicles 16:1 is referring to the sixteenth year of Asa’s reign, not the thirty-sixth year, and the sixteenth year coincides with when Baasha was ruling Northern Israel.

Raymond Dillard in the World Biblical Commentary mentions a problem with this solution.  He says that, under this scenario, God punished Asa with foot disease over twenty years after Asa sinned by seeking Syria’s help against Baasha.  II Chronicles 16:12 says that Asa got his foot disease in the thirty-ninth year of his reign.  Dillard’s critique is not iron-clad, for II Chronicles 16:12 does not explicitly say that Asa’s foot disease was a punishment from God.  Still, that is a reasonable assumption, since the Chronicler often does present divine punishment of kings for their sins.  One who is interested in this issue should ask: is it credible that the Chronicler would present a twenty-plus year gap between Asa’s sin and his punishment?  Remember that the other sins mentioned in II Chronicles 16—-Asa jailing Hanani and oppressing people—-were precipitated by Hanahi’s criticism of Asa for his sin regarding Baasha, which probably occurred soon after Asa’s sin regarding Baasha.

Is there a solution to this problem of II Chronicles 16:1?  Unless there are other solutions or ways to account for the problems of those two solutions, the best option may be that the Chronicler got his dates wrong.

2.  II Chronicles 16:12 says that Asa did not seek the LORD when he was suffering from his foot disease, but physicians.  Does this suggest that the Chronicler, or God, believes it is wrong for people to go to doctors when they are sick, meaning that people should trust God instead?

I read Christian interpreters who answered no.  They said that Asa’s problem was not that he went to physicians, but that he did not seek the LORD also.  He tried to bypass completely a relationship with God.  John Gill mentioned the pro-physician passage in Sirach 38, and also anti-physician passages in rabbinic literature (T. Bab. Kiddashin, fol. 32.1, which I found, and Pesachim, fol. 113.1, which I could not find).  I did a search on “physicians” on my Judaic Classics Library, however, and saw that there were times when rabbis went to the doctor when they were sick.

See Avraham Rosenblum’s comments under my post on II Chronicles 11.

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