Saturday, March 7, 2015

II Chronicles 23

In II Chronicles 23, a conspiracy overthrows the wicked Queen Athaliah of Judah, and the rightful Davidid Joash is installed as king.  Joash was hidden in the Temple for years, to keep him safe from Athaliah, who had slaughtered many Davidids.

What stood out to me in my reading of II Chronicles 23 was the references to keeping people out of the house of the LORD.  In II Chronicles 23:6, the priest Jehoiada says: “But let none come into the house of the LORD, save the priests, and they that minister of the Levites; they shall go in, for they are holy: but all the people shall keep the watch of the LORD” (KJV).  In II Chronicles 23:14, Jehoiada tells the captains of the army to bring Athaliah out, for she is not to be killed in the house of the LORD.  In II Chronicles 23:19, Jehoiada stations gatekeepers at the house of the LORD to keep out unclean people.

But it does appear that non-priests were in the house of the LORD.  Athaliah was, of course, but one could say that she was wicked, so, of course, she did not obey the traditional rules of the priests.  My point, though, is that godly people—-the good guys, from the perspective of the story—-appear to be in the house of the LORD.  Joash was hidden there.  II Chronicles 23:12-13 says that Athaliah went into the house of the LORD and saw there the people conspiring against her—-the priests, the captains, the musicians, and the people of the land.

I was wondering if looking at the prepositions before “house of the LORD” could help me understand this surface inconsistency.  The non-priests may have been at the house of the LORD, I reasoned to myself, but that is different from being in the house of the LORD.  The problem is that, in many of the relevant passages, there is no preposition before “house of the LORD.”  II Chronicles 22:12 says that Joash was hidden in the house of the LORD, but 23:6, 12, and 14 just have “house of the LORD.”

Keil-Delitzsch distinguish between the courts of the Temple and the sanctuary.  According to them, II Chronicles 23:6 is saying that the non-priests are to stay in the courts and are not to press into the sanctuary.  That makes sense, even if it is not explicit in the text.  When Athaliah enters the house of the LORD and sees the priestly and non-priestly members of the conspiracy, she is probably seeing them in the courts, where the non-priestly people are allowed.  Still, even the courts must be sacred or holy, on some level, for Jehoidah does not want bloodshed to take place there.

The conspiracy is going out of its way to respect priestly rules about where non-priests can and cannot go.  Yet, according to the Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary, Joash actually was hidden for six years in the Temple itself and thus appeared as more than human.  I am not saying that the Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary is an accurate indicator of the worldview of the Chronicler.  I am just noting that it may maintain that Joash was an exception to the rule that only priests can enter the Temple.  I could be wrong, though: maybe it is saying that Joash was raised in the courts or someplace other than the sanctuary, but Joash’s proximity to the sanctuary gave him a special holiness.

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