Blessed be Yahweh (Ps 34:1-34:3)

A psalm of David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away

Aleph 

“I will bless Yahweh at all times!

His praise shall continually be in my mouth.

Bet      

My soul makes its boast in Yahweh.

Let the humble hear and be glad.

Gimel 

O magnify Yahweh with me!

Let us exalt his name together!”

Psalm 34 is a long sapiential psalm about what happened to David in 1 Samuel, chapter 21. It is also an acrostic or alphabet psalm as each verse starts with another letter of the Hebrew alphabet like Psalms 9, 10, and 25. In the 1 Samuel story, David pretended to be deranged when he appeared before the Philistine King Achish at city of Gath. David had spit all over his beard and started to scratch at everything around him. However, the king’s name was not Abimelech, who was another Philistine King of Gerar around the time of Abraham and Isaac. However, this psalmist did not use this name within the psalm, so that it might have been a title misidentification. However, the story in 1 Samuel did have David pretend that he was mad so that he was dismissed by the Philistine king of Gath as a crazy person and not David. This psalm actually makes very little reference to that story. David or the psalmist began by blessing and praising Yahweh as he boasted in Yahweh. He wanted his name to be magnified. He wanted the humble ones to hear and be exalted.

The destruction of Shechem (Judg 9:42-9:49)

“On the following day the people went out into the fields. When Abimelech was told this, he took his troops and divided them into three companies. He lay in wait in the fields. When he looked and saw the people coming out of the city, he rose against them and killed them. Abimelech, and the company that was with him, rushed forward and stood at the entrance of the gate of the city. Meanwhile, the two companies rushed on all who were in the fields and killed them. Abimelech fought against the city all that day. He took the city. He killed the people that were in it. He razed the city. He sowed it with salt.”

On the next day, Abimelech divided his troops into 3 companies. He killed all the people as they went out into the fields. After he killed the people in Shechem, then he sowed salt to make the ground impotent.

“When all the lords of the Tower of Shechem heard of it, they entered the stronghold of the temple of El-berith. Abimelech was told that all the notable lords of the Tower of Shechem were gathered together. So Abimelech went up to Mount Zalmon, he and all the troops that were with him. Abimelech took an axe in his hand. He cut down a bundle of brushwood. Then he took it up and laid it on his shoulder. Thus he said to the troops with him. ‘What you have seen me do, do quickly, as I have done.’ Every one of the troops cut down a bundle. They followed Abimelech. They put it against the stronghold. They set the stronghold on fire over them. Thus all the people of the Tower of Shechem also died, about a thousand men and women.”

The Tower of Shechem would have been the watch tower for that city. Notice that they went to temple of El-berith, which would have been a Baal temple. Mount Zalmon was a small mountain outside Shechem. They attacked with burning bushes on their shoulders and wiped out all the population, no matter whether they were men or women, about 1,000 people. There is some archeological evidence that revealed a massive destruction of Shechem in the 12th century BCE.

Jotham rants at Shechem and flees (Judg 9:16-9:21)

“Now therefore, have you acted in good faith and honor when you made Abimelech king? Have you dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house? Have you done to him as his actions deserved? My father fought for you. He risked his life. He rescued you from the hand of Midian. But you have risen up against my father’s house this day. You have killed his sons, seventy men on one stone. You have made Abimelech, the son of his slave woman, king over the lords of Shechem because he is your kinsman. If, I say, you have acted in good faith and honor with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice in Abimelech. Let him also rejoice in you. But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech, and devour the lords of Shechem, and Beth-millo. Let fire come out from the lords of Shechem, and from Beth-millo, and devour Abimelech. Then Jotham ran away and fled, going to Beer, where he remained for fear of his brother Abimelech.”

Now we get the interpretation of the parable, a common way of presenting things in the Israelite world. Had they dealt fairly with Gideon and his family? Did all the sons deserve to die? Were they acting in good faith? Beth-millo was close to Shechem. In the end, Jotham flees to Beer which is on the east side of the Jordan, but there is no indication of why he went there, except that it is far away and he was afraid of his brother.

The family of Gideon (Judg 8:29-8:32)

“Jerubbaal son of Joash went to live in his own house. Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives. His concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son. He named him name Abimelech. Then Gideon son of Joash died at a good old age. He was buried in the tomb of his father Joash at Ophrah of the Abiezrites.”

Gideon had 70 sons, not counting the daughters, since he had many wives. As if he did not have enough wives he also had a concubine who bore him a son called Abimelech, who will play a major role, among all these children of Gideon. He died of a good age without any specific number attached to it.   He was buried in the tomb of his father at Ophrah.

The alliance with Abimelech (Gen 26:26-26:30)

“Then Abimelech went to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his adviser and Phicol the commander of his army.  Isaac said to them, ‘Why have you come to me, seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you?’  They said, ‘We see plainly that Yahweh has been with you.  So we say, let there be an oath between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you so that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of Yahweh.’  So he made them a feast, and they ate and drank.”

Then King Abimelech with his army advisor Phicol came to Isaac.  This is the only mention of Ahuzzath.  Isaac wanted to know why they had come to him since they hated him and had asked him to leave. Now Abimelech, who said that God was with Isaac, concluded an alliance with Isaac, like the one between his father Abraham and himself in chapter 21, so that they ate and drank together.

“In the morning they rose early and exchanged oaths with one another.  Isaac set them on their way and they departed from him in peace.  That same day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well that they had dug, and said to him, ‘We have found water!’  He called it Shibah.  Therefore the name of the city is Beer-sheba to this day.”

The next day Isaac’s servants came to tell him that they had found water at a well called Shibah.  Thus the name of that place became Beer-sheba, as if that was not the name of the place already. This is the only place in biblical literature it is called Shibah.  The more common name of Beer-sheba appears over 33 times.

 

The wells at Gerar and Beer-sheba (Gen 26:15-26:25)

“Now the Philistines had stopped up and filled with earth all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of his father Abraham.  Abimelech said to Isaac, ‘Go away from us.  You have become too powerful for us.’  So Isaac departed from there, and camped in the valley of Gerar and settled there.  Isaac dug again the wells of water which had been dug in the days of his father Abraham. The Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham.  He gave them the names which his father had given them.  But when Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of spring water, the herders of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herders, saying, ‘The water is ours.’ So he called the name of the well Esek, because they contended with him.  Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over that also.  So he called its name Sitnah.  He moved from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it.  So he called it Rehoboth, saying, ‘For now Yahweh has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.’”

King Abimelech said that Isaac was becoming too powerful so that he must leave.  Isaac departed and settled in the valley of Gerar.  There he and his servants again dug all the wells that had been built by Abraham and his servants earlier because the Philistines had stopped these wells and filled them with earth.  He gave them the same name as his father had done.   Now the herders of Gerar said that the water from the wells was theirs.  Finally, Isaac’s servants dug three new wells, Esek, or contention, Sitnah, or quarrels, and Rehoboth, no argument.  This is the only mention of these three wells in the biblical literature.

 “From there he went up to Beer-sheba.  That very night Yahweh appeared to him and said, ‘I am the God of your father Abraham.  Do not be afraid, for I am with you and will bless you and make your offspring numerous for my servant Abraham’s sake.’  So he built an altar there and called on the name of Yahweh, and pitched his tent there. There Isaac’s servants dug a well.”

Then he went up to Beer-sheba, where Yahweh said not to be afraid because your offspring will be great as promised to your father Abraham.  Isaac built an altar there and dug another well.  Wells were important in this arid area.  Beer-sheba is the place where Abraham had lived and King Abimelech made a treaty with him.   It also was the place that Hagar and Ishmael went when they were cast out of Abraham’s house.

 

Isaac goes to Gerar (Gen 26:1-26:14)

“Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham.  Isaac went to Gerar, to King Abimelech of the Philistines.  Yahweh appeared to Isaac and said, ‘Do not go down to Egypt.  Settle in the land that I will show you.  Reside in this land as an alien, and I will be with you, and will bless you.  For to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will fulfill the oath which I swore to your father Abraham.  I will multiply your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, and will give to your offspring all these lands.   All the nations of the earth shall gain blessing for themselves through your offspring because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”

Now a famine came upon the land, apparently this happened quite a bit. So Isaac went to Gerar where King Abimelech of the Philistines, had concluded an alliance with Abraham in chapter 21.  Anyway, this is friendly territory, south of Gaza.  Yahweh told Isaac not to go to Egypt, but to go to the Philistines so that he could be an alien resident with lots of great land and people as was promised to Abraham, his father.

“Then Isaac dwelt in Gerar.  When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, ‘She is my sister.’  He was afraid to say, ‘My wife, thinking, ‘or else the men of the place might kill me for the sake of Rebekah, because she is attractive in appearance.’  When Isaac had been there a long time, King Abimelech of the Philistines looked out of a window and saw him fondling his wife Rebekah.  So Abimelech called for Isaac, and said, ‘So she is your wife!  Why then did you say, `She is my sister’? Isaac said to him, ‘Because I thought I might die because of her.’  Abimelech said, ‘What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.’  So Abimelech warned all the people, saying, ‘Whoever touches this man or his wife shall be put to death.’ Isaac sowed seed in that land, and in the same year reaped a hundredfold. Yahweh blessed him, and he became rich.  He prospered more and more, until he became very wealthy.  He had possessions of flocks and herds, and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him.”

Isaac told the same lie as his father, when he said that Rebekah was his sister and not his wife, fearing for his own life.  However, one day King Abimelech saw Isaac foundling Rebekah and called him in to find out what was going on.  He admonished Isaac by saying you could have brought great guilt to us if one of my people had slept with her.  Finally, Abimelech issued a decree that no one should touch Isaac or his wife Rebekah.  Isaac sowed seed that rendered a hundredfold.  As he became rich and prospered with flocks, herds, and a great household,  the Philistines began to envy him.