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.

Abraham and Abimelech at Beer-sheba (Gen 21:22-21:34)

“At that time Abimelech, with Phicol the commander of his army said to Abraham, ‘God is with you in all that you do.  Now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my offspring or with my posterity, but as I have dealt loyally with you, you will deal with me and with the land where you have resided as an alien.’  Abraham said, I swear it.’”

Meanwhile Abraham had settled in Gerar.  So King Abimelech asked him to swear that he would not treat him or his descendants falsely, because he had dealt with him loyally.  Abraham said yes and continued as an alien resident.

“When Abraham complained to Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech’s servants had seized, Abimelech said, ‘I do not know who has done this. You did not tell me, and I have not heard of it until today.’  So Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two men made a covenant.  Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs of the flock.  Abimelech said to Abraham, ‘What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs that you have set apart?’  He said, ‘these seven ewe lambs you shall accept from my hand, in order that you may be a witness for me that I dug this well.’  Therefore that place was called Beer-sheba.  There both of them swore an oath. When they made a covenant at Beer-sheba, Abimelech, with Phicol the commander of his army, left and returned to the land of the Philistines. Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beer-sheba, and called there on the name of Yahweh, the Everlasting God.  Abraham resided as an alien many days in the land of the Philistines.”

Wells in a dry area are a big deal. So Abraham complained to Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech’s servants had seized.  Abimelech was upset that no one had told him about this.  Then Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave it to Abimelech and they made a covenant. Abraham then set apart seven ewe lambs for Abimelech so that he could be a witness that he had dug this well.  This almost sounds like a bribe.  The place was called Beer-sheba, the same well that Hagar had found in the preceding story.  So this became the covenant of Beer-sheba. Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beer-sheba and called on the everlasting Lord (El Olam) and remained in the land of the Philistines as an alien.

The dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael (Gen 21:8-21:21)

“The child grew, and was weaned.  Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.  But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac.  So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son.  The son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.’ The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman.  Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that your offspring shall be named for you.  As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also.’  So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.”

They had a big feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.  The first eating of solid food of a baby is still a big celebration in India today.  Sarah did not like to see Ishmael playing with her son Isaac, so she wanted to cast out Hagar, the Egyptian slave, with her son Ishmael.  Abraham was distressed about this affair.  So God said to Abraham not to be distressed but to listen to Sarah, because Isaac is where his future was, although Ishmael would have a great nation also.  The next morning Abraham sent Hagar with her child with bread and water into the wilderness of Beer-sheba, at the southern end of Canaan, where Abimelech and Abraham will have a peace treaty.

 “When the water in the skin was gone, Hagar cast the child under one of the bushes.  Then she went, and sat down over against him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot.  She said, ‘Do not let me look on the death of the child.’ And as she sat opposite him, the boy lifted up his voice and wept.  God heard the voice of the boy.  The angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar?  Do not be afraid. God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.  Come, lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand.  I will make a great nation of him.’  Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water.  She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.  God was with the boy, and he grew up.  He lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow.  He lived in the wilderness of Paran.  His mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.”

The water ran out, so Hagar put the child under a bush.  Then she sat a bowshot away because she did not want to watch him die.  God heard the voice of the boy crying. An angel of God came to Hagar and asked what was troubling her.  The angel told her not to be afraid, a constant theme of angelic messages.  The angel said the child will be the foundation of a great nation.  Hagar opened her eyes and she saw a well of water, and gave the boy something to drink.  God was with Ishmael as he grew up in the wilderness of Paran, somewhere in the Sinai area.  He became an expert with the bow and got married to an Egyptian woman.  Supposedly Ishmael was 13 at this time, but he kind of appears like a toddler in this episode.

Abraham at Gerar (Gen 20:1-20:20:18)

“From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb, and lived between Kadesh and Shur.  While residing in Gerar as an alien, Abraham said of his wife Sarah, ‘She is my sister.’ King Abimelech of Gerar sent and took Sarah.  But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, ‘you are about to die because of the woman whom you have taken.  She is a married woman.’  Now Abimelech had not approached her.  So he said, ‘Lord, will you destroy an innocent people?  Did he not himself say to me, `She is my sister’? And she herself said, `He is my brother.’ I did this in the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands.’  Then God said to him in the dream, ‘Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart.  Furthermore it was I who kept you from sinning against me.  Therefore I did not let you touch her.  Now then, restore the man’s wife.  He is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you shall live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all that are yours.’”

Abraham went into the region of the Negeb, which is almost the wilderness, south of Canaan on the way to Egypt.  He stayed between Kadesh, which will become the southeastern border of Palestine, and Shur, which is closer to Egypt.  In this area of Gerar, south of Gaza, they resided as aliens.  Once again Abraham pretended that Sarah was his sister, the second time he has used this lie. Now why would King Abimelech of Gerar think that this 90 year old pregnant woman was attractive?  Obviously this is an Elohist repeat of what happened in Egypt, when she was younger. King Abimelech wants to take Sarah as his wife. However, in a dream, God told him that she was a married woman. Abimelech pleaded that he was innocent since he had been told by her and Abraham that she was Abraham’s sister.  God said that Abimelech had integrity of the heart.  This is strange that it would have been okay to have sex with her if she was not married. He told him to return Sarah to Abraham, since he is a prophet and will pray for you to live.  But if you do not return her, you will die.

“So Abimelech rose early in the morning, and called all his servants, and told them all these things.  The men were very much afraid.  Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said to him, ‘What have you done to us? How have I sinned against you, that you have brought such great guilt on me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that ought not to be done.’ Abimelech said to Abraham, ‘what were you thinking of, that you did this thing?’  Abraham said, ‘I did it because I thought, there is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.  Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father but not the daughter of my mother.  She became my wife.  When God caused me to wander from my father’s house, I said to her, `This is the kindness you must do me. At every place to which we come, say of me, He is my brother.'”

The next morning Abimelech told his servants and they were afraid.  Then he called Abraham and asked him why he had done this to him.  Abraham responded that he did this trick because there was no fear of God in this place and he feared that they would kill him.  This is the second time he justified this lie.  He pulled out his trump card by saying that Sarah is his half-sister, since they have different mothers but the same father.  This might explain the sterility of Abraham and Sarah. Terah, who had three sons, Abram, Nahor, and Haran, also had a daughter from a different woman, but that is not mentioned in the genealogy of Terah.  Clearly the father of Abram had multiple wives or concubines.

“Then Abimelech took sheep and oxen, and male and female slaves, and gave them to Abraham, and restored his wife Sarah to him.  Abimelech said, ‘My land is before you.  Settle where it pleases you.’  To Sarah he said, ‘Look, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver.  It is your exoneration before all who are with you.  You are completely vindicated.’  Then Abraham prayed to God.  Then God healed Abimelech, and also healed his wife and female slaves so that they bore children.  For Yahweh had closed fast all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.”

King Abimelech said okay and gave Abraham his wife back with slaves, sheep and oxen, and a 1000 pieces of silver.  He told him that he can settle anywhere he wanted to live in Gerar.  Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech as well as his wife and all the female slaves so that they were able to bear children, because their wombs had been closed.