“Then the prophet Jeremiah
Spoke all these words
To King Zedekiah
Meanwhile the army
Of the king of Babylon
They were also fighting
Against all the cities
That were left.
Were the only fortified cities
As usual, Jeremiah had done what Yahweh wanted him to do. He repeated all the words that Yahweh had told him to say to King Zedekiah. At the same time, that the Babylonian army was attacking Jerusalem, they were also fighting against the only two other remaining fortified cities in Judah, Lachish, about 23 miles southwest of Jerusalem, and Azekah, about 11 miles north of Lachish. Everything else had already been conquered by the Babylonians except for these two cities and Jerusalem.
“As for the villages, with their fields, some of the people of Judah lived in Kiriath-arba and its villages, Dibon and its villages, Jekabzeel and its villages, Jeshua, Moladah, Beth-pelet, Hazar-shual, Beer-sheba and its villages, Ziklag, Meconah and its villages, En-rimmon, Zorah, Jarmuth, Zanoah, Adullam and their villages, Lachish and its fields, and Azekah and its villages. So they encamped from Beer-sheba to the valley of Hinnom.”
Nehemiah mentioned 17 towns outside of Jerusalem. Bethlehem is not mentioned. Some of these towns had villages and fields, while others did not. Some were way south while others were in the western or central parts of Judah. Kiriath-arba may refer to Hebron, about 10 miles south of Jerusalem. Dibon, Jeshua, Moladah were southern towns in Judah, south of Hebron. This is the only mention of Jekabzeel and Meconah. Beth-pelet, Hazar-shual, and Beer-sheba were on the southern border with Edom. Ziklag, a place where David was, En-rimmon, and Lachish were in the southwest bordering with the old Philistine towns. Zorah is on the northwest side of Judah in old Dan territory. Jarmuth, Zanoah, Adullam, and Azekah were in central Judah.
“King Rehoboam resided in Jerusalem. He built cities for defense in Judah. He built up Bethlehem, Etam, Tekoa, Beth-zur, Soco, Adullam, Gath, Mareshah, Ziph, Adoraim, Lachish, Azekah, Zorah, Aijalon, and Hebron. There were fortified cities in Judah and in Benjamin. He made the fortresses strong. He put commanders in them. They had stores of food, oil, and wine. He also put large shields and spears in all the cities. He made them very strong. So he held Judah and Benjamin.”
There is no other source for this material here. Certainly some of these 15 cities already existed. This was a defensive gesture. He seems to have fortified them with shields, spears, food, commanders, and troops. These cities became strong fortresses against any enemy. Bethlehem was the birthplace of David, just 6 miles south of Jerusalem. Etam was about 2 miles southwest of Bethlehem. Tekoa was about 6 miles south of Bethlehem. Beth-zur was on the main road between Jerusalem and Hebron, about 4 miles north of Hebron, which was about 20 miles south of Jerusalem. Adullam was about 16 miles southwest of Jerusalem and about 10 miles west of Bethlehem. Gath was 1 of the 5 major cities of the Philistines that has been lost, but was on the west side of Judah. Mareshah was also in western Judah, while Ziph was in southern Judah. Adoraim only appears here but probably is a lost southwest town near the sea. Lachish was about 15 miles west of Hebron, probably close to Azekah. Zorah and Aijalon were western cities that were originally in the territory of Dan. About a half of these cities were within 20 miles of Jerusalem. Most of the fortified cities were in the south and west since the Dead Sea was on the east and Benjamin and northern Israel was to the north.