All praise God (Dan 13:63-13:64)

“Hilkiah,

With his wife,

Praised God

For their daughter,

Susanna.

Joakim,

Her husband,

Also praised God.

All her relatives

Praised God.

She was found innocent

Of a shameful deed.

From that day onward,

Daniel

Had a great reputation

Among the people.”

Of course, this story has a happy ending. Hilkiah and his wife praised God because their daughter had been found innocent of this shameful deed. Also, her husband Joakim, who had been in the background, praised God. All of Susanna’s relatives were praising God, because Susanna was not found guilty. From that day on, Daniel had a great reputation, another reason why this might be better off at the beginning of this work.

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Susanna (Dan 13:2-13:3)

“Joakim married

The daughter of Hilkiah,

Named Susanna,

A very beautiful woman,

Who feared the Lord.

Her parents were righteous.

They had trained

Their daughter

According to the law of Moses.”

This Joakim married a woman named Susanna. Thus, this story is more about the wife of Joakim, Susanna, than about him. Susanna, the lily, was very beautiful. But more important, she was one who feared the Lord. She was also the daughter of Hilkiah, whose name meant that the Lord was my portion. Both of Susanna’s parents were righteous people. They had trained her and brought her up according to the Law of Moses. In other words, she was a faithful Israelite from strong Israelite parents.

Historical Introduction (Bar 1:1-1:2)

“These are the words

Of the book

That Baruch,

The son of Neriah,

The son of Mahseiah,

The son of Zedekiah,

The son of Hasadiah,

The son of Hilkiah,

Wrote in Babylon.

This was

In the fifth year,

On the seventh day

Of the month,

At the time

When the Chaldeans

Took Jerusalem.

They burned it

With fire.”

This is a historical introduction to this book that gives a name and specific date with a reference to a book, not merely a scroll. The author is Baruch, the same Baruch that was mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah, chapters 32, 36, 43, and 45. This Baruch was a scribe, friend, and follower of Jeremiah. He was clearly identified with a long genealogy. His father was Neriah. His brother Seraiah worked with King Zedekiah. He traced his family back to Hilkiah. Mahseiah, his grandfather was mentioned in Jeremiah also. There were many people with the name of Zedekiah, including the king so that it is hard to pinpoint one. Hasadiah was another common name, while over 30 biblical people have the name Hilkiah. Baruch was in Babylon. However, the last time he was mentioned in Jeremiah, he was with Jeremiah in Egypt. Perhaps, he may have left Jeremiah there. This book is placed 5 years after the fall of Jerusalem and the burning of Jerusalem, around 582 BCE on the 7th day of the month that Jerusalem was destroyed.

Messengers brought the letter to Babylon (Jer 29:3-29:3)

“The letter was sent

By the hand of Elasah,

The son of Shaphan,

With Gemariah,

The son of Hilkiah,

Whom King Zedekiah

Of Judah

Sent to Babylon

To King Nebuchadnezzar

Of Babylon.”

There two official messengers took this letter of Jeremiah from King Zedekiah or King Mattaniah (598-587 BCE) of Judah to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (605-562 BCE). The two messengers were named Elasah and Gemariah. Elasah whose father was Shaphan may have been the brother of Ahikam mentioned earlier in chapter 26 who had helped Jeremiah, since they both had the same father named Shaphan. Perhaps Gemariah was the son of the high priest Hilkiah. Anyway, King Zedekiah trusted them with the letter of Jeremiah to bring to the king of Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar. They would be well received in Babylon.

Judith (Jdt 8:1-8:8)

“Now in those days, Judith heard about these things. She was the daughter of Merari son of Ox, son of Joseph, son of Oziel, son of Elkiah, son of Ananias, son of Gideon, son of Raphaim, son of Ahitub, son of Elijah, son of Hilkiah, son of Eliab, son of Nathanael, son of Salamiel, son of Sarasadai, son of Israel. Her husband Manasseh, who belonged to her tribe and family, had died during the barley harvest. As he stood overseeing those who were binding sheaves in the field, he was overcome by the burning heat. He took to his bed and died in his town Bethulia. So they buried him with his ancestors in the field between Dothan and Balamon. Judith had remained as a widow for three years and four months at home where she set up a tent for herself on the roof of her house. She put sackcloth about her waist and dressed in widow’s clothing. She fasted all the days of her widowhood, except the day before the Sabbath and the Sabbath itself, the day before the new moon and the day of the new moon, and the festivals and days of rejoicing of the house of Israel. She was beautiful in appearance. She was very lovely to behold. Her husband Manasseh had left her gold and silver, men and women slaves, livestock, and fields. She maintained this estate. No one spoke ill of her. She feared God with great devotion.”

Now the main protagonist of this book appears on the scene, almost half way through this book. We learn about Judith’s rich genealogical background that includes many important people. What can we tell from her genealogy? She was the daughter of Merari, which is a Levite name. Joseph was a common name also. The names of Oziel and Elkiah are unique to her. The other names associated with famous people were Gideon, Elijah, and Hilkiah, but there was no attempt to associate those men with these men mentioned here. Many of the other names are hard to connect with anyone. Her husband, of the same tribe and family, died of sunstroke overseeing his workers. I wonder what happened to the workers. She was a well to do widow for over 3 years. She was very upright in all that she did.   Her name, Judith, literally means female Jew. She had a tent on her roof and wore sackcloth. She fasted all the time except for the Sabbath eve, the Sabbath, the new moons, and the other Jewish festivals. New moons keep appearing as a day to celebrate. She was beautiful, of course. On top of that, she was rich, inheriting her husband’s estate of gold, silver, slaves, livestock, and fields. There is no mention of her children if there were any. No one spoke ill of her because she feared God with a great devotion. This is the kind of description that many medieval female Christian saints enjoyed. She heard about what was going on in town.

The priests with Zerubbabel (Neh 12:1-12:7)

“These are the priests and the Levites who came up with Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua. They were Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, Amariah, Malluch, Hattush, Shecaniah, Rehum, Meremoth, Iddo, Ginnethoi, Abijah, Mijamin, Maadiah, Bilgah, Shemaiah, Joiarib, Jedaiah, Sallu, Amok, Hilkiah, and Jedaiah. These were the leaders of the priests and of their associates in the days of Jeshua.”

Now suddenly we are back to the list of those who came with Zerubbabel some 90 years earlier. This is like an appendix to this document. It refers to Ezra, chapter 2. There are 22 priests listed here. Of the 22, only 2 were listed in Ezra, chapter 2, Seraiah and Rehum. Jedaiah is listed twice. Clearly Zerubbabel and Jeshua were the leaders. 11 off these same people, Seraiah, Jeremiah, Amariah, Hattush, Malluch, Meremoth, Ginnethon, Abijah, Mijamin, and Shemaiah, signed the agreement with Nehemiah in chapter 10 of this book. However this took place about 90-100 years after the original group, which would make it difficult for these same people to sign the document, after having returned 90 years earlier. Ezra is mentioned with this group but he did not return until about 10 years before Nehemiah.   Iddo was with Ezra so that he would not have been with the original group. Shecaniah and Meremoth were builders of the wall so that they could not have come with the original group, almost a century earlier. This is the only mention of Maadiah, Bilgah, and Amok so they are real possibilities. Jedaiah was the son of Joiarib, so that he could not have come with the original group, but Joiarib might have. Sallu was the son of Meshullam so that he could not have been there 100 years earlier. Seraiah was the son of Hilkiah, so that he could have been with the original group. Thus, not more than 4 or 5 of the named priests could have come back with Zerubbabel, unless the ones at the time of Nehemiah had the same name as the ones who came nearly a century earlier.

Reading from the book of Moses (Neh 8:4-8:8)

“The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden platform that had made for this purpose. Beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand. Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam stood on his left hand. Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people. He was above all the people. When he opened it all the people stood up. Ezra blessed Yahweh, the great God! All the people answered. ‘Amen, Amen!’ They lifted up their hands. Then they bowed their heads as they worshiped Yahweh with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, and Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”

Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform or tower so that they could hear and see him. This was similar to the special bronze platform of King Solomon in 2 Chronicles, chapter 6.   He had 6 people on his right side and 7 on his left side. Of the 6 on the right side Maaseiah will be also one of those instructing the people. All the others just appear here although there are numerous other biblical people with the same names. On the left side, Pedaiah, Malchijah, and Meshullam had helped with the wall. Hashum and Zechariah were from important returning families, while very little is known about Mishael and Hashbaddanah. He opened the book, probably the Book of Deuteronomy, but it is not clear. Everyone stood up as he opened the book, much like Roman Catholics stand for the reading of the Gospel of Jesus. There was the great ‘Amen’ at the end of Ezra’s blessing of Yahweh. They lifted up their hands to pray and then bowed their heads to the ground, much like the Muslim prayer position. There was another group who helped the people to understand the law. They seem to be important Levite family members, especially Jeshua, Bani, Azariah, and Hanan. Only Jamin appears here and nowhere else, while Akkub was a gatekeeper. They gave an interpretation of the law so that the people could understand it. Some commentators indicate that this might have been a translation into Aramaic, since the book was written in Hebrew. However, it could have been a commentary also.