A prayer in distress (Ps 39:1-39:6)

“To the choirmaster leader, Jeduthun, a psalm of David

I said.

‘I will guard my ways.

So that I may not sin with my tongue.

I will keep a muzzle on my mouth,

As long as the wicked are in my presence.’

I was silent and still.

I held my peace to no avail.

My distress grew worse.

My heart became hot within me.

When I mused,

The fire burned.

Then I spoke with my tongue.

‘Yahweh!’

Let me know my end.

What is the measure of my days?

Let me know how fleeting my life is!

You have made my days a few handbreadths.

My lifetime is as nothing in your sight.

Surely every man stands as a mere breath!”

Selah

Once again, Psalm 39 is a prayer for healing. Jeduthun was the name of one of the Levite Merari families that David appointed as music master in 1 Chronicles, chapters 16 and 25. He was a trumpet player and his sons led the music in the Temple. His name appears here and in Psalms 62 and 77. David or Jeduthun were guarding their ways. They did not want their tongue to sin so they kept a muzzle on their mouths, like vicious dogs today. One of the problems is that this psalmist did not speak out when he was in trouble. His heart burned within him. What he really wanted to know was how long his life would be. When would his days be over? He knew that his lifetime was like a breath in the life time of Yahweh. This section ends with a musical pause, a Selah.

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.

More people come with Ezra (Ezra 8:15-8:20)

“I gathered them by the river that runs to Ahava. There we camped three days. As I reviewed the people and the priests, I found there none of the descendents of Levi. Then I sent for Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam, who were leaders, and for Joiarib and Elnathan, who were wise. I sent them to Iddo, the leader at the place called Casiphia. I told them what to say to Iddo and his colleagues the temple servants at Casiphia. He should send us ministers for the house of our God. Since the gracious hand of our God was upon us, they brought us a man of discretion, of the descendents of Mahli son of Levi, son of Israel, namely Sherebiah, with his sons and kinsmen, eighteen. Also they brought Hashabiah and with him Jeshaiah of the descendents of Merari, with his kinsmen and their sons, twenty. Besides two hundred twenty of the temple servants, whom David and his officials had set apart to attend the Levites, also came. These were all mentioned by name.”

Once again, we have the use of the personal pronoun singular, “I gathered them.” Over and over again “I” appears. This is a personal first person account of what happened. The Ahava River is not known, but probably a tributary of the Euphrates River in Babylon. Ezra realized that he had no Levites. So he sent a group of people to Iddo who was the leader at Casiphia. There 4 or 5 different people with the name of Iddo, including Levites, and prophets. This one was a temple slave leader at Casiphia, which must have been an important place for a group of Israelite exiles because they had so many temple slaves. They may have had their own house of God there in northern Babylon. Interesting enough this Iddo sent 2 Levite families of 19 and 20 people from the Mahli and Merari branch of Levites. He also sent 220 Temple servants who were to help the Levites. There must have been a lot of them there.

The response of the Levites (2 Chr 29:12-29:15)

“Then the Levites arose. Mahath son of Amasai and Joel son of Azariah, of the sons of the Kohathites arose. Of the sons of Merari, Kish son of Abdi and Azariah son of Jehallelel arose. Of the Gershonites, Joah son of Zimmah and Eden son of Joah arose. The sons of Elizaphan, Shimri and Jeuel also arose. Of the sons of Asaph, Zechariah and Mattaniah arose. Of the sons of Heman, Jehuel and Shimei arose. Of the sons of Jeduthun, Shemaiah and Uzziel arose. They gathered their brothers. They sanctified themselves. They went in as the king had commanded, by the words of Yahweh, to cleanse the house of Yahweh.”

The Levites responded positively. 2 people from each of the Levitical tribes arose from the Kohathites, the Merarites, and the Gershonites. The same was true for the 3 groups of singers or cantors, the sons of Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, all had 2 people stand up. On top of that, the sons of Elizaphan, Shimri and Jeuel also rose up. They gathered their brother Levites and sanctified themselves. Then they went in to cleanse the house of Yahweh. I wonder why they had not done more to sustain the house of Yahweh even in the face of indifference.

The other gatekeepers (1 Chr 26:9-26:11)

“Meshelemiah had sons and brothers, able men, who were eighteen. Hosah, of the sons of Merari, had sons. Shimri was the chief. Even though he was not the first-born, his father made him chief. Hilkiah was the second. Tebaliah was the third. Zechariah was the fourth. All the sons and brothers of Hosah were thirteen.”

Now we find out about other gatekeepers. 18 people were the sons and brothers of Meshelemiah, the Korahite mentioned earlier in this chapter, who had 7 sons. Hosah, whose was a Merarite, had at least 4 sons. All his sons and brothers amounted to 13 men. Besides this chief (1) Shimri, there were 3 other people with that name. (2) Hilkiah was the name of a high priest with Josiah.   This is the only time the name (3) Tebaliah appears. There were 27 biblical people with the name of (4) Zechariah with the most famous being the prophet and his book, Zechariah. This is also the name of one of the sons of Meshelemiah.

The Levites return (1 Chr 9:14-9:16)

“Some of the Levites returning were Shemaiah son of Hasshub, son of Azrikam, son of Hashabiah, of the sons of Merari. Bakbakkar, Heresh, Galal, and Mattaniah son of Mica, son of Zichri, son of Asaph also returned. Obadiah the son of Shemaiah, son of Galal, son of Jeduthun, and Berechiah son of Asa, son of Elkanah, who had lived in the villages of the Netophathites, also returned to Jerusalem.”

The Levites seem to be different from the priests. However, there is no listing as to how many returned. The first group was from the clan of Merari, the son of Levi. Shemaiah was a prominent name among Levities, with over 25 people with that name. In fact there are 2 people with that name in this paragraph, just as there are 2 people with the name of Galal mentioned here. Hasshub was a Levite chief.   It is not clear whether this Levite is also the son of Azel or not, probably not. There are 8 Levite Merarites with this name of Hashabiah. Some may be the same. There also was a group of Levites descended from Asaph, the music conductor at the time of King David. Bakbakkar and Heresh are only mentioned here. It is hard to tell if they are the same or not. Mattaniah was also a descendent of Asaph who became a Levite cantor leader of the temple choir after its restoration. There were 2 other people with the name of Mica. There were 3 Benjaminites with the name of Zichri. There were 12 people with the name of Obadiah, with the most famous the prophet and book Obadiah. Jeduthun was a Levite director of music at the temple. There were 7 people with the name of Berechiah. There was one another more famous Asa that was the King of Judah (911-870 BCE). There were 8 other people with the name of Elkanah, mostly Levites. The villages of Netophathites refer to small towns northeast of Bethlehem.

The Levite cantor Ethan the Merarite (1 Chr 6:44-6:48)

“On the left hand were their kindred the sons of Merari, Ethan son of Kishi, son of Abdi, son of Malluch, son of Hashabiah, son of Amaziah, son of Hilkiah, son of Amzi, son of Bani, son of Shemer, son of Mahli, son of Mushi, son of Merari, son of Levi. Their kindred the Levites were appointed for all the service of the tabernacle of the house of God.”

To balance the singers, (15) Ethan a Merari Levite was on the left. Thus all 3 clans of the Levites were represented as cantors or singers, during the time of David with Heman from Kohath in the center and Asaph from Gershom on the right. This genealogy goes back 15 generations. The names of (4) Mahli, (3) Mushi, (2) Merari, and (1) Levi are the classical patriarchs of this clan of Merarites. (5) Shemer may be the same as Shimei. (6) Bani appears as the name for 11 different people. The name (7) Amzi only appears once elsewhere. There were 7 people with the name of (8) Hilkiah, the most famous being the priest at the time of Josiah who found the lost book of the Law, in 2 Kings, chapter 22. There were 3 others with the name of (9) Amaziah, with the most famous of these the 8th king of Judah, King Amaziah (796-781 BCE) in 2 Kings, chapter 14. There were 5 other people with the name of (11) Malluch and 11 with the name of (10) Hashabiah. There were 2 other people with the name of (12) Abdi. There was a group called the “Kishaiah” of the Merari branch of the Levites, although this is the only mention of (13) Kishi. This (14) Ethan was not a Gershonite as in the preceding verses. Only the Levites could perform the service at the tabernacle in the temple, the house of Yahweh.