Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The tribes east of Jordan—Reuben, Gad, and half-Manasseh, with short notices of their conquest, and their final captivity.
Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn; but, forasmuch as he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph the son of Israel: and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright.I.—THE REUBENITES (1Chronicles 5:1-10).
For he was the firstborn.—The parenthesis is an assertion of the legitimacy of the Davidic monarchy, as against the fact that both Reuben and Joseph had claims prior to those of Judah.
His birthright was given to the sons of Joseph.—The reading of some MSS., and the Syriac and Arabic, “to Joseph,” is probably original. This transfer of the rights of primogeniture is not elsewhere mentioned. It is, however, a fair inference from Jacob’s curse, and from the special blessing of Joseph (Genesis 49:22-26) and of his two sons (Genesis 48:15-20), considered in the light of historical fulfilment. Ephraim was always a leading tribe (Judges 2:9; Judges 4:5; Judges 5:14; Judges 8:1-2; Judges 12:1; Judges 12:15).
And the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright.—Rather, though he was not to be registered as firstborn (literally, according to the primogeniture). The subject is Joseph or the sons of Joseph, who received the forfeited rights of Reuben, but not the first place in lists of the tribes. What those rights were is defined by Deuteronomy 21:15-17, which rules that the son of a hated wife—if he be firstborn (the case of Reuben, son of Leah), shall inherit a double portion, “for he is the firstfruits of his strength, the right of the firstborn is his;” words obviously referring to Genesis 49:4-5.
For Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the chief ruler; but the birthright was Joseph's:)(2) For Judah prevailed above his brethren.—Literally, was mighty among his brethren. Comp. Jacob’s blessing (Genesis 49:8-10): “Judah, thou—thy brethren shall praise thee, Thy hand shall be on the neck of thy foes, Thy father’s sons shall bow before thee. Sceptre shall not depart from Judah, Nor doom-staff from between his feet,” &c. (See also Judges 1:1-2, where Judah is divinely commissioned to lead the attack upon the Canaanites.) At the census of Moses, Judah greatly outnumbered any other single tribe (Numbers 1:27).
And of him came the chief ruler.—“And from him (one was to become) prince.” Literally, and for a prince—out of him. (Comp. Micah 5:1.) LXX., εἰς ἡγούμενον ἐξ αὐτοῦ. David is meant, as in 1Samuel 13:14. We may also remember the word of the apostolic writer: “It is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah” (Hebrews 7:4). The prophecy concerning the royal dignity of Judah is only thus exhausted of its meaning.
But the birthright was Joseph’s, who actually received the “double portion” in the two tribal domains of Ephraim and Manasseh.
The sons, I say, of Reuben the firstborn of Israel were, Hanoch, and Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi.(3) Hanoch, and Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi.—So Genesis 46:9; Exodus 6:14; Numbers 26:5-7. Considering the prominence of Hezron and Carmi among the clans of Judah, it is remarkable to find their names recurring among the main branches of Reuben.
The sons of Joel; Shemaiah his son, Gog his son, Shimei his son,(4-6) The sons of Joel.—The connection of this leading house with one of the four sons just mentioned, is implied but not stated. The line of Joel is traced through seven generations to Beerah, who was transported to Assyria by Tiglath Pileser. II., 734 B.C., in the reign of Pekah, king of Israel. Supposing there are no gaps in the series, Joel flourished 280 years (7 x 40) before that date; that is, about 1014 B.C., under David and Solomon.
(4) The LXX. read: “Sons of Joel Shemaiah, and Banaia (Benaiah) his son; and sons of Gog, son of Shemaiah, his son Micah,” &c.
Micah his son, Reaia his son, Baal his son,(5) Baal.—Compare the names of Saul’s posterity Eshbaal and Meribbaal; and David’s son Beeliada (Heb., Baalyada).
And his brethren by their families, when the genealogy of their generations was reckoned, were the chief, Jeiel, and Zechariah,(7) Tilgath - pilneser.—The Assyrian monarch known as Tiglath Pileser II. See 2Kings 15:29, for his deportation of the people of the northern and trans-Jordanic districts of Israel, in the reign of Pekah. Some MSS., with LXX. and Syriac, read Tiglath, which is more correct than Tilgath. Vat., LXX., ΘαγλαΦαλλασὰρ, Syr., Teglath-Palsar. The Assyrian name, of which these forms are transcripts, is Tu-kulti-pal-Esarra, “the servant of the son of Esarra.” (The “Son of Esarra” is a title of the god Ninip.) Tilgath-Pilneser (Vulg., Thelgath-Phalnasar) is the invariable spelling of Chronicles.
He was prince of the Reubenites.—Beerah was tribal prince of Reuben, and not merely chief of a Reubenite clan, as some will have it. The Hebrew construction is parallel to that of Numbers 7:24; Numbers 7:30 seq., with which comp. Numbers 7:18.
(7) And his brethren by their families.—“And his fellow-tribesmen, each after his clan (Numbers 2:34), in the registration after their pedigrees, were the chief, Jeiel, and Zechariah.” Jeiel was the chief of the second Reubenite clan, as Beerah of the first. Zechariah and Bela were heads of the other chief houses. It appears that these four chieftains correspond to the four divisions of Reuben mentioned in 1Chronicles 5:3. Numbers 26:7 says expressly that “the Hanochite, the Palluite, the Hezronite, and the Carmite” were “the clans of the Reubenite.”
And Bela the son of Azaz, the son of Shema, the son of Joel, who dwelt in Aroer, even unto Nebo and Baalmeon:(8) Bela.—His descent is traced, like that of Beerah. but through fewer names. This does not necessarily imply that Bela and Beerah were not contemporaries. Intermediate names are often omitted in genealogies. (See Joshua 7:18 : “Achan son of Carmi son of Zabdi son of Zerah,” and 1Chronicles 5:24, “Achan son of Zerah,” and the different lengths of the pedigrees of Heman, Asaph, and Ethan in 1Chronicles 6:33-47.) It is not likely that the Joel of 1Chronicles 5:8 is the same as the Joel of 1Chronicles 5:4, in spite of the further coincidence of Shema-Shemiah.
Who dwelt.—He was dwelling, that is, he and his clan.
Aroer.—Now Arā’ir, on the north bank of the Arnon (Joshua 12:2).
Baal-meon.—Or, Beth-bqal-meon, now Ma’in, about two miles south-east of Heshbon. Aroer gives the southern Nebo, and Baalmeon the northern, limits of the tribe. All three places are mentioned on the Stone of Mesha, kings of Moab (2Kings 3:4-27).
And eastward he inhabited unto the entering in of the wilderness from the river Euphrates: because their cattle were multiplied in the land of Gilead.(9) And eastward he inhabited unto the entering in of the wilderness.—As their flocks and herds increased, the Reubenites gradually spread eastward, to the great desert lying between the Euphrates and Syria. This desert was a painful memory to the restored exiles. Ezra took four months to cross it (Ezra 7:9; Ezra 8:22). The form of the expression, “unto the entrance into the wilderness from the river Euphrates,” seems to indicate that this account was written originally in Babylonia.
Because their cattle were (had) multiplied in the land of Gilead.—Gilead, in Old Testament usage, means all Israelite territory east of the Jordan.
And in the days of Saul they made war with the Hagarites, who fell by their hand: and they dwelt in their tents throughout all the east land of Gilead.(10) And in the days of Saul they made war with the Hagarites.—The great extension of the tribe in an easterly direction took place in the reign of Saul, the first king of Israel. Bela and his clan victoriously fought with the Hagarites (Heb., Hagri’im) or Hagarenes (see Psalm 83:7, Hagrim), that is, the sons of Hagar, for possession of the pasture-grounds east of Gilead. This Arab nation is mentioned in the Assyrian inscriptions. (The LXX. has τοὺς παροίκους, i.e., haggārîm, u sojourners,” “nomads.”)
They dwelt in their tents.—This phrase first occurs in Genesis 9:27. The Belaites occupied the territory of the Hagarites.
Throughout all the east land of Gilead.—Rather, on the whole eastern side or border of Gilead. This includes the new settlements of Bela beyond the border.
And the children of Gad dwelt over against them, in the land of Bashan unto Salchah:(11-17) THE SONS OF GAD, THEIR CLANS, TERRITORY, AND REGISTRATION.
(11) And the children of Gad dwelt over against them.—That is, adjoining them on the east of Jordan.
In the land of Bashan unto Salcah.—(Joshua 13:11.) Bashan, the ancient dominion of the giant Og (Numbers 21:33-35; Deuteronomy 3:1-12). Salcah now Sulkhad, on the south-east slope of Jebel Hauran in the extreme east of Gilead.
(12) Joel the chief (or, first; literally, head), and Shaphan the next (or second.)—Genesis 46:15 enumerates seven sons of Gad, a number corresponding with the clans of 1Chronicles 5:13; but none of the names are the same.
In Bashan.—This expression goes to prove that clans, not individuals, are intended.
Joel is also the head Reubenite house (1Chronicles 5:4).
(13) And their brethren of the house of their fathers.—And their kinsmen (fellow-tribesmen), according to their father-houses (clans). The verse names seven inferior clans of the Gadites, whose seats are assigned in 1Chronicles 5:16.
These, viz., the clans of 1Chronicles 5:13, were sons of Abihail, whose line is retraced through seven generations to Buz, of whom nothing further is known. The name has occurred Genesis 22:21 as that of a son of Nahor; and Job 32:2, as that of the clan of Elihu the Buzite.
(15) Ahi the son of Abdial, the son of Guni (was) head of their clans. Perhaps Ahi was chieftain or prince of the sons of Abihail at the time when this register was drawn up (1Chronicles 5:17).
(16) And they dwelt in Gilead.—The seats of the Gadites of 1Chronicles 5:13 were in the country east of Jordan.
In Bashan, defines the locality more precisely. It was the northern region of Gilead.
And in her towns.—Heb., her daughters.
And in all the suburbs of Sharon.—Rather, pasture-grounds or sheep-walks.
Sharon.—The well-known plain of this name lay west of Jordan, between Carmel and Joppa, along the coast of the Great Sea. The old conjecture that Shirion, i.e., mount Hermon (Deuteronomy 3:9; Psalm 29:6) should be read, is probably right.
Upon their borders.—That is, their extremities (Numbers 34:4-5). The Gadites fed their flocks in the glens opening out at the foot of the mountains, here called their exits or outlets.
(17) All these.—That is, the Gadite clans.
Were reckoned by genealogies (or registered) in the days of Jotham king of Judah, i.e., after 757 B.C., according to Biblical chronology.
And in the days of Jeroboam (the second), king of Israel, who reigned from 825-784, according to the data of Kings. Clearly, therefore, more than one registration is the basis of the above statistics. That of Jeroboam was the earlier in point of time; but the chronicler names the king of Judah first honoris causa. Jeroboam II., a vigorous king, who “restored the border of Israel from the entry of Hamath to the sea of the Arabah” (2Kings 14:25), may have taken this census of the tribes east of Jordan, with a view to fiscal purposes. Jotham or his father, the great Uzziah, appears to have recovered Gad for Judah during the anarchy that succeeded the fall of Jehu’s dynasty in the northern kingdom.
The sons of Reuben, and the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh, of valiant men, men able to bear buckler and sword, and to shoot with bow, and skilful in war, were four and forty thousand seven hundred and threescore, that went out to the war.(18-22) A war of conquest between the three tribes east of Jordan, and their Arab neighbours. The date is not given.
(18) Of valiant men.—“All that were valiant men, bearing shield and sword, and drawing bow, and-trained in warfare, were 44,760, going out in the host” Comp. what is said in 1Chronicles 12:8; 1Chronicles 12:21, of the Gadites and Manassites, who joined fortunes with David. The number of the warriors of the three tribes nearly corresponds to the number (40,000) assigned in Joshua 4:13. It evidently rests upon some official census, of which the chronicler had the record or among his authorities. The data of the Pentateuch (Numbers 1, 26) are quite different,
(19) Hagarites.—See 1Chronicles 5:10.
Jetur, and Nephish, and Nodab.—In 1Chronicles 1:31, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah are the last three of the twelve tribes of Ishmael. As Nodab is mentioned nowhere else, the word may be a corruption of Kedemah, or rather Kedem. The first two letters might have been mistaken for h, the d is common to both words, and b and m are often confused in Hebrew writing. Jetur is the original of the classical name Ituraea, the modern El-Jedur.
(20) And they were helped against them.—The same word recurs in 1Chronicles 15:26 : “And when God helped the Levites that bare the Ark.” In both places strictly natural events are regarded as providential. Here the Divine hand is recognised as controlling the issues of an invasion; there as permitting the Ark to be successfully removed from its temporary resting place.
For they cried to God in the battle.—No doubt the Arab warriors also cried to their gods in the fierce struggle for life; and their faith, such as it was, gave them strength for the battle. (Comp. Psalm 18:3-6 and Psalm 18:41.) The whole sentence to the end of the verse looks like a reason added to the narrative by the chronicler himself.
(21) And they took away their cattle.—The numbers are large, but not at all incredible. Flocks and herds naturally constituted the chief wealth of these nomade tribes. Comp. the annual tribute in kind paid by Mesha, king of Moab, to Ahab of Israel (2Kings 3:4): “a hundred thousand lambs, and a hundred thousand rams in fleeces.”
Sheep.—The Heb. word denotes both sheep and goats; pecora.
Of men an hundred thousand.—And persons (soul of man, a collective expression) a hundred thousand. In Numbers 31:32-35 the booty taken from Midian is far greater, but only 32,000 virgins were saved from the general slaughter of the vanquished. The number here may be corrupt, but we do not know enough about the numerical strength of the Arabian peoples to be able to decide. The captives would be valuable as slaves. Sennacherib boasts that he took 200,150 persons “small and great, male and female,” from the cities of Judah.
(22) There fell down many slain.—Hence the richness of the plunder. The warriors of the Arabian allies were probably exterminated.
The war was of God.—Comp. 2Chronicles 25:20. This accounts for the completeness of the Arabian overthrow. It is a human instinct to see tokens of Divine activity in great national catastrophes, as well as in the more awful phenomena of nature. In prophetic language, a “day of the Lord” had overtaken the sons of Hagar and their kindred.
And the children of the half tribe of Manasseh dwelt in the land: they increased from Bashan unto Baalhermon and Senir, and unto mount Hermon.(23, 24) The sons of half-Manasseh “in the land” east of Jordan. The translation should be: “And the children . . . dwelt in the land, from Bashan unto Baal-hermon and Senir and mount Hermon. These were many.” Their territory extended from “Bashan,” the domain of Gad, in the south, to the mountains of Hermon, or Antilibanus, in the north.
Senir.—The Amorite name of the range of Hermon (Deuteronomy 3:9). The principal summit is now called Jebel esh-Sheikh, “hill of the chief,” and Jebel eth-Thelj, “Snow Hill.”
And these were the heads of the house of their fathers, even Epher, and Ishi, and Eliel, and Azriel, and Jeremiah, and Hodaviah, and Jahdiel, mighty men of valour, famous men, and heads of the house of their fathers.(24) And these were the heads . . . (name lost) Epher, and Ishi . . .—Of these seven “valiant warriors, men of renown, heads for their clans” nothing further is recorded. The meagre memorial of their names has at least this value: it proves that abundant materials for the history of Israel once existed, of which our canonical books have preserved authentic fragments.
And they transgressed against the God of their fathers, and went a whoring after the gods of the people of the land, whom God destroyed before them.(25, 26) The captivity of the three eastern tribes. A fuller account may be read in 2Kings 17:6-18.
(25) They transgressed against the God of their fathers.—Rather, were faithless or untrue to Him (Joshua 7:1, “committed a trespass”).
Went a whoring after the gods of the people (peoples).—Jehovah was the true Lord (Ba’al) and Husband (Ish) of Israel. Apostasy from Him is, in the prophetic language, whoredom. (See Hos. 1 Chronicles 1, 2, especially 2:16, and 1 Chronicles 3) According to Kings 50100 the fatal sin of Israel evinced itself: (1) in the worship of the high places; (2) in adoration of the heavenly bodies, and the productive powers of nature; (3) in the practice of magic and divination.
The people of the land, whom God had destroyed before them.—Comp. Numbers 21:21-35, and Joshua 12:6; Psalm 135:10-12. The reduction of the Canaanites was, to the mind of the chronicler, a Divine work. He is not thinking only of such extraordinary events as were told of the battle of Beth-boron (Joshua 10:11-14). All the incidents of the conquest were the Lord’s doing, whether He acted through the agency of sun and moon, or storm and tempest, or the good swords of Joshua and his warriors. From the same standpoint, he ascribes the Assyrian invasions to a direct impulse from the God of Israel (1Chronicles 5:26). The Assyrian kings themselves were wont to regard their campaigns as a fulfilment of the bidding of their Divine protectors, Istar, Bel, and other imaginary beings. It was not given to them to attain to the higher vision of the Hebrew prophets and priests, who saw but one guiding and controlling power at the summit of the world. (Comp. Isaiah 10:5-15.)
And the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, and the spirit of Tilgathpilneser king of Assyria, and he carried them away, even the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, and brought them unto Halah, and Habor, and Hara, and to the river Gozan, unto this day.(26) Stirred up (or woke) the spirit.—So 2Chronicles 21:16, and Ezra 1:1; Ezra 1:5. For the thought, Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1-13.
Pul king of Assyria, and . . . Tilgath-pilneser king of Assyria.—No trace of Pûl as distinct from Tiglath-pileser has been found in the Assyrian monuments, which, it must be remembered, are contemporary. In 2Kings 15:19 we read that, “Pul king of Assyria came against the land,” in the reign of Menahem, who recognised the Assyrian monarch as his suzerain, and paid a tribute of 1,000 talents of silver. Now Tiglath-pileser II. actually claims to have received tribute of Menahem (Menahimmu). Pûl appears to have been the original name of Tiglath-pileser, which, upon his accession to the throne of Assyria (745 B.C.), he discarded for that of the great king who had ruled the country four centuries before his time. The name Pûl has been identified by Dr. Schrader with the Porus of Ptolemy’s Canon, Pôr being the Persian pronunciation of Pûl. The Syriac here omits “Pûl king of Assyria.” The LXX. (Vat.) has Χαλαχ, and the Arabic Bãlaq. Perhaps the chronicler meant to indicate the identity of Pûl and Tiglath: “The spirit of Pul and (= that is) the spirit of Tiglath, and he carried them away.”
And he carried them away.—Tiglath-pileser is meant. (See 2Kings 15:29 : “In the days of Pekah king of Israel, came Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and took Ijon, and Abel-beth-maachah . . . and Gilead, and Galilee . . . and carried them captive to Assyria.”) From the Assyrian records we learn that (circ. 734–732 B.C.) Tiglath-pileser received the homage of Ahaz (Yahu-haçi, Jeho-ahaz), king of Judah, slew Rezin (Raçunni) of Damascus, and reduced Pekah (Paqahú), king of Samaria, to vassalage. This supplements the Biblical account. Gilead, in 2Kings 15:29, represents the trans-Jordanic tribes. (See 1Chronicles 5:10; 1Chronicles 5:16 above.) The transportation of entire populations was a common practice with the Assyrian kings. Assurbanipal (Sardanapalus) removed the men of Karbit from the mountains east of Assyria, and settled them in Egypt.
Brought them unto Halah, and Habor . . .—The same localities are mentioned (2Kings 17:6) as those to which Shalmaneser IV., or rather his successor Sargon, transported the other tribes of the northern kingdom (circ. 721 B.C.). There is nothing unlikely in the statement of either text. Sargon might have thought fit to strengthen the Israelite settlements in Northern Assyria by sending thither the new bodies of compulsory colonists. It is arbitrary to suppose that two different events have been confounded by the sacred annalists.
Halah.—See Note on 2Kings 17:6.
Habor.—Probably a district of North Assyria, not far from Halah, named after the river Habūr which rises near the upper Zab and falls into the Tigris.
Hara.—Kings, l.c., “cities of Media.” Hara here is perhaps an Aramaic name for the Median high lands, but more probably the reading is a relic of “the mountains of Media” [hārê Mādai); comp.the LXX. at 2Kings 17:6. The Syriac here has “cities of Media;” the LXX. omits the word.
The river Gozan.—Rather, the river of Gozan. Shalmaneser mentions the country Guzana in Mesopotamia, the Greek Gauzanitis. An Assyrian list connects it with Naçibina (Nisibis). The “river of Gozan” is the Habur.