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Undesigned Coincidences in the OT: The Revolt of Libnah

Jehoram, King of Judah (mid-800s B.C.), was the first king in the divided kingdom to follow wholeheartedly after false gods. What do I mean by the divided kingdom? For those of you who aren't Bible geeks, a brief history: after Solomon died, his son Rehoboam refused to lower taxes (!), and this was the immediate cause of a rebellion that had probably been brewing for a long time. A general named Jeroboam took ten of the tribes of Israel under his rule. That came to be known as the Northern Kingdom. Only Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to the descendant of David, and they became known as the Southern Kingdom or the Kingdom of Judah.

After that, until the rule of Jehoram, there was (according to the Bible) a pretty striking distinction between the kingdom of Judah and the kingdom of Israel, in that the former was ruled over by descendants of David and at least attempted to maintain the religion of the true God, while the latter went after false gods of one sort or another right from the outset of the divided kingdom period, beginning with the worship of the calves in the time of Jeroboam. But that distinction ended when Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, made a fatal error. He arranged a marriage for his son and heir, Jehoram, to Athaliah, the daughter of the wicked Jezebel, wife of Ahab, queen of Israel. (Jezebel was a pagan princess.) Led astray by his wife, Jehoram began to follow after the worship of Baal.

Here are a few verses on the matter from the book of 2 Kings, chapter 8, beginning at verse 16. (In case you're wondering about the reference here to Jehoshaphat, it looks like Jehoram began his own reign as co-regent with his father, a pretty common Ancient Near Eastern practice.)

Now in the fifth year of Joram the son of Ahab king of Israel, Jehoshaphat being then the king of Judah, Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat king of Judah became king. He was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. He walked in the way of the kings of Israel, just as the house of Ahab had done, for the daughter of Ahab became his wife; and he did evil in the sight of the Lord. However, the Lord was not willing to destroy Judah, for the sake of David His servant, since He had promised him to give a lamp to him through his sons always....In his days Edom revolted from under the hand of Judah, and made a king over themselves.... So Edom revolted against Judah to this day. Then Libnah revolted at the same time.

We never do hear (that I know of) any highly specific reason why Edom revolts just then, though it is a general fact that the Edomites were vassals of the Kingdom of Judah (previously vassals of David and then Solomon) and were probably ready to revolt at the drop of a hat anyway.

But what about Libnah? Libnah was a city located within the lands of the tribe of Judah. It is mentioned in Joshua (more about that in a moment); it was won from the Canaanites when the land was first conquered. Some archeologists are convinced that they have located ancient Libnah in a dig at Tel Burna, about twelve miles southwest of Jerusalem.

Of course, many things are simply stated both in the historical books of the Bible and in other historical books, without any particular explanation, so it wouldn't be surprising if we never got any further explanation for the early revolt of Libnah, as opposed to some other Judean town, against Jehoram.

But as it happens, if we turn to Joshua, we do learn something relevant. In Joshua 21 the Levites demand their portion of the land of Israel in the form of cities. The tribe of Levi--the tribe of the priests--was not given separate lands like the other tribes, but they were supposed to be given cities. Thirteen cities were allotted to the Kohathite descendants of Aaron, an extremely important priestly lineage. Among these priestly cities (Joshua 21:13) was the city of Libnah. This fact is repeated in I Chronicles 6:57. (Chronicles summarizes much information from earlier historical books of the Old Testament.)

So a reason for the revolt of Libnah, specifically, suggests itself immediately: Libnah, being a city of the priests, was especially outraged by Jehoram's introduction of Baal worship in Judah and rose up against him.

J.J. Blunt (from whom I got this coincidence) does not leave the confirmations at that, however. He brings up a further confirmation that this was, indeed, the reason for the revolt of Libnah. Athaliah eventually (after the death of her husband and her son) sets herself up as Queen of Judah and murders (almost) all of her own grandsons in order to secure her throne (2 Kings 11). One grandson, one-year-old Joash, is saved from the massacre by his aunt and secretly raised by Jehoiada the priest, his uncle by marriage. When Joash is seven years old, Jehoiada leads a successful rebellion against Athaliah. The boy king Joash is proclaimed king, the wicked Athaliah killed, and the worship of Baal cast down.

This further history supports the proposition (not at all unlikely in itself) that the resistance to the worship of Baal and to Jehoram and Athaliah was centered in the priestly class. The revolt at Libnah, then, was a premature attempt that broke out when all was not yet ready. In particular, at that time there was not a candidate (even a boy king) for a godly ruler. Some years later (about fourteen years, by Blunt's reckoning), when the unpopular, usurping, and murderous Athaliah was sole ruler, the priestly rebellion foreshadowed at Libnah succeeded.

But see how indirect all of this is! The book of 2 Kings mentions only briefly the revolt of Libnah and gives no reason for it. For this one must turn to Joshua or to I Chronicles, either of which was definitely written by someone other than the author of 2 Kings. And the books of Kings are if anything a source for the books of Chronicles, not vice versa. Nor does the author of Kings assign any reason for the revolt of Libnah, though the author of 2 Chronicles does suggest a connection to Jehoram's idolatry.

Then Libnah revolted at the same time against [Jehoram's] rule, because he had forsaken the LORD God of his fathers. (2 Chron. 21:10)

But even here, and even though the chronicler (if we take the same person to have written or compiled all of Chronicles) has long before listed the cities of the sons of Aaron, including Libnah, he does not express that connection. Why should Libnah, particularly, be offended when Jehoram forsook the Lord God of his fathers? (Digression: This coincidence shows why it is good to have "another pair of eyes" on the details of the argument. Blunt erroneously states [p. 203] that the readers of both Kings and Chronicles would have had no way of knowing anything further about Libnah, but in fact way back in I Chronicles 6 the division of the cities is listed. Even if we were just looking at Chronicles, however, this is extremely indirect, and all the more so since 2 Chronicles 21 does not say what Jehoram's forsaking God has to do with the rebellion of Libnah. Certainly the fact that both parts of the coincidence are included far apart in Chronicles does nothing to weaken the argument from this coincidence for the historicity of Kings.)

As a confirmation of the historicity of the books of Kings, this is the kind of subtle connection that those of us who study undesigned coincidences love. The author of Kings just says that Libnah revolted at the same time as Edom. Yet when one looks into the more detailed history of the land, one finds an extremely plausible explanation which also fits beautifully with the further history of the devotion of the priests to the true God and their eventual rebellion against Athaliah.

Says Blunt,

This is the explanation of the revolt of Libnah. Yet, satisfactory as it is, when we are once fairly in possession of it, the explanation is anything but obvious. Libnah, it is said, revolts, but that revolt is not expressly coupled with the introduction of Baal into the country as a god...nor is any reason alleged why Libnah should feel particularly alive to the ignominy and shame of such an act; for where Libnah was, or what it was, or whereof its inhabitants consisted, are things unknown to the readers of Kings..., and would continue unknown, were they not to take advantage of a hint or two in the Book of Joshua. (p. 203)

Concerning the overthrow of Athaliah, Blunt argues,

But will any man say that the sacred historian [the author of 2 Kings] so ordered his materials, that such incidents as these which I have named should successively turn up--that he guided his hands in all this wittingly--that he let fall, with consummate artifice, first a brief and incidental notice (a mere parenthesis) of the revolt of a single town, suppressing meanwhile all mention of its peculiar constitution and character, though such as prepared it above others for revolt--that then, after abandoning not only Libnah, but the subject of Judah in general, and applying himself [for several chapters] to the affairs of Israel in their turn, he should finally revert to his former topic, or rather a kindred one, and lay before us the history of a general revolt, organized by the Priests; and all in the forlorn hope that the uniform working of the same principle of disaffection in the same party, and for the same cause, in two detached instances, would not pass unobserved; but that such consistency would be detected, and put down to the credit of the narrative at large? This surely is a degree of refinement much beyond belief. (p. 205)

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Comments (6)

Terrific article. Interesting material on the revolt of Libnah showing an OT coincidence as intended.

I do want to make one comment. You write, "...while the latter [Israel] went after false gods of one sort or another right from the outset of the divided kingdom period, beginning with the worship of the calves in the time of Jeroboam."

I understand the sin of Jeroboam was to rework the worship of YHWH to a Canaanite type of ritual where YHWH was imaged as a calf (hearkening back to Aaron's golden calf at Sinai), including YHWH having an Asherah as a consort. In some sense, this was still worship of the God of Israel. I think the distinction is important because Baal worship is not introduced until Ahab who marries the daughter of the king of Tyre. It is that occasion -- the threat of the conversion of the northern kingdom to Baal worship -- that gives rise to Elijah, the greatest miracle worker since Moses.

Certainly there is a distinction. But Scripture always regards the worship of the calves as a *form of* idolatry and condemns it for that reason over and over again.

Lydia, another great example of UC. Thank you.

I understand the sin of Jeroboam was to rework the worship of YHWH to a Canaanite type of ritual where YHWH was imaged as a calf (hearkening back to Aaron's golden calf at Sinai), including YHWH having an Asherah as a consort.

Given the explicit condemnations of making graven images in the First Commandment, I would say that trying to morph the worship of YHWH with an image of a calf was definitely a violation of the commandment. And (as Lydia says) the context of that commandment was definitely with regard to worshiping false gods. The add-on, that they annexed to YHWH a consort kind of proves the point, that what they had done was to no longer worship the God of Abraham and Moses, because "to have a consort" was totally foreign to the true God. Maybe they wanted to "have it both ways" in some sense, in order to be able to tell themselves they were still worshiping the God of Moses and David, but directly defying His First Commandment is a funny way to go about it.

It was political. Jeroboam didn't want them to go to Jerusalem to worship. He wanted to provide an alternative form of worship that would keep everything within his own kingdom, thus separating the north yet further from the south. No doubt trying in some sense to "have it both ways" is a clever political ploy, but the OT speaks of it pretty harshly, and rightly so. In any event, in a couple-sentence summary of the separation of the north and the south kingdoms of Israel, my deliberate and careful phrase "false gods of one sort or another" does the job pretty well.

Excellent as per usual. I've been missing reading my dead apologists- gonna treat myself over Christmas to some more.

Enjoyed the post.

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