Aaron’s Genealogy

Aaron’s Genealogy April 13, 2016

The genealogy of the priestly tribe of Levi (1 Chronicles 6) stands at the chiastic center of the genealogies of 1 Chronicles. At the beginning of that tribal genealogy is a list of the descendants of Aaron the first high priest, framed by references to the three sons of Levi (1 Chronicles 6:1, 18).

Starting with Aaron, twenty-three priests are named, and they are divided into two lists by two historical notes. Azariah is named as the priest in Solomon’s temple (v. 10), and between Aaron and Azariah are fifteen names. After Azariah there are eight names. The numerology of the list is unclear. A list of twenty-three could be a list of one-less-than-24; since 24 is a number associated with priesthood (24 courses of priests), the number might point to an abortive priesthood, a priesthood cut short by the exile. On the other hand, if we exclude Aaron, there are twenty-two priests, the number of the letters in the Hebrew alphabet; that would suggest a complete priesthood, a priesthood that stretches from Aleph to Tav. Of these, the former seems more likely, since the list ends with exile. The 24th priest in the list would be a post-exilic priest, so that the priesthood reaches its full number only throught the death and resurrection of exile.

The final note of the list describes Jehozadak as the one who lived when “the Lord carried Judah and Jerusalem away into exile by Nebuchadnezzar” (v. 15; NASB). That’s a charming image: The exile is made to sound like exodus, with Yahweh bearing His people through the agency of Nebuchadnezzar (“by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar”). Yahweh seems to be delivering His people from an oppressive land, carrying Judah and Jerusalem – an entire nation and city – to Babylon to replant it.

A charming image, but not an accurate translation. The Hebrew verb isn’t carry but “uncover” or “strip naked” (galah). It’s the word used in Leviticus to describe illicit sexual relations: “uncover the nakedness of.” It is a common word for exile, but in those contexts refers to the stripping people, animals, and plants from the land. It links with prophetic imagery of daughter Zion stripped naked by invaders, shaved and shamed and taken into exile. This further supports the suggestion above about the numerology: Exile is a stripping down, an uncovering and a cutting-off. Aaron’s descendants, like Judah and Jerusalem, are stripped and uncovered, their garments of glory removed, waiting the reinvestment of return.

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