(The following comprises Part Fourteen of the Saturday series on Secondary Illuminations of Scripture.)
Last week we briefly considered Psalm 68:11-13. Psalm 68 is rich in allusions, and those verses hold particular encouragements for women. Now we’ll look at vv. 15-16 in a manner that builds on the encouragements of vv. 11-13. You may decide if I am over-reaching in my use of secondary illumination hermeneutics or if the Scriptures are hereby opened up appropriately. Luke’s blog on the “unconscious” intentions of Bible authors may be helpful in sorting this out (found here).
By way of background, Matthew Henry suggests that Moses’ blessing upon the placement of the ark in Numbers 10:35 is the source of the opening lines of this psalm of rest and victory and that this might indicate that David composed Psalm 68 upon moving the ark into its tent after military rest had come to the nation. This could be significant as we consider v. 16.
15 A mountain of God is the mountain of Bashan; A mountain of many peaks is the mountain of Bashan. 16 Why do you look with envy, O mountains with many peaks, At the mountain which God has desired for His abode? ?Surely the LORD will dwell there forever. (NASB)
Why this crazy jump from women to mountains? Well, I’m not sure there is a tremendous jump in topics once the Psalm is probed poetically. It will, however, take me time to set a foundation from which to return to Psalm 68:
Bashan is a notable mountain range in the region of the ½ tribe of Eastern Manasseh. Back when I was first drafting my aforementioned book on rejection and redemption themes among the three Transjordan tribes, I found that as I wrote about Manasseh I’d think to myself over and over, “Wow, this or that vexation or sin sounds like something women deal with a lot. Maybe it’s because, like Manasseh, who was demoted beneath his brother Ephraim, women have found themselves stuck in a position where they were disadvantaged and under the thumb of another since the fall.” And then I would think, “Wow, this or that ability or motive sounds like a way women are often particularly gifted whether by nature or in response to underdog circumstances. They sure are a lot like Manassite heroes.”
Long behold, shortly after I made these connections between women and the applications of Manassite stories, my list of Manassites about which to write expanded. I started to realize there were famous Manassites not listed by their tribe but by their clan. For instance, a search through the clan of “Machir” yielded heroes I had not noticed before. And guess who was being added to the list? Women. A truly unusual number of active and/or named women such as seems not to be replicated in any other tribe.
First of all we have a giant-conquering hero from Moses’ day named Jair whose conquests would someday form much of Eastern Manasseh (Numbers 32:40-41; Deuteronomy 3:13-14; 1 Chronicles 2:21-23). He’s a man, but what’s unusual is that both his inheritance and name has passed through his paternal grandmother (from Manasseh) rather than his paternal grandfather (from Judah). This is despite the fact that his grandmother had a famous brother or step-brother who could carry on the family name. It is also despite the fact that his grandfather (1 Chronicles 2:9-20; Ruth 4:18-22; Matthew 1:3) was the progenitor of the head artisan of the temple, Bezalel (the first man described as filled with the Holy Spirit), King David, and the Christ. We are granted no explanation for why the genealogy was routed as to honor the paternal grandmother contrary to the patriarchal norms of the Near East.
And that’s not the only genealogical quirk in Manassite history which counter-culturally favors females. In Deuteronomy 27 and 36, we find the five daughters of Zelophehad who dare to petition Moses for their father’s inheritance in the absence of any brothers who might inherit. Perhaps they were emboldened by Jair’s genealogy where the female line carried its sons’ inheritances despite the presence of a brother to inherit and a noble husband. Zelophehad’s daughters are both granted their inheritance and end up setting a legal precedent with their decision.
Additionally, at the time of the rebuilding of Jerusalem, we are told twice of a family descended from a Levite priest who married a Gileadite woman (from a clan of Manasseh). He and his descendants took her father’s name, solidifying an occasional Manassite theme (Ezra 2:61; Nehemiah 7:63).
A few more:
- Gideon is a Manassite; a woman is instrumental in the death of his oppressive and evil son Abimelech. Psalm 68:14 might allude to Abimelech (Judges 9:47-54) as the only other mention of Zalmon in Scripture, although the mountain’s particular resplendency may be the reason for its mention more than any narrative association.
- Jephthah (Judges 11-12) was a Manassite, and the horrifying story of his daughter’s demise was annually mourned by Israel in her memory (a story we would do well to mark a memorial to for its secondary illuminations, imo, but that’s for another time).
- Dinah was raped or seduced (either way brought into discredit) in the land that would become Western Manasseh (Genesis 34)… whereabouts Jesus also met the woman at the well and so infused her with life that her shame merely became a testimony to Him (John 4).
- Deborah’s final battle took place in Manasseh in the Meggido (Armaggedon) plains. Armaggedon’s eschatological import might heighten our attention to kingdom meanings for this location.
- An ungodly female authority, Jezebel, was killed in Western Manassseh (2 Kings 9:27-37). Where there is the real God-ordained thing, there will often be a counterfeit to be discerned and overcome.
The mountains of Bashan are awesome, but relative to mount Zion where the ark of God’s presence has been deposited, they have been seemingly demoted, much like Manasseh to Ephraim. Much poetic import is, however, granted to these mountains. A mountain in one of the most “alone” reaches of the range on the northern border is that of which the psalm of unity, Psalm 133:3, says,
It is like the dew of Hermon Coming down upon the mountains of Zion; For there the LORD commanded the blessing—life forever. (NASB)
The mountains of Bashan need not look with envy on Zion because their situation is intimately connected to the life of Zion and its tabernacle. Dew is a rich image of favor in Scripture (e.g., the story of Gideon) and is presented in this psalm in continuum with the oil anointing the priest’s forehead. Manassites, too, are integral to and at one with the priesthood’s cycles no matter how hidden away they may seem, and all members of God’s people benefit from this symbiosis if they have a heart for honor and unity.
According to geographical context and ancient tradition, Mount Hermon—not Tabor—is likely where Jesus chose to reveal Himself glorified to James, Peter, and John (Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Green, McKnight, Marshall). In Psalm 42:5-7, commentators suggest that Mount Mizar, “the little hill,” may simply be a poetic reference to the comparatively small sacred value of the Hermon mountain range next to the holy mountain of Zion. In other words, “I remember You… from the peaks of Hermon, from that hill of littleness.” This might be extrapolated to the “littleness” we feel during seasons when our soul is downcast. But then we can let the waves and breakers of His greatness overwhelm us (c.f, Psalm 29 where Sirion is another name for Hermon). Hermon also appears in the great song of love, Song of Songs 4:7-9.
The Lord takes pleasure in the women, the foreigner, the forgotten, and the underdog. He is the God Who Sees their situation. Their purpose and portion is consistent with that of those with the most holy privileges. They, too, are a “mountain of God” with “many peaks” of value that display his glory and to whom He would reveal His glory. They may regain the firstborn son’s inheritance, the double portion, as co-heirs with Christ, the firstborn. They are “Heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17), who is “The image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15).
For the final two weeks we will consider a story that explores the possibility of secondary illuminations in numbers and language.
 Although I do not even touch this possibility in the blog, pp. 8-14 of this Sephardic Institute publication argues that Judges 5 and Psalm 68 share this emphasis on the Ark even down to a wordplay on Deborah’s name and “the Word” so that when she is calling herself to arise she is calling the Word to arise (since her name shares a derivation with “word”): http://www.tebah.org/publications/shabuot/Psalm%2068-%20Mr%20Ronald%20Benun.pdf
 Matthews, V. H., Chavalas, M. W., & Walton, J. H. 2000. The IVP Bible background commentary : Old Testament (electronic ed.) . InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL