Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Moreover David and the captains of the host separated to the service of the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should prophesy with harps, with psalteries, and with cymbals: and the number of the workmen according to their service was:XXV.
THE TWENTY-FOUR CLASSES OF SINGERS, OR MINSTRELS.
Separated to the service of the sons of Asaph.—Rather, separated for service the sons of Asaph, and Heman, and Jeduthun. These formed three guilds of sacred minstrels, famous to all after times. (Comp. the headings of many psalms in which these names occur, and also 1Chronicles 6:33, sqq., whence it appears that Asaph belonged to the sub tribe of Gershon, Heman to that of Kohath, and Ethan-Jeduthun to that of Merari, so that all the branches of Levi were represented among the musicians.)
Who should prophesy with harps.—In Hebrew, the verb to prophesy is a reflexive form, implying utterance under a spiritual influence. The ancients regarded musical utterance as an effect and proof of direct inspiration, and we still speak of the higher results of genius as inspired, however we may choose to explain the term away as a mere figure of speech. The power of moving sounds, whether of voice or instrument, is not to be gained by mere study or training; it is commonly spoken of as a “gift,” and its products are called “inspirations.” Whence come they, if not from the Divine source of life, and of all that makes life glad and beautiful? (James 1:17; 1Samuel 10:5; 1Samuel 16:16; 1Samuel 18:10).
Harps, with psalteries.—Lutes and harps.
And the number of the workmen according to their service was.—Literally, And the number of them—that is, of the men of work—for their service proved (as follows).
Men of work.—A remarkable appellation. The term “work” is popularly restricted to what is called productive labour, but it is not difficult to see that persons engaged, like these minstrels, in singing and playing to the praise of God are actually helping to produce one of the best of real results, viz., the conservation of the religious spirit: that is, of the right attitude of man towards the Power upon whom his entire welfare absolutely depends.
Of the sons of Asaph; Zaccur, and Joseph, and Nethaniah, and Asarelah, the sons of Asaph under the hands of Asaph, which prophesied according to the order of the king.(2) Of the sons of Asaph; Zaccur.—Literally, To the sons of Asaph belonged Zaccur. In 1Chronicles 25:2-7 the term “sons” appears to mean trained members of the musical guilds, of which the three chiefs, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, were masters.
Asarelah.—This singular name is spelt “Jesharelah” in 1Chronicles 25:14. Ewald identifies it with “Israel,” the unaccented ending ah having the force belonging to—literally, towards, unto—so that Jesharelah is in effect the modern Jewish surname Israels. (Comp. “Jaakobah,” 1Chronicles 4:36, to Jacob, i.e., Jacobs.)
Under the hands of Asaph.—Rather, at the hand of Asaph. It is implied that the four leaders here named were subordinate to Asaph, and under his direction. (Comp. 1Chronicles 25:3; 1Chronicles 25:6; 2Chronicles 23:18; 2Chronicles 29:27; Ezra 3:10.)
Which prophesied according to the order of the king.—Literally (Asaph), who prophesied (or should prophesy, the participle, as in 1Chronicles 25:1) at the hands of the king: that is, either according to the royal arrangements (2Chronicles 23:18), under David’s own appointment, or under the royal direction.
Prophesied.—That is, made music. (See 1Chronicles 25:1.)
Of Jeduthun: the sons of Jeduthun; Gedaliah, and Zeri, and Jeshaiah, Hashabiah, and Mattithiah, six, under the hands of their father Jeduthun, who prophesied with a harp, to give thanks and to praise the LORD.(3) Of Jeduthun: the sons of Jeduthun.—Rather, To Jeduthun (i.e., belonging to the guild so called): the sons of Jeduthun were Gedaliah, &c.
Six.—Only five names are now read in the text; that of “Shimei” (1Chronicles 25:17) has fallen out, the only name in 1Chronicles 25:9-31 which does not occur in 1Chronicles 25:2-4. The Alex. LXX. inserts the name between Jeshaiah and Hashabiah.
Jeshaiah.—Elsewhere spelled Isaiah.
Under the hands (see last verse) of their father Jeduthun, who prophesied with a harp.—Literally, according to the Hebrew punctuation, at the hands of their father Jeduthun, with the lute (i.e., provided with lutes, 1Chronicles 15:16), who prophesied (or was to prophesy) for giving thanks and praise to Jehovah. (Comp. 1Chronicles 16:4).
At the hands of their father.—Under the direction of their conductor.
Of Heman: the sons of Heman; Bukkiah, Mattaniah, Uzziel, Shebuel, and Jerimoth, Hananiah, Hanani, Eliathah, Giddalti, and Romamtiezer, Joshbekashah, Mallothi, Hothir, and Mahazioth:(4) Of Heman.—Rather, To Reman: the sons of Heman were, &c. Fourteen names of Hemanite leaders are given. Curiously enough, the last six, excluding the peculiar “Joshbekashah,” form, as they stand, a complete poetical couplet, which may be rendered:
“God has come; I have exalted and extolled the help;
I have spoken abundance of visions.”
Such words are very suitable in the mouth of a seer, as Heman is called in the next verse, but the arrangement of the names in this order is perhaps only a mnemonic device
Uzziel.—Power of God (Exodus 6:18); called “Azareel” in 1Chronicles 25:18 ( God hath helped, 1Chronicles 12:6). The words differ in Hebrew by one letter only. The Syriac has “Uzziel” (Azael) in both places. But the difference appears in the LXX. and Vulg.
Giddalti, and Romamti-ezer.—That is, perhaps, Giddalti-ezer and Romamti-ezer. But in 1Chronicles 25:29 “Giddalti” occurs again without any such addition, and the name as it stands may be compared with “Mallothi.” The two verbs, giddaltî and romamtî, occur together in Isaiah 1:2 : “1 have nourished and brought up.”
All these were the sons of Heman the king's seer in the words of God, to lift up the horn. And God gave to Heman fourteen sons and three daughters.(5) All these were the sons of Heman.—Literally, Were sons to Heman.
The king’s seer in the words of God.—Or, in the things of God, in Divine (that is, liturgical) matters. Heman was a prophet as well as a minstrel. (For the connection between music and prophecy, comp. 1Samuel 10:5-6; 2Kings 3:15; Exodus 15:20.) Comp. also Note on 1Chronicles 25:1, above.
Seer.—Heb., hōzèh. Literally, gazer. The word rendered “seer” in 1Chronicles 26:28 and 1Samuel 9:9 is different (rō’èh). Gad was called “David’s seer” (1Chronicles 21:9); so also Jeduthun is “the king’s seer” (2Chronicles 35:15).
To lift up the horn.—That is, according to Bertheau, “to blow the horns loudly.” With this he connects the preceding phrase, which he renders “by God’s commands.” (Comp. 2Chronicles 29:15.) But the horn does not appear elsewhere among the instruments of the Temple musicians, and the phrase “to lift up the horn” of a person is a well-known Hebrew metaphor. (Comp. 1Samuel 2:10 : “May he give strength to his king, and lift up the horn of his anointed.”) Thus it seems that the meaning is that God gave all these “sons”—i.e., proficient disciples—to Heman in order to strengthen him for his work by providing him with a strong body of able assistants.
And three daughters.—The mention of “three daughters” is interesting, as an indication that women sustained a part in the service of song. (Comp. Exodus 15:20; Judges 11:34; 1Samuel 18:6.) The Syriac omits the whole verse.
All these were under the hands of their father for song in the house of the LORD, with cymbals, psalteries, and harps, for the service of the house of God, according to the king's order to Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman.(6) All these were under the hands of their father . . . and harps.—Rather, All these were under the direction of their conductor in the music in the house of Jehovah, with cymbals, harps, and lutes, (See Notes on 1Chronicles 25:2-3.)
According to the king’s order to Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman.—Rather, under the directions of the king (and), Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun. The meaning is that the arrangement of the duties of the minstrels was accomplished by David with the assistance of the three chief musicians, just as, in the classification of the priests, the king had been helped by the chief priests Zadok and Ahimelech (1Chronicles 24:3).
All these.—That is, the twenty-four leading minstrels, enumerated in 1Chronicles 25:2-4. Each performed under the supervision of his own “father,” i.e., director.
So the number of them, with their brethren that were instructed in the songs of the LORD, even all that were cunning, was two hundred fourscore and eight.(7) So the number of them, with their brethren . . . was two hundred fourscore and eight.—This total of two hundred and eighty-eight skilled musicians (24 × 12) shows that each of the twenty-four leading minstrels, called in 1Chronicles 25:2-4 the “sons” of Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman, was associated with a company of eleven “brethren,” who were experts in the chanting of the sanctuary. The twenty-four leaders accompanied the singing of their choirs with instrumental music.
And they cast lots, ward against ward, as well the small as the great, the teacher as the scholar.(8) And they cast lots, ward against ward.—Rather, And they cast lots of charge, that is, for determining the order in which each of the twenty-four guilds, or classes, should take charge of the services. (Comp, the LXX., κλήρους ἐφημερίων, “lots of courses;” and see Luke 1:6.) Some Hebrew MSS. and the Targum repeat the word “ward” (mishmèreth, “charge”), whence the reading of the Authorised Version. The ancient versions omit the word altogether.
As well the small as the great.—Heb., exactly as the small (or, the younger), so the great (or, the elder). (Comp. the Vulg., “ex aequo tam major quam minor.”) But perhaps leummath is here used absolutely: “They cast lots in like manner” (1Chronicles 24:31). The senior houses, or guilds, had no advantage over the juniors, the order of rotation being decided by lot. (Comp. 1Chronicles 24:31.)
The teacher as the scholar.—Literally, cunning (1Chronicles 25:7) with learner. According to 1Chronicles 23:5, the whole number of Levites appointed for the service of song was 4,000. These were all included in the twenty-four classes, 288 of them being “cunning” men, that is, masters in their art, and the remaining 3,712 forming the rank and file of the choirs under the training of the proficients. The Aramaic word talmid (scholar) occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament. It is the term used of the disciples of the Rabbis in the Talmud, and is the exact equivalent of the New Testament word, μαθητής.
Now the first lot came forth for Asaph to Joseph: the second to Gedaliah, who with his brethren and sons were twelve:(9) Now the first lot came forth for Asaph to Joseph.—See 1Chronicles 25:2, according to which Joseph was the second “son” of Asaph. Although not stated in the text, it must have been true of Joseph as of all the following heads, that “he, and his sons and his brethren were twelve.” The specified total of 288 (1Chronicles 25:7) requires it.
The second to Gedaliah, who with his brethren and sons were twelve.—Rather, Gedaliah was the second, he and his brethren and his sons—twelve. The “brethren” and “sons” of the chiefs, in this and the following verses, are the eleven masters, or proficients, in each class.
Brethren.—Fellow-clansmen, or associates.
Sons.—Disciples, or subordinates.
Perhaps, however, we should think of elder and younger families, grouped together in one class.
The third to Zaccur, he, his sons, and his brethren, were twelve:(10) The third to Zaccur.—Literally, The third, Zaccur and his sons and his brethren—twelve. The same mode of expression is used down to 1Chronicles 25:18, except in 1Chronicles 25:11, which reads, “The fourth for the Izrite, his sons and his brethren—twelve.” The Izrite (not “Izri”) is a Gentilic name, and seems to denote a family rather than a person.
The tenth to Shimei, he, his sons, and his brethren, were twelve:(17) Shimei.—Omitted by accident from 1Chronicles 25:3.
The eleventh to Azareel, he, his sons, and his brethren, were twelve:(18) Azareel.—Called Uzziel in 1Chronicles 25:4. (Comp. Azariah as a variant of Uzziah, 1Chronicles 3:12, and 2Chronicles 26:1.)
The twelfth to Hashabiah, he, his sons, and his brethren, were twelve:(19) To Hashabiah.—So the Hebrew.
The thirteenth to Shubael, he, his sons, and his brethren, were twelve:(20) The thirteenth to Shubael.—The Hebrew is, to thirteenth, Shubael, his sons and his brethren, twelve; and so in the next verse. The meaning seems to be: as to, or as regards, the thirteenth. Shubael (Shebuel) has occurred before (1Chronicles 23:16; 1Chronicles 24:20).
The fifteenth to Jeremoth, he, his sons, and his brethren, were twelve:(22) The fifteenth to Jeremoth.—Heb., to fifteenth, to Jeremoth; i.e., as regards the fifteenth lot, it was for Jeremoth. The construction is the same to the end of the chapter.
Spelling, and probably pronunciation, fluctuated between Jeremoth and Jerimoth (1Chronicles 25:4). (Comp. 1Chronicles 23:23; 1Chronicles 24:30.) The LXX. and Vulg. spell “Jerimoth” in both places here; Syriac, “Jarmûth”; Arabic, “Jārāmāth” and “Jarmûth.”
The four and twentieth to Romamtiezer, he, his sons, and his brethren, were twelve.(31) An analysis of the whole list shows that the first, third, fifth, and seventh places fell to the four Asaphite guilds, or clans; the second, fourth, eighth, tenth, twelfth, and fourteenth to the six guilds of the sons of Jeduthun, or Ethanites; the sixth, ninth, eleventh, thirteenth, and the remaining ten places, to the fourteen guilds of Heman.
It appears evident that all the lots were thrown into a single urn, and that the Asaphite and Ethanite names were all drawn, as the chances made it likely, before the Hemanites were exhausted. As it happened, only Hemanite names were left after the fourteenth drawing.