Lecture 64: The History of the Resting of the Shekhina ֠The Giv'onim ֠Hewers of Wood and Drawers of Water for the Mishkan

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy




Dedicated in memory of both Zissel Bat Yitzchak Gontownik, and Avraham Ben Yosef Halevi Gontownik, on the occasion of his tenth yahrzeit, by his children, Anne and Jerry Gontownik, and Sidney Gontownik, and his grandchildren, Ari and Shira, Zev and Daniela, Yonatan, Ranan, Hillel, and Ezra Gontownik.




Lecture 64: The History of the resting of the Shekhina –

THE Giv'onim – Hewers of wood and drawers of water

for the mishkan


Rav Yitzchak Levi





            The final topic that we wish to examine within the framework of this study unit is the issue of the service of the Giv'onim as hewers of wood and drawers of water in the House of God.[1] This issue accompanies the people of Israel from the time of their entry into the Land in the days of Yehoshua until the days of the return to Zion after the exile to Bavel. For this reason, we have chosen to deal with it in completion of our first unit of study.


            In the wake of the covenant that Yehoshua makes with the Giv'onim, the princes of Israel say:


And the princes said to them, “Let them live; but let them be hewers of wood and drawers of water for all of the congregation;” as the princes had promised them. And Yehoshua called for them, and he spoke to them, saying, “Why have you deceived us, saying, ‘We are very far from you,’ when you dwell among us? Now therefore you are cursed, and there shall not cease to be of you bondmen, and hewers of wood and drawers of water for the House of my God…” And Yehoshua made them that day hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the Lord to this day, in the place which He would choose. (Yehoshua 9:21-27)


            What is the difference between the princes' proposal that the Giv'onim should be hewers of wood and drawers of water for the entire congregation and Yehoshua's suggestion that they should be "for the House of my God"? The Radak answers this question as follows:


How so? As long as the congregation was in the camp, before the Land was divided, they were hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation. But after the Land was divided and each man in Israel was in his city and in his inheritance, they remained as hewers of wood and drawers of water for the House of God in Gilgal, Shilo, Nov, Giv'on and in the permanent Mikdash, as it says, "in the place which He would choose" (v. 27). Our Rabbis, of blessed memory, said (Yevamot 79a) that since Yehoshua made them hewers of wood and drawers of water for the House of God in Gilgal, he decreed that they must not come into the congregation, that Israel must not take wives from them, and this prohibition applied as long as the Mikdash stood, for it says, "for the house of my God." This implies that as long as they shall be hewers of wood and drawers of water for the House of my God, and that is as long as the house of God stands. David came and issued a decree regarding them. And so it is written in the book of Ezra, "Also of the Temple servants whom David and the princes had appointed for the service of the Levites" (Ezra 8:20).


            It is interesting to note that the Giv'onim maintain a connection to the people of Israel for a very extended period of time. We encounter them the entire length of the First Temple period, when the people of Israel go out into exile, when they come back in the days of the return to Zion, and even in the future Temple in the prophecy of Yechezkel.


            The midrash states:


What is [meant by], "And the children of Israel had sworn to them" (II Shmuel 21:2)? David said: “When the children of Israel swore to them, they hung it upon me, that if I wish to alienate them or draw them near, I may do so. Now I wish to alienate them.” From where do we know that they hung it upon David? For it is written, "And Yehoshua made them that day hewers of wood and drawers of water [for the congregation, and for the altar of the Lord, to this day, in the place which He would choose]" (Yehoshua 9:27). R. Ami said in the name of R. Yehoshua ben Levi: Once it says, "For the congregation and for the altar of the Lord," why must it say, "in the place which He would choose"? Rather, Yehoshua hung it upon David, saying: I do not draw them near nor do I alienate them. Rather he who in the future will build the Temple in Jerusalem, if he chooses to draw [them] near, let him draw [them] near; [if he wishes] to alienate [them], let him alienate [them]. When David came and saw that they were cruel, he alienated them. So, too, Ezra alienated them, as it is written, "But the Temple servants dwelt in Ofel" (Nechemya 11:21). So, too, in the future, the Holy One, blessed be He, will alienate them, as it is stated, "And those who work in the city shall work in it (ya'avduhu) of all the tribes of Israel" (Yechezkel 48:19) – will perish (yovduhu) from all the tribes of Israel. "And Shaul sought to slay them" (II Shmuel 21:2) – even though he did not slay them, they acted cruelly towards him, teaching you that it was not for naught that David alienated them. (Bamidbar Rabba 8, 4)


            The midrash draws a connection between the days of Yehoshua and the days of David, arguing that at all times the Giv'onim were alienated from the people of Israel. This was the case during the time of David and during the time of Ezra (when the Giv'onim were called "netinim," servants), and similarly in the future, God will alienate them (as they are referred to by Yechezkel as "those who work in the city").


            It is important to note that the period of Yehoshua and the period of David are separated by an important period in the history of the Giv'onim, namely, the period of Shaul. As we will see below, Shaul delivered a heavy blow to the Giv'onim, in the wake of which Israel was struck by famine during the days of David.


            The midrash implies that the Giv'onim were alienated from Israel because of their cruelty. As we will see below, the Giv'onim were later expelled by Shaul, and it is possible that these points are connected. Moreover, it is interesting that the midrash draws a direct connection between the Giv'onim in the days of Yehoshua and the netinim in the days of Ezra.


            Let us now try to understand the relationship between the people of Israel and the Giv'onim during the various stages of their history.




            The very obligation to work for the altar of God appears to be one of the conditions in the covenant that the Giv'onim accepted upon themselves in the days of Yehoshua. Even before their act of deception became known, the Giv'onim say to the people of Israel, "We are your servants; therefore now make a covenant with us" (Yehoshua 9:11). Since the covenant with the Giv'onim was made with the entire congregation, the obligation of service on the part of the Giv'onim was also to the entire congregation. Therefore, they were to serve in the institution common to the entire congregation, namely, service alongside the altar of God.


            Beyond this basic assertion, there is no actual testimony in the books of the prophets to the Giv'onim serving in the Mishkan or in any other role among the people of Israel until the time of Shaul.




            Following the covenant that Yehoshua made with the Giv'onim, which turned them into hewers of wood and drawers of water, the Giv'onim seem to have been gradually pushed out of their cities by successive waves of Israelite settlement.[2]


            This process reaches its climax in the days of Shaul, when Shaul kills many of the Giv'onim, in the wake of which the people of Israel are struck by a heavy famine in the days of David. When David turns to God, asking Him why the people were afflicted with famine, God answers him as follows:


And the Lord answered, “It is for Shaul and for his bloody house, because he slew the Giv'onim…” and Shaul sought to slay them in his zeal for the children of Israel and Yehuda. (II Shmuel 21:1)


            Similarly, the Giv'onim say to David:


And they answered the king, “The man that consumed us and that devised against us that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the borders of Israel…” (Shmuel II 21:5)


            Shaul's killing of the Giv'onim may have been connected to the support that they gave to David, in which case it was a continuation of Shaul's killing of the priests in Nov (Shmuel I 22:18-19).


            In addition, it is reasonable to assume that Shaul wanted to gain control of all of Binyamin's tribal territory and to expel the Giv'onim. His objective in destroying the Giv'onim was to allow the people of Binyamin to recover their lands that had been seized by the Giv'onim. The verses in Divrei Ha-yamim (I 8:29 and on and 9:35 and on) imply that Shaul settled in Giv'on, and apparently also in the other Giv'oni cities, members of his own family, officers of his army, and other members of the tribe of Binyamin. Shaul's family's connection to the city of Giv'on and the designation of the head of the family as "father of Giv'on" (as he is called in Divrei Ha-yamim) teach us that this city became an important city in the tribal territory of Binyamin, apparently second only to the capital, Giv'at Shaul.




            Why was Giv'on chosen as the site of the great bama? Nowhere in Scripture is the city of Giv'on described as a holy site. It is unreasonable to assume that it was chosen to locate the great bama in Giv'on while it was still a pagan city, populated by the Giv'onim, even if a covenant had been made between them and Israel. Rather, it is reasonable to assume that the transition to the bama in Giv'on took place after the city had already turned into an Israelite city. Indeed, in two of the four cities of the Giv'onim we find testimony to Israelite settlement:


·        In the account of the death of Eshba'al at the hands of Ba'ana and Rekhav, it says: "… the name of the one was Ba'ana, and the name of the other Rekhav, the sons of Rimon the Be'erotite, of the children of Binyamin; for Be'erot also is reckoned to Binyamin…" (II Shmuel 7:1).


·        The ark is brought to Kiryat Ye'arim, to the house of Elazar the son of Avinadav (I Shmuel 7:1).


In the context of the discussion regarding the bama in Giv'on, we must examine when the great bama in Giv'on was built.


The bama in Giv'on is mentioned in the days of Shlomo (Melakhim I 3:4), and there it is described as a great bama. In addition, the verse in Divrei Ha-yamim I (16:39) regarding the finding of the site of the Mikdash in the threshing floor of Aravna notes that Tzadok the priest and his brothers the priests served in the Mishkan of God at the bama in Giv'on (29:3).[3]


It is reasonable to assume that the bama in Giv'on was built before the time of David, for David wanted to establish Jerusalem as the holy site.[4] Logic dictates that it was Shaul who dedicated the place following the destruction of Nov, city of the priests (I Shmuel 22:19), but it is difficult to attach a date to this event; it stands to reason, however, that we are dealing with the period toward the end of Shaul's life.


It is interesting that the verses in Divrei Ha-yamim which describe David's bringing of the ark to the city of David state as follows:


And Tzadok the priest and his brethren the priests, before the tabernacle of the lord in the bama that was at Giv'on, to offer burnt-offerings to the Lord upon the altar of the burnt-offering continually morning and evening, and to do according to all that is written in the Torah of the Lord, which He commanded Israel. (Divrei Ha-yamim I 16:39-40)


            It is not clear whether Tzadok's presence in Giv'on was on the initiative of Shaul, who turned Giv'on into the main cultic center following the destruction of Nov; in this sense, Tzadok and the members of his household are loyal representatives of the tribe of Binyamin and the northern tribes. Or perhaps it was on David's initiative that Tzadok (from the house of Elazar) was initially placed in Giv'on; later he would demonstrate loyalty to David and replace Evyatar (from the house of Eli and Itamar) at the time of Avshalom's revolt.




            The primary connection between David and the Giv'onim is described in chapter 21 of Shmuel II. In the wake of three years of famine, David seeks out God, and God tells David that that the famine struck Israel, "…for Shaul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Giv'onim…" Consequent to David's conversation with the Giv'onim and at the latter's request, seven members of the house of Shaul were hanged– two sons of Ritzpa the daughter of Aya and five sons of Mikhal the daughter of Shaul.[5]


            David buries those who were hanged, as well as Shaul and Yonatan, with their forefathers. In the wake of the burial, "God was entreated for the land" (Shmuel II 21:14). Atonement was achieved for the sin of the hanging, but Shaul's treachery against the Giv'onim and the oath of Israel appears not to have achieved atonement, for the hanging of the seven was not accepted as a desirable atonement.


            In this sense, Shmuel II 24 constitutes a continuation of our story, a continuation of God's anger about Israel's treachery against the Giv'onim, and it is reasonable to assume that this is the plain meaning of, "And again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel" (Shmuel II 24:1). It is possible to see the seventy thousand people who died in the plague as recompense for the seven descendants of Shaul.[6]


            In similar fashion, we can explain the fact that the book of Shmuel speaks of seven years of famine (as opposed to Divrei Ha-yamim, which speaks of only three years of famine). With the offering of the sacrifice, atonement is achieved through the money paid out for the acquisition of the site of the Mikdash and with the raising of a sweet savor to God.


            The two stories – the famine and the plague – end with "So the Lord was entreated for the land" (Shmuel II 21:14; 24:25). In Divrei Ha-yamim, the parallel account deals clearly and directly with the revelation of the site of the Mikdash and with the beginning of the practical preparations for the building of the Mikdash.[7]




            In the days of Shlomo, the Giv'onim are not mentioned as an independent entity, or as living in separate cities, and it would seem that this situation goes back to the days of Shaul, who sought to slay them (Shmuel II 21:5).


            It is possible that they became assimilated among Shlomo's servants who served in lowly positions in the Temple in Jerusalem. It is possible that the account in Melakhim relates to them as well:


Of all the people that were left of the Emori, the Chiti, the Perizi, the Chivi, and the Yevusi, who were not of the children of Israel, their children that were left after them in the Land, whom the children of Israel were not able to wipe out, upon those did Shlomo levy a tribute of bond-service to this day. But of the children of Israel did Shlomo make no bondmen, but they were men of war, and his servants, and his princes, and his captains, and rulers of his chariots, and his horsemen. (Melakhim I 9:20-22)




            It says in the book of Ezra:


Also of the Temple servants, whom David and the princes had appointed for the service of the Levites, two hundred and twenty Temple servants, all of whom were mentioned by name. (Ezra 8:20)


            As we saw above, the midrash draws a connection between the Temple servants in the days of David to the Giv'onim. The Temple servants were put into the service of the Levites during the time of David, and Scripture testifies and notes that they came back with the returnees to Eretz Yisrael in the time of Ezra.




            According to the prophecy of Yechezkel, the Land of Israel will be re-divided, and in the proximity of the Temple, there will be place for the priests, the Levites, and the city workers.


And those who work in the city shall work in it of all the tribes of Israel. (Yechezkel 48:19)


            The Radak explains (ad loc.):


"Of all the tribes in Israel" – Because they are there for their sake and in their place, and by right they should do whatever is necessary, and they should send them gifts. And some explain that the city workers are the Giv'onim, but this has no basis. For the Giv'onim will not serve in the future, and it is impossible that the Giv'onim will reside in Jerusalem when the city is holy for Israel.


            But as we saw in the midrash cited earlier, the Giv'onim are identified with the city workers whom God will alienate.


            In any event, the Giv'onim's obligation to serve the entire congregation alongside God's altar indicates their dependent status in relation to the entire congregation and to the altar. According to the way that the midrash understands the various scriptural verses, this status continues from the days of Yehoshua, through the period of David, and until the prophecy of Yechezkel.


            There are two questions that need to be answered:


            One factual question – what evidence is there that the Giv'onim actually served as hewers of wood and drawers of water during the first Temple period? And a second question – what is the spiritual significance of this phenomenon?


            Regarding the first question, there is no explicit reference during the entire period of the Mishkan and the Mikdash to the service of the Giv'onim.


            Regarding the second question, it is clear that the solution found by Yehoshua made it possible for them to serve the entire congregation. This service undoubtedly included all the peripheral work that could be performed by non-Jews. Beyond the practical benefit, and the solution of the relationship between the covenant that Yehoshua made and his desire to find a resolution and a connection between the Giv'onim and the people of Israel without breaching that covenant, the question remains whether this solution reflects a spiritual reality in the relationship between the Giv'onim and the people of Israel regarding the Temple service.


** *


            With this we conclude the first unit of study in this series. We will now move on to the period of David and to his relationship to the Mikdash and the resting of the Shekhina.


(Translated by David Strauss)

[1] In the framework of this shiur, we will not discuss the covenant entered into with the Giv'onim, which is a separate issue, and we will limit the discussion to the status of the Giv'onim and their relationship to the Mishkan. In addition, it should be noted that the sources dealing with this issue are very sparse. Some of the arguments brought below are based on the words of Scripture and the Midrash, but some are mere conjecture.

[2] This is the view of Prof. Moshe Garciel in his article, "Yeridato Shel Ha-Melekh Shlomo Le-Giv'on Va-Chalomo," in Sefer Barukh ben Yehuda, p. 193.

[3] We dealt with the stations of the Mishkan – in this case Giv'on - in last year's series on the Mikdash, shiur 52.

[4] The only time that we find David wanting to go to Giv'on was following the revelation at the threshing floor of Aravna (Divrei Ha-yamim I 21:29), but this desire was never realized. Other than this, we never find David in Giv'on, and this supports our understanding above.

[5] We will not address here the incident itself. We mention the event only in order to understand the development of the attitude toward the Giv'onim.

[6] So suggests M. Ben Yashar, "Iyyun Be-Parashat Ritzpah bat Aya," Beit Mikra 11 (5726), pp. 34-41.

[7] It is possible that according to Divrei Ha-yamim, the revelation of the site of the Mikdash and the offering of the sacrifice constitute atonement for Shaul's actions.