Nowadays, we struggle to see how two peoples could possibly split this small land and both have a viable piece of territory to live on. Imagine what the political map looked like when Israel was divided into 32 (don’t forget the Givonim) city-states, each with its own king. And, (spoiler alert!), next chapter we’ll find out that those 32 kings only represent a small portion of the population of the land!
The poetic structure of the chapter, which arranges each king on his own line, followed by a long space, and then the word “one”, highlights the individuality of each entity. The only time they came together was to make war against Israel, and from their abject failure, we can assume that their war-time unification was not very successful. Thirty one mini-armies, each with its own hierarchies and chain of command, is given graphic representation in the way the chapter is written- as two tall, unstable towers, easily toppled by the united nation of Israel.
The Midrash understands the endless city-states of Canaan as embassies. If your flag didn’t fly in Canaan, you were a nobody (Tanchuma Mishpatim 17). Israel was, and historically always remained, “a desired land, a beloved inheritance of legions of nations” (Yirmiyahu 3:17), a tiny plot of land coveted and fought over endlessly, in ways that utterly defy historical and political logic.
The ultimate destiny of this land is not that it be the sole possession of the Jewish nation, a precious jewel for God’s special, treasured nation. Rather, Yirmiyahu continues to explain, the smallest of all nations is meant to take this smallest of lands and make “Jerusalem into God’s seat, and all the nations will aspire to God’s name, to Jerusalem…and all nations will be blessed by it, and praised in it” (Yirmiyahu 3:17, 4:2).
This blog offers short, English reflections on the 929 project’s daily chapter of Tanach. Learn more, about the project, and about the perek, (but all in Hebrew) at 929.org.il