Iddo the Annotator

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A long time ago, apparently sometime between the reign of Solomon and the destruction of Jerusalem (that is, between the 10th and 6th centuries, B.C.), there was a prophet in Israel or Judah whose name was Iddo. He is mentioned several times in the Bible and must have been quite important, though we know little that is specific about him. Iddo must have been a prolific writer, since his works are cited as providing background information for several of the kings mentioned in the Chronicles (see 2 Chr. 9:29, 12:15, and 13:22). Assuming that Ezra was responsible for writing Chronicles (and there are several reasons to believe that, which we won’t get into here), he was evidently quite familiar with Iddo’s writings and considered him an important author of accurate, inspired history. When organizing the temple history for his own and subsequent generations, Ezra gleaned information from Iddo’s previous work, but as with many other prophets who had written accounts of their times or ministries, not all of Iddo’s works could or should be preserved for the common reader who didn’t necessarily want or need all of the details of past kings, past sins, and past revelations. The respect of Ezra for Iddo, and in fact the respect of the Jews for Iddo, is evidenced in the fact that he is cited as an ancestor of Zechariah, adding to Zechariah’s credibility and strengthening his impact at a time when most Jews were not very committed to the Lord’s house but were very conscious of their family tree (see Zech. 1:1, 7, and Ezra 5:1, 6:14. Zechariah was probably “son of Iddo” in the same sense that Jesus is “son of David”, a male descendant but not necessarily the next generation).

This Iddo was an acknowledged prophet of God, and as noted above is credited with writing several important books dealing with the history and genealogies of Israel. Exactly what he wrote is worth at least some curiosity on our part, since it was so important to Ezra and Ezra’s work is so important to us. In referring to the writings of Iddo, in 2 Chr. 12:15 a very common word is used, rendered “records” in the NIV, and often found in the KJV as “chronicles”. It is a word used of all kinds of written records, spoken words, sayings, and so forth. However, the writer here specifically tells us that the records he referred to were not general, but specifically dealing with genealogies. Yet, they recorded events of the reign of Rehoboam, and so are not simply name lists, but also records of what the people in the genealogy did. A similar example might be found in 1 Chr. 4:38-43, where historical notes are mixed in with the genealogical account. In fact, much in the genealogies of Chronicles, or even those found in other Old Testament scriptures, may be transcribed from Iddo’s work that is referred to here in Chronicles.

Besides his records of genealogies, Iddo is also said to have written a “story” (KJV) or “annotations” (NIV) in 2 Chr. 13:22. This is an unusual word in the Hebrew of the Old Testament, occurring only twice, the other place being 2 Chr. 24:27. An English rendering of the word would be “Midrash”, which is a name later generations of Jews would apply to the Rabbinic commentaries that came to carry great weight in interpretation. In fact, some English Bibles translate the word “midrash” as commentary. It seems likely that Iddo the prophet was responsible for a sort of commentary on the existing scriptures of his time, but a commentary that was recognized as being produced by a prophet and cited as authoritative and accurate. Such a commentary might consist of explanatory annotations (as the NIV renders the word), which clarified ancient terms and places that had shifted meanings and names in the passage of time. We see examples of such “midrash” in the writings of Moses, where we have explanations for later generations of Israelites who had lost touch with what earlier generations had known and taken for granted (such as place names, Gen. 35:19, Gen. 28:19, or historical notes such as Deut. 3:13b-14, which talks about Jair, a judge who did what is mentioned here many years after Deuteronomy closed, Judges 10:3-5). Whether such historical comments are what has been preserved of the “midrash of Iddo”, or whether some other prophet(s) did the same kind of work, we have in this reference to Iddo a clue to how God provided a Bible to his people that was always relevant and understandable. And though we can’t point to a book of the finished Bible and say that particular book is the book of Iddo, it seems very likely that some of what he wrote, some of what Ezra referenced, is included in the historical accounts and reference material of the Bible we read, at least in Chronicles and probably also in Kings, and perhaps in explanatory captions found throughout the historical books.

Incidentally, the other reference to Iddo’s writing, 2 Chr. 9:29, refers to the “visions of Iddo”, and uses a Hebrew word that occurs only this once in the Old Testament, a word which means “a vision or a revelation”. This prophet’s work must have been not only prolific, authoritative and influential, but also remarkable, and unique. He may not fit into a standard mold of what we would expect a Biblical writer to be, and his name is no longer attached to any book we know, but he was evidently an important prophet and Biblical writer, and perhaps as he was uniquely useful to God and God’s people in his non-standard contributions, we too can be of use in our generation, each of us in our own odd ways. A prophet could scarcely be known at all and still be more obscure than Iddo, and yet his work somehow undergirds our knowledge of God. Obscurity may be our destiny in the Lord’s work as well, but we may still be instrumental in laying the groundwork for someone’s faith, someone’s knowledge of God, and their subsequent salvation. Obscure or not, it is a role worth filling, a role we are all called to. Who knows when some annotation of yours may prove indispensibly valuable to someone searching for life, though they never know or remember you as the source?

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