Obadiah’s Prophecy of Edom’s Downfall

Obadiah’s Prophecy:  Profanity and Pride Goeth before Edom’s Fall

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Though you (thou) exalt yourself (thyself) as the eagle, and though you (thou) set your (thy) nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord. (Obadiah 1:4)

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Introduction

Obadiah’s prophecy focuses on the nation Edom, people descended from Esau, Jacob’s twin brother and rival. This book of prophecy – the shortest in the Old Testament – eventually expands its coverage to Israel’s other neighbors, and even alludes to “the day of the LORD is near upon all the heathen” (1:15).  Thus, the book of OBADIAH specifically recounts some of Edom’s wickednesses, noting how these evils are to be punished on the Day of the LORD.(1) 

The key theme of Obadiah is that punishment of Edom’s God-despising prideful profanity, which includes Edom’s merciless and cruel persecution of Jacob’s descendants, is assured and shall be accomplished by God, climaxing in judgment as part of the Day of the LORD (1:15-19).

Also, we see in Obadiah’s prophecy how the rivalry between Esau and Jacob (Genesis 25:22-23 & 25:27-34), specifically Esau’s unjust persecution of Jacob (e.g., see Genesis 27:41), continues through time. The ultimate examples of that rivalry, of course, climax in the Edomite (l/k/a Idumean) household of the Herod dynasty, Idumean kings who tried to murder the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:3-19), and who participated in sentencing Jesus to death (Luke 23:8-12; Acts 4:27), and who persecuted the followers of Jesus (Acts 12:1-20).  Unresolved rivalries result in regrettable ramifications (James 3:16).

Little wonder that God declared His hatred for the Edomite people, during the prophetic ministry of Malachi (Malachi 1:2-3; Romans 9:13).  One of the looming themes of “that Day” is how God shall angrily avenge Israel by punishing Israel’s persecutors, including Edom (Jeremiah 49:8-10).

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 Exegetical Observations and Comments on Obadiah’s sole chapter

The vision of Obadiah. Thus saith the Lord God concerning Edom: We have heard a rumor from the Lord, and an ambassador is sent among the heathen, Arise ye, and let us rise up against her in battle. (Obadiah 1:1)

Obadiah’s prophecy begins by pronouncing divine judgment against the nation of Edom, with God’s justice being executed through warfare that involves heathen (i.e., Gentile unbelievers) nations who combine their armies to attack Edom.

Behold, I have made you (thee) small among the heathen; you (thou) are greatly despised. (Obadiah 1:2)

The verb “despised” (1:2), in some ways, could be called the key to understanding the fate of Esau, and thus also the fate of his descendants’ civilization, the nation Edom. Recall the famous barter transaction between Esau and Jacob, where Esau traded his priceless Messianic birthright, for a bowl of red lentil soup:

Then Jacob gave [nâtan = “transferred”, “transmitted”] Esau bread and pottage of lentils; and he ate and he drink, and he rose up, and he went his way [“and he walked”]; thus Esau despised [a form of bâzah] his birthright. (Genesis 25:34)

In that voluntary value-exhibiting transaction, which Scripture qualifies (in Hebrews 12:16) as illustrating Esau’s profanity, we see how Esau “despised” (wayyôbez = “and he despised”) that which was spiritual (i.e., that which is valuable to God), preferring the passing physical pleasures to that which has ongoing value. That is the essence of profanity — insulting God by devaluing that which God has made holy.

In particular, Esau traded the Messianic birthright for a bowl of red soup – that illustrates Esau’s carnal-mindedness. No wonder Esau chose to be a fornicating polygamist (Genesis 26:34-35 & 27:46 & 28:9 & 36:10-18; Hebrews 12:16), preferring wives that were Hittite and Ishmaelite pagans (as opposed to selecting a YHWH-worshipping wife who was raised in the faith of Abraham).

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In the end, by Esau profanely despising the Messianic birthright, Esau forfeited his opportunity to be part of the Messianic lineage – so the Messianic birthright-lineage honor is forever Jacob’s, not Esau’s. As the subsequent history of Esau’s descendants (a/k/a the nation Edom) demonstrates, Edom’s shameful legacy was one long history of despising God, and despising people whom God valued.

This involves the Abrahamic Covenant, which promises cursing of those who curse Abraham’s promised seed (Genesis 12:3). Abraham’s promised seed descends through Jacob (Genesis 27:29 & 27:39-40 & 28:3-6 & 28:13-15 & 35:9-12), not Esau.

The pride of thine heart hath deceived you (thee), you (thou) who dwell in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high, who says in his heart, ‘Who shall bring me down to the ground?’  Though you (thou) exalt yourself (thyself) as the eagle, and though you (thou) set your (thy) nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord. (Obadiah 1:3-4)

Edom is compared to the eagle [nešer], who builds his or her nest in a high place, such as in rocky crags at the top of a high cliff or mountainside.  The fact that eagles (and other large raptors) live in high rocky places is no accident – it is a providentially designed behavior that fits the heavy-bodied eagles’ need for assisted airlift, such that eagles detect and ride upon rising thermal air currents, to save energy.(2)

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But, the ability of eagles to majestically soar at high altitudes is God’s gift to eagles – they did not invent (or “evolve”) themselves; rather, whatever wonderful traits they have are traits that God created for them, as their divine Bioengineer.

Likewise, whatever valuable traits we humans may have – and we are blessed with many – are undeserved gifts from God.  So being obsessed with the “pride of life” (see 1st John 2:16, αλαζονεια του βιου, which focuses on biophysical life, not spiritual life) is stupid.  Rather, as God-created creatures, we should be ever-thankful to our Creator, i.e., we should always be grateful for both our biophysical (bios) life and our non-physical (zôê) spirit/soul life.

If thieves came to you (thee), if robbers by night  — how are you (thou) cut off!  —  would they not have stolen till they had enough?  If the grape-gatherers came to you (thee), would they not leave some grapes? (Obadiah 1:5-6)

Obadiah emphasizes how thorough the destruction of Edom shall be, in the Day of the LORD – it shall be much more thorough than smash-and-grab felonies by vandals, robbers, or burglars (1:5). Even careful grape-gatherers miss a few grapes, so that a hungry man should be able to find a few “leftovers” after a grape-field harvest (1:6).

How are the things of Esau searched out!   How are his hidden things sought up! All the men of your (thy) confederacy have brought you (thee) even to the border; the men that were at peace with you (thee) have deceived you (thee), and prevailed against you (thee); they that eat your (thy) bread have laid a wound under you (thee); there is none understanding in him. (Obadiah 1:6-7)

Edom is betrayed by Edom’s confederates (literally “men of thy covenant”), illustrating how there is no honor among thieves (i.e., no integrity in how evildoers treat each other). Edom unwisely trusted in alliances with ungodly allies. This folly backfires on Edom.

Edom-map.Teman-noted

Shall I not in that day, saith the Lord, even destroy the wise men out of Edom, and understanding out of the mount of Esau?   And you (thy) mighty men, O Teman, shall be dismayed, to the end that every one of the mount of Esau may be cut off by slaughter. (Obadiah 1:8-9)

Notice the synonyms: Edom, mount of Esau, Teman – referring to places in Edom, which places, nowadays, are located within the southern part of the Kingdom of Jordan, plus perhaps some of Saudi Arabia.

History is full of examples of Muslim nations fighting other Muslim nations (Genesis 16:12 seems to fit this historical reality).  This pertains to Edom, because Genesis 28:9 indicates that Esau “married into” Ishmael’s household, and thus into Ishmael’s violent legacy (and that evil legacy of violence is noted in Obadiah 1:10, as “violence against thy brother Jacob”).

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So it is unsurprising to see Obadiah’s prophecy that Edom’s own allies will be part of Edom’s eventual (and violent) undoing. The Edomites are guilty of terrible sins of violence against the nation of Israel (1:10).

For your (thy) violence against your (thy) brother Jacob shame shall cover you (thee), and you (thou) shalt be cut off forever. In the day that you (thou) stood on the other side, in the day that the strangers carried away captive his forces, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even you (thou) were as one of them. But you (thou) should not have looked on the day of your (thy) brother in the day that he became a stranger; neither should you (thou) have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction; neither should you (thou) have spoken proudly in the day of distress; you (thou) should not have entered into the gate of My people in the day of their calamity; yea, you (thou) should not have looked on their affliction in the day of their calamity, nor have laid hands on their substance in the day of their calamity; neither should you (thou) have stood in the crossway, to cut off those of his that did escape; neither should you (thou) have delivered up those of his that did remain in the day of distress.  (Obadiah 1:10-14)

Notice the Hebrew noun, used for Edom’s violence (ḥâmâs = Ḥamās) matches the name of today’s Muslim terrorist group Hamas.  Edom shall be punished for its ḥâmâs legacy, especially violence against the people of Jacob (i.e., Israel).

Obadiah recounts a few examples of Edomites harming Jews, such as when “strangers” (could this be describing Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian invaders, about 600 years before Christ?) invaded Jerusalem, Edomites sided with the invaders (1:11);  Edomites also then rejoiced at Jerusalem’s tragedies (1:12).   Moreover, Edomites plundered Jews’ substance when the Jews were invaded by enemies (1:13) – this is like modern-day looters who mercilessly steal from victims of tornados and hurricanes.

Furthermore, Edomites prevented (and even turned over) fleeing Jews from successfully escaping their pursuing attackers (1:14)  — this is like WWII Quisling-like traitors, who ruthlessly betrayed underground-harboring “Jew smugglers” (like the Dutch Christian family of Corrie Ten Boom).

For the Day of the Lord is near upon all the heathen: as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head.  (1:15)

This is timeless justice (see Matthew 7:2 & 7:12 & 25:40; Luke 6:31), which climaxes when the Day of the LORD arrives.

Then, the rightful King, the Lord Jesus Christ (Earth’s only legitimate Kinsman-Redeemer) returns to Earth as He promised (fulfilling many O.T. promises), to reclaim and restore it to rightness (judging “the Mount of Esau”, inter alia), and Jerusalem will be restored and secured as Christ’s royal capital city, from where He will rule (on the throne of David, which is an earthly throne, not a heavenly throne!) over all the world.

For as you (ye) have drunk upon My holy, so shall all the heathen drink continually, yea, they shall drink, and they shall swallow down, and they shall be as though they had not been. But upon Mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions. And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall kindle in them, and devour them; and there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau; for the LORD hath spoken it. And they of the south shall possess the Mount of Esau; and they of the plain the Philistines: and they shall possess the fields of Ephraim, and the fields of Samaria: and Benjamin shall possess Gilead. And the captivity of this host of the children of Israel shall possess that of the Canaanites, even unto Zarephath; and the captivity of Jerusalem, which is in Sepharad, shall possess the cities of the south. And saviors [i.e., deliverers] shall come up on Mount Zion to judge the Mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the LORD‘s.  (1:16-21)

This coming restoration of justice on Earth is certain, “for the Lord hath spoken it” (1:18). The bottom line, as the battle of Armageddon ends (Revelation 16:16-19), is that Jerusalem will be restored to honor and security, because the Lord Jesus Christ justly overcomes all of His enemies, Christ starts a new 1000-year era, and “the kingdom shall be the LORD‘s.”

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Conclusion regarding Obadiah’s prophecy

Esau despised God and God’s values, plotting violence against the channel of Abraham’s promised seed.  Centuries later, Esau’s progeny – in the nation Edom – proudly repeated similar profane wickedness, despising God and God’s values, practicing violent hatred for Abraham’s promised seed, including the ultimate illustration – the Idumean Herods repeatedly persecuting Jesus.  So God hated Edom (and loved Israel).

In particular, as Obadiah recounts (apparently referring to the devastating destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian invaders, which curtailed the rule of Jerusalem by Judah’s tribe – even to the present day!) the people who descend from Esau have a long track-record of guilt for persecuting God’s chosen people, Israel.  The ultimate examples of Edomite-versus Jew persecution occurred when the Idumean Herod dynasty kings persecuted the Lord Jesus Himself, as well as Christ’s apostles.

But God’s powerful judgment shall eventually come to Earth, including to Edom, as part of the larger judgment that occurs on the “Day of the LORD”, a horrendous time of punitive judgment (which includes the battle of Armageddon).

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Thankfully, Church Age believers will not be eye-witnesses to the horrific bloodshed and maiming and death that will dominate the Day of the LORD.(3)  

However, many of Esau’s progeny, formerly called Edom (and God knows who and where they are today, most likely living in Jordan and part of Saudi Arabia), are doomed to pay for their sin.  This (in concert with many other moving parts) ushers in God’s planned 1000-year era, when “the kingdom shall be the LORD‘s.”

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ENDNOTES

(1) David Olander, The Greatness of the Day of the Lord and Christ’s Kingdom (Hurst, TX: Tyndale Seminary Press, 2017), especially pages 57-67.

(2) James J. S. Johnson, “Hawks and Eagles Launching Skyward”, Acts & Facts, 47(4):21 (April 2018), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/hawks-eagles-launching-skyward . This article cites Obadiah 1:4 in footnote #3.  See also James J. S. Johnson, “‘E’ is for Eagles and Eiders:  ‘E’ Birds, Part 1”, Lee’s Birdwatching Adventures Plus, 10-24-AD2016, posted at https://leesbird.com/2016/10/24/e-is-for-eagles-and-eiders-e-birds-part-1/ .

(3) See 1st Thessalonians 1:9-10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:16-17; 5:1-5 & 2nd Thessalonians 2:1-3, explained in David Olander, The Greatness of the Day of the Lord and Christ’s Kingdom (Hurst, TX: Tyndale Seminary Press, 2017), pages 11-13.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Beitzel, Barry J. The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1985).

Hindson, Edward E., & Daniel R. Mitchell, editors. Zondervan King James Version Commentary – Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2010).

Jensen, Irving L. “Obadiah” (pages 17-26), in his Minor Prophets of Judah  (Chicago, IL:  Moody Press, 1975).

Johnson, James J. S., “Hawks and Eagles Launching Skyward”, Acts & Facts, 47(4):21 (April 2018), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/hawks-eagles-launching-skyward .

James J. S. Johnson, “‘E’ is for Eagles and Eiders:  ‘E’ Birds, Part 1”, Lee’s Birdwatching Adventures Plus, 10-24-AD2016, posted at https://leesbird.com/2016/10/24/e-is-for-eagles-and-eiders-e-birds-part-1/ .

Olander, David. The Greatness of the Day of the Lord and Christ’s Kingdom (Hurst, TX: Tyndale Seminary Press, 2017), especially pages 57-67.


 

Sitric ‘Silkbeard’, Family Fireworks, and Viking Age Ireland

Sitric ‘Silkbeard’, Family Fireworks, and Viking Age IrelandWhen Blood Kin, In-Laws, and Outlaws Read Like a ‘Who’s Who in the Royal  Zoo’ of Queen Gormlaith

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.   (James 3:16)

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If a Viking ruled over Ireland’s busy port of Dublin, for more than 40 years, one might expect that Viking had good connections – political networks and family dynasty links. True enough, but those royal connections also came with a lot of family conflict baggage!   This mix of family politics, applied to Viking-style conflict resolution processes, is repeatedly illustrated in the family life and political career of Dublin’s Viking ruler Sitric “Silkbeard” (a/k/a “Silkenbeard”) Olafsson.(1)  

Of course, Vikings in Ireland are known by both their Irish and their Norse names, and variants abound when spelling those names —  so Sitric’s name appears in variants including  Sigtrygg, Sigtryg, Sigtryggr, Sihtric, and Sitrick.  Sitric was not an uncommon Viking name, but history only knows one Viking nicknamed “Silkbeard” (or “Silkenbeard”), so that is how he will often be identified here.

Silkbeard had political connections, as well as family ties, directly, both by his birth and by his marriages, as well as indirectly, because his blood kin and in-laws themselves were very interconnected with the geopolitical networks of Ireland Viking Age, both inside and outside of Ireland.

This short study will show that Silkbeard’s family ties, which overlap with his political networks, help to explain just how interconnected personal relationships were in Viking Ireland, especially during Silkbeard’s unusually long career, as well as during the times immediately before and after that illustrious career.

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FAMILY FEUDS: DIVORCE COURT BATTLES, WRIT LARGE?

To specifically illustrate Silkbeard’s interconnectedness with notable players in his world, consider how his career was traumatically challenged when his own mother (Gormlaith ingen Murchada, whose name in Old Norse is Kormloð  –  since the Old Norse use K for both “G” and “K” consonants) urged him to war against her ex-husband (Brian Boru), who was Silkbeard’s former stepfather.

Besides her son Silkbeard, Gormlaith incited others, especially her brother Máel Mórda, plus 3 other warriors whom she appeared willing to marry (if Brian was defeated), to go to war against her ex, Brian Boru. How did ex-queen Gormlaith become so heavily involved in plotting a military coup against her royal ex?

But Silkbeard’s mother, Gormlaith, was not new to politics in Viking Age Ireland.

Firstly, Gormlaith’s father was Murchad mac Finn, king of Leinster (in southern Ireland); her brother Máel Mórda (a/k/a Máel Mordha) mac Murchada, became the successor king when their father (Murchad) died.

Secondly, it is important to notice that Gormlaith’s brother Máel Mórda fought against Brian Boru (Gormlaith’s ex-husband, so Máel’s ex-brother-in-law) at the Battle of Clontarf in AD1014, where many brave warriors breathed their last. (2)

Thirdly, as wife of Dublin-York’s king Olaf Cuaran (a/k/a Kváran(3)) Sitricsson, she mothered Silkbeard (who later became king).

Fourthly, as wife of Munster’s king Brian Boru, she mothered Donnchad (who later became king of Munster).

And, fifthly, it seems that her third and last marriage was to Meath’s king Máel Sechlainn mac Domnall(4) (who once defeated Olaf Cuaran in AD980), — and  who once fought on December 30th of AD999 with Brian Boru, and later against him in AD1002, and  against him again in AD1014), for whom Gormlaith mothered Conchobar (who appears to have died during AD1030).  This part of Gormlaith’s life is less documented (i.e., the evidence for this third marriage is not as sound and thorough as the historical evidence of Gormlaith’s first and second marriages), yet that is to be expected (or at least it is not unforeseeable) because her political relevance apparently faded soon after the Battle of Clontarf.

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BRIAN BORU FLIPS THE FAMILY DYNASTY SEESAW

Silkbeard’s mother, years after becoming a widow (when Silkbeard’s father died in AD981) married Brian Boru, who had previously fathered children.

One of Brian Boru’s preëxisting children, in AD1000, was a daughter named Sláine ingen Briain (i.e., Brian’s-dottir), whom Silkbeard (Gormlaith’s son) then married.

In other words, Gormlaith’s marriage to Brian Boru (who was already the father of Sláine), when combined with Silkbeard marrying Sláine (both occurred shortly after the Battle of Glenmama, though Gormlaith’s marriage to Brian preceded Silkbeard’s marriage to Brian’s daughter), meant that Silkbeard was then married to his own mother’s stepdaughter —  in order to doubly tie the dynastic family of Brian Boru to that of Gormlaith and her son (by Olaf Cuaran) Sitric “Silkbeard”.

As a result, Olaf Sitricsson, the son of Silkbeard (and thus part of the Olafsson family dynasty, which apparently descends from the original Norse-Danish Viking dynasty – called by the Irish Uí Ímair (“descendants of Ivar”) —  that established Dublin, led by Ivar, Halfdan, and others) and Sláine (and thus part of Brian Boru’s family dynasty)  —  could claim Gormlaith as both his paternal grandmother and as his maternal step-grandmother.(5)

This double marriage alliance was no romantic accident or lucky coincidence. Rather, this double marriage alliance was a strategic reaction to the outcome of the Battle of Glenmama, where all 4 belligerent parties had a tie to Gormlaith.

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BATTLE OF GLENMAMA,  December 30th A.D. 999

Before considering who fought against whom at the Battle of Clontarf (in April of AD1014), it is helpful to notice who fought whom during the earlier Battle of Glenmama (on Little Christmas Eve, AD999).  The Glenmama (Irish: Ghleann Máma) battle climaxed a rebellion in Leinster (southern Ireland).

Four Irish kingdoms were involved at Glenmama’s showdown:

(1) Kingdom of Leinster, headed by King Máel Mórda (Gormlaith’s brother);

(2) Kingdom of Munster, headed by King Brian Boru (who became Gormlaith’s 2nd husband);

(3) Kingdom of Meath, headed by “High King” Máel Sechnaill II mac Domnall (a/k/a “King Malachy”, who appears to have been, at some point, Gormlaith’s husband,  —  most likely her 3rd husband, soon after the Battle of Clontarf, although some say they were a pair before Gormlaith married Brian  —  perhaps both suggestions are true); and

(4) Kingdom of Dublin, headed by Norse-Viking King Sitric “Silkbeard” (Gormlaith’s son by Olaf Cuaran, Gormlaith’s 1st husband).

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Brian Boru has thus defeated Gormlaith’s brother (Máel Mórda), and Gormlaith’s son (Sitric “Silkbeard”), at Glenmama.  Two politically coërced marriage alliances soon follow: (1) Gormlaith marries Brian Boru; and (2) Gormlaith’s son Silkbeard marries Sláine, one of Brian’s daughters.

Now to consider the later controversy — about 14 years later — when Gormlaith has been prodding her son (Silkbeard) to help lead a war against her ex-husband (Brian Boru), Silkbeard’s former stepfather.

Unsurprisingly, the rejected ex-queen/now-divorcée, Gormlaith sought revenge against Brian Boru.  This hostile alienation led, in short time, to what history calls the Battle of Clontarf, a major event in Irish history, on Good Friday of AD1014.  Geographically, Clontarf is a coastland on Dublin Bay’s north side (see map below, on page 8).

Gormlaith was determined to support a worthy challenger who could (and would) defeat her ex-husband, Brian Boru.   But who would that be?

Actually the “who” was not just one warrior! The Viking Age histories (especially the Icelandic sagas) indicate that Gormlaith “diversified” the risks involved, i.e., she chose not to put all of her matrimonial “eggs” in one basket.

Gormlaith instructed her son Silkbeard to tell Sigurd “the Stout” Hlodvirsson (earl of Orkney, grandson of Thorfinn Skull-splitter Einarsson) that she would marry Sigurd Hlodvirsson if Brian Boru (her ex) was defeated, plus Gormlaith would use her political power/influence to establish Sigurd as High King in Ireland.

However, Gormlaith likewise instructed her son Silkbeard to similarly tell Bróðir (a/k/a Bróðir of Man, i.e., a warrior from the Isle of Man) that she would marry Bróðir if Brian Boru (her ex) was defeated, plus Gormlaith would use her political power/influence to establish Bróðir as High King in Ireland. (Ironically, Óspak, the brother of Bróðir, refused to fight Brian, choosing rather to fight for him – and thus Óspak’s men fought for Brian Boru while Bróðir’s men fought against Brian.)

Unsurprisingly, Gormlaith instructed her son Silkbeard to avoid telling the Orcadian earl Sigurd what she was promising Bróðir; likewise, she told Silkbeard to keep secret from the Manx warrior Bróðir what she was promising Sigurd!

Ireland-kingdoms-as-of-AD1014.Clontarf

BATTLE OF CLONTARF, April 23rd A.D. 1014

Several Irish kingdoms, plus many mercenary “neighbors”, clashed at Clontarf:

(1) Kingdom of Leinster, headed by King Máel Mórda (Gormlaith’s brother);

(2) Kingdom of Munster, headed by King Brian Boru (who was Gormlaith’s 2nd husband, but now divorced from her) and militarily led by his son Murchad (born of Brian’s 1st wife Mór, daughter of a king of Connacht), with help from Brian’s son Tadc (born of Brian’s 2nd wife Echrad), and from Brian’s grandson Turlough (only 15) and grandson Tadc (son of Murchad);

(3) Kingdom of Meath, headed by “High King” Máel Sechnaill II (of the Irish Uí Néill family dynasty, who apparently became Gormlaith’s 3rd husband, after the battle — it appears that his forces “showed up”, but did not seriously engage in the early fighting, until it was clear that the defenders were winning; only then did the Meath men join the fight, chase down and slaughter the fleeing Manxmen and Orcadian attackers, and soon afterwards claim victory);

(4) Kingdom of Dublin, headed by Norse-Viking King Sitric “Silkbeard” (Gormlaith’s son by her 1st husband; Silkbeard was aided by his brother Dubgall Olafsson);

(5) Earldom of Orkney, headed by Sigurd “the Stout” Hlodvirsson (whom Gormlaith promised to marry, and to help establish as Irish high king, if Brian was defeated)

(6) Isle of Man mercenaries (linked to Sigurd the Stout), represented by Bróðir (whom Gormlaith also promised to marry, and to help establish as Irish high king, if Brian was defeated); and others, of course.

But what happened to those who fought at Clontarf, on Good Friday of AD1014?

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Battle of Clontarf, A.D.1014 [image credit: Sean Duffy, History Ireland, 22(2):30-31 (2014)]

Estimates of casualties suggest many thousands fought: maybe 13,000 to 14,000 men total, with Brian’s coalition forces comprising perhaps 7000 or 8000 of that number.

Of those myriads of warriors, most died in battle.  Most died on or near the battlefield, or drowned in tidewaters while trying to flee to their Viking ships, or died from their battle wounds. Records suggest that the attacking allies lost 80% to 90% of their numbers, the defenders lost ¼ to ½ of their numbers  —  its bloodiness is somewhat comparable to the bloodshed at Antietam in America’s Civil War, although that Western Maryland battle exceeded 23,000 casualties in one day, whereas the Battle of Clontarf suffered somewhat close to half that number.

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During the Battle of Clontarf the Manx Viking Bróðir killed Brian Boru, bragging about it immediately:  “Now, let man tell man, that Bróðir felled Brian!”(6)

Fame flees fastly, though: Bróðir himself died later that day, captured then disemboweled, with his intestinal tract literally wrapped around a tree by Wolf the Quarrelsome (no more details are needed!).

Also, Orkney’s earl Sigurd Hlodvirsson was killed by Brian’s son Murchad; soon afterwards Murchad himself (the main leader of Brian’s forces) also died.

Leinster’s king Máel Mórda (Gormlaith’s brother) was also killed that day.

Obviously Gormlaith never had a problem explaining her simultaneous proposals of marriage to Sigurd and to Bróðir —  because both men died then at Clontarf.

In the end, the Dublin Bay defenders (Brian’s army and its coalition forces, including Silkbeard’s army) “won” the battle – even though Brian Boru himself, and his son Murchad, died in the defense, as did Murchad’s son Tadc (i.e., Brian’s grandson). However, the House of Brian (Uí Briain, a/k/a O’Brien) itself was not a dynastic “winner”, as political power shifted back to the Uí Neill (O’Neill) high-kingship, which then was represented by Máel Sechlainn II.

Accordingly, Máel Sechlainn II, king of Meath, who usually had opposed Brian Boru more than he had helped him, survived the Battle of Clontarf –  and so it was Máel Sechlainn II who would take much of what Brian and others had lost.

Donnchad mac Briain (son of Brian Boru and Gormlaith) also survived the Battle of Clontarf. Donnchard returned to Munster, soon ruling there, in lieu of his deceased father. After eliminating a competitor (his half-brother Tadc mac Briain, whose father was Brian and mother was Echrad) in AD1023, Donnchad established his rule as Munster’s king for 40 years afterwards, a feat comparable to the resilience of his half-brother Sitric Silkenbeard.

The other notable survivor (besides Gormlaith herself(7)) was Sitric Silkbeard, who some say fought valiantly, but others say he stayed close to the Dublin fortress walls, as its military defender (to prevent looting, etc.).

Likely, Silkbeard did some of both.

Politically, the strongest survivor of the battle was Máel Sechlainn II, so he “mopped up” much of Brian’s realm, reimposing the Uí Neill (O’Neill) high-kingship dynasty in central Ireland. Under Máel Sechlainn II’s overlordship, therefore, Silkbeard continued to rule Dublin.  In AD1036, after more than 40 years of ruling Dublin, Silkbeard finally retired – abdicating his throne to his nephew Echmarcach.  Silkbeard traveled widely for 6 years, dying in AD1042.

the Rose and Viking Festival in St. Annes Park

Clontarf Battle Viking reenactor (image credit: Irish Times)

So what was the key to Sitric Silkbeard’s longevity as Dublin’s ruler, amidst all the family fireworks and turf-grabbing turmoil in Viking Age Ireland?

One wise habit Silkbeard practiced was the pragmatic virtue of not trying to be “top dog” in rank or power.  If it was tolerable, Silkbeard submitted to an overlord, what the Irish called a “high king” (i.e., a king who also overruled other kings, what continental Europe called an “emperor”).

The result, for Silkbeard, was survival with less-than-complete autonomy for his Viking port-based kingdom of Dublin, an international commerce giant. Meanwhile, others, who stretched for greater lots, often died trying to overreach.  Contentedness (i.e., appreciating what you have, when it is enough) has its rewards (see 1st Timothy 6:6).

Covetousness is a cruel slavemaster, and greed for glory (and/or for other kinds of gain) has ruined many an ambitious men and women.          ><> JJSJ        profjjsj@aol.com 

JJSJ-CliftonMuseum-NST-lecture


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Dr. James J. S. Johnson (JD, ThD, CPEE, CNHG, MSHist, MSGeog) often researches, writes, and speaks on Viking history, serves the Norwegian Society of Texas, and has taught aboard 9 international cruise ships (by which he visited Dublin in AD2002).  A lifelong learner, he may be reached at profjjsj@aol.com .



ENDNOTE  REFERENCES

(1) As surprising as it may be to some, Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin (Ireland), was originally established by King Silkbeard around AD1028  —  it now belongs to the (Anglican Protestant) Church of Ireland.  Silkbeard died in AD1042.

(2) Both Máel Mórda (Gormlaith’s brother, as king of Leinster) and Brian Boru (Gormlaith’s 2nd husband, who divorced her) died during the Battle of Clontarf on Good Friday of AD1014, along with thousands of other Norse and Irish warriors.

(3) Olaf Cuaran was king of Northumbria/Jórvík (York) 2 or 3 times, plus king of Dublin twice.  Olaf was known as Óláfr Sigtryggsson in Old Norse, and in old Irish Gaelic as Amlaíb mac Sitric or as Amlaíb Cuarán (meaning Olaf “Sandal”). Olaf was a direct descendant of “Ivar the Boneless”, one of the Great Heathen Army heads.  Regarding the Great Heathen Army’s contribution to creation apologetics, see James J. S. Johnson, “Something Fishy about Radiocarbon-Dating Viking Bones”, Creation Research Society Quarterly, 54(3):213-216 (winter 2018).  Olaf’s sister (some say “daughter”; Brian Tompsett says “sister”; maybe ½-sister?), Gytha (a/k/a Gyda), after becoming widowed, married Christian Viking Olaf Tryggvason, himself then a widower; for a few years Olaf Tryggvason lived in both England and Dublin, likely helping Olaf Cuaran, his royal brother-in-law in Dublin.

(4) It also seems that Máel Sechlainn II mac Domnall (a/k/a “Malachy”) previously married Dublin/York’s king Olaf Cuaran’s daughter named Máel Muire ingen Amlaíb (the latter 2 words meaning “Olafsdottir”, i.e., “daughter of Olaf”).  This Máel Muire was half-sister to Dublin’s king Sitric “Silkbeard” Olafsson, as well as sister (or half-sister) to Gytha Olafsdottir (who married Olaf Tryggvason, who later became Christian Viking king of Norway and its possessions).   Assuming that Gormlaith eventually married Máel Sechlainn II, who previously had married Olaf Cuaran’s daughter Máel Muire (who once was Gormlaith’s stepdaughter), that would mean Gormlaith was marrying the ex-husband of her own stepdaughter!

(5) Would Olaf Sitricsson call Gormlaith “Farmor” (meaning “Father’s mother”), or “Mormor” (meaning “Mother’s [step]-mother”), or just “Bestemor” (meaning “grandmother”)?   [AUTHOR’S PERSONAL NOTE:  my son’s sons (i.e., my biogenetic grandchildren)  call me “Farfar”,  Norwegian for “Father’s father”.     ><>  JJSJ  ]

(6) Regarding, the 2 birds that represent the Isle of Man, see JJSJ’s “Northern Raven and Peregrine Falcon:  Two Birds Supporting the Manx Coat of  Arms”, posted at https://leesbird.com/2016/02/12/northern-raven-and-peregrine-falcon-two-birds-supporting-the-manx-coat-of-arms/ .  That blogpost includes a genealogical lineage from Manx Viking king Somerled unto King James VI of Scotland (a/k/a King James I of England), whom God providentially used to sponsor the KING JAMES VERSION of the Holy Bible, which is (thankfully) the most published book in the entire history of the world!

(7) Some sources suggest that Gormlaith married king Máel Sechlainn II (“Malachy”), after her 1st husband Olaf Cuaran died  —  yet before she married Brian Boru.  Other sources strongly disagree, suggesting that Gormlaith was married only to Olaf, then Brian, then a third time to Máel Sechlainn II, king of Meath.

Viking-ship-with-Lutefisk.pic


 

Striving for Peer Approval, King Saul Falls from his ‘High Horse’

Striving for Peer Approval (and Stardom), King Saul Falls from his ‘High Horse’

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Envy and strife cause so much needless folly and tragic trouble.

Jealous Saul strives against David, to destroy David, but God providentially protects David.

Seeking Popularity and Vainglory Leads to Foolish Strivings

Haughty Saul, atop his “high hoss”,
Was so proud, of how he was “boss”;
David’s fans were so zealous,
That Saul became jealous —
Saul’s envy led to his own loss.

And the women answered one another, as they played, and said, Saul hath slain his 1000s, and David his 10,000s. And Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him; and he [i.e., Saul] said, They have ascribed unto David 10,000s, and to me they have ascribed but 1000s; and what can he have more but the kingdom? (Quoting 1st Samuel 18:7-8 — see also, accord, 1st Samuel 21:11 & 1st Samuel 29:5)

For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. (James 3:16)

Some things don’t change all that much – certainly it is a timeless truth that “envy and strife” produce “confusion” and all kinds of trouble” (James 3:16). Even nowadays, in plain view, we see many examples of this tragic-but-true reality. And yet how ironic it is that David was so much more qualified to lead than Saul, his detractor, was. Although Saul seems, from outward appearances to be “head and shoulders” above his “peers” (an early example of how “peer review” is often an unreliable “veneer review”), it was David whom God recognized as qualified for carrying the responsibility of leadership (compare 1st Samuel 9:2 with 1st Samuel 16:7). Picking the flashy crowd-pleaser for leadership may seem like a “natural selection” (pardon the pun), but God makes intelligent and purposeful selections, based on His brilliant wisdom and moral judgment.

If we really understand our uniqueness as God’s creatures we won’t quickly fall for competitive strife and jealousy, trying to one-up someone else whose God-given assignments in life don’t belong to us anyway. Appreciating our own uniqueness, as God’s created and redeemed children, can help us to enjoy a life accented by gratitude and contentment.(1)

Peer pressure, whether it comes from singing “fans” or so-called “peer review”(2), is anchored in seeking to please other humans to gain “fame” and “popularity”, i.e., the approval of their peers.(3)  But that motive clashes with prioritizing God’s honor and approval (see John 5:44 & Ephesians 6:6).

References

(1) See “Of Grackles and Gratitude”, Acts & Facts, 41(7):8-10 (July AD2012), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/valuing-gods-variety/  —  and “Valuing God’s Variety”, Acts & Facts, 42(9):8-10 (Sept. AD2012), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/grackles-gratitude .

(2) “Forensic Science Frustrated by ‘Peer Review'”, Acts & Facts, 44(2):18 (February AD2015), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/forensic-science-frustrated-by-peer/ .

(3) See also “Saul, a Tall Man, Short on Faith”, my earlier limerick blogpost posted at https://rockdoveblog.wordpress.com/2016/10/28/saul-a-tall-man-short-on-faith/ .