Wednesday, April 10, 2024


The Woman Who Built Three Cities and Blessed Her Family

Al Bireh Beit ‘Ur al-Foqa , probable remains of one of Sheerah’s cities, Welcome to Palestine,

For ancient Jews in exile, 1 Chronicles was eye-opening. They could search its lists and locate their ancestors and, thereby, discover their legitimate places in their original homeland. This made the prospect of returning from the land of captivity to their fabled land of origin more doable and less frightening. The book was an empowering gift that must have taken its author an enormous amount of arduous labor to organize and copy from ancient lists on scrolls. To the exiles, it was a miracle.

Today, however, judging by our students and parishioners’ responses, stumbling through these lists is one of the most stultifying ordeals for even the most devout of us daily devotional devotees. Prospecting through these genealogies is exhausting. The lists of incomprehensible names keep piling up around us. To many modern readers, we might feel as though we were poking through a pile of decaying ruins, dusty, archaic, and irrelevant to our lives. By 1 Chronicles 7:20, we trek into the genealogy of Ephraim, Joseph’s younger boy, the one who received the blessing which would normally have been given to his elder brother. Ephraim means “fruitfulness,” so he was set for a blessing. And, sure enough, in his family’s history we come upon an artifact worth picking up and dusting off. It’s a nugget of joy and inspiration, but, to our surprise, it’s embedded not in an account of great joy but one of sadness. Apparently, events had not been unfolding in the way a family with a blessing expected. We get our first inkling that things are not going well, when we read that Ephraim named his own son Shuthelah, which means “discord.”[1] And that name does not go away, for we see it repeated some six generations later, indicating things were still not going well, with yet another child named for dissension.

How tough were events going for Ephraim’s descendants? The lowest point hits with a familial catastrophe: the sudden death of the two sons of a later Ephraim, named for his great ancestor. These two young men, Ezer and Elead, are murdered in an incident at Gath, far down in the southeast corner of the promised land, near the Negeb wilderness. The killings were done, we are told in 1 Chronicles 7:21, by the residents of Gath because Ezer and Elead “came to seize [or to capture, conquer, take away[2]] their cattle [or possessions or property].”

This brief description isn’t much to go on, so it’s not completely clear if Ezer and Elead, and anyone who went with them, went down to retrieve their own cattle, or if the strong word choice specifies they had gone to Gath to heist some cattle and build up their own herd. Most translations, including the Jewish Publication Society of America’s The Holy Scriptures according to the Masoretic Text, seem to opt for the latter: that these two young guys, bereft of the lesson my own long distant future generation would learn from Roy Rogers and Dale Evans that no happy trails were waiting for rustlers who set out for the wild territory of a place like Gath to see what they could pilfer, did just that and the whole venture went fatally awry.

What these young bucks apparently needed to have taken into account was that Gath was a Philistine city that had been populated by the giant Anakim (Josh 11:22).[3] Maybe Joshua had wiped out the giants in his day, but, as Goliath would later reveal, there were still enough large opponents around.[4] But caution is not always in the mind of the young. If they had thought this through, they might have opted for saving up their earnings and bartering to buy some livestock. But when we’re young and daring, most of us want what we want NOW. We’re in a hurry. In the case of Ezer and Elead, setting out on a life of crime can come to a quick ambush. As they, we don’t always think of the lasting impact on those who love us, for this catastrophe left permanent heartache behind.[5]

1 Chronicles 7:22 tells us their tragic demise was devastating for their Dad. He was so distraught that he mourned for a long time, so long that his brothers gathered to comfort him. And then, as other generations came, the family finally received a blessing. And, along with it, came a mood change from a stand-out heroine who gained renown for her exploits and lifted her family up to honor. This was the niece her uncles had not lived to meet: a young, ambitious woman named Shēērah. We are told in 1 Chronicles 7:24, “Sheerah built (the word banah also means “form, develop, erect, to cover with buildings, to repair, to rebuild”)[6] the house (or “tent or mansion”) of Horon, the lower and the upper, and Uzzen-sheerah.” Christine Anslow in The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary puts it well when she acknowledges “Sheerah” as one “who had a talent for city building.”[7] This observation agrees with what we read in the Bible text. We also realize Sheerah must have done a solid job, when we read C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch’s note, “Beth-horon the nether and the upper” are “the present Beit-Ur-Foka and Tachta.”[8] When we punch up these time-altered names, we discover, “Beit ‘Ur al-Foqa is the smaller of the two Beit ‘Ur villages, which crown adjacent hilltops. The village, 14 km east of Ramallah, is a charming, peaceful place whose tranquillity is interrupted by the main Israeli highway that runs through the valley.”[9]

These towns, however, were not always so peaceful, as we read in Joshua 10:10. Beth-horon, located on an ascent, was a Canaanite city under attack by Amorites for making peace with Joshua, who counterattacked and defeated the besieging soldiers when God rained deadly hailstones upon them (v. 11). Keil and Delitzsch observe further “Uzzen-sherah” is “a place not elsewhere referred to,[10] which she probably founded, and which was called after her.”  They add, “The building of the two Beth-horons is merely an enlarging and fortifying of these towns. Sherah was probably an heiress, who had received these places as her inheritance, and caused them to be enlarged by her family.”[11] Joan Comay takes this final speculation a bit further when she writes, “her descendants built the towns of Lower and Upper Beth-horon and Uzzen-sheerah,”[12], leaving Sheerah out of the hands-on equation entirely. But the Masoretic text does not do this. It gives her direct credit. If we are uncertain if women in Old Testament times ever got down and gritty moving stone and building fortifications, we have only to look at Nehemiah 3:12 to discover that one of the area rulers of Jerusalem, Shallum with his daughters, repaired the section of the wall by their dwelling. Sheerah seems to me to have been this kind of get-involved architect.

A helpful discussion that is full of insight has been provided for us in the journal Pricilla Papers by Eric E. Richter, who serves as editor for Asociación Casa Editora Sudamericana (South American Publishing House) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Here is one example of the provocative observations that he makes: “The fact that she had a brother shows that the construction of these cities was not a necessity due to a lack of male leadership. Rather, this achievement seems to be mentioned to highlight her achievements in the face of her brother’s lack of initiative or success.” And here is another: Controlling the cities of Beth-horon carried several substantial advantages. Being an important ancient route, it allowed Sheerah to protect the tribe of Ephraim from possible attacks from the east (as happened later, in Saul’s time, 1 Sam 13:17–18). In addition, because this was an important trade route, it guaranteed its ruler a constant source of income. It was also the easiest route to access the thriving seaports of Lebanon from the direction of Jerusalem and the prosperous Jordan Valley.12 The fact that Sheerah controlled this vital road undoubtedly secured for her an important social position among the leaders of her tribe. This may explain why she is mentioned so prominently in Ephraim’s genealogy.[13]

In addition, what strikes me is that her accomplishments not only changed her family’s blight by bleaching it out with an effective and lasting honoring light, but, as we read the rest of this genealogy after her municipal renovations and founding are noted, we see a change in what her descendants achieved.

We notice no towns are named before Sheerah’s building projects are celebrated. Therefore, a possibility is that, up until Sheerah’s game-changing actions, her family may have been comprised of nomadic herders who lived in tents and tended their flocks. After Sheerah, however, we read a continuing list of generations but are now told that these descendants lived and stored their belongings in Beth-el, and surrounding towns, Naaran to the east and Gezer to the west, and their towns,  Shechem and the towns around it, Aiah with its towns, and they spread out along the borders of Ephraim’s brother Manasseh’s tribe, in Beth-shean and its towns, Taanach and the towns around it, Megiddo and surrounding towns, and Dor and those settlements related to it (1 Chron 7:25-29). Sheerah’s descendants had become city-dwellers.

So, what can we learn from this amazing woman and her energetic activities that brought enough fame and blessing to her family to be noted in the Bible and affect the lifestyle or her descendants and the scope of what these descendants were inspired to achieve?

1)   Never let yourself be locked into the trap of thinking that adversity means you cannot rise above your circumstances. Sheerah was a woman in a patriarchal time from a family depressed by loss, but she obviously did not let violence or prejudice stop her from accomplishing worthwhile goals. If God has gifted us in accomplishing something, we should follow Sheerah’s example and not hesitate to use our gifts.

2)   Creating something positive is better than doing something negative. We know Sheerah’s name and what she achieved. We don’t know a single name of the men of Gath who killed her uncles, and all we know about her uncles, besides their names, is that they were killed. If they had built something instead of pursuing risky behavior whether to redeem their own property or heist someone else’s, they would have ultimately given their parents joy rather than have broken their hearts.

3)   If the list of what she did is chronological, Sheerah refurbished two cities before she tackled founding her own. Making something that benefits the welfare of others is always a good idea of the best route to travel. It’s the main road to success. And, as we set out on it, we should never avoid starting small and never rush precariously to get big. If what we’re doing pleases God and we put the time and effort into it, God may help it flourish. While we may not know what happened to Sheerah’s third building project, if two out of three of her building efforts actually are still existing today, thousands of years later, that’s pretty good!

4)   Parents can never tell which of their children God will raise up to do great things for God their family. Therefore, we should encourage them all – early and late bloomers alike.

5)   Coping with loss is very difficult – especially the loss of children. I come from a family that lost a child full of wonder and full of promise and full of the love of God. Sadly, a series of miscarriages and still-borns never allowed her to be replaced. With her loss, the sunshine was gone from our home. None of us could bring it back to the degree she provided it. The effects of the loss plagued my parents until they died. Grief is part of our lives in a fallen world. Ephraim’s brothers knew that sorrow is not necessarily a transitory experience. They gathered and comforted their brother.

     What I’ve learned now after fifty-one years of ordained ministry is that caring silence for sufferers is always the best approach. They need to talk and we need to listen to their pain. We need to be sensitive and caring with those who lose family members and not insist on a timetable for their grief. Sorrow is individual. It takes as long as it takes. We can fix a lot, but we can’t mend every broken heart. For some, the only balm of Gilead that will be applied is when sufferers are gathered up in the everlasting arms of our Lord God. So constant prayer interceding for all is imperative.

6)   Finally, as amazing as it may seem, we modern gentile Christians can even find kernels of interesting and edifying data in the Bible’s chronology lists! So, keep plowing through them, as our Messianic Jewish sisters and brothers do.

In summary, here is a takeaway from the Bible’s verse about Sheerah: Sheerah is an accomplished woman who builds and refurbishes cities and prosperity from God’s blessing follows her exploits. After the Scripture highlights the cities she reclaims or founds, the rest of the list of the line of Ephraim is filled with people and their towns and no more sad accounts are told. Honestly, when we think about it, this may be among the best results any of us can expect to achieve on earth…


[1]The meanings of the names are listed alphabetically in June Comay, Who’s Who in the Old Testament together with the Apocrypha (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971), 356.

[2]Lakeh” in Karl Feyerabend, Langenscheidt Pocket Hebrew Dictionary to the Old Testament (New York: McGraw Hill, 1960), 160.

[3] W.F.  Stinespring, “Gath” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1962/1980), vol 2, 355.

[4] Another seven-and-a-half-foot giant warrior was killed by one of David’s “mighty men” in 1st Chronicles 11:23, not to mention the report of the spies to Moses that Canaan was populated by descendants of the Anakim (Num. 13: 28) and they looked like grasshoppers against these giants (Num. 13:33).

[5] Some commentators believe with Matthew Henry, “It is uncertain who are the aggressors here,” but decide, as he does, “I rather think that the men of Gath came down upon the Ephraimites, because the Israelites in Egypt were shepherds, not soldiers abounding in cattle of their own, and therefore were not likely to venture their lives for their neighbors’ cattle.” Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, ed Leslie F. Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960), 438. Keil and Delitzsch, however, dismiss this scenario as “Incomprehensible,” and note, as I do, and, as, I believe, the text is very clear, that generations have passed, the Israelites have entered the promised land, the original patriarch Ephraim is long dead, the father simply bears the same name, and these young men have come down “to plunder” (C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, trans. James Martin, Commentary on the Old Testament: Volume 3, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (Peabody, MA: Hendrikson, 1989), 140. Please note: this page number is in the second set of numbers, as this printing is 3 volumes in 1.

[6]Banah” in Feyerabend, Langenscheidt Pocket Hebrew Dictionary to the Old Testament, 48.

[7] Christine L. Anslow, “I Chronicles”, IVP Women’s Bible Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2002), 217.

[8] Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 3, 141.

[9]See Welcome to,

[10] Open Bible website has a 40% possible location for Uzzen-sherrah with a satellite map, encircling a small settlement that is within 5 kilometers of the other locations Sheerah rebuilt, currently known as “Beit Ur al Tahta.”

[11] Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 3, 141-42.

[12] June Comay, “Sheerah,” 350. We can see the source of this dissenting reading in the Septuagint, which gives the credit to her father in a somewhat puzzling verse that claims the father of “Saraa” was “among those that remained,” so it sounds as though there was a large slaughter of her family, and her father was the one who built Bethoron the upper and the lower and a descendant of Ozan (who that was is not clear, since that name is not listed in the genealogy) was Seēra (spelled differently) see “A Chronicles I” in The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament and the Apocrypha with an English Translation and with Various Readings and Critical Notes (London: Bagster and Sons, n.d.), 539. Bible Hub website has several helpful excerpts from standard commentaries falling on either side of the debate of whether Sheerah herself had a hand in the building or not. Here are two representative ones: “Matthew Poole's Commentary, “His daughter, i.e. his grandchild, or great-grandchild, for such are oft called sons or daughters in Scripture. Who built Beth-horon, i.e. rebuilt or repaired, which possibly she did in Joshua’s time. And this work may be ascribed to her, because these works were done either by her design or contrivance, or by her instigation and influence upon her husband and brethren who did it.” Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible, “And his daughter was Sherah,…That is, the daughter of Beriah; not an immediate daughter, but a descendant of his, otherwise she could not have reached the times of Joshua, as she did by what follows: who built Bethhoron the nether, and the upper; which were cities on the border of the tribe of Ephraim; which the Israelites having taken from the Canaanites, and destroyed, she rebuilt, see Joshua 16:3.” Helpful to remember when assessing which version to follow is the wise counsel provided by The Updated New American Standard Version website, in its discussion of the differences of these two sources, under its section “Weighing the Difference, Masoretic VS. Septuagint: The primary weight of external evidence generally goes to the original language manuscripts, and the Codex Leningrad B 19A and the Aleppo Codex are almost always preferred. In Old Testament Textual Criticism, the Masoretic text is our starting point and should only be abandoned as a last resort,”

[13] Eric C. Richter,Sheerah, the Unknown City-Building Woman of 1 Chronicles 7:24,” Priscilla Papers, 37/3, Spring, 2023, 28-29.