|About fifty years ago, my dad took me down|
to the G.C. Murphy store in our hometown
and bought me my first Bible.
This week I’ve been studying 1 Chronicles, a book that I've read very little! The two Chronicles aren't among the more popular Bible books. For Christians, they pertain more directly to post-exilic Judaism, while we tend to see post-exilic Judaism as the background and “backdrop” for Jesus. Even the ancient rabbis tended to neglect Chronicles because of the perception of an idealized past. As my Jewish Study Bible notes, “Jews of antiquity accepted the version of the accounts preserved in the earlier Deuteronomistic sources of Samuel and Kings over that of Chronicles” (p. 1714).
Walter Brueggemann and Tod Linafel write: "[T]he text makes a wondrous sweep of the entire past and drives it freely and imaginatively into the historical specificity of post exilic Judaism upon which the text wants to reflect and to which it wants to bear witness. Thus the books are a revised version of Israel's memory in the context and under the impact of the Persian context of Judaism; in the context of Persia as a dependent colony of the empire, Judaism's only chance for freedom of thought, faith, and action is through the maintenance of a liturgical practice and sensibility"(1). So we Christians shouldn't see post-exilic Judaism only as Jesus' background but as the living and ongoing faith that bears witness to us, too.
The Harper’s Bible Commentary points out that Genesis through 2 Kings is the primary history of the Bible, telling the long story from Creation to the fall of Judah. But Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Esther form an important secondary history, carrying the biblical story from Creation into the early post-exilic era when the Jews were allowed to return to the land and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple during the Persian era. “The OT presents us, then, with two alternative tellings of the history of the Israelite people. Their difference in outlook does not necessarily make either of them unreliable; it only reinforces the fact that the telling of any story or any history must be selective and must reflect the intentions of some person or group” (p. 80).
“The narrative of the Primary History may be described as one of fair beginnings and foul endings” (p. 75). That is, the promise to Abraham of descendants and land comes to an end with the Babylonian exile. All the leaders of that long story had problems. “There is not a lot of difference between Genesis 6:5-7 and 2 Kings 17:18-23; when God sees that humankind’s thoughts are ‘only evil continually,’ he is sorry that he created them and determines to ‘blot’ them out of the face of the ground by a great food. Things are not very different when the Israelite people over many generations do ‘wicked things, provoking the Lord to ‘anger’ (2 Kings 17:11)” (p. 78). Whether or not 2 Kings ends on a note of hope is open to debate.
Admittedly, 1 Chronicles distills the long story of Adam to David into nine chapters of genealogies. But the Secondary History, coming from the post-exilic time and written for Jews struggling with a new era, is more hopeful. Emphasizing King David fits the author’s purpose: in Chronicles, “[t]he history of the monarchy… seems to be primarily a history of the establishment and maintenance of the worship of God,” a concern that carries over into Ezra and Nehemiah as the people rebuild the temple and Jerusalem (p. 79). Although Esther is set in Persia rather than the land, that book affirms the providential continuation of the Jewish people even in foreign lands (p. 79). Even the genealogies are implicitly hopeful, demonstrating the continuity of God’s people from ancient times. It makes sense, then, that these books conclude the Jewish canon, effectively pointing to Jews toward their remarkable future.
(The history of God’s people continues with the book of Daniel--probably from the 100s BCE--in apocryphal books like Maccabees, then in the Mishnah and Talmud, as Second- and Post-Temple Judaism transformed into Rabbinic Judaism, and all the history and witness of the Jews during the subsequent two millennia. The New Testament provides scriptural history of the messianic subgroup of Jews known as Christians, a faith that eventually became prominently Gentile.)
1 and 2 Chronicles have numerous differences with Samuel and King---contrasting narratives and theologies that emerged from different historical circumstances and different audiences. I feel impatient with folks who say things like “Every word of the Bible is true” and “You shouldn’t interpret the Bible, you should obey it.” Both ideas neglect the wonderful complexity of the Bible. Here are a few contrasts that I learned this week:
* Negative aspects of David and Solomon are largely omitted.
* Chronicles focuses on the temple and worship and less on governmental issues. The Levites, mentioned very seldom in Samuel and Kings, figure strongly in Chronicles.
* Chronicles notes the division of the kingdom but mostly leaves out the northern kings, focusing instead on the Davidic kings of Judah. Chronicles aims to demonstrate the continuity of God’s providence for the people, while the break-off northern kingdom was illegitimate and ended after two hundred years.
* About half of Chronicles is “new” material, found nowhere else in the Bible. In fact, another name of the book is Paralipomenon, meaning “things left to the side” or “things omitted.” For instance, Chronicles mentions 13 prophets who don’t appear in Samuel or Kings.
* A major contrast with Samuel and Kings is theological: God’s rewards and punishments happen more quickly. Each generation experiences the consequences of its actions. This in turn encourages each new generation to stay faithful to God and the covenant.
(For more comparisons, see: http://markhaughwout.com/Bible/Kings_and_Chronciles_comparison.htm, sbsinternational.org/resource-material/chronicles/?wpdmdl=1034&ind=6 http://thecenterforbiblicalstudies.org/resources/introductions-to-the-books-of-the-bible/1-and-2-chronicles/)
1 and 2 Chronicles has four sections. 1 Chr. 1-9 are genealogies that connect post-exilic Jews all the way back to Creation. 1 Chr. 10-29 move briefly through Saul’s life (leaving out all the drama between Saul and David) and narrate the reign of David, ending with the ascendency of Solomon. 2 Chr. 1-9 tell us of Solomon’s reign, especially focusing upon the temple. The last section, 2 Chr. 10-36 tell of the southern kingdom, its fall, and the early restoration(2).
* Early genealogies, 1:1-54, which we also find in Genesis.
* Genealogies of the 12 Tribes, 2:1-9:44
As the Harper’s Bible Commentary points out, it’s notable (and consistent with the Chronicler’s purpose) that Judah and his descendants are listed first, because it’s the tribe of David. Otherwise Judah, who was not the oldest son, would have been down the list. Some of the names are not found elsewhere in the Bible, and the nine generations between Judah and David are too few, given the 900 years between the two men (p. 345). Similarly, the care given to the descendants of Benjamin (chapter 8), one of the surviving tribes. Chapter 9, which is related to Nehemiah 11, provides key people in the post-exilic time (p. 348-349).
If you’re looking for biblical names for your children, you might (or might not) consider some of the names in these chapters, like Phuvah (1 Chr. 7:1), Anub (1 Chr. 4:8), Koz (1 Chr. 4:3), Ziph (1 Chr. 2:42), and Hazelelponi (1 Chr. 4:3).
* The deaths of Saul and his sons, 10:1-14.
* David’s kingdom, 11:1-12:40. With none of the preceding drama between David and Saul, David rises quickly with the approval of “all Israel,” and takes Jerusalem. Many names listed in these chapters are only found here (p. 350).
* The Ark of the Covenant, 13:1-14, 15:1-16:43. Significantly, the priest and Levites are indicated to be part of the effort (p. 351).
* David’s military campaigns, 14:1-17, 18:1-20:8. Again, the account leaves out some of David’s more brutal actions---omitting his crimes with Uriah and Bathsheba, giving only a small attention to the war with Absalom, and others.
* God’s covenant with David, 17:1-27. As the same book notes, this passage along with 2 Samuel 7 are among the Bible’s most significant sections, where God blesses David and promises the kingdom to him and his descendants (p. 352).
* David’s census, 21:1-30. In Chronicles, Satan rather than God incites David to authorize the census.
* Beginning of the temple, 22:1-19. Chapters 22, 28, 29 basically unite the work of David and Solomon (p. 353), and we have none of the intrigue of succession that we find at the beginning of 1 Kings.
* Divisions of the Levites, 23:2-26:32, and more of David’s officials, 27:1-34. Again, the Levites and priests are important in the story because they have provided continuity of worship from Davidic times to the post-exilic era.
* David’s final words to the people, 28:1-29:19, 29:26-30. Remember that, in 1 Kings, we have different kinds of “last words” from David—urging the death of Joab, etc. In 1 Chronicles, his final speech and blessings are beautiful words, full of psalm-like petition and thanksgiving.
* Solomon begins as king, 23:1, 29:20-25.
Although it runs to 36 chapters, next week I'll study all of 2 Chronicles.
1. Walter Brueggemann and Tod Linafelt, An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination (2nd edition, Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 409.
2. Ibid., 411-413.