1 & 2 Chronicles

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Introduction[edit]

Relevance[edit]

Chronicles was written to inspire hope. It has been well said that those who lose all their money lose a lot; those who lose their friends lose a lot more. Those who lose hope have lost everything. The returnees from Babylon had little to hope for apart from the kingdom of God as promised to David. This is the reality for many Christians in this world, but the hope of the kingdom is foundational for all Christians. It sets them apart from all others in society. Chronicles was written to bring assurance that the kingdom had not failed at a time when there was little evidence for its presence. (Note: The editor or editors of this work will be designated as the “Chronicler” throughout.)

Historically, Anabaptism is a story of people driven into exile at different times to various places, much like the people of Israel. The reasons for exile involved faith and political circumstances. In Chronicles, the reason for exile is declared to be a failure of faithfulness: seventy years of exile were to compensate for the seventy years in which a Sabbath for the land had not been observed (2 Chron 36:20-21). Sabbath was a critical confession of God as the redeemer who had given Israel the land. It was also a vital part of the social structure of the covenant community. In Chronicles, the prophecy of Jeremiah is joined with a citation from Leviticus to provide a theological explanation for the political events that transpired (Jer 25:11–12; 29:10; Lev 26:34-35, 43). Anabaptists would interpret their exiles as a consequence of their desire to be faithful followers of Jesus, beginning with their insistence that confession of faith needed to be radically separated from allegiance to a state and its church.

Each of these experiences of exile is interpreted as part of the process of the kingdom of God coming to be present on earth. Chronicles encourages the people around Jerusalem to see themselves as the faithful remnant representing the kingdom of Yahweh as promised to David and Solomon (1 Chron 28:5–7; 29:10–12; 2 Chron 13:8). In Christian times, Anabaptists desire to be those who reverence the name of the Father in heaven, pray that his kingdom will come, and strive to do God’s will on earth as citizens of the kingdom of heaven (Matt 6:9–10). The faithful of restored Jerusalem needed to establish their identity and priorities at their time in history. Anabaptists in present time must establish their own identity and call to faithfulness as those who represent the kingdom of God on earth in faith and life.

The task of Chronicles was to create an identity for Israel that goes far beyond those that lived around Jerusalem. This is accomplished through a chronicon, the description of the ancient translator Jerome in his introduction to Kings (Prologus Galaetus). Luther took the title from Jerome as a description of a “complete divine history” (totius divinae historiae). Beginning with Adam in 1 Chronicles 1:1, the genealogy proceeds to Abraham and the two sons of Isaac: Esau and Israel (1 Chron 1:34). The Chronicler never uses the name “Jacob” (it is only found in two biblical quotations, 1 Chron 16:13, 17). This history is to tell of the sons of Israel (2:1), bringing their story to the time of the restoration of Jerusalem. It is a remarkable story. One of the most influential Israelites is an ethnic Egyptian (1 Chron 2:34–35); he is part of an ancestry that extends twenty generations, the longest of any outside of David. Anabaptists have their own distinction in the history of the Protestant church alongside the Lutherans and Reformed. Theirs is also a history extending to a vast diversity of peoples. In Chronicles, Israel is inclusive of people widely scattered across the world of that time, all of them belonging to the promise of the kingdom of God. Anabaptists must learn from this story as they continually create their own identity in a changing world.

Today the name Israel is associated almost exclusively with a state that is both defended as the fulfilment of divine promise and abhorred as violating the rights of those displaced at its founding. For Anabaptists, with a history of promoting peace as integral to the gospel, the Chronicler’s identity of Israel is particularly important. The term “Israel” has many different referents in the Old Testament. The most common in Kings is the nation to the north of Jerusalem exclusive of Judah. Israel in Chronicles is derived from a careful study of Scripture beginning with Adam. The Israel of Chronicles is also that of the apostle Paul in his time: Israel has an ethnic component; Israel is the faithful remnant; Israel is the nation of promise. For the apostle Paul, the fulfillment of the hope of Israel must be found in Christ. The hope of the kingdom as developed in Chronicles can only be realized in Israel coming to Christ, as the apostle articulates it in Romans 9–11. An understanding of Chronicles is critical to a biblical eschatology, because the Chronicler articulates most clearly the hope of Israel following the total disappearance of the states of Israel and Judah. The eschatology of Chronicles is integral to peace grounded in the theology of the kingdom of God.

Date, Setting, and Author[edit]

The book of Chronicles provides no direct information about the persons responsible for the composition. In this respect, it is like most ancient writings. It may be substantially the work of one individual, but if so it was part of a collection of historical works at the time. A composition called 1 Esdras begins at 2 Chronicles 35, continues with the book of Ezra, and concludes with Neh 7:72–8:13a. Though it has often been argued that 1 Esdras was a stage in the composition of Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah, it was translated and preserved in the Septuagint as a separate work. It also contains material not found in the biblical writings, notably the story of the three guardsmen (1 Esd 3:1–5:6). The evidence suggests that Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, and 1 Esdras are separate compositions with some overlap of material. The ideology of Chronicles is distinct, especially in its inclusive concept of the people of Israel and its focus on the hope of the kingdom. The authorship of this composition cannot be identified with that of the other contemporary works. The author or authors of Chronicles had very clear and distinct purposes for their work. For convenience, this book is referred to simply as the writing of the Chronicler.

The contents of the history indicate that the Chronicler lived in or near Jerusalem in the later days of the Persian Empire, likely before the advent of the Hellenistic period (400–350 BCE). The genealogy of Jehoiachin in 1 Chron 3:17–24 requires a date of at least six generations later than Zerubbabel and possibly more. Biologically a generation is about twenty years, so the earliest possible date for the complete book of Chronicles is about 120 years after Zerubbabel (cf. Zech. 1:1; 4:6), whose work began in the second year of Darius in 520 BCE.

The state of Yehud was not a restoration of Judah (cf. Ezra 5:1, 8). Judah never existed as a political territory after the exile. The Persian province, also known from seal inscriptions and coins, extended from the northern tip of the Dead Sea to the north of Bethel, west as far as Gezer, south to Azekah and Adullam, and east to En Gedi on the west shore of the Dead Sea. The records of Ezra-Nehemiah inform us that the return of the exilic leaders created considerable conflict with those nations that had come to occupy that territory. None of this is evident in Chronicles; the Chronicler is concerned with the identity of his people, but does not have the defensive attitude found in other writings. The situation could have changed by his time, but the Chronicler may simply have had a different perspective on the life of faith for his people.

Compared to other biblical texts, some sources for Chronicles are readily identifiable. Much of the Chronicler’s source material can be located in the biblical text, though it is not the text tradition preserved in the Masoretic text, the basis of most English translations. A prominent instance of the importance of textual difference is found in the judgment of the census in 1 Chron 21:8–17. The text of the Chronicler is much closer to that of the Septuagint and a Qumran scroll known as 1QSama than to the Masoretic. Awareness of the difference is important, because on other occasions the Chronicler interprets and changes the text he uses to develop his theology.

For much of his information the Chronicler also had access to sources outside biblical texts. More than eight hundred separate scrolls are known from the finds at Qumran; only about two hundred of these are biblical texts. The Chronicler, as a resident of Jerusalem, would have had access to a great variety of historical resources. Travel was not restricted in the Persian Empire; the Chronicler could have sought out sources for buildings, military lists, and fortifications at various sites of ancient Judah. It is not possible to know how complete some of these sources were, how internally consistent, or how credible.

The content of Chronicles makes evident that it is a composition subsequent to the other parts of Scripture used as sources. The genealogies and their interpretation are dependent on the Pentateuch narrative substantially as we know it. That pattern is consistent in the subsequent history; information from Joshua, Samuel, Nehemiah, and Ruth is utilized, indicating that they were extant in some form for the Chronicler. The material is introduced as found in the Scriptures we possess. The Chronicler selects, rearranges, and supplements his source material, the very essence of the work of a historian. Beginning in 1 Chronicles 10, it is possible to follow the parallel passages in Samuel, Kings, and Psalms as we know them, indicating that they are a resource for Chronicles.

Both Kings and Chronicles make recurrent reference to sources from which their material is drawn. Kings frequently makes the statement that more details on the reign in question may be found in these sources, indicating that they were available to readers at the time. In parallel passages, Kings and Chronicles have a total of seventeen references to histories of kings. The differences in source citation are minimal; Kings does not cite a source for David (cf. 1 Chron 29:29) and Chronicles does not cite a source for Joram (cf. 2 Kings 8:23) or for Amon (cf. 2 Kings 21:25). The Chronicler attributes most his sources to works of the prophets (e.g., Nathan in 1 Chron 29:29; Nathan and Ahijah in 2 Chron 9:29; Shemaiah in 2 Chron 12:15). The parallel citation with Kings makes it obvious that the same source is intended in each instance. A likely example of such a prophetic source is the citation for the history of Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chron 32:32); the records of Judah in Kings are the vision of Isaiah in Chronicles. The account of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18:17–20:19 is substantially parallel to Isaiah 36:2–39:8, indicating that this history was part of the prophetic work of Isaiah, as the Chronicler claims. The inference must be that a series of works were written by prophets contemporaneous with each respective king. Chronicles twice calls these a midrash (2 Chron 13:22; 27:24), which should be understood in terms of its etymological derivation from the word drš, meaning to inquire or investigate. Such prophetic records would not be official records of the kings. Official records do not allow for portrayals of kings as seriously flawed individuals. At least in some cases such prophets would have had access to official records; Gad was the seer of David (1 Chron 21:9) and Heman was the king’s seer (1 Chron 25:5). In the account of Hezekiah, Isaiah is consistently presented as the confidant of the king. The argument that the Chronicler simply invented specific prophets in connection with kings is specious; if invention was his mode of operation, why would he omit names for some of his sources (2 Chron 35:26-27; 36:8)? Taken comprehensively, it must be concluded that prophetic works were available as sources for a history like that of Chronicles.

Kings and Chronicles have much in common in their views of God and the divine promises to Israel. Ancient covenants were written in terms of blessing for obedience and curses for disobedience. This view is shared in both compositions, though in Chronicles the immediacy of blessing or judgment is more pronounced. Kings, or the Deuteronomistic History as it is comprehensively known, is written to explain the reason for exile. Chronicles, at a much later time, is written to inspire hope. Material is used accordingly. In Chronicles, David establishes the kingdom in unity and Solomon is entirely a man of peace and obedience. In Kings, Josiah is a high point of reformation, while in Chronicles reformation begins predominantly with Hezekiah, who is succeeded by other reformers. As with contemporary histories, ancient histories are written to define the present.

Form and Rhetoric[edit]

The rabbinic title of this history is “the events of the times.” This title may have been drawn from biblical references to historical writings (e.g., Neh 12:23). The Greek title of this work is Paraleipomena, which may be rendered as “the things left out,” referring to the many names and events found in Chronicles that are otherwise unknown. Chronicles, however, does not intend to complement earlier histories; it reworks, rearranges, and comments on select portions of earlier works.

History writing is an attempt to organize the past in a way that will provide meaning and value for the present. The comprehensive history of Chronicles requires an economy of space and words. History is people and their relationships to each other. The briefest manner in which a history can be told is to name people in relationships with a minimum of commentary. This approach constitutes the entire first section of the Chronicler’s work (1 Chron 1:1–9:34), preparing the way for him to explain how his community may yet realize its calling. The Chronicler’s theme can be summed up in the phrase “Israel will become what it is” (De Vries: 20). The combination of genealogies and narratives is a confession, an affirmation of faith, and a call to enduring faithfulness.

Chronicles divides into two distinct sections: the genealogies (1:1–9:34) and the story of Israel, as understood in the confession of the temple with all its attendant orders and liturgy (1 Chron 9:35–2 Chron 36:23). The genealogies are not family trees but relationships in community; many sections have the names of cities. Genealogies ere important to the Chronicler because they answer two essential questions: “Whose story needed to be told?” and “Where did these people live?” Chronicles gives the history of Israel from “beginning to beginning,” from the inception of humanity with Adam to the destruction of the first commonwealth in the reign of Zedekiah, commencing again with the declaration of Cyrus to allow the people to return to the Promised Land. The Chronicler has the focus and interests of a priest in his intimate knowledge of temple detail and personnel. The presence and kingdom of God were manifest and confessed in the function of the palace of the LORD.

Summary and Comment[edit]

Nation of Promise (1 Chron 1:1–9:34)[edit]

The first chapter of genealogies moves along the line of God’s election from Adam to Israel. Chapters 2 through 8 deal with the Israelites in the pre-exilic period. Chapter 9 narrows the spectrum to list the chief representatives of the post-exilic community. Chapters 2 through 4 describe the tribe of Judah, with the house of David in the central section (chapter 3). Chapters 5 through 7 review Israel, including the Transjordan tribes. The central point of the genealogical lists is reached with Levi (chapter 6), clearly the most significant tribe for the Chronicler. The sequence begins again with the tribe of Benjamin (chapter 8) and the restoration of Jerusalem (chapter 9).

Disparities in length are remarkable. The Judahite list is over a hundred verses, with a long and detailed genealogy on the house of David. Transjordanian Manasseh is represented by a territorial description, but with no real genealogical data. Levi includes a mix of forms with much detail and a list of towns that resembles Joshua 21. Issachar is included as a military census in the days of David (1 Chron 7:2), and Zebulun in the Masoretic text is not represented at all. Manasseh and Ephraim are segmented with full geographical information. A second genealogy of Benjamin is added to include a list of inhabitants of Jerusalem.

For all this diversity, there is an order based on status that gives Judah priority and makes Levi central. Geography is a complementary ordering principle, but the prominence of Judah and Jerusalem is deliberate. There are three levels of priority (1 Chron 5:1-2). A biological priority was lost to Reuben as a punishment for his sin, based on an interpretation of Genesis. A legal priority benefitted Joseph who received a double portion (Gen 48:5). Actual political priority was given to Judah, as Joseph did not receive the full extent of his birthright. Judah emerges as a leader among the brothers in the story of Joseph, is recognized as the leading tribe in the last words of Jacob (Gen 49:8-12), and is the tribe of the promised king as emphasized in Chronicles.

Founding the Kingdom (1 Chron 9:35–29:30)[edit]

The monarchy is introduced with the rejection of Saul (9:35-10:14) and the establishment of David as the anointed king (11:1–12:41). The chapters on David’s reign explain his organization of officials and preparations for the temple (13:1-27:34). The reign of David closes with a great public assembly in which Solomon is commissioned as the heir of peace who will build the temple (28:1-29:30). The Chronicler’s history has its focus around David and Solomon. The promise of the kingdom given to David was confirmed in Solomon (1 Chron 28:4-7). The account of David and Solomon constitutes almost half the history (twenty-seven chapters). Much of this has to do with provisions for the temple orders and the building of the temple itself.

The promise to David is the burden of the Chronicler’s message. In three speeches David commissions Solomon with the responsibility of fulfilling the task that he had begun (1 Chron 22:7-11; 28:2-10; 29:1-2). When David determined to build a house for the ark of God, Nathan the prophet, through a vision, informed him that he had priorities in reverse order. David would not build a house for God, rather God would build a house for David (2 Sam 7:11-14). The house that God would build for David was a dynasty; the eternal kingdom of God would come about through the lineage of David. The importance of this promise is expressed in the second psalm; God holds the nations in derision because they have rejected his kingdom and think they can establish their own rule. They ignored the fact that God had already anointed his king on Mount Zion, a king who would shatter the nations and receive the earth (God’s world) as his inheritance. The Chronicler took this promise very seriously.

It is unusual that the builder of the kingdom would not be the builder of the temple. Ancient kings typically establish their dominion with the support and approval of their god through the building of a temple. The Chronicler is explicit about why David was not the temple builder; the wars of conquest were contrary to a dominion of peace. David was a man of blood, by his own admission (1 Chron 22:7-10). The Chronicler has a consistent perspective on war. War may be necessary, but war is always under divine sovereignty. Large armies may well illustrate the status of a king but they are meaningless in the actual engagement of war. Jehoshaphat wins a war with a choir of Levites as God fights the battle. The triumph of David in war is not an example of how the kingdom of God will come about. This perspective is important to the community of Yehud. The powerlessness of this community amongst the empires of the world does not diminish its significance for the dominion of the kingdom of David. Their calling is to be faithful to worship as established in the temple.

The Chronicler had a double task to accomplish his goal: his first task was to explain why the kingdom of David had failed, had split and fallen to the enemy; his second task was to explain how the promise of the kingdom to David had not failed. The explanation for the failure of David’s kingdom begins with the demise of Saul. Saul was rejected as king over Israel because he was unfaithful; his violation of covenant went so far as to consult a medium (1 Chron 10:13). “Unfaithfulness” will become a key word for the Chronicler; he will use it repeatedly to describe the reason for judgment against kings of Judah. The reason for hope is given in the prayer of Solomon in the dedication of the temple: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sins, and restore their land” (2 Chron 7:14). This verse contains the vocabulary characteristic of the Chronicler in demonstrating the conditions necessary for restoration: humility, prayer, repentance, and healing. The potential of the restoration of the kingdom is illustrated in the following narrative of the kings of Judah.

Reign of Solomon (2 Chron 1:1–9:31)[edit]

Solomon’s prayer and God’s response comprise the center of the Solomon narrative. God responds to Solomon’s prayer in a vision; in that response the Chronicler articulates his theological perspective (cf. 2 Chron 7:13-15). The Chronicler is concerned to show that God did indeed keep his promise to Solomon to answer with favor the prayers and repentance of his people. Solomon’s prayer presumably was part of temple liturgy through the first temple period, and was probably cited regularly in the liturgy of the second temple. The Chronicler attempted to demonstrate the validity of those petitions and God’s response throughout his history, and by implication for his own generation as well.

The period of David and Solomon is presented as an ideal, a time when all Israel was united in worship at the temple (2 Chron 7:8). Concern for the correct worship of God dominates the whole of David’s reign. The restoration of the ark to Jerusalem and the victories of David provide for the future temple. The determination of David to restore the ark and build the temple is a paradigm for his readers, an indication of how to move out of a state of exile to function as the community of God. Solomon brings to fruition David’s plans for the temple and its worship (2 Chron 3:1; 5:1; 7:1); the reign of Solomon is regarded as an equal to that of David.

Failure of Israel’s Kings (2 Chron 10:1–28:27)[edit]

The division of the kingdom, though not directly addressed by the Chronicler, was an obvious failure to meet the ideals of the kingdom, but hope for the kingdom was not lost. The Chronicler’s description of this period is to show that the blessing of God can be experienced in obedience, but that disobedience will be punished. This has sometimes been described as the doctrine of “immediate retribution.” It will be observed that the Chronicler has provided a cause for judgment each time calamity happens, and also shows the blessing that results from faithfulness. Repentance is always a means of averting, or at least moderating the threatened judgment. Further, there are always prophetic warnings issued before judgment falls. There is always the possibility of healing, one of the ways that the Chronicler shows his openness to the future.

The division of the kingdom after Solomon did not put any of the tribes outside the community of Israel. The Chronicler understands Israel to be the people of faith, not a political entity. Israel was not a nation in his day, so it was understandable for him to think in those terms. His objective was to show that the unity established by David and Solomon had endured, and therefore the promise made to David was their hope for the future. After the division of the kingdom, the Chronicler focuses his attention exclusively on the kings of Judah. Continuity of the kingdom was to be found in the twin institutions of Davidic dynasty and Jerusalem temple. There could be no enduring salvation if these fundamental institutions were disregarded. Judah is by no means a model of obedience, nor is the kingdom of Israel ignored. The Chronicler preserves all contacts between the north and the south found in the parallel account in Kings. The north remained a part of Israel that needed to be restored. They are nowhere condemned for the initial division, but for their refusal to return once their grievances were settled.

The Healing of the Kingdom (2 Chron 29:1–36:23)[edit]

The story of Hezekiah is a significant turning point in the narrative of the Chronicler. The Chronicler presents Hezekiah with a distinct characterization as a second Solomon. Though he does not specifically mention the fact that the kingdom of the north has now gone into exile, he is keenly aware of this event and assumes that his readers are as well. Ahaz had brought the nation into a kind of exilic situation; Hezekiah brought a restoration like that following the exile. Hezekiah brought about a reunion of the nation. Since there no longer was a Northern Kingdom, Hezekiah could extend an invitation to the faithful remnant there to join in his reforms. It is this renewal and its spiritual significance that are the Chronicler’s interest in telling the Hezekiah story.

Under Ahaz, Judah had come to the same level of disobedience as Israel (2 Chron 28:2, 6). Israel is presented in a more favorable light, with representative leaders confessing both their present and former sins (v. 13), indicating that the northerners were prepared for restoration. Emphasis is placed on his invitation to the north to join in the first Passover of his reign, and a good number responded (30:11); there was a celebration that had not been since the time of Solomon (v. 26). With the reign of Hezekiah, the Chronicler offers a solution to the problem of division and shows the potential for the realization of the promise to David.

Conclusion[edit]

Chronicles presents its readers with a vision of how they ought to regulate their communal and individual lives. The Chronicler is not explicit about his hopes for the Davidic house, but he maintained a hope for restoration of the kingdom in historical terms. However remote such a possibility may have seemed, the kingdom was not a human institution subject to the caprice of political expediency.

Fundamental to the restored community was its continuity with the Israel of the past. The community did not have a king, was under foreign domination, and had only in recent history rebuilt the former temple destroyed by the Babylonians. What validity, then, could there be for the promises of God regarding the temple and the house of David? Validity is established if the people of the present recognize themselves as being in continuity with the divine promises of the past.

The Chronicler narrates the traditions of Israel for his generation. His material functions to legitimate his community, to assure that the same values will continue to be replicated. The Chronicler also creates an orientation for the future. This future is not divorced from the present, for the present values are the key to understanding the intrusion of the new day (Boda: 244–45). His focus is on the historical acts of salvation, such as rescue from war, exile, plague, or drought. God breaks in on behalf of his people against the threats of the nations. The Chronicler longs for a future when God’s people will fully realize the values of God’s kingdom. In his work, we see an ideal David within a priestly led community, with an expectation of a future king that will arise from a faithful community.

For Anabaptists, as for the Chronicler, history is understood in theological terms. Both come into being as a provision of God. Both find their significance and their destiny in relationship with God. Both must live in the fear of the LORD and not in fear of the mighty temporal powers of the world around. The Anabaptist vision is to live as disciples of the Son of David, as citizens of his kingdom present on earth, in anticipation of its consummation when threats of war and death are gone forever. Anabaptists are a continuation of the history that is told in Chronicles.

The method and message of the Chronicler are particularly appropriate for the Anabaptist community. Anabaptists must look back to their own past to determine how the ideals of those who strove to be faithful in their time may be realized in the church of the present. The eschatology of the Chronicler should be studied and embraced by Anabaptists. It represents the hopes of the kingdom taught by Jesus, the manifestation of the presence of God in the world with the anticipation that the world will become the kingdom of promise. In the present, the worship of God testifies to the reality of that kingdom. The life of the disciples of Jesus bears witness to its presence as the will of God is done on earth.

Recommended Essays in the Commentary[edit]

Methodology in Kings and Chronicles
Theology of Chronicles
War in Chronicles

Bibliography[edit]

  • Boda, Mark J. “Gazing through the Cloud of Incense: Davidic Dynasty and Temple Community in the Chronicler’s Perspective.” In Chronicling the Chronicler: The Book of Chronicles and Early Second Temple Historiography, edited by Paul S. Evans and Tyler F. Williams, pages 215–45. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2013.
  • De Vries, Simon J. 1 & 2 Chronicles. Forms of the Old Testament Literature, vol. 11. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989.
  • Japhet, Sara. From the Rivers of Babylon to the Highlands of Judah: Collected Studies on the Restoration Period. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2006.
  • Kalimi, Isaac. An Ancient Israelite Historian: Studies in the Chronicler, His Time, Place and Writing. Studia Semitica Neerlandica. The Netherlands: Royal van Gorcum, 2005.
  • Klein, Ralph W. “Chronicles, Book of 1-2.” In Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David Noel Freedman, 1:992–1002. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
  • Williamson, H. G. M. Israel in the Books of Chronicles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

Invitation to Comment[edit]

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August H. Konkel