Reading 1 and 2 Chronicles



ORIENTING DATA FOR 1 AND 2 CHRONICLES
  • Content: a postexilic, positive history of Judah's kings, with emphasis on the temple and its worship.  
  • Historical coverage: an opening genealogy goes back to Adam; the narrative itself covers the kingdom of Judah from David (ca. 1000 B.C.) to the decree of Cyrus (539/8).
  • Emphases: the continuity of the people of Judah (and others) through the exile and beyond; David's and Solomon's covenant loyalty as models for the time of restoration; the central role of the temple and worship for the restoration; true worship as a matter of the heart and full of joy and song; divine blessing and rest for obedience, and retribution for disobedience.     


OVERVIEW OF 1 AND 2 CHRONICLES

    The book of Chronicles is the final book in the Hebrew Bible, taking its place at the end of the Writings. Its present place and division into two books come from the Greek Bible, where it was (perceptively) placed after Kings and followed by Ezra-Nehemiah. Using Samuel and Kings as his basic narrative, the Chronicler adds other materials genealogies, lists, psalms, speeches-to present the continuous story of Israel (especially Judah) from Adam to the decree of Cyrus, which brought the exile to its official end.
    The story itself is in three parts. It begins with the infamous genealogies (1 Chr 1-9), which is what has made it one of the more neglected books in the Old Testament. What is crucial here is that the Chronicler takes the line of descent all the way back to Adam, while concentrating finally on Judah and the Levites (which is where his narrative interests lie). Part 2 (1 Chr 10-2 Chr 9) tells the story of the united monarchy under David and Solomon, a section that is longer by some pages than the whole rest of the story from Rehoboam to the end of the exile. Concentrating only on the positive dimensions of their lives, the author also deliberately overlaps their stories. Thus 1 Chronicles 10-21 tells the story of David alone, 1 Chronicles 22-29 introduces Solomon into David's story, whom David prepares for the construction of the temple, and 2 Chronicles 1-9 then picks up the story of Solomon alone, who constructs the temple. The temple and correct worship is the obvious focus of this section. More than half of David's story is concerned with preparations (1 Chr 22-26; 28-29) and over two-thirds of Solomon's with its construction and dedication (2 Chr 2-7).

    These same concerns carry over to part 3 (2 Chr 10-36), which relates the story of Judah (only) during the period of the divided monarchy. But here you will note a further pattern as well: Success in battle and material prosperity are related directly to obedience to Yahweh, while failure is due to unfaithfulness or lack of trust. The story includes the exile, ending with the edict of Cyrus, king of Persia, who in fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah was "appointed" by Yahweh "to build a temple for him at Jerusalem," and thus he invites the people to go up (2 Chr 36:22-23).



SPECIFIC ADVICE FOR READING 1 AND 2 CHRONICLES

    To read Chronicles well, it will help you to have a sense of the times in which the Chronicler wrote. His era was that of the restoration, a period that began limply at the end of the sixth century B.C. with the repeatedly postponed yet finally completed temple project (see "Specific Advice for Reading Haggai," "Zechariah," ; Ezra 1-6, ), which picked up real steam only with the systematic reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah in the middle of the fifth century. The Chronicler most likely wrote somewhere within this period time of identity crisis in the Persian province of Judah. The restoration thus far had been a far cry from the glorious "second exodus" envisioned by Isaiah (e.g., Isa 35:1-10; 40:l-11;44: 1-5). Cyrus had technically inaugurated the new era, which included the initial token rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple (Isa 44:28-45:5, 13). But in fact only a relative handful of Jews had returned to their "promised land" and the second temple was neither of the grandeur of Solomon's (Hag 2:3) nor had it yet attained its promised glory (Ha g 2:6-9)-while Jerusalem itself lay in general decay with few inhabitants (Neh 1; 11). so a time of general spiritual malaise had settled in, including, increasingly, a great deal of 'intermarriage (Ezra 9-10, a sure way to lose national identity).

    Into this context stepped Haggai and Zechariah to urge on the work of a priest (Jeshua) and a governor (Zerubbabel). A generation later it was a pries t (Ezra) and a governor (Nehemiah) who themselves stepped in with their reform movement-and with greater results. Into the same overall context also steps the Chronicler, with a brilliant retelling of the story of Judah intended to give the present generation a sense of continuity with its great past and to focus on the temple and its worship as the place where that continuity could now be maintained.

    As you read you'will note that several emphases stand out: The Chronicler is interested altogether in the Davidic dynasty, and in the northern kingdom only as she is in allegiance with Judah. About Judah his interest focuses on two concerns: the Davidic dynasty (David and Solomon) and the temple in Jerusalem. About the temple his interest focuses altogether on the nature and purity of the worship (over 60 percent of the story). Combine these emphases with the fact that the book ends with Cyrus s edict that the temple be rebuilt, and you can see where our author thinks the hope for the future lies, namely, in getting it right this time around with regard to the temple.

    But getting it right for the Chronicler is not a matter of mere ritual. Be watching for his repeated emphasis on devoting "your heart and soul to seeking the Lord [Yahweh] your God" (1 Chr 22:19 cf .29:17;2 Chr 6:38;7:10;15:12), plus an accent on singing"joyful songs" (1 Chr 15: 16), which is where the emphasis on the Levites comes out. The book abounds with the language of praise, thanksgiving, and joy in God's goodness and love. Note especially the thrice-repeated "He is good; his love endures forever"-(1) when the ark is brought into Jerusalem and then (2) into the temple, and (3) when the temple is consecrated (1 Chr 16:34; 2 Chr 5:13 ;7:3).The presence of God (from the exodus) is thus renewed in Israel.

    The Chronicler's focus on the southern kingdom, however, is not over against the north as such; rather he tells the story of the north only in terms of its failure to worship at the place of God's choosing, namely, the temple in Jerusalem. For example, the Chronicler regularly uses the expression "all Israel," by which he means north and south together in allegiance to temple worship in Jerusalem. In this regard you will see how his two main themes (the authenticity of the Davidic dynasty and the temple in Jerusalem) merge in Abijah's speech in 2 Chronicles 13:4-12 as the real point of condemnation against Jeroboam and his successors. And watch further for Hezekiah's invitation-and acceptance by some-to the north (now no longer functioning as a nation) to join once more in the worship in Jerusalem, after he had purified the temple (2 Chr 30:1 -3 1:1).

    It is also in this regard that you should understand the Chronicler's presentation of David and Solomon. What may appear to some as a kind of whitewash job on their lives is best understood as his concentrating only on those dimensions of their stories that serve as ideals both for the people as a whole (when they no longer have a king) and for the appropriate emphases as they live for the future (proper worship at the temple). The Chronicler knows that his readers are well aware of the faults of these kings (see Neh 13:26). His interest is in how their positive accomplishments can inspire hope for a new day.

    This is also how you should understand the emphases in the narrative of the divided kingdom-that God blesses those who obey and punishes those who do not. Although life is not quite that simple, the Chronicler knows that this is a biblical pattern established from the beginning. And so he retells the story to encourage such loyalty in a new generation who live in and around Jerusalem (1 Chr 9).

    Finally, you should also note the Chronicler's interest in the role of "the nations." In the midst of his readers'present sense of insignificance, he reminds them that not only are the nations ultimately under the control of Yahweh (e.g., Shishak king of Egypt,2 Chr 12:5-9; Cyrus king of Persia, 2 Chr 36:22-23), but by placing Psalm 105 in the midst of the narrative of David (1 Chr 16:8-36), he emphasizes that God's goodness to Israel will be the source of making Yahweh known among the nations (recall the blessing of Abraham, Gen 12:3).



A WALK THROUGH 1 AND 2 CHRONICLES

 1 Ch 1-9 The Genealogies

    There are several important things for you to notice as you look through these genealogies. First, the fact that the Chronicler begins his narrative this way says something about what he wants the postexilic community to understand-that they have continuity with a divinely ordained past that ultimately goes back to the creation of the world. 
    Second, note that both the focus and the larger amount of space are
devoted to the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi. These are the surviving
tribes of the southern kingdom who also represent in turn the Davidic dynasty, Jerusalem, and proper worship in the temple; they also led the original return from Babylon (Ezra 1:5). Thus the first set of genealogies (1:1 -4:23) go through to the sons of Israel (2:1-2) only then to concentrate primarily on Judah (2:3-4:23), with the Davidic dynasty as its centerpiece (3: 1- 16) and including the royal line after the exile (3:17-24)-the time of our author.
    Notice how the genealogies of the remaining tribes (4:24-7:40) then have the Levites as their centerpiece (ch. 6), with special emphasis on the temple musicians (w. 31-47). Finally, the genealogy of Benjamin is expanded in chapter 8 (see 7:6-12).
    Chapter 9 is not a genealogy but a list of Babylonian exiles who had returned, with special emphasis on the Levites who ministered in the temple. Note that in 9 :35-44. the last part of the Benjamite genealogy (8:29-38) is repeated in order to introduce Saul at the beginning of the narrative proper.
 1 Ch 10-21The United Monarchy: The Story of David 

    Watch for the Chronicler's concerns as they emerge in this section, noting his arrangement and emphases. He begins (ch. 10) with the death of the failed king (Saul) in order to introduce the great king (David) by way of contrast. Then in chapters 11-12, he selects and arranges various
materials fro m2 Samuel (5:1-3 , 6-10;23:8-39) and other sources to emphasize that "all Israel" came together to make David king (1 Chr
11:1 , 4, l0; 12:38).
    The next section (chs. 13-16) tells the story of bringing "the ark of the covenant of the Lord [Yahweh]" (15:25) into Jerusalem. Note (1) how it continues the theme of "all Israel" (13 :1-4);thereafter the author considerably expands 2 Samuel 6 by breaking apart its two phases (1 Chr 13:1 -14;15:1 -16:6) so that, in contrast to Uzzah's death, he can focus especially on the role of the Levites with their joyful songs (15:2-24); (2) how it climaxes with a marvelous collage of portions of three psalms (1 chr 16:8 -36 =  Pss 105:1-15; 96:1-13; 106:1, 47-48), extolling God's greatness in all the earth and over the nations, and especially his goodness toward his people; and (3) how the psalm ends with a cry to God to "deliver us from the nations" (1 Chr 16:35-36), to which all the people said 'Amen" and "Praise the Lord" (thus reflecting the author's own situation).
    This is followed by the Davidic covenant (ch. 17), with its emphasis now on Solomon as the one who will build "God's house," which is followed in turn (chs. 18-21) by a collage from 2 Samuel 8-21 of David's wars. You'll want to especially note two points here: (1) The significance of this section is to explain why David himself could not build the temple-he was a man of war (1 Chr 22:8), while his son Solomon (whose name means "peace") is a"man of peace and rest" (v. 9), and (2) it concludes with the only negative story about David (21:1-22:1), necessary to relate because Araunah's threshing floor, which David refuses as a gift but instead purchases, is to be the site of the temple (22:1).
 1 Ch 22-29The United Monarchy: David and Solomon  

    The material in this section serves for what is essential to the transition
between David and Solomon. Note how the Chronicler's concerns are highlighted by the structure itself. The larger central section (chs. 23-27) deals with David's preparations of the Levites for worship in the temple. These are framed by three speeches of David (chs.22;28;29), which get at the heart of the author's concerns. The first one (22:5-16) is addressed to Solomon himself and repeats the essence of the Davidic covenant (17:10b-14), focusing especially on his calling to build the temple; the second (28:2-10) repeats the essence of this to all the officials of Israel; while the third (29:1 -5) calls for them to follow David's own example of generous giving toward the project. It then ends with a Davidic blessing and thanksgiving (w. 10- 19). Thus the overall intent is (1) to designate Solomon as the divinely appointed builder of the temple and (2) to secure the support of "all Israel" for his kingship and for the erection of the temple. So the section concludes with Solomon's being acknowledged as king by all Israel (vv. 21-25) and with David's death (vv. 26-30).
 2 Ch 1-9The United Monarchy: The Story of Solomon 

    Note two things in particular as you read this section. First, all of the ambiguity toward Solomon found in 2 Kings has been removed since hes serves for our author as exhibit A of devotion to Yahweh at the one essential point-faithfulness to the temple as the place of true worship. Therefore, second the bulk of this section is its centerpiece (2 Cht 2-7 )-the preparations for and the building and dedication of the temple. Two additions to the 1 Kings narrative reflect the Chronicler's concerns: (1) The twice-repeated theme from David's psalm (1 Chr 16:34) in 2 Chronicles 5 :1 3 and 7 :3 -when the ark of God's presence rests in the temple that is dedicated to him-emphasizes God's goodness to his people ; (2) the best known passage from this book-the addition to God's response to Solomon's prayer (7:13-16)-seems especially included for the sake of the author's own readers.
 2 Ch 10-36The Divided Monarchy: The Davidic Dynasty  

    The rest of the story is about the kings who succeed Solomon. Besides continuing all the themes of the narrative to this point ("all Israel"; the Davidic dynasty; the central place of the temple), here the Chronicler also puts special emphasis on God's direct intervention for blessing and judgment on the basis either of the kings' o'seeking" or "humbling themselves before" Yahweh or of their "abandoning" or "forsaking" Yahweh.
    Chapters 10-12. Three things to note in the Chronicler's account of Rehoboam: (1) The divided kingdom is Yahweh's doing (11:2-4); (2) nonetheless it is immediately followed by the theme of all Israel coming to Jerusalem to sacrifice (1 1 :5- 1 7); and (3) the new theme of judgment for abandoning Yahweh begins with Rehoboam and Israel's leaders (12:2-5).
    Chapter 13. Note how the author uses a speech by Abuah to Jeroboam
and Israel (13 :4-12) to set forth his own emphases: Yahweh has given the kingship to David and his descendants forever (v. 5), and true worship occurs only in Jerusalem at the temple (vv. 10- 12). Thereafter the northern tribes are included when they join Judah in Jerusalem (15:9-15) or are invited to do so (29:1-31:1). Note also that it was when the people cried out to Yahweh that "God routed Jeroboam" ( 13 :14- 15).
    Chapters 14-16. In this longer account of Asa, watch for two emphases: (1) that Asa "called to the Lord his God" (14:11), to which God responds by striking down the Cushites (v. 12), and (2) that in response to a prophetic word Asa institutes a reform with respect to the temple and proper worship (ch. 15). But note also that his long reign ends on something of a sour note due to failure to rely on Yahweh ( 1 6: 1-9, 1 I - 12) and oppression of some of the people ( 16: 10).
    Chapters 17 -20. In the still longer account of Jehoshaphat, note that he is praised because in his early years he "walked in the ways that his father David had followed" (17:3-6), which found expression in the Levites' instructing the people through the law (17:7 -9 19:4-11). The centerpiece of his narrative is the defeat of Moab and Ammon (20:1-30), which is punctuated by a speech at the temple (vv. 4-19) and thanksgiving, song, and praise by the troops (vv. 20-26). But this narrative is sandwiched by an unholy alliance with Israel (18:1-19:3; 20:31-37), which leads to his downturn at the end.
Chapters 21-24. Next come two evil kings, Jehoram and Ahaziah, who aligned with Ahab (21:1-22:9). Note that Ahaziah "did evil in the eyes of the Lord" (22:4); therefore "God brought about Ahaziah's downfall" (v. 7). Even so, the dynasty continues because of Yahweh's covenant with David (21:7; cf . 23:18). The account of Joash concentrates on two of the themes: the divine rescue of the Davidic dynasty (22:10-23:21) and the repairing of the temple (24:1-16). Note that both of these highlight the ministry of the high priest Jehoiada, after whose death Joash comes under the influence of officials who abandon Yahweh (24:17 -27), even to the point of murdering Jehoiada's son. Unfortunately, Joash's son then follows in these later steps.
    Chapters 25-28. Joash is followed by two kings (Amaziah and Uzziah) toward whom the Chronicler shows considerable ambiguity. They in turn are followed by one who is praised (Jotham) and one who is condemned (Ahaz). Note how thoroughgoing the theme is here of blessing or judgment based on the kings' loyalty or disloyalty to Yahweh. Observe especially that this series ends with Ahaz's shutting the doors of Yahweh's temple (28:24).
    Chapters 29 -32. Then comes Hezekiah, whose story concentrates on the temple purification; this is also where you find all the themes noted above in the introductory paragraph on 2 Chronicles 10-36,  brought together in this good king.
    Chapters 33-36. Finally, after Manasseh, an evil king who repents at the end, and his son Amon, who does not, comes the story of Josiah. Note that the Chronicler again concentrates on a great renewal of the Passover, calling attention especially to the central role of the priests and Levites (35:1-19). With Josiah's death the book moves quickly through the final four kings to the fall of Jerusalem, but given the Chronicler's emphasis, it is no surprise that the final words in the book remind you of Cyrus's decree that the temple be rebuilt (36:23).

By this retelling of the story of God's people, Chronicles reminds us
of the central role of worship; for the readers of the New Testament, it
also points forward to the one whose own "cleansing" of the temple and
death and resurrection replace the temple as the place of God's presence
(John 2:19-22).