The key to unlocking the dynamic of 1&2 Chronicles: The key to unlocking the book of Chronicles is to watch how each character in the story treats the Temple. How Israel’s, and especially its kings’, reverence for the Temple will reveal their deepest loyalties. For a positive example, observe David’s preparations for the Temple in 1 Chronicles 22-29, for a negative example see Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28). For Chronicles, the Temple is the way that Israel experiences God, and not just any God. This is the great God of Israel’s past!
We strongly recommend that before reading Chronicles, you first read Samuel-Kings. Chronicles re-tells these stories from a different angle, and it helps to have Samuel-Kings in your mind as a point of comparison. Then, focus on reading the major sections of Chronicles in big chunks (1 Chr 1-9; 10-29; 2 Chr 1-10; 11-36). You might feel that reading the genealogies in 1 Chr 1-9 is tiresome. If you read them out loud to a friend our partner it might get you laughing (and at least staying awake). Those names are important, and to honour those who valued them, it’s worth giving them a read. You may even find some treasures in there. Once you pass 1 Chronicles 9, the story picks up. Finally, pay close attention to the Temple – ask yourself how each character values it. Ask how God is present (or not). Ask yourself if the king is trying to exert authority over the Temple, or perhaps ignoring it, and what happens as a result. In short, treat the Temple like the book’s major character.
‘Oh, What a Lovely War,’ which revisits common ways of interpreting WW1 as another example of how one objective history can be viewed from many angles.
Besides studying the BfL material you may find it helpful to study the introduction to 1 & 2 Chronicles in the English Standard Version Study Bible.
Suggested verses for meditation …
1 Chr 16:11 Seek the Lord in worship.
1 Chr 22:5 David’s desire for the Temple.
1 Chr 22:19 with 2 Chr 36:23 The call for ancient Israel and post-exilic Israel to build!
1 Chr 29:9 The joy of giving.
2 Chr 2:5-6 The greatness of the Temple and the limits of the Temple.
2 Chr 13:8 The dangers of resisting God’s Kingdom (through idolatry).
BfL strongly encourages the learning of Scripture
1 Chr 16:11 ‘Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually.’
1 Chr 16:34 ‘Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.’
1 Chr 29:10-12 ‘Therefore David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and the earth is yours, Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honour come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.’
1 & 2 Chronicles re-tells the stories of Samuel and Kings, but from a new perspective. Samuel and Kings were likely written somewhere in Mesopotamia during the time of Israel’s exile. Chronicles was written after the exile in Babylon, when the people of God were back in the land of Judah. Changed circumstances led the Judeans to reconsider their past, and to mine it for resources that would help them rebuild life in the land.
But life back in the land was difficult, and beset by hardship and uncertainty. The small Persian province of Yehud was itself a fraction of the former land, to which the people grew to only about 30,000 people by the time Chronicles was written, about 70% less than the same area before the exile! The Temple that the people rebuilt was so small that those who knew the former Temple wept at its pitiful size and appearance (Ezr 3:12). Moreover, the people had no army, hardly any territory, and were once more under the thumb of a foreign ruler (Persia).
We can imagine that the people were looking at their past and asking, where is the great God of the past? What will be the source of our strength? What does it mean to be God’s people now?
These are the questions that drive the author to scour the past for fresh insights into God’s purposes for his people in the present. As you read, you’ll notice that the book focuses on the Temple and its priests a great deal. This is because the people had no other significant point of (physical) connection with its past. It’s as if the Chronicler re-tells Israel’s history for the people of God and asks them to go back to the Temple, to touch it, to sing to God and offer sacrifices, and as they do so, join with the praises of God’s people that stretched back through the ages.
Chronicles can be broken down into three major sections:
Part I consists of a genealogy that stretches from Adam to exile (1 Chr 1-9).
Part II consists of the reigns of David and Solomon, and focuses on the Temple (1 Chr 10-2 Chr 9).
Part III narrates the history of Judah’s kings (not Judah and Israel’s kings, as in the book of Kings) from Rehoboam to the time of Judah’s deportation to Babylon and the edict of Cyrus that the people of God should return to Jerusalem and rebuilt the Temple (2 Chr 10-36).
Each of these major sections ends with an account of the Temple’s (re-)establishment. This tells us something significant about what the book is doing. I suggest that the Chronicler keeps pointing the people toward the Temple as Israel’s connection to the great God of the past, and as the place where all Israel should rally to encounter the God who is present now.
Question 1 -
In your opinion, what is the most beautiful building in the world?
Question 2 -
Have you ever been in a situation where you can confidently say that you experienced God? Is that an experience that you now pursue again? What are the risks or benefits of seeking experiences with God?
Question 3 -
Have you ever loved a building? Have you seen a building that you loved—such as your home—knocked down?
Question 4 -
Chronicles was a keeper of Israel’s genealogies (1 Chr 1-9). Who is the ‘family tree’ keeper in your family? What values motivate someone to keep that kind of record?
Introduction to Chronicles
David and Solomon
The Kings of Judah
Chronicles was likely written from the small province of Yehud, a small portion of the former Judean kingdom (for map and info, see HERE), sometime during the late Persian or early Hellenistic periods (ca. 515-300 BCE). We cannot be much more specific about the date, though it is very likely that the Temple was already built (515 BCE). Yehud was an impoverished province of the Persians, with a 70% population reduction. This meant that there were less hands to work the soil, less able-bodied men for the military, and few that could help rebuild the community. Archaeologists suggest that there were only three walled settlements in all of Yehud during this time, which meant that most people were vulnerable to attack. Jerusalem itself was hardly the golden glory of the highlands. In a passing comment, Nehemiah notes that ‘the city was spacious and large, but the people were few within it. The houses were not built‘ (Neh 7:4). Nehemiah, who was roughly contemporaneous with Chronicles, notes that economic conditions were so harsh that people had to sell their kids into slavery (Neh 5). Nehemiah concludes that ‘we are slaves in our own land’ (Neh 9:36), just as Chronicles says, ‘We are strangers and foreigners … Our days on earth are like a shadow, and we are without hope’ (1 Chr 29:15).
Most of Chronicles is historical narrative, though other literary genres punctuate the story. Most notably, 1 Chr 1-9 consists of a genealogy, with little vignettes, or brief episodes, throughout (e.g. 1 Chr 4:9-10; 5:1-2; 7:20-23).
Chronicles also includes poetry from Psalms (e.g. 1 Chr 16:8-36) and several speeches (1 Chr 22; 28-29; 2 Chr 13:4-12; 30:6-9). So as you read through the book, take note of those times when the Chronicler breaks into the story with a prayer (1 Chr 29:10-19; 2 Chr 20:5-12) or a song (2 Chr 5:13), and ask why the genre shifts. Those shifts are sometimes signals that the writer wants you to pay attention.
1 Chronicles 1-9 Genealogies
1 Chronicles 10-29 King David
2 Chronicles 1-9 King Solomon
2 Chronicles 10-12 The Kings of Judah
The leading perspective of 1 & 2 Chronicles is the way in which God’s covenant with David is lived out through the two institutions of the Monarchy and the Temple.
It therefore follows that the three leading developments throughout the Chronicler’s account of the history of God’s people are:
Author and Date:
We don’t know who wrote Chronicles. Early Jewish and Christian interpreters, especially those who thought Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah were one unified book, thought that Ezra and Nehemiah also wrote Chronicles. That view seemed to make sense. We can see, for instance, that Ezra 1:1-3a and 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 are identical, so the books seem connected. However, scholars no longer see these as one work, even though they were joined together. There are some pretty major linguistic and thematic differences. The most we can say is that Chronicles was clearly written by someone who cared deeply about the Temple, worship, and history. It is quite likely that such a person was a Levite or priest (cf. 1 Chr 9:10-34; 24), or at least someone with access to some funding to help pay for writing (it was very expensive and time consuming).
Question 1 -
Have you ever gone on ‘pilgrimage’ to a holy site? Do you think buildings can help people know and encounter God? If so, how?
Question 2 -
Chronicles teaches that God delights in the unified praise and worship of his people. Do you think we have overemphasised the individual in worship? In what ways are we connected to God’s people even when we are on our own?
Question 3 -
In what ways is tithing (giving of our finances to God) important, or not important, for our relationship with God?
Question 4 -
Be honest. Are there any parts of Chronicles that trouble you? Have you ever discussed these with others?
Chapter by Chapter
The key to unlocking 1-2 Chronicles is to focus on three related themes. First, consider how kings either revere or dishonour the Temple. For Chronicles, actions toward the Temple reflected attitudes toward God. Second, consider what it means to ‘seek’ the LORD in Chronicles. Third, trace the theme of God’s enduring covenant love toward his people.
Most people don’t consider genealogies the most interesting or important bits of the Old Testament. We might imagine an editor pulling the Chronicler aside to say, ‘Cut that part [1 Chr 1-9], or stick it in an appendix if you must, but please don’t put readers to sleep before they’ve even started!’ However, ancient people didn’t think like us. If you met someone, you wouldn’t ask ‘What do you do?’ You’d ask, ‘What family do you belong to?’ Such names of connection to the past were doubly important for the people coming back from Babylon. They were trying to re-connect with each other and to their past. Genealogies were a way of saying: We belong to historic Israel. We’ve come home.
The genealogies show us several things. First, they show a concern for all Israel. Notice the words in 1 Chr 9:1: ‘All Israel was listed in the genealogies recorded in the book of the kings of Israel and Judah.’ This verse summarises the previous eight chapters, and emphasises the unity of the people. This theme weaves its way through the book (1 Chr 11:1; 28:4; 29:23). Second, the genealogies include important information not listed anywhere else in the Old Testament. We learn about the post-exilic descendants of David (1 Chr 3:19-24). We learn about all the musical divisions appointed by David (1 Chr 6:31-53). We learn about the prayer of a man named Jabez (1 Chr 4:9-10). Third, the genealogies provide a window in the Chronicler’s view of how God related to foreign powers. We read in 1 Chr 5:26 that God ‘stirred up the spirit of … King Tiglath-Pileser’ who carried the northern kingdom of Israel into exile. Third, the genealogies are primarily concerned with the tribe of Judah (1 Chr 2:3-4:23), Benjamin (1 Chr 8:1-40), but especially the tribe of Levi (1 Chr 6, 9). This imbalance can be easily explained. The royal house of David came from Judah’s line; Israel’s first king, Saul, hails from Benjamin; Israel’s priests and temple personnel comes from the tribe of Levi. The Chronicler is concerned with royal and priestly history.
Fourth, the genealogies focus our attention on the temple personnel—the Levites and priests. To see this, we need to understand the structure of the genealogies. Here we are assisted by James T. Sparks, who wrote a wonderful book called The Chronicler’s Genealogies. He shows how the genealogies were carefully constructed as a literary ‘chiasm’ in which the first half of the structure is mirrored in the second half (so A links to A¹). Chiasms are meant to draw our attention to the middle, where an author makes a key point. Here’s how Sparks arranges these chapters:
A 1 Chr 1:1-53: The world before Israel
B 1 Chr 2:1-2: The sons of Israel
C 1 Chr 2:3-4:23: Judah – the tribe of King David
D 1 Chr 4:24-5:26: Tribes of Israel in victory and defeat
E 1 Chr 6:1-47: The descendants of Levi
F 1 Chr 6:48-49: The Temple personnel in their duties
F1 1 Chr 6:50-53: The Temple leaders
E1 1 Chr 6:54-81: The descendants of Levi in their land
D1 1 Chr 7:1-40: Tribes of Israel in defeat and restoration
C1 1 Chr 8:1-40: Benjamin – the tribe of King Saul
B1 1 Chr 9:1a: ‘All Israel’ counted
A1 1 Chr 9:1b-34: Israel re-established
The chiasm allows the Chronicler to shine a spotlight on Israel’s priestly cult (‘cult’ here meaning the visible aspects of religious life). And beside the priests, in full regalia, file the generations of Levites—those who serve God in the Temple and lead the people in worship. This chiastic structure tells the reader that if the tribes of Israel are going to find unity, it is only because they worship one God together. This theme of unity in worship will return at various points in the book, but it’s important to note that its thematically and structurally central to the Chronicler’s vision of history. An additional implication of the chiasm is that while the kings of Israel are important, they are subservient to the Temple. God’s house comes before the royal house. We will also see this theme in other chapters.
If you grew up in a family like mine, you may be used to the idea that different family members often have very different versions of past events. Your gran might remember you as a sweet and precocious little child, always bright and smiling. Your sister (or brother) may remember all your flaws. Perhaps there were unkind words or particular arguments that stand out. Maybe she remembers ways you annoyed or picked on her. If you’re fortunate, there’s a deeper love and appreciation nonetheless. Gran might even remember a generally cordial and sweet relationship between you and your sibling (you had to behave at her house, right?). Both gran and sis may be right, but they see the past from different vantage points.
The same differences appear when we compare Samuel-Kings on the one hand, and Chronicles on the other … especially when we read about David and Solomon. One looks at David’s stunning successes and tragic flaws (Samuel), and another sees all that David could have been and focuses almost exclusively on his shining moments (Chronicles). One remembers Israel getting along during David and Solomon’s reigns (Chronicles), and another remembers all the in-fighting (Sam-Kgs). It might be a useful exercise to compare Chronicles with its sources in Samuel-Kings and other Old Testament books. THIS website has a section called ‘Detailed comparison of the accounts …’ that can help you do this. The goal of interpreting Chronicles is not to blend Samuel-Kings and Chronicles. Instead, we want to hear Chronicles’ distinct message, to unlock its distinct dynamic vision of Israel’s history. Insofar as comparing Chronicles’ Old Testament sources might prove helpful, we’ll do that; but our primary concern is to hear Chronicles’ message.
 James T. Sparks, The Chronicler’s Genealogies: Towards an Understanding of 1 Chronicles 1-9 (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2008).
 Sparks, The Chronicler’s Genealogies, 29 (slightly modified).
These chapters follow the story of King David, though from a very different angle than the book of Samuel. David is a flawless character, almost idealised. And he dedicates the latter part of his life entirely to the establishment of the priesthood and provision of materials for the Temple that his son will build.
The Chronicler shows very little interest in explaining the complexities of King Saul’s character, or much of his life for that matter. The narrative cuts in with a battle where King Saul and his three sons die. The Chronicler brushes over most of Saul’s life, but does pause to note the tragic irony of Saul’s death. As he’s dying, he asks his armour-bearer to finish him off ‘so that these uncircumcised [Philistines] may not come and make sport of me’ (v4). He refuses so Saul kills himself. However, the Philistines proceed to detach his head and armour and put them in the temple of their god Dagon (v10). Then Israelites from Jabesh Gilead rescue his remains to give him a proper burial. Saul tried to avoid the mockery of his enemy but ends up mocked after his death. However, at great risk to themselves, the men of Jabesh Gilead restore his dignity. We know from Samuel that Saul had previously fought bravely to rescue them from disaster (1 Sam 11). Though Saul obviously fell on his own sword, Chronicles sees God’s hand of judgement at work. Chronicles says that God ‘put him to death’ because he ‘did not seek the Lord’ (v14). For Chronicles, the sources of power you seek determine your life’s outcome.
God ‘handed the kingdom to David,’ according to 10:14. Chronicles is very interested in the way that God oversees the rise and fall of kingdoms. But most importantly, God oversees the trials and fortunes of Israel. If his people seek him—whether in desperation, repentance, or simply out of need – he is near. Saul did not seek God, but David, according to Chronicles, is a man of prayer and worship. These are the ingredients for royal success. David gains instant approval from all Israel (10:1-3), and quickly moves the capital to Jerusalem (10:4-9). Chronicles isn’t interested in the 7 years David spent in Hebron. He leaves that bit for those who’ve read Samuel. He’s interested in Jerusalem. After fighting great battles with ‘an army as mighty as God’s army’ (12:22), David begins to set up Israel’s worship programme in Jerusalem.
If the priests and Levites are the focus of the genealogies in 1 Chr 1-9, then setting up worship for the priests and the Levites is the focus of David’s life (1 Chr 10-29). According to Chronicles, David was unable to build a temple of Yahweh, Israel’s God, because he shed so much blood in battle (1 Chr 22:8; 28:3). It isn’t clear why this disqualified him, but it’s worth noting because Samuel never mentions it. Is it because David’s battles were ungodly? It’s hard to imagine that the Chronicler thinks this, since he refers to Yahweh saving Israel by a ‘great [military] victory’ (1 Chr 11:14). Was bloodshed incompatible with worship? This may be, since 1 Chr 22:8 mentions that David spilled a great deal of blood ‘before me [Yahweh].’ Another way to translate this verse is ‘in my presence,’ which might imply the Temple. We know from other verses in the Bible that bloodshed was incompatible with worship (Isa 1:15), but that kind of bloodshed is usually murder. In any case, Chronicles suggests some uneasiness around the idea that a warrior should build a temple of worship to Yahweh.
The story of the ark’s journey to Jerusalem is complicated. The ark (the most holy piece of furniture in the sanctuary) had fallen into the hands of the Philistines. If you want to read the full, and highly entertaining, backstory, read 1 Samuel 5. The Philistines released it back into Israel’s hands. So David set out to bring the ark to Jerusalem. He knows they needed God’s presence. He even notes how ‘we did not turn to it [the ark, or God] in the days of Saul’ (13:3). So they built a new ox-cart and began to haul it to Jerusalem. At one point the cart hits a bump and the ark begins to wobble. A man named Uzzah reaches out his hand to stabilise the ark, and simply because he touches it, he’s struck dead!
David ‘was afraid of God that day’ (13:12). I can imagine he was! He then said, ‘How can I bring the ark of God into my care?’ You’ll recall from the genealogy that kings are not more important than the Temple (and its worship system). David’s words ‘How can I bring the ark of God into my care?’ have the relationship backward. Through this terrible event, God was showing Israel that he doesn’t ‘come into the care’ of anyone. He has total freedom to choose where he wants to go. It seems from this story that God was not just resistant to Uzzah. He was resistant to David’s attempt to co-opt the ark—God’s throne—into David’s own royal plans. King David needed to learn to submit himself to the divine King.
Finally, after more battles with the Philistines (ch. 14), where he not only defeats them but also ‘burns’ their gods (14:12; cf. Deut 7:5), David brings the ark to Jerusalem. This time, the Levites carry the ark, in keeping with the law (Num 4:5; 10:8), and David and the people submit themselves in effusive worship before Yahweh. Priests and Levites joined in worship. David appointed singers, musicians, and even dressed in priestly garments himself (15:16-28). As David set the ark inside its temporary dwelling, he then appointed some of the Levites ‘before the ark of the Lord’ (16:4). He appointed them to make music, and to ‘invoke [God’s name in blessing], to thank, and to praise the Lord … before the ark’ (16:4, 6).
Notice the emphasis on everything taking place ‘regularly, before the ark’ (16:6). According to Chronicles, awareness of God’s presence, regular worship, and obedience to the law would enable the people to succeed. Or perhaps we should redefine what we mean by success. For Chronicles, dedication to the LORD is success. Sometimes it brings material or circumstantial benefits, but often it is simply the joy of a regular rhythm of worship expressed in harmony with God’s people.
As if to address these questions, the author of Chronicles (the Chronicler) looks back to the beginning, and beginning with Adam (1 Chr 1:1) walks through history to show how all of God’s plans and work were drawing his people toward one thing: gathering together in worship around the presence of God at the Jerusalem temple. So the Chronicler does something very interesting. He ‘plays’ worship music in the background as he tells his story, and draws our attention to the places where Temple priests and Levites (who serve the priests) play key roles in the story. We hear that worship music play in places like 1 Chronicles 16:8-36, where David composes a psalm as the ark of the covenant arrives in Jerusalem. This psalm is a remix of Psalm 105, 96, and 106. We also hear worship music as the ark is installed in the Temple by Solomon (2 Chr 6:41-42, quoting Ps 132:8-10). Thus, as the Chronicler pens his history, we can imagine him humming the tunes of the Temple. In fact, the narrator tells us that David placed Levite musicians ‘before the ark of the covenant of the LORD to minister there regularly’ (1 Chr. 16:37).
Let’s look at a few key ideas from the song. They’re important, because they weave their way through the whole book of Chronicles:
All nations praise Israel’s God. Even though the song was written by David for the Levites in Israel, there’s a wider audience to God’s activity. This idea of a ‘global theatre’ for Yahweh’s deeds aligns with what we see since the days of Israel’s beginnings. In Exodus, you may recall that God brought plagues upon the oppressive Egyptians ‘to make my name resound throughout all the earth’ (Exod 9:16). When God brought Israel out of Egypt, nations around ‘melted’ and ‘trembled’ because of Yahweh’s power (Exod 15:13-7). When Israelite spies first entered the land of Canaan, they met Rahab, a prostitute who said that her people had heard about all Yahweh did in Egypt and that ‘everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below’ (Jos. 2:11).
These stories all point toward one thing—Yahweh’s reputation is known throughout the world. This God stands up to the bully and defends the weak and powerless! Because of this, individuals and groups from the nations begin to switch sides. They come out from under the power of wicked leaders and give their praise—and loyalty—to Israel’s God. In David’s song, his deeds are to be broadcast among the nations (1 Chr 16:8, 24), and his justice ‘in all the earth’ (v14). Because of this, the nations and all the earth are called to join Israel’s worship (v23, 28-29). This leads to a second point.
Israel’s God is the only God. David’s song tells us that the nations praise Yahweh because of his actions. As they ponder what he’s done, they suddenly recognise that their own gods are utterly worthless! Here’s how it happens in the poem. Verse 25 says that Yahweh is to be praised ‘above all gods.’ Then verse 26 takes us even further: ‘For all the gods of the peoples are elilim, for Yahweh (alone) made the heavens.’ I purposefully left the Hebrew term elilim untranslated so you can see how similar it is to the word for ‘god’— elohim. The word elilim is a term of mockery (a dysphemism). The Hebrew poet is making fun of the ‘gods,’ but also making a more serious point that the nations’ gods may look like they’re real gods, but when compared with the loyalty, glory, and creative power of Yahweh, they’re exposed as frauds. Verse 26 should be translated: ‘For all the gods of the peoples are frauds, for Yahweh created the heavens.’
This is a wonderful commentary on the importance of fixing our gaze on the incomparable glory of Yahweh. One way to do this is to read and re-read the stories of Yahweh and his people. This should lead us, ultimately, to say ‘There’s none like you!’ and ‘O give thanks to Yahweh for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever’ (v34).
Yahweh is fiercely loyal to his covenant. The words you just read—‘O give thanks to Yahweh for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever’ (v34)—are worth hearing again. ‘O give thanks to Yahweh for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.’ And again: ‘O give thanks to Yahweh for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever’ (v34). You might be thinking, ‘Okay, okay, I get the idea.’ But that’s the point. Chronicles wants to bowl you over with God’s steadfast loyalty to his covenant. Notice the repetition of this idea in places like 1 Chr 16:41; 2 Chr 5:13; 7:3, 6.
Let’s clarify what steadfast loyalty (Hebrew ‘hesed’) means. Way back in Genesis, God entered into a binding agreement—or covenant—with Abraham, stating that he would bless Abraham, and that through him the nations would be blessed. God would give his people a land, and make Abraham’s name great (Gen 12 and 15). God then deepened that covenant with Israel, when they grew into a fully-fledged nation (Exodus 19-24). But as you know, Israel often strayed from God, going their own way. In fact, after redeeming Israel from Egypt, Israel followed other gods (Exod 32). But right at their point of failure—when Israel broke their end of the agreement—God said, I’m never going to abandon you! He told Moses that his ‘steadfast loyalty’ extends to thousands of generations (Exod 32:6-7), which is just a fancy way of saying forever. This is what Israel celebrates, and what the Levites were to declare on a daily basis as they stood and ministered before God (1 Chr 16:41). Let’s hear it again! ‘O give thanks to Yahweh for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.’
1 Chronicles 16 leads us to consider God’s steadfast covenantal love, and to recount his great deeds in our lives. This can be particularly helpful in more difficult times, when we don’t feel or see that love in our present circumstances. Consider writing down or even reciting a list of all the ways God has remained faithful to you in the last year.
The emphasis on God’s steadfast covenant love in chapter 16 provides the backdrop to the next chapter, which is all about God’s covenant with David. You might wonder why we needed another covenant at all? Hadn’t God already secured a covenant with Israel, guaranteeing that he would work through them to bless the nations? Yes, he had, but the covenant with David is about something more specific. It shows us how God would work through Israel to bless the nations, especially now that Israel embraced a kind of politics that displeased God (a monarchy). Back in the book of Samuel we learn that by choosing to have a king, Israel was rejecting God as king (1 Sam 8:7). Israel wasn’t supposed to need a human king if they followed God’s ways. But rather than repay rejection with rejection, God chose instead to move toward Israel and enter into a binding covenant agreement with David, promising to keep one of his descendants on the throne forever (1 Chr 17:11-14).
The story of how God came to make this promise to David is interesting. It started with David wanting to build God a beautiful temple (17:1-2). It seemed unbecoming of God that he should live in a tent, especially when the king lived in a cedar house (17:1). You’ll recall that the ‘ark,’ or ‘covenant chest,’ was considered the throne of God (1 Chr 13:6), and the ark was now housed in a tent (1 Chr 16:1). Surprisingly, God rejects David’s offer. He said that he was more than content to live in a tent, or tabernacle. Since the days Israel came out of Egypt, he had moved from place to place with them in a tent, and never wanted anything else.
But then God turns the tables … or houses. The Hebrew word for temple, used here in 1 Chr 17:3, is simply ‘house’ (bayit). Then in v10, the prophet Nathan tells David that instead of building Yahweh a house, ‘Yahweh will build you a house.’ The exchange plays off two meanings of the Hebrew bayit. When David tries to act like a typical ancient Near Eastern king, who would win great battles and then build his god a temple in celebration, God says, ‘No thanks, I’ll build you one instead!’ But he does say that Solomon, his son, would be the one to build it. God will consistently out-manoeuvre our attempts to contain or predict him. But he will often turn our faulty desires into an opportunity to shower us with his grace, as he does for David and his royal descendants to come.
As Christians, we recognise that a super-abundance of God’s grace flows through the Davidic line. God demonstrates his steadfast covenant love by sending his own Son, in the line of David, to rule forever over his Kingdom. With Jesus in mind, notice these words in 1 Chr 17:14: ‘I will set him in my house and in my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.’ This verse captures everything important about the covenant with David in Chronicles. God would be loyal to David and his descendants forever for the sake of ruling in God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. That might sound audacious, but there’s more. As we later read, David and his son sat on none less than the throne of God (1 Chr 29:23)! Who on earth was worthy to sit on God’s throne as his messiah (or anointed king)?
The next few chapters of 1 Chronicles follow closely after their counterparts in 2 Samuel 8, and 10-12. David extends his kingdom by finally subduing the Arameans to the north, Philistines to the west, and Moabites and Ammonites to the east. But it’s worth noticing how even the bits of these military stories lead, ultimately, to the building of the Temple. In chapter 18, David receives all sorts of gold, silver, and bronze from a neighbouring king. David ‘made them holy for Yahweh’ (18:11). In other words, he prepared them for use in the Temple.
In chapter 21, we encounter a rather strange story where ‘a heavenly adversary’ (usually translated ‘Satan’) goads David into taking a census of the people. Taking a census may sound like an innocent plan, but from God’s perspective, it meant an impending disaster. Kings would only take a census for two reasons—to tax and to raise an army. Both were off limits to kings, and signalled royal overreach and abuse of power. So God sends a plague upon the land of Israel (1 Chr 21:14). When the king acts like Pharaoh, God acts like he does in Exodus! But, when a destroying angel comes to Jerusalem, God stops him in his tracks (v15-16). David was both terrified and angered by God’s response (v16-17). He felt like innocent people died for something he had done. It’s important to remember that even the so-called ‘heroes’ of the Bible are sometimes upset with God’s responses. God may act in ways we can’t comprehend. Despite this confusion, David was instructed by God to offer a sacrifice at that site. He didn’t know why at the time, but it would eventually become the site of the Temple. Chronicles is careful to tell us that he bought it fair and square (v24-27). This site of divine protection and mercy would eventually become God’s house!
This story provides a wonderful example of how often God will take our sin and mistakes and turn them into places where he is present and merciful.
These chapters focus on the materials and personnel for the Temple. David will not build the Temple, but he’ll do everything in his power to set it up well. The itemised lists and descriptions of priestly and Levitical divisions may feel rather monotonous. It might help to think of this section as a parade that the Chronicler wants to put on for the reader. In each chapter, the Chronicler will parade materials and personnel past the reader to given an impression of grandeur, and to build expectations of a glorious time of worship. David even tells his son Solomon in 1 Chr 22:5 that ‘the house to be built for the LORD should be of great magnificence and fame and splendour in the sight of all the nations.’
Before the parade, however, David gives his son Solomon a pep talk. He explains how he couldn’t build the Temple because he was a ‘man of war,’ and had ‘shed much blood’ in God’s sight (1 Chr 22:8). While the wars may have been approved by God, they were not God’s ideal. God ultimately sought a ‘man of peace,’ which is exactly what Solomon (shlomo) implies in Hebrew. He then prays that God would fill his son with ‘insight and understanding’ so that he could obey God’s law (v12), and that God would fill him with courage to build the Temple.
Then the parade begins. David tells Solomon that he supplied him with 100,000 kikkars of gold, or about 2.1 million kilograms (22:14). That’s about the weight of five or six Boeing 747 airliners! The number is clearly an exaggeration, but the point is to emphasise the colossal donation David made to the Temple. In turn, the idea was to fulfil David’s hope that the Temple would be ‘of great magnificence and fame and splendour’ before the nations (v5). If that wasn’t enough, he gives ten times that in silver (v14)! Imagine 50-60 piles of silver parading past, each weighing as much as a massive jumbo jet. And then iron ‘beyond measuring’ (v14). Next came the skilled craftsmen (v15-16), who were ‘innumerable’ and prepared with ‘every skill.’ It is quite likely that Chronicles wants us to think back to the skilled craftsmen Oholiab and Bezalel who designed and constructed the Tabernacle (Exod 31:6). Just like the Tabernacle, the Temple would be made with the greatest of skill, but would also be of incalculably more worth.
It’s worth noting how the parade processes in chs. 23-27. In ch. 23 David appoints Levites to supervise Temple work, serve as rulers, judges, security guards and for making music (23:4-5). They also helped out the priests in the Temple (v25-32). Chapter 24 details the 24 divisions of the priests. Each division served on a rotating basis in the Temple, for a week each, such that each division served about two times per year. This is a tradition that continued into the time of Jesus. Compare the following, which jumps into the middle of the list of divisions for priests:
‘The seventh [lot fell] to Hakkoz, the eighth [lot] to Abijah’ (1 Chr 24:10).
‘In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of [the priest] Aaron. … Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God …‘ (Luke 1:5, 8).
The story in Luke goes on to describe the announcement by an angel that Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth would give birth to John the Baptist!
Chapter 25 parades the skilled Temple musicians before us, 288 in all, who were Levites from the family of Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun. The book of Kings never tells us about these Levites, but Chronicles has a strong musical interest. This interest likely comes from the Chronicler’s love for the book of Psalms, which he often quotes. Interestingly, the skilled musicians are also called prophets (25:1, 3). Prophesying and skilled musicianship belong together!
Chapter 26 leads the ‘gatekeepers,’ or security guards of the Temple, in procession. With all that gold and silver in the Temple, you can see why 4,000 security guards were needed. They didn’t all serve at once, and like the priests and other Levites, they served on a rotating basis. One name features in this chapter—Obed-Edom (v4, 5, 8, 15). Obed-Edom had the distinguished honour of housing the ark of God as it returned to Israel after falling into enemy hands and wreaking havoc all around (for that wild story, see 2 Sam 6). Obed-Edom was a Gittite, but yet God chose to ‘dwell’ at his (non-Israelite) house and bless it immensely (2 Sam 6:11). According to Chronicles, he then became a Levite—or at least an ‘honorary Levite’—by God’s choosing. He and his descendants thereafter became permanent keepers of the ark of God. As they stood on duty by night, the minds of Obed-Edom’s descendants likely drifted back to the story of their ancestor and God’s blessing of a foreigner’s house.
Finally, chapter 27 details the military divisions, along with the tribal leaders, civil servants, and the royal cabinet. The military served on a rotating basis, with 12 divisions of 24,000 that served for one month each (27:1). The tribal leaders were important (v16-24). Even though Israel had transitioned to a monarchic form of government, that didn’t obliterate the old tribal system. These verses tell us that it was—and was supposed to be—alive and well in the days ahead. Finally, the civil servants (v25-31) and cabinet (v32-34) attended to all things royal. Careful readers of Israel’s history may raise an eyebrow or two at this point. The prophet Samuel had issued warnings that Israel’s kings would tax, raise up large armies, and take Israel’s own men and women to serve in the court (1 Sam 8). Time will tell whether the Davidic Kingdom can be both extravagant and just.
In chapters 28-29 we witness David handing the political and religious reigns of the kingdom to his son Solomon. Strikingly—at least for readers of Kings—the transition from Davidic to Solomonic rule was as smooth as butter. ‘All Israel’ obeyed Solomon and all its leadership came under his authority (1 Chr 29:23) … peacefully. This differs wildly from the divisiveness and violence that characterise the succession in 1 Kings 1-3, where Solomon’s brother Adonijah leads a popular revolt to claim the throne (ch. 1). In Kings, David then instructs Solomon designate to ‘take care of’ a few political opponents that might cause division (2:1-9), including his scheming brother Adonijah (2:25), along with Joab (2:34) and Shimei (2:46). Chronicles’ vision of peaceful transition represents the ideal rather than the historical reality!
In addition to the smooth transition of power, three features characterise 1 Chronicles 28-29. First, David tells his son Solomon that God chose him for the express purpose of building the Temple (1 Chr 28:10). Solomon would succeed if he does this, but not only this. He was also to ‘seek him’ (28:9). Everything Chronicles wants to say about relating to God can be packed into that little phrase ‘seek him.’ You may recall that back in 1 Chronicles 10:13 Israel’s first king—Saul—died because he didn’t ‘seek the LORD’, but instead consulted with illicit spiritual gurus (10:14). By contrast, David seeks God by taking care of the ark (13:3ff), and then instructing the Levites to seek the LORD (1 Chr 16:11):
‘Petition Yhwh and his strength,
pursue his face constantly.’
Second, David describes the enormity of the task ahead. The Temple was for God, so David gave all of his personal resources toward its construction. He wanted it to be great! But David had also given because he delighted in God and his Temple (1 Chr 29:3). It might sound strange, or potentially idolatrous, to take such delight in a building. However, Chronicles’ point is that the Temple is about relating to God, seeking his face, and pursuing him. To the degree that David and Solomon put their energies into its construction and worship, they are putting their energies toward God.
Third, the throne on which Solomon sat was God’s throne (1 Chr 29:23). Chronicles is the only book to equate the Davidic throne with God’s throne. For the Chronicler, the royal throne, and Kingdom itself, belonged exclusively to God (cf. 1 Chr 28:5). That lent enormous significance to the royal office, but also limited its powers. This was about God. If Israel’s kings honoured God by ruling with justice and devotion, God would prosper his Kingdom.
 We’ll discuss this in the ‘dessert course’.
Like 1 Chronicles 10-29, this section of Chronicles also shows us highlights from Solomon’s life. But it doesn’t merely repeat information from Kings. It is designed rather to show us the deeper spiritual significance of Solomon’s reign, and to reinforce the idea that God’s presence is essential for the life, future, and security of God’s people.
As the story moves into the reign of Solomon, the soon-to-be-built Temple becomes the ‘main character.’ No verse better captures the temple’s purpose than 2 Chronicles 2:5:
‘The temple that I am about to build needs to be great, because our God is great—above all the gods!‘
This verse suggests that the Temple was like an icon—beautiful but ultimately pointing beyond itself to God. Notice the correlation between the greatness of the Temple and the greatness of God. As one contemplated the beauty and majesty of the Temple, your gaze would naturally move upward toward the God who could never be contained or managed in a building. Not even the ‘highest heavens’ could contain God, the next verse reminds us (v6).
Other verses in Chronicles repeat this idea of God’s greatness and the Temple’s greatness:
|Yahweh – ‘great’||Because Yahweh is great, exceedingly praised; he is revered beyond all gods. Because all the gods of the peoples are hand-made gods, but Yahweh made the heavens (1 Chr 16:25).|
|Temple – ‘great’
|For David reasoned ‘... the temple I am about to build for Yahweh must become utterly great, for fame and splendour throughout all lands’ (1 Chr 22:5a).|
|Temple – ‘great’
|King David said to the entire assembly, ‘…the work is great, for the palace/temple is not for a human, but for Yahweh God.’ (1 Chr 29:1).|
|Yahweh – ‘great’
|Yours, Yahweh, are greatness, might, splendour, eminence, and majesty – yes, all that is in heaven and on earth; to You, Yahweh, belong kingship and preeminence above all (1 Chr 29:11ab).|
|Temple/Yahweh – ‘great’
|‘The temple that I am about to build needs to be great, because our God is great—above all the gods!‘ (2 Chr 2:5).|
|Temple – ‘great’
|‘…for the temple that I am going to build will be great and magnificent.’ (2 Chr 2:9a).|
The upshot of these comparisons is that Yahweh’s greatness would be mirrored in the Temple Solomon builds. For that reason, Chronicles makes a really big deal of all the opulence and wealth that Solomon gathered … as if there weren’t enough already! He ‘made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the foothills’ (2 Chr 1:15). In addition to wealth and materials, Solomon gathered 153,600 foreign workers to carry out the work of the Temple. We know from Kings that Solomon became quite the slave driver (1 Kgs 9:15; 1 Kgs 12:11-14). But at this point in the story, the emphasis is on his abundant provisioning.
The Temple reminds us of the opportunity and temptation of any great work for God. On the one hand, that great work can become an idol, an end in itself, something that we cling to instead of God. This happened to Israel later, when the people refused to listen to Jeremiah’s words of impending judgement. They clung to the Temple as if it were a magic charm (cf. Jer 7). But it wasn’t. On the other hand, human endeavours can become wonderful opportunities to contemplate the greatness of a God who cannot be contained but yet chooses to be known and involved in our lives.
The story of Solomon building the Temple begins with an interesting geographical comment, one which we don’t learn about in Kings. Chronicles tells us that Solomon began building the Temple ‘on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David. It was on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the place provided by David’ (2 Chr 3:1). Mount Moriah was where Abraham bound his son Isaac, preparing to sacrifice him in obedience to God (Gen 22:2). God sent an angel to intervene (it was a test, after all), and he provided a ram substitute. This was on the ‘mountain of Yahweh’ (22:14), a comment that likely clued in the Chronicler that the mountain was in Jerusalem. Chronicles also tells us that the Temple site was where Yahweh had appeared to Solomon’s father, David, and stopped an angel from destroying Jerusalem (1 Chr 21:27). In both stories, God appears at the site of the future Temple, intervenes at a critical moment, and stops judgement from happening. These stories link to one of the Temple’s purposes. It was a place where the people of God could find mercy.
As we continue on, we read about the size of the Temple. Most of the measurements are found identically recounted in Kings (e.g. 1 Kgs 6:2). However, a few features differ significantly. The front porch is 120 cubits high (2 Chr 3:4), a full 90 cubits higher than in Kings (1 Kgs 6:2-3) and twice the height of the Second Temple in Ezra (Ezr 6:3). Chronicles also reports that the two pillars and their capitals at the Temple’s entrance were 40 cubits (2 Chr 3:15). In Kings, they were only 23 cubits high (1 Kgs 7:15-16). The bronze altar was 20×20×10 cubits (2 Chr 4:1; cf. 1:5) in Chronicles, and unreported in Kings. Finally, the Temple contained ten tables for showbread (2 Chr 4:7-8, 19), whereas Kings reports only one (1 Kgs 7:48). These differences may raise various historical questions, which we will address later, but for now we may note that in Chronicles, the Temple was truly impressive, and meant to overwhelm the reader with its splendour! In fact the last word in chapter 4 is ‘gold.’ As one moved toward the inner sanctuary of the Temple, one moved from the bronze of the altar to the gold of the lampstand, showbread table, incense altar, and ark (1 Chr 4:19-22). Pure gold. As the Temple stands in all its glory, we are reminded of the infinitely greater worth and greatness of the God it represents.
You’ll recall that when David brought the ark to Jerusalem, he failed in his first attempt and one man got killed (1 Chr 13:12)! Only the Levites were supposed to carry the ark, a detail David failed to observe. In his second attempt, David made sure that the Levites carried the ark, in accordance with the law of Moses (1 Chr 15; cf. Num 4:15; Deut 10:8). The procession toward the Temple was much like David’s procession into Jerusalem. All the people together, animal sacrifices galore, and much festivity! But it was the priests (also Levites, but from the family of Aaron), who carried the ark into the inner sanctuary. This mirrored the respective roles of Levites and priests. Levites would help with all things pertaining to the outer court and running of the Temple, but only the priests would enter the sanctuary.
Once the priests settled the ark in the Temple, Chronicles tells us that all the Levite singers, dressed in full regalia, along with all the instrumentalists, began to sing and play. As they did so, something remarkable happened. The glory of God descended upon them and filled the Temple (2 Chr 5:14). The power of God’s presence was so strong that the priests could not minister. This scene is reminiscent of Exodus 40, where after setting up the Tabernacle, Moses could not enter to minister because of God’s powerful glory. The story reminds us that while God comes to dwell among us, humans do not contain, manage, or control his powerful presence.
In chapter 6, Solomon reflects on this cloud-dwelling God: ‘Then Solomon said, “The LORD has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud; I have built a magnificent temple for you, a place for you to dwell forever”’ (6:1-2). The idea that God dwells in a ‘dark cloud’ reminds us that while God is present—he actually dwells among us— he is also mysterious and not easily comprehended. The word ‘magnificent’ (zibul in Hebrew) here is difficult to translate. It may refer to the idea that the Temple is ‘heavenly’ in origin. David received the plans for building the Temple from God himself, after all, and handed them to Solomon (1 Chr 28:19). But it also signifies the Temple’s brilliance, likely radiating from its heavily origins. So Solomon’s statement in 6:1-2 is a paradox; the brilliant and radiant God is fully present, but wrapped in mystery.
Solomon then turned to bless the gathered community of Israel (2 Chr 6:3-12). The idea of a king ‘blessing’ at the Temple may not sound like a big deal, but typically, blessing was the domain of priests (Num 6:23-27). Chronicles was deeply concerned that kings might infringe on the rights and powers of priests. Kings would often assert their authority over the Temple, and by doing so, attempt to control divine authority. But in this instance, Solomon knows his place. While he stood to bless the people (2 Chr 6:3-12), he then turned and kneeled as he prayed to God (v13-42). He prayed that (a) God would fulfil his promise to David (v15), and (b) that God would respond to all prayers directed toward the Temple, whether by an Israelite or a foreigner (v32-33). As Isaiah (56:7-8) and then Jesus (Matt 21:13) would later say, the Temple was to be a ‘house of prayer for all nations.’
Right after praying, we read of yet another powerful display of divine power: ‘Fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple.’ (2 Chr 7:1). This detail does not appear in Kings, and reinforces the idea that Chronicles is deeply interested in the way God’s presence validates the new Temple. The image of fire descending from heaven reminds readers of the time that Elijah prayed on Mt. Carmel, and fire came down to consume his offering (1 Kgs 18:38). This demonstration of power showed that Yahweh was the one true God! 2 Chronicles 7:3 then reports that the ‘the glory of the LORD was on the temple’ for all the people to see. As the people saw God’s powerful presence, they knelt down and exclaimed: ‘Indeed he is good; his faithful love endures forever’ (2 Chr 7:3). The priests responded, echoing the theme chorus: ‘Yes, God’s faithful love endures forever!’
The presence of God then gave way to a huge party. After dedicating the Temple for 7 days, Solomon and the people celebrated for another 7 days (2 Chr 7:8), after which they gathered in solemn assembly for an 8th day (cf. Lev 23:36)! Only then did Solomon dismiss the people, leaving him alone with God.
This was the first time since asking God for wisdom (2 Chr 1) that Solomon and God were alone. Chronicles tells us again that ‘the LORD appeared to Solomon at night’ (2 Chr 7:12). That’s the fourth major divine appearance in just 3 chapters, but this one is different, and carries with it a word of warning. God tells him that he will always be available to his people if they seek him in prayer (v14). God tells Solomon that his eyes, ears, and even his heart were now bound up with the Temple (v15-17) so that he could be present to his people in their distress. However, if Solomon or his descendants turned from him to serve other gods, he would exile them from the land, and reject the Temple. God loved his magnificent home. It reflected his glory and greatness. He was present there. But he would not abide with disloyalty. This must have been a sobering word for Solomon, but one that future kings would fail to heed.
Chronicles isn’t afraid to ‘kill’ the mood in the middle of a glorious chapter of Israel’s history, if only to remind us that with great success comes the temptation to become proud, and even autonomous from God. As you read through Chronicles watch how often that happens to Israel’s kings.
The previous three chapters were full of dramatic appearances, displays of divine glory, and descent of fire. But life with God is not always so intense. Chronicles also recognises the need for daily rhythms, seasonal celebration, and duties before God. In addition to several major building projects (2 Chr 8:1-11), Solomon establishes the regular order of worship at the Temple. Notice the references in v12-16 to order and patterns of worship:
All of these acts were in keeping with (a) the law of Moses and (b) the order of worship David established. For Chronicles, Moses and David set everything up. Solomon simply carried out their plans. Only after setting up daily worship does Chronicles state: ‘So the temple of the LORD was finished‘ (2 Chr 8:16). But this wasn’t the end so much as it was a beginning. Now Israel could take up the vision of Moses and David and worship the God who was present.
Curiously that vision didn’t include daily dramatic appearances from God. Instead, that vision involved a future with daily praise, daily giving of one’s resources in sacrificial worship, and daily attentiveness to the running of God’s house. Eugene Petersen (drawing from F. Nietzsche) refers to the need for ‘a long obedience in the same direction’ in an instant society. For Chronicles, Israel had need for that long obedience in the directions set forth by Moses and David. From his meeting with God, Solomon knew that Israel’s future depended on it.
The vision of daily worship and a ‘long obedience in the same direction’ is far less glamorous than the dramatic appearance of God’s presence. Many Christians spend their lives chasing the next dramatic appearance, waiting for God’s power to fall with great fanfare. God sometimes chooses the sensational, but often simply calls us to meet him in the quiet and obedient rhythms of daily worship and commitment.
The visit to Solomon from the Queen of Sheba (2 Chr 9:1-12) reminds readers that God had indeed made good on his promise to Solomon to give him a ‘wise and discerning mind’ (2 Chr 1:10). Scholars debate where Sheba is, but generally agree that it’s located around modern day Yemen. That’s about 1,400 miles from Jerusalem. The story tells us that the Queen of Sheba came ‘to test Solomon with riddles’ (2 Chr 9:1; cf. Prov 1:6) That’s a long way to travel to give someone an IQ test! But in addition to riddles, she brought an immense caravan of gifts, including spices, gold, and precious stones (v1, 9).
Needless to say, Solomon astonished the Queen of Sheba with his wisdom, wit, and insight. But in addition, Solomon impressed the Queen with the wealth and luxury of his royal court (v3-4). All the ‘food on his table, the seating of his officials, the attending servants in their robes, the cupbearers in their robes’ took her breath away’ (v4). Now Chronicles doesn’t make a point of it, but the alert reader may wonder whether all people in Israel enjoyed that same luxury. Did the wealth of Solomon’s court ‘trickle down’ to the common person, or was it hoarded by the royal class? We know from Kings and the next chapter in Chronicles that after Solomon’s death, Jeroboam lead a revolt to ‘liberate’ the people from the harsh labour and taxation of Solomon’s son Rehoboam, who continued and intensified the policies of his father (1 Kgs 12; 2 Chr 10:4). In any case, the Chronicler focuses for now the blessing of wealth, though we also recognise that the same wealth can symbolise oppression if not enjoyed by all.
The visit from the Queen of Sheba fulfils—in small measure—one of the earliest aims that God has for Israel. In Deuteronomy 4, Moses exhorts the people to keep the law. To do so will not only benefit them. It will also ‘show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”‘ (Deut 4:6). God intended for Israel to bless the nations with their wisdom.
The rest of the chapter focuses on Solomon’s wealth (v13-28). The section reads like a museum tour. On your left, you’ll observe the Arabian kings bringing annual tribute of 666 loads of gold! On your right you’ll notice the 200 full-sized shields made of hammered gold, with no less than 15 pounds of gold on each shield. Straight ahead we see the grand ivory throne, covered in pure gold! And so on. The tour guide tells its visitors a story of Solomon as if straight from a fairy tale: ‘King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth’ (2 Chr 9:22).
The narrative might give the rather formulaic impression that if you follow God then you will gain great wealth. However, the story is far more complex. Chronicles is telling us that pursuing wisdom is far greater than seeking wealth. Should God decide to bless his people with wealth, that is great, but as the next story tells us, much of that wealth was not extracted without a significant cost to the people.
Following Solomon’s distinguished and glorious reign, Israel takes a plunge into disobedience and disunity. Solomon had indeed set the bar high, but Rehoboam takes the bar down and places it upon the shoulders of his people. After Solomon’s death, the people called on Jeroboam to hold a meeting with Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. They wanted to re-negotiate the terms of their employment, which they considered unfair and burdensome (2 Chr 10:2-3). Rehoboam initially seems to listen, since he goes away to consult with the elders (v6). The elders advise Rehoboam to ease the workload of the people. Their reasons were pragmatic. If he did, ‘they will be your servants forever’ (v7).
However, after consulting them, he then asks the ‘young advisors’ (v8). These are like the cut-throat investors who believe that maximising profits depends on squeezing maximum work from labourers. As if Solomon hadn’t accumulated enough wealth! Rehoboam takes their advice, and warns the people ‘My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions’ (v14).
Of course the whole plan backfires. Once the people hear that Rehoboam has become another Pharaoh, they appoint Jeroboam as a new Moses to liberate them from the oppression of Rehoboam (v15-16). At that point, Israel separated from Judah, and the kingdom split in two. Chronicles reminds the reader that these events were in keeping with the words of Ahijah the prophet (v15), though it is only a dim source of comfort as the people edged toward civil war (2 Chr 11:1-4). However, here again a prophet (Shemaiah) delivers a timely word and prevents war (v3-4).
Rehoboam fortified the border cities in Judah (the southern kingdom). While not at war with northern Israel, the two sibling kingdoms never fully trusted each other (v5-12). Chronicles tells us that the Levites and priests from all areas came to Judah (v13-14). They did so because they had lost their jobs in Israel. Jeroboam was indeed a second Moses, liberating his people from the oppression of Rehoboam. But he also made golden calves, just as Israel had under Moses (Exod 32; 2 Chr 11:15). The Levites and priests were not allowed to serve at the two ‘golden calf sanctuaries’ in Bethel and Dan—the two cities at the extreme southern and northern borders of Israel. Chronicles wants it to be clear that true worship of Yahweh only happened in Judah, at Yahweh’s one Temple in Jerusalem. This is yet another reminder of Chronicles’ enduring vision of all the people gathered around the Temple worshipping the one true God. While the people were split, the priesthood was not. By coming south, the Levites and priests ‘strengthened the kingdom of Judah’ (11:17). Judah’s strength did not reside in its military, but in its worship.
Chapter 12 reminds us, however, that good kings rarely last. In fact, Chronicles consistently reports that kings would crash to the ground at the height of their power. ‘Pride goes before destruction,’ says the sage in Proverbs (Prov 16:18). Rehoboam and the people ‘abandoned the law of the LORD’ (2 Chr 12:2). The prophet Shemaiah tells Rehoboam that God would ‘abandon’ him to the power of Pharaoh Shishak. The prophet implies that the king would die.
But remarkably, Rehoboam and the leaders submit to God’s word. Because they made themselves low, God said that he would not destroy them (12:6-7). This follows a consistent pattern of biblical prophecy. The promises of the LORD often come to fruition … but not always (and that’s good!). If people heed a prophetic word of judgment by humbling themselves, God will often respond with mercy (cf. Jonah). This means that God’s initial word is serious, but is always spoken within the context of a covenant relationship between God and his people. And God takes the words and actions of his covenant partners seriously. As a consequence, their humble repentance can change the course of God’s actions, as we see throughout the book of Chronicles. We’ll come across this theme of repentance again, but for now it’s worth noting its prominence in the book.
Of course Rehoboam’s repentance didn’t mean he wouldn’t suffer consequences. Pharaoh Shishak still attacked Jerusalem and took ‘the treasures of the LORD’s temple and the royal palace,’ including those gold shields his father had made (12:9-11). For Chronicles, Rehoboam’s chief failure boiled down to this. He ‘didn’t set his heart on seeking the LORD’ (v14). He humbled himself when he faced disaster, but that’s not enough. Our journey with God is not just about repentance. It involves actively seeking the LORD through worship, the pursuit of justice, and wise leadership.
Abijah (Abijam in 1 Kgs 14:31) succeeded his father Rehoboam as Judah’s king. Chronicles reports that Abijah prepared for war against Israel, but had only half the troops of his northern neighbour. Before battle, he stood on a hilltop in Israel and gave a speech. The scene is reminiscent of the speeches kings might give their troops before battle, but in this case, his speech was directed against the north (v4-12). Abijam points out that while the north had more troops, they had abandoned the Levites and priests (v9). As a result, they were actually weaker. By contrast, Judah had not abandoned the LORD, but worshipped him ‘every morning and every evening’ with burnt offerings and incense in Jerusalem (v10-11). This reminds us again that Judah found its true strength in worship. As if to reinforce this point, the narrator then reports that as Judah charged into battle, the priests ‘sounded the trumpets and raised the battle cry’ (v14-15). In response, God routed the enemy. This scene is strikingly similar to the battle of Jericho and may have been written to evoke that earlier story (Josh 6). As Judah devoted itself to worshipping Yahweh alone, he would defend it against numerically superior enemies. In our day, the enemies we face may not be military in nature, but our need for loyal worship remains just as vital. We see that Jesus squared off against Satan by insisting on the need to ‘worship the Lord your God and serve him only’ (Luke 4:8; cf. Deut 6:13). Jesus’ example, and the example of Abijah, reminds us that worship is not just about singing. It is about aligning ourselves politically with God’s Kingdom as it confronts real enemies.
Abijah may have been a good spokesman for the priests, but the Chronicler never says he ‘did what was right and good in the Lord his God’s eyes’ as he does of Asa (14:2). To do good means two things in Chronicles, both of which Asa does. First, he destroyed the idols, altars, and paraphernalia of illicit worship (2 Chr 14:2-5). Second, he restored proper worship (2 Chr 15:8-19).
Between these acts Asa fortified Judah against its enemies. For a time, there was rest. Asa explains why: ‘Because we sought the LORD our God and he sought us’ (2 Chr 14:7). But after a time of rest, Asa went to war with Cush. Like his father, Asa faced a numerically superior army. But like his father, he ‘cried out’ in his distress, acknowledging that only Yahweh could help the weak (2 Chr 14:11). The Chronicler emphasises that Yahweh achieves the victory. Notice that v12-13 explain that ‘The LORD struck’ the Cushites and ‘the LORD and his army’ crushed the enemy.
After victory, we read of another prophet named Azariah (2 Chr 15:1ff). This prophet reminds Asa that if he would ‘seek’ God, he would be found in times of trouble (15:2), just as their ancestors had ‘sought’ God and ‘found him’ (15:4). The Chronicler continues to beat this drum: seeking Yahweh is Israel’s only hope. But what does it mean to seek God?
Chronicles puts flesh on the idea in two primary ways. First of all, there is an act of desperation. When trouble hits, the people would cry out to God (not idols). We might call that the ‘distress signal.’ But secondly, there’s a need for long-term pursuit of God through covenanted obedience. We might call that the ‘theme music.’ This second kind of ‘seeking’ is what Chronicles really wants to drive home. How can we move from seeking God in distress only to having him also as the theme music of our lives?
So after encouragement from Azaraiah, Asa begins the work of Temple repair and restoration (2 Chr 15:8-19). After restoring the Temple, the people made a covenant to ‘seek the LORD, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and soul’ (2 Chr 15:12). This verse echoes the shema prayed daily by Jews to this day, and described by Jesus as the heart of the law. The shema (Hebrew for ‘hear/obey’) calls Israel to ‘Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength’ (Deut 6:4-5). The law was meant to shape a people whose entire lives were devoted to Yahweh alone. As the people made their covenant, they pledged their loyalty with ‘a loud voice, shouts of joy, and blasts from trumpets and horns’ (2 Chr 15:14). As if to drill it into our minds, Chronicles states that because the people ‘sought God,’ they enjoyed peace all around.
But even Asa did not keep singleness of heart. While he never strayed from worshipping Yahweh, he did align himself politically with Aram’s king against Israel. The prophet Hanani told Asa that because he depended on Aram rather than God (2 Chr 16:7), he would experience war for the rest of his days.
The challenge of Asa’s rule is to consider what it means to seek God as the theme of our lives. It’s easy to read Chronicles and think that seeking God brings peace, while not seeking will bring trouble. But the formula isn’t that simple. We see other cases where seeking happens in the midst of war, or it happens after a time of disloyalty. Whatever the circumstance, the good news of Chronicles is that God is constantly available, and even more, he seeks us!
Jehoshaphat is a giant among the kings of Judah. He’s remembered most in Chronicles for installing priests throughout the land to teach people the law. By doing this, he lived up to his name, which means, ‘Yahweh has judged.’ But there’s even more to this king that deserves our attention.
In 2 Chronicles 17:1-6, the Chronicler explains how Jehoshaphat fortified the cities of Judah. All the great leaders in Chronicles were builders. You can imagine how important that would be for a post-exilic audience listening to the story! The people, under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah had come back to the land to rebuild their lives. To hear that the great kings of the past had to rebuild would have been a great encouragement. Jehoshaphat also received ‘wealth and glory in abundance’ (2 Chr 17:5), another signal that he walked in the ways of God (cf. 2 Chr 18:1). Of course it’s also important to remember that righteous kings received great wealth but also gave generously to the work of God in the Temple.
2 Chronicles 17:7-10 is one of the most remarkable passages in the book of Chronicles. Jehoshaphat appoints teachers to go throughout the land of Israel to teach people the law. Levites didn’t just serve in the Temple. They also made sure that the people understood the law of God. When we hear this, we might imagine finger-pointing religious indoctrination, or a campaign to guilt-trip the people into obedience. However, we know from the book of Deuteronomy that the law—or ‘teaching’—was meant to give life to a people without hope. Also, the ‘law’ probably included the first five books of the Bible, which include stories and poetry to inspire and give purpose to the people of God.
But in addition to giving the people purpose and hope, the law gave the people intimacy with God. You may recall that during Asa’s reign, the prophet Azariah explained that in the past, the people did not have God in their lives, and they ‘were without a teaching priest and without instruction’ (2 Chr 15:3). Jehoshaphat ensures that the people would not go without instruction, and because of it, ‘a terror from the LORD seized all the kingdoms of the lands around Judah, and they did not go to war’ (2 Chr 17:10). In other words, Jehoshaphat fortified Judah outside and in. He rebuilt the cities and towns to protect from harm, but it was spiritual fortification that protected the people from war.
After building up his military (2 Chr 17:12-19), Jehoshaphat was lured into a battle with Israel against the northern aggressor Aram (2 Chr 18). A rather strange series of events ensues, where both kings sit on their thrones as a host of prophets insist that God will give them victory (2 Chr 18:5). However, Jehoshaphat is sceptical. Have 400 prophets really heard from God? So he asked for a prophet of Yahweh (implying that the 400 were not listening to Yahweh). Micaiah son of Imlah was one such prophet, but even he initially joins the ‘yes men.’ However, he eventually declares that Israel’s king Ahab will die in battle: ‘I saw all Israel scattered over the hills like sheep without a shepherd’ (2 Chr 18:16). So the question Ahab faced was, would he listen to the lone voice of the LORD’s prophet or accept the war-mongering of 400? Ahab seemed to know the truth, but he didn’t want to believe it. You can imagine the outcome (v28-34). The story forces us to consider how we know when a true prophet of God speaks. What are the ways we can discern the one lone voice of God amidst 400 others who speak a word we want to hear?
2 Chronicles 20 retells the story of a remarkable battle. This story is not told in Kings, and it captures a great deal of how the Chronicler understands divine power. Like his forefathers Abijah and Asa, Jehoshaphat faced a numerically superior army. Two million this time! When faced with such a formidable opponent, Jehoshaphat sought God in prayer, and voices a ‘distress signal’ on behalf of the people (2 Chr 20:3-12). Jehoshaphat’s prayer recalls the prayer of Solomon at the Temple in 2 Chronicles 6:
‘When famine or plague comes to the land … whatever disaster or disease may come, and when a prayer or plea is made by anyone among your people Israel … then hear from heaven, your dwelling place.‘ (2 Chr 6:28-30a)
‘They [i.e. our ancestors] have lived in the land and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying, “If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.”‘ (2 Chr 20:8-9)
Disaster forces God’s people to seek his presence (in the Temple) and cry out to him in prayer.
After praying this prayer with ‘all Judah’ (v13), Jehoshaphat and the Levites fell down to worship Yahweh, then stood up ‘to loudly praise the LORD’ (v19). Noticeably, this occurs before the battle. This was pre-emptive celebration!
The subsequent battle followed the pattern we observed in Abijah’s time. Jehoshaphat first appointed musicians to lead the warriors (v21). Next, they began to sing Chronicles’ theme song—‘Give thanks to the LORD because his loyal love endures forever’—as the troops marched into battle. What happens next deserves our full attention:
As they broke into joyful song and praise, the LORD launched a surprise attack against the Ammonites, the Moabites, and those from Mount Seir who were invading Judah, so that they were defeated (2 Chr 20:22 CEB translation).
The people never had to lift a sword. The LORD achieved a victory by turning the Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites on each other. By the time Israel reached the battlefield, the enemy was completely defeated (v24). The worship band hardly skipped a beat. After looting the enemy, the musicians led the people back to the Temple where they continued in song (v27-28). Yahweh ‘had given them reason to rejoice over their enemy’ (v27).
This final story from Jehoshaphat’s life reinforces one of the main themes we’ve observed in Chronicles. Judah experienced the power of God as they engaged him in worship. It is through worship, and not military alliance or military strength, that they win their victories. This story also challenges us to consider ways that God might want to achieve victories in and through our acts of worship.
In case you haven’t noticed yet, Chronicles shows very little interest in the kings of the northern kingdom of Israel. Ahab receives some attention in 2 Chronicles 18, but only because his story intersects with Jehoshaphat’s story. The reason Chronicles focuses on Judah is because the book is really about God and the Temple. Kings are important, but only insofar as they lead the people toward God in worship at the Temple or away from God by closing the Temple’s doors. For Chronicles, Israel was isolated from the Temple. Israelite kings had also ousted all the Levites and priests from their land so they really had nothing to do with the Temple. Israel represented anti-Temple.
2 Chronicles 21 tells us that Jehoram ‘walked in the ways of Israel’s kings’ (v6). This is not good! He secured his royal power by killing all his brothers and other leaders in Israel (v4). He also married Ahab’s daughter, and through that relationship, ended up pursuing other gods (v10-11). He was under constant attack by enemies like the Edomites, Philistines, Arabs, and the Cushites. It’s pretty clear by the end of his reign that his reign was a total disaster. As if to emphasise the point, Chronicles tells us that two days before his death ***TRIGGER WARNING*** ‘his intestines fell out, causing him to die in horrible pain’ (v19). He did not receive a proper burial, which was a big deal in the ancient world, especially for a king!
2 Chronicles 22:1-9 tells the story of Ahaziah. He also did what was evil, like Israel’s king Ahab (v3-4). Chronicles tells us that Ahaziah’s mother is Athaliah, the granddaughter of Omri (and daughter of Ahab). She plays a key role in the next story.
Like Jehoshaphat, Ahaziah was lured into battle with Israel’s king. He went to war against Aram with Joram, king of Israel and son of Ahab. When Joram was wounded, Judah went to visit him. On his way, Jehu (who was at this point a rogue warrior executing the entire family of Ahab) sought him out and killed him. The people gave him a decent burial, but only because he was the grandson of Jehoshaphat (22:9).
Like husband like wife. You’ll recall that Jehoram killed all his brothers when he first came to the throne (2 Chr 21:4). Well, Jehoram’s wife Athaliah (mother of Ahaziah) wasn’t so peace-loving herself. As soon as her son Ahaziah died, ‘she proceeded to destroy the whole royal family of the house of Judah’ (2 Chr 22:10). This statement should send chills down the spine of any reader of Chronicles. If true, it would mean that the Davidic House had died out, or at least, that it was in grave danger.
But the author intends to build suspense, because unbeknownst to Athaliah (and the reader, to this point), a kind woman named Jehosheba had hidden one of Ahaziah’s sons in the Temple (22:11). Jehosheba was the wife of Jehoiada, the high priest and a true follower of God. Jehoiada gathered together a group of commanders to help oust Athaliah from power. The plan went something like this…
When the Temple guards and Levites were due to change shifts, they would gather around Jehoash and prepare to lead him out of the Temple into the courtyard. Meanwhile, the other Levites and temple guards would guard the Temple and kill anyone who approached (2 Chr 22:4-7). As the Levites led Jehoash out of the Temple they crowned him, handed him the law, and all the people cried out, ‘Long live the king!’ (v11). Temple singers and musicians joined in a festive celebration (v13). This clamour immediately drew Athaliah, since the Temple and palace complexes were attached.
The scene is dramatic. Athaliah tears her robe in protest and shouts, ‘Treason! Treason!’ At Jehoiada’s instruction they lead her out and execute her at the entrance to the royal palace (v15). This painting by Gustave Doré vividly captures her dramatic death. Jehoiada then initiates a sweeping religious reform. The people move around as a band of God-inspired hooligans, heading first to the temple of Baal where they smash altars and pillars, and put Baal’s high priest Mattan to death.
Finally, Jehoiada appoints priests and Levites by their divisions to carry out their regular duties (23:18). Up to this point the Temple had been closed. Athaliah, daughter of Ahab, brought Baal worship into the heart of Judah. But with Baal’s temple in ruins, Yahweh worship could resume. The theme music of the Temple singers could again resume.
Jehoash was only 7 years old. His success depended on the High Priest Jehoiada. By God’s grace, Jehoiada lived a long time, and during his reign Jehoash initiated sweeping reforms of his own. When he came of age, he set out to renovate the Temple. Athaliah had used nearly all the Temple’s holy objects in Baal’s temple, and all was in disrepair (2 Chr 24:7). You can probably imagine how the post-exilic readers of Chronicles could relate to this story as well. They had come back to a land in disrepair. Of course they did not yet have a king, but who knows what hidden plans God had in store?
Jehoash owed his success to Jehoiada and his wife Jehosheba. But perhaps he never fully embraced God’s ways for himself. Chronicles tells us that the regular burnt offerings were offered ‘as long as Jehoiada lived’ (22:14). But once the faithful high priest died, the king and people ‘abandoned the temple of the LORD’ (22:18). A faithful prophet named Zechariah (Jehoiada’s son) arose and warned the people that because they abandoned the LORD, he abandoned them (22:20). Had the people humbled themselves, they could have avoided the disasters that soon came (cf. 22:23-26). But instead, they stoned Zechariah to death in the Temple courtyard!
Jesus refers to this very prophet in a series of blistering critiques of the Scribes and Pharisees. He warns the religious leaders that they are just like their ancestors, those who killed the innocent prophets of God: ‘And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar’ (Matt 23:35). In other words, God would avenge the blood of the innocent, and hold Jerusalem responsible. For this reason, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, since they kill the prophets and stone those God sends them (Matt 23:37).
The story of Jehoash poses two vital challenges: (1) Will we depend so heavily on others’ spiritual leadership that we fail to develop our own relationship with God? (2) Will we heed the warnings of God’s prophets and spokespeople when we fail?
The Chronicler describes Amaziah as a king who followed the LORD, ‘yet not with his whole heart’ (v2). The Torah called Israel to ‘love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength’ (Deut 6:5). After a battle against the Edomites, where he obediently whittled down his army in keeping with the LORD’s commands, he took their gods and began worshipping them (v14)! We can contrast this with David, who after defeating the Philistines, burned their false gods (1 Chr 14:12). David kept the law of Deuteronomy, which commands the people to ‘burn’ the false gods of the nations (Deut 7:5).
God sent Amaziah a prophet to warn him (v15-16), and to point out the obvious folly of worshipping the gods of a defeated enemy! We’ve seen this pattern before. After some grave sin, God sends a prophet to warn. How the king responds to God’s prophet determines their fate. But Amaziah shut down the prophet, and went his own way.
Clearly, Amaziah grew proud because of his military victory. No sooner had he defeated the Edomites—a legitimate foe—then he picked a fight with the Israelites (v18ff). The Israelite king Joash roundly defeated Amaziah, knocked down 400 feet of Jerusalem’s wall, and carried off the Temple’s vessels (v23-24). Thus the king who took the gods of Edom allowed the holy vessels of the Temple to be taken. For this reason Amaziah was memorialised as the half-hearted king.
All seemed well during the reign of Judah’s king Uzziah (Azariah in Kings). Uzziah reigned for no less than 52 years, and walked in the ways of the LORD. Sounds pretty idyllic, right? Like the other righteous kings of Judah, he was a builder (2 Chr 26:1-4, 6, 9-10), but most importantly, he ‘set himself to seek God’ (v5).
However, the Chronicler adds a small, but telling note. He sought God ‘during the days of Zechariah’, the high priest (v5). This sounds remarkably similar to the comment made of Joash, who walked in the ways of the LORD ‘all the days of Jehoiada’ the high priest (24:2). In other words, not after Jehoiada’s death. While God certainly prospered Uzziah—with a powerful military, international fame, and great wealth—the measure of a king is his treatment of the Temple. Could Uzziah seek God when Zechariah was gone?
2 Chronicles 26:16 marks an abrupt pivot in Uzziah’s life. Having achieved success, he became proud … so proud that he waltzed into the Temple to offer incense on the altar. That might sound like a pious thing to do. Why not show God you love him by offering incense yourself, and just circumvent the whole priestly thing?
The problem, of course, is that God had made clear that he didn’t want things done that way. Only the priests were to enter the Holy Place, where the altar of incense stood before the curtain to the Holy of Holies (v18). Moreover, for the king to enter the Holy Place was a big problem. It signalled an attempt to exercise control and power over the Temple and its priesthood. But God quickly showed Uzziah who was in charge. When he reached the Holy Place—with Azariah the High Priest and 80 other priests chasing him—his skin broke out with leprosy (v19). This was all rather dramatic! To be leprous in the Temple was strictly forbidden, and put him in a very dangerous state (cf. Lev 13:46).
A key lesson from this story is that seeking God involves humble submission to his authority, especially for those in positions of power, and especially when experiencing success or prosperity. Uzziah tried to extend his authority into the Temple. He ended up a leper until the day of his death (v21).
Like his father, Jotham was a righteous king, though we should hasten to add that ‘he did not enter the temple of the LORD’ like his father (v2). He was a builder (v3-4), military leader (v5-6), and steadily grew wealthy and strong. All in all, there was nothing major to note about his life. But that’s what makes him worthy of emulation. He walked ‘steadfastly’ in the ways of the LORD during a time when the people went far from God (v2, 6). This is the first time we hear of a parting of ways between king and people. As Ralph Klein puts it, ‘Jotham’s father Uzziah had also became powerful, but his pride led him astray.’ By contrast, ‘Jotham’s strength … resulted from his faithfulness—he established his ways before Yahweh his God.’
If the righteous kings established, repaired, and looked after the Temple; wicked kings neglected it and closed its doors. None was worse than Ahaz in this regard, according to Chronicles. Ahaz ‘followed the ways of the kings of Israel’ (2 Chr 28:2), worshipping false gods and even sacrificing his own son on an altar (v3).
The story of his reign falls into three main sections. First, Aram and Israel attack Judah (v5-15). Aram takes Ahaz prisoner, and Israel takes 200,000 prisoners. This latter event foreshadows Judah’s eventual exiles at the hand of the Babylonians. Second, Ahaz appeals to the Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser III (affectionately known as TPIII) for help against attacks from Edom and the Philistines (v16-21). The results were disastrous. Ahaz ‘plundered’ the Temple and palace to pay Assyria for help, and all Assyria did was come and oppress him (v20-21).
Ahaz’s disregard for the Temple then leads us to the third major section of ch. 28, where Ahaz closes the Temple and worships other gods. Verse 23 expresses his folly well: ‘He sacrificed to the gods of Damascus, who had defeated him.’ So Ahaz took the bits and pieces left in the Temple, shut its doors, and built high places of worship to other gods throughout the land of Judah (vv. 24-25). The Chronicler is so disgusted with Ahaz that, in contrast to Kings (2 Kgs 16:20), he states that Ahaz was not buried in Jerusalem. To receive an improper burial in the ancient world was the greatest disgrace.
Ahaz was fascinated by the power of nations, but utterly unimpressed with God. He closed the Temple of Yahweh and opened Judah to other gods. If we recall the words of Solomon from 2 Chronicles 2:5, Ahaz’s actions become all the more serious: ‘The Temple that I am about to build must be great, because our God is greater than all the gods.’
Hezekiah towers as a giant among the kings of Judah. Not only did he do ‘what was right in the LORD’s eyes,’ but he re-opened the doors of the temple (2 Chr 29:1-4). Like Ahaz, he also faces off with the Assyrian king, but where Ahaz fell on his face before foreign powers, Hezekiah submits to divine power. And he does so at the Temple. You’ll recall that reverence for God’s Temple distinguishes the good from the bad in Chronicles. This Temple-focused religion was not just about show. For Chronicles, the Temple was where the people encountered the presence of God, worshipped him in song and sacrifice, rallied as a unified people, and offered prayers to God.
The work of restoring the Temple began with Israel’s leadership. Hezekiah gathers the Levites and reminds them that in the days of his fathers, the people ‘abandoned [the LORD], they ignored the LORD’s dwelling, and they defied him’ (v6). Hezekiah recalls with horror that the people ‘even closed the doors of the temple’ (v7). Closing the doors was not simply like closing a church, making it difficult to worship. It meant effectively shutting in God’s presence so that it would play no role in the people’s lives, and so they could go their own way. So Hezekiah set about restoring the Levites and priests to their roles in the Temple. First, they had to purify themselves (v5, 15). Second, they had to purify the Temple and its implements (v15-17), a process that took 8 days. Third, Hezekiah and the people rededicated the Temple itself, with great pomp and circumstance. They not only offered a great many offerings (v20-24), but also raised a great song to the LORD (v25-30). The coordination of song and sacrifice, with all the priests and Levites present, must have been quite a scene and sound to behold! After witnessing the leadership’s recommitment to the Temple, the people joined in with their offerings (v31-36).
After restoring the Temple, the people celebrated a great Passover. You’ll recall that the Israelites celebrated Passover to commemorate their departure from Egypt. While the Judeans weren’t all in exile (some were, cf. 2 Chr 28), they had been out of touch from God during Ahaz’s reign. Thus Hezekiah and the leaders urged the people to ‘return to the LORD’ (2 Chr 30:7). They were to ‘submit to the LORD. Come to his sanctuary’ (v8). If they did so, they urged, ‘He won’t withdraw his presence from you’ (v9). Runners went around to each town in Judah and Israel with this message. Many in Israel were resistant, and even laughed at this message (v10), while others were receptive (v11). But in all of this, God was ‘unifying’ the people of Judah at the Temple—returning us once again to our main theme.
The people were so eager to celebrate Passover that not all could purify themselves beforehand. The Levites thus slaughtered the lambs for them (v17-19). Strictly speaking, this was in contravention of the Torah, which insisted that those who offer the sacrifices were to be ceremonially clean. Hezekiah prayed for mercy, and we see that God is lenient. He heard the prayer and ‘healed the people’ (v19-20). The Passover celebration was so great that after 7 days of feasting, the people decided to celebrate for another 7 days (v23)! The people rejoiced, along with all the immigrants who lived among them (v24). This scene raises another important theme that we have not fully developed thus far. It is a simple yet profound idea in Chronicles: Worship of God brings deep joy. Verse 26 sums up the event:
‘There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem.’
After celebrating Passover for 14 days, the people set about reforming the nation. All the people went about destroying the idols and altars of foreign gods (v1). But after the madness of celebration and destroying idols, the people needed to do their part to enable the Temple to function. V2-21 describe the many donations that the people gave toward the Temple. They gave food for offerings (v2-3) and food for the priests and Levites (v4-10). These were stored in the Temple for the appointed times (v11-19).
For many Christians, talk of donations and money is taboo. We treat such things as personal matters. However, for much of Israel’s history, where you gave your money indicated your loyalties. Tithing was political. For Hezekiah and the people, giving to the work of the Temple was a way of saying, ‘We give our allegiance to Yahweh, our king!’ This is an important backdrop to what happens next.
This chapter details one of most significant—yet relatively unknown—events in the entire Old Testament. The story is recorded in its entirety in 3 different places in the Old Testament (Isa 36-39; 2 Kgs 18-19; 2 Chr 32), is alluded to in numerous other places (e.g. Isa 1), and is known from the annals of the Assyrian kings and carved artwork from Nineveh (see HERE and HERE). It’s the story of Sennacherib’s attack on Judah, and his attempted attack on Jerusalem.
Here’s the story in brief. During the reign of Judah’s king Uzziah, the Assyrians were preoccupied with other areas in their empire. So ‘when the cat is away, the mice play’. Without the Assyrian pressure (they typically loved to keep the heat on), Judah underwent significant expansion. If you consider the areas controlled by Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel, ‘their combined area almost reached Solomonic proportions’. But with the rise of Tiglath-Pileser III, Assyria turned its eyes toward Egypt. And Judah stood between Assyria and Egypt.
Now under King Ahaz, Judah faced a threat from its northern neighbours and appealed to Assyria for help. Tiglath-Pileser III came and aided Judah, but now Judah was in serious debt to the Assyrians. Moreover, it seems that several cities supported Judah’s enemies, and were destroyed by TPIII when he came to attack Judah’s enemies. Under Ahaz’s son Hezekiah, Judah then agitated for independence from its debts (and annual tribute) to Assyria. As you can imagine, the Assyrians didn’t take too kindly to this. The by-then king Sennacherib came and attacked Judah, destroying several cities, including Lachish. You can still go there today to see the siege ramp!
This is where the story picks up in 2 Chronicles 32. King Hezekiah made preparations for the attack, thus establishing himself in the long line of Judean builder/protector kings (2 Chr 32:1-8). Sennacherib’s commander mocked Israel’s God, boasting that he would ruin Judah like he ruined the lands of all the nations’ gods (v9-19). In desperation, Hezekiah, with Isaiah the prophet, cried out to God at the Temple (v20). God responded by sending a destroying angel who decimated Assyria’s army (v21). Miraculously, God had protected little Judah from the most powerful nation on earth!
Hezekiah is thus remembered as the king who depended on God (not foreign powers, like his father), prayed at the Temple, and thus was honoured in the sight of the nations (v23).
King Manasseh reversed all the good things that Hezekiah had done. He plunged Judah into idolatry, sin, and injustice (2 Chr 33:1-9). He even put idol images in the Temple (v7-8) and set up altars to foreign gods. Chronicles sums up his reign as follows:
‘Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites‘ (v9).
The nation that was supposed to ‘bless’ the nations (Gen 12, 15) had become more evil than them all. Because of his great wickedness, God sent the Assyrians (again!) to attack Judah. They ruined Jerusalem, captured Manasseh, and brought him to Babylon.
What Chronicles reports next might sound outrageous. The most wicked of kings—who ‘filled the land with bloodshed’ according to Kings—turned to God when he was in exile. Most significantly, he ‘humbled himself’ before God (v12-13). Because of his humility, God restored Manasseh to his kingdom. Manasseh then removed the idols from the Temple, restored the altar of God, and set about rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls (v14-16).
Manasseh’s story thus reminds us that no one is beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness. When a fallen leader ‘humbles himself’, God is often ‘moved’ to show compassion (v13), and to give the restored leader an opportunity to rebuild what was broken (v14-16).
The Chronicler’s story rushes through the reign of King Amon. He was wicked, but unlike his father Manasseh, ‘did not humble himself before the LORD’ (2 Chr 33:23). Eventually, a group of conspirators assassinated Amon, and others killed those conspirators and installed Josiah—Amon’s son—in his place.
With a father like Amon, one wouldn’t expect great things of his son. Josiah was only eight when he began to reign. But perhaps it was because of godly guidance from his protectors that Josiah became one of Judah’s greatest kings. Here’s why: ‘in the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his ancestor David‘ (2 Chr 34:3). This sixteen-year-old youth sought God, and by the time he was 20, God led him to purge Judah, Jerusalem, and even all Israel of its idols and high places (v3-7). The reform took quite a while, as it often does, but by his 18th year of rule (he was 26), he began to restore the Temple (v8-13).
A priest named Hilkiah swept away the Temple’s cobwebs and there inside found the law of Moses (v8-21). Scholars debate its precise contents, whether the book of Deuteronomy or the entire Pentateuch. But for our purposes, the important point is the Josiah tore his clothes in horror at its contents. He discovered that he and the people had not kept the law. He instructed Hilkiah to go ‘seek an oracle from the LORD’ (v21) about what he and the people were to do. Wisely, they consulted Huldah the prophetess. Her words were dimly comforting. The LORD had planned to bring total disaster upon Judah for its sin. Yet, because Josiah and the people responded to the law with humble repentance, the LORD would delay his punishment (v23-28). This prompted Josiah and the people to make a covenant (or formal agreement) with God ‘to follow the LORD and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, and to obey the words of the covenant written in this book’ (2 Chr 34:31). The Chronicler points us again back to Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the heart of the law (cf. Matt 22:36-40).
New starts require celebration. So, after finally completing the work of reform and restoration, the people celebrated a Passover (2 Chr 35). The Passover recalled Israel’s liberation from Egypt, and God’s gracious redemption. Josiah’s was a Passover unlike any since the days of Samuel the prophet (v18). Josiah first instructed the Levites to return the ark to the Temple (v3). Manasseh had apparently taken it from the Temple, but had not yet brought it back. Then he sacrificed thousands of bulls and goats, all in accordance with the law of Moses (v12).
Yet like Hezekiah before him, even Josiah was susceptible to pride and over-reach. Chronicles pivots abruptly in v20-27 to describe a strange account where Josiah attempted to intercept Pharaoh Neco as he travelled along the edge of Judah in pursuit of the Assyrians in 609 BCE (cf. 2 Kgs 23:29). He died at Megiddo, and was buried in Jerusalem.
Josiah’s life in one sense leaves us with a picture-perfect model of Torah obedience. He dedicated himself from a young age to seek the LORD. Seeking is not subjective, but related specifically to obeying God’s law and caring for the Temple (worship). But Josiah is also an example of a leader who, for reasons not totally clear, thought that success in one area (Torah obedience) might give him success in another (military). This one miscalculation cost him his life, and arguably, resumed Judah’s slide toward exile.
The death of Judah came quickly after Josiah’s death. It’s hard to imagine that God would destroy the nation after things had gone so well. Yet we have to bear in mind that Josiah’s reign prolonged divine judgement. King Jehoahaz followed his father Josiah, but Pharaoh Neco of Egypt quickly deposed him (2 Chr 36:2-3), and set Eliakim/Jehoiakim in his place (v4). Jehoiakim reigned for 11 years, but was eventually taken prisoner by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and Jehoiachin took the throne (v5-8). Jehoiachin must have irritated Nebuchadnezzar, because he too was bound and brought to Babylon like his father (v9-10). You can see how the Egyptians and Babylonians were now invested in Judah. They wanted pro-Egypt or pro-Babylon puppet kings on the throne to do their bidding (pay tribute, provide military support, allow free passage for their troops). At this point in the story, Judah had little autonomy of their own. And any attempt to seek autonomy, as did King Zedekiah who ruled for 11 years after Jehoiachin, was quickly squashed (v11-13).
Even at this late stage God continued to warn and plead with the people to turn and repent, this time through Jeremiah the prophet (v12). But rather than softening his heart in obedience (like Josiah or Hezekiah), Zedekiah ‘stiffened his neck and hardened his heart‘ (v13). Perhaps most relevant for Chronicles, the people and priests ‘polluted the house of the LORD that he had made holy in Jerusalem‘ (v14). Zedekiah’s pride swelled to the point where he rebelled against Babylon (i.e. he probably stopped paying tribute). At this point, God had enough. He brought the Babylonians against Judah. They swooped in, plundered the Temple (v18) and burned it to the ground (v19). Nebuchadnezzar took many Judeans into exile, and gave the land its Sabbath rest (v21; cf. Jer 25:11). These words of Chronicles, drawn from Jeremiah, also recall the warning of Leviticus 18:24-28 which warned the people that if they departed from God’s ways and polluted the land, the land would ‘vomit‘ them out to find relief. The people had polluted the Temple, and so, the land vomited them out!
But Chronicles doesn’t end here, and the narrator departs significantly from Kings at this point. Whereas Kings ends with a snapshot of King Jehoiachin in exile (2 Kgs 25:27-30), Chronicles ends with this announcement and summons:
‘In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfil the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing: “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up, and may the LORD their God be with them.'”‘ (2 Chr 36:22-23)
You may recall that Chronicles is the very last book in the Hebrew Bible. In many ways it is also the (re-)capstone. It begins with the word ‘Adam,’ and ends with a summons to ‘go up’ to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. There is always hope beyond exile. For God’s people the call, as always, is to unify as God’s people to seek the LORD in worshipful obedience.
 Ralph Klein, 2 Chronicles (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 387.
 Rasmussen, Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, 162.
The purpose here is to identify the leading imperatives of this book and explore how apprentices of Jesus can learn how to obey him and conform their lives to the dynamics of his Kingdom.
1 Chr 1:1 Remember the great story of God, stretching back to Adam.
1 Chr 2:3-4:23 Prepare the way for the King.
1 Chr 16:8-36 ‘Give thanks to Yahweh, call on his name, make known his deeds … sing to him, tell of all his wonderful works. Glory in his holy name. … Petition Yahweh and his strength,pursue his face constantly. … Remember the wonderful works he has done … Remember his covenant … Sing to Yahweh … Tell of his salvation … Declare his glory … Ascribe to Yahweh glory and strength. Bring an offering, and come before him. Worship Yahweh … Tremble before him. … Give thanks to Yahweh …’
1 Chr 13-16 Show reverence for God’s holy presence.
1 Chr 13-16 Worship the LORD regularly.
1 Chr 17 Remember God’s covenant, and pray that God brings about his covenant promises.
1 Chr 28-29 Give generously of your wealth.
2 Chr 1:7 Ask what I should give to you.
2 Chr 7:17 Walk before me in obedience.
2 Chr 6 Pray before the LORD’s presence.
Seek Yahweh’s glorious presence in the excitement of his activity (2 Chr 5-7) and in the quiet rhythms of obedience (2 Chr 8)
2 Chr 13:12 Do not fight against the LORD … for you cannot succeed.
2 Chr 14:4 Seek the LORD.
2 Chr 15:2 If you seek the LORD, he will be found by you, but if you abandon him, he will abandon you.
2 Chr 19:5 [To judges] Consider what you are doing, for you judge not on behalf of humans, but on the LORD’s behalf; he is with you in giving judgment.
2 Chr 20:17 Take your position [in battle], stand still, and see the victory of the LORD on your behalf. … Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you.
2 Chr 36:23 Whoever is among you [exiles] of all his people, may the LORD his God be with him! Let him go up [to Jerusalem]!
2 Chr 10-12 Don’t fear the enemy, but align yourself with God’s kingdom in worshipful adoration.
2 Chr 14-16; 20 Cry out in your distress and see the LORD’s deliverance.
2 Chr 14-16 Let prayer become the theme music and not only your distress signal.
2 Chr 22-24 Heed the warnings of God’s prophets.
2 Chr 36:23 Avoid complacency, and take part in God’s exciting plan!
Holy Habits: (Holy Habits are patterns of living and lifestyle practices which we choose to do in our lives. These can be in order to either withdraw from the dominion of the world, such as silence, secrecy, submission, fasting, watching, simple living, or, practices that plunge us into the life of the Kingdom, such as prayer, worship, celebration, study, serving the poor and deprived, etc. They can be as simple as kneeling by your bed and thanking God at the end of the day, or as substantial as attending an annual Christian festival.)
Practice the Holy Habits of …
Question 1 -
1 Chr 16:4 tells us that David stationed Levites before the ark of God to ‘invoke [God’s name in blessing], to thank, and to praise the Lord.’ Take a moment on your own (or in your group) to give these activities a go.
Question 2 -
1 Chronicles 1-9: Read the first four verses of 1 Chronicles. Do you think this is a good way to start a story? Why or why not? What value might ancient readers have placed on these names?
Question 3 -
1 Chronicles 1-9: As you read through the genealogies, what little stories pop up along the way? Why do you think those were included in the middle of a list of Israel’s ancestors?
Question 4 -
1 Chronicles 1-9: The New Testament also starts with a long genealogy (Matt 1:1-17). Are there any similarities in purpose between Chronicles and Matthew in this respect? What are some of the main differences (besides length)?
Question 5 -
1 Chronicles 10-29: What is God’s ‘steadfast love’ (1 Chr 16:34; 2 Chr 5:13; 7:3)? Look at how different Bible versions translate that phrase/word.
Question 6 -
1 Chronicles 10-29: 1 Chronicles 16:8-36 comes from three different psalms (Ps 105, 96, and 106). These psalms address events leading up to the exile of the people. Why might the Chronicler want to include them here?
Question 7 -
1 Chronicles 10-29: Do you think that giving our finances to God’s work is important? Note the account in 1 Chr 29:1-9, observing especially the progression of who gives and who responds.
Question 8 -
2 Chronicles 1-9: Re-read 2 Chronicles 2:5-6. What tensions does Solomon express? What might he consider to be a proper response to the newly built Temple? What are some ways that the Temple could have been misunderstood?
Question 9 -
2 Chronicles 1-9: In 2 Chronicles 5-7, we read about the dramatic appearances of God. In 2 Chronicles 8, we read about the regular rhythms of worship. Which have you pursued in your life? Why are both equally important?
Question 10 -
2 Chronicles 1-9: Do you think Solomon’s wealth was a sign of God’s blessing? Is that something we can expect today? Why or why not? Cf. 1 Chr 29:12
Question 11 -
2 Chronicles 10-36: The book of Chronicles emphasises the experience of joy in worship (1 Chr 16:33; 2 Chr 30:21, 26). What has been your experience in sung worship or within the Church? If you find joy challenging, what are possible blockades to your experience of joy?
Question 12 -
2 Chronicles 10-36: The story of Jehoash (2 Chr 22-24) posed two vital challenges. The first had to do with whether or not we will depend so heavily on others’ spiritual leadership that we fail to develop our own relationship with God. Do you think that we ought to depend on spiritual leaders? In what ways yes or no? The second had to do with whether we will heed the warnings of God’s prophets and spokespeople when, or before, we fail. What are some warnings you’ve received in your life? How did you respond?
Question 13 -
2 Chronicles 10-36: King Hezekiah depended on Yahweh instead of foreign powers (2 Chr 32). He saw God’s miraculous deliverance. Are there powers other than Yahweh on which the Church depends? How might we break free?
Question 14 -
2 Chronicles 10-36: ‘Seeking’ God is a major theme in chapters 10-36, and throughout the whole book of Chronicles. What are some specific ways you would like to seek God? How can others pray for you in that?
Suggested Sermon Series
A prayer based on 1&2 Chronicles
[Opening] Give thanks to the LORD for he is good, his love endures forever!
[Petition] LORD, God of Israel, and king of all nations, we humbly seek your presence, and ask that you will form in us hearts that are responsive to your ways, and that are in unity with your people, especially as we worship your name. Will you inhabit our praises to you, and our songs, our prayers, and may we heed the words of your prophets among us.
[Closing] Give thanks to the LORD for he is good, his love endures forever! Amen.
Commentary on the prayer:
[Opening] Give thanks to the LORD for he is good, his love endures forever! (1 Chron 16:34, 2 Chron 7:3, 2 Chron 20:21).
[Petition] LORD, God of Israel, and king of all nations (1 Chr 16), we humbly seek (at least 13x in Chronicles) your presence (2 Chr 5-7), and ask that you will form in us hearts that are responsive to your ways, and that are in unity with your people, especially as we worship your name. Will you inhabit our praises to you (2 Chr 5), our songs, and our prayers, and may we heed the words of your prophets among us.
[Closing] Give thanks to the LORD for he is good, his love endures forever! Amen.
Suggested Sermon Series on ‘1&2 Chronicles’
Comment: The book of Chronicles is very long — 65 chapters in all! It’s about the same length as Samuel or Kings (and far longer than Psalms or Jeremiah in terms of word count), and it covers more ground than either. I recommend taking the book in large chunks, organised around the genealogical history, the rise, and the fall (and announced return) of God’s people. The following might work well
Series Title: Worshipping the God of Israel’s Past, Present and Future
|1 Chronicles 1-9||‘The genealogies and background’||Rare indeed is a sermon on a genealogy but rich are its rewards. These first 9 chapters provide the necessary backdrop to the book’s conviction that all of Israel’s history—indeed all of human history—leads up to and is consummated in worship of Israel’s God. There are real gems in here!|
|1 Chronicles 10-29||‘King David’||You might consider two sermons, one on the life and adventures of (Saul and) David (chs. 10-15), and another on his preparations for the Temple (chs. 16-29). The key idea here is that David devotes himself entirely to preparing a place of praise and worship of Israel’s God. David (and Solomon’s) example provides an opportunity for leaders to lead the people in giving (and not just asking for gifts). Consider how to set an example that’s not showy, but nevertheless sets the tone for others to divest themselves of wealth.|
|2 Chronicles 1-9
|‘King Solomon’||This section could be covered in one or two sermons, each focusing on Solomon’s pursuit of God’s presence. The emphasis on dramatic and regular/mundane encounters with God is important, especially in chs. 6-9. People often chase the dramatic and neglect the regular rhythms. Or, to use the words of Brother Lawrence, they neglect to ‘practise the presence of God’.
|2 Chronicles 10-36||‘Judah’s kings’||This section could be covered in two sermons. It might help to contrast king Ahaz (2 Chr 28) with king Hezekiah (2 Chr 29-31). One king closed the Temple to pursue the gods of the empires, and the other restored the Temple and found deliverance from the empires. This is an opportunity to challenge the idols of our day, and in particular, the gods of national power and fear (cf. Isa 7-8). By contrast, Hezekiah’s example drives us to confront fear with dependence. N T Wright once said that standing humbly in the presence of God gives us confidence to stand boldly in the councils of men. We see this in Hezekiah’s example of throwing himself before the LORD but refusing to buckle before the Assyrian king!|
|Hahn: The Kingdom of God as Liturgical Empire (2012)||Hahn is an engaging author to read, and makes a persuasive case that Chronicles is all about ‘the plenitude and mysterious workings of divine activity in history’ through the Kingdom of David. That Davidic Kingdom was God’s Kingdom in history.|
|Hill: NIV Application Bible Commentary (2003)
|Hill does a nice job interpreting Chronicles in a way that connects with real life. The NIV Application Bible Commentary series on the whole is quite good at bringing the text to life while also respecting its ancient contexts.|
|Williamson: New Century Bible Commentary (1982)||Williamson is one of the most accomplished interpreters of Chronicles. Though at times this commentary goes into pretty deep critical scholarly territory, Williamson’s insights are nonetheless brilliant.|
Question 1 -
Is Chronicles historically accurate? Make a case for why it does/doesn’t matter: Compare the texts in the three sections (A-C) below. Notice the changes Chronicles makes to its sources: Comparison A 2 Samuel 5:21: 'And the Philistines left their idols there, and David and his men carried them away.' (cf. 1 Sam 4:10-11) 1 Chronicles 14:12: 'And they left their gods there, and David gave command, and they were burned.' Comparison B 2 Samuel 24:1: 'Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he [the LORD] incited David against them, saying, "Go, number Israel and Judah."' 1 Chronicles 21:1: 'Then Satan [or, the satan] stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.' Comparison C 1 Kings 1:5: 'Now Adonijah the son of Haggith [David’s wife] exalted himself, saying, "I will be king." And he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him.' 1 Kings 2:24-25: 'Now therefore as the LORD lives, who has established me and placed me on the throne of David my father, and who has made me a house, as he promised, Adonijah shall be put to death today." So King Solomon sent Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and he struck him down, and he died.' 1 Chronicles 29:23-24: 'Then Solomon sat on the throne of the LORD as king in place of David his father. And he prospered, and all Israel obeyed him. All the leaders and the mighty men, and also all the sons of King David, pledged their allegiance to King Solomon.' What are some changes you noticed when you compared texts?
Question 2 -
If Chronicles re-writes the history of Samuel-Kings (after the exile), are these two histories in conflict with one another? What are some ways that they may or might not be? For instance, you might consider the idea that these are two perspectives on the same events. Or, some suggest that Chronicles isn’t even writing ‘history.’ It’s more like historical fiction, meant to teach something important (like a parable). Still others feel that the two histories are in conflict.
Question 3 -
Chronicles omits most of the negative bits from the lives of David and Solomon (e.g. David’s adultery/rape and murder of Uriah; Solomon’s troubled bid for the throne). Why do you think the Chronicler deliberately chose to omit certain stories, and appears to re-write others? Are there potential risks to doing that? Can you think of contemporary parallels?
Question 4 -
The Chronicler tells of repeated visits by God’s prophets to warn kings at key moments. Has God ever warned you? Are there any warnings that you think God is calling you to heed right now? Who are the people to help you discern those warnings?
Answers to Questions
Starter Course Questions:
Chronicles teaches that God delights in the unified praise and worship of his people. Do you think we have overemphasised the individual in worship? In what ways are we connected to God’s people even when we are on our own?
You might consider ways that the church is meant to operate as a ‘body,’ and the role of the Spirit in forming a ‘people’ (Ephesians).
In what ways is tithing (giving of our finances to God) important, or not important, for our relationship with God?
This question about tithing comes from the strong emphasis on David giving of his personal wealth to the temple
Be honest. Are there any parts of Chronicles that trouble you? Have you ever discussed these with others?
Some may raise questions about violence, ways that Chronicles doesn’t reflect straightforward history, polygamy, etc.
Main Course Questions:
1 Chr 16:4 tells us that David stationed Levites before the ark of God to ‘invoke [God’s name in blessing], to thank, and to praise the Lord.’ Take a moment on your own, (or in your group), to give these activities a go.
Questions 1 Chronicles 1-9:
Read the first four verses of 1 Chronicles. Do you think this is a good way to start a story? Why or why not? What value might ancient readers have placed on these names?
Might consider how ancient readers loved genealogies, and would have used them to make a statement about who belongs in the people of God. As noted in the commentary, Chronicles also emphasises the importance of the Levites in the way it structured its genealogy.
As you read through the genealogies, what little stories pop up along the way? Why do you think those were included in the middle of a list of Israel’s ancestors?
You might consider stories like 1 Chr 4:9-10 or 5:18-22. Interestingly, both refer to crying out to God.
The New Testament also starts with a long genealogy (Matt 1:1-17). Are there any similarities in purpose between Chronicles and Matthew in this respect? What are some of the main differences (besides length)?
You might consider the importance of Davidic kingship for both Chronicles and Matthew, and the importance of exile. However, Matthew is more tightly structured (14 generation segments), and seems to feature women in a way Chronicles doesn’t.
Questions from 1 Chronicles 10-29
What is God’s ‘steadfast love’ (1 Chr 16:34; 2 Chr 5:13; 7:3)? Look at how different Bible versions translate that phrase/word.
‘Steadfast love’ refers specifically to God’s covenant commitment to Israel. God and Israel were in a covenant relationship, forged at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19-24. However, that covenant was re-affirmed and focused on the person of the king, such that God’s ‘covenant love’ was also associated with David in Chronicles (as in Kings). For God to be loyal to David—keeping his descendants on the throne—was the way he remained loyal to the people of Israel a whole.
1 Chronicles 16:8-36 comes from three different psalms (Ps 105, 96, and 106). These psalms address events leading up to the exile of the people. Why might the Chronicler want to include them here?
It seems that Ps 105-106 were historical psalms. They gave the Chronicler a way to tell history through worship. Chronicles wants to tell history in a way that leads people to worship, and these psalms provide a model. Also, because they cover the wide sweep of history, they also provided a way for the readers to connect with this great worship service of the past!
Do you think that giving of our finances to God’s work is important? Note the account in 1 Chr 29:1-9, observing especially the progression of who gives and who responds.
1 Chr 29:1-9 shows David giving first, then the leaders, and then the people respond with joy. This passage may suggest that leaders ought to lead in giving.
Questions from 2 Chronicles 1-9
Re-read 2 Chronicles 2:5-6. What tensions does Solomon express? What might he consider to be a proper response to the newly built Temple? What are some ways that the Temple could have been misunderstood?
The passage expresses tensions between the supposed greatness of the Temple, and a God who cannot possibly be contained. Solomon might’ve hoped that as people look and worship at the Temple, they contemplate the God who cannot be contained, and not a God who is permanently and exclusively housed in the Temple. Some worshippers may have assumed that they could only relate to God by coming to Jerusalem, or worse, that they ‘had’ God, and were thus immune to all threats (cf. Jer 7).
In 2 Chronicles 5-7, we read about the dramatic appearances of God. In 2 Chronicles 8, we read about the regular rhythms of worship. Which have you pursued in your life? Why are both equally important?
Subjective responses, but might consider how the dramatic appearances were important, but also limited here to the founding of the Temple, and perhaps a few other occasions. Many who read this book would have never had such a dramatic encounter with God, but could nonetheless relate to his presence.
Do you think Solomon’s wealth was a sign of God’s blessing? Is that something we can expect today? Why or why not? Cf. 1 Chr 29:12.
Subjective responses. In Chronicles it seems to be a sign of God’s blessing, but it’s important to bear in mind what great leaders do with their wealth. In Chronicles, they give their wealth that they receive. The basis for this is expressed in 1 Chr 29:12 – Wealth and honour come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.
It’s recommended that the pod leader become familiar with the overarching differences in theme and tone between Samuel-Kings and Chronicles. The former are usually considered part of the ‘Deuteronomistic History’ (Joshua-Kings, which were heavily influenced in their language by Deuteronomy). Chronicles, on the other hand is very much dependent on Samuel-Kings, but is deeply influenced by priestly themes from Leviticus and by Psalms. Those literary differences are quite pronounced when you set the two works side by side.
Most readers are put off by the long genealogical introduction (1 Chr 1-9), but there are some exciting features that might be worth highlighting (see commentary). As a side note, I read them to my 7-year-old son and we got such a kick out of some of the names. But overall, he loved hearing the names read to him. It made me enjoy them more!
Readers of Chronicles often note the ‘white-washing’ of David and Solomon in Chronicles. It’s worth discussing that reality, but also noting that David’s sins aren’t totally omitted (1 Chr 21), and neither are Solomon’s (2 Chr 10:4). Two things to note here: (1) Chronicles is seeking the deeper spiritual meaning of Israel’s history, and is less concerned with straightforward historical representation. The Chronicler wants to know how the past can form a prototype of an ideal future, and not just how we can learn from the mistakes of the past. (2) Chronicles typically omits the episodes in the lives of David and Solomon that divide the people. Its interest is in answering the question, ‘How can the people of God come together after the return from exile?’ Its answer is that they find unity in worship at the Temple.
The other major features of note is that Chronicles shows little interest in the northern kingdom of Israel (confusing, because it’s called Israel when they’re unified under David-Solomon). So we don’t have all the stories of Elijah and Elisha from Kings, for instance. The reason is that Chronicles is concerned with the plight of Jerusalem, and specifically, the Temple. As I noted in the introduction, the main character in Chronicles is the Temple.