For our initial blog series I have written a series of brief commentaries on 1 Chronicles. Chronicles (1 & 2 Chronicles were originally written as a single text) is my favorite book in the Old Testament. Chronicles tells the story of the kings of Judah and provide a picture of what the Coming King (i.e., the Messiah) will be like. The following serves as a short introduction to the book of Chronicles, and in subsequent posts in the coming weeks I will explore the text in order to help explain the meaning of the text in its broader literary and theological context.
Introduction to Chronicles
The book of Chronicles, though broken into two books like Samuel and Kings, should be understood as a single book with unified authorship, an author commonly referred to as the Chronicler. It is important to keep this in mind so as to recognize how the genealogies and narratives of 1 Chronicles inform the message and purpose of the narratives of 2 Chronicles. Like Samuel and Kings, it is an historical narrative which encompasses the reigns of the kings of both books. However, unlike Samuel and Kings, Chronicles is only concerned with the kings of Judah. Following on the heels of Samuel and Kings, much can be lost in this placement. It is often overlooked as one reads through Scripture as merely a rerun, and readers often ignore its theological implications and nuances. Such a reading would be akin to reading through Matthew, and then, when coming to Mark and finding parallel accounts, simply passing by it and failing to deal with the unique way in which Mark describes and uses the account.
We must be careful, then, to allow the Chronicler to shape the same events in new ways in order to promote his own theological message. In order to achieve this goal, we will look at the genealogies, the Chronicler’s portrayal of the Davidic Covenant, his unique portrayal of the kings, and the account of the Edict of Cyrus. After addressing these issues, we will show how they promote a unified theme of Messianic expectation that will culminate in the arrival of the God-Man, Jesus Christ.
The book of Chronicles begins with nine chapters of genealogy. Though we will not take time here to discuss all the details of those genealogies, they do serve to highlight certain themes that will be important in Chronicles:
(1) Beginning with Adam serves to show Israel’s place among the nations and how God has already partially fulfilled His promise to Abraham to bless all the nations.
(2) The Chronicler seems intentionally to select and construct his genealogy in such a way that the seventy person genealogy following the flood corresponds to the seventy persons from Abraham at the end of Genesis. This places the emphasis again on the notion that God called Abraham out of all the nations to be blessed, and through him all the nations will be blessed.
(3) The Chronicler’s genealogy highlights the name change of Abraham, which points the reader back to this narrative in Genesis 17. This passage also happens to be the place where God promises Abraham that kings will come from him, thus linking the importance of the genealogy with the narratives to follow.
(4) The Chronicler begins his genealogy with Judah (who is not the oldest son) , which reminds the reader of the blessing that Jacob gives to his sons in Genesis 49 in which Judah is said to be the ruling tribe. The preeminence of Judah in the genealogy highlights the role Judah will play in the ensuing narratives.
Albeit brief, these four points help set the stage for the main narratives of Chronicles and its focus on the Davidic king from the line of Judah.
After the genealogies conclude, the Chronicler gives Saul very little attention before moving on to David. Such a treatment is not surprising given the Chronicler’s interest in the tribe of Judah. Unlike in Kings, the Chronicler focuses almost exclusively on the southern kingdom of Judah. Thus, Saul, a Benjaminite, cannot be the one to fulfill or picture the rule of the One who is coming in the line of Judah (Gen 49; 2 Sam 7) to set up an everlasting kingdom, namely the Messiah. After moving on to David, the Chronicler records the Davidic Covenant in 1 Chronicles 17. As we read the Chronicler’s account, we see nearly identical language to that of Samuel, but there is one peculiar absence.
|Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. 9 And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever (2 Sam 7:8-16).||Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be prince over my people Israel, 8 and I have been with you wherever you have gone and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 9 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall waste them no more, as formerly, 10 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will subdue all your enemies. Moreover, I declare to you that the LORD will build you a house. 11 When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. 13 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, 14 but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever (1 Chron 17:7-14).|
Figure 4: Comparison of 2 Sam 7 and 1 Chron 17
One of the more debated questions among Christians regarding the Davidic Covenant is how to handle the highlighted passage in the Samuel account. If this passage is to be fulfilled by Christ, how can we understand this claim? There are several responses given, but regardless of the conclusion, we find that the Chronicler has interpreted the passage for us. By removing the highlighted passage from 2 Samuel 7:14 above, the Chronicler has interpreted the meaning of the covenant to refer to One who is yet to rule. None of the kings that the Chronicler will go on to describe are the Coming One that he anticipates.
Kings of Judah
One of the most noticeable differences between Chronicles and Samuel-Kings is the way that the Chronicler tends to highlight the positive aspects of the rule of some of the “good” kings and leave out their transgressions. He essentially idealizes the kings. The reason for such an approach seems to be directly in line with the purpose of his genealogy and portrayal of the Davidic Covenant: he is anticipating the Messiah. Consequently, the Chronicler gives the longest look to David, and his focus on David is for eschatological reasons. Moreover, the text looks forward to a coming king who will rule forever and David is the king who best epitomizes the coming Messiah. In order to show that the Chronicler does in fact have this messianic picture in mind, we will look at the portrayal of David, Solomon, Hezekiah, and Josiah.
Though David is pictured as a man of God in the book of Kings, the author recounts his three most grievous sins: adultery, murder, and the taking of the census. In Chronicles, the picture of David is much different. The narratives of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband Uriah are absent. The author does retain the narrative of the census, but like the author of Samuel, shows that after the sin he follows it with wisdom: he asks to fall into the hands of the LORD, he intercedes for the people and he obeys the LORD by offering sacrifice on Mount Moriah. Likewise, David does not follow the Torah instructions for carrying the ark when he first tries to move it to Jerusalem, and it costs Uzzah his life. However, after David realizes his mistake, he corrects it and successfully brings the ark to rest in Jerusalem.
The rest of the narrative of David depicts him as a great king and leader who has concern for the ways of the LORD and leads the people in wisdom and truth. Additionally, David plays a greater part in the preparation of the building of the temple than in Samuel. Though he will not be the one to build it because he shed much blood through the taking of the census, he gathers all of the materials and tells Solomon his son what to do.
Moreover, though David passes away in the narrative, the Chronicler continues to idealize his reign throughout by comparing subsequent kings to David. Many are wicked because they do not do what David did, and any who are good have done, at least to some measure, the good that David did. Thus, David is set up as the archetype of the king who rules according to the law and wisdom of the LORD, and yet the Davidic Covenant is to be fulfilled by one of his sons. The Chronicler has thus set up a picture of what the Messiah will be like: He will bring peace, He will rule justly, and He will be greater even than David.
The argument for a messianic theme does not only hinge upon an idealistic portrait of David, however. Solomon is idealized in the text as a picture of what the coming king will be like: he will be a man of peace, he will receive gifts from foreign royalty, and he will be a man of wisdom. Unlike in the book of Kings, Solomon’s many failures as it relates to acquiring many wives, horses from Egypt, and gold for himself are not recounted. Solomon is not pictured as one who is led astray, but one who rules wisely. Solomon’s care for the building and dedication of the temple exceeds any such notion in the Kings account. Nonetheless, though David and Solomon believe the covenant will be fulfilled in Solomon, the Chronicler makes clear through the ensuing narrative that it is not fulfilled. As the narrative progresses, several interesting points arise which lend support to this argument.
Structure of the Book Regarding Ensuing Kings
After Solomon exits the scene, the structure of the book shifts. Whereas David and Solomon received lengthy portraits, 2 Chronicles 10-36 typically contain one small unit per king. However, the four longest units in this section are in regards to Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah. What is intriguing about this break in structure is that each of these four kings is given lengthier portions because they are kings who, for some time at least, were faithful to the LORD. What arises in the narrative, then, is a sort of audition for the one who will keep the commands of the LORD and thus fulfill the role of the king whom God promised David. For the king who is wicked, he is named as such and passes quickly in the narrative. For the king who begins faithfully, he is given an extended look. Let us look, then, at two of these kings who are given an extended look.
One of the first things the reader is told about Hezekiah, after the age and length of his rule and the name of his mother, is that “he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done” (2 Chron 29:2). In what follows, the reader is told that in the first month of the first year of his reign he opened the doors of the temple, repaired them, reinstituted the priests and proclaimed to the people: “Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the LORD, the God of Israel, in order that His fierce anger may turn away from us (2 Chron 29:10). Thus, from the very beginning of Hezekiah’s reign he had a concern for the LORD that manifested itself in his care for the temple, an important theme in Chronicles as we have noticed already in David and Solomon’s rules. He attempts to reunify the tribes of Israel and reinstitutes the Passover.
Again, it is said of Hezekiah:
Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right and faithful before the LORD his God. And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart, and prospered (2 Chron 31:20-21).
However, Hezekiah, after the LORD helps him defeat Senaccherib of Assyria, becomes ill. The LORD restores him to health when Hezekiah prays, but the Chronicler recounts that Hezekiah “did not make return according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud. Therefore wrath came upon him and Judah and Jerusalem” (2 Chron 32:25). Unlike other kings, however, Hezekiah humbles himself after this sin that the wrath of God does not come upon the people during his reign (v. 26).
Josiah is likewise portrayed by the Chronicler as one who purges evil from the land early in his reign. The picture the Chronicler paints of this action is powerful:
And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, and walked in the ways of David his father; and he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet a boy, he began to seek the God of David his father, and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, and the carved and the metal images. And they chopped down the altars of the Baals in his presence, and he cut down the incense altars that stood above them. And he broke in pieces the Asherim and the carved and the metal images, and he made dust of them and scattered it over the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. He also burned the bones of the priests on their altars and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem. And in the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, and as far as Naphtali, in their ruins all around, he broke down the altars and beat the Asherim and the images into powder and cut down all the incense altars throughout all the land of Israel. Then he returned to Jerusalem. (2 Chron 34:2-7)
During Josiah’s reign, while the priests are purifying the temple, they find a book of the law, presumably Deuteronomy, and make it known to Josiah. When Josiah hears the law and how they have not been obeying it, he tears his clothes and institutes immediately the demands of the Law. The Chronicler tells the reader that during the reign of Josiah the people followed the LORD and he instituted the Passover (2 Chron 34:33-35:1). Nevertheless, though Josiah is pictured as greater than any king since David, he neglects to hear the word of the LORD and goes in disguise to war against Neco of Egypt and is killed (2 Chron 35:20-24). After Josiah, it takes only three months for his son Jehoiakim to be defeated by the Egyptians, and Jehoiachin his son is taken captive along with Judah by Nebuchadnezzar. Thus, as the people enter exile, the anticipated king and fulfillment of the covenant with David has not come.
Summary of the Portrayal of the Kings
Though David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah, and others are given an extended look and are presented as pictures of what the rule of the Messiah will be like, nevertheless, in the end he can only fail like past kings. Like Jaques in Shakespeare’s comedy, As You Like It, who says that “All the world’s a stage,” one could view the book of Chronicles as a stage in which the kings “have their exits and entrances” and yet all end the same, in “mere oblivion.” None succeed, and as each king fails to fulfill the conditions of the covenant, it serves to show that the One who will fulfill the conditions is still yet to come.
The Edict of Cyrus and the Conclusion of Chronicles
The final matter to consider in the book of Chronicles is the concluding passage of the book. In 2 Chronicles 36:22-23, the Chronicler recounts the edict of Cyrus:
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, “The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the LORD his God be with him. Let him go up.”
As we come to the end, then, the Chronicler has spent his account portraying the kings of Judah in light of this Messiah. What he finds as he returns from exile is that this One has not come. And yet, though Jerusalem lies in ruins and the king is not on the throne, the line of David has been preserved through exile and the LORD has used a Gentile king to bring about the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. And as the Chronicler concludes, he anticipates one final time the One who will come to rebuild the house of the LORD.
Recalling the Davidic covenant once more, 1 Chronicles 17:12 says, “He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever.” Thus, the One who will “go up” and build the house of the LORD is the One who will establish His throne forever. Chronicles thus ends with a messianic expectation on which the New Testament writers pick up.
William Shakespeare, As You Like It, in The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans and J.J.M. Tobin (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), 415-416.
This connection with the New Testament is even more pronounced in the Hebrew order where Chronicles is the last word of the Old Testament. Thus, Matthew’s word in 1:1 of the genealogy of Jesus Christ is supremely appropriate. The long expected One is introduced immediately in the New Testament by means of a genealogy, the same method employed by the Chronicler to anticipate his coming.