Reflections on 1 Chronicles

I’m reading through the Bible in a year, and every month I post about what I’ve read. Other posts this month shall be on 2 Chronicles, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.

When the OT was translated into Greek, the books of Chronicles were given the title of ‘The Books of Things Left Out’. Their name may have changed, but we still treat them like some appendage to be occasionally mined for exciting material (e.g. the prayer of Jabez).

These books are the last in the Hebrew Bible, and were written in the post-exilic period.  The purpose of Chronicles was to provide a theology of hope for those exiles who had returned to Judah and Jerusalem.

1 Chronicles starts with 9 chapters of genealogies covering human history from Adam to the chronicler’s own time.The chronicler doesn’t give much detail, but he does tell us about Sheerah, a woman who built cities, and of Shaharaim who divorced two of his wives. The question does loom large though: What’s the point? How does this fit in with 2 Timothy 3:16?

One point that can get lost in wading through all those names—and I missed it too—is how the author follows the line of promise. He ignores all the rest of Adam’s sons and focuses on Seth in 1:1. He briefly tells us about Japheth and Ham and their descendants before moving on to Shem. He sketches Abraham’s descendants by Hagar and Keturah before proceeding to Isaac ; he spends some time on Esau and then zooms in on Jacob. It’s like a movie director keeping a firm focus on the main character. [One curious thing I noticed was how the chronicler always called him ‘Israel’ and not ‘Jacob’. The name Jacob only appears in David’s psalm in chapter 16]

And when he gets to Jacob’s descendants, he dwells most on three tribes: Judah, Levi and Benjamin. From Judah came the kingly line and from Levi the priestly line. Benjamin was the only tribe to remain loyal to Judah at the division of the kingdoms. The rest of the book, chapters 10-29, deals almost exclusively with the kingship and the temple.

The account of David as king is bracketed by Saul and Solomon in chapters 10 and 29 respectively. It is repeatedly emphasised that David was king of ‘all Israel’ (11:1, 10; 12:38; 13:5-6; 14:8; 15:3, 28;18:14). Missing from the chronicler’s account are all the negative episodes in David’s life that we read of in Samuel and Kings—no Bathsheba, no Amnon, no Absalom, no Adonijah. It’s not that the author was trying to cover up anything—he doesn’t hesitate to mention David’s sin in conducting a census (chapter 21). Those stories were well-known to his original readers, and he even references where they could be found (29:29-30). The chronicler’s aim was to present the kind of king the post-exilic people of God needed.

The chronicler also gives us a comprehensive picture of the Levites and temple worship (Jewish tradition attributes the book to Ezra, who was a priest). The temple was God’s special place where he met with His covenant people. The priests and Levites were those set apart by God to serve Him, first at the tabernacle (Numbers 3:5-10) and then later at the temple.

The author of Chronicles tells us two things regarding David and the temple worship that we don’t read of elsewhere. First, David reorganises the tasks of the Levites without a direct command from God (1 Chronicles 23:24-32). He contextualises the nomadic worship to a sedentary situation without straying from the principles previously laid down. Second, he is the one who receives the building plans for the temple (chapter 28), just as Moses centuries before.

Back to the questions I asked earlier about the significance of 1 Chronicles to a believer today. One, we can look back and see the King descended from David that the chronicler and his contemporaries longed for. Two, we know of the One who became for us the place where we meet God. Three, we know of Him who is our faithful High Priest. Four, we know that all these roles are fulfilled in one Person: the Lord Jesus Christ. And that’s why Chronicles is relevant to us, and indeed to all God’s people throughout the ages!

Sources: Bible.org, Richard Belcher/ Reformed Theological Seminary, D.A. Carson, Dale Ralph Davis, Mark Dever

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