Friday, October 20

1 Chronicles 29: It is both interesting and profitable to compare the instructions that David gives Solomon near the end of 1 Chronicles with the instructions that this same David gives to this same Solomon in 1 Kings 2:1-9. In the Kings account David commends certain irreproachable moral instructions to Solomon (1 Kings 21:14) and then goes on to recommend the killing of Joab and the punishing of Shimei (21:5-6,8-9). In the Chronicles account, on the other hand, David goes to great length instructing Solomon with respect to the Temple, its priesthood, and its worship. The differences between the two stories are . . . . well, striking.

Similarly, here in the Chronicler’s narrative of the submission of Solomon’s brothers to their new king here (verse 24) he leaves out the more colorful account found in 1 Kings 1:5-49. Such details, for the Chronicler, would constitute something of a distraction from his chosen theme.

David, in his final charge to the nation, summons the people to be generous for the construction of the Temple (verses 1-5). His words are modeled on the similar charge that Moses gave to the Israelites with respect to the tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus 35:4-19).

In his choice of words descriptive of those ancient events, the Chronicler employs terms characteristic of the Persian period during which he is writing. Thus, one of the terms that he uses in reference to the Temple is birah, a Persian word meaning “palace” (verses 1,19). Nowhere else in the Bible is the Temple called by that name, though we do find the expression rather often, in its usual and secular sense, in this and other works from the Persian and Greek periods (2 Chronicles 17:12; 27:4; Nehemiah 1:1; 2:8; 7:2; Esther 1:2,5; 2:3,5,8; 3:15; 8:14; 9:6:,11,12; Daniel 8:2).

In like fashion, the wealth given for the construction of the Temple is measured by its equivalent in the golden coins of Persia, the ’adarkanim (“darics” in the RSV—verse 7). The use of such expressions rendered the Chronicler’s story more intelligible to his contemporaries.

The rich theology of the Chronicler is perhaps nowhere or more explicit than in David’s closing prayer (verses 10-19), a solemn liturgical blessing that epitomizes God’s true worship at all times. At the heart of this prayer is the mystery of the Temple. It is prayer, after all, that makes a temple a temple, and David’s blessing here contains the sentiments of humility of that other man who, having prayed in the Temple with humility, went down to his house more justified than the other (verse 14; Luke 18:9-14).

The Chronicler names three literary sources for his description of the reign of David (verse 29). The only one of these three sources still extant is the Books of Samuel and 1 Kings. The other material found in the Books of Chronicles, we presume, must be attributed to those sources that have not otherwise come down to us.

The major contribution of the Chronicler, as compared with the Books of Samuel, is all the extensive material relative to David’s preparation for the Temple and its worship. Samuel devotes 77 verses to David’s liturgical concerns, whereas here in 1 Chronicles there are 323 verses devoted to this theme.

This difference of Chronicles from the Books of Samuel and Kings is not only material, it is also formal. That is to say, it pertains not only to what was written, but also to why it was written. The Chronicler had in mind to portray David as a man of worship more than a political and military figure. In this respect David most resembles Moses.

This view of David is based on the Chronicler’s view of biblical history. The history of Israel, for this writer, is the history of worship. It is Israel’s worship, therefore, that defines the Chronicler’s historical perspective.

Saturday, October 21

2 Chronicles 1: This book was originally the second half of single work, known in Hebrew as “the words of the days,” meaning “history.” Since, however, Hebrew does not, strictly speaking, have vowel letters, the book is quite a bit shorter in Hebrew than in Greek. Thus, when the work was translated into the latter language in the third century before Christ, the greater number of letters rendered the book too bulky to be transcribed onto a single scroll. Hence, it was divided into two parts, as we have it now. The present work, therefore, is a strict continuation of 1 Chronicles.

Accordingly, as in David’s last public appearance (1 Chronicles 28-29), Solomon is surrounded by “all Israel” (verse 2). Describing the new king’s pilgrimage to Gibeon, the Chronicler goes into greater detail, including elements not found in Kings (verses 3b-6a) that emphasize the continuity of Solomon’s novus ordo with the ancient institutions of Moses.

In a sense the new king was morally obliged to make this pilgrimage because of the veneration widely and deeply felt toward the Mosaic tabernacle, now about three hundred years old, and the ancient bronze altar made by Bezalel (Exodus 31 & 38). Solomon’s pilgrimage to this traditional gathering place of the tribes signified that the new Temple, which he will soon undertake to build, represented no break from Israel’s inherited worship.

Josephus, in spite of the combined testimonies of both Kings and Chronicles, places this event at Hebron. He also adds the amusing detail that when the Lord spoke to Solomon—in a dream in Kings but in a vision in Chronicles—the king “jumped out of bed” (Antiquities 8.2.1.). Well, yes, I suppose that does make sense.

Solomon, in response to the Lord’s offer to give him whatever he wanted (verse 7), requested only spiritual goods, not military conquest or worldly power. He besought the Lord for the wisdom (verse 10) that became the trait for which he is best remembered in Holy Scripture and in the minds of believers ever since.

Nonetheless, because Solomon’s reign was also a time of economic prosperity, the Chronicler could hardly remain silent about the king’s mercantile skills (verses 14-17). Solomon, then, seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, discovered that all these other things had been added to him as well. Even in this respect, however, the Chronicler, inspired by another view of what is really important in history, omits many of the details about Solomon’s wealth found in 1 Kings.

All these matters now being settled, the Chronicler is ready to get to the really important part of the story, the construction of the Temple.

Sunday, October 22

2 Chronicles 2: Solomon’s great building project begins.

As though the fact were an afterthought barely mentioned in just two Hebrew words, we are told that Solomon also planned “a house for his kingdom” (verse 1; 1:18 in the traditional Hebrew text). This latter construction, which served for governmental administration as well as Solomon’s residence, required elaborate planning and labor over a period of thirteen years (1 Kings 7:1-12). Once again, however, as in the case of David, the Chronicler is relatively uninterested in this political and worldly aspect of Solomon’s reign. In the eyes of this writer, the historical importance of Solomon had to do entirely with the Temple and what took place there.

Writing long after the worldly prestige and power of the Davidic monarchy had disappeared from the geopolitical scene, the Chronicler was not disposed to dwell on the worldly grandeur of Solomon’s reign. All of that was gone. What, then, asked the Chronicler, was Solomon’s real historical significance? What was the true, important legacy of his reign? It was the Temple, the institutional provision for the worship of God. In this effort lay the genuine greatness of Solomon. This was the authentic work of the wisdom with which the Lord endowed him (verse 12).

This significance is expressed in detail and at length in Solomon’s letter to Huram (Hiram in 1 Kings), which the Chronicler employs to elaborate the theology that the Temple will embody. This letter, along with Huram’s response, goes to the heart of the matter.

The Temple, first of all, will not “contain” God in the sense of being his adequate residence. Although the Lord’s “Name” will dwell there (verse 4; cf. 1 Chronicles 28:3; 29:16), the house itself is properly intended for man’s worship of Him (verses 4b-7, with no parallel in 1 Kings).

God Himself, after all, cannot be enclosed in space. Even the highest heaven, the place of that true tabernacle not made with hands, is unable to contain the One that made it (verse 6). Such was the new king’s conviction, and if he adopted any other attitude toward his work, Solomon’s very Temple would have become only a more subtle form of worldliness.

The reply of Huram (especially verses 11-12) should be read as the Gentiles’ proper response to Solomon’s plan. In the full context of biblical history and revelation, Huram and Huramabi (verse 13) foreshadow the Magi and all other generation of Gentiles that will come with their gifts to worship the God of David and Solomon. Huram here plays Cornelius to Solomon’s Peter.

Proper to understand this correspondence, then, we should read Solomon’s letter rather like we read those of the Apostle Paul—as a proclamation of the Gospel to the nations. Huram’s letter, in turn, is the faithful response to that proclamation.

Later on, in Luke’s narrative of the apostolic mission to the Gentiles, Stephen’s famous sermon on the significance of the Temple will serve as a sort of manifesto.

Monday, October 23

2 Chronicles 3: This chapter is the only place in Holy Scripture where the site of the Temple is identified as Mount Moriah (verse 1), the place where Abraham took Isaac to be sacrificed (Genesis 22:2). This is no incidental detail. By introducing this connection of the Temple to that distant event, not only does the Chronicler subtly indicate the new Temple’s continuity with the distant patriarchal period, he also provides his readers with a very rich theme of theology.

The ancient scene on Mount Moriah is the Bible’s first mention of a “substitutionary sacrifice.” Abraham and Isaac, father and son, climb the mountain of sacrifice (Genesis 22:6). In the enigmatic conversation between the two climbers (22:7-8), the attentive Bible-reader perceives a rich mystery concealed in Abraham’s reply that “God Himself will provide the victim for the sacrifice.” The Chronicler’s mention of Moriah in the present chapter shows his awareness that Abraham’s words are prophetic of the many Paschal lambs sacrificed in Temple (Exodus 12:1-28) in substitution for Israel’s sons (Exodus 34:20).

Isaac himself, we recall, said nothing in reply (22:9-10). Indeed, Isaac remained entirely silent after Abraham spoke. He was like a lamb led to the slaughter that opens not his mouth (Isaiah 53:7). In his sacrificial silence, Isaac bore in himself the mystery of the Temple and its worship.

We discern this mystery in the victim substituted for Isaac, the ram caught by its horns. This is the Bible’s first instance of a “substitution” made in the matter of sacrifice. This ram caught in the bush foreshadows, first of all, the paschal lamb of the Mosaic Covenant, which would be slaughtered on behalf of Israel’s firstborn sons on the night of the Exodus. In Genesis 22, then, we are dealing with the Bible’s earliest configuration of a category important in biblical soteriology. The paschal lambs, offered in Solomon’s Temple over the centuries, were all prefigured by that earlier event on Mount Moriah.

The Christian will, of course, perceive this mystery in its fullness. The Apostle Paul appealed to this category of “substitution” when he wrote that God “did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). Echoing this text from Romans, Irenaeus of Lyons wrote: “Abraham, according to his faith, adhered to the command of God’s Word, and with a ready mind delivered up, as a sacrifice to God, his only-begotten and beloved son, in order that God also might be pleased to offer up, for all his seed, His own beloved and only-begotten Son, as a sacrifice for our redemption” (Against the Heresies 4.5.4).

Hence, Isaac carrying the wood up the sacrificial hill has always signified to Christian readers-at least since a paschal homily of Melito of Sardis in the second century-the willingness of God’s own Son to take up the Cross and carry it to the place of immolation.

Tuesday, October 24

2 Chronicles 4: We come now to the furnishings of the Temple. It will have, first of all, a brazen altar, mizbach nechosheth, the counterpart of the Mosaic altar at Gibeon (verse 1; 1:6; Exodus 38:30), but larger.

In front of this altar will stand a large basin with a diameter of roughly seventeen feet, calculated to hold ten thousand gallons of water (verses 2,5). Indeed, Rabbinical commentators believed that the priests, who used it for bathing (verse 6), completely immersed themselves in it. The water in this basin was also dipped out to clean the sacrificial animals (verse 7).

A “sea” this basin was called, a name that Josephus ascribes to the sheer size of the thing (Antiquities 8.3.5), but an object so large and with so suggestive a name is not long in assuming a more complex symbolism. Solomon’s sea seems to symbolize those primeval waters of Creation, over which the Spirit of God hovered at the beginning of Genesis.

These two appointments of the Temple, the altar and the sea, both have their counterparts in that heavenly tabernacle made without hands: the golden altar on which are offered the prayers of the saints (Revelation 6:9; 8:3-5; 9:13; 11:1; 14:18; 16:7), and the glassy sea (Revelatoin4”6; 15:2), near which gather the twenty-four ancients that symbolize the twenty-four divisions of the priesthood (Revelation 4:4; 1 Chronicles 24:1-19).

Solomon’s ten lamp stands, of course, will provide the illumination necessary in an area largely cut off from daylight (verse 7; 1 Kings 7:49). Presumably they will be placed on the ten serving tables (verse 8), but that is not certain. According to Josephus, whom we suspect of getting a bit carried away on the matter, places the number of candlesticks at ten thousand! He further ascribes that high number to an injunction from Moses (Antiquities 8.3.7), but this point is not so obvious in Holy Scripture.

The aforesaid ten tables will also, it would seem, hold the numerous smaller vessels and implements necessary to the sacrificial ritual (verses 11,16,22).

Only the Chronicler mentions that the showbread was placed on multiple tables (verse 20; 1 Chronicles 28:16).

The Temple area will be divided into courts, each having its own specific accessibility. The “great court,” an outer court, will be available to all that were “distinguished from the rest by being pure and observant of the laws” (Josephus, Antiquities 8.3.9), whereas the smaller court will be reserved for priests (verse 9). The later, post-exilic Temple will be even further divided.

Wednesday, October 25

2 Chronicles 5: While the building of the Temple must be credited to Solomon, the Chronicler neglects no opportunity to mention that David had already prepared its inner furnishings, appointments, and sacred vessels (verse 1). These are now to be transported to the new Temple with an elaborate procession, which will include a large number of Levitical singers and musicians (12).

These ceremonies took place in Israel’s seventh month (verse 3), corresponding to our central autumnal season. Since the Temple itself would not be completed until a month later (1 Kings 6:38), we surmise that Solomon wanted these various appointments, especially the Ark of the Covenant, to be in place as early as possible, even before the finishing touches were made on the Temple. Indeed, if similar examples from our own times may be invoked to illustrate the setting, it is possible that Solomon intended the events in this chapter to serve as an extra nudge on the Temple builders to hustle things up a bit.

Prior to the procession to the Temple, the traditional heads and representatives of the tribes assembled at the tabernacle that David had constructed in Jerusalem (verse 2), and for the last time sacrifices were offered in this place (verse 6).

Although the Levites removed the Ark from the Davidic tabernacle (verse 4), it was the task of the priests to carry it into the inner shrine of the Temple, called “the Holy of Holies” (verse 7), which only the priests were permitted to enter.

We should not read this chapter as simply the narrative of the Chronicler, because in some places he seems simply to be copying out an earlier narrative, to which his own account strives to be faithful. In these cases the Chronicler’s story line reflects, not his own period, but that of his earlier source. We have a clear example of this when the Chronicler writes of the Ark’s carrying handles that “they are there to this day” (verse 9). This latter statement certainly does not refer to the Chronicler’s own time, long after Solomon’s Temple had been destroyed (and replaced), but to the time of the pre-exilic source that the Chronicler is quoting.

Respecting the contents of the Ark, the Chronicler specifies that it held only the two tablets of the Decalogue (verse 10; Deuteronomy 10:2). This reference, too, reflects a particular period in Israel’s history, difficult to identify. We do know that, at least at some time during that history, the Ark contained “the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant” (Hebrews 9:2; cf. Numbers 17:25).

The service and procession ended with the outpouring of the cloud of the divine glory, which sanctified the event (verses 13-14). Josephus (Antiquities 8.4.2) describes the experience:

“Now as soon as the priests had put all things in order about the ark, and were gone out, there cane down a thick cloud, and stood there, and spread itself, after a gentle manner, into the temple; such a cloud it was as was diffused and temperate, not such a rough one as we see full of rain in the winter season. This cloud so darkened the place, that one priest could not discern another, but it afforded to the minds of all a visible image and glorious appearance of God’s having descended into this temple, and of his having gladly pitched his tabernacle therein.”

This spiritualized account of the matter is infinitely more satisfactory than the comment of one modern biblical scholar, according to whom this “blinding cloud” came “doubtless from the censers”!

Thursday, October 26

2 Chronicles 6: The darkness of the cloud of the divine presence is thematically linked to Solomon consecratory prayer that fills this chapter. The Temple, this “exalted house” in which God’s “name” (verses 6,7,9,10,20) dwells forever (verse 2), is associated with that mysterious cloud by which He guided His people through the passage of the Red Sea and the Desert of Sinai (verse 1). The cloud on Mount Sinai becomes the cloud on Mount Zion (cf. Exodus 20:21; Hebrews 12:21).

For purposes of analysis, we may divide Solomon’s prayer into four major parts.

The first part is a benediction, a blessing of the Lord God of Israel(baruch Adonai ’Elohei Isra’el–verse 4), in which the king also “blessed the whole assembly of Israel” (wayebarek ’eth kol qahal Isra’el–verse 3). That is to say, Israel is blessed in the act of blessing God.

This benediction concentrates on the promise that God made to David respecting His “house” (bayith–verses 7,9,10).

This House is associated with three covenants. First, there is the covenant with Abraham, already indicated by its construction on the very site of Abraham’s sacrifice (3:1) and quietly suggested here by Solomon’s reference to the command that that ancient patriarch received from the Lord (verse 14; Genesis 17:1). Next, there is the covenant of Mount Sinai mediated through Moses at the time of the Exodus (verse 5) and enshrined in the Ark of the Covenant (verse 11. Finally, the Temple is associated with the Lord’s covenant with David (verse 10).

These latter two covenants are again tied together in the closing lines of the prayer (verses 41-42), which indicate the indissoluble bond between the Ark of the Covenant and the throne of David. The Chronicler well knew that both institutions suffered the same fate in the summer of 587, when the Babylonians razed the Temple and abolished the monarchy.

The second part of Solomon’s prayer, in which he turns toward the altar, kneeling and spreading his arms in prayer (verses 12-13, lines proper to the Chronicler), again invokes the Davidic covenant and prays for its confirmation (verses 15-17). Specifically Solomon prays that the new Temple will be a sort of gathering place for all the prayers offered, from any part of the world, in its direction (verses 18-21; Daniel 6:10; 9:19).

In the third section of his prayer (verses 22-39), Solomon runs through a list of hypothetical situations of distress in which God’s servants may at any time find themselves. (Compare Psalms 106 [107], with its repeated instances of such prayer, along with its double refrain, “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress” and “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of men!” (ESV)

Friday, October 27

2 Chronicles 7: The Lord’s fiery response to Solomon’s prayer (verse 1) caused those gathered at the Temple to fall prostrate in worship and praise (verse 3). One recalls that when the prayer of Elijah brought sacrificial fire from heaven, the response of the onlookers was identical (1 Kings 18:36-39).

The descent of the divine fire to consume the initial sacrifices in the Temple is not mentioned in Holy Scripture except in Chronicles, which also noted the same miracle when David earlier offered sacrifices on that very site, Ornan’s threshing floor (1Chronicles 21:26). In Leviticus (9:24) the same miracle sealed the consecration of Aaron.

In pursuit of one of his usual themes, only the Chronicler mentions the musical ministry that accompanied these dedicatory sacrifices in the Temple (verse 6).

It seems that this autumnal celebration, which lasted a whole octave (verse 8), finished on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, which also lasted an octave (verse 9; Leviticus 23:36). The account in Chronicles thus clarifies an obscurity about the length of the celebration in 1 Kings 8:65-66).

Perhaps it would have been a distraction to the Chronicler to mention that Yom Kippur also feel during the octave of the Temple’s dedication (cf. Numbers 29:7), or perhaps the feast was simply moved or omitted that year. Liturgical custom has known such things.

The Lord, as though in response to all this celebration, again appeared to Solomon by night, to confirm and qualify His earlier promises to David (verses 11-22; 1 Kings 9:1-9). In those verses that are proper to the Chronicler (verses 12b-15), the Temple is called “a house of sacrifice, an expression suggesting two things.

First, the prayers associated with the Temple, to the subject of which so much of the previous chapter was devoted, were not to be disassociated from the sacrificial ritual proper to the Temple. In fact, as we earlier reflected, the times of the evening and morning sacrifices in the Temple became the normal hours of daily prayer for those who worshipped elsewhere. It is a plain fact, asserted in both Testaments, that we sinful men do not draw nigh unto God apart from the shedding of blood, without which there is no remission.

Second, Jerusalem was the proper place for sacrifice. This truth was to become a principle of liturgical reform later on in the reigns of Hezekiah and Josiah, who endeavored to close down all other places of sacrifice.