Friday, September 30
1 Chronicles 4: We have already remarked that the genealogies in Chronicles are vastly more detailed for the tribes of Judah and Levi than for any of the others. The present chapter (verses 1-23) on the tribe of Judah illustrates the point.
To grasp the historical reason for this emphasis, it is sufficient to reflect that the southern kingdom, the realm of Judah, had an unbroken succession of a single dynasty (the six years of Athaliah’s usurpation being only a blip on the screen) from about 1000 to 587 before Christ. During more than four centuries, beginning in 993, it had its capital in a single city, Jerusalem. This stability and continuity of Judah contributed in no small measure to the better preservation of its historical memory through archived records.
In these respects Judah is to be contrasted with the Northern Kingdom—Israel— which was governed by a series of dynasties, some of them very short, over a period of only two centuries (922-722). Its capital, moreover, did not remain in a single place during that time. Israel’s instability and impermanence are reflected in the relative paucity of its preserved records. Sometimes, indeed, even the identity of individual Israelite kings was lost from the stories about their reigns. For example, 2 Kings 5 does not tell us the name of the Israelite king to whom the Syrian king sent Naaman in order to be cleansed of his leprosy.
In short, the final and dominating perspective of the Old Testament is that of Judah, not the Northern Kingdom. Judah’s own records, therefore, are far better preserved, Judah’s history being more immediate and proximate to the Bible’s composition. Judah, then, and not northern Israel, represents the true continuity of biblical history, and nowhere is this fact more evident than in Chronicles.
Some of the sources cited in this chapter appear to be very old, as the text itself claims (verse 22). Indeed, the expression “to this day” (verses 41,43) seems to refer, not to the time of the Chronicler, but to the period of these older sources that he is citing word-for-word. This is clear from the reference to the Amalekites, who were long gone by the time of the Chronicler.
With respect to Jabez we observe that his name involves a play on words. His mother, we read, bore him in “pain”—jozeb—so his name was derived from a switching around of letters. We also note that the prayer of Jabez, which the Lord heard, was concerned with the avoidance of future pain (verse 10).
The region of Judah contained the least fertile soil in all the Holy Land. Therefore, it does not surprise us that the tribe of Judah, where men may sometimes have felt absolutely desperate as farmers, produced so many craftsmen (verse 14), linen workers (verse 21), and potters. This last group was in the royal employ (verse 23).
Saturday, October 1
1 Chronicles 5: This chapter begins by explaining why Reuben, though Israel’s eldest son, did not inherit nor transmit the right of primogeniture. (In fact, however, throughout the Bible, God’s favorable choice most often seems to fall elsewhere than on the eldest son.) The reasons given here presume the narratives in Genesis 35:22 and 49:4.
Even while admitting the transferal of Israel’s birthright to Joseph, the Chronicler feels compelled to mention that Judah was the strong tribe that produced the leader (nagid) of God’s people (v. 2; the same word is used in 2 Samuel 7:8).
Dealing with Reuben’s settlements east of the Jordan and Dead Sea (v. 8) apparently prompts the author’s mind to remain in that general location and to discuss the tribe of Gad (vv. 11–17) and the half-tribe of Manasseh (vv. 23–24), which also settled in Gilead and Bashan. This sequence interrupts the author’s pattern of adhering to lists of the sons as they appear in Genesis 46:16 or Numbers 26:15–18.
The mention of Sharon in verse 16 is most mysterious, because the Plain of Sharon is nowhere near that area.
In verse 17 the author traces his source material to a census made in the mid-eighth century.
This chapter has two notices of wars against the Hagrites, Arabian groups living east of the Jordan, one in the late eleventh century (v. 10) and one at an apparently later period (vv. 19–20). The Hagrites, twice defeated, were hardly destroyed. We find them later in the Greek writers Strabo and Ptolemy and the Latin author Pliny.
Some elements in this account suggest a source as early as the ninth century. For example, we know the towns of Aroer, Baalmeon, and Nebo (v. 8) fell under Moabite control during that century.
The chapter’s closing verses (25–26) indicate the irony that these eastern tribes, victorious in war by God’s favor, nonetheless succumbed to the religion of those whom they defeated. This explains their massive deportation by Tiglath-Pileser in 734. (The material here is drawn from 2 Kings 15:19, 29; 17:6; 18:11.) Thus, an Assyrian emperor is portrayed as an instrument in the hand of the supreme Lord of history.
This chapter hints at God’s use of world history to chasten His own people. In biblical times He accomplished this through the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans. In later times the Lord has done this through such instruments as the Huns, the Goths, the Saracens, the Seljuks, the Ottomans, and the Bolsheviks.
Sunday, October 2
1 Chronicles 6: As the previous chapter spoke of the Assyrian Tiglath-Pileser as God’s historical instrument against the Northern Kingdom (5:26), so the present chapter once again sees the hand of God at work in Judah’s own exile to Babylon (v. 15). This perspective reveals the author’s theology of history.
In the section on the Levites (vv. 16–30) the most notable feature is the author’s inclusion of Elkanah and his son Samuel in the Levitical line (vv. 23–26). This section throws light on the beginning of 1 Samuel, which describes Elkanah’s family as Ephraimite. From the present text it is clear that Elkanah’s was a Levitical family living in the territory of Ephraim. Since the Levites were deliberately spread around among the various tribes, this is not surprising.
The listing of the Levitical singers (vv. 31–48) is unusually detailed, suggesting that the author had access to more ample source material for this section. It is not unreasonable, in fact, to think that the Chronicler may have had recourse to memories, and perhaps even written archives, handed down in his own family.
David, whom we otherwise know to have taken a particular interest in music (1?Samuel 16:18–23; 2?Samuel 1:17–27), is credited with the inspiration and organization of Israel’s program of liturgical music (v. 31).
The Chronicler comes back to this thesis repeatedly (15:16, 27; 25:1; 2?Chronicles 29:26; Nehemiah 12:46), and we might suspect as much from the Book of Psalms.
Although Korah was punished for rebellion against Aaron (Numbers 16:16), his descendants (v. 37) served as Levitical musicians and are credited with compiling some of the Book of Psalms (42—49, 84—88). The Asaph in verse 39 is also well known in the Psalms (73—83).
The Zadokites, the descendants of Zadok (v. 53), became the chief priestly family at the time of David, who is the true hero of the Books of Chronicles. Although it is clear in 2?Samuel that Zadok was the chief priest at that period, only Chronicles (vv. 49–53) provides us with his earlier lineage.
In the New Testament the Zadokites are called “Sadducees.” They were leaders among those who rejected David’s final Heir, a tragedy that clearly would have distressed the Chronicler.
The Levites were not given a special tribal portion of the Holy Land like the other tribes, but were dispersed throughout the tribes, so that the latter would benefit from their priestly ministry (vv. 54–81). In addition, the Levites were allotted specific cities among the tribes, the first being the ancient shrine of Hebron (v. 55), which was also appointed as a city of refuge (v. 57). Indeed, we observe that all the major cities of the Holy Land—except Jerusalem—were designated as priestly cities: Debir, Bethshemesh, Anathoth, Shechem, Gezer, Aijalon, Golan, Ramoth (both of them), Kadesh, Tabor, and so forth.
Monday, October 3
1 Chronicles 7: Although our author has no interest in the Northern Kingdom as a political entity, he does preserve for us a considerable record of the early history of the northern tribes, in which his interest is consistently sharp.
Indeed, even though the material available to him must have been sparse, the Chronicler seems to have used it all, because there are details in the present chapter not to be found elsewhere in Holy Scripture.
The Chronicler used what records he had. For some of these tribes (Naphtali, for instance) the author had hardly more at his disposal than the lists in Genesis 46 and Numbers 26. Many census records of the Northern Kingdom had perished at Israel’s fall to the Assyrians in 722.
The specific details of the tribe of Issachar (vv. 1–7) come from Genesis 46:13 and Numbers 26:23–25. The numbers given here, however, are quite a bit higher than those indicated in the census of Numbers 1 and 26.
After this outline of the northern tribes, the author is ready to speak of the tribe of Benjamin, situated on the border between the north and the south in the Holy Land. Since Benjamin is the tribe of Saul, Israel’s first king, the author will use this treatment to move from pure listing to a narrative of the kingdom, which David will assume in due course. The next chapter will begin, therefore, with the list of the Benjaminites.
Luke 10:38-42: Mary is contrasted with her (probably older) sister Martha, the latter being described as “distracted with much serving” and “worried and troubled about many things.” One of the reasons Martha was so busy—or at least Martha thought so—was that Mary was not helping her in the kitchen and at table. So she approached Jesus with the request, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” And just what was Mary doing that Martha found so inadequate? Well, she “sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.” It seems evident that Martha took her sister’s more quiet activity to be either a sign of, or an excuse for, laziness.
By way of response, Jesus corrected not Mary, but Martha. He even pointed to the superiority of Mary’s peaceful occupation, claiming that she “has chosen that better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Tuesday, October 4
1 Chronicles 8: The initial list given in the present text (vv. 1–28) is drawn partly from Genesis 46:21 and Numbers 26:38–40, but there are discrepancies. Indeed, no other part of Chronicles is so full of textual difficulties as this section. Someone has suggested—and the suggestion is plausible—that the ancient scribes, having copied out seven whole chapters containing almost nothing but names, were suffering from unusual fatigue and ennui! Hence, we have an unusual number of transcriptional errors. Perhaps so, but there is really nothing to be done about it. The various hypothetical emendations suggested by textual scholars seem rather shaky. We must resign ourselves to a bit of unavoidable obscurity in this chapter.
We recognize Ehud (v. 6) as the left-handed judge from this right-handed (ben-jamini) tribe (Judges 3:12–30).
Jerusalem, now introduced in verses 28 and 32, will be treated at length in the following chapter.
Although the author’s intent in verses 29–40 was to present Saul’s ancestry and lineage, the method is not direct or straightforward. After presenting Jeiel (cf. 9:5) and his progeny, he moves to Saul’s immediate family, which does not seem to be connected to Jeiel. Even the relationships portrayed here among Abner, Kish, Ner, and Saul are difficult to reconcile with 1?Samuel 14:50–51. We must bear in mind—for certainly the author of 1?Chronicles bore in mind—that this was the family that was ultimately rejected and replaced by David’s.
For all that, the Chronicler himself seems to have been faithful to very old sources here, sources independent of 2?Samuel. We may illustrate this by his retention of the name of the pagan god “Baal” in two of the names given here, Ethbaal and Meribbaal (vv. 33–34). This is curious and historically significant. In 2?Samuel (2:8; 9:2) these names were changed to Ishbosheth and Mephibosheth.
Why the change in 2 Samuel and not in 2 Chronicles? The answer tells us something of canonical history: Second Samuel is contained in the second section of the Hebrew Bible, the Nebiwim, or “Prophets.” These books were regularly read in the synagogue. Reluctant to use the name of a pagan god, Baal, in the synagogue, the reader customarily changed the name to bosheth, meaning “shame.” This practice led to the same change being made in the text itself. There was no need to make such a change in the Books of Chronicles, however, which are found in the third section of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Ketubim, or “Writings.” This section was not placed in the biblical canon until later, and Chronicles was not read publicly in the synagogue. Hence, Chronicles has preserved the old form of these two names.
Wednesday, October 5
1 Chronicles 9: We have now completed the genealogies of “all Israel.” For the Chronicler this expression is full of deep religious feeling, as when it serves to describe the religious reforms of King Hezekiah three centuries later (2?Chronicles 30:1, 5).
As we have seen, the author of Chronicles was careful to treat last the tribe of Benjamin and the house of Saul among the sons of Israel, because this sequence permitted him to move almost seamlessly from mere lists to real narrative. Likewise, this order makes it an easy step for him now to go to Jerusalem, which sat on the southern border of the tribe of Benjamin.
Jerusalem had not been part of the land conquered by the twelve tribes at the time of Joshua. It remained a Canaanite (or, more specifically, a Jebusite) stronghold until taken by David’s forces in 992 BC and made the capital of the united kingdom (2?Samuel 5:6–7). This is why we find Jerusalem, unlike the other cities of the Promised Land, inhabited by Israelites from several of the tribes (v. 3).
Because the Ark of the Covenant was transferred to Jerusalem shortly after it became David’s capital, the city was quickly transformed into a religious center, a whole generation before Solomon’s construction of the temple there. Hence, it is scarcely surprising that the capital was home to a high number of priests, Levites, and other liturgical ministers (vv. 10–22).
The Chronicler describes their several responsibilities (vv. 23–34). In this inventory he gives special prominence to the temple’s musicians (vv. 14–16), who are listed immediately after the priests (vv. 10–13). The Chronicler leaves no doubt about his great respect for the ministry of the Jerusalem choir. Its leaders (6:39; 16:14) were Asaph (v. 15) and Jeduthun (v. 16).
The gatekeepers, especially delegated to preserve holiness within the temple, were to emulate that great champion of Israel’s holiness, the priest Phineas (v. 20).
All is now prepared for the narrative proper. The priests and Levites are in place; the Ark of the Covenant has been introduced; the choir is ready. It is time to start.
Thursday, October 6
1 Chronicles 10: The chapter opens abruptly. After all the genealogies, lists, rosters, and schedules of the previous nine chapters, the reader is suddenly confronted with a story of combat, in which the whole battle is over in one verse: “Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell slain on Mount Gilboa.”
There is no need, however, to ascribe the first nine chapters to a different hand, as some have suggested. Indeed, there are two sound reasons to resist this hypothetical ascription. First, the ideas, themes, and preoccupations of those first nine chapters are identical to those in the rest of Chronicles. Second, if the opening of the present chapter seems abrupt, it would hardly appear less abrupt as the beginning of a book!
Following a pattern we have now come to expect, the Chronicler has nothing good to say for Saul. The latter’s sole significance was that his downfall prepared the way for David. Consequently, the book’s actual narrative commences with Saul’s downfall at the battle of Gilboa, bringing Saul’s twenty years’ of reign to an end. Although the wounded Saul died by his own hand, it was really the Lord who slew him (v. 14).
Saul is condemned for his “unfaithfulness” (v. 13). The Chronicler uses this same word (ma’al) to explain why the nation was deported to Babylon (9:1; 2?Chronicles 36:14), and he will employ it to describe the later reigns of Ahaz (28:19; 29:19) and Manasseh (33:19).
Thus, Saul’s unfaithfulness is, for the Chronicler, part of the larger theme of the nation’s unfaithfulness.
The assertion that all of Saul’s family perished (v. 7) must be understood in a sense compatible with the subsequent seven years’ reign of Ishbosheth in the north (2?Samuel 2—3) and the survival of Mephibosheth (9:7; 16:3). Perhaps the Chronicler intends to include here the deaths of those men years later. In fact, he has already listed other sons of Saul in 9:39–40.
Even though the Chronicler has nothing good to say for Saul, he does record the fact that some of Saul’s contemporaries took a different view (v. 12).
The Chronicler’s negative account of Saul is important to his history as a whole, because it serves as a contrast to the Lord’s choice of David. In the Bible there is no such thing as history without “election.”
It is the Lord’s “election” that gives structure and substance to history. Otherwise the deeds of men are simply an amorphous blob, of which they can make no reliable sense. Without the true Lord of History, a Lord who makes choices and assigns vocations, human history is as formless as a jungle.
Friday, October 7
1 Chronicles 11: The Chronicler greatly abbreviates the lengthy, difficult, and complicated story of David’s gaining control over all the tribes. We note that the material in the first four chapters of 2?Samuel is simply missing. There is no mention of the brief reign of Ishbosheth, the crisis of Abner, the subsequent negotiations, and Joab’s hand in Abner’s death.
Instead, the story skips immediately to the gathering of the tribes at Hebron (David’s first capital, prior the capture of Jerusalem) to make David the king. There is no suggestion that Israel was politically divided between north and south (a division that would reappear at Solomon’s death in 922). Indeed, in place of “all the tribes of Israel” in 2?Samuel 5:1, we now have simply “all Israel” in verse 1. That is to say, the nation is completely united; even the tribal distinctions are lost. Thus, Jerusalem is captured by “David and all Israel” (v. 4).
Having thus described David’s rise to power and the taking of Jerusalem in a bare nine verses of narrative, the Chronicler returns to what we have begun to suspect he does best: he provides more lists of names!
This time, however, the lists are in large part derived from 2?Samuel 23:8–39.
First, there are David’s “three mighty men” (vv. 10–14). Since only two names are given, however, we might suspect that Joab, treated in the previous verses, was to be understood as included among them. It is more plausible, however, to suspect a copyist’s omission, since the name given in 2?Samuel 23:11 is Shammah.
Second, there is a list of thirty other warriors of renown (vv. 20– 47). Whereas the corresponding list in 2?Samuel ends with Uriah the Hittite, the Chronicler adds several names more (vv. 41–47). Since these men appear to come predominantly from the east side of the Jordan, we may presume that the Chronicler received their names from a Transjordanian source not available to the author of Samuel.
Such lists of combatants reflect the period when much combat was hand to hand. In our own times, when weapons are employed from great distances, it is difficult to imagine the impression of ongoing hand-to-hand combat. Indeed, Shelby Foote, the preeminent historian of the Civil War, remarked that that war produced relatively few casualties from the bayonet; most wounds were inflicted by gunfire at a distance. In very ancient accounts of combat, however, such as that between David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 and many places in Homer, the reader sometimes has the impression that any given battle was just a series of private fights between individuals. These biblical lists of warriors reflect that same setting. In fact, even Josephus, writing during the period of the New Testament, saw no reason to include these lists.