Friday, October 28
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 the 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.
Saturday, October 29
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 (Revelation 4”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.
Sunday, October 30
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 came 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”!
Monday, October 31
2 Chronicles 6: The darkness of the cloud of the divine presence is thematically linked to Solomon’s 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 , 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)
Tuesday November 1
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 (1 Chronicles 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 fell 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.
Wednesday, November 2
2 Chronicle 8: Having devoted six chapters of this book to what he considered the truly significant aspect of Solomon’s reign—that is, the Temple—the Chronicler spends the next two chapters on the more secular matters of the Solomonic era, such as foreign and domestic policy, trade, and economics.
As he divides his treatment between these two aspects of Solomon’s reign, the Chronicler’s preference for the spiritual concern over the material, we observe, falls into a ratio of about three to one, the spiritual also being treated first. It is instructive to compare this ratio with his treatment of David. In that earlier story, as we have seen, the king’s relationship to the Temple was the final thing recorded of him (a sequence reasonably required the facts), but the Chronicler’s proportion of spiritual concerns (1 Chronicles 15—16 and 22—29) to material (1 Chronicles 11—13 and 17—21) is still weighted significantly on the side of the former.
Inasmuch as the previous six chapters have been devoted to the theme of construction, it seems appropriate that the Chronicler begins his description of the ‘secular’ side of Solomon by speaking of his other building projects in the Holy Land (verses 1-6), a subject that leads naturally to local geography and thence to an account of the pagans who still live in the area (verses 7-8). This subject is tied to Solomon’s domestic policies (verses 9-10), which account reminds the author to mention Solomon’s wife and the palace he built for her. Though this latter building is mentioned in 1 Kings, only the Chronicler explains the project as an effort of keeping this Egyptian woman and her Egyptian retinue from defiling the buildings used by Israelites (verse 11).
After eleven verses of such profane and secular concerns, the Chronicler, as though weary of the subject, reverts once again, albeit briefly, to a further account of Solomon’s liturgical interests (verses 11-16, verses particular to this author).
The chapter closes with the king’s opening of a southern trade route that will join Huram’s great mercantile enterprises to opportunities along the coasts of Arabia and Africa (verses 17-18). This great enterprise, which secular history regards as one of Solomon’s most significant achievements, serves to introduce the Queen of Sheba in the next chapter.
Thursday, November 3
2 Chronicles 9: A quick glance at the map will explain the geopolitical importance of Sheba, that ancient realm which sat on the corner of Arabia formed by the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, guarding the Straits of Bab el Mandeb that joined those two large bodies of water. Thus, all traffic coming south from either the Gulf of Suez or the Gulf of Aqaba (on the north shore of which sat Solomon’s ports of Elath and Ezion Geber—8:17) was effectively controlled by Sheba. Through the Gulf of Aden, moreover, Sheba had access to other great bodies of water, such as the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean—even the Bay of Bengal and beyond. To the immediate west lay the Horn of Africa.
Solomon’s new enterprise in the Gulf of Aqaba served as the link between the great mercantile power of Sheba to the south and, to the north, Phoenicia, where Huram wielded control over the Mediterranean, Aegean, and Black Seas. It seems unlikely, therefore, that the sudden appearance of the Queen of Sheba in the court of Solomon was entirely unrelated to Solomon’s new geopolitical importance.
The Bible barely mentions this consideration, however. What rendered Solomon famous enough to attract a visit from the Queen of Sheba was the monarch’s reputation for wisdom (verse 5). Even on its face, this explanation seems reasonable. Sheba’s mercantile dealings with Jerusalem could be handled adequately through the normal diplomatic channels that tied the world together. A more serious motive must be sought to explain why such a grand person as the Queen of Sheba would visit the king of a much less significant nation; Solomon’s reputation for wisdom provides that motive.
Nor was Her Majesty disappointed in what she found at Jerusalem (verses 6-8). Although the Temple was Solomon’s most singular accomplishment in the capital, there is no hint in the Sacred Text that the Queen of Sheba enjoyed access to it. Indeed, the Chronicler’s earlier comment about Pharaoh’s daughter (8:11) suggests that she did not.
The description of all the rich gifts exchanged by Solomon and the Queen, along with a brief reference to an exchange of gifts with Huram, brings up the subject of Jerusalem’s newfound wealth (verses 13-28). The secular historian will explain this wealth as the fruit of Solomon’s great business acumen, which certainly it was. Humanly speaking, Solomon could not have constructed his new Temple without the vast resources available to him through those enterprises.
The Chronicler, however, correctly perceives a deep significance in Solomon’s wealth. As he will later do in the cases of Hezekiah and Josiah, the Chronicler only speaks of this wealth after telling of the priority of the spiritual over the material in Solomon’s program. Solomon becomes an embodiment of the many other good things that are added to those who first seek the Kingdom of Heaven.
First Chronicles, leaving out the many criticisms implied against Solomon in First Kings, comes to this wise man’s death in 922 (verses 29-31).
Friday, November 4
2 Chronicles 10: This chapter is one of several places where the Chronicler clearly presumes his readers’ familiarity with certain historical facts that he leaves unsaid. Here, for instance, he omits the detailed introduction to Jeroboam found in 1 Kings 11:23-40. If the Chronicler thinks it unimportant to relate those details, it is partly because he can rest assured that his readers already know them. That is to say, he can safely tell this story of the schism of 922 in his own way, because is he can safely presume that the facts of the case are already well known.
With respect to Rehoboam (922-913), the son and successor of Solomon (with whom he shared co-regency from 931), there is not much good to be said. He was almost the perfect example of what the Bible means by the word "fool." Because he was the son of Solomon, Israel's wisest king, furthermore, this foolishness was a matter of irony as well as tragedy. After Solomon's death, this heir to Israel's throne traveled to Schechem, to receive the nation's endorsement as its new ruler (verse 1). The move was especially necessary with respect to Israel's northern tribes, a people touchy about their traditional rights and needing to be handled gently. Even David, we recall, had to be made king twice—first over Judah about the year 1000 (2 Samuel 2:4,10) and then over the north some years later (5:4-5). Those northern tribes, for their part, seemed willing to be ruled by Rehoboam, but they craved assurance that the new king would respect their ancient traditions and customs (verse 4). This is the first time the Chronicler even hints at popular unhappiness with the reign and policies of Solomon. The plaintiffs sought from his son, therefore, a simple pledge that their grievances would be taken seriously in the future. A great deal depended on Rehoboam's answer. The new king apparently took the matter seriously, because he sought advice on what to say. He began by consulting the seniors of the royal court, the very men who had for forty years provided guidance for his father (verse 6). These were the elder statesmen of the realm, those qualified to give the most prudent political counsel. Significantly, these older men urged Rehoboam in the direction of caution and moderation with respect to the northern tribes: “If you are kind to these people, and please them, and speak good words to them, they will be your servants forever” (verse 7).
Rehoboam, nonetheless, eschewing the instruction of his elders, followed the impulses of his younger companions, who encouraged him to stand tough and not let himself be pushed around (verse 8). Indeed, they urged Rehoboam to be insulting and provocative to the petitioners (verse 9-11). Pursuing this foolish counsel, then, he immediately lost the larger part of his kingdom (verses 12-19). As I suggested above, there is great irony here, for it may be said that one of the major practical purposes of the Book of Proverbs, traditionally ascribed to Solomon, was to prevent and preclude exactly the mistake committed by Solomon's son. According to Proverbs, the fool is the man who ignores the counsel of the old and follows the impulses of untried youth. Many a life has been ruined-—and in this case a kingdom lost—because someone preferred the pooled stupidity of his contemporaries to the accumulated wisdom of his elders. Those whose counsel Rehoboam spurned, after all, were not just any old men. They were the very ancients who had provided sound guidance to the man whom the Chronicler regarded as Israel's most sagacious monarch.