Friday, October 21
1 Chronicles 25: More than one commentator on Holy Scripture, observing the Chronicler’s partiality toward the Levitical singers (1 Chronicles 15:16-22; 16:4-42; 2 Chronicles 15:12-13; 29:27-30; cf. Ezra 3:10; Nehemiah 12:27), has suggested that the writer himself may have been numbered among them.
Corresponding to the twenty-four courses of the officiating priests, the Chronicler now introduces us to an equal number of groups of Temple musicians.
Particularly to be noted in this chapter is the ease with which the Chronicler associates music with prophecy. Thus, the musicians are said to “prophesy with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals” (verse 1), and the author speaks of “their father Jeudthun, who prophesied with the lyre in thanksgiving and praise to the Lord” (verse 3).
Earlier, in Chapter 15, we observed that the very expression “to lift up the voice” suggested that music was a ‘burden’ of some kind. Indeed, the word employed there, massa’, which comes from the root ns’ (“to lift”), also means “oracle.” So often in the prophetic writings we find the expression “the burden of the Lord” in the sense of a prophetic statement.
No one in antiquity questioned the relationship between prophecy and music, not even Saul (cf. 1 Samuel 10:5). It was not unknown, “when the musician played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him” (2 Kings 3:15). In the Bible one moves easily from the prophets to the Psalms (cf. Luke 24:44), and the Bible’s chief musician, David, is also called a prophet.
David’s own place in the history of Israel’s liturgical music was so dominant in the tradition that it became customary among the Church Fathers to ascribe to him the authorship of whatever parts of the Psalter were not otherwise ascribed. David’s name became synonymous with the Book of Psalms very much as Solomon’s with Proverbs and Moses’ with the Pentateuch.
The present chapter should remind us that the signing of hymns is an essential part of the Christian’s birthright (not to be usurped by a church choir of specialists). Indeed, the chanting of psalms, hymns, and spiritual canticles is an essential, irreplaceable feature of the Church’s worship of God. This feature is, if anything, even more characteristic of the Church in glory (cf. Revelation 4:8-11; 5:8-14 and so on).
Saturday, October 22
1 Chronicles 26: The office of porter, or gatekeeper (verses 1-19), was not so humble and insignificant as the name may suggest. These men, in fact, enjoyed considerable prestige as ministers of the sanctuary, serving in such functions as did not require the ministry of a priest.
Indeed, for many centuries, and differing somewhat from place to place, the Christian Church revived this ministry as one of the “minor orders” and graced it with a rite of ordination. Analogous to the porters of the Old Testament, these Christian porters were charged with such responsibilities as the locking and unlocking of the church doors (hence their name, from the Latin word for door, porta), the ringing of the bells for the sacred services (and therefore care of the church clocks), the maintenance of certain material elements used in those services (such as prayer books and hymnals), and the general upkeep of the sanctuary. With all the candles and incense burning, vestments soiled, oil accidentally spilt, penitential ashes, and so forth, it is no small work to keep a church building clean.
Gradually, as these duties were taken over by others (which would always be the case in those congregations that did not have an ordained porter), the Christian order of porter eventually disappeared. (The Roman Catholic Church, for instance, stopped ordaining porters in the early 1970’s.) Even if they are no longer ordained, a special respect and honor is due to those who take care of a church building, mend its vestments and linens, polish its candlesticks, maintain the appointments of its worship, clean its floors and windows, arrange its flowers, dust its pews, replace its light bulbs, and adorn it for the special services of feast days.
We have already reflected that the higher office of Levite in the Old Testament became the model for the office of deacon in the Christian church. In particular, we may note that Christian deacons, like the Jewish Levites (verses 20,24,26-28), have traditionally been charged with the oversight of the church’s material resources, becoming the successors to those original seven who served at tables in the early Church (Acts 6).
Managing the physical and financial assets of the Church, it often happened that deacons became very powerful. In some places it was not unusual for a deacon to succeed the bishop he served. Among the more famous deacons who did so was Saint Athanasius of Alexandria in the fourth century.
Sunday, October 23
1 Chronicles 27: Neither list in this chapter has a parallel in 2 Samuel.
The first list (1-15) is similar to the earlier list of David’s heroes (11:11-47, but it is not derivative from it). Unlike the lists of the preceding chapter, it identifies, not the ministers of the sanctuary, but those individuals and households who regularly (“by courses”) provided King David with the material means of constructing the Temple. These are called “the chief fathers and captains” (verse 1).
Corresponding to the twelve months of the year and the traditional number of twelve tribes, these are divided into twelve taxation districts (verses 25-31), an arrangement that would continue under Solomon (1 Kings 4).
The constant repetition of their numbers as “twenty-four thousand” corresponds to the division of the priests into twenty-four courses of ministerial rotation, which we considered earlier. This number is also surely related to the twenty-four elders that we find around God’s throne in Revelation 4.
Thus, in the constantly repeated “twenty-four thousand” we should detect the influence of a sacral and hierarchical interest in the list. Two things should be borne in mind regarding the historicity of these figures: First, as we have seen before, the word ’eleph, translated as “thousand,” was a technical rather than a strictly mathematical reference. Second, it would require a truly unusual miracle to guarantee that each district would have exactly the same number of male adults at exactly the same time.
This chapter’s second list (16-22) names Israel’s tribal leaders during David’s reign, indicating the king’s apparent comfort with the continuance of the ancient tribal leadership. This latter feature was to be less the case during the reign of Solomon. In fact, a festering discord between Solomon’s style of rule and the traditional tribal authority were to contribute greatly to the schism that ensued on Solomon’s death.
The chapter contains a note on David’s refusal to permit the results of his census to be entered into the archives of the realm (verses 23-24), since that census offended God and was regarded as a blight on David’s reign. It does appear, therefore, that both the Chronicler and the author of 2 Samuel received the results of that census from other sources. This would in part explain why they are somewhat different.
The chapter’s final section (verses 25-34) indicates that the king’s property, a major source of the revenue by which the governing was done, grew during David’s reign. It is a simple fact, after all, that the needs of government tend to grow. If this development continued during the reigns of subsequent kings—as surely it did—a certain resentment was bound to be the result. It is instructive to observe that Ezekiel, writing over four centuries after David, preferred that the royal properties be strictly fixed (Ezekiel 46:16-18).
Monday, October 24
1 Chronicles 28: David does not simply abdicate the throne in favor of Solomon; he places that succession, rather, in a larger framework of tradition, so that his son will benefit from the support and counsel of “all the princes of Israel, the princes of the tribes, and the captains of the companies” (verse 1). The king is the representative of the whole nation, and his accession to the throne is inseparable from that representation.
Basing himself on this high calling of Israel’s kings, the Chronicler omits from his succession narrative the dramatic and often chaotic intrigues among David’s ambitious sons, stories that fill eight chapters between 2 Samuel 13 and 1 Kings 2. For the Chronicler these events are simply no significant. Those shallow, ephemeral incidents are petty and uninteresting. They do not even begin to touch the true meaning of Solomon’s accession to the throne.
In the Chronicler’s account of the matter, David simply announces that God picked Solomon, and that settles the matter of the transition (verse 5). Solomon, whom the Lord hereby adopts as His son, will build the Temple (verse 6) that David was unable to complete (verse 3).
We observe, in this matter of succession, that Solomon is not David’s oldest son, but neither was David the oldest son of Jesse (verse 4). In fact, from the day that the Lord’s choice fell on Seth rather than Cain, He has shown scant regard for the human tradition of primogeniture. God’s choices have nothing to do with man’s calculations.
Drawing the blueprint of the Temple is ascribed to David (verses 11-12), just as transmitting the blueprint of the desert tabernacle was ascribed to Moses (Exodus 25:9; Hebrews 9:1-2), and as the mystic Ezekiel will provide the blueprint for the second Temple. In each instance, the design is “revealed”; that is, it is known “in the Spirit” (baruach —verse 12; cf. verse 19). Such constructions are modeled on the heavenly sanctuary, which Moses beheld on the mountain and which John gazed upon in the mystic visions of Patmos (cf. Hebrews 8:5; 9:1-5). All of man’s endeavors to worship God are an attempt to create on earth an image of heaven.
The history of God’s people, then, is a chronicle of temple building. Indeed, the construction of a dwelling place for the Lord—the mystery of the Temple—is the very goal of history. Such is the perspective of the Chronicler, who uses this viewpoint to distinguish between what is truly important and what is not. This is his interpretive lens through which to survey the course of years and centuries. It is a narrative wisdom higher and more serene.
Although David has already given this charge to Solomon in private (22:6-16), he now does so in the sight of “all Israel” (verse 4). This charge contains what the Chronicler regards as the true substance of orthodox historical transmission—namely, provision for the correct worship of God. Solomon’s duties include, therefore, not only the construction of the Temple but also the oversight of its worship.
For the Chronicler, then, Israel’s anointed kingship is directly related to Israel’s worship, for it is the king who provides the priests and Levites and supplies their needs. This is how the king must justify his existence, and such is the standard by which the Chronicler will now begin to assess the reigns of each monarch that inherits David’s throne.
And this interpretive principle also indicates the reason for the Chronicler’s lack of interest, as we shall see, in the Northern Kingdom. This latter entity, founded by an arrogant schismatic act, will be cut off from any real historical significance.
Tuesday, October 25 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 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.
Wednesday, October 26
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.
Thursday, October 27
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 for 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.
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.