Friday, October 14

1 Chronicles 18: These next three chapters are devoted to David’s military campaigns. First comes a mention of his conquest of the Philistines (verse 1), already narrated in detail in 14:9-16. Next are the Moabites (verse 2), whose defeat is told here less graphically than in 1 Samuel 22:3. Moving north, David defeats the Zobahites (verse 3) and the Syrians (verse 5). Subjecting all of these nations to his authority, David really did rule eastward to the Euphrates.

Much of this material, with variations, was available to the Chronicler from 2 Samuel 18:1-14, but not the detail about the bronze shields from Syria. It is entirely consistent with the Chronicler’s interest in Israel’s worship that he should write of Solomon’s use of this bronze in the appointments of the Temple (verse 8).

Turning south, David conquered the Edomites (verses 12-13), gaining thereby a port on the Gulf of Aqaba, opening on to the Red Sea and beyond. In due course Solomon will exploit that seaway for vast commercial ventures.

With respect to the slaying of all those Edomites in verse 12, it must be said that several men seem to have been credited with the feat. Here it is ascribed to Abishai, whereas in Psalms 60 (59):1 it is said of Joab, and in 2 Samuel 8:13 David gets the credit.

With respect to David’s “court” three items are worth mentioning: First, the “Shavsha” who serves as secretary in verse 16 is called “Seriah” in 2 Samuel and “Seisan” by Josephus. Second, the Cerethites and Pelethites in verse 17 are mercenaries in David’s employ. The Cerethites are Cretans, and Pelethites is another name for Philistines.

Third, with respect to David’s sons, whom that same verse calls “chief officials in the service of the king,” there is also some confusion. 2 Samuel 8:18 says they were “priests,” while Josephus (Antiquities 7.5.4) makes them “bodyguards.” Perhaps various of them functioned in various ways at various times, though it is difficult to understand how they could have been priests, since they were of the tribe of Judah, “of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood” (Hebrews 7:14). It may also be the case, one suspects, that the biblical writers simply never could agree on just what David sons might be good for. Indeed, eventually David had to appoint two other men just to keep an eye on them (27:32).

Saturday, October 15

1 Chronicles 19: Following the sequence in 2 Samuel 9, we would expect David’s kind treatment of Mephibosheth to be the next subject. The Chronicler does not tell this story, however, apparently because he wants to forget all about the house of Saul. As far as the Chronicler is concerned, they are all dead (cf. 10:6).

The Ammonite kings, pretty slow learners it would seem, demonstrated a consistent penchant for bad decisions. It was this same Nahash, we recall, whose rash treatment of Jabesh-Gilead provoked the crisis that brought Saul to power more than twenty years earlier (1 Samuel 11). Now, Nahash having died (repentant), his son also acts irresponsibly, incurring the wrath of David (verses 1-5). The provocation described here differs only slightly from the account in 2 Samuel 10:1-9.

Even before David had time to react, the Ammonites began to prepare for war. This was not David’s first time to be thus provoked by a stupid man. One recalls his prompt wrath at an earlier incident when the churlish Nabal treated David’s emissaries with disdain (1 Samuel 25).

The ensuing wars against the Ammonites provided the occasion (the siege of Rabbah in the next chapter) on which David and Joab conspired to murder Uriah the Hittite, but we have already noticed that the Chronicler tends to keep his work innocent of such disedifying behavior on David’s part.

The descriptions of David’s campaign, both here and in 2 Samuel 10, are fairly straightforward and without comment of a religious nature. In neither account, in fact, is God so much as mentioned except by Joab (verse 13; 2 Samuel 10:12). In the story as told by Josephus, however, there is the moral/theological reflection, “But David was not bothered by this alliance, nor disturbed at the might of the Ammonites, but he put his trust in God, conscious of battling for a just cause”(Antiquities 7.6.2).

David, after defeating Hanun, appointed the latter’s brother, Shobi, to replace him (2 Samuel 17:27). This detail suggests the breadth of David’s recognized power in the region.

Sunday, October 16

1 Chronicles 20: This chapter, which treats mainly of trouble with the Philistines, begins by completing the Chronicler’s treatment of the Ammonites. In verse 2 the expression “their king” (malkom) should probably be read as the “Milkom,” who was the major Ammonite god (cf. 1 Kings 11:5). (The error in the text here doubtless occurred when later Jewish copyists inserted the wrong vowel marks into the text.) This suggested textual emendation is bolstered by the Septuagint, which gives the equivalent Greek name, “Molchol” (known elsewhere as Moloch).

Between verses 3 and 4, the Chronicler skips over the entire story of Amnon and Absalom and the rebellion—all the material in 2 Samuel 13:1—21:17. Sparing the reader that entire scandalous episode, he continues in verse 4, which corresponds to 2 Samuel 21:18. Thus, the great, complex drama that fills about one-third of 2 Samuel has no counterpart in Chronicles. Try to imagine a biography of Lincoln that failed to mention the Civil War!

The Chronicler’s omission, explained simply by the fact that the material in question lay outside the Chronicler’s interest and perspective, is nonetheless instructive about the variety of historiographies in Holy Scripture. Not only is this undeniable variety compatible with the ascription of divine revelation to the Bible. There is also a sense in which the Holy Spirit’s authorship of the Scriptures encourages, even requires, such diversity. That is to say, this variety of historical perspectives indicates the richness, the fruitfulness, of the divine revelation of biblical history.

God’s revelation of Himself, we Christians believe, did not take place solely in the inspiration of the Bible, but also in those events that the Bible records. The entire process—history becoming historiography—bears the character of divine revelation.

This consideration prompts another, one having to do with the historical nature of biblical historiography itself. The divine inspiration of the Sacred Text does not mean that the biblical historian views his subject from a detached, timeless perspective. On the contrary, each biblical historian (including the authors of the Four Gospels, for instance), in his treatment of earlier times, embodies also the concerns of his own times. What we find in the Bible, then, is a progression in which history interprets history.

Thus, the Bible is not a reservoir of truths that can be removed from their historical shape. The “fixed” character of biblical revelation does not render it timeless. Biblical doctrine cannot be abstracted from the Bible, nor from the reading of the Bible within the strictures of time.

Just as the Bible itself bears witness to a variety of interpretations of history, so the Bible encourages a certain diversity of interpretation, as long as all such interpretations correspond to what the Fathers of the Church called The Rule of Faith. Thus, St. Augustine, in his long treatment of biblical history wrote, “Now any one may object to this interpretation, and may give another which harmonizes with the Rule of Faith. . . . Although different interpretations are given, yet they must all agree with the one harmonious catholic faith” (The City of God 15.26).

Monday, October 17

1 Chronicles 21: With their nearly identical stories of the census, we perceive the great difference between the Chronicler and the author of Samuel. Whereas in 2 Samuel 24 the account of the census appears to be set apart, as it were, and treated outside the sequence of the narrative, the Chronicler puts it right here in the middle of David’s career.

This difference is only apparent, however. In Chronicles the story only seems to come earlier in the reign of David, because the Chronicler, as we just saw, has skipped so much of that reign. On the other hand, in these next nine chapters he will include a great deal of material that is not found in 2 Samuel, material that relates entirely to David’s plan for the coming Temple.

Comparing this chapter with its parallel in 2 Samuel 24, we note the Chronicler’s inclusion of angelic powers, both the evil angel “Satan” and the remark about the angel of the pestilence (verse 20).

The Chronicler thus ascribes David’s temptation to “Satan” (verse 1), a demonic figure with whom the Jews became familiar during the Babylonian Captivity and the Persian period. This “Shatan” is well documented in Zoroastrian literature of that time, and he appears in the post-exilic books of Job and Zechariah. The name means “adversary,” as in Numbers 22:22. In due course Satan will be recognized as identical with the serpentine tempter who seduced our first parents (cf. Wisdom 2:24; John 8:44; Revelation 12:9; 20:2).

As an expression of David’s pride, ambition, and hubris, the census is regarded by both 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles as something less than his finest hour. Even Joab, hardly a moral giant, recognizes that something is not quite right about it (verses 3,6; compare 2 Samuel 24:3).

With respect to the census itself, we observe that the tribe of Levi is not included. This exclusion may have to do with the purpose of the census itself, which was to provide a “data base” for Israel’s military conscription. Members of the tribe of Levi were not subject to that conscription.

Benjamin’s exclusion evidently had to do with the fact that the census was not completed, because of the plague that came as a punishment.

The story of this plague, here as in 2 Samuel, leads directly to the site of the future Temple (verses 18-27). This is the point that is of greatest interest to the Chronicler. As we have noted, this interest in the “Father’s house” provides the basis for the Chronicler’s entire history.

Tuesday, October 18

1 Chronicles 22: In 2 Samuel 24:30 the plague story is followed immediately by David’s old age and death, but here in Chronicles David is just getting started! Yet, we are dealing with exactly the same time frame as 2 Samuel. David’s real and best work, for the Chronicler, still lies ahead—namely, the Temple. He promptly begins to assemble the material for this great enterprise (verses 2-3).

Because in the Bible’s prophetic view this Temple was to be a “house of prayer for all the nations” (Mark 11:17), it is theologically significant that the Gentiles participated in its construction (verse 2). Of course they will also be involved in the building of the Second Temple (Isaiah 60:10). Here in this fleeting reference in Chronicles, then, lies hidden the mystery that Paul will explore in Romans 9—11, the engrafting of the Gentiles on to the stock of Israel.

Solomon is still young (verse 5); we can only guess how old he was at his accession. Not even the Jews could agree; Josephus estimated that Solomon was fourteen, and Rashi said twelve. 1 Kings, on the other hand seems to make him fully an adult. In any case, David gives the young man proper instruction with respect to the Temple (verses 7-16). As Moses passed on to his successor, Joshua, the authority to conquer the Promised Land, so David here authorizes his successor to build the Lord’s house. In 2 Timothy there will once again be the sense of such a transition, as Paul, preparing to die, hands on to Timothy the historical ministry of the Church.

In verse 9 there is a play on various words having to do with “peace” (shalom). Solomon’s name, Shelomo, means “his peace,” and Shalem is an ancient variant for Jerusalem. This emphasis on peace in David’s last exhortation to Solomon stands in sharp contrast to the final instructions about blood-vengeance David gives to Solomon in 1 Kings.

Indeed, the fact that David had shed much blood was the reason given for his inability to see the Temple’s construction through to the end (verse 6; 28:3). The Temple would always be more associated with Solomon, whose very name suggests peace. The Chronicler is sensitive to this point. War, even justified war, even necessary war, yet carries a quality of defilement, incompatible with the proper worship of God. Men are to offer their prayers with “holy hands, without wrath” (1 Timothy 2:8). Blood, in the Bible, is a holy thing. To have shed blood in anger—which is what is done in warfare—carries a ritual, if not a moral, defilement that fits ill with the purity of God’s worship. This persuasion has always been expressed in the Church’s canons on ordination.

Wednesday, October 19

1 Chronicles 23: This chapter begins by elaborating the scene in 1 Kings 1 into the full-blown co-regency, as it were, of Solomon with David (verse 1).

Then comes a long section on the Levites. The Chronicler, after telling us (in 21:6) that the Levites were not counted, now proceeds to give us a detailed count of them (verses 2-24).

The description of the work of the Levites makes it clear that their ministry was subordinate and ancillary to that of the priests (verses 24-32). They care for the music and many other tasks associated with the worship but did not, it appears, perform the sacrifices central to the Temple’s ritual. Consequently, it is not surprising that the Christian Church, from before the end of the first century, has thought of the order of Levites as the Old Testament’s parallel to the New Testament’s deacons (Clement of Rome, Corinthians 40.5).

The outstanding quality of the liturgy in the Temple may be gauged by the fact that it was accompanied an orchestra of four-thousand (verse 5)! (With respect to David’s interest in musical instruments, see 7:6; 29:26; Nehemiah 12:36; Josephus, Antiquities 7.12.3.) This figure suggests massive, continuous praise (verse 6).

In verse 30 we find early evidence for the beginning of the two major hours of daily Christian prayer. The times of the morning and evening sacrifices in the Temple became the times of daily prayer in the synagogue, and these services went directly into the Christian Church as Matins and Vespers, which abide unto the present hour. Both of these daily offices of Christian worship are the historical extensions of the services described in this chapter of Chronicles.

Verses 21-22 demonstrate the common biblical meaning of the expression “brothers and sisters.” In these verses it is logically impossible for the young ladies, who are described as having no brothers, to marry their brothers, if we depend on the standard English use of those terms. Clearly these women are marrying their cousins, for which there is no special word in either Hebrew or Aramaic. In Holy Scripture the expression “brothers and sisters” only rarely corresponds to the meaning of that same expression in common English.

Thursday, October 20

1 Chronicles 24: The Chronicler now runs through the assigned courses of the priests, who took their turns at the various liturgical functions in the sanctuary (verses 1-19). There “the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services” (Hebrews 9:6). There they stood, “ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices that could never take away sins” (10:11).

One of the most memorable portraits of the Old Testament priest leading the worship of the Temple comes from the pen of Ben Sirach, who described Simon the High Priest in the second century before Christ:

When he went up to the holy altar, he honored the vesture of holiness. And when he took the portions out of the hands of the priests, he himself stood by the altar. And about him was the ring of his brethren: and as the cedar planted in mount Lebanon, And as branches of palm trees, they stood round about him, and all the sons of Aaron in their glory. And the oblation of the Lord was in their hands, before all the congregation of Israel: and finishing his service, on the altar, to honor the offering of the most high Ring, He stretched forth his hand to make a libation, and offered of the blood of the grape. He poured out at the foot of the altar a divine odor to the Most High Prince. Then the sons of Aaron shouted, they sounded with beaten trumpets, and made a great noise to be heard for a remembrance before God. Then all the people together made haste, and fell down to the earth upon their faces, to adore the Lord their God, and to pray to Almighty God, the most High. And the singers lifted up their voices. And in the great house the sound of sweet melody was increased. And the people in prayer besought the Lord the most High, until the worship of the Lord was perfected, and they had finished their office. Then coming down, he lifted up his hands over all the congregation of the children of Israel, to give glory to God with his lips, and to glory in his name: And he repeated his prayer, willing to show the power of God (Ecclesiasticus 50:12-23, my translation).

All of this worship was symbolic of the liturgy of heaven, where the true high priest, Jesus the Lord, “entered into the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (9:12). Accordingly, the twenty-four courses of the priests in this chapter of 1 Chronicles correspond to the heavenly sanctuary’s twenty-four elders who worship day and night before the Throne (Revelation 4:4,10), offering the prayers of the saints (5:8).

Particularly to be noted in this list is the eighth course, that of Abijah (verse 10). In due time one of the priests of Abijah’s course, Zachary (Luke 1:5), would draw the lot to offer incense in the sanctuary (1:8-9). The beginning of all good things, this scene opens the Gospel of Luke.

This list of the twenty-four courses of the priesthood will be paralleled, in the next chapter, by twenty-four groups of Temple singers (25:31).

In the present chapter the list of the priestly courses is followed by another listing of Levites. No one has yet explained, to the present writer, why this second list of Levites, which contains ten names not found in the previous chapter, has been inserted at this unexpected place.

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).