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.

Saturday, November 5

2 Chronicles 11: Because the stories about the northern prophets in the Books of Kings are so colorful and memorable (Michaiah, Elijah, Elisha), one may too easily suppose that the ministry of the prophets, at least until the eighth century, was concentrated mainly in the north. The present chapter of Chronicles, however, which narrates the prophetic intervention of Shemaiah (verses 2-4, paralleled in 1 Kings 12:21-24), is a first argument against that supposition. Second Chronicles goes on to tell of other active prophets in the south, prior to the eighth century, accounts not found in the Books of Kings. This list includes stories of Azariah ben Obed (15:1-7), Hanani (16:7-9), Jehu ben Hanani (19:2-3), Zechariah ben Jehoiada (24:20-22), and the anonymous prophet sent to King Amaziah (25:7-9). According to the Chronicler (21:12-15), even Elijah the Tishbite intervened in the south by way of a letter (21:12-15).

Given all these accounts of southern prophets narrated only in the Chronicler, it is curious and ironical that the story of Shemaiah in this chapter is the only part of the chapter that is found in Kings. It is followed by three accounts that are not told in Kings.

First, there is a list of the cities fortified by Rehoboam on his southern flank against attack from Egypt (verses 5-12). This system of defense, well known to archeology, is sometimes called antiquity’s Maginot Line.

Second, the Chronicler tells of northern Levitical families that remained loyal to the government and Temple in Jerusalem (verses 13-17). Because of Jeroboam’s persecution of them, these families fled south for asylum, and the schismatic king of the north appointed non-Levites in their place (1 Kings 12:31-32; 13:33). One is disposed to speculate that the Chronicler himself may have been a descendent from that group, but in such a case we would expect a record of actual names here in the text.

Third, there is a detailed account of Rehoboam’s apostasy in the south (verses 18-23). This defection of Solomon’s son had to be particularly distressing to the northern Levites who had fled to the south in fidelity to the Davidic covenant and the orthodox worship in the Jerusalem Temple. Their disappointment is perhaps more readily understood if we think of certain contemporary Christians conscientiously driven from one church to another, only to find the second church just about as unfaithful as the first. In the case of these Levites, moreover, the move involved uprooting their families from lands they had cultivated for more than two centuries.

Sunday, November 6

2 Chronicles 12: Rehoboam's reign knew its ups and downs, the downs decidedly dominant. Five years after the new king inherited the throne of David, Pharaoh Shishak, founder of Egypt's twenty-second dynasty, invaded the Holy Land and took pretty much whatever attracted his eye: " And it happened in the fifth year of King Rehoboam that Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem, because they had transgressed against the Lord . . . So Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem, and took away the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house; he took everything " (verses 2,9).

Alone to do so, the Chronicler once again introduces the prophet Shemaiah (cf. 11:2-4) to point out to Rehoboam the deep theological reason for the catastrophe that befell the kingdom (verse 5). In this instance the prophetic message brought some measure of repentance among Jerusalem’s leadership, a repentance that caused the situation to become no worse (verses 6-8).

The Sacred Text goes on to remark about Shishak’s invasion, " He also carried away the gold shields which Solomon had made. Then King Rehoboam made bronze shields in their place, and committed them to the hands of the captains of the guard" (verses 9-10). By setting bronze shields in the Temple to replace the golden shields of Solomon, Rehoboam enacted a truly wretched symbolism. Some of the ancients (Daniel, Hesiod, Ovid) spoke of an historical decline from a golden age to a silver age, and thence to a bronze age. No one disputes, of course, that Solomon's was a golden age (9:13-17). However, the reign of Rehoboam, his heir, was not just a declension to silver, but all the way to bronze. The lunge, when it came, came at once, in a single generation.

We will find this pattern of sudden fall repeatedly throughout Chronicles, a Jehoshaphat followed by a Jehoram, a Hezekiah by a Manasseh, a Josiah by a villainous series of village idiots, all the way to Jerusalem’s downfall in 587.

As for Rehoboam, he remained, Josephus tells us, "a proud and foolish man" (Antiquities 8.10.4). He never recovered from the singular folly of his first political decision. After Shishak's invasion, this thin, pathetic shadow of his father and grandfather reigned under a humiliating Egyptian suzerainty for a dozen more years. Like every fool, he had a heart problem. The final word about Rehoboam asserts, "he did evil, for he did not set his heart to seek the Lord" (verse 14).

Monday, November 7

2 Chronicles 13: Rehoboam’s son Abijah (913-991) succeeded to the throne of David. Although his reign was short, he receives an entire chapter here in Chronicles, which has no correspondence in 1 Kings. It is the battle between Abijah and Jeroboam. This material readily breaks into two parts.

The first part (verses 1-12) is dominated by Abijah’s religious speech at the very doorstep of the battle. Although it was St. Augustine’s view of the schism between Israel and Judah that “the division made was not religious but political” (The City of God 17.21), it is clear that the Chronicler did not share that view. Regarding the Lord’s covenant with David as the basis of Israel’s political order, he was unable to regard that order as anything but religious. Driven by such a conviction, the Chronicler here makes Abijah its spokesman in this speech.

Pre-battle speeches by kings and generals are normally directed to their own troops, but in the present case Jeroboam permitted his opponent to speak as long as he wanted, because meanwhile a northern party of ambuscade was moving to the rear of Abijah’s forces, planning to hit them from two sides (verse 13). The longer Abijah talked, thought Jeroboam, the better position his own men in the rear would attain.

Abijah, standing on a tall borderline hill from which he could be heard by the forces of Jeroboam, lays out his own perspective of the battle about to ensue. The fault, says Abijah, lies completely with Jeroboam, who has taken advantage of the youth and vacillation (!) of Rehoboam in order to lead an insurrection against legitimate, and even divinely covenanted, authority (verses 4-7).

Then Abijah comes to the heart of the matter–at least the concern dominant in the heart of the Chronicler—Jeroboam is a worshipper of golden calves (verse 8), who has driven out the legitimate sons of Levi from the north and elevated non-Levites in their place (verse 9).

The merit of Judah over the Northern Kingdom lay in its fidelity to the true God, worshipped as He Himself had decreed His worship (verse 10). This is the essence of the Chronicler’s case against the schismatic tribes of the north. Unlike Judah, the Northern Kingdom had abandoned the legitimate priesthood and the orthodox form of worship.

In the historical perspective of the Chronicler, this liturgical consideration absolutely trumped every other. In his mind political power and military success said nothing of a kingdom’s final worth. In the last analysis, only the correct worship of God gave significance to a nation’s history. Writing long after the events described in this chapter, and long after each of the kingdoms warring in this chapter had disappeared, the Chronicler looked back and inquired just what, in those historical events, was of ultimate significance, and he answered—the orthodox worship of the Lord. This is the point of Abijah’s speech.

Second comes the description of the battle that ensued (and is not recorded in Kings). In this battle (verses 13-22) it is significant that the priests accompanying Abijah’s army played a significant role, blowing the trumpet and raising an ovation of praise to God (verse 14). This battle, though it greatly weakened the political power of Jeroboam (verse 20), did not lead to a reunion of the two kingdoms.

Tuesday, November 8

2 Chronicles 14: Abijah’s death (verse 1) after three years (13:2) was premature and unexplained, although one supposes that fourteen wives, twenty-two sons, and sixteen daughters (13:21) may have taken their toll.

Abijah was succeeded by Asa, one of Judah’s longest reigning kings (911-870), whom both historians credit with doing “what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God” (verse 2). Flavius Josephus expanded slightly on that description: “Now Asa, the king of Jerusalem, was of an excellent character, and had a regard to God, and neither did nor designed any thing but what had relation to the observation of the laws. He made a reformation of his kingdom, and cut off whatsoever was wicked therein, and purified it from every impurity” (Antiquities 8.12.1).

The Chronicler’s brief account of Asa’s religious reforms (verses 3-5) corresponds roughly to that of 1 Kings 15:7-12), but it is immediately followed by a long section not found in Kings (14:6—15:15).

During ten years of peace (verses 1,6), Asa strengthened and fortified the kingdom (verses 7-8). And none too soon, as events would prove, for about the year 900 Zerah the Cushite, as the Hebrew text calls him, invaded Judah from the south. Still, the word “million” to describe the size of Zerah’s army is a bit misleading. The expression in biblical Hebrew, a language that doesn’t have the word “million,” is “thousand thousand,” an idiomatic term meaning “lots and lots.” Apparently there were Libyans also included in his force (cf. 16:8), and clearly Asa is badly outnumbered, as he indicates in his prayer (verse 11).

The biblical text gives no indication of Asa’s winning strategy, perhaps because the Chronicler felt that such information might detract from the theological truth of the day—namely, “the Lord defeated” the invaders (verse 12). The Chronicler, true to his understanding of biblical history, will ascribe nothing in this battle to human power. Indeed, Josephus says that the battle took place while Asa was making his prayer for victory (Antiquities 8.12.2). The defeat itself was total, and the Bible revels in a description of the enemy’s flight and the taking of the spoils (verses 13-15).

It was on his return from the battlefield to Jerusalem that the king and his army encountered a prophet with a thing or two on his mind.

Wednesday, November 9

2 Chronicles 15: The true significance of the recent battle is explained to Asa and his men by this prophet, Azariah ben Obed, who spoke under the influence of “the Spirit of God” (verse 1). Once again the prophet who speaks to the king is also the spokesman for the Chronicler to us readers. Azariah contrasts the current royal reign with the earlier period, when Israel “was without a teaching priest and without law” (verse 3). This late victory, he goes on, has come about in response to the righteousness that the Lord had in mind to reward (verse 7).

Three points of the Chronicler’s theology are made in this brief prophetic sermon: First, the Lord is with Israel as long as Israel is with the Lord (verse 2). Second, Israel must never forget the era of the Judges, before there were teaching priests (verses 3-6). Third, God promises His continued help if Asa continues on this correct path (verse 7). In short, Azariah’s view of history is identical to that of the Chronicler.

Josephus caught the sense of this prophecy: “That the reason why they had obtained this victory from God was this, that they had showed themselves righteous and religious men, and had done every thing according to the will of God; that therefore, [Azariah] said, if they persevered therein, God would grant that they should always overcome their enemies, and live happily; but that if they left off his worship, all things shall fall out on the contrary” (Antiquities 8.12.2). This emphasis on the correct worship of God as the secret victory is completely in line with the thinking of the Chronicler.

Asa and his associates, fired up by this short sermon, redouble their reforming efforts, purging away what remained of the idolatry bequeathed from the era of Rehoboam (verse 8).

Meanwhile, there were new developments in the kingdom, these having to do with the Northern Kingdom. We earlier learned that northern Levites had fled to the south to escape the persecution of Jeroboam (11:13-17). Levites, the Chronicler now informs us, were not the only ones to flee southward. Indeed, “great numbers” from the north, witnessing the fidelity of Asa and his consequent prosperity, arrived in the south, seeking a life more in conformity to their inherited religious instincts and convictions (verse 9).

These gathered at Jerusalem in 896 B.C. to solidify their commitment to Asa’s cause (verses 10-15). This gathering of northerners and southerners around the Davidic king at the Temple remained an ideal that inspired the Chronicler. We shall see it again in the reigns of Hezekiah and Josiah.

Toward the end of this chapter the Chronicler tells a story borrowed from 1 Kings 15:13-14, the account of how Asa deposed his own grandmother from her special political position as “queen mother” (verse 16).

Finally, at the end of the chapter—inserted as though the Chronicler were embarrassed by it—he mentions that even Asa was not entirely successful (verse 17). This remark prepares us for the next chapter, in which Asa’s conduct in his old age was not quite up to the mark.

Thursday, November 10

2 Chronicles 16: The latter part of Asa’s rule was not up to the mark set by his earlier days. He waxed lazy in his later years, and the present chapter describes his decline.

There is an historical problem with the present text. If we understand verse 1 strictly, the date appears to be 875. However, according to 1 Kings 16:6-8, Baasha had died ten years earlier! Some exegetes, in hopes of removing this problem, suggest that a copyist’s error has introduced a mistake into the Sacred Text. While this suggestion is possible, it is not the only solution to the problem. It may be that verse 1, in referring to the thirty-sixth year of Asa, is employing a shorthand formula to mean the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s kingdom, that is, the divided kingdom that followed the reign of Solomon. If this interpretation is correct, then the year of reference would be 986, which accords well with the sequence given in Kings. It also seems better to fit the Chronicler’s assertion that Åsa’s early reign enjoyed ten years of peace (14:1).

In Asa’s response to Baasha’s invasion we discern already his decline. Instead of going to meet his opponent in battle, as he had earlier done in the case of Zerah, Asa decided to pay someone else to assume the task. He employed money to influence international politics (verses 2-5). Thereby conceding part of the Land of Promise to a foreign power, Asa paid the Syrians to invade the territory of Baasha. Over the next couple of centuries Asa’s successors on the throne would have to deal with Syrian interference in the politics of the Holy Land.

To reprimand this sin, the Lord sent to Asa the prophetic word of Hanani (verses 7-9), the father of yet another prophet named Jehu (1 Kings 16:17). This prophetic word, found only in the Chronicler, serves to advance the latter’s sense of history–namely, the conviction that “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (verse 9).

Asa, in response, punishes the prophet, unlike his grandfather, Rehoboam, who had humbled his mind before the prophetic word (12:6). Asa thus became the first king of Judah to raise his hand against the prophets.

In turn the Lord punished Asa three years later (verse 12). He lived five years more (verse 13). The great failure of Asa’s life, according to the Chronicler, came from following his disinclination to put his trust in God (verses 7,12).

Friday, November 11

2 Chronicles 17: None of the material in this chapter is found outside of Chronicles. Most of it introduces the reign of Jehoshaphat (870-848, with a co-regency from 873) (verses 1-6,10-19). Our suggestion of three years of co-regency would explain why Jehoshaphat undertook these new initiatives in “the third year of his reign” (verse 1). It also stands consonant with the assertion of Jehoshaphat’s reign of twenty-five years (20:31).

Perhaps dearest to the Chronicler’s heart are the few verses that he devotes to the ministry of the teaching Levites. When the king sent these Levites out “to teach in the cities of Judah,” he took care that everyone would know of their official credentials. He accomplished this by sending with them certain “princes” (sarim) accredited to speak in the king’s name.

On the success of this mission, which will remind Christian readers of the seventy disciples sent out by Jesus, Josephus comments: “Now, in the third year of this reign, he called together the rulers of the country, and the priests, and commanded them to go round the land, and teach all the people that were under him, city by city, the laws of Moses, and to keep them, and to be diligent in the worship of God. With this the whole multitude was so pleased, that they were not so eagerly set upon or affected with any thing so much as the observation of the laws” (Antiquities 8.15.2).

The greater authority of these teaching Levites, however, was not derived from the delegation of the king but from the text on which their teaching was based, “the book of the Law of the Lord” (verse 9). Is this book to be identified with the scroll later discovered in the Temple during the reign of Josiah? There are two reasons for thinking this to be the case. First, exactly the same words describe the text in both instances, sepher Torat Adonai (verse 9; 34:14). Second, in each context the book of the Law of the Lord appears in the context of the ministries of the Levites (verse 8; 34:12-13).

The Chronicler will return to the teaching ministry of the Levites, with particular attention to the Law of the Lord, when he comes to the post-exilic period and the mission of Ezra (cf. Nehemiah 8). The Chronicler’s view of the Levitical ministry was clearly comprehensive. These versatile men not only functioned on behalf of the liturgical rites, the general decorum, and especially the sacred music of the Temple; they were also Israel’s teachers in all matters pertinent of the Law given through Moses. In this latter capacity, of course, they were obliged to be literate, so it is not surprising that scribes and accountants should come from their number (34:9-10). In general, these Levites included men who were competent “in any kind of service” (34:13). We Christian readers also bear in mind that the early Church regarded the order of deacon as a sort of equivalent to the Levitical office (cf. Clement of Rome, 32.2; 40.5)