Friday, November 1
2 Chronicles 10: This chapter is one of several places where the Chronicler presumes his readers’ familiarity with certain historical facts he leaves unmentioned. Here he omits, for instance, 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 he can safely presume that the bare 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 Shechem to receive the nation’s endorsement as its new ruler (v. 1). The move was especially necessary with respect to Israel’s northern tribes, where people were touchy about their traditional rights and needed 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 (2 Samuel 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 (v. 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 counsel 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 (v. 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” (v. 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 (v. 8). Indeed, they urged Rehoboam to be insulting and provocative to the petitioners (vv. 9–11). Pursuing this foolish counsel, then, Rehoboam immediately lost the larger part of his kingdom (vv. 12–19).
Saturday, November 2
2 Chronicles 11: Because the stories about the 9th century northern prophets—Micaiah, Elijah, Elisha—in the Books of Kings are so colorful and memorable, one may too easily suppose that the ministry of the prophets, at least until the eighth century, was concentrated in the north. The present chapter of Chronicles, however, which narrates the prophetic intervention of Shemaiah (vv. 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 Chronicles, it is curious and ironic that the story of Shemaiah in this chapter is the only part of the chapter also found in Kings. It is followed by three sections likewise not found in Kings:
First, there is a list of the cities fortified by Rehoboam on his southern flank against attack from Egypt (vv. 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 (vv. 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).
Third, there is a detailed account of Rehoboam’s apostasy in the south (vv. 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 real estate they had cultivated for more than two centuries.
Sunday, November 3
2 Chronicles 12: Rehoboam’s reign knew its ups and downs, the downs emphatically 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” (vv. 2, 9).
Alone to do so, the Chronicler once again introduces the prophet
Shemaiah (cf. 11:2–4), who points out to Rehoboam the theological reason for the catastrophe that befell the kingdom (v. 5). In this instance the prophetic message brought some measure of repentance among Jerusalem’s leadership, a repentance that caused the situation not to deteriorate further (vv. 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” (vv. 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 immediate heir, was not just a declension to silver, but all the way to bronze. The plunge, when it came, came at once, in a single generation.
We 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, because he did not prepare his heart to seek the Lord” (v. 14).
Monday, November 4
2 Chronicles 13: Rehoboam’s son Abijah (913-911) 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 narrates the battle between Abijah and Jeroboam. This material readily breaks into two parts:
The first part (vv. 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 his 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 (v. 13). The longer Abijah talked, thought Jeroboam, the better position his own men would attain in the enemy’s rear.
Abijah, standing on a tall borderline hill from which the forces of Jeroboam could hear him, lays out his own perspective of the battle about to ensue. The fault, says Abijah, lies completely with Jeroboam, who took advantage of the youth and vacillation (!) of Rehoboam in order to lead an insurrection against legitimate and even divinely covenanted authority (vv. 4–7).
Then Abijah comes to the heart of the matter—at least the concern dominant in the heart of the Chronicler: Jeroboam was a worshipper of golden calves (v. 8), a man who drove out the legitimate sons of Levi from the north and elevated non-Levites in their place (v. 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 (v. 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 here 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 (not recorded in Kings). In this battle (vv. 13–22) it is significant that the priests accompanying Abijah’s army played an important role, blowing the trumpet and raising an ovation of praise to God (v. 14). This battle, though it greatly weakened the political power of Jeroboam (v. 20), did not lead to a reunion of the two kingdoms.
Tuesday, November 5
2 Chronicles 14: Abijah’s death after merely three years remains unexplained, though one suspects 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 biblical historians credit with doing “what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God” (v. 2; 1 Kings 15:11). 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 (vv. 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 (vv. 1, 6), Asa strengthened and fortified the kingdom (vv. 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. The word “million” to describe the size of Zerah’s army is a bit misleading. In biblical Hebrew, a language that doesn’t even have the word “million,” the actual expression is “thousand thousands,” an idiomatic term meaning “lots and lots.” Apparently Libyans were also included in his force (cf. 16:8), and clearly Asa is badly outnumbered, as he indicates in his prayer (v. 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 account—namely, “the Lord struck” the invaders (v. 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 still 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 (vv. 13–15).
Wednesday, November 6
2 Chronicles 15: The true significance of the recent battle is explained to Asa and his men by the prophet, Azariah ben Obed, who speaks under the influence of “the Spirit of God” (v. 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” (v. 3). This late victory, he goes on to say, came about in response to the righteousness the Lord had in mind to reward (v. 7).
Three points of the Chronicler’s theology are made in this brief prophetic sermon: First, remember that the Lord is with Israel as long as Israel is with the Lord (v. 2). Second, never forget the lamentable era of the judges, before there were teaching priests (vv. 3–6). Third, recall God’s promise of continued help if Asa continues on this correct path (v. 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, redoubled their reforming efforts, purging away what remained of the idolatry bequeathed from the era of Rehoboam (v. 8).
Meanwhile, there were new developments in the realm, 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 (v. 9).
These gathered at Jerusalem in 896 BC to solidify their commitment to Asa’s cause (vv. 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 idolatrous grandmother from her special political position as “queen mother” (v. 16).
Finally, at the end of the chapter, inserted as he though were embarrassed by the fact, the Chronicler asserts that even Asa was not entirely successful (v. 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 7
2 Chronicles 16: The latter part of Asa’s rule did not rise to the standard set by his earlier days. He waxed lazy toward the end, 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 text.
While this suggestion is possible, it is not the only solution applicable 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 Asa’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 used money to influence international politics (vv. 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 him for this sin, the Lord sent to Asa the prophetic word of Hanani (vv. 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” (v. 9).
John the Seer will behold these same eyes on the face of the Lamb that opens the scroll of history:
And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Revelation 5:6).
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 (v. 12). He lived five years more (v. 13). The great failure of Asa’s life, according to the Chronicler, came from following his disinclination to put his trust in God (vv. 7, 12).
Friday, November 8
2 Chronicles 17: None of the material in this chapter is found outside of Chronicles. Most of it (vv. 1–6, 10–19) introduces the reign of Jehoshaphat (870–848, with a co-regency from 873). Our suggestion of three years of co-regency would explain why Jehoshaphat undertook these new initiatives in “the third year of his reign” (v. 1). This dating is also consistent with the assertion of Jehoshaphat’s reign of twenty-five years (20:31).
Perhaps dearest to the Chronicler’s heart are the few verses (7–9) 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 “leaders” (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” (v. 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 (v. 9; 34:14). Second, in each case the Book of the Law of the Lord appears in the context of the ministries of the Levites (v. 8; 34:12–13).
The Chronicler will return to this teaching ministry of the Levites, with particular attention to the Law of the Lord, when he comes to the postexilic 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 to 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).