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 (verse 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).

Saturday, November 9

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8: Paul prays that the Thessalonians will abound more and more (verses 1-2). This idea of growth is frequent in Paul, for whom the Christian condition of justification is less a “state” than the dynamic possibility of growth in the Holy Spirit. The word “more” (mallon) appears seven times in Romans, eight times in 1 Corinthians, twice in 2 Corinthians, five times in Philippians, once each in Galatians, Ephesians, 1 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and twice in the tiny letter to Philemon.

This frequency of a simple adverb suggests something of how Paul experienced the life in Christ. It had no limits, neither in knowledge nor in love. He does not, therefore, attempt to “define” a disciple of Christ, because to “define” means to “determine the limits of.” Belonging to Christ is limitless, because Christ Himself is limitless.

For this reason St. John Chrysostom comments on this verse, comparing the soul to fertile soil: “For as the earth ought to bear not only what is so upon it, so too the soul ought not to stop at those things that have been inculcated, but to go beyond them.”

The image of the seed sown on the earth is a famous one, of course. The Lord’s parable of the sower is only one of its uses.

2 Chronicles 18: In his version of the story of Micaiah, the Chronicler is not interested in Ahab, but in Jehoshaphat. His sole concern in the present story has to do with the current holder of the Davidic throne, Jehoshaphat, and this story serves the Chronicler’s purpose of introducing the latter’s dangerous coalition with the Northern Kingdom. If Asa’s great mistake was an unwise league with Syria, Jehoshaphat’s was an unwise alliance with Israel.

Because of this alliance, as we shall see during the ensuing chapters, the Davidic throne was nearly lost. The marriage of Jehoshaphat’s son to Ahab’s daughter would introduce into the kingdom of Judah the full force of Phoenician idolatry and evil. Over the next several chapters, the solemn prophetic promise made to David would be endangered as never before. During the next several generations there will be, at several given times, only a single direct male descendant of David still alive on the face of the earth. Jehoshaphat’s son, Jehoram, will kill all his brothers (21:4). Then all but one of Jehoram’s own sons will be slain (21:17). When that remaining son (22:1) is killed, there will be “no one to assume power over the kingdom” (22:9). Of Jehoram’s grandsons, all will be murdered except the infant Joash (22:1–12). All of this danger and evil will flow from Jehoshaphat’s alliance with the Northern Kingdom. Better to have warfare, thought the Chronicler, than this sort of peace!

Sunday, November 10

1 Thessalonians 4:9-18: The early Christian parishes had a strong sense of identity based on a negative attitude towards the society in which they lived. They realized that what Jesus meant was radically opposed to what the world stood for, and that the call to holiness, an essential feature of the life in Christ, required from them a radical break with their pagan past. Often enough this also meant, in practice, a break with their pagan friends (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Thus, the local Christian congregations served as communities of support, because believers could find with one another a very real solidarity in those convictions that separated them from other people. We find in early Christian literature ample evidence these Christians felt a great gulf between “them” and “us.” The New Testament and other primitive Christian literature leave no doubt that the specifics of Christian existence were founded on a position of contrast with, and opposition to, the “world.”

Indeed, today’s reading uses a technical expression to designate non-Christians, hoi exso, “those outside” (verse 12). This was evidently a common term among the early believers (1 Corinthians 5:12-13; Colossians 4:5; Mark 4:11; cf. also Titus 2:7-8; 1 Timothy 3:7).

Christians at that period were enormously aware of their minority status among non-Christians, and they were careful how they impressed those non-Christians (1 Peter 2:12; 1 Corinthians 10:32-33; Matthew 5:16).

The picture that emerges of the Christian parishes during that early period is one of communities of sobriety, hard work, and a closely knit bond of fraternal love (philadelphia). In today’s reading Paul stresses minding one’s own business, and doing one’s own job becomingly and unobtrusively. There is no question of evangelizing one’s neighbor’s by aggressive approach or slick advertising. In the words of Tertullian, Non magna loquimur, sed vivimus—”We don’t talk big, but we live.”

2 Chronicles 19: If Jehoshaphat failed to learn from the moral example given in the previous chapter, Jehu the prophet is determined to make the king take a closer look. He warns Jehoshaphat of the danger inherent in this recent political and military alliance with a man justly described as an enemy of God. Even though Jehoshaphat has set his heart on the Lord, the divine wrath will visit his house because of his collusion with an evil man.

The Chronicler does not record Jehoshaphat’s reaction to this prophetic warning, but Josephus believed that his later reforms were inspired by it. Josephus wrote,

Whereupon the king betook himself to thanksgivings and sacrifices to God; after which he presently went over all that country which he ruled round about, and taught the people, as well the laws which God gave them by Moses, as that religious worship that was due to him” (Antiquities 9.1.1).

To the present writer this judgment is not so obvious. For reasons best known to himself, Jehoshaphat seems not to have broken off his alliance with the Northern Kingdom, the evil of which alliance was the very point made by the prophet. Too bad. The king had now twice been warned that he had thrown in his lot with a loser. The Chronicler was not obliged to inform his readers, including ourselves, about the fate soon to befall the house of Ahab.

Monday, November 11

2 Chronicles 20: The material in this chapter, which is mainly exception, may for analysis be divided into five parts:

First are the introductory verses that set the stage by describing the threat made to Judah by some of its local enemies to the east of the Jordan (verses 1–2). In verse 2 it is likely that the reference to “Syria” in both the Hebrew and Greek texts should be changed to “Edom,” as the RSV does. In Hebrew the two words look much more alike than they do in English, and copyists often confused them. In the present case the mention of the city of Engedi, on the coast of the Dead Sea, makes “Edom” the more probable reading.

Second, the nation gathers to pray (vv. 3–12). In Jehoshaphat’s intercession (verses 5–12) we observe a striking likeness to Solomon’s prayer at the consecration of the temple (6:12–40). Indeed, the Chronicler notes that the two prayers are made in exactly the same place (verse 5; 6:13; cf. 4:9). We should regard Jehoshaphat’s prayer as an extension and application of the prayer earlier made by Solomon.

This prayer especially “reminds” the Lord that the nations now threatening His temple are the very enemies that the Lord had earlier forbidden Israel to destroy (verses 10–11; cf. Numbers 20:21; Deuteronomy 2:1, 4, 5, 8, 19). That is to say, this prayer makes a case for being heard!

Third, by way of response to this petition of Jehoshaphat, the Lord’s
Spirit is poured out on the Levite Jahaziel for prophetic utterance (verses 13–17). His message is the kind of “liturgical prophecy” of which the
Book of Revelation is full. Jehoshaphat and the nation are prophetically reminded, within the place and context of communal worship, that the
Lord, who remains ever the Ruler of history, will give His people victory on the morrow. They need only show up for the battle; there will be no need to fight.
Fourth comes the fulfillment of Jahaziel’s prophetic message (verses
18–30), which takes place when the Levites march in religious procession in front of the army of Judah. Their worship in song and praise takes the place of the combat, as the enemies unaccountably turn on one another. This is apparently the Lord’s “ambush” of them. Once again, history is determined through worship. History is not something closed off from intervention from on high, and “on high” is not closed off from prayers offered on the earth. When God’s people pray, the Lord intervenes on the earth, and new things start to happen (Rev. 8:3–6).

Fifth, there follows a summary of the importance of Jehoshaphat’s reign (verses 31–34), followed by a final mention of another alliance of this king with the Northern Kingdom. This alliance, too, is disastrous. This last section provides the chapter’s only parallel to 1 Kings (22:42–48).

Tuesday, November 12

2 Chronicles 21: The reign of Jehoram (849–841) was what one might expect from a son-in-law of Ahab and Jezebel (verses 1–6). Inasmuch, however, as this reign will lead to the hour of greatest danger for the house of David, the Chronicler once more explicitly reminds his readers of the divine promise that guaranteed the stability of that dynasty (verse 7).

To Judah’s southeast the Edomites, subdued by Jehoshaphat in the previous chapter, rose again in rebellion, this time successfully (verses 8–10). Things were looking bad.

The letter sent to Jehoram from the prophet Elijah (verses 11–15) is our first example of “literary prophecy,” a full century before the writings of Amos and Isaiah. As it happens, however, an historical problem connected with this message raises an intriguing question. That is—since 2 Kings (chs. 1–3) seems to imply that Elijah disappeared in his fiery chariot before the death of Jehoshaphat, how do we now find Elijah writing a letter to Jehoshaphat’s successor?

Ah, this is the sort of problem that invites an effort of imagination (and perhaps a bit of playfulness). Did Elijah actually write the letter to Jehoshaphat much earlier, but it only arrived after Jehoshaphat’s death?
An interesting suggestion this, if only for what it indicates of mail delivery in the ancient Holy Land.

Or did Elijah write the letter to Jehoram ahead of time, knowing by prophecy the sort of king Jehoram would be? This suggestion, advanced by some of the ancient rabbis, has the merit of honoring Elijah’s knowledge of the future.

Or is it the case that Elijah, having gone up to heaven in his fiery chariot, returned to the earth for a short period to take care of his unfinished correspondence? Now there’s a thought. (I warned you about playfulness.)

And, if so, might not this same earthly solicitude on the prophet’s part argue that Elijah has in mind to make other return trips in the future? In fact, we know that the prophet Malachi (Mal. 4:5) believed this to be the case, nor was he the last (Matt. 11:14; 17:11–13). Indeed, the angel Gabriel, who by the time in question had shared the heavenly company of Elijah for nearly a thousand years (speaking in earthly time), dropped a remark on this subject when speaking to our Blessed Lady (Luke 1:17).

Whatever the circumstances of Elijah’s letter to Jehoram, the present writer suspects that this incident, like most things touching that famous Tishbite, is not open to normal, unimaginative analysis. When we are dealing with Elijah, anything may happen. All possibilities should be considered. Whatever else Elijah represents in Holy Scripture, he surely stands as a reminder that there is always room for one more surprise up the divine sleeve.

Finally, then, came the Philistines and their friends, leaving the royal progeny reduced to a single prince (verses 16–17). In the following chapter, that prince too will perish along with all his sons except one. Judah is about to enter a very dark hour.

Wednesday, November 13

2 Chronicles 22: This chapter records one of the bloodiest, most distressing stories in the Bible. Athaliah, the gebirah or queen mother of the slain King Ahaziah, seizes the throne of Judah in 841 BC and promptly orders the murder of her own grandchildren in order to guarantee her hold on that throne (verse 10). Holy Scripture simply narrates the event, without accounting for Athaliah’s motive in this singular atrocity.

Although such savagery from a daughter of Jezebel might not be surprising, Athaliah’s action was puzzling from a political perspective, nonetheless, and this in two respects. First, as the story’s final outcome would prove, her dreadful deed rendered Athaliah extremely unpopular in the realm, and her possession of the crown, therefore, more precarious.

Second, had she preserved the lives of her grandchildren instead of killing them, Athaliah’s real power in the kingdom would likely have been enhanced in due course, not lessened. As the gebirah, she might have remained the de facto ruler of Judah unto ripe old age.

Revelation 1:1-8: From the start this most interesting book describes itself as a written prophecy (verse 3; cf. 19:10; 22:7,10,18,19).

In the early Church prophetic utterance played a major role in the determination of practical matters, such as the proper direction to be taken by missionaries (Acts 16:6-7) and the choice of men to be ordained (1 Timothy 4:14). Indeed, the prophets in the New Testament are mentioned with the apostles (1 Corinthians 12:27-29; 14:1-5; Ephesians 2:20), and we even know the names of some of them (Acts 11:27-30; 15:32). The present book contains seven references to these prophets (10:7; 11:8; 16:6; 18:20-24; 22:6,9).

The author is John the Apostle, identical to the author of the Fourth Gospel and three New Testament epistles. If the John identified here was not that man, this enigmatic book would never have been included in the apostolic canon. The Church Fathers who determined these matters were very strict on the point.

The book itself is addressed to seven particular churches found in Asia Minor. It contains visions, that is, “all things that he saw,” an expression found fifty-four times in this book. Nonetheless, Revelation begins like an epistle, “grace to you and peace,” exactly like the epistles of Paul.

Thursday, November 14

2 Chronicles 23: Although the story of the rescue of Joash, along with his enthronement and the downfall of Athaliah, is certainly historical, the study of comparative literature suggests a value in matching its motif to a subject found rather widespread in ancient mythology—namely, the theme of the rightful young prince who, having been rescued from the evil usurper in his infancy, returns later to settle the score and be restored to his rightful inheritance. Literary history provides us with interesting parallels.

There was, for example, the very primitive solar myth concerning the powers of darkness, which appeared to triumph over the sun and to reign over the time of night, defying the promised sun. This darkness, which usurped the reign of the sun, as it were, attempted to devour the sun in its very birth—to kill the sun, that is to say, as it emerged from its mother’s womb. In at least two versions of this ancient myth, in fact, the darkness is portrayed as a dragon-like snake, reminiscent of a similar account in Revelation 12.

Thus, Egypt had its myth of the dragon Set, who pursued Isis while she carried the sun god Horus in her womb. His plan was to devour Horus at his birth. It is further curious that Isis, like the Woman in Revelation 12 (verse 14), is portrayed in Egyptian art (an elaborate door in the King Tut collection, for instance) with wings, so that she could flee from Set. Similarly, Greek mythology described the dragon-snake Python as pursuing the goddess Leto, who was pregnant with the sun god Apollo.

In both cases, the little child escaped and later returned to destroy the usurping serpent. The similarities of both of these myths to the vision of the pregnant woman and her child in Revelation 12 are striking. Both ancient myths also developed the subject of the illegitimate usurper, a theme that Matthew uses in his story of Herod seeking to destroy the true King, Jesus, at His very birth. As I suggested earlier in these remarks on Chronicles, the story of Joash and Athaliah serves as a veritable type for the story of Herod and Jesus in Matthew 2.

This story of the rescue of Joash, found also in 1 Kings, provided an extra reason for the Chronicler to love it—namely, it was the priest-hero who rescued the infant king. In some sense Jehoiada thus became one of the Chronicler’s major champions, the son of Levi who faces extreme danger to save the son of Judah and to keep intact the throne of David.

And where does the restoration of the monarchy take place? In the temple, naturally, which David’s son had built for the Lord, in order that the priestly tribe could minister to Him under the protection of David. Real history is made in the house of worship.

Friday, November 15

2 Chronicles 24: Joash was a mere child when the throne was given to him after the violent deposition of his grandmother Athaliah, and we may be sure the government in those early years fell largely to the strong, influential figures who had been responsible for that overthrow. Chief among these was the priest Jehoiada (verse 2).

In fact, Jehoiada’s major hand in the restoration of a Davidic king to the throne at Jerusalem touches a strong motif of the Chronicler himself—namely, the reliance of the Davidic monarchy of Judah on the priestly house of Levi. In the present case, moreover, it is the priest who chooses the wives for the king (verse 3).

Young Joash, raised in the temple from infancy until he was seven years old, felt a special veneration for the place, a veneration that inspired his desire to see it refurbished and kept in good repair. For this work he sought the cooperation of the Levites (verses 4–5). After some difficulties and negotiations on the matter, a collection box was placed in the temple itself to receive the necessary resources (vv. 6–11), and the required repairs were made (verses 12–14; Josephus, Antiquities 9.8.2)

After the death of Jehoiada (verses 15–16; Antiquities 9.8.3), however, the moral tone of the nation declined, including the wisdom and character of the king. An invasion of Syrians (verses 23–24; 2 Kings 12:17–21), after an initial battle in which Joash was severely wounded, constrained Judah to pay tribute.

Prior to narrating this story, however, the Chronicler concentrates on the spiritual decline that preceded that military and political defeat (verses 17–19). Jehoiada’s son, Zechariah, prophesied against the national apostasy, apparently including the king’s part in it (verse 20). This Zechariah, we should recall, was of royal blood, for his mother was an aunt to King Joash (22:11). Thus he was a first cousin to the king himself, the very king who conspired in his murder (verse 21). Furthermore, in the description of this murder we observe a striking irony: Joash had Zechariah stoned to death within the temple precincts, whereas Zechariah’s own father, Jehoiada, would not permit Joash’s grandmother, Athaliah, to be killed in the temple.

This Zechariah seems to be the one referenced in Luke 11:51, called “the son of Berechiah” in Matthew 23:35, perhaps under the influence of Isaiah 8:2.

King Joash, wounded in the battle with the Syrians, was then slain by two of his own citizens, themselves angered over the murder of Zechariah (verses 25–26). Again, there is a notable irony in the story: King Joash was not buried among the kings of Judah, whereas the priest Jehoiada was buried among the kings. Josephus (9.8.3) explains that this latter honor was conferred on him because of Jehoiada’s restoration of the Davidic throne.

The Chronicler ends the chapter by referring to special sources he has used. This reference explains why his account differs in several particulars from the corresponding story in 2 Kings 12.