Friday, September 22

1 Chronicles 1: This section begins the long period from the beginning of the world to the reign of David, which latter began about 1000 BC) is reduced to hardly more than an outline, in some places simply a list of names (chapters 1–9). There will be many such lists throughout Chronicles.

By leaving out the details of human history prior to David’s monarchy, the Chronicler conveys the impression that everything that happened prior to David was a preparation for the covenant God made with Israel’s first true king.

Indeed, for the Chronicler the real covenant of the Lord is that which He made with David. All the earlier covenants (with Noah, with Abraham, and even with Moses) appear diminished by comparison. This is a perspective unique to the Chronicler. David is his interpretive lens.

The genealogies of this first chapter are concentrated on the descendants
of Abraham, who dominate the Arabian Peninsula and the western part of the Fertile Crescent (vv. 27–54). We detect that the author is narrowing his focus, concentrating his energies toward the goal of the narrative, which is David.

For all that concentration, nonetheless, the Chronicler does place the history of Israel within more ample human history. Thus, he commences with Adam, the single father of the human race, and his extensive genealogies of early man give what one historian calls “evidence of an ecumenical concern.” Israel’s history is regarded as the high point of human history. Later, the New Testament will, in a similar way, extend this perspective by tracing the genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Adam (Luke 3:23–38).

The lists here in chapter 1, then, serving the theological interests of the Chronicler, were not intended to be complete, and we should avoid attempts to reconcile these lists with other genealogical material, as though their incompleteness were somehow an historical defect. As St. Augustine noted repeatedly in The City of God, none of the genealogies in the Bible was meant to be exhaustive. Each biblical genealogy, Augustine saw, served a specific literary, historical, and theological purpose.

A good reading of the Holy Scriptures should concentrate on discovering
those purposes. In the present narrative, for example, Cain and all his descendants are omitted. Why? In fact, the Chronicler refuses even to mention the existence of Cain’s posterity for the same reason that he will later ignore
the schismatic kings of the North—namely, why should he bother to recall what the Lord has chosen to forget? Hence, the Chronicler writes here only of those ancients who were important to the ancestry and family history of the chosen people. This interest determines his choice of material.

Saturday, September 23

1 Chronicles 2: Now we begin the genealogies of the “Israelites.” Indeed, we here observe, for the first time, that Chronicles habitually refers to Jacob by the name “Israel,” the name he received after his famous wrestling match at Peniel (verse 1). Whereas the name Jacob denotes that very interesting historical character to whom so many interesting things happened, the name Israel denotes more especially the patriarch of the twelve tribes, the man who gave his name to the twelve tribes.

In the genealogies of Chronicles, beginning with this chapter, we also observe that far greater prominence and elaboration are accorded the tribes of Judah and Levi, the kingly and priestly households. Taking Chronicles as a whole, Judah will get 102 verses and Levi 81 verses, whereas all the other tribes together will receive only 126 verses. For the Chronicler, writing long after the destruction of the Northern Kingdom by the Assyrians in 722 B.C., only Judah and Levi were of immediate moment, and he was very eager to demonstrate the support of the priestly tribe for the covenanted royal house of David. Hence, this dominance of Levi and Judah in his genealogies.

This chapter also provides the Bible’s only list of the Jerahmeelites (verses 25-41), David’s “country cousins” mentioned in 1 Samuel (27:10; 30:29). As usual, the Chronicler is interested in this family solely because of its relationship to David.

This pronounced accent on the genealogy of Judah will be of even more importance to the Christian, of course, because this is the genealogy of the Incarnation itself: “For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah” (Hebrews 7:14).

Within the genealogy of Judah, special prominence is given to the ancestors of David’s father, Jesse (verses 10-12), for obvious reasons, and then to his descendents (verses 13-15). Here we learn that Jesse had seven sons, which is a problem if we recall that 1 Samuel (16:6-11) mentions eight sons of Jesse. Perhaps the rabbis were correct in their speculation that one of the eight sons, having died childless, is intentionally left out of this genealogy.

Because of Caleb’s prominence within the territory of Judah, a great deal of this chapter concerns his family (verses 18-24,42-50). There is, however, another reason given for this attention given to Caleb. It provides some background for the character of Bezaleel, who will be introduced in 2 Chronicles 1:5. This Bezaleel was of interest to the Chronicler, because he was the craftsman credited with the proper embellishment of the Tabernacle (Exodus 31:35-38). In this genealogy of Caleb, then, we see another sign of the Chronicler’s concern for all things associated with worship.

Since the word kenite means “smith,” we have in verses 50-55 the world’s first genealogy of . . . , well, “The Smith Family.”

Sunday, September 24

1 Chronicles 3: We now begin the royal line of David, which this chapter extends to at least the beginning of the fourth century before Christ. This latter fact does not necessarily prove anything about the date of the composition of Chronicles, because it is very conceivable that a later editor or copyist of Chronicles may have extended this list of the Dadivic descendents. In this respect one does well to bear in mind that Chronicles was “canonized” into the Old Testament rather late in Jewish history, so that no earlier editor or copyist would have scrupled to augment the text. In fact, the ancient Greek translation (Septuagint) of this chapter extends the list all the way to about 250, exactly the period in which the Septuagint translation was being made.

The Sacred Text names the mothers of the six sons that David fathered in Hebron, before the removal of his capital to Jerusalem in 993 (verses 1-4). This detail is curious, because Chronicles otherwise omits the fact that David’s reign was not recognized by the northern tribes for the first seven years (cf. 2 Samuel 5:5). This omission, in turn, is consistent with the Chronicler’s general disregard for the politics of the northern tribes.

Did the birth of these first six sons at Hebron diminish their claims to succeed David on the throne? Perhaps, but we must bear in mind that the rules for royal succession in Israel—kingship being a completely new thing for the nation—were not yet established, so there is no reason to suppose that the royal succession was expected to follow the principle of primogeniture.

The Bathshua of verse 5 is, of course, Bathsheba. (In accord with Chronicles’ sustained effort to edify, on which we have already commented, the lady’s adultery with David is not mentioned.) The reference to three sons of Bathsheba older than Solomon is unexpected. In the light of 2 Samuel 2:24 (“Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon”—ESV) we would not have anticipated such a detail.

The passage of the royal line to Solomon and his descendants is recorded in verse 10. Through verse 16 these Davidic kings are listed up until the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 587.

The exilic and post-exilic descendants of the royal household, listed here so thoroughly (verses 17-24), bear witness to the careful maintenance of records among the Jews of the sixth and fifth centuries. The Book of Ezra will further testify to this care.

The later names in this list, especially after Zerubbabel (verse 19), are difficult to reconcile with the genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. The present writer is happy to leave this difficulty to the investigation of those with the interest and patience to resolve it.

Monday, September 25

1 Chronicles 4: We have already remarked that the genealogies in Chronicles are vastly more detailed for the tribes of Judah and Levi than for any of the others. The present chapter (verses 1-23) on the tribe of Judah illustrates the point.

To grasp the historical reason for this emphasis, it is sufficient to reflect that the southern kingdom, the realm of Judah, had an unbroken succession of a single dynasty (the six years of Athaliah’s usurpation being only a blip on the screen) from about 1000 to 587 before Christ. During more than four centuries, beginning in 993, it had its capital in a single city, Jerusalem. This stability and continuity of Judah contributed in no small measure to the better preservation of its historical memory through archived records.

In these respects Judah is to be contrasted with the Northern Kingdom, Israel, which was governed by a series of dynasties, some of them very short, over a period of only two centuries (922-722). Its capital, moreover, did not remain in a single place during that time. Israel’s instability and impermanence are reflected in the relative paucity of its preserved records. Sometimes, indeed, even the identity of individual Israelite kings was lost from the stories about their reigns. For example, 2 Kings 5 does not tell us the name of the Israelite king to whom the Syrian king sent Naaman in order to be cleansed of his leprosy.

In short, the final and dominating perspective of the Old Testament is that of Judah, not the Northern Kingdom. Judah’s own records, therefore, are far better preserved, Judah’s history being more immediate and proximate to the Bible’s composition. Judah, then, and not northern Israel, represents the true continuity of biblical history, and nowhere is this fact more evident than in Chronicles.

Some of the sources cited in this chapter appear to be very old, as the text itself claims (verse 22). Indeed, the expression “to this day” (verses 41,43) seems to refer, not to the time of the Chronicler, but to the period of these older sources that he is citing word-for-word. This is clear from the reference to the Amalekites, who were long gone by the time of the Chronicler.

With respect to Jabez we observe that his name involves a play on words. His mother, we read, bore him in “pain”—jozeb—so his name was derived from a switching around of letters. We also note that the prayer of Jabez, which the Lord heard, was concerned with the avoidance of future pain (verse 10).

The region of Judah contained the least fertile soil in all the Holy Land. Therefore, it does not surprise us that the tribe of Judah, where men may sometimes have felt absolutely desperate as farmers, produced so many craftsmen (verse 14), linen workers (verse 21), and potters. This last group was in the royal employ (verse 23).

The tribes of Reuben and Simeon, because they were situated in the south, were in some measure absorbed into the political life of Judah. This is why their records are listed next (4:24—5:10).

The Chelub of verse 11 is Caleb.

The events of verse 41 will be explained in 2 Chronicles 20.

Tuesday, September 26

1 Chronicles 5: This chapter begins with a brief explanation why Reuben, though Israel’s eldest son, did not inherit nor transmit the right of primogeniture. (In fact, however, throughout the Bible God’s favorable choice most often seems to fall elsewhere than on the eldest son.) The reasons given here reflect the narratives in Genesis (35:22; 49:4).

Even while admitting the transferal of Israel’s birthright to Joseph, the Chronicler feels compelled to mention that Judah was the strong tribe that produced the leader (nagid) of God’s People (verse 2; 2 Samuel 7:8).

Dealing with Reuben’s settlements east of the Jordan and Dead Sea (verse 8) apparently prompts the author’s mind to remain in that general location and discuss the tribe of Gad (verses 11-17) and the half-tribe of Manasseh (verses 23-24) that settled in Gilead and Bashan. This sequence interrupts the author’s pattern of adhering to lists of the sons as they appear in Genesis 46:16 or Numbers 26:15-18.

The mention of Sharon in verse 16 is most mysterious, because the Plain of Sharon in nowhere near that area.

In verse 17 the author traces his source material to a census made in the mid-eighth century.

This chapter has two notices of wars against the Hagrites, Arabians living east of the Jordan, one in the late eleventh century (verse 10) and one at an apparently later period (verses 19-20). The Hagrites, twice defeated, were hardly destroyed. We find them later in the Greek writers Strabo and Ptolemy and the Latin author Pliny.

Some elements in this account suggest a source as early as the ninth century. For example we know that the towns of Aroer, Baalmeon, and Nebo (verse 8) fell under Moabite control during that century.

The chapter’s closing verses (25-26) indicate the irony that these eastern tribes, victorious in war by God’s favor, nonetheless succumbed to the religion of those whom they defeated. This explains their massive deportation by Tiglath-pileser in 734. (The material here is drawn from 2 Kings 15:19,29; 17:6; 18:11.) Thus, an Assyrian emperor is portrayed as an instrument in the hand of the supreme Lord of History.

Wednesday, September 27

1 Chronicles 6: Next into consideration come the sons of Levi, the priestly tribe. The list is not complete, and we observe a certain stylization as the genealogy begins. Leaving out such names as Jehoiada (who will be prominent in 2 Chronicles 23—24) and Uriah (who will appear in Ezra 8:33), this list contains twelve priestly generations from Aaron to the Solomonic Temple (verses 1-10) and another twelve generations from that Temple to the post-exilic Temple (verses 11-15; Ezra 3:2). There is a continuation of the post-exilic list in Nehemiah 12:10.

As the previous chapter spoke of the Assyrian Tiglath-pileser as God’s historical instrument against the Northern Kingdom (5:26), so the present chapter once again sees the hand of God at work in Judah’s own exile to Babylon (verse 15). This perspective reveals the author’s theology of history.

In the section on the Levites (verses 16-30) the most notable feature is the author’s inclusion of Elkanah and his son Samuel in the Levitical line (verses 23-26). This section throws light on the beginning of First Samuel, which describes Elkanah’s family as Ephraemite. From the present text it is clear that Elkanah’s was a Levitical family living in the territory of Ephraim. Since the Levites were deliberately spread around among the various tribes, this is not surprising.

The listing of the Levitical singers (verses 31-48) is unusually detailed, suggesting that the author had access to more ample source material for this section. David, whom we otherwise know to have taken a particular interest in music (1 Samuel 16:18-23; 2 Samuel 1:17-27), is credited with the inspiration and organization of Israel’s program of liturgical music (verse 31). The Chronicler comes back to this thesis repeatedly (15:16,27; 25:1; 2 Chronicles 29:26; Nehemiah 12:46), and we might suspect as much from the Book of Psalms.

Although Korah was punished for rebellion against Aaron (Numbers 16:16), his descendants (verse 37) served as Levitical musicians and are credited with compiling some of the Book of Psalms (42-49, 84-88). The Asaph in verse 39 is also well known in the Psalms (73-83).

The Zadokites, the descendants of Zadok (verse 53), became the chief priestly family at the time of David, who is the true hero of the Books of Chronicles. Although it is clear in Second Samuel that Zadok was the chief priest at the time of David, only Chronicles (verses 49-53) provides us with his earlier lineage.

In the New Testament the Zadokites are called “Sadducees,” who were leaders among those who rejected David’s final Heir, a tragedy that clearly would have distressed the Chronicler.

The Levites were not given a special tribal portion of the Holy Land like the other tribes but were dispersed throughout all the other tribes, so that the latter would benefit from their priestly ministry (verses 54-81). The Levites were allotted specific cities among the tribes, the first being the ancient shrine of Hebron (verse 55), which was also appointed as a city of refuge (verse 57). Indeed, we observe that all the major cities of the Holy Land, except Jerusalem, were designated as priestly cities — Debir, Bethshemesh, Anathoth, Shechem, Gezer, Aijalon, Golan, Ramoth (both of them), Kadesh, Tabor, and so forth.

The sons of Aaron received property near Jerusalem, so as always to be available for service in the capital (verses 54-55). To accommodate this arrangement, special provisions were made with the family of Caleb, which also inherited property in that region (verse 56).

Thursday, September 28

1 Chronicles 7: Although our author has no interest in the Northern Kingdom, he does preserve for us a considerable record for the early history of the northern tribes. Indeed, even though the material available to him must have been sparse, he seems to have used it all, because there are details in the present chapter not to be found elsewhere in Holy Scripture.

The Chronicler used what records he had. For some of these tribes (Naphtali, for instance) the author had hardly more at his disposal than the lists in Genesis 46 and Numbers 26. Many census records of the Northern Kingdom had perished at Israel’s fall to the Assyrians in 722.

The specific details of the tribe of Issachar (verses 1-7) come from Genesis 46:13 and Numbers 26:23-25. The numbers given here, however, are quite a bit higher than those indicated in the census of Numbers 1 and 26.

Something should be said about the numbers themselves, because at first reading they seem far too high for the fairly small area of the Holy Land. To gain a more realistic assessment of the situation, it is useful to bear in mind that the Hebrew word for “thousand,” ’eleph, is actually a subdivision of a tribe, the numerical count of which varied a great deal but seldom came to a full thousand. In the biblical context ’eleph indicates a military unit, comparable to our “battalion,” “regiment” or “brigade.” The numerical force of any of these units may vary a great deal, and this is also true of the Hebrew ’eleph. If this military context of the expression is borne in mind the very high numbers in this chapter are rendered much more plausible than at first seems to be the case.

Although the Hebrew text of verses 7-11 indicates the tribe of Benjamin, this reading most certainly comes from a copyist’s error (bene zebulun, or “sons of Zebulun,” was mistaken for ben jamin) and later was appropriately corrected in one of the Greek manuscripts to read “Zebulun” instead of Benjamin. This is the usual sequence, after all, in which Holy Scripture refers to Zebulun, nor would there be any mention of Zebulun in the entire list in I Chronicles unless it were here. Moreover, the names given here do not correspond to the Benjaminite names in Chapter 8, nor Genesis 46:21, nor Numbers 26:38.

As we know from Genesis 49:13, Zebulun was situated on the seashore, just under Phoenicia, and perhaps this fact is reflected in the name “Tarshish” in verse 10, the same name as that ancient port (Cadiz) beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, from which ships came to the Middle East from the other end of the Mediterranean. In short, we read this section as referring to Zebulun, not Benjamin.

Similarly, verse 12 appears to refer to the tribe of Dan, inasmuch as Hushim is identified in Genesis 46:23 as a son of Dan. Dan’s name seems to have dropped out of the text by a scribal error. (In Hebrew the name has only two letters, somewhat similar in shape.)

The Naphtali list in verse 13 is identical with Genesis 46:24. It appears that the Chronicler had access to no records about Naphtali except this Genesis text and Numbers 26:48.

The Manasseh list (verses 14-19) includes both parts of that tribe and indicates its relationship to Syria. In this section on Manasseh it is clear that the Hebrew women became wives for the Syrian overlords, indicating that the half-tribe of Manasseh that lived east of the Jordan had become simply a political extension of Syria. As such, it suffered the fate of Syria when Tiglath-pileser’s army showed up in 734.

In the large tribe of Ephraim (verses 20-29), the most notable person is Joshua (verse 27). The slaying of the sons of Ephraim by Philistine raiders (verses 20-21) suggests that the Chronicler had access to a very, very early source. This section is also the only place in the Bible where a woman is said to have founded a city (verse 24).

Although the tribe of Asher (verses 30-40) is unusually ample with personal names, a third of them being found only here, there are no place names. Asher sat geographically furthest from Jerusalem.

After this rather sketchy outline of the northern tribes, the author is now ready to treat of the tribe of Benjamin, situated on the border between the north and the south in the Holy Land. Since Benjamin is the tribe of Saul, Israel’s first king, the author will use this treatment to move from pure listing to a narrative of the kingdom, which David will assume in due course. The next chapter will begin, therefore, with the list of the Benjaminites.

Friday, September 29

1 Chronicles 8: Just as the opening genealogies of 1 Chronicles emphasized David, so these genealogies concentrate on Saul at the end. Thus, this final listing is Saul’s own tribe, Benjamin.

The initial list given in the present text (verses 1-28) is drawn partly from Genesis 46:21 and Numbers 26:38-40, but there are discrepancies. Indeed, no other part of Chronicles is so full of textual difficulties as this section. Someone has suggested—and the suggestion is plausible— that the ancient scribes, having copied out seven whole chapters containing almost nothing but names, were suffering from unusual fatigue and ennui. Hence, we have an unusual numbers of transcriptional errors. Perhaps so, but there is really nothing to be done about it. The various hypothetical emendations suggested by textual scholars seem rather shaky.

We recognize Ehud (verse 6) as the left-handed Judge from this right-handed (ben-jamini) tribe (Judges 3:12-30).

Jerusalem, now introduced in verses 28 and 32, will be treated at length in the following chapter.

Although the author’s intent in verses 29-40 was to present Saul’s ancestry and lineage, the method is not direct and straightforward. After presenting Jeiel (cf. 9:5) and his progeny, he moves to Saul’s immediate family, which does not seem to be connected to Jeiel. Even the relationships portrayed here among Abner, Kish, Ner, and Saul are difficult to reconcile with 1 Samuel 14:50-51. We must bear in mind—for certainly the author of 1 Chronicles bore in mind—that this was the family that was ultimately rejected and replaced by David’s.

For all that, the Chronicler himself seems to have been faithful to very old sources here, sources independent of 2 Samuel. We may illustrate this by his retention of the name of the pagan god “Baal” in two of the names given here, Ethbaal and Meribaal (verses 33-34). This is curious and historically significant. In 2 Samuel (2:8; 9:2) these names were changed to Ishbosheth and Mephibosheth.

Why the change in 2 Samuel and not in 2 Chronicles? The answer, though easy, tells us something of canonical history. The Second Book of Samuel is contained in the second section of the Hebrew Bible, the Nebiwim, “Prophets.” These books were regularly read in the synagogue. Reluctant to use the name of a pagan god, Baal, in the synagogue, the reader customarily changed the name to boseth, meaning “shame.” This practice led to the same change being made in the text itself. There was no need to make such a change in the Books of Chronicles, however, which are found in the third section of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Ketubim, or “Writings.” This section was not placed in the biblical canon until later, and Chronicles was not read publicly in the synagogue. Hence, Chronicles has preserved the old form of these two names.