Friday, October 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

This usage must be borne in mind when we read about the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus in the New Testament. The expression is properly interpreted in accord with the traditional view, held by the entire Christian tradition without exception (including the Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century) that the Mother of Jesus, whose very body was consecrated by the Divine Son’s becoming incarnate in her womb, remained a virgin all her life.

Saturday, October 19

Psalms 20 (Greek & Latin 19): It is to the redemption wrought by Christ our Savior that we refer when we say to Him: “We shall exult in Your salvation, and in the name of our God shall we be exalted.” The Church exults in His salvation whenever she gathers to worship in His name. And thus does she exult: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain / To receive power and riches and wisdom, / And strength and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev. 5:12).
In the name of our God, moreover, is the Church herself exalted. And thus is she exalted: “You . . . have redeemed us to God by Your blood / Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, / And have made us kings and priests to our God; / And we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9, 10).
In contrast to the worship of the Church, who trusts thus in the blood of the Lamb, there are those who place their confidence elsewhere: “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses.” This horse-trusting appears likewise in the prophets (e. g., Is. 31:1; 36:9) as a metaphor for man’s placing his assurance in such human forces as military might.
These “horses,” in which men put their trust, represent the designs of the worldly and powerful, but they are profoundly vain. Holy Scripture will finally describe these horses as white and carrying a conqueror, as red and bearing a warrior, as black and transporting famine, as pale and ridden by Death. These horses and their riders represent the forces of the world in its opposition to God, and “power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth” (Rev. 6:1–8). That is to say, these horses, in which men put their trust, will return to exact their toll on human happiness and human history.

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

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

Sunday, October 20

1 Chronicles 25: More than one commentator on Holy Scripture, observing the Chronicler’s partiality toward the Levitical singers (1 Chronicles 15:16-22; 16:4-42; 2 Chronicles 15:12-13; 29:27-30; cf. Ezra 3:10; Nehemiah 12:27), has suggested that this writer himself may have been numbered among them.

Corresponding to the twenty-four courses of the officiating priests, the Chronicler now introduces us to an equal number of groups of Temple musicians.

Particularly to be noted in this chapter is the ease with which the Chronicler associates music with prophecy. Thus, the musicians are said to “prophesy with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals” (verse 1), and the author speaks of “their father Jeudthun, who prophesied with the lyre in thanksgiving and praise to the Lord” (verse 3).

Earlier, in Chapter 15, we observed that the very expression “to lift up the voice” suggested that music was a ‘burden’ of some kind. Indeed, the word employed there, massa’, which comes from the root ns’ (“to lift”), also means “oracle.” So often in the prophetic writings we find the expression “the burden of the Lord” in the sense of a prophetic statement.

No one in antiquity questioned the relationship between prophecy and music, not even Saul (cf. 1 Samuel 10:5). It was not unknown, “when the musician played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him” (2 Kings 3:15). In the Bible one moves easily from the prophets to the psalms (cf. Luke 24:44), and the Bible’s chief musician, David, is also called a prophet.

David’s own place in the history of Israel’s liturgical music was so dominant in the tradition that it became customary among the Church Fathers to ascribe to him the authorship of whatever parts of the Psalter were not otherwise ascribed. David’s name became synonymous with the Book of Psalms very much as Solomon’s with Proverbs and Moses’ with the Pentateuch.

The present chapter should remind us that the signing of hymns is an essential part of the Christian’s birthright (not to be usurped by a church choir of specialists). Indeed, the chanting of psalms, hymns, and spiritual canticles is an essential, irreplaceable feature of the Church’s worship of God. This feature is, if anything, even more characteristic of the Church in glory (cf. Revelation 4:8-11; 5:8-14 and so on).

Monday, October 21

1 Chronicles 26: The office of porter, or gatekeeper (verses 1-19), was not so humble and insignificant as the name may suggest. These men, in fact, enjoyed considerable prestige as ministers of the sanctuary, serving in such functions as did not require the ministry of a priest.

Indeed, for many centuries and differing somewhat from place to place, the Christian Church revived this ministry as one of the “minor orders” and graced it with a rite of ordination. Analogous to the porters of the Old Testament, these Christian porters were charged with such responsibilities as the locking and unlocking of the church doors (hence their name, from the Latin word for door, porta), the ringing of the bells for the sacred services (and therefore care of the church clocks), the maintenance of certain material elements used in those services (such as prayer books and hymnals), and the general upkeep of the sanctuary. With all the candles and incense burning, vestments soiled, oil accidentally spilt, penitential ashes, and so forth, it is no small work to keep a church building clean.

Gradually, as these duties were taken over by others (which would always be the case in those congregations that did not have an ordained porter), the Christian order of porter eventually disappeared. (The Roman Catholic Church, for instance, stopped ordaining porters in the early 1970’s.) Even if they are no longer ordained, a special respect and honor is due to those who take care of a church building, mend its vestments and linens, polish its candlesticks, maintain the appointments of its worship, clean its floors and windows, arrange its flowers, dust its pews, replace its light bulbs, and adorn it for the special services of feast days.

We have already reflected that the higher office of Levite in the Old Testament became the model for the office of deacon in the Christian church. In particular, we may note that Christian deacons, like the Jewish Levites (verses 20,24,26-28), have traditionally been charged with the oversight of the church’s material resources, becoming the successors to those original seven who served at tables in the early Church (Acts 6).

Managing the physical and financial assets of the Church, it often happened that deacons became very powerful. In some places it was not unusual for a deacon to succeed the bishop he served. Among the more famous deacons who did so was Saint Athanasius of Alexandria in the fourth century.

Tuesday, October 22

1 Chronicles 27: Neither list in this chapter has a parallel in 2 Samuel.

The first list (1-15) is similar to the earlier list of David’s heroes (11:11-47, but it is not derivative from it. Unlike the lists of the preceding chapter, it identifies, not the ministers of the sanctuary, but those individuals and households who regularly (“by courses”) provided King David with the material means of constructing the Temple. These are called “the chief fathers and captains” (verse 1).

Corresponding to the twelve months of the year and the traditional number of twelve tribes, these are divided into twelve taxation districts (verses 25-31), an arrangement that would continue under Solomon (1 Kings 4).

The constant repetition of their numbers as “twenty-four thousand” corresponds to the division of the priests into twenty-four courses of ministerial rotation, which we consider earlier. This number is also surely related to the twenty-four elders that we find around God’s throne in Revelation 4.

Thus, in the constantly repeated “twenty-four thousand” we should detect the influence of a sacral and hierarchical interest in the list. Two things should be borne in mind regarding the historicity of these figures. First, as we have seen before, the word ’eleph, translated as “thousand,” was a technical rather than a strictly mathematical reference. Second, it would require a truly unusual miracle to guarantee that each district would have exactly the same number of male adults at exactly the same time.

This chapter’s second list (16-22) names Israel’s tribal leaders during David’s reign, indicating the king’s apparent comfort with the continuance of the ancient tribal leadership. This latter feature was to be less the case during the reign of Solomon. In fact, a festering discord between Solomon’ style of rule and the traditional tribal authority were to contribute greatly to the schism that ensued on Solomon’s death.

The chapter contains a note on David’s refusal to permit the results of his census to be entered into the archives of the realm (verses 23-24), since that census offended God and was regarded as a blight on David’s reign. It does appear, therefore, that both the Chronicler and the author of 2 Samuel received the results of that census from other sources. This would in part explain how they are somewhat different.

Wednesday, October 23

1 Chronicles 28: David did not simply abdicate the throne in favor of Solomon; he places that succession, rather, in a larger framework of tradition, so that his son will benefit from the support and counsel of “all the princes of Israel, the princes of the tribes, and the captains of the companies” (verse 1). The king is the representative of the whole nation, and his accession to the throne is inseparable from that representation.

Basing himself on this high calling of Israel’s kings, the Chronicler omits from his succession narrative, the dramatic and often chaotic intrigues among David’s ambitious sons, stories that fill eight chapters between 2 Samuel 13 and 1 Kings 2. For the Chronicler these events are simply no significant. Those shallow, ephemeral incidents are petty and uninteresting. They do not even begin to touch the true meaning of Solomon’s accession to the throne.

In the Chronicler’s account of the matter, David simply announces that God picked Solomon, and that settles the matter of the transition (verse 5). Solomon, whom the Lord hereby adopts as His son, will build the Temple (verse 6) that David was unable to complete (verse 3).

We observe, in this matter of succession, that Solomon is not David’s oldest son, but neither was David the oldest son of Jesse (verse 4). In fact, from the day that the Lord’s choice fell on Seth rather than Cain, He has shown scant regard for the human tradition of primogeniture. God’s choices have nothing to do with man’s calculations.

Drawing the blueprint of the Temple is ascribed to David (verses 11-12), just as transmitting the blueprint of the desert tabernacle was ascribed to Moses (Exodus 25:9; Hebrews 9:1-2), and as the mystic Ezekiel will provide the blueprint for the second Temple. In each instance, the design is “revealed”; that is, it is known “in the Spirit” (baruach —verse 12; cf. verse 19). Such constructions are modeled on the heavenly sanctuary, which Moses beheld on the mountain and which John gazed upon in the mystic visions of Patmos (cf. Hebrews 8:5; 9:1-5). All o f man’s endeavor to worship God are an attempt to create on earth an image of heaven.

The history of God’s people, then, is a chronicle of temple-building. Indeed, the construction of a dwelling place for the Lord—the mystery of the Temple—is the very goal of history. Such is the perspective of the Chronicler, who uses this viewpoint to distinguish between what is truly important and what is not. This is his interpretive lens through which to survey the course of years and centuries. It is a narrative wisdom higher and more serene.

Thursday, October 24

1 Chronicles 29: It is both interesting and profitable to compare the instructions that David gives Solomon near the end of 1 Chronicles with the instructions that this same David gives to this same Solomon in 1 Kings 2:1-9. In the Kings account David commends certain irreproachable moral instructions to Solomon (1 Kings 21:14) and then goes on to recommend the killing of Joab and the punishing of Shimei (21:5-6,8-9). In the Chronicles account, on the other hand, David goes to great length instructing Solomon with respect to the Temple, its priesthood, and its worship. The differences between the two stories are . . . . well, striking.

Similarly, here in the Chronicler’s narrative of the submission of Solomon’s brothers to their new king here (verse 24) he leaves out the more colorful account found in 1 Kings 1:5-49. Such details, for the Chronicler, would constitute something of a distraction from his chosen theme.

David, in his final charge to the nation, summons the people to be generous for the construction of the Temple (verses 1-5). His words are modeled on the similar charge that Moses gave to the Israelites with respect to the tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus 35:4-19).

In his choice of words descriptive of those ancient events, the Chronicler employs terms characteristic of the Persian period during which he is writing. Thus, one of the terms that he uses in reference to the Temple is birah, a Persian word meaning “palace” (verses 1,19). Nowhere else in the Bible is the Temple called by that name, though we do find the expression rather often, in its usual and secular sense, in this and other works from the Persian and Greek periods (2 Chronicles 17:12; 27:4; Nehemiah 1:1; 2:8; 7:2; Esther 1:2,5; 2:3,5,8; 3:15; 8:14; 9:6:,11,12; Daniel 8:2).

In like fashion, the wealth given for the construction of the Temple is measured by its equivalent in the golden coins of Persia, the ’adarkanim (“darics” in the RSV—verse 7). The use of such expressions rendered the Chronicler’s story more intelligible to his contemporaries.

The rich theology of the Chronicler is perhaps nowhere or more explicit than in David’s closing prayer (verses 10-19), a solemn liturgical blessing that epitomizes God’s true worship at all times. At the heart of this prayer is the mystery of the Temple. It is prayer, after all, that makes a temple a temple, and David’s blessing here contains the sentiments of humility of that other man who, having prayed in the Temple with humility, went down to his house more justified than the other (verse 14; Luke 18:9-14).

The Chronicler names three literary sources for his description of the reign of David (verse 29). The only one of these three sources still extant is the Books of Samuel and 1 Kings. The other material found in the Books of Chronicles, we presume, must be attributed to those sources that have not otherwise come down to us.

The major contribution of the Chronicler, as compared with the Books of Samuel, is all the extensive material relative to David’s preparation for the Temple and its worship. Samuel devotes 77 verses to David’s liturgical concerns, whereas here in 1 Chronicles there are 323 verses devoted to this theme.

This difference of Chronicles from the Books of Samuel and Kings is not only material, it is also formal. That is to say, it pertains not only to what was written, but also to why it was written. The Chronicler had in mind to portray David as a man of worship more than a political and military figure. In this respect David most resembles Moses.

Friday, October 25

2 Chronicles 1: As in David’s last public appearance (1 Chronicles 28-29), so here Solomon is surrounded by “all Israel” (verse 2). Describing the new king’s pilgrimage to Gibeon, the Chronicler goes into greater detail, including elements not found in Kings (verses 3b-6a) that emphasize the continuity of Solomon’s novus ordo with the ancient institutions of Moses.

In a sense the new king was morally obliged to make this pilgrimage because of the veneration widely and deeply felt toward the Mosaic tabernacle, now about three hundred years old, and the ancient bronze altar made by Bezalel (Exodus 31 & 38). Solomon’s pilgrimage to this traditional gathering place of the tribes signified that the new Temple, which he will soon undertake to build, represented no break from Israel’s inherited worship.

Josephus, in spite of the combined testimonies of both Kings and Chronicles, places this event at Hebron. He also adds the amusing detail that when the Lord spoke to Solomon—in a dream in Kings but in a vision in Chronicles—the king “jumped out of bed” (Antiquities 8.2.1).

Solomon, in response to the Lord’s offer to give him whatever he wanted (verse 7), requested only spiritual goods, not military conquest or worldly power. He besought the Lord for the wisdom (verse 10) that became the trait for which he is best remembered in Holy Scripture and in the minds of believers ever since.

Nonetheless, because Solomon’s reign was also a time of economic prosperity, the Chronicler could hardly remain silent about the king’s mercantile skills (verses 14-17). Solomon, then, seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, discovered that all these other things had been added to him as well. Even in this respect, however, the Chronicler, inspired by another view of what is really important in history, omits many of the details about Solomon’s wealth found in 1 Kings.

All these matters now being settled, the Chronicler is ready to get to the really important part of the story, the construction of the Temple.