Friday, November 8

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, came 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, 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 everything 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, 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.

Saturday, November 9

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 7-09), 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).

Sunday, November 10

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 this 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)

Monday, November 12

2 Chronicles 18: After an entire chapter that had no parallels in 1 Kings, the Chronicler now gives us a chapter that comes almost entirely (except for verses 1-3) from 1 Kings 22. In fact, this is the only instance where the Chronicler simply repeats a long section from the Books of Kings. The occasion prompts us to inquire why?

The obvious reason is found in the nature of the material itself, which these two authors do not look at in the same way. For the author of Kings, this was a story about Micaiah and Ahab, whereas for the Chronicler it is, rather, a story about Micaiah and Jehoshaphat. Indeed, the Chronicler is only incidentally interested in Ahab, who is not even mentioned again after his death in verse 34 (contrast with 1 Kings 22:38-40). The Chronicler’s concern here is very different. He is interested in Jehoshaphat, not Ahab. After all, it was the King of Judah, not Ahab, who wanted to consult with Micaiah (verses 6-7), and the Chronicler inserts the account for the simple reason that it strengthens a steady motif dear to his heart—namely, the Lord’s prophetic word to the kings of Judah (cf. 12:5-6; 15:1-7; 16:7-9; 19:2-3; 20:13-17; 24:20; 25:7-9,15-16; 28:9-11; 33:10; 34:22-28). This story is one more in that thematic series.

The Chronicler is not interested in the extensive prophetic activity in the Northern Kingdom, for the simple reason that he is not interested, in se, in anything that transpired in the Northern Kingdom. Indeed, the only time he mentions a prophetic intervention of the greatest of the northern prophets, Elijah, it is in connection with a letter that that prophet wrote to a king of Judah (21:12-15).

The Chronicler’s sole interest in the present story, then, 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 descendent of David 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 is “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 warfare, thought the Chronicler, than this sort of peace!

Tuesday, November 12

2 Chronicles 19: The material in the present chapter, which is also unique to the Chronicler, includes Jehoshaphat’s meeting with the prophet Jehu (verses 1-3) and his subsequent judicial reforms (verses 4-11).

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. He 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 is not so obvious. For reasons best known to himself, Jehoshaphat seems not to have broken off his alliance with the Northern Kingdom, which alliance was the very point made by the prophet. Too bad. The king had now twice been warned that he has 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. The facts were already well known from the Books of Kings.

Meanwhile Jehoshaphat went about reforming the nation’s judicial system (verses 4-7). In this reform we observe what appears to be a pattern from Deuteronomy 16:18-20; 17:8-13. If as we suggested earlier (relative to 17:9), the teaching of the Levites was modeled on the same document later discovered in the Temple during Josiah’s time, this affinity with Deuteronomy is not surprising.

In Jerusalem itself the judicial task was partly handed over to the Levites (verse 8), under the supervision of the “chief priest”–kohen har’osh (verse 11). This is one more in a growing number of tasks with which the versatile Levites are entrusted.

Wednesday, November 13

2 Chronicles 20: The material in this chapter, which is mainly proper to the Chronicler and with scant parallel in 1 Kings (verses 21-24 being the exception), may for analysis be divided into five parts.

First, there are introductory verses that set the stage by describing the threat made to Judah by some of the 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 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 (verses 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 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 (verse 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 Jehaziel’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 influenced by 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 (Revelation 8:3-6).

Fifth, there follows a summary of the importance of Jehoshaphat’s reign (verses31-34), followed by a final mention of another alliance of this king with the Northern Kingdom. This alliance too is disastrous. This final section provides the chapter’s only parallel to 1 Kings (22:42-48).

Thursday, November 14

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 southwest the Edomites, subdued by Jehoshaphat in the previous chapter, rose again in rebellion, this time successfully (verses 8-10). Things are 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, an historical problem connected with this letter raises an intriguing question. Since 2 Kings (chapters 1—3) seems to imply that Elijah disappeared in his fiery chariot before the death of Jehoshaphat, how do we now find him writing a letter to Jehoshaphat’s successor?

Ah, this is the sort of problem that invites imagination. Did Elijah actually write the letter to Jehoshaphat 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 a time, knowing by prophecy the sort of king Jehoram would be? This suggestion, accepted 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 while to take care of his unfinished correspondence? Now there’s a thought.

And, if so, might not this same earthly solicitude of 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 (4:5) believed this to be the case, nor was he the last (Matthew 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, dropped a remark on this subject when speaking to our Blessed Lady (Luke 1:17).

Whatever, then, 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 ordinary analysis. When we are dealing with Elijah, anything may happen.

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

Friday, November 15

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 B.C. 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. Just what, then, did this cruel woman have in mind?

The question proved to be understandably fascinating to literary speculation. The historian Josephus, the first to ponder the matter, ascribed Athaliah’s action to an inherited hatred of the Davidic house. It was her wish, said he, “that none of the house of David should be left alive, but that the entire family should be exterminated, that no king might arise from it later” (Antiquities 9.7.1). This explanation seems perfectly plausible. It would also explain why 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles, both sources devoted to the study of David’s house, found the story so intriguing and pertinent to their themes.

The playwright Racine developed this motive in his Athalie, where the evil queen exclaims, “David I abhor, and the sons of this king, though born of my blood, are strangers to me” (2.7.729-730). Following Racine, this interpretation was taken up in Felix Mendelssohn’s opera Athaliah, which asserts that the vicious woman acted in order that “no hand could reach out for her crown, nor king henceforth from David’s line preserve again the service of Jehovah” (First Declamation).

Racine also ascribed to Athaliah a second motive, namely her sense of duty to protect the realm from the various enemies that surrounded it. Indeed, she boasts that her success in this effort was evidence of heaven’s blessing on it (op. cit. 2.5.465-484). However, since it is unclear how the slaughter of her grandchildren contributed to the regional peace that Athaliah claimed as the fruit of her wisdom, this explanation is not so plausible as the first.

The third motive ascribed by Racine seems more reasonable and is certainly more interesting—namely, that Athaliah acted out of vengeance for the recent killing of her mother and the rest of her own family. Deranged by wrath and loathing, she imagined that the slaughter of her posterity avenged the slaughter of her predecessors: “Yes, my just wrath, of which I am proud, has avenged my parents on my offspring” (2.7.709-710). This explanation, which I believe to be correct, makes no rational sense, however, except on the supposition that Athaliah blamed Israel’s God for what befell her own family. In attacking David’s house, she thought to attack David’s God, whom she accuses of “implacable vengeance” (2.7.727). Since the Chronicler does not record the death of Jezebel and the rest of the family, however, this motive is a better explanation of the account in 1 Kings rather than 2 Chronicles.

Nonetheless, the third motive of Racine’s Athaliah is the goal of the first. That is to say, the hateful queen seeks to destroy David’s house in order to render void God’s promises given through the prophets, especially the promise of the Messiah that would come from David’s line, “that King promised to the nations, that Child of David, your hope, your expectation.” The queen’s vengeance, which later appears in Handel’s oratorio Athalia, correctly indicates the Christian meaning, the sensus plenior, of the Old Testament story. Waging war on great David’s greater Son, Athaliah foreshadowed yet another usurper of the Davidic throne, hateful King Herod, who likewise ordered a large massacre of little boys in a vain effort to retain the crown that did not belong to him.