Friday, October 8

1 Chronicles 15: To house the Ark, David provides a tent, presumably on the model of the Tabernacle that Moses constructed in the desert (Numbers 1:50). When the Ark was brought to Jerusalem this time, it was borne on the shoulders of the Levites (verses 2,15), as Moses determined (Numbers 4:2,15; Deuteronomy 10:8; 31:25; 1 Samuel 6:15). From now on, David insists, there are to be no mistakes on such matters (verse 13).

David perceived what must be perceived by any who would approach God in worship—God determines the nature, structure, and spirit of the worship. Correct (“orthodox”) worship is not the uninformed, spontaneous outpouring of human activity, and the worshipper must be on guard against identifying his own impulses with the agency of the Holy Spirit. Undisciplined, uninformed people are far more likely to act under the impulse of suspect and impure spirits than under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Mere spontaneity and a “sense of fulfillment” are no adequate indications of the agency of the Holy Spirit.

The Chronicler’s introduction of a different subject hints that some time was needed for David to arrive at the perception of this truth. Whereas in 2 Samuel (6:12) David’s motive in again attempting to move the Ark was a response to the blessings poured out on the family of Obed-edom, himself a Levite (16:5,38; Josephus, Antiquities 7.4.2), here in Chronicles David is credited with a deeper perception. He perceived that the real problem was the people’s relative nonchalance and carelessness in the proper conduct of the worship (verses 12-13). He discerned that in worship it is God that measures man, not the other way round.

David perceived that correct worship is not directly and immediately concerned with the religious needs and aspirations of human beings, but with the glory of God, which is inseparable from His holiness. The fundamental ground of true worship is not the religious nature of man, but the manifestation of God. Indeed, any worship that is not a response to God’s Self-revelation must of necessity be idolatrous, the worship of something that man himself creates from the resources of his own religious nature.

For worship to be authentic and true, God Himself takes the initiative. God must be revealed in order for man to worship correctly. Otherwise, man is simply worshipping the works of his own hands, the ideas of his own imagination and reason. Two chapters earlier the divine revelation was of a particularly disturbing kind, resulting in a man’s death, but it was a true revelation nonetheless, and David properly regarded it as such. He perceived that correct worship does not consist in the attempt to express man’s religious aspirations, but in meeting in faith the manifestation of God in His truth. David concluded, therefore, that from now on, everything would be done decently and in order, as determined in the rules that the Lord had given to Moses on the mountain.

This principle pertained first of all to the proper arrangement of the sacred music (verse 16), a matter about which David, himself a musician, took special care. This included instrumental music as well as vocal. This entire section on music (verses 15-24) we owe to the Chronicler.

Saturday, October 9

1 Chronicles 16: The first three and the final verses of this chapter are the only parts paralleled in 2 Samuel. Josephus himself has none of the material in this chapter.

The psalms appointed for this inaugural celebration of the Ark, sometimes referred in modern scholarship as “The Enthronement of the Lord,” correspond very closely to texts contained in the Book of Psalms. Thus, verses 8-22 are substantially identical to Psalm 104 (105):1-15, verses 23-34 to Psalm 95 (96):1-13, and verses 35-36 to Psalm 105 (106):47-48.

Indeed, verse 36 corresponds to the closing verse of Book 4 of the Psalter. If we were to take that verse apart from that context, forgetting its earlier history in the Book of Psalms, we would imagine that the Babylonian Exile preceded the reign of Solomon!

The title of Psalm 95 (96), which ascribes its composition to David himself, records that it was also used at the dedication of the Second Temple “after the Captivity.” The Chronicler appreciated the significance of its also having been sung at the Ark’s first appearance in Jerusalem more than a half-millennium earlier.

In verse 4 we observe three kinds of prayer: invocation, thanksgiving, and praise.

David’s offering of the sacrifices (verse 2) should be understood in the same sense as his constructing of the ritual tent. That is to say, he caused these things to be done by others (verse 1; cf. 15:26). David no more “sacrificed” in the sense of taking the place of the priest than he “built” his house in the sense that he grabbed the chisel to replace the stonemason or the adze to replace the carpenter.

The tent at Jerusalem is distinguished from the one at Gibeon (verse 39), which was instituted by Moses (21:29). It is clear from 1 Kings 3 that the shrine at Gibeon continued to be held in high regard in Israel. This means that for a while Israel had two centers of national worship, and after the translation of the Ark to Jerusalem David took care that the regular sacrifices were still to be offered at Gibeon, along with the sacred chants (verses 40-42). It was to Gibeon that Solomon would have recourse to the Lord at the beginning of his reign.

Sunday, October 10

1 Chronicles 17: In the view of the Chronicler, the Temple was supremely David’s idea. Whereas in 1 Kings its construction is ascribed to Solomon as the fulfillment of a prophecy made to David, in Chronicles Solomon’s role is reduced to carrying out David’s own detailed plans.

This view of David’s place in the planning of the Temple was fixed in Israel’s memory by the insertion of Psalm 131 (132) near the end of the Psalms of Ascent, that section of the Psalter (Psalms 119—133 [120—134]) chanted by the pilgrims as they climbed Mount Zion to worship in the Temple on the high holy days. In this Psalm they called to mind how thee construction of God’s house had been David’s idea. Indeed, Solomon is not so much as named in this psalm. Thus, there is a close historical link between this psalm and the theology of the Chronicler.

This present chapter of Chronicles, which is profitably supplemented with 2 Samuel 7, Psalm 88 (89), and Josephus (Antiquities 7.4.4), describes how those plans of David were delayed.

In this scene David wants to build a house (bayith) for the Lord, but in fact God also intends to build a house (bayith) for David (verse 10), a house, which is the lineage of the royal family that will form the Davidic dynasty (verse 12). Only then will there be built a house for the Lord (verse 13). David’s own heir will be established in the Lord’s house (verse 14). In his prayer of response to this oracle of Nathan, David again refers to his own house in the context of that promise (verses 16-17,23-25,27).

Thus, the “house of the Lord,” which is the Temple, and the “house of David,” which is the Davidic throne, are united by an indissoluble theology. We observe how the Chronicler changes “your house and your kingdom” (2 Samuel 7:16) to “My house and My kingdom” (verse 14). God is Lord of it all.

David, in the prayer that he offers in response to this promise, is said to “sit” before the Lord (verse 6; 2 Samuel 7:18). Since this is the only place in the Hebrew Scriptures when someone is said to sit in prayer, it is not surprising that Josephus (loc. cit.) changes the verb to “prostrate.’ The uniqueness in this case, however, suggests that the act of sitting was symbolic, perhaps suggesting a sense of rest in God’s presence, of acquiescence in God’s decision.

It is also possible that this verb was chosen to parallel the Lord’s own “rest” in the Temple that David will design. Thus the psalm we cited earlier: ““Arise, O LORD, to Your resting place (menuchah), You and the ark of Your strength. . . This is My resting place (menuchah) forever” (Psalms 131 [132]:8,14). Later on here in 1 Chronicles (28:2), David will use the same Hebrew word for “resting place” that we find in this psalm: “I had it in my heart to build a house of rest ( beth menuchah) for the ark of the covenant of the Lord.”

Later on, the Chronicler will tell us that the reason David was prohibited from actually building the Temple was all the blood he had shed as a warrior (22:8; 28:3). In order to warrant that explanation of the matter, the author proceeds, in this next chapter, to describe David’s military exploits.

Monday, October 1

1 Chronicles 18: These next three chapters are devoted to David’s military campaigns. First comes a mention of his conquest of the Philistines (verse 1), already narrated in detail in 14:9-16. Next are the Moabites (verse 2), whose defeat is told here less graphically than in 1 Samuel 22:3. Moving north, David defeats the Zobahites (verse 3) and the Syrians (verse 5). Subjecting all of these nations to his authority, David really did rule eastward to the Euphrates.

Much of this material, with variations, was available to the Chronicler from 2 Samuel 18:1-14, but not the detail about the bronze shields from Syria. It is entirely consistent with the Chronicler’s interest in Israel’s worship that he should write of Solomon’s use of this bronze in the appointments of the Temple (verse 8).

Turning south, David conquered the Edomites (verses 12-13), gaining thereby a port on the Gulf of Aquaba, opening on to the Red Sea and beyond. In due course Solomon will exploit that seaway for vast commercial ventures.

With respect to the slaying of all those Edomites in verse 12, it must be said that several men seem to have been credit ed with the feat. Here it is ascribed to Abishai, whereas in Psalms 60 (59):1 it is said of Joab, and in 2 Samuel 8:13 David gets the credit.

With respect to David’s “court” three items are worth mentioning: First, the “Shavsha” who serves as secretary in verse 16 is called “Seriah” in 2 Samuel and “Seisan” by Josephus. Second, the Cerethites and Pelethites in verse 17 are mercenaries in David’s employ. The Cerethites are Cretans, and Pelethites is another name for Philistines.

Third, with respect to David’s sons, whom that same verse calls “chief officials in the service of the king,” there is also some confusion. 2 Samuel 8:18 says they were “priests,” while Josephus (Antiquities 7.5.4) makes them “bodyguards.” Perhaps various of them functioned in various ways at various times, though it is difficult to understand how they could have been priests, since they were of the tribe of Judah, “of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood” (Hebrews 7:14). It may also be the case, one suspects, that the biblical writers simply never could agree on just what David sons might be good for. Indeed, eventually David had to appoint two other men just to keep an eye on them (27:32).

Tuesday, October 12

Luke 13.10-21: Luke tells us that this daughter of Abraham “was bent over and could in no way straighten up.”

Not good. The poet Ovid, in his account of the formation of the world, saw in man’s upright posture an indication that he resembled the gods:

Now that the air was clear the stars shone out, the fishes swam the sea and birds flew in the air, while the four-footed beasts roamed around the earth. But a holier animal was needed, with a greater and higher capacity of mind —sanctius . . . animal mentisque capacius altae—and man was made in the image of the gods with an upright stature, so while all other animals turn their faces downward and look to the earth, man raises his face to heaven and gazes on the stars.

In short, man’s upright stature was understood, even by the pagans, as symbolizing the dignity of human nature, man’s ability to think of things higher than himself. The human being was created for the knowledge of God.

It is not difficult to contrast this ancient anthropology with the modern view of man. In much of contemporary anthropology, dominated by materialism, everything about man is explained in terms of material and mathematical laws. It is common nowadays to regard even man’s highest thoughts as simply the result of electro-neurological stimulation taking place in the brain.

1 Chronicles 19: Following the sequence in 2 Samuel 9, we would expect David’s kind treatment of Mephibosheth to be the next subject. The Chronicler does not tell this story, however, apparently because he wants to forget all about the house of Saul. As far as the Chronicler is concerned, they are all dead (cf. 10:6).

The Ammonite kings, pretty slow learners it would seem, demonstrated a consistent penchant for bad decisions. It was this same Nahash, we recall, whose rash treatment of Jabesh-Gilead provoked the crisis that brought Saul to power more than twenty years earlier (1 Samuel 11). Now, Nahash having died (repentant), his son also acted irresponsibly, in curing the wrath of David (verses 1-5). The provocation described here differs only slightly from the account in 2 Samuel 10:1-9.

Even before David had time to react, the Ammonites began to prepare for war. This was not David’s first time to be thus provoked by a stupid man. One recalls his prompt wrath at an earlier incident when the churlish Nabal treated David’s emissaries with disdain (1 Samuel 25).

The ensuing wars against the Ammonites provided the occasion (thee siege of Rabbah in the next chapter) on which David and Joab conspired to murder Uriah the Hittite, but we have already noticed that the Chronicler tends to keep his work innocent of such disedifying behavior on David’s part.

The descriptions of David’s campaign, both here and in 2 Samuel 10, are fairly straightforward and without comment of a religious nature. In neither account, in fact, is God so much as mentioned except by Joab (verse 13; 2 Samuel 10:12). In the story as told by Josephus, however, there is the moral/theological reflection, “But David was not bothered by this alliance, nor disturbed at the might of the Ammonites, but he put his trust in God, conscious of battling for a just cause”(Antiquities 7.6.2).

David, after defeating Hanun, appointed the latter’s brother Shobi to replace him (2 Samuel 17:27). This detail suggests the breadth of David’s recognized power in the region.

Wednesday, October 13

1 Chronicles 20: This chapter, which treats mainly of trouble with the Philistines, begins by completing the Chronicler’s treatment of the Ammonites. In verse 2 the expression “their king” (malkom) should probably be read as the “Milkom,” who was the major Ammonite god (cf. 1 Kings 11:5). (The error in the text here doubtless occurred when later Jewish copyists inserted the wrong vowel marks into the text.) This suggested textual emendation is bolstered by the Septuagint, which gives the equivalent Greek name, “Molchol” (known elsewhere as Moloch).

Between verses 3 and 4, the Chronicler skips over the entire story of Amnon and Absalom and the rebellion, all the material in 2 Samuel 13:1—21:17. Sparing the reader that entire scandalous episode, he continues in verse 4, which corresponds to 2 Samuel 21:18. Thus, the great complex drama that fills about one-third of 2 Samuel has no counterpart in Chronicles. Try to imagine a biography of Lincoln that failed to mention the Civil War!

The Chronicler’s omission, explained simply by the fact that the material in question lay outside the Chronicler’s interest and perspective, is nonetheless instructive about the variety of historiographies in Holy Scripture. Not only is this undeniable variety compatible with the ascription of divine revelation to the Bible. There is a sense in which the Holy Spirit’s authorship of the Scriptures encourages, even requires, such diversity. That is to say, this variety of historical perspectives indicates the richness, the fruitfulness, of the divine revelation of biblical history.

God’s revelation of Himself, we Christians believe, did not take place solely in the inspiration of the Bible, but also in those events that the Bible records. The entire process—history becoming historiography—bore the character of divine revelation.

This consideration prompts another, this one having to do with the historical nature of biblical historiography itself. The divine inspiration of the Sacred Text does not mean that the biblical historian views his subject from a detached, timeless perspective. On the contrary, each biblical historian (including the authors of the Four Gospels, for instance), in his treatment of earlier times, embodied also the concerns of his own times. What we find in the Bible, then, is a progression in which history interprets history.

Thus, the Bible is not a reservoir of truths that can be removed from their historical shape. The “fixed” character of biblical revelation does not render it timeless. Biblical doctrine cannot be abstracted from the Bible, nor from the reading of the Bible within the strictures of time.

Just as the Bible itself bears witness to a variety of interpretations of history, so the Bible encourages a certain diversity of interpretations, as long as all such interpretations correspond to what the Fathers of the Church called The Rule of Faith. Thus, St. Augustine, in his long treatment of biblical history wrote, “Now anyone may object to this interpretation, and may give another which harmonizes with the Rule of Faith. . . . Although different interpretations are given, yet they must all agree with the one harmonious catholic faith” (The City of God 15.26).

Thursday, October 14

Psalms 109 (Greek & Latin 108): Some modern folk find this psalm difficult to pray. The sentiments contained in it seem so violent and vengeful, so greatly at odds with the sorts of feelings that one would prefer to have during prayer. For example: “When he is judged, let him be found guilty, and let his prayer become sin. . . . Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out.” This is rough stuff, and what Christian can pray such things?

The real problem, nonetheless, is not with the psalm, but with ourselves. We modern Christians are far too disposed to establish our personal sentiments, our own spontaneous feelings, as the standard for our prayer. Thus, if the words of a particular prayer (in this case, a psalm inspired by the Holy Spirit) express emotions and responses with which we do not “feel” comfortable, we tend to think that we are being insincere in praying it. Contemporary Christians have made a virtual fetish of spontaneity in worship, and sincerity nowadays is measured by pulse rhythm. One would think that our Lord had said: “I have come that you may have sincere and heartfelt emotions and have them more abundantly.”

It is a big mistake to adopt this attitude, for it places even the authority of God’s inspired Word under the tribunal of our subjective sentiments. Is it not obvious that to set up our own feelings as the measure of our worship is utterly arrogant? The proper standard for the worship of God is already established in His unfailing Word, and no one will pray as he should unless he submits his prayer entirely to the authority of that Word. Otherwise there is a real danger that our worship will express only the unredeemed sentiments of unrepentant hearts.

If we are going to pray as Christians, it is essential that we submit ourselves unreservedly to the authority of the Holy Spirit who speaks in the inspired words of the psalms. In the present case, this will likely mean ignoring our feelings on the matter and going on to understand exactly what this psalm does, in fact, say.

One of the things that our Lord did during the forty days between His Resurrection and Ascension was to explain to the nascent Church the correct interpretation of the Old Testament (cf. Luke 24:25–27, 32), including the psalms (vv. 44, 45). Moreover, it is recorded that the true meaning of our present psalm was one of the subjects that explicitly preoccupied the Apostles during those ten days that they spent in prayer in the upper room awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, in our limited record of those ten days, this psalm is one of two passages of Holy Scripture actually quoted on their lips.

Recall that the sole task appointed to the Church during that brief period of preparation was the choice of a successor to Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:15–26), and Simon Peter, as he summoned his fellow Apostles to that task, announced that they were, in fact, fulfilling a prophecy contained in Psalm 109. He quoted our present psalm with reference to the fallen Judas: “For it is written in the Book of Psalms: ‘Let his dwelling place be desolate, / And let no one live in it’; and, ‘Let another take his office’” (v. 20).

In the calamitous career of Judas Iscariot, then, we have the interpretive key and context to this very disturbing Psalm 108. It is a sustained reference to that most unfortunate man of whom Truth Himself said: “It would have been good for that man if he had never been born” (Mark 14:21).

It is no wonder that this psalm is unsettling, for it is concerned with the danger of damnation. During the several minutes that it takes to pray through this psalm, we are brought face to face with the real possibility of eternal loss and reminded that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). No one enjoys being warned that the apostasy of Judas could be chosen by any one of us. Yet, the story pointedly appears in all four Gospels. Over and over, eight times, the New Testament stresses that the betrayer arose from among the chosen, “one of the Twelve.” Such too is the distressing, but very necessary, sane, and sobering thought raised in this important psalm.

Friday, October 15

1 Chronicles 22: In 2 Samuel 24:30 the plague story is followed immediately by David’s old age and death, but here in Chronicles David is just getting started! Yet, we are dealing with exactly the same time frame as 2 Samuel. David’s real and best work, for the Chronicler, still lies ahead—namely, the Temple. He promptly begins to assemble the material for this great enterprise (verses 2-3).

Because in the Bible’s prophetic view this Temple was to be a “house of prayer for all the nations” (Mark 11:17), it is theologically significant that the Gentiles participated in its construction (verse 2). Of course they will also be involved in the building of the Second Temple (Isaiah 60:10). Here in this fleeting reference in Chronicles, then, lies hidden the mystery that Paul will explore in Romans 9—11, the engrafting of the Gentiles on to the stock of Israel.

Solomon is still young (verse 5); we can only guess how old he was at his accession. Not even the Jews could agree; Josephus estimated that Solomon was fourteen, and Rashi said twelve. 1 Kings, on the other hand seems to make him fully an adult. In any case, David gives the young man proper instruction with respect to the Temple (verses 7-16). As Moses passed on to his successor, Joshua, the authority to conquer the Promised Land, so David here authorizes his successor to build the Lord’s house. In 2 Timothy there will once again be the sense of such a transition, as Paul, preparing to die, hands on to Timothy the historical ministry of the Church.

In verse 9 there is a play on various words have to do with “peace” (shalom). Solomon’s name, Shelomo, means “his peace,” and Shalem is an ancient variant for Jerusalem. This emphasis on peace in David’s last exhortation to Solomon stands in sharp contrast to the final instructions about blood-vengeance that David gives to Solomon in 1 Kings.

Indeed, the fact that David had shed much blood was the reason given for his inability to see the Temple’s construction through to the end (verse 6; 28:3). The Temple would always be more associated with Solomon, whose very name suggests peace. The Chronicler is sensitive to this point. War, even justified war, even necessary war, yet carries a quality of defilement, incompatible with the proper worship of God. Men are to offer their prayers with “holy hands, without wrath” (1 Timothy 2:8). Blood, in the Bible, is a holy thing. To have shed blood in anger—which is what is done in warfare—carries a ritual, if not a moral, defilement that fits ill with the purity of God’s worship.