1 and 2 Chronicles in the Christian Bible and Chronicles in the Hebrew Bible (it treating it as one book), are often neglected compared with other books of Bible and probably competes with the Book of Leviticus as books that are not read by even those who claim that understanding the Bible is something they consider important.
My current writing project is “The Prophets of the Bible”, which attempts to cover ALL the Bible prophets, of which there are many, including discovering many fresh insights and a few surprises. I take as my mandate the need to study the whole Bible in order to do justice to the task set before me, the texts: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” 2 Peter 1:19-21. By necessity and therefore it has to address lessons found in the Book of Chronicles.
Given 1 and 2 Chronicles follows after 2Kings in the Christian Bible and appears to be a cut down version with some less interesting bits added on to what can be found in the Books of Samuel and Kings, there is a temptation to ignore it. I suspect even among Bible savvy Christians, with the exception of “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” 2Chronicles 7:14, many would be hard pressed when it comes to being able to quote from Chronicles. Barriers may be erected from the outset, since the first eight chapters are devoted to a never ending, so it seems, list of genealogies, and this is a feature seen throughout the Book. Even when we do come narrative, there is a pre-occupation with religious ritual and Temple worship, which for Christians, who see in Jesus the embodiment of the Temple, may not be of interest.
I would argue such dismissiveness is mistaken and to be regretted. Chronicles is notably different to Kings for several reasons that I share below and, rather than repeat, it complements. It is notable its position in the Hebrew Bible differs to that in the Christian Bible. While the Christian Bible has Kings and Chronicles next to each other in a part referred to as History, in the Hebrew Bible, Kings is included as part of the prophets, specifically the Former Prophets as opposed to the Later Prophets that in the Christian Bible cover the major and minor prophets. Chronicles comes at the very end of the Hebrew Bible, in a section known as the Writings and covers the whole period of Jewish history, starting from Adam, ending with the return from Exile. It begins: It begins “Adam, Sheth, Enosh” 1Chronicles 1:1. It ends “Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath the Lord God of heaven given me; and he hath charged me to build him an house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? The Lord his God be with him, and let him go up” 2Chronicles 36:33.
Given Chronicles was written centuries after Samuel and Kings, the content of which would have been well known to the readership and referred to by the author, possibly the priest, Ezra, one might ask what the intention was behind this writing. To understand this better, we should put ourselves in the shoes of the Jewish readership. They had returned from Exile to the Promised Land, it is true. But things were far from what they desired and hoped. They were looking for the awaited descendant of David to come as its Messiah, and to restore the land to its former glories and better, as had been foretold in scripture. The Temple, whose story David is so much part of even though he was not allowed to build it, represented the Messianic hope that God would dwell among His people and all the promises made, going back to Abraham would be fulfilled. The lineage of David and the importance of Temple worship were two themes emphasized in Chronicles but not in Kings. The various offices of the priests, including the various activities of gatekeepers and musicians and the use of lots. are signifcant features.
In my studies of Chronicles, I was blown away by gems that could so easily have been missed. In going through the first eight genealogy chapters, I found these two nuggets: “And Jabez was more honourable than his brethren: and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, Because I bare him with sorrow. And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me! And God granted him that which he requested” 1Chronicles 4:9-10. “The sons of Reuben, and the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh, of valiant men, men able to bear buckler and sword, and to shoot with bow, and skilful in war, were four and forty thousand seven hundred and threescore, that went out to the war. And they made war with the Hagarites, with Jetur, and Nephish, and Nodab. And they were helped against them, and the Hagarites were delivered into their hand, and all that were with them: for they cried to God in the battle, and he was intreated of them; because they put their trust in him” 1 Chronicles 5:18-20. While on the subject of genealogies, while the line of David was the most important of the many lines listed in Chronicles, we note other family lines, previously encountered in our Old Testament journey, are mentioned, showing the importance of such families.
One notable difference when comparing Kings and Chronicles is how the Kings of Israel and Judah are portrayed. Firstly, following the dividing up of Israel into the ten tribes (of Israel), under Jeroboam, and the two tribes (of Judah) under Rehoboam, the Kings of Israel hardly gets a mention and as for the kings of Judah a lot of their many bad points are omitted (although neither gloss over their sins). Often, when the Kings do get mentioned at length is because of their contribution to Temple worship. But to get a balanced picture any Bible student needs to go to both Kings (and Samuel) and Chronicles. One stark example of marked contrast accounts is regarding King Manasseh, discussed in 2Kings 21 and 2Chronicles 33 (and if you want to know more – read my next article). It has been said that while prophets and priests complement one another in God’s economy, that Kings provide a prophets perspective and Chronicles a priests perspective. Fascinatingly though, prophets especially the lesser known ones, crop up several times in Chronicles, and it is worth reading to find out more.
My final thought is about where Chronicles fits in with the rest of Hebrew scriptures – placed right at the very end. It was written primarily to encourage a people, who were a central theme of Old Testament writers and object of attention of the God of Israel. While they were God’s special people, and as my last slide seeks to communicate, a “rooted, royal and religious” people, their situation was not a particularly happy one. While they, or at least a small remnant, had returned from exile, they were still subject to a foreign power. While the Persians were benevolent, the Greeks and Romans who were to take over were not and things were a far cry from what ought to have been. But their history and ways needed to be recalled and celebrated, along with the hope that the long expected Messiah from the line of David would set up His everlasting Kingdom of righteousness, peace and justice. While Israel, the physical descendants of Abraham, needed to be reminded of that, so do the spiritual descendants (the Church). We need to be thankful for the Book of Chronicles to help remind us of these important truths.
I end this article with a reference to a resource I have drawn heavily upon when preparing for the article – the Unlocking of the Bible series by David Pawson. Copied below are three screen shots from one of his presentations – this on Chronicles, which should be self-explanatory, and with it comes my exhortation to read Chronicles.