Lesson 5 of 5
In Progress

Theological Themes in 1 Chronicles

All Israel

Because Chronicles omits the history of the northern kingdom (Israel), except where it overlaps with that of Judah, previous scholarship considered Chronicles to be narrowly focused upon the two southern tribes, Judah and Benjamin. While there are occasional references to this (as in 2 Chronicles 11:3; 12:1), current scholarship rightly maintains that those references where “all Israel” refers to the north (2 Chronicles 10:16; 11:13) or to the north and south together (2 Chronicles 9:30) suggest an inclusive understanding of Israel that goes back to the ancient ideal of twelve tribes. In 1 Chronicles this is most evident in the enthusiastic participation of “all Israel” at every major section in the narrative:

  • the inclusion of the northern tribes in the genealogies of chapters 1-9
  • David’s gathering of “all Israel” at Hebron (11:1)
  • the capture of Jerusalem (11:4)
  • the transfer of the ark (13:2-3)
  • the enthronements of David (11:1-3) and Solomon (28:1-10)

The ark

In Chronicles the ark is the sign of God’s presence within the temple, the divine throne (1 Chronicles 13:6), or the Lord’s footstool (1 Chronicles 28:2). In Exodus, the ark is where people call upon the name of the Lord and God would speak (Exodus 25:22). Later the place of invocation is moved to the temple itself (2 Chronicles 6:33). In the New Testament the ark is said to have contained three items: the ten commandments, Aaron’s rod, and a pot of manna (Hebrews 9:4).

Continuity with the past

The Chronicler is intensely interested in displaying the continuity between his own postexilic community and preexilic Israel. This is most clearly seen in the nine chapters of genealogies with which 1 Chronicles begins. Here, geographical, spiritual, and historical continuity is presented. The central position occupied by the temple in the Chronicler’s presentation, along with the restoration of proper worship led by the Levites as instituted by David, also links the people with the traditions of the past.

The cult

The connection between the Chronicler’s two main emphases, the king and the temple, lies in the cult. Abijah’s address in 2 Chronicles 13:4-12 clearly makes this link. In the past, scholarly consensus opted for a dependence by the Chronicler upon the Priestly traditions due, in part, to the Chronicler’s ordering of the Levites. Later, the Chronicler’s affinity for the prescriptions of Deuteronomy shifted the scholarly consensus in that direction. Obviously, both traditions have been formative for the Chronicler’s presentation.

David and Solomon

The reigns of these two kings are seen as a unity in Chronicles. This unity is based upon the fact that both are “chosen” by God (David: 1 Chronicles 28:4; Solomon: 1 Chronicles 28:5, 6, 10; 29:1, only here in the Bible); it is significant that the Chronicler has omitted the reference to the choice of Saul as king from his source (1 Samuel 10:24). In addition, God makes two promises: to David concerning the monarchy (1 Chronicles 17:3-14) and to Solomon concerning the temple (2 Chronicles 7:11-22). These two promises form the theological backbone of the books of Chronicles. David is the successful king who establishes the kingdom and provides for the temple, while Solomon rules over a peaceful kingdom that builds the temple. The Chronicler achieves this somewhat idealized presentation by concentrating on their public lives and avoiding descriptions of their often troubling private lives.

The Davidic covenant

Chapter 17 is the crucial passage of 1 Chronicles. God’s promise of a dynasty to David in this chapter (vv. 1-15) results in the Chronicler’s equation of Judah, the Davidic dynasty, with the kingdom of God (1 Chronicles 10:14; 28:5; 29:23). The northern kingdom, Israel, is regarded as illegitimate because of its non-Davidic kings (2 Chronicles 13:8). Even the genealogical introduction has been constructed to emphasize the royal tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and, within the genealogy, the family of David is highlighted (1 Chronicles 2:3–4:23; especially 3:1-24). By omitting the clause concerning the divine punishment of the king’s son (Solomon) when he commits iniquity (2 Samuel 7:14), the Chronicler precludes a conditional reading of the covenant.

Eschatolog

The prominence of God’s promise to David (1 Chronicles 17) throughout the work has led to a broad range of views concerning the topic of eschatology. Different understandings of “messianic” (messianic hope deriving from the Psalms and prophets, ancient Near Eastern royal ideology, and theological doctrine of the last things) complicate the discussion. Four options regularly appear in the literature: a hope for Davidic restoration; no eschatological/messianic hope; a Davidic restoration without a messianic component; and a messianic/eschatological hope without a Davidic restoration. There is no consensus at this time.

God’s activity in history

God is regularly portrayed as working through the history of Israel, though not in a predetermined way. Rather, God responds to the activity of the human actors in the drama:

  • The Davidic dynasty was founded as a result of God’s response to Saul’s “unfaithfulness”: Saul was slain and God turned the kingdom over to David (1 Chronicles 10:14).
  • David was acclaimed king at Hebron as God’s chosen leader (11:1-2).
  • Throughout the account God is seen as responsible for the rise and fall of kings, but always in response to the king’s faithfulness.
  • In the end, God brought the Chaldeans against Judah for their unfaithfulness (2 Chronicles 36:17).
  • God stirred up Cyrus the Persian to announce their return from Babylon and the restoration of the temple (36:22-23).

Liturgical music

Liturgical music is pervasive in Chronicles, leading many to suppose that the author was a “church” musician wishing to promote his own profession. While this is deemed unlikely these days, the scope of unparalleled references to liturgical music is impressive:

  • 1 Chronicles 6:31-48; 9:14-16, 33; 15:1-24, 27-28; 23:2-5, 25-32; 25:1-31
  • 2 Chronicles 5:11-14; 7:1-6; 8:12-15; 20:18-30; 23:12-13, 18; 29:25-30; 30:21-22; 31:2; 34:12-13; 35:15

Prophecy

Chronicles has a special interest in the nature and function of prophecy. The most important aspects are:

  • Trust in the Lord is associated with trust in God’s messengers.
  • Obedience to their message will ensure national security and success (for example, 2 Chronicles 20:20-23).
  • Disobedience to their message leads to disaster (for example, 2 Chronicles 24:17-26).
  • The Davidic monarchy was established (1 Chronicles 11:3) and confirmed (1 Chronicles 17:3-14) by prophecy.
  • The rejection of prophecy led to the destruction and exile of the kingdom (2 Chronicles 36:15-16).

Retributive justice

The connection between obedience and blessing, and disobedience and judgment, has been seen as the doctrinal center of Chronicles due to the frequency of such pronouncements as, “If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will abandon you forever” (1 Chronicles 28:9b). Five changes to his source in Samuel/Kings have been observed:

  • If there is unpunished sin, an appropriate punishment is added.
  • If there is unrewarded piety, an appropriate reward is added.
  • If there is unexplained punishment (illness, death, etc.), a sin is added.
  • If there is unexplained reward (children, wealth, etc.), an act of piety is added.
  • If a possible sin and an apparent punishment appear independently, they will be connected.

Typically, the rewards in Chronicles are: rest, victory in war, children, wealth, health, building projects, and a great name. While the Chronicler does employ the idea of retributive justice, it is not as mechanically applied as it might seem. In several instances (1 Chronicles 21:15-19; 2 Chronicles 12:5-7; 15:2-7; 30:6-9; 36:15) a prophet will issue a warning between the sin and its punishment, and God responds graciously to those who repent.

Ritual

The Chronicler’s obvious fondness for the temple and its cult has led many readers to consider him a strict ritualist. Several observations lead to a moderation of this conclusion:

  • The Chronicler has introduced a note of “great joy” into all the major religious celebrations (for example, 1 Chronicles 29:22; 2 Chronicles 30:26).
  • The prophetic speeches often point to the efficacy of faith rather than ritual.
  • Noncultic religion was at least possible for the Chronicler (2 Chronicles 6:34-35; 7:14).

Temple

The temple is the central motif in Chronicles because of its relationship to worship. In Solomon’s dedicatory prayer for the temple the Chronicler makes clear that the temple is above all a place for forgiveness and atonement; that is, the temple is not merely a house for God, but the place from which prayer emanates (2 Chronicles 6:18-39). Virtually every section of 1 Chronicles contributes to this central motif:

  • The genealogies of the Levites appear at the center of the long genealogical introduction of 1 Chronicles 1-9, and are the most extensive list in the collection.
  • The story of David is presented in relation to the temple as he brings the ark to Jerusalem in chapters 13-16; receives the promise of a dynasty (David’s “house”) in conjunction with the temple (God’s “house”) in chapter 17; gains financing for the building of the temple in the wars of chapters 18-19; acquires the temple site in chapter 21; prepares for its construction in chapters 22, 28-29; and organizes the clergy who will attend to its requirements in chapters 23-27.
  • God’s choice of Solomon as David’s successor is for the stated purpose of building the temple (22:9-10; 28:5-6).

Typology

The Chronicler seems to have a penchant for describing major characters and even events in ways that recall previous characters and events. For example:

  • David’s transfer of authority to Solomon (1 Chronicles 22) is strongly colored by Moses’ transfer of authority to Joshua (Deuteronomy 31; Joshua 1).
  • Solomon is portrayed as a second David in several regards.
  • Solomon’s artisan Huram-abi constructs the temple (2 Chronicles 2:7-14) in ways that recall Bezalel and Oholiab’s construction of the tabernacle (Exodus 31:1-11; 35:30–36:7).
  • Hezekiah is depicted as a new David and Solomon who, following the fall of the north in 722 B.C.E., restores the vision of the united monarchy under a Davidic king worshiping at the Jerusalem temple.
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