Although I lament the seeming absence of Old Testament preaching from pulpits today, whole sections of the Bible (forget for a moment even individual books!) seem to be either unappreciated or categorically ignored. The Book of Chronicles, certainly, occupies a position somewhere at the top of the list of unrecognised biblical literature.
In many ways, the Book of Chronicles has unfairly been characterised as the locum tenens – the “substitute teacher” if you will – to the lacuna of Joshua through to 2 Kings. This legacy is traced back even to antiquity, where the Greek translators to the Hebrew Bible unceremoniously titled the Book of Chronicles as “Παραλειπομένων, concerning things omitted.” I have my suspicions that such identification comes almost intuitively because Chronicles draws heavily upon other biblical material. To this end, Chronicles becomes a kind of “supplement” – reiterating and legitimising especially the other historical books of the Bible, and this has sadly been the view that some scholars have made (cf. e.g. Wellhausen, Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels, Nabu Press, 2010).
Yes, it is true that Chronicles draws extensively upon the Books of Samuel and Kings which serve as a primary source of material. But the Book of Chronicles, at the very least, colours and shapes the history of Israel through a vastly different lens. Samuel-Kings sought to provide closure and solace to the exiles in the aftermath of the fall of Jerusalem and its temple, and the end of Davidic reign; Chronicles by contrast, addresses the post-exilic community who are returning to worship in the restored Jerusalem temple. Further to this, Chronicles is an attempt to reconcile Israel’s otherwise fragmented identity: certainly, the exile was no accident but the direct consequence of unfaithfulness (cf. 1 Chronicles 2:7; 5:25; 10:13, 25; 2 Chronicles 36:14), and the pressing question for Israel has now become, “Are we still the people of God?”
In the Hebrew canon, the Book of Chronicles follows Ezra-Nehemiah in the third and final section – in many respects, it is the capstone theological statement to the expectation of Israel, and in this sense the concluding invitation is poignant: Whoever is among you of all his people, may the LORD his God be with him! Let him go up!” (2 Chronicles 36:22-23). So, Chronicles functions as a kind of culmination and development of all that preceded it – worship in the Temple, the priests, and the restoration and reformation of the Priestly Code are all brought together in Chronicles, coagulating worship to YHWH as the religious glue of an otherwise broken and disenfranchised post-exilic “all Israel” (1 Chronicles 9:1; cf. 2:1; 11:1; et passim).
To this end, the question, “Are we still the people of God?” is intrinsically linked with the question, “What do God’s promises to David and Solomon mean for us?” and so the united monarchy of David and Solomon simply dominates much of Chronicles’ theological position. God has promised David the establishment of his throne forever (cf. 1 Chronicles 17:3-14), and God has furthermore promised that should His people humble themselves, repent and seek after Him that they will be forgiven (2 Chronicles 7:12-22). Thus, Hezekiah in the final pericope of 2 Chronicles 29-36 is presented as a type of David and Solomon – a Davidic king under whose rule Israel will worship in solidarity at the Temple in Jerusalem, and thereby restore Israel to a position of blessing and favour under YHWH once more. It is these themes that well and truly undergird the theological profundity that the Book of Chronicles affords, and it is both my hope and expectation that our reading of it will pay greater dividends on account of it.
All well and good, but what does the theology of Chronicles mean for us practically? In keeping with the broad thematic brushstrokes previously outlined, there are a number of ethical implications.
Firstly, the conception of “all Israel” and the constant emphasis upon it in Chronicles has two progressions: (a) there is a strong sense of solidarity in worship that repudiates the belief that faith can be confined to a kind of privative individualism; and (b) our identity is inextricably linked with God’s purposes for us, His people, and His world. It is no offhand remark that Adam is mentioned from the very outset (1 Chronicles 1:1), and the murder of Zechariah in the Jerusalem Temple likewise spells the loss of Israel’s identity: “because you have forsaken the LORD, He has also forsaken you” (2 Chronicles 24:20-22).
Secondly, although there is an element in which the people of Israel are incorrigibly resolved to turn away from YHWH, there is nevertheless an important sense in which this faithlessness is catalysed and expedited (if not initiated altogether) by poor leadership. The consequences of poor leadership are profound: no explanation is given as to why 70,000 Israelites were punished for David’s sin (cf. 1 Chronicles 21:17), but paradigmatically we see this in everyday happenings: businesses capsize on account of the faux pas of their leaders, political parties implode internally through leadership spills and motions of no confidence, and churches hinge upon the removal of their pastors.
By contrast, good biblical leadership is encompassed in the person of Elisha, who occupies not only a prophetic role, but plays an essential civic duty that transforms the ethical culture around him, enhancing not only the spiritual welfare of Israel, but also the material. Above all, Elisha’s example is a proof that faithfulness to God’s commands ultimately allows a society to flourish on economic, social, and moral scales.
To this end, there is not only a need to pray for more Christian leaders in all corners of life, but to willingly endeavour towards these positions. In one important respect, the Church today (or at least the circles I’m familiar with) lives parallel to post-exilic Israel, typically insulated in their own congregations, but very much under the rule of a post-Christian, post-(post?) modernist culture. But instead of engaging culture, it appears that we have for the most part, conceded ground and for the foreseeable future are happy to do so. The Christian work ethic of the Industrial Revolution (which some have even argued ushered in the capitalist zeitgeist), and the liberty afforded by various Christian movements seem to be all but lost for many content (but otherwise very devout) brothers and sisters in the faith.