Chronicles' Perspective on Israel's Past. Chronicles re-presents the historical traditions of Israel from a different perspective and for different purposes than those found in Samuel-Kings. Samuel-Kings looks at the past from the perspective of the nation's exile in Babylon (586-538 b.c.), a time when the very existence of Israel seemed to have drawn to an end. The Israelites had lost not only the temple of Yahweh and self-rule through their Davidic king, but also the promised land itself. They sought to maintain their identity as the people of Yahweh within communities transplanted in a foreign land. Samuel-Kings, teaches the community that the exile was not the result of God's unfaithfulness to them, but the product of Israel's own repeated violations of God's covenant. It emphasizes Israel's almost fatalistic "downhill slide" to exile.
By contrast, Chronicles was written at some point in time after the Babylonian exile. In continuing faithfulness, God had restored the people to the promised land in 538 b.c. through the agency of Cyprus, the founder of the Persian Empire. The activities of sacrificial worship once again resounded in the reconstructed temple at Jerusalem. Life had begun anew for those who had returned home, although they still lived under foreign rule and without their Israelite king. Chronicles, in light of the experience of God's mercy in restoring Israel, presents a new perspective on Israel's past. The same historical panorama provides new insights into God's ways of interacting with Israel, and new lessons for the community of faith. Chronicles provides details about the exile and other disasters, an explanation of the return from exile and other blessings, a defense of certain religious and political institutions, and an implicit call for the community to behave faithfully toward Yahweh.
As a result of this perspective, the re-presentation of the past differs from that of Samuel-Kings in some key respects. First, Chronicles illustrates more fully how Israel's prosperity and success are the results of Yahweh's blessing. Second, although Israel's disasters are presented as the result of God's judgment on Israel's unfaithfulness, that unfaithfulness is described differently. Samuel-Kings portrays Israel's unfaithfulness as idolatry and failure to keep God's statutes ( 2 Kings 17:7-18 ). Chronicles probes more deeply and delineates Israel's unfaithfulness more specifically. In Chronicles, Israel's unfaithfulness is identified as "forsaking Yahweh, " or not properly "seeking Yahweh." "Seeking Yahweh" implies a total response to God. In order to "seek Yahweh" one turns to, prays to, inquires of, trusts, praises, and worships Yahweh and no other god. Most important, one does so through the proper religious means and in the proper place, that is, in the presence of the ark of Yahweh or the temple. On the other hand, "forsaking Yahweh" entails the opposite. More than idolatry, it is unfaithfulness demonstrated by failing to turn to Yahweh, neglecting God's temple, and ignoring God's ordained religious and political institutions, the levitical priesthood, and the Davidic king. Third, Chronicles shows that reversals in Israel's fortunes could and did take place from generation to generation. If the king and people, suffering the consequences of forsaking God, humbled themselves and sought God, then they would be restored. But, if they were experiencing the blessings of God and forsook God, then they would be cursed.
The Structure of Chronicles. Chronicles opens with genealogical materials and lists (1 Chron. 1-9) which usher the reader into the subject matter and worldview of the main narrative. Beginning with creation (Adam), the focus quickly narrows temporally, geographically, and nationally to the tribes of Israel (chaps. 2-8). Emphasis is placed on (1) the tribe of Levi and the levitical priesthood; (2) the tribe of Judah and the Davidic monarchy; and (3) the tribe of Benjamin, from which came the first Israelite king, with whom the narrative proper begins in chapter 10. In 9:2-21, genealogical lists record the first exiles who resettled the land, an event alluded to at the close of Chronicles ( 2 Chron 36:2-23 ). Brief narrative comments are interspersed among these lists, which reveal Yahweh's interactions with those who trust him ( 4:10 ; 5:20-22 ) and with those who are unfaithful ( 2:3 ; 5:25-26 ; 9:1 ). The narrative proper then begins at 1 Chronicles 10.
The main historical principle or pattern is established in the discussion of the reigns of the first three kings: Saul, David, and Solomon (1 Chron. 10-2 Chron. 9). When a king seeks Yahweh, he is blessed; when a king forsakes Yahweh, he comes to grief. A brief negative portrayal of Saul stands in contrast to the positive portrayals of David and Solomon. Saul died and his kingdom was turned over to David, because Saul sought advice through a medium, the witch of Endor (cf. 1 Sam. 28 ), and not from Yahweh ( 10:13-14 ). While Chronicles devotes much material to David, little is said about David the man, about his shortcomings, his thoughts, his feelings. Rather, one reads almost exclusively about David's positive interactions with Yahweh. Through the juxtaposition of contrasting scenes, the story presents a reciprocal relationship between David (with all Israel) and Yahweh. This relationship demonstrates the principle of seeking Yahweh. Yahweh establishes the kingdom of David, granting popular support, military victory, and a lasting dynasty (chaps. 11-12, 14, 17-20). David, in turn, establishes the proper worship of Yahweh in regard to the ark, the appointment of religious officials, and preparations for the temple (chaps. 13, 15-16, 21-29). In David's closing speeches, Chronicles clearly spells out the principle of seeking: "If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever" ( 28:9 ; see 1 Chronicles 22:6-16 1 Chronicles 22:17-19 ; 28:1-10 ). Chronicles then shows Solomon as one who followed the pattern initiated by David. Solomon established the proper worship of Yahweh, carrying out the construction of the temple. Yahweh established him, granting him wisdom, peace, and prosperity (2 Chron. 1-9).
Having demonstrated the historical pattern of Yahweh's interaction with Israel through material on Saul, David, and Solomon, Chronicles portrays the subsequent kings of Judah in quick succession (2 Chron. 10-36). Jehoshaphat, Ahaz, Hezekiah, and Josiah are explicitly compared to David and Solomon ( 17:3 ; 28:1 ; 29:2 ; 34:2-3 ). Other comparisons are implicit. If the king (usually with the people) engages in some form of seeking Yahweh, then Yahweh blesses him with military success, wealth, and the ability to execute building projects. If the king forsakes Yahweh, then he and the people meet with a reversal of fortune. This pattern continues down to the time of Zedekiah, when king, priests, and people forsake God, defiling the temple and rejecting all warnings of the prophets. As a result, the Babylonians, used by Yahweh, destroy the temple and carry the people off into exile ( 36:11-21 ). Chronicles closes with an allusion to the return from exile allowed under the rule of Cyrus ( 36:22-23 ).
Unlike Samuel-Kings, Chronicles does not record the accounts of the kings of the northern kingdom of Israel, the nation that was formed by the division of David's empire after the reign of Solomon. The north is mentioned only when its story overlaps with that of the south. The people of the north are still reckoned among the people of God, but are portrayed as having forsaken Yahweh by rejecting the institutions of the Davidic monarchy, the levitical priesthood, and the Jerusalem temple (see 2 Chron 10:19 ; 11:13-15 ; and particularly Abijah's homiletical speech 2 Chron 13:4-12 ). The south was not to attack the north, for they were still God's people ( 2 Chron 11:1-4 ). But it was not to ally with the north (2 Chron. 18), for the northern kingdom was not legitimate ( 2 Chron 19:2 ). When the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians (722 b.c.), however, the south could welcome its people to return and worship Yahweh ( 2 Chronicles 30:1 2 Chronicles 30:6-9 ).
Chronicles' Key Subjects. The Davidic Monarchy. The "characters" in Chronicles are the Davidic monarchs. For the sake of the people of Israel, Yahweh established the rule of David ( 1 Chron 14:2 ), a king who sought God and established the proper institutions of worship. God promised David that a dynastic successor would sit on the throne of Yahweh's kingdom forever ( 1 Chron 17:11-14 ), although it was required that the king faithfully seek Yahweh ( 1 Chronicles 28:6-7 1 Chronicles 28:9 ). The Davidic monarchs held the primary responsibility for establishing and maintaining the proper worship of Yahweh. They could abandon the forms of Yahweh worship (Ahaz and Manasseh) or restore them (Hezekiah and Josiah). They sat on Yahweh's throne ( 1 Chron 17:14 ; 28:5 ; 29:23 ). They represented the people in corporate petition before Yahweh ( 2 Chron 6:18-42 ; 14:11 ; 20:5-12 ). Their positive or negative spiritual leadership influenced the response of the people of Israel ( 2 Chron 14:4 ; 15:9-15 ; 19:4 ; 2 Chronicles 20:4 2 Chronicles 20:20-21 ; 21:11 ; 28:19 ; 32:6-8 ; 2 Chronicles 33:9 2 Chronicles 33:16 ; 34:33 ). When the people of the northern kingdom rejected this institution, they forsook Yahweh ( 2 Chron 13:4-12 ). Chronicles, presenting this perspective of the Davidic monarchy at a time when Israel was under foreign dominion, projects hope for the return of a Davidic king to the throne of Yahweh.
The Worship of Yahweh and the Levitical Priesthood. Even though Chronicles is structured around the Davidic monarchs, the main subject and true core of the story is Israel's relationship to Yahweh. Chronicles focuses on how this relationship was expressed through the establishment and maintenance of the institutions that represented the presence of Yahweh: the ark of the covenant, Jerusalem, the temple, the sacrificial system, the officiating priests, their levitical assistants and musicians, and the Davidic king, who sat on Yahweh's throne. As these institutions fared, and, therefore, Israel's relationship with Yahweh, so fared the well-being of the nation.
The exile marked a historical turning point. Chronicles views Israel's failure to seek Yahweh humbly and in accord with the proper means of worship as the cause of the exile. Accordingly its attention is focused on Israel's religious institutions.
The levitical priesthood operated jointly with the Davidic monarchy in preserving the correct forms of seeking Yahweh, of maintaining the proper relationship with God. The king's civil power extended over these officials, but their domain represented a divinely given responsibility that the king could not usurp ( 2 Chron 26:16-21 ). Moreover, when the Davidic lineage instituted by Yahweh was threatened, they stepped in to preserve it ( 2 Chron 22:10-23:21 ). According to Chronicles, the northern kingdom forsook Yahweh by rejecting the institution of the levitical priesthood, as they rejected the Davidic monarchy ( 2 Chron 11:13-15 ; 13:8-12 ).
"All Israel." A frequently occurring phrase in Chronicles is "all Israel." It may be used to refer to all of the Israelites ( 1 Chron 11:1 ), to those of the south ( 2 Chron 11:3 ), or to those of the north ( 2 Chronicles 13:4 2 Chronicles 13:15 ). To whichever group it refers, however, it generally identifies them as an entity responsible before Yahweh. The kings and religious leaders alone are not accountable for the destiny of the nation. The people as a unit are held accountable. The prophets address not only the kings but the people as well ( 2 Chron 11:3-4 ; 20:14-15 ; 24:20 ). Sometimes the people are deemed guilty when the king is innocent ( 2 Chron 27:2 ; 34:24-28 ). When the division between the north and south occurs, those who comprise all Israel must decide whether or not to seek Yahweh ( 2 Chron 11:13-17 ). Therefore, each generation of the people, although tending to follow the model of their leaders, share in the responsibility for their state of affairs. All are accountable before Yahweh.
Chronicles' Worldview. Chronicles presents a worldview, a picture of reality. Even in the few narrative comments in the genealogical material of the first nine chapters a world in which Yahweh is the primary agent of history is evident. The existence of Yahweh and his supreme sovereignty are foregone conclusions. Chronicles does not seek to prove them, but to show how Yahweh Acts in the life of Israel and why.
In Chronicles God is sovereign, but does not dictate the course people take. To be sure, Yahweh may choose to speak prophetically through a foreign king ( 2 Chron 35:21 ; 36:22-23 ); he might even choose to manipulate nations such as Egypt or Babylon in order to achieve his ends. Still, all Israel, the kings, and the levitical priesthood are responsible for their actions, for maintaining a right relationship with God. They choose whether they will seek or forsake Yahweh. It is they who set in motion the divine principles that order the world.
Chronicles' view of the way the world operates is more positive than that of Samuel-Kings. Samuel-Kings represents a pessimistic and rather fatalistic attitude. At least from Manasseh on, the fate of Israel appears to be sealed; they are headed for disaster ( 2 Kings 21:10-15 ). The manner in which Chronicles portrays each king and his generation as self-contained units displays a different perspective. The course of history is not so determined. In Chronicles' representation of reality, reversals of negative or positive situations can take place within a given reign or generation, even more than once. The potential for change always exists. Access to the mercy of Yahweh and to restoration is always available to Israel, even if they should bring themselves to near extinction.
Chronicles' Message. Through the selection and arrangement of Israel's traditions, a stereotypical portrayal of characters, and the presentation of David and Solomon as model kings, Chronicles invites the reader to evaluate each generation of the past in order to understand why things happened as they did. The reader, however, is not to stop there, but must evaluate the current situation and respond appropriately. Relationship to Yahweh is still of ultimate importance. The divine "laws" of the past are still operative. The reader now knows what brings blessing and what brings ruin. One's situation may be reversed, depending on whether or not one seeks or forsakes Yahweh. Through a re-presentation of their past, Chronicles calls the believing community to a proper relationship with Yahweh and offers them the hope of blessing.
Rodney K. Duke
Bibliography. P. R. Ackroyd, JSOT2 (1977): 2-32; idem, Lexington Theological Quarterly8 (1973): 101-16; S. B. Berg, The Divine Helmsman: Studies on God's Control of Human Events, pp. 107-25; R. L. Braun, Studies in the Historical Books of the Old Testament, pp. 52-64; R. B. Dllard, WTJ46/1 (1984): 164-72; R. K. Duke, The Persuasive Appeal of the Chronicler: A Rhetorical Analysis; S. Japhet, The Ideology of the Book of Chronicles and Its Place in Biblical Thought; W. Johnstone, A Word in Season: Essays in Honour of William McKane, pp. 113-38; J. M. Myers, Int20 (1966): 259-73; R. North, JBL82 (1963): 369-81; G. von Rad, Old Testament Theology, 1:347-54; G. E. Schaefer, "The Significance of Seeking God in the Purpose of the Chronicler" (Th.D. diss.); M. A. Throntveit, When Kings Speak: Royal Speech and Royal Prayer in Chronicles; H. G. M. Williamson, Israel in the Book of Chronicles.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Chronicles, Theology of'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".