The first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles can be pretty tough sledding. These genealogical lists of hard-to-pronounce names can bog down even the most faithful Bible readers. But, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture [yes, even the genealogies] is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
5:1-26 Chapter 5 begins with a historical reference. It explains why Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn son, fell out of God’s favor and was replaced by Judah, whose tribe would be given the honor of becoming the messianic line leading to Jesus. Reuben defiled his father’s bed (5:1), which is a way of saying he committed adultery with his father’s concubine Bilhah (see Gen 35:22; 30:4). Reuben’s sin was detestable to God, so Reuben forfeited his birthright to Joseph (5:2) for the same reason Esau did earlier: both men cared more about their physical appetites than their spiritual heritage (see Gen 25:32).
The accounts of Esau and Reuben teach an important principle at work in God’s kingdom. Through his sovereign power, God can do more with the lesser creatures (in theses cases, Esau’s younger brother Jacob and Reuben’s younger brother Joseph) than the devil can do with the greater creatures when the lesser are devoted to him.
6:1-81 The line of the priestly tribe of Levi was so important to Israel that the chronicler devoted all of chapter 6 to it. To the original readers, this was a vital record of the priestly descent so the Israelites who’d returned from the Babylonian exile could be assured that the priests serving them were legitimate.
There are some familiar names in this list. Aaron was the founder of the priestly line (6:3). Nadab and Abihu (6:3) were put to death for failing to treat God as holy (see Lev 10:1-3). Zadok (6:8) was the high priest who remained loyal to David during the rebellion of Absalom (see 2 Sam 15:24-29).
The chapter also includes a list of the musicians that David put in charge of the music (6:31-46) and identifies the settlements that were given to the Levites (6:54-81).
7:1-40 Chapter 7 lists the descendants of tribal forefathers Issachar (7:1-5), Benjamin (7:6-12), Naphtali (7:13), Manasseh (7:14-19), Ephraim (7:20-29), and Asher (7:30-40).
Of particular interest here is the note about Asher’s sons, who had four outstanding qualities: They were the heads of their ancestral families, chosen men, valiant warriors, and chiefs among the leaders (7:40). A desperate need in our country and in the church today is for godly, committed men to take up these roles of leadership. A summary of these qualities reveals character traits that seem to be in short supply in this era of weakened manhood.
First, Asher’s sons were “heads” of their families. That suggests Asher raised his sons to be leaders. They weren’t just hanging around the house, eating and taking up space. Every man, without exception, has been created to be a leader because every man has been created to be the head of a household. A leader knows where he’s going and shows others how to join him along the way.
Second, they were “chosen men.” That phrase suggests Asher raised his boys to be the cream of the crop. They were the kind of men a father would choose for his daughter to marry, men of high character and strong ethical standards who accepted responsibility.
Third, they were “valiant warriors”—that is, they were men of valor, like those who fought alongside David in his many battles. These guys had a sense of boldness and conviction and were ready to take a stand when a stand needed to be taken. A warrior is a man of courage and conviction who will take risks for a good cause.
Fourth, Asher’s sons are described as “chiefs among the leaders.” Another word for leader is “prince,” and a prince is just a king waiting to happen. Asher’s sons were outstanding even among the literal princes of Israel.
8:1-40 Here Benjamin’s descendants are spoken of at more length than they received in 7:6-12. This tribe was small, but important, because it was the tribe of Saul, Israel’s first king. Benjamin was also closely identified with Judah, so much so that Benjamin was absorbed into Judah and, at times, both tribes were referred to by the latter’s name.
The family and tribal connections made in chapters like this one may seem strange to us, but, to the original readers, they were received as part of the rich history of God’s sovereign provision for and blessing of his people Israel.
9:1 Here the chronicler reminds the readers of what they were painfully aware: Judah [had been] exiled to Babylon because of their unfaithfulness. At the end of the seventy-year period of exile, however, God had graciously brought them back to the land.
Mentioning the Babylonian captivity in passing as the chronicler did would serve to remind the people of Judah of the gross sin, idolatry, and apostasy that had led to the exile and destruction of the Jerusalem temple and the land of Judah. It was far more than a history lesson, then. It was a powerful reminder that the current generation must live faithfully before their Lord.
9:2-34 Here the chronicler lists those who had returned from Babylonian exile. Now, before the final invasion by Nebuchadnezzar’s army and destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, false prophets in Judah had said the captivity would never happen. But, God had insisted through his faithful prophets that it would. And, when it had, the prophet Jeremiah wrote to the captives in Babylon to say this: “Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters. . . . Multiply there; do not decrease. Pursue the well-being of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it thrives, you will thrive” (Jer 29:4-7). In other words, God was saying to his people, “I have placed you among the Gentiles for a long time. Show them what kingdom people look like when they work and worship and have families and interact with unbelievers. You may not be in my land right now, but you still carry my name.” That message sounds very similar to what the church, as God’s people bearing witness to him in a pagan culture, should do before God leads us to our own heavenly homeland.
Don’t miss that this passage emphasizes the priests (9:10-13), Levites (9:14-16), gatekeepers (9:17-26), and other servants of God who officiated in and cared for the temple (9:2). The chronicler is greatly concerned with God’s law, his holiness, and the purity of worship that he demands, along with the priesthood and its proper functioning. This, then, is one of the places where we know that the chronicler had a definite theological or spiritual purpose for his work and wasn’t merely compiling historical facts. The temple is central to the story in 1–2 Chronicles.
Later, in his treatment of Solomon’s reign in 2 Chronicles 1–9, he spends one chapter on Solomon’s wisdom, and eight chapters on his preparations, building, and dedication of the temple. A lot of the historical details of Solomon’s reign found in 1 Kings are omitted there. Why? Because they did not fit into the author’s purpose of focusing on the main achievement of Solomon’s reign: the building of the temple.
The tabernacle of Moses’s day, a collapsible and moveable tent that Israel carried and set up through the nation’s wilderness wanderings, and later the temple itself, were often called God’s house. The temple was the representative abode of the presence of God among his people. Of course, no building can house God because God is greater than the sum total of his creations. A reference to the temple stood as a symbol of the presence and power of its occupant. We see something similar today when reporters use expressions such as, “The White House said,” to note that a comment is either from the President directly or carries his authority.
The chronicler wanted the people to read their history from the divine perspective so they could bring all of life under the lordship of their great Creator God. This is what I call an overarching kingdom agenda. Similarly, God’s kingdom agenda for the church is to comprehensively bring every area of life under the lordship of Jesus Christ so that his people live all of life the way God intended.
9:35-44 The final verses of chapter 9 list Saul’s descendants and serve as an introduction to chapter 10, which tells the story of Saul’s demise and death as the unfaithful and disobedient king who lost his throne and life under God’s judgment. Instead of fulfilling the agenda God gave him as king of his people, Saul chose the path of compromise and sinfulness.