So, is Chronicles ‘boring’ because of its tough lessons about the hard parts of christian life: obedience and practical holy living? Or because its a selection of the same stories as we already had in Kings told slower and with a lot more ceremonial detail?
Well, a bit of both, but I must say a lot more of the former than I expected.
I was also quite struck however, by what it doesn’t have:
– There is very little about the common people. Everyone who isn’t a king is a bit player, including two remarkable sounding female spiritual leaders.
– Nothing about the prophets, or the North specifically. In contrast Kings has the rise of the prophets as a narrative in its own right. Elisha and Elijah and their party represent a grass roots insurgency against the kingship in the North. In Chronicles, the north is kind of an evil no go zone. Admittedly the book has a laser focus on celebrating the temple and the Kings who tried to obey God, and the North offered neither.
– There is not much of God’s meta plan of salvation, the Messiah etc, as far as I can see. The animated youtube summary from Bible Project lists it as a theme, but in my reading of it, shall we say, its a subtle one.
I mean, it ends saying the return from exile ‘fulfilled the words of Jeremiah’ – not much of a sense of further expectation there. I think you have to read it in context with Ezra and Nehemiah, the post exile books, to get a sense of how unsatisfying that post exile world turned out to be, how much more was jumping out of those words of Jeremiah.
– No sense of life after death, which admittedly is sort of true of the whole OT, but very much here. I noted again and again as I read through how much this reflects that old testament emphasis on earthly rewards and punishments.
God is ever present though, every day brings a challenge of whether we will love and trust him.
The Kings who tried to love God, the faithful Kings, get 3 times the space of the faithless ones. The author just isn’t that interested in evil, compared to the practicalities of holiness.
When the book soars it is in the proper observance of worship and the diligent ordering of affairs:
– Solomon’s magnificent praise of God, and the overwhelming presence of God in smoke, fire and voice, at the dedication of the temple.
– The joyous semi-improvised Passover celebration of Hezekiah during the siege of the North, spontaneously extended an extra week – and his impressive preparations for attack.
– The logistic masterpiece, the Passover of Josiah. Twice the size of Hezekiah’s, and the most perfect ever execution of the Levitical law, all the while knowing that Jerusalem would soon be smashed.
– Jehoshaphat’s brave and absolute faith in the face of attack.
– The word “wholeheartedly” in relation to serving God. There is no higher praise in 2 Chronicles.
There are a number of God-given victories, but the story emphasis is very much on learning to trust God’s protection, not on celebrating it. It’s not like judges, where Deborah’s underdog victory inspires a fabulous chapter of giddy praise poetry. Here, God’s power to deliver is a given, almost tossed off. Finding faith in him to deliver is the challenge and the lesson.
The only personal detail in the lives of the kings is to illustrate how they wrestled with their flaws and obedience or how God’s punishment played out in their bodies (Ew, King Jeroham). There is little of the messy royal family detail and palace intrigue as in Samuel, for instance.
This is a book examining how leadership of obedience and faithfulness works. It is also about corporate faithfulness, how godly organisations work.
The Australian church is currently under strain, with a compromised past and a declining future. Part 2 of the story of Judah climaxes in the opening chapters describing Solomon’s glory, and declines to complete destruction from there. But it is a surprisingly optimistic story of the great leaders through that process.
Judah’s kings are challenged by God to abandon the dream of regaining their former greatness and to accept that they must adapt to an evolving, ever less influential position in their world. The ones who don’t abandon their beliefs, but maintain trust in God, obedience and clear minded diligence, are presented for emulation. Its a very relevant lesson!
For me currently, as an office holder in my local church and an employee of a church, it is a strong reminder of the value of bravery, faith, perseverance, humble repentance and careful organisation.
But it also has much to say to individual christians, because we are enoys of the Kingdom of God, we represent the King in this world, we are the priests, and we are the temple, the dwelling places of God.
And to every believer its saying trust and obey, there’s no other way!
Solomon’s temple, its magnificence, the dedication
1 Solomon’s best act, asking for wisdom. How to test what we ask for. He starts to build the temple.
2 The temple, and the seductive nature of monuments generally
3 The time of prime magnificence of the temple, built on the site of David’s repentance and destined to be destroyed in judgement
4 The interior of the temple, sacrifices of animals against the dark glint of gold, what a place!
5 dedication of the temple, bringing in the Ark. Climaxing with the presence of God in a cloud like Exodus
6 Solomon’s temple dedication prayer, makes the building look small compared to the size and breadth of Gods creation and his grace
7 God burns the temple sacrifice with fire from heaven, and speaks to Solomon about his presence there and obedience
8 Too clever by half. Solomon’s acumen, his flaw allowing in the religions of his advantageous marriages, including building altars for them. No!
9 Queen of Sheba visits and its a catalyst for talking about the heaven-on-earth power and wealth of Israel at this time. As she says, God has delighted in them. Solomon dies.
> Rehoboam and Abijah – Kingdom split and civil war
10 King Solomon’s son Rehoboam’s greed creates unrest, splits the kingdom
11 The people have learned nothing since the time of Exodus, the northern kingdom worships a golden calf. But unrest was festering in Solomon’s time, no doubt.
12 Rehoboam loses his religion, and the country is attacked and pillaged
13 Under Abijah a civil war at last breaks out between the north and south kingdoms. He wins, but the story is told in an oddly godless way.
> Asa: Faithful reign, sad end
14 King Asa, a faithful King. Wins a god-given military victory against the Egyptians, and demolishes idols/foreign gods. Also gets multiple chapters, a pattern for believing Kings
15 The peace of Asa’s reign, religious reforms, many faithful northerners move down to Judah
16 Pride late in life. The sad flawed end of Asa’s reign, he can’t take God’s rebuke. He refuses prayer over illness, jails prophets, oppresses the people.
> Jehosophat: Faithful reign, model christian leadership “our eyes on God”
17 Fortifies the towns, a good king
18 Bad move, he makes an alliance with the North, ignoring prophets word. They lose, God does not want the combined kingdom any more. Northern King dies.
19 J. listens, accepts God’s rebuke, and sets about preaching God and justice to his own kingdom. Great example of godly leadership
20 He wins a victory by starting with “God we do not know what to do, our eyes are on you”. The end of the reign tarnished by another attempt at alliance, but a great king.
Struggles between North and South, God’s promises and judgements
21 King Jeroam, takes the throne by blood, short reign painful death, seen as God’s judgement, but his rejection of God is punishment enough IMHO
22 Betrayal and promises, next King tries a Northern alliance but is tricked, assassinated by them and they take over, killing all Davidic kings. God’s promise of an eternal throne of David lives in one boy hidden in the temple
23 In a perfect coup, realising God’s promise, the boy is made king
24 King Joash is only faithful while under the influence of his temple mentor Jehoaida, after whose death the King turns on God, stoning the next priest
25 Another partly faithful King follows, Amaziah, who does not love God wholeheartedly. He had an early victory trusting God, but every other decision was poor.
26 Uzziah is a faithful king with a flaw, pride in old age. The emphasis of Chronicles cf Kings on display here: lots of detail about the temple, the Northern kingdom Israel doesn’t count and is pure evil, physical judgement for sin (Uzziah’s leprosy).
> Jotham – Faithful, but minor >Ahaz – Unfaithful reign.
Prosperity and stability reflect degree of faithfulness
27 Jotham, personally faithful to God, a reign of prosperity and stability, but does little to address the longstanding idolatry of the people.
28 Ahaz has an unproductive civil war with the north, starts to lose territory to invaders and actively promotes idolatry. I think about the limits of earthly blessing and punishment theology
> Hezekiah – Faithful reign, wholehearted obedience, blessed by God
29 Restoration of temple sacrifice worship, I muse about grace and degrees of revelation -we know more than them, but still in part.
30 Passover celebrated, joining the faithful from the South and the North, even as invasion and exile has started by Assyria in the North. A burst of joyous holy celebration.
31 Rejoicing in the detail of the restoration of Judah’s proper religious practises
32 Celebrating H.’s leadership, his diligence, obedience, repentance from pride and God’s blessing by deflecting the Assyrian attack during his reign, which God extended.
> Manasseh – Long unfaithful reign,
33 Active persecutor with a late repentance story here, not found in Kings
> Josiah – Faithful reign, apres moi le deluge…
34 Wholehearted piety and obedience while knowing the prophesy that after his reign Jerusalem would fall – the practical and immediate nature of faith, trusting the big picture to God
35 Symbolic of Josiah’s appreciation of God’s saving power despite impending exile, the most legally perfect, largest passover feast ever offered by any King in Jerusalem.
36 A wrap up with the economy of a murder mystery – the last 3 kings, invasion, exile, restoration after 70 years quickly narrated. As in Kings, man’s evil is the means to the end, the fall of Jerusalem is understood as God’s judgement.