Eli T. Evans
The Chronicles are among the least-read books of the Bible, and it’s not difficult to see why. Reading the endless lists and genealogies is like reading the phone book: huge cast of characters, no plot. The parts of the book that do have plot are often just stories recycled from Samuel and Kings, sometimes quoted word-for-word, sometimes with glaring omissions. Chronicles rearranges events, adds whole scenes, and changes details. It’s easy to wonder: What’s up with the Chronicler?
When interpreting any book, it’s important to wonder about the author’s intentions. Why did he write? What’s his purpose? If our own assumptions, biases and worldview color our interpretation of the text, the biblical authors’ did too. Sometimes, it’s easy to find a book’s purpose. Luke, for example, opens his gospel by stating his purpose: To write an “orderly account” of Jesus’ activities (Luke 1:1–4). John says that he has written his gospel so that by reading it you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah (John 20:30–31). Knowing this beforehand may help you see where each writer is coming from, to “get on the same page.”
What page is the Chronicler on? Sometimes it can be hard to tell, but commentators have identified a number of emphases in his work:
Making sense of history. The Chronicler looks back on history and sees a clear pattern: When the king and people are righteous, humble and worshipping properly, the nation prospers. When they are not, the nation is judged (2 Chr 7:11–22). Compare the two versions of Pharaoh Shishak’s invasion of Judah (1 Kgs 14:21–28; 2 Chr 12:1–14). Both note that Rehoboam was forty-one when he became king, that he reigned in Jerusalem seventeen years, and that Shishak attacked Jerusalem and carried away enough gold that Rehoboam was forced to make bronze shields for his guards. The Chronicler’s version, however, is longer and gives reasons why events unfolded as they did. For example, 2 Chr 12:2 and 1 Kgs 14:25 are very similar: “And thus it happened in the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem.” Chronicles adds, “because they had been unfaithful to the Lord” (2 Chr 12:2 ESV). Jehoshaphat says it well: “Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed” (2 Chr 20:20 ESV).
Defining “Israel.” The Chronicler never states his purpose for writing the book; rather, he launches into a genealogical list starting with Adam and ending nine (mind-numbing) chapters later. The point? Determine who is and who isn’t “Israel.” This would have been very significant to the exiles returning to reestablish “Israel.” Just as importantly, these lists show the lines of priests and Levites. To those rebuilding the temple, it would be nice to know who is allowed to serve in it.
Establishing the center of worship. Once the action starts (1 Chr 10), it’s nearly an exact retelling of the death of Saul from 1 Sam 31. The Chronicler glosses over David’s rise to power and his rivalry with Saul, and makes the capture of Jerusalem his first act as king. Instead of focusing on the negative, he emphasizes the positive. Why? Because David’s biography isn’t the point. The issue for the Chronicler is that David (and Solomon) established Jerusalem and its temple as the legitimate center of worship.
In a word, the Chronicler’s main concern is legitimacy—of the Davidic covenant and monarchy, the kingdom of Judah, the Jerusalem temple, and perhaps most importantly, the community of believers who have returned from exile. Yes, Samuel tells the story of Saul and David in greater detail, but it casts doubt on David’s character. In the Chronicler’s version, David’s adultery with Bathsheba is beside the point; what is important is Yahweh’s covenant with David and that David identified the site for the temple (1 Chr 17; compare 2 Sam 7:1–29). What is important is not Solomon’s idolatry (2 Kgs 11:1–13), but that he built the temple.
What is important about the history of the kings of Israel is not that this battle or that battle was won, but that righteousness is rewarded and wickedness is not. What is most important to the Chronicler is that God will prevail (no matter what).
The Chronicler tends to recount events from the perspective of Judah and not the northern kingdom of Israel. Do you detect a pro-Judah bias in the story of Amaziah (1 Kgs 14 and 2 Chr 25) or is the Chronicler merely filling in gaps in the story?
Read the story of David’s Census of Israel, first in 2 Sam 24 and then in 1 Chr 21. What might have motivated the differences in the Chronicler’s version?