Monday, August 29, 2016

Bible Commentary - 2 Chronicles 10

In this chapter, Rehoboam becomes king and all the northern tribes rebel against him.

This whole chapter exists as a response to a missing piece in Chronicles.  Like I discussed in the previous chapter, Chronicles leaves out almost the entirety of 1 Kings 11, which describes Solomon committing idolatry in the later parts of his life due to the influence of his foreign wives.  1 Kings 11:11-13 explains that the LORD would take away the kingdom from Solomon because of his sins, but not during his lifetime and also leaving one tribe to his descendants for the sake of David.  Because Chronicles wants to present Solomon in a more positive light, it leaves out the record of his sin and the corresponding explanation for why the kingdom is being divided during the lifetime of his son.  This leaves us with the description of the rebellion against Rehoboam, but without the moralizing that we found in Kings.

This chapter is the beginning of the royal succession narrative, which continues all the way to the end of 2 Chronicles.  It should be viewed in terms of the three principles that we identified in 2 Chronicles 7 when God spoke to Solomon.  In case my readers have forgotten, the three themes were God's promise to forgive Israel (i.e. Judah) if they repented of their sins, to establish Solomon (and his descendants) if they walk in David's ways, and that he would destroy Judah and cast them out of the land if they worship other gods.  Since the Chronicler does not want to impugn Solomon's character, we are left with God's response (tearing away the kingdom) without quite knowing the reason why.  That said, verse 15 even says that Jeroboam is made king in response to a prophecy of Ahijah, which is included in 1 Kings 11:29-39, but not in Chronicles.  This once again shows that the author of Chronicles, and perhaps his intended readers, were familiar with the Kings narrative even while the Chronicler is reshaping it for his own purposes.  Verse 15 itself is copied from 1 Kings 12:15, but it makes a lot less sense here in Chronicles with the context of the prophecy itself removed from the text.

In any case, this chapter is definitely an instance of the second principle, because we know from elsewhere that Solomon drifted into idolatry and now the kingdom is being dis-established from his descendants as a result.  A single tribe is left to him as a consequence of David's faithfulness, but most of the tribes leave.  This is due to a prophecy of Ahijah, and the foolishness of Rehoboam, but even more so it's due to the justice of God punishing Solomon's idolatry.  At least, that is the moral explanation for what is happening.

On the more practical side, it appears that the people are rebelling against the "heavy burden" of Solomon (v. 4).  It's pretty clear this is a reference to the numerous building projects enacted by Solomon, and while the text in Chronicles clarifies that the forced laborers were all foreigners (2 Chronicles 2:17-18, 2 Chronicles 8:9-10), but from this chapter it is evident that the heavy burden has fallen on the native Israelites as well.  It's clear that this is a widespread perception, and it's also clear that the people moved to challenge Rehoboam early in his reign when he would be in the weakest position to resist them.  Think about it; the people were under a heavy burden during all the years of Solomon's reign, and yet we have no evidence that they ever complained to him about it, probably because it would have been suicidal.  When Solomon took over as king from David, he inaugurated his reign by murdering a bunch of David's enemies, and "thus the kingdom was established in the hands of Solomon" (1 Kings 2:46).  If Rehoboam had time to consolidate his rule, establish his officers and commanders throughout the country, and generally dig into the bureaucratic infrastructure of the nation, then he would be positioned to fight off any challenge and the people would lose any effective leverage to negotiate with him.  This is why the people didn't complain during the reign of Solomon and why they are complaining now.

I think it's interesting that the people called for Jeroboam to come back; funny enough, 1 Kings 11:28 tells us that Solomon appointed Jeroboam over the forced labor of the house of Joseph (i.e. the northern tribes).  We don't know exactly what kind of reputation Jeroboam might have had with the people, but we can reasonably speculate that he must have applied (or argued for) a lighter burden on the people because the people called for him to represent them before Rehoboam regarding the very same matter of the forced labor.  Regardless of the reason why, it's clear that Jeroboam was regarded favorably by the northern tribes because afterwards they make him king.

We also see the emergence of a generational gap here.  Rehoboam has two sets of advisors: the elders who advised his father Solomon and the young men who grew up with him.  The elders advise him well, and the young men advise him foolishly, but Rehoboam listens to the young men instead of the elders.  This was foolish, but the loss of the kingdom was unavoidable because "this turn of events was from God" (v. 15).  I do think this shows the importance of listening to the wisdom of elders, especially for young people who don't have as much experience.

In verse 16, the people see that the king is not taking care of them and will only look after his own tribe, Judah, and so they cease to obey any king from the house of David.

In verse 18, we again see forced labor being the contentious issue.  Rehoboam sends out Adoniram, perhaps to punish the people and perhaps expecting that the people would continue to obey the masters they were familiar with.  Since the people had been performing forced labor for so long, maybe they would continue to obey out of habit.  Rehoboam discovers that his ploy would not work when the people stone Adoniram to death, breaking off the last vestige of their obedience to the king.

In any case, the kingdom is divided by the hand of God and the northern tribes largely vanish from the Chronicles narrative at this point.  In the next chapter, we will learn about the rest of Rehoboam's kingship.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Bible Commentary - 2 Chronicles 9

In this chapter, Solomon meets the queen of Sheba and after other events his life is concluded.

This chapter copies a significant amount of material from 1 Kings 10, which has two main sections.  It first tells us the story of Solomon's meeting with the queen of Sheba, and then it tells us about Solomon's great wealth and power.  This chapter also concludes with a brief account of Solomon's death, which is taken from 1 Kings 11:41-43.

The first question I find myself asking about this chapter is, how does it fit with the larger themes and narrative in Chronicles?  To me, this chapter feels similar to 2 Samuel 21-24, which were a sort of appendix with miscellaneous stories from David's life.  I feel like these are a handful of miscellaneous stories from Solomon's life that don't really play much into the larger narrative of Chronicles like the temple project.

I think to some extent, this chapter could be seen as glorification of Solomon (which is another one of the themes of Chronicles), and perhaps it can be seen as a depiction of God's blessing over Solomon in response to Solomon's devotion to God in the previous chapter.  Since the Chronicler is certainly trying to emphasize the connection between faithfulness to God and material blessing (consistent with Deuteronomy), perhaps we could see Solomon's wisdom and his blessing as a fulfillment of the promise that God made to "establish" him.  But like I said, I feel like this is a fairly weak association and I mostly think these are stories about Solomon that just don't fit anywhere else so we get them here at the end.

The next question we should ask is what differences exist between the narrative in Chronicles and the same stories from 1 Kings?  The answer is, very few.  Some of the numbers are different but the vast majority of the text is the same.  There is one important difference which is that Chronicles leaves out the entirety of 1 Kings 11:1-40.  This is a major change, because that part of Kings is extremely critical of Solomon.  In it, we are told that Solomon had many foreign wives, which was forbidden by the Law (and Kings paraphrases from Exodus 34:12-16 which essentially forbids foreign wives).  Then we are told that because Solomon was led on to worship other gods by his wives, the LORD raised up enemies to fight against Solomon and would "tear the kingdom from you" (1 Kings 11:11).  It's a long and harshly critical section and Chronicles omits it entirely.  This is definitely part of Chronicles long-standing pattern of idealizing Solomon (as well as David).

Other than that, I think the main theme of this chapter is just to show us how amazing is Solomon's kingdom.  There is a particular emphasis on exotic luxury items.  We can also see that much of Solomon's wealth was based on long distance trading in partnership with Hiram, and the queen of Sheba herself appears to have arrived as part of a substantial trading expedition.  Some of the different elements mentioned: the fine spices and precious stones (v. 9), gold, exotic wood (almugwood, v. 10), ivory, apes and baboons (v. 21), the chariots imported from Egypt (v. 28) and many other things.

As I said elsewhere, this is the apex of Israel's power and wealth in the bible.  David defeated all of their national enemies and now Solomon is reaping the benefits, using the slave labor as well as the peace to build the temple and many other structures and monuments, and he is financing it all through long distance, international trade, as well as accruing luxury goods.  All of this enhances Solomon's prestige and we see that in the queen's response when she is overwhelmed at all of Solomon's amazing stuff.  Since Chronicles leaves out all the negative stuff about Solomon, we are left with an entirely positive picture of his reign.

In the next chapter, we will nonetheless see Israel fracture into two nations, the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom.  The rest of Chronicles will be entirely devoted to the history of the southern kingdom, Judah.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Bible Commentary - 2 Chronicles 8

In this chapter, Solomon builds many other cities and infrastructure throughout Israel.

To begin, as with so many other parts of 2 Chronicles, this chapter also has strong parallels in the text of 1 Kings.  For this chapter, it is a parallel text to 1 Kings 9:10-28.  There are a few differences but the majority of the text is similar and it has the same general structure.  This chapter has two main sections: Solomon's continued construction activities (v. 1-11), Solomon's religious devotion (v. 12-16).  Verses 17-18 tell one other brief story about Solomon's partnership with Hiram in long distance trade.

I see the first section (Solomon's construction projects) as being a natural extension of the temple project.  Basically, Solomon is a strong and wealthy ruler and Israel as a nation is quite successful as well.  As part of that, we see in v. 7-8 that Solomon is conscripting vast numbers of non-Israelites for his building projects.  Of course, we knew that from when he built the temple (2 Chronicles 2:17-18), but the point is that when you have 150,000 conscripted workers, you don't have them just make the temple and them stop.  You have them keep building you stuff because why not?  All of the infrastructure, organization and planning that went into making the temple can be easily redirected to other construction projects when the temple is finished, and that is exactly what Solomon does.  Ignoring the religious justification, all of these building projects enhance Solomon's prestige and have military and economic benefits as well (the temple doesn't but these other projects do).  It's only natural that he would keep building.  The general picture we can take away from this is that Solomon is a very successful and powerful ruler.  He has all of the trappings of a strong king including monumental construction projects and lots of slave labor.  This is one of the high points in Israel's political history.

The second section (Solomon's religious devotion) is a response to God's promise in the previous chapter.  In 2 Chronicles 7:17-18, God says that he would establish Solomon's kingdom if Solomon walks faithfully in the same way as his father David.  What I take away from this chapter is that the Chronicler is saying yes, Solomon did walk in his fathers ways and was an honorable and devoted king.  1 Kings 11 certainly gives us a different picture of Solomon, claiming that he married foreign women who "turned his heart away after other gods" (1 Kings 11:4).  1 Kings 9 does record Solomon going to make offerings at the temple three times a year, but it does not include the additional details that we see in verses 13-16.  Verse 13 establishes Solomon's faithfulness towards the commands of Moses, and verses 14-15 establish Solomon's faithfulness towards the commands of David.  If we view Moses as being the architect of the tabernacle and David as the architect of the temple, then Solomon is a person who is faithful to both the old and the new patterns.

Out of these two sections, we can draw several patterns.

The first is idealization of Solomon as a ruler.  This is something I've touched on multiple times when going through Chronicles, which is that Chronicles has a general tendency towards omitting the stories that make David or Solomon look bad and including extra details that tend to make them look good.  In this chapter, it shows up by the emphasis on Solomon's religious devotion that is notably more detailed than the parallel description in Kings, and by omitting the record of Solomon's later idolatry.

The second is the continuation of the temple building project.  This chapter is a transition between the temple narrative to the royal succession narrative, and it does that by describing the remainder of Solomon's life before moving on to the next generation.  It specifically describes his building projects which are related to the temple project for the reasons I described above.  We also see the temple project continuing in Solomon's faithful devotion to the annual sacrifices and his adherence to David's division of the priests and Levites.  Basically what this shows is that after the temple was completed, Solomon continued to perpetuate the religious rituals that were mandated at the temple by both Moses and David.  Solomon's faithfulness in the perpetual rituals is a natural extension of Solomon's faithfulness in building the temple in the first place.

The third pattern is Solomon's response to God's command.  We see Solomon faithfully obeying in David's footsteps, thereby ensuring that he would have a everlasting kingdom in accordance with God's promise.  In the language of Kings and Chronicles, "walking in the ways of his father David" is a kind of benchmark for whether a certain king was good or bad.  Those who follow the ways of David are "established" (2 Chron 7:18) and those who don't are cast out or punished or whatever is the opposite of being "established".  I mentioned that this "walking in the ways of your father David" is going to be one of the major themes of Chronicles, and as it relates to king Solomon, the Chronicler wants to make it clear that Solomon obeyed the LORD in the same way as his father, and that Solomon was a godly ruler.  The book of Kings is a bit more circumspect on Solomon's reign, but also has a largely-positive outlook on Solomon as a ruler.

In the next chapter, Solomon's life story concludes with his encounter with the queen of Sheba.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Bible Commentary - 2 Chronicles 7

In this chapter, God answers Solomon's prayer for the dedication of the temple.

Around half of this chapter is copied from 1 Kings, equivalent to the passage between 1 Kings 8:62-66 and 1 Kings 9:1-9.  It's the same general flow but a lot of details are different, which I will cover briefly later.

At a high level, this chapter has two main parts.  The first part is verses 1-10, which discusses the celebratory festival in dedication of the temple, and the second part is verses 11-22 which contains God's response to Solomon's prayer.

Beginning with verses 1-3, fire comes down from heaven and consumes the burnt offering.  This is not recorded in the book of Kings.  In fact, this is the second time in the book of Chronicles that we have seen fire falling from heaven, and the second time it is not recorded in the book of Kings.  The other reference in Chronicles was 1 Chronicles 21:26, when David offered a sacrifice on the threshing floor of Araunah.  In this case, it's possible the Chronicler is trying to allude to Leviticus 9:23-24.  In that passage, Aaron is offering a sacrifice as part of his ordination as high priest, and when the offering is performed, it says that fire from God's presence goes out and consumes the offering.  This is not the same event as the dedication of the tabernacle, so I don't think it's exactly a parallel in the same way that so many other aspects of Chronicles parallels the construction of the tabernacle in Exodus.

More importantly, we should be looking to see how this fits into the larger narrative of Chronicles.  Basically, the previous chapter concluded the dedication of the temple.  This is after many, many chapters describing all of these things that David and Solomon were doing for the LORD.  This chapter, then, contains God's response to David and Solomon and the temple project as a whole.  In both the first and second part, I would characterize God's response as unreserved approval.  "The king and all the people offered sacrifices" (v. 4), and God responds by sending fire down from heaven onto their offering.  The answer to Solomon's prayer comes in the second half of this chapter.

Meanwhile, with all the people gathered in Jerusalem in the seventh month, they take this as an opportunity to celebrate the Day of Atonement and the feast of Tabernacles, which both occur during this time frame.  Verse 9 clarifies this because it says they celebrated the dedication of the altar for seven days, and then the festival (of Tabernacles) for seven more days.  Since the Law mandates that all able-bodied people of Israel should go to Jerusalem for the feast of Tabernacles, timing the dedication of the altar to occur just before the festival was likely deliberate and certainly more convenient than doing them at separate times.

After all the celebrations were concluded and all the people returned home, the LORD visits Solomon privately at night to bring him the answer to his prayer.  This is the second half of the chapter.

I see the LORD's response to Solomon as being directed at his prayer.  In particular, in 2 Chronicles 6:26-31, Solomon asks the LORD to forgive his people if they ever sin and are afflicted by drought, famine or plague, and the LORD addresses that in verses 13-15 by basically saying yes, he will answer those prayers of repentance if they pray towards the temple.  Furthermore, God offers a conditional promise to uphold Solomon's "royal throne" if he follows God's Law like David did, which is perhaps in response to Solomon's prayer in 2 Chronicles 6:16-17,42.

On the other hand, in verses 19-22, the LORD promises to cast Israel out of their inheritance and even to destroy the temple itself if the people go off to worship other gods, and for some reason God's response does not contain a promise that he would "uphold their cause" like what Solomon asked for in 2 Chronicles 6:39.

I think if I had to characterize God's response, I would say we got something pretty similar to Deuteronomy, especially Deut 28.  We see God offering blessings to Solomon and Israel if they obey the Law.  He promises to forgive them if they repent of their sins, but also promises to cause them harm in many different ways if they sin, up to the ultimate punishment of banishment from the promised land.  I think this is very similar to the blessings and curses paradigm that is expressed in Deut 28, but with a much stronger expression of God bringing healing whenever Israel repents of their sin.  In fact, I would say that verses 19-22 are very similar to Deut 29:22-28, except that Chronicles adds references to the desolation of the temple, while Deuteronomy just focuses on the desolation of the land.

In the previous chapter I said that Solomon's prayers are an expression of what he thinks the temple is there for, and more generally what he thinks about how he and the people should relate to God.  This chapter is the converse: God's response to Solomon is a statement about how God thinks Israel and Solomon should relate to him.  God's response contains three core elements, which I have already briefly described above.

First, he says that when Israel is punished for sinning, they should pray and repent and God would forgive them and bring healing.  We have already seen this principle in action many times (throughout the book of Judges, for instance), but here the LORD is stating it plainly.

Second, God says that if Solomon walks in the same ways as his father David, he will receive the same promise as David, that his throne would be established forever.  In short, Solomon's legacy and his status before God cannot be based on David's faithfulness: Solomon must also be faithful to God to receive the same reward.  This is basically a statement of justice, of similar character to Deut 24:16, but in the opposite direction: Solomon will not be rewarded by God for something that he didn't do.

Third, God says that if the people turn away from him, not only will he uproot them from the land (like mentioned in Deut 29:22-28), but he will also reject the temple and make it "a heap of rubble".  What this means is that God's approval of the temple and his favor over Israel is not unconditional.  The essential elements of the Law of Moses still apply, which means that if Israel sin egregiously they will be kicked out of hte land in spite of the temple.  If I may paraphrase from Star Wars, God is not altering the deal.  Building the temple has not changed any of the fundamental characteristics of the covenantal relationship between Israel and God, and the overhanging threat of expulsion from the land is one of the central elements of the covenant.

In conclusion, even though we have reached the end of the temple narrative, the book of Chronicles does not end here.  In fact, it continues for another 29 chapters.  One might wonder how the narrative about the kings of Judah to follow relates to the temple narrative that we are just finishing, and the answer is in the three elements that I just explained.  These three principles of how God relates to Israel are exemplified in the narrative to follow, and we will see all three of them expressed in different ways.  During periods of sin, Judah will crumbles; during periods of repentance, they will be exalted; and in the dark conclusion when they turn away from the LORD with finality, they will be cast out of the promised land and taken to exile in Babylon.  Meanwhile, the kings of Judah who follow in the ways of David will be established in the same covenant as David.

Meanwhile, in the next chapter, we will read about Solomon's other accomplishments during his lifetime.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Bible Commentary - 2 Chronicles 6

In this chapter, Solomon dedicates the temple with a prayer.

This is a fairly long chapter and it has a lot of material.  Even though there is considerable overlap with 1 Kings 8 (which I previously discussed here), I think it's important enough to the Chronicles narrative that I want to take a more detailed look here.

This chapter has two main sections.  In the first section (verses 1-11), Solomon addresses the gathered people of Israel who have come for the dedication.  In the second section (12-42), Solomon prays to the LORD on behalf of the people and on behalf of the temple.

The first section contains Solomon's statement of intent.  It explains why he built the temple, giving several reasons.  Solomon begins in verses 1-2, explaining that the LORD will "dwell in a dark cloud" and that he built a temple for the LORD to dwell forever.  I'm not sure if there is a connection between these two points.  Certainly the "dark cloud" metaphor is present in other places in the bible.  For instance, Deuteronomy 4:11 says that Mount Sinai was covered "with black clouds and deep darkness", which accompanied the LORD's presence when he met with Moses.  Deut 5:22 says essentially the same thing, and 2 Samuel 22:12 (which is part of a Psalm of David) says that the LORD "made darkness his canopy", which in context means that the LORD descended to the earth in the midst of a thunderstorm.  I think this is possibly connected to the temple in the sense of concealment; the temple helps to enclose the LORD's presence so that his holiness might be hidden from us.

Now, my readers may be wondering why the LORD would seek to conceal his presence.  One might suppose that the LORD wishes to be dwell amongst his people, seeing them and being seen by them, so that he might have fellowship with them in a more direct way.  If the LORD is dwelling in darkness and clouds, or hidden away in the holy place of a temple that is excluded to 99% of Israel's populace, then in some sense it feels like the LORD is trying to make himself inaccessible to his people.  To a person who is seeking God, it may be frustrating that God would conceal himself.  We may even question the LORD's intentions and wonder if he is trying to make us fail in our pursuit of him.

The LORD is indeed seeking to conceal himself, but he explains the reason why in Exodus 33:18-23.  In that passage, Moses is in the midst of a powerful encounter with the LORD.  Moses is on Mount Sinai, having just received the ten commandments and the orders for the construction of the tabernacle.  He is surrounded by fire, clouds and earthquakes, and he has secured the LORD's presence in their journey to the promised land.  In this moment, Moses asks for an even greater thing, to behold the glory of the LORD.  The LORD grants his request, but with one major exception: Moses is not permitted to see God's face, "for no one may see me and live".  This is the first point: God's glory must be concealed because anyone who is not properly sanctified would be harmed by God's glory.

I think this is a really important point and I hardly have the time to fully address it.  In many places, God is called an "all consuming fire".  Fire can burn and destroy many things, and in the same way God's glory will destroy unprepared people.  One similar example is Exodus 28:35.  Aaron must wear this particular vest when he enters the holy place, "so that he will not die".  Exodus 30:20 explains that the priests should wash before they enter the holy place "so that they will not die".  There is a remarkable list of things the priests needed to do to enter the holy place and not die.  Imagine if that presence were everywhere?  People everywhere, who were not consecrated and holy, would have been swept away.  We must be consecrated before we can enter the LORD's presence, and the process for how to become consecrated is laid out in the bible as well.  It is possible for everyone, because God really does want to be with his people, but it is not instant and it's not cheap either.  However, explaining the process of sanctification is beyond the scope of my commentary here so I will move on.

Solomon gives several other reasons he is building the temple.  Solomon basically says that the LORD made two promises to David: to establish David's place on the throne of Israel and that his son would build the temple in Jerusalem.  Therefore in verse 10, Solomon claims that both his own reign and the construction of the temple are fulfillments of the LORD's promises.  Even though Solomon was the man building the temple, he says that the LORD was the one bringing it about, in accordance with his promise to David.  Not only was it in fulfillment of a divine command, building the temple was also empowered and overseen by the LORD who "chose" it to happen (v. 6).  Later, in verse 15, Solomon says "with your hand you have fulfilled it", referring to his promises to David.  One could reasonably argue that includes building the temple as part of what the LORD "fulfilled".

That concludes the first section.

In the second section, Solomon kneels upon this peculiar "bronze platform" and prays for the temple (v. 13).  This bronze platform is not mentioned in 1 Kings 8, and it's not clear to me why this is only mentioned in Chronicles.

I think some of the symbolism here is interesting.  Solomon kneels and "spreads out his hands towards heaven" (v. 13).  I just think it's so cool that people would raise their hands in prayer over 2,600 years ago.  This image, of kneeling before the LORD in honor and raising one's hands in surrender, is still with us to this very day.

Afterwards, Solomon begins his prayer by reciting God's promise to David, and then he goes on to describe what is his understanding of the temple's purpose.  Surprisingly, he doesn't talk at all about sacrifices or offerings, or any of the other common priestly functions in the temple.  He doesn't say, "LORD, please regard the incense and consecrated bread, and the perpetual fire before you."  Nearly the entirety of what Solomon asks is for the LORD to have regard towards prayers of mercy.

Starting in verse 19, Solomon asks the LORD to "have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his supplication... when they pray toward this place".  The basic structure is for people to pray directed towards the temple, and then the LORD would hear from heaven and forgive [the sins that the people are praying about].

In verse 22, Solomon adds a justice element.  When two people are in disagreement and one of them has sinned, both are to come and take an oath upon the altar and then the LORD will judge between them, striking down the wicked and upholding the innocent.  I see this as quite similar to the role that Moses and the priests are supposed to fulfill, since in many other places it is written that the priests would judge over disputes amongst the people.  It appears that in the same way, the LORD was expected to judge between disputes, perhaps the very serious or unclear disputes that the priests could not resolve.

In verse 24-31, Solomon lists several different kinds of curses that would fall on the people "because they have sinned against you", and asks that when the people repent and "pray toward this place" that the LORD would forgive and heal whatever is afflicting them.  It is troubling imagery when the primary relationship that Solomon can envisage between Israel and God is for God to be smiting Israel while Israel is alternately sinning or repenting.  And this is supposed to be Israel's golden age, too.

Verses 32-35 have two additional categories of prayer (foreigners and prayer for victory in battle), but verses 36-39 have the grand finale: when Israel sins and are exiled from their homeland, they are to pray towards their homeland, city and the temple, and then the LORD will forgive and "maintain their cause", whatever that means.

Solomon concludes in verses 41-42 with part of a Psalm of David, which is a modification compared to 1 Kings 8.  In the book of Kings, Solomon concludes by extending his prayer (from v. 36-39) with references to Israel's deliverance from Egypt, perhaps as an archetype for Israel's deliverance from future captivity.  In this case, the Chronicler wished to change the focus towards God's eternal promise to David's house, which may be part of Chronicles larger theme of David as an ideal ruler.

In any case, this has already gotten really long so I will stop here, but I would like to end by encouraging my readers to focus on the different purposes that Solomon imagined for the temple and the different kinds of prayer that he anticipated.  When you look at your own relationship with God, consider what kind of dedication you would pray towards the temple in your own life.  Is it characterized by sinning and repenting, like the Israelites, or something else?

In the next chapter, the dedication of the temple concludes with the LORD's dramatic appearance.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Bible Commentary - 2 Chronicles 5

In this chapter, Solomon brings the ark of the covenant into the new temple.

This chapter is largely copied from 1 Kings 8, which follows the pattern of the earlier chapters in 2 Chronicles that were also mostly duplicated from 1 Kings.  There are a few things I would like to discuss, and I will begin with the differences between here and 1 Kings 8.  There's only one big difference I can see between 1 Kings 8 and the present chapter, and that is verses 11-13 which references the priestly divisions and the musicians.  This is unique to Chronicles because the book of Kings does not discuss the priestly divisions or assignment of musicians at all.  Both of these were part of David's preparations in 1 Chronicles 24 and 25.  I don't think this is an important difference, but it does show that Chronicles was written as a single consistent unit.

Next, I would like to briefly address how this chapter fits into Chronicle's main theme.  This chapter is basically the crowning moment in the construction of the temple.  Even though the temple narrative will go on for two more chapters, this is the first moment when we could say that the temple is "finished".  Having constructed the building and filled it with the lampstands, tables, altars and everything else that was prescribed in the Law of Moses, we have now reached the point when the ark of the covenant can be brought in, symbolizing the LORD's presence coming to dwell in the temple.  We see God's presence fill the temple in an even more tangible way in verse 13-14 when the glory of the LORD filled the temple like a physical cloud.

This is a very important part of the story because it shows the LORD's approval of the temple.  To the Chronicler, the LORD's approval is absolutely essential because without it, the temple would not have any unifying power to the nation of Israel in his own time.  Everything that I said in the introduction hinges on God accepting them and being the center focal point for their nation's reconstruction.

There are a few more details I would like to pick out.  In verse 2, it says that Solomon is bringing up the ark of the covenant from Zion, the city of David.  He is bringing it to the temple, which is in Jerusalem.  In many other places, Zion or "the city of David" are used to refer to Jerusalem, but from this verse we can see they are actually distinct locations.  It's most likely that Zion is a district or suburb of Jerusalem.  The distinction between them has faded over time, but at the time this passage was written they were still known to be separate.

In verse 5, it says that the Levites bring the ark and the tent of meeting up to the temple.  This is a little confusing because it's not entirely clear what "the tent of meeting" is referring to.  For instance, there is the tabernacle of Moses that is at Gibeon, but the ark of the covenant is already in Zion, and it was placed in "David's tent", i.e. a separate tent that David placed to hold the ark while the temple was still being planned and built.  Since this chapter is so heavily focused on the ark of the covenant, my first guess is that the "tent of meeting" refers to David's tent which would have been located with the ark, but my NIV commentary suggests that the "tent of meeting" is actually the tabernacle of Moses being removed from Gibeon.

Verse 9 says something very interesting: "and they are still there to this day".  Since we know for sure that the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and the book of Chronicles was written after that, this verse is almost certainly copying verbatim from an earlier text that predates the temple's destruction.  Otherwise, the poles would not have "still been there" for the Chronicler to write about.  This verse is almost directly copied from 1 Kings 8:8, but even 1 Kings was finalized after the destruction of Jerusalem so it is probable that 1 Kings 8:8 is also copying from some earlier unnamed source.

In verse 10, it says that only the two tablets were kept in the ark, which probably means that the jar of manna and the staff of Aaron (also placed there during the lifetime of Moses) were probably lost or destroyed by the time the temple was built.  These items were placed in the ark way back in Exodus 16:32-34 and Numbers 17:10-11.  We are never told that they are removed, and in fact these items almost entirely disappear from the biblical record immediately after they are created.  Since they have disappeared by this time, it's likely that the jar and staff were destroyed by the Philistines or some other hostile nation during the Judges period.

Finally, in verses 13-14, God's glory comes down and fills the temple with a cloud, which mimicks the dedication of the tabernacle of Moses in Exodus 40:34-35.  This is yet another parallel between the tabernacle and the temple, both in terms of their respective designs but also in the narrative that describes their construction and dedication.

In the next chapter, Solomon completes the dedication of the temple with a prayer.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Bible Commentary - 2 Chronicles 4

In this chapter, Solomon constructs all of the furnishings of the temple.

This is the second and last "construction" chapter in the Chronicles temple narrative.  In chapter 3, Solomon constructed the temple building itself, with its attendant sculptures and the two pillars.  In this chapter he finishes the job by constructing several altars, "the sea", various other basins and lampstands, all of which are conveniently detailed in verses 12-16 and 19-22.

The material in this chapter is largely copied out of 1 Kings 7 and they serve analogous purposes in the text.  As with much of the temple narrative, it also has a close parallel in the construction of the tabernacle that is detailed in Exodus.

The biggest difference between 1 Kings 7 and this chapter is that Chronicles entirely leaves out the construction of Solomon's palace, which takes up the first 12 verses of 1 Kings 7.  This chapter also has a bit less detail on some of the temple furnishings.  For instance, 1 Kings 7:28-36 has extensive details on the bronze stands that held the ten bronze basins.  This chapter here in Chronicles does not describe the basin stands at all.  There are a handful of additional details in Chronicles as well (for instance, v. 9 talks about the "priestly court" and the "large court"), but I don't think any of these differences are substantive.

I think my commentary on 1 Kings 7 covers most of the interesting aspects of this chapter, but there are two additional points I would like to bring up.

First, my readers should note that basically every furnishing has a precursor in the tabernacle of Moses.  However, Solomon made most of these furnishings larger and sometimes more numerous.  For instance, Moses constructed a bronze basin for washing and Solomon constructed "the sea" for washing.  Moses made one table for consecrated bread and one lampstand in the holy place, and Solomon made ten of each.  Moses constructed a bronze altar for sacrifices that was five cubits long and wide (Exodus 38:1), Solomon made an equivalent altar that was four times the size in each dimension (verse 1).  In most ways Solomon is following the pattern of the tabernacle of Moses, but he is doing it on an epic scale.  This leads me to my first point: we can follow the status and health of the temple as a proxy for the status and health of the Israelite nation.

So much of 1 Chronicles and the earlier chapters in 2 Chronicles was the build-up towards this moment, when the temple was constructed.  The gathering of gold, bronze, stone and wood and so many other things are all indicators of Israel's royal power and economic strength at this point in their history.  Without belaboring the point, the temple is a kind of prestige project that represents the surplus of Israel's wealth and influence, and the amount of excess wealth that they can pump into the temple will ebb and flow over time.  Furthermore, invading nations will regularly pillage the temple during Israel's decline, once again depriving the temple of the gaudy status symbols that Solomon is presently stuffing it with.  Finally, as Israel sinks into idolatry, the temple will be progressively neglected and damaged, meaning that the temple stands not just for Israel's economic and political strength, but also providing an indication of their nation's spiritual health.

Based on this principle, we can see that Solomon was indeed reigning during Israel's strongest period, and my readers should observe the periodic decline and revival of Israel's temple under future kings as symbolic of their nation's prosperity and devotion to the LORD.

The second point I would like to bring up is the distinction between inner and outer furnishings present in this chapter.  Everything built outside the temple is made of bronze and everything build for inside the temple is made of gold.  There may be several reasons for this but I think the main purpose is to create a sense of progression.  That is, when you are in the outer courtyard, everything is made of bronze, but when you go into the holy place suddenly everything is made out of gold or covered with gold.  To those who are going in, it is supposed to show you that as the materials around you change from bronze to gold that you are drawing near to the most holy place where the manifest presence of God dwells.  It is a visual symbolism that is meant to portray the spiritual significance of moving from one place in the temple complex to another, with everything centered around the ark of the covenant in the most holy place.

In the next chapter, Solomon finalizes the temple by bringing the ark itself into the new temple.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Bible Commentary - 2 Chronicles 3

In this chapter, Solomon constructs the temple building.

As with the previous chapter, most of the material in this chapter is taken from the book of Kings (1 Kings 6).  Since there is considerable overlap between the Chronicles narrative and the corresponding chapter from Kings, we should focus on two things when studying this chapter.  The first is seeking to understand how this chapter fits into the larger Chronicles narrative.  The second is studying the differences between the Chronicles narrative and the same passage in Kings, because understanding what the Chronicler changed will help us understand the Chronicler's intent with this material.

I will begin by discussing the larger Chronicles narrative.  For this chapter, it is pretty straightforward: a vast proportion of Chronicles is dedicated to David's preparation for, and Solomon's completion of, the temple in Jerusalem.  From that standpoint, we should view the early chapters of 2 Chronicles (including this one) as a crescendo that will progressively build until it peaks in chapter 7 when the finalized temple is dedicated and essentially opens for business.  This chapter is important because it is when the preparation finally gives way to action and the temple is constructed.  From this standpoint, we are also nearing the end of the temple narrative.

In my discussion of 1 Kings 6, I pointed out how many similarities there were between the temple and the tabernacle of Moses.  In Chronicles, the association between the temple and the tabernacle is even more pronounced and more important to the author.  This chapter (as well as 1 Kings 6) has a direct parallel in Exodus 36 when Bezalel leads the craftsmen in constructing the tabernacle.  The book of Exodus ends with the dedication of the tabernacle and the glory of the LORD filling it and abiding with the people of Israel.  Chronicles is following a similar trajectory: after selecting a skilled craftsman (Huram-Abi), Solomon is now directing the construction of the temple and in a few chapters it will conclude with the dedication of the temple and God's glory filling it and abiding with his people.

So that is how this chapter fits into the Chronicles narrative as a whole.  Now it is important to understand the differences between this chapter and the equivalent material in 1 Kings 6, which can help us to understand the author's intent and perspective.

First, in verse 1 it says that Solomon is building the temple on the threshing floor of Araunah and on Mount Moriah.  Neither of these details are contained in the book of Kings.  The particular detail about the threshing floor is what connects the temple narrative to the story about David's sinful census in 1 Chronicles 21 (which is copied from 2 Samuel 24).

The reference to Mount Moriah is even more interesting.  Here is something you might not know: The name Moriah only occurs two places in the entire bible: Genesis 22 and here.  In Genesis 22, it is the name of the land where Abraham is instructed to bring Isaac to sacrifice him to the LORD (which ends up being a test and does not actually happen).  I don't know what's more shocking to me, that such a foundational story is not referenced more often in the bible or that this is the one particular situation where it is referenced.

In summary, I think the implications of this are diverse and I think the author's intentions are not obvious.  The story about Abraham's test of faith has many interpretations.  For example, many people view Isaac as a prototype for sacrifice, like the passover or like the much later appearance and death of Jesus.  It is similar to the passover in the sense that Abraham's beloved son was "supposed" to die, but then God spared him and he was replaced by a ram.  In that sense, the command for Isaac to die is an analogy for the penalty of sin (death; Genesis 3), and when God has Abraham sacrifice a ram instead, that lays the foundation for substitutionary atonement, which is the basis for pretty much the entire sacrificial system as a whole in the Law of Moses.  Since the temple itself stands as the centerpiece of that sacrificial system, one could certainly see why Mount Moriah would be an apt location for the temple to be built.

Is this what the author intends to convey?  That perhaps Abraham himself became a kind of precursor for the temple worship system when he obeyed God's instruction to bring his son to Mount Moriah only for God to substitute an animal sacrifice in his place?  I do think this is the most likely explanation, but I can't say for sure because there is really just this one verse and furthermore, I can't find any reason why this should necessarily be more important to the Chronicler than it would be to the author of Kings.  I think it is a surprising and remarkable comparison, but I don't know why it is more important to the post-exile community in Jerusalem than it would deserve special mention here but not in the source material.

Lastly, there are some addition verses in the corresponding chapter of Kings that are omitted from the Chronicles narrative.  In particular, the author of Chronicles leaves out 1 Kings 6:4-20.  Since these verses simply contain more details about the temple construction (for instance, describing the side rooms built into the temple), I don't really see any meaningful theological or practical consequence for this omission.  My NIV narrative suggests that the Chronicler may be leaving out these details because the post-exilic temple reconstruction* was less elaborate than the original temple built by Solomon, but in my opinion I think that is just speculation, because I simply don't see why the Chronicler would leave those particular details out when he includes so many others of similar character.

In any case, the next chapter of Chronicles continues with the construction of the temple furnishings.

*I probably should have mentioned this earlier, but there are several temples in Israel's history.  The first temple, which is described both here and in the book of Kings, was constructed by Solomon.  This is the "first temple".  It was destroyed by the Babylonians when they stormed Jerusalem in 586 BCE in the Babylonian exile.  After the people of Israel returned to Jerusalem 70 years later, they began construction of a second temple that was smaller and less elaborate, but filled a similar religious role.  This second temple was rebuilt and greatly expanded just before and during the time of Jesus when it was under Roman control, and the second temple was finally destroyed in 70 CE by the Romans.  Chronicles would have been written when the second temple was either under construction or just recently constructed, which means that the temple of Solomon (what is described in Chronicles) no longer existed by the time that Chronicles was written.  Even though the temple of Solomon no longer existed, it is exactly this grasping for lost heirlooms of their past that makes the temple narrative so important to the Chronicler and the society he was writing for, and it's the exact same force that makes the temple reconstruction so important for the post-exilic society that was trying to find their place in the world.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Bible Commentary - 2 Chronicles 2

In this chapter, Solomon recruits Hiram and the men of Tyre to send him cedar logs for the construction of the temple.

Similar to the previous chapter, a lot of the material here is copied from the book of Kings (1 Kings 5 in particular).  As with the rest of Chronicles, we should ask ourselves two questions: first, why is this particular story from Kings included, and second, what are the differences between this chapter and the source material in Kings?

To answer the first question, this story is included because it helps to explain the construction of the temple.  As I have repeatedly discussed, Chronicles in general places a tremendous focus on the temple as a unifying feature of life for the post-exilic community in which Chronicles was composed.

To answer the second question, I believe the biggest difference between this story and the corresponding chapter in Kings is verse 7 and 13 when Solomon asks, and Hiram promises to send, a wise craftsman to come and help build the temple and its furnishings.  I think this deviation is included for the exact same reason that Chronicles mentions Bezalel by name in the previous chapter: the Chronicler is trying to draw analogies between Solomon's construction of the temple and Moses's construction of the tabernacle.  The Chronicler wants to draw attention to Solomon's skilled craftsman, who is specifically named and fills the same role as what Bezalel and Oholiab performed for Moses.

There are two smaller differences also worth mentioning.  Verses 4-6 are also unique to Chronicles (not present in the Kings narrative), and show Solomon as being very pious and religion-minded.  It's likely that Solomon was very pious and religion-minded, but adding this short passage certainly tends to make Solomon look better to the readers than what you get in Kings.  Personally, I think these short additions to Chronicles are what make it worth reading because besides showing us the author's intent, it also adds a lot of color to the story.  Not to mention, it's kind of weird.  Like, why is Solomon teaching Hiram about the temple rituals?  Why would Hiram care that this is a "lasting ordinance for Israel" when Hiram himself is not part of Israel?  That has never made sense to me.  To me, this comes across as fairly transparent showboating, whether on the part of Solomon or the Chronicler on Solomon's behalf, because the only audience I could imagine caring about this would be the Israelite readers (or listeners) hearing about Solomon's passionate dedication to these "lasting ordinances".

This is a bit of a tangent, but the other thing I always found peculiar about this chapter is why Hiram "praises the LORD, the God of Israel" in verse 12.  I mean, Hiram himself is not a worshiper of the LORD; why would he bless the LORD rather than bless his own god?  But then, I suppose it's the LORD and not his own god who is putting in an order for cedars worth 125,000 bushels of wheat, so I guess a bit of praising the LORD is not unreasonable even for a foreigner.  Chronicles actually leaves out one of my more favorite quotes from 1 Kings 5:7, which says that "when Hiram heard the words of Solomon, he rejoiced greatly".  If someone promised me 125,000 bushels of wheat, I think I would rejoice greatly too.

In any case, the second small difference is when verses 17-18 specify that Solomon is conscripting foreigners, while the parallel narrative in Kings (1 Kings 5:15-16) doesn't say where the 153,600 workers came from.  Interestingly, 1 Kings 5:13-14 includes an additional 30,000 workers and specifically stating that these "forced laborers" came from "all Israel", implying (though not directly stating) that the forced laborers were themselves Israelite people.  These 30,000 workers are not mentioned in Chronicles at all.  I think both of these modifications are likely for the same reason, to remove any possible implication that Solomon was forcibly conscripting Israelites.  The Chronicler is trying to cast Solomon in a more positive light and wants to avoid portraying him as enslaving his own people (even if it was temporary).

Now that Solomon has organized his forced labor and procured a chief craftsman and cedars from Lebanon, he is ready to begin building the temple in the next chapter.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Bible Commentary - 2 Chronicles 1

In this chapter, Solomon is granted wisdom by the LORD through a dream.

The basic story in this chapter is taken from 1 Kings 3, but with a few modifications.  The most significant is that Chronicles removes the story about the two women arguing over a child.  In Kings, this story had been used as an anecdote to establish the great wisdom of Solomon (received from the aforementioned dream).  However, the Chronicler changes the story.  Instead of establishing Solomon's wisdom through the judgments that he brings to the people, his wisdom is chiefly directed towards the construction of the temple that begins in the next chapter.  Including the story about the two women would just be a distraction from the Chronicler's larger purpose in the temple narrative.

Another modification is how the "high place" is described.  In 1 Kings 3:3-4, the author of Kings basically tells us that Solomon followed the LORD except for when he went to high places, which is usually a holdover from the idolatrous former inhabitants of the promised land.  Indeed, the high places are routinely condemned in nearly every book of the OT, they are usually torn down by the righteous kings and they are just as often rebuilt by the evil, idolatrous kings.  Kings construes Solomon's presence at a high place to be a sort of "blip" on his record when he sinned but it was mostly okay because "Solomon loved the LORD".

In Chronicles, the story is notably different.  Verses 3-6 are careful to explain to us that the high place Solomon went to was actually the home of the tabernacle of Moses and the original bronze altar, and Solomon was simply going to offer sacrifices on the bronze altar, absolving him of guilt.  Why the change in emphasis?  It's likely for the same reason that so many other catastrophes and sins are omitted (for instance, entirely ignoring David's sin with Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite), because as I described in the introduction to this book the Chronicler is living in a hopeful time and he is trying to recast their history in a more optimistic light, particularly as it relates to David and Solomon.  Rather than showing that their former kings are all-too-human, Chronicles is trying to show the Israelites of the post-exilic community that there is hope for their people and righteous examples from their past to look up to.

This chapter is also unique in that it is the last mention of Bezalel son of Uri in the entire bible.  He is only mentioned 9 times in the bible: 7 of those are in Exodus when he makes the furnishings of the tabernacle, once is in 1 Chronicles in the genealogy, and the last time is here when Chronicles specifically tells us that Solomon is going to the bronze altar made by Bezalel.  I don't know why the Chronicler felt like he had to mention Bezalel here; perhaps it's part of the more general allusion in Chronicles comparing David and Solomon to Moses and Joshua.  I certainly think the Chronicler is trying to draw on Moses through Bezalel to establish Solomon's legitimacy.  In turn, through David and Solomon the Chronicler is trying to establish the legitimacy of the temple in Jerusalem.

Funny as it may seem to us, this is what makes the genealogy at the beginning of 1 Chronicles so important to the book as a whole, because it connects David and Solomon to Moses through hereditary descent.  By framing David and Solomon as being like Moses, the temple is given the same divine authority as the tabernacle of Moses, which may not have been obvious or universally agreed upon in the time of the Chronicler.  There is an even subtler political dynamic here because the tabernacle of Moses is in Gibeon, which is a center of power for Benjamin, while the temple is in Jerusalem in Judah.  It is quite possible that people in Israel (especially the northern tribes and Benjamin) would still think that the tabernacle of Moses is the "correct" place to seek the LORD, as Solomon himself is doing in this chapter.  This is why it's important for Chronicles to establish Solomon as the "next Moses" so that the temple could just as much become the "next tabernacle" and that everyone in Israel would acknowledge the temple and its associated priests as the supreme religious authority in Israel.

The Chronicler is in a peculiar situation, then.  Because Solomon himself goes there, he needs to acknowledge the tabernacle and high place in Gibeon, while concurrently portraying it as a place destined for obsolescence as the shiny new temple is constructed in Jerusalem.  The Chronicler doesn't want to accuse Solomon of sinning so he has to explain that Solomon was just going to the tabernacle, but he doesn't want the tabernacle to remain important, so that's why the Chronicler will seek to portray the temple as superseding the tabernacle.

As I discussed in 1 Kings 4, it is concerning that Solomon is amassing horses and chariots because that is in violation of the Law (Deuteronomy 17:16).  As in the book of Kings, the purpose is to demonstrate Solomon's great wealth, but as in the book of Kings it concerns me that he doesn't appear to be following the full extent of the Law.

In any case, Chronicles quickly moves on and in the next chapter we will read about Solomon's preparations for building the temple.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Bible Commentary - 2 Chronicles Introduction

This book is the second half of Chronicles.  If you read 1 Chronicles, you should know what you are getting into because this is more of that.

In really broad terms, there are a few things you needed to know when reading 1 Chronicles.

The book was written after Israel returned to the promised land from their exile to Babylon.  In general, the book of Chronicles is shaped by this historical context in several important ways.  It makes the book more hopeful.  A lot of Chronicles is avoiding the negative elements because in the time it was written, Israel was going through a significant redemptive event.  Also, since Chronicles was written when the people were returning to Israel, the stories in Chronicles focuses on unifying elements of Israel's history (i.e. why the people should work together) and also emphasizes Israel's historical and divine connection to the promised land (i.e. why the people should, and deserve to, take the land back).  Most importantly, Chronicles centers on the temple in Jerusalem as both a unifying element and symbolic of the people's connection to the promised land.  Because the temple was meant to be a permanent home for God's presence in the land, the people also were meant to dwell in the promised land forever, and the temple stands for that promise.

1 Chronicles itself was divided into three main sections.  The first section (chapters 1-9) is a genealogy that tells, in brief, the history of Israel as a people from the creation of Adam all the way down to Saul and David, with other parts of the genealogy going down to the present day (to the Chronicler, ca. 400 BCE).  The second section (chapters 10-21) is mainly a summary of David's reign, which is largely copied from 2 Samuel.  The third section (chapters 22-29) is almost entirely dedicated to the preparations for the temple.  Even the summary of David's life has an obvious bias towards discussing events that lay the groundwork for the temple by purchasing the threshing floor of Araunah or by defeating Israel's enemies (who could have stopped the temple project by warfare).

The reason why I'm talking about 1 Chronicles is because many of these themes carry over into 2 Chronicles.  When it was composed, this was originally a single book and it was only divided into two books when the Septuagint was written in 70 BCE.  Even though that may seem like a long time ago to us, it was hundreds of years in the future compared to when the book was originally composed.  As a result, 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles are essentially unified in what themes they embody and what ideas they are trying to express, and understanding one brings you very close to understanding the other.

2 Chronicles has the same historical context, and the story picks up exactly where 1 Chronicles leaves off.  1 Chronicles ends when David dies and Solomon is anointed, and 2 Chronicles begins with the reign of Solomon.

2 Chronicles can be divided into perhaps two main sections.  The first (chapters 1-9) covers the life and deeds of Solomon, with a particular emphasis on the construction and dedication of the temple.  The second (chapters 10-36) covers the succession of kings over Judah until the time of the exile.  All of this material is nominally in the book of Kings, but Chronicles has altered it considerably.

The first big alteration is that Chronicles does not discuss the kings of the northern kingdom Israel at all.  After Solomon dies, the united kingdom of Israel was divided into two kingdoms.  Unhelpfully, the northern kingdom was also called Israel and the southern kingdom was formed principally out of the tribe of Judah and it was named as such.  Israel (the northern kingdom) had its own line of kings and it was destroyed by the Assyrians around 722 BCE.  Without going into all that detail, it basically meant that the northern kingdom ceased to exist as a distinct political entity and it never recovered.  To the Chronicler and his audience, the kings of Israel were not particularly relevant to their situation or history.  Instead, he focuses entirely on the kings of Judah.

The second big alteration is that Chronicles removes Elijah and Elisha from the narrative.  These two men were major figures in the book of Kings: Elijah is mentioned 63 times in Kings and Elisha is mentioned 54 times.  In Chronicles, Elijah is mentioned once and Elisha is never named at all.  This is a huge difference but with a simple reason: Elijah and Elisha spent most of their ministry reaching out to the northern kingdom Israel, and for the same reasons as above the Chronicler decided to omit any material that is primarily concerned with the northern kingdom.  Therefore, Elijah and Elisha are removed from Chronicles.

Instead, Chronicles adds new material, describing the stories of the kings of Judah in more detail.  More space is also devoted to the temple dedication narrative.  2 Chronicles has a particular focus on the "revival kings", the guys who brought Israel back to their faith and obedience to the LORD.  I'm not sure how the focus on the revival kings is related to the thematic elements I described above; perhaps it's meant to be hopeful, showing the people how to turn to the LORD and that their ancestors were at least occasionally devoted to God.  My NIV commentary suggests that Chronicles is trying to foreshadow the expected Messiah by laying out these kings as (sometimes) idealized rulers.  I'm not entirely convinced but it is plausible.

In any case, that's all I have to say about 2 Chronicles as a whole.  Let's move on to the first chapter and the glory of Solomon!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Bible Commentary - 1 Chronicles 29

In this chapter, David gives the gathered materials for building the temple to Solomon and Solomon inherits the kingdom from David.

This chapter is the conclusion of David's life in the Chronicles narrative, in more than one way.

Figuratively, this chapter is the culmination of David's vast labors on behalf of the temple.  As I've discussed at length, the past several chapters of Chronicles form a chiasm.  It begins by building up a litany of David's preparations, both material and structural.  David gathers gold, silver, fine wood and stone.  Then he organizes the priests and Levites into the temple service.  In the second half of the chiasm, David gives these things to Solomon.  In the last chapter, David gave the priest and Levite organization to Solomon, as well as plans for the temple building itself.  In this chapter, the chiasm concludes when David gives the material goods to Solomon.  This chiasm is representative of David's ambition for the temple, so when he gives the last of the material goods to Solomon, it effectively ends his worldly obligations.

Literally, David dies in this chapter and Solomon inherits the kingdom from him.  Having completed his earthly mission, David has no other role to play in the Chronicles narrative so his story ends here.

Just as this chapter is the end of David's role in Chronicles, it is the beginning of Solomon's place as he is made king "a second time" (v. 22), reigns in David's place, and has formally taken on the obligation to build the temple as commanded by his father.

The narrative in this chapter is overwhelmingly positive.  Besides the devotion of David and Solomon towards this great building project, we also see the commanders and leaders of Israel donating what they can afford towards the temple project.  This is an obvious parallel to Exodus 35:20-29 when the people of Israel gave voluntary donations towards the construction of the tabernacle of Moses.  This continues a general pattern in Chronicles of drawing parallels between the stories about the tabernacle of Moses and the temple of David and Solomon.  In other places, it's by implicitly comparing David and Moses, but here it is by comparing the narrative of how these two structures were built.

As in Exodus, the people and their leaders are demonstrating wholehearted devotion to God and the king.  In another parallel between Exodus and Chronicles, we know that this devotion will be short-lived as the generations to follow swiftly devolve into idolatry and sin.  For the moment, though, things seem very positive.  The turmoil of Solomon's ascension to power and Adonijah's treachery (1 Kings 1) is omitted entirely from Chronicles.  Rather than seeing a nation divided and a bunch of executions (1 Kings 2), we see the entire nation united in following Solomon (v. 23-24).  In the vision of the Chronicler, this is the pinnacle of Israel's history.

I think that's pretty much it for the big thematic elements.  There are a few minor notes I would also like to include.

Once again we see people eating and drinking (v. 21-22) to secure a covenant.  In this case, it is a covenant between the people, God and the king, with the people swearing their obedience to the new king Solomon and to the LORD (v. 20).  Not only did the people acknowledge Solomon as king, but the LORD himself granted his favor and blessing to Solomon (v. 25).

In verses 18-19 we see David ask for the LORD to preserve the people's faith and dedication to the LORD, to "direct their heart to you", and to "give Solomon a perfect heart to keep your commandments".  I think this is interesting because theologically it implies that devotion to God itself comes from God, or at least we can ask God to increase our devotion to him.  I'm not entirely sure how that works because you need to have some kind of devotion to God to even pray something like that, but for anyone who has devotion to God or at least wants devotion to God, it appears that it is something you can quite simply ask for.

Lastly, verse 29 lists the sources used by the Chronicler when writing his account.  Out of these three books, we have already read the book of Samuel and the books of Gad and Nathan no longer exist (no extant copies).

With that, we conclude the book of 1 Chronicles and now we can move on to the second half of the Chronicles narrative, beginning with the life and deeds of Solomon!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Bible Commentary - 1 Chronicles 28

In this chapter, David officially appoints Solomon to build the temple in the presence of all Israel's national leaders.

This chapter is a natural conclusion to the previous five chapters of 1 Chronicles.  So much of Chronicles is detailing David's vast preparations for the temple, in terms of the wars that he fought, the resources that he prepared, and the organization and planning that he performed, but with the ever-present caveat that he would not be permitted to build the temple himself.  There isn't really any summary of the wars, but in this chapter David goes through the organization and planning and gives it all to Solomon.  In the next chapter, David gives Solomon the resources and materials for the temple.  This appears to be another chiasmus (discussed earlier in my commentary), since the preceding chapters discuss resources, Levites/priests, and commanders in that order.  In this chapter (and the one that follows), David gives to Solomon the commanders (v. 1), the Levites/priests (v. 13) and the resources (1 Chron 29:2-5) in that order.  This order inversion is typical of a chiasmus.

In addition, David gives to Solomon all of the plans for the temple, which he received as a divine insight from the spirit of God (v. 12, 19).  This seems to be intended as an allusion to Moses, who went up the mountain to receive the plans for the tabernacle from the LORD as a divine revelation.  Much as people remember Moses for bringing down the ten commandments, the section on the tabernacle and the furnishings therein was actually substantially longer than even the legal portion of Exodus.  If you don't believe me, go and read Exodus 25-30.  Not only is David claiming to have divine revelation, even the list of things that he tells Solomon to construct are largely the same as what Moses was building (altars, lampstands, tables and utensils, and so on).  In conclusion, this chapter is deliberately posturing David as a type of Moses.  I'm not sure I entirely understand the motivation, but that is certainly what's happening from a literary perspective.

I also think this chapter is similar to Joshua 1 when Moses dies and the LORD urges Joshua to take the people into the promised land.  This chapter is also a transition of power between David and Solomon.  More specifically, this chapter contains a very similar refrain that Solomon should be "strong and courageous... do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you."  (v. 20).  This is an almost word-for-word copy of Joshua 1:9 when the LORD says to Joshua, "Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."

This parallelism would encourage us to view David as a kind of Moses and Solomon as a kind of Joshua.  Ironically, Joshua was the man of war who invaded the promised land and now Solomon is the man of peace, so that kind of breaks the metaphor, but even so I think it's clear this is the metaphor that Chronicles is trying to portray.

This story is the same transition of power as in 1 Kings 1-2, but the rendition could not possibly be more different.  If you read through 1 Kings 1-2, you basically see 4 different elements.

1) David is old and bedridden;
2) Adonijah challenges Solomon's claim to the throne;
3) David charges Solomon to obey the LORD, but not a single word about the temple;
4) David demands (and Solomon delivers) retribution upon his numerous enemies.

In this chapter, which is ostensibly the same series of events, you see:

1) "David rose to his feet" to present Solomon to his officials (v. 2);
2) Adonijah is not present;
3) David speaks at length to Solomon, both charging him to obey the LORD and also charging him to build the temple;
4) David does not mention a single one of his personal enemies.

This is a stark contrast where much of the focus shifts from David's retribution upon his personal enemies to David's vision for the temple and Solomon's role in it.  This is a microcosm of the general differences between Samuel/Kings and Chronicles; Samuel and Kings are largely a narrative about the struggles and crises during David's kingship, while Chronicles is largely a narrative about the temple.  Chronicles does not deny the struggles and crises occurred (there are a handful of implicit references to David's battles), but it certainly does not belabor them.

In the next chapter, the transition of power continues as David gives the resources for the temple to Solomon and Solomon is anointed king before all the people.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Bible Commentary - 1 Chronicles 27

In this chapter, David organizes the military into 12 divisions and places officials over his royal property.

The previous chapter concluded David's organization of the Levites and priests, and this chapter basically organizes the military and his royal holdings.  As with nearly every other chapter in 1 Chronicles, we should begin by asking "how does this relate to the temple?"  I believe both of these systems (the military and the royal holdings) are listed because David is going to pass control over these systems to Solomon and he is commanding Solomon to use everything under his control to build and support the temple.  From his royal holdings, David will directly give money to the temple project, and from the military Solomon will use them to maintain peace with the surrounding nations and possibly also to manage the conscripted labor that is used in the royal building projects.

Beyond the temple, we should also see this as part of David's handover of power to his son Solomon.  All of these things are being listed and organized because this is what David is giving to Solomon as his official heir to the throne.  In the next chapter we see David gather all these leaders together to swear them into obedience to Solomon, but this chapter is effectively a census of all the things that David (as king) will pass on to his successor.

With that said, I will now move on to more specific notes.

Most of the commanders in verses 2-15 are taken from David's mighty men (see 1 Chronicles 11), which makes sense given their prominence in the text.  Verse 7 tells us that Asahel's son succeeded him, without mentioning why: Asahel died in the war against Ish-bosheth, Saul's heir, which David fought after Saul died.  The war itself was omitted from Chronicles, but the Chronicler implicitly references it by naming Asahel's successor.  Gad and Asher are left out of the list of tribes in verses 16-22.  This is the only list of tribes I can think of where "Aaron" is given as one of the tribes.  We also get the Ephraimites and two captains over Manasseh (the eastern branch and western branch).  I can't really speculate what is the underlying logic for this particular selection of tribes, other than that it shows that Gad and Asher were probably non-factors in the time of Chronicles.  It's possible these tribes had been completely wiped out by then.

Verses 23-24 refer to the census directly, and it's probably the same census as 2 Samuel 24 because it also discusses the "wrath" from the LORD that came upon Israel for doing this thing.  Verse 23 is unique compared to 2 Samuel because it also explains the reason why wrath came upon them: counting the men was perceived as distrustful or disrespectful towards the LORD's promise to multiply Israel.  By counting the men, David was perhaps saying that he wanted to see for himself if the LORD was growing Israel.

Verses 30-31 have an Ishmaelite and a Hagrite (i.e. Hagar-ite) responsible for David's flocks and herds.  These are not descendants of Isaac, but more distant descendants of Abraham.  We know from Genesis and elsewhere that the Ishmaelites are described as nomadic people and shepherds, so it makes sense that they are considered the most skillful shepherds and placed in charge of the kings flocks.  What's funny is that when Jacob and his sons lived in Egypt, the Egyptians regarded Israel almost the exact same way, as these nomadic herders that are best suited for raising livestock (Gen 47:1-6), and Pharaoh actually asks that a "specially capable" man from Jacob's family should be responsible for the royal livestock, which is almost exactly the same thing happening here between Israel and Ishmael.

Verse 33 mentions Ahithophel, who sides with Absalom against David.  Ahithophel commits suicide when Absalom is defeated, and evidently he is succeeded by Jehoiada and Abiathar.  Again, Chronicles tells us who succeeds Ahithophel without telling us the grim circumstances of Ahithophel's death or his rebellion against David.

In verse 21, a son of Abner is made commander over Benjamin.  We know from Samuel that Abner was a relative of King Saul and he fought as commander of the army for Ish-bosheth in the civil war against David.  Abner killed Asahel and was himself assassinated by Joab.  What this verse tells us is that David maintained a friendly relationship with Abner's family after his death, in spite of the possible bad blood that might exist between David and Saul's house.  I think David has generally been very gracious to Saul's house, both because he refused to murder Saul twice when given the opportunity, and his friendship with Jonathan, and after Saul's death David has protected and provided for Mephibosheth.  I would imagine that helped to mend ties at least somewhat.

Lastly, I want to talk a little bit about the military administration.  Basically what we can learn from this chapter is that Israel maintains a standing army of 24,000 men who rotate through service on a monthly basis.  Each man serves for one month a year and is otherwise part of the "reserve force".  My guess is that the one month of service involves both training and generally patrolling the national borders and peacekeeping within the nation and possibly in the subjugated kingdoms around them.  At the same time, it means that Israel can call to active service up to 288,000 men.  Presumably that only happens in the case of war or national emergency.

Therefore, the vast majority of the men in Israel's army are non-professional soldiers.  These are mostly farmers who are working on their land 11 months of the year and only serving in the army for one month.  It's likely that the senior officers and commanders are professional but the majority of soldiers are not.  From a cultural standpoint we can contrast this against later empires like e.g. the Romans who maintained large battalions of career soldiers.  The difference is that if you have a lot of career soldiers, you need to plan and conduct an almost continual sequence of wars to keep them productive.  That is, a permanent and professional military demands permanent conflict.

On the other hand, Israel has a relatively small standing force of non-professional soldiers and it only calls up a large armed body when needed.  They still fight plenty of wars (as we have seen), and in the Mideast it seems almost impossible to avoid armed conflict even to this day, but I think it shows that economically Israel is not really based on armed conflict in the same way as later empires.  Since most Israelites spend most of their lives farming and raising livestock, that is their nation's economic basis.

In the next chapter, David continues by charging his officials and military commanders to serve Solomon in his reign and in the construction of the temple.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Bible Commentary - 1 Chronicles 26

In this chapter, King David appoints gatekeepers and treasury officials for the temple.

This chapter continues the progression of 1 Chronicles 23-25 which I discussed in my previous commentary on chapter 25.  This is the final chapter in this logical progression which is basically showing us the proper dispensation of Levites and priests in the temple complex.  Having established the priestly service rotation and the worship ministry, David now concludes with the gatekeepers, treasurers, and a few brief footnotes about additional Levites assigned as officials and judges.  This general organization was laid out in 1 Chronicles 23:4-5, which was the introduction for this whole section.

A few minor notes before we really get into it: Obed-edom in verse 4 (and onwards) is likely the same Obed-edom who hosted the ark of the covenant in his house in 2 Samuel 6:10.  He is now a temple official.  In verse 10, Shimri is appointed the first in the same way that Joseph is granted the inheritance of the firstborn by Jacob.  This was not very common (at least as recorded), but fathers had the right to grant the honor and privileges of the firstborn to the son of their choice.  Deut 21:15-17 provides an exception to this, prohibiting Israelites from granting the privileges of the firstborn to a loved wife over the son of an unloved wife, but in general if both sons are from the same wife then the father is permitted to grant the title to the son he prefers.

Okay, now with that out of the way, let's move on to the bulk of this chapter.

First, who are the gatekeepers?  The gates were for passage into the temple complex.  The outer court has several entrances, and these are the gates that are mentioned in e.g. verse 14-16 in addition to the Shalleketh gate that is possibly in the area but not a gate to the outer court.  I say "possibly" because I don't know where the Shalleketh gate was located; this is the only reference to this name in the entire bible.  We can assume it was somewhere in the area of the temple.  While there are many entrances to the outer courts of the temple complex, the inner court and holy place have only one entrance each (on the east side) and as far as I can tell there were no guards assigned to the holy place or the inner court in this chapter, though we might reasonably assume they were both guarded anyway.  In any case, we can also see that there is at least one associated building in the temple complex that is guarded, the storehouse.  It's possible there were other buildings in the temple courts as well.

We don't know the exact design of Solomon's temple complex.  Certainly scholars have spent an enormous amount of time divining the layout and organization of the temple complex and there may be detailed (and speculative) descriptions available online, but much of this information is not directly available in the biblical text.  Chronicles was evidently written to people who already knew about things like the Shalleketh gate.

What is the purpose of the gatekeepers?  I think the guards have two general roles.  First, they are there to protect the treasures of the temple.  Like we read in verse 26-28, the temple sometimes served as a depository for loot and plunder from battle.  These things were dedicated for religious purposes, although that didn't stop future kings from sometimes raiding the temple to pay tribute or to bribe their enemies (1 Kings 15:18).  The guards couldn't stop the king, but they could at least stop common thieves.  The second purpose of the gatekeepers is to keep out gentiles, foreigners and the ceremonially impure from entering beyond where they were permitted.  In later times there is a so-called court of the gentiles, but I'm not sure if it existed in Solomon's temple.  In any case, the guards would have had detailed instructions about who was permitted into the temple complex and they would have been responsible for enforcing those rules.

What is the purpose of the treasurers?  Similar to the gatekeepers, they would have been more directly responsible for the treasures of the temple.  Besides guarding the treasures, they probably also handled accounting and tracking them, as well as receiving and accounting new offerings.  It was obviously a significant responsibility given the number of people tasked with this.

Lastly, some of the Levites are also assigned as officials and judges in verses 29-32.  This shows again that religious and political affairs are tightly coupled in ancient Israel.  We see this very clearly in v. 32 where it says that the Levites were responsible "for every matter pertaining to God and for the affairs of the king".  This makes sense in the context of the Law of Moses, since that law itself is a mixture of civil and religious affairs.  We should understand the temple more broadly as almost a hybrid of religious and royal administration.  The treasury served to finance the temple, but as noted previously the kings were not above plundering it when in need.  Also, even though I painted these chapters as a demonstration of David's zeal for the temple, we should not ignore the political implications of David appointing the Levites to these positions.  I think it is the Chronicler's intent to show David's zeal for the temple, but I think the practical implication is that David is also exercising his authority over the religious institution.  It should not surprise us when the Levites end up serving in both religious and political roles in service to the king, and I believe that is what we are seeing.

This chapter concludes the organization of the priests and Levites in Solomon's temple.  In the next chapter, David conducts a census of Israel's military and places officers over them and over his royal property.