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.

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