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.

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