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.

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