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!

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