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This introductory course is designed to provide key insights into the book of 1 & 2 Chronicles by pulling together a number of key resources: overview videos from The Bible Project, helpful contextual information from The ESV Study Bible, commentary recommendations from The Gospel Coalition, a single sermon that sums up the book from beginning to end by Mark Dever, and much more. By watching, listening to, and reading these resources, you’ll be better prepared to read, study, teach, or preach the book of 1 & 2 Chronicles.
First and Second Chronicles are both court histories, but within that genre they are very different books; 1 Chronicles also focuses strongly on the heroic figure of King David. Specific forms of documentary writing include genealogies, inventories, and summaries of events such as lists of David’s victories. There are also speeches or orations, prayers, and a psalm of praise (1 Chron. 16:8–36). The story of David is placed within the encompassing story of God’s dealings with his covenant nation Israel, whose identity assumes a corporate character (repeatedly called “all Israel”). Smaller groups of people round out the cast of characters, including the Levites, the priests, others who assisted in worship at the temple, and military and civil officials. Because the writer gives readers a largely idealized picture of David’s reign, especially regarding the religious life of the nation, a picture emerges of a good society ruled by an ideal ruler under God’s providential control.
Second Chronicles is expansive in its scope, tracing the history of a nation as embodied in its kings over a span of 400 years. Because the focus is so thoroughly on individual kings, the book has the feel of an anthology of brief biographies and hero stories. The stories of many of the kings and their disappointing downfalls have affinities with literary tragedy, and the pictures of national life under the good kings are brief utopian visions of a good society. The format of 2 Chronicles has more in common with the flow of a story than a history book. Stories are based on a principle of back-and-forth rhythm, and 2 Chronicles obeys this rule of narrative construction. As the narrative progresses, the pendulum swings back and forth between good and bad rulers, and between God’s blessing and punishment. The reader also moves back and forth between religious events and more “secular” political or military events (with some of the material resembling what one might encounter in any book of ancient history). Just as readers remember a story partly as a gallery of memorable characters, so 2 Chronicles likewise remains in the reader’s memory as a collection of imposing kings with impressive-sounding names. Finally, the author alternates between relatively brief accounts of evil kings and more extended accounts of good kings. In 2 Chronicles 11–36, kings are presented as characters to emulate for their faith or shun for their impiety.
The beginning of what is today called 2 Chronicles comes midway in the second major section of Chronicles, on the united kingdom of David and Solomon (1 Chronicles 10–2 Chronicles 9). The Solomonic narrative (2 Chronicles 1–9) marks the successful completion of what David began (1 Chronicles 10–29). God declares the meaning of the temple as the place of repentance and restoration, and as the charter for the future of the kingdom (2 Chron. 7:11–22). The third major section (chs. 10–36) recounts the history of the kingdom from its division until the fall of Judah and the exile, ending in the invitation for the exiles to return to Judea and rebuild (2 Chron. 36:22–23).
The Chronicler’s account of Solomon’s reign is basically a continuation of his narrative about David, as both father and son rule over all the land and all the people; what David begins, Solomon completes. After David, Solomon’s reign (chs. 1–9) is given the most extensive treatment in Chronicles, yet there is less interest in the king himself than in the abiding achievement of his reign: the successful construction of the temple and the inauguration of its regular services. Solomon’s obedience here marks the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant. The Chronicler omits many of the personal details of Solomon’s life found in 1 Kings 1–11, both negative and positive, to concentrate on this theme.
The central theme of Chronicles is the significance of the Davidic covenant as the enduring basis of Israel’s life and hope. The Davidic covenant is expressed in the two institutions that derive directly from it: the monarchy and the temple. These institutions are mutually related (1 Chron. 17:10b–14), and together they represent God’s kingdom in Israel (2 Chron. 13:5, 8). The Davidic covenant does not replace the Mosaic covenant but builds on it for the new age of the monarchy and the temple. Further dimensions of the Davidic covenant are discussed below under Key Themes.
1. The Davidic covenant. God’s promissory covenant with David (1 Chron. 17:10b–14, 23–27; 2 Chron. 6:10, 15–17, 42; 7:17–18; 13:8; 23:3) is the source of the Davidic dynasty and Solomon’s temple. God’s commitment to “build a house” for David is fulfilled in the accession of Solomon and the line of his descendants, while the temple is completed as God promised (2 Chron. 6:10). The covenant has its origin in God’s purpose and initiative in electing David to be his king (1 Chron. 28:4) and Solomon to be his temple builder (1 Chron. 22:9–10; 28:5).
God is committed to maintaining his covenant in preserving the Davidic house even through apostasy (2 Chron. 21:13) and exile (1 Chron. 3:17–24). The covenant continues “forever” because of God’s gracious love for Israel, a point frequently celebrated in worship (see 1 Chron. 16:41; 2 Chron. 5:13; 20:21); nevertheless, there are conditions of obedience to God’s commands if the king and his people are to experience the blessings of the covenant (1 Chron. 28:9; 2 Chron. 7:17–18; 15:2, 7).
While the Davidic covenant plays a preeminent role in the work, it does not displace the Mosaic covenant as the foundation for Israel’s existence in the exodus (see 1 Chron. 17:5; 2 Chron. 5:10; 6:5; 7:22; 20:7) and the way in which the nation must live its life before God. The Law of Moses remains the standard of authority and the mark of obedience to God’s will, according to which David and his successors are judged (1 Chron. 15:15; 22:13; 2 Chron. 7:17; 12:2; 14:4; 19:10; 24:9; 25:4; 35:6). David instituted a number of reforms in the organization of worship and the duties of the Levites (1 Chron. 16:4, 37–40; 23:1–26:32), but these changes did not alter the fundamental status of the Mosaic law. The reforming kings (including Jehoshaphat, 2 Chron. 17:7–9; and Josiah, 2 Chronicles 34–35) took care to ensure that their measures would bring Judah’s life into closer conformity with the Law of Moses.
2. The temple. Solomon’s temple looms very large in Chronicles, all the more so in comparison to the books of Samuel and Kings. Much of the presentation of David’s reign is taken up with his preparations for the temple, including the ark narrative (1 Chronicles 13, 15–16), which is really a harbinger of the building that will house the symbol of God’s presence (1 Chron. 17:1; 2 Chron. 5:4–5; 6:41). Moreover, David’s wars (1 Chronicles 18–20) have their primary meaning for the Chronicler in securing “rest” for the land as the condition for temple building (1 Chron. 22:17–19). The portrayal of Solomon’s reign is also taken up almost entirely with describing the construction and dedication of the temple (2 Chron. 2:1–8:16). In post-Solomonic history, the temple plays a central role in the reigns of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29–30) and Josiah (2 Chronicles 34–35).
The temple’s great significance for the Chronicler is as the manifestation of the Davidic covenant alongside the dynasty. The temple and the Davidic house have a mutually supportive relationship. Just as David provided for the construction of the building (1 Chron. 22:2–16; 29:2–5) and organized its personnel (1 Chronicles 23–26), his faithful successors should take pains to ensure that its round of worship is maintained (see 2 Chron. 13:10–12), and the building is kept in repair (see 2 Chron. 24:4–14) or purified after defilement (2 Chron. 29:3–19; 34:8–13). Conversely, it is the temple personnel who should come to the aid of the Davidic dynasty in its time of crisis (2 Chron. 23:10–16).
Above all, the Chronicler’s interest in the temple lies with its personnel, especially the Levites. Considerable attention is given to their activities of offering praise in song and music (1 Chron. 6:31–47; 9:33; 15:19; 16:4–6, 37–38; 25:1–31; 2 Chron. 5:12–13; 7:6; 8:14–15; 20:21–22; 30:21; 35:15), uttering prophecy and encouragement (1 Chron. 25:1; 2 Chron. 20:14–17), supporting the Aaronic priests in administering the sacrifices (2 Chron. 29:34; 35:11–14), safeguarding the holiness of the temple (1 Chron. 9:17–27; 26:1–19; 2 Chron. 23:18), and other kinds of administration and teaching (1 Chron. 9:28–29, 31–32; 26:20–32; 2 Chron. 17:8–9; 24:4–5, 8–11; 29:3–19; 31:11–19; 34:9–13). In short, the Levites played an essential role in maintaining the whole apparatus of worship, and in many ways may be seen as the forerunners of the Christian ministry (see Rom. 15:16). Their principal service is to offer the praise that accompanies the regular sacrifices, declaring God’s eternal covenant love to Israel (1 Chron. 16:34; 2 Chron. 5:13) and assisting the people in their own offering of praise (2 Chron. 7:3). Worship for the Chronicler is a means of transformation into covenant obedience and the kindling of faith and hope.
3. The people of Israel. The Chronicler sought to address some urgent questions in his day concerning the identity of Israel and to instill fresh confidence in the people. The genealogies of Israel that begin the work (1 Chronicles 1–9) start by tracing the people’s ancestry back to Adam, a striking reminder that Israel lay at the center of God’s purpose from the very beginning of creation. Although only a “remnant” and a provincial outpost in a great empire, Israel must remember that its security and destiny rest with Yahweh,“who rule[s] over all the kingdoms of the nations” and has given the land to Abraham’s descendants “forever” (2 Chron. 20:6–7).
Second, the continuation of the genealogies makes it clear that Israel in its broadest extent embraces all 12 tribes that were descended from Jacob/Israel’s sons (1 Chron. 2:1). While 2 Chronicles 11–36 is mainly the narrative of Judah and Benjamin, the northern tribes never forfeited their status as members of Israel, even in their rebellion against the rightful Davidic king (2 Chron. 13:5). Judah and Benjamin formed the core of the preexilic southern kingdom as well as being the majority of the restoration community, but they did so as the representative center, to which all who belonged by ancestry to Israel might join themselves. The Chronicler shows how this might be done, first of all by presenting the ideal picture of “all Israel” united in their support of David and Solomon at the foundation of the Davidic monarchy and the dedication of the temple (see 1 Chron. 11:1–12:40; 13:2, 5; 15:3; 28:1; 29:6; 2 Chron. 1:2; 5:2; 6:3; 7:8–10). The division of the kingdom under Rehoboam led to a centuries-long schism in the people, and the northern tribes lapsed into apostasy (2 Chron. 13:8–9). With the fall of the northern kingdom, however, Hezekiah made brotherly overtures to the north to heal these divisions through participation in temple worship (see 2 Chron. 30:6–9) as one people under the Davidic king, as they had been in Solomon’s day (2 Chron. 30:23–27). The participation of northerners in Josiah’s Passover (2 Chron. 35:17) and the membership of people from Ephraim and Manasseh in the postexilic community in Jerusalem (1 Chron. 9:3) demonstrated the same desire to include “all Israel” once more, with the temple (a visible symbol of the Davidic covenant) as the focus of unity.
Chronicles might also be called a genuinely populist work. Although its concern with kings and the priesthood might seem hierarchical, it demonstrates a striking interest in the broad participation of the people in the life of the nation. Compared to the presentation in the books of Samuel and Kings, the Chronicler consistently highlights the role of the people at large in laying the religious foundations of the nation (see 1 Chron. 11:4; 13:2; 15:25; 2 Chron. 1:2–3), no doubt as a way of affirming that “all Israel” (both north and south, the laity as well as the priesthood) has a share in these institutions. The Chronicler also shows the people responding generously to appeals to support the temple (1 Chron. 29:5–9; 2 Chron. 31:4–10) and participating in the numerous acts of religious reform and covenant renewal (see 2 Chron. 15:8–17; 17:7–9; 23:16–21; 31:1; 34:29–32). All these portrayals show the covenant people at their best, responding to the call to “seek God” and entering into his blessing. This was evidently an outlook that the Chronicler desired the people of his own day to emulate.
The Babylonian campaign against Judah, which began in 605 B.C. under Nebuchadnezzar, climaxed in the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 586 and the deportation of many of its leading people to settlements near Babylon. The conquest meant the overthrow of the Davidic monarchy and the end of Judah as a nation-state. Babylon, in turn, fell in 538 B.C. to the Persians under Cyrus II. The Persians followed a more benign policy of permitting the exiled people groups to return to their lands (now provinces in the Persian Empire) to rebuild their cities and reestablish their religious practices. Groups of exiles from Judah, including priests and civil leaders, returned in 538 B.C., but the temple was not completely rebuilt until 516. This initial restoration was followed by those who returned in 458 B.C. with Ezra, who came to reestablish the Law of Moses as the rule for the community’s life, and Nehemiah, who arrived as governor in 445 to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Chronicles was most probably composed in this period, or some years afterward. Judah, as the historical heir of Israel, had been reconstituted in the land, with the temple rebuilt and functioning in Jerusalem. Yet it was a community much reduced in strength and numbers, occupying only a small portion of the land compared to the preexilic kingdom. The people of Judah were subject to foreign overlords, living in the midst of a mixed, and sometimes antagonistic, population. In many ways their conditions in the land were still characterized by exile rather than restoration (see Ezra 9:6–15; Neh. 9:32–36). The questions of Israel’s place in God’s purposes and the meaning of his ancient promises to David were pressing ones.
With such questions in mind, the Chronicler wrote to commend a positive prescription for the spiritual and social renewal of his community. He presented an interpretation of Israel’s past, drawing mainly on the books of Samuel and Kings. He recast and supplemented those books in many ways, not only to show how the nation’s unfaithfulness to God had led it into disaster but also to point out how its faithful kings and people had experienced God’s blessing. These episodes were evidently intended to encourage a similar response in the hearer. The exhortative character of Chronicles is pronounced, especially in the speeches of the kings and prophets. Those recorded speeches rhetorically address the people and priests of the Chronicler’s present, the historical heirs of preexilic Israel.
The Chronicler’s narrative method is clear and explicit. He recounts the history of Israel and the Davidic monarchy down to the exile primarily as a matter of “seeking God” or “forsaking him,” and sets out the consequences that flow from that choice for the king and people. To seek God means to orient one’s life toward him in active faith and obedience, to be diligent in fulfilling the commands of the Mosaic law, to oppose idolatry, and especially to support and participate in the authorized worship of the temple (see 1 Chron. 10:13; 13:3; 15:13; 16:10; 22:19; 28:9; 2 Chron. 1:5; 12:14; 14:4, 7; 15:2, 4; 16:12; 17:4; 18:4; 19:3; 20:4; 22:9; 26:5; 30:19; 31:21; 34:3). Those who seek God experience his blessing, typically in the form of large families (1 Chron. 14:3–7; 2 Chron. 11:19–21; 13:21; 24:3), building projects (1 Chron. 14:1; 2 Chron. 8:1–6; 11:5–12; 14:6–7; 17:12; 26:2, 6; 27:3–4; 32:5, 29–30; 33:14), riches and honor (1 Chron. 14:2, 17; 29:2–5; 2 Chron. 9:13–14, 22; 26:8, 15), military strength and success (1 Chron. 5:20–22; 14:8–16; 18:1–20:8; 2 Chron. 8:3; 13:13–18; 14:9–15; 20:20–26; 25:11–13; 26:4–8; 27:5–7; 32:20–22), and peace for the land (1 Chron. 22:18; 23:25; 2 Chron. 14:4–7; 15:15, 19; 17:10).
The converse is to forsake God, which includes apostasy and idolatry, the neglect and abuse of the temple and its institutions, despising the word of prophets, and egregious violence (see 1 Chron. 28:9; 2 Chron. 12:1, 5; 13:10; 21:10; 24:18). God’s punishment for forsaking him and his law includes defeat and despoiling by foreign enemies (1 Chron. 10:1–7; 2 Chron. 12:2–4; 21:8–11, 16–17; 24:23–24; 25:17–24; 28:5–8, 16–21; 33:10–11; 35:20–24; 36:5–19), sickness and death for disobedient individuals (1 Chron. 2:3; 10:13–14; 2 Chron. 16:12; 21:12–15, 18–19; 22:7–9; 23:14–15; 24:25; 25:27; 26:16–21; 33:24; 35:23–24), and, finally, forfeiture of the land and exile for the people (1 Chron. 5:26; 9:1; 2 Chron. 36:18, 20). The basic concepts represented by “seeking God” or “forsaking” him are, of course, also expressed by a broader range of phrases (“to serve God with a whole heart”; “to do what is right [or evil] in the eyes of the Lord”; and esp. “to be unfaithful”; see ESV Study Bible note on 1 Chron. 2:3–8).
Just as important as the exhortation to faithful seeking, if not more so, is the message of forgiveness and restoration to God through sacrifices of atonement and humble prayer. The Chronicler is insistent that from beginning (1 Chron. 2:3, 7) to end (2 Chron. 36:14), Israel is a sinful people that fails to reverence God in his holiness as they should. That sinfulness extends even to David (1 Chron. 21:1), who best exemplifies for the Chronicler what it means to seek God. Yet God in his mercy provides the way back to himself. The temple stands where David repented and offered sacrifice. It is designated by God as the instrument of his forgiveness and the point at which the consequences of sin may be reversed (2 Chron. 7:12–16). This emphasis on repentance explains one of the notable differences in presentation and purpose between Chronicles and Kings. The Chronicler would certainly agree with the writer(s) of Kings that figures such as Rehoboam and Manasseh were notorious sinners whose disobedience divided the kingdom and led to its fall. But the Chronicler also uses them as examples of repentance and personal recipients of God’s grace.
The destruction of the kingdom of Judah and the exile of its people are duly explained as the consequence of Israel’s persistent unfaithfulness and its rejection of the prophetic summons to repentance (2 Chron. 36:16). But the ending of Chronicles—Cyrus’s decree to return and rebuild the temple (2 Chron. 36:22–23)—takes the reader full circle to the beginning: a representative core of God’s people has once again been gathered to the land and to the temple in Jerusalem, their daily round of worship standing in continuity with the preexilic days (1 Chron. 9:2–34). The Chronicler has shown how Israel’s fall occurred, how such a disaster may be avoided in the future, and how all who belong to Israel may be gathered and consolidated as God’s people. At the center stands the temple, the symbol of Yahweh’s constant will to forgive and restore his penitent people who “seek his face” in prayer (2 Chron. 7:14). The restored temple testifies to the permanent continuance of God’s covenant promises to David. Holding fast to those promises, and supporting the temple institutions that testify to them, is Israel’s road to greater blessing and restoration.
A key question in discerning the Chronicler’s purpose has to do with the promise to David of a permanent dynasty (1 Chron. 17:12–14; 2 Chron. 6:16–17; 13:5) in an age when the Davidic monarchy had long since ceased to function. Some commentators believe that the Chronicler envisioned a return to something like the preexilic kingdom, with a descendant of David once more enthroned in Jerusalem. Yet nothing in the book allows it to be tied so directly to the political circumstances of postexilic Judah. Alternatively, it has been argued that the Chronicler saw the temple and its priestly institutions as the heir to these promises, replacing the defunct monarchy in the theocratic rule of the religious community. Against this is the fact that the Chronicler goes to great lengths to show that the monarchy and the temple are separate pillars of God’s rule in Israel, and that the Davidic house has been preserved through great danger (see 2 Chronicles 21–23, esp. 2 Chron. 23:3) and down into the Chronicler’s day (1 Chron. 3:17–24). Moreover, the Davidic dynasty is connected with God’s own throne and eternal kingdom as the instrument of God’s rule over Israel (1 Chron. 28:5; 2 Chron. 9:8) and therefore has a transcendent character compared to “the kingdoms of the countries” (1 Chron. 29:30). For these reasons, it seems clear that the Chronicler understood the Davidic line to be a focus of hope for the future, although he has not specified what this hope entails. This can be called an implicit messianism, a hope that will bear fruit in the appearance of Christ. The Chronicler’s eye, however, is directed more to what his own community may become in the interim: he envisions “all Israel” (not only Judah but all the tribes) as once more possessing the land, living according to the Law of Moses, and worshiping at the temple.
God chose Israel to be his people, through whom he would bless all peoples, especially by raising up the ultimate heir of David to rule them. He gave his people the privilege of worshiping and obeying him, but sadly, they were unfaithful, and he disciplined them severely. For all that, the exile was not the end of Israel’s story. Members of the restoration community were the heirs of Israel, both of its mission and of its privileges. May they be faithful this time!
Chronicles is a carefully constructed work with a clearly directed narrative. Its material falls into three major sections that overlap their present division into two books. Each of these sections has in turn a number of more or less discrete units. In greater detail, these units are as follows:
Nancy Guthrie interviews Mike Bullmore
Substantial exposition for conscientious readers.
Substantial exposition for conscientious readers.
Substantial theological analysis and exposition for knowledgable readers.
Substantial theological analysis and exposition for knowledgable readers.