Few teachers are rushing to teach the book of 1 Chronicles. Perhaps that’s because they’ve already taught through 1–2 Samuel and 1–2 Kings, and so much from these earlier books is repeated in 1–2 Chronicles. But according to Richard Pratt—president and co-founder of Third Millennium Ministries and author of the volume on 1–2 Chronicles in the Mentor Commentary series—to not study these books because of repeated material would be similar to not studying Mark or Luke because you’ve already studied Matthew. The Chronicler intentionally diverged from the records of Samuel and Kings to reveal his theological perspectives, and, according to Pratt, this perspective does not take away from his credibility. Rather it serves the purpose of the book, which is to direct his audience to reconsider what they believed about the people of God, about the king and the temple, and about God’s blessings and curses.
Rather than simply thinking of 1 Chronicles as historical chronology, we should view it as representing an underlying logical argument, a step-by-step effort at persuasion. In this conversation, Pratt talks about how best to handle the first nine chapters of the book (a lengthy genealogy of the 12 tribes), the importance of the term “all Israel” used throughout the book, and the unique contribution the book makes to what we understand about the role of music in worship.
- Pratt’s section on 1–2 Chronicles in A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: The Gospel Promised
- 1 & 2 Chronicles: A Mentor Commentary by Richard Pratt
- ESV Expository Commentary: Ezra–Job, Volume 4
- Who Needs The Chronicles? We Do.
- Knowing the Bible: 1-2 Chronicles, a 12-week Practical Study Series on the Books of 1-2 Chronicles (TGC Course)
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Richard Pratt: And that’s exactly what the Book of Chronicles was written about is what to do now that you’re back from exile and you’re rebuilding the kingdom. What should we do? And it’s the failure of Israel to follow the book of Chronicles that actually leads to more than 500 years of exile for Israel before the days of John the Baptist and Jesus.
Nancy Guthrie: Welcome to “Help Me Teach the Bible.” I’m Nancy Guthrie. “Help Me Teach the Bible” is a production of The Gospel Coalition sponsored by Crossway and not-for-profit publisher of the ESV Bible, Christian books and tracks. Learn more at crossway.org.
My guest today is Dr. Richard Pratt, who is president and co-founder of Third Millennium Ministries, which is an evangelical ministry that provides biblical education for the world for free. So Dr. Pratt, you gonna have to tell us about that. But first of all, thank you so much for being willing to help us teach the Bible.
Pratt: Oh, thanks so much, Nancy. I’m glad to be with you.
Guthrie: I do want you to tell people about Third Millennium Ministries. So often I’ll be working on a passage and I’ll be trying to figure out the answer to a question and I start googling around various sources and I come to Third Mill and I find an excellent article or something that helps me figure that passage out. So I, personally, am very grateful for it. I don’t know that that’s your initial or primary intention for the use of Third Mill but why don’t you tell us a little bit about it?
Pratt: Well, thanks for asking. We are trying to provide biblical education for the world for free. And when we say biblical education, really our focus is on church leaders, both lay leaders and ordained leaders of the church. And when we say for the world, we have in mind the fact that there’s a great need out there in the world for church leaders to be trained in the Bible. I mean, we have so much opportunity in the West, especially English speakers, to learn how to interpret the Bible, how to use the Bible in ministry to others, but where the church is growing the fastest in the world, there is the least opportunity for Christian leaders to learn the Bible.
And because of that, we worked very hard at Third Mill to provide a curriculum in about 21 languages now. And they’re being used around the world by very large numbers of church leaders. And we’re very grateful to the Lord for His blessings over all these years. And then the third tagline, I should say, biblical education for the world. And then the last tagline is for free because as you know, most Christians in the world today are not wealthy like we are in, say, in the United States or North America. And so we do not intend on selling this to people but rather giving it to them. And so God is blessing that effort and you can come, you can find out more about us at thirdmill.org, T-H-I-R-D-M-I-L-L.org.
Guthrie: You have written a lot about the book that we’re going to talk about on this episode of “Help Me Teach the Bible” today. We’re gonna focus on 1 Chronicles, but really you can’t talk about only 1 Chronicles, it’s really 1 and 2 Chronicles. So you’ve written a whole commentary on 1 and 2 Chronicles. And there really aren’t many, I noticed, on 1 and 2 Chronicles.
And then more recently, you wrote the section on 1 and 2 Chronicles in the “Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament” that was published by Crossway, a couple of years ago. That’s really a great handbook, introduction, guide, a volume on Old Testament books, and on New Testament books. And so I just wonder what generated this particular, maybe love for, or passion or interest in these particular biblical books? Where did that come from for you?
Pratt: That’s an interesting question, because if you were to ask most Christians, what’s your favorite book in the Bible? Or what’s your favorite passage in the Bible? Very few of them would choose Chronicles.
Pratt: But you have to understand that my love for the Book of Chronicles began, as I was searching for a topic I could write my dissertation on, that would be acceptable to professors who are not evangelical, who don’t believe in Scriptures and yet also sustainable among evangelicals. And one of the interesting things about Chronicles is neither group has done very much with it, at least not at that time they had not, back in the ’80s. And so 1980s and so…
Guthrie: So this was working on a doctoral dissertation at Harvard?
Pratt: Yes, uh-huh. And so there were not a lot of convictions about Chronicles for evangelicals that distance us from the more liberal commentators and that sort of thing. And so I thought it would be a place in the Bible that I could find enough common ground to be able to write about it. And the Lord blessed that effort and it’s worked. That’s where my love began, was writing a dissertation.
Guthrie: Well, your section on 1 and 2 Chronicles in the “Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament,” you begin this way, you say, “Reformed theologians have given very little attention to 1 and 2 Chronicles.”
Pratt: That’s right.
Guthrie: Why do you think that is? What are some reasons that it’s not a book that many of us have studied very carefully?
Pratt: For the most part, the reason people don’t pay much attention to 1 and 2 Chronicles, is because if they have searched this part of the history of the Old Testament, which means let’s just say from David forward until the exile, if they’ve read about that, if they studied that, then normally what they’ve done is they’ve studied it from the Book of Samuel and the Book of Kings. And so when they get to Chronicles, they find out that, wow, there’s a lot of things repeated here.
And so I just think that they sort of skip over it because it doesn’t really add to their knowledge of that part of the history of Israel as much as they might have expected it to. It’d be similar though to saying, “Well, I read Matthew, so I don’t need to read Mark, Luke, and John.” And so that would be a mistake. We don’t realize that when it comes to the four Gospels, but unfortunately when people deal with this part of the Bible or Bible history, they do not normally think that way.
Guthrie: So what are some of the things it does add? Make a case for us why we shouldn’t decide not to study these books if we’ve spent a lot of time in 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings?
Pratt: Well, I think that the main reason why most people would find the Book of Chronicles a little easier-going is that it’s not as complex, as you said. It covers materials in 1, 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings. It takes us from the time of the beginning of David’s reign, the end of Saul’s reign all the way through to the exile. In fact, even a few years after Israel’s exile had ended. And yet it does it in very short fashion compared to the Book of Samuel and the Book of Kings. And so in some respects, it’s a simpler history.
And so people who are unfamiliar with all of that, and it’s complicated when you read the Book of Kings, as it switches back and forth from the Northern Israel to Southern Judah and back to Israel, and back to Southern Judah, back and forth, back and forth, well, the writer of Chronicles or we often call him “the Chronicler,” does not do all that switching back and forth. In fact, his main concern almost exclusively in the 2 Chronicles is with Judah. And for that reason, you can approach these materials with a little more ease.
And so I think that people find that refreshing and good. I think also, however, that many people don’t understand this, and this would be a benefit for reading Chronicles and studying 1 and 2 Chronicles that we often don’t attain because we just don’t think about it this way and that is that Chronicles is written after Israel returned from exile. Now, let’s just face it, Nancy. The exile doesn’t figure into most Christians’ theology very much as of course…
Guthrie: Well, it doesn’t fit into our understanding, you know, our basic understanding of the storyline of the Bible, that’s where it starts getting really fuzzy.
Pratt: That’s right, that’s the big black hole of the Bible, exile. But that’s very unfortunate because, in many respects, the New Testament is the answer to the problem of Israel’s exile. Because during the exile, Israel had no king and during the exile, Israel had no temple, Israel did not possess the land or rule over it, so on and so forth all this long list of things you could say they were under the curses of Covenant, and God had brought them under his judgment. And it was John the Baptist and Jesus who said, “All that’s changing now, and the kingdom of God is coming.”
And so it’s a wonderful thing to realize, however, that the Book of Chronicles is written at a time when the people of Israel, most of whom were still out there spread around all the nations around them, you can’t name the number of nations to which they were spread. And most of the people of Israel were still suffering under the judgment of God that had rightly come to them during that time. Yet a remnant had returned, a small number had returned. Most archaeologists think maybe as many as 50,000 may have lived in the area of Jerusalem during the early years of the return. So maybe 50,000, maybe 100,000 had returned from all over the scattered places to which they had been sent by God.
But the truth is that as they saw this restoration beginning, it was failing. And because it was failing, somebody had to say, “What have we done wrong? What should we do to turn this around to make this a wondrous experience like the prophet said it would be that we would come back to the land and God would bless us because it doesn’t look like He’s blessing us all that much.” And that’s exactly what the Book of Chronicles was written about, is what to do now that you’re back from exile and you’re rebuilding the kingdom, what should we do? And it’s the failure of Israel to follow the Book of Chronicles that actually leads to more than 500 years of exile for Israel before the days of John the Baptist and Jesus.
Guthrie: As you work your way through that, Dr. Pratt, it makes me think that perhaps one reason that we might choose to focus more on 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings rather than Chronicles accounts of David and Solomon is that our tendency, as teachers is to want to use those very personal stories of David and Solomon. And so focus on trying to help people to not be like David here, try to be like him here. Don’t be like Solomon here, be like him here. But as you’re talking about 1 and 2 Chronicles, I’m realizing that our main identification is not with the king, but with the people of God. And maybe that’s a little bit more challenging oftentimes for us as people. We live in such an individualistic time. But Chronicles is really calling us to identify with the people of God, isn’t it?
Pratt: It is. That certainly is one of the most dominant themes in the whole book. One of the favorite expressions that the Chronicler uses, even in passages where in Samuel and Kings that doesn’t use this expression, is the expression all Israel. He just says it over and over and over again. If you had a concordance and you could look up the words all Israel, and see how many times it occurs in Chronicles, it would be shocking. But the reason that he does that even when Samuel or Kings may say, Israel and Judah or sometimes they even simply say Judah, or sometimes just Northern Israel, and he’ll say all Israel is because he’s very focused on one of the key ingredients for how you receive and how you orient yourself toward receiving the blessings of God.
And that is the unity of the people of God. That the Chronicler wanted, perhaps more than almost anything else. There are several major things, but this is one, he wanted to see the Northern tribes and the Southern tribes reunited. He wanted to see them be united around the temple and reunited around a new king that would rise, but he wanted to see them reunited. And many times he will indicate that by saying rather than saying, or say in the case of David bringing the ark into the city of Jerusalem, Samuel says, “30,000 people were with him.” Well, what the Chronicler says is, “All Israel was with him.” Everybody was there.
And you can see how his focus on the people of God have to be one. Now, remember, I said earlier that what’s so wonderful about Chronicles is that it’s almost the most Christian book in the whole Old Testament. Think about how often the unity of the people of God is mentioned in the New Testament. That theme of us being together, that theme of us standing together as one people, one body is a major theme in the New Testament. And it stems in some part anyway, from the Book of Chronicles, emphasizing that once you come back from exile if you want to see the blessings of God, all of you have to be united, all of you. Because they’d spent centuries at war with each other, the North and the South. And he says, “All that must end now.”
Guthrie: I think I got this from your writings of a purpose statement for Chronicles. So if it’s not yours, you can either argue with it or agree with it. That the Chronicler wrote his historical record to direct his audience to reconsider what they believed about the people of God, about the king and the temple, and about God’s blessings and cursing.
Pratt: That’s right. That’s me. I’m sure other people have said similar things. But yes, that, of course, is what I say. Yeah, I think there are three main themes that are distinctive to the Book of Chronicles. Now, not unique but distinctive. And one of them is this theme of the people of God, that all the tribes, the remnant of the faithful and all the tribes must be gathered together. This is why on the day of Pentecost, Holy Spirit did draw people from everywhere, all Israelites from all over is because you can’t be restored as the kingdom of God with the people of God at war with each other. And so that is one of his major themes. Another major theme is kingship.
You have to remember that if you’re looking at the Book of Kings, especially, that the blame for the exile and I’ll remember how horrible the exile was, it wasn’t just taking a vacation and going off to Babylon or to Assyria for a break from the ordinary. That’s not what it was. It meant defeat in war, it meant sickness, it meant enslavement, it meant that your families were destroyed, that your children were sent off into exile, that many, many were killed. Well, the Book of Kings blames or puts most of the responsibility for the exile on the house of David, to be specific, the King Manasseh. And so you can understand why people who are coming back from exile, the few that did, might be suspicious that having a king from the house of David isn’t really all that good.
And why should we have such a king? After all, that family is the family that got us into trouble? And so the writer of Chronicles, the Chronicler emphasizes no, no, it must be the son of David, it must be a king from Judah, it must be one king over all the tribes. And so that’s a very important theme in the Book of Chronicles. So the people of God, and then the re-establishment of the throne of David in Jerusalem. A third major theme, is what you mentioned, and that is the temple. Well, think once again, if you’re familiar with the Book of Jeremiah, you know that the false prophets were putting all of their hopes against defeat to the Babylonians.
They were putting all their hopes in the temple. Jeremiah 7 says, Jeremiah mocks these preachers, these false prophets, and says, “You say the temple, the temple, the temple.” Well, that’s what their only hope was, was we have the temple so Jerusalem is inviolable. It cannot be defeated. Well, as Jeremiah warned them, “Don’t believe that. That’s a lie. It can be defeated.” Jerusalem can and in fact, the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. And so the question then arises in people’s minds who are coming back from exile. Well, exactly what place does the temple have in our lives? I mean, do we really need to spend our money rebuilding it?
As you know, and the Books of Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra, Nehemiah, in those books, there’s a lot of fussing about we’re not so sure we want to spend our money on the temple. Who cares about the priesthood? They couldn’t protect this before. The temple didn’t protect this before. We should be building walls instead. We should be building our own homes instead. Make things nice and in fact, if we build a temple that’s just gonna make all the empires around as angry at us. Who wants to have the Empires around us angry at us? So don’t build a temple. But Ezra, Nehemiah, Zechariah, Haggai, they all insist the temple must be rebuilt. And that’s why the Chronicler emphasizes so much the centrality and the importance of the temple in Jerusalem.
And then finally, you mentioned also a fourth theme, and that is the theme of divine blessing, and curses. And this is one of those sort of remarkable things about the Book of Chronicles, as compared to, let’s say, the Book of Kings. Less so in contrast with Samuel, but very much in contrast with the Book of Kings. You can think of God’s blessings and God’s judgments against His people as either being something that happens quickly within, say, a generation. So you do something really bad.
And so within the generations, judgment comes against you or if you do something that’s good, then within a generation blessings will come to you. Or you can think of God’s blessings and His covenant judgments or curses as things that God in His mercy delays, or in His wisdom delays, maybe for generations before He reacts to what His people have done. For the most part, the Book of Kings emphasizes how God’s blessings and God’s judgments are delayed, is what theologians will call delayed retribution.
It’s not a denial of the fact that God sometimes reacts quickly. But it’s just not the emphasis of the Book of Kings. In fact, it’s one of the great mercies that the Book of Kings emphasizes, and that is that even though Israel and Judah turned against the Lord over and over and over for hundreds and hundreds of years, He waited patiently before He sent the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem. Well, you don’t find that in Chronicles. What you find in Chronicles is what theologians call immediate retribution. Both good and bad.
Sometimes we think the word retribution just means bad, but it also means good things. So then what you find in the Book of Chronicles is that if someone is faithful to the Lord, He will bless them in that generation. If someone turns from the Lord, then judgments will come against them in that generation. So you have to ask the question why? Why would one book, Kings, talk about delayed retribution, and the other book, Chronicles, talk about relatively immediate retribution? And I think the answer is because Kings is wanting to emphasize the fact that God was so merciful to Israel and waited patiently for so long before he exiled them.
But the Chronicler is saying this to his readers. He’s saying, “Look, you wanna turn things around? You wanna bring in God’s blessings to the nation? Do you want to see the kingdom of God come with great blessings and for the people of God to be reunited, for the king to be established, for the temple to be established? You want to see blessings after the exile? What you have to do is turn around and God will quickly start blessing us.” And so those four emphases of the people of God being united, the king on the throne of David, the temple in the city of Jerusalem, and immediate blessings and judgments are just fantastic things that are repeated over and over and over in the Book of Chronicles.
Guthrie: All right, so I’m thinking about teaching 1 Chronicles and I’m hearing you talk about these themes of the people of God, the king, the temple, blessing, curses, and so I open up 1 Chronicles and I start flipping the pages through actually like the first nine chapters, and I discover that they are all lists of names.
Pratt: Yes, long lists of names.
Guthrie: Long lists of names. So help me as a teacher, how am I going to approach these? How am I gonna convince the people in my class to come back the second week as I teach these names? And I’m coming to it realizing, “Okay, so Dr. Pratt told me these are the themes of it.” So how can I relate these lists of names to some of these themes?
Pratt: Yeah, that’s a great question, isn’t it? Because let’s say you’re doing a daily Bible reading through the whole Bible. The first impression you have is I’m in Chronicles, so wow, I’ve already read all of this because it was in Samuel and Kings. And then the second impression you have is for nine chapters, genealogies? My goodness. All right, I made it through the short genealogies in the early chapters of Genesis, but this is long. And I understand that feeling because the writer of Chronicles does not come right out onto the center stage and say to the readers, “This is the purpose for which I wrote these things.”
But I can tell you this, I think that one word of advice I would give to anyone who is teaching say through the Book of 1 and 2 Chronicles, is don’t do the genealogies verse by verse. It’s just not worth it. Now for ancient Israelites who were very interested in their legacies, and also interested in their ancestries, and am I a part of this tribe, or am I a part of that tribe? It was very important to them to be able to identify what the various tribes were, and who the leading figures in those tribes were and what connections they had to those tribes. And the reason is because during the exile, the distinctions among the tribes became obscured. In other words, they got mixed together.
Nobody really knew who was who, there were debates over who is really in the tribe of Levi and who is in this tribe or that tribe. But there are a few things that you can see in those genealogies that are very important. And they do, by the way, fall into these major themes that we just rehearsed a few moments ago. One of those is the people of God. You’ll notice that with the exception of just a few of the minor tribes, the Book of Chronicles lists ancestries for all 12 tribes of Israel, all 12 tribes. And so the fact that he is writing in a way that includes the 12 tribes of Israel indicates that he had not given up and they should not give up on the goal and the vision of all 12 tribes of Israel coming back together.
And of course, that relates to the Christian life in the sense that Christians are not looking for 12 tribes, even though we do have 12 apostles, but they’re not looking for 12 tribes in particular, but we are looking for all of God’s people everywhere in the world, no matter how significant they may seem or insignificant they may seem, they are included in the kingdom of God. And they must be honored. And we must welcome them in and we must put our arms around them rather than dividing ourselves, well, I’m an American Christian. So that puts me ahead of everyone else, or I’m an African Christian, that puts me ahead of everybody else. I know the truth of the matter is, God’s people are scattered around the world.
And in Christ kingdom, all of God’s people are to be united in the faith in our Lord Jesus, which is why that theme in the New Testament of be diligent to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the body of Christ is so very important. But let me make this point, and that is that the order in which those various tribes are described is very interesting how he does it, how the Chronicler does it. The centerpiece, the absolute centerpiece of the whole record, is the house of David. Now, you may wonder, why is the tribe of Judah in the middle of all of these genealogies? And almost every commentary will show you that that’s the case. Why is it in the center?
And why does it go all the way up to the son of David who was leading the people of God, when the Chronicler wrote his book, his name was Zerubbabel. He was the governor, not a king, but he was a descendant of David. And in fact, Haggai the Prophet mentions Zerubbabel and says he’s very special in God’s eyes, Zechariah mentions Zerubbabel, he says he’s very special in the eyes of God. So the Chronicler writing during those days, emphasizes the central role of the house of David. Remember that second theme? The king. At the core of Israel is kingship. At the core of Israel is the house of David and they have a descendant of David right before their eyes.
Now as Christians, of course, we think of Jesus as the great Son of David. And he is in fact the one who is so righteous that all the promises given to the house of David were deserved by Jesus, and Jesus then in his righteousness, distributes those gifts to his people and when he returns will give us not just the land of Israel again, but the whole world is our inheritance. So there’s another theme you see, the people of God are in the genealogies, the king is in the genealogies. Take a look also at how important and how much time the Chronicler spends on the family of Levi. It’s quite interesting, really, if you take a look and just see where he really concentrates most of his energy is on the house of David and the family of Levi in those genealogies.
Well, why? Well, it’s what we spoke about earlier. And that is how important he thought the temple was. How important he thought restoring the worship at the temple was for these people coming back from exile, just like Ezra, just like Nehemiah, just like Zechariah, just like Haggai, building that temple to having the services done the way God wants them done is essential to seeing the blessings of God come. And so he quantitatively emphasizes the tribe of Levi as well. And then, of course, we also said that blessings and judgment are there.
And I think a lot of people will be familiar with the fact that in these genealogies, there are little stories that are told, and these stories they’re just little vignettes into the lives of certain individuals within various genealogies. And these little stories emphasize how God blessed them or brought judgment against them, by virtue of what they had done within a generation or so. Once again, that theme of blessings and judgments are not delayed. They’re given immediately. And so people living in the days of Chronicles, you want the blessings of God, then turn to God now, repent and turn to Him now.
And you can begin to see those blessings and of course, that’s true for the Christian faith also, because what do we want to say to people? Just wait? Take your time repenting? Come to Jesus when it’s convenient because nothing is really going to happen to you one way or the other? No, that’s not what we say to people. What we say to people is come to Jesus now, repent now, have faith in Jesus now, because that’s the way you come under the blessings of God, even in our New Testament faith. So you can find those themes that I just outlined there, those four themes right there in those genealogies. So my advice to teachers is to just sort of read through it and maybe with a commentary that will identify those themes.
And rather than trying to get everybody to learn how to pronounce all the names and who’s the son of who and who’s the mother of whom, and those sorts of things, rather pick up on those four themes of the people of God, the king, the temple, and then the blessings and judgments of God, as they’re illustrated in those genealogies and then take them to chapter nine, which is really the important chapter, the very last genealogies because what they focus on is how all the people who had come back from exile, they’re actually genealogies about the people who were standing right there in front of the writer of Chronicles, who were in the restored community.
And he says, “This is who you are.” These are the people who came back. And you must take up the lessons you learn from the genealogies right now, in your day. And what could be more important for Christians than to pick up the lessons from those genealogies right now, in our day?
Guthrie: I’m just wondering in regard to these genealogies, would you make this your first session? And would you use it to say, “Okay, these genealogies they set up the themes of the book or…”
Pratt: Oh, yeah. That’s exactly the idea. And as I’ve taught and preached through the Book of Chronicles, on a number of different times, that’s precisely what I have done and I suppose people can go at this in different ways. But this is your sort of a quick opportunity to introduce those themes. You don’t even have to stand up and say, “These are the main themes of the Book of 1 and 2 Chronicles.” But you can bring out those themes. And you can say, “Now look, do you see how this is repeated over and over again? All the people of God, all the people of God, that’s what we’re gonna be learning about, as we deal with these books, 1 and 2 Chronicles. Do you see how it talks about the king?
You can tell that this is what we’re gonna talk about, again, because the unity of God’s people, the kingship of Jesus that’s important to us. The temple, Jesus as the temple, Jesus as the high priest, his sacrifice, and then the blessings and judgments of God, what could be more important to the Christian life than these things?” And so yes, you can introduce those four main themes right out of the genealogies zip through it quickly, maybe one, two, depending on how long you’re going to teach in these books. You could stretch it out to four, I guess. But one or two times I would teach on the genealogy simply because you don’t want people to lose heart.
Guthrie: I wonder in that first session, because of the very first word of 1 Chronicles, which is Adam, I wonder, would you go back to Genesis say 3:15? And would you in that first session, would you go forward to the genealogy in Matthew 1? Or is that all just too…
Pratt: Well, it’s a lot to do, It depends…
Guthrie: It’s a lot, isn’t it? Yeah.
Pratt: It depends on who your students are, you know, who your learners are? Are they capable of that? Are they not quite there? You know, jumping around the Bible sometimes can really confuse people. Terribly, so in fact, sometimes if they don’t know the Bible well. If they know it, well, of course, you want to do that. You want to say, “Look, this is one book of many or all in the Old Testament, that trace how the victory of the seed of the woman over the seed of the serpent takes place. That’s what every book in the Old Testament is about. How the victory of the seed of the woman, I’m talking about Genesis 3:15 and over the seed of the serpent takes place.
This is Israel, the seed of the woman having victory over Babylon, Assyria, the Canaanites, and all the other nations on the earth who are the seed of the serpent?” Yeah, you can certainly do that. But it will be an elaborate talk, you might have to take more than one week to get through it all. But if you bring it to Christ, all four of these themes allow a Christian to bring it straight to Jesus. Can you think of many themes that are more dominant in the New Testament than the unity of the people of God? Sometimes we don’t see it.
But just pause for a moment and think about how often that is referred to in the New Testament because it was a critical teaching of the New Testament, and then kingship and what could be more important than Jesus as the Messiah, as our king, or Jesus and the temple, or the blessings of God and turning away from disobedience so you don’t receive the judgments of God. Those are the four themes to remember. So they’re vital to the Christian faith.
Guthrie: Let’s talk about some of the other unique aspects of 1 and 2 Chronicles, of having in hand those four themes that’s very, very significant. But let me just throw out some things that we see in 1 and 2 Chronicles and you talk about them a little bit. Just in terms of worship and the way it connects music to worship.
Pratt: Well, that’s great. In my commentary on Chronicles, I do a great deal of work in that and try to correlate all the passages that talk about worship. It used to be that people would speak of the writer of Chronicles and identify him as a priest, and he may very well have been a priest. But one of the reasons is because of the emphasis over and over again, on worship. In fact, you’ll find places where in Samuel and Kings, where the writer of Chronicles is telling the same stories. He’s telling about the same events, but he will add a story about worship, or he’ll add scenes of worship, where Samuel and Kings do not have it. It’s just fascinating to see how he does that.
An example of that would be 2 Chronicles 30, where Hezekiah has a grand celebration of Passover, and some of the troubles they got into and the blessings that they had during those days as well as he tried to reunite the people. So unity of God’s people around Passover, around worship. And so as the king, see the theme of kingship, he worships at the temple, see the theme with temple, and that is not found in the Book of Kings. It’s unique to the Book of Chronicles, and you can find the same emphases in 1 Chronicles also in the life of David.
David, for example, a lot of people know about 1 Chronicles 29, which is the last chapter of David’s in and the book of 1 Chronicles because 1 Chronicles ends with David at the pinnacle of his leadership of Israel at the pinnacle of it when he has everything ready for Solomon to take over the building of the temple. All Solomon has to do is put the pieces together as it were, because David has gotten all together, 1 Chronicles 29. And one of the wonderful things about chapter 28 and 29 is it involves music, it involves prayers, it involves the people of God in large numbers, it involves the king, it involves the temple building, and the blessings and the judgments of God right there in those chapters 28 and 29 of 1 Chronicles, and the focus on worship is evident. You can’t miss it. And guess what? None of that is in the book of Samuel.
In fact, this is what we have to say I guess if we’re focusing on 1 Chronicles, that’s the most remarkable feature of 1 Chronicles because it’s not true of 2 Chronicles, by the way, 1 Chronicles focuses only on the life and ministry of David. One of the most remarkable things about the entire account of David, it is idealized. Now don’t take that as a bad word. Idealization is a good thing. It’s just like when you tell children stories and you want to present a hero to them, someone to be emulated, you usually don’t talk about all the bad things they do. You sort of downplay the bad things they do. And in many ways, that’s what the writer of Chronicles does.
He knows the bad things David did. In fact, his audience, his readers know the bad things David did, but they could find those out from the book of Samuel, couldn’t they? 1 and 2 Samuel. So he knows about Bathsheba. Everyone knows about Bathsheba. They know about this and that and the other that David did that was so wrong in the Book of Samuel. But rather than highlighting those events where David did wrong things or bad things, what the Chronicler does is he idealizes David. He’ll actually skip over. He’ll be copying from the Book of Samuel and he’ll come to a terrible thing that David did and he’ll skip right over that story and pick up on the next good thing that David did. It’s just remarkable.
Guthrie: I think about our modern-day people were going to be teaching. I mean, this is the era of fake news, right? And so I wanna hear more about why you think that idealizing is not a bad thing because I think that will be a hurdle for us with those we’re teaching to convince them that here’s this writer with an agenda who’s purposely ignoring some very significant things…
Pratt: And doing this under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Guthrie: Yeah, so how do we convince those we’re teaching that this is an appropriate and good thing and helpful thing?
Pratt: Well, first we have to convince them it’s good because Bible writers do it. Okay, just simply on the fact that they do it tells us it’s okay. Also, though, just to sort of make people feel a little more comfortable with it, the people to whom the Chronicler was writing already had the Book of Samuel. And the book of Samuel focuses in what we would probably call as modern people, a little more balanced approach to the life of David, where he talks about the good things David did and the really bad things David did. And he does that because he had a purpose too. His purpose was this, if I could summarize it this way, I don’t know what your other interviewees have said about the Book of Samuel.
But basically Samuel is written to show that David’s family is the dynasty for Israel. It’s the dynasty from which the savior will come, even though David failed so miserably. You see, the problem with David in the history of Israel was he and his family failed miserably. And as I showed earlier, Manasseh, one of the descendants of David is the reason why Israel went into exile. There were lots of failures in David’s life, Solomon’s life, and all the kings even in the Book of Kings. That’s the emphasis of the Book of Samuel and the emphasis of the Book of Kings is not just on the good things they did, but on the bad things they did.
Well, the Chronicler knows this, his people know this, the people to whom he’s writing, they’re familiar with all these stories. It’s not a surprise. He’s not trying to fool them. This is not fake news. This is not propaganda, or just a one-sided picture, because the picture is already known. But it would be like asking the question, was Abraham Lincoln, a good president of the United States? Well, the answer would be well, yes, of course. And if you were trying to teach children, what a good president of the United States was, like, well, then you would go through a lot of the things that Abraham Lincoln did that were good.
Now if somebody stopped a teacher and said, “Yes, but didn’t Abraham Lincoln do some things that were bad?” Well, of course, the teacher would say, “Well, of course, he did. But I’ll need to look them up. Because I don’t remember those.” We use Abraham Lincoln as a model for what a president is supposed to be. And that’s exactly what the writer of Chronicles is doing. He’s using David as a model of what a new king after the exile is supposed to be like. So what’s he supposed to be like? Well, he’s supposed to include all the tribes, all the people of Israel. What’s he supposed to be like? He’s supposed to be a son of David, who sits in Jerusalem on his throne. What’s he to be like?
He’s one that supports the temple with everything he’s got, which is what David did, even humbly accepting the fact that he would not build it himself. And what else did David do? He did things that brought great blessings to the people of God. And so even the one thing that David does wrong in the Book of Chronicles, which is to take the census of the people. A lot of your listeners will know that that’s one of the bad things that David does in the Book of Chronicles. But it’s odd that in the Book of Chronicles, there’s an ending put on it that’s remarkable. And the ending is that that was the way David discovered where the temple was to be built. You don’t find that in Samuel. In Samuel, it’s a failure.
But in Chronicles, God uses that failure to bless the people of God by David’s great discovery at the end of his sin when he repented and turned back to God. By the way in 2 Chronicles, Solomon is the same thing. You don’t hear about Solomon’s Egyptian wife and all the terrible idolatry that he brought into the temple. That’s left out of the Chronicles also. Bathsheba is mentioned but not the long story about Bathsheba. In 1 Chronicles, all kinds of things are left out because the purpose is not to misrepresent David, they already knew about David’s sins, but rather it was to emphasize David’s positive features. The things that he did that were right and good.
And if you have trouble with that, in the Book of Chronicles, just think about how the life of Paul is portrayed in the Book of Acts, and just sort of go through the Book of Acts some time and what the things that are recorded that Paul did, and see how many things you could line up that Paul did that we’re wrong and how many things you can line up that Paul did that were right. And what you’ll discover is that Paul did a lot of things that were right. Not a lot of things that were wrong. Well, we all know ourselves. We all know people. We all know Paul, even though we’ve never met him. He was doing wrong things all the time. But is that highlighted in the Book of Acts? No. Why? Well, because Luke, the writer of Acts is highlighting Paul as a model for what it means to serve the kingdom of God, what it means to be a missionary, what it means to follow Christ as an early Christian apostle and as an early Christian. And so the same would be true for the record of David in 1 Chronicles.
Guthrie: That is so helpful. I don’t know if you would group these things together if you’d see them as individual or not. But one, and I’m gonna call it an opportunity that these books present to us is to show the constant call to humility, to seeking after God, to turning in repentance, and then the kind of the, I guess, I would see it as the other side of the coin, the warning against abandoning or forsaking God and against unfaithfulness.
As teachers, we wanna be careful that when we are looking at an Old Testament book, that we don’t jump too quickly to application for people today, but that we have to first look at what did this mean for the original audience and for the people of that day and I wonder if you would help us in making those leaps appropriately in terms of what the Chronicler was calling his original audience to, those people of his day, and then how we move from that to calling the people we’re teaching to some of these things?
Pratt: Oh, that’s a great question. It’s a great question. It is the most pertinent question, isn’t it? Let me say it this way, just picking up those four themes, again, if I may, and we’ll do it quickly here. Remember that Israel’s hopes for the house of David are fulfilled by Christ. Now, in the days of the Chronicler, they were actually looking at a physical son of David, Zerubbabel, and children of Zerubbabel, whom they hoped would further the cause of God’s kingdom. They didn’t think that they were the perfect Messiahs by any means.
But they were looking for someone who could take them some steps toward the Messiah. And so the Chronicler is holding out this vision of the fact that the kingdom of God cannot come to Earth as it is heaven without a son of David ruling on the throne. You need one of those happening in our day. And that will be a prelude to what will come one day when the great son of David comes. And of course, as Christians, we know who that great son of David is. We know his name, and it’s Jesus of Nazareth. And so anytime you run into the theme of kingship, in the Book of Chronicles, it’s very important at some point in the lesson, as a Christian, to bring that theme all the way up to Jesus as the King.
The king who came to this earth, suffered and died, and who ascended to the throne of his father David, which is what Peter says, and at Pentecost that he ascended to the throne of his father, David in heaven. And now he reigns until he comes back again and rules over all the earth and we with him. And so you want to always take this theme of kingship that was so important to the original audience but bring it to Jesus and his kingship that fulfills these hopes that Israel had. Go to the second theme, the people of God, then the unity of the people of God. We are people who need to emphasize that today in ways we have never emphasized it before.
Because in the West, it’s been very convenient, hasn’t it? Very easy for us to divide, and to make war with each other as if we are at peace with the world. That’s a constant Christian problem is that we make war with each other as if we are at peace with the world. And the Book of Chronicles is saying, “Look, you know where the battle is, is with the world. It’s the kingdom of Satan that is the battle, not your fellow Israelite.” And the same would be true for Christians in our day. And so anytime you find the all Israel, the unity of God’s people emphasized on Chronicles you can find all kinds of New Testament references to that. All the way from John 17, all the way to the Book of Revelation, that the unity of God’s people is so important.
That’s why the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, that the highest ethic, the highest ethic, for followers of Jesus is love. These three things abide faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love. It’s an amazing thing because that fits exactly with what the Chronicler is saying. The third theme is the temple. Well, you want to emphasize how they needed to rebuild the temple back in those days for the presence of God among them, the place where Holy Spirit would dwell, the place where you could pray and God would hear your prayers. And of course, as Christians, we know that Jesus is the temple. As Christians, we know that the church is the temple. Jesus is the one who was filled with Holy Spirit.
He is the one who sacrificed, paid for all of our sins. And the church is the place where Holy Spirit fills even in our day. And so the wonder of gathering together with Christians and making sacrifices of praise to God as we worship Him together. The worship of God in New Testament is not really emphasized very much in the New Testament. And the reason it’s not is because it’s emphasized so much in the Old Testament, and the New Testament just reaffirms it. Yes, it’s still very important for us too.
But then that fourth issue, the blessings and judgments of God. Let me just say this that I think one of the greatest dangers that teachers have when they teach from the Old Testament is they often when they realize at first, that there are both blessings and curses or blessings and judgments when you enter into covenant with God, when they first begin to realize that, it’s very natural, you can almost predict it. They’ll begin to treat their own faith, their own Christian faith as if it’s sort of an even-steven if you could imagine it scales in God’s hands. And that every time you sin, whoops, I’m under the judgment of God.
And every time you do something good, hey, I’m under the blessing of God, judgment of God, blessing of God. Judgment of God, blessing of God. He loves me, He loves me not. He loves me, He loves me not. Well, that is a natural tendency when you read the Old Testament and study it to go to in that direction even in the Christian life, but it’s the wrong tendency. Because the truth of the matter is that when people come to Christ, when they enter into covenant with God, even in the Old Testament, when they entered into covenant with God, the scales that hold over us, as the people of God, are heavily tilted in our favor. That is, the love of God is supreme, the love of God for His people is paramount.
And you can see that in the Old Testament as well when you see how patient God was with his people. How, despite the fact that they turned against Him over and over and over again, He still wooed them back in love. Now the truth is that God will temporarily bring judgments against even true believers to discipline them and to teach them the ways of righteousness as the Book of Hebrews even tells us and the Book of Chronicles tells us. But God’s love for those who are in Christ is paramount, is the highest thing that we must keep in mind. As Joel put it, “God is patient.” “God is kind.” “God is slow to anger.” “He’s abounding and mercy.” “He loves to relent from sending calamity.”
Believe me, the scales are not thrown away because God does discipline His people even today. But the scales are not evenly balanced. They are in our favor because of the righteousness of Christ. And the propensity of God is to relent from sending calamity when His people turn to Him in genuine faith and repentance. And so I just think that’s one of the greatest dangers that Christian teachers face when they start teaching the Old Testament, even a book like Chronicles, is they forget the love of God and how it is the dominant force as it were in our relationship with God in Christ.
Guthrie: This is why we love to teach the Bible and why we have such joy as we prepare… You’re probably way past this. But for me as a teacher, usually, I get assigned a passage. And as I read through it, and I think to myself, why did I agree to do this? I don’t understand it, I’m not gonna have anything to say about it. And then you do some work in the word and it begins to open up to you.
And then you get to the point, which is I think what you are referring to, you see, you begin to see the love of God is supreme is the way you said it. And you get so excited about the message of the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ toward sinners. You can just hardly wait till that day comes when you get to teach because you’ve got such good news to share. I mean, that’s the joy of being a teacher of the Scriptures.
Pratt: Oh, I can’t agree with you more. I hate it when churches or conferences assign passages too. Okay, I want to pick them, not have them pick them. And because sometimes they pick the most obscure things, in my view anyway, that you could possibly imagine. I recently had a prominent church in my denomination ask me to preach from 3 John, at a missions’ conference.
And I said, 3 John? What’s that got to do with missions? And then I looked at it and said, “Well, it has everything to do with missions.” And it was so enlightening to me, and I hope to the congregation. Because that’s the way God’s word can surprise you. The parts that you often ignore, like 1 and 2 Chronicles, are often very rich. They’re given to us. They’re al Scriptures inspired and is profitable. And so it’s a wonderful thing to be able to say that. I agree with you completely.
Guthrie: Well, Dr. Pratt, thank you so much for opening up these books that we’re really not very familiar with. There’s something worthwhile here. I don’t have to be afraid of all those long lists of names. I don’t have to be afraid of that ancient setting. Instead, I can see that the same God is at work amongst the people of God and He intends to work through His king, and through His temple and that I’ve got good news of blessings for all of those who will take hold of them. And then warnings of curses for those who do not and what a great opportunity. So, thank you so much for being willing to help us teach the Bible.
Pratt: Amen. Thank you so much, Nancy. It’s so good to talk with you. Thank you.
Guthrie: You’ve been listening to “Help Me Teach the Bible” with Nancy Guthrie, a production of The Gospel Coalition sponsored by Crossway. Crossway is a not-for-profit publisher of the ESV Bible, Christian books and tracks. Learn more about their gospel-centered resources at crossway.org.