1 and 2 Chronicles: The Lion of the Tribe of Judah

Written by Graeme Goldsworthy Reviewed By Nathan Lovell

Many readers of Themelios will be familiar with Graeme Goldsworthy’s immense contribution to the study of Biblical Theology. Since publishing Gospel and Kingdom in 1981, Goldsworthy has spent an entire career almost with the singular focus on encouraging “Christians to read the Old Testament with understanding, and to read it knowing that it was the Bible used by Jesus and the apostles to proclaim the everlasting gospel” (p. x). In this volume, he turns our attention to the book of Chronicles (1 and 2) with the explicit intention of providing a commentary that shows how Chronicles attests to Jesus Christ. Squarely aimed at “ordinary Bible-readers” (p. 3), it seeks to engage questions which everyday Christians may have. It avoids technical language and skims many of the topics normally covered, such as authorship, date, historical context, and the relationship between Chronicles and history. Instead, it focuses our attention on the significance of the book when read as a part of the entire story of the Bible.

There is some discussion, even amongst scholars who agree that we should read the Bible as a coherent story of salvation history, on the best way to do this. Roughly, two schools of thought have emerged. The first, to which Goldsworthy belongs, is often labelled Christocentric. (We shall return to the second, Christotelic, school momentarily.) Goldsworthy reads Chronicles as typologically and prophetically referring directly to Jesus. The commentary often pauses for hermeneutical reflection on how to do this. In one place, he encourages us to ask four questions of each passage: “1. What is this text saying? 2. How does this text relate to David and his dynasty? 3. How does this text testify to Christ? 4. What is the meaning of this text for me, and for all those united to Christ by faith?” (p. 157).

As he moves through Chronicles, he applies this method to each section. He first discusses the key ideas of the passage before exploring a biblical-theological theme that arises from it. Each chapter concludes with some questions for reflection. Some samples will give an idea of how this works.

On David’s sin and forgiveness for the census (1 Chr 21:1–22:1, pp. 117–23), Goldsworthy discusses two issues commonly raised by ordinary readers: whether God or Satan incited David (contrast 2 Sam 24:1 with 1 Chr 21:1); and what was sinful about the act of taking a census in the first place? He gives this discussion four pages, followed by two pages on David’s atonement. Goldsworthy devotes the second part of the chapter to exploring the theme of “Fire from heaven, and the glory of the Lord, in biblical context” picking up on 1 Chronicles 21:25. The discussion moves through the entire Bible, covering other similar texts like Exodus 13:21–22, 40:34–38; Leviticus 9:24; 1 Kings 18:38; and 2 Chronicles 7:1. It shows how these relate to the ideas of sacrifice and divine presence, and ultimately God’s glory in Christ (Luke 2:9; John 1:14), who was the sacrifice for sin (John 3:16; 2 Cor 5:21). The discussion concludes with a note on how God forgave Old Testament believers such as David on the same basis as New Testament believers, because “those who believe in the shadows [of things to come] are accounted by God as believing in the substance” (p. 123).

On Solomon’s greatness (2 Chr 8–9, pp. 202–9), Goldsworthy pays special attention to the international flavour of incidents such as Solomon’s Egyptian wife, King Hiram of Tyre, and the visiting Queen from Sheba. He observes several times the (often noted) “rather accepting attitude towards Solomon’s behaviour” (p. 203). But he focuses on Solomon’s achievements, wealth, and wisdom. He warns that this is not “like a fairy-tale about a virtuous and rich king” (p. 206). Instead, we are to read it as the “climax of the drama of redemption that provides the structure and content of the Old Testament thus far. For those … who believed God’s promises and lived to see the glories of Solomon’s reign, this was as close as they could come to heaven on earth” (p. 207). Solomon’s kingdom is to be understood as a foretaste of what is being one day accomplished in Christ, including its international element. Following this six-page discussion, Goldsworthy unpacks the theme of “The Nations and Mission in Biblical Context” over three pages. He reflects on how the Jewish (i.e., the Southern Kingdom) focus of Chronicles demonstrates their priority within salvation history (John 4:22; Rom 1:16) but explores how this anticipated international inclusion (Gen 12:3; 18:17–18; 22:17–18; 26:4; 28:13–14; Isa 2:2–4; 55:3–5; Zech 8:20–23). “The Christian mission takes the new temple, through the preached word about Christ, into all the world. Gentile believers in the gospel come to Jesus and thus, as in the Old Testament, to the temple of God” (p. 209).

Goldsworthy achieves his goal of writing an accessible, Christocentric commentary on 1 and 2 Chronicles. He succeeds in identifying the questions ordinary and first-time readers tend to ask. And the thematic discussions move through an array of topics, never becoming repetitive, helping us to think about how the metanarrative of Scripture unfolds and the place of Chronicles within it. The hermeneutical interludes are non-technical and helpful.

One drawback of his approach is that it can feel, at least to me, that Chronicles is being used as a launch point for a series of biblical-theological reflections. By contrast, a more Christotelic approach would have sought to understand the book on its own terms before placing it into the context of the whole Bible. There would have been a more sustained reflection on what the book meant to its original audience, its structure, the way it develops its own themes, and the way it tells its story. This would have highlighted the unique contribution of Chronicles to the Biblical story.

One missed opportunity, for example, is that Goldsworthy does not reflect at any length on the vast array of quotes and allusions that Chronicles makes to other parts of the Old Testament. One might posit that Chronicles is, itself, doing Biblical Theology: it is reading the rest of the Old Testament within an integrated framework that explores God’s purposes within Israel’s history. I would argue that it does this because it wants to explore the theme of the Kingdom of God within the imperial context of post-exilic Judaism, which, contrary to Goldsworthy’s persistent messianic focus, lacked a Davidic king. But Goldsworthy’s biblical-theological approach rarely explores the Biblical Theology within Chronicles. It favours the larger Biblical Theology to which Chronicles belongs. The two perspectives can be complementary, and no commentary can do everything. Whether one judges this as a drawback or a benefit I will leave to the reader.

I would have no hesitation in giving this book to anyone approaching Chronicles for the first time. The uninitiated will find it insightful, stimulating, and encouraging as they tackle a daunting part of the Bible. They should come away having learned much about salvation history and with a good understanding of how they might place the events of Chronicles in that context. It would make a wonderful resource for home groups, especially aided by the study questions at the end of each chapter. Preachers and teachers may also find the book useful, although they will require the use of an additional commentary that is more consistently focussed on Chronicles itself.

Nathan Lovell

Nathan Lovell
George Whitefield College
Cape Town, South Africa

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