Bible: The chronicler’s story of hope

Nov 27, 2019 by

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First and Second Chronicles are pretty obscure for many Christians. The Common Lectionary that many Protestant groups use for worship covers most of the Bible in its three-year cycle but does not use a single text from these two books.

Ted Grimsrud

Grimsrud

That’s a shame, because these are interesting writings that recount the story of ancient Israel from a somewhat different angle than 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings.

We will only touch briefly on 1 Chronicles this quarter, but we should find plenty to think and talk about in these first several lessons.

Why do we have this second version of the story of ancient Israel? (We might also reflect on why it has been so ignored.) The writer (called the “chronicler” by scholars) doesn’t tell us. Many interpreters place the writing around 400 BCE, a low point in many ways in the history of ancient Israel.

We can imagine the small, seemingly powerless and perhaps doubting community finding encouragement in being reminded of its past — and maybe a hope that God has not abandoned them, that the story is not over.

One way to read the chronicler’s version of history is to reflect on what it is about these writings that might have offered hope to the faith community during its time of vulnerability and uncertainty.

In 1 Chronicles 15, 16, and 17, the themes of kingship and the temple are central. It is fascinating to note some differences between the accounts in the books of Samuel and Kings and what we have in Chronicles.

Kingship and the temple are totally positive in Chronicles but presented as problematic in Samuel and Kings. Torah is central in the latter and often is seen as being in tension with kingship and the temple (see 1 Samuel 8 and 1 Kings 1-9).

Chronicles ends with King Hezekiah as a kind of new David or Solomon who leads a united Israel worshiping in the Jerusa­lem temple. Second Kings ends with King Josiah having recovered Torah just before the temple is destroyed by the Babylonians, and Israel’s kingship ends in disgrace.

I don’t think our point should be to pit one version of the story against the other so much as to recognize that they spoke to different kinds of questions.

The history that ends in 2 Kings is trying to answer the question, why did the disaster of the destruction of the kingdom and the temple happen to us?

The answer for that history was that Israel was unfaithful — and that kingship and the temple were part of the unfaithfulness.

The history recounted in Chronicles has different kinds of questions in mind — “Who are we? Are we still God’s people? How can the stories of David and Solomon help us in our time of exile?”

First Chronicles 15 tells of the process of David bringing the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem where it can be established as the centerpiece for Israel’s worship. This would be necessary for the eventual building of the temple. Why would this story have been hopeful for the exiles? Is there any relevance for us today?

A key theme in 1 Chronicles 16 is the centrality of giving God God’s rightful place in the community. What would be ways faith communities might do that now?

Note also the affirmations of 1 Chron. 16:23-33. What would these mean for marginal exiles?

In chapter 17, David is to play the role of a warrior king, and his son, Solomon, is to build the temple. What became of those roles? Were they permanent foundations for the community’s identity? If not, what hopeful lessons might be drawn from this story?

Ted Grimsrud is senior professor of peace theology at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.


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