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Old Testament: 1 Chronicles

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Summary

David and Saul, Julius Kronberg  (1885)First Chronicles begins with nine chapters of genealogies from Adam to the Chronicler's postexilic community. This is followed by a report of the tragic death of Saul, Israel's first king, and a long description of the reign of David. David is presented as an ideal king, chosen by God and promised an eternal dynasty, who piously cares for the ark, secures Jerusalem, and makes exhaustive preparations for the building of the temple and the organization of its worship.

So What?

David commands center stage in 1 Chronicles. He is presented in a somewhat idealized fashion in comparison with the familiar story in the books of Samuel, but this is designed to emphasize his relationship to the temple in Jerusalem and proper worship. Addressed to the small postexilic community who had returned from exile, David's story is meant to be exemplary of pious leadership.

Where Do I Find It?

First Chronicles is the thirteenth book in the Old Testament. It follows 2 Kings and precedes 2 Chronicles.

Who Wrote It?

Jewish tradition identifies Ezra as the author of 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Today, many scholars believe that 1 and 2 Chronicles come from a different hand than Ezra and Nehemiah and that various older traditions, including the books of Samuel and Kings, have been gathered together and edited by a nameless postexilic editor.

When Was It Written?

First Chronicles is notoriously difficult to date, though it is clearly later than Israel's return from exile in Babylon. Since the list in 1 Chronicles 3:19-24 extends David's genealogy to the sixth generation after Zerubbabel, who is dated to 520 B.C.E. (Haggai 1:1), this sixth generation would be sometime after 400 B.C.E. Thus, many scholars date 1 Chronicles to the first half of the fourth century (ca. 350 B.C.E.).

What's It About?

First Chronicles retells the story of David, already familiar from 2 Samuel, for a postexilic audience, emphasizing David's preparations for the building of the temple and the establishment of worship.

How Do I Read It?

First Chronicles looks like a history of Judah, the southern kingdom, already related in 2 Samuel. While important historical information is presented, some of it is at odds with the earlier presentation. First Chronicles should be read as a theological, rather than a historical, rewriting of the earlier history, designed to demonstrate the continuity of David and Solomon's united monarchy with the struggling postexilic community to which the book was addressed.

AUTHOR: Mark Throntveit, Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament

I. Genealogical Introduction (1 Chronicles 1:1--9:44)
First Chronicles opens with nine chapters of lists and genealogies that trace the postexilic community's ancestors back to Adam and point to the importance of David.

A. Adam to Israel (1:1--2:2)
The first list traces the history of Israel from Adam to Israel.
B. The Tribes of Israel (2:3--9:1)
While all twelve of Israel's tribes are represented in these lists, the lists have been carefully arranged to emphasize the royal tribes of Judah (David) and Benjamin (Saul) as well as the priestly tribe of Levi.
C. The Restored Jerusalem Community (9:2-34)
These lists from Nehemiah 11:3-24 help the Chronicler's postexilic community see their place in the history just presented in chapters 1-8.
D. Saul (9:35-44)
Saul's genealogy (9:35-44, repeated from 1 Chronicles 8:29-38) anticipates the Chronicler's presentation of Saul's death in chapter 10.

II. The United Monarchy, Part One: David (1 Chronicles 10:1--29:30)
In Chronicles, the reigns of David and Solomon are seen as a unity, though this is obscured by the artificial split of Chronicles into two books. The rest of 1 Chronicles narrates the first part of the united monarchy, David as Israel's ideal king. Part two of the united monarchy begins in 2 Chronicles 1.

A. Saul (10:1-14)
Only the final chapter in the life of Israel's first king, Saul, is presented. Here it serves as an example of exile as the result of unfaithfulness.
B. David Becomes King over All Israel (11:1--12:40)
All Israel immediately recognizes David as king.
C. David Brings the Ark to Jerusalem (13:1--16:43)
By bringing the ark of God from Kiriath-jearim to Jerusalem, the Chronicler turns to his primary concern: the establishment of proper worship.
D. God's Promise to David (17:1-27)
In this pivotal chapter, God promises that David will always have a son on the throne of Judah (vv. 1-15), and David responds with thanks and praise (vv. 16-27).
E. David's Wars (18:1--20:8)
David gains victory when he trusts the LORD and gains wealth with which to build the temple.
F. David Prepares for the Temple (21:1--29:30)
The shared segment of David and Solomon is presented with the preparations for the building of the temple in chapters 21, 22, 28, and 29, framing David's organization of the temple personnel in chapters 23-27.

AUTHOR: Mark Throntveit, Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament

The earlier history in Samuel and Kings addressed the questions of those who had experienced the fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar II (587 B.C.E.), the destruction of the temple, the end of Davidic rule, and deportation to Babylon. Chronicles, however, speaks to the postexilic restoration community that had returned from Babylon to worship in the rebuilt Jerusalem temple as a result of the Persian defeat of the Babylonians in 539 B.C.E. Whereas Samuel and Kings tried to explain why the exile had taken place, Chronicles tries to explain what it means to be part of the restored community. This was especially necessary because the community now lived under the political auspices of the Persian Empire, not the united monarchy of David and Solomon.

AUTHOR: Mark Throntveit, Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament

Chronicles as history. Chronicles looks like history, but as one reads through it, it becomes obvious that it is a very different kind of history than we are accustomed to reading. Accounts drawn from Samuel and Kings are presented differently and are often flatly contradicted. This difficult issue is somewhat eased by the recognition that no biblical book is written with the canons of what we would now call "history." Recent comparisons of the Greek versions of Samuel and the Dead Sea Scrolls have revealed that fairly often the Chronicler has preserved the "correct" reading of differing passages. It must be admitted, however, that the Chronicler's presentation often modifies his sources, usually to make a theological point, rather than to contradict a historical account. For example, contrary to 2 Samuel 5-6, the first thing David does after his coronation is to try to bring the ark to Jerusalem, thus demonstrating his devotion to proper worship, a key theme in Chronicles (1 Chronicles 13:1-14). Rather than disparage the Chronicler's failure to conform to our ideas of what history should be, we should try to determine his theological motivation in presenting these stories this way.


Evaluative comments in the narrative. Readers are often struck by the directness of certain evaluative comments that frequently appear in the Chronicler's narrative. These usually function to direct the reader to the point of the narrative, at least as the Chronicler would have us see it. The most striking is found in 1 Chronicles 10:13-14, where the writer claims that the LORD put Saul to death and turned the kingdom over to David because Saul had been unfaithful. Other notable comments of this nature include:

  • David becoming king according to the word of the LORD (11:3)
  • David had the support of "all Israel" (11:10; 12:22, 23, 38-40)
  • The success of the Levites was due to God's help (15:26)
  • David died with riches and honor (29:28-30)
  • Solomon succeeded David because God was with him (2 Chronicles 1:1)


Genealogies. Much of 1 Chronicles consists of genealogical lists--most of the first nine chapters and the lists of various clergy in chapters 23-27 being the most extensive. Almost all the genealogies from Genesis have been employed for a variety of purposes, including situating Israel among the nations and identifying traditional boundaries. In these cumbersome lists, which seem so strange to us, the Chronicler's audience would have heard definitions of social rights and obligations as well as indications of status and territorial boundaries.


God speeches. The Chronicler offers us a rich collection of speeches and prayers in which he expresses his own views. These speeches and prayers are usually unparalleled in Samuel/Kings. As such they are a rich source for the Chronicler's distinctive theological position. It is striking, therefore, that there are no unique occurrences of speeches made by God. Every instance of divine speech, unmediated by prophets, is paralleled in his sources (usually Samuel or Kings). Although the Chronicler has felt free to "improve" these speeches found in his sources, he has not felt free to provide unique speeches attributed to God, possibly reflecting the more pious attitude of the postexilic community.


Huge numbers. Huge numbers are frequently encountered in these books. For example, Asa is said to have repulsed an invasion of one million Ethiopians with an army of 580,000 (2 Chronicles 14:8-9). Frequently, the accuracy of these huge numbers is supported by the claim that the Hebrew word eleph, translated "thousand," refers to a military unit from a tribal subsection rather than a literal thousand, thereby reducing the total of Asa's forces to "580 military units." Plausible as this may seem, what does one do with David's amassing of 100,000 talents of gold (3,365 tons!) and one million talents of silver (33,000 tons!) for the Jerusalem temple (1 Chronicles 22:14) where no military units are in sight? It is best to see the exaggerated numbers as rhetorical devices that display the magnificence of the temple, much as we might say, "Thanks a million!"


An idealized David? Because the Chronicler has omitted several of the unsavory depictions of David familiar from Samuel--such as his outlaw days, adultery with Bathsheba, and murder of her husband, as well as the physical weakness and inability to control his own family that marked the end of his life--the Chronicler has been accused of presenting us with a sanitized if not an idealized portrayal of David. Over against the truth of this evaluation, however, stand the negative portrayals of David that the Chronicler employs to temper his presentation, including David's improper care for the ark (1 Chronicles 15:13), the heightened sense of David's sin in the census-taking of 1 Chronicles 21:1, 3, 8 (over against 2 Samuel 24), and the fact that David is not permitted to build the temple. David is the Chronicler's ideal king, but even David needs to repent of his sin and seek God's forgiveness. It should also be pointed out that the Chronicler's audience was well aware of the earlier history's depiction of David and Solomon. This means that the Chronicler's intent was to concentrate upon those aspects of these kings that accounted for their success and that might serve as examples to the restoration community.


Interpretive principles. A number of exegetical principles in Chronicles regarding the Torah have been discovered, including the following:

  • Chronicles distinguishes between a text and its interpretation.
  • The Torah is seen as a relatively closed system forming the basis of the legislation.
  • The Torah is also partially open, in that extension or reapplication is possible.
  • Torah often requires supplementary law in order to be effectual.
  • Tensions in the Torah tend to be solved by a principle of addition rather than by mediation or compromise.
  • The written Torah is more authoritative than written prophecy.
  • But written prophecy is more authoritative than narrative history.


Prophetic speeches. Among the Chronicler's rich collection of speeches and prayers (see "God speeches") are five prophetic speeches, taken from Samuel/Kings with modifications: 1 Chronicles 17:1-15; 21:9-12, 18; 2 Chronicles 11:2-4; 18:12-27; 34:22-28. In addition, ten unparalleled speeches from otherwise generally unknown prophets appear: 2 Chronicles 12:5-8; 15:1-7; 16:7-9; 19:2-3; 20:37; 21:12-15; 24:20-22; 25:7-9; 25:15-16; 28:9-11. These ten unparalleled speeches all occur in the period of the divided monarchy and deliver the Chronicler's message of retributive justice.


Relationship to Ezra-Nehemiah. Theological differences between Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah have caused a revision of the view that Ezra-Nehemiah and the books of Chronicles share common authorship and comprise the so-called "Chronicler's History." These differences include Chronicles' inclusive attitude toward the people of the Northern Kingdom, emphasis upon the Davidic Monarchy, and concern with retributive justice--characteristics all essentially absent from Ezra-Nehemiah. There is also a differing understanding of "Israel" in the two works: in Chronicles, Israel is defined as all twelve tribes; Ezra-Nehemiah, however, limits Israel to Judah and Benjamin. Currently, most scholars suggest that Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah are separate literary entities.


Royal prayers. Among the Chronicler's rich collection of speeches and prayers are several royal prayers, including those of David (1 Chronicles 17:16-27 // 2 Samuel 7:18-29; 24:10-17); Solomon (2 Chronicles 6:12-42 // 1 Kings 8:22-53); Asa (2 Chronicles 14:11); Jehoshaphat (20:5-12); and Hezekiah (30:18-19). David and Solomon's major prayers (1 Chronicles 17; 2 Chronicles 6) are also found in the earlier history, but presented with significant changes illustrative of the Chronicler's theology. These too can have structural significance. For example, David's prayers form an inclusio around his preparations for the temple.


Royal speeches. The royal speeches (see also "God speeches") unique to Chronicles include those of David (1 Chronicles 13:2-3; 15:2, 12-13; 22:6-16; 22:17-19; 28:2-10; 28:20-21; 29:1-5, 20); Abijah (2 Chronicles 13:4-12); Asa (14:7); Jehoshaphat (19:6-7, 9-11; 20:20); Hezekiah (29:5-11, 31; 30:6-9; 32:7-8); and Josiah (35:3-6). Only kings judged positively by the Chronicler (or in the positive segment of the king's reign, if he is presented both positively and negatively) make these speeches. These speeches often have structural significance. For example, Abijah's speech in 2 Chronicles 13:4-12 and Hezekiah's speech in 2 Chronicles 30:6-9--both calls to the north to return--form an inclusio around the divided monarchy.


Sources in Chronicles. The canonical books of Samuel and Kings (though in different editions than we have) serve as the Chronicler's major source. In the past, as many as twenty-three other sources have been suggested for the Chronicler, who cites sources more than any other biblical author. These alleged sources, however, are regarded with some skepticism these days; as we have no access to them, the point is rendered moot.


Textual matters. In the past, scholars determined the theology of Chronicles by noting the many small changes from the Chronicler's source (usually Samuel/Kings) and assigning a theological motivation for the change. Thus, Chronicles omits David's adultery with Bathsheba because he wants to depict David as an ideal king. The problem with this approach, however, is that the text of Samuel/Kings that the Chronicler used was not the one we have now in our Bibles. This means that before differences between Chronicles and Samuel are ascribed to the Chronicler's theological interests, one needs to make sure that the Chronicler is not reading (and faithfully preserving) a different text of Samuel/Kings. Quite often the Hebrew text of Chronicles agrees with the Greek text of Samuel (especially the so-called Lucianic recension of the Septuagint) and the Qumran text of Samuel, over against the Hebrew text of Samuel. In these cases, the Chronicler did not alter his text for theological reasons or any other. This accounts for many of the differences between older and more recent commentaries on this material.


Use of traditional material. There appear to be many contradictions in the Chronicler's use of traditional material. Without denying that this is sometimes the case, it is important to recognize that the Chronicler's usual way of achieving a new portrayal of the past was by omitting or rearranging parallel material, a practice that may not have appeared as obtrusive to his audience as it does to us. It is probable, judging from other postexilic literature, that the Chronicler's relatively free use of the tradition was commensurate with the practice of his contemporaries.


What kind of book is Chronicles? Recent interpretation, rejecting modern designations such as "history," "theology," "midrash," or "exegesis," tends to see Chronicles as a "Rewritten Bible." This genre, found in the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, can be described as a narrative that follows Scripture closely but includes additional material and interpretation. It is quite clear that Chronicles takes over other biblical texts, especially Samuel and Kings, to a greater degree than any other canonical book--and it has obviously augmented that material in a variety of ways.

AUTHOR: Mark Throntveit, Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament

All Israel. Because Chronicles omits the history of the northern kingdom (Israel), except where it overlaps with that of Judah, previous scholarship considered Chronicles to be narrowly focused upon the two southern tribes, Judah and Benjamin. While there are occasional references to this (as in 2 Chronicles 11:3; 12:1), current scholarship rightly maintains that those references where "all Israel" refers to the north (2 Chronicles 10:16; 11:13) or to the north and south together (2 Chronicles 9:30) suggest an inclusive understanding of Israel that goes back to the ancient ideal of twelve tribes. In 1 Chronicles this is most evident in the enthusiastic participation of "all Israel" at every major section in the narrative:

  • the inclusion of the northern tribes in the genealogies of chapters 1-9
  • David's gathering of "all Israel" at Hebron (11:1)
  • the capture of Jerusalem (11:4)
  • the transfer of the ark (13:2-3)
  • the enthronements of David (11:1-3) and Solomon (28:1-10)

The ark. In Chronicles the ark is the sign of God's presence within the temple, the divine throne (1 Chronicles 13:6), or the Lord's footstool (1 Chronicles 28:2). In Exodus, the ark is where people call upon the name of the Lord and God would speak (Exodus 25:22). Later the place of invocation is moved to the temple itself (2 Chronicles 6:33). In the New Testament the ark is said to have contained three items: the ten commandments, Aaron's rod, and a pot of manna (Hebrews 9:4).

Continuity with the past. The Chronicler is intensely interested in displaying the continuity between his own postexilic community and preexilic Israel. This is most clearly seen in the nine chapters of genealogies with which 1 Chronicles begins. Here, geographical, spiritual, and historical continuity is presented. The central position occupied by the temple in the Chronicler's presentation, along with the restoration of proper worship led by the Levites as instituted by David, also links the people with the traditions of the past.

The cult. The connection between the Chronicler's two main emphases, the king and the temple, lies in the cult. Abijah's address in 2 Chronicles 13:4-12 clearly makes this link. In the past, scholarly consensus opted for a dependence by the Chronicler upon the Priestly traditions due, in part, to the Chronicler's ordering of the Levites. Later, the Chronicler's affinity for the prescriptions of Deuteronomy shifted the scholarly consensus in that direction. Obviously, both traditions have been formative for the Chronicler's presentation.

David and Solomon. The reigns of these two kings are seen as a unity in Chronicles. This unity is based upon the fact that both are "chosen" by God (David: 1 Chronicles 28:4; Solomon: 1 Chronicles 28:5, 6, 10; 29:1, only here in the Bible); it is significant that the Chronicler has omitted the reference to the choice of Saul as king from his source (1 Samuel 10:24). In addition, God makes two promises: to David concerning the monarchy (1 Chronicles 17:3-14) and to Solomon concerning the temple (2 Chronicles 7:11-22). These two promises form the theological backbone of the books of Chronicles. David is the successful king who establishes the kingdom and provides for the temple, while Solomon rules over a peaceful kingdom that builds the temple. The Chronicler achieves this somewhat idealized presentation by concentrating on their public lives and avoiding descriptions of their often troubling private lives.

The Davidic covenant. Chapter 17 is the crucial passage of 1 Chronicles. God's promise of a dynasty to David in this chapter (vv. 1-15) results in the Chronicler's equation of Judah, the Davidic dynasty, with the kingdom of God (1 Chronicles 10:14; 28:5; 29:23). The northern kingdom, Israel, is regarded as illegitimate because of its non-Davidic kings (2 Chronicles 13:8). Even the genealogical introduction has been constructed to emphasize the royal tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and, within the genealogy, the family of David is highlighted (1 Chronicles 2:3--4:23; especially 3:1-24). By omitting the clause concerning the divine punishment of the king's son (Solomon) when he commits iniquity (2 Samuel 7:14), the Chronicler precludes a conditional reading of the covenant.

Eschatology. The prominence of God's promise to David (1 Chronicles 17) throughout the work has led to a broad range of views concerning the topic of eschatology. Different understandings of "messianic" (messianic hope deriving from the Psalms and prophets, ancient Near Eastern royal ideology, and theological doctrine of the last things) complicate the discussion. Four options regularly appear in the literature: a hope for Davidic restoration; no eschatological/messianic hope; a Davidic restoration without a messianic component; and a messianic/eschatological hope without a Davidic restoration. There is no consensus at this time.

God's activity in history. God is regularly portrayed as working through the history of Israel, though not in a predetermined way. Rather, God responds to the activity of the human actors in the drama:

  • The Davidic dynasty was founded as a result of God's response to Saul's "unfaithfulness": Saul was slain and God turned the kingdom over to David (1 Chronicles 10:14).
  • David was acclaimed king at Hebron as God's chosen leader (11:1-2).
  • Throughout the account God is seen as responsible for the rise and fall of kings, but always in response to the king's faithfulness.
  • In the end, God brought the Chaldeans against Judah for their unfaithfulness (2 Chronicles 36:17).
  • God stirred up Cyrus the Persian to announce their return from Babylon and the restoration of the temple (36:22-23).

Liturgical music. Liturgical music is pervasive in Chronicles, leading many to suppose that the author was a "church" musician wishing to promote his own profession. While this is deemed unlikely these days, the scope of unparalleled references to liturgical music is impressive:

  • 1 Chronicles 6:31-48; 9:14-16, 33; 15:1-24, 27-28; 23:2-5, 25-32; 25:1-31
  • 2 Chronicles 5:11-14; 7:1-6; 8:12-15; 20:18-30; 23:12-13, 18; 29:25-30; 30:21-22; 31:2; 34:12-13; 35:15

Prophecy. Chronicles has a special interest in the nature and function of prophecy. The most important aspects are:

  • Trust in the Lord is associated with trust in God's messengers.
  • Obedience to their message will ensure national security and success (for example, 2 Chronicles 20:20-23).
  • Disobedience to their message leads to disaster (for example, 2 Chronicles 24:17-26).
  • The Davidic monarchy was established (1 Chronicles 11:3) and confirmed (1 Chronicles 17:3-14) by prophecy.
  • The rejection of prophecy led to the destruction and exile of the kingdom (2 Chronicles 36:15-16).

Retributive justice. The connection between obedience and blessing, and disobedience and judgment, has been seen as the doctrinal center of Chronicles due to the frequency of such pronouncements as, "If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will abandon you forever" (1 Chronicles 28:9b). Five changes to his source in Samuel/Kings have been observed:

  • If there is unpunished sin, an appropriate punishment is added.
  • If there is unrewarded piety, an appropriate reward is added.
  • If there is unexplained punishment (illness, death, etc.), a sin is added.
  • If there is unexplained reward (children, wealth, etc.), an act of piety is added.
  • If a possible sin and an apparent punishment appear independently, they will be connected.

Typically, the rewards in Chronicles are: rest, victory in war, children, wealth, health, building projects, and a great name. While the Chronicler does employ the idea of retributive justice, it is not as mechanically applied as it might seem. In several instances (1 Chronicles 21:15-19; 2 Chronicles 12:5-7; 15:2-7; 30:6-9; 36:15) a prophet will issue a warning between the sin and its punishment, and God responds graciously to those who repent.

Ritual. The Chronicler's obvious fondness for the temple and its cult has led many readers to consider him a strict ritualist. Several observations lead to a moderation of this conclusion:

  • The Chronicler has introduced a note of "great joy" into all the major religious celebrations (for example, 1 Chronicles 29:22; 2 Chronicles 30:26).
  • The prophetic speeches often point to the efficacy of faith rather than ritual.
  • Noncultic religion was at least possible for the Chronicler (2 Chronicles 6:34-35; 7:14).

Temple. The temple is the central motif in Chronicles because of its relationship to worship. In Solomon's dedicatory prayer for the temple the Chronicler makes clear that the temple is above all a place for forgiveness and atonement; that is, the temple is not merely a house for God, but the place from which prayer emanates (2 Chronicles 6:18-39). Virtually every section of 1 Chronicles contributes to this central motif:

  • The genealogies of the Levites appear at the center of the long genealogical introduction of 1 Chronicles 1-9, and are the most extensive list in the collection.
  • The story of David is presented in relation to the temple as he brings the ark to Jerusalem in chapters 13-16; receives the promise of a dynasty (David's "house") in conjunction with the temple (God's "house") in chapter 17; gains financing for the building of the temple in the wars of chapters 18-19; acquires the temple site in chapter 21; prepares for its construction in chapters 22, 28-29; and organizes the clergy who will attend to its requirements in chapters 23-27.
  • God's choice of Solomon as David's successor is for the stated purpose of building the temple (22:9-10; 28:5-6).

Typology. The Chronicler seems to have a penchant for describing major characters and even events in ways that recall previous characters and events. For example:

  • David's transfer of authority to Solomon (1 Chronicles 22) is strongly colored by Moses' transfer of authority to Joshua (Deuteronomy 31; Joshua 1).
  • Solomon is portrayed as a second David in several regards.
  • Solomon's artisan Huram-abi constructs the temple (2 Chronicles 2:7-14) in ways that recall Bezalel and Oholiab's construction of the tabernacle (Exodus 31:1-11; 35:30--36:7).
  • Hezekiah is depicted as a new David and Solomon who, following the fall of the north in 722 B.C.E., restores the vision of the united monarchy under a Davidic king worshiping at the Jerusalem temple.

AUTHOR: Mark Throntveit, Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament