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Passage: 1 Chronicles 2:3-9:1

1 Chronicles 2:3-9:1 – The Tribes of Israel

Summary

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 (producing David) and Benjamin (producing Saul), as well as the priestly tribe of Levi.

Analysis

Once again the Chronicler has skillfully arranged the data to suit his purposes. The order of the tribes in Genesis 29-30 is Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin (compare 1 Chronicles 2:1-2). In 1 Chronicles 2:3-8:40, however, we are presented with a different order. Three tribes are emphasized by this reordering:

  • Judah is given pride of place at the head of the list and is by far the longest genealogy (2:3-4:23), thereby emphasizing the importance of the largest tribe that remained faithful to David's line when the north broke away in 922 B.C.E. and the tribe that produced David (see 5:2 "a ruler came from him [Judah]").
  • Benjamin concludes the list (8:1-40, but see 7:6-12 as well). Benjamin was the only other tribe to remain faithful at the time of the schism, and its royal pedigree in having produced Saul, Israel's first king, is a further link with Judah. The Chronicler's community is directly descended from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.
  • Finally, the priestly tribe of Levi anchors the center (6:1-81). Their descendants serve the temple in the Chronicler's day.

These three tribes provide the framework for the Chronicler's presentation. Also of interest, however, is the placement of the northern tribes that broke away in the schism of 922 B.C.E. One group--Simeon, Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh that occupied the east bank of the Jordan--has been placed between Judah and Levi (4:24-5:26). They are carefully balanced by the placement of the northern tribes that occupied the west bank of the Jordan: Issachar, Benjamin (considered a northern tribe in the civil war between David's followers and Saul's in 2 Samuel 2:8-9), Naphtali, the other half-tribe of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Asher between Levi and Benjamin (7:1-40). The resulting concentric arrangement looks like this:


Royal tribe of Judah
Northern tribes east of Jordan
Priestly tribe of Levi
Northern tribes west of Jordan
Royal tribe of Benjamin


In this way the Chronicler tips his hand:

  • Judah and Benjamin will be the focus of his presentation for their royal ties and links to the postexilic community.
  • The work will center on the importance of proper worship as represented by the central position of the Levites.
  • Nevertheless, "all Israel" and the concern for an inclusive view of Israel have not been forgotten, as shown by the inclusion of the northern tribes.