The book of Chronicles (1 and 2 Chronicles are one book) may be one of the least read books in the Bible, but its story is critical for the storyline of the Bible and a source of encouragement for discouraged believers of all ages. God speaks to us today from this ancient book. Reading the book of Chronicles profitably requires a basic understanding of the historical context. The kingdom of David and Solomon was divided into two kingdoms, the northern kingdom, Israel, and the southern kingdom Judah. After the fall of the northern kingdom in BC 722 the southern kingdom existed until its fall due to idolatry in BC 586. The Persians defeated the Babylonians in BC 539 and the first group of exiles were allowed to return in 538 to begin rebuilding the temple and the city of Jerusalem. The Jewish people could also now begin to rebuild their social and religious lives as the people of God fulfilling the plan of God.
The book of Chronicles was written during this Persian period and has parts of Ezra-Nehemiah embedded in the text. Chronicles is a retelling of the story of Samuel and Kings, though it does trace the genealogy back to Adam. Chronicles has its own unique perspective and purpose. Since the historical context of the writing of the book is in the Persian period, the Babylon Captivity is a distant but still painful memory. Some of the people have come back to the land under Persian rule, but the sense of purpose and destiny in the plan of God is muted by their circumstances. There is no Davidic king on the throne. They are under foreign lordship and seem so insignificant in the scope of world history. All the promises of the prophets of kingdom restoration and dominance as well as Messianic rulership of the nations undoubtedly looked impossible in the eyes of most of the people. Many were discouraged and needed a word from the lord.
The writer of Chronicles frames his story of the people of God, Israel, to offer hope for those in his community who have little hope. There is a future. God is in control. God’s people must live by faith. The book of Chronicles can be divided into three large sections: first, the genealogy of the tribes of Israel (1 Chronicles 1-9), second, the kingdom of David and Solomon (1 Chronicles 10-2 Chronicles 9), and third, the kingdom of Judah to the exile (2 Chronicles 10-36). Let’s focus on each of these three sections and see what God has to say to us.
Genealogy of the Tribes of Israel: (1 Chronicles 1-9)
Chronicles begins with lists of names that most people don’t know and can’t pronounce. It would be easy to skip over this section and it is not necessary to read each of the names, but this first section is very important. It is important to notice the pattern. These genealogies begin with Adam, tracing the Hebrew people back to the beginning of humankind. It grounds the beleaguered people of God in the historical flow of God’s plan. It gives them a sense of purpose and belonging. These records serve the purpose of connecting the present generation, to whom the writer of Chronicles is addressing, with the great people and work of God in the past. They may not feel like much, but they are the people of God, inheritors of the covenants of God. And the Lord is still at work to bring about the fulfillment of all his promises.
The genealogy traces the people from Adam through Noah and his sons to Abraham, Isaac and Israel (Jacob). Then, the sons of Jacob and the twelve tribes and descendants are given with a focus on Judah. From Judah we move to David and his sons to the kings of Judah who are all in the line of David. The genealogy of the Tribes of Israel concludes with the people who return to Jerusalem from the exile, thus the connection is made to the writer’s audience. The final genealogy is that of Saul, the first king of Israel. This makes way for David in the next section, the central focus of the book.
- Genealogy from Adam through Abraham to Esau (1:1-54)
- Genealogy of the Sons of Israel through Judah to David (2:1-4:23)
- Genealogy of Simeon, Reuben, Gad & Half-Manasseh (4:24-5:26)
- Genealogy of the Priestly Tribe of Levi (6:1-81)
- Genealogy of Issachar, Benjamin, Naphtali, Half-Manasseh, Ephraim & Asher (7:1-40)
- Genealogy of the Tribe of Benjamin to King Saul (8:1-40)
- Genealogy of the Exiles who Returned (9:1-34)
- Genealogy of Saul (9:35-44) Sets up for the Focus on David
Kingdom of David and Solomon: (1 Chronicles 10 – 2 Chronicles 9)
Chronicles gives a summary story of the reign of David, emphasizing the positive events in his life and leaving out the negative. The writer is not trying to distort the picture but zero in on the Davidic covenant as the development of the covenants of God to Israel. The Davidic covenant takes its place with the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants as the Lord’s call to Israel to be his unique people fulfilling his purposes.
Much of what one finds in this section is also found in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings, but new stories are added to highlight the work of God in the life of his people. In Chronicles alone we find David’s extensive preparations for the Temple and his organization of the priests and Levites. David also gives detailed instructions to Solomon on the construction of the Temple and on his wholehearted devotion to the Lord.
After David’s death, his son Solomon becomes king and carries on the work of God in the Davidic covenant. He spares no expense or labor in constructing the Temple as David had charged him. As with David, the positive events of Solomon’s reign are given. The writer’s purpose is to show all that God has been doing for his people from the beginning. They can expect the Lord to act on their behalf. Their lives have meaning in the plan of God even if it seems otherwise.
Kingdom of Judah to the Exile: (2 Chronicles 10-36)
The final section catalogues the kings of Judah that follow Solomon. The northern kingdom of Israel and its kings are never mentioned. The good kings of Judah are highlighted while the bad kings are revealed to have forsaken the Lord. The good kings were blessed and the bad kings were judged as the Torah (Law of Moses) had promised. There are nineteen kings and one queen. They can be structured in four groups. The first group is comprised of the first four kings of Rehoboam to Jehoshaphat who is given extended treatment. In the second group we find seven kings and one evil queen. The third group begins with the extended treatment of good king Hezekiah and evil king Manasseh ending with the evil king Amon. The final group again begins with an extended treatment of the good king Josiah followed by the final four evil kings who are Josiah’s sons and grandson. This section ends with the fall of Jerusalem, the Babylonian exile and the decree of Cyrus the Persian allowing the exiles to return to Judah.
The writer of Chronicles does not overlook the Judgment of the Lord on Judah and Jerusalem. He lays the blame on those who turned from the Lord and did not heed the warnings of the prophets. The Lord sends the Babylonians to defeat the Israelites and carry them into exile. But the Persians later defeated the Babylonians and Cyrus gave a proclamation that the people of Judah were free to return to the land. The edict in the final verses of Chronicles is taken from the first chapter of Ezra. But the writer of Chronicles does not give the full quote. The book ends incomplete. The last book of the Old Testament is incomplete. All the promises are not fulfilled. Their fulfillment waits on the New Testament and the Messiah, Jesus.
Major Themes in Chronicles:
Davidic Covenant: The central theme of Chronicles is the covenant that the Lord made with David. God promised David that he would build David a house, an eternal kingdom. A descendant of David will sit on his throne forever. But what about the covenant now that the people are back in the land but no Davidic king sits on the throne? The Lord had not forgotten his covenant or revoked it because the people had turned from him. Chronicles’ purpose is to demonstrate that the covenant is still in force and will be fulfilled in due time. The Davidic covenant is the extension of all that the Lord has been doing through his people from the beginning. There is no need to get discouraged or loose hope. The Lord will carry out his plan in his time. The Davidic covenant will be fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He is the son of David who restores the kingdom and sits on the throne of David forever. Where they are now will lead, by the Lord’s sovereign will, to that glorious moment. They can take hope that they are a link in the chain of the work of God through the ages.
Kingdom and Temple: The focus on the covenant is seen in the focus in Chronicles on the Davidic monarchy and the Davidic temple. These two go hand in hand towards the out working of the covenant to David. The promise to David was that his throne would be established to his son forever. That son was Solomon and the line of his descendants that sat on the throne. At the time of the writing of Chronicles there was no son of David on the throne. What had happened to the covenant to David? It would find its ultimate fulfillment in the Messiah, the greater son of David. The temple was the other feature of the Davidic covenant emphasized in Chronicles. The temple in Jerusalem, the city of David, was the place chosen by the Lord for worship and atonement. The temple connected the Davidic covenant to the Mosaic covenant. At the time of the writing of Chronicles the temple had been rebuilt and sacrifices were being offered. The work of the Lord continued. He had not forsaken his people.
Scripture: In the book of Chronicles the written Word of God takes on a special significance. The three parts of Old Testament scripture, the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms were taking shape in the time of Chronicles. The writer of Chronicles appeals to scripture as authoritative. He considers it to be the Word of God as much as a prophetic oracle. There is a wonderful story in 2 Chronicles 17 during the reign of Jehoshaphat of the priests and Levites sent to the towns of Judah with the Book of the Law to teach the people.
Seek or Forsake the Lord: Seeking or forsaking the Lord is an important distinction in the spiritual life of God’s people in the book of Chronicles. Those who seek the Lord are part of his work and are blessed. Those who forsake the Lord abandon the work of the Lord and suffer his judgment. This theme necessitates the need to turn to the Lord in repentance. Devotion to him and his word are paramount.
Conclusion: The book of Chronicles plays an important role in the storyline of the Bible. It summarizes God’s redemptive work throughout old covenant history pointing the way towards its fulfillment in Jesus and the new covenant. The people of God in every generation have a part to play. Reading the book provides the believer with important principles for faithful living in the plan of God.