What makes 1 Chronicles special?
The long family lists that begin 1 Chronicles make this book special. For the writer of 1 Chronicles and his audience, who had recently returned from exile in Babylon, these long family lists were very good news. The people were worried about their relationship with God, and they wondered if the promises God made to their ancestors still applied to them. The writer uses these lists to connect his own generation to ancestors going all the way back to Adam (1 Chr 1.1). For those who were worried that God had lost interest in them, the lists showed that Israel was still special to, and loved by, God.
Why was 1 Chronicles written?
1 Chronicles retells the story of King David, already familiar from 2 Samuel, from a more uplifting point of view. This is done by linking David to the sacred chest, worship in Jerusalem, and above all, to the careful preparations for the building of the temple. Some stories from 2 Samuel that might present David in an unfavorable light are left out. His adultery with Bathsheba, David’s arranging of the death of her husband Uriah, and Nathan’s criticism of David (2 Sam 11,12) are all left out.
The purpose of presenting David’s story in this way is to show his strengths rather than his human weaknesses, and to present his faith and devotion to God as a model for Israel’s leaders. After God chose David and his family to lead Israel and build the temple, David is shown making the land safe, getting the temple site, organizing for worship there, and planning for the temple’s construction. Later, David’s son, Solomon, continues what his father began by actually building the temple (see 2 Chronicles).
What’s the story behind the scene?
For many years there were reasons to think that 1 and 2 Chronicles formed a single work with the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, with Ezra as the possible author. For example, the same decree of Cyrus appears at the ending of 2 Chronicles and at the beginning of Ezra (2 Chr 36.23; Ezra 1.1-4). Also, 1 Esdras, an early Greek language version of the story, quotes from 2 Chronicles 35 and much of Ezra, indicating that these two books were once joined. In addition, 1 and 2 Chronicles are written in a style similar to that of Ezra and Nehemiah, and they share many examples of similar vocabulary. Finally, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah all share a strong interest in worship and lists.
Today, many scholars think that 1 and 2 Chronicles should be separated from Ezra and Nehemiah. While the overlap between the end of 2 Chronicles and the beginning of Ezra may show an original joining of these works, it could also represent an attempt to join two previously separate works. Similarly, it is not clear that 1 Esdras represents an early stage in the relationship between 1 and 2 Chronicles and Ezra. It may instead indicate a stage after these books were connected for other reasons. Also, that these books are written in similar Hebrew is true. But that does not prove that the same person wrote them. Of greater importance, however, is the fact that these books are very different in significant ways. Differences include their handling of the identity of “Israel,” the Sabbath, mixed marriages, God’s promise that David’s ancestors would always rule, the role of prophecy, the function of the Levites, and the importance of the exodus.
How is 1 Chronicles constructed?
1 Chronicles falls into two major sections. The first section, 1 Chronicles 1–9, makes use of long family lists to trace the history of God’s people from Adam to the end of the Babylonian exile. The second section, 1 Chronicles 10–29, is devoted to retelling the story of David in terms of his contributions to the worship life of Israel.
From Adam to the exile (1.1—9.34)
- From Adam to Jacob (1.1-54)
- Judah, David, and his family (2.1—4.23)
- The rest of the tribes of Israel (4.24—8.40)
- Lists of the families returning to Jerusalem (9.1-34)
David, founder of the temple (9.35—29.30)
- Introduction: The death of Saul (9.35—10.14)
- David rules in Jerusalem (11.1—17.27)
- David’s wars (18.1—20.8)
- David plans the temple (21.1—29.30)
From Adam to the Exile
1 Chronicles opens with nine chapters of family lists (genealogies) that trace Israel’s ancestors back to Adam. This shows that from the beginning of humanity, Israel was chosen to be unique among the nations of the world. The lists emphasize the importance of David and the significance of the tribe of Levi and the role it plays in worship. The lists connect historical Israel (chapters 1–8) with the community at the time of the writer of 1 Chronicles (chapter 9).
From Adam to Jacob
This first family list charts the history of Israel from Adam, the father of humanity, to Abraham, the father of the faithful. The lists of Abraham’s sons are arranged according to who their mothers were: Hagar (1.29-31); Keturah (1.32,33); and Sarah (1.34). Abraham and Sarah’s son Isaac is the father of Esau and Jacob. Esau’s family list includes the Edomite people (1.35-54), while Jacob’s sons are the ancestors of the tribes of Israel (2.1-2).
Judah, David, and His Family
All of Jacob’s sons are listed (2.1-2), but Judah’s family list comes first and is longer than that of the other tribes, because both King David and most of the audience of 1 Chronicles were descendants of Judah.
The Rest of the Tribes of Israel
Because the other tribes are less important to the writer of 1 Chronicles than Judah, their lists are shorter. Levi (chapter 6), however, receives special attention because the high priests came from Aaron’s sons (6.49).
Lists of the Families Returning to Jerusalem
The writer of 1 Chronicles uses these lists, modified from Nehemiah 11.3-24, to help his people see themselves as part of the people of God described in chapters 1–8.
David, Founder of the Temple
David is not pictured as a brave shepherd boy, a military hero, or an expert in administration in 1 Chronicles. Rather, David is a faithful follower of the Lord who creates and finances an elaborate system of temple worship and assigns gifted musicians to lead its worship services. The primary goal of David’s kingship is to prepare for the construction and furnishing of the temple, and to create a structure for proper worship.
Introduction: the Death of Saul
This repetition of Saul’s genealogy from 1 Chr 8.29-40 and the story of his death is the background for the story of David that will occupy the rest of the book.
David Rules in Jerusalem
David’s rule is marked by the importance of worship, the movement of the sacred chest to Jerusalem (chapters 13–16), and God’s choice of Solomon as temple builder (chapter 17).
David is unbeatable in war when he trusts God’s rule. His victories also provide the wealth used for building of the temple.
David Plans the Temple
Chapters 21–22 and 28–29 relate David’s final preparations for the construction of the temple. Chapters 23–27 describe his organization of the people who will run the temple.
Questions about 1 Chronicles 1.1—9.34
- The writer of 1 Chronicles was writing this history for those Israelites who had returned from exile in Babylonia. Why would the long family lists be important to them?
- Why had the Israelites been in exile in Babylonia? (9.1,2) Why do you think the writer reminds the readers of this?
- Why do you think the writer gave additional attention to the tribes of Judah and Levi? In the end, what do you think will be of greater importance to the Israelites, the continuation of the kingly line of David or the continuation of proper worship?
- What do you know about your family’s history? How can our knowledge or understanding of the past affect how we live in the present and future?
Questions about 1 Chronicles 9.35—29.30
- David was promised that when he became king, everyone in Israel would support him (11.10). When David is at Hebron, what evidence is given that David will receive unified support from Israel’s tribes? (12.1-40)
- Why was it so important for David to bring the sacred chest to Jerusalem? (13.1—16.43)
- What is your reaction to God’s severe punishment of Uzzah? (13.9-11) Why was God so angry? What is the positive lesson this story seeks to teach?
- Read 5.20-22 and 14.8-17. What does the Holy War concept have to do with David’s kingship? Where have you heard of the concept of “Holy War” in today’s society? In your opinion, are any wars being fought today true “holy wars”? Why or why not?
- What was God’s promise to David? (17.3-15) How is this promise significant to David? To the people of Israel? To Christians?
- List at least five things David contributed toward the building and functioning of the temple (22.1—29.30).
- “Solomon” is related to the Hebrew word for “peace.” How does this help us to understand why God chose Solomon rather than David to build the temple? (22.6-9)
- After reading 1 Chronicles, what questions, if any, do you have?
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