By Michael Shepherd, Assistant Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, Louisiana College
The book of Chronicles (i.e., 1 and 2 Chronicles) has somewhat of an inglorious history.
Its ancient Greek translation in the Septuagint bears the title “The Things Omitted,” giving the impression that the book is little more than an appendix.
English Bibles place Chronicles directly after Samuel and Kings where it seems tedious, redundant, and superfluous to the average reader.
But the Babylonian Talmud (b. B. Bat. 14b) puts Chronicles in a very prominent position at the conclusion of the Hebrew Bible. Likewise Jesus seems to have Chronicles at the end in Matthew 23:35: “that all righteous blood poured out upon the land may come upon you from the blood of Abel the righteous [Genesis 4] to the blood of Zechariah the son of Berechiah [2 Chronicles 24:20–21] whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.”
According to Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees of his day were guilty of the blood of the righteous from Abel in Genesis to Zechariah in Chronicles – from the beginning of the Bible to its end.
Chronicles has four major sections: Genealogies (1 Chr 1–9), David (1 Chronicles 10–29), Solomon (2 Chronicles 1–9), and Judah (2 Chr 10–36).
The Chronicler provides a comprehensive account of biblical history from Adam (1 Chronicles 1:1) to the decree of Cyrus (2 Chronicles 36:22–23).
The genealogies enable the author to cover large amounts of biblical material in a relatively small space. He makes a beeline for the Davidic monarchy, which is the central focus of the book. From 1 Chronicles 10 to the end of the book the two major sources for the Chronicler are Samuel and Kings. But he does not simply reproduce his sources. He interprets them and makes his own theological contribution.
One major difference between Chronicles and Samuel-Kings is the latter part of 1 Chronicles where David makes preparations for Solomon’s temple.
This narrative does not appear in Samuel-Kings (but see 1 Kgs 1:13, 30; 7:51). The inclusion of David’s temple preparations in Chronicles reflects an interest in the Second Temple during the lifetime of the Chronicler.
This is not the only place where Chronicles fills a gap in Samuel-Kings. Another example is the mystery of the reign of Manasseh in 2 Kings 21:1–17.
Why did the worst Judean king of all reign for the longest period of time (55 years)? The answer comes only in 2 Chronicles 33:12–17: he repented.
But Chronicles is not only unique for what it adds. The book also omits narratives that play major roles in Samuel-Kings. For instance, there is no mention in Chronicles of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah (2 Samuel 11).
There is also no record of Solomon’s idolatry (1 Kings 11). Furthermore, the Chronicler has almost a complete lack of interest in the history of the northern kingdom (1 Kings 12–2 Kings 17).
This allows him to devote more time to Judean kings like Asa and Jehoshaphat whose narratives are significantly longer in Chronicles than in Kings.
The section on Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29–32) focuses on the king’s temple repairs, his celebration of the Passover, and his reforms (2 Chronicles 29–31) more than his struggles recorded in 2 Kings 18–20 and Isaiah 36–39.
The surface impression is that the Chronicler has rewritten the history of Samuel and Kings in order to present the reader with a whitewashed version of the Davidic monarchy. But this is only a surface impression. The Chronicler always cites his sources (e.g., 1 Chronicles 29:29), and his readers have always been aware of the shortcomings of kings like David and Solomon. So why does he exclude such embarrassing moments?
It is clear that the author does not intend merely to give an account of the past. Rather, he portrays the past in such a way that he gives his post-exilic readers a sense of hope for the future. He highlights the best and the brightest from the Davidic monarchy in expectation of the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant in the messianic kingdom. For the Chronicler, a highlight reel from the past is a means to anticipate the future.
The conclusion to Chronicles is an important clue that the author is looking forward to the messianic future, which the past prefigures. The final verse in 2 Chronicles 36:23 is a truncated version of the decree of Cyrus (cf., Ezra 1:1–4).
The point at which the text cuts the decree short is precisely the point where the reader can make an association with the messianic son of David who will build the temple (2 Samuel 7:12–13; 1 Chronicles 17:12–13; Zechariah 6:12–13). It is significant then that the final three books of the Hebrew Bible are Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles.
Daniel’s interpretation of Jeremiah’s prophecy of seventy years (Jeremiah 29:10) in Daniel 9:2 finds its fulfillment in the return to the land in Ezra-Nehemiah.
But Gabriel’s interpretation of Jeremiah’s prophecy of seventy years (the Hebrew text behind the ancient Greek translation of Jer 25:1–13) in Daniel 9:24–27 pushes the prophecy into the indefinite future (“seventy sevens”), including the appearance of the Messiah. The beginning of the countdown to the Messiah is the “word to restore and build Jerusalem” (Daniel 9:1, 25) to which 2 Chronicles 36:23 refers.
Recent research has shown that the book of Chronicles is much more than an unnecessary repetition of Samuel and Kings. It makes an indispensable contribution to the final shape of the Hebrew Bible.
The picture of Christ and his kingdom in Chronicles thus occupies an important place in Christian Scripture.