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Restoration in the Book of Chronicles

Posted by Dr. Mark Shipp on September 28, 2017 at 9:30 AM

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It is ironic that those of us in the American Restoration Movement, who have emphasized the restoration of biblical doctrine and practices, the unity of the Spirit, and the life of faith have missed the most obvious model for restoration in the Bible. The Chronicler’s vision of restoration includes Israel as a faithful, worshipping community, a community which seeks to recover scripture, and the unity of God’s people. Nothing could be more pertinent to the ideals of Restorationism.

One of the Chronicler’s main concerns is indeed with the restoration of all Israel—politically, socially, and religiously—in the post-exilic age. The way the Chronicler promotes his concerns is by the re-telling of the biblical story from the death of Saul to the exile of Judah. The story of the kings of Judah is presented much like a medieval painting of the Passion Narrative: the characters are biblical, but their dress and ambience are medieval and out of sync with the era in which they lived. This “contemporizing historiography” served the valuable function of telling the ancient stories through the lens of modern concerns. In light of its concern for return, renewal and restoration, Chronicles should resonate strongly with those of us in the American Restoration tradition.

Return, Renewal, and Restoration

“Restore” or “restoration” are unusual words in Chronicles, although the concepts are prevalent. The verb haddesh (“renew,“ “restore”) occurs three times in the book, all within the context of a reform movement: first, in 2 Chronicles 15:8, relative to Asa’s repair of the altar of the Lord, and second, two occurrences which describe Josiah’s restoration project on the temple (2 Chronicles 24:4 and 12). Another verb, shuv, literally means “to return,” but often in Chronicles has the connotation of “repent” or “restore.”

First, in 2 Chron 6:24-26, 37-38, and 7:14, the temple dedication prayer, Solomon prays God might hear and forgive when the people of Israel repent of sin. In 2 Chron 11:4, Rehoboam attempted to restore the kingdom of Israel to Judah, to no avail. Note especially 2 Chron 15:4: “But when in their distress they turned to the LORD, the God of Israel, and sought him, he was found by them.” Also note 2 Chron 24:19, where shuv is used in a causative sense: “Yet he sent prophets among them to bring them back to the LORD; these testified against them, but they would not give heed.” See also 2 Chron 30:6, 9, 32:25, and 36:13.

One of the most common words for “restore” in Chronicles is hazzeq, meaning “to strengthen,” “make strong (again),” “repair.” It is always used of building/restoration projects, fortifications, or political entities (1 Chron 26:27, 29:12, 2 Chron 11:11-12, 17, 24:5, 12, 26:9, 29:3, 34, 32:5, 34:8, 10, 35:2).

Other words, translated “restore” or “repair,” are less common in Chronicles, but help us get a picture of the Chronicler’s concerns. One such word is kûn, “to establish,” in the context of re-establishing or restoring worship (2 Chron 29:35 and 33:16).

While this is not an exhaustive survey, it is adequate to demonstrate the Chronicler’s concern for “return, renewal, and restoration.” The focus of this concern is “all Israel” as a community of worship, as a community under Torah, and as a unified community.

Israel as a Community of Worship

Some scholars of the past have subsumed all of the Chronicler’s theological concerns into this one area: concern for temple and worship.[1] While this is an overstatement, there is no question that concerns for worship, temple, and the organization of the priests and Levites loom very large in Chronicles. This can be seen in the very beginning of the book in the genealogies (1 Chronicles 1–9) and also in the very first narrative (1 Chronicles 10).

If amount of dedicated space in genealogies is indicative of importance, then Judah and Levi have pride of place in the genealogies. Other tribes have some genealogical entries, such as the Trans-Jordanian tribes (2 1/2 tribes east of the Jordan), which figure in chapter 5. Naphtali receives one verse (1 Chron 8:13). Judah and Levi, on the other hand, have two or three chapters each, underscoring the Chronicler’s focus upon the twin pillars of his theology: king and temple.[2]

The Chronicler is vitally interested in worship in Israel and in grounding that worship in God’s covenant with David. His agenda in including the extensive genealogies at the beginning of his work is to connect post-exilic Judah—the Persian province of Yehud—with the nation of Israel and its covenants, especially the Davidic covenant, prior to the exile.

To the Chronicler, the community, worship, and organization of Judah in the fifth century BC is continuous with pre-exilic Israel. It is important to him that the organization of Judah’s priesthood and worship in post-exilic Judah—musicians, gatekeepers, and the complex system of Levitical orders—be grounded in and be legitimated by Israel’s earliest temple traditions, involving Solomon and even more, David.

1 Chronicles 10, which begins the narrative part of the book, sets up the reason for the rejection and demise of Saul and God’s choice of David. In a synoptic passage with 2 Samuel 31, Saul is killed on the field of battle against the Philistines. Of special interest is the last two verses (10:13-14), non-synoptic with 1 Samuel 31. The reason given for the rejection of Saul is because he was unfaithful and sought out a medium, but did not “seek the Lord,” which sometimes means in Chronicles to seek the presence of the Lord in the temple and at the ark of the covenant.

After the death of Saul, David is immediately anointed king over “all Israel” at Hebron. The balance of 1 Chronicles 11-12 are dedicated to a catalogue of David’s supporters: first his inner circle of “mighty men,” then warriors of every one of the tribes, north and south, come to David first at Ziklag, and then at Hebron to support him.

The “all Israel” emphasis of the Chronicler cannot be missed—segments of all the tribes unanimously support David’s bid for the kingdom. Once David is anointed, his first order of business is to conquer the Jebusite city of Jerusalem and make it his own. This is a necessary precursor to bringing the ark of the covenant up from its lengthy stay at Kiriath-Jearim, where Saul had “neglected it,” because the ark was to be housed in a “tent” in Jerusalem (see 1 Chron 15:1). Chapters 13 and 15-16 deal with the subject of bringing the ark into Jerusalem and organizing Levitical worship.

One can immediately see that the concerns of the Chronicler are not at all the same as that of the compiler of Samuel and Kings: David’s kingship is established and blessed because he “sought the Lord,” particularly in matters of the cult, whereas Saul was rejected because he did not.[1]

 Most of the balance of 1 Chronicles treats the subject of David’s planning the construction of the temple, which his son Solomon was to carry out. Even the one sin the Chronicler allows David—numbering the people—was necessary because this account is the origin story of the temple site and the site of the altar of sacrifice:

 

Then the angel of the Lord commanded Gad to say to David that David should go up and rear an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. . . Then David said, “Here shall be the house of the Lord and here the altar of burnt offering for Israel (1 Chron 21:18, 22:1).

 

The first part of 2 Chronicles follows in the same manner. The first act of Solomon as king is to worship at the “high place that was at Gibeon; for the tent of meeting of God, which Moses the servant of the Lord had made in the wilderness, was there” (2 Chron 1:3).[2]

2 Chronicles 2–7 and portions of chapters 1 and 8 describe the building of the temple, its dedication, and worship at the appropriate shrine. God blessed Solomon because he “sought the Lord” like David (2 Chron 1:5). How he mainly did that was through worship and sacrifice at the Lord’s altar and the ark of the covenant.

The kings which follow Solomon in Judah are evaluated on the basis of their commitment to the restoration or advancement of the cult, the temple, and the proper consecration and ordination of the various priests and Levites.

Abijah of Judah condemns Jeroboam of Israel because he did not install proper priests and Levites, descended from Aaron (2 Chron 13:8-12). Asa “sought the Lord,” like David and Solomon, and so removed idols from the land and repaired the altar of sacrifice (2 Chron 15). In one of the more interesting passages in Chronicles, Asa’s son Jehoshaphat sought the Lord through fasting and prayer during a war with the Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites. Jehoshaphat and all the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem bowed to the ground and worshipped. Then the Levites began to sing the psalmic refrain (kî tôb kî l`olam hasdô, “for he is good, for his loyalty is everlasting”). The Lord ambushed the warring parties and they were routed.

Two of the great kings in Judah’s history—Josiah and Hezekiah—were idealized primarily because they renovated the temple and restored worship. Both re-instituted the Passover, one hundred years apart. About both kings the text says  there was never one like it, before or after!

Stay tuned for the second part of Dr. Shipp's article coming out next week. It will explore Israel as a unified community and restoration today. 

Check out my article about the importance of Chronicles

 

[1]. See Steven McKenzie, 1–2 Chronicles (Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries; Nashville: Abingdon, 2004), 120.

[2]. In 1 Chronicles 1 and 2, Solomon’s first act is to worship the Lord in Gibeon. In 1 Kings 1 and 2, Solomon’s first acts are to consolidate his power and to remove or marginalize his opponents. Thus, the Chronicler emphasizes Solomon’s piety and faithfulness to God.

[1]. See, for example, Edward Curtis and Albert Madsen, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Books of Chronicles (International Critical Commentary; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1910), 7-17.

[2].  Judah in chapter 2 and 1/2 of 4, also the genealogy of David in chapter 3; Levi in chapter 6 and most of 9).

 

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Topics: Old Testament, Restoration Movement

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