Exclusively published to the Touchstone website each week, these Daily Reflections are brief commentaries on the lectionary readings contained in the St. James Daily Devotional Guide. The reflections are penned by Patrick Henry Reardon, editor of the Daily Devotional Guide and a senior editor of Touchstone. Father Reardon provides here a very brief directional clue for one of the texts each day. Long-time readers of the Daily Devotional Guide will find these reflections an additional help to their reading of Holy Scripture which they can print and keep with their Guide.
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Sunday, September 25
1 Chronicles 6: Next into consideration come the sons of Levi, the priestly tribe. The list is not complete, and we observe a certain stylization as the genealogy begins. Leaving out such names as Jehoiada (who will be prominent in 2 Chronicles 23-24) and Uriah (who will appear in Ezra 8:33), this list contains twelve priestly generations from Aaron to the Solomonic temple (verses 1-10) and another twelve generations from that temple to the post-exilic temple (verses 11-15; Ezra 3:2). There is a continuation of the post-exilic list in Nehemiah 12:10.
As the previous chapter spoke of the Assyrian Tilath-pileser as God's historical instrument against the Northern Kingdom (5:26), so the present chapter once again sees the hand of God at work in Judah's own exile to Babylon (verse 15). This perspective reveals the author's theology of history.
In the section on the Levites (verses 16-30) the most notable feature is the author's inclusion of Elkanah and his son Samuel in the Levitical line (verses 23-26). This section throws light on the beginning of First Samuel, which describes Elkanah's family as Ephraemite. From the present text it is clear that Elkanah's was a Levitical family living in the territory of Ephraem. Since the Levites were deliberately spread around among the various tribes, this is not surprising.
The listing of the Levitical singers (verses 31-48) is unusually detailed, suggesting that the author had access to more ample source material for this section. David, whom we otherwise know to have taken a particular interest in music (1 Samuel 16:18-23; 2 Samuel 1:17-27), is credited with the inspiration and organization of Israel's program of liturgical music (verse 31). The Chronicler comes back to this thesis repeatedly (15:16,27; 25:1; 2 Chronicles 29:26; Nehemiah 12:46), and we might suspect as much from the Book of Psalms.
Although Korah was punished for rebellion against Aaron (Numbers 16:16), his descendents (verse 37) served as Levitical musicians and are credited with compiling some of the Book of Psalms (42-49, 84-88). The Asaph in verse 39 is also well known in the Psalms (73-83).
The Zadokites, the descendents of Zadok (verse 53), became the chief priestly family at the time of David, who is the true hero of the Books of Chronicles. Although it is clear in Second Samuel that Zadok was the chief priest at the time of David, only Chronicles (verses 49-53) provides us with his earlier lineage.
In the New Testament the Zadokites are called “Sadducees,” who were leaders among those who rejected David's final Heir, a tragedy that clearly would have distressed the Chronicler.
The Levites were not given a special tribal portion of the Holy Land like the other tribes but were dispersed throughout all the other tribes, so that the latter would benefit from their priestly ministry (verses 54-81). The Levites were allotted specific cities among the tribes, the first being the ancient shrine of Hebron (verse 55), which was also appointed as a city of refuge (verse 57). Indeed, we observe that all the major cities of the Holy Land, except Jerusalem, were designated as priestly cities - Debir, Bethshemesh, Anathoth, Shechem, Gezer, Aijalon, Golan, Ramoth (both of them), Kadesh, Tabor, and so forth.
The sons of Aaron received property near Jerusalem, so as always to be available for service in the capital (verses 54-55). To accommodate this arrangement, special provisions were made with the family of Caleb, which also inherited property in that region (verse 56).
Monday, September 26
1 Chronicles 7: Although our author has no interest in the Northern Kingdom, he does preserve for us a considerable record for the early history of the northern tribes. Indeed, even though the material available to him must have been sparse, he seems to have used it all, because there are details in the present chapter not to be found elsewhere in Holy Scripture.
The Chronicler used what records he had. For some of these tribes (Naphtali, for instance) the author had hardly more at his disposal than the lists in Genesis 46 and Numbers 26. Many census records of the Northern Kingdom had perished at Israel's fall to the Assyrians in 722.
The specific details of the tribe of Isaachar (verses 1-7) come from Genesis 46:13 and Numbers 26:23-25. The numbers given here, however, are quite a bit higher than those indicated in the census of Numbers 1 and 26.
Something should be said about the numbers themselves, because at first reading they seem far too high for the fairly small area of the Holy Land. To gain a more realistic assessment of the situation, it is useful to bear in mind that the Hebrew word for “thousand,” 'eleph, is actually a subdivision of a tribe, the numerical count of which varied a great deal but seldom came to a full thousand. In the biblical context 'eleph indicates a military unit, comparable to our “battalion,” “regiment” or “brigade.” The numerical force of any of these units may vary a great deal, and this is also true of the Hebrew 'eleph. If this military context of the expression is borne in mind the very high numbers in this chapter are rendered much more plausible than at first seems to be the case.
Although the Hebrew text of verses 7-11 indicates the tribe of Benjamin, this reading most certainly comes from a copyist's error (bene zebulun, or “sons of Zebulun,” was mistaken for benjamin) and later was appropriately corrected in one of the Greek manuscripts to read “Zebulun” instead of Benjamin. This is the usual sequence, after all, in which Holy Scripture refers to Zebulun, nor would there be any mention of Zebulun in the entire list in I Chronicles unless it were here. Moreover, the names given here do not correspond to the Benjaminite names in Chapter 8, nor Genesis 46:21, nor Numbers 26:38.
As we know from Genesis 49:13, Zebulun was situated on the seashore, just under Phoenicia, and perhaps this fact is reflected in the name “Tarshish” in verse 10, the same name as that ancient port (Cadiz) beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, from which ships came to the Middle East from the other end of the Mediterranean. In short, we read this section as referring to Zebulun, not Benjamin.
Similarly, verse 12 appears to refer to the tribe of Dan, inasmuch as Hushim is identified in Genesis 46:23 as a son of Dan. Dan's name seems to have dropped out of the text by a scribal error. (In Hebrew the name has only two letters, somewhat similar in shape.)
The Naphtali list in verse 13 is identical with Genesis 46:24. It appears that the Chronicler had access to no records about Naphtali except this Genesis text and Numbers 26:48.
The Manasseh list (verses 14-19) includes both parts of that tribe and indicates its relationship to Syria. In this section on Manasseh it is clear that the Hebrew women became wives for the Syrian overlords, indicating that the half-tribe of Manasseh that lived east of the Jordan had become simply a political extension of Syria. As such, it suffered the fate of Syria when Tiglath-pileser's army showed up in 734.
In the large tribe of Ephraim (verses 20-29), the most notable person is Joshua (verse 27). The slaying of the sons of Ephraem by Philistine raiders (verses 20-21) suggests that the Chronicler had access to a very, very early source. This section is also the only place in the Bible where a woman is said to have founded a city (verse 24).
Although the tribe of Asher (verses 30-40) is unusually ample with personal names, a third of them being found only here, there are no place names. Asher sat geographically furthest from Jerusalem.
After this rather sketchy outline of the northern tribes, the author is now ready to treat of the tribe of Benjamin, situated on the border between the north and the south in the Holy Land. Since Benjamin is the tribe of Saul, Israel's first king, the author will use this treatment to move from pure listing to a narrative of the kingdom, which David will assume in due course. The next chapter will begin, therefore, with the list of the Benjaminites.
Tuesday, September 27
1 Chronicles 8: Just as the opening genealogies of 1 Chronicles emphasized David, so these geneologies concentrate on Saul at the end. Thus, this final listing is Saul's own tribe, Benjamin.
The initial list given in the present text (verses 1-28) is drawn partly from Genesis 46:21 and Numbers 26:38-40, but there are discrepancies. Indeed, no other part of Chronicles is so full of textual difficulties as this section. Someone has suggested--and the suggestion is plausible--that the ancient scribes, having copied out seven whole chapters containing almost nothing but names, were suffering from unusual fatigue and ennui. Hence, we have an unusual numbers of transcriptional errors. Perhaps so, but there is really nothing to be done about it. The various hypothetical emendations suggested by textual scholars seem rather shaky.
We recognize Ehud (verse 6) as the left-handed Judge from this right-handed (ben-jamini) tribe (Judges 3:12-30).
Jerusalem, now introduced in verses 28 and 32, will be treated at length in the following chapter.
Although the author's intent in verses 29-40 was to present Saul's ancestry and lineage, the method is not direct and straightforward. After presenting Jeiel (cf. 9:5) and his progeny, he moves to Saul's immediate family, which does not seem to be connected to Jeiel. Even the relationships portrayed here among Abner, Kish, Ner, and Saul are difficult to reconcile with 1 Samuel 14:50-51. We must bear in mind-for certainly the author of 1 Chronicles bore in mind-that this was the family that was ultimately rejected and replaced by David's.
For all that, the Chronicler himself seems to have been faithful to very old sources here, sources independent of 2 Samuel. We may illustrate this by his retention of the name of the pagan god “Baal” in two of the names given here, Ethbaal and Meribaal (verses 33-34). This is curious and historically significant. In 2 Samuel (2:8; 9:2) these names were changed to Ishbosheth and Mephibosheth.
Why the change in 2 Samuel and not in 2 Chronicles? The answer, though easy, tells us something of canonical history. The Second Book of Samuel is contained in the second section of the Hebrew Bible, the Nebiwim, “Prophets.” These books were regularly read in the synagogue. Reluctant to use the name of a pagan god, Baal, in the synagogue, the reader customarily changed the name to boseth, meaning “shame.” This practice led to the same change being made in the text itself. There was no need to make such a change in the Books of Chronicles, however, which are found in the third section of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Ketubim, or “Writings.” This section was not placed in the biblical canon until later, and Chronicles was not read publicly in the synagogue. Hence, Chronicles has preserved the old form of these two names.
Wednesday, September 28
1 Chronicles 9: We have now completed the genealogies of “all Israel,” the name the Chronicler prefers in order to distinguish the whole Chosen People as distinct from the Northern Kingdom, known as “Israel” in the Books of Kings. For the Chronicler this word is full of deep religious feeling, as when it serves to describe the religious reforms of King Hezekiah three centuries later (2 Chronicles 30:1,5).
As we have seen, the author of Chronicles was careful to treat last the tribe of Benjamin and the house of Saul among the sons of Israel, because this sequence permitted him to move, almost seamlessly, from mere lists to real narrative. Likewise, this order is an easy step for him now to go to Jerusalem, which sat on the southern border of the tribe of Benjamin.
Jerusalem had not been part of the land inherited by the twelve tribes at the time of Joshua. It remained a Canaanite (or, more specifically, a Jebusite) stronghold until taken by David's forces in 992 B.C. and made the capital of the united kingdom (2 Samuel 5:6-7). This is why we find Jerusalem, unlike the other cities of the Promised Land, inhabited by Israelites from several of the tribes (verse 3).
Because the Ark of the Covenant was transferred to Jerusalem shortly after it became David's capital, the city was quickly transformed into a religious center, a whole generation before Solomon's construction of the temple there. Hence, it is scarcely surprising that the capital was home to a high number of priest, Levites, and other liturgical ministers (verses 10-22).
The Chronicler describes their several responsibilities (verse 23-34). In this inventory the Chronicler gives special prominence to the Temple's musicians (verses 14-16), who are listed immediately after the priests (verses 10-13). The Chronicler leaves no doubt about his great respect for the ministry of the Temple choir. Its leaders (6:39; 16:14) were Asaph (verse 15) and Jeduthan (verse 16).
The gatekeepers, especially delegated to preserve the holiness within the Temple, were to emulate that great champion of Israel's holiness, the priest Phineas (verse 20).
The sections on the singers and gatekeepers, we note, are arranged in chiastic order: A-singers (verses 14-16), B-gatekeepers (verses 17-27), B'-duties of gatekeepers (verses 28-32), and A'-duties of singers (verses 33-34).
In verse 35 the author returns to the genealogy of Saul, in order to prepare for the Battle of Gilboah (1000 B.C.) at the beginning of the next chapter. It is at the death of Saul at that battle that David assumes the throne.
Thursday, September 29
1 Chronicles 10: This succinct account of the Battle of Gilboa may be supplemented by the accounts in 1 Samuel 31 and Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews 6.14.7-9.
The chapter opens abruptly. After all the genealogies, lists, rosters, and schedules of the previous nine chapters, the reader is suddenly confronted with a story of combat, in which the whole battle is over in one verse: “Now the Philistines fought against Israel, and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines and fell slain on Mount Gilboa” (verse 1 ESV).
There is no need, however, to ascribe the first nine chapters to a different hand, as some have suggested. Indeed, there are two sound reasons to resist this hypothetical ascription. First, the ideas, themes, and preoccupations of those first nine chapters are identical to those in the rest of Chronicles. Second, if the opening of the present chapter seems abrupt, it would hardly appear less abrupt as the beginning of a book. Even the novelist will do his readers the kindness of remarking that “it was a dark and stormy night” before announcing that “suddenly a shot rang out.”
Following a pattern we have now come to expect, the Chronicler has nothing good to say for Saul. The latter's sole significance was that his downfall prepared the way for David. Consequently, the book's actual narrative commences with Saul's downfall at the Battle of Gilboa, bringing Saul's twenty years' of reign to an end. Although the wounded Saul died by his own hand, it was really the Lord who slew him (verse 14).
Saul is condemned for his “unfaithfulness”(verse 13). The Chronicler uses this same word (ma'al) to explain why the nation was deported to Babylon (9:1; 2 Chronicles 36:14), and he will employ it to describe the later reigns of Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:19; 29:19) and Manasseh (33:19). Thus, Saul's unfaithfulness is for the Chronicler part of the larger theme of the nation's unfaithfulness.
The assertion that all of Saul's family perished (verse 7) must be understood in a sense compatible with the subsequent seven years' reign of Ishbosheth in the north (2 Samuel 2-3) and the survival of Mephibosheth (9:7; 16:3). Perhaps the Chronicler intends to include here the deaths of those men years later. In fact, he has already listed other sons of Saul in 9:39-40.
Even though the Chronicler has nothing good to say for Saul, he does record the fact that some of Saul's contemporaries took a different view (verse 12).
Friday, September 30
1 Chronicles 11: The material in this chapter is drawn from two widely separated parts of 2 Samuel. Verses 1-9 reflect the material in 2 Samuel 5:1-10, while verses 10-47 come from 2 Samuel 23:8-39.
The Chronicler greatly abbreviates thee lengthy, difficult, and complicated story of David's gaining control over all thee tribes. We note that the material in the first four chapters of 2 Samuel is simply missing. There is no mention of the brief reign of Ishbosheth, the crisis of Abner, the subsequent negotiations, Joab's hand in Abner's death. Instead, the story skips immediately to the gathering of the tribes at Hebron (David's firs t capital) to make David the king. There is no suggestion that Israel was politically divided between north and south (a division that would reappear at Solomon's death in 922). Indeed, in place of “all the tribes of Israel” in 2 Samuel 5:1, we now have simply “all Israel” in verse 1. That is to say, the nation is completely united; even the tribal distinctions are lost. Thus, Jerusalem is captured by “David and all Israel” (verse 4).
Having thus described David's rise to power and the taking of Jerusalem in a bare nine verses of narrative, the Chronicler returns to what we have begun to suspect he does best-he provides more lists of names! This time, however, the lists are in large part derived from 2 Samuel 23:8-39.
First, there are David's “three mighty men” (verses 10-14). Since only two names are given, however, we might suspect that Joab, treated in the previous verses, was to be understood as included among them. It is more plausible, however, to suspect a copyist's omission, since the name given in 2 Samuel 23:11 is Shammah.
Second, there is a list of thirty other warriors of renown (verses 20-47). Whereas the corresponding list in 2 Samuel ends with Uriah the Hittite, Chronicler adds several names more (verses 41-47). Since these men appear to come predominantly from the east side of the Jordan, we may presume that the Chronicler received them from a Transjordanian source not available to the author of Samuel.
Such lists of combatants reflect the period when warfare was generally conducted hand-to-hand. In our own times, when weapons are employed from great distances, it is difficult to imagine this impression of ongoing single-handed combat. Indeed, Shelby Foote, the preeminent historian of the Civil War, remarked that that war produced relatively few casualties from the bayonet; most wounds were inflicted by gunfire. In very ancient accounts of combat, however, such as that between David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 and many places in Homer, the reader sometimes has the impression that any given battle was just a series of fights between individuals. These biblical lists of warriors reflect that setting. In fact, even Josephus, writing during the period of the New Testament, saw no reason to include these lists.
With David, says the Chronicler, as “the Lord of hosts,” a title that fits the military character of the whole chapter.
Especially curious is the place of Joab in this narrative. First, this text is the only place in Holy Scripture that explains how Joab came to be David's chief commander (verses 6-7). Second, only this text speaks of Joab's role in the repair and reconstruction of Jerusalem (verse 8). Third, Joab is never criticized in Chronicles, which even omits David's final curse on him (1 Kings 2:5).
Saturday, October 1
1 Chronicles 12: The military lists go on! As we reflected in the previous chapter, in the days when hand-to-hand combat was the normal way of warfare, it was normal that a certain individual notoriety attached to warriors of great skill with sword, javelin, and battle-ax. This is why we find lists of famous warriors in the ancient literature of warfare.
We may take the Iliad as a well known instance. In his descriptions of the various battles at the gates of Troy Homer emphasized the valor and prowess of individual warriors, such as Achilles, Hector, Ajax, and so on. One-on-one combat was the rule, and the stories of the combat delineate the efforts of individual brave men.
Holy Scripture comes from that same era and demonstrates that same preoccupation. The story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17, for example, complete with the speeches of each man prior to their engagement, will support comparison with the accounts of Patroclus and Hector, Diomede and Aeneas, and so on.
What we have at the end of 1 Chronicles 11 and here through Chapter 12 are similar lists of outstanding famous warriors who threw in their lot with David. They are drawn, as we can see, from among the cream of their own tribes, Benjamin (verses 1-7), Gad (verses 8-15), Manasseh (verses 19-22), and so on. This attention to the individual tribes represented in David's band helps to emphasize that David was the choice of “all Israel.”
Because they came to David from Saul's own tribe, the warriors of Benjamin are mentioned first (verses 1-7). In fact, when the other tribes eventually rebel against the House of David in 922 (an event that the Chronicler will not honor with so much as mention), the tribe of Benjamin remained loyal. In the present text, attention is given to the very specialized and ambidextrous skills of the Benjaminites.
The warriors of Gad (verses 8-15), who may have joined David during his sojourn at Engedi (1 Samuel 24:1), had the “faces of lions,” an expression that probably means they looked fierce to their opponents. It was not all show, however, because these warriors, in addition to their speed, were accomplished swimmers, able to cross the cold, swollen waters of the Jordan at flood stage.
All these men came to strengthen the army of David and secure his throne over all Israel (verse 38). This union of all the tribes remained for the Chronicler an ideal that King Hezekiah would later attempt to restore (2 Chronicles 30-31).
In the midst of this impressive list, and in order to make him the representative of the whole lot, “the Spirit of the Lord came upon Amisai, chief of the thirty” (verse 18). “We are yours, O David” expresses the enthusiasm of the whole kingdom.
Amisai speaks not only for Israel, but more especially for the Chronicler, for whom the Lord's covenant with David was the covenant of history. The Christian reader, pursuing the Sacred Text with the Christian Church, will see in this preoccupation a deeper Christological significance. If the covenant with David is the covenant, the reason is great David's greater Son, in whom God is bound to the human race in that irrevocable manner called the Hypostatic Union. This is the more profound meaning of the oath that God swore to David, promising that the line of David would never be deprived of David's throne. David's Son and Lord sits forever enthroned in glory, and the Chronicler's lists of warriors is simply the initial count of those who throughout history will rally with prophetic enthusiasm to David's throne.
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