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, October 23
2 Chronicles 5: While the building of the Temple must be credited to Solomon, the Chronicler neglects no opportunity to mention that David had already prepared its inner furnishings, appointments, and sacred vessels (verse 1). These are now to be transported to the new Temple with an elaborate procession, which will include a large number of Levitical singers and musicians (12).
These ceremonies took place in Israel's seventh month (verse 3), corresponding to our central autumnal season. Since the Temple itself would not be completed until a month later (1 Kings 6:38), we surmise that Solomon wanted these various appointments, especially the Ark of the Covenant, to be in place as early as possible, even before the finishing touches were made on the Temple. Indeed, if similar examples from our own times may be invoked to illustrate the setting, it is possible that Solomon intended the events in this chapter to serve as an extra nudge on the Temple builders to hustle things up a bit.
Prior to the procession to the Temple, the traditional heads and representatives of the tribes assembled at the tabernacle that David had constructed in Jerusalem (verse 2), and for the last time sacrifices were offered in this place (verse 6).
Although the Levites removed the Ark from the Davidic tabernacle (verse 4), it was the task of the priests to carry it into the inner shrine of the Temple, called “the Holy of Holies” (verse 7), which only the priests were permitted to enter.
We should not read this chapter as simply the narrative of the Chronicler, because in some places he seems simply to be copying out an earlier narrative, to which his own account strives to be faithful. In these cases the Chronicler's story line reflects, not his own period, but that of his earlier source. We have a clear example of this when the Chronicler writes of the Ark's carrying handles that “they are there to this day” (verse 9). This latter statement certainly does not refer to the Chronicler's own time, long after Solomon's Temple had been destroyed (and replaced), but to the time of the pre-exilic source that the Chronicler is quoting.
Respecting the contents of the Ark, the Chronicler specifies that it held only the two tablets of the Decalogue (verse 10; Deuteronomy 10:2). This reference, too, reflects a particular period in Israel's history, difficult to identify. We do know that, at least at some time during that history, the Ark contained “the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron's rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant” (Hebrews 9:2; cf. Numbers 17:25).
The service and procession ended with the outpouring of the cloud of the divine glory, which sanctified the event (verses 13-14). Josephus (Antiquities 8.4.2) describes the experience:
“Now as soon as the priests had put all things in order about the ark, and were gone out, there cane down a thick cloud, and stood there, and spread itself, after a gentle manner, into the temple; such a cloud it was as was diffused and temperate, not such a rough one as we see full of rain in the winter season. This cloud so darkened the place, that one priest could not discern another, but it afforded to the minds of all a visible image and glorious appearance of God's having descended into this temple, and of his having gladly pitched his tabernacle therein.”
This spiritualized account of the matter is infinitely more satisfactory than the comment of former professor of mine, according to whom this “blinding cloud” came “doubtless from the censers”!
Monday, October 24
2 Chronicles 6: The darkness of the cloud of the divine presence is thematically linked to Solomon consecratory prayer that fills this chapter. The Temple, this “exalted house” in which God's “name” (verses 6,7,9,10,20) dwells forever (verse 2), is associated with that mysterious cloud by which He guided His people through the passage of the Red Sea and the Desert of Sinai (verse 1). The cloud on Mount Sinai becomes the cloud on Mount Zion (cf. Exodus 20:21; Hebrews 12:21).
For purposes of analysis, we may divide Solomon's prayer into four major parts.
The first part is a benediction, a blessing of the Lord God of Israel(baruch Adonai 'Elohei Isra'el--verse 4), in which the king also “blessed the whole assembly of Israel” (wayebarek 'eth kol qahal Isra'el--verse 3). That is to say, Israel is blessed in the act of blessing God.
This benediction concentrates on the promise that God made to David respecting His “house” (bayith--verses 7,9,10).
This House is associated with three covenants. First, there is the covenant with Abraham, already indicated by its construction on the very site of Abraham's sacrifice (3:1) and quietly suggested here by Solomon's reference to the command that that ancient patriarch received from the Lord (verse 14; Genesis 17:1). Next, there is the covenant of Mount Sinai mediated through Moses at the time of the Exodus (verse 5) and enshrined in the Ark of the Covenant (verse 11). Finally, the Temple is associated with the Lord's covenant with David (verse 10).
These latter two covenants are again tied together in the closing lines of the prayer (verses 41-42), which indicate the indissoluble bond between the Ark of the Covenant and the throne of David. The Chronicler well knew that both institutions suffered the same fate in the summer of 587, when the Babylonians razed the Temple and abolished the monarchy.
The second part of Solomon's prayer, in which he turns toward the altar, kneeling and spreading his arms in prayer (verses 12-13, lines proper to the Chronicler), again invokes the Davidic covenant and prays for its confirmation (verses 15-17). Specifically Solomon prays that the new Temple will be a sort of gathering place for all the prayers offered, from any part of the world, in its direction (verses 18-21; Daniel 6:10; 9:19).
In the third section of his prayer (verses 22-39), Solomon runs through a list of hypothetical situations of distress in which God's servants may at any time find themselves. (Compare Psalms 106 , with its repeated instances of such prayer, along with its double refrain, “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress” and “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of men!” (ESV)
Tuesday, October 25
2 Chronicles 7: The Lord's fiery response to Solomon's prayer (verse 1) caused those gathered at the Temple to fall prostrate in worship and praise (verse 3). One recalls that when the prayer of Elijah brought sacrificial fire from heaven, the response of the onlookers was identical (1 Kings 18:36-39).
The descent of the divine fire to consume the initial sacrifices in the Temple is not mentioned in Holy Scripture except in Chronicles, which also noted the same miracle when David earlier offered sacrifices on that very site, Ornan's threshing floor (1Chronicles 21:26). In Leviticus (9:24) the same miracle sealed the consecration of Aaron.
In pursuit of one of his usual themes, only the Chronicler mentions the musical ministry that accompanied these dedicatory sacrifices in the Temple (verse 6).
It seems that this autumnal celebration, which lasted a whole octave (verse 8), finished on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, which also lasted an octave (verse 9; Leviticus 23:36). The account in Chronicles thus clarifies an obscurity about the length of the celebration in 1 Kings 8:65-66).
Perhaps it would have been a distraction to the Chronicler to mention that Yom Kippur also fell during the octave of the Temple's dedication (cf. Numbers 29:7), or perhaps the feast was simply moved or omitted that year. Liturgical custom has known such things.
The Lord, as though in response to all this celebration, again appeared to Solomon by night, to confirm and qualify His earlier promises to David (verses 11-22; 1 Kings 9:1-9). In those verses that are proper to the Chronicler (verses 12b-15), the Temple is called “a house of sacrifice, an expression suggesting two things.
First, the prayers associated with the Temple, to the subject of which so much of the previous chapter was devoted, were not to be disassociated from the sacrificial ritual proper to the Temple. In fact, as we earlier reflected, the times of the evening and morning sacrifices in the Temple became the normal hours of daily prayer for those who worshipped elsewhere. It is a plain fact, asserted in both Testaments, that we sinful men do not draw nigh unto God apart from the shedding of blood, without which there is no remission.
Second, Jerusalem was the proper place for sacrifice. This truth was to become a principle of liturgical reform later on in the reigns of Hezekiah and Josiah, who endeavored to close down all other places of sacrifice.
Wednesday, October 26
2 Chronicle 8: Having devoted six chapters of this book to what he considered the truly significant aspect of Solomon's reign-that is, the Temple-the Chronicler spends the next two chapters on the more secular matters of the Solomonic era, such as foreign and domestic policy, trade, and economics.
As he divides his treatment between these two aspects of Solomon's reign, the Chronicler's preference for the spiritual concern over the material, we observe, falls into a ratio of about three to one, the spiritual also being treated first. It is instructive to compare this ratio with his treatment of David. In that earlier story, as we have seen, the king's relationship to the Temple was the final thing recorded of him (a sequence reasonably required the facts), but the Chronicler's proportion of spiritual concerns (1 Chronicles 15-16 and 22-29) to material (1 Chronicles 11-13 and 17-21) is still weighted significantly on the side of the former.
Inasmuch as the previous six chapters have been devoted the theme of construction, it seems appropriate that the Chronicler begins his description of the 'secular' side of Solomon by speaking of his other building projects in the Holy Land (verses 1-6), a subject that leads naturally to local geography and thence to an account of the pagans who still live in the area (verses 7-8). This subject is tied to Solomon's domestic policies (verses 9-10), which account reminds the author to mention Solomon's wife and the palace he built for her. Though this latter building is mentioned in 1 Kings, only Chronicler explains the project as an effort of keeping this Egyptian woman and her Egyptian retinue from defiling the buildings used by Israelites (verse 11).
After eleven verses of such profane and secular concerns, the Chronicler, as though weary of the subject, reverts once again, albeit briefly, to a further account of Solomon's liturgical interests (verses 11-16, verses particular to this author).
The chapter closes with the king's opening of a southern trade route that will join Huram's great mercantile enterprises to opportunities along the coasts of Arabia and Africa (verses 17-18). This great, which secular history regards as one of Solomon's most significant achievements, serves to introduce the Queen of Sheba in the next chapter.
Thursday, October 27
2 Chronicles 9: A quick glance at the map will explain the geopolitical importance of Sheba, that ancient realm which sat on the corner of Arabia formed by the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, guarding the Straits of Bab el Mandeb that joined those two large bodies of water. Thus, all traffic coming south from either the Gulf of Suez or the Gulf of Aquaba (on the north shore of which sat Solomon's ports of Elath and Ezion Geber-8:17) was effectively controlled by Sheba. Through the Gulf of Aden, moreover, Sheba had access to other great bodies of water, such as the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, even the Bay of Bengal and beyond. To the immediate west lay the Horn of Africa.
Solomon's new enterprise in the Gulf of Aquaba served as the link between the great mercantile power of Sheba to the south and, to the north, Phoenicia, where Huram wielded control over the Mediterranean, Aegean, and Black Seas. It seems unlikely, therefore, that the sudden appearance of the Queen of Sheba in the court of Solomon was entirely unrelated to Solomon's new geopolitical importance.
The Bible scarcely mentions this consideration, however. What rendered Solomon famous enough to attract a visit from the Queen of Sheba was the monarch's reputation for wisdom (verse 5). Even on its face, this explanation seems reasonable. Sheba's mercantile dealings with Jerusalem could be handled adequately through the normal diplomatic channels that tied the world together. A more serious motive must be sought to explain why such a grand person as the Queen of Sheba would visit the king of a much less significant nation, Solomon's reputation for wisdom provides that motive.
Nor was Her Majesty disappointed in what she found at Jerusalem (verses 6-8). Although the Temple was Solomon's most singular accomplishment in the capital, there is no hint in the Sacred Text that the Queen of Sheba enjoyed access to it. Indeed, the Chronicler's earlier comment about Pharaoh's daughter (8:11) suggests that she did not.
The description of all the rich gifts exchanged by Solomon and the Queen, along with a brief reference to an exchange of gifts with Huram, brings up the subject of Jerusalem's newfound wealth (verses 13-28). The secular historian will explain this wealth as the fruit of Solomon's great business acumen, which certainly it was. Humanly speaking, Solomon could not have constructed his new Temple without the vast resources available to him through those enterprises.
The Chronicler, however, correctly perceives a deep significance in Solomon's wealth. As he will later do in the cases of Hezekiah and Josiah, the Chronicler only speaks of this wealth after telling of the priority of the spiritual over the material in Solomon's program. Solomon becomes an embodiment of the many other good things that are added to those who first seek the Kingdom of Heaven.
First Chronicles, leaving out the many criticisms implied against Solomon in First Kings, comes to this wise man's death in 922 (verses 29-31).
Friday, October 28
2 Chronicles 10: This chapter is one of several places where the Chronicler clearly presumes his readers' familiarity with certain historical facts that he leaves unsaid. Here, for instance, he omits the detailed introduction to Jeroboam found in 1 Kings 11:23-40. If the Chronicler thinks it unimportant to relate those details, it is partly because he can rest assured that his readers already know them. That is to say, he can safely tell this story of the schism of 922 in his own way, because is he can safely presume that the facts of the case are already well known.
With respect to Rehoboam (922-913), the son and successor of Solomon (with whom he shared co-regency from 931), there is not much good to be said. He was almost the perfect example of what the Bible means by the word "fool." Because he was the son of Solomon, Israel's wisest king, furthermore, this foolishness was a matter of irony as well as tragedy.
After Solomon's death, this heir to Israel's throne traveled to Schechem, to receive the nation's endorsement as its new ruler (verse 1). The move was especially necessary with respect to Israel's northern tribes, a people touchy about their traditional rights and needing to be handled gently. Even David, we recall, had to be made king twice, first over Judah about the year 1000 (2 Samuel 2:4,10) and then over the north some years later (5:4-5).
Those northern tribes, for their part, seemed willing to be ruled by Rehoboam, but they craved assurance that the new king would respect their ancient traditions and customs (verse 4). This is the first time the Chronicler even hints at popular unhappiness with the reign and policies of Solomon. The plaintiffs sought from his son, therefore, a simple pledge that their grievances would be taken seriously in the future. A great deal depended on Rehoboam's answer.
The new king apparently took the matter seriously, because he sought counsel on what to say. He began by consulting the seniors of the royal court, the very men who had for forty years provided guidance for his father (verse 6). These were the elder statesmen of the realm, those qualified to give the most prudent political counsel.
Significantly, these older men urged Rehoboam in the direction of caution and moderation with respect to the northern tribes: “If you are kind to these people, and please them, and speak good words to them, they will be your servants forever” (verse 7).
Rehoboam, nonetheless, eschewing the instruction of his elders, followed the impulses of his younger companions, who encouraged him to stand tough and not let himself be pushed around (verse 8). Indeed, they urged Rehoboam to be insulting and provocative to the petitioners (verse 9-11). Pursuing this foolish counsel, then, he immediately lost the larger part of his kingdom (verses 12-19).
As I suggested above, there is great irony here, for it may be said that one of the major practical purposes of the Book of Proverbs, traditionally ascribed to Solomon, was to prevent and preclude exactly the mistake committed by Solomon's son. According to Proverbs, the fool is the man who ignores the counsel of the old and follows the impulses of untried youth.
Many a life has been ruined--and in this case a kingdom lost-because someone preferred the pooled stupidity of his contemporaries to the accumulated wisdom of his elders. Those whose counsel Rehoboam spurned, after all, were not just any old men. They were the very ancients who had provided sound guidance to the man that the Chronicler regarded as Israel's most sagacious monarch.
Saturday, October 29
2 Chronicles 11: Because the stories about the northern prophets in the Books of Kings are so colorful and memorable (Michaiah, Elijah, Elisha), one may too easily suppose that the ministry of the prophets, at least until the eighth century, was concentrated mainly in the north. The present chapter of Chronicles, however, which narrates the prophetic intervention of Shemaiah (verses 2-4, paralleled in 1 Kings 12:21-24), is a first argument against that supposition. Second Chronicles goes on to tell of other active prophets in the south, prior to the eighth century, accounts not found in the Books of Kings. This list includes stories of Azariah ben Obed (15:1-7), Hanani (16:7-9), Jehu ben Hanani (19:2-3), Zechariah ben Jehoiada (24:20-22), and the anonymous prophet sent to King Amaziah (25:7-9). According to the Chronicler (21:12-15), even Elijah the Tishbite intervened in the south by way of a letter (21:12-15).
Given all these accounts of southern prophets narrated only in the Chronicler, it is curious and ironical that the story of Shemaiah in this chapter is the only part of the chapter that is found in Kings. It is followed by three accounts that are not told in Kings.
First, there is a list of the cities fortified by Rehoboam on his southern flank against attack from Egypt (verses 5-12). This system of defense, well known to archeology, is sometimes called antiquity's Maginot Line.
Second, the Chronicler tells of northern Levitical families that remained loyal to the government and Temple in Jerusalem (verses 13-17). Because of Jeroboam's persecution of them, these families fled south for asylum, and the schismatic king of the north appointed non-Levites in their place (1 Kings 12:31-32; 13:33). One is disposed to speculate that the Chronicler himself may have been a descendent from that group, but in such a case we would expect a record of actual names here in the text.
Third, there is a detailed account of Rehoboam's apostasy in the south (verses 18-23). This defection of Solomon's son had to be particularly distressing to the northern Levites who had fled to the south in fidelity to the Davidic covenant and the orthodox worship in the Jerusalem Temple. Their disappointment is perhaps more readily understood if we think of certain contemporary Christians conscientiously driven from one church to another, only to find the second church just about as unfaithful as the first. In the case of these Levites, moreover, the move involved uprooting their families from lands they had cultivated for more than two centuries.
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