Sunday, October 30
2 Chronicles 12: Rehoboam's reign knew its ups and downs, the downs decidedly
dominant. Five years after the new king inherited the throne of David,
Pharaoh Shishak, founder of Egypt's twenty-second dynasty, invaded the
Holy Land and took pretty much whatever attracted his eye: " And it happened in the fifth year of King Rehoboam that Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem, because they had transgressed against the Lord . . . So Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem, and took away the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king's house; he took everything " (verses
Alone to do so, the Chronicler once again introduces the prophet Shemaiah (cf. 11:2-4) to point out to Rehoboam the deep theological reason for the catastrophe that befell the kingdom (verse 5). In this instance the prophetic message brought some measure of repentance among Jerusalem's leadership, a repentance that caused the situation to become no worse (verses 6-8).
The Sacred Text goes on to remark about Shishak's invasion, " He also carried away the gold shields which Solomon had made. Then King Rehoboam made bronze shields in their place, and committed them to the hands of the captains of the guard" (verses
9-10). By setting bronze shields in the Temple to replace the golden
shields of Solomon, Rehoboam enacted a truly wretched symbolism. Some
of the ancients (Daniel, Hesiod, Ovid) spoke of an historical decline
from a golden age to a silver age, and thence to a bronze age. No one
disputes, of course, that Solomon's was a golden age (9:13-17). However,
the reign of Rehoboam, his heir, was not just a declension to silver,
but all the way to bronze. The lunge, when it came, came at once, in
a single generation.
We will find this pattern of sudden fall repeatedly throughout Chronicles, a Jehoshaphat followed by a Jehoram, a Hezekiah by a Manasseh, a Josiah by a villainous series of village idiots, all the way to Jerusalem's downfall in 587.
As for Rehoboam, he remained, Josephus tells us, "a proud and foolish man" (Antiquities 8.10.4).
He never recovered from the singular folly of his first political decision.
After Shishak's invasion, this thin, pathetic shadow of his father and
grandfather reigned under a humiliating Egyptian suzerainty for a dozen
more years. Like every fool, he had a heart problem. The final word about
Rehoboam asserts, "he did evil, for he did not set his heart to seek the Lord" (verse
Monday, October 31
2 Chronicles 13: Rehoboam's son Abijah (913-991) succeeded to the throne of David. Although his reign was short, he receives an entire chapter here in Chronicles, which has no correspondence in 1 Kings. It is the battle between Abijah and Jeroboam. This material readily breaks into two parts.
The first part (verses 1-12) is dominated by Abijah's religious speech
at the very doorstep of the battle. Although it was St. Augustine's view
of the schism between Israel and Judah that “the division made was not religious but political” (The City of God 17.21), it is clear that the Chronicler did not share that view. Regarding the Lord's covenant with David as the basis of Israel's political order, he was unable to regard that order as anything but religious. Driven by such a conviction, the Chronicler here makes Abijah its spokesman in this speech.
Pre-battle speeches by kings and generals are normally directed to their own troops, but in the present case Jeroboam permitted his opponent to speak as long as he wanted, because meanwhile a northern party of ambuscade was moving to the rear of Abijah's forces, planning to hit them from two sides (verse 13). The longer Abijah talked, thought Jeroboam, the better position his own men in the rear would attain.
Abijah, standing on a tall borderline hill from which he could be heard by the forces of Jeroboam, lays out his own perspective of the battle about to ensue. The fault, says Abijah, lies completely with Jeroboam, who took advantage of youth and vacillation (!) of Rehoboam in order to lead an insurrection against legitimate and even divinely covenanted authority (verses 4-7).
Then Abijah comes to the heart of the matter--at least the concern dominant in the heart of the Chronicler-Jeroboam was a worshipper of golden calves (verse 8), who drove out the legitimate sons of Levi from the north and elevated non-Levites in their place (verse 9). The merit of Judah over the Northern Kingdom lay in its fidelity to the true God, worshipped as He Himself had decreed His worship (verse 10). This is the essence of the Chronicler's case against the schismatic tribes of the north. Unlike Judah, the Northern Kingdom had abandoned the legitimate priesthood and the orthodox form of worship.
In the historical perspective of the Chronicler, this liturgical consideration absolutely trumped every other. In his mind political power and military success said nothing of a kingdom's final worth. In the last analysis, only the correct worship of God gave significance to a nation's history. Writing long after the events described in this chapter, and long after each of the kingdoms warring in this chapter had disappeared, the Chronicler looked back and inquired just what, in those historical events, was of ultimate significance, and he answered-the orthodox worship of the Lord. This is the point of Abijah's speech.
Second comes the description of the battle that ensued (and not recorded in Kings). In this battle (verses 13-22) it is significant that the priests accompanying Abijah's army played a significant role, blowing the trumpet and raising an ovation of praise to God (verse 14). This battle, though it greatly weakened the political power of Jeroboam (verse 20), did not lead to a reunion of the two kingdoms.
Tuesday, November 1
2 Chronicles 14: Abijah's death (verse 1) after three years (13:2) was premature and unexplained, though one supposes that fourteen wives, twenty-two sons, and sixteen daughters (13:21) may have taken their toll.
Abijah was succeeded by Asa, one of Judah's longest reigning kings (911-870),
whom both historians credit with doing “what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God” (verse 2; 1 Kings 15:11). Flavius Josephus expanded slightly on that description: “Now Asa, the king of Jerusalem, was of an excellent character, and had a regard to God, and neither did nor designed any thing but what had relation to the observation of the laws. He made a reformation of his kingdom, and cut off whatsoever was wicked therein, and purified it from every impurity” (Antiquities 8.12.1).
The Chronicler's brief account of Asa's religious reforms (verses 3-5) corresponds roughly to that of 1 Kings 15:7-12), but it is immediately followed by a long section not found in Kings (14:6-15:15).
During ten years of peace (verses 1,6), Asa strengthened and fortified
the kingdom (verses 7-8). And none too soon, as events would prove, for
about the year 900 Zerah the Cushite, as the Hebrew text calls him, invaded
Judah from the south. Still, the word “million” to describe the size of Zerah's army is a bit misleading. The expression in biblical Hebrew, a language that doesn't have the word “million,” is “thousand thousand,” an idiomatic term meaning “lots and lots.” Apparently
there were Lybians also included in his force (cf. 16:8), and clearly
Asa is badly outnumbered, as he indicates in his prayer (verse 11).
The biblical text gives no indication of Asa's winning strategy, perhaps
because the Chronicler felt that such information might detract from
the theological truth of the day-namely, “the Lord defeated” the invaders
(verse 12). The Chronicler, true to his understanding of biblical history,
will ascribe nothing in this battle to human power. Indeed, Josephus
says that the battle took place while Asa was making his prayer for victory
(Antiquities 8.12.2). The defeat itself was total, and the Bible revels in a description of the enemy's flight and the taking of the spoils (verses 13-15).
It was on his return from the battlefield to Jerusalem that the king and his army encountered a prophet with a thing or two on his mind.
Wednesday, November 2
2 Chronicles 15: The true significance of the recent battle is explained
to Asa and his men by this prophet, Azariah ben Obed, who spoke under
the influence of “the Spirit of God” (verse 1). Once again the prophet who speaks to the king is also the spokesman for the Chronicler to us readers. Azariah contrasts the current royal reign with the earlier period, when Israel “was without a teaching priest and without law” (verse
3). This late victory, he goes on, came about in response to the righteousness
that the Lord had in mind to reward (verse 7).
Three points of the Chronicler's theology are made in this brief prophetic sermon: First, the Lord is with Israel as long as Israel is with the Lord (verse 2). Second, never forget the era of the Judges, before there were teaching priests (verses 3-6). Third, God promises His continued help if Asa continues on this correct path (verse 7). In short, Azariah's view of history is identical to that of the Chronicler.
Josephus caught the sense of this prophecy: “That the reason why they had obtained this victory from God was this, that they had showed themselves righteous and religious men, and had done every thing according to the will of God; that therefore, [Azariah] said, if they persevered therein, God would grant that they should always overcome their enemies, and live happily; but that if they left off his worship, all things shall fall out on the contrary” (Antiquities 8.12.2). This emphasis on the correct worship of God as the secret victory is completely in line with the thinking of the Chronicler.
Asa and his associates, fired up by this short sermon, redouble their reforming efforts, purging away what remained of the idolatry bequeathed from the era of Rehoboam (verse 8).
Meanwhile, there were new developments in the kingdom, these having to
do with the Northern Kingdom. We earlier learned that northern Levites
had fled to the south, to escape the persecution of Jeroboam (11:13-17).
Levites, the Chronicler now informs us, were not the only ones to flee
southward. Indeed, “great numbers” from the north, witnessing the fidelity
of Asa and his consequent prosperity, arrived in the south, seeking a
life more in conformity to their inherited religious instincts and convictions
These gathered at Jerusalem in 896 B.C. to solidify their commitment to Asa's cause (verses 10-15). This gathering of northerners and southerners around the Davidic king at the Temple remained an ideal that inspired the Chronicler. We shall see it again in the reigns of Hezekiah and Josiah.
Toward the end of this chapter the Chronicler tells a story borrowed
from 1 Kings 15:13-14, the account of how Asa deposed his own grandmother
from her special political position as “queen mother” (verse 16).
Finally, at the end of the chapter, inserted as though the Chronicler were embarrassed by it, that even Asa was not entirely successful (verse 17). This remark prepares us for the next chapter, in which Asa's conduct in his old age was not quite up to the mark.
Thursday, November 3
2 Chronicles 16: The latter part of Asa's rule was not up to the mark set by his earlier days. He waxed lazy in his later years, and the present chapter describes his decline.
There is an historical problem with the present text. If we understand
verse 1 strictly, the date appears to be 875. However, according to 1
Kings 16:6-8, Baasha had died ten years earlier! Some exegetes, in hopes
of removing this problem, suggest that a copyist's error has introduced
a mistake into the Sacred Text. While this suggestion is possible, it
is not the only solution to the problem. It may be that verse 1, in referring
to the thirty-sixth year of Asa, is employing a shorthand formula to
mean the thirty-sixth year of Asa's kingdom, that is, the divided kingdom
that followed the reign of Solomon. If this interpretation is correct,
then the year of reference would be 986, which accords well with the
sequence given in Kings. It also seems better to fit the Chronicler's
assertion that Āsa's early reign enjoyed ten years of peace (14:1).
In Asa's response to Baasha's invasion we discern already his decline. Instead of going to meet his opponent in battle, as he had earlier done in the case of Zerah, Asa decided to pay someone else to assume the task. He employed money to influence international politics (verses 2-5). Thereby conceding part of the Land of Promise to a foreign power, Asa paid the Syrians to invade the territory of Baasha. Over the next couple of centuries Asa's successors on the throne would have to deal with Syrian interference in the politics of the Holy Land.
To reprimand this sin, the Lord sent to Asa the prophetic word of Hanani
(verses 7-09), the father of yet another prophet named Jehu (1 Kings
16:17). This prophetic word, found only in the Chronicler, serves to
advance the latter's sense of history--namely, the conviction that “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (verse
Asa, in response, punishes the prophet, unlike his grandfather Rehoboam, who had humbled his mind before the prophetic word (12:6). Asa thus became the first king of Judah to raise his hand against the prophets.
In turn the Lord punished Asa three years later (verse 12). He lived five years more (verse 13). The great failure of Asa's life, according to the Chronicler, came from following his disinclination to put his trust in God (verses 7,12).
Friday, November 4
2 Chronicles 17: None of the material in this chapter is found outside of Chronicles. Most of it introduces the reign of Jehoshaphat (870-848, with a co-regency from 873) (verses 1-6,10-19). Our suggestion of three years of co-regency would explain why Jehoshaphat undertook these new initiatives in “the third year of his reign” (verse 1). It is also consonant with the assertion of Jehoshaphat's reign of twenty-five years (20:31).
Perhaps dearest to the Chronicler's heart are the few verses that he devotes to the ministry of the teaching Levites. When the king sent these Levites out “to teach in the cities of Judah,” he took care that everyone would know of their official credentials. He accomplished this by sending with them certain “princes” (sarim) accredited to speak in the king's name.
On the success of this mission, which will remind Christian readers of the seventy disciples sent out by Jesus, Josephus comments: “Now, in the third year of this reign, he called together the rulers of the country, and the priests, and commanded them to go round the land, and teach all the people that were under him, city by city, the laws of Moses, and to keep them, and to be diligent in the worship of God. With this the whole multitude was so pleased, that they were not so eagerly set upon or affected with any thing so much as the observation of the laws” (Antiquities 8.15.2).
The greater authority of these teaching Levites, however, was not derived from the delegation of the king but from the text on which their teaching was based, “the book of the Law of the Lord” (verse 9). Is this book to be identified with the scroll later discovered in the Temple during the reign of Josiah? There are two reasons for thinking this to be the case. First, exactly the same words describe the text in both instances, sepher Torat Adonai (verse 9; 34:14). Second, in each context the book of the Law of the Lord appears in the context of the ministries of the Levites (verse 8; 34:12-13).
The Chronicler will return to this teaching ministry of the Levites, with particular attention to the Law of the Lord, when he comes to the post-exilic period and the mission of Ezra (cf. Nehemiah 8). The Chronicler's view of the Levitical ministry was clearly comprehensive. These versatile men not only functioned on behalf of the liturgical rites, the general decorum, and especially the sacred music of the Temple. They were also Israel's teachers in all matters pertinent of the Law given through Moses. In this latter capacity, of course, they were obliged to be literate, so it is not surprising that scribes and accountants should come from their number (34:9-10). In general, these Levites included men who were competent “in any kind of service” (34:13). We Christian readers also bear in mind that the early Church regarded the order of deacon as a sort of equivalent to the Levitical office (cf. Clement of Rome, Corinthians 32.2; 40.5)
Saturday, November 5
2 Chronicles 18: After an entire chapter that had no parallels in 1 Kings, the Chronicler now gives us a chapter that comes almost entirely (except for verses 1-3) from 1 Kings 22. In fact, this is the only instance where the Chronicler simply repeats a long section from the Books of Kings. The occasion prompts us to inquire why?
The obvious reason is found in the nature of the material itself, which these two authors do not look at in the same way. For the author of Kings, this was a story about Micaiah and Ahab, whereas for the Chronicler it is, rather, a story about Micaiah and Jehoshaphat. Indeed, the Chronicler is only incidentally interested in Ahab, who is not even mentioned again after his death in verse 34 (contrast with 1 Kings 22:38-40). The Chronicler's concern here is very different. He is interested in Jehoshaphat, not Ahab. After all, it was the King of Judah, not Ahab, who wanted to consult with Micaiah (verses 6-7), and the Chronicler inserts the account for the simple reason that it strengthens a steady motif dear to his heart-namely, the Lord's prophetic word to the kings of Judah (cf. 12:5-6; 15:1-7; 16:7-9; 19:2-3; 20:13-17; 24:20; 25:7-9,15-16; 28:9-11; 33:10; 34:22-28). This story is one more in that thematic series.
The Chronicler is not interested in the extensive prophetic activity in the Northern Kingdom, for the simple reason that he is not interested, in se, in anything that transpired in the Northern Kingdom. Indeed, the only time he mentions a prophetic intervention of the greatest of the northern prophets, Elijah, it is in connection with a letter that that prophet wrote to a king of Judah (21:12-15).
The Chronicler's sole interest in the present story, then, has to do with the current holder of the Davidic throne, Jehoshaphat, and this story serves the Chronicler's purpose of introducing the latter's dangerous coalition with the Northern Kingdom. If Asa's great mistake was an unwise league with Syria, Jehoshaphat's was an unwise alliance with Israel.
Because of this alliance, as we shall see during the ensuing chapters, the Davidic throne was nearly lost. The marriage of Jehoshaphat's son to Ahab's daughter would introduce into the Kingdom of Judah the full force of Phoenician idolatry and evil. Over the next several chapters the solemn prophetic promise made to David would be endangered as never before. During the next several generations there will be, at several given times, only a single direct male descendent of David on the face of the earth. Jehoshaphat's son, Jehoram, will kill all his brothers (21:4). Then, all but one of Jehoram's own sons will be slain (21:17). When that remaining son (22:1) is killed, there is “no one to assume power over the kingdom” (22:9). Of Jehoram's grandsons, all will be murdered except the infant Joash (22:1-12). All of this danger and evil will flow from Jehoshaphat's alliance with the Northern Kingdom. Better warfare, thought the Chronicler, than this sort of peace!
In short, then, the present story presents one more instance when a king of Judah should have taken the prophetic warning and averted disaster. The warning will be repeated in the opening verses of the next chapter, when Jehu, Hanani's son shows up to point out what Jehoshaphat should already have seen.