November 11 – November 18

Friday, November 11

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 also stands 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, 32.2; 40.5)

Saturday, November 12

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!

Sunday, November 13

2 Chronicles 19: The material in the present chapter, which is also unique to the Chronicler, includes Jehoshaphat’s meeting with the prophet Jehu (verses 1-3) and his subsequent judicial reforms (verses 4-11).

If Jehoshaphat failed to learn from the moral example given in the previous chapter, Jehu the prophet is determined to make the king take a closer look. He warns Jehoshaphat of the danger inherent in this recent political and military alliance with a man justly described as an enemy of God. Even though Jehoshaphat has set his heart on the Lord, the divine wrath will visit his house because of his collusion with an evil man.

The Chronicler does not record Jehoshaphat’s reaction to this prophetic warning, but Josephus believed that his later reforms were inspired by it. He wrote, “Whereupon the king betook himself to thanksgivings and sacrifices to God; after which he presently went over all that country which he ruled round about, and taught the people, as well the laws which God gave them by Moses, as that religious worship that was due to him” (Antiquities 9.1.1).

To the present writer this is not so obvious. For reasons best known to himself, Jehoshaphat seems not to have broken off his alliance with the Northern Kingdom, which alliance was the very point made by the prophet. Too bad. The king had now twice been warned that he has thrown in his lot with a loser. The Chronicler was not obliged to inform his readers, including ourselves, about the fate soon to befall the house of Ahab. The facts were already well known from the Books of Kings.

Meanwhile, Jehoshaphat went about reforming the nation’s judicial system (verses 4-7). In this reform we observe what appears to be a pattern from Deuteronomy 16:18-20; 17:8-13. If, as we suggested earlier (relative to 17:9), the teaching of the Levites was modeled on the same document later discovered in the Temple during Josiah’s time, this affinity with Deuteronomy is not surprising.

In Jerusalem itself the judicial task was partly handed over to the Levites (verse 8), under the supervision of the “chief priest”–kohen har’osh (verse 11). This is one more in a growing number of tasks with which the versatile Levites are entrusted.

Monday, November 14

2 Chronicles 20: The material in this chapter, which is mainly proper to the Chronicler and with scant parallel in 1 Kings (verses 21-24 being the exception), may for analysis be divided into five parts.

First, there are introductory verses that set the stage by describing the threat made to Judah by some of the local enemies to the east of the Jordan (verses 1-2). (In verse 2 it is likely that the reference to “Syria” in both the Hebrew and Greek texts should be changed to “Edom,” as the RSV does. In Hebrew the two words look much more alike than in English, and copyists often confused them. In the present case the mention of the city of Engedi, on the coast of the Dead Sea, makes “Edom” the more probable reading.)

Second, the nation gathers to pray (verses 3-12). In Jehoshaphat’s intercession (verses 5-12) we observe a striking likeness to Solomon’s prayer at the consecration of the Temple (6:12-40). Indeed, the Chronicler notes that the two prayers are made in exactly the same place (verse 5; 6:13; cf. 4:9). We should regard Jehoshaphat’s prayer as an extension and application of the prayer earlier made by Solomon.

This prayer especially “reminds” the Lord that the nations now threatening His Temple are the very enemies that the Lord had earlier forbidden Israel to destroy (verses 10-11; cf. Numbers 20:21; Deuteronomy 2:1,4,5,8,19). That is to say, this prayer “makes a case” for being heard!

Third, by way of response to this petition of Jehoshaphat, the Lord’s Spirit is poured out on the Levite Jahaziel for prophetic utterance (verse 13-17). His message is the kind of “liturgical prophecy” of which the Book of Revelation is full. Jehoshaphat and the nation are prophetically reminded, within the place and context of communal worship, that the Lord, who remains ever the Ruler of History, will give His people victory on the morrow. They need only show up for the battle; there will be no need to fight.

Fourth comes the fulfillment of Jehaziel’s prophetic message (verses 18-30), which takes place when the Levites march in religious procession in front of the army of Judah. Their worship in song and praise takes the place of the combat, as the enemies unaccountably turn on one another. This is apparently the Lord’s “ambush” of them. Once again, history is influenced by worship. History is not something closed off from intervention from on high, and “on high” is not closed off from prayers offered on the earth. When God’s people pray, the Lord intervenes on the earth, and new things start to happen (Revelation 8:3-6).

Fifth, there follows a summary of the importance of Jehoshaphat’s reign (verses 31-34), followed by a final mention of another alliance of this king with the Northern Kingdom. This alliance too is disastrous. This final section provides the chapter’s only parallel to 1 Kings (22:42-48).

Tuesday, November 15

2 Chronicles 21: The reign of Jehoram (849-841) was what one might expect from a son-in-law of Ahab and Jezebel (verses 1-6). Inasmuch, however, as this reign will lead to the hour of greatest danger for the house of David, the Chronicler once more explicitly reminds his readers of the divine promise that guaranteed the stability of that dynasty (verse 7).

To Judah’s southwest the Edomites, subdued by Jehoshaphat in the previous chapter, rose again in rebellion, this time successfully (verses 8-10). Things are looking bad.

The letter sent to Jehoram from the prophet Elijah (verses 11-15) is our first example of “literary prophecy,” a full century before the writings of Amos and Isaiah. As it happens, an historical problem connected with this letter raises an intriguing question. Since 2 Kings (chapters 1—3) seems to imply that Elijah disappeared in his fiery chariot before the death of Jehoshaphat, how do we now find him writing a letter to Jehoshaphat’s successor?

Ah, this is the sort of problem that invites imagination. Did Elijah actually write the letter to Jehoshaphat, but it only arrived after Jehoshaphat’s death? An interesting suggestion this, if only for what it indicates of mail delivery in the ancient Holy Land.

Or did Elijah write the letter to Jehoram ahead of time, knowing by prophecy the sort of king Jehoram would be? This suggestion, accepted by some of the ancient rabbis, has the merit of honoring Elijah’s knowledge of the future.

Or is it the case that Elijah, having gone up to heaven in his fiery chariot, returned to the earth for a short while to take care of his unfinished correspondence? Now there’s a thought.

And, if so, might not this same earthly solicitude on the prophet’s part argue that Elijah has in mind to make other return trips in the future? In fact, we know that the prophet Malachi (4:5) believed this to be the case, nor was he the last (Matthew 11:14; 17:11-13). Indeed, the angel Gabriel, who by the time in question had shared the heavenly company of Elijah for nearly a thousand years, dropped a remark on this subject when speaking to our Blessed Lady (Luke 1:17).

Whatever, then, the circumstances of Elijah’s letter to Jehoram, the present writer suspects that this incident, like most things touching that famous Tishbite, is not open to ordinary analysis. When we are dealing with Elijah, anything may happen.

Finally, then, came the Philistines and their friends, leaving the royal progeny at a single prince (verses 16-17). In the following chapter that prince, too, will perish and all his sons except one. Judah is about to enter a very, very dark hour.

Wednesday, November 16

2 Chronicles 22: This chapter records one of the bloodiest, most distressing stories in the Bible. Athaliah, the gebirah or queen mother of the slain King Ahaziah, seizes the throne of Judah in 841 B.C. and promptly orders the murder of her own grandchildren in order to guarantee her hold on that throne (verse 10). Holy Scripture simply narrates the event, without accounting for Athaliah’s motive in this singular atrocity.

Although such savagery from a daughter of Jezebel might not be surprising, Athaliah’s action was puzzling from a political perspective, nonetheless, and this in two respects. First, as the story’s final outcome would prove, her dreadful deed rendered Athaliah extremely unpopular in the realm, and her possession of the crown, therefore, more precarious. Second, had she preserved the lives of her grandchildren, instead of killing them, Athaliah’s real power in the kingdom would likely have been enhanced in due course, not lessened. As the gebirah, she might have remained the de facto ruler of Judah unto ripe old age. Just what, then, did this cruel woman have in mind?

The question proved to be understandably fascinating to literary speculation. The historian Josephus, the first to ponder the matter, ascribed Athaliah’s action to an inherited hatred of the Davidic house. It was her wish, said he, “that none of the house of David should be left alive, but that the entire family should be exterminated, that no king might arise from it later” (Antiquities 9.7.1). This explanation seems perfectly plausible. It would also explain why 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles, both sources devoted to the study of David’s house, found the story so intriguing and pertinent to their themes.

The playwright Racine developed this motive in his Athalie, where the evil queen exclaims, “David I abhor, and the sons of this king, though born of my blood, are strangers to me” (2.7.729-730). Following Racine, this interpretation was taken up in Felix Mendelssohn’s opera Athaliah, which asserts that the vicious woman acted in order that “no hand could reach out for her crown, nor king henceforth from David’s line preserve again the service of Jehovah” (First Declamation).

Racine also ascribed to Athaliah a second motive; namely, her sense of duty to protect the realm from the various enemies that surrounded it. Indeed, she boasts that her success in this effort was evidence of heaven’s blessing on it (op. cit. 2.5.465-484). However, since it is unclear how the slaughter of her grandchildren contributed to the regional peace that Athaliah claimed as the fruit of her wisdom, this explanation is not so plausible as the first.

The third motive ascribed by Racine seems more reasonable and is certainly more interesting—namely, that Athaliah acted out of vengeance for the recent killing of her mother and the rest of her own family. Deranged by wrath and loathing, she imagined that the slaughter of her posterity avenged the slaughter of her predecessors: “Yes, my just wrath, of which I am proud, has avenged my parents on my offspring” (2.7.709-710). This explanation, which I believe to be correct, makes no rational sense, however, except on the supposition that Athaliah blamed Israel’s God for what befell her own family. In attacking David’s house, she thought to attack David’s God, whom she accuses of “implacable vengeance” (2.7.727). Since the Chronicler does not record the death of Jezebel and the rest of the family, however, this motive is a better explanation of the account in 1 Kings rather than 2 Chronicles.

Nonetheless, the third motive of Racine’s Athaliah is the goal of the first. That is to say, the hateful queen seeks to destroy David’s house in order to render void God’s promises given through the prophets, especially the promise of the Messiah that would come from David’s line, “that King promised to the nations, that Child of David, your hope, your expectation.” The queen’s vengeance, which later appears in Handel’s oratorio Athalia, correctly indicates the Christian meaning, the sensus plenior, of the Old Testament story. Waging war on great David’s greater Son, Athaliah foreshadowed yet another usurper of the Davidic throne, hateful King Herod, who likewise ordered a large massacre of little boys in a vain effort to retain the crown that did not belong to him.

Thursday, November 17

2 Chronicles 23: Although the story of the rescue of Joash, along with his enthronement and the downfall of Athaliah, is certainly historical, there is value in comparing its motif with a subject found rather widespread in ancient mythology—namely, the theme of the rightful young prince who, having been rescued from the evil usurper, returns later to settle the score and be restored to his rightful inheritance. Literary history provides us with several parallels.

There was, for example, the very primitive solar myth concerning the powers of darkness, which appeared to triumph over the sun and to reign over the time of night, defying the promised sun. This darkness, which usurped the reign of the sun, as it were, attempted to devour the sun in its very birth—to kill the sun, that is to say, as it emerges from its mother’s womb. In at least two versions of this ancient myth, in fact, the darkness is portrayed as a dragon-like snake reminiscent of a similar account in Revelation 12.

Thus, Egypt had its myth of the dragon Set, who pursued Isis while she carried the sun god Horus in her womb. His plan was to devour Horus at his birth. It is further curious that Isis, like the Woman in Revelation 12 (verse 14), is portrayed in Egyptian art (an elaborate door in the King Tut collection, for instance) with wings, so that she could flee from Set. Similarly, Greek mythology described the dragon-snake Python as pursuing the goddess Leto, who was pregnant with the sun god Apollo.

In both cases, the little child escaped and later returned to destroy the usurping serpent. The similarities of both of these myths to the vision of the pregnant woman and her child in Revelation 12 are striking. Both ancient myths also developed the subject of the illegitimate “usurper,” a theme that Matthew uses in his story of Herod seeking to destroy the true King, Jesus, at His very birth. As I suggested earlier in these remarks on Chronicles, the story of Joash and Athaliah serves as a veritable type for the story of Herod and Jesus in Matthew 2.

This story, found also in 1 Kings, provided an extra reason for the Chronicler to love it—namely, it was the priest-hero that rescued the infant king. In some sense Jehoiada thus became one of the Chronicler’s major champions, the son of Levi who faces extreme danger in order to save the son of Judah and to keep intact the throne of David.

And where does the restoration take place? In the Temple, naturally, which David’s son had built for the Lord, in order that the priestly tribe could minister to Him under the protection of David.

Friday, November 18

2 Chronicles 24: Joash was a mere child when the throne was given to him after the violent deposition of his grandmother, Athaliah, and we may be sure that the government in those early years fell largely to the strong, influential figures who had been responsible for that overthrow. Chief among these was the priest Jehoiada (verse 2).

In fact, Jehoiada’s major role in the restoration of a Davidic king to the throne at Jerusalem touches a strong motif of the Chronicler himself—namely, the reliance of the Davidic monarchy of Judah on the priestly house of Levi. In the present case, moreover, it is the priest who chooses the wives for the king (verse 3).

Young Joash, raised in the Temple from infancy until he was seven years old, felt a special veneration for the place, a veneration that inspired his desire to see it refurbished and kept in good repair. For this work he sought the cooperation of the Levites (verses 4-5). After some difficulties and negotiations on the matter, a collection box was placed in the Temple itself to receive the necessary resources (verses 6-11), and the required repairs were made (verses 12-14; Flavius Josephus, Antiquities 9.8.2)

After the death of Jehoiada (verses 15-16; Josephus 9.8.3), however, the moral tone of the nation declined, including the wisdom and character of the king. An invasion of Syrians (verses 23-24; 2 Kings 12:17-21), after an initial battle in which Joash was severely wounded, constrained Judah to pay the Dane-Geld.

Prior to narrating this story, however, the Chronicler concentrates on the spiritual decline that preceded that military and political defeat (verses 17-19). Jehoiada’s son, Zechariah, prophesied against the national apostasy, apparently including the king’s part in it (verse 20). This Zechariah, we should recall, was of royal blood, for his mother was an aunt to King Joash (22:11). Thus he was a first cousin to the king himself, the very king who conspired in his murder (verse 21).

Furthermore, in the description of this murder we observe a striking irony: Joash had Zechariah stoned to death within the Temple precincts, whereas Zechariah’s own father, Jehoiada, would not permit Joash’s grandmother, Athaliah, to be killed in the Temple.

This Zechariah seems to be the one referenced in Luke 11:51, called “the son of Barachiah in Matthew 23:35, perhaps under the influence of Isaiah 8:2.

King Joash, wounded in the battle with the Syrians, was then slain by two of his own citizens, themselves angered over the murder of Zechariah (verses 25-26). Again, there is a notable irony in the story: King Joash was not buried among the kings of Judah, whereas the priest Jehoiada was buried among the kings. Josephus (9.8.3) explains that this latter honor was conferred on him because of Jehoiada’s restoration of the Davidic throne.

The Chronicler ends the chapter by referring to special sources that he has used. This reference explains why his account differs in several particulars from the corresponding story in 2 Kings 12.