Sept 29 – Oct 6, 2023

Friday, September 29

1 Chronicles 5: This chapter begins with a brief explanation why Reuben, though Israel’s eldest son, did not inherit nor transmit the right of primogeniture. (In fact, however, throughout the Bible God’s favorable choice most often seems to fall elsewhere than on the eldest son.) The reasons given here reflect the narratives in Genesis (35:22; 49:4).

Even while admitting the transferal of Israel’s birthright to Joseph, the Chronicler feels compelled to mention that Judah was the strong tribe that produced the leader (nagid) of God’s People (verse 2; 2 Samuel 7:8).

Dealing with Reuben’s settlements east of the Jordan and Dead Sea (verse 8) apparently prompts the author’s mind to remain in that general location and discuss the tribe of Gad (verses 11-17) and the half-tribe of Manasseh (verses 23-24) that settled in Gilead and Bashan. This sequence interrupts the author’s pattern of adhering to lists of the sons as they appear in Genesis 46:16 or Numbers 26:15-18.

The mention of Sharon in verse 16 is most mysterious, because the Plain of Sharon in nowhere near that area.

In verse 17 the author traces his source material to a census made in the mid-eighth century.

This chapter has two notices of wars against the Hagrites, Arabians living east of the Jordan, one in the late eleventh century (verse 10) and one at an apparently later period (verses 19-20). The Hagrites, twice defeated, were hardly destroyed. We find them later in the Greek writers Strabo and Ptolemy and the Latin author Pliny.

Some elements in this account suggest a source as early as the ninth century. For example we know that the towns of Aroer, Baalmeon, and Nebo (verse 8) fell under Moabite control during that century.

The chapter’s closing verses (25-26) indicate the irony that these eastern tribes, victorious in war by God’s favor, nonetheless succumbed to the religion of those whom they defeated. This explains their massive deportation by Tiglath-pileser in 734. (The material here is drawn from 2 Kings 15:19,29; 17:6; 18:11.) Thus, an Assyrian emperor is portrayed as an instrument in the hand of the supreme Lord of History.

Saturday, September 30

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 Tiglath-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 Ephraim. 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 descendants (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 descendants 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).

Sunday, October 1

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 Issachar (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 ben jamin) 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 Ephraim 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.

Monday, October 2

Galatians 4:21-31: It seems significant that the covenants of God with Abraham and David are each ushered into history by an account of a barren woman. Thus, Holy Scripture introduces the covenant with Abraham by telling of the barrenness of Sarah, and the narrative of the Davidic covenant is introduced by the story of barren Hannah. It is not surprising, then, that the account of barren Elizabeth should introduce the story of the Incarnation. Jesus Christ is, after all, “the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1).

St. Paul, moreover, explicitly appeals to the story of barren Sarah in order to illustrate the Christian covenant. He writes, “it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic” (verses 22-24).

The Greek word translated by the NKJV as “symbolic” is allegoroumena, which literally means “things said in allegory.” This is our first instance of the work “allegory” in Christian thought, where it properly means the New Testament meaning of the Old Testament text. Indeed, this is why Paul brings up the subject of barren Sarah—her historical and symbolic relevance to the Christian covenant.

Let us recall Sarah’s frustration. She wanted a son, and she was willing to do just about anything to get one. We all know the story of her attempt to use ancient Middle Eastern adoption laws to have her handmaid act as her surrogate. We recall how she urged Abraham to father a child with that servant, Hagar. We also remember that the arrangement did not work out very well.

This should not have been surprising. God alone gives life, and human life in particular is not just a matter of biology. Sarah stands in history as an excellent example of those who tried to take the place of God with respect to their offspring. In the case of Hagar, this was very much a “planned pregnancy.” Forgetting that children are a gift and a blessing from God, Sarah contrived to impose her own will on the order of nature in order to achieve what she wanted. “Planned parenthood” is a very bad way to start raising children, because it treats those children as the products of a human strategy instead as precious gifts from the creating hand of God.

She stands, then, as an early example of all attempts to produce human life by medical contrivances, to overcome human barrenness through artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, and all other mechanical attempts to produce a baby, to make a child as a merely human product, something other than a pure gift from God.

In Sarah’s case, the entire enterprise backfired, of course, and after the birth of Ishmael her life became more frustrated than ever. Eventually Hagar and her baby were driven out into the desert, where Ishmael became the father of the Arabs. That is to say, things did not turn out as the mother of the Jews had in mind. The God that brings good out of evil, however, had His own plans, and this consideration brings us to our second point.

Tuesday, October 3

Luke 11.45-54: Abel (Genesis 4:8) and Zechariah (2 Chronicles 24:22) are the first and last persons murdered in the Hebrew Bible.

1 Chronicles 9: We have now completed the genealogies of “all Israel,” the name the Chronicler prefers in 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 Gilboa (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.

Wednesday, October 4

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 , “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 later 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).

Thursday, October 5

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).

Friday, October 6

Luke 12:22-34: The parable of the rich man’s barns is followed by a straight didactic exhortation that complements the message of that parable. Most of this material (verses 22-32) is shared with the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25-34). “”Life is more than food, and the body more than clothing,” asserts our Lord (verse 23). No great insight nor advanced wisdom is required to grasp the truth contained in this assertion. It is a matter perfectly obvious to a second’s reflection. This is the reason why our Lord poses the truth in a rhetorical question. Any intelligent person knows that the body is more important than the clothing that adorns it. Everyone knows this, yet there are anxiety-driven men that destroy their health by overworking in order to obtain more wealth. This is folly.

The Lord’s exhortation against anxiety is based on two considerations, one of them an appeal to common sense, and the other a call to faith.

First, common sense indicates that mere anxiety about material things does not improve the material situation. There are limits to man’s ability to control the circumstances of his life, restrictions on how much he is able to do for himself. His anxiety is spawned by the constant remembrance of those limits and restrictions. Why, then, asks Jesus, be anxious about what is beyond our control? Such anxiety is irrational. A
Man cannot lengthen his days by anxiety on the subject (verse 25), a truth illustrated by the foregoing parable of the rich man and his barns.

Second, the call to faith is founded on a consideration of what takes place in nature, where a heavenly Father cares for the animals and the plants. This, says our Lord, is a matter of empirical observation. This information, coupled with the consideration of man’s value, greater than the animals and the plants, yields the inference that God is to be trusted to take care of us. The only rational response to these considerations is faith.

The alternative to faith, therefore, is not simple unbelief, but a shaky life based on the constant, nagging companionship of anxiety, from which there is no other deliverance. Such anxiety eats away at every fleeting human joy.

In addition, it remains a perpetual cause of distraction, so that man is unable to give proper attention to the deeper purpose of life, which Jesus identifies here with God’s kingdom.

Such anxiety is unnecessary and absurd, because the God that provides man with the greater gift, the kingdom, will not deprive him of lesser things. It is this priority that man must adopt in his own mind, seeking what is higher and trusting in God to provide all else *verse 31).

This mention of God’s kingdom prompts Luke to append here another saying of Jesus abut the gift of the kingdom (verse 32). Their reception of this gift will inspire believers in turn to treat others generously (verse 33), thus becoming rich with respect to God (verse 34; cf. verse 21).