I doubt Chronicles is anybody’s favorite book of the Bible. In fact, I’m more inclined to believe Chronicles is everybody’s least favorite book of the Bible. Sure, we all know and love 2 Chronicles 7:14 (“If My people, who are called by My name…”), but other than that most of us don’t care for Chronicles much.
Admittedly, there are legitimate reasons for this. Chronicles is a long book. Even worse, it is a long book following on the heals of two other long books. It has a lot of lengthy genealogies, which don’t seem to mean anything to us today. And it repeats much of Samuel and Kings, rehashing the events we just covered when we read those books.
So there are undeniably things about Chronicles that are going to reduce its appeal to modern Christian readers, and those things can’t be changed. But there are also some misunderstandings we have about Chronicles that are reducing its appeal even more, gross misunderstandings that are distorting the way we read and interpret the book. And those things can be changed.
I’d like to change a few of them for you now.
How Chronicles Came to Be
Let’s start with the origin of Chronicles, that is, how this book came to be. What we need to know here (and what I didn’t know for years) is that Chronicles is a “post-exilic” work, that is, it was written after “the big break” of the Babylonian Exile.
Samuel and Kings are pre-exilic. They were written prior or right up to the Exile. We don’t know for sure who wrote them (likely an editor compiled things written by Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah), but it seems like they were written contemporaneously, that is, as the events they record were happening.
This is not the case with Chronicles. It was written by someone we call “the Chronicler” (likely Ezra the priest) after the seventy-year Babylonian Exile ended and Israelite refugees began returning to Israel. In other words, it was written long after the events it records happened, and it was written not as history but as interpretation of history. The Scripture Storyline book supports this idea when it says..
and the introduction of The Message version supports it as well.
This is what Chronicles is. It is a “theological commentary” rather than a straight history, a “new slant” on a familiar story. It is an attempt not to just record history but to bring a message out of history for a new group of people who were facing huge obstacles to both life and faith. And that is important to understand.
What Chronicles Is
From there, let’s consider the categorization of Chronicles, that is, what kind of book it is. In our Christian Bibles, Chronicles is categorized as a book of history and is placed right behind Samuel and Kings as the events it records occurred in the same time as the events of those books.
But this is not the case in the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew arrangement considers Samuel and Kings “prophets” (see The Prophecy of Joshua) and Chronicles a “writing”. The ancient Hebrews then (whom I consider the experts on this matter) didn’t see the books as being the same kind but as different kinds. They correctly saw Chronicles not as history but a something else and something more.
Not only so, but the Hebrew Bible puts Chronicles is a different place. In the Hebrew Bible, Chronicles is separated from Samuel and Kings. It does not come immediately after these books but is separated from them by several other books. Not only so, but the Hebrew Bible puts Chronicles last. It is the final word of the entire collection. Think about that for a minute. Chronicles is what the ancient Hebrews put in that powerful last place. Chronicles is the last thing God says in the Hebrew Bible.
An Inclusive History
Let’s move on to one of the great problems of Chronicles: the genealogies. Yes, the genealogies are a problem for modern readers because we don’t know who these people are and can’t pronounce their names. But these genealogies are also a positive of Chronicles because they communicate something important. They communicate that these post-exilic people whom Ezra is writing for have a legitimate part in God’s story.
Remember, these post-exilic people are a defeated people and their nation is a defeated nation. Though they have been allowed to return home, they are still under the thumb of Persia. The glory days of the Davidic dynasty are long gone. It would be easy for these people to conclude that something has gone cataclysmically wrong either with them or with the story God was telling with them. They would naturally think they and that story had been irredeemably derailed.
These genealogies show this isn’t the case at all. Rather, the opposite is the case. By tying these people to their ancestors in the Davidic dynasty, the Chronicler was saying, “You still have a place in this story.” Again, the introduction in The Message supports this idea:
This is more than an insight into how this book would have affected the original readers. It is also insight into how it can and should affect us today. If you notice, the very first name in the very first genealogy is “Adam”. Adam starts this story. And we modern Christians are Adam’s descendants. We may not be descendants of Levi or David or the other prominent Israelite people on these lists, but we are descendants of Adam. According to the message of Chronicles and the way that message is told, then, we too have a part in the story of God.
A Great New Theme
One final thing to say about Chronicles is that it introduces us to a wonderful idea, the idea of God’s goodness. We repeatedly find this statement in the book:
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.
Variations of this statement appear at least six times in the book (1 Chronicles 16:34 & 41 and 2 Chronicles 5:13, 7:3 & 6, & 20:21), and it appears at least once in Ezra (Ezra 3:11) as well as several psalms. And it is this statement is the theme of the Chronicler’s interpretation of Israelite history. It is what he has learned as he returns to Israel and what he wants the people to learn as well. Yes, he wants them to see that Samuel/Kings message of submitting to the Covenant King. But he also wants them to see that the Covenant King is good and loving.
Misunderstood But Good
So is Chronicles difficult? Yes, it is. But does it have a message and a truth that is worth the difficulty? Yes, it does. You may never love Chronicles, and that’s okay. I think the reason God gave us 66 books is because He knew some wouldn’t work for us. But I hope you at least respect Chronicles. I hope you can see how it is not just a rehash of Samuel/Kings or a list of names but instead an inspiring message of how our good and loving God is including us in His Covenant King story despite the fact we have often refused to submit to His Covenant King.