Overview of the Book of 1 Chronicles
Overview of the Books of 1 & 2 Chronicles
Note: The Overviews for 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles are identical.
Author: The author is unknown.
To direct the restoration of the Kingdom after the exile with special emphases on the unity of Israel, the king, the Temple, and immediate blessings and curses.
Date: c. 520-400 B.C.
- The united Kingdoms of David and Solomon provide models for God's people as they seek the blessings of God.
- The fate of each generation of Israel was determined by its adherence to God's ideals for kingship, the Temple, and the unity of God's people.
- Future generations of God's people must learn from Israel's history the priorities and patterns of faithfulness expected of them.
Author:Jewish tradition considered Ezra the primary author of the books of Chronicles (First and Second Chronicles are two halves of one book), Ezra, and Nehemiah. At least two considerations suggest that he was the author of Chronicles: (1) The book was written during the postexilic period near the time of Ezra's ministry (see "Time and Place of Writing") and (2) Many passages in Chronicles reveal affinities with the priestly concerns that undergirded Ezra's work (see "Purposes and Distinctives").
Other considerations, however, cast doubt on this traditional view of authorship: (1) The date of composition for Chronicles cannot be limited to Ezra's lifetime (see "Time and Place of Writing"), (2) The Chronicler's focus on kingship (see "Purposes and Distinctives") is absent from Ezra's teaching, and (3) Ezra's concern with apostasy due to intermarriage is not a prominent theme in Chronicles (2 Chron. 1:1-9:31).
The traditional viewpoint remains hypothetical. No doubt Ezra's ministry was in harmony with the teachings of Chronicles. He may even have contributed in some way to the composition of the book. Still, neither historical nor Scriptural evidences indicate conclusively that Ezra was the author of Chronicles. As a result, most modern interpreters simply refer to the author as "the Chronicler."
The Chronicler relied on many written sources as he composed his history:
(1) He depended on a number of Biblical texts. He drew heavily from Samuel and Kings and followed portions of the Pentateuch, Judges, Ruth, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Zechariah.
(2) He also cited several otherwise unknown royal sources: "the book of the annals of King David" (1 Chron. 27:24), "the book of the kings" (2 Chron. 24:27), "the book of the kings of Israel" (1 Chron. 9:1; 2 Chron. 20:34), "the book of the kings of Judah and Israel" (2 Chron. 16:11; 25:26; 28:26; 32:32) and "the book of the kings of Israel and Judah" (2 Chron. 27:7; 35:27; 36:8).
(3) He referred explicitly to a number of prophetic sources: the writings of Samuel (1 Chron. 29:29), Nathan (2 Chron. 9:29), Gad (1 Chron. 29:29), Ahijah (2 Chron. 9:29), Iddo (2 Chron. 9:29; 12:15; 13:22), Shemaiah (2 Chron 12:15), Isaiah (2 Chron 26:22) and anonymous "seers" (2 Chron. 33:19).
(4) The style and content of many passages also suggest that the Chronicler used other unspecified sources.
Time and Place of Writing:The final verses of the 2 Chronicles (2 Chron. 36:21-23) indicate that the Chronicler wrote after the release of the exiles from Babylon (c. 538 B.C.). The lack of Hellenistic influences suggests that he composed his history before the Alexandrian period (c. 331 B.C.). Nevertheless, opinions vary over the precise date of composition.
Some interpreters have proposed that the Chronicler wrote as early as the reconstruction of the Temple under Zerubbabel (c. 520-515 B.C.). At least three evidences support this view:
(1) The Chronicler consistently presented the Temple and its personnel in close partnership with the royal line of David (see "Purposes and Distinctives"). This emphasis suggests the possibility of composition near the days of Zerubbabel when expectations of royal and priestly partnership were still high (e.g., Zech. 4:1-14).
(2) The Chronicler gave much attention to the details of priestly and Levitical duties (1 Chron. 6:1-53). This focus suggests a date of composition during the time when the new Temple order was being established.
(3) The Chronicler's omission of Solomon's downfall due to intermarriage (1 Kings 11:1-40) stands in striking contrast to Nehemiah's appeal to Solomon's difficulties (Nem. 13:26). This omission suggests that the Chronicler may have written before intermarriage had become a major issue in the postexilic community.
The majority of interpreters have held that the Chronicler wrote during or after the ministries of Ezra and Nehemiah, in the latter half of the fifth century or the early decades of the fourth century B.C. The main evidence in favor of this view is the royal genealogy in 1 Chronicles 3:17-24, which some interpreters believe extends up to five generations after Zerubbabel, but see the note on 1 Chronicles 3:21.
A specific date of composition for Chronicles cannot be determined. It seems best to accept a range of possibilities from sometime near the days of Zerubbabel to sometime soon after the ministries of Ezra and Nehemiah (c. 515-400 B.C.). The major themes of the book fit well within these boundaries.
The Chronicler wrote for historical and theological reasons. His extensive use of historical documents (see "Author") and devotion to numerical and chronological details (e.g., 1 Chron. 5:18; 2 Chron. 14:1, 9; 16:1, 12, 13) indicate that he intended to give his readers an inerrant historical record. But he did not merely offer information about the past; he also wrote to convey a relevant theological message. Comparing the Chronicler's history with those of Samuel and Kings reveals that he shaped his account of Israel's past to address the needs of the postexilic community. He wrote to encourage and guide his readers as they sought the full restoration of the Kingdom after the Babylonian exile.
The people who had returned from exile faced numerous difficulties. The restoration had not brought about the dramatic changes for which many had hoped. Instead, they endured discouraging economic hardship, foreign opposition and internal conflict. These difficulties raised many questions: Who may legitimately claim to be heirs to the promises God gave his people? What political and religious institutions should we embrace? Should we hope for a new Davidic king? What is the importance of the Temple in our day? How may we find the blessings of security and prosperity for our restored community? The Chronicler addressed these and similar questions in his history.
Purposes and Distinctives:The book of Chronicles was originally untitled. Its traditional Hebrew name may be translated "the annals (events) of the days (time)." This expression appears often in the book of Kings with other qualifications (e.g., 1 Kings 14:29). It also occurs elsewhere in this form without further qualification (Neh. 12:23; Esther 2:23; 6:1). Some Septuagint (Greek Translation of the Old Testament) texts refer to Chronicles as "the things omitted"; i.e., a supplement to the history of Samuel and Kings. Jerome (and Luther following him) called the book "the chronicle of the entire sacred history." Our modern title stems from this tradition.
The Chronicler's theological message may be summarized in many ways, but three concerns were particularly prominent:
(1) The People of God. Throughout his history the Chronicler identified the people who should be included among the heirs of God's covenant promises. The prominence of this theme appears in his frequent use of the expression "all Israel" (see notes on 1 Chron. 11:1; 2 Chron. 10:1; 29:24). The Chronicler's concept of God's people was both narrow and broad. On the one hand, he looked on those who had been released from exile as the people of God. Representatives of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh, who had returned to the land, were the chosen people (see note on 1 Chron. 9:3). As such, they played a vital role in the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel.
On the other hand, however, the Chronicler identified God's people with all the tribes of Israel (see note on 1 Chron. 2:3-9:1). The restoration of Israel was incomplete so long as some of the tribes remained outside the land, separated from the Davidic king and the Jerusalem Temple. As a result, the Chronicler went to great lengths to include both the northern and southern tribes in his genealogies (1 Chron. 2:3-9:1), to present an ideal of a united Kingdom under David and Solomon extending to all the people (see note on 1 Chron. 11:1) and to depict the reunification of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms in the days of Hezekiah (see note on 2 Chron. 29:1-36:23). The returnees were the remnant of God's people, but they had to pray and hope for the restoration of all the people of God. As Hezekiah put it in his day, "If you return to the LORD, then your brothers and your children will be shown compassion by their captors and will come back to this land, for the LORD your God is gracious and compassionate" (2 Chron. 30:9).
(2) The King and Temple. In the Chronicler's view, God had organized his people around two central institutions: the Davidic throne and the Jerusalem Temple. These political and religious structures were fundamental to the life of Israel. In his genealogies, the Chronicler gave special attention to David's lineage (1 Chron. 2:10-17; 3:1-24) and to the organization of the priests and Levites (1 Chron 6:1-81). He emphasized that God had chosen David's line as the permanent dynasty over the nation (1 Chron. 17:1-27; 2 Chron. 13:5; 21:7; 23:3). The establishment of David's throne was a demonstration of divine love and blessing for Israel (1 Chron. 14:2; 2 Chron. 2:11).
The Chronicler also focused on the Temple as the dwelling place of the Name (2 Chron. 7:12, 16; 33:7). The joy and splendor of music in Temple worship were chief concerns in the Chronicler's history (see notes on 1 Chron. 6:31-47, 9:15-16, 28-34, 15:16-24; 16:4-6; 25:1-31; 2 Chron. 5:12-13; 23:13, 19, 29:25-30; 34:12).
The Chronicler drew a close connection between kingship and the Temple in many other ways as well (e.g., 2 Chron. 13:4-12; 22:10-24:27). With this emphasis on king and Temple, he instructed his postexilic readers not to lose sight of either institution. The full restoration of the Kingdom could not take place apart from the Davidic king and the Jerusalem Temple. As the Lord said to David, "I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his Kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever" (1 Chron. 17:11-12).
(3) Divine Blessing and Judgment. The Chronicler composed his history to show his readers how to receive God's blessings in their day. He accomplished this end by drawing close connections between fidelity and blessing, as well as infidelity and judgment (1 Chron. 28:9; 2 Chron. 6:14; 7:11-22; 15:2; 16:7-9; 21:14-15; 24:20; 25:15-16; 28:9; 34:24-28). The king and the Temple could not in themselves secure God's blessing for Israel. His blessings depended on obedience to the Mosaic Law (1 Chron. 6:49; 15:13, 15; 16:40; 22:12-13; 28:7; 29:19; 2 Chron. 6:16; 7:17-18; 12:1-2; 14:4; 15:12-14; 17:3-9; 19:8-10; 24:6, 9; 25:4; 30:15-16; 31:3-21; 33:8; 34:19-33; 35:6-26) and to the prophetic/priestly instruction (2 Chron. 11:4; 12:5-8; 20:20; 21:12-19; 24:19-25; 25:7-10, 15-20; 26:17-20). Blessings came to those who upheld the purity of Temple worship (2 Chron. 15:1-19; 17:1-6; 24:1-16; 29:1-31:21; 34:1-35:19) and humbly relied on God instead of human strength (1 Chron. 5:20; 2 Chron. 13:18; 14:7; 16:7-8; 32:20).
When the people of God and their kings turned to sin, the immediate retribution of illness and military defeat often followed (1 Chron. 10:1-14; 2 Chron. 13:1-16; 16:12; 18:33-34; 21:15-19; 25:14-24; 26:19-20; 28:1-5; 33:1-11). Even so, when the people came under God's judgment, they could be restored to blessing by humbly seeking God through repentance and prayer (1 Chron. 21:1-22:1; 2 Chron. 7:13-15; 12:1-12; 33:10-13). By emphasizing these themes the Chronicler showed his postexilic readers the way to divine blessing in their day. The full restoration of God's people would come only as they lived in fidelity to the Lord. The prophet Azariah stated the matter succinctly to King Asa: "If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you" (2 Chron. 15:2).
As the book unfolds, prominent motifs appear a number of times, but certain themes are emphasized over others in each portion. The history divides into main parts: (1) the genealogies of God's people (1 Chron. 1:1-9:34), (2) the united Kingdom (1 Chron 9:35-2 Chron 9:31), (3) the divided Kingdom (2 Chron. 10:1-28:27), and (4) the reunited Kingdom (2 Chron. 29:1-36:23). Each part contributes specific elements to the Chronicler's overall theological purpose.
(1) The Genealogies of God's People (1 Chron. 1:1-9:34). Genealogies in the ancient Near East followed a variety of forms and served many different functions. These variations appear in the Chronicler's use of genealogies in the first nine chapters of his history. Some passages follow the form of linear genealogies that trace a single family line through many generations (e.g., 1 Chron. 2:34-41); others are segmented and sketch several family lines together (e.g., 1 Chron. 6:1-3). The Chronicler's genealogies also skip generations without notice, emphasizing persons and events that were important to his concerns (e.g., 1 Chron. 6:4-15). Beyond this, just as other ancient genealogies often included brief narratives highlighting significant events, the Chronicler paused on occasion to tell a story (1 Chron. 4:9-10; 5:18-22).
In addition to different forms, the function of ancient genealogies also varied. They occasionally sketched political, geographical and other social connections. In some such cases, the expressions "son of" and "father of" had a meaning other than immediate biological descent. In line with these ancient (yet ordinary for that time) functions of genealogies, the Chronicler provided an assortment of lists, including families (e.g., 1 Chron. 3:17-24), political relations (e.g., 1 Chron. 2:24, 42, 45, 49-52), and trade guilds (e.g., 1 Chron. 4:14, 21-23).
The Chronicler included extensive genealogical records in his book to establish that his readers were the legitimate continuation of God's elect people. He accomplished this end by reporting the special election of Israel from all of humanity (1 Chron. 1:2-2:2), the arrangement of the tribes of Israel (1 Chron. 2:3-9:1), and the representatives of the tribes who returned from Babylon (1 Chron. 9:16-34).
By identifying the postexilic readers as the continuation of the chosen line, the Chronicler pointed to their opportunities and responsibilities. Since they were God's people, they were offered the opportunity of God's blessing in the Promised Land. They had a solid basis for hope in the full restoration of the Kingdom. But their identity as God's elect people also entailed many responsibilities. The Chronicler's genealogies focused on the breadth and order of the tribes of Israel, emphasizing especially the importance of the Davidic and Levitical families (see note on 1 Chron. 2:3-9:1a). If his readers were to receive the blessings of God, they had to observe these divinely ordained arrangements carefully.
(2) The United Kingdom (1 Chron. 9:35-2 Chron. 9:31). The Chronicler viewed the reigns of David and Solomon as Israel's period of glory. He focused on the positive qualities of these kings and chose not to reference many of their well-known shortcomings and troubles recorded in Samuel and Kings (see notes on 1 Chron. 9:35-29:30 and 2 Chron. 1:1-9:31). David and Solomon ruled over all the tribes and territories of Israel (see note on 1 Chron. 11:1); they provided rich blessings through their political structures (1 Chron. 14:2; 2 Chron. 2:11; 9:8) and the Temple (1 Chron. 22:1; 2 Chron. 7:11-22).
For this reason, the united Kingdom laid the foundation of hope for the postexilic readers. God had chosen David's line and the Temple in Jerusalem to be the instruments of blessing for his people through all generations.
But this hope of blessing was conditional. The Chronicler also presented David and Solomon as models to be imitated. The postexilic community had to devote itself to the ideals of the united Kingdom. Humble and faithful reliance on God, commitment to Davidic rule and devotion to the Temple were essential to receiving the blessing of God.
(3) The Divided Kingdom (2 Chron. 10:1-28:27). The Chronicler's record of Israel's history from Rehoboam to Ahaz focuses on events in the Southern Kingdom, Judah. Although he relied on the book of Kings for much of his information, the Chronicler omitted large blocks of material dealing with the Northern Kingdom, Israel. In his view, the important historical events of this period took place in Judah, where the Davidic king and the Temple resided.
In many respects, the Chronicler evaluated the kings of this period according to the ideal of the united Kingdom. He applied several criteria to Judah's kings (see "Purposes and Distinctives: Divine Blessing and Judgment"). Was the king faithful to the Law of Moses? Did he support the Temple order established by David and by Solomon? Did the king listen to prophetic and priestly instruction? Did he rely on foreign alliances, or seek God in humility and prayer? The writer evaluated some kings negatively (Jehoram, 1 Chron. 21:4-20; Ahaziah, 1 Chron. 22:1-9; Ahaz, 1 Chron. 28:1-27) and others positively (Abijah, 1 Chron. 13:1-14:1; Jotham, 1 Chron. 27:1-9). For the most part, however, he distinguished between each king's years of fidelity and infidelity (Rehoboam, 2 Chron. 10:1-12:16; Asa, 1 Chron. 14:2-16:14; Jehoshaphat, 1 Chron. 17:1-21:3; Joash, 1 Chron. 22:10-24:27; Amaziah, 1 Chron. 25:1-28; Uzziah, 1 Chron. 26:1-23).
The Chronicler reported these events to illustrate how the conditions of Israel depended on her fidelity to the ideals established in the united Kingdom. With remarkable regularity, he demonstrated that God blessed his people when they proved to be faithful and chastised them when they turned away from him. Victory, security and prosperity came to those who sought the Lord, but defeat, trouble and illness to those who forgot him (see "Purposes and Distinctives: Divine Blessing and Judgment").
This portion of the Chronicler's history addressed the needs of the postexilic readers by explaining their situation and offering them guidance. Just as Judah's kings had experienced God's chastisement, the postexilic community suffered difficulties because of infidelity. God's promises of restoration had not failed; the people had failed. Similarly, just as the kings of Judah were blessed as they turned toward the Lord, the Chronicler's readers could hope for restoration, security and prosperity if they would do the same.
(4) The Reunited Kingdom (2 Chron. 29:1-36:23). Beginning with Hezekiah, Israel entered a new phase of her history. The Chronicler presented Hezekiah as a new David/Solomon; Hezekiah reunited the faithful of Israel and Judah around the Davidic throne through worship and celebration at the Temple (see notes on 1 Chron. 29:1-36:23 and 1 Chron. 29:24). This reunited people experienced several periods of failure: Manasseh's apostasy (1 Chron. 33:1-10), Amon's entire reign (1 Chron. 33:21-25,) and the overall reigns of the kings of Judah just before the exile (1 Chron. 36:2-14). But each of these failures was followed by God's gracious renewal of the people: Manasseh's restoration (1 Chron. 33:11-17), Josiah's reforms (1 Chron. 34:3-35:19), and the return from exile (1 Chron. 36:22-23).
This portion of the Chronicler's history also offered hope and guidance to his readers. Despite the failures of the reunited Kingdom, God continued to grant blessings to his repentant people. These events reminded the readers that God extended his mercy to them, offering them his blessing. At the same time, however, the events of this period demonstrated the requirements placed on those who longed for the full restoration of the Kingdom during the postexilic period. The nation must turn to the Lord in humility and live faithfully before him.
Christ in Chronicles:Focusing on his concerns for the people of God, for the king and for the Temple, as well as on divine blessing and judgment, the Chronicler wrote his history to bolster Israel's hope in the coming of the Messiah. His immediate focus was the restoration of the postexilic community, but the New Testament revealed that the Chronicler's ideal of the restored Kingdom found fulfillment in Christ.
The Chronicler's hopes for the people of God became a reality in Christ. Those who follow Christ are the heirs of Israel's promises (Gal. 3:14, 29; 4:28; Eph. 2:11-22; 3:6), as were the faithful of the postexilic community. Christ's Church extends beyond Israel to include the Gentiles (Luke 2:32; Acts 9:15; 11:1, 18). At the return of Christ all of God's elect will be united under the lordship of Christ (Eph. 2:11-22).
The Chronicler's interest in the restoration of David's throne was also fulfilled in Christ. Christ was born the Son of David, the rightful heir to the Davidic throne (Luke 1:32; Rom. 1:3; Rev. 22:16). Jesus met all the conditions of obedience placed on David's line (Rom. 5:19; Phil. 2:8; Heb. 5:7-10). In the resurrection, Christ took his throne in heaven (Acts 2:33-35; Eph. 1:20-23; Phil. 2:9; Rev. 3:21). He leads his people into blessing and victory (Rom. 8:37; Eph. 4:7-13) and reigns until all his enemies are defeated (1 Cor. 15:24-26).
The Chronicler's emphasis on the Temple likewise finds fulfillment in Christ. Christ offered himself on the cross as the perfect atonement for sin (Heb. 9:11-28; 1 Pet. 3:18; 1 John 2:2), and he intercedes in the heavenly palace of God on behalf of his people (Heb. 3:1; 4:14-16; 6:20; 7:26; 8:1). On his return, Christ will bring all his people into the blessed presence of God (John 14:1-4; 1 Thess. 4:16-17).
The Chronicler's focus on divine blessing and judgment also anticipated the work of Christ. Jesus warned his church of the necessity of fidelity to God (Matt. 5:17-20). He suffered death on the cross so that his people might be delivered from judgment (Rom. 3:21-26). He grants them new life so that they may be assured of the reward of eternal blessing (John 3:16; 2 Pet. 3:13; 1 John 2:25).
The Chronicler wrote to encourage his postexilic readers to renew the Kingdom in their day. But his history also pointed forward to the inauguration of the Kingdom in the first coming of Christ and to the glorious consummation when he returns.
Introduction Material:Introduction to the Historical Books
Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).