1 and 2 Chronicles tell the story of the kings of Israel from the reign of Solomon to the end of the exile in 538 BC. The storylines in Chronicles overlap with those in 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings, though the style of writing is very different. 1 Chronicles begins with nine chapters of genealogies tracing the ancestry of those returning from exile back to David and even as far back as Adam. The ‘story’ of 1 Chronicles begins with the death of Saul and focuses almost entirely on David’s reign, which it presents in even more glowing terms than 2 Samuel does.
There is no one like you, O LORD, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. (1 Chronicles 17.20)
The LORD, the God of Israel, has given rest to his people; and he resides in Jerusalem forever. (1 Chronicles 23.25)
Jewish tradition states that Ezra wrote all of 1 and 2 Chronicles, as well as the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
More recent explorations of the books, however, have concluded that the authorship is more complex than that. All four books seem to have been collected together from a wide variety of sources. If you look carefully while you read, you might be able to notice some of the joins in the text.
We know very little about which people finally put all the strands together in these four books, although it does seem as though they had 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings in front of them as they wrote.
The traditional author – Ezra – was a scribe and a priest and is credited with bringing the Torah back to Judah after the exile. Some people have even pointed to Ezra as being influential in bringing the five books of the Torah together in the form they have now.
This was a tumultuous time in Judah’s history. The king and nearly everyone influential from the land had been taken away into exile in Babylon, first around 598 BC and then again around 586 BC. In 538 BC King Cyrus decreed that everyone could go home. The problem was that by then they had been away for around 60 years – most of those ‘returning’ had never lived there in the first place.
The challenges of the return from exile made identity a key question in this period. What did it mean to be the people of God and what did they need to rebuild in order for them to be able to be God’s people once more?
2 Samuel, 1 Kings
This is a history book but it falls into the category of what you might call theological history – history with a purpose. It is not telling the story just so that you can know what happened but so that you can understand why it happened. Many of the historical books of the Bible are like this.
The particular interest of 1 and 2 Chronicles is worship, and how to reconstruct the worship of the temple after the people returned from exile.
10.1–14 The demise of Saul
11.1–12.40 David becomes the king of Israel
13.1–17.27 David brings the ark to Jerusalem and God promises that his dynasty will continue
18.1–20.8 The wars that David fought and won
21.1–29.30 David prepares for the building of the temple
There will be lots of names you will not know; don’t worry if you can’t place them all. The key ones are given below.
Mount Gilboa, Hebron, Jabesh Gilead, Zion, Tyre, Moab, Edom, cave of Adullam, Aram, Assyria, Babylon, Bashan, Beer-sheba, Canaan, Carmel, Cush, Damascus, Dan, Edom, Ephraim, Ephrathah, Euphrates, Galilee, Gath, Gezer, Gibeon, Haran, Hebron, Hermon, Israel, Jabesh-gilead, Jerusalem, Jezreel, Judah, Mesopotamia, Midian, Moab, Mount Carmel, Mount Gilboa, Mount Hermon, Mount Seir, Mount Tabor, Sheba, Shechem, Shephelah, Sidon, Tekoa, Tyre, Ur, Ziklag, Zion
Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites, Amalekites, Amorites, Arameans, Asher, Benjamin, Benjaminite, Cherethites, Elijah, Enoch, Gedaliah, Hezekiah, Hittites, Hivites, Iddo, Isaac, Issachar, Jebusites, Jehoiakim, Joshua, Josiah, Korah, Korahites, Levi, Levites, Manasseh, Milcom, Moabites, Moses, Nebuchadnezzar II, Omri, Pelethities, Philistines, Sidonians, Tyrians, Zedekiah, Zerubbabel
altar, Dagon, ark of the covenant, atonement, Baal, burnt offering, Cherubim, Feast of unleavened bread, golden lampstand, High Priest, idols, lampstand, priest, scribes, Solomon’s Temple, Tabernacle, threshing floor
The key theme in 1 Chronicles is the worship of God and how best to do it. Look out for the theme of worship as you read.
There are a lot of speeches in 1 Chronicles. Each one of them is important as they reveal significant theological themes. Make sure you notice the key themes as you read.
Some people say that David is idealised in 1 Chronicles – see what you think as you read.
There are a lot of prophets and their speeches in 1 Chronicles. Reflect on what you think prophecy is in 1 Chronicles and why it is so important.