2 Chronicles picks up the story from the end of 1 Chronicles. Chapters 1–9 complete the stories of David and Solomon and, in particular, the story of the building of the temple. The next chapters (10–28) describe what happened when the north and south, Israel and Judah, split apart and became two nations. In contrast to 1 and 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles focuses almost entirely on Judah, only mentioning Israel when its history intersects directly with Judah's. The final chapters of the book tell of the reign of the kings from Hezekiah onwards, after the destruction of Israel, the northern kingdom, and until the exile of Judah to Babylon. The book ends with the proclamation of Cyrus, King of Persia, that ended the exile and allowed the people to return home.
11God answered Solomon, 'Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honour, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may rule my people over whom I have made you king, 12wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honour, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.' (2 Chronicles 1.11-12)
21When he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the LORD and praise him in holy splendour, as they went before the army, saying, 'Give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever.' (2 Chronicles 20.21)
Most ‘historical’ books in the Old Testament tell their stories in order to make theological points, but in 2 Chronicles this is particularly noticeable. We might wonder about what the writers thought 'history' was, and what they believed they were doing when they wrote.
Jewish tradition states that Ezra wrote all of 1 and 2 Chronicles, as well as Ezra and Nehemiah.
More recent explorations of the books, however, have concluded that it 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 in these four books together, though it does seem 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 had been taken away into exile in Babylon between around 598 BC and then again around 586 BC. In 538 BC, King Cyrus decreed that everyone could go home. The problem was that they had been away for around 60 years – most of the people ‘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?
1 and 2 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 stories 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 the worship of the temple could be reconstructed after the people returned from exile.
1.1–9.31 The united monarchy under Solomon
10.1–28.27 The divided monarchy, concentrating on what happened in Judah
29.1–36.23 The story of Judah after the fall of Israel and until the time of the exile
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.
Assyria, Manasseh, Asher, Ammon, Aram, Ashdod, Babylon, Beer-sheba, Damascus, Dan, Edom, En-gedi, Ephraim, Euphrates, Gath, Gibeon, Hebron, Horeb, Israel, Jerusalem, Jezreel, Judah, Lachish, Lebanon, Mizpah, Moab, Mount Horeb, Mount Seir, Negeb, Persia, Ramah, Samaria, Sheba, Shechem, Shephelah, Northern Kingdom, Southern Kingdom, Tekoa, Tyre, Zion
Sidonians, Tyrians, Ahab Ammonites, Chaldeans, Amorites, Arameans, Asher, Asherah, Benjamin, Cyrus, Eliakim, Elijah, Hezekiah, Hivites, Iddo, Isaac, Issachar, Jebusites, Jehoiakim, Jehoiakin, Josiah, Korahites, Levites, Manasseh, Moabites, Moses, Nebuchadnezzar II, Omri, Philistines, Sennacherib, Zedekiah
Altar, exile, exilic period, Ark of the Covenant, atonement, burnt offering, censer, Cherubim, Feast of unleavened bread, golden lampstand, High Priest, idols, lampstand, Passover, priest, scribes, Solomon’s Temple, Tabernacle, threshing floor, tithe, wadi
2 Kings told the story to explain why the exile had happened; 2 Chronicles tells it to remind people how to live and worship God together once they had returned from exile. Look out for this theme as you read.
There are a lot of speeches in 2 Chronicles. Each one of them is important as they reveal significant theological themes. Make sure you notice the keys themes as you read.
As in 1 Chronicles, the main theme is worshipping God. Notice how the author talks about this as you read through the book.
Just as the best side of David was presented in 1 Chronicles, so the best side of Solomon was presented in 2 Chronicles. Reflect on whether just knowing the good things about someone helps or hinders your view of them.