Chronicles: An Introduction
I recently began reading 1-2 Chronicles again in my daily devotionals and have been struck by its rich theology and relevance for my life. My renewed appreciation has led to a fresh study and enjoyment of the book, the result of which I’d like to share in this blog series “Chronicles: Retelling the Story of Israel.” Before I begin, it might helpful to provide a brief introduction to Chronicles.
Chronicles is an Old Testament book—2 books (1-2 Chronicles) in our English Bibles—that retells the story of Israel from the perspective of the Chronicler. The book was written sometime after 538 B.C.; while we don’t know the precise identity of the author, his work was accepted as inspired and authoritative both by the Jews and Early Christians. One distinction of Chronicles is that it is one of only two books in the whole Bible to “cover all of human history from creation to the author’s day” (the other being Luke 3:23-38). This vast chronicling begins with Adam and continues with key figures and events throughout Israel’s history (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and the exodus, the rise and split of the nation of Israel, the destruction and exile of the Israelites to foreign nations) and takes readers up to the important decree of King Cyrus (around 538 B.C.)—this decree allowed the Jews to return their homeland and rebuild Jerusalem. The name “Chronicles” comes from an early church father named Jerome, who said that the books contained “the chronicle of the whole of sacred history.”
The Chronicler’s audience was the people of Israel, who at this point in history had just spent the past 70 years in captivity in Babylon. Such an audience likely needed reassurance that, despite their present desperate circumstances, YHWH, the God of Israel, had not abandoned them. It is this hope that Chronicles instills.
As the Chronicler retells the history of Israel, he relies on other biblical books like 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings. Although sometimes he simply repeats content given in other places, other times he adds, omits, or modifies details to suit his own literary purpose: retelling the story of Israel by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for the needs of the people of God. He is much like the Gospel-writer Luke, who retold the story of Jesus using other sources (like Mark and Matthew). At first glance, this might lead to apparent contradictions between the Chronicler and Samuel/Kings, however, such a view is mistaken. A better way to think of the matter is understand the two works as presenting the same truth through different perspectives. Old Testament scholars Longman and Dillard rightly argue that it is like to two highly skilled painters creating “two different but ‘accurate’ portraits of the same person.”
The author opens his book with nine chapters of genealogies, an act which unfortunately causes most modern readers to close their Bibles. In the next post, we’ll look at the theology and precious, wonderful truths found in 1 Chronicles 1-9.