The Problem with Literalism: Chronicles (3)
Last week we looked at two examples where the Chronicler’s portrayal of Israel’s monarchy is significantly different from what is recorded in Samuel/Kings: his exclusive focus on the southern kingdom of Judah and the transfer of power from David to Solomon.
These examples show that these two historians have very different reasons for writing their histories. The writer of Samuel/Kings is focused on why first the northern kingdom was taken captive by the Assyrians (722 B.C.) and then the southern kingdom by the Babylonians (586 B.C.) The Chronicler’s focus is on the returning southern kingdom and their future as the people of God. These differing purposes account for why the history is told differently.
Although there are many more differences, this week I want to look at one final difference in particular and make a concluding comment in the Chronicler’s “messianic expectation.”
The Importance of the Temple
As we saw last week, the Chronicler omits the failings of Solomon in order to present him as a model for the kind of ideal king the postexilic Israelites are yearning for. They are looking for someone who, unlike the pre-exilic kings—is fully faithful to God and leads the people in obedience.
The Chronicler omits other things about Solomon, not just his failings. He minimizes Solomon’s kingly role and focuses on his role in Israel’s worship, especially Solomon’s wisdom to build the temple.
The temple is the topic in 1 Kings for only four chapters (5-8). In Chronicles, the temple covers fifteen chapters, 1 Chronicles 22-2 Chronicles 7. Those chapters add a lot of material that is unique to Chronicles and also omits a lot of what we see in 1 Kings.
1 Chronicles 22-29 is added material that is unique to Chronicles. These chapters give David a role in the temple building that is not seen in Samuel/Kings. Here David takes a hands-on approach to building the temple: he makes preparations (chapter 22), organizes the Levites, priests, and singers into groups (chapters 23-25), and even solicits donations (chapter 29).
Then in 2 Chronicles 1-9, which parallels 1 Kings 5-8 more closely, the Chronicler omits those parts of 1 Kings that focus on Solomon’s kingly role: the establishment of his throne (1 Kings 2); his wise decision concerning the prostitutes (3:16-28); the list of officials and governors (4:1-19); Solomon’s daily provisions (4:20-27); extolling Solomon’s wisdom (4:29-34); the building of Solomon’s palace (7:1-12).
Clearly, the Chronicler is very interested in David and Solomon’s role in the temple specifically, not so much in their kingly duties.
False worship was a huge factor in the destruction of the temple in 586 B.C. and in sending Israel into exile. Proper temple observance, led by faithful kings, will be the key to postexilic Israel’s continued status as God’s people. David and Solomon’s role in the temple in Chronicles serves as a model for Israel’s postexilic rejuvenation.
This is the hope that is both taken up and fully transformed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Chronicles, Jesus, and the Messianic Hope
Chronicles looks to the past to give hope for the future. The postexilic Israelites were yearning for a king to rule and guide them as the people of God. They were through with kings who had a half-hearted love of God, the kind of kingship that helped land them in Babylonian exile to begin with. They wanted a new kind of king, one who fits the ideal picture of what a king of Israel should really be like. This is why the Chronicler portrays the reigns of David and Solomon the way he does: to speak to that future hope.
To put this another way, Chronicles is a highly messianic book. In fact, perhaps no book in the Old Testament has more of an explicit messianic focus.
“Messiah” for Old Testament Israelites simply meant “anointed.” Kings were anointed, literally with oil, to rule Israel (e.g., 1 Samuel 15:1; 16:3; 1 Kings 1:34; 19:15-16). Technically speaking, all kings were by definition “messiahs.”
When we speak of a “messianic hope” in the Old Testament, it is a hope for an “anointed one,” a king descended the previous kings, but who will “get it right.” For Chronicles, that means a king who will honor temple worship, follow the law, teach the people to do likewise, and be God’s instrument for reestablishing Israel’s national glory among the nations.
The Chronicler likely wrote no earlier than the late fifth century B.C., during the Persian period when there was an optimism that God would set things right fairly soon. But Persian rule gave way to Greek rule, and then eventually to Roman rule. Israel was a servant to the nations rather than being a light to the nations (Isaiah 42:6). As long as this situation remained, Israel could not really be “Israel.” They were not able to fulfill their mission to the world. The realization of their messianic hope remained unfulfilled even 500 years after they had returned to the land (539 B.C.) and rebuilt their temple (516 B.C.).
In Jesus’ day, the messianic hope still shone bright. In fact, “messiahs” were popping up left and right, and they all were after the same thing: reestablishing Jewish faithfulness to the law, to the sanctity of temple worship, and gaining independence from the Romans. These messiahs would turn up with a following, holding a torah in one hand and a sword in the other. All were trying to bring about what we see in seed form in Chronicles.
This messianic expectation is the context of Jesus’ coming, and what does he do? Not what his followers expected. Even his disciples expected Jesus to march into Jerusalem to take his seat on the throne (and they wanted their piece of that pie, too!, see Mark 10:35-45). Judas eventually betrayed Jesus because Jesus’ messianic movement was not what he had signed up for.
Jesus did not preach maintaining the Jewish law; he gave a new law that exceeded it (Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7). Jesus did not uphold temple worship; he criticized it and declared that he was the temple (John 2:12-25). Jesus did not march into Jerusalem to grasp the power of an earthly throne; his kingdom was not of power but of service, even self-sacrifice (Matthew 20:20-28), a kingdom not of this world (John 18:36).
Jesus did not fulfill the messianic expectation of Chronicles; he transformed it. Jesus is the new king in the line of David and Solomon. He is not like the kings of Samuel/Kings. He is not even like the idealized king of Chronicles. Jesus further reshapes Israel’s notion of what their king should be. He fulfills the ideal, but beyond expectation.
Pete Enns is a former Senior Fellow of Biblical Studies for The BioLogos Foundation and author of several books and commentaries, including the popular Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, which looks at three questions raised by biblical scholars that seem to threaten traditional views of Scripture.