What are Chronicles?
Our Old Testament readings this week add in selected chapters from 1 Chronicles. The books of 1&2 Chronicles offer a supplementary history to the one we read in the books of Samuel and Kings. Most scholars place this writing as occurring no earlier than the restoration from the Exile, after 450 BC. By this time Israel had some historical perspective on the monarchy of David and his successors, the divided kingdom, and the eventual destruction of this rule at the hands of foreign invaders.
In later weeks the passages we read from Chronicles will closely parallel our readings from Samuel and Kings. Be sure to note the differences. What does the revision of this history try to emphasize . . . or omit?
Old Testament Readings: 1 Samuel 18-25; 1 Chronicles 3-7
Our readings in 1 Samuel follow the ongoing decline of Saul’s kingship and the corresponding rise of David, his eventual successor to the throne. We know already that God has withdrawn the divine favor from Saul because of his disobedience to God’s will. When the Lord instructs Samuel to anoint David (1 Samuel 16), this event signals the transfer of spiritual power. David’s valor in the defeat of Goliath (ch.17) demonstrates his trust in God’s strength and confirms his status as a rising hero to the people of Israel.
There is dramatic tension throughout this part of the story. As readers, we know what is coming: Saul’s fall and David’s rule. But the narrative treads deliberately through these stories, to make us feel the inevitability of Saul’s tragic end. We see Saul’s ambivalence and growing fear about David, his arbitrary and unpredictable spirit, and the dark moodiness that besets his spirit. God’s warnings about the problems of monarchy (1 Samuel 8) prove accurate about Saul’s kingship. The wheels of his rule wobble increasingly, until the time when they will fall off completely.
Likewise, our concern for David grows as he faces deepening danger, not as much from external enemies like the Philistines as from his own king, Saul. David shows wisdom in his deft handling of the threat from Saul, using the goodwill of Saul’s own children, Jonathan and Michal, to evade Saul’s schemes to destroy him (chh. 19-20). At the same time he demonstrates his righteousness by sparing Saul’s life twice and so avoiding the bloodguilt of murdering the Lord’s anointed (see chh. 23-24, 26).
This ability of David to maintain his righteousness contrasts with Saul’s spiritual disintegration. The narrative is building the picture of the ideal king for Israel—one who acts as the human agent of God’s divine rule. For all of David’s many personal gifts—as a musician, a warrior, an inspiring leader—his most important attribute is his connection with the Lord God of Israel. He is a “shepherd after God’s own heart” (Jeremiah 3:15).
The first few chapters of 1 Chronicles provides genealogical lists of the people of God from Adam down to the Exile. The ordering of these early chapters is instructive. Chapter 2 focuses on the descendants of Judah, Jacob’s fourth son. Listing Judah first reflects the primacy of this tribe in Israel’s later history: only Judah will remain of the twelve tribes after the conquests and exile. The historical record that Chronicles provides will closely follow our readings in 1&2 Samuel and 1&2 Kings, with revisions that suggest an interest in the southern kingdom of Judah.
New Testament Readings: Acts 13-17
We experience a new development in the Acts of the Apostles in these readings—the missionary travels that take the good news into the heart of the Roman Empire. [A Bible atlas or map of these journeys is useful.] The launching point of these missionary efforts is Antioch, the city in Syria described in Acts 11 as the first place where Jesus’ followers were called “Christians.” The narrator is clear to describe this effort as the calling and the work of the Holy Spirit (13:2,4).
In their first journey Paul and Barnabas travel first to Cyprus, then to cities in Asia Minor, preaching in the synagogues of the various cities. At Paphos on Cyprus, they withstand the opposition of a “magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus” (13:7). When this magician is struck blind by God’s power, the Roman official with him believes in the teaching and the power of the Lord (13:12). We read an extensive speech by Paul to the people in the city of Antioch in Pisidia (13:16-41), but it his proclamation afterwards to the Gentiles produces the greater effect, winning converts and arousing jealousy from the Jews, who drive Paul and Barnabas away from their district. Another hasty retreat occurs in Iconium, and in Lystra, the Jews even incite the crowd to join in stoning Paul. These episodes paint a complex picture: the gospel stirs the hearts of many Jews and Gentiles, but it also threatens many whose faith cannot stretch to accommodate the rule of Jesus as Messiah.
This missionary work among Gentiles (non-Jews) produced a crucial practical and theological question for the Church: what should the Church require of Gentile converts? Specifically, did Gentiles have to follow the Law of Moses and undergo circumcision, the traditional rite of entry into the covenant people? The question was important enough that Acts 15 records a meeting of leaders in Jerusalem to work through this issue. They conclude that circumcision is not necessary for Gentiles, but that converts be instructed to abstain from food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, and from eating meat with blood in it or strangled (15:19-21). We know from Paul’s letters that this controversy did not resolve simply or quickly, but that it helped forge Paul’s articulation of the freedom Christians enjoy in Christ’s rule.
The second missionary journey begins sometime later, when Paul desires to revisit the churches from his prior travel. He travels with Silas, and soon with Timothy also, through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, “the Spirit of Jesus” not allowing them to go into the region of Bithynia (16:7). Paul experiences a vision of man beckoning them to Macedonia, by which he concludes that God is calling him to a mission in Europe. Their travels take them to Philippi, which becomes an important congregation of believers. In Philippi we read the thrilling story of Paul and Silas’ rescue from prison (cf. Acts 5:17-21), dramatizing the truth that the good news will not be muzzled. Even the Philippian jailer converts to the faith!
Chapter 17 records the visits to Thessalonica and Berea, both places where the Jewish leaders react angrily, and to Athens, where Paul engages the Greeks by reflecting on the difference between their gods and idols and the true and living God, who created all things. Again, the narrative shows us the openness of Gentiles to the gospel, in contrast to the entrenchment of Jewish leaders.
Psalms: 59, 56, 57, 142, 52, 54,
We read these psalms this week because the headnotes of each refers to a situation in David’s conflict with Saul. These attributions are part of the scripture we have received, but they clearly are later additions by editors, not original to the psalm itself. They reflect the belief that David is the author of the Psalms, based on the description of him as “skillful in playing the lyre” (1 Samuel 16:16-23). Yet while we can see these psalms’ potential application to David’s story, they do not end there. In voicing the faith of one who seeks God’s help, the psalms apply to anyone need God in the midst of a great trial.
Except for Psalm 52, an affirmation of faith in God’s steadfast love, all the other psalms are individual prayers of lament: requests for God’s help that specify a problem, call upon the Lord for help, and conclude by affirming faith in God, often with the promise of a public offering of thanksgiving in worship. This pattern is helpful for us to ponder for our own lives of prayer for ourselves and others.