Monday, September 26, 2005

A waste of time and ink? 1 Chronicles 27

A few days back I had the amazing privilege to spend a day with a friend from uni and his wife to be, and to join them in their daily bible reading. They’re great people. They were due to read 1 Chronicles 27-28 and were celebrating the fact they had almost finishing the lists and genealogies that the Chronicler was so fond of. I shared their sentiment.

However, as 1 Chronicles 27 was read out, I tried to imagine what the post-exilic Jews (subjects of the enormous Persian empire) who first heard the list read would have been thinking. Hearing it read aloud was a great benefit as so often when you read them alone you skip them over, or your brain switches off as you try and remember 2 Tim 3:16.

It begins by describing how the army was organised so that every month of the year was covered by a division of 24,000, a number drummed into your head by the repetition. However, there is no mention of war here (they have been fought and one) but the country is safely protected by this ordered force. The list of commanders from all corners of a united nation tells a different story to the post-exilic Jews for whom a united nation must have seemed little more than a myth. Reinforcing this the next list tells of the leaders of each tribe. The latter Jews, and us, are then treated to a list of David’s (and the nation’s) great and diverse wealth, all organised by different named people. The lists communicate a sense of stable prosperity to me than any prose ever could, making much more real than vague descriptions.

This picture of prosperity, unity, peace, independence, and above all ordered stability must have seemed like a dream to the post-exilic Jews who knew only poverty, could not imagine unity, could not remember real peace, could not foresee independence from such a great empire, and had been buffeted from one corner of the known world to the other with not even a stable subjugator. All this is intimately connected by the Chronicler to the person of David, the designer of the temple who had a heart after God's own. Chapter 28 is basically David's challenge to Solomon and the people to follow his example (and to go further in completing the temple), and serve God 'with a whole heart and with a willing mind'. The benefits will follow forever if they obey God’s commandments.

Saul never really gets a look-in in Chronicles, and the narrative only really starts from this great height for the people of Israel. The rest of Chronicles charts the continually falling fortunes of the people, that is until there is a glimpse of light when the exiles return at the end by Cyrus' decree, which is not that the people return, but that the temple is rebuilt (necessitating the peoples return). I imagine the original hearers must have been filled with a sense of what could have been if Solomon and the people had been up to David’s challenge. At the same time looking on a different temple they must also have been challenged themselves to follow David's example, and looked for God to bless them in it. Maybe they could do better this time. A true descendent of David to rule over them would help as well though...

I came out of that time buzzing with thoughts of God’s blessing...I have had a great time recently reading the bible with others.

PS feel free to pick me up if you think I have Chronicles, and especially chapter 27, all wrong. I haven't really read it for a long while.


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