Joy And More Joy!
For many people, the book Chronicles might just as well be cut out of the Bible. The name alone – ‘Chronicles’, is enough to make you think of tedious lists.
And yes, the first nine chapters of Chronicles contain long genealogies which mean nothing to the average Bible reader. Utterly boring. Above all, if you have already read Kings, this Bible book is repetitious. Is the Greek name for Chronicles not Paralipomenon, ‘that which has been left out, the leftovers’? Thus the suggestion that Chronicles is a mere supplement, an appendix, is an obvious one. Added to this is that a whole generation of Biblical scholars had very little interest in Chronicles. They considered that the Chronicler twisted facts about certain parts of history, that he upheld a narrow-minded nationalistic viewpoint, that he did injustice to the reality with an over emphatic retaliation idea, that he more or less gave signs of spiritual exhaustion, and so on...
In the last decades, the wind has begun to blow from another direction. Study after study about the book of Chronicles has appeared wherein it becomes evident that this book has been handled unfairly in the past. The conceited judgements often said more about the exegetes’ own attitude and values than about the Bible book itself. Especially a negative view of the Old Testament period after the Babylonian exile was sometimes playing tricks on scholars. In recent times, Chronicles is being read anew by interpreters with growing enthusiasm and they are making discovery upon discovery. Boring? Dull? Forget it!
It is becoming clearer that Chronicles is absolutely not just a book which briefly repeats Kings and is really unnecessary. On the contrary, the Chronicler gives a deliberate re-telling of the history from a totally independent standpoint, with an own purpose. Take these first nine chapters for example: when we take a closer look, these so called boring genealogies give a sort of sermon-in-names in which the big themes of the history of Chronicles already are represented. And note the way in which, is spoken of ‘whole Israel’. Most noticeable is also the insertion of all sorts of prophetic speeches, which we miss in Kings, or the extensive account of the ‘good’ kings Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah and Josiah; everyone of them had meant much for the temple. Every Bible reader noticed this in Chronicles of course: the unique concentration on the temple, the worship service, the Levites.
For the one who wants to read and to listen with an open mind, this Bible book becomes more interesting by the minute, certainly when we compare it with the books of Samuel and Kings, which were the most important sources for the Chronicler.
In the midst of all individual emphasises and characteristics of the Chronicler, we turn the spotlight onto one. Mention of joy in Chronicles is conspicuous. In contrast to 10 times in the 102 chapters of Samuel and Kings, in the 65 chapters of Chronicles the Hebrew root for ‘joy’ is used 25 times. Joy, not just as feeling or emotion, but very concretely as rejoicing, as expression of joy. This joy element constantly has the Chronicler’s attention, whether he tells about the transport of the ark to Jerusalem, or about the building, dedication or reform of the temple, or about the coronation of a king or the size of a spontaneous voluntary contribution.
It is, for example, striking that the Chronicler easily changes the sources he uses in this sense. Two examples. In 1 Chronicles 16 he describes how the ark is brought to Jerusalem, wherein David charges the Asaphites to praise God. They do this with a song that we know as Psalm 96. Where this psalm really sings about ‘strength and glory’ in God’s sanctuary (v. 6), Chronicles turns this into ‘strength and joy’ (v. 27). Also in the quotation from Psalm 132, as this is reproduced in 2 Chronicles 6, the word ‘joy’ suddenly crops up (v. 41). And read the compelling history of the celebration of the Passover under King Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles 30. One great crescendo of joy, in the verses 21, 23, 25 and 26.
It is difficult to put this all down to chance. It is especially this focussing on joy that puts us on to the trail of what the Chronicler could have intended. His work, really speaking a sermon in the form of a prophetical historical writing, was a word in time. Most exegetes agree that (the most of) Chronicles must have been written at the beginning of the fourth century BC. We imagine: almost one and a half centuries after the return from the Babylonian exile. The temple is rebuilt, but is nowhere near as glorious as it was. The kingship over Israel has not been re-established, Judah is a small backwater province in the immeasurably great Persian empire. What do you mean – Zion the centre of the world? Where is the fulfilling of God’s prophecies? The books of Malachi, Ezra and Nehemiah, written in the fifth century BC reflect what Judah is experiencing in these days. The history of God and his people seems to have been blown out like a candle in the wind in spite of the recovery of the walls of Jerusalem.
But then the Holy Spirit inspires the writer(s) of this book of Chronicles, which places the whole history in an encouraging light, in order to rally the people. No, it is not all over! God’s promises reach beyond that which can be seen, here and now. The king on the throne of God over Israel, the temple where praise can be heard, permeated with a mighty joy: everything announces that God does not abandon the work of his hands. Joy - it is as though the Chronicler triply underlines what Nehemiah said to a people in tears, half a century earlier: “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength”. (Neh. 8:10) The mustard seed of God’s work sown in history was not to no avail. Therefore: praise Him with great joy! In the temple, and in hope.
It says a great deal, that the last word of Chronicles is an exhortation: ‘let him go up’ (2 Chron. 36:23). The end has not yet come, God’s people is ‘on its way’, but awaiting Him, in joy.