by Rev. Ian Arnold
We tend not to use the word “chronicle” today. Or at least its usage is rarer than it was in the past. But to ‘chronicle’ is to write up an event or a series of events, much in the order in which they happened and as accurately as possible. Hence the name given, I and II Chronicles. Someone (and we don’t know who) felt called to write up the history of ancient Israel; to pull it all together, so to speak.
A cursory leafing through I and II Chronicles could give the impression that what they contain is but a regurgitation of the history already provided, and covered in I and II Samuel and I and II Kings (in the main, though I Chronicles sets out genealogies going right back to Adam). And yes, there is that about it. But take a closer look and all is not what it seems. Whoever wrote up these Chronicles did so with a very real purpose in mind. He (or she) writing possibly as late as the 4th century B.C recast the history of ancient Israel in support of an agenda. While we may think the bulk of what is in I and II Chronicles is but a “lifting” of much of what we find in I and II Samuel and of I and II Kings, that’s not so. The material, as taken directly from I and II Samuel and I and II Kings, is re-written and interpreted in keeping with the author’s purpose. So we have selectivity and omission, embellishment and exaggeration, contradiction and modification and overall historical unreliability.
Scholarly opinion is that I and II Chronicles were never intended to be history but a re-working of history to highlight the covenant relationship between God and His people, the ancient Israelites, centred on Jerusalem and the Temple there. Indeed, that it was a reworking of history to hammer home this message to faithful Jews living in the 4th century B.C. Having this as its focus, political events and military accomplishments are marginalised as being relatively unimportant. Faithfulness, purity and obedience with respect to sacrifices and worship is what is highlighted and the history is re-worked accordingly. In keeping with this, the rebellion of Rehoboam following the death of King Solomon; his break away from what became the southern kingdom of Judah; and his establishment of the northern kingdom of Israel, is largely neglected and by implication contemptuously dismissed as apostasy. As has been written about these books, “It may be too much to say that Chronicles is a piece of anti-Samaritan (Northern Kingdom) polemic, but it can hardly be doubted that it has that movement in mind. The total impression left by the book is that there is one legitimate Aaronic priesthood and Levitical order, one legitimate holy lace divinely chosen, there Jerusalem Temple; there alone true sacrifice may be offered, and this, with its great liturgical collection, the Psalter, was intimately bound up with the divinely appointed Davidic dynasty.” (A. S. Herbert)
Well, then, what can we draw from this that is of value to us today?
I see in I and II Chronicles a “last gasp” insistence within the then Jewish religion on the externalising of religion and on the exactness of external ritual and observances. From the Heavenly Doctrines we know that such insistence and exactness, the hallmark of ancient Judaism, was vital to keep alive the connection between heaven and earth, angels and humans, in the period leading up to the Lord’s actual Coming on earth. What we have to be on our guard against is thinking that such insistence and exactness and absolute correctness where the externals of worship are concerned is necessary today. We don’t meet the Lord in external exactness. We meet the Lord in our humility, our sincerity of heart and our willingness to be led by Him. As in the Writings,
“A Church is not a church by virtue of its externals, that is, of its religious observances, but by virtue of its internals; for these are the essential realities, the externals merely forms expressing those realities.” (“Arcana Caelestia”/”Secrets of Heaven” 4831)
This, too, is usefully reflected on, how history, the re-telling of events, and experiences gone through, can be recalled, modified, re-worked, embellished and exaggerated to suit a particular purpose we have in mind or love we seek to favour. The “proprium” is so often behind such selectivity, etc.