As I start into the book of Chronicles1 I’m doing to do exactly what we’re always told we’re not supposed to do: I’m going to waterski2 over a long section of genealogies instead of diving deep. In fact, this might not even be waterskiing over the material, it might be more like parasailing over it3! I’m covering so much material in this one post, all of Chapters 1–9, that the Bible Gateway cuts it off if a link points to the whole thing, which is why there are two links above instead of the usual one.
Before getting into the material itself let’s talk about the book of Chronicles, including a quotation from my favourite Study Bible on why we call it Chronicles:
The Hebrew title of the work, Dibre Hayyamim, is derived from 1 Chronicles 27:24 and may be translated “the events of the years” or “annals.” In the Septuagint (Greek translation), it is known as Paraleipomena or “the things omitted,” indicating that it was considered a supplement to the books of Samuel and Kings. The English title derives from a suggestion by Jerome, the translator of the Vulgate (a Latin translation), that a more suitable title would be “the chronicle of the whole sacred history.” Martin Luther adopted this proposal, titling his translation of the books Die Chronika, and versions ever since the Reformation have followed his practice.
ESV Study Bible
From the most recent scholarship, it is believed to have been initially written around 400 B.C. (give or take a decade or two); another quote:
Until the latter half of the twentieth century it was widely held that Chronicles and Ezra–Nehemiah were originally a single work recounting Israel’s history from Adam to the time of Nehemiah, c. 430 B.C. (see Neh. 5:14). However, most scholars now consider them separate works from the same temple circles of priests and scribes. The inclusion in Chronicles of modified passages from Ezra–Nehemiah (1 Chron. 9:2–34 = Neh. 11:3–19; 2 Chron. 36:22–23 = Ezra 1:1–3) points to Chronicles being a somewhat later work. The list of the postexilic Davidic descendants in 1 Chronicles 3:17–24 suggests a date of c. 400 B.C., or possibly some decades later.
ESV Study Bible
Regardless of the exact date, whenever it was written we know that God’s chosen people were still dispersed and under the control of another nation—the Persians if we go with the 400 B.C. date—with a timeline something like this (approximate dates):
|Jerusalem destroyed by the Babylonians, and God’s people deported from the Promised Land
|Babylon falls to Persia
|Many (but far from all) of God’s people return to Judah, according to the policy of the Persians of allowing displaced people to go home
|The Temple is rebuilt
|More people return to Judah/Jerusalem, with Ezra
|Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem and rebuilds the wall of Jerusalem
|Chronicles is written
We don’t have clarity as to who the author(s) of Chronicles were. One traditionally held view is that it was written by Ezra, and that he wrote Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah all at once, though that seems to now be in question (as alluded to in the quote above from the ESV Study Bible).
Why all of this commentary before I get into the passage itself? Because this context explains, at least in part, why the author(s) chose to start this book with nine chapters of genealogies, going all the way back to Adam.
- Firstly, it’s a reminder to God’s people that His history with them goes back much farther than the Persians, farther than the Babylonians a hundred years before that, farther even than the formation of their own country – God has been orchestrating history since the very, very beginning. Are the Persians the dominant nation in the known world4? Sure! But they’re still nothing compared with God. His people would need to take a long view toward history, not be hyper focused on the present, as difficult as that always is.
- A major theme in the book of Chronicles will be the Davidic covenant – that is, the covenant God made with King David that there would be kings from his line ruling Israel (or, later, Judah) forever. So… what did that mean for God’s people who were now under the Persians, without a king of their own? Who had, in fact, been without a king for hundreds of years by this point? A large focus of these genealogies will be on the line of David, reminding God’s people of that covenant, and probably also serving as documentation for the current line of David.
That’s probably enough prologue; let’s look at the actual genealogies.
In 1:1–27✞ we get from Adam to Noah and his sons, and then from Noah’s sons to Abraham. In 1:28–54✞ we get those of Abraham’s descendents who didn’t lead to King David, including Ishmael (bore to him by Hagar), and the descendents of Esau and the Edomites (the sons of Seir, whoever that is).
2:1–54✞ cover the descendents of Abraham who do lead to King David. At this point the author(s) slow down a bit.
3:1–9✞ cover David’s sons, along with the fact that he ruled in Jerusalem for thirty-three years. I don’t know if it’s significant or not but I was interested to see that the author(s) phrased it that way; that David ruled “in Jerusalem” – not that he “ruled over Israel.” I wonder if they were trying to avoid getting into all that unfortunate history of the nation of Israel being split into two…
Verses 3:10–16✞ cover the descendents of David who ruled over Judah (with Israel not being part of the story), and 3:17–24✞ cover David’s descendents after the fall to Babylon – so they were keeping track of all of this even after they’d been conquered.
Having covered the descendents of David, we now backtrack, right back up to Judah (Jacob’s son, not the nation), and 4:1–6:30✞ cover “Other Clans of Judah” (using the NIV heading). We get the occasional side note in this section. For example:
- 4:9–10✞ cover some specifics about Jabez
- 4:27–43✞ go into more detail than usual about Shimei’s clan
- 5:18–22✞ includes mention of the Reubenites, Gadites, and half tribe of Manasseh conquering the Hagites
Interestingly, 6:31–7:40✞ then give a genealogy of the Temple musicians. The musicians in the Temple were so important to the people of God that they specifically get called out in the genealogy! In fact, get ready for much more of this theme to come out in Chronicles; along with the Davidic covenant there is also a lot of focus on the Temple.
Chapter 8✞ gives the genealogy of Saul, who, we will remember, was the first king of Israel.
9:1–34✞ breaks out of the genealogies to talk about the resettlement of Judah. Now that the Persians are allowing God’s people to return to their land, some of them do so. Verses 1–13✞ give a general list of a bunch of folks who resettled, verses 14–16✞ talk specifically about Levites returning, and then verses 17–34✞ talk about the return of the gatekeepers. If it seems excessive to spend seventeen verses talking about the gatekeepers—first the musicians, now the gatekeepers!—keep in mind that this term “gatekeeper” is more general than just guarding the gates of the city, it’s actually the Temple they’re focused on, guarding its treasures and being in charge of utensils and other items used in the worship of the LORD.
And finally, 9:35–44✞ goes back to the genealogies, finishing the genealogy of Saul. “But wait,” we might be thinking, “why did the author(s) stop the genealogy of Saul to talk about people returning, only to have to go back and finish the genealogy?” But the genealogy of Saul in 9:35–44✞ is really the start of the author(s) recounting the story of Saul; consider 9:35–44✞ a prologue to Saul’s story that will be told in Chapter 10✞. (Well, not the whole story of Saul; just the ending. But we’ll talk about that in the next passage…)
So there we have it! Nine chapters of genealogies covered in one post – to the great disappointment of anyone who teaches Old Testament history, who are saying you’re not supposed to skip over genealogies like this.
- I’m doing the same thing for Chronicles that I did for Kings: considering 1 and 2 Chronicles to be one book, which is how it was originally written (just like 1 and 2 Kings were originally one book of Kings). Given a podcast I’ve been listening to I’m tempted to call it the “scroll” of Chronicles instead of the “book,” but I’ll stick with “book” so that readers (if any) at least have some idea what I’m talking about. 🙂 ↩
- An English idiom, meaning that you’re just quickly and lightly going over a topic instead of going deep into it. ↩
- This is just a play on words. If “waterskiing” over content means covering it quickly and without depth, “parasailing” over content means doing it from an even higher level, and with even less depth. ↩
- I always like to caveat “the known world” when saying things like this (instead of saying “the whole world”), because there were were other powers in other parts of the world that the Biblical writers either didn’t know or didn’t care about. For example, at the time this book was written there was also the Nanda empire (located in modern-day India), and although there wasn’t a large nation-state in modern-day China yet, there were a bunch of smaller nations that would soon be swallowed into the Qin dynasty (which then became the Western Han dynasty). ↩