Who Reads Chronicles Anymore?

I’m currently taking a class on first and second Chronicles, which, if you’ve ever been so surprised to hear about in your church or whatever, are largely made up of genealogies.  However, I’m not that interested in dissecting the theological significance of the genealogies, like at all.  But, as we’ve been learning in class, interesting theological issues are actually being raised in Chronicles, and I want to write a little bit about it because, for one, it’s fascinating to me, especially being someone who hasn’t studied the Old Testament nearly as much as the New Testament, and secondly, it’s helping me formulate some ideas that I’ve already been thinking about lately regarding the discernment of God’s will.

We’ve been discovering how the characters in Chronicles are being portrayed as types, as typological individuals who are characteristic of certain kinds of people who act definitively in specific ways.  A prime example of this is the manner in which Saul is depicted as all bad, and David as all good.  We learned in class that in Samuel Saul cannot be reduced to a one-dimensional character, but in Chronicles he is.  Saul’s negative typological portrayal paves the way for David to be raised up as the righteous ruler in Chronicles.  There are a lot of theological implications for the way the Chronicler depicts the characters in Chronicles and how it broadens our understanding of the will of God when compared to other biblical texts.

Let’s compare the stories of Saul and David as depicted by the Chronicler and begin to extract its theological density.  At the end of chapter nine we get the genealogy of Saul, which ends up essentially being the only gratifying information we get about Saul.  Directly following his genealogy, the Chronicler tells the story of Saul taking his own life.  The Philistines were fighting against Israel, but their primary target at that time was Saul.  The fighting grew worse and at last the Philistines wounded Saul.  Terrified that he might die by the Philistines, the “uncircumcised fellows”, he urges his armor-bearer to kill him, but he’s too afraid to do so.  Saul then takes his own sword and kills himself.  The story concludes with verses thirteen and fourteen saying, “Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD: he did not keep the word of the LORD, and he even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the LORD.  So the LORD put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse” (10:13-14).  It is clear in Chronicles that David was supposed to be king all along.  In class we learned that this isn’t the reality in Samuel.  However, the Chronicler claims that God killed Saul for the purpose of turning the kingdom over to David.  In chapter eleven, the Israelites affirm this.

In verse nine the Chronicler says, “And David became more and more powerful, because the LORD Almighty was with him” (11:9).  It’s clear that in Chronicles, David is raised up as the faithful ruler that God is blessing.  This is directly contrasted with Saul and his death because of his unfaithfulness to the LORD.  In chapter eleven, “all” language is the technical language that the Chronicler utilizes.  In the first verse the Chronicler says, “All Israel came together to David at Hebron and said, ‘We are your own flesh and blood’” (11:1).  This is also covenant language.  The way the people of Israel calls themselves David’s flesh and blood is their way of making a covenant with David.  The people of Israel firmly believe that David is the king that will rule over them as God desires.

What’s so interesting is the way in which the Chronicler depicts David as the just ruler that God destined as Israel’s king because this just isn’t the case in Samuel.  Even in chapter six we see the Chronicler favoring David.  “These are the men David put in charge of the music in the house of the LORD after the ark came to rest there.  They ministered with music before the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, until Solomon built the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem” (6:31-32).  David is liturgically correct and the Chronicler values David for this reason.  It’s my contention that the Chronicler’s unique way of depicting Saul and David as typological characters is actually very enlightening for the way the Church ought to discern the will of God.

We don’t get much insight into the minds of the characters in Chronicles.  This is fairly common in all of scripture.  As the Chronicler is narrating characters like Saul and David, the Chronicler is portraying them so typologically that they’re almost caricatures.  So what we end up with in Chronicles is a story of God’s elect people that removes all puzzlement and ambiguity that is found in Samuel.  The Chronicler is saying that among God’s People Israel there is fixity, order, and lack of ambiguity.  It’s curious because in the Church we don’t like suspense, intrigue, and drama like books like Samuel present to us, but the Church as a whole reads Samuel and Kings much more than Chronicles.  The contradicting reality is that the Church acts much more like the world of Chronicles.  The way we view things in the Church largely reflects the Chronicles worldview in that our opinions on moral issues, such as same-sex marriage, climate change, and immigration are fixed and often times one-sided as if we know for sure what God’s will is.  Or certain churches are absolutely sure that God has appointed individuals for their specific ministries.  The Church as a whole is sure of many things.

In class we’ve been learning how Samuel is much more nuanced and textured, and in this way it’s more realistic than Chronicles.  Maybe what we need as the Church is to live between Chronicles and Samuel, to live in the nuance and the ambiguity, because if we don’t embrace the ambiguities of our lives and of the will of God as we know it now, then we are living in a dreamland.  When we talk about God’s will for us personally, ecclesially, or cosmologically, in light of the total biblical narrative, we face much more ambiguity than we’d like.  If we look at all of the biblical material, or even just Chronicles and Samuel, we face a lot of loose ends that are often uncomfortable for us.  This is why so many kids at my school often have crises of faith.  I know I did. The reality is we can’t be sure what God’s will is for us.

I recently got accepted as a worship intern at University Covenant Church in Davis, CA, which is super exciting for me.  This is a great example of how I’ve been making decisions lately.  Choosing to apply as a worship intern for this church in California, and secondly, accepting the position, weren’t decisions I made based on some mystical sense that God had appointed me for UCC or Davis, CA.  The reality is that I weighed the pros and cons, and made the decision to go for it because it felt like a good thing to do.  And I pray that God positively uses this experience to further form me as someone who loves myself, other people, and God more fully.  Simple as that.  I think one of the only things we do know about God’s will is that we love the LORD our God with all our heart, soul, and mind and our neighbor as ourselves.  The rest is largely up for grabs, so to speak.  But we don’t like the “up for grabs” part of our faith.  Reading Chronicles has urged me to weigh the options of the decisions that I face in life for the end of making a decision.  Whatever I choose to do or wherever I choose to go is not necessarily the point; it’s that wherever I end up going I must strive to love God and love other people with all my might.  Then I will see how God uses me in that place.