Read and Learn From the Two Books of Chronicles
“WHY the books of Chronicles?” Many students have asked this question when reading the Bible through for the first time. They read the books of Samuel and Kings and see the history of God’s people under the kings presented in a vivid, masterly fashion. Now they face the two books of Chronicles: nine long chapters of genealogies followed by a repetition of much of what they have read before. Eerdmans’ Bible Handbook comments: “On the face of it, Chronicles seems to repeat in duller and more moralistic fashion what we already have in 2 Samuel and Kings.”
But that is only on the surface. Just as the four Gospels in the Christian Greek Scriptures all cover the same general material, but each gives a different perspective and adds information unique to itself, so the writer of the books of Chronicles, while covering the same general material as previous books, has his own perspective and gives information not to be found elsewhere. He was writing for a special period of time and he had certain, well-defined goals. When we understand this, we can enjoy reading the books and learn lessons that will help us today.
They Filled a Need
The books of Chronicles were written, probably by Ezra, for the benefit of the Jews who returned to the Promised Land at the end of the 70 years’ captivity in Babylon. After telling about the rule of David and Solomon and the subsequent division of God’s people into two nations, the writer concentrated on the southern kingdom of Judah and presented its history in a way that would provide lessons for the returned exiles. He traced the development of the important royal line of David, and in so doing he answered vital questions: Why did Jehovah allow his chosen nation to be exiled in a pagan land? And how could the returned Jews (as well as true Christians today) avoid making the mistakes that led to this punishment?
The Important Genealogies
The first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles 1-9 contain long lists of genealogies. Why did the writer include these? Because genealogies were important in Israel. Inheritance and privileges of service were linked to them. Some of the returning Israelites, including some of priestly family, were unable to prove their line of descent, and this caused considerable inconvenience. (Ezra 2:59-63) Hence, this careful tracing out of genealogy was of absorbing interest to them.
But how about the Bible reader today? Should he pass over these nine chapters and start reading First Chronicles from the account of the death of Saul in 1Ch chapter 10? No, these genealogical lists are part of “all Scripture” that is “inspired of God.” (2 Timothy 3:16) The first nine chapters of First Chronicles have important and fascinating nuggets of information.
For example, only here do we read of Jabez, a descendant of Judah who proved himself exceptionally honorable. (1 Chronicles 4:9, 10) Here, too, we find a useful list of the royal line of David, which reveals the important fact that Zerubbabel, the governor of the Jews after their return from Babylon, was of that line.—1 Chronicles 3:10-19.
Telling Us More About David
The remaining chapters of First Chronicles flesh out the historical narratives of previous books, particularly rounding out our knowledge of King David. In previous books the Bible reader got to know David as a devoted servant of Jehovah, an effective warrior, a poet, and a fine leader of men. In First Chronicles we learn that he was also a master organizer. He organized the nation and the army, and he organized worship at the temple, making 24 divisions of priests, Levites, and singers.—1 Chronicles 23:1–27:22.
Second Samuel describes David’s intense desire to build a “house,” or a temple, for the ark of the covenant. (2 Samuel 7:2-5) Jehovah would not allow David to go ahead with his plans, and First Chronicles explains why. David was a man of blood. The temple would be built by David’s successor, a peaceful man. (1 Chronicles 22:8-10) Second Samuel also tells us how David came to buy the threshing floor where the temple was eventually built. (2 Samuel 24:18-25) First Chronicles adds to that by describing the huge contribution that David amassed and all the arrangements he made, so that when Solomon was in a position to start constructing the temple, everything would be ready for him. (1 Chronicles 22:6-19) Why, Jehovah even gave David the temple layout, which was faithfully passed on to Solomon.—1 Chronicles 28:9-21.
Jehovah’s Blessing . . .
As you continue reading the second book of Chronicles, you will notice that a theme begins to stand out: When the kings of Judah showed complete confidence in Jehovah, they were blessed. When they did not, the people suffered. For example, King Rehoboam’s son Abijam, fighting a war against Israel, was badly outmaneuvered by Jeroboam, the warrior king of the northern kingdom. Abijam’s army found itself completely surrounded, so “they began to cry out to Jehovah, while the priests were loudly sounding the trumpets.” The result? “God himself defeated Jeroboam and all Israel before Abijah [Abijam] and Judah.”—2 Chronicles 13:14, 15.
Similarly Asa, Abijah’s son, defeated a huge army of one million Ethiopians because he relied on Jehovah. (2 Chronicles 14:9-12) Asa’s son Jehoshaphat was saved from the combined attack of Ammon, Moab, and the Edomites, while many years later his descendant, King Hezekiah, was saved from the might of Assyria, because of that same confidence.—2 Chronicles 20:1-26; 32:9-23.
. . . and Displeasure
Nevertheless, many of the kings did not show this confidence, usually for one of three reasons. The first was that many fell into the snare of idolatry. Jehoash, Jehoshaphat’s great-grandson, started out well, but then turned to idolatry. Jehovah withdrew his protection, and Jehoash was defeated in battle by the Syrians and was finally assassinated. (2 Chronicles 24:23-25) Jehoash’s son, Amaziah, showed how seductive idolatry can be. Amaziah started by showing exemplary faith in Jehovah. Then, after a successful war in which he defeated the Edomites, incredibly he took the gods of the Edomites and began to worship them! (2 Chronicles 25:14) So, again, Jehovah withdrew his protection from the king.
Perhaps the worst example of idolatry is Manasseh. Not only did this king worship false gods but he actively persecuted those who stuck to Jehovah’s worship. It was because “he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood” that Jehovah determined to destroy Judah. “Jehovah did not consent to grant forgiveness.” (2 Kings 21:11; 23:26; 24:3, 4) Yet, surprisingly, Manasseh was the son of Hezekiah, one of the most faithful of Jewish kings. In fact, his birth was the result of a miracle. He was born after Jehovah miraculously extended his father Hezekiah’s life. (Isaiah 38:1-8; 2 Chronicles 33:1) And there is a final surprise. After many years of persecuting worshipers of Jehovah, Manasseh repented and at the end of his life was a servant of Jehovah!—2 Chronicles 33:1-6, 12-17.
A second thing that trapped the kings of Judah was foreign alliances. These got the good king Asa into trouble, as well as the not-so-good king Ahaz. (2 Chronicles 16:1-5, 7; 28:16, 20) A tragic result of a foreign alliance was seen in the case of Jehoshaphat. This fine servant of Jehovah unwisely cultivated an alliance with Baal-worshiping King Ahab of Israel. He followed Ahab on unwise military expeditions and allowed Jehoram, his son, to marry Ahab’s daughter, Athaliah. Athaliah was a bad influence on her husband, Jehoram, and on Ahaziah, her son, when they became kings in their turn. Then, when Ahaziah died, she usurped the throne and killed most potential rivals. Happily, Jehovah maneuvered things so that the royal line of King David was preserved, but what a tragic result from unnecessary foreign entanglements!
A third snare that some of the kings fell into was haughtiness. It blemished the last years of good King Asa, and because of it, King Uzziah, the military genius, spent the final part of his life as an isolated leper. Even faithful King Hezekiah fell into this snare when he was visited by emissaries from Babylon and proudly showed them the temple treasury.—2 Chronicles 32:25, 26; Isaiah 39:1-7.
Read and Learn From Them
Yes, the two books of Chronicles are a rich mine of information. They show the kind of conduct that pleases Jehovah, and they demonstrate that even kings can fall into sin. What a warning that is today, especially to those in positions of authority in the Christian congregation! Modern idolatry is just as subtle as was idolatry in the days of the Israelite kings, and we must be determined to avoid it. (Ephesians 3:19; Colossians 3:5; Revelation 13:4) We, too, must avoid unnecessary entanglements with the world. (John 17:14, 16; James 4:4) And certainly, the weakness of pride, or haughtiness, is still a problem that we have to fight against.—Proverbs 16:5, 18; James 4:6, 16.
Reading and learning from the two books of Chronicles will fortify our determination to serve Jehovah by following the good examples and avoiding the bad examples that are presented to us from Jewish history. It will encourage us to imitate the good and avoid the bad, that “through our endurance and through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope.”—Romans 15:4.
[Box on page 28]
How does First Chronicles help to prove that Jesus was not born on December 25?
According to First Chronicles, King David organized the priests into 24 “courses,” or groups, each group being assigned to serve for a week at the temple. Thus, a member of each course would get to serve at the temple twice each year, at approximately six-month intervals.
The first course began serving immediately after the end of the Festival of Booths, around late September/early October. The eighth group, named after Abijah, served a week in late November/early December, and then another week in late June/early July. Why is the division of Abijah significant? Because, according to Luke’s account, John the Baptizer’s father, Zechariah, belonged to “the division of Abijah,” and he was actually serving in the temple when the angel appeared to him and announced the coming birth of John.—Luke 1:5, 8, 9.
As Luke’s record shows, John was conceived very soon after this. Hence, he was born nine months later, either early September or early April. Luke’s record also shows that Jesus was six months younger than John. (Luke 1:26) Thus this detail from the book of Chronicles shows that, rather than being born at the end of December, Jesus was born either early March, or early October. Other scriptures show that the latter is the correct time.—For more details, see The Watchtower, June 15, 1954, page 382.
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Why did Joseph become father of two tribes of Israel, while his brothers fathered only one tribe each?
First Chronicles helps us to answer this question. Joseph was given the double portion that belonged to the firstborn. True, Joseph was almost the youngest of the 12 sons of Jacob, but he was the older son of Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel. By birth, the right of firstborn should have gone to Jacob’s eldest son, Reuben, his firstborn by Leah. But, as First Chronicles tells us, Reuben forfeited this because of a serious sin. The record says: “Reuben . . . he was the firstborn; but for his profaning the lounge of his father his right as firstborn was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel, so that he was not to be enrolled genealogically for the right of the firstborn.” The account goes on: “For Judah himself proved to be superior among his brothers, and the one for leader was from him; but the right as firstborn was Joseph’s.”—1 Chronicles 5:1, 2.