James Patrick’s Blog

April 21, 2010

How genealogies reveal the purpose of Chronicles

Genealogies are very important for revealing the purpose of texts in traditional societies, and in Chronicles this is particularly the case as they are drawn mostly from records not preserved elsewhere (unlike many of the narratives), and are therefore more obviously distinctive to Chronicler’s purpose.  Genealogies reveal lines of descent and inheritance of authority over one’s brothers, and the last person in the genealogy is usually the one about whom it is written (for example, Phinehas in Exodus 6 – cf. Numbers 25).  In this post we will look first at the message of the genealogical section, then at the narrative section, and finally draw these together with an explanation of the purpose of the book as a whole.

Genealogies

1Chr 1 introduces the following genealogies by gleaning from Genesis all the relevant passages that show Israel’s inheritance from Adam.  Then 1Chr 2-7 lists the genealogies of the tribes of Israel in order to establish which tribe has rightful authority over the others.  Judah is first (the leader is from him – 5:2) [2:3-4:23].  Simeon is listed next to show that his territory is mostly outside Judah’s now, at least since the time of David [4:24-43].  The two-and-a-half tribes (Reuben, Gad, 1/2 Manasseh) do not have the birthright despite Reuben being firstborn, because they were idolatrous and have been exiled up to the present [ch 5].  Levi is described in two halves, the first [6:1-53] designed to show that the distinction between the Aaronic high priesthood and the three Levitical divisions was actually officially recognised by David himself (note that the line of Zadokite high priests extends no further than the exile [6:15], unlike the line of Davidic heirs [3:17-24]), and the second to establish Levitical claim to certain cities in the land during this resettlement after exile [6:54-81].  Then the remaining tribes are listed (apart from Zebulun and Dan, who had perhaps not returned from exile?) – Issachar, Benjamin, Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim and Asher [ch 7].  Note that Ephraim’s inheritance of Joseph’s birthright is traced no further than Joshua [7:27], although evidently leaders of the Joseph tribes felt it their duty to live in the capitol even after the Return [9:3], in apparently very small numbers.

1Chr 8  then rehearses the genealogy of Benjamin again, this time mentioning their claim on the leadership of Israel (Ehud [8:6], Saul [8:33]), but also especially their claim over Jerusalem [8:28, 32], the city on the border of Judah and Benjamin.  Apparently Benjamin was insisting too on sharing territorial rights over the capitol along with Judah and Joseph [9:3-9] in the years following the return.  1Chr 9:2-34 considers on the other hand the justification for Levitical rights over Jerusalem, not only of priests but even of Levitical gatekeepers, and to support this, appeal is made to the appointments of Samuel and David [9:22] and the records of Nehemiah [Neh 11:3-19].  1Chr 9:35-44 is then a shortened recapitulation of Saul’s genealogy, as an introduction to the brief summary of his failed reign in chapter 10, apparently to reinforce the Davidic claim to leadership in Jerusalem.

Narratives

After the crowning of David, the first event described is the capture of Jerusalem [11:4-9], followed by an extended list of all the warriors of every tribe in Israel who supported David’s claim to the leadership [11:10-12:40], and who also agreed with David’s plans to re-establish worship of the LORD in Jerusalem [13:1-17:27].  This was done despite opposition from Israel’s enemies [14:8-17; 18:1-20:8] and despite even David’s own fallibility, shown by his sin in taking the census [21:1-22:1].  David himself established the Levitical responsibilities and priestly/Levitical divisions at the same time as establishing secular authorities over the kingdom [26:29-27:34], and he himself was entirely responsible for the plans and resources of the Temple even though Solomon built it [chs 22-29].  The message here is that the true son of David will fulfil all that was in David’s heart for the Temple and for priestly/Levitical worship in Jerusalem.

The account of Solomon brackets his building and dedication of the Temple (including the priests and Levites at their posts [2Chr 5:12-14; 7:1-11; 8:14-15]) with an emphasis on his wisdom [chs 1; 8-9] and the wealth and fame that followed the Temple building.  The warning to Solomon in 2Chr 7:12-22 is effectively a warning to all of Solomon’s heirs that failure to worship the LORD properly at the Temple in Jerusalem would eventually result in exile and the destruction of the Temple.  The following history of the Divided Monarchy [chs 10-36] describes the successes and failures of the various Davidic kings consistently as a direct consequence of their attitude and behaviour towards prescribed worship of the LORD at the Temple in Jerusalem.  It particularly emphasises those times when all the tribes assembled, even from the northern kingdom, to worship at Jerusalem (e.g. Rehoboam [11:13-17], Asa [15:8-15], Hezekiah [chs 29-31], Josiah [chs 34-35]; cf. also Jehoshaphat [17:7-9; 19:4-11; 20:4-28] and Jehoiada / Joash [23:1-24:14]).  Even the sins of Manasseh were forgiven because of his renewed piety and devotion to true worship in Jerusalem [ch 33].

Explanation

Significantly, the beginning genealogy of Judah appears to be focused on defending the Davidic claim (of Elioenai and his seven sons [3:24]) over against others who were claiming authority over Judah and Jerusalem through descent from Perez’s firstborn son Hezron.  We would not have expected there to be a need in post-exilic Yehud [Judah] to defend the claim of the David to authority over Judah, let alone Israel, but the fact that his claim is defended has implications for our interpretation of subsequent narratives.  The Chronicler includes much material not found elsewhere about the links between David and the Temple, and many have suggested that he invented them simply to reinforce the importance of the Temple by appealing to David’s authority.  If in fact David’s claim was also not uncontestable, however, it is more likely that this material was drawn from actual records that would not be disputed; in a sense, the claims of both David and the Temple are being defended, so the historical evidence for their connection is meant to be mutually reinforcing.

Looking at the genealogy of Judah, the focus of the claim to leadership of this tribe is on the first of Judah’s twin sons, Perez, who in fact received the rights of the firstborn because his mother was Tamar, the wife of Judah’s firstborn son Er [Gen 38], and therefore Judah had effectively ‘raised up seed’ for his deceased firstborn [Deut 25:5-10].  The sons of Chelubai/Caleb, Perez’s third son, are traced to various towns and regions of Judah, and the only individuals highlighted are from ancient history (e.g. Hur and Bezalel [2:20], Othniel and Caleb son of Jephunneh [4:13, 15]).  The firstborn son of Perez, Jerahmeel, is traced through a second wife, several sons who had no sons of their own, and worst of all through an Egyptian servant who married into the family – all this seems to be deliberately disproving any claim that Elishama [2:41] might have made to the inheritance of the tribe of Judah.  (This Elishama is probably the same as the ‘royal’ grandfather of Ishmael who murdered Gedaliah at the time of Jeremiah and then fled to Ammon, and whose descendants probably returned from there to Jerusalem after the exile.)  Therefore David’s claim stands, even though he was descended from Perez’s second son Ram, because David’s ancestor Nahshon had been ‘leader of the sons of Judah’ under Moses [2:10].

Evidently the book of Chronicles is contributing to a debate in his time about who had the right to live in Jerusalem, the capitol of the restored community of Israel after the exile, and especially about which tribe and clan could claim the authority over their brothers.  The Davidic claim was obviously under attack from various sides (Elishamites, Benjamites, Ephraimites), most probably because there was no immediate likelihood of a restoration to kingship under Persian rule, and people must have been questioning whether the tribes should revert to traditional tribal inheritance based on the rights of the firstborn instead.  Jerusalem was evidently seen as the capitol, but David’s claim to have conquered it was opposed by the Benjamite claim to have been apportioned it as tribal inheritance by Joshua [Jos 18:28; cf. Jdg 1:5-8, 21; Jos 15:63].  The approach of the Chronicler was therefore to allow for Benjamite claims to live in it, but nevertheless to reinforce the Davidic claim to the throne that had been acknowledged by all the tribes, and therefore the right of Judahites also to live in the capitol.

Furthermore, the Chronicler not only defended the Davidic claim to the leadership of the tribes (if not to the birthright [5:2]), but then also tied this leadership as tightly as possible to the responsibility for leading the tribes in correct worship of the LORD in the Jerusalem temple according to the Law and the regulations of Samuel and David especially.  In fact, the suggestion was made in the accounts of Manasseh and others that if the Davidic leader repented and humbled himself by honouring the LORD’s temple, He would restore them from exile and deliver them from their enemies, and thus establish their kingship over the tribes of Israel.

Thus the purpose of Chronicles is to reinforce temple-focused Davidic messianism.  Working out how many generations had passed between the return from Exile under Zerubbabel and the Davidic claimant at the time this book was written (Elioenai [1Chr 3:19-24]) gives us a probable date of around 400BC, a generation or so after the last of Nehemiah’s reforms [cf. Neh 13:6-7].

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October 2, 2009

Promised Land in Acts, part two [I&NC #10]

Acts 7:2-53 – Stephen’s long speech to the Sanhedrin before his martyrdom might appear to some readers to be a vain attempt by a condemned man to delay the inevitable and prove that he was actually a good Jew who knew his Bible stories.  By no means!  In this sermon Stephen was expertly retelling the story of God’s people to religious leaders accustomed to putting themselves in the shoes of their ancestors.  By recounting certain features of their history rather than others, he was making a series of uncomfortable theological points, getting his hearers so increasingly riled that they finally covered their ears and shouted to drown him out, and stoned him into silence.  Perhaps it was the points made in this sermon that Paul [Saul] couldn’t get out of his head (Acts 7:58–8:3) as he sought to purge the land from the followers of this false prophet Jesus, one who taught that the Temple and the commands of Moses were to be done away with (Acts 6:11-14; cf. Deut 13:1‑15).  Here we will ‘listen’ to Stephen’s speech through the ears of first century Jews, by applying each story to ‘our’ own time:

7:2-8 is the story of the father of the ‘circumcision’ (the Jewish nation), Abraham “our father”, who was directed by God to move to “this country in which you are now living”.  However, despite the promise of this land as “a possession, and to his descendants after him”, ‘our father’ was given “not even a foot of ground”.  The first implication is therefore that although ‘we’ also, like our father, are living in our promised land, we will be given ‘not even a foot of ground’ to inherit, perhaps not for hundreds of years yet.  The second, subsidiary implication is that there will indeed be judgement on “whatever nation to which they will be in bondage”, after which the nation will be brought back in to worship God in their promised land.  This assurance of eventual vindication against the Greeks and Romans would hardly, however, make up for the clear warning that ‘our’ nation will soon become “aliens in a foreign land … enslaved and mistreated for [hundreds of] years”.

7:9-35 continues with the story “as the time of the promise was approaching” for fulfilment of the covenant of land for the descendants of Abraham.  First of all, ‘our fathers’ “became jealous of Joseph and sold him”, but “God was with him”, not only rescuing him from all his afflictions, but making him governor over the nations.  In a similar way, Moses, who was “lovely to God”, a “man of power in words and deeds” who was “approaching the age of forty”, was still “disowned” by his own brothers who objected to the idea that God might make him “a ruler and judge over us”.  Nevertheless, God “has sent” this same disowned wonder-worker to be “both a ruler and a deliverer” for his oppressed people.  The third implication is unmistakeable – this was a time when the Jewish people were expectantly looking for the fulfilment of Daniel’s prophecies and the arrival of the Messiah (Dan 9:24-25), the One who would restore Jewish authority over the land.  However, despite being beloved of God and powerful in words and deeds, Jesus was disowned by His brothers who were jealous of the authority God had given Him to be their ruler and deliverer.  Even so, God delivered Him from all His afflictions and made Him ruler over both His own people and the nations.

7:36-40 focuses in on the reaction of the Israelite nation to their deliverer Moses while he was among them, as the time approached for the covenant of promised land to be fulfilled.  Moses performed “wonders and signs” not only at the beginning of his ministry but throughout the time of their journey through the wilderness, as a pattern for the “prophet like me” he foresaw whom God would raise up “from your brethren”.  Moses was not only among the congregation in the wilderness, but also received revelation directly from God through the ‘angel of the Lord’ who travelled with ‘our fathers’; thus he received not just the written laws recorded in the books of the Pentateuch, but also “living oracles to pass on to you”.  Even so, “our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him, but repudiated him” and in their hearts chose slavery and idolatry instead, particularly after he was no longer visibly among them.  The fourth implication is a powerful denunciation of the way the Jewish nation had treated Jesus during His ministry and even afterwards, despite their expectation of an imminent fulfilment of the Messianic age.  Although Jesus proved Himself to be the ‘prophet like Moses’ with both His miracles and His remarkable ‘living oracles’, explaining and superseding the written Law of Moses, even so ‘you’ were disobedient to the voice of God revealed through Him.  ‘You’ denounced Him as your deliverer, and in your hearts instead you chose slavery (to the Roman authorities) and idolatry (of the Temple system), and all the more now that Jesus is no longer visible among you.

7:41-50 shifts attention onto the significance of the sanctuary and later Temple in God’s purposes for Israel.  In the days of Israel’s rebellion against Moses, they chose to make sacrifices to “the works of their hands” in which they rejoiced.  In response, God turned away from them also, and “delivered them up to serve the host of heaven”, because the sacrificial worship they made in the tabernacle was in reality made not to God but to the images that they themselves had made.  As a result, God promised to send the nation into exile in Babylon.  ‘Our fathers’ did actually bring that tabernacle with them into the land, but when David who had “found favour in God’s sight” asked if he could find a permanent “dwelling place for the house of Jacob”, God’s response was to deny any need for either a Temple or a permanent physical location for His presence (cf. 2 Sam 7:6‑7).  His son Solomon did build the Temple, but God repeated through later prophets His continued rejection of a need for Temple and holy place.  The fifth implication explains why Stephen was accused of speaking against “this holy place”, just as the fourth implication touched on how Jesus’ ‘living oracles’ superseded the Law of Moses and “the customs which Moses handed down to us” (Acts 6:11-14).  More important than the sanctuary itself is the object of the nation’s worship, and just like ‘your fathers’, in your rebellion against God you are actually making sacrifices not to Him but to the glorious ‘works of your hands’, the impressive Temple full of your own self-honouring adornments in which you rejoice (cf. Luke 21:5-6).  God has no special attachment either to this building or to this place when it is not honouring Him, and He will remove you, like your fathers, into exile from the land.

In 7:51-53 Stephen has finished his retelling of Israel’s history and made his points loud and clear, and now in conclusion he makes explicit what had been implied, and condemns his hearers in language as vehement as any of the Old Testament prophets.  The reference to his hearers receiving “the law as ordained by angels” but not keeping it (7:53) may be a straightforward accusation of not observing the Law of Moses, which was traditionally said to have been delivered to Moses via angels, but it is also possible that the reference is equally an accusation of disobedience against the ‘living oracles’ that Jesus Himself brought to the people (7:38).  It appears that the Early Church recognised that the ‘angel of the Lord’, who interacted with Moses and led Israel through the wilderness (Exod 3:2‑6, 13‑17; 13:21; 14:19; 23:20‑23; 24:9-11; 33:1-3, 12-20; Isa 63:8-14; Heb 1:4–2:9; Jude :5; cf. 1 Cor 10:4; Rev 14:14‑16), was Jesus Himself in a pre-incarnate form.

In this sermon He had effectively accused the Jewish leaders of rejecting their appointed deliverer despite God’s vindication of Him, ignoring His miracles and ‘living oracles’ that superseded those of Moses, and worshiping the works of their hands rather than the God in whose Temple they trusted.  As a result God had decided they would be taken into exile and be mistreated in foreign lands for hundreds of years, not inheriting even a foot of ground in the land that God had promised to give to Abraham and to his descendants after him.  God did not need a building or physical location in which to dwell, and neither did He have to fulfil His covenant promise of land with that particular generation that rejected His Servant (cf. 7:45).  Stephen’s speech clearly teaches the covenant of land made with Abraham and his physical descendants, and despite prophesying judgement and exile on his own generation, he also implies an eventual return of the nation from exile to “serve me in this place” (7:7).

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