It is quite probable that both 1 & 2 Chronicles were scribed by Ezra. Ezra was the one who brought about the theological and spiritual reformation of Israel when they returned to their homeland after decades of exile in Babylon. If you’re a keen bean and feel like visiting Ezra before reading 1 Chronicles, it would certainly aid you in getting a sense of his character, and help you understand his main aims in writing about this phase of Israel’s history in relationship with God.
There are 3 major features of 1 Chronicles when compared with 1 & 2 Kings that will help us read this book:
- Re-establishing Racial Identity. Ever wondered why scripture has so many of these genealogical lists? They’re not there to lull us to sleep! Ezra recognised that the people needed to understand the importance of their heritage as a community called by God to be holy, different, set apart for a special purpose. Genealogies reminded them that even though they had been in exile, they were people with a very real history and an irrefutable family name. They were not autonomous, free agents, permitted to do what they felt like. They had the enormous privilege and solemn duty of being called the people of God. This meant spiritual and racial purity: resisting the various compromising influences of the surrounding nations (i.e. Samaria) and being the nation they were called to be.
- Re-establishing Worship Practice. Ezra was determined to re-establish God’s law (chs. 15-16) in the community. This explains the book’s emphasis on getting the Temple reorganised (ch. 22) and getting the ark of covenant back into spiritual life (ch. 13). 1 Chronicles reveals that the spiritual worship of the community is indeed more important than Israel as a state (29.11-12). This is why there is so little royal biographical content or narratives of the prophets’ activities as compared with 1 & 2 Kings.
- Re-establishing Covenant Hope. Ezra took on the role of national ‘encourager’ to the people because they were inundated with problems and obstacles in getting Jerusalem back up and running. Thus, we read Ezra’s long rehearsals of David’s past glories in and for Israel. “What was needed among mid-fifth-century Palestinian Jews was not censure but morale building, through hope in the messianic house of David.” (J. Barton Payne, 1 Chronicles, 314)
1 Chronicles is meant to be a book that projects hope rather than the judgements of 1 & 2 Kings. Interestingly, among the Jews, even today, there are two configurations of the Old Testament, one of which ends with 1 & 2 Chronicles! The order in which the books were placed was seen as theologically significant as the actual content of them. That Chronicles was placed at the end tells you how important the Jews ranked it, for they believed their Canon finished with an air of hope in anticipation of the time of the Messiah.
J. Barton Payne, ‘1 Chronicles’, in Frank E. Gaebelein (Gen. ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Vol. 4, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 1988, 303-22
Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology: The Theology of Israel’s Historical Traditions Vol. 1 (trans. D.M.G. Stalker), London: SCM 1989, 347-54