BiND: Day 33
Today, more kings. Two memorably good ones: Hezekiah and Josiah, both of whom were humbled by discovery of the law and who instituted serious reform—restoring the Temple, destroying high places, organizing Temple worship, celebrating the Passover, etc. But even their goodness and righteousness (and even their repentance when they became too proud to serve God) weren’t enough to avert disaster. It appears that, though serving God is important, consistency is also key. It’s not enough for the people to serve God for 40 years and then spend another generation or two serving other gods—they need to serve God consistently, they need to be the covenant community all the time (not just on Sunday morning). It’s a hard life, but rewarding if they can stick to it.
I noticed a few things as I went ahead and finished Chronicles today (the reading assignment today ends only a chapter and a half before the book does, so I figured I might as well…). First, today was the first time I noticed the phrase “which are the work of human hands” when talking about other gods. I remember lots of times where it says that the king set up altars for “the whole host of heaven” but today it says that the people of Assyria “spoke of the God of Jerusalem as if he were like the gods of the peoples of the earth, which are the work of human hands.” This is not just another tribal God we’re dealing with, this is the real deal—that seems to be what the Chronicler (or possibly a later editor) is saying here. Interesting, especially in light of our discussion in class last night!
I also noticed that in the end of Chronicles the writer picks up something that was said in Deuteronomy, about the land not being given the Sabbath it deserves every 7 years, but during the time of exile the land would get rest. And it happened—the land lay “desolate” (or at least, not used by Israelites) and made up for its missed Sabbaths. God’s promise to the land has been fulfilled too.
Last but not least: you may have noticed throughout Chronicles that when a king dies, it often says he was buried “in the city of David.” We generally think of the city of David being Bethlehem, since that’s what it says in our Christmas story. But in this case the “city of David” is the oldest part of Jerusalem. You can still see the ruins being excavated just outside the current old city walls. How’s that for a little tidbit?
photo is of a wall archaeologists think may have been an early palace in the city of David. More info from BiblePlaces.com–search for “city of David.”
BiND: Day 32
Well, there’s always room for a little more review, isn’t there? Today as I was reading I realized that I hadn’t yet written anything about the Queen of Sheba. So here goes…
It’s not entirely clear where “Sheba” is—most scholars say it’s where modern Yemen is, but some suggest it’s more like east Africa somewhere (they base these discussions on what the Queen seems to have brought and why she would be an important trading partner or why she would need Solomon to be a friend since he might be on her trade routes). In any case, her people would be called “Sabeans” (not Shebans!). She was obviously quite a woman—head of state, traveling in her own retinue, taking it upon herself to pay a visit to another monarch, and bringing lots and lots of cash with her. But even with all that, when she saw all Solomon had (both in material goods and in the wisdom God had granted), “there was no more spirit left in her.” That’s right, in mere moments Solomon killed the spirit of a powerful and wealthy woman. But she keeps on with the tour, the negotiations, and possibly with some other…ahem…activities (there are just enough euphemistic terms in here to make that a possibility…). And then she goes home, and that’s the last we hear of her or her country. Doesn’t it seem at all odd that the head-of-state visit that should be described in most detail would be by a woman from a country that’s never heard from again? There doesn’t seem to be any good explanation for this, other than to speculate that this is an opportunity for the writers to show how vast Solomon’s holdings and wisdom are. So great, in fact, that they literally take the queen’s breath (ruach means breath or spirit) away.
You may have noticed that in today’s kingly review, we focused entirely on kings of Judah (the southern kingdom, and viewed by the Chronicler as the only legitimate kingdom) and the kings of Israel are only mentioned as bad examples, bad people, or full-on corruptors. You may also have noticed a pattern: the kings start off good, but then when their priest or their prophet dies, so too does the king’s righteousness. Each king begins well but falls off the bandwagon in the last few years of his reign and begins worshiping idols. It’s almost as if to make the point that we can’t do it alone—we have to have help, encouragement, friends who will keep us accountable in our life of faith. It’s never more obvious than when one’s entire life and work is being boiled down to a few paragraphs!
photo is of the reconstructed remains of Solomon’s Stables, near the Temple. Taken by Akiva, from Flickr.
BiND: Day 30
We’re a third of the way through! Which seems like a perfect time for a little review, which makes today’s reading in Chronicles sort of nice. There are a few things that seem to fall by the wayside as the kingdom goes on, and this is our opportunity to remember them. Things like the ark of the covenant—remember that? I don’t think we’ve heard about that since the end of Solomon’s reign. It seems that it was tucked away in the Temple and forgotten by all the subsequent kings, but here we are being reminded of how important a symbol of God’s presence it was to the ancient Israelites. How about kings actually praying, talking to God? That didn’t seem to happen much post-Solomon either, and here we are today reading again David’s prayer of gratitude for being chosen by God, anointed (mashiah, messiah, remember?) as shepherd for the people. Shepherd was a term often used to refer to kings, and today we even read about David referring to the people as sheep—sheep he has charge of.
We also get a reminder that the name Solomon (Schlomo in Hebrew) is related to the word shalom—peace, wholeness, rest. Back in Deuteronomy we read that when God finally gave the Israelites rest (or peace) on every side, they should worship together in one place. Well, according to the Chronicler David created that peace on every side (with God’s help, of course), then assembled all the supplies, so that Solomon (the peaceful one, the one with no blood on his hands…yet) could create this central place for the community to worship.
Notice what we didn’t get a reminder of…almost any sin. The worst thing David does is conduct a census. No Bathsheba scandal here! You can bet the people this was written for, and the people writing it, knew all about it, of course—but talking it over again doesn’t serve the purpose of this text, which is to remind people of the good ol’ days and call them back to the under-reconstruction Temple for covenant observance and some good old fashioned manual labor.
We also get a little taste of David’s songwriting skills—he is credited with a large majority of the psalms, a few of which get wrapped up in David’s welcome-the-ark-to-Jerusalem speech. David clearly loved music, at least in the eyes of the Chronicler, for he is also here named as the one who divided up the labor of the Levites (keepers of the temple and of ritual observance) into various jobs, including musicians. 10% of the Levites were appointed as musicians! Wow. I bet the music God (and the Levites) heard there was pretty excellent, don’t you think?
BiND: Day 29
Well, after a day like yesterday it’s hard to get into the post-exilic writing style of Chronicles. These books will contain lots of things we already know about—they are yet another account of how we got into the exile situation in the first place, with stories of kings and sins and whatnot. But we begin with genealogy—the biblically boring stereotype of lists of begats (at least in some translations).
The “Chronicler,” as he’s known, was for a long time thought to be Ezra. Current scholarship debates this and suggests that the Chronicler wrote after Ezra and even used passages from Ezra-Nehemiah, as well as using as source material parts of Samuel and Kings, parts of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah, as well as portions of the “final version” of the Pentateuch. This is all significant because it’s clear that the books of Chronicles are a call to the returning exiles to continue to rebuild and to renew the covenant—the Chronicler neglects negative stories about “good kings” (especially David and Solomon) and shows extreme loyalty to the Levites (the priestly clan—did you notice how much room they got in today’s genealogies?). He is interested in rebuilding Temple-based Judaism and wants to be sure that everyone knows that when we had a good thing going before, both the kings and the people were in on it. And when we had a bad thing going before, both the kings and the people were in on it.
So why start with all these names? Well, the Chronicler is up to something here. He is likely trying to show that God’s hand has been in this particular people since the beginning of time—notice he begins with Adam—and has been guiding the family of chosen people. We have talked before about how genealogies are important—there’s a growing interest in genealogy in our day, with where we’ve come from. It helps us to be rooted in our family, and our faith family is no exception. How can we be rooted in God’s family if we don’t even know who’s in it? That’s what these lists of names are for—they show us where we’ve come from, and they also remind us that God knows each name and even cares enough to keep records. Jeremiah will say that God has each person “written on the palm of my hand.” This is just one way of showing that.
Having said that, 8 chapters in a row with practically no breaks? That’s a lot of names.
Did you notice that there were a few breaks, and one was the recently popular Prayer of Jabez? One little verse, where Jabez asks God for prosperity and enlarged territory (and gets it), has spawned a whole industry for the prosperity-gospel folks. While it’s clear from biblical witness (not just this one verse) that we can and should approach God boldly in prayer, and even Jesus says “ask and you shall receive,” it’s not at all clear that asking for personal prosperity is what God had in mind (and in fact as we get into the prophets we will discover that this mindset can get you into trouble—even exile-type trouble!). At least not the way it’s marketed now, with books and videos and speaking engagements. I have a sneaky suspicion that the people who started the franchise based on this one little verse have indeed become prosperous…but maybe not through prayer. (though who knows—it doesn’t help to limit the power of God, it’s true.)