The books of 1 and 2 Chronicles are history books, summarizing Israel’s history from Adam (the first human) through the people’s return from exile around 500 BC. The goal of this book is to offer hope in disappointing circumstances.
The books of Chronicles were written after the Israelites returned from exile and the temple was rebuilt, probably around 400 BC. The people had received (part of) their land back, which fulfilled the centuries old prophecies to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (see for example Genesis 15:18-21; 26:1-4; 48:4). Their numbers were much smaller than before, but they still existed as a people. The temple had been rebuilt, symbolizing God’s presence among them. And yet… the promises of restoration and abundance were only partially fulfilled. They were still subjected to foreign kings and surrounded by hostile people groups. This raised questions about God’s plans for Israel, especially about His promises to David about a never-ending dynasty (1 Chronicles 17:11-14). Against this background, the books of Chronicles look back and look forward.
The author of the books of Chronicles is unknown. He probably was a priest or a Levite who had access to the temple scrolls. Maybe the author was Ezra, “a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given” (Ezra 7:6). He lived in Babylonia but returned to Israel to teach the people about God’s laws. We read about him in the book of Ezra.
Outline of the books
- 1 Chronicles 1-9 provide lists and genealogies. These have a special focus on the line from Judah to David and his descendants, since they were chosen by God to be the royal line of Israel. The Messiah would be born from this family line. There is also much attention given to the priests and Levites, who play a key role in the temple.
- 1 Chronicles 10-29 are about David. He is portrayed as an image of the coming Messiah. The author of Chronicles almost exclusively describes positive events in David’s life and pays much attention to his preparations for the building of the (first) temple.
- 2 Chronicles 1-9 are about David’s son Solomon and the actual building of the temple.
- 2 Chronicles 10-36 describe later kings and the downfall of Israel. Chronicles does not contain stories about the northern kingdom (which is a striking difference with the books of Kings). It just focuses on the southern kingdom and its capital Jerusalem.
- The final chapter offers hope, recording how king Cyrus gives the Israelites permission to return to their land.
Key theme: seeking God
The books of Chronicles are not meant to transmit historical facts only, but to teach valuable lessons. The author presents historical examples in a framework of “seeking God” vs “leaving God”. Through these stories, he urges the reader to “seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” (1 Chronicles 16:11).
Seeking God consists of:
- Praising God and rejoicing in Him: “Glory in His holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!” (1 Chronicles 16:10).
- Taking care of the temple: “Now set your mind and heart to seek the Lord your God. Arise and build the sanctuary of the Lord God, so that the ark of the covenant of the Lord and the holy vessels of God may be brought into a house built for the name of the Lord.” (1 Chronicles 22:19; compare 1 Chronicles 13:3)
- Keeping Gods commandments: “And Asa … commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment.” (2 Chronicles 14:2-4, in contrast to 1 Chronicles 10:13; 15:13).
- Getting rid of idols: “In the eighth year of his reign, while [Josiah] was yet a boy, he began to seek the God of David his father, and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, and the carved and the metal images” (2 Chronicles 34:3; also in 2 Chronicles 14:2-3).
- Seeking help from God in times of need: “And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.” (2 Chronicles 20:4).
Not seeking the Lord is considered “evil” (2 Chronicles 12:14). It is also called “not doing what is right in the eyes of the Lord” or “breaking faith with God”.
The author of Chronicles makes very clear that only seeking the Lord leads to blessing. Let me quote some examples:
- “Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The Lord is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.” (2 Chronicles 15:2)
- Uzziah “set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper.” (2 Chronicles 26:5).
- “And every work that [Hezekiah] undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart, and prospered.” (2 Chronicles 31:21)
The people of Israel and their kings were often unfaithful to the Lord God. As a consequence, they were taken into exile, just as the inhabitants of the northern kingdom decades earlier. Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed (see 1 Chronicles 5:25-26; 9:1; 2 Chronicles 36:18-20).
Key theme: repentance
The books of Chronicles do not simply divide the people into two groups, one who seeks the Lord and one who does not. In fact, all people are “evil” and “sinful”. Even David, who is portrayed as the ideal king and image of the coming Messiah, sometimes acts in ways that “displease God” (1 Chronicles 21:7). However, we also read how he repents: “And David said to God, ‘I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have acted very foolishly’” (1 Chronicles 21:8). God does not just ignore David’s sin, but He offers a way back to Him (1 Chronicles 21:26-28).
The possibility of repentance and forgiveness is not limited to David. It is offered to all people. God promises: “… if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). We read some striking examples of king Rehoboam and king Manasseh.
- Rehoboam caused the division of Israel into to a northern and a southern kingdom by his unwise decisions (see 2 Chronicles 10). Moreover, he “abandoned the law of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 12:1), leading to an invasion of the Egyptians. However, “when he humbled himself the wrath of the Lord turned from him, so as not to make a complete destruction” (2 Chronicles 12:12).
- Manasseh was an extremely evil king. He erected altars for idols (even in God’s temple), worshiped the stars, burned his sons as an offering to idols, used fortune-telling, omens and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with necromancers (2 Chronicles 33:1-9). Let me quote the surprising development of his life story in full:
“The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the Lord brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon. And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.” (2 Chronicles 33:10-13).
Hope for the future
The books of Chronicles describe Israel’s downfall, but also the beginning of their restoration. It ends with Cyrus’ words: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him. Let him go up.’” (2 Chronicles 36:23).
The return of the people and the rebuilding of the temple were clear signs of God’s faithfulness to His covenant with Israel and with David, whose royal line was still there (1 Chronicles 3:19-24). The Lord God had not changed; His words from 2 Chronicles 7:14 were and still are valid: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land”.
Lessons for us
The first intended audience of the books of Chronicles were the people of Israel. However, some important lessons are applicable to present day believers as well:
- We should “seek the Lord” and remain faithful to Him. This will lead to His blessing.
- If we have abandoned God, He invites us to repent and turn back to Him!
- God remains faithful to His promises, even when we don’t see it right now. The partial fulfillment that we can see already gives us hope that He will complete His work!