Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

1 Chronicles

Book Overview - 1 Chronicles

by Joseph Exell



The Books of Kings and the Books of Chronicles

The Jewish literature contained two historical books which virtually covered the same period. The two Books of Kings, and the two Books of Chronicles are in many respects alike, but the differences are more evident than the resemblances. All historical works that cover extensive periods ofttimes must, of necessity, be compilations. The writer of say national history may more precisely be designated an editor, or a compiler, than an author, because he does not create say new material, but puts into shape and order material that already exists, for which he may indeed elaborately and perseveringly search, but which is in no sense his own. The ruling purpose and prevailing bias of a writer are shown by what he selects from the facts at his command, and by the particular setting which he gives to the facts, and his annotations upon them.

The compilers of the Books of Kings and Books of Chronicles were certainly not the same person. Their points of view and historical purpose were distinctly different. But they had the same literary materials at their command, and we can reasonably infer what those materials are likely to have been. Every civilised and organised nation is careful to preserve authentic and official historical records, and we may be sure that the Jewish national records were anxiously preserved when the people were carried into captivity. These would be available for the later historian. It also appears that the keeping of genealogical tables and family and official lists was the business of that priestly class, which included the scribes. They were exceedingly jealous of the safety and correctness of their tables. It was their special duty, because certain religious privileges and offices were reserved for those whose pedigree could be traced.

And in every nation, in every age, men have been raised up who were endowed with the literary historical genius; and such men will, in various forms, make their records of the events of their time. But all such independent and unofficial work is sure to be written with a personal political or religious bias, of which the later reader, or the later compiler, has to take due account.

The later editor of any extensive and varied series of earlier records, covering long periods has a very anxious and difficult work. And it is all the more difficult if he himself has a strong personal bias, from which he can never get himself wholly free. And this appears to have been the case with the compiler of the Books of Chronicles. He evidently had an ethical, we might have said, a sectional purpose, which guided and determined his selections and settings.

Historical Material at the Command of the Compiler

We know some of the public and private historical materials which were at the command of this compiler, because he makes reference to them in the course of his work. They were the Books of Samuel and Kings, and the various writings of the prophets Nathan, Gad, Ahijah, Shemaiah, Je-edo, Iddo, Isaiah, Hozai, etc. These, we may infer, were partly of historical and partly of prophetical character.

Contents of the Books

Comparing the contents of the Books of Kings with those of the Books of Chronicles, we may notice that “Kings” begins with the accession of Solomon and ends with the fate of the last king of Judah; but “Chronicles” begins with a genealogy from Adam, and ends with the decree of Cyrus, which was carried out in the “Return” under Zerubbabel and Joshua. The “Kings” deal with the national affairs of both the sections into which the nation of Israel was divided, but the “Chronicles” deal only with the one kingdom of Judah, treating this as the real and all-inclusive nation of Israel, and introducing the affairs of the northern kingdom only when these bore direct relation to the affairs of Judah. The “Kings” give historical facts with a fair measure of completeness, the compiler being concerned to secure historical accuracy. But the “Chronicles” are written with a definite purpose in view, and there is a distinct reserve, such matters as the moral lapses of David being purposely omitted. From the selected contents, the style, and the tone of “Chronicles “ we naturally infer that its compiler must have been either a priest or one who was very closely connected with the priesthood, and supremely interested in upholding the authority of the priestly class, and fully restoring that authority and the elaborate worship over which they presided under the new conditions of the nation.

Date and Authorship of the Books

If we would form a sound opinion concerning the date of this composition and concerning its compiler or author, we should give some heed to Jewish traditions. There seems to have been a virtually unanimous belief that Ezra was the author; that the two Books of Chronicles and the Book of Ezra originally formed one historical work, compiled and arranged by one author, and to this work the Book of Nehemiah formed a supplement, the same author’s editing work being evident in its arrangement. The Talmud says that Ezra wrote both his own book and the Book of Chronicles.

It appears to be certain that the compilers of the Septuagint divided the book into two portions, and that Jerome accepted the division for the Vulgate. The ordinary reader clearly recognises that the work is made up of separate sections, and this would be even more evident if the unfortunate cutting up into verses had not obscured the natural divisions. The Jews called the work “Diaries,” or “The Book of the Events of the Times.” The Septuagint authors or translators regarded the entire work as historically supplementary, and called it “Omitted Things.” It may be said to be very generally admitted by both older and newer critics that the Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah form one work, composed on one uniform plan and by one author. These three works resemble each other in the manner in which the original authorities are handled, and the sacred law expressly cited; in the marked preference for general and statistical registers, descriptions of religious rites and festivals, detailed accounts of the sacerdotal classes and their various functions, the music of the temple, and matters connected with public worship.

There is certainly nothing in the least unreasonable in claiming the authorship for Ezra. So far as we know his character, his prejudices, his gifts, his mission, and his circumstances, we may say that he was the very man to do this work. His genius for compiling and editing will quite explain his inserting in their entirety pieces relating his own doings, and pieces which Nehemiah wrote, giving an account of his doings.

The only difficulty worth taking serious account of is the fact that the genealogy from David is continued long beyond the time of Ezra, even to what has been reckoned the eleventh descendant from Zerubbabel. It is manifest that Ezra could not have recorded a genealogy reaching beyond his own age. But it may be freely admitted that when the Old Testament Canon was settled the books that were admitted to it must have been subjected to a final revision, and this may very well have included the completion of the genealogy up to date--more especially the genealogical line in which Messiah was expected. Probably the literary work undertaken by the Great Synagogue needs to be more fully studied, with a view to discovering whether in that literary “renaissance” any original works were produced or only re-editing undertaken.

It is not altogether easy to recognise the conditions of society in the later Persian and early Grecian periods, so as to provide at that time so suitable an occasion for the compilation of “Chronicles” as we do find in the age of Ezra. The drastic reformation, on the strictest legal line, which Ezra promoted needed just such a background of historical authority as Ezra provides in these Books.

There does not appear to be sufficient ground for shifting the authorship on to 300-250 b.c., as the modem critics propose to do. We may confidently affirm that there is reasonable ground for continuing to accept as altogether most probable the authorship of Ezra, the date between 459 and 430 b.c., and the object as the confirmation of the authority of the Jewish priesthood in demanding a national reformation.

The aim of the work is not history, but edification. It has a distinctly didactic and hortatory purpose, eminently suitable in a priestly scribe or teacher such as Ezra was. The strong “hierarchical bias” may be freely admitted.