Sunday, 1 July 2012

Who are we? 1 Chronicles

Endings are fascinating – they tell you a lot!

As the first part of the Hebrew Scriptures comes to an end the Book of Deuteronomy runs through the heart of the law once again – as the very title given to the book in Greek suggests it is as it were a second reading of the law.

Fascinating that as the third section of the Hebrew Scriptures comes to an end, the Writings, they reach their climax with one last re-telling of the history of the people Israel.

The Hebrew Scriptures finish with I and II Chronicles.

The history of the first generations of the people from the beginnings of humanity to Saul, the first of the Kings, are encapsulated in the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles in a sequence of genealogies.

One massive summary.

And then the remainder of I Chronicles tells briefly of Saul and at length of David.

The writer of I Chronicles is quiet open about using sources – the same kind of sources as are drawn on by the writers of I and II Samuel that are part of the former prophets in the second section of the Hebrew Scriptures the Prophets.

As the collection of books that make up the Hebrew Scriptures come to a climax it is as if a number of things need to be stressed and a number of questions are uppermost.

They are an entirely different set of questions from the ones asked by the writers of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings.

Those prophetic writers were perplexed by the disaster that had befallen the people of Israel in the exile.  How could this have happened?  They tell the story of their nation in order to try to respond to that question.  They see just how far the people and particularly their rulers had departed from the word of God and the way God wanted them to follow – and in large measure that accounted for the collapse of the people.

IT was a stirring call to return to the ways of God, to shape the lives of individuals and of society by the values of God’s way of ruling.  These are very much prophetic books that challenge the people and their rulers.

I and II Chronicles come from that period when under Persian rule the people of Israel return to Jerusalem, set about rebuilding the city, the temple and the nation.

The question  now is quite different.  It’s not … what’s gone wrong?

It is rather a question of identify.  Who are we?  Where do we find our identify?

Hence the genealogies.

We are the people who belong to the extended families that made up the tribes of Israel and became the Kingdoms of Israel.  This is who we are.  Our identity as the people of God is secured by our belonging to this particular people.

Where do we find our identify?

We are the people who were shaped into a kingdom of God’s people supremely by David?

Where do we find our identify?  In the temple that is in the process of being rebuilt and taking shape again – and it is the temple that the whole story of David leads up to.

What is important about that identity is the allegiance we have to the ways of God – just as our ancestors did before us.

This is powerful stuff.

And it is good.

It is important in understanding the nature of the Jewishness of Jesus and of his times.

But something is very different here in I Chronicles from the story that unfolds in I and II Samuel.

What is it?

Read I and II Samuel and you are aware of all the tensions between the people and Samuel over the big question of whether or not you should have a king, of tensions between Saul and David.  David’s life is very blemished.  His adultery with Bathsheba – his complicity in the murder of her husband.

None of that is present in I Chronicles.

The focus is different.

It really is a temple focus – a large part of the story has to do with the way David brings the ark into Jerusalem, establishes a covenant once again with the people, then draws up plans for the temple – and whole chapters are devoted to lists of temple officials, priestly families and others.

AS the New Testament opens, Jesus is part of this story.

The first of the Gospel writers, Matthew, opens with a genealogy that could have been taken straight from I Chronicles.

It’s interesting how the genealogy does the same thing as it does in I Chronicles.  It is effectively a summary of the history that goes behind the start of Matthew’s gospel.

It is stylised and ordered – shaped into three lots of fourteen – from Abraham to David, from David to the exile, from the exile to the birth of Christ.

This is in itself a powerful commentary on the Old Testament story and gives us an insight into the key turning points that are so significant for this writer.

Abraham up to David.  David up to the exile.  The exile up to the coming of the Christ.

It is as if this writer owns the story told through the genealogies of I Chronicles.  But at the same time he stirs things.  Jesus is fully Jewish … but also Jesus now again shapes the story of Jewishness and gives it a new perspective.

Nowhere is that difference more apparent than when you put together I Chronicles 2:10-15 and 16.

You can see how this is genealogy but also a prompt that reminds you of the history. Of David the youngest of the sons.

Come over into Matthew and two things are added in.


Do you notice the tiny additions that are so telling.  And they anticipate the story that will go to the heart of the story of Jesus.

Mention of Rahab – who is a prostitute

And of Ruth – who is of course a Moabitess.

Two things happen there.

Jesus is fully part of this story.  But Jesus is going to move the story on.

Jesus is going to be the one who will mix with those who are rejected, who are not ‘so-called’ pure, who are marginalised and left out of the reckoning.  This is anticipating the stories of Jesus mixing with prostitutes and the marginalised.

This also anticipates Jesus breaking barriers down between Jew and Gentile.

Jesus ushers in something new again – no longer a focus on the location of the temple and its rebuilding – but on the presence of God in Christ and the presence of God in Christ in the people who hear his word and act on it.

The Kingdom of God is a fulfilment of all the prophets stood for – how important to take into account the challenges, the critique – and not simply the idealisation of things here.

This is exciting stuff.

One of the things that is so exciting is the affirmation of individuals.

9:28ff – the cooks

Chapter 25 – the temple musicians.

Wonderful gifts to affirm and share.

The gifts we each of us have are to be treasured and affirmed too.

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