I thought reading through Chronicles was going to be boring and redundant. But I had never read it through with such expediency before so I never saw its distinctiveness. I had always assumed and took it for granted that Chronicles was simply a repeat of Samuel-Kings. Man alive was I wrong.
Keep in mind that I am not reading through the scriptures with commentary in hand or with study notes. Simple straight text and whatever knowledge happens to be recalled to this faulty memory of mine.
The historical context is fascinating to me (as a lover of history that I am). The northern tribes simply known as “Israel” disappeared into exile by the hand of Assyria around 722 BC; gone never to come back. About one hundred and fifty years pass before Judah undergoes a similar fate at the hand of the Babylonians (approximate 587-6 BC). Keeping this in mind is important for understanding the perspective of the Chronicler.
He is writing from the perspective of Judah to Judean’s who have recently returned from exile – a return which “Israel” (a la the northern tribes) never had. So unlike Samuel-Kings which tell the history of both Israel and Judah, Chronicles sticks strictly to the story of Judah except where the story of Israel intersects, and even then the story focuses on Judah. Judah is almost always portrayed in a positive light and Israel is given the same recognition as Egypt, Moab, Ammon or any other secular nation.
For example, Rehoboam is said to have abandoned the Lord [2 Chronicles 12:1]. For the Chronicler, this piece of information is important for making sense of the historical division between Israel and Judah. But the story ends with an optimistic note not recorded in Samuel-Kings: “Rehoboam humbled himself, the Lord’s anger turned from him… Indeed, there was some good in Judah.” [2 Chronicles 12:13]
His son Abijah is depicted as a obedient and faithful King if ever there were one, leading the people in reform, depending on the Lord for victory and so on [see 2 Chronicles 13]. But in 1 Kings 15:3 we are told a different story: “[Abijah] had committed all the sins his father had done before him; his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God.” But the Chronicler does not mention any of this.
Abijah’s son Asa is also depicted as a perfect King who could do no wrong. Two whole chapters are devoted to Asa’s faith in God and spiritual reform 2 Chronicles 14-15]. While a third chapter (chapter 16) his only sin was that he sought an alliance with Aram instead of relying on the Lord. This becomes important when consider his son Jehoshaphat.
Jehoshaphat is commended just like Asa for being a stand up righteous King. But he is judged for one sin, namely, for forming a military alliance with Israel. But even in this sin the Chronicler adds an optimistic spin on the story. Read this:
Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord? Because of this, the wrath of the Lord is upon you. There is, however, some good in you. – 2 Chronicles 19:2
Always a positive spin.
The next three characters are not given a positive spin per se, but it is interesting to note that the evils of these three characters is directed away from Judah as the blame is again shifted on to Israel.
First we have Jehoram who is said to have married the daughter of Ahab – Israel’s most wicked King. It is interesting that the prophet who stood most opposed to Ahab – Elijah – sends Jehoram a letter of judgment, making the Ahab connection prominent (note that Elijah sent this letter supposedly after he was raptured up into heaven. See here).
His son Ahaziah is said to “walk in the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother encouraged him in doing wrong” [2 Chronicles 22:3]. Ahaziah’s mother, Athaliah, was the sister of Ahab and the next ruler of Judah [2 Chronicles 22:10]. Notice how the story subtly shifts so that now the kingdom of Judah actually falls into the hands of an Israelite ruler. So the blame, again, is shifted away from Judah and on to Israel.
The next rightful king of Judah, Joash, sets about undoing the sins and damage done by the influence of Israel.
The writer of Chronicles is unabashedly bias. He tells the story which the Judeans want to hear. That their situation was not really their fault. That “Israel” – and by that they meant the northern tribes – was really to blame. That the descendents of David were all – or mostly – righteous kings.
One other subtle shift begins to take place at this junction in Israel’s history. The term “Israel” begins to take on dual meanings. It is mostly used first as I’ve been using it, in reference to the (wicked!) northern ten tribes of Israel. But frequently it is employed also in reference specifically to Judah (cf. 2 Chronicles 12:1 and 2 Chronicles 21:2).
It is a reminder to the Judean audience that they are still – in some sense – “Israel”. That is, the covenant which God made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (i.e. Israel) is still theirs even though they are not, historically speaking, Israel.