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Introduction to the Book of 1st Chronicles

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General Info

The two books that we now know as the Chronicles were originally one book known as Dibre Hayyamim, the “events of the days”, (or “years” or “annals”).  It is the last book of the last section of the Hebrew canon, the Ketuvim (Writings), following the Torah (Teachings or Law, Books of Moses) and the Nevi’im (Prophets).  Jesus recognized the Chronicles as closing the OT when He was pronouncing woes on the Jewish religious leaders (Lk 11:37-51) by declaring that they “will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel (Gen 4) to the blood of Zechariah” (2Chr 24:20-22).

Unfortunately, the translators of the Septuagint (OT Greek translation from the 3rd-2nd Century BC) placed the book after the Books of the Kingdom (Samuel and Kings), and entitled it Paraleipomenon (“the things omitted”), indicating that they considered the writing primarily to be an addendum or supplement to Samuel and the Kings.  This opinion is still held by many today, but others, including ourselves, regard the Chronicles as a monumental work in its own right.

The Septuagint translators also divided the writing into two scrolls that would later become the two books of the 1st Chronicles and 2nd Chronicles.  Jerome retained this division for the Latin Vulgate, completed around 400AD.  In contrast to the Septuagint translators, Jerome suggested that a more appropriate title would be “the chronicle of the whole sacred history” (Latin “Chronicon totius divinae historiae”).  Some editions of the Vulgate adopted a plural form, chronica or chronicorum liber.  Martin Luther agreed, entitling his German translation Die Chronika, and virtually all post-Reformation versions have since retained this title.

In the modern Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox canons, the Chronicles make up two of the twelve OT Historical Books (Joshua to Esther in the Protestant canon).

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Brief Survey

In the first nine chapters, the author establishes the genealogical ancestry of the returning exiles, beginning with Adam, thus reassuring the Jewish people that they still retained a central role in His redemptive plan for the world.  To this end, the priestly tribe of Levi and the kingly tribe of Judah (including the royal line of King David in particular) make up the majority of the lists.

The remaining chapters 10-29 focus on the reign of King David over the united kingdom of Israel beginning with the death of her first king Saul.  David’s reign is then established, leading to a period of prosperity and genuine worship of the Lord.  The Ark of the Covenant is brought to Jerusalem (ch 13-16) and concepts are begun for building of the Temple (ch 17), thus showing the high priority given to worship by David.  Chapter 17 also contains the account of God establishing the Davidic covenant (see also 2Sam 7) in which He promises that David would have an eternal dynasty (ultimately fulfilled by Jesus the Messiah).

Chapters 18-20 features God granting David military success in military battles, and David in turn, dedicates the spoils of victory to the Lord.  Next, chapters 21-27 records the actual preparations David made for the Temple, such as purchasing the land, acquiring construction materials, and organizing the priests, Levites, musicians and various officials and administrators.  In the final two chapters (28-29), the author records David’s final addresses to Solomon, David’s praise to God, and the anointing of Solomon as King.  The first volume ends with the death of David and a reference to additional written records of his reign.

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Key Verses

Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord.  So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse. (10:13-14)

All Israel came together to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, even while Saul was king, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns.  And the Lord your God said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’”  When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, he made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel, as the Lord had promised through Samuel. (11:1-3)

After David had constructed buildings for himself in the City of David, he prepared a place for the ark of God and pitched a tent for it.  Then David said, “No one but the Levites may carry the ark of God, because the Lord chose them to carry the ark of the Lord and to minister before him forever.”  David assembled all Israel in Jerusalem to bring up the ark of the Lord to the place he had prepared for it...  So all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouts, with the sounding of rams’ horns and trumpets, and of cymbals, and the playing of lyres and harps.  As the ark of the covenant of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window.  And when she saw King David dancing and celebrating, she despised him in her heart. (15:1-3,28-29)

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done.  Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.  Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.  Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always...  Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.  Cry out, “Save us, God our Savior; gather us and deliver us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and glory in your praise.”  Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. (16:8-11,34-36)

“There is no one like you, Lord, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears.  And who is like your people Israel—the one nation on earth whose God went out to redeem a people for himself, and to make a name for yourself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt?  You made your people Israel your very own forever, and you, Lord, have become their God. (17:20-22)

When David was old and full of years, he made his son Solomon king over Israel. (23:1)

David separated the Levites into divisions corresponding to the sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath and Merari...  For David had said, “Since the Lord, the God of Israel, has granted rest to his people and has come to dwell in Jerusalem forever, the Levites no longer need to carry the tabernacle or any of the articles used in its service.”  ...And so the Levites carried out their responsibilities for the tent of meeting, for the Holy Place and, under their relatives the descendants of Aaron, for the service of the temple of the Lord. (23:6,25-26,32)

David praised the LORD in the presence of the whole assembly, saying, "Praise be to you, O LORD, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. (29:10-11)

Key Chapters: 16 & 17 - Ministering and Praising God after the Ark was brought to Jerusalem;  God's promise to David of a permanent royal line (Ultimately fulfilled by Jesus the Christ)

Key Chapters: 28 & 29 - David's final address to Solomon and the Israeli officials and people

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Author and Date

The author(s) of the Chronicles does not identify himself (or themselves) in the book, and is often referred to as “the Chronicler”.  Jewish writings identify Ezra as the primary author with Nehemiah adding some additional material.  The Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Baba Bathra, Folio 15a) states that “Ezra wrote the book that bears his name [Ezra-Nehemiah – that was originally a single volume] and the genealogies of the Book of Chronicles up to his own time. This confirms the opinion of Rab, since Rab Judah has said in the name of Rab: Ezra did not leave Babylon to go up to Eretz Yisrael until he had written his own genealogy. Who then finished it? [the Book of Chronicles] — Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah.”  Some modern Bible critics have challenged this claim.

To detail all the contingencies and evaluate the various evidence arguments for and against will require a separate article, which we hope to complete soon.  For now, we’ll just state that, although Ezra can’t be irrefutably established as the author, evidence points to Ezra as the most likely writer.  The book’s close connection with the book of Ezra in style and concerns is quite apparent.  Next, the book was written form the perspective of a Levitical priest (Ezra was a linear descendent of Aaron, the brother of Moses).  Even the material in the Chronicles taken from Samuel and the Kings was re-written from a priestly point of view.  The time frame also fits nicely with the time of Ezra, and over a dozen external documents were listed from which he obtained additional historical data.

Assuming Ezra as the author, we can determine from internal evidence that the Chronicles were written after he returned to Judah in 458 BC.  The most common estimated is between 450 and 430 BC.  The original recipients of the book would have been the Jewish exiles returning to their homeland from the Babylonian exile.

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Historical Background

The genealogical lists of the first nine chapters provide an ancestral history for the returning Jewish exiles going all the way back to the Creation.  The selective history of the remainder of 1Chronicles roughly overlaps that of 2Samuel and the first two chapters of 1Kings.

The death of Israel’s first king (Saul) led to a civil war between the followers of Saul’s son Ish-bosheth and those loyal to David.  After Ish-bosheth’s death, the nation that primarily operated as a cooperative group of tribes, united under King David.  The relatively weak state of the surrounding empires during this time allowed David and his son Solomon to expand Israel’s land holdings during their reigns via several military conquests.  David also utilized intermarriage to solidify alliances and gain control of additional territory.

Meanwhile, David was also making plans and organizing workers and administrators for the building and operation of the Temple.

For more Information:

See OT History Books for the position of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel within the context of the OT historical periods.

See OT Historicity for Historicity of the OT History books.

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See OT History and Monarchy Chronology for timeline of additional historical events.

The genealogies of the first nine chapters cover a period of approximately 3.5 millennia.  The remainder of the first volume the covers the 40 year reign of King David.

~ 1075 BC Samuel as Israel's Last Judge
~ 1050 BC Saul becomes Israel’s First King
~ 1040 BC Birth of King David
1011 BC David becomes King of Judah
1004 BC David becomes King of United Israel and Judah
971-931 BC Solomon reigns as King of United Israel and Judah

* See the “Conclusion” of Challenges of Dating the Reigns of Kings for more info.

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Themes, Purpose and Theology

The author, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, had several historical and spiritual purposes for writing the Chronicles, but the overriding purpose undoubtedly was “reassurance”.  The returning Jewish exiles had just experienced seventy five years of captivity in a foreign land.  We know from the books of Haggai and Zechariah that only a small percentage initially chose to return.  Nehemiah (7:4) tells us that, almost a century later, “there were few people in it [Jerusalem], and the houses had not yet been rebuilt”.  Their crops, which they depending on for survival, were mostly barren (Hag 1:9-11), and they faced hostility from people that settled in the land during their absence.

Yet, despite the physical and economical hardships, the biggest source of their discouragement was their perceived altered position with God.  The Temple had been destroyed by the conquering Babylonians, and the new Temple was a mere fragment of the splendor of Solomon’s composition.  In addition, the people were still under Persian rule, so the eternal royal line promised to David appeared to be at an end.

Thus, the Chronicler wrote to reassure the Jewish people that they were still God’s covenant people.  The genealogies showed that God still had a specific purpose for Israel within His plan. The repetition of the Davidic covenant, along with the writings of the prophets, confirmed that the promised Messiah from the line of David was still to come.

A related purpose was to remind the people of the theological reason for their suffering and exile (blessing for obedience and judgment for disobedience), so that the people would be encouraged to remain faithful in order to avoid the same mistakes and once again lose God’s protection.

The primary theme in Chronicles is the Covenants.  While the blessings and curses of the Mosaic Covenant are important, the Davidic Covenant is even more central, since all the other major themes proceed from it, such as the role of the Davidic line of kings in establishing and maintaining worship and other functions related to the Temple.  The Chronicler also stressed the importance of true worship, centered on the Temple in Jerusalem.  When the kingdoms split after the death of Solomon, Jereboam I (the first of the lines of non-Davidic kings of the Northern Kingdom) abandoned worship at the temple.  He set up worship at Bethel and Dan instead (1Kg 12:25-30), and from that moment, the Northern Kingdom was doomed.  God commands us to approach Him on His terms, not ours.  The command to approach God at the Temple foreshadows the fact that we must now approach God only through His Son, since Jesus is the Temple of the new Covenant (Jn 2:18-21).

For the varying purposes of the historical books of the kingdoms, see Harmony of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles.

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Interpretation Hints and Challenges

The first interpretive challenge we encounter is the perceived discrepancies between a few of the genealogical lists as compared with those in other books of the Bible.  These apparent inconsistencies can be explained by understanding the language, and the nature and purposes of Hebrew genealogies.  See our article on Biblical Genealogies for a detailed examination, including the related interpretive challenges and inerrancy issues.

Some have claimed that the use of various uninspired sources (the Chronicler lists over a dozen sources that no longer exist) invalidates the inerrancy of the book.  Divine inspiration does not preclude the use of other records, and the Holy Spirit would have prevented the human author from affirming anything false.  Incidentally, even though most of the records used by the Chronicler were recorded by other prophets, use of these non-inspired resources does not mean that the author considered the sources to be inerrant or inspired, just that a certain part of the resource was useful for historical or theological purposes.  Paul and Jude also quoted uninspired sources in their NT letters.

To properly understand the Chronicles, we must interpret the book in the context of the big picture of God’s redemptive history.  In His elective purposes God chose Israel from amongst all the nations, and then King David from the tribe of Judah to produce the Savior (the Messiah) of mankind.  The people were well aware of the various prophecies concerning Judah’s royal line and the coming Messiah.  Many of these hopes were dashed by the exile.

At the time of the book’s composition (during the various returns from exile), the priests (primarily Ezra and Nehemiah) had taken on many of the leadership responsibilities formerly reserved for the prophets and the king.  Thus, the Chronicler presents a very selective history emphasizing the ecclesial rather than the political history of the nation, along with the Messianic implications, as the people could once again look forward to the coming Messiah as the ultimate and eternal Prophet, Priest and King.

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The first book of the Chronicles can be divided into two sections.  The first nine chapters consist of selective genealogies beginning at Creation.  The remaining chapters (10-29) focus on the reign of King David.

1:1 – 1:54 Genealogies from Adam to Abraham to Jacob (aka Israel)
2:1 - 2:55 Genealogy of Judah
3:1 - 3:24 Genealogy of David's Royal Line
4:1 - 8:40 Genealogies of the Twelve Tribes of Israel
9:1 - 9:44 Genealogies of the Returning Exiles
10:1 - 10:14 Death of King Saul
11:1 - 12:40 David Establishes his Throne in Jerusalem and Unifies Israel
13:1 - 16:43 The Ark Moved to Jerusalem
17:1 - 17:27 The Davidic Covenant and David's resulting Prayer of Praise
18:1 - 20:8 David's Military Victories
21:1 - 21:30 David's Ill-advised Census
22:1 - 22:19 David's Preparations for the Temple
23:1 - 26:32 David Organizes the Religious Leaders for Temple Service
27:1 - 27:34 David Organizes the Military and Civil Leaders
28:1 - 28:21 David's Final Instructions to Solomon and the People
29:1 - 29:30 David's Final Address and Death; Solomon Crowned as King of Israel 

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