This week I found myself relaying a story to one of the interns that I’d not told in a while. It was simply an encouraging conversation that had taken place with a few other men and me prior to when I became pastor here. This particular conversation I’ve shared multiple times, in different settings, to different people, so I wasn’t sharing about a recent event or only telling it for the second or third time. I was retelling a story that I remember well about a conversation that took place sixteen years ago. Yet the next day, as I walked into the office with that story now fresh on my mind, I found myself encouraged by it. In fact, I was greatly encouraged by it. I felt loved by the Lord, encouraged in my labors, and strengthened in my tasks simply because of a conversation that I had remembered and recounted that took place sixteen years ago.
Now, as I began to reflect on why simply retelling that story in my life encouraged me, I realized that it’s because I was in a different setting now. As encouraging as that conversation with those men was to me prior to my ever pastoring, it is much more encouraging now that I’ve been pastoring for years. Simply put, sometimes stories about your own life and how the Lord worked in your life can become powerful for us when we consider them in different contexts. And I think that’s what we find going on in 1-2 Chronicles.
The books of 1-2 Chronicles are a retelling of Israel’s history. First Chronicles covers the material we find in 2 Samuel, while 2 Chronicles covers the material we see in 1-2 Kings. However, it’s not a mere retelling of Israel’s history as recorded in 2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings. The Chronicler (we’re not exactly sure who the author of these books is) adds certain elements and omits others in order to make certain points, it seems. For example, David looks like he is almost morally perfect and Solomon even more so according to these books. There’s no mention of David’s adultery or terrible relations with some of his children, for example. And no doubt, this is a point that the author is making, perhaps one we’ll explore next week.
The books of 1-2 Chronicles break down rather easily. First Chronicles breaks down into two sections: chapters 1-9 and chapters 10-29. The first nine chapters provide a genealogy of Israel’s history to David while chs. 10-29 focus on the life of David. Second Chronicles, meanwhile, can also be divided into two sections: chapters 1-9 and 10-36, with the first section focusing on Solomon’s building of the temple and the last section focusing on the kings of Judah from Rehoboam to Zedekiah. Someone has suggested, and I think it’s an accurate observation, that the books of 1-2 Chronicles tells Israel’s history twice, first in the form of a genealogy (1 Chr. 1-9) and then in the form of a narrative (1 Chr. 10-2 Chr. 36), both ending with the note of Israel’s return (or hope for return) from exile.1
However, perhaps what is more important than understanding the structure of these books that retell Israel’s history is understanding the context in which the Israelites would have received these books. Those who would have first heard or read this book would have been Israelites who had come out of exile from Babylon. Many of these had likely been born in exile so that they had no memories of living in Jerusalem, seeing the temple, or worshiping there. They were a people who had always been sojourners or strangers. Therefore, you can imagine how this book served both to anchor them, placing them within the story of Israel, and gave them hope, pushing them to rebuild the temple and rejoice in God’s goodness toward them. But I believe there’s even more here to encourage them, things I want us to see in the text as well.
Therefore, this morning, I want us to look together at 1 Chronicles 1-9. Now, I know that if you devoted yourself to reading these nine chapters this week that few if any of you thought this was mesmerizing reading. But I want us to hear a few exhortations that I think should be heard in the text both by the original hearers as well as us as we look at these nine chapters of genealogy! The first exhortation is that:
We must not lose sight of who we are
This point is obvious as we think of the original readers or hearers of this text. For a people who had been in exile and were perhaps born in exile, it would have been easy for them to lose sight of who they are. What better way, then, to recount their history than through a genealogy in which they can trace their line?
However, this is more than simply one of us tracing our genealogy. This past summer one of my cousins traced back our line from my dad’s mom and found out that we were related to Roger Williams, founder of the first Baptist church in America. And the way that this affects me and all those after me in my family is that we get to tell people that. That is, the effect is very little. However, for an Israelite, genealogy was identity. Remember Paul in Philippians 3:2-11 telling the believers there that if he wanted to have confidence in the flesh, he could. After all, he was an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin. You see, this, any Israelite would have known. They were a people who could trace themselves to one of the twelve tribes, back to Jacob, back to Isaac, and back to Abraham, one with whom God had made a covenant that he would bless him and his offspring after him. And that was a big deal.
Well, we might say, “Great, but how does this help a bunch of Gentiles reading this genealogy hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years later?” And that’s a fair question. I would imagine not many people gravitate toward these nine chapters of genealogy, and I doubt many devotional books use this text for the content of its devotions. However, I would argue that there is a line that we should place ourselves in within this genealogical record as well. By that I don’t mean that we should try to argue somehow that our line can be traced back to Reuben or Simeon. But I do mean that this genealogy reminds us of who we are as well, and we need to be reminded of who we are. Let me show you what I mean.
Notice how the genealogical record focuses on one particular line. First, you obviously go from Adam, not to Cain, but to Seth. And the line gives us Noah’s three sons but then the emphasis is on Shem’s line, beginning in 1:17. Why? Because it leads to Abraham (1:27). Then, Abraham’s line begins with Ishmael (1:29) and speak of the sons of Abraham’s concubine, Keteruah (1:32) before focusing on Isaac (1:34). Similarly, Isaac’s sons, Esau and Jacob are both mentioned, and their sons after them, but the focus shifts from Esau in chapter 1 to Jacob (or Israel) in chapter 2. And of Jacob’s sons, Judah is mentioned first (2:3), and his line ultimately focuses us on David in chapter 3.
There is a line that develops throughout in which you can say, “This one, not that one.” It’s Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, not Esau; Judah, not Reuben; David, not any of his seemingly superior brothers, or Saul. Why does the Lord do it this way? Why is there seemingly always a “this-one-not-that-one” theme that develops through the Bible?
It seems that the New Testament provides us with two answers, both of which will help us in understanding why this genealogical record spread over nine chapters in 1 Chronicles helps us remember who we are. First, Paul brings up Jacob and Esau in Romans 9. His choice of these two is easy to understand in the sense that there can be no two more equal individuals, humanly speaking. They were born at the same time, in the same family, and occupied their mother’s womb at the exact same time. Yet, as Paul reminds us, “Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’” (Rom. 9:11-12).
Similarly, Paul brings up Ishmael and Isaac (and their mothers, Hagar and Sarah) in Galatians 4, saying that their story may be interpreted “allegorically” (Gal. 4:24). Now, what Paul means is not that their story isn’t real history. It is. What he means is that this story of Hagar giving birth to Ishmael and Sarah giving birth to Isaac establishes a pattern in the Bible that points to what comes about through God’s gracious promise and what man can achieve by his own work. Thus, Paul calls those who realize their work is insufficient to be deemed righteous before God and thus put their faith in the finished work of Christ as their hope for righteousness “children of promise.” And he calls those who attempt to achieve righteousness through their own work as children “born according to the flesh” or “children of the slave” woman.
Now, when you compare Romans 9 and Galatians 4, you see that a similar theme emerges. In Romans 9, Paul says “in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls,” the Lord loved (or chose) Jacob. And in Galatians 4, it is those who cease from their work and place their faith in Christ (not in their works), who are children of promise. That is to say, there is another, more important genealogy that we can trace as the Lord’s people, and it has nothing to do with our genetic code being similar to someone else’s. After all, Ishmael’s genetic makeup was a lot closer to Abraham’s that mine or yours is to Abraham, and according to Galatians 3:29, it is you and I (if our faith is in Christ) who are Abraham’s true offspring, not Ishmael.
You see, as we trace through these nine chapters of genealogy and realize this line of those who were raised up simply because of God’s work and not because of human ability of achievement, we realize that we are connected with them. We are those who are Abraham’s offspring because we have been united with Christ by faith, who is Abraham’s one unique offspring who unites all others. In fact, what is most important is not that we can trace our genetic makeup back to Abraham, Paul, Augustine, or Roger Williams. What matters is that our faith is in Christ. That’s our identity.
I enjoy getting to pass on my last name to my boys, but in the end I want them to know that their identity is not wrapped up in my last name, carrying my genetic code, or being legally made my sons. Their identity needs to be found in being a child of promise – one who trusts in Christ. And in our day with so many suffering from looking for identity with fathers who have left, parents who have abused them, and some having no idea where they’ve come from (according to the flesh), it’s nice to know that none of those things ultimately matter. Our identity is found in a long line of those who have trusted in Christ and are children of promise, according to the gracious calling of God as he brought us to faith. I stood and cried in a Russian courtroom when I heard the judge say of my youngest son, “His name will be Nicholas Daniel Tankersley,” but my ultimate hope for him is that one day he’ll be given a new name by the Lord, even as Jesus promises to those who believe and overcome in Revelation 2:17. Let us not lose sight of who we are.
But these chapters are not simply about identity. We also see that:
We must not lose sight of what is central and most important
Now, what is most important, I’ll go ahead and tell you, is the Lord himself. The greatest commandment we’ve been given is to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And the greatest thing that can be said of anyone is that we loved the Lord God. But I want to show you two ways we’re reminded of the importance and centrality of the Lord in these chapters.
First, we’re reminded of the centrality and importance of the Lord in chapter 5. Starting in 5:18, we have a note about the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. We read that they had “valiant men who carried shield and sword, and drew the bow, expert in war, 44,760, able to go to war” (5:18). So, you’d surely expect them to prevail over their enemies in war, and you’d be right. We read in 5:20 that they went to war against the Hagrites and those with them and “prevailed over them, the Hagrites and all who were with them were given into their hands” (5:20). But note why? The author continues, “for they cried out to God in battle, and he granted their urgent please because they trusted in him” (5:20).
Similarly, then, 5:23-26 recounts mentions the destruction of this people by the Assyrians. Now, why were they defeated? We read in 5:25-26, “But they broke faith with the God of their fathers, and whored after the gods of the people of the land, whom God had destroyed before them. So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, the spirit of Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and he took them into exile, namely, the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh.”
Do you see? Their victory wasn’t due to their military prowess nor their defeat due to their military weakness. What was most important was their devotion to the Lord. We see the same thing about all of Judah, when we read in 9:1, “And Judah was taken into exile in Babylon because of their breach of faith.” It doesn’t read, “Because Babylon was a great army and Judah had a lesser army.” The point is, what was most important was Israel’s devotion to and love for the Lord.
But there’s one other way we see this point of the centrality and importance of the Lord in the lives of his people in this text. These chapters are arranged as a chiasm. That is, each part at the beginning has a corresponding part at the end that when put together looks like one side of an “x.” Let me see if I can show this to you. Here’s what an outline of these chapters looks like:
1 – Israel’s past (ancestors from Adam)
2.1-4.23 – Focus on a royal tribe – Judah, with King David
4:24-5:26 - Other tribes – Simeon, Ruben, Gad, half-Manasseh
6 – Levi
7 – Other tribes – Issachar, Benjamin, Naphtali, half-Manasseh, Ephraim, Asher
8 – Focus on a royal tribe – Benjamin, with Saul’s line.
9 – Israel’s present (returning from exile – with a repeat of Saul to set up next section).
Now, whenever you have a structure like this in the text (a chiasm), it’s meant to draw attention to what is at the center of the chiastic structure. And as you can see in this case it is the tribe of Levi. We see this both in the chiastic structure also the sheer magnitude of space given to the tribe of Levi. Chapter 6, which deals with the Levites is eighty-one verses long! Also, when you get to chapter 9 and read of the first people who returned to Israel, notice who leads the pack. We read in 9:2, “Now the first to dwell again in their possessions in their cities were Israel, the priests, the Levites, and the temple servants.”
So, why is there such a stress on the Levites? The answer, I think is because the Levites were about the service of the temple. And the temple was the place where God dwelt among his people. And when they got back to the land of Jerusalem, the most important task they were to have was to focus on the temple because it was a manifestation of their focus on the Lord himself. In fact, when the people begin focusing on their own homes instead of the temple, the Lord rebukes them through the prophet Haggai. Why?
It’s because they need to understand that there’s nothing more important in their lives than the Lord. And the same is true for us. I know that it’s easy for us to direct our attention elsewhere. I feel it so much in my own life. As we sing, “Prone to wonder, Lord I feel it.” I do feel it. It’s easy to drift into focusing on so many other things, but focusing on knowing the Lord, loving the Lord, worshiping the Lord, and obeying the Lord, you never drift into naturally. It takes a focused disciplined devotion in our lives to cultivate greater knowledge of, love for, and obedience to the Lord. But there’s nothing more important than that.
And that leads us to one more note I want us to see from these chapters.
We must not lose sight of the Lord’s mission
There are two elements that rise to the top in the books of 1-2 Chronicles. One of them is David, and the other is the Lord’s promise to bring his people back from exile. We see this in these nine chapters of genealogy as most of chapters 2-4 are focused on David and his line, and chapter 9 ends with a repeating of Saul’s line which simply sets up the fact that it was David, not Saul, who was God’s chosen king. We will also see this in the coming weeks as David is held up gloriously throughout this book, as we look for the greater “David” to come. In fact, 1-2 Chronicles ended the Hebrew Bible so that if our Bibles were ordered in the way that they were with the Hebrews, we would finish the Old Testament with 1-2 Chronicles, seeing this glorious vision of David, and then we would read the first words of the Gospel of Matthew, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David …”
But the other note that is held up is God bringing his people back out of exile, back from captivity. This is how 1-2 Chronicles ends. The last words of these books are about Cyrus king of Persia making a decree, saying, “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 Chr. 36:23).
This gathering of the Lord’s people from exile is also the focus of the end of our nine chapters of genealogy. Chapter 9 begins with a record of those who returned from exile and dwelt in their land again. But when you think of the glorious way this gathering of the Lord’s people from exile and return to Jerusalem is spoken of in the Bible, this seems a bit anticlimactic, doesn’t it? After all, think of Ezekiel 34. In this chapter, Ezekiel prophesies after he’s gotten word that Jerusalem has been sieged and was now struck down. That is, the people were in exile and Jerusalem had been destroyed.
But Ezekiel prophesied that the Lord would come, seek out his sheep, and rescues them from all the places they were scattered (34:12). He adds, “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken” (34:23-24). But it doesn’t stop there. He says he’ll get rid of wild beasts so that they can dwell secure (34:25). They will have rains with they need them, their earth shall yield fruit, and no longer will they be the reproach of the nations or prey for other nations (34:25-31). They will be the Lord’s sheep.
Now, does Judah’s return in 1 Chronicles 9:2 sound like this? Or even think of Israel’s history. Did Jerusalem become some glorious paradise where all the nations flocked? No. In fact, the old men who saw the former temple cried when they saw the new temple because it wasn’t as glorious. And Jerusalem’s destruction in A.D. 70 proved they weren’t immortal in the face of their enemies.
So, what do we do with this? Well, note that the Lord’s promise in Ezekiel 34 brings together our two themes: 1) “David” as a king and shepherd over the Lord’s people and 2) the Lord gathering his people from all over the earth. I think this points us toward our answer. Israel’s return from captivity was only a type and shadow of his ultimate mission and purpose. And his mission is greater than anything tied merely to one national, political, geographical people. We see it when the one who is the Lord and the promised son of David declares that he is king and shepherd in Matthew 28:18 and sends us to gather his people, his sheep, from all over the face of the earth.
The promise of delivering Israel from captivity is ultimately fulfilled when we, as the Lord’s people, go forth as ambassadors for Christ into all the earth with the gospel of Christ, proclaiming that all who trust in the crucified and risen Lord will belong to Christ as his own. And one day the Lord will return, just as he ascended, and will reign over a new heavens and a new earth, where there will be no more enemies, fruit in every season, and paradise with Christ as our Shepherd and God as our God. Therefore, we can’t lose sight of the mission given to us by our Lord to make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded.
Therefore, this morning, as children of promise, whose lives should be devoted to our Lord, let us declare that we are people who are and will be about his mission as we now come to the table, visibly demonstrated that we have heard and received the Lord’s word to us. Amen.
1 Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Historical Books (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 477.