Real Bible Studies: Kings & Chronicles 

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Nowhere is the piecemeal nature of the Bible more evident than in the books detailing the kings of Israel and Judah from the time of David’s ascension to the time Babylon sacks Jerusalem and burns the temple. Kings and Chronicles are each broken up into two books, but according to sources, in the Hebrew Bible, each was originally a single volume. The narrative flow of Kings is disrupted by the break, which occurs during the story of Ahaziah of Israel, while Chronicles is less so, book one ending with David’s final days and book two beginning with Solomon building the temple.

While both collections tell essentially the same story, and appear to be based on the same source material, volumes referred to as The Chronicles of the Kings of Israel and The Chronicles of the Kings of Judah, there are numerous differences between the two, suggesting they were written by different authors for different purposes and combined in the Jewish scriptures without making any attempt to reconcile the differences. Kings references the source material as two works, one for Israel, one for Judah, but Chronicles often references it as one work. This may indicate that by the time the author of Chronicles was writing, the texts had been combined into one. Even in translation, the books have a different feel to them, Kings a bit more flowery in its descriptions than Chronicles, and a good deal more concise, Kings at a combined forty-seven chapters and Chronicles at a combined sixty-five.

Kings alternates between the stories of Israel and Judah, from their status as a unified kingdom under David and Solomon, to independent entities following Solomon’s reign. Chronicles concerns itself exclusively with Judah, only bringing in relevant facts about Israel when the king being profiled interacts with his counterpart in Israel. Kings often uses the reign of the opposing king to date his counterpart; for instance, Ahaziah becomes king of Israel in the seventeenth year of Jehoshaphat’s reign in Judah. Chronicles is far more sympathetic to the House of David than is Kings, which reports the failings of the kings of Judah with the same critical eye the kings of Israel receive. This also means the author of Kings has to come up with excuses for why Judah doesn’t suffer the same fate as Israel, despite committing the same offenses. This is usually accomplished by citing God’s commitment to David.

First Chronicles is complicated by having the first nine chapters provide a painstakingly tedious recitation of the genealogies of every generation between Adam and David. I haven’t taken the time to check this genealogy against others that occur within the Bible, but it doesn’t just document a single line down to a specific individual, though it does end with Saul’s death and David becoming king of the unified kingdom. The genealogy covers most of the major figures in the narrative up to that point, and also provides some details about other tribes such as Edom. Even after David comes into the story, at just about every step, the author provides lists of David or one of his descendants’ followers, names and numbers of different tribes, sizes and weights of the materials used in constructing various buildings, and other trivial facts surrounding the kings. There’s some of this in Kings as well, but Chronicles takes it to ludicrous extremes.

One of the significant differences concerns the building of the first temple, as well as the portrayal of Solomon. In Kings, David wants to build a temple to the Lord but is told, without much elaboration, that it’s Solomon’s responsibility to do so. In Chronicles, David is also told it’s Solomon’s responsibility, but this time is given the explanation that David is a man of war and the temple must be built by a man of peace. In Kings, it’s Solomon who provides this information after David has died, but he puts a slightly different spin on it. Nevertheless, in Chronicles, David assumes all of the responsibility for everything short of actually building the temple, designing it, financing it, hiring the workers, electing priests, designating all the temple personnel, in addition to naming Solomon as his successor. In this version of the story, David’s decision to designate Solomon as the next king is to facilitate Solomon building the temple, not in reaction to Adonijah’s challenge to the throne as related in Kings. There’s also none of the palace intrigue of Solomon eliminating his older brother after taking the throne, or having to rid himself of his father’s army commander or other enemies at David’s insistence.

In Chronicles, Solomon is depicted as young, inexperienced, and totally devoted to doing the work of God, not the cunning politician ruthlessly consolidating his rule as depicted in Kings. Also, Kings reports that later in life Solomon married wives from the surrounding nations, and often worshipped other gods earning the disfavor of the God of his ancestors. Chronicles doesn’t mention any of this, portraying Solomon as a wise and godly ruler throughout his reign. Kings is also the source for the story of Solomon deciding between two mothers arguing over a child, perhaps his most famous decision. Chronicles doesn’t mention it, though it does laud the wisdom of Solomon.

Both narratives agree on the dimensions of the temple (1 Kings 6 & 2 Chronicles 2): Sixty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, thirty cubits high, with a portico twenty cubits wide. Footnotes in the NIV interpret the dimensions as 90 feet (27 meters) long, 30 feet (9 meters) wide and 45 feet (14 meters) high. By way of comparison, the US White House is 168 feet (51.2 meters) long, 85 feet 6 inches (26.1 meters) wide without porticos and 152 feet wide with porticos. In Kings the father of Huram, the metal worker, is from Tyre and his mother is from the tribe of Naphtali. In Chronicles, he’s Huram-Abi and his mother is from Dan. Both narratives also state that David took a census of the people which earned the disfavor of God, prompting a punishment, but Chronicles states Solomon later used the census to find foreigners to press into service in the building the temple.

Kings is preceded in the Protestant Bible by first and second Samuel, and Chronicles is followed by Ezra, giving a full accounting of Israel and Judah from the anointing of Saul to the return of exiles from Babylon under Cyrus of Persia. Both Kings and Chronicles make it clear throughout that they’re only summarizing the source material, the aforementioned Chronicles of the Kings of whichever kingdom is being profiled. It seems clear that whoever wrote Chronicles intended to promote the Davidic line of kings, and also show that Israel’s problems arose from failing to follow the word of God as written in the Commandments and Leviticus. During the reign of Josiah, a text was discovered during the renovation of the temple which most scholars agree was Deuteronomy, which purports to be the last commentary by Moses. The initial intent of Kings is less apparent, stating kings failed to remain faithful to their God, but not hammering home the idea that this is what led to the destruction of Israel or the exile of Judah. The prophets Elijah and Elisha are prominent figures in Kings, but since their dealings were mostly with Israel, they’re hardly mentioned in Chronicles.

Chronicles ends with Cyrus, king of Persia issuing his decree allowing the Jews in exile in Babylon to return to Jerusalem, which is picked up in Ezra, almost without a break. Kings ends with the release of King Jehoiachin, one of the last kings of pre-exile Judah from captivity in Babylon, but he’s not allowed to return to Jerusalem. This suggests the writer was aware of these events but not of the return from exile and gives a clue as to when Kings was compiled. It also gives us a clue to who wrote the history, since this person appears to have access to official documents pertaining to the reigns of the Davidic kings. Most of those carted off were among the upper eschelons of society.

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