The Kingdom of God

We have seen that 1-2 Kings presents the history of Israel in a way that explains why the nation went into exile, as well as points to a future Davidic king that would be good and would not be replaced—the Messiah (Genesis 49:10). We will now see that 1-2 Chronicles, which re-presents the history of Israel, points further in this direction.

1-2 Chronicles is clearly divided into two parts. The first part is basically a list of genealogies. It traces the ancestry of Jews who had returned from exile and resettled in Jerusalem all the way back to Adam (1 Chronicles 1-9). This means 1-2 Chronicles was written with them and their concerns in mind. The second part is an historical narrative beginning with the death of King Saul all the way to the Exile and the initial return from captivity (1 Chronicles 10-2 Chronicles 36). In other words, 1-2 Chronicles re-presents history from Genesis to the beginning of Ezra. It selects and adapts materials found in these books, especially 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings, as well as materials not found in any of them.

Why is there a need for this re-presentation? 1-2 Kings had already answered the question why the Jews went into exile. So 1-2 Chronicles was written to answer questions beyond the Exile. One such question would be the validity of the Davidic Covenant, which was supposed to be unconditional. The Exile itself did not nullify the validity of the Davidic Covenant; God did not promise David’s descendants uninterrupted occupation of the throne. But there was still no sign of a Davidic king even after they had returned from the Exile. For even Zerubbabel, who was a descendant of David, was only a governor under the Persian Empire.

We know this was indeed a concern because God Himself had to assure the Jews that David would one day have a descendant on his throne. For God declared symbolically that, “On that day … I will take you, Zerubbabel [representing the house of David], son of Shealtiel, My servant … and make you like a signet ring [here signifying kingship], for I have chosen you” (Haggai 2:23; see Jeremiah 22:24).

The Chronicler has a similar message but through a different means—a list of genealogies followed by a historical narrative. This is because 1-2 Chronicles has an unmistakable focus on the tribe of Judah and the family of David, both in the genealogies and in the historical narrative.

The list of genealogies enables him to cover the whole sweep of history from Creation to the Jews’ return from the Exile so that he can place the historical narrative in its proper context. Thus he is not only re-presenting the history of Israel but also of the world. This means, like Genesis-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles is relevant to the Jews as well as to all humanity. The genealogies (1 Chronicles 1:1-9:44) can be neatly outlined under the four most pivotal names in the list:

Descendants of Adam (1:1-9:44)
Descendants of Noah (1:4-9:44)
Descendants of Abraham (1:28-9:44)
Descendants of Israel (2:1-9:44)

By excluding descendants of Adam that did not survive the Noahic Flood the Chronicler is clearly presenting only materials that are directly relevant to people still alive. What then is the meaning of this long list of names, with its narrowing focus from Noah (all nations) to Israel (one nation)?

The four pivotal names correspond to the Creation Mandate, which was given to Adam; the Noahic Covenant; the Abrahamic Covenant; and the Mosaic Covenant, which was made with the nation of Israel. Hence each name represents something that is significant in itself; and when taken together they reaffirm God’s purpose for humanity (Genesis 1:26-28; 9:6-7) as well as His redemptive plan for the world through a nation descended from Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3).

In other words, among other things, the list of genealogies affirms that the Exile did not change God’s calling for the nation of Israel when He took them out of Egypt (cf. Haggai 2:5-9). What could be more meaningful than this to the Jews who had returned from exile to rebuild their nation in accordance with the Mosaic Covenant?

The genealogies of Israel take up eight out of nine chapters, and give exceptional attention to the tribe of Judah (2:1-4:23), especially to David and his family (2:9-3:24). This narrowing focus reaffirms the Davidic Covenant. We will see in the historical narrative that this covenant is given a new significant meaning in light of the Exile, one that involves the whole world.

The tribes of Levi (6:1-81) and Benjamin (7:6-12; 8:1-40) are also given more attention than the other tribes. This is partly because most of the returnees from the Exile were from the tribes of Judah, Levi and Benjamin (9:1-34). Some from the other tribes also returned, though they formed the minority (cf. Pratt 1998: 19-23). They were most likely those who had defected to Judah before the Exile (see 2 Chronicles 11:14; 15:9; 31:6; 35:17-18). The Chronicler mentions specifically returnees from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (1 Chronicles 9:3). He also takes note of those who had not (yet) returned (see 1 Chronicles 5:26).

Another reason for the special attention given to Levi is the hereditary calling of this tribe to serve in religious work such as the priesthood. However the main reason will become clear in the historical narrative. As for the case of Benjamin, the special attention given was also because Saul, the first king of Israel, was a Benjamite. In fact Saul is given two genealogies, one as part of the genealogy of Benjamin and one stand-alone just before the historical narrative (8:33-40; 9:35-44).

Having thus given due recognition to Saul as the first king of Israel, the historical narrative begins abruptly with the defeat and death of Saul and his three sons in that battle against the Philistines (1 Chronicles 10:1-12). With a quick transition explaining why Saul died in that battle and reaffirming that it was God who gave the kingdom over to David (1 Chronicles 10:13-14), the narrative moves on to recount how David was accepted and endorsed as king over all Israel by the people (1 Chronicles 11-12). We have considered the contemporary significance of this account as part of our exposition on the role of the Media in nation-building.

This is a clear sign that the Chronicler’s interest is in the kingdom of David only; this is confirmed by his leaving out completely the history of the Northern Kingdom in his account of the history of the nation after the death of Solomon. Evidently this is because of his focus on the Davidic Covenant.

The rest of the long narrative on David’s reign is basically about David’s attention to the Ark of the Covenant and then the Temple that Solomon was going to build (1 Chronicles 13-29). Since the narrative begins with the death of Saul, the account of David’s life in 1-2 Samuel before he became king over all Israel was left out. However even the account in 2 Samuel on David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the consequences is also left out.

Is this to suppress the negative aspects of David’s life in order to portray him as an ideal king? If this were the case the Chronicler did not do a good job. For he mentions David’s polygamy (1 Chronicles 14:3), which we saw was the root cause of David’s adultery with Bathsheba. And he also included the account of David’s other major sin—taking the census of his fighting men (1 Chronicles 21). Furthermore the Chronicler would have known that his audience were already familiar with David’s life in 1-2 Samuel. It would thus be futile to suppress anything.

This highly selective account of David’s reign is the result of the Chronicler’s near exclusive focus on David’s attention to the Ark of the Covenant and then the Temple to house it. The account of the census is needed to explain the choice of the location of the Temple (1 Chronicles 21:18-22:4; 2 Chronicles 3:1).

The account covering 1 Chronicles 22-29 is entirely unique to 1-2 Chronicles. It recounts how David prepared for, and instructed, Solomon to build the Temple, as well as how he got the leaders to support Solomon. The preparations included obtaining the materials and making the plans needed for the building, as well as organizing the Levites to play their respective roles in the Temple. This is the main reason for the special attention given to the Levites in the genealogies.

Why then this heavily lopsided focus on the religious side of David? The heart of 1-2 Chronicles is the narrative covering the reigns of David and Solomon (1 Chronicles 11-2 Chronicles 9), “which contains two words from God which are of fundamental theological significance” (Selman 1994a: 27). The first is God’s word to David concerning the Davidic Covenant (1 Chronicles 17:1-15). The second is God’s word to Solomon in response to his prayer at the dedication of the Temple (2 Chronicles 7:11-22).

We will now consider God’s word to David to see why the Chronicler focussed on the Temple in his account of David’s reign. This will require us to understand how he viewed the Davidic Covenant in light of the Exile.

The Davidic Covenant as recounted in 1 Chronicles 7:1-15 is basically a reproduction of 2 Samuel 7:1-17, but it is reinterpreted. Of particular significance is the phrase “your house and your kingdom” (2 Samuel 7:16) is changed to “My house and My kingdom” (1 Chronicles 17:14). In other words David’s kingdom was actually God’s kingdom. This change is not limited to this text. The words of the queen of Sheba to Solomon, “the LORD your God … placed you on the throne of Israel” (1 Kings 10:9), is changed to “the LORD your God … placed you on His throne as king for the LORD your God” (2 Chronicles 9:8).

The idea that David’s kingdom was God’s kingdom is also repeatedly found in texts unique to 1-2 Chronicles. In his speech to the leaders of the nation to get them to support Solomon, David said God “has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel” (1 Chronicles 28:5-6; see also 1 Chronicles 29:23; cf. 1 Kings 2:12). In this very speech, David acknowledged that his kingdom was God’s kingdom by charging the leaders and commanding Solomon to obey God (1 Chronicles 28:8-9). And Solomon’s grandson Abijah could say to Jeroboam, “So now you intend to resist the kingdom of the LORD, which is in the hands of the sons of David” (2 Chronicles 13:8).

The idea that David’s kingdom was actually God’s kingdom would be particularly meaningful to the Jews who were concerned whether the Davidic Covenant was still valid. For if David and his sons were only ruling on behalf of God, David’s kingdom was only temporarily derailed by the Exile; God’s kingdom cannot be demolished. As already explained in 1-2 Kings, this derailment was actually according to God’s will. Now that they had returned from the Exile, the kingdom of God expressed through the Davidic dynasty would thus have to be restored according to the Davidic Covenant.

In 2 Samuel 7:14 God had said to David concerning his successor: “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men.” This means God would love him like a father, and God would discipline him as a father would a delinquent son (cf. Gordon 1986: 239-40). Originally this “son” refers to Solomon, but it could be applied to any Davidic king (cf. Selman 1994a: 179). In fact the idea of God adopting a Davidic king as son is also found in Psalm 2:7.

However the Chronicler omits the warning “when he commits iniquity …” (1 Chronicles 17:13), implying that after the Exile it is no longer relevant. In view of 1-2 Kings pointing to a future Davidic king that would be good and would not be replaced, this omission is significant. For it points further in this direction by implying that this future king would be so good that the question of him committing iniquity would not even arise. This means the Davidic Covenant as presented in 1 Chronicles 17 points beyond Solomon and all the Davidic kings before the Exile. It has to point to the Messiah. For the goal of the Davidic Covenant is the Messiah, as the covenant is based on God’s promise that kingship would remain with the tribe of Judah until the coming of the Messiah (Genesis 49:10). And God has reassured His people through the prophet Ezekiel that this very promise remained valid despite the collapse of the Davidic kingdom following the Exile (Ezekiel 21:27).

The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews picks up this reinterpretation of the Davidic Covenant and replaced Solomon with Jesus (Hebrews 1:5b). In fact in the same verse he also equates the Davidic king in Psalm 2:7 to Jesus (Hebrews 1:5a). In this case it is more obvious why he does it. For God says to the Davidic king, “Ask of Me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, and the ends of the earth your possession” (Psalm 2:8). This promise was never fulfilled by David or any Davidic king before the Exile. This has to be the case because the promise on which the Davidic Covenant is based spells out that “the obedience of the nations” belongs only to the Messiah (Genesis 49:10).

In other words, the author of Hebrews recognizes that the Davidic king in Psalm 2:7 can only be Jesus the Messiah, as only He fits the description in Psalm 2:8. And the same is true of 1 Chronicles 17:13, as Jesus is the only son of David who is so good that the warning “when he commits iniquity” is not relevant (Hebrews 4:15), and who will not be replaced (Hebrews 7:16). So it makes sense for him to replace Solomon with Jesus. And he was taking the cue from the Chronicler, who made the first move in this direction.

In any case, after the Exile there was no Davidic king on the horizon until the angel Gabriel said to the virgin Mary that God would give to Jesus “the throne of His father David” (Luke 1:32). This means after the Exile the Davidic Covenant has no further application apart from Jesus.

The idea that David’s kingdom was God’s kingdom explains the lopsided focus on the Temple in the account of David’s reign. This is because God was enthroned above the Ark of the Covenant (1 Chronicles 13:6; cf. Psalm 99:1), which was to be housed in the Temple (1 Kings 6:19; 2 Chronicles 5:7). So if David’s kingdom was God’s kingdom, the Temple would have focal place in the kingdom. The Chronicler expresses this idea formally through his near exclusive focus on the Temple. And his narrative “repeatedly associates the temple with the kingdom of God, as in David’s affirmation on completing his preparations for the new building, ‘Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom’ (1 Ch. 29:11)” (Selman 1994a: 48; see also 56-59).

For the same reason the account of Solomon’s reign (2 Chronicles 1-9) excludes most of the materials in 1 Kings not related to the Temple. So what is excluded may be negative—Solomon’s idolatry (1 Kings 11:1-40); or it may even be positive—Solomon’s political wisdom as expressed in his judgment concerning the two women who each claimed to be the mother of a baby (1 Kings 3:16-28). Six out of nine chapters are given exclusively to Solomon’s construction and dedication of the Temple (2 Chronicles 2-7). Substantial references to the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle or the Temple are also found in the other three chapters (2 Chronicles 1:3-6; 8:11-16; 9:10-11).

We now turn to God’s word to Solomon in answer to his prayer at the dedication of the Temple. God basically affirmed that He had heard Solomon’s prayer and consecrated the Temple, as well as reaffirmed the Davidic Covenant to him (1 Kings 9:3-9; 2 Chronicles 7:12-22). Of particular significance is that 1 Kings 9:3 (one verse) is expanded into 2 Chronicles 7:12-16 (five verses). In the three verses unique to 1-2 Chronicles, God assured Solomon: “If I shut up the heavens … or command the locust … or send a plague …, and (if) My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. Now My eyes shall be open and My ears attentive to the prayer in this place” (2 Chronicles 7:13-15).

This assurance is actually what Solomon specifically asked of God (see 2 Chronicles 6:26-31). The meaning seems clear, but we need to recognize that “the activities of ‘humbling, praying, seeking and turning’ should be understood as four facets or aspects of the [same] act (or even process) of biblical repentance” (Hill 2003: 400). And it is about the devastated “land” (physical and economic health) of a nation being “healed” as a result of the nation’s repentance of their own sins which caused the devastation. Hence the prayer is not a prayer for (seeking) spiritual revival, but a prayer of (expressing) spiritual revival (repentance).

God’s word to Solomon in these verses shows in a tangible way the close connection between God’s kingdom and the Temple. The Hebrew word for “kingdom” refers to the kingship or reign of a king and where his reign is recognized or manifested. And since God was enthroned over the Ark of the Covenant, the Temple was where He executed His reign—in this case, in hearing and answering petitions (cf. Psalm 3:4). However, as has been emphasized, God could dispense with either the Ark or the Temple or even both (cf. Psalm 103:19), as neither had any intrinsic efficacy and both were merely “visual aids” to help believers in the Old Testament to relate meaningfully to an invisible God that cannot be represented by any image.

The idea that the kingdom of David was the kingdom of God, whose reign was executed through the Temple, also shapes the accounts of the kings of Judah after Solomon. For it is evident from materials not included in 1-2 Kings that the Chronicler pays special attention to the kings’ recognition of the reign of God (such as in 2 Chronicles 11:3-17), or the lack of it (16:7-10), and the respective consequences; as well as to their activities or reforms (if any) that involved the Temple (30:1-27).

We will consider three significant accounts unique to 1-2 Chronicles that demonstrate vividly God’s kingdom or reign in Judah. We begin with Abijah, who is classified as (overall) a bad king in 1 Kings 15:3-6. While the Chronicler does not say Abijah was a bad king, neither does he say Abijah was a good king. So he is not contradicting 1 Kings when he elaborates on Abijah’s war against Jeroboam (2 Chronicles 13:3-19), which puts Abijah in a positive light (cf. Selman 1994b: 377-78). This event was only mentioned in passing in 1 Kings 15:7.

In the Chronicler’s account Abijah confessed explicitly that David’s kingdom was God’s kingdom (2 Chronicles 13:5,8). Abijah also claimed that he and his people, unlike Jeroboam and his people, had recognized God’s reign by not forsaking Him; they were faithful in ministering to God through the services of the Temple (13:10-11). And Abijah had victory over Jeroboam “because they trusted in the LORD” (13:18).

Next, there is the amazing account of Jehoshaphat seeking God because he was afraid when Judah was invaded by a “great multitude” (2 Chronicles 20:1-19). So he proclaimed a fast throughout Judah resulting in people from all over Judah gathering in Jerusalem to seek God. He then prayed to God in an assembly at the Temple. God responded in a prophecy through the Levite Jahaziel. God commanded Judah not to be afraid and assured them of victory because “the battle is not yours but God’s” (20:15).

As instructed by God, who promised to be with them, the next day the army went out to the wilderness to face the enemies. Jehoshaphat exhorted them to trust in God and His prophets, and then placed a choir of Levites before the army to lead them in worshipping God (cf. Selman 1994b: 428). And “when they began singing and praising, the LORD set ambushes” against the enemies (20:22). So just as God had promised, Judah won the battle without a fight. This victory confirms Jehoshaphat’s confession when he prayed to God in the Temple: “You are ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations [and not just Israel]” (20:6).

Most surprising of all is the account of the repentance and restoration of Judah’s worst king—Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:10-17). Because of his sins God caused him to be captured with hooks and bound with chains by the Assyrians and exiled to Babylon. This led him to repent, and in keeping with God’s promise in His word to Solomon, God forgave him and restored him to Jerusalem. As a result, “Manasseh knew that the LORD was God” (33:13). Manasseh demonstrated his repentance by undoing the idolatry he had put in place in Judah, including removing the idols he had placed in the Temple (33:15-16).

This significant account is excluded in 2 Kings for the obvious reason that it is not appropriate there, as the purpose of 1-2 Kings was to explain why Judah went into exile. But it is most appropriate here, for the Jews who had returned from exile needed the assurance that God had indeed forgiven the nation and that the Davidic Covenant was still valid. Recall that it was Manasseh’s sins that sealed the fate of Judah so much so that even Josiah’s exceptional faithfulness could not avert the Exile. So it would be most reassuring to know that Manasseh himself had actually repented and was thus personally forgiven and restored by God. Hence there was even less reason to doubt that the Davidic Covenant was still valid.

To sum up, 1-2 Chronicles prepared the first century Jews, and gives Bible readers today the proper historical and theological context, to understand Gabriel’s words to Mary: “The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His [global] Kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:32-33). And a proper understanding of this text is crucial to a proper understanding of the rest of the New Testament.

It is then particularly significant that 1-2 Chronicles is placed at the end of the Hebrew Bible. For thus the Jewish Bible closes with an account of the history of the world and of Israel that looks forward to the fulfillment of God’s promise to David through the coming of the Kingdom of God. So when Jesus preached, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Good News” (Mark 1:15), it would strike a responsive chord in the hearts of the Jews.