Chronicles Conundrum

Why are the books of Chronicles included in the Bible?  Who wants to read those boring lists of names?  That wasn’t quite how my friend asked the question.  What he actually said was, “What do you do when you come to the books of Chronicles?”.  He knew about my habit of reading the whole Bible every year, and he assumed that I must have a problem with Chronicles.  Well, it is a problem for many people. But not to me. Let me explain:

The first nine chapters of this Old Testament book consist almost exclusively of genealogy.  The first chapter launches straight in with the words “Adam, Seth, Enoch, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth” – does that inspire you?  After that, the book continues page after page, listing the family lines of each of the twelve tribes of Israel.  Eventually, it gets to the stories of King Saul and King David, and the reading becomes easier.  However, the name lists return in Chapters 23 to 27 before resuming the narrative, which then continues in the second book of Chronicles.

My immediate answer to my friend’s question was, “I feel that I know these people” – and I meant it.  I don’t know all of them, but the names that I recognise bring their stories back to mind.  Have you ever noticed how your own name can pop out from a page?  Or you may notice the name of one of your children, or of a close friend.  Runners experience that effect when scanning pages full of competitors’ names after a race.  Our brains are tuned to picking out meaningful shapes from otherwise random patterns.

Chronicles isn’t just a list of names.  Mostly, it’s a story about the “chosen people” from the viewpoint of the Kingdom of Judah (the books of 1 and 2 Kings, tell the story from the viewpoint of the Kingdom of Israel). But, even amongst the genealogies, we find mini-stories that break the pattern.  We discover something of the history of the neighbouring Kingdom of Edom[1]; we find the delightful story of Jabez[2], a man of deep faith; and we learn how an otherwise unknown family of Israelites fought to make a home for themselves in the Promised Land[3].  Also, these books feature some inspiring texts[4].

Chronicles resolved a question I had about the prophet Samuel, who fiercely criticised King Saul for performing a sacrificial rite that only the Levites were allowed to do.  But then Samuel, who also didn’t seem to meet the qualifications, went ahead and performed the rite himself.  It didn’t seem just!  The first chapter of 1 Samuel says that Samuel’s father came from “Mount Ephraim”.  So, was he a Levite, or was he from the tribe of Ephraim?  Chronicles provides the missing information.  Samuel’s father, Elkanah, was a Levite by descent, but happened to live in the territory of Ephraim.  Relax, Samuel – your reputation is rescued!

Genealogical research is now a popular pastime.  Alex Haley’s 1976 novel, “Roots”, and the subsequent TV programme encouraged the hobby, and research became much easier after the birth of the Internet.  But Hebrew culture always valued family history, and some other cultures love the ancestral records in the Bible.  You or I may be unenthusiastic about genealogical lists, but the Bible wasn’t written for our culture alone.  You don’t have to like the lists of names in Chronicles, but they belong where they are.  The Bible is a book for the whole world.  Value it. Read it. Love it.

© Derrick Phillips 2022

    Reading the whole Bible is a valuable aid to faith, but some people find it a challenge. To help with that challenge, read my blog “Bible in a Year”, which includes a link to download your personal Bible Reading Record to print, use, or share.

[1] 1 Chronicles 1:43-54
[2] 1 Chronicles 4:9-10
[3] 1 Chronicles 4:38-43
[4] e.g. 1 Chronicles 29:11-13 & 2 Chronicles 7:14

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