It would make an interesting exercise to find out exactly how many believers actually read the Chronicles genealogies every year. They must be amongst the most difficult to get any practical lessons from. And yet " whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope" (Rom. 15:4). Any words inspired by God's Spirit must reveal His Spirit, His mind, to us. As with all the Bible, these chapters seem to yield little at first reading. Yet prayerful reading surely must open them up to us. I have used my present Bible for the last 14 years, and each year I've ploughed through 1 Chronicles 1-9, writing a few comments in the margin each time. So here are my lessons from Chronicles:
- Occasionally we learn background information which sheds new light on the historical records. For example, David several times laments the hardness of heart to be seen in " the sons of Zeruiah" . I assumed that Zeruiah was a man- until considering 1 Chron.2:16, which says that Zeruiah was a sister of David. The fact that the hardness of those three men seems to be associated with their mother would lead us to conclude that David's sister Zeruiah was an extremely hard woman. Inevitably there must have been strands of hardness in David too (consider his treatment of Uriah, his intended massacre of Nabal's encampment, torturing the Ammonites etc.); and yet more often than not, we get the impression that David was a real softy. His experience of life made him progressively more soft, whilst his sister and nephews went the other way. Truly could he comment towards the end of it all: " Thy gentleness hath made me great" . By way of exhortation we need to soberly consider the fact that we are either getting harder, or softer. There is no in between status. The softness and gentleness of the Lord Jesus, the great antitype of David, mixed as it was with that firmness of resolve and purpose (remember how He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem!) is surely something to really appreciate about Him, something to rise up to, to be truly inspired by.
- Another example of this is the background to 'Gog' given in 1 Chron. 5- he was an apostate Jew who went away from the God of Israel, attracted by the grazing grounds to the north east of Israel, and who eventually ended up living permanently in the land of Israel's enemies, the land of the Hagarenes (sons of Hagar, i.e. the Arabs) and Assyria. The Gog of Ez. 38 may well be an apostate Jew (after the pattern of Rabshakeh) who leads an invasion of his ancient homeland. He attacks because he loves cattle (Ez. 38:11,12)- which was a characteristic of the Gog of 1 Chron. 5. Is it significant that most Russian leaders have been Jews?
- The people recorded here lived many centuries ago. And yet God has preserved His record of them for us to see in such detail- surely proof enough that He is truly sensitive to each one of His children, His memory does not become dimmed by time. God's sensitivity to us is something to marvel at. When the Lord Jesus died, amidst all the pain God felt, there were no flashing lights up in the sky for people in say England or Russia or China. People went on with their daily affairs, their petty arguments, their petty excitements. And God's joy at His Son's glorious resurrection was not directly reflected to this planet either. And this is what deceives us all; God does not show His feelings, His sensitivity, directly, and therefore we are tempted to think that our righteousness does not really make His heart jump for joy; and to feel that our secret failings really cause Him very little pain. It was the mission of Israel's prophets, chapter after chapter, to show God's people the error of this way of thinking.
- These records seem to stress the weakness and occasional strength of these children of God. This is one of the major lessons from Chronicles. Every now and then, the list of names is interrupted by a piece of information which indicates God's awareness of their spirituality. For example, the fact some men had more than one wife or a wife from a nation other than Israel is often recorded (1 Chron. 1:32; 2:3,26,35,48; 4:18; 5:1; 7:14; 8:8). The way these interruptions occur in the lists of names stands out. This is surely to indicate two things: that many faithful men (e.g. Abraham and Caleb, 1 Chron. 1:32; 2:46) made mistakes in this area of life, and secondly that all down the centuries God has not forgotten that they married out of the faith, or that they allowed the pressures of their surrounding world to influence them to break away from the ideal one man: one woman standard of Eden. These two facts provide us with both warning and comfort, in that although God is sensitive to failure, He is still able to justify men, to count them as if they are righteous for the sake of their covenant relationship with Him, even though (e.g.) their married life was not completely in order.
- Israel's sinfulness seems to be emphasized in other 'interruptions' in the flowing list of names. Thus it is sometimes stressed that a man did not have many children (e.g. 2:4,6,16), as if to indicate that God's blessing was not with him (there seems an undoubted connection in Old Testament times between blessing and number of sons). Thus statements like " Jether died without children...Sheshan had no sons but daughters...Shimei had sixteen sons and six daughters; but his brethren had not many children, neither did all their family multiply" (2:32,34; 4:27) would have been read as highly significant in spiritual terms. Some outstanding weaknesses amongst the patriarchs are recorded (e.g. 5:1), and the fact that the duty of the priests was to " make an atonement for the Israel" (6:49) appears to be an obvious detail added in passing- until it is appreciated that these records are highlighting the weakness of Israel. This is one of the major lessons from Chronicles.
- Some of the names given to children seem to hint at a weakness in the parents. One wonders why Caleb called his illegitimate son " Haran" (2:46), after the city which Abraham left behind in order to attain God's promises. When a passage is repeated twice, surely God wishes us to perceive something. 1 Chron. 8:30-34 is repeated in 9:36-40. The reason seems to be that the name 'Baal' was used by the leaders of Israel. Gibeon's children included Kish and Baal , Kish's son was king Saul, Saul had a son called Eshbaal as well as Jonathan, David's beloved friend; and Jonathan had a son called Meribbaal . These are not the names as recorded elsewhere; evidently the Chronicles record is highlighting the fact that there was a strand of weakness for idols in the family of Saul, including in Jonathan- who was a type of us in his friendship of David / Jesus. Surely this helps us to better relate to him; his love of David, his appreciation of David's righteousness, his belief that David would have the future Kingdom, struggled against the fact that the worldly influence of his father and great-grandfather still rubbed off upon him.
- " These are the kings that reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned over the children of Israel...." (1:43) seems a rather irrelevant statement- until it is appreciated that the point is being made that Israel's desire for a king was influenced by the fact the surrounding peoples had them.
- The repeated reference to the possession of concubines can be read as an indication of Israel's weakness in abandoning the ideal standards of God regarding marriage. Yet we read that even David had concubines (3:9)- as if to show the extent of Israel's weakness in the area of marriage.
- However, occasionally there are implications of spiritual strength in the records (e.g. 4:10). And more than this; several times the apparent weaknesses of men are covered over by God's imputed righteousness, and because God saw the ultimate end. Thus Boaz's marriage to a Gentile is not recorded; simply " Boaz begat Obed" (2:12), whereas others' marriage out of the faith is recorded in the same chapter (2:3,34). In harmony with this theme of imputed righteousness, there is no mention of Dan in these genealogies of the tribes of Israel- because the serpent was his symbol? (Dan is likewise omitted in Rev. 7:4). " The sons of Simeon were Nemuel and Jamin...and Shaul" (4:24); but Gen. 46:10 shows that Shaul was Simeon's son by a wrong, casual relationship. Yet this is not recorded in Chronicles, even though so many other weaknesses are. Surely this is to demonstrate how if God imputes righteousness for a repented of sin, there really is no record of this kept by Him. This and other such lessons from Chronicles only come from digging under the surface.
- The genealogy of the sons of Korah, the gatekeepers of the temple, is recorded in 9:17-19. It can be shown from the genealogies that they were brought up by their second cousin, Phinehas. They obeyed the command to leave the tents of their father Korah when he was consumed in the earthquake. Num. 16:27 mentions Dathan and Abiram's children standing outside their tents at this time, but there is the pointed omission of Korah's children; they had left the tents. We can therefore build up a picture of Phinehas as a zealot for the purity of God's Truth (Num. 25), yet mixed with compassion, as shown by the way he took those children of Korah under his wing, and brought them up soundly in the Truth, with the result that wrote at least 11 of the Psalms and protected the purity of temple worship. It should be noted that Samuel was a Korahite (6:33-38).
- 1 Chron. 9:22 drops in the information that ‘All these which were chosen to be porters in the gates were two hundred and twelve. These were reckoned by their genealogy in their villages, whom David and Samuel the seer did ordain in their set office”. This gives us an insight into David’s mind when he was fleeing from Saul. The last time that Samuel and David are seen together is when David fled for his life from his own house – before Saul was dead and David on the throne.
- We have to ask why these genealogies were prepared. It is quite likely that they were first formalized in the time of Hezekiah, but I would suggest that they were completed at the time of the restoration, when there was a problem in finding a High Priest and priesthood because it was hard to prove who was descended from Aaron, presumably because the genealogies were destroyed when the temple was burnt (1) . The genealogies give much emphasis to the descendants of Aaron, far more than to the other tribes. There are a number of references to faithless men being punished by invasions (e.g. 5:6). Ezra 8 contains a genealogy recorded in similar style and language to these in Chronicles. Nehemiah made a special study of the genealogies in order to find an acceptable priesthood (Neh. 7:5,64). So there were Israel returning from captivity, led by a faithful remnant of the priests, looking back through their history, right back to Abraham and beyond, and seeing that their history was shot through with failure. Such self-examination extended even to considering the names parents gave their children. Marriage out of the faith was a problem at the time of the restoration, and therefore the records of the genealogies stress how this had been a problem in the past- and had still not been forgotten by God (Ezra 9:1,2). The prophets foretold that Israel's restoration would only come once they achieved a suitable recognition of their sinfulness. And the Isaiah's prophecies of the restoration from Babylon are without doubt applicable to the establishment of the Kingdom at Christ's return; which means that Israel at the time of the restoration should represent us now, on the brink of the second coming and the full re-establishment of Israel's Kingdom. The coming of that blessed time may well be dependent upon our self-examination, to the point of really taking a breath when we realize the extent of our personal and collective shortcomings all down the years. The priests who wrote those records in Chronicles were writing down the result of their national self-examination. This was the record of their lessons from Chronicles. Each of the genealogies say something about the people they are concerned with; and thus 2 Chron. 12:15 RVmg. speaks of how the acts of Rehoboam are reflected in the reckoning of the genealogies.
(1) That Ezra 'wrote up' the Chronicles genealogies is also suggested by John M. Weir, Bible Chronology and several times in the NIV Study Bible notes on this section.