25 Apr 2016

Learning to Read the Bible Whole: Two Stories, One People or Why Does the Bible tell the Story of Israel not only Twice, but Differently?

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Chronicles, Grace, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, King David, Precision Obedience

gracechangeseverything4-w855h425Manic Monday Theology has returned. Today we perform a brief exercise in reading large blocks of material in the Bible: Deuteronomistic History and Chronicles.

The Bible’s ‘Hidden’ Big Books

In the ancient world literary works of importance were written on tablets and other available writing material. The Gilgamesh Epic, for example, has various sections that correspond to the tablet it is written on.  We might call these tablets “books.”  As we go down later in biblical history we find scrolls being used.  In much the same way as Josephus would tell his history of the Jews, the individual scrolls may be a “book” yet is part of the single story.  He just could not get it all in one scroll. The same reality is with the Bible.

Even casual Christians know that the New Testament tells the story of Jesus four times, in four different ways in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. What is sometimes not understood is there is precedent for this already in the Hebrew Bible which tells the Story of Israel two times.

The first Story is called the Deuteronomistic History (DtH) by scholars and encompasses Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings in our English Bible (Ruth is in a different location in the Hebrew Bible and not a part of the DtH). So from Joshua to the end of 2 Kings you have a single story that is broken up in “books” like Luke and Acts. In fact you can read Genesis to 2 Kings as a single unbroken story.

Chronicles, our 1-2 Chronicles, is the second telling of the Story of Israel and it covers the content of the entire Hebrew Bible from Genesis to the end of 2 Chronicles. Chronicles and the DtH are vastly different … as different as  John and Matthew.

Deuteronomistic History: Joshua-Kings a Tale of Covenant Breaking

The Holy Spirit inspired the writer(s) of the DtH to compose their work during the time of the Exile (i.e. after the destruction of Jerusalem). If we read thru the DtH we find a significant emphasis on Sin and Israel’s Covenantal unfaithfulness.

From the moment of the Conquest, Joshua has to tell the people to put away their idols (Josh 24). Judges is one series of “Falls” after another. The only Judge with no “bad” is prophet Deborah. We move to the next section of the Story and we find the “Best of the Best” of Israel in King David. He is the man after God’s own heart!! The Writers are holding him up and pointing (from the perspective of the Exile) and saying ‘the dye was set!!” The Writers devote nearly a third of their story of David to the Murder of Uriah and the rape of Bathsheba and its attendant consequences (2 Sam 11-1 Kgs 2). If this is the best Israel has then no wonder we are in Exile!

Solomon, gifted with divine wisdom, is a failure. The Kingdom is punished by God with division (division is to Israel what the Fall was in the Garden … a Curse!). We find large blocks of material for Elijah and Elisha dealing with Covenant unfaithfulness on the part of Israel. Finally we simply have the end of the Story with the destruction of the temple … and a glimmer of hope with the Son of David eating at the king’s table.

Why all this emphasis on the ugliness of sin?

The Answer: Imagine you are a dad/mom in Babylon and your son/daughter asks, “if we are God’s special people then why are we here?” The DtH seems to be written to explain, to a shattered people, WHY ARE WE HERE? We are here, not there (the promised land), because even though Yahweh’s mercy is long suffering we have never been faithful. David was the best there was and LOOK at what he did!!! We are here because of our Sin. If you ask that question, imagining you are the disillusioned one in Exile as you read thru Joshua to Kings you will find that the stories in the Story provide an answer to it over and over. The real question is almost not why are we here but why were we not here sooner!? The DtH is a very long commentary on the long suffering and sloooooooooooooooooooooooow to anger character of God.

707193d6af94ec72a2bca644ee123cb2Chronicles: A Tale of Astonishing Mercy 

Chronicles covers the same material as DtH but is drastically different. The differences are as radical as those of Matthew and John. All the familiar stories, that most Christians know, simply do not appear in Chronicles at all! Israel’s first king, Saul, practically disappears. The stories of David and Bathsheba, Elijah, Elisha … all the Northern Kings … simply disappear! If we read only Chronicles we would never have heard of Bathsheba.

Instead of extended narrations of fallenness and covenantal unfaithfulness, in Chronicles we find extended discussion of God’s promises to David, David’s extensive preparations for the Temple, his organizing the worship, Solomon’s long temple dedication and prayer, Huldah’s Reformation (one of the few stories that appear in BOTH the DtH and Chronicles) and Hezekiah’s Passover. In fact it is not stretching it to say that the theme in Chronicles is God’s covenant with David and the Temple.

Why are the DtH and Chronicles so radically different? The DtH was written in the Exile to help explain why the Exile is taking place at all. But Chronicles is written many generations later and the question is this: “Will God, in the face of our unfaithfulness, take us back? Are the Promises STILL true!? Will God forgive us?

The DtH has this massive emphasis on Sin and stories like the Judges, David’s adultery, the contest of the Gods on Mt Carmel serve that purpose amazingly well. But when your purpose is to assure that the promises of God have not died these stories in the Story do not serve quite as well. So in Chronicles we find a huge emphasis on grace and mercy and God’s Presence (that is the temple).

Illustration of Radical Difference in DtH & Chronicles

Let me illustrate with a specific example. Everyone knows that Manasseh was the longest reigning king in Jerusalem. His wickedness is the straw that broke the camel’s back according to the DtH. He set up the detestable idols in the temple of Yahweh.  He even sacrificed his own son to Molech (1 Kgs 21). Not one good word can be found for Manasseh. In the DtH, Manasseh is give as “the worst of all sinners!

In Chronicles the story of Manasseh is told again. It is just as sad. He is evil incarnate. However, in Chronicles, King Manasseh is not the exhibit A of evil but he becomes the prime example of God’s astonishing grace. Manasseh is carried to Babylon, blinded for his arrogance and disgraced.

But he prayed!

He asked God for mercy!

Astonishingly Yahweh not only had mercy on Manasseh but restored him to his throne. The most wicked man alive could receive God’s mercy “at the drop of a hat!” (2 Chronicles 33).

The Chronicler did not disagree with the Writers of the DtH. His purpose in telling the Story of God’s People was different. God’s Promises to David are STILL true. God will bless his people with grace and mercy if they but “seek” him. Even a dreadful King like Manasseh who seeks God will find mercy. If I was wondering if God takes sinners that simply seek him, then Manasseh is the proof in the pudding that he does.

Over and over Chronicles stresses the lack of precision obedience, or ANY obedience! on the part of God’s people. He does this, not to condone such but to offer hope and sound theology. The Story of Hezekiah’s Passover, an episode not mentioned at all in Kings, takes about 2 chapters in Chronicles. Here the Spirit guided author hold up the most “unbiblical” worship service as the greatest worship in Israel’s history precisely because it was a moment of astounding grace where Yahweh welcomed such incorrect worship because the people “sought” him.  It is an “inclusive” event of both the remnants of the northern kingdom and what is left of the southern and the writer stresses the UNITY of God’s people – unclean as they are – in seeking God (2 Chron 30).

Mercy for Seekers

Imagine you are in that post-Exilic generation. Things look pretty hopeless yet (read the beginning of Ezra). Are we still God’s people? What happened to the promises to David?

The Holy Spirit inspired some Writer(s) to tell the Story of Israel to provide the answer for faith and hope. Yes! is the resounding answer! God “seeks seekers” over and over is the word. Seek him and he will be found. So “seek” is a word that is key to Chronicles and occurs around 54x. The word “heart” (as in seeking with your heart) occurs around 64x in Chronicles …

God will never forsake those who seek him and Manasseh is the proof! Hezekiah’s Passover where NOTHING is done “right” is the proof given by the Holy Spirit. God has not and never will forsake his people, the promises to David nor take his Presence away.

the-narrative-mainReading the Bible

The DtH and Chronicles call us to be people who read the Bible as God actually gave it, in unified narratives. We completely miss the unique Holy Spirit given emphasis in DtH and Chronicles when we read a bit here and a bit there or when we simply mash them together.

The Chronicler did not WANT to tell the same story as the writers of the DtH. And God wanted us to have BOTH!

The church needs both. We need to see the horrifyingly destructive nature of our sin.  And we desperately need to know the biblical fact that grace is always greater than our sin – Paul is simply channeling the Hebrew Bible when he makes that statement in Romans.

In fact, Chronicles is the last book of the Hebrew Bible.  The Last Word of the Hebrew Bible is the massive and astounding word of the Holy Spirit in Chronicles: God has not left you, God has not given up on you, God has given breathtaking grace at every moment, We are alive and God’s people by his amazing grace, We are sinners but Israel’s God shows grace.  That is the word Jesus saw when he read the Bible or when Paul did.

If you have not read Chronicles, one of the more ignored books of the Bible, I want to encourage you to read the entire work asking that question: Will God, in spite of the massive history of our unfaithfulness, take ME back?”

In the Hebrew Bible, grace has the last word!

Shalom

Suggested Basic Reading

Roddy Braun, “The Message of Chronicles: Rally Around the Temple,” Concordia Theological Monthly 42 (1971): 502-514

John Mark Hick, A Commentary on 1-2 Chronicles

J. Gordon McConnville, Grace in the End (A study of the DtH)

Thomas D. Hanks, “Chronicler: Theologian of Grace,” Evangelical Quarterly 53 (1981): 16-28

Edmund Gallagher, “The End of the Bible? The Position of Chronicles in the Canon,” Tyndale Bulletin 65 (2014): 181-199

11 Responses to “Learning to Read the Bible Whole: Two Stories, One People or Why Does the Bible tell the Story of Israel not only Twice, but Differently?”

  1. Cindy Witt Says:

    Is there a way to print this?

    • Profile photo of Bobby Valentine Bobby Valentine Says:

      Cindy i think you can cut and paste or you can just hit your print button and it will print out the whole blog too. It will be about 8 page long that way though. Glad to have you reading.

  2. Andrew Swango Says:

    The differences between the Kings and the Chronicles have been on my mind lately. I just recently learned for the first time the Chronicles was written/edited after the days of Nehemiah. And I have learned so much from this post! When I dive into the period of the kings eventually, I’ll keep everything you said here in mind. Thanks, brother!

  3. Profile photo of Jerry Starling Jerry Starling Says:

    Cindy, you can copy and paste the article into Word or some other word processor. The format may be a little garbled, but you’ll be able to print it.

  4. Tami Prince Says:

    Very good read, thank you!

  5. Jerry Ketcherside Says:

    Enjoyed “Learning to Read…” I’d appreciate your thoughts on the authors of the OT scriptures. I presume that you do not believe that Moses wrote the “first five.”
    Tnx

  6. Dwight Says:

    Excellent. I would suggest when reading one account to also read the other account. They fill in gaps of the other one and show different aspects as well. They are compliments of one another and the story of Israel in relation to God.

  7. Josh J. Says:

    Bobby,

    I am curious what you think of the idea of some commentators that what we have here is not two stories with different emphases, but two very different ways of understanding God, held by two (or more) different groups in Israel.

  8. Rob C. Says:

    This is one of my favorite posts. Thank you so much for sharing from your reflections and studies. I am blessed.

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