God of Our Fathers

Today I finished reading 2 Chronicles, and I’ve really been impressed by this book. I’m not sure I’ve ever taken it seriously before; after all, it’s just a repeat of 2 Kings, right? Plus it’s tied to 1 Chronicles which is up there with Leviticus as one of the most stereotypically boring books of the Bible.

Wrong and wrong.

It’s only with 1 and 2 Kings so fresh in my memory that the beauty of 2 Chronicles jumps out at me, and 1 Chronicles sets the stage magnificently. I’ve been chomping at the bit to share this all week!

If I were N. T. Wright, I might have titled this post “Surprised by Chronicles.”

You see, 1 & 2 Kings tells the story of Israel in decline. Solomon’s story doesn’t end so well, the kingdom is divided, and the 10 northern tribes have one wicked king after another. God sends prophets like Elijah and Elisha to try and draw Israel back to Himself, but they won’t listen. And it’s really moving to see even Ahab, one of their worst kings, a recipient of God’s mercy. God’s kindness and patience are on full display. Stories about Judah’s kings poke through every now and then, but often in connection with what is going on in Israel. The book ends with tragedy and deportation. What will come of God’s promises now?

But 1 & 2 Chronicles is a story of hope. That’s not to say it offers a competing history, but it emphasizes different material for a very different purpose. One of the more obvious differences is a greater emphasis on the Temple and worship, which goes hand in hand with an emphasis on Judah where the temple is located.

1 Chronicles—after the really long list of names and brief notes—starts retelling the stories of David. Then it climaxes in chapters 28 & 29 with a scene not pictured anywhere in Kings: David handing off his faith to his son, Solomon. David wanted to build God a temple, but He said Solomon would be the one. So instead, David makes all the preparations he can and publicly charges Solomon to be faithful to God, remembering the covenant God made with him and his children.

In 1 Chronicles 28:9, he says to Solomon:

As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever.” (NASB)

And in 29:18, he prays to God:

O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our fathers, preserve this forever in the intentions of the heart of your people, and direct their heart to You.”

And in 29:20, we see:

All the assembly blessed the LORD, the God of their fathers.”

In other words, David—the king after God’s own heart, the one who united the tribes, defeated their enemies, extended their borders, and who has a special covenant with God—presents to Solomon the challenge to serve the LORD his God, that is the God of his father David. This God is also known as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—their fathers.

This provides the theme for all of 2 Chronicles. Will David’s descendants remain faithful to the God of their fathers or forsake Him? 

After Solomon, the kingdom is divided, and we know in advance the verdict cast on the 10 northern tribes of Israel.

They acted treacherously against the God of their fathers, and played the harlot after the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them. So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul, king of Assyria, even the spirit of Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and he carried them away into exile.” (1Ch 5:25, 26a)

But the kings of Judah do a much better job, and even the evil ones have these shining moments you don’t get in 1 & 2 Kings. Foolish Rehoboam listens to the prophet Shemaiah and humbles himself before God, Abijah gives a rousing speech about faithfulness to God and against Jeroboam, and Asa cries out to God for salvation in battle among many other deeds.

With Jehoshaphat the plot thickens, because he unites himself with none other than Ahab, the wicked king of Israel. By giving Ahab’s daughter (does the name Athaliah sound familiar?) to his own son, Jehoshaphat endangers the idea of the God of our fathers. Now there is the true God of their fathers, but there are other fathers who follow false gods. It will get so bad that eventually Athaliah tries to kill all of the descendants of David, and baby Joash barely escapes. It’s Ahab versus David in a fight to the finish.

If only there was space to talk about the interplay between Joash and Zechariah, or the other great kings Uzziah, Hezekiah, and Josiah! Or how Manasseh, who commits more evil than the Canaanites God wiped out before Israel, humbles himself and turns to God. This is what I mean when I say the book is all about hope; even the most wicked kings find forgiveness in the LORD, the God of their fathers.

That phrase repeats in one form or another six times in 1 Chronicles and twenty-eight times in 2 Chronicles. You’re not supposed to miss this! This is the backbone of the book. The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the God of David—He is the God of the kings of Judah, and He is faithful even when they are unfaithful.

Instead of ending with judgment and deportation the way 2 Kings does, 2 Chronicles ends with Cyrus, the king of Persia, decreeing that the Temple in Jerusalem be restored. The Temple where God caused His name to dwell, where He condescended to be present among the people of Judah, the Temple David dreamed of and Solomon built, the Temple Nebuchadnezzar burned to the ground—this Temple is going to be rebuilt at God’s direction.

The God of our fathers lives! There is hope for His people.

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