Saturday, September 20, 2014

I Chronicles 28

I have four items for my blog post on I Chronicles 28.

1.   David summoned the princes, captains, valiant men, and officers of Israel, as well as his stewards and the stewards of his son.  In I Chronicles 28:2, he calls these men brothers.  More than one commentary that I read made a big deal about this.  Matthew Henry says that David is doing so to humble himself.  The more critical Peake’s commentary states  that “an oriental king does not place himself on a level with his subjects in this way”, so David must be doing so out of stress.  David wants for his son and coming successor, Solomon, to build the Temple, and for the important people of Israel to provide support for Solomon in this endeavor.  That could be what is stressing David out.  Peake’s commentary also cites Deuteronomy 17:15, which commands the Israelites, if they want a king, to appoint the king from among their brethren.  The king is to be a fellow Israelite, part of the family.

David may be addressing these men as brothers because he is humbly seeking their help, or because he actually does regard them as brothers—-they are fellow Israelites, after all.  Maybe David is saying that, as Israelites, they should be privy to God’s plans for Israel: to dwell with Israel in a Temple.  This involves them, too, and David in calling them brothers is recognizing and highlighting that.  I think of what Jesus says in John 15:15: “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (KJV).

2.  David in I Chronicles 28:9 exhorts Solomon to know and to serve God.  What does it mean to know God?  Evangelicals like to make a big deal about this: “Do you know the Lord?”, some of them may ask people, or they may say that there is a difference between knowing about God and knowing God.  Is knowing God having an awareness of God’s identity and attributes, being in a relationship with God, or something else?

Roddy Braun in the Word Biblical Commentary on I Chronicles interprets knowing God in light of a covenant context:

“Studies in Hittite and Accadian treaties assure us of the usage of ‘to know’ to denote the mutual legal recognition of suzerain and vassal and the binding nature of treaty stipulations (cf. H. Huffmon, ‘The Treaty Background of Hebrew [Yada], BASOR 181 [1996] 31-37).  Biblical passages cited by Huffmon such as Amos 3:2; 2 Sam 7:20 (=I Chron 17:18); Hos 8:2; 13:4-5; Deut 9:24; and Psalm 14:4 wholly support the view that we are dealing here with conventional terminology which exhorts Solomon to recognize Yahweh as his covenant lord and to conduct himself in accord with his stipulations.”

So knowing God is recognizing that God is lord within the covenant relationship and treating God accordingly.  That could be.  Still, I think that there may be a broader conception of knowing God, within both the Hebrew Bible and also the New Testament.  In Jeremiah 22:15, we read: “He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the LORD” (KJV).  That could mean that King Josiah recognized God as covenant lord and thus obeyed God’s commands regarding social justice, but could there also be a sense here that knowing God is seeing that God is just and acting according to God’s character?  We see something similar in I John 4:8: “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (KJV).  Here, knowing God is being aware (perhaps intimately aware) that God is love and thereby walking in love.

I also think of verses about people not hurting and destroying in the future paradise, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14).  In Isaiah 11:9, that seems to apply to the Gentiles, and the Gentiles are not part of God’s covenant with Israel.  Does knowing God in this context, then, relate to any covenant?  Well, maybe the Gentiles were part of some covenant with God, since God made a covenant with humanity through Noah (Genesis 9).  Moreover, Isaiah 24:5 accuses humanity of breaking a covenant with God by violating God’s laws.  Do Gentiles know God by acknowledging that they, too, have a covenant with God and are subject to God as their lord?  Or is Isaiah 11:9 saying that the Gentiles will know that hurting and destroying violate God’s character, and they will thus turn from hurting and destroying?  Is knowing God honoring God as the boss in a covenant, or is it recognizing God’s character?  Could it be both?

3.  More than one scholar has maintained that there is diversity within the Hebrew Bible concerning whether God’s covenant with David and David’s offspring was conditional or unconditional.  In II Samuel 7, God says that David’s seed will be established forever, and that God will discipline it when it does wrong but will not remove his love from it, as God did with Saul.  The implication seems to be that, whereas God rejected Saul from being king on account of Saul’s sins, God will not do this to David’s line; rather, God will discipline David’s line, but it will still rule.  And, throughout I-II Kings, God refuses to destroy Jerusalem for David’s sake, notwithstanding Jerusalem’s sins.

But there are also voices in the Hebrew Bible that treat God’s faithfulness to the Davidic line as conditional on its obedience to God’s commandments.  This occurs in I Kings, and those passages may be Deuteronomistic.  Eventually, Jerusalem was destroyed, and the Davidic monarchy was overthrown.  Some voices within the Hebrew Bible may have looked at that as evidence that God’s covenant with David was conditional on obedience, and that David’s line forfeited the covenant through its sins.  There are some, however, who hold out hope that God is still faithful to the Davidic line: that God will restore it to its position of rulership, and it will rule forever (see, for example, Jeremiah 33:25-26).

Where does the Chronicler land on this issue?  In I Chronicles 28, the Chronicler seems to maintain that God’s covenant with David was conditional on obedience: v 7 says that Solomon’s throne will be established if Solomon obeys God, and v 9 threatens that God will cast Solomon off forever if Solomon forsakes God.  At the same time, I Chronicles 17:12-14 affirms that Solomon’s throne will be established forever, and that God will not take away God’s love from Solomon, as God did from Saul.  Maybe there is a contradiction between I Chronicles 28 and 17, due to different sources.  Or perhaps the Chronicler, even in I Chronicles 17, downplays the unconditionality of the covenant.  The Chronicler omits the part from II Samuel 7 about God disciplining the line of Solomon.  Could the reason be that the Chronicler does not think that Solomon and his line will merely receive discipline for sin, but will actually be forsaken by God?  Could the Chronicler be implying that God would not remove God’s mercy from Solomon and Solomon’s line, but only so long as Solomon is faithful to God?

Overall, the Chronicler may have believed that the days of the Davidic line were over, and that God in the Chronicler’s post-exilic days was doing things differently.  Perhaps the Chronicler thought that the Davidic line broke the covenant and thus forfeited God’s faithfulness.

4.  I Chronicles 28:19 seems to imply that David’s plans for the layout of the Temple were from God.  But scholars have noted that the Solomonic Temple resembles other Temples in the ancient Near East, particularly those of Phoenicia, which was helping Solomon build the Temple.  Would God imitate a country’s style?  Well, the Chronicler may be going a step further than I Kings by saying that the plans for the Temple’s layout were from God.  But God may very well condescend to speak within people’s culture—-to meet people where they are.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this, James. Is it possible that the diversity you mention in point 3 is because there are conditional and unconditional elements within the covenant with David? 2 Sam.7:5-16 seem to say that God's love for David and his line will endure forever, and so will his lineage. There are punishments for disobedience that include being punished "with the rod of men" as well as "floggings" by men (NIV).

    It also seems to me that the covenant with David still falls under the conditions of the Mosaic covenant, which has its own conditional elements of blessing for obedience and curses for disobedience. And yet somehow Abraham is promised unconditionally that his "seed" will bring blessing to the "nations."

    God seems to be able to coordinate the conditional and unconditional elements into something radically different than we might expect.

    Blessings,
    John

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