Saturday, January 30, 2016

Book Write-Up: A Commentary on 1&2 Chronicles, by Eugene H. Merrill

Eugene H. Merrill.  A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles.  Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2015.  See here to purchase the book.

Eugene H. Merrill is professor emeritus of Old Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary.  He has degrees from Bob Jones University, New York University, and Columbia University.  He has two PhDs!

Here are some thoughts about Merrill’s commentary on I-II Chronicles:

A.  Overall, Merrill believes in biblical inerrancy.  He does treat the Chronicler and the Deuteronomistic Historian (a term he uses for convenience) as having distinct agendas, which influences what they include and omit and how they tell the story.  Yet, he tends to regard their histories as complimentary rather than contradictory, and he also seems to treat their histories as faithful accounts of what actually happened.  Granted, this can lead to interesting insights: Merrill, for example, attempts to account for an apparent discrepancy between Chronicles and Kings by exploring ancient Mesopotamian historiography.  An inerrantist approach can make one sensitive or open to certain possibilities or avenues, whereas simply saying that the Bible is wrong can shut down exploration or further discussion.  At the same time, an inerrantist approach is difficult to sustain.  If the Deuteronomistic Historian and the Chronicler are telling the same story and give different numbers in saying how many troops there were in a battle, one of them has to be factually incorrect, right?

B.  Because Merrill had more of a harmonizing, or Christian inerrantist, approach, he tended to flatten or suppress the Chronicler’s own distinct theological voice.  Many other commentaries on Chronicles mention aspects of the Chronicler’s ideology: about priests and Levites, about trusting in God, etc.  Merrill, however, chose to focus on what he believed was one aspect of the Chronicler’s ideology: the Chronicler believes that God will send a Messiah, and that the Davidic kings foreshadow this.  Merrill’s belief that this Messiah is Jesus shapes how he interacts with Chronicles.  According to Christianity, Jesus is a priest and a king.  The Chronicler, by contrast, distinguishes the priestly roles from the monarchical roles, going further than the Deuteronomistic Historian on this.  To his credit, Merrill does interact with this issue.  (There were a number of tensions that he did not interact with, as far as I can recall.)  But he downplays its significance.

C.  Overall, I do not care for harmonizing or inerrantist approaches to the Bible.  But they do interest me, perhaps because there is a part of me that likes to see how theological tensions can co-exist in a coherent picture (assuming that they can).  That said, there were times when I was hoping that Merrill would wrestle with a tension, but he did not do so.   For example, Merrill speculates about why David’s wife Michal was so upset about David’s dancing before the Ark in I Chronicles 15.  Her stated reason, according to Merrill, was “her disgust at seeing David expose himself in this joyous celebration (1 Chr 15:29; 2 Sam 6:16)” (page 198).  Merrill doubts, however, that her disgust was rooted in Torah laws that prohibit nakedness in the worship of God (Exodus 20:24-16; 28:42-43).  That only raises other questions, though: Is the Chronicler portraying David doing something that the Torah forbids, without criticizing David?  If so, why?  Merrill brought up an interesting consideration but did not follow through on it.

D.  There were times when Merrill left a question unanswered, and I was hoping that he would wrestle with it some more.  For example, Merrill says that we do not know why some kings were buried where they were (i.e., in Jerusalem or outside it, in the royal tombs or outside of them), and that their righteousness or wickedness are not an adequate explanation.  Merrill does well to notice problems with that explanation, but it would have been nice had he attempted to provide some alternative explanation, since the Chronicler (for some reason) more than once makes a note about where kings were buried or not buried.

E.  There were questions that Merrill addressed, and I appreciated him addressing them, even if I was not always satisfied with his answers.  For example, in II Chronicles 26:3, the king of Egypt changes Eliakim’s name to Jehoiakim.  Merrill wonders why a pagan king would change a Judahite king’s name to one that honored YHWH, the God of Israel.  Merrill proposes that the king of Egypt was saying that the God of Israel was God of Israel alone, not everyone else.  For Merrill, the “El” in Eliakim implied that the God of Israel was a universal God.  The name “YHWH,” by contrast, is God’s covenant name with Israel.  For Merrill, the king of Egypt was denying that the God of Israel was a universal, all-powerful God, choosing to focus on God’s covenant name with Israel.  This is interesting, but I question whether that works as an explanation, since there were times when pagan kings changed a Judahite’s Yahwistic name to another Yahwistic name (i.e., Mattaniah to Zedekiah).

F.  Merrill’s discussion of the authorship of Chronicles was mixed.  Merrill referred to the view that Ezra wrote I-II Chronicles, without interacting with strong arguments to the contrary (i.e., Ezra opposed intermarriage between Israelites and Gentiles, whereas such intermarriages are mentioned without criticism in the Chronicler’s genealogies).  On the other hand, Merrill did offer ideas about the Chronicler’s different sources, which I have not encountered in other commentaries about I-II Chronicles that I have read.

G.  Merrill argues that I-II Chronicles expresses a Messianic hope—-the hope of a Messiah who would bless Israel and the nations.  He did well to show that such a hope was a part of the Chronicler’s post-exilic reality, or at least that it occurred in other post-exilic biblical writings.  (And, interestingly, Merrill says that Haggai hoped Zerubbabel would be the Messiah, a view that some conservatives try to distance themselves from because that would make Haggai wrong.)  Merrill’s argument that the genealogies in Chronicles culminate in Judah (which had the Davidic dynasty) is another fairly strong point in terms of his thesis.  Merrill’s thesis may also explain why the Chronicler omits some of David’s sins: David is a type of the Davidic Messiah.  (Of course, as Merrill acknowledges, the Chronicler mentions certain sins or flaws of David and his offspring, so the thesis is not exactly infallible, in my opinion.)  My problem with his thesis, however, is that eschatology is not overly explicit in I-II Chronicles.  Merrill could have fit the content of Chronicles better with his thesis.

H.  Merrill often regurgitates the plot in discussing I-II Chronicles, but he sometimes offers historical information that the reader may find valuable.

I give this commentary three stars.  It raised some interesting points.  Yet, it tended to flatten Chronicles on account of its harmonizing, Christian inerrantist approach.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

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