Introduction to 1 and 2 Chronicles


In introductions to previous books, I mentioned how David Platt breaks up the Historical Books (Joshua – Esther) into a three book pattern characterized by two books which continue the story followed by a third “spotlight” book that narrows the focus onto specific events which occurred during the previous 2 books. For the period of the monarchy, the books of Samuel and Kings continue the story and Chronicles details events around the Davidic Kingdom. Therefore, in 1 and 2 Chronicles we pause the unfolding story of Samuel and Kings to reflect on relevant themes from both books. The ESV Study Bible does a wonderful job of articulating those themes in their Introduction to 1 and 2 Chronicles, but, before we jump into that discussion let’s take a look at some preliminary information abut these 2 books.

The author of Chronicles doesn’t identify himself and is usually just referred to as “the Chronicler.” ESV’s introduction to these books points out that “Jewish tradition assigned the work to Ezra the scribe, who lived in the fifth century BC, and some modern scholarship has supported this view.” HCSB lists some facts that we can know about the author, “He was evidently a member of the post-exilic theological community, with a religious orientation to life rather than a secular one. He may have been a priest or a Levite, but he certainly believed God’s will was mediated to the people through the Levitical priesthood. He reflected the values and ideals of Ezekiel and some of the post-exilic prophets about Temple worship and correct ritual observances…He emphasized a strict compliance with liturgical worship and moral purity in order to realize God’s blessing upon a newly restored nation.” ESV adds that, “the internal evidence indicates that the author was a priest or Levite with scribal training who was employed in the service of the temple during the Persian period (539-332 BC) and had access to the temple records.”

Like the other 2-part books in our English Bibles, 1 and 2 Chronicles were originally one. ESV explains, “The Hebrew title of the work, Dibre Hayyamim, is derived from 1 Chronicles 27:24 and may be translated ‘the events of the years’ or ‘annals.’ In the Septuagint (Greek translation), it is known as Paraleipomena or ‘the things omitted,’ indicating that it was considered a supplement to the books of Samuel and Kings. The English title derives from a suggestion by Jerome, the translator of the Vulgate (a Latin translation), that a more suitable title would be ‘the chronicle of the whole sacred history.’ Martin Luther adopted this proposal, titling his translation of the books Die Chronika, and versions ever since the Reformation have followed this practice.”

The placement of the books also differs in the Jewish canon. HCSB writes, “Chronicles appears as the last book of the third division of the Jewish canon, the ‘Writings.’ The LXX, Vulgate, and modern translations place it after Kings and before Ezra-Nehemiah, probably because its contents were historical and overlapped the period narrated by Samuel and Kings. In fact, the book is a history of the Hebrew people from Adam to the Persian king Cyrus, which parallels the writings of Genesis through Kings, with Ezra-Nehemiah as a continuation of what happened after Cyrus permitted the Jews to return to their land.”

There seems to be general agreement that these books were written somewhere around 400 BC. HCSB explains, “The earliest Chronicles could have been written was 538 BC since the end of the book records Cyrus’s decree of that date. The use of Chronicles in the book of Ben Sira (published 180 BC), and the second-century LXX translation of Chronicles, give us the approximate latest date when it could have been written. Thus we have about a 350-year span of time when the book could have been produced. But we can be more specific than that. First Chronicles 3:19-24 records Zerubbabel’s descendants for two (not, as it might appear, four) generations. And since Zerubbabel can be dated to around 520 BC, this means Chronicles was compiled around 400 BC or slightly later…”

It is also well known that the Chronicler drew on multiple sources to compile this history. This fact contributes to the ESV’s earlier assertion that the author must have been an individual with scribal training and employed in temple service which would have been necessary in order to have access to the temple records, which is where these additional sources would have been located. HCSB says, “In his grand survey of Israelite history, the Chronicler made liberal use of sources within the Scriptures: the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible), Joshua, Samuel, and especially Kings, which he explicitly cited (2 Ch 27:7; 35:27; 36:8). For the genealogies, the Chronicler must have drawn upon other sources than just the biblical ones. The difference in arrangement and balance is great enough to suggest there were other sources that survived the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC.” Additionally, these other sources were also used by the author of Kings. “Second Chronicles 24:27 cites ‘Writing of the Book of Kings.’ Other extra-canonical sources used by the Chronicler were narratives of the prophets and seers (1 Ch 29:29; 2 Ch 9:29; 12:15; 13:22; 26:22; 32:32; 33:19) and official genealogies preserved in government archives, although these have been lost to us.”

In the same vein, but with an eye to comparing Israel’s record keeping with that of other ancient Near Eastern people groups, NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible adds the following information, “It is immediately apparent to the reader of Chronicles that its compiler is heavily dependent on lists of all kinds: genealogical records, census records, administrative lists, etc. Lists per se are well attested in the ancient Near East. From Mesopotamia in particular a large number of lists on many different topics have been recovered. It seems that there was a desire, at least in Mesopotamia, to order and categorize everything, including the pantheon. The incorporation of lists of different kinds into literary texts also has parallels within ancient Near Eastern literature as a whole and within the Hebrew Bible itself. At times genealogical records may be included in Near Eastern royal inscriptions, but they very rarely go beyond the third generation.”

Careful readers of Chronicles will notice multiple differences and divergences between the text of Chronicles and the parallel texts in Samuel and Kings. This is due to the fact that the respective authors were apparently using manuscripts from differing Hebrew textual traditions. This is unsettling for some for reasons generally related to inerrancy. However, differing Biblical textual traditions are a fact of life that just have to be accepted. The Scriptures in their original autographs were perfect, but we just do not have the originals. When the texts differ, how do we know which is correct? This is the entire basis for the scholarly field known as “textual criticism,” which has the goal of reproducing the Biblical text to the greatest degree of accuracy we possibly can using an arsenal of tools and strategies.

On this topic HCSB writes, “Some of the differences in the text of the books of Chronicles arose from the Chronicler using a different Hebrew text tradition from the author of Kings. Textual criticism has traced the history of manuscripts by comparing sets of text variations among manuscripts. They conclude that during the time of the Chronicler there were two major ‘families’ of Hebrew manuscripts of that book: the family that eventually became known as the ‘Masoretic Text’ (MT) and a lesser known ‘Palestinian’ family, represented by the (Lucianic) LXX and the Samaritan Pentateuch. Chronicles used a copy of Samuel-Kings that is closer to the Palestinian family than the MT used for our printed editions of the Hebrew Bible…”

Discussing the fact of differing texts brings us to a good place to mention a common objection to the reliability of Chronicles- namely that these books conveniently censor the sins of David and Solomon. HCSB addresses this criticism, “Some have suggested that the Chronicler was attempting to whitewash David and Solomon’s sins and failures, but it is clear that the Chronicler expected his readers to be familiar with the books of Samuel and Kings. These negative elements in the lives of the kings were public and well known; they were simply not pertinent to the issues pressing upon the Chronicler. He focused upon the consequences of idolatry and God’s desire for the sinner to repent and return to a life of obedience to the law of Moses. This obedience is the basic characteristic of anyone who had a covenant relationship with Yahweh, since God’s moral character had to be reflected by the nation He had chosen.”

NLT Illustrated Study Bible’s Introduction does a beautiful job of describing the setting for these books. “The Babylonians had conquered the kingdom of Judah between 605 and 586 BC. Within a generation, Babylonian power had eroded because of its own internal decay (see Dan 5). Meanwhile, to the east, the Persian king Cyrus the Great (559-530 BC) established a new empire that united the Medes and the Persians. In October 539 BC, Babylon fell without resistance, and Cyrus’s empire extended westward to include Babylonia (see Dan 5:30-31). In keeping with his imperial policy, Cyrus provided for the Jewish exiles to return to Judea and establish a province around the city of Jerusalem. The story of this time is told in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah and by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. The new community faced many struggles as they rebuilt the Temple and later the wall of Jerusalem. They experienced spiritual restoration, physical protection, and a measure of economic independence. Yet there was virtually no hope of political autonomy. The people of Judea also suffered scorn, opposition, and humiliation from surrounding peoples. They struggled to maintain their identity, faith, and way of life as social and political forces threatened to absorb them completely…”

The same source lists these new questions on the minds of these people, “How could they remain true to their ancestral faith while living under the permanent domination of an imperial power? How could a subordinate people be the people of God? What did the promise of the eternal throne of David mean under these circumstances?” As is only natural, different answers to these questions arose. “The nationalist answer was to rebel and establish independence (this answer found expression in later Greek and Roman times with the Maccabees and among the ‘zealots’ of the NT era). Others, perceiving their situation as inescapable, focused on covenant faithfulness to God within the context of the empire. The book of Chronicles was written to address these questions and concerns.”

In light of this context, it is much easier to understand the themes the Chronicler built his writing around. As I noted above, ESV Study Bible Introduction to 1-2 Chronicles thoroughly discusses the central theme of Chronicles followed by three key themes. The central theme is defined as, “the significance of the Davidic covenant as the enduring basis of Israel’s life and hope. The Davidic covenant is expressed in the two institutions that derive directly from it: the monarchy and the temple. These institutions are mutually related (1 Chron 17:10b-14), and together they represent God’s kingdom in Israel (2 Chron 13:5, 8). The Davidic covenant does not replace the Mosaic covenant but builds on it for the new age of the monarchy and the temple.” The three key themes are:

    • 1) “The Davidic covenant. God’s promissory covenant with David (1 Chron 17:10b-14, 23-27; 2 Chron 6:10, 15-17, 42; 7:17-18; 13:8; 23:3) is the source of the Davidic dynasty and Solomon’s temple…The covenant has its origin in God’s purpose and initiative in electing David to be his king (1 Chron 28:4) and Solomon to be his temple builder (1 Chron 22:9-10; 28:5)…God is committed to maintaining his covenant in preserving the Davidic house even through apostasy (2 Chron 21:13) and exile (1 Chron 3:17-24). The covenant continues ‘forever’ because of God’s gracious love for Israel…nevertheless, there are conditions of obedience to God’s commands if the king and his people are to experience the blessings of the covenant (1 Chron 28:9; 2 Chron 7:17-18; 15:2, 7)…”

    • 2) “The temple…Much of the presentation of David’s reign is taken up with his preparations for the temple…Moreover, David’s wars (1 Chronicles 18-20) have their primary meaning for the Chronicler in securing ‘rest’ for the land as the condition of temple building (1 Chron 22:17-19). The portrayal of Solomon’s reign is also taken up almost entirely with describing the construction and dedication of the temple (2 Chron 2:1-8:16)…The temple’s great significance for the Chronicler is as the manifestation of the Davidic covenant alongside the dynasty. The temple and the Davidic house have a mutually supportive relationship…Above all, the Chronicler’s interest in the temple lies with its personnel, especially the Levites…”

    • 3) “The people of Israel. The Chronicler sought to address some urgent questions in his day concerning the identity of Israel and to instill fresh confidence in the people. The genealogies of Israel that begin the work (1 Chronicles 1-9) start by tracing the people’s ancestry back to Adam…the continuation of the genealogies makes it clear that Israel in its broadest extent embraces all 12 tribes that were descended from Jacob/Israel’s sons (1 Chron 2:1)…Although its concern with kings and the priesthood might seem hierarchical, it demonstrates a striking interest in the broad participation of the people in the life of the nation…the Chronicles consistently highlights the role of the people at large in the laying of religious foundations of the nation (see 1 Chron 11:4; 13:2; 15:25; 2 Chron 1:2-3), no doubt as a way of affirming that ‘all Israel’ (both north and south, the laity and well as the priesthood) has a share in these institutions…”

NLT Illustrated Study Bible articulates the Chronicler’s “double task” this way, “First, he needed to explain why the kingdom of David had failed. Second, he needed to establish that this small struggling province of the mighty Persian Empire would become the kingdom that God had promised to David. The explanation for the failure of David’s kingdom begins with Saul’s failure: God rejected Saul as king over Israel because he was unfaithful…Later kings repeated the essence of Saul’s failure: They rebelled against God’s covenant, and they sought security from foreign powers and pagan gods rather than from their Rock, the Lord (see Deut 32:4, 15-39)…The book of 1 Chronicles establishes the necessary premises for restoration. The promise to David did not disappear during the Exile; the community that was reestablished in Jerusalem carried the promise. Even the division of the kingdom after Solomon’s reign had not put any of the tribes outside of Israel’s future…”

On the Chronicler’s task in the second book the same source continues, “To the Chronicler, David’s reign offered a paradigm for his own readers. David moved from being a fugitive (exile) from Saul into the community of God. The postexilic community had undergone similar transition from exile and could anticipate similar blessings if they were obedient…The Chronicler also offers events in Hezekiah’s reign as a solution to the problem of the divided monarchy…Hezekiah invited the north to join in the first Passover of his reign, and many responded (30:11); a similar celebration had not been held since Solomon’s time (30:26), Hezekiah’s Passover provides a model for the restoration of Israel as a unified kingdom…The Chronicler teaches that Israel was God’s kingdom, and God would eventually make it a reality.”

What contributions has the field of archaeology afforded our understanding of these books? The ESV Archaeological Study Bible gives some examples. “As is the case with 1-2 Kings…, archaeological excavations have produced evidence of many of the people, places, and events the Chronicler mentions…Archaeological discoveries have also illuminated specific activities, iconography, and cultural customs and the meaning of certain phrases used in 1-2 Chronicles…Archaeological discoveries have explained what is meant by ‘covenant of salt’ (2 Chron 13:5), and why the language of love is used in international treaties (1 Chron 17:13; 2 Chron 19:2). They have also enabled us to detect the polemical theology of the OT in statements such as ‘your mighty hand and you outstretched arm’ in 2 Chron 6:32, which seems to be a refutation of the idea that the Egyptian pharaoh is the one who possesses a mighty arm.”

The same source continues, “Aside from the biblical text itself, we are largely indebted to archaeology for our current understanding of its structure, decoration, and layout, as no architectural remains of the Solomonic temple have survived. The excavation of several Iron Age temples from Syria and Israel…have not only clarified technical terms long misunderstood in the biblical description, but have also provided physical examples of the standard tripartate temple, complete with the most holy place at the rear, divinely revealed to David (1 Chron 28:11-19) and followed by Solomon. It should come as no surprise to students of the Bible that God revealed the plans for his earthly dwelling using imagery, iconography, and architectural design his original audience would have understood. In fact, it is what we should expect of a God who chooses to reveal himself! While some argue that parallels between Solomon’s temple and the temples of other ‘gods’ (and parallels between the OT and the ancient Near East in general) suggest Israelite religion was simply derived from surrounding culture, these same parallels may indicate instead that there was something true about the divine expressed in this particular tripartate structure and its ornamentation, which God used to reveal his distinctive character as holy Lord and sovereign King.”

ESV Study Bible includes this Basic Chronology of 1-2 Chronicles




Foundation of the Davidic monarchy

c. 1010-931 BC

1 Chronicles 10-2 Chronicles 9

History of Judah from the division of the kingdom until its fall


2 Chron 10:1-36:21

Babylonian captivity


2 Chron 36:17-21

Cyrus’s decree


2 Chron 36:22-23

NLT’s Outline for 1 and 2 Chronicles is as follows:

1 Chronicles:

Genealogy of the Nation of Israel: 1:1-9:34

Founding of the Kingdom: 9:35-20:8

Preparations for the Temple: 21:1- 29:30

2 Chronicles:

Reign of Solomon: 1:1-9:31

Israel until the Exile of the North: 10:1-28:27

Healing for Israel: 29:1-36:23

Click here to go to chapter 1