Let's start with the thesis of Chronicles:
“Because you are a people rooted in a common story (identity), awaiting our promised king (kingship), come participate in the purpose God has given you (liturgy)."
Identity - A Rooted People
Role of the Book of Chronicles
- Chronicles is the last book of the Hebrew Scriptures.
- A bunch of stories, some we’ve heard before, some weird ones, and some awesome ones.
- Jabez - 1 Chronicles 4:9-10
- Ruben/Judah/Joseph birthright issue - 1 Chronicles 5:1-2
- David’s mighty men - 1 Chronicles 11
- While books like Samuel and Kings cover about 500 years of history, Chronicles covers everything from Adam through the return to Jerusalem after the Exile.
- Chronicles functions like a curated history of the people of Israel.
History & Identity
- So what does history have to do with identity?
- When we talk about history we mean "that's what happened.” “In fourteen hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue…” This happened at this time.
- But the author of Chronicles is doing something very different with his book. When he talks about their history, he (like a good Jew) means “that's what happened and is happening."
- But instead of me doing all the talking, let’s get Abraham to tell his story:
It is still sounds crazy to say out loud but I was 100 years old when God gave my wife Sarah and I a son, Isaac. It truly was the most joyful day of our lives. But, a few years later, God asked me to sacrifice Isaac.
I couldn’t make sense of it. Why would he want me to sacrifice a person, let alone my only son. It reminded me of the false gods I’d heard about growing up.
I didn’t tell Sarah. I knew all she would hear was that her only son was going to die. But she wasn’t there when God promised me he would make my descendants like the stars in the sky. I saw the smoking fire pot and the flaming torch that appeared when God made His covenant with me. I didn’t know how, but I knew God would keep his promise, even if that meant God had to bring Isaac back from the dead.
Needless to say, God proved His faithfulness yet again. At the last moment, he provided a ram to take Isaac’s place on the altar. Ya, it was an awkward conversation on way home, but, eventually, I think he saw a little more of his own place in God’s plans.
A Single Story: Past and Future
The author of Chronicles brings up these stories to reiterate over and over this first key theme: that the Israelites are a people rooted in a single story, God’s story. So even though that happened to Abraham long ago, it should also somehow shape how we work out our own stories moving forward.
Now, though Abraham is mentioned in Chronicles, his story isn’t written out. The author expects us to already know the people and stories he is mentioning.
Let’s listen to a few more stories and after each one I’m going to ask this question: What happened that is still happening?
Ignore whatever you heard of Aaron teasing me for how posh I am because I grew up as an Egyptian prince. I’m a Hebrew, through and through. In fact, I spent almost every day of the last 40 years watching sheep for a living. Then, unexpectedly, God called me to go back to Egypt and help get the Israelites out of slavery.
If I’m honest, I wasn’t excited about the idea. It’s not that I didn’t care about my people, I really did, but the whole thing just seemed insane. How was I going to go up against one of the most developed nations on earth?
But man, after God turned the nile into blood, I was confident God had some big plans for my people. Unfortunately, my questioning came back to bite me.
Pharaoh tried to bully them by making it impossible for them to do their jobs well. All they could see was that life became suddenly worse than it was before I came. It took several more signs from God before they started to see what I had tried to tell them: That had not forgotten them and was going to rescue them from slavery in Egypt to take them back to the land He promised our forefathers.
Are you all here for the festival? It’s going to be a grand celebration! But who’d have thought things would turn out this way… When this all started I was taken away from my uncle, my only living family, and forced into the king’s harem. It felt like everything was against me: our people were conquered, my parents had died, and now I was the property of the drunken king of Persia.
But over the course of almost 10 months, the king took notice of me and eventually made me queen! Unfortunately, before the excitement could really set in, we found out that Haman, the king’s advisor, had passed a law to kill all of the Jews!
My uncle Mordecai was the first to see that God was at work. He showed me how God had taken me from being property of the king to being queen. I recognized this unimaginable opportunity and I knew I couldn’t waste it, even if it meant risking my life to go before the king uninvited.
And you know the rest. God took care of us and Haman hung on his own gallows. Yes, we are still in Exile. We still live in a foreign land under a foreign king…but, even out here in Persia, God has not abandoned us.
This practice of connecting what happened with what is happening and will happen is particularly difficult for those of us in the West. We think of memory as a storehouse that we retrieve from, but modern neuroscience and psychology has come to understand human memory as being more generative, meaning we re-experience our memories, adding and taking away from them every time they arise. The author of Chronicles was working out of an understanding that we are only recently confirming through science: as humans, we are always carrying parts of the past with us into the future.
This is why Chronicles focuses on the stories of people who were attuned to how their stories were shaped by God’s story. He wanted Israel to focus on the people who had wisdom to pay attention to God and his work, the people who understood how they were rooted in God's story.
Kingship - A Royal People
Kings and Priests
- Chronicles 1-9: The most important lineages are those of David (King) and the lineage of Aaron (Priest).
- King connected people to one another. (Political)
- Priests connected people to God. (Religious)
- At the center of these two spheres was the Temple.
A lot is said about the temple in Chronicles:
- Construction of the Temple
- David didn’t build the temple but God made a promise that his lineage would (1 Chronicles 17:1-15)
- Last seven chapters of 1 Chronicles are David making preparations for the Temple. First seven chapters of 2 Chronicles are all about building and consecrating the Temple.
- Solomon’s prayer (2 Chronicles 6:13-21). The Temple and Royalty belonged together.
Why was the temple so important? Because it was the place where God could dwell with His people, reflection of the Garden—the center of the cosmos—where heaven and earth met.
Therefore, the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians was a catastrophe at every level, theological as well as political. The Shekinah glory had departed (Ezek. 10:1-22), the Davidic monarchy had been cast aside (Ps. 89:38-51), and heaven and earth had been pulled apart. Worship became impossible. (Ps. 137:4-6) — N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (pg. 206)
Analogy: The US Constitution. It’s establishment not only carries the various statues we use to create order but the very idea of a good and orderly nation. No matter the political bent, everyone claims their view as “constitutional,” meaning “in line with the focal point of our very communal identity.”
“When Solomon built the Temple, he established the pattern that would remain true for all subsequent generations up to and including the first century: the Temple-builder was the true king, and vice versa.” — N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (pg. 205)
Chronicles stirs up the Jewish longing for the return from Exile, which was a longing for someone rooted in their story, who could reestablish the Davidic monarchy and rebuild the Temple so that YHWH would return to be with them.
Christ and Chronicles
- Can anyone imagine why this is important right before we go into the Gospels?
- Jesus picked up the three themes of Chronicles: he was a jew, from the line of David, and the reestablishment of the Temple in himself.
- John 1:14 - “And the Word became flesh and dwelt (tabernacled/templed) among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
- Instead of a building, Jesus Himself is where Heaven meets Earth. Instead of a king who would correct or push out evil and brokenness up to make room for God, God came and overcame evil and brokenness. And inn Him, we follow Jesus are rooted in this same story and are part of the same royal people, part of Christ’s Good Kingship.
Liturgy - A Religious People
Malachi vs. Chronicles
- Last word of Malachi is a curse: “destruction.”
- Last word of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 36:23) is an invitation: “Aliyah,” which means “go up.”
- Word used in Genesis when they “brought up” Jacob’s bones from Egypt.
- A call for for Jews to pilgrimage back to Israel. Everything from the Songs of Ascent (Psalms) to the return of Jews to Israel after the Holocaust.
- Also used in Jewish worship as calling to “go up” to read the Torah.”
- Essentially a call to “be a part.” Chronicles is a book that declares, “We are going back to being who we are, God’s people.” How was this experienced? Through liturgy.
We are what we love
Our Gospel Community recently finished reading You Are What You Love together.
“To be human is to be animated and oriented by some vision of the good life…we adopt ways of life that are indexed…” — James K. Smith, You Are What You Love (pg. 11)
- Love > Attention > Habits but more often Habits > Attention > Love
- Part of why Chronicles, after the construction of the temple, talks about the kings of Judah, highlighting the good ones (even though there were only 5 out of 20!)
- King Abijah - 2 Chronicles 13:9-11
- King Jehoshaphat - 2 Chronicles 17:3-4
- King Jotham - 2 Chronicles 27:1-2
- King Hezekiah - 2 Chronicles 29:1-2
- King Josiah - 2 Chronicles 34:29-31
- The author is highlighting the kings who remembered the liturgies, the practices, that helped the people pay attention to God’s Story and God’s Kingship.
Our views of Liturgy
In our culture, we respond to liturgy, faith habits, by being dependent on them or just rejecting them altogether.
- We are dependent on liturgy when we want our faith habits to be our relationship with God instead of a means of a relationship with God.
- For example: Prayer What we often answer when asked how people can pray for use: “I have this or that happening this week…”
- We are saying “this is my reality, I need God to come into/change it.
- We need prayer to put faith/God back into our story/situation instead of prayer getting me to draw out/see God and His Story already at work in and through my situation.
“[Y]ou can know everything about a religion—its history, iconography, scripture, etc.—but all of that will remain intellectual, mere information, so long as your own soul is not at risk.” – Christian Wiman
- What often happens is that we try that over and over and eventually we get burned out because the liturgies don’t “work.” So we reject them as trinkets or stale religious repetitions.
- Example: Rosary - Ridiculous to be angry at the rosary for being made of wood. This, like any faith practice, can only do what it can do, it can only be a means to an end, and expecting it to do more is setting yourself up for failure.
- “____ doesn’t work” often says more about us than the liturgy we are talking about.
“To have faith in a religion […] is to accept at some primary level that its particular language of words and symbols says something true about reality. This doesn’t mean that the words and symbols are reality (that’s fundamentalism), nor that you will ever master those words and symbols well enough to regard reality as some fixed thing. What it does mean, though, is that “you can no more be religious in general than you can speak language in general” (George Lindbeck), and that the only way to deepen your knowledge and experience of [God] is to deepen your knowledge and experience of the all-too-temporal symbols and language of a particular religion.” — Wiman, Christian. My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer (p. 139).
Being a religious people means we don’t need liturgy to be or prove our faith in God, we need liturgy to help us pay attention and “go up”—participate— with God in our everyday.
Call to Action
Talk to G.C. & DNA group: How are we going to take responsibility for where we give attention, for the liturgies that shape our affections? Monday morning, how are you going to “go up” and participate with God?
Because we are a people rooted in this Story and a people with a good King who brought and is bringing heaven and earth together, we are called to “go up” and do the things that will get us to enjoy more and more of God and His Story.
Communion & the Rule of Faith (Tertullian)
[T]here is but one God, and he alone is the creator of the world,
who by the sending forth of his Word in the beginning brought the universe into being out of nothing;
and this Word, called his Son, was seen various ways in the name of God by the patriarchs, was heard always in the prophets, and last of all was brought down into the Virgin Mary by the Sprite and power of God the Father,
[he] was made flesh in her womb and was born from her as Jesus Christ;
he proclaimed a new law and a new promise of the kingdom of heaven,
[Jesus] worked miracles, was nailed to the cross, was resurrected on the third day, was taken up to heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand and to send in his place the Holy Spirit to guide believers,
and [Jesus Christ] will come again in glory, [uniting heaven and earth], to [bring us] into the enjoyment of life eternal […]
(Tertullian — On the Prescription of Heretics 13)