Reading through the first book of Chronicles (aka. I Paralipomena)

Also called the para-lipomena in our old Catholic Bibles, which use old Greek names for several of the books, the two books of Chronicles attempt to provide more detail to some of the more important narratives in the books of the Kings. This takes the form usually of extremely long lists of names, establishing genealogies and naming important courtiers and heroic warriors; this would have been vital during the restoration of the nation after the Babylonian exile, for the cult and religion (especially as organised by King David and King Solomon) above all had to be entrusted once more to the families of the Levites, properly traced back to their origins. The important figures in the books of the Kings were the favourite kings, who were known publicly as faithful followers of the ancient Hebrew religion, while others fell into various degrees of idolatry. The second book of Chronicles deals with Solomon and the kings who followed him until the destruction of the kingdoms of Israel and Juda and the exile of the people, as told in IV Kings (2 Kings). This first book of Chronicles recounts the history of King David, as given across the I and II Kings (aka. 1 and 2 Samuel).

First, of course, is the immense stream of names that continues for nine chapters, before the narrative properly begins. It covers the origins of the Hebrew people in their patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but also uses earlier genealogies from the Torah that link Abraham to the first man, Adam. To get a taste of these rather tedious lists, let’s take this paragraph from chapter four, which names some of the men of the Judaite clans, kinsmen of King David and therefore of Christ:

“The men of Juda were descended from PharesHesron, Charmi, Hur, and Sobal. Sobal was father of Raia, Raia of Jahath, Jahath of Ahumai and Laad; thence come the Sarathite families. Jezrahel, Jesema, Jedebos and their sister Asalelphuni were children of Etam; he, like Gedor’s father Phanuel and Hosa’s father Ezer, was descended from Ephratha’s first-born son Hur, from whom came Bethlehem. Assur, father of Thecua, had two wives, Halaa and Naara; Naara bore him Oozam, Hepher, Themani and Ahasthari, and besides these sons of hers he had three sons by Halaa, Sereth, Isaar and Ethnan… From Cos came Anob and Soboba, and all the family of Aharehel son of Arum…  Jabes was renowned above all his brethren; his mother had called him by that name as if she would say, Painfully I bore him. And this was Jabes’ prayer to the Lord God of Israel, A full blessing, Lord! Wide lands, and thy hand with me, that enmity may never overcome me! And the Lord granted his request…  From Caleb, brother of Sua, through Mahir and Esthon, came Bethrapha, and from Bethrapha Phesse and Tehinna, and from Tehinna the city of Naas; these are the men of Recha…”

I Paralipomena, 4: 1-12

And on and on and on. When the record has moved past all the twelve tribes, it recounts the fall of Saul and his sons at Mount Gelboe, the recovery of their bodies from the Philistines and their burial (chapter ten). Then comes a quick summary of the slow accession of David as king of all Israel and repetitions of the lists of all his prize warriors (chapter eleven) and the general support he enjoyed even while still just the king of Juda at Hebron (chapter twelve). Then comes the narrative of the transfer of the Ark of the Covenant, which had remained for long years at Cariathiarim, and that David now sought to bring into his royal capital at Jerusalem, thus centralising both the administration of the kingdom and the religious cult of the people there. Chapter fifteen and sixteen describe how the king personally organised the levitical cult, and the liturgical system at the new shrine in Jerusalem, and even the order of the musicians and the guardians of the shrine. 

“So he left Asaph and his brethren there, with the ark that bears witness of the Lord’s covenant, to attend it by turns on their appointed days. Obededom and his brethren, sixty-eight of them …. And he made Obededom, son of Idithun, and Hosa door-keepers. Sadoc and the other priests, his brethren, were left with the tabernacle, at the hill-sanctuary of Gabaon, ever to offer the Lord victims on the altar of burnt-sacrifice, morning and evening; such was the charge the Lord had laid on Israel. And with Sadoc were Heman and Idithun, and others of less name, chosen to give the Lord thanks for his everlasting mercy; it was for Heman and Idithun to sound the trumpet and beat the cymbals at the divine music, and Idithun’s sons he made door-keepers. And so the people dispersed to their homes, and David himself went back to bless his own household.”

I Paralipomena, 16: 37-43

That personal involvement of King David reminds me of his description in the books of the Kings as a musician as well as a soldier. It may be at this point that his own book of hymns (parts of which are preserved in the book of Psalms) became part of the general liturgical memory of the people. A major portion of this book deals with David’s desire to build God a Temple of wood and precious metal. This begins in chapter seventeen, with the conversation with the prophet Nathan that we may recognise from the book of Kings. What is new here is that David now provides the reason for God’s refusing to let him build the Temple; God wanted his son Solomon to do so instead:

“Then he summoned the young prince and laid a charge upon him, bidding him build a house for the Lord God of Israel. ‘My son,’ he told him, ‘it was my thought to have built such a house myself, to be a shrine for the name of the Lord my God; but this message came to me from the Lord: Blood thou hast spilt in rivers and wars thou hast waged a many; not for thee to build Me a house, that comest before Me with so much blood on thy hands. Thou shalt have a son born to thee whose reign shall be all peace; on every side I will secure his frontiers from attack, and he will be well named Solomon, the Peaceful, such untroubled ease shall Israel enjoy during his reign. He it is that shall build a house to be the shrine of My Name; I shall find in him a son, and he in Me a Father, and I will maintain his dynasty on the throne of Israel for all time.'”

I Paralipomena, 22: 6-10

Another detail not provided by the books of the Kings is that David, robbed of the opportunity of building the Temple himself, busied himself with organising the administration of the Temple-to-be-built and with acquiring all the material that would be required by the builders. So, chapter twenty-three describes the organisation of the tribe of the Levites, given the divine command to alone serve the religious rites of the Hebrew sanctuaries; chapter twenty-four describes the organisation of the family of Aaron brother of Moses, who were alone to serve the inner sanctuary of the Temple by divine command; chapter twenty-five describes the organisation of the liturgical musicians; and chapter twenty-six describes the organisation of the guardians or wardens of the Temple shrine. And David, mindful of the youthful inexperience of his son Solomon, also organised his territorial army into battalions and regiments; this and other administrative notes form chapter twenty-seven. Indeed, Solomon owed much of his prosperity to the careful preparations made for him by his father. He even made up the designs of the Temple that he could not build:

“Then David handed over to his son Solomon the full plan of porch and temple, of store-house and parlour and inner chamber, of the throne of mercy itself; all his designs, too, for the outer courts and for the surrounding rooms in which the permanent treasures of the Lord’s house and the votive offerings were to be laid up. He told him of the order in which priest and Levite were to do all that had to be done, keep all that had to be kept, in the Lord’s temple. He gave him gold by weight and silver by weight for all the appurtenances of worship, varied for various needs. Gold and silver in due measure for every lampstand and lamp of gold and silver; gold for the table on which the hallowed loaves were set forth, gold and silver for every table of gold and silver. Pure gold for fork and bowl and censer and cup; no cup of gold or silver but had its due weight apportioned; pure gold for the altar of incense, pure gold for the equipage of cherubs that should spread their wings to overshadow the Lord’s ark. ‘This came to me,’ said he, ‘with the Lord’s own sign-manual; all the pattern he would make clear to me.’

I Paralipomena, 28: 11-19

That last line suggests that he had been given a divine blueprint of the Temple, just as Moses had been given a divine blueprint for the Tabernacle (Exodus 26). The end of the book consists of the commitment made by all the tribes to the building and maintenance of the Temple, whereupon David blessed the people and their good intention and solemnly ensured the succession of Solomon. And thus passed the greatest king that people would see. Until the arrival of Christ.

David entertains Saul
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