Book Reviews

Book Review: 1 & 2 Chronicles (BTCB), Peter Leithart

Who reads Chronicles? It’s just a repeat of 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings, and who really even reads Kings? Clearly Peter Leithart does, as he’s written commentaries on all of those books (Samuel and Kings). Chronicles covers the time “from the reign of Saul to the exile and restoration” (1). Chronicles condenses most parts of Samuel and Kings, reducing Saul’s reign to one chapter (1 Chr 10), and writing only of his death. The Chronicler doesn’t give us much that is “new,” per se. Leithart writes, “Only from the Chronicler do we know of Josiah’s late-life apostasy (2 Chr. 24), or Uzziah’s proud attempt to offer incense in the temple (2 Chr. 26), or Manasseh’s repentance (2 Chr. 33)” (1). Chronicles, with its nine chapters of genealogy, “begins with the name of Adam,” and the end of 2 Chronicles “ends with the decree of Cyrus” (4). This “is a hint that the Chronicler is retelling the entire history of the Old Testament in, with, and under the history of kings” (4). 

The Chocolate Milk (1 Chr 21)

If there’s something I enjoy with Leithart is his seemingly endless ways of connecting the OT stories together. He sees chiasms, patterns, foreshadowing, and the whole gamut everywhere. These really help bring the Bible’s stories to life. They help me to see the authors’ intentions and help thicken the stories we read. 

Leithart observes that in 1 Chronicles 21, the “Satan” who provokes David’s census is probably an army. In Hebrew, “satan” (meaning adversary) doesn’t have the definite article here. It is not “the adversary,” but “an adversary” who incites David. He writes that “it seems best to conclude that David musters the army because of an attack from an enemy, most likely a foreign power” (71). So what’s the problem?

Following Johnstone, Leithart notes that “David relies on military power” (72). He demands that a census be taken, something that is a military act, but David does so without following the rules laid out in Exodus 30: “Yahweh requires each man who is mustered to give a half-shekel ‘ransom’ to ‘make atonement’ before going to war” (72). Quoting Johnstone, “Taking the life of another human being [even in a battle for God’s honor] immediately warrents the payment of life for life” (72-73). 

Just as David neglected the protocols of having the Levities carry the ark of the covenant in 1 Chronicles 13, neither does he properly prepare his troops here. He again neglects involving the Levites, “who are normally essential to the conduct of war” (73). The death angel (Hb. mashkit), seen killing Egypt’s firstborn sons in Exodus 12:13 and 23, here slaughters Israelites. Leithart writes,

The typology assigns David the role of Pharaoh, seizing God’s people for his own purposes. He has turned Israel into an Egypt, and a Passover sacrifice is needed to stay the plague. David is also an Adam, seizing forbidden fruit, God’s host. the census is a sacrilege, an intrusion on Yahweh’s realm and his host. David has slipped into Saul-like royalty; he does not “seek Yahweh” and so brings ‘asham (guilt) on Judah (1 Chron 21:3). 

However, unlike Saul, David repents “and becomes the un-Saul, a model of penitence and restoration” (73). David purchases a site for the temple and makes a sacrifice which God accepts. God is merciful, and the angel sheathes his sword. In Genesis 22, Abraham was ready to offer Isaac as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah. In Genesis 23 he purchased a plot of land, the future Israel. Here, David, “a new Abraham,” makes a sacrifice on Mount Moriah and purchases the land for the future temple his son will build. 

The Spoiled Milk 

That said, Leithart’s seemingly endless ways of connecting the OT stories together has a double-edge to it. Many times I read and think, “Where did you come up with this?” For example, Leithart compares 1 & 2 Chronicles with Israel’s history on page 4.

  1. Genealogies (1 Chr 1-9) >> Genesis
  2. Saul’s death (1 Chr 10) >> Slavery in Egypt
  3. David (1 Chr 10-29) >> Exodus, Sinai, to the land
  4. Solomon (2 Chr 1-9) >> Joshua’s conquest
  5. Divided kingdom (2 Chr 10-35) >> Judges, ends with Saul
  6. Decree of Cyrus (2 Chr 36) >> Establishment of monarchy

He fills this out more in his commentary, but I really just don’t see it. In his comments on God’s covenant with David (1 Chr 17), Leithart notes that this takes place “‘the same night’ after David proposes the building project (1 Chr. 17:3). Many of God’s acts of deliverance begin at night” (62). He observes Jacob escapes Laban at night (Gen 31), the Passover occurs at night (Exod 12), King Ahasuerus reads the chronicle and remembers Mordecai at night (Esth 6). Zechariah sees the cleansing of the high priest at night as well as the “temple liturgy rebooted (Zech. 4)” (62). 

Out of all of these, Leithart hones in on the Passover and says that Solomon is the

“firstborn of Israel,” the king who represents the entire people delivered from the angel of death and planted in the land. The nighttime message points to a new exodus setting, and the rest of the chapter confirms that. The word “house,” referring to the house of Israel and the house of David and the temple-house, is used fourteen times and brings to mind Yahweh’s deliverance of the house of Israel from the house of bondage in Egypt (62-63). 

But does this occurring at night actually bring the passover scene to mind? Why? How does Solomon fulfill (or even entertain) the theme of being the “firstborn of Israel” during the Passover? Leithart does reference Scott Hahn’s theological commentary on Chronicles here, so the Passover connection may not be completely his own. Regardless, there is no more elaboration on how Solomon fits with the Passover theme. 

But then again, I am more apt to agreeing with some conclusions than others. I’m summarizing his discussion here, but Leithart shows that just as God divided (badal) light from darkness and separated waters from water, “Moses erects a veil as a ‘divider’ between the holy place and the most holy (Exod. 26:33)” (81). It is “another creative act… by erecting the firmament boundary between holy and most holy” (81). Yahweh “separates” Israel from all the other nations as his own holy people. And so in 1 Chronicles 23-27, David does his own dividing (badal) of the Levites, priests, singers, etc. It is another “re-creative division” (81). Different groups being set apart for special tasks to our holy God. 

Recommended?

Things like this occur throughout the commentary, but they aren’t “serious” enough to cast it aside. I rather think that this is an excellent commentary on Chronicles. I have a few commentaries on Chronicles, and Leithart’s is the first I would recommend. He makes this book interesting. From genealogies to a story’s structure, from parallel characters to ongoing themes, Leithart does not provide you with bare information. He shows how Chronicles fits within the Bible, a storyline given to us through our union with Christ. 

Lagniappe

  • Series: Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible
  • Author: Peter J. Leithart
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Brazos Press (August 20, 2019)
  • Sample: Read the Introduction and beginning geneaology

Buy it from Amazon or Brazos Press!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Brazos Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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