From paradise lost to paradise regained. After a recap on the finer points of their history, it’s back to Jerusalem after seventy years of exile for the Israelites.
This set of Chronicles is placed in the Bible’s chronology, not only as part of a synoptic book set (alongside the Samuels/Kings) but also it connects the era of the Jews returning out of exile to the books Ezra and Nehemiah. All are so interrelated, that the Chronicles are like middle child between siblings. In Kings, the theme is political history and the temple construction and dedication while the theme is Chronicles is more of the spiritual focus of the altar/the temple, and a reminder of to the post exiles of their heroic legacy, their greatness and who they are in God’s covenant.
It helps when reading another book on the same topic, simpler to the Gospel writings with a different telling of the same story, each giving unique details; to shape a more complete picture of events and people. It’s a reminder that no two people see things in the same way. The Samuel/Kings books are more about what happened, when and by whom. They seem to be written from man’s perspective (but no less inspired by God) in the way it interprets events. The Chronicles are from a spiritual view, a Divine perspective considering his eternal purpose. Absent in Chronicles is David’s and Solomon’s sin. No blame is placed as in the previous books. Samuel/Kings shows examples of God’s mercy where Chronicles illustrates His grace. The latter is a picture of how God focuses on the heart and not the sin of the flesh. The chronicler sends out the hope that God sees past shortcomings, disobedience, selfishness, and mistakes.
The writing of Samuel/Kings and Chronicles covers the 500 year period just seen. In 1Chronicles 17:14 we see beyond David to Jesus with “… I will settle Him in mine house and in my kingdom, forever: and His throne shall be established for evermore.”
The context of these books is “chronicled” anonymously by a high priest and scribe who had access to the Samuels and Kings. Some propose it is Ezra. Scholars attribute it to him because the temple is the central idea in this book and the next. Ezra was also one of the first leaders that returned to Jerusalem with this despondent disillusioned group who vaguely remembered they were heirs to some promised land. He needed to remind them of who they were in God’s plan. The longest genealogy is found in first Chronicles chapter 1-9. In Africa today, the custom is to still note the genealogy (the family’s root) at weddings and they are even considered in job promotions. After 70 years in exile and all the intermarriages, the national organization of the clans and tribes, the land divisions, identifying the warriors, the priests, the musicians and the royal line needed to be sorted out. Again, the genealogy is to show this very special line of people who God had chosen to work through. These genealogies link the storyline throughout the Bible. Actually, if you think about it, the lists and census are pretty impressive. How would you organize and set up a nation? Plus it shows God’s faithfulness to his promises. The chronicler does it here to present the positive role models (heroes if you will) for the new life in Judah. It is written for the remnant of Jews embarking on a bittersweet return to their homeland.
It was around this time period that the title Jew become associated with the Hebrews. It was a take-off from the name Judah. The word Jew is first used in Esther (2:5).
Both books of Chronicles are on elements of history God wanted the returning Jews to meditate upon. He wanted them to remember their spiritual heritage for upcoming difficult times; it’s the same narrative told in the Books of Samuel and Kings but from a different perspective. When life seems likes it is going or have gone bankrupt in both a material and emotional sense, this example shows us to not overlook resources from our spiritual inheritance or the ways God has worked things out in the past.
David’s prayer in 1Chronicles 29:10–13 summarizes this inheritance theme from this perspective. David, who knew of his waywardness from God’s will, begins with this praise:
“Praise be to you, Lord, the God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.”
King David was a man who kept his unconfessed sins on a short list, was great enough to be humble, ask God then accept his forgiveness. That’s a formula easier than said for many. He never forgot the grace of it, and he owned up to his part in disobedience, paid recompense of his wrongdoing (as all sinners do), and received God’s grace through this forgiveness. He did not take for granted God’s forgiveness, mercy, and grace. He did not consciously commit sin with the foreknowledge he would be forgiven.
When young, I was quickened by the Holy Spirit into a relationship with Jesus. Before that, my earliest childhood awareness of God was him being judgmental, someone who had a list of a lot of rules to be obeyed or else. I am sure it had something to do with the impression and experience of my earthly father. The Bible stories were interesting but frightening and violent to me.
God, however, has a wonderful way of meeting us right where we are. A perceived thought, comprehensible for a child’s tender age, is there had to be a good God. There had to be divine goodness and providence in view of the existing evil I saw. I never thought (or think) of God as bad or mean but instead, as a parent doling out the consequences of choice with a correction motivated by love. As a child, I initially grasped there was a hell (evil), so there had to be a heaven (good). Maybe this was my beginning of sensing and living the paradoxes found in life. I then began my sojourn looking for this good or omnibenevolence of God in the Bible. I discovered his promises, his patience, and his loving kindness in not treating me how I deserve. I saw the positives of wanting to know this God. My faith walk, complex, mysterious, and beautiful as it is, is not one of consisting of rules and recitations. I comprehended at a young age, although couldn’t articulate it, that the Bible is a book of principles, more than its rules which is why it is as relevant today as it was in ancient times. The Bible is not written to scare us, it is to prepare us.
Nobel laureate, folk songwriter Bob Dylan, after his spiritual conversion to Jesus, recorded these words in his song: Gotta Serve Somebody:
“You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
The longest recorded prayer in the First Testament is Nehemiah Chapter 9. Part of that prayer is about how the people are looking back, reflecting on the past with gratitude and thanking God for what he had done (verses 7-31).
The second segment of Chronicles’ (the second book) turns its focus away from the north to the southern Kingdom. The split of these two kingdoms has been called great divorce of Israel. The North, whose tribes were ungodly kings continue in their ways. Second Chronicles focuses on the southern kings who tried to follow in the spiritual footsteps of the house of David. There was a total of 39 total kings between the two kingdoms with the northern kingdom defeating themselves after 19 different crowns in their dynasty. This book is a commentary on the spiritual characteristics of David’s dynasty.
The temple, prominently mentioned in this book, symbolizes Jesus with the comparisons in the New Testament (Mt. 12:6, Jn. 2:19, and Rev. 21:22). That last verse states: “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” That’s a new thought introduced: Our transient God is not found in a physical structure of a temple. Our human bodies are also referred to a temple (1Cor. 6:19-20) with the Holy Spirit left to guide us until Christ’s return. Seeds of God being everywhere and not only in an ark or temple now begin to germinate in the hearts and minds of believers. I previously did not like using the word abstract to define the Holy Spirit, until I looked at the definition more closely. Abstract means existing but not having a physical or concrete existence, something separate from something else. The triune God is separate from us because it is Holy yet Jesus left one part of it with us. Just as the Holy Spirit embodies Christ-like attributes to dwell within us, it gives us a means of the incarnation of Him.
We worship an invisible God. He does not ask or want or needs idols. Artists have created images, paintings, statues, stain glass and jewelry to depict him only as reminders of who he is (we do not pray to the cross on the necklace we wear). Most of which is homogenized to fit into images familiar to a preferred culture. The advantage of an invisible God is if the object serving to remind us of Him is destroyed or lost, He still exists. As people, we are entrenched with symbols that have become iconic from digital emoji characters to advertising. I mentally associate many written concepts with images, some that have nothing to do with topic except to help me visualize and remember; hardwiring it into my mind. My symbols represent ideas and relationships. Having an invisible God is congruent with his character of being omnipresent, omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent how else can He be “all” (Omni) in only one place not to mention time?
There still are those who think because they are on the church membership roster that it guarantees them their passage into Heaven. (Yes, really.) It’s not church attendance or if we feel our faith at any given moment or the accountability and empathy of fellowship that gets us to the afterlife we desire.
Then there also are those who give a proxy of their spiritual life to the worship leader. There are those who show up at services, hear what is said, swallow it without digestion then do it all again the following next worship service. They don’t go on their own treasure hunt through the Bible to find the endless rewards of the gold nuggets of truth then, in turn, spend them on others through outreach.
A community of like-minded people has the benefit of holding members accountable in addition to a personal relationship with God. Martin Luther said God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars (His nature revelation). However, doing solo spiritually, worshipping exclusively in the wilderness is not a good formula for spiritual growth. Nature revelation is not enough for salvation. There is a great risk of getting prideful and pious. Lord Chancellor Francis Bacon (circa 1618) wrote: “God has two textbooks – Scripture and Creation – we would do well to listen to both.”
A family member had come to take a dim view of going to church explaining the hypocrites attending annoyed him. Reminds me of those who didn’t like to read the required textbooks in school, then once the school term, or college is over never picks up a book again. That opinion does not allow for the growth potential as you are not the same person as you were when at 15, 25 years of age or older. Sadly, the previously mentioned reaction to church is as hypocritical and judgmental because it is not gracious, nor giving people room to grow and expecting only the saints to be attending church. Church is comparable to a hospital for the sick in spirit versus a club for the elite. Besides we should be more concern about the lost then pampering the saved. I’d rather attend church with confused people seeking God, than religious-minded individuals who think they are His enforcers.
To the skeptic or unbeliever, a passion of conviction has generated accusations that I am judgmental towards others. It is a commonly repeated accusation from unbelievers as the biggest turnoffs about Christians and Christianity. Ironically, it’s like the pot calling the kettle black when accusing someone else as judgemental.
Truth: There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it hardly becomes any one of us to talk about the rest of us. Matthew 7:1-29 comes to heart and mind when being accused by others or I personally think I may be judgmental.
Poet Robert Burns wrote in “To A Louse, On Seeing One on a Lady’s Bonnet at Church” in 1786 (in the Scottish tongue of Lallan):
“O wad some pow’r
The gitter gie us
To see oursels as
Ithers see us.”
A healthy church is organic; growing and adapting to their era in society. During this process, there is a risk of becoming sub-biblical. Sub-biblical has to do with the manipulation in the interpretation and explanation of the Bible’s truths to a certain end in mind. It reshapes scriptures to being not fully interpreted as intended. These sub-biblical teachings are done to have a more open appeal to the masses. Christian Outreach practitioners (and other church leaders) are concerned about the long-term repercussions of trying to reinterpret the Bible to attract new people. It does not really matter what era the church finds itself, the message can still be relevant and embrace the current day’s need. The style techniques used for church growth and adaptation can be adjusted but not at the expense of substance of the message. The message of the Bible does not and should not change. Typically, people can fall into two categories: biblical Christianity or feel-good (experiential) Christianity. I admit I want both but am more cautious about the feel-good Christianity. For more appeal to the public, the Christian community tries to make Jesus into someone who is meant to make us experience only goodness above all else. There is another side to the coin where some say feel-good Christianity is not genuine. Faith is more a sense of peace when in the storm of life.
It’s been documented in letters to her confessor, that St. Mother Teresa went almost 50 years without feeling God’s presence much less hearing his voice. In the letters which she asked not to be preserved( but were and used in the process of her beautification) to show her steadfast faith-filled perseverance seen as her most spiritually heroic act. As with sainthood, two miracles were also recorded. Yet her feeling, or rather lack of, closeness to God became her life’s secret torment but she continued on. Her confessor told her God was nearer than she thought if the success of her ministry was any indication and also this turmoil she felt may have been God’s way to help her better to relate to the poor and abandoned. For the Catholics, she is the Patron Saint of Doubters.
New church member assimilation sounds cultish to me. To say assimilation reminds me of the term used on a popular Sci-Fi show when the nemesis was turning people into their kind for their own use. When working to integrate people into a church culture, I prefer instead to use the word acculturation. It may be a matter of semantics but in acculturation, the explanations and discovery of the process in the new environment and the different way individuals fit themselves in does not just change in daily behavior, but with numerous measures of psychological, spiritual and physical well-being. Acculturation is enhanced when it comes to matching people within the community of a church to their given gifts for them to see and grasp their contribution to this new culture in their life. Hopefully, a different culture than their secular one. Biblical truths can be lived out in current day application because they stand firm under the test of time.
If I take my soul work and intimacy with God seriously but isolate myself from worship topic or fellowship because of some nuance I dislike; I am at risk of thinking my spiritual transformation is a private matter. There are times now I do feel alienated in the worshiping community when attending as a singleton (particularly after worshipping alongside my family for years). We experience his divine power through relationships with others while striving together toward maturity in our Spiritual walk. Efforts of inclusion go both ways between a group and an individual. The following poem makes a point. It was written anonymously by a former, unappreciated pastor.
Hello, I am Church
I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about me. I have no shortage of critics. Perhaps you have heard that I am “boring, shallow, cheap, and a waste of time.”
You’ve heard that I am full of “hypocrites, clowns, greedy people, and the self-righteous.
Maybe you had visited me before and discovered horrible music, passionless singing, dry preaching, and rude congregants.
Maybe you needed me, and I was too busy, too righteous, too broke, or too blind.
Maybe you joined me and found I was distant, demanding, dull, and preoccupied.
Maybe you tried to serve in me but were caught off guard by business meetings, committees, teams, and bureaucracy.
Maybe you left and were surprised that nobody telephoned cared, notice or invited you back.
Perhaps your experience has driven you to speak negatively of me, swears to never come back to me, proclaim that no one needs me or believed they were better off without me.
If this is true, I have something to say to you.
I was wrong
I blew it
I made a huge mistake.
But remember, I never said my name was perfect, flawless, complete, or arrived.
My Name is Church. I welcome the hypocrite, dry, self-righteous and shallow. I welcome the sincere, passionate, forgiving and selfless. I cannot shut my doors to the people who make you angry, uncomfortable, impatient, or self-conscious.
But I would remind you that we couldn’t always worship in the same room. In the Old Testament, there was a division between the Gentile, Jew, Man, and Woman. For us to all worship in the same room, Christ was shamed, beaten, died and resurrected. Which is far worse than being bored, uncomfortable, embarrassed and ignored?
So why not come back to church and let these messed up people challenge, sharpen, strengthen, and humble you.
I can’t promise you that the people will be great. This is the church. It is not heaven, paradise, Beulah land or the Celestial City.
Come back. God wants you here. The body needs you here. The world needs your witness here. You belong here.
Hello, my name is Church.
I miss you. I love you. I’m sorry. Can’t wait to see you.