1 Chronicles 21-23

Good morning! After bringing the ark back to Jerusalem, then consolidating the kingdom and defeating enemies, David is now on to the third and final major task that the Chronicler focuses on: preparing for the temple’s construction. The process starts today in 1 Chronicles 21-23, but it’s of such importance to this writer that the whole narrative of the building extends another dozen chapters beyond today.

First though, we start with a mostly-familiar story about David wickedly asking for a census of Israel, which we read previously in 2 Samuel 24. One key difference appears right off the bat: here it’s Satan rather than God who leads David to call for the census. Satan hasn’t figured very prominently so far in the Hebrew Scripture, and indeed the idea of a supernatural arch-opponent to God who was a fallen angel evolved centuries after this text was written (itself likely hundreds of years after David’s reign). Here and elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, “Satan” is a heavenly trickster, one among the court of God’s throne room who tempts people to behave counter to righteousness. Whereas 2 Samuel 24 accounts God as David’s inspiration, by the writing of Chronicles Hebrew theology had evolved to the point that God would not command wickedness, but it comes instead from another supernatural force opposed to human flourishing.

One other fascinating detail in the narrative of David building a shrine to stop the punishing plague is this character Ornan. The older man sees the angel threatening Jerusalem, yet while his sons hide he continues to thresh wheat. He doesn’t bow to the ground until David comes to the threshing floor! I can’t fathom what Ornan might have been thinking here, but it brings to mind those who try to keep functioning as normal when catastrophe strikes. Conversely, it might also have been a way of modeling obedience to the king rather than other threatening forces.

The story of what happens at Ornan’s threshing-floor explains why David builds the ark there, and note now a significant departure from the version we read in 1 Kings. In 1 Chronicles 22, David is the one who prepares all the items to build the temple—stones, iron, bronze, cedar, etc. Whereas Kings has Solomon memorializing his power with building projects, here David is the one who envisions the temple and assembles all the pieces for young Solomon to use for its actual construction. Is this the Chronicler’s way of seeking greater honor for the temple by aligning it with David’s vision rather than with Solomon, the king known for philandering with other deities?

The succession whereby David makes Solomon king is all of one sentence at the beginning of chapter 24. Compare this to a whole chapter of intrigue between Bathsheba and Nathan the prophet to have senile David name Solomon before Adonijah can claim the throne, which we read in 1 Kings 1. Of more importance to the Chronicler are the Levites and their families, organized according to duties for the temple. Verse 6 attributes to David their division according to the 3 sons of Levi, while Numbers 4 described the Levites by those same divisions in service to the tabernacle during the wilderness wanderings. (This causes me to wonder whether the extravagant descriptions of the tabernacle organization in Numbers comes from the same time frame or school of priestly authors as these Chronicles.) David asserts that the Levites will no longer attend to the tabernacle, but instead assist the priests in temple service. Thus we see the Chronicler arranging for the needs of the temple even while it is no more than a vision in David’s mind and a charge to his successor. Happy reading!

Read 1 Chronicles 21-23.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is 1 Chronicles 24-26. Thanks for reading!

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