Maybe when you first started reading the Bible, you were confused by the existence of 1 and 2 Chronicles. Aren’t they just a rehashing of other books? As you got to know Chronicles, you found that, while extremely similar, they were written after the Babylonian exile. As the Chronicler pieced together Israel’s history, the influence of this catastrophic period found its way into their writings. How does 1 Chronicles portray God’s covenant with David concerning his eternal dynasty – his line that would reign forever?

The below information is an abridged excerpt from Interpretation: A Bible Commentary

Nathan’s Oracle: David Is Promised an Eternal Dynasty (17:1–15) (//2 Sam. 7:1–17).

In its original context, Nathan’s oracle served to affirm God’s unconditional promise that David’s line would reign forever. This idea is also reflected in such texts as Psalm 89:36–37:

His line shall continue forever,
and his throne endure before me like the sun.
It shall be established forever like the moon,
an enduring witness in the skies.

Of course, this affirmation became a serious problem when, in 587 B.C., the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the palace, murdered the reigning king’s sons, and took the king away in chains to Babylon. In fact, never again after that did a descendant of David sit on the throne in Jerusalem.

What could God’s everlasting covenant with David possibly mean now?

Clearly, the promise did not mean what they had thought it meant: the political survival of Israel in perpetuity. Later Christian interpreters would see the promise of David’s eternal reign as fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who through the power of his resurrection lives and reigns forever (for example, Mark 12:35–37; Acts 2:25–36; Rev. 5:5).

However, within the Hebrew Bible as well, God’s covenant with David came to be understood in new ways. In the final form of the Deuteronomistic History, the wickedness of the people and their kings, particularly Manasseh (2 Kgs. 21:10–15), brings on the covenant curses of Deuteronomy, including exile (Deut. 28:63–68); implicitly, the hope is that a return to faithfulness will bring a restoration of God’s blessing. In the Psalms, a shift takes place from the exaltation of the earthly king on Zion (for example, Ps. 2) to praise of the heavenly king, the Lord (for example, Pss. 95–99). In the prophets, the unconditional, eternal promise of blessing comes to be seen, not as between David and the Lord, but as between the Lord and the entire people Israel (for example, Jer. 32:40; Ezek. 37:25–26; Isa. 55:3).

We should expect, then, to find in Chronicles as well a rethinking of God’s unconditional promise to David.

Surprisingly, we do not—at least, not in any radical sense. To be sure, there are differences between 17:1–15 and its source text in 2 Samuel 7. However, many of these differences are minor; explainable either as scribal errors or as instances of the Chronicler’s source text differing from the MT of 2 Samuel. At bottom, both texts make the same fundamental affirmation. In 1 Chronicles as in 2 Samuel, David’s line is eternal.

The unit begins with David “settled in his house” (17:1//2 Sam. 7:1), in his newly built palace. Unlike his source (2 Sam. 7:1), the Chronicler makes no mention of David being given rest from his enemies. This may be because such rest is already assumed from David’s victory over his enemies the Philistines (14:16–17). More likely, however, the Chronicler does not speak of rest because more battles are yet to follow (18–20). Israel’s rest will not come until the reign of David’s son, Solomon (22:9; 23:25).

David’s ease in his own house prompts him to reflect on the comparative humility of the Lord’s dwelling, the tent-shrine of the ark. He summons his prophet Nathan and declares his thoughts; Nathan replies, “Do all that you have in mind, for God is with you” (17:2//2 Sam. 7:3). Although it is never stated, David’s intention is clear; the king will build for the Lord a temple, a house of cedar like his own great palace.

“I have not lived in a house since the day I brought out Israel…”

But that night, Nathan receives a message for David from the Lord: “You shall not build the house for me to live in” (17:4). Though the NRSV chooses to render the text as referring to “a house” (following the LXX as well as the 2 Sam. parallel), the MT of 17:4 reads “the house”: an explicit reference to the one, specific temple in Jerusalem. Expanding on this prohibition, the Lord states, “I have not lived in a house since the day I brought out Israel to this very day, but I have lived in a tent and a tabernacle” (17:5).

In contrast to 2 Samuel 7:6, Chronicles does not mention Egypt, prompting some scholars to view 17:5 as one of many “instances in which the Chronicler omits, or at least narrows, the role of the Exodus” (Japhet 1993, 330). However, one must see that the meaning of the text is unchanged. The reader would of course know that the place from which Israel was “brought out” was Egypt, and that the exodus was intended. Further, the importance of the law of Moses for the Chronicler makes it unlikely that Chronicles rejects the exodus (see 17:21). Perhaps what we find here instead is a broadening of the exodus idea. By not mentioning Egypt by name, the text leaves open the possibility of finding God’s deliverance as a sign of divine presence in many circumstances. For the Chronicler’s community, the deliverance from Babylon in particular showed God’s gracious deliverance.

First Chronicles faithfully records from the source text the statement that the Lord does not require a temple, and so has never commanded anyone to build one (17:5–6). However, for the Chronicler, it is not the institution of temples in general that is in question here. Rather, it is the right of David in particular to build the temple in Jerusalem. The question is not whether or not the temple should be built, but rather who should build it.

That God forbids David to build the temple does not mean that David is in any way unfaithful or unworthy, any more than David’s initial failure to bring the ark into Jerusalem meant this. First Chronicles 17:6–10 affirms David’s election by God. It was God who had taken him from his former humble position as a shepherd and elevated him to kingship; it is God, further, who declares, “I will make for you a name, like the name of the great ones of the earth” (17:8). David’s exaltation is linked to the exaltation of his people, who are promised stability, security, and victory over all David’s enemies (17:9–10).

Now we come to the second main point of the oracle.

While David is forbidden to build a house for the Lord, he is assured that “the LORD will build you a house” (17:10). David is promised a son, who will continue his line. It will be this son (clearly Solomon) who, the Lord declares, “shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever” (17:12). Note that the parallel in 2 Samuel 7:13 reads “a house for my name”. Given the importance of the name of God in Deuteronomistic theology, it might be thought that here again the Chronicler’s source is a different, perhaps more original, text than the MT of 2 Samuel. However, 22:10, which also refers to 2 Samuel 7:13–14, reads “He shall build a house for my name,” showing that the Chronicler’s source did have this reading.

Apparently, the Chronicler regards the presence of the name of the Lord and the presence of God as identical, so that “me” and “my name” are interchangeable. The Deuteronomists, however, used the name to avoid identifying God too unambiguously with any earthly institution. So God does not literally dwell in the temple; rather God’s name is established there (see Deut. 12:5; 1 Kgs. 8:18–19, 27–30). However, as we have already seen regarding the ark, the Chronicler does identify the presence of God, in a fairly straightforward fashion, with the liturgy conducted in Jerusalem’s shrine. For the Chronicler, the temple is the house of the Lord (see 22:6).

The most significant departure from the 2 Samuel text, however, comes in the following verses.

In contrast to 2 Samuel 7:14–15, Chronicles makes no mention of God chastening David’s descendants. To some scholars this has seemed to correct the unconditional promise in 2 Samuel 7, that though God might punish particular descendants of David’s line, the line itself would be eternal (for example, Japhet 1993, 334). To be sure, we might expect to find such a correction. The Chronicler was certainly aware that David’s line had not ruled forever—that, indeed, there was no Davidic king on Israel’s throne in his own time. Note, however, that in Chronicles, God still affirms of David’s descendant that “his throne shall be established forever” (17:14). Curiously, the unconditional promise of an eternal Davidic line is retained.

How, then, does the Chronicler account for the end of Davidic kingship in 587 B.C.?

Why doesn’t chapter 17 mention God’s chastening? A likely explanation is provided by two other shifts in Chronicles. In 17:14 (compare with 2 Sam. 7:16), it is not David’s house and kingdom that is established forever, but God’s. Further, God declares concerning David’s son, “I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever” (17:14). It is Solomon’s throne that is “established forever” here, not David’s.

These demonstrations of the Chronicler’s perspective alter Nathan’s oracle in two major ways.

First, the emphasis on God’s house and kingdom leads to a more spiritualized, less historically specific view on kingship in chapter 17. While the political kingdom of David would certainly have its failures (indeed, those failures have in large measure provided the occasion for the Chronicler’s History), God’s kingdom would endure. Further, as an affirmation of God’s faithfulness, David’s line would endure. In its earliest incarnation, the Chronicler’s History apparently sought to legitimate the temple-building carried out by the Davidide Zerubbabel, making support for David’s line crucial. Later, as the genealogies in chapters 1–9 demonstrate, David’s line continued to serve for the Chronicler’s community as a sign of God’s ongoing grace, and a connection to Israel’s past, even though David’s descendants no longer ruled. Here as elsewhere, the Chronicler is far less concerned with politics than with faith.

Second, with the focus narrowly on Solomon rather than broadly on the entire Davidic line, the punishments described in 2 Samuel 7 become, for the Chronicler, irrelevant. In sharp contrast to the Deuteronomist, who views Solomon with a somewhat jaundiced eye, the Chronicler (as we will see) regards Solomon as the obedient son of David, who fulfills his calling by building the temple (see 2 Chr. 8:16). In Chronicles, Nathan’s oracle involves not a critique of temple ideology, but rather a statement of who may, and who may not, build the temple in Jerusalem. That task is given to David’s son Solomon. For the Chronicler, the way now is prepared for David’s successor.

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1 Comment

  1. Deborah pendleton Reply

    The Davidic line did not end with the Babylonian captivity. Just because Christians are unaware of the Davidic lines to the present doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

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