To be honest, I don’t see the point of the first and second book of Chronicles. Sure I don’t have much respect for the rest of the Bible, but these two books are particularly pointless. Not because the stories are any worse than the other parts, but because we’ve already heard them. The Book of Chronicles is just a summary of the Books of Samuel and Kings, like those old tv shows that would take clips from old episodes and combine them together to make a “new” episode.
Just in case that premise was bad enough, the books open with a mind numbing genealogy list of absolutely everyone mentioned in the Bible. Nor is it brief, it continues for 8 excruciating chapters. I don’t know and don’t care why they were all listed and I skipped them. Then there are another couple of chapters listing all the Israelite officials and bureaucrats or something, but I was smacking my head off the table at this point and wasn’t paying too much attention.
It picks up slightly when we get a listing of the warriors of David. Sure, it is still presented as tediously as a phone book listing and the claims are wildly unrealistic, but this is the Bible, so my standards are low. So we have fantastical stories about warriors who supposedly killed 300 men at a single time or defeated men descended from giants. One strange story is that when David was laying siege to Bethlehem (he was laying siege to his own town?), he declared that he would love to drink from the well in the town. Hearing this, 3 brave warriors raided the town, took water from the well and returned it to their King. However, rather than rewarding this act of courage, instead David poured the water onto the ground because the water was not worth the blood of his men. This is a really stupid and disrespectful act, these people risked their life for him and he literally throws it away. Sure it’s noble to refuse to risk your men’s lives, but do that beforehand, not after they’ve run the risk.
Then we go back to boring listings of the tribes of Israel and other such mundane stuff. When people say the Bible will change your life, I presume they’re talking about a different section?
There is one interesting change from the Book of Samuel. In Samuel, God commands David to perform a census of the population and then inexplicably gets angry when he does. The story is told again, but this time it is Satan who orders the census. This makes God’s anger a little more understandable, but doesn’t explain what is wrong with a census or why it is the Devil’s work. It also raises a worrying thought about how Satan fooled David. How can you tell the difference between God and Satan in disguise? If David heard a voice commanding him to do something, how does he know whether it is God or merely Satan imitating God? What proof could he demand?
The census finds that there are 1,100,000 men who drew the sword in Israel and 470,000 in Judah, which is strange because in Samuel the population of Israel is listed as 800,000. It’s almost as if the figures in the Bible are completely unreliable . . .
For unknown reasons God is furious (does his anger against censuses continue to this day?). If God hates censuses, why not intervene before it was taken? Why let Satan manipulate David? He declares revenge against Israel and makes David choose between three years of famine, three months of devastation by his enemies, or three days of pestilence. Periods of time is a terrible way to measure this punishment as we don’t know how severe the famine would be and how many would die. All things being equal, the less time the better and three days seems manageable.
So David choose pestilence and 70,000 men die (for no reason). God then sends an angel to destroy Jerusalem (which was not part of the deal!) but God changes his mind and doesn’t destroy it. I suppose we’re supposed to be grateful at this “mercy” and that the unchangeable God changed his mind, but it all seems a bit stupid. Israel was almost wiped out over an extremely trivial and harmless event. David (rightly) asks God why he is punishing innocent people when David is the one who did wrong? This is a common theme, it seems that God’s idea of justice is the blood of commoners to pay for the sins of Kings.
We then get five chapters listing the size of the tribes of Israel and the first book of Chronicles ends, mourned, unloved, unmissed.
The second book begins with Solomon building the Temple, which means we get tedious descriptions of the planning, all the materials used and every single damned object in the Temple. Every single chair, curtain, pot and lamp is described over the space of several chapters. The point of all of this is to demonstrate how wealthy Judah was, which was very important to future generations because by the time this book was actually written, Judah was poor and dominated by its enemies. Therefore it was necessary to create a golden age in the past to inspire contemporary people. Thus we have scenes such as when even the neighbouring King of Tyre praises the Israelite God and provides material for the Temple. Was he Jewish too or are we supposed to believe that God is so amazing that even non-believers marvelled at him?
A shocking twist in the story occurs when Solomon conducts a survey of all foreigners in the country and finds 153,600 of them. To my surprise, he makes them all forced labourers (in order words slaves) to build the Temple. The Israelites are basically doing the same thing that was done to them by the Egyptians. In a moment of supreme irony, while dedicating the Temple, Solomon praises God for rescuing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, blissfully indifferent to the hordes of slaves around him. Slaves built a temple dedicated to celebrating freedom from slavery.
Solomon goes on to make some very strange claims. He appeals to God to show mercy, to forgive the people when they sin. He claims that war, disease, famine and pretty much all the horrible things in life are sent by God as punishment for disbelief. This is strange theology. War and disease kill the good and the bad and do not target the sinful. There is no disease that only affects the evil. It implies that we can and should do nothing to prevent these things as they are sent by God and it is his will that many will die. This implies that prayer is a better response to a pandemic, an absurd view that would be extremely dangerous if taken seriously. It also implies that rather being the source of love and mercy, God is the bringer of death and suffering and the greatest killer in the world.
Bizarrely, Solomon appeals to God, saying: “When Heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you”, implying that even droughts are caused by God and can be cured with prayer (what about a rain-dance?). It also suggests that Heaven is a giant bucket of water somewhere above our heads.
The book describes all the stories we have already heard about the kings of Judah and what they did. This was pretty repetitive and boring the first time around and it’s even worse the second time. Although the book of Kings repeated a dozen times that the Book of Chronicles would have more information, it actually has less information. So I’ll save you some time and just skim through the stories.
The most remarkable thing is complete separation between the numbers listed and reality. It is claimed that in a single battle, 800,000 men of Israel fight 400,000 men of Judah. These are absurdly exaggerated figures as armies would not reach this size until the Napoleonic Wars or even the First World War. In reality 8,000 men fighting 4,000 would be massive at the time. It is claimed that with the help of God, Judah is victorious and kills 500,000 Israelites. This passes without any comment or reflection. There is no mention of how people with a shared culture felt about the mass slaughter or even how Israel could survive such a defeat and why the kingdoms weren’t reunited. Instead, live continues the same as before the battle, making it obvious that the battle never actually happened.
But just in case that wasn’t unrealistic enough, an army of a million men from Ethiopia invade. Yes you read that right, an army from Ethiopia appear out of nowhere, without any word of how or why they came to Israel (a distance of 4,000 km). By claiming that the army had a million men, it’s clear that the writers of the Bible have given up trying to be realistic and just making it up now. This army is defeated by God until not a single man was left living, but no details are given (almost as if it didn’t happen). Then the Ethiopians disappear from the story as quick as they came.
Another strange event occurs when the King is getting ready for battle and asks his prophets if he will win. They all tell him he will except for Micah who says he will lose. How are Kings supposed to do as God wants when he sends conflicting messages? Although the Bible blames the King for not listening to the prophet, how was the King supposed to know which was the correct prophet? It was a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t, either way he was acting contrary to a prophet. In fact, Micah even claims that God deliberately sent false images to the other prophets to deceive the king. Why the hell would he do that? Why does God deliberately trick people into failing and then punish them for doing so?
Then follows a lot of kings, some of whom are good, which according to the Bible means massacring all non-believers and destroying other religions, while some are bad, which to the Bible means not destroying other religions and burning your son as a sacrifice (the Bible seems to view these as equally terrible sins). There are kings that live to be 130 years old and angels that slaughter armies and a lot boring details. One strange detail is that it is claimed that Rehoboam, the grandson of King David, built Bethlehem, but I always thought that Bethlehem was the city of David? There was even an earlier story about him laying siege, but how can this be if it didn’t exist when he was alive?
The Book of Chronicles finally grinds to an end, having told us nothing particularly new, just the same stories copied from the previous books.
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