For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. [Romans 15:4 (NIV)]
While both Kings and Chronicles relate the history of the Israelite monarchies and cover much of the same time period, they are quite different because they relate more than events—they relate Israel’s relationship with God. Continuing the nation’s history begun in Samuel, Kings was written for the captives during their exile in Babylon. Completed around 560 BC, the author shuttles between the kings of Israel and Judah until Israel’s captivity. Judah’s history continues to the Babylonian conquest and Jerusalem’s destruction; its history ends with Jehoiachin’s release from prison during captivity. Kings’ purpose was to explain how and why God’s children ended up in exile by showing how their kings failed to follow the law as written in Deuteronomy. They’d built shrines, worshiped in “high places,” made sacrifices away from the temple, defiled the Temple with idols, and rejected God’s prophets while embracing false ones. Reflecting the author’s decidedly negative viewpoint of both kingdoms’ leadership, only four of the thirty-nine kings following Solomon (all from Judah) got good reviews with another five kings getting mixed ones. Of the remainder—all “did what was evil in the Lord’s sight.” The book of Kings clearly answered the people’s question of why they were suffering in exile
In contrast, while roughly covering the same time period as Samuel and Kings, Chronicles was written after Cyrus’ decree and Judah’s return from exile (around 450-430 BC). Because only Judah returned, little is said of the northern kingdom. Since the question of what caused the exile had been answered in Kings, the Chronicler attempted to answer the exiles’ new question: “What now?” This post-exilic generation needed to know if and how they fit into God’s plan.
Seventy years had passed since Judah was taken captive and the returning exiles faced the daunting task of reconstructing both Jerusalem and the Temple, reclaiming the land, and building homes while surrounded by enemies. Many of those returning had never seen, let alone worshiped, in the Temple. Chronicles’ purpose was to encourage and sustain the people in the difficult times ahead as they rebuilt what had been destroyed. By showing them God’s faithfulness in the past, it reassured them of God’s faithfulness in the future. With a decidedly positive outlook, Chronicles taught a new generation about the importance of the Temple, worship that comes from the heart, God’s patience and forgiveness, the need for repentance, and the blessings of obedience. Because they needed to know their connection with the past and where they fit in God’s plan, Chronicles begins with nine chapters of genealogy. Going all the way back to Adam, it linked this post-exilic generation with Abraham and David and God’s promises to them.
Because Kings wanted to show how disobedience brings disaster, it sometimes omitted mentioning some good done by the bad kings, such as the evil Manasseh repenting and returning to God at the end of his life. On the other hand, the Chronicler often reframed Israel’s history in a more positive light by making little or no mention of bad acts like David’s sin of adultery, Absalom’s rebellion, and Solomon’s worship of idols. In spite of their differences in perspective, however, both histories are valid and, rather than contradicting each other, they complement one another. Neither history, however, is complete without the other!
The Hebrew name of the book we call Chronicles was dibre hayyamim meaning “the words (events) of the days (years).” When translated into Greek, it became Paraleipomena meaning “the things omitted (concerning the Kings of Judah).” That name, however, implied that it was little more than an addendum to Samuel and Kings. Even though Jerome renamed it Chronicles (meaning “annals, records, or histories”) in the fourth century, people still dismiss Chronicles as little more than an appendix or condensed version of Kings and scholars agree that Chronicles is the most neglected book in the Bible. Ignoring Chronicles because we read Kings, however, is like skipping John’s gospel because we read Matthew’s! All Scripture is important because all of it is God’s word; let us give each book the attention it deserves. With its emphasis on proper worship, repentance, prayer, and obedience to the Word of God, Chronicles is as relevant today as it was 2,500 years ago.