The Book of 2 Chronicles
Chapter 1 through Chapter 4
King Solomon impresses God by asking Him only for wisdom. God is so pleased by Solomon’s modest request that He not only gives him the biggest brain on the planet, but also immeasurable wealth and power.
Here’s a disturbing episode. Back in 1 Kings, Chapter 5, Solomon built the Temple with a levy of 153,600 conscripted laborers. Now Chronicles retells that story but adds a sinister detail. Solomon takes a census of all the foreigners in Israel, and those are the 153,600 people he sets to working building the Temple. How, exactly, is this different from the Egyptians enslaving the Jews to build their cities and temples? In each case, the king separates a minority population and indentures it. I see no difference.
In my last entry, I wondered about Achar, who committed “a trespass against the
proscribed thing.” Many of you pointed out that Achar was “Achan,” the Jew whose theft of holy objects so infuriated God back in the book of Joshua. Achan/Achar is just one of many alternative spellings in Chronicles. Bathsheba is called Bath-shua. Hiram of Tyre, who helps build the Temple, is called “Huram.” Memo to the Lord: Next time, hire a copy editor!
Chapter 5 through Chapter 9
During the Temple dedication ceremony, Solomon instructs Jews to pray toward the building. Is Judaism, like Islam, a directional religion? I never knew that! Are we still supposed to pray toward the Temple in Jerusalem? If so, this surely can’t be too important a rule, since the (Reform) synagogue where I was bar mitzvahed faces north rather than east.
Chronicles’ summary of Solomon’s life and accomplishments omits perhaps the key point made in the Book of Kings, that Solomon ultimately betrays the Lord by marrying 700 foreign wives and building shrines to their gods all over Israel. Chronicles ignores the pagan wives entirely. That’s a pretty important point to miss, don’t you think? And that’s not the only kingly misbehavior Chronicles overlooks. First Chronicles, for example, recounts the life of David without mentioning the sleazy seduction of Bathsheba. I’m sure these omissions are intentional. Chronicles clearly seems to have been written to glorify particular kings—notably David, Solomon, and various kings of Judah. It burnishes their reputations by leaving out their sins and infidelities.
Chapter 10 through Chapter 16
Jeroboam and Rehoboam go to war, splitting Israel into two kingdoms: Judah—which includes Jerusalem—and the Northern Kingdom. I had a hard time following the Jeroboam-Rehoboam dispute back when I first read about it in Kings, and it’s no clearer in Chronicles.
Unlike Kings, which alternates between Judah and the Northern Kingdom, Chronicles concerns itself only with Judah, the mightier and longer-lasting of the countries. There follows a lot of kingly shenanigans, most of which we heard about back in 2 Kings, and none of which are worth repeating.
Except this one! King Asa gets a foot ache, but “ill as he was, he still did not turn to the Lord but to physicians.” And what happens? He dies, of course. Christian Scientists, take heart!
Chapter 17 through Chapter 24
King “Jumping” Jehoshaphat dispatches a cadre of priests and bureaucrats to teach the Torah to the Judean people. As far as I can remember, this is the first (and only) systematic educational effort in the Bible.
An eye-catching detail: The prophet Elijah warns King Jehoram, who has erected pagan shrines, that he will be punished with an intestinal ailment that will eventually cause his bowels to “drop out.” And, lo, it comes to pass.
Now here’s a genuine miracle! When Joash renovates the Temple, the project comes in under budget. (This is such a marvel that it has never been repeated since.) Joash spends the savings on gold cutlery.
Chapter 25 through Chapter 28
Several fascinating and appalling episodes. Wicked King Amaziah of Judah captures 10,000 men of Seir and has them thrown off a cliff, so that they “burst open.” Then King Uzziah, a great builder of war machines (a one-man Northrop Grumman), gets so arrogant that he thinks he can perform incense ceremonies in the Temple. But only a priest may conduct these sacred rituals, so God afflicts Uzziah with leprosy. He’s quarantined and stripped of his powers. King Ahaz, who’s bad even by the low standards of the Israelite kings, conquers Judah and takes 200,000 hostages. The prophet Oded tells Ahaz to free the captives and send them home. And in a rare act of compassion—one of the only prisoner releases in the whole Bible—Ahaz does it.
A brief moment of sunshine. Hezekiah restores the Temple and celebrates Passover for the first time in memory. After the holiday, all of Judah goes out and smashes idols. Ah, good times!
The Assyrians conquer and subjugate Judah. King Josiah rediscovers the scroll of Deuteronomy, restores the Temple, and revives faith in God. Like Hezekiah, he brings back Passover.
The final chapter of the Bible! It is, fascinatingly, a new creation story. The chapter condenses more than 100 years of history into a few verses. There are a bunch of incompetent kings. Nebuchadnezzar conquers Jerusalem and sacks the Temple. Most Jews are murdered, and only a tiny remnant are exiled. Then, in the final few verses, hope springs again! Persia conquers Babylon. King Cyrus restores the fortunes of the Jews. He says that God has ordered him to restore the Temple. Cyrus invites all of “His people” to return and help rebuild Jerusalem.
So, we finish with a rebirth: God’s few chosen people, their covenant with the Lord restored, will return to the Promised Land to build His kingdom, again. Way back at the start of Genesis, “In the beginning,” God gave us life and His love. And here He is at the end of His book, doing the very same thing.
That’s it! After 39 books, 929 chapters, more than 600,000 words—and just over a year—I’ve finally finished reading the Hebrew Bible. I’ve been wondering if I should end with some grand, flourishing conclusion—a shocking revelation of my personal beliefs or incredibly impressive chin-scratching about the meaning of the Book in the age of the Web—but then I thought: Nah! While I’ve been blogging the Bible, I have tried not to take myself too seriously and not to pretend more insight than I actually have. I just wanted to read the book and write about what it’s like to read it. No essays, no philosophy, no experts. So, I’m glad to have Blogging the Bible end as it began, with a lot of the book, and very little of me.
That said, this is only a temporary stop. I’m writing a book based on Blogging the Bible—distilling it to its best parts and adding lots of new material. That will be published next year. And I’m also searching for a wry Christian writer who can blog the New Testament for Slate. (Nominations accepted at firstname.lastname@example.org!)
Finally, let me get a little weepy. I want to thank you for the most rewarding journalistic year of my life. You sent me more than 10,000 e-mails about Blogging the Bible. Some were hectoring, some disappointed, some learned, some funny, some quizzical, some appalled—but almost every one was intelligent and encouraging. I learned as much about the Bible from your e-mails as I did from the book itself. At its best, Internet journalism fosters a collaboration between journalists and their readers, so that the readers actually shape and guide the work. In Blogging the Bible, your wisdom and enthusiasm turned a project that I feared would be a belly-flop into a yearlong adventure—and just about the most fun I can imagine having with a book and a keyboard. Thank you, and goodbye.