Tuesday 11 August 2009

Martin J. Selman on 1 and 2 Chronicles

Martin J. Selman, ‘Chronicles’, in T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner (eds.), New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Leicester: IVP, 2000), 188-95.

Part Two of this dictionary contains articles on the main biblical sections and books, discussing the theology of the book under consideration as well as its links to the rest of Scripture. Martin Selman, who also wrote the Tyndale Commentary on Chronicles (1994), contributes the entry on Chronicles.

Selman begins from the premise of the unity of the present form of Chronicles as the basis for theological interpretation (188), and stands with those who view it primarily as a theological work (recognising ‘that all biblical history is to some extent theological in nature’, 189).

A theology of history
The Chronicler’s interpretation of history highlights three areas where God’s activity was significant:

(1) ‘Israel’s history from beginning to end belongs in the context of God’s purposes for the whole world’ (189), providing a challenge to a narrow theology.

(2) The ‘Chronicler is especially concerned with the monarchy’ (189).

(3) The ‘perspective on Israel’s past from which the Chronicler writes is that of the exile’ (189).

A theology of the word of God
Selman holds that Chronicles is, in effect, ‘a commentary on much of the rest of the OT’, seeking to interpret it from beginning to end, showing the relevance of Scripture for his own period (189).

(1) The Law – of special importance as the foundation for the life of God’s people, emphasising the Torah as the living word of God (2 Chron. 17:9; 19:4-11; 35:26, etc.) and as providing a pattern for the worship of God (in the pattern of the tabernacle, the activities of worship, etc.).

(2) The Prophets – using the underlying narrative from 2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings, with the temple becoming the focus of the people’s relationship with God, and with prophecy as ‘one of the main means by which Israel’s history is interpreted in Chronicles’ (190), with the prophets calling Israel to repentance.

(3) The Psalms – important ‘in illustrating Israel’s worship in the temple’ (191), quoted at key points in the narrative when the ark is installed in Jerusalem and when the temple is built.

All this, according to Selman, ‘provides a highly important contribution to the developing theology of Scripture in the OT’ (191).

• The Torah, Prophets, and Psalms are assumed to ‘exercise authority in the life of God’s people’ (191).

• The written nature of the material and the assumption of its familiarity ‘suggests it was already functioning as Scripture’ (191).

• The Chronicler ‘assumes that this received Scripture has already been considerably integrated’ (191).

• Chronicles ‘supplies considerable evidence that this written Scripture was capable not only of application but also of further development’, the word of God being ‘both authoritative and dynamic, written and oral’ (191).

The central theme of Chronicles
Although different themes have been suggested (seeking God, Israel’s restoration, atonement), Selman sides with those who see the work as dominated by the Davidic monarchy and Solomon’s temple (192). This is seen not least in the structure of the work, with the central section devoted to the united monarchy (1 Chron. 10 – 2 Chron. 9), and with two passages dominating the central section: the promise of the Davidic covenant (1 Chron. 17) and Solomon’s dedication of the temple (2 Chron. 6-7).

The chief feature in the presentation of both kings is their association with the temple. Selman disagrees with those who argue that they are presented in a whitewashed idealised way since some positive as well as negative features are omitted, and the Chronicler even occasionally ‘magnifies their failures’ (193) (e.g., 1 Chron. 13:9-13; 21:1-22:1; 2 Chron. 10:1-14).

‘The Chronicler’s greatest interest is in fact in God’s covenant promises to David and Solomon, which he sees as initially fulfilled in Solomon’s succession and the dedication of the temple’ (193).

The Davidic covenant is particularly significant, with three features highlighted: (1) ‘God’s promises can be realized through obedience’; (2) ‘the temple becomes the chief symbol of the Davidic covenant’; (3) ‘the Davidic promises are permanent’ (193).

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