It is as we move into volume 2 that we can see most clearly the difference in concerns of the Priestly strand as opposed to the Deuteronomists. We said that their version of the history was concerned less with answering the question ‘What went so wrong that we landed up in exile?’ and much more with keeping accurate records for official purposes, and with the correct ordering of the Temple and its worship. So Solomon, the builder of the Temple, gets an undue amount of space, as do the liturgical details of its dedication. His prayers are recorded presumably verbatim, and the roles of the priests and other worship professionals are given great prominence. Solomon’s pre-eminence is further enhanced with accounts of his wealth and splendour, and the visit of the Queen of Sheba who comes to admire it all.
Then the kingdom splits, and as you might expect it is the South, home of the Jerusalem Temple, which gets far more attention. Chronicles doesn’t appear to be all that interested in what is going on north of the border, and even in the accounts of the Southern kings there is a clear bias shown. The books of Kings concentrate on the bad kings and their outrageous apostasy: Chronicles is far more interested in the good ones, the ones who attempt to bring reform and renewal. So Asa, an early reformer, who gets just 15 verses in 1 Kings 15, warrants three whole chapters in 2 Chronicles 14-16. Attention is given to Joash, Josiah and particularly Hezekiah, but of course the inevitable happens: a difference of emphasis can’t bring about a different ending, and Jerusalem falls to Babylon in the final chapter.
The Priests couldn’t change the ending, but they could see beyond it, with their slightly later dating. In the final 4 verses of the book we get some information which dates from decades afterwards, as Cyrus of Persia comes to power, the Cyrus who is going to allow the exiles to return to Jerusalem and begin the rebuilding of the Temple, although that’s next week’s tale. We haven’t quite finished with the Priestly writings yet: they’re going to continue with two further books. But although the ending is inevitably tragic, the Priests are able to see beyond it and find the seeds of new hope.
2 Chronicles is an easier read that volume 1, with a lack of boring lists of names, but to me the value of the Priestly writings, where they tell essentially the same story as the books of Samuel and Kings, lies in the completely different perspective from which they view things. I am challenged, as I think about my life and times, to ask myself about my perspective. Am I more interested in the villains or the heroes? Do I more readily see the disasters or the successes, of myself and others? Is my trajectory a downward rush towards disaster, albeit with a few small but temporary peaks along the way, or is it a story of hope, of reformation, of ultimate victory? Temperamentally am I a Deuteronomist or a Priest? It is easy to see God’s unfolding story from either direction, but as a bit of a misery I find that Chronicles has a hopefulness about it which can at times provides a great tonic for me when I am tempted to see sin more clearly than holiness, and the slide down rather than the climb up.