Adam, Seth, Enosh,
It has pleased God that a large part of Old Testament Scripture should take the form of history. The sacred books of the Hebrews consist largely of a record of the national life. Here we read of the birth and growth of the chosen people, their prosperity, their conquests, their defeats and captivities, their lawgivers, priests, prophets, kings, and patriots. This Book of Chronicles contains the genealogies of Hebrew tribes and families, and the annals of the nation during the long and glorious reign of David. There must be reasons why the volume which contains the revelation of the Divine character and will should, in so many parts, assume the historical form.
I. There is A GENERAL RELIGIOUS PURPOSE answered by history. Man is social, and is appointed by Providence to live in families, tribes, and nations. Religion not only summons the individual to live a life of allegiance and submission to the unseen power of righteousness and grace, but requires men in their political relations to abide beneath the guiding eye of the Eternal.
1. Historical records promote national life.
2. They encourage a sense of national unity and responsibility. "Not only," says a great writer, "does the nobleness of a nation depend on the presence of this national consciousness, but also the nobleness of each individual citizen." The same writer adduces the Jews as an illustration of this principle.
3. They furnish us with practical political lessons. Bossuet has admirably shown of what service history must needs be to princes and rulers.
4. They represent good and evil principles in living instances.
5. To the devout mind they are full of indications of the presence and the energy of God, the moral Ruler and Lord of all.
II. There is a SPECIAL RELIGIOUS USE in Jewish history.
1. It is the history of a very remarkable and favoured - we should say chosen - people.
2. it records direct interpositions of the hand of God. In the obligation to obedience and service, in the chastisement of lawlessness and rebellion, the Christian can trace a Divine power, whatever race or nation he reviews in the pages of history or contemplates with an observant eye. The peculiarity of the Israelitish chronicles lies here - the Divine power is acknowledged from page to page.
3. The history of the Jews is an epitome of the history of mankind. Within that little territory of Palestine there lived a microcosm of humanity. The parallel is ever presenting itself to our vision.
4. The record of Israel is the story of the preparation for the advent of Christianity. The Old Testament points on to the New. This Book of Chronicles, in its biography of David, leads the mind on to him who was David's Son and David's Lord.
1. This book should be read with interest as presenting an especially Levitical view of Hebrew history.
2. The reader should be on the watch for gleams of light amidst the sombre catalogues of Israelitish names.
(3) Sympathy should be elicited by the presentation of the Divine side of both biography and history. - T.
Each nation rightly regards its religious ideas and life and literature as a precious inheritance peculiarly its own; and it should not be too severely blamed for being ignorant that other nations have their inheritance also. Such considerations largely justify the interest in heredity shown by the chronicler's genealogies. On the positive practical side religion is largely a matter of heredity, and ought to be. The Christian sacrament of baptism is a continued profession of this truth: our children are "clean"; they are within the covenant of grace; we claim for them the privileges of the Church to which we belong. This was also part of the meaning of the genealogies.
Adam, Sheth, Enosh.
Israel was Jehovah's chosen people, His son, to whom special privileges were guaranteed by solemn covenant. A man's claim to share in this covenant depended on his genuine Israelite descent, and the proof of such descent was an authentic genealogy. In these chapters the chronicler has taken infinite pains to collect pedigrees from all available sources and to construct a complete set of genealogies exhibiting the lines of descent of the families of Israel. These chapters, which seem to us so dry and useless, were probably regarded by the chronicler's contemporaries as the most important part of his work. The preservation or discovery of a genealogy was almost a matter of life and death (Ezra 2:61-63
; Nehemiah 7:63-65
The first nine chapters contain the largest extant collection of Hebrew names.
1. These names have an individual significance. A mere parish register is not in itself attractive, but if we consider even such a list, the very names interest us and kindle our imaginations. It is almost impossible to linger in a country churchyard, reading the half-effaced inscriptions upon the headstones, without forming some dim picture of the character and history and even the outward semblance of the men and women who once bore the names. A name implies the existence of a distinct personality. In its lists of what are now mere names the Bible seems to recognise the dignity and sacredness of bare human life.
2. These names have also a collective significance. They are typical and representative — the names of kings and priests and captains; they sum up the tribes of Israel, both as a Church and a nation, down all the generations of its history.
3. The meanings of names reveal the ideas of the people who used them. "The Hebrew names bear important testimony to the peculiar vocation of this nation. No nation of antiquity has such a proportion of names of religious import." The Old Testament contains more than a hundred etymologies of personal names, most of which attach a religious meaning to the words explained.
4. How far do these names help us to understand the spiritual life of ancient Israel? The Israelites made constant use of El and Jehovah in their names, and we have no parallel practice. Were they then so much more religious than we are? Probably in a sense they were. Modern Englishman have developed a habit of almost complete reticence and reserve on religious matters, and this habit is illustrated by our choice of proper names.
5. According to the testimony of names, the Israelites' favourite ideas about God were that He heard, and knew, and remembered; that He was gracious, and helped men and gave them gifts; they loved best to think of Him as God the Giver. This is a foreshadowing of the Christian doctrines of grace and of the Divine sovereignty. God hears and remembers and gives — what? All that we have to say to Him and all that we are capable of receiving from Him.
The existing races of the world are all traced back through Shem, Ham, and Japheth to Noah, and through him to Adam. The Israelites did not claim, like certain Greek clans, to be the descendants of a special god of their own, or, like the Athenians, to have sprung miraculously from sacred soft. Their genealogies testified that not merely Israelite nature, but human nature, is moulded on a Divine pattern. These apparently barren lists of names enshrine the great principles of the universal brotherhood of man and the universal Fatherhood of God. The opening chapters of Genesis and Chronicles are among the foundations of the catholicity of the Church of Christ.
()We are the creatures and debtors of the past, though we are slow to own our obligations. We have nothing that we have not received; but we are apt to consider ourselves self-made men, the architects and builders of our own fortunes, who have the right to be self-satisfied, self-assertive, and selfish. The heir of all the ages, in the full vigour of youth, takes his place in the foremost ranks of time, and marches on in the happy consciousness of profound and multifarious wisdom, immense resources, and magnificent opportunity. He forgets, or even despises, the generations of labour and anguish that have built up for him his great inheritance. The genealogies are a silent protest against such insolent ingratitude. They remind us that in bygone days a man derived his gifts and received his opportunities from his ancestors; they show us men as the links in a chain, tenants for life, as it were, of our estate, called upon to pay back with interest to the future the debt which they have incurred to the past.
()The genealogies that set forth family histories are the symbols of the brotherhood or solidarity of our race. The chart of converging lines of ancestors in Israel carried men's minds back from the separate families to their common ancestor. As far as they go, the chronicler's genealogies form a clear and instructive diagram of the mutual dependence of men on men and family on family. They are in any case a true symbol of the facts of family relations; but they are drawn, so to speak, in one dimension only, backwards and forwards in time. Yet the real family life exists in three dimensions. A man has not merely his male ancestors in the directly ascending line — father, grandfather, great-grandfather, etc. — but he has female ancestors as well. By going back three or four generations a man is connected with an immense number of cousins; and if the complete network of ten or fifteen generations could be worked out, it would probably show some blood bond throughout a whole nation. The further we go back the larger is the element of ancestry common to the different individuals of the same community. The chronicler's genealogies only show us individuals as links in a set of chains. The more complete genealogical scheme would be better illustrated by the ganglia of the nervous system, each of which is connected by numerous fibres with the other ganglia. Patriotism and humanity are instincts as natural and as binding as those of the family; and the genealogies express or symbolise the wider family ties, that they may commend the virtues and enforce the duties that arise out of these ties.
()Other nations have had more or less imperfect visions of ancient history and of the unity of the race, but in the Bible alone do we find an authoritative declaration made concerning the antiquity and unity of man and the ultimate destiny of the human race. The Chaldeans had a tradition of ten antediluvian patriarchs or kings. They made the duration of this first period of human history four hundred and thirty-two thousand years. All other chronicles have been bewildered by their polytheism, whereas in the Hebrew history we have all the sublime unity which would seem to be necessitated by the monotheism of the writers. They who believed in one God were likely to believe in one humanity. Monotheism accounts for the two commandments which relate first to God, and then to man.
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