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Chapter II. David—I. His Tribe And Dynasty.
King and kingdom were so bound up in ancient life that an ideal for the one implied an ideal for the other; all distinction and glory possessed by either was shared by both. The tribe and kingdom of Judah were exalted by the fame of David and Solomon; but, on the other hand, a specially exalted position is accorded to David in the Old Testament because he is the representative of the people of Jehovah. David himself had been anointed by Divine command to be king of Israel, and he thus became the founder of the only legitimate dynasty of Hebrew kings. Saul and Ishbosheth had no significance for the later religious history of the nation. Apparently to the chronicler the history of true religion in Israel was a blank between Joshua and David; the revival began when the Ark was brought to Zion, and the first steps were taken to rear the Temple in succession to the Mosaic tabernacle. He therefore omits the history of the Judges and Saul. But the battle of Gilboa is given to introduce the reign of David, and incidental condemnation is passed on Saul: “So Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the Lord, because of the word of the Lord, which he kept not, and also for that he asked counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to inquire 134 thereby, and inquired not of the Lord; therefore He slew him and turned the kingdom unto David the son of Jesse.”
The reign of Saul had been an unsuccessful experiment; its only real value had been to prepare the way for David. At the same time the portrait of Saul is not given at full length, like those of the wicked kings, partly perhaps because the chronicler had little interest for anything before the time of David and the Temple, but partly, we may hope, because the record of David's affection for Saul kept alive a kindly feeling towards the founder of the monarchy.
Inasmuch as Jehovah had “turned the kingdom unto David,” the reign of Ishbosheth was evidently the intrusion of an illegitimate pretender; and the chronicler treats it as such. If we had only Chronicles, we should know nothing about the reign of Ishbosheth, and should suppose that, on the death of Saul, David succeeded at once to an undisputed sovereignty over all Israel. The interval of conflict is ignored because, according to the chronicler's views, David was, from the first, king de jure over the whole nation. Complete silence as to Ishbosheth was the most effective way of expressing this fact.
The same sentiment of hereditary legitimacy, the same formal and exclusive recognition of a de jure sovereign, has been shown in modern times by titles like Louis XVIII. and Napoleon III. For both schools of Legitimists the absence of de facto sovereignty did not prevent Louis XVII. and Napoleon II. from having been lawful rulers of France. In Israel, moreover, the Divine right of the one chosen dynasty had religious as well as political importance. We have already seen that Israel claimed a hereditary title to 135 its special privileges; it was therefore natural that a hereditary qualification should be thought necessary for the kings. They represented the nation; they were the Divinely appointed guardians of its religion; they became in time the types of the Messiah, its promised Saviour. In all this Saul and Ishbosheth had neither part nor lot; the promise to Israel had always descended in a direct line, and the special promise that was given to its kings and through them to their people began with David. There was no need to carry the history further back.
We have already noticed that, in spite of this general attitude towards Saul, the genealogy of some of his descendants is given twice over in the earlier chapters. No doubt the chronicler made this concession to gratify friends or to conciliate an influential family. It is interesting to note how personal feeling may interfere with the symmetrical development of a theological theory. At the same time we are enabled to discern a practical reason for rigidly ignoring the kingship of Saul and Ishbosheth. To have recognised Saul as the Lord's anointed, like David, would have complicated contemporary dogmatics, and might possibly have given rise to jealousies between the descendants of Saul and those of David. Within the narrow limits of the Jewish community such quarrels might have been inconvenient and even dangerous.
The reasons for denying the legitimacy of the northern kings were obvious and conclusive. Successful rebels who had destroyed the political and religious unity of Israel could not inherit “the sure mercies of David” or be included in the covenant which secured the permanence of his dynasty.
The exclusive association of Messianic ideas with a 136 single family emphasises their antiquity, continuity, and development. The hope of Israel had its roots deep in the history of the people; it had grown with their growth and maintained itself through their changing fortunes. As the hope centred in a single family, men were led to expect an individual personal Messiah; they were being prepared to see in Christ the fulfilment of all righteousness.
But the choice of the house of David involved the choice of the tribe of Judah and the rejection of the kingdom of Samaria. The ten tribes, as well as the kings of Israel, had cut themselves off both from the Temple and the sacred dynasty, and therefore from the covenant into which Jehovah had entered with “the man after his own heart.” Such a limitation of the chosen people was suggested by many precedents. Chronicles, following the Pentateuch, tells how the call came to Abraham, but only some of the descendants of one of his sons inherited the promise. Why should not a selection be made from among the sons of Jacob? But the twelve tribes had been explicitly and solemnly included in the unity of Israel, largely through David himself. The glory of David and Solomon consisted in their sovereignty over a united people. The national recollection of this golden age loved to dwell on the union of the twelve tribes. The Pentateuch added legal sanction to ancient sentiment. The twelve tribes were associated together in national lyrics, like the “Blessing of Jacob” and the “Blessing of Moses.” The song of Deborah told how the northern tribes “came to the help of the Lord against the mighty.” It was simply impossible for the chronicler to absolutely repudiate the ten tribes; and so they are formally included in the genealogies of Israel, and are recognised in the history of David and 137 Solomon. Then the recognition stops. From the time of the disruption the northern kingdom is quietly but persistently ignored. Its prophets and sanctuaries were as illegitimate as its kings. The great struggle of Elijah and Elisha for the honour of Jehovah is omitted, with all the rest of their history. Elijah is only mentioned as sending a letter to Jehoram, king of Judah; Elisha is never even named.
On the other hand, it is more than once implied that Judah, with the Levites, and the remnants of Simeon and Benjamin, are the true Israel. When Rehoboam “was strong he forsook the law of the Lord, and all Israel with him.” After Shishak's invasion, “the princes of Israel and the king humbled themselves.”135135 2 Chron. xii. 1, 6. The annals of Manasseh, king of Judah, are said to be “written among the acts of the kings of Israel.”136136 2 Chron. xxxiii. 18. The register of the exiles, who returned with Zerubbabel is headed “The number of the men of the people of Israel.”137137 Ezra ii. 2. The chronicler tacitly anticipates the position of St. Paul: “They are not all Israel which are of Israel”; and the Apostle might have appealed to Chronicles to show that the majority of Israel might fail to recognise and accept the Divine purpose for Israel, and that the true Israel would then be found in an elect remnant. The Jews of the second Temple naturally and inevitably came to ignore the ten tribes and to regard themselves as constituting this true Israel. As a matter of history, there had been a period during which the prophets of Samaria were of far more importance to the religion of Jehovah than the temple at Jerusalem; but in the chronicler's time the very existence of the ten tribes was ancient history. Then, at any rate, 138 it was true that God's Israel was to be found in the Jewish community, at and around Jerusalem. They inherited the religious spirit of their fathers, and received from them the sacred writings and traditions, and carried on the sacred ritual. They preserved the truth and transmitted it from generation to generation, till at last it was merged in the mightier stream of Christian revelation.
The attitude of the chronicler towards the prophets of the northern kingdom does not in any way represent the actual importance of these prophets to the religion of Israel; but it is a very striking expression of the fact that after the Captivity the ten tribes had long ceased to exercise any influence upon the spiritual life of their nation.
The chronicler's attitude is also open to criticism on another side. He is dominated by his own surroundings, and in his references to the Judaism of his own time there is no formal recognition of the Jewish community in Babylon; and yet even his own casual allusions confirm what we know from other sources, namely that the wealth and learning of the Jews in Babylon were an important factor in Judaism until a very late date. This point perhaps rather concerns Ezra and Nehemiah than Chronicles, but it is closely connected with our present subject, and is most naturally treated along with it. The chronicler might have justified himself by saying that the true home of Israel must be in Palestine, and that a community in Babylon could only be considered as subsidiary to the nation in its own home and worshipping at the Temple. Such a sentiment, at any rate, would have met with universal approval amongst Palestinian Jews. The chronicler might also have replied that the Jews in 139 Babylon belonged to Judah and Benjamin and were sufficiently recognised in the general prominence give to these tribes. In all probability some Palestinian Jews would have been willing to class their Babylonian kinsmen with the ten tribes. Voluntary exiles from the Temple, the Holy City, and the Land of Promise had in great measure cut themselves off from the full privileges of the people of Jehovah. If, however, we had a Babylonian book of Chronicles, we should see both Jerusalem and Babylon in another light.
The chronicler was possessed and inspired by the actual living present round about him; he was content to let the dead past bury its dead. He was probably inclined to believe that the absent are mostly wrong, and that the men who worked with him for the Lord and His temple were the true Israel and the Church of God. He was enthusiastic in his own vocation and loyal to his brethren. If his interests were somewhat narrowed by the urgency of present circumstances, most men suffer from the same limitations. Few Englishmen realise that the battle of Agincourt is part of the history of the United States, and that Canterbury Cathedral is a monument of certain stages in the growth of the religion of New England. We are not altogether willing to admit that these voluntary exiles from our Holy Land belong to the true Anglo-Saxon Israel.
Churches are still apt to ignore their obligations to teachers who, like the prophets of Samaria, seem to have been associated with alien or hostile branches of the family of God. A religious movement which fails to secure for itself a permanent monument is usually labelled heresy. If it has neither obtained recognition within the Church nor yet organised a sect 140 for itself, its services are forgotten or denied. Even the orthodoxy of one generation is sometimes contemptuous of the older orthodoxy which made it possible; and yet Gnostics, Arians and Athanasians, Arminians and Calvinists, have all done something to build up the temple of faith.
The nineteenth century prides itself on a more liberal spirit. But Romanist historians are not eager to acknowledge the debt of their Church to the Reformers; and there are Protestant partisans who deny that we are the heirs of the Christian life and thought of the mediæval Church and are anxious to trace the genealogy of pure religion exclusively through a supposed succession of obscure and half-mythical sects. Limitations like those of the chronicler still narrow the sympathies of earnest and devout Christians.
But it is time to return to the more positive aspects of the teaching of Chronicles, and to see how far we have already traced its exposition of the Messianic idea. The plan of the book implies a spiritual claim on behalf of the Jewish community of the Restoration. Because they believed in Jehovah, whose providence had in former times controlled the destinies of Israel, they returned to their ancestral home that they might serve and worship the God of their fathers. Their faith survived the ruin of Judah and their own captivity; they recognised the power, and wisdom, and love of God alike in the prosperity and in the misfortunes of their race. “They believed God, and it was counted unto them for righteousness.” The great prophet of the Restoration had regarded this new Israel as itself a Messianic people, perhaps even “a light to the Gentiles” and “salvation unto the ends of the earth.”138138 Isa. xlix. 6. The 141 chronicler's hopes were more modest; the new Jerusalem had been seen by the prophet as an ideal vision; the historian knew it by experience as an imperfect human society: but he believed none the less in its high spiritual vocation and prerogatives. He claimed the future for those who were able to trace the hand of God in their past.
Under the monarchy the fortunes of Jerusalem had been bound up with those of the house of David. The chronicler brings out all that was best in the history of the ancient kings of Judah, that this ideal picture of the state and its rulers might encourage and inspire to future hope and effort. The character and achievements of David and his successors were of permanent significance. The grace and favour accorded to them symbolised the Divine promise for the future, and this promise was to be realised through a Son of David.142
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