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Chapter I. The Last Prayer Of David. 1 Chron. xxix. 10-19.
In order to do justice to the chronicler's method of presenting us with a number of very similar illustrations of the same principle, we have in the previous book grouped much of his material under a few leading subjects. There remains the general thread of the history, which is, of course, very much the same in Chronicles as in the book of Kings, and need not be dwelt on at any length. At the same time some brief survey is necessary for the sake of completeness and in order to bring out the different complexion given to the history by the chronicler's alterations and omissions. Moreover, there are a number of minor points that are most conveniently dealt with in the course of a running exposition.
The special importance attached by the chronicler to David and Solomon has enabled us to treat their reigns at length in discussing his picture of the ideal king; and similarly the reign of Ahaz has served as an illustration of the character and fortunes of the wicked kings. We therefore take up the history at the accession of Rehoboam, and shall simply indicate very briefly the connection of the reign of Ahaz with what 314 precedes and follows. But before passing on to Rehoboam we must consider “The Last Prayer of David,” a devotional paragraph peculiar to Chronicles. The detailed exposition of this passage would have been out of proportion in a brief sketch of the chronicler's account of the character and reign of David, and would have had no special bearing on the subject of the ideal king. On the other hand, the “Prayer” states some of the leading principles which govern the chronicler in his interpretation of the history of Israel; and its exposition forms a suitable introduction to the present division of our subject.
The occasion of this prayer was the great closing scene of David's life, which we have already described. The prayer is a thanksgiving for the assurance David had received that the accomplishment of the great purpose of his life, the erection of a temple to Jehovah, was virtually secured. He had been permitted to collect the materials for the building, he had received the plans of the Temple from Jehovah, and had placed them in the willing hands of his successor. The princes and the people had caught his own enthusiasm and lavishly supplemented the bountiful provision already made for the future work. Solomon had been accepted as king by popular acclamation. Every possible preparation had been made that could be made, and the aged king poured out his heart in praise to God for His grace and favour.
The prayer falls naturally into four subdivisions: vv. 10-13 are a kind of doxology in honour of Jehovah; in vv. 14-16 David acknowledges that Israel is entirely dependent upon Jehovah for the means of rendering Him acceptable service; in ver. 17 he claims that he and his people have offered willingly unto Jehovah; and 315 in vv. 18 and 19 he prays that Solomon and the people may build the Temple and abide in the Law.
In the doxology God is addressed as “Jehovah, the God of Israel, our Father,” and similarly in ver. 18 as “Jehovah, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel.” For the chronicler the accession of David is the starting-point of Israelite history and religion, but here, as in the genealogies, he links his narrative to that of the Pentateuch, and reminds his readers that the crowning dispensation of the worship of Jehovah in the Temple rested on the earlier revelations to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.
We are at once struck by the divergence from the usual formula: “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Moreover, when God is referred to as the God of the Patriarch personally, the usual phrase is “the God of Jacob.” The formula, “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,” occurs again in Chronicles in the account of Hezekiah's reformation; it only occurs elsewhere in the history of Elijah in the book of Kings.328328 2 Chron. xxx. 6; 1 Kings xviii. 36. The chronicler avoids the use of the name “Jacob,” and for the most part calls the Patriarch “Israel.” “Jacob” only occurs in two poetic quotations, where its omission was almost impossible, because in each case “Israel” is used in the parallel clause.329329 1 Chron. xvi. 13, 17; Gen. xxxii. 28. This choice of names is an application of the same principle that led to the omission of the discreditable incidents in the history of David and Solomon. Jacob was the supplanter. The name suggested the unbrotherly craft of the Patriarch. It was not desirable that the Jews should be encouraged to think of Jehovah as the God of a grasping and deceitful man. Jehovah was the God of the Patriarch's nobler nature and 316 higher life, the God of Israel, who strove with God and prevailed.
In the doxology that follows the resources of language are almost exhausted in the attempt to set forth adequately “the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty, ... the riches and honour, ... the power and might,” of Jehovah. These verses read like an expansion of the simple Christian doxology, “Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory,” but in all probability the latter is an abbreviation from our text. In both there is the same recognition of the ruling omnipotence of God; but the chronicler, having in mind the glory and power of David and his magnificent offerings for the building of the Temple, is specially careful to intimate that Jehovah is the source of all worldly greatness: “Both riches and honour come of Thee, ... and in Thy hand it is to make great and to give strength unto all.”
The complementary truth, the entire dependence of Israel on Jehovah, is dealt with in the next verses. David has learnt humility from the tragic consequences of his fatal census; his heart is no longer uplifted with pride at the wealth and glory of his kingdom; he claims no credit for the spontaneous impulse of generosity that prompted his munificence. Everything is traced back to Jehovah: “All things come of Thee, and of Thine own have we given Thee.” Before, when David contemplated the vast population of Israel and the great array of his warriors, the sense of God's displeasure fell upon him; now, when the riches and honour of his kingdom were displayed before him, he may have felt the chastening influence of his former experience. A touch of melancholy darkened his spirit for a moment; standing upon the brink of the dim, mysterious Sheol, 317 he found small comfort in barbaric abundance of timber and stone, jewels, talents, and darics; he saw the emptiness of all earthly splendour. Like Abraham before the children of Heth, he stood before Jehovah a stranger and a sojourner.330330 Gen. xxiii. 4; cf. Psalms xxxix. 13, cxix. 19. Bildad the Shuhite had urged Job to submit himself to the teaching of a venerable orthodoxy, because “we are of yesterday and know nothing, because our days upon earth are a shadow.”331331 Job viii. 9. The same thought made David feel his insignificance, in spite of his wealth and royal dominion: “Our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there no abiding.”
He turns from these sombre thoughts to the consoling reflection that in all his preparations he has been the instrument of a Divine purpose, and has served Jehovah willingly. To-day he can approach God with a clear conscience: “I know also, my God, that Thou triest the heart and hast pleasure in uprightness. As for me, in the uprightness of my heart I have willingly offered all these things.” He rejoiced, moreover, that the people had offered willingly. The chronicler anticipates the teaching of St. Paul that “the Lord loveth a cheerful giver.” David gives of his abundance in the same spirit in which the widow gave her mite. The two narratives are mutually supplementary. It is possible to apply the story of the widow's mite so as to suggest that God values our offerings in inverse proportion to their amount. We are reminded by the willing munificence of David that the rich may give of his abundance as simply and humbly and as acceptably as the poor man gives of his poverty.318
But however grateful David might be for the pious and generous spirit by which his people were now possessed, he did not forget that they could only abide in that spirit by the continued enjoyment of Divine help and grace. His thanksgiving concludes with prayer. Spiritual depression is apt to follow very speedily in the train of spiritual exaltation; days of joy and light are granted to us that we may make provision for future necessity.
David does not merely ask that Israel may be kept in external obedience and devotion: his prayer goes deeper. He knows that out of the heart are the issues of life, and he prays that the heart of Solomon and the thoughts of the heart of the people may be kept right with God. Unless the fountain of life were pure, it would be useless to cleanse the stream. David's special desire is that the Temple may be built, but this desire is only the expression of his loyalty to the Law. Without the Temple the commandments, and testimonies, and statutes of the Law could not be rightly observed. But he does not ask that the people may be constrained to build the Temple and keeping the Law in order that their hearts may be made perfect; their hearts are to be made perfect that they may keep the Law.
Henceforward throughout his history the chronicler's criterion of a perfect heart, a righteous life, in king and people, is their attitude towards the Law and the Temple. Because their ordinances and worship formed the accepted standard of religion and morality, through which men's goodness would naturally express themselves. Similarly only under a supreme sense of duty to God and man may the Christian willingly violate the established canons of religious and social life.319
We may conclude by noticing a curious feature in the wording of David's prayer. In the nineteenth, as in the first, verse of this chapter the Temple, according to our English versions, is referred to as “the palace.” The original word bîrâ is probably Persian, though a parallel form is quoted from the Assyrian. As a Hebrew word it belongs to the latest and most corrupt stage of the language as found in the Old Testament; and only occurs in Chronicles, Nehemiah, Esther, and Daniel. In putting this word into the mouth of David, the chronicler is guilty of an anachronism, parallel to his use of the word “darics.” The word bîrâ appears to have first become familiar to the Jews as the name of a Persian palace or fortress in Susa; it is used in Nehemiah of the castle attached to the Temple, and in later times the derivative Greek name Baris had the same meaning. It is curious to find the chronicler, in his effort to find a sufficiently dignified title for the temple of Jehovah, driven to borrow a word which belonged originally to the royal magnificence of a heathen empire, and which was used later on to denote the fortress whence a Roman garrison controlled the fanaticism of Jewish worship.332332 Called, however, at that time Antonia. The chronicler's intention, no doubt, was to intimate that the dignity of the Temple surpassed that of any royal palace. He could not suppose that it was greater in extent or constructed of more costly materials; the living presence of Jehovah was its one supreme and unique distinction. The King gave honour to His dwelling-place.320
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