Last week, we readers were part of the crowd of Israelites at the original Temple Mount in Jerusalem for the dedication of the first temple. The chapters leading up to this moment are filled with descriptions of its building — the measurements, the materials, the furnishings, the placement of the Ark of the Covenant, the sanctifying role of the Levites in managing the most holy site in the world.
When all is ready, Solomon — now in his priestly role — leads a lengthy prayer of dedication in 2 Chron. 6:12-42. And then — fireworks! Flames descend from heaven to consume the burnt offerings. “The glory of the Lord” so fills the temple with smoke that the priests cannot enter. The people bow to the ground and repeat a poem echoed nine more times throughout the Hebrew Bible: “The Lord is good, and his steadfast love endures forever” (7:3).
A dramatic scene, but very un-Mennonite. It sounds more like a British royal wedding or a coronation in one of Europe’s massive cathedrals. Our Anabaptist ancestors reacted against such pomp and circumstance and instead worshiped in secret, eventually establishing their own simple meetinghouses.
Look up the parallel account in 1 Kings 8. The mystical firebolt from heaven is missing. This helps to confirm the Chronicler’s intention to amplify Solomon’s role as a powerful priest-king and to magnify the Israelite kingdom at its height.
Remember that Chronicles was not composed in its present form until Jews returned from exile several centuries after Solomon. As they struggled to rebuild their lives and worship at the ruins of this temple, reminders of past glories encouraged them to remain faithful to God’s original covenant.
Another clue that 2 Chron. 7:1-3 is a later addition is the awkward chronology. Fire consumes the burnt offerings before the animals are actually slaughtered (verse 5). And for readers who care about statistics, the 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep and goats offered are a bit over the top. Chronicles tends to exaggerate numbers, but precision is not to be expected in any case. Counting was often inaccurate before the Arabs, 1,000 years later, developed the concept of zero in the base-10 system we use today.
To discuss: The Chronicler has a more priestly point of view than the books of the Kings, with special attention to Levites, priests and the Temple. Are you OK with the same story told with differing emphases?
In our final lesson on Solomon, the scene shifts to a private night vision where God confirms the Jerusalem temple as “chosen and consecrated” so that “my name may be there forever” (7:16).
The major emphasis is on covenant. If Solomon, the priest-king of Israel, does what God has commanded, his throne will be established forever (7:18). But if he and his people turn aside and serve other gods, then “I will pluck you [plural] up from the land I have given you, and this house . . . I will cast out of my sight.” This is exactly what happened.
Looking at the broad sweep of the Old Testament, 2 Chron. 7:12-22 confirms the basic theology of Israelite history from Deuteronomy through Chronicles. The promise is conditional. If you obey God, God will bless you.
There is no promise of personal eternal life in these writings. Israel will receive material blessings as a reward for obedience — or ruin and loss if they forsake Yahweh for other gods.
Moses lays out God’s conditional covenant in Deut. 30:11-20. The historical books that follow demonstrate success through obedience (Joshua), descent into idolatry and violence (Judges) and political ups and downs (Samuel and Kings).
Why is the reminder in 2 Chron. 7:12-22 so poignant as Jews return from exile in Babylon?
Again considering the broad sweep of the Old Testament, how does the Book of Job challenge God’s conditional covenant with Israel? How might today’s “prosperity gospel” relate to this Deuteronomistic theology?
Since retiring from Messiah College, Reta Halteman Finger teaches part-time at Eastern Mennonite University, writes a Bible study blog at eewc.com/category/retas-reflections and is a contributing editor at Sojourners magazine.