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Why are David & Solomon Whitewashed in Chronicles? (part 1)

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David and Solomon’s accounts of idolatry, adultery, murder, intrigu
e, and oppression have been whitewashed from its source in Samuel and Kings. They are presented as virtually sinless. Why is this? Why was it important for the Jews in exile to hear of the faults and foibles of their forebears, but for the post-exilic Jews to hear accounts of their faithfulness and successes? I think the answer has something to do with the temple and with the kingship of David.

Most scholars have been mislead by the Chronicler’s obvious emphasis upon the temple and its worship into over-emphasizing this aspect and downplaying the Chronicler’s equal concern with Davidic kingship and the covenant with David. Against much of the scholarship of previous generations, the unifying motif that pervades Chronicles is not the temple, the priesthood, and worship, but rather God’s choice of David and his lineage. The Chronicler’s concern with the temple is dependent upon Davidic kingship and the covenant with David, as the promise of God relating to the temple and Jerusalem is one of the elements of that covenant.

David, the Royal Standard

The narrative section of Chronicles begins with the rejection and death of Saul and God’s choice of David. David becomes the royal standard for all the kings that follow: all of the kings of Judah are subsequently judged by this standard. David becomes the king par excellence who seeks the Lord. Building on the work of a scholar named Rodney Duke, I will present this ideal portrait in three movements: David as the originator of temple worship and righteous kingship; Solomon as the ideal originator of the temple; and the kings that followed, as illustrations of how they either did, or did not, fulfill this ideal.

Immediately after Saul’s death, all of the elders of Israel came to anoint him and confirm his kingship. Immediately afterward, David and “all Israel” went to Jebus/Jerusalem to take it, whereupon David moved his royal residence there and as soon as feasible, the ark of the covenant.

The balance of chapter 11 and chapter 12 deal with David’s “mighty men,” placed here at the beginning of David’s reign rather than at the end in 2 Samuel 23, and all of the warriors of Judah, Simeon, Levi, and the north Israelite tribes who came to him at Ziklag and Hebron. These chapters certainly show David’s might and his acceptance and acclaim by “all Israel,” north and south, one of the Chronicler’s main themes. In chapter 13, the throng of Israelites who had come to David agree to go with him to bring the ark of the covenant from Kiriath Jearim into the tents he had erected for it in Jerusalem. Thus David is established as a great warrior, leader of men, a uniter of tribes, and one who sought the Lord with all his heart.

Even David’s sins or lapses of judgment are glossed over by the Chronicler. Chapters 13–15 are an extended narrative about bringing the ark of the covenant from Kiriath Jearim to Jerusalem, the organization of the levitical worship leaders and their new song in chapter 16, and the corollary reward for David’s faithfulness in God’s covenant with him in chapter 17. 

The failure to carry the ark by Levites, handling it in the prescribed manner, is blamed on Uzzah, the cart driver, although David feared the punishment of the Lord and left the ark at the household of Obed-Edom, who was subsequently blessed. In the interim, chapter 14, David receives aid from Hiram of Tyre, on Hiram’s initiative, he grows his family, and is successful in a series of battles with the Philistines, all matters of blessing on those who “sought the Lord” with all their heart. The chapter begins and ends with statements of God’s blessing and elevation of David:

David then perceived that the Lord had established him as king over Israel, and that his kingdom was highly exalted for the sake of his people Israel (1 Chron. 14:2).

The fame of David went out into all lands, and the Lord brought the fear of him on all nations (1 Chron. 14:17).

The Chronicler has inserted these synoptic narratives into this interim between attempts to bring up the ark of the covenant in order to magnify David, not point out his failings. In chapter 15, David first prepares a tent for the ark in Jerusalem, then commands the Levites to carry the ark, as they should have to begin with!

The most well known omission in the Chronicler’s history is the complete omission of David’s sin with Bathsheba and the subsequent death of her husband Uriah the Hittite. The Chronicler once again retains his framework from 2 Samuel, mentioning the war with the Ammonites and David’s curious remaining in Jerusalem. This notice, intended in Samuel to point out a serious breach on David’s part that sets up the affair with Bathsheba, now serves no function in Chronicles. Joab must encourage David to come to the battle at Rabbah, as kings should, so David might get the glory rather than Joab.

David is not completely a cameo cut-out in Chronicles. There are at least two instances where David is faulted, but these are muted in terms of David’s culpability.

First, the reason given for David’s failure to build the temple in Chronicles is because he was “a man of blood,” having fought many battles (1 Chron. 22:8). This in itself is curious, given the fact that kings were supposed to go to war “in the spring of the year” and also God had himself ordained some of the battles that David fought. It is my impression that this is an apologia for why David, otherwise the initiator of the temple worship and the Levitical functionaries, did not himself build the temple. The other failing is in chapter 20, where the Chronicler shifts the blame for David’s unauthorized census from David himself, who was tested by the Spirit of God in 2 Samuel 24:1 to number Israel, to Satan in 1 Chronicles 21: the devil made David do the census!

It is noteworthy that the Chronicler includes this sin of David, while omitting entirely the affair with Bathsheba. It is understandable, however, when one reads the first verse of chapter 22: the census narrative was necessary, for it was on the site where God stopped the plague on the Israelites because of David’s sin that the altar and the temple were to be built, the plans for which take up most of the rest of 1 Chronicles.

Solomon, the Temple Builder

Solomon makes his first appearances in 1 Chronicles as the heir apparent to the throne and the designated temple builder. The temple, the organization of its functionaries, and its worship in song are all based in David’s initiative: he first organized the Levitical helpers, singers, and gatekeepers in 1 Chronicles 16 and prepared a temporary site in Jerusalem for this worship to go on.

Furthermore, David had planned for the building of the temple, had a blueprint drawn up (Heb. tabt), and even gathered all the pieces of the temple complex for Solomon to assemble later! So, primacy of place must go to David as the premier temple planner and builder, and also the impetus behind its cultic organization and worship in song.

This does not mean Solomon does not have an important place in the Chronicler’s history. Some scholars, such as Roddy Braun and Raymond Dillard, have shown that the two kings of the United Monarchy, David and Solomon, are together the focus of the Chronicler’s agenda. Williamson and Dillard suggest that David and Solomon provide the ideal leadership for Israel in the same way that Moses passed the leadership mantle on to Joshua. David and Solomon together constitute Israel’s Golden Age. Indeed, when Chronicles mentions God’s choice of David, several times it includes God’s choice of Solomon as well, the addition of which is lacking in Samuel and Kings.

The Chronicler presents a Solomon without blemishes. He allowed, in the case of David, two stains on his record, but in the case of Solomon, no blemish at all tarnishes him. Gone are the court intrigues of Adonijah, Bathsheba, Nathan, and David. Gone as well are his marriage to many foreign wives and worship on the high places. Not mentioned at all is his idolatry, the subject of scathing indictment in 1 Kings 11, his forced labor of Israelites, condemned in 1 Kings 12, and his payment to Hiram of Tyre of the cities of Kabûl, “worthless cities.” Likewise gone is the fracturing of the kingdom begun during Solomon’s reign (1 Kings 11) and the revolt of the North because of Solomon and Rehoboam’s policies. The rebellion is blamed upon Jeroboam, who presumed upon Rehoboam while he was young and tender.

As with 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles demonstrates knowledge of and dependence upon the account found in the Deuteronomic History in 1 Kings. Unlike the account in 1 Kings 1–11, most of 1 Chronicles 1–9 deals with the actual building and dedication of the temple. 1 Kings 3–10 detail Solomon’s amazing wisdom in a variety of ways: judicial, bureaucratic, military, economic, religious, diplomatic, architectural, and other manifestations. 1 Chronicles 1–9 focuses on one aspect of his wisdom alone: his skill in building the temple.

Read part 2 of this topic here. It will discuss the messianism and eschatology in Chronicles — and the “so what?” of what all the above means. 


A version of this article was originally delivered at the 2016 Sermon Seminar at Austin Grad. Consider attending Sermon Seminar in 2018. 

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Austin Graduate School of Theology is an Austin seminary offering B.A. and M.A. ministry degrees, and Austin Grad is accredited by the same agency that accredits Abilene Christian University, Baylor University, Southern Methodist University, Texas A&M University, Texas State University, The University of Texas, and others.  Austin Grad — one of the top Christian colleges in Texas and among the top seminaries in Texas — is affiliated with the Church of Christ and is in conversation with all who confess Jesus as Lord. Austin Grad promotes faith seeking understanding and is committed to providing a high quality education for those who desire to be equipped to expand the Kingdom of God.

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