The first task before the Chronicler was to establish that his readers were descendants of a divinely selected people. To accomplish this end he drew from several chapters in Genesis to demonstrate that God had chosen the twelve tribes of Israel for special privileges and responsibilities which now belonged to his readers.
The Chronicler’s account of Israel’s roots divides into three main sections (see figure 5 on next page).
The people of Israel were not like other nations; they were beneficiaries of a divine program of narrowing selection. From all of Adam’s descendants, Noah was selected as God’s favored man. From all of Noah’s descendants, Shem stood in special relationship with God. From all of Shem’s descendants, God selected Abraham. From all the descendants of Abraham, Isaac was chosen. From the descendants of Isaac, God chose Israel and his children.
The history of humanity from Adam to Jacob proved that God had selected Israel to be his special people. The post-exilic readers of Chronicles had faced discouragements that caused many of them to wonder if God had utterly rejected them. By tracing the special roots of Israel, the Chronicler demonstrated that Israel held a privileged relationship with the Creator.
Outline of 1 Chr. 1:1-2:2 (figure 5)
By beginning his record with Adam to Noah (1:1-3), the Chronicler tied the people of God in his day to biblical primeval history (see Gen. 1:1-11:9). As children of Adam Israel had common origins with the entire human race. They were recipients of Adam’s blessing and curse like all other peoples (see Gen. 1:26-29; 3:15-24; Rom. 5:12-21).
The names that follow Adam, however, indicate that a narrowing process of divine election was already at work in the earliest stages of human history. God chose to show special favor only to the line of Seth andNoah (1:1-3). While other primeval people rebelled against their Creator, the book of Genesis characterized these men as the first who ‘called on the name of the Lord’ (Gen. 4:26). They received the blessing of long life (see Gen. 5:5, 8, 11) and only Noah with his family was chosen to survive the flood (see Gen. 6:8-9, 17-18).
The Chronicler’s readers knew the biblical records of these primeval figures. Their mere mention as ancestors of the tribes of Israel made it evident that Israel was not an ordinary nation; her roots stretched from the most honored figures of primeval history.
The sons of Noah first appear here in the order of Shem, Ham, and Japheth (1:4), as they occur in Genesis 5:32. After introducing their names, however, the Chronicler reversed the order of Noah’s sons to end with Shem (Japheth [1:5-7], Ham [1:8-16], Shem [1:17-27]), the ancestor of Israel. As on several other occasions, the Chronicler reversed the traditional order of the names to end with the man whom God specially blessed (see 1:34a; 2:1-2). God favored the Shemites, or Semitic peoples, more than all other nations on earth. As Genesis 9:25-27 indicates, God promised that the Shemites would conquer the Canaanite descendants of Ham and provide blessings for the descendants of Japheth.
Nevertheless, God’s favor did not extend equally to all Shemites. It was directed toward one special descendent of Shem, Abram (1:27). Abram was the father of the tribes of Israel; he became the heir of the privileges granted to Shem and the conduit of these blessings to the nation which he fathered (see Gen. 12:1-3).
The Chronicler turned next to the sons of Abraham to distinguish the chosen seed from Abraham’s other descendants (1:28-34a). First, he mentioned Isaac and then Ishmael (1:28), but he reversed the order again by first listing the descendants of Ishmael (1:29-31), the father of the Arab nations, and the sons of Keturah, Abraham’s second wife (1:32-33). This change of order indicated that only the descendants of Isaac (1:34) could rightfully claim Abraham’s blessing (see 1:17-27; 2:1-2).
Isaac was the only child of Abraham born by divine promise instead of human design (see Gen. 17:15-21; 18:9-15; 21:1-8; Gal. 3:15-18, 26-29). Isaac’s supernatural birth reminded the Chronicler’s readers that they were not like the other descendants of Abraham. Their heritage rested on Abraham’s faith in God’s promises, not in ordinary familial lineage (see Rom. 4:16-21).
The final step in the Chronicler’s narrowing definition of God’s people focuses on the sons of Isaac (1:34b–2:2). In usual fashion, the chosen line appears last (see 1:17-27, 34a). The text deals first with Esau (1:35-54) who sold his birthright to Jacob (see Gen. 25:27-34). Then it speaks of the sons of Israel (2:1-2) who inherited God’s promises to Abraham.
The final verses in the record of Isaac’s descendants (2:1-2) serve a literary function often called the ‘Janus effect’. They function as the end of this material (1:34b–2:2), but they also introduce the passages that follow (2:1-9:1a).
In this context, the twelve tribes are explicitly identified as descendants of Isaac’s son, Israel (2:1). The blessings of God came through the man Israel, but Genesis does not hide his imperfections (see Gen. 25:27-34; 27:1-36; 30:41-43; 31:20-21). Early in his life Jacob lived up to the meaning of his name, ‘the supplanter’ (see Gen. 25:26; 27:36). As God changed his character, however, he received the honorable name Israel, ‘because you have striven with God and men and have overcome’ (Gen. 32:28). Jacob cherished the birthright of Abraham and did all he could to acquire it.
By mentioning all twelve tribes of the nation Israel, the Chronicler reached the high point of this portion of his genealogies. His main purpose for the preceding material was to provide a reminder of the origins of the tribes. From his perspective, the post-exilic readers enjoyed a remarkable heritage of blessings and privileges.
Having reminded the readers of their connection to the early people of God, the text turns next to lengthy records of the tribes of Israel. Comparisons with other biblical accounts reveal great selectivity in this material. These selections emphasize two important theological concerns. First, the breadth of God’s people demonstrates that the privileges of divine election belonged not to a few but to all the tribes of the nation. Second, some tribes receive more honor than others. These accounts highlight certain groups who played important roles in national life before and after the exile.
The Chronicler’s record of the tribes of Israel divides into five main parts which are enclosed by an introduction and summation (see figure 6 on pages 92 and 93).
Two general comments should be made about the arrangement of these genealogies. First, although they point to the breadth of God’s people, these lists do not mention the tribes of Dan and Zebulun. The brevity and awkward Hebrew grammar of Naphtali’s record (see 7:13) may indicate that the Chronicler’s original text included a longer account of Naphtali as well as Dan and Zebulun. These materials may have been lost through transmission errors, but this explanation is uncertain (see Introduction: Translation and Transmission). The Chronicler himself may have omitted these tribes for other unknown reasons.
Even so, the complete list of Jacob’s sons in 2:1-2 shows that these chapters express the Chronicler’s insistence that all the tribes be counted among the people of God (see Introduction: 1) All Israel). Earlier prophets had already indicated that the restoration after exile would involve all twelve tribes (see Isa. 9:1-7; 11:12; 27:6,12-13; 43:1-7; 44:1-5, 21-28; 49:5-7, 14-21; 59:20; 65:9; 66:20; Ezek. 34:23-24; 37; 40-48; Hos. 1:11; 3:4-5; Amos 9:11-15; Mic. 2:12-13; 4:6-8; 5:1-5a). The Chronicler also looked for a reunification of all Israel. From his point of view, the post-exilic restoration would remain incomplete until representatives of all the tribes were gathered in the promised land (see Introduction: 1) All Israel).
Second, the relative distribution of verses covering the tribes provides another important insight to the Chronicler’s purposes. He alternated between long and short accounts (see figure 7). After an introduction (2:1-2), he began with a long text on Judah (2:3-4:23). This Judahite record precedes the relatively short records of Simeon (4:24-43) and the tribes who lived east of the Jordan River (5:1-26). Then another lengthy passage focuses on the sons of Levi (6:1-81), just before six short genealogies (Issachar ... Asher [7:1-40]). Finally, a relatively long account of Benjamin (8:1-40) closes the material.
These uneven distributions suggest that the Chronicler honored Judah, Levi, and Benjamin more than the other tribes. What did these three tribes have in common that warranted this honored status? Throughout history a great number of Judahites, Benjamites, and Levites remained committed to the Davidic king and the Jerusalem temple. Kingship and temple were the two essential institutions in the Chronicler’s ideal for restored Israel (see Introduction: 4-9) King and Temple). Judah, Levi, and Benjamin probably held extraordinary positions in the Chronicler’s view because of their past loyalties to these institutions. As such, these tribes also played vital roles in the restoration efforts of post-exilic Israel. The last portion of the Chronicler’s genealogies (9:1b-34) confirms this understanding of his purpose. In this description of the early returnees he once again emphasized the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi by drawing attention to their large numbers (see figure 6).
As mentioned above, these verses serve a double function. They close out the previous section of God’s narrowing election (see 1:1-2:2), but they also introduce the following chapters which focus on the breadth and order of God’s people (2:1-8:40).
The heads of Israel’s twelve tribes appear in the order of Gen. 35:23-26 with the exception of Dan’s placement. The Chronicler began with this list to acknowledge that all the tribes without exception were to be accepted as the heirs of Israel’s blessing. This opening list balances with the closure of 9:1a (see figure 6).