The Bible in a Year – 16 September

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

16 September. 1 Chronicles chapters 9-10

Chapter 9 is the last in the series of genealogies. The focus in verses 17-32 is on the ‘gatekeepers’.  They had a key role in protecting the building and guarding its treasures, and preparing for worship.  There were four permanent keepers, one for each gate, with a large rota of (presumably unpaid) assistants.  Alongside them (v.33) were the Temple singers.    It seems that this organisational structure was not unlike that of a Cathedral today, with the Dean (equal in importance to the Bishop, though with a different role), Precentor, Succentor and Chapter, and again often a large rota of volunteer chaplains, visitor guides and so on.  The worship of God may be essentially a matter for the individual heart and conscience, but when there is a large gathered community and a large building in which worship can take place, a great degree of organisation is inevitable.

Chapter 10 reveals that the purpose of the preceding nine chapters of family history was to lead up to, and provide proof of the validity of, the anointing of David as King over Judah.  The rest of the book largely duplicates the history of his reign as already recorded in the books of Samuel.

The Bible in a Year – 15 September

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15 September. 1 Chronicles chapter 7-8

As in previous days, I am picking out for comment those moments in the long recitals of tribal genealogies where the author gives us an extended glimpse into the actual circumstances of one individual family.  They must have really stood out from the crowd for this treatment.  This one is from the time of Ephraim, one of the sons of Joseph (of ‘dreamcoat’ fame):

“Now the people of Gath, who were born in the land, killed them, because they came down to raid their cattle. And their father Ephraim mourned for many days, and his brothers came to comfort him. Ephraim went in to his wife, and she conceived and bore a son; and he named him Beriah, because disaster had befallen his house. His daughter was Sheerah, who built both Lower and Upper Beth-horon, and Uzzen-sheerah.” (7:21-24).

Ephraim, according to Genesis 41:52, was born in Egypt to an Egyptian mother, and his name meant “fruitful”.  When his grandfather Jacob (Israel) was dying, he deliberately gave a blessing to Ephraim that should by rights have gone to his older brother Manasseh.  When Moses blessed the tribes of Israel before his death, of Joseph’s descendants he said, “A firstborn bull—majesty is his! His horns are the horns of a wild ox; with them he gores the peoples, driving them to the ends of the earth; such are the myriads of Ephraim” (Deuteronomy 33:17). These spiritual giants must have had some insight into God’s purposes for Ephraim and his family – certainly his seems to have become the largest of the tribes.

So it was that the sons of this “wild ox” raided the cattle of the people of Gath. These were the Philistines from whom Goliath came – not men to be messed with. So it is not surprising that their retaliation was brutal.

The next verse is interesting. Ephraim fathered another son (though no parent can ever ‘replace’ one who has been killed).  Beriah’s sons (if any) are not mentioned, but his daughter is.  Sheerah ‘built’ (or perhaps more likely paid for the building of) two settlements.  Throughout these genealogies, sons are listed far more than daughters.

It has often been true that women in a man’s world have to do something exceptional to be noticed. Only recently have studies of the “women of the Bible” shown that although much fewer in number, collectively women of faith have achieved as much as their brothers.  Now that most Christian denominations in developed countries accept women in leadership, things might change at last.

The Bible in a Year – 14 September

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14 September. 1 Chronicles chapter 6

This chapter focuses solely on the descendants of Levi, who were the temple priests and servants. Levi was great-grandfather to, among others, the three siblings Aaron, Moses and Miriam, whose exploits make up much of the book of Exodus.

Unlike the genealogies of other tribes, this chapter also lists the various towns and villages “and their pasture lands” which were to belong to the Levites.  Why the pasture lands? Because the sacrificial system meant that large numbers of cattle and sheep were needed, and it would be the duty of those Levites who were not required for service in the Temple itself to do the necessary farming.

There is also a particular mention of those families who “ministered with song before the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, until Solomon had built the house of the Lord in Jerusalem; and they performed their service in due order” (6:32). Along with sacrifice, the Tabernacle/Temple required songs of praise to be sung.    This twin emphasis on sacrifice and praise was to be at the heart of Jewish life for centuries.

The sacrifices have gone, but the praise continues, and the two are conflated; Hebrews 13:15 refers to Christians “offering a sacrifice of praise”.  Taking time to worship God, and to let him develop in us spiritual gifts (words of prayer or prophecy, musical talent, or indeed the visual arts) in doing so is a kind of sacrifice or our self-interest, but one that reaps great rewards.

The Bible in a Year – 13 September

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13 September. 1 Chronicles chapters 3-5

More lists of descendants and ancestors, the vast majority of whom are merely mentioned by name as father, mother, son, brother or sister of someone else. These are of little interest to us now, although there are a few names found elsewhere in the Bible.  But every now and then, we get a sort of ‘aside’, a potted biography of one person or family.  For instance, Jabez-

“Jabez was honoured more than his brothers; and his mother named him Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain.’ Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, ‘Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from hurt and harm!’ And God granted what he asked” (4:9-10).

This seems to be held up as an example of the correct way to pray, which pleased God.  The first think he asked was “blessing”, a word that can be interpreted in many ways – was he seeking financial gain, popularity, good health, a large family (which may be the meaning of “enlarge my border”), or just a sense of God’s presence with him?  After that he asks for God’s hand – ie. guidance – and protection from harm.

The pattern may be seen as having similar elements to the Lord’s Prayer, where the corresponding request to “blessing” is “give us this day our daily bread” i.e. just enough to get by on.  We also ask for “God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven”, which is similar to “your hand might be with me”; and we also ask for God’s protection (“do not bring us to trial, but deliver us from evil”).

These three elements of prayer – seeking God’s provision for life, his guidance in life, and protection from harm – are what keep our other prayers in perspective. Asking anything more than that is self-interest.

The Bible in a Year – 12 September

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12 September. 1 Chronicles chapters 1-2

Of all the books of the Bible I think this one is the hardest to write about, at least the first few chapters.  For they concern entirely the genealogies of the tribes and clans of Israel, purportedly going right back to the mythical first man Adam (which means that somewhere back along the line it ceases to be historical).

Why was genealogy so important? As we recently saw in the book of Ezra/Nehemiah, when the people returned from captivity to re-establish a Jewish state in and around Jerusalem, it was important to be able to prove that one was descended from Jacob (Israel), and in the case of priest and temple servants (Levites) to be able to prove descent from a particular tribe.  Otherwise, how were people (even if they had been living in the Jewish community in exile) to be distinguished from the ritually “unclean” gentiles living in the land to which they had returned?

It can be equally important today, as witnessed by a recent news item about a man who had been born and lived in Britain all his life, contributing to the economy, but had now been told that he has no right to remain or work here any longer. According to strict immigration rules, as his English father was not married to his non-British mother at the time of his birth, there was no qualifying reason for him to count as British, since only the mother’s nationality counts in the case of an unmarried couple.

To any sensible person that was completely unacceptable, and I believe the decision has now been reversed.  His birth here, and the many years he had worked unchallenged, were more relevant and important than rules intended to limit numbers of immigrants.

The Kingdom of God as proclaimed by Jesus, fortunately, has no such limitations or rules.  As St Paul wrote, in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.  Anyone may claim their birthright as a child of God, by acknowledging that they “believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6).