The Biblical Chronicler

In Jewish tradition, Chronicles is classified as Wisdom Literature, not a
Historical book.

What’s the first thing you do when you pick up a new book? Do you take the time to read the introduction and the author’s biography, or do you just dive right into the text? I know I’m usually eager to “get to the good stuff,” but it isn’t the best way to get the most out of what I’m reading.

One of my favorite authors is Paulo Coelho, but that wasn’t always the case. Several years ago my best friend encouraged me to read The Alchemist. The whole time I was reading it, I remember thinking, I should be loving this…but I’m not. I could tell the text was full of symbolism and depth, but all the meaning was escaping me. I was bored.

I hadn’t read the introduction. I didn’t know the author.

Last fall Melinda thrust another Coelho book into my hand, insisting I read it. She knew how I’d reacted to The Alchemist, but she persisted. This time I read the introduction and learned a bit about Coelho’s background. He spent his young adulthood as an activist and songwriter in Brazil, but he had a “spiritual awakening” on a pilgrimage when he was 36. That knowledge colored my interpretation of The Devil and Miss Prym, and it is one of my favorite books of all time.

Have you read the introduction to your Bible? The introductions to the books in your Bible? I know: they are dry. They talk about when the Bible was formed, who recorded the ancient text, where the multiple manuscripts came from to create the canon, and how modern translators went about their work. It’s no “David and Goliath” story, but it’s just as important. If you don’t know where your Bible came from, can you really understand and appreciate it?

Let’s consider one of the most under-appreciated books of the Bible: Chronicles. (The introduction will tell you that 1 and 2 Chronicles were originally one book!) If you’re just reading the text, you might think:

  1. This is just a rehashing of Samuel-Kings (also all one book!).
  2. Chronicles leaves out a lot of Israel’s history.
  3. It’s a waste of my time.

But if you read the introduction, you’ll learn:

  1. Chronicles was never intended to be a history book. It is a description of Israel’s spiritual legacy.
  2. The author intentionally highlighted all the good parts of Israel’s past to inspire the returning exiles (his audience) to recommit to God and rebuild Jerusalem.
  3. The Chronicler wrote a generation after the last events of Samuel-Kings, so he recorded the 20/20-hindsight view of Israel. And what was important to him? Not facts and dates about kings, but fidelity and dedication to God.

I’m only hitting the highlights, so I hope this teaser encourages you to read the “boring” parts of your Bible. They will give you a new appreciation for and understanding of God’s word…maybe even of Chronicles!

The Family Chronicler

I have pneumonia. I’ve had it since Memorial Day, and the dry Denver air has made it tough to heal. A couple of days into my steroids, antibiotics, breathing treatments, and sinus flushes, it occurred to me that my grand genealogy project might be part of the problem. I had been scanning pictures touched by pink mildew and transcribing letters stained by hopefully dead-by-now black mold. But when it comes to breathing, “hopefully” isn’t good enough. I should have known better than to dive into the trunk without a respirator. First, because I worked for the Tennessee State Library and Archives for a semester–I archived for a living. Second, because the very women I am studying were tuberculosis nurses. I admit that for a fleeting hour moment, I thought I had somehow contracted tuberculosis from the trunk.

Excavating a bowl-lamp-bowl foundation
deposit in Ashkelon, Israel.

Standing at my kitchen sink staring at all the expensive prescriptions in front of me, I wondered, Why am I doing this? When I’m gone, I won’t have any children to will these albums and letters and garments to. No one will know I existed, and no one will care that these people existed. (Forgive my maudlin attitude–I was literally coughing up blood, and death felt imminent!)

Always ready to set me straight, my David reminded me that genealogies have rooted my career: I was briefly an archivist, I am a trained biblical archaeologist, and I translated and annotated 1 & 2 Chronicles for The Voice Bible. My entire adult life has been dedicated to preserving, cataloging, and respecting those who have lived before me. Why? Because history fascinates me. Even the genealogies in Chronicles. About six years ago an elder in our church called Chronicles “boring,” and I dared to challenge him. It was recent-grad-school-graduate bravado. Today I will admit that, yes, lists of names are boring (on the surface). But they are Scripture for a reason.

The key to genealogies (biblical or ancestral) is “reading between the lines.” Consider Jesus’ genealogies in Matthew and Luke:

This is the family history, the genealogy, of Jesus the Anointed, the coming King. You will see in this history that Jesus is descended from King David, and that He is also descended from Abraham. It begins with Abraham, whom God called into a special, chosen, covenanted relationship, and who was the founding father of the nation of Israel. (Matthew 1:1, The Voice)

He was assumed to be the son of Joseph, the son of Eli,…the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God. (Luke 3:22, 38, The Voice)

Jesus is who He is. His ancestors were who they were. So why don’t Matthew and Luke have the exact same genealogy for Him? That’s the interesting part! The Voice Bible does a good job of highlighting Matthew’s point: Jesus is Jewish–just as Matthew’s readers were. Luke, who was writing to the rest of the world, connects Jesus to God and makes Him supra-Jewish. The Gospels (and their genealogies) together tell New Testament readers that Jesus is for everyone.

So I look forward to returning to my family’s genealogy project as soon as I’m healed. I’ll do it with a respirator–so I don’t think I’ve contracted tuberculosis–but with renewed dedication to the importance of all history.

Flying Home

Did you take an aptitude test in high school? My junior year the Air Force administered the ASVAB to all eleventh-grade students, and I learned that the career for which I was best suited was airplane pilot. This tickled Daddy to no end, as he was an aerospace administration major in college. He has the best stories about his first flights.

For a while my daddy flew corpses across the country as a part-time job and as a way to earn flight miles for his license. (It is important to this story that you know one not-so-polite fact: as corpses change altitude, they tend to release gases. Got it?) When he was pledging his fraternity, some brothers booked a fake flight. One of the boys hid in a body bag and made the appropriate noises for an hour or so as the plane approached its destination. Long after the sun had set and as he began his descent, Daddy felt a tap on his right shoulder.

“Gotta light?”

It was the 70s. I’m thankful they were only smoking tobacco.

The Air Force didn’t know and Daddy didn’t imagine just how important air travel would be in my life. David and I regularly earn 500,000 Southwest Rapid Reward miles each year. Unfortunately most of that is work-related instead of pleasure-oriented.

Worse than work-related flights are bereavement flights. David and I had been Colorado residents for 3 days–and the 12-year-old-looking Xfinity guy was installing internet at our condo–when I got the call: my papa (Daddy’s daddy) was dying. We had to fly home to Tennessee.

As it happened, Daddy was in Oregon that day for work of his own. He had already planned to return to Tennessee via Denver. Before learning about Papa, David and I had planned to just wave at Daddy as the plane crossed over our heads. Instead David got online and managed to book us the last two seats on the same flight as Daddy. For the first time since 9/11, I had one of those 90s-movie lovey-dovey airline-gate reunions that TSA has rendered practically impossible.

Never have I been so thankful to fly. I cried when David told me he’d gotten us tickets, when I saw Daddy waiting for us at the gate, when I boarded the plane and saw the last open seat was wedged between my father and my husband. And days later, I cried when Papa “flew home” to God and Granny.

Tonight, as I look out my window at that glorious sunset over a blanket of clouds, I am thankful for so many previously unnoticed primers God has used to prepare me for this life. He gave me an aptitude for and love of flying, a lifestyle that amasses frequent-flier miles and shrinks the size of my world, and a better “airport moment” than any Hollywood writer could describe. And one day, He’ll watch as I take my last “flight home” to Him (and my papa).