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1 Chronicles covers a long time span. It starts with the beginning of Earth itself and the first man—Adam—and goes up to end of the Babylonian captivity in 538 BCE. That's a lot of ground to cover in just one book.
In order to understand 1 Chronicles, you've got to understand the basic history of Israel according to the Bible. After all, the Chronicler doesn't fill us in on all the dates and details. He just assumes his readers will know this stuff. You don't? As always, Shmoop is at your service with a handy timeline.
This is a rough estimate of the when the main events in 1 Chronicles happened. But it's important because the author is telling these stories to show continuity through history and to demonstrate that God has been with Israel since the beginning. You can bet that's he's not going to abandon them now.
So when is the Chronicler writing? Scholars don't know for sure, but their best guess is that it's sometime between 460-320 BCE. (Source The Oxford Bible Commentary, New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. p. 269)
It definitely has to be sometime after 538 BCE because that's when the Jews started to return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. The Chronicler is clearly living in a post-exilic Israel, maybe even in Jerusalem. People are coming back to the capital city that David himself built. They've even started on a project to design and build a permanent Temple to replace the traveling tabernacle.
But that doesn't mean there are no troubles. It's tough to establish a society again when you've been in another country for almost 70 years. Maybe that's one of the reasons this book was written. The author wanted to give everyone a little refresher course in history. He focuses mainly on what went on with King David because he sees that as a Golden Age in Israel's history. Maybe people can hope that the next king will be like David instead of some of the losers that were on the throne prior to the exile.
It's sort of like the nostalgia we have for the 1960's. We just focus on the growth of the middle class and the really cool clothes everyone wore. We forget about the bad stuff like racism, sexism, assassinations, and wars.
So what does the Chronicler want to let us know about David's reign in the 10th century BCE?
Establishing David's kingship in Jerusalem is obviously a big deal. Even though David ruled from the capital in Hebron for a few years, he pretty quickly cruised over to Jerusalem and made the place into a major city center.
During this time, all 12 tribes of Israel were part of David's kingdom. Once Solomon took over things began to fracture. The 10 tribes that lived in the northern part of the country broke off to form what is commonly known as the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The last two tribes—Judah and Benjamin—stayed together as the (way more awesome) Kingdom of Judah. So this era was the last time that the tribes were a single nation.
In order to build this ideal kingdom, Israel had to destroy, displace, or conquer the tribes already living in and around the region. Chronicles describes a nation in an almost constant state of war. Those annoying Philistines, especially, just won't go away. But it's made clear that this was an absolutely necessary step to get the nation securely settled and ready to move into the next phase of nation-building. It had the total approval of the Almighty.
If you read the Bible, you'd think Israel was the center of the universe. But Israel was more like a small tribal kingdom than a world superpower. They fought off attacks from their neighbors in Philistia, Moab, Aram, and Ammon, but they also worked pretty closely with these guys, too. The Chronicler even thought they shared a common heritage, which is why you'll see some of these nations mentioned in all those genealogies.
The important empires around this time period were actually the Egyptians and the Assyrians. Israel would have probably had closer relations with the Egyptians, but the Assyrians took over the region in the 8th century BCE. After that, this little nation would be under the thumb of one empire or another for the rest of its existence. The Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Egyptians (again), and the Roman Empire would all take turns running the show in Judah. Its strategic location along major trade routes made it a target for takeover by whoever happened to be in power at the time. Assyria and Babylon to the north, Egypt to the south—it didn't stand much of a chance.
Since this book was written at least 500 years after all its events actually happened, the historical reality of the situation is questionable. The Chronicler clearly sees David's reign as kind of a Golden Age for Israel. But it's also one that might have never existed on the grand scale described in 1 Chronicles. (Source: The Oxford Bible Commentary, New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. p. 267)
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