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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Does God Need An Editor?

For a new believer taking his first pass through the Bible, nothing tests one’s faith in the words “all scripture is ... profitable” like the first nine chapters of Chronicles.

Even to scholars, these passages are formidable. If there is anywhere in scripture with more unpronounceable Hebrew names per square inch of text, I have yet to come across it. Try reading just one chapter aloud and you’ll see what I mean. And hey, let’s get real here: exactly how does it help me as a struggling Christian to know that Tarshish and Ahishahar were both sons of Bilhan?

It almost makes one wonder if God’s word might have benefited from a slightly more ruthless editor.

Almost.

On Profitability

But before we start ripping out pages from our Bibles willy-nilly, first we need to remind ourselves that while all scripture is profitable, some scriptures are actually more profitable than others. A lawyer once asked the Lord Jesus, “Which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus cited one, then another like it, and said, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Oh, it’s ALL important, but some bits are more important than others.

Second, we need to remind ourselves that some scriptures are more profitable at some times than at others; and third, that some scriptures are more profitable to some people than others.

That being said, none of it is UNprofitable. None.

Times and Places

So, wherein lies the profit?

First, I will concede that a near-endless list of who sired whom among Jacob’s children probably means more to a Jew than to me. And so it should. Bear in mind that we are looking at the tip of a very large iceberg here ... “as the sand on the seashore” indeed! The listed names are the tiniest, most microscopic fraction of God’s people covering a period of approximately 1,500 years of Israel’s history, not to mention a further 2,000+ years of human history that should be of interest to all. A Jew has a personal investment in many of these details that I don’t, though I can still recognize them as evidence that God always keeps his word.

Second, the original audience for these words probably had the greatest investment of all in them. These would be Jews and Israelites recently returned to their national home from more than a generation of exile in the Babylonian and Medo-Persian empires. Chronicles was likely compiled around 400 BC from a variety of sources in and outside what then formed the canon of scripture, including Genesis, Samuel, Kings and the recorded words of a number of lesser-known Hebrew prophets like Shemaiah, Iddo, Jehu and Hozai. For post-exilic Jews tempted to view themselves as utterly insignificant in the plans and purposes of God, these writings were a reminder of a spiritual legacy without parallel (with all the warnings and blessings that entailed), of God’s faithfulness, of where they had come from nationally, and of God’s intentions for their future.

The modern reader can learn many of these same lessons, albeit at few removes.

Other Goodies Often Overlooked

What else are these chapters good for?
  • Matthew and Luke almost surely made use of these records in assembling their own genealogies of the Lord Jesus. Had they not been established as part of holy writ, it might have been much more difficult to demonstrate to their contemporaries that Jesus of Nazareth qualified to be the promised Messiah, who was to come from the bloodline of King David. Not to be overly dramatic, but a failure in that department probably changes most of the last two thousand years, and not for the better.
  • The origins of many national and ethnic groups are laid out in the first chapter, which makes them of value to real historians. If there are ancient secular records with comparable detail and scope, I am not aware of them. This level of detail is not what we might expect from men engaged in creating myths to motivate a nation, but rather what one would expect from serious historians intent on preserving truth, which is what they were.
  • Christians of mixed race or born under questionable circumstances will notice the regular appearance in these pages of men and women born the same way thousands of years ago. Their names are right there in God’s records alongside everyone else ... no asterisks. To some that may not matter much; to others it is of great comfort.
  • Christian women will note that the word of God preserves the record of many mothers and daughters, and even the occasional individualist who seems to have broken with the culture of her day. This is unheard of in secular genealogies from any major culture. Writer Paul Baba says, “It was unusual for women to be mentioned in any documents” [emphasis mine]. But if women were second-class citizens, all-but-invisible to the ancient secular historians, they were not invisible to God.
  • Interspersed with the records are editorial comments of spiritual and historical interest. Nimrod was the first warlord. In Peleg’s day the earth was divided. Achan “broke faith”. Sheshan’s family line was preserved through his Egyptian slave. The prayer of Jabez. Some, yes, appear trivial; others you could preach a sermon about. All are part of Israel’s history and, in another sense, of ours. They humanize the word of God for us.
No, God doesn’t need an editor, thank you very much. He’s got the job handled just fine.

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