Lesson 4: 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, Tobit
1 & 2 Chronicles: (1 = 29 and 2 = 36 chapters; 400 to 350 B.C.)
The theme of the two books of Chronicles is the Messianic promise made to David by the prophet Nathan in 2 Sam. 7. In the view of the Chronicler, God's promise to David is infallibly valid. Over a 400 year period he judges each king of Judah in the light of David and finds most of them failures because they did not promote the worship of the Lord as David did. The two that he praises are Hezekiah and Josiah in the 7th century B.C.
The author is especially interested in the centralization of the worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. The two books offer a rereading of the books of Sam. and Kings from his special theological point of view. He goes into much detail about the reigns of David and Solomon, but he idealizes them and does not mention their sins.
The first things to note is that for the Chronicler history begins with David and his covenant with the Lord Yahweh. The Lord ordered him to gather materials for the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. David did that but left the construction of the Temple to his son Solomon. So the relation between David and the Temple and the proper worship in the Temple is a key point in the theology of Chronicles.
There is a strong note of divine retribution in this theology of history. It comes to this: the few kings who promoted the true worship of Yahweh in Jerusalem were rewarded by God; those kings who failed to do that (most of them) were punished by God sooner or later. Also, the author gives prominence to the Levites as musicians and servers in the Temple. Many scholars conclude from this that the Chronicler was a member of that group.
The final two verses end on a note of hope--the restoration of the Temple at the order of the Persian Emperor, Cyrus. The books of Chronicles are not quoted in the NT, but the author's emphasis on the importance of the Temple prepare our minds for the relation between Jesus and the Temple. St. Paul speaks about the community and the body of each Christian as being a "temple of the Holy Spirit."
Ezra and Nehemiah: (Ez. = 10 and Neh. = 13 chapters; ca. 400 B.C.)
The theme of these two books is the restoration of the Jewish religion, based on the Law of Moses and the worship of Yahweh in the Temple in Jerusalem. Key elements of the restoration are the rebuilding of the Temple which was completed in 515 B.C., the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah during the years 445 to 433 B.C., and the establishment by Ezra and Nehemiah of the Torah or the Law of Moses as the law of the land. A unifying theme which runs through the books is that Israel has been chosen by God to be a theocratic people whose hope of survival does not lie in military strength, but in fidelity to her God and to the Torah.
Ezra and Nehemiah worked together to restore Israel both religiously and politically. Ezra proclaimed the Law of Moses and Nehemiah saw to it that it was observed. The two books continue the story told in the previous historical books and, like them, the focus is primarily on God's dealings with Israel or how God acts in history.
The author is telling his contemporaries (and us) that Israel's future depends on faithful worship in the Temple in Jerusalem, the only place of legitimate sacrifice. Both Ezra and Nehemiah contributed to the establishment of Judaism. Ezra was the religious reformer and Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and so made the city safe from hostile attacks.
There are no direct quotes in the NT of Ezra - Nehemiah, but the two men are important because they were the real creators of the Judaism of the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees which was the cultural milieu into which Jesus Christ was born and lived, the religious zeal of Ezra - Nehemiah persists to the present day in Orthodox Judaism.
Tobit: (14 chapters; ca. 200 B.C.)
Tobit is a pious Jew who is deported from Israel to Nineveh in Assyria after the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C. There he is persecuted for practicing the good works of a pious Jew, such as burying the dead. Blinded by accident, he accepts it with patience. At the same time, far away in Persia, Sarah a young relative is afflicted by the demon Asmodeus who causes the death of seven husbands in a row. Like Tobit, she prays that God will take her life from her. Thinking he will die soon, Tobit sends his son Tobiah to collect a debt from his kinsman, Gabael, which he intends to give to his son as his inheritance. Tobiah meets the angel Raphael, whom he thinks is his cousin Azarias, and Raphael agrees to accompany him on the journey to Rages. Tobiah catches a big fish and Raphael tells him how to use it to cure both Sarah and Tobit, his father. Tobiah falls in love with Sarah, marries her and drives out the demon; then he returns home and cures his father's blindness with the gall of the fish. Tobit sings a song of praise and thanksgiving to God and prophesies a glorious future for Jerusalem.
The book of Tobit is like one of Jesus' parables; there may be some historical basis for it but we do not know what it is. The book of Tobit is a wisdom book because it offers instruction on how to live in relation to God and to one's fellow men.
Theological points to look for in the book are: 1) God is nearer to us than we think and he is ready to assist us if we remain faithful to him; 2) love for God must be shown in virtuous deeds and not just in words; 3) God rewards filial piety; 4) we should think highly of burying the dead properly, remaining chaste before marriage, being faithful to one's wife or husband, prayer, fasting and almsgiving; 5) finally, the book offers an advanced angelology--more developed than anything previously found in the OT. So the man Tobit exemplifies the manner of life typical of the "just" who depend on the Lord to meet all their needs.
Read the five books covered in this lesson. Also, read a biographical sketch in a dictionary of the Bible on Ezra and Nehemiah.
Write an essay of about 1000 words on the theology of the two books of Chronicles, or on Ezra, or Nehemiah, or on God's providence as manifested in the book of Tobit.
Read up on the role of angels in the Bible.