1 and 2 Chronicles
The Hebrew title is translated “the events (or annals) of the days (or years)”. The Septuagint translators divided it into two books and called it “the things omitted” [i.e., a supplement to Samuel and Kings]. By tradition, Ezra wrote Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah and it was probably written c. 450, if not by Ezra then a contemporary. It draws selectively on and duplicates many other sources, especially Samuel and Kings. It is a narrative “sermon” for postexilic Israel. It considers whether the old covenants still apply. It emphasizes continuity with the past (for example, by use of genealogies), God’s sovereign acts of election, the law and the prophets, the theme of immediate retribution, and hope for the Messiah to come. David and Solomon are presented in idealized form, omitting many of the problematical details.
The book opens with extensive genealogies, including David’s line through Zerubbabel and beyond. Saul dies because he is unfaithful to God. Various retellings of Davidic history are given. The Levites, singers, gatekeepers, officials, and officers are listed. David gives Solomon his plans for the temple in an idealized account of their transition. (end of Book1).
Solomon has the temple built, furnished, and dedicated…. Rehoboam fortifies cities of Judah…. The account of Jehoshaphat King of Judah especially illustrates the immediate rewards and punishment for actions…. Hezekiah’s religious reforms and devotion are emphasized (for example, the Passover celebration)…. The exile in Babylon ends when Cyrus king of Persia, moved by God, decrees that the exiles may return to their now purified land and build a temple in Jerusalem.
Ezra and Nehemiah were two separate compositions combined into one in the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint. They were divided by Origen (“I and II Ezra”) and in subsequent translations. They also contain many lists. Ezra was composed c. 440 and Nehemiah c. 430. Ezra contains first person extracts from the memoirs of Ezra but may have been compiled by a contemporary author. According to tradition, Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in 458 and Nehemiah in 445. Ezra and Nehemiah are written in late Hebrew except Ezra 4:8-6:18, which are in Aramaic. See Chronicles for author.
Cyrus follows his policy of placating the gods of his subject people and decrees that the Israelites may return with their treasures to Jerusalem and build a temple (538). A list of returning exiles is provided. Rebuilding of the altar and temple are begun by Zerubbabel and other priests, but their efforts are thwarted by opponents who appeal to the new Persian kings, Xerxes and Artaxerxes. Their efforts are resumed with permission of King Darius and the temple is completed in 516. Ezra arrives (458) with a letter from King Artaxerxes authorizing him to return with any interested Israelites to teach the Law of his God. A list of families with him is given. Ezra deplores intermarriage and the people vow to separate themselves form their foreign pagan wives.
Nehemiah prays when he hears of the trouble of the returned Israelites, probably when the temple rebuilding was delayed, and Artaxerxes sends him to Jerusalem (445). He urges the rebuilding of the walls and gates, which proceeds despite opposition and is completed in 445. Ezra reads the law to the people and the people praise the Lord and confess their sins. In 433, Nehemiah is appointed governor of Judah by Artaxerxes. The people agree to a binding written agreement not to intermarry, buy or sell on the Sabbath, and adhere to other aspects of the Law. The new inhabitants of Jerusalem are selected by casting lots. The Wall is dedicated. People of foreign descent are excluded from Israel and proper support for the Levites is arranged.
Esther describes events taking place c. 460 during the reign of Xerxes. The author is inferred to be a Jewish resident of a Persian city, writing after 460 and before 331. It describes the institution of the annual festival of Purim. Haman, the “Agagite” and probably king of the Amalekites, tries to renew the long-standing war with Israel. Their enmity was first described in Exodus and continued with Saul’s attack on Amalek in which King Agag was killed. The Amalekites therefore symbolize the powers of the world arrayed against God’s people. There are no explicit references to God or worship and Esther has been criticized by some as being secular.
Xerxes (who ruled from 486 – 465) gives a banquet in Susa in 483, possibly in preparation for the disastrous campaigns against Greece. Queen Vashti disobeys his order to appear before him and is expelled. In searching for a new queen, Xerxes selects Esther (Hadassah), daughter of the Benjaminite Jew Mordecai, a descendant from Saul whose family had been carried into exile by Nebuchadnezzar. She conceals her Jewish roots at her father’s request. Mordecai learns of a plot to assassinate Xerxes and through Esther warns him. Later Haman (probably king of the Amalekites) visits but Mordecai repeatedly refuses to bow down to this representative of Israel’s old enemy. Haman is enraged and, after casting lots, calls for a war to destroy all the Jews in Xerxes’ kingdom. Xerxes consents to the request but declines the money offered by Haman. He issues a decree ordering the destruction of all Jews, young and old, to occur in eleven months.
Mordecai pleads to Esther to use her influence to secure their deliverance. Esther requests permission of the king to give a banquet and invites Haman, who accepts. He is again enraged by Mordecai’s disobedience, this time his refusal to stand in his presence. He plots to have Mordecai hanged and has a gallows constructed in the courtyard. The noise keeps Xerxes awake and he asks to have his chronicles read to him. He learns that Mordecai has not been rewarded for his good deed. Coincidentally, Haman appears and learns that it is Mordecai who will be honored rather than himself. At Esther’s banquet, she pleads with Xerxes to grant amnesty to her and her people. Haman clumsily tries to obtain her forgiveness but, when Xerxes learns Haman intended to hang Mordecai, Xerxes orders Haman instead to be hanged. Esther is given the estate of Haman. Xerxes issues a new decree in effect countering the first and providing for the right of the Jews to defend themselves against their enemies. When the day finally comes, the Jews strike down 75,000 of their enemies throughout the kingdom and have Haman’s ten sons hanged. This day is celebrated thereafter as Purim and Mordecai rises to rank second only to Xerxes.