1 Chronicles 10 reviews what happens to Saul as his life ends. We read about it back in 1 Samuel, but the write of Chronicles reviews it here. The “Philistines fought against Israel” and the army of Israel fled. Archaeologists tell us two other things about the Philistines: they were hard drinkers, and they were the first in the region to effectively use iron, and they made the most of it. It was the later, along with their heritage as a military based society, that made them extremely difficult to fight.
The Philistines also were sea-faring people and traded with distant lands. Therefore they imported newer and better military technology from the Greeks and became a powerful enemy of the people of Israel. While the army of Israel could deal with other enemies like those from Moab and Ammon, they were unequipped to be able to handle the Philistine army, and they fled to Mount Gilboa. But the Philistines caught up and “overtook Saul and his sons, and the Philistines struck down Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchi-shua, the sons of Saul”.
Saul has no intention of allowing the Philistines to kill him, so ordered his armor-bearer to kill him. But the young man refused, and Saul “took his own sword and fell upon it”. So that day Saul and his sons died. Jonathan died as he had lived – loyally fighting unto the very end for his God, his country, and his father the king. This was the tragic end of the reign of the first king of Israel. It didn’t go as they had planned. And the Philistines came in and occupied the land and lived with them.
We do get clarity in why Saul’s reign was ended. “Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the Lord in that he did not keep the command of the Lord, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance. He did not seek guidance from the Lord. Therefore the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse”. God doesn’t leave this outcome a mystery. Saul died for his unfaithfulness. He went from a humble follower of God to a guy corrupted by power and pride. Saul is unfortunately an example of wasted potential. And now David becomes king.
1 Chronicles 9 follows the first eight chapters of the book which was a list of genealogical records. It was more or less the public record of the day with account for the tribes and the families within each. But as we begin this chapter we are reminded in one sentence the reality of God’s expectations for His people. “Judah was taken into exile in Babylon because of their breach of faith”. The simple truth is that if they had remained faithful, God would have protected them amid the rise and fall of a hundred powerful kings and kingdoms, but they made a different choice and paid the consequence.
The people are back in the land, and the author now changes focus from the past to the present and future. “Now the first to dwell again in their possessions in their cities were Israel, the priests, the Levites, and the temple servants”. The people of the tribes of Israel came back to their ancestral lands, promised to them by God and first possessed in the days of Moses and Joshua. As the author describes their return, he begins with the three categories of workers in the temple:
- Priests were the descendants of Aaron who had the right to offer sacrifice and take care of the Holy Place in the temple.
- Levites were the religious workers who served in many ways: practical, artistic, and spiritual.
- The temple servants were special servants given to the temple.
One important role that is called out here is that of the gatekeepers. The “Korahites were in charge of the work of the service, keepers of the thresholds of the tent, as their fathers had been in charge of the camp of the Lord, keepers of the entrance”. It shows us a definite organization and division of labor among the Levites. Things were being organized once again with their return to Jerusalem and they did it in a way similar to what King David had done originally.
There was order in the temple area. “David and Samuel the seer established them in their office of trust”. The delegation of power was intentional and done with care. They had a big responsibility of opening the House of God and at the end of the day, closing it up. Each was appointed to do their particular task along with caring for their particular side of the temple. “The four chief gatekeepers, who were Levites, were entrusted to be over the chambers and the treasures of the house of God”. While it may seem to be a menial task, it was in fact, a very important one for the people!
1 Chronicles 8 returns to the tribe of Benjamin and gives us a much more detailed list than we saw in the last chapter. That history begins with the family of Saul. He was the first king of Israel and he was a descendant of Benjamin. But here we go all the way back to Benjamin and move forward. It is likely that the writer elaborates on this family again, not simply because of the significance of King Saul and his family, because it continues a dozen generations after him, but primarily because of the importance of Benjamin as a tribe.
One thing about these lists of names is the fact that in some cases, they had multiple names. For example, Saul’s grandfather Ner is also called Abiel (1 Samuel 9:1). The Hebrew tells us that his proper name was Abiel; and that he was called Ner – that is, a lamp or torch – because he outshone in holiness. We also see often that names mean something in Old Testament times. Ner was a godly man that gave a foundation for the first king of Israel to come from.
Another man on the list that has a couple names is Jonathan’s son Merib-Baal. Remember that David took care of him as part of his promise to Jonathan. He was crippled and lived with David in his palace. His name was changed to Mephi-bosheth; for as the Israelites detested Baal, which signifies ‘lord’, they changed it into ‘bosheth’, which signifies shame or reproach. This is not an uncommon occurrence during Old Testament times and makes tracking a bit more challenging. A good commentary is required at times to follow along.
The other man of note here is Ulam and his sons. “The sons of Ulam were men who were mighty warriors, bowmen, having many sons and grandsons, 150”. First of all his family was prolific with 150 offspring noted. But beyond that, his line were fighters. And they had a particular skill with archery. The Hebrew word here for bowmen or archers is in Hebrew, ‘that tread the bow’; for the bows of steel, which these men used, required great strength to bend them; which therefore they did by treading the bow with their feet, and pulling the string with both their hands. A very unique skill indeed.
1 Chronicles 7 continues the listing of the genealogies of the tribes. It begins with the tribe of Issachar in verses 1-5. Scripture tells us that there were 87,000 mighty warriors ready for battle in this tribe. Scripture calls out a few of the key men along the line. In verses 6-12 we see data on the tribe of Benjamin. Three main clans are listed here, that of Bela, Beker and Jediael who had a total of 61,434 men of fighting age. The census which was ordered by King David was to determine how many men were available for battle, so it does not include women or children.
Next comes the tribe of Naphtali in verse 13. So they get mention, but beyond listing his four sons there is no other information. The western half of the tribe of Manasseh is found in verses 14-19. Remember that this tribe lived half on one side of the Jordan and half on the other. Epraim is the next tribe to be mentioned. We get a little more history here as we’re told “Ezer and Elead, whom the men of Gath who were born in the land killed, because they came down to raid their livestock. And Ephraim their father mourned many days, and his brothers came to comfort him”.
Ezer and Elead went to Gath. They were sons of Ephraim. They went to steal cows and sheep. But the local men caught them and they killed Ezer and Elead. Ephraim was very sad because of the loss of these two sons. He mourned for days. He and his wife had another son. They called him Beriah. That name means ‘in evil’. They gave him this name because of the evil things that had happened in the family. One other thing of note about Ephraim is that Joshua, son of Nun, comes from this tribe. He becomes a leader after Moses death.
Finally we read in the last ten verses about the tribe of Asher. This is a bit smaller tribe with only 26,000 men listed but they were “heads of fathers’ houses, approved, mighty warriors, chiefs of the princes”. The sons and grandsons of Asher were born before the *Israelites went to Egypt. The list only shows the clans that came from Beriah, so not all lines were listed. And the writer ends the family lists of the tribes with Asher. He does not tell us about the families of Dan and Zebulun.
1 Chronicles 6 begins with a list of the history of the tribe of Levi. The entire tribe of Levi had a special place in Israel, given over to the service of God generally. Within the tribe of Levi was a special priestly family descended from Aaron. All priests were therefore Levites, but not all Levites were priests. There is some feeling that the genealogy of Levi is given here with more detail than that of any of the other tribes. This may be because the author was a priest himself.
Verse 31 begins a list of the musicians for the House of the LORD. “These are the men whom David put in charge of the service of song in the house of the Lord….they ministered with song.” The fact that David appointed these men over the service of song shows that the musical worship of God is important, it is worthy of attention, and should be organized. Far too often we don’t treat music as important in our worship as we should. It is an important part of how we relate to our God.
Verse 49 begins a list of Aaron and his descendants. The priesthood descended from Aaron and Aaron only. He, his sons, and their descendants were the only ones authorized to offer sacrifices on the altar. Note that absent from this list are the two disobedient sons of Aaron (Nadab and Abihu) who were judged for bringing a strange fire of corrupt worship to the altar. We read about them in Leviticus 10 but they are not mentioned here.
The rest of the book addresses the cities and common-lands of the Levites. Over and over during these verses the cities are not only addressed, but along with them is included their “pasturelands”. In almost every case, as a city is listed, it includes mention of the pastures around it. Remember that the tribe of Levi itself had no land dedicated to itself as the other tribes did. Their inheritance was the LORD Himself and the tithes that the people of God brought to them.
1 Chronicles 5 reviews the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh. It begins with a look at the sons of Reuben. He was the firstborn son to Israel (Jacob) but made a big mistake. He would have become the leader of the family. But Reuben lost those benefits because of his actions. He had sex with Bilhah who was a wife of his father. That cost him the birthright and ultimately changed history as Joseph becomes the son who receives that as a result.
“Reuben….was the firstborn, but because he defiled his father’s couch, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel, so that he could not be enrolled as the oldest son; though Judah became strong among his brothers and a chief came from him, yet the birthright belonged to Joseph”. Reuben’s decision to sin against God and his father cost him much. The benefits that should have been Reuben’s went to Joseph’s sons instead. Joseph was the first son of Rachel. She was Israel’s favorite wife. Joseph had two sons: Ephraim and Manasseh. Each of these sons received the benefits of a tribe. Joseph became the leader instead of Reuben.
Reuben’s descendants did expand and “their livestock had multiplied in the land of Gilead….lived in their tents”. They grew and were a strong tribe. The next description is that of the sons of Gad. They lived in the same area. These guys were mighty men. They were ready for war and conquered many people. “The Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh had valiant men who carried shield and sword, and drew the bow, expert in war, 44,760, able to go to war”. Not just a few of them either. There is a literal army of men ready to fight.
They captured a handful of people and carried off the plunder. Thousands of camels, sheep and donkeys, along with over 100K of people as their captives. They were large and in charge. “But they broke faith with the God of their fathers, and whored after the gods of the peoples of the land” and disobedience sets in. That never goes well. God stirred up the king of Assyria who came and conquered these two and a half tribes and took them into exile. From victorious to captive all because of disobedience.
1 Chronicles 4 continues the long list of genealogical names. These are other families of Judah as well as some of the tribe of Simeon. They are classed along with those of Judah, as their possession was partly taken out of the extensive territory of Judah.
But tucked away in the middle of chapters and chapters of these lists are two of my favorite verses in all of scripture. It is what has come to be called the prayer of Jabez in verses 9-10. “Jabez was more honorable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.” Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” And God granted what he asked”.
We do not know whose son Jabez was. We learn that Jabez got his name because of the difficulty of his childbirth. But he goes on to pray a prayer that we can all pray as our own. I’ve been praying this regularly since coming across these four powerful requests some years ago. Jabez asks God:
- Bless me
- Enlarge my border
- Your hand might be with me
- Keep me from harm
Four simple requests but four powerful things when God answers.
And God does answer prayer. Not just this prayer, but every prayer we utter. In Jabez’ case, God answered this prayer. “And God granted what he asked”. It doesn’t get much better than that. Jabez comes to God, in the middle of a litany of chronological names, and asks a prayer of the Almighty God. Scripture tells us that he was “more honorable than his brothers”. That may be due to the reality that he came before God with a simple yet mighty prayer and God not only heard, but answered it.