“No one is righteous. No, not one” (Romans 3:10).
It’s true. We can’t please God with our works. But we can’t be all that bad, can we? Perhaps we tithe, we donate to charitable causes, we bring soup to the sick, or we listen to the hurting.
And yet, the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah paint a very different portrait of the human heart. Isolated acts of obedience and goodness cannot atone for sin or even prevent it. For if we were to rule kingdoms on earth, we would also fall short. Perhaps we would commit adultery and murder like David. Or acquire countless wives like Solomon. And if we weren’t given the gift of rule, then we might be like David’s son, Absalom, and revolt against our own father!
At this point in history Israel has returned from a humiliating, defeating, and painful trip to exile. 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah remind the Israelites of their years of disobedience, and how they got to the point of exile in the first place.
This is one crucial distinction between the books of Kings and Chronicles. Whereas Kings was directed at Israel before exile, Chronicles is directed at Israel after exile. See if you can keep yourself in that mindset as you read.
Perhaps the greatest takeaway from this section is that the hope is found in a recognition of failure. Knowing we have fallen desperately short of God’s standard is beginning of repentance, and repentance is a prerequisite of grace. Only then can we recognize that it is God who accomplishes all the good in us and through us. In that light, those who believe in Jesus’ power to save have tremendous hope.
At this point in the 90-Day Challenge, you are most likely saying, “OK, I get it! When is the happy ending going to come?” Hang on, keep reading, Matthew is getting much closer. Soon we will be rejoicing with the magi.
God had promised the Israelites a king. With the death of Saul and God’s promise to establish David’s house, it seemed like David was the one God would use to fulfill His promises. But David committed sins of such serious magnitude that it was clear he was not the one. King after king would come after David, none wholly good, in a general trajectory down into depravity and sin. But surely, God will keep His promises. Surely, there is a king to come that will rule over all creation and eternity.
1 Chronicles How did Israel land in exile? God, through the writer of Chronicles, answers this question through genealogies, beginning with Adam. The book shares a common storyline with Kings, with a few differences. In some ways it is painful to have to read, again, all of the sins that Israel commits.
There are drastic consequences for not following the Lord.
2 Chronicles As with Samuel and Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles were originally written as one book. The second half of Chronicles picks up with Solomon and David, and ends with the sequence of kings that followed, the majority of which disobey the Lord. Chaos reigns, not kings. Most of the 39 (yes 39!) kings following Solomon and David are faithless, one after another, except for very few. Is there no hope? There is. The kings who are faithful are enough for Israel to keep their confidence in God.
The Lord raises the humble, but He will humble those who take their pride in anything other than Him.
Ezra The Israelites return to rebuild their temple, per the permission of Persian King Cyrus. It is encouraging that they do, despite the fact that nearby adversaries make them afraid to do so.
Nehemiah Just like children today who don’t remember 9/11, the children described in Nehemiah don’t remember exile. So they don’t worry so much about straying to other gods away from the one true God of Israel. Nehemiah leads Israel and rebuilds the city wall — a physical and spiritual separation between Israel and those who follow pagan gods. At the end of the book, the people of Israel once again begin to act as God’s children.
Encouraging Comments from a B90 Reader
We are truly more sinful than we ever imagined… God motivated pagan kings to bless the people of Israel. The foundation of the temple was built. People shouted and sang, making noise unto the Lord. But their hearts were not content to focus on God alone — and they disobeyed by marrying unbelievers. But God did not abandon them. He motivated Ezra who interceded for Israel. And his example –and God’s prompting – brought others to the place of confession and repentance and obedience. Though we all are more sinful than we could ever imagine, we are more loved and accepted than we could ever dare hope.
Clearly, God’s people are not able to maintain His law and they are not able to rule themselves. They are hardly able to do anything right.
The books of 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah mirror the state of our own hearts. Again and again and again we will fail on our own. Even when we triumph over sin, we are quick to be prideful. Even in our repentance, we are not fully humble. As Isaiah said, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags (64:6).
Praise God that He has a far better plan for our righteousness than we ever could. His perfect love means not only that Christ died so that we might live, but that when God looks at us, He sees only the perfect righteousness of His Son.
Can you imagine God looking at you with love and seeing nothing but goodness and purity?