Book Review: 1 Chronicles (WBC)

Reviewing commentaries is a tricky business – particularly for me as a generalist, and an in-publisher editor of commentaries! I tend to offer my review based on the format and content of the volume, and it’s utility or otherwise to preachers and pastors. Occasionally I’ll digress into particularly theological or stylistic quirks.

1 Chronicles is not necessarily a book that is regularly preached, dived into devotionally, or particularly popular. It is not a book I’ve heard described as a favourite by anyone, but it is part of the Bible, God’s authoritiative word, and so it is useful, instructive, and has much to teach us. I found Roddy Braun’s 1987 entry in the Word Biblical Commentary to be a helpful, and surprisingly readable guide in my devotional study of the book. The WBC is somewhat notorious for having a slightly clunky, over-realised and flow-lacking format – even by commentary standards they feel like books that are explicitly not designed to be read cover to cover. Normally, this is an irritation, and why my small collection of WBC volumes tends to be used for reference rather than reading! However, due to the text of 1 Chronicles being a blend of genres (genealogies, narrative, psalm, to name just three), this format actually helps to illuminate and open up the text of the book. In this, I think it is fair to say that the author’s aims are met:

it is my hope that, if no new ground is broken here, at least a beginning, or a further step, may be taken in understanding Chronicles sympathetically and on its own terms, and a greater appreciation gained of the theological viewpoint of the writer and of the thoroughness, determination, and skill with which he pursued that point” (p. ix)

After around 30 pages of introduction the commentary proper gets going, with a particularly helpful observation on the 9 possible purposes of Old Testament genealogies (p. 3). The commentary proper is workmanlike and readable – in between the unfortunately placed bibliiographic sections – with Braun managing to do both the technical work, and provide useful summaries of sections:

  • On the enumeration of Israel’s northern tribes, begining at 1 Chron. 7:1-5, “All Israel, including Issachar, was to be included within the scope of the divine plan” p. 105
  • On the eschatological hope revealed in the coronation of David, 1 Chron. 12:24-41, “The ultimate establishment of God’s righteous rule will introduce an era of unlimited joy for all his people” (p. 171)
  • A challenging but nuanced reading of David and war: “Although not made explicit here, Chronicles recounts David’s wars primarily to indicate God’s blessing upon him… God blesses David for his faithfulness, and that blessing is seen in his military victories” (p. 208)
  • Braun’s closing words of commentary echo his preface (quoted in part above) and demonstrate the biblical-theological value of 1 Chronicles for the church today: “The God who furthered his plans through David, Solomon, and the temple, and summoned his people to identify themselves with him in those plans, is still mightily at work, andstill summons ‘all Israel,’, i.e., all his chosen ones, to accept his lordship and respond with lives of obedient service. In that service, they are assured, they will find perfect freedom and joy” (p. 293)

The WBC format is not as much of an issue in the study and reading of 1 Chronicles as it might be in more consistently-styled canonical books, in my opinion, and Braun makes the most of it. Whilst this is now an older commentary (published in 1987), I think it remains a good choice for pastors and preachers looking to see the book as a useful whole for Christian discipleship. I read it alongside Phil Moore’s ‘Straight to the Heart’ Volume, which occasionally had a useful devotional/discipleship insight, and Peter Leithart’s ‘Brazos Theological Commentary’ volume, which I was underwhelmed by. For the moment, Braun’s is probably my favourite commentary on 1 Chronicles – though with a replacement TOTC and a new AOTC in my work horizon, I plan to read more over the coming years. 4/5

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