Monday, February 4, 2008

2 Chronicles 16 also 1 Kings 15:16-24

What is this passage all about?

Asa treated with Ben-Hadad of Aram who then invaded Israel, causing Baasha to break off fortifying Ramah against Asa; Asa used Baasha's building materials for Judah.

What can I learn from this passage?

16:1 contains a very problematic date ("In the thirty-sixth year of Asa's reign") because Baasha's reign over Israel started in the third year of Asa's reign over Judah and Baasha reigned only 24 years according to 1 Kings 15:33. How then could Baasha been fortifying Ramah in the 36th year of Asa's reign? This problem cannot be explained with co-regencies, because Baasha's son only reigned for up to two years before he and all Baasha's descendants were killed as had been prophesied by Jehu son of Hanani (1Ki16:1-4,7); this was followed by a succession of very short reigns of unrelated kings before Ahab came to power (1Ki16). I checked this out in a commentary on 2 Chronicles (by RB Dillard, from the Word Biblical Commentary series) and the commentator described two hypotheses why this discrepancy occurred: (1) The chronicler used the dates to impose his basic theology of immediate punishment for sin on the story (relating the treaty with a foreign king to Asa's later foot disease) or (2) that the chronological information in the 1Ki and 2Ch accounts can be harmonised through either the use of an alternative dating method (not very likely) or a copyists error (no extant text provides any evidence for this). It seems most likely according to this commentary that the writer of Chronicles judged Asa guilty and manipulated his account (written after the return from exile) so that it was clear that God had punished Asa immediately. "The chronicler has reshaped the account he found in Kings by elaborating and reinforcing the divine favour enjoyed by an obedient king and by making explicit the nature of the transgressions that led to his disease and death." (WBC 2Ch p123.) This causes me a fair bit of distress! It is a real problem that a biblical author might 'stretch the truth' in this way to making his theological point. I guess I just have to read this passage knowing that, for this author, the information incorporated in his account was critical to the message he wanted to make plain from the history of this event, but historical accuracy wasn't. So what is the truth from this account? I'm going to take a look at the 1Ki passage:

Sometime in Baasha's reign, "Baasha went up against Judah and fortified Ramah..." (v17). Asa then used the silver and gold that was left in the temple and palace treasuries to bribe Ben-Hadad, king of Aram, who ruled in Damascus, to break Aram's peace with Israel (vv18-19). Ben-Hadad thought this was a good idea and duly invaded Israel (v20). Baasha promptly stopped building Ramah (v21). Judah, on Asa's orders, took the timber and stone Baasha had been using at Ramah and used it to fortify their own cities in Judah (v22). In Asa's old age, his feet became diseased (v23), then Asa died (v24). This is a bare bones account. It doesn't give any dates, but the author of Chronicles might have obtained his presumably erroneous date from oral (or lost written) histories, as must have happened with much of his other material, rather than just fabricating them. The central details of the event are still there, so I can relax a little.

How does this help me worship God?

I'm not sure that it does. Except perhaps to be thankful that He has chosen to preserve the Scriptures as faithfully as He has done, enabling me to read today in my own native language the stories of His people who lived many centuries ago. I do wonder if He wasn't slapping his forehead (metaphorically speaking) when the chronicler wrote 16:1, knowing, as He must have done, how distressing this date would be to believers like me who would read his confusing account more than two thousand years later. Thank You God for my Bible!

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