Formations 02.05.2023: Unfinished Business

The Royal Palace, Stockholm, Sweden

1 Chronicles 17:4-16, 23

Why do we have two different versions of Israel’s history in the Old Testament? The short answer is because humans always rewrite their history from time to time. Cultural and historical circumstances change. When they do, we eventually find that we need to change the way we tell our stories to reflect the new realities in which we live.

The so-called Deuteronomic History, comprising Joshua, Judges, 1–2 Samuel, and 1–2 Kings, drew on much older sources but was put together in the form we have it sometime during the Babylonian exile. One of the main questions these exilic authors wrestled with was “How did we get here?”: how have we come to this low point in our history? The answer we find in this earliest version of Israel’s history was, essentially, that Israel brought this calamity on themselves through their persistent sin.

The later version of Israel’s history, found in 1–2 Chronicles, was written over a hundred years later when the Jews had returned from Babylonia and were struggling to revitalize their nation. In this new context, the prevailing question was not so much “How did we get here?” but “Where do we go from here?”

In the books of Chronicles, King David is an aspirational figure: a larger-than-life king from an almost forgotten time who, the writers hope, will offer Israel a blueprint for the future.

And in all candor, Judah’s future was looking up. When the Deuteronomic History was written, the royal family had been executed, Jerusalem’s temple had been destroyed, and the nation’s leading citizens had been deported to Babylonia. By the time of the Chronicler, the exiles had returned, and the temple had been rebuilt.

But they still didn’t have a king. They lived in their own land, but under the thumb of the Persian Empire. So let’s imagine how today’s lesson might be read by people in that context.

With his new capital established, David contemplates building a temple for God. Through the prophet Nathan, however, God tells David that the time is not yet right for such a project. God has no need of a house to dwell in. On the contrary, God intends to build a house, a dynasty, for David (v. 10). This dynasty will endure forever, and David’s heir will indeed build a temple in Jerusalem.

Really? David’s dynasty will endure forever? But what about the Babylonians? For that matter, what about the Persians?

A fifth-century reader couldn’t help but realize that God and Israel had some unfinished business to deal with. God has restored their fortunes—to a point. But Judah is still without a king. And God promises an everlasting dynasty that has not yet materialized.

These words are also found in Israel’s first history, written in the depths of the exile. The Chronicler includes them here as well, a hundred years later, even though they must have seemed no less hollow.

Why not quietly forget this promise? The Chronicler had no problem quietly forgetting the entire episode between David and Bathsheba, so why not this?

Maybe it’s testimony that the Chronicler still holds on to hope. After all that God has already restored to Israel…why not a new Davidic king?

The Chronicler wants his readers to find hope for the future. God has come through for them in the past; we can trust God to do everything that God promised.

Maybe that’s a lesson we could learn as well.


• What does David feel he needs to do for God? How does this compare and contrast with what God promises to do for David?
• How has God come through for you in the past?
• How can remembering God’s mercies give us hope for what lies ahead?
• Where do you find grace in this passage?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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