1 & 2 Chronicles
Peter J. Leithart, 1 & 2 Chronicles. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2019. xx + 267 pages. $35.00, hardback.
In a series uneven as the Brazos Theological Commentary, a voice like Leithart’s is always a welcome one. He’s a master at his craft and a delight to read. While typology, intertextuality, and literary readings of the Bible have become common fare amongst academics, preachers, and seminarians, very few have done as much as Leithart to show just how fruitful these approaches can be.
With this book, Leithart completes his triptych on the “1 & 2”s of the Old Testament. His commentary on 1 & 2 Samuel, A Son to Me, came out in 2003, in which he stretched some of his now characteristic typological muscles. 1 & 2 Kings appeared in the same series as his Chronicles and has now been hailed as one of the preeminent examples of theological interpretation. Despite his infamy in Reformed circles, Leithart is a paragon of exegetical precision and care, mixing literary insights with philosophical musings and an almost unfathomable knowledge of theology and the Bible. This volume is no exception. Leithart’s meticulous eye for detail, patterns, and types goes to work mining the depths of an oft-neglected set of Old Testament books.
When most people think of 1 & 2 Chronicles, more than likely they depreciate it as an abridged telling of Samuel and Kings. Not so, says Leithart. In his mind, these books present a stunning vision of life under the reign of God. Two themes in particular drive Leithart’s reading of Chronicles—ecclesiology and typology. Any longtime reader of Leithart will recognize these as familiar fellows for him. In this book, ecclesiology and typology are almost inseparable. His typology is often ecclesiological, and his ecclesiology arrives out of intricate typologies.
Ecclesiology takes center stage in 1 & 2 Chronicles. Leithart argues Chronicles allows for fruitful reflection on liturgy, polity, and unity, providing models and examples of how the church may come to a greater understanding of all three by studying these pages (2). He regularly notes instances where assemblies (qahal in Hebrew) appear (7, 9-10, 48, 127, 185-186, 203, 211). The Chronicler highlights assemblers, so Leithart says, exactly because he is so concerned with the shape and practice of Israel’s cult and kingdom. According to Leithart, the Chronicler’s painstaking detail of temple administration throughout the two books even provides a model for worship and church reform:
Music turns creation into culture and cult. Music makes us warriors by enlivening our spirit. Soldiers march to battle in rhythm. The pounding beat and soaring chords of warm-up music fill athletes with the spirit of the game. Martyrs go to the arena singing psalms and hymns. Singing is, finally, a form of prophecy. Chronicles is a manual for church reformers, as well as for church musicians. (7)
This theme of music, cult, and temple service flow throughout the commentary, beginning with David, and ending with the reign of Josiah who rehabilitates much of David’s liturgical reforms. In the pages of Chronicles we get a glimpse of a church and assembly
Typology runs the engine for everything else. Most of Leithart’s truly remarkable insights concern subtle and easily missed typologies that add layers to the text. The spine of his typology, though, follows Israel’s history from Creation to the reign of David: “Chronicles begins with the name Adam and end with the decree of Cyrus. It is a hint that the Chronicler is retelling the entire history of the Old Testament in, with, and under the history of kings” (4). Throughout the entire work, Leithart calls the reader’s attention to various Davidic figures, each with their own Solomon and Saul. Creation and recreation appear regularly throughout the text as Adam and other little “a” adams march out into the world. Creation, sin, exile, resurrection—this is the entire narrative substructure running from 1 Chronicles 1:1-2 Chronicles 36:23.
So, should you read this commentary? A good rule of thumb is to read whatever Leithart puts out. It goes without saying that he must be read with caution. Leithart, while claiming the heritage of the Reformation, does not mind confessional tracks. Once that’s understood, very few writers alive today deliver as much and as often as Peter Leithart does. Plus, Leithart is one of those rare souls in theology who cranks out enjoyable copy at an astounding rate.
Another reason you should read this commentary is more pedagogical. Leithart’s keen, literary eye for the texture of the text is on full display as he works carefully through 1 & 2 Chronicles, keying readers into puns in the Hebrew, making almost unobservable structural notes, and connecting all the dots to the wider biblical narrative. Like his work in 1 & 2 Kings, Leithart presents a model in how to read the Bible carefully. Even if you disagree with him, and you almost certainly will, he is a master tutor in training your eyes on the text and drilling down deep.
Finally, Leithart’s greatest contribution is reading 1 & 2 Chronicles as an intentional and masterful unity. This is one of those books we skim through in our quiet time, hardly noticing the differences and not stopping to examine those we do notice. That simply won’t do for those who want to be better readers of Scripture.
Despite the high praise, this is not a perfect book. Those familiar with Leithart’s work will spot many of the same weaknesses that afflict his oeuvre. First, regardless of what Leithart may say, not every pericope proves to be a chiasm. Extremely dubious chiasms appear more often than one may like, and they can get tiresome after a while. Second, gematria (the assignment of numeric values to Hebrew characters), while no doubt useful in some passages, can get out of hand when used indiscriminately. While more tempered than some of his other works (e.g., Revelation, 2 vols., in the ITC), the number-crunching often seems a baroque flourish rather than substantial exegesis.
The last critique is the most critical. Leithart’s reading of 1 & 2 Chronicles is dizzying and astounding. There are pages of absolute brilliance, awarding close readers. Unfortunately, this book felt like it failed to land its punch. Things didn’t quite come together. Most of the interesting exegetical points receive almost no theological treatments. Treatments that did appear felt undercooked. In many ways, this book felt incomplete, missing some of the vibrancy that we’ve come to expect from Leithart.
Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte