Lost Books & Names for God

I’ve been reading the Chronicles this afternoon (after futzing around on my ukulele; it’s been that kind of day) and I always like it when I come across things like this:

26 Thus David the son of Jesse reigned over all Israel. 27 The time that he reigned over Israel was forty years. He reigned seven years in Hebron and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. 28 Then he died at a good age, full of days, riches, and honor. And Solomon his son reigned in his place. 29 Now the acts of King David, from first to last, are written in the Chronicles of Samuel the seer, and in the Chronicles of Nathan the prophet, and in the Chronicles of Gad the seer, 30 with accounts of all his rule and his might and of the circumstances that came upon him and upon Israel and upon all the kingdoms of the countries. (1 Chronicles 29:26-30 ESV)

We have, I think, the books of Samuel the seer — if that’s what 1 & 2 Samuel are. We don’t have a “Book of Nathan,” nor do we have a “Book of Gad.” If I have to guess, elements of Nathan and Gad have been included or appended to Samuel’s account.

Samuel, of course, is the cranky old seer (although he starts out as a young man who hears voices and succeeds to the effective prophetic rulership of Israel when Eli’s sons show themselves to be corrupt) who must deal with Israel wanting to be like all other nations and have a king. He dies in 1 Samuel 25, though Saul conjures up his unhappy spirit from sheol, and tells Saul (among other things), that “tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me [in sheol].”

Nathan is the man of God (and, per 1 Sam 5:14, might also be one of David’s sons) to tell David he won’t build a temple for him and to call the king on his nonsense regarding Bathsheba and her husband Uriah (who David arranges to kill).

Gad the seer is the prophet who comes to David late in his reign to tell David he must choose the price for conducting the census (2 Sam 24):

13 So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, “Shall three years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days ‘pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.” 14 Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.”

15 So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning until the appointed time. And there died of the people from Dan to Beersheba 70,000 men. 16 And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented from the calamity and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the Lord was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. 17 Then David spoke to the Lord when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, “Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand be against me and against my father’s house. (2 Samuel 24:13-17 ESV)

(Again with the treating floor…)

So, if I have to guess, we have Gad’s and Nathan’s accounts — or portions of their accounts, or excerpts from their accounts — in the official history as it has been given to us. For example, both books of Kings constantly refer to something called “The Chronicles of the Kings of Israel,” which may or may not be what we have (and most likely not the two books of Chronicles).

Chronicles has a bit of a Johannine feel to it. The fourth gospel, as John is constantly referred to, strikes me not as an independent account, but one that requires the reader or hearer to be familiar with the basic synoptic account. It has a “yes, that, but this also” feel to me. And Chronicles feels that way too. It isn’t an alternative history to Deuteronomy through 2 Kings, but an addition, a “this too.”

What’s most odd about Chronicles is the frequent use of the word we translate as God — אֱלֹהִים elohim — and not the proper name of Israel’s God, יהוה YHWH, which we frequently translate as LORD. YHWH is used in Chronicles, but God is used a lot more. It may be, then, that Chronicles was written in a more cosmopolitan context. Elohim was always used for God, but YHWH notes the very special relationship Israel has with the one who called and gathered it.

This is actually true of Jonah, for example. Where the reference is to the God who is in special relationship with Israel, “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah, the son of Amittai, saying…”, the proper, formal, personal name is used. Jonah prays to the Lord. Jonah speaks to the Lord.

But when the king of Ninevah issues his command to repent, he speaks of God — elohim. They are, of course, the same. But the king of Ninevah doesn’t have the same relationship as Jonah does. (Now, this gets a little messy at the end, where God speaks to Jonah as God, and not the Lord, perhaps making it clear that the boundary is now much fuzzier than Jonah — and us — think.)

Chronicles feels like it might be written for external consumption. “See, our YHWH is also your elohim.” The name of the Lord is not absent from Chronicles, it’s just played down quite a bit. In favor of God.

And yet, even with that, the proclamation of Cyrus which ends the Chronicles account, ends with the emperor of Persia using the proper name of God and referring to the Lord.

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven [יְהוָה֙ אֱלֹהֵ֣י הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם], has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him. Let him go up. (2 Chronicles 36:23 ESV)

If the use of God is intended to tell a non-Jewish listener in this now cosmopolitan civilization that they worship the same God as the conqueror, this use of Lord sneakily acknowledges the opposite — that your God is really our YHWH. It would have been readily understandable in Aramaic, which became the lingua franca of the Babylonian and Persian empires. None of this silly argument over what word for God denotes which god (and is one right and is one wrong). There is one אל (however it is spelled or pronounced) and no matter what you might think, he also happens to be our יהוה. Ha! Gotcha!

2 thoughts on “Lost Books & Names for God

  1. As I said elsewhere, I wish our translations would make this more clear. “I am YaHWeH your god, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” For that matter, I might also go with Jesus the Messiah instead of Jesus Christ, so we don’t have to keep explaining that Christ isn’t his last name. But then we’d have to explain why we’re called Christians. We could say Jesus the Anointed and be the Anointeders and live in Anointederdom. Or not.

  2. Dang … I think I’m going to write a book called ‘Anoitederdom’. Maybe have t-shirts made….

    I would sure love to see those lost chronicles of the kings and seers. But I suppose if God wanted us to have them, he would have made us all scribes and archaeologists.

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