Book Review: Eugene H. Merrill, A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles

Merrill, Eugene H. A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2015. 637 pp. Hb; $39.99. Link to Kregel.

Commentaries on 1 & 2 Chronicles are often painful to read. Since the books begin with nine chapters of genealogy there is little for most pastors to preach or teach and a great deal of textual work to be done in a serious commentary which is frankly dry reading (For example, Gary Knoppers’s excellent commentary on 1 Chronicles 1-9 will not win any awards for spiritual formation!) Merrill’s new commentary on both 1 & 2 Chronicles in an exegetical commentary yet he attempts to keep his eye on important theological issues in which pastors and teachers are interested.

A fifty page introduction begins with the historical and cultural setting of Chronicles. Merrill traces the return from exile and the political re-establishment of the Jewish people in Yehud. Here is focuses on data from Ezra and Nehemiah as well as the post-exilic prophets describing social and religious reforms. This includes the rebuilding of the Temple as well as a refinement of Temple worship. This post-exilic community is the world in which the books of Chronicles were written. Merrill is content to simply call the author “The Chronicler” rather than try to argue for Ezra or one of the post-exilic prophets.

Merrill, ChroniclesChronicles offers a rare opportunity in Old Testament studies since the book has made use of earlier canonical material and in many instances written the history to give a more favorable impression of some events or persons than the earlier Deuteronomic History (Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings). For Merrill, the Old Testament writers thought of themselves as conveying divine revelation, so the Chronicler thought carefully about any departure from his sources (51). Yet the Jewish world in the post-exilic period was much different than that of the Deuteronomic Historian.

Merrill suggests the Chronicler was influenced by the eschatological hopes of Ezra-Nehemiah so that he attempted to answer the despair of the post-exilic community by re-writing history to point forward to an eschatological hope in a restored house of David (60). It is well known that Chronicles minimizes David’s sin, for Merrill the motivation for this positive spin is to set the stage for a succession of Davidic kings fulfilling God’s promise. David is the anticipated ruler of early canonical promises (62) and the focus of prophetic hopes for a future, eschatological kingdom (65). In fact, these hopes take the shape of a new temple as a symbol of God’s reconstituted people (68).

The introduction is supplemented by twelve excurses which conclude many of the major units of the commentary. These are brief additional comments on a historical or theological issue in the unit for example, at the end of the commentary on 1 Chron 15:1-21:30 (the exploits of David), Merrill offers a page on the Angel of YHWH, two pages on David and Royal Sonship, and a about five pages on the Theological Ethic of Holy War.

Each of the nine units of the commentary covers a section of the history. Merrill breaks the units into subsections, usually covering about a chapter each. The commentary provides the NIV translation for each subsection followed by brief textual critical notes. The text provided appears to be the 1984 text (compare 1 Chron 7:23 in the 1984 and 2011 versions).  There is nothing in the preface or introduction explaining this decision, although there are less differences in Chronicles than other portions of the Bible. A second observation is that not all textual notes are in the textual notes section, occasionally they appear in the footnotes.

After the translation and notes, Merrill offers “exegesis and exposition” of the section, usually covering several verses in each section. Given the constraints of the commentary, a phrase-bu-phrase commentary is impossible so he focuses on particular problems in the text which need explanation. He comments on differences between the Deuteronomic Historian (DH) and the Chronicler, especially where the Chronicler omits something from the DH. Where there are clear parallels he provides reference to the text in the DH. Hebrew is included in the main text, although most technical details are placed in the footnotes. Even though the Hebrew text is not transliterated most readers without Hebrew will have no problem following Merrill’s comments. The footnotes interact with major commentaries and secondary literature on Chronicles.

After the commentary proper, there is a brief theological reflection on the section of Chronicles. These conveniently indexed at the beginning of the volume. In the section on the “Exploits of David,” Merrill comments that the Chronicler describes David as an “almost impeccable super-hero who does little wrong and is triumphant in nearly every undertaking to which he puts his hands” (251). From this observation, he briefly points to various Second Temple texts which express similar messianic expectations about David, including the New Testament.

Conclusion. Merrill has contributed a solid evangelical commentary on the often ignored books of 1 & 2 Chronicles which will help pastors and teachers work through the books as they present them to God’s church. His emphasis on eschatological hopes is important since these continue to develop throughout the Second Temple period and are foundation for understanding the Gospels. This is my main criticism of the volume, the theology sections are less robust than I hoped given the introduction to the commentary. This intra-canonical reading has become popular in recent years and Chronicles is a worthy place to use the methods of canonical criticism. Nevertheless, this was not the goal of the commentary so it is unfair to consider this a shortcoming. Merrill’s commentary is a worthy contribution to the Kregel Exegetical Commentary series.

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Eugene H. Merrill, A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles

  1. If you have access to a good library, look for Michael Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (Clarendon, 1989). It is ridiculously expensive even in paperback, but is probably the best on inner-canonical interpretation in the Hebrew Bible. I read that one and Daniel Boyarin’s Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash during my PhD studies. I do not recall now if they focused a chapter on Chronicles specifically, but these are the two I recall most on the topic of inner biblical canonical studies.

    Several major works on the period that are probably best found in a good library since they are expensive Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies volumes:

    1. William M. Schniedewind, The Word of God in Transition: From Prophet to Exegete in the Second Temple Period (1995).

    2. An essay collection edited by by Mark J. Boda, Bringing Out the Treasure: Inner Biblical Allusion in Zechariah 9-14 (2003, now in pb, 2013 but still not affordable).

    3. Jonathan Gibson’s Covenant Continuity and Fidelity: A Study of Inner-Biblical Allusion and Exegesis in Malachi (2016).

    Two less pricey texts come to mind, both by by Joseph Blenkinsopp. First, Judaism, the First Phase: The Place of Ezra and Nehemiah in the Origins of Judaism (Eerdmans, 2009) and David Remembered: Kingship and National Identity in Ancient Israel (Eerdmans, 2013). I reviewed that book in 2013.

    https://readingacts.com/2013/09/26/book-review-joseph-blenkinsopp-david-remembered/

    Hope this helps…

    Liked by 1 person

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