In the fifth century BC, many Judeans were returning from exile to the southern part of the land of Israel. They faced great difficulties: their capital city and temple had been destroyed, foreigners had moved in, and they were no longer ruled by their own king. But the books of Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah insist that God’s people can still fulfill his purpose. They must form a unique society centered on the worship of God in a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. (These books are really one long book, telling a continuous story; one can see, for example, how the end of 2 Chronicles overlaps with the beginning of Ezra.)
The book presents a sweeping chronicle of Israel’s history, beginning with a long genealogy or ancestor list. Going all the way back to Adam, it situates the people of Israel among the nations and reminds them of their calling. Special attention is given to Judah, ancestor of the royal line of David, and to Levi, ancestor of the priests and temple attendants.
The second main part describes the kings who ruled in Jerusalem down to the time of the exile. David receives more attention than others, but many details of his life told elsewhere are left out. The focus is on his military campaigns and his elaborate plans for the temple in Jerusalem. The reason is clear when we see that David was not permitted to build the temple because he was a warrior. God wanted a man of peace to build the place where all nations would come to pray. The honor therefore fell to David’s son Solomon. More space is devoted to him than to any king besides David, describing his construction of the temple and the splendors of his reign.
The final part of the book relates the experiences of the returned exiles. The memoirs of Ezra and Nehemiah, leaders of the second generation of returned Judeans, are incorporated into the history. These leaders helped create a distinct community by forbidding intermarriage with the surrounding peoples, and they directed the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. Included here is a description of a great covenant renewal ceremony led by Ezra and Nehemiah.
An important theme of the entire history—which can appropriately be called a temple history—is that pure worship is offered on God’s terms, not ours. God has chosen Israel to welcome the nations into true worship. Through all the ups and downs of history he is working to bring this purpose to fulfillment.