In light of the Occupy Movement and the interests of the wealthy, I thought I wold share a piece that bears God’s interest in testing the wealthy with wealth.
1 Chronicles 29:1-20
The testing motif fills the story line of Scripture. Abraham is tested (Genesis 22:1). Israel is tested (Deuteronomy 8:1-5). Job is tested (Job 23:1-12). Jesus is tested (Matthew 4:1-11). Paul is tested (1 Thessalonians 2:4). Believers are tested (Judges 2:22; 3:4; Psalm 17:3; 66:10; Isaiah 48:10; Zechariah 13:9; 2 Corinthians 8:8; James 1:12). The world is tested (Revelation 3:10). Believers pray for testing (Psalm 26:2; 139:23). As God seeks hearts, God tests them.
Testing the Wealthy
In 1 Chronicles 28-29, David gathers Israel for a liturgical coronation of Solomon as king. David called Israel together in a holy assembly (cf. 1 Chronicles 13:5; 15:3). David calls this gathering an “assembly of the Lord” (1 Chronicles 28:8) and invites the whole assembly to “praise the Lord your God” (1 Chronicles 29:20; cf. 29:1, 10). Israel assembles to praise God on the occasion of Solomon’s coronation. David construes part of this praise as the responsibility to share their wealth.
In 1 Chronicles 28, David reminded the leaders of Israel of God’s gracious election of Israel and God’s dynastic promise to David which is now focused in Solomon as temple-builder (1 Chronicles 28:2-7). He then charged Solomon and the leaders to seek God just as he seeks them (1 Chronicles 28:8-10). David then laid out both his plans and his preparations for the building of the temple (1 Chronicles 28:11-21). Just as God gave Moses a “pattern” for the building of the temple (Exodus 25:9, 40), so God gave David a “pattern” for the temple (1 Chronicles 28:11-12, 18-19).
In 1 Chronicles 29, David seeks to solidify support for his temple plans among the people. Consequently, David gathered Israel as a holy convocation, a religious celebration. His purpose is engender support for the new temple–both in terms of recognizing it as a divine work and sharing personal wealth for its construction. Just as Moses sought free-will offerings for the support of the tabernacle (Exodus 25, 35-36), so David seeks free-will offerings for the support of the temple. The people respond generously to David’s plea for support.
The Response (1 Chronicles 29:6-9).
Rather than commanding the people to set aside personal resources for the temple, David seeks to persuade them. Japhet summarizes the rhetorical quality of this appeal with five items: (a) the task is too enormous for any single person; (b) Solomon “is young and inexperienced;” (c) David models generosity; (d) David details some of the “necessary items;” and (e) David’s final question is “pregnant with expectation.” This persuasive appeal is a model for leaders. The task before them is communal, necessary, a matter of dedication to God and modeled by leaders.
The beginning and end of the appeal are important. The beginning appeal is a communal one. The task is great and Solomon needs help. Even though Solomon is God’s “chosen one,” he is still “young and inexperienced.” Even God’s elect servants need community. The community must help build God’s “palatial structure.” The designation of the temple as a palace (cf. 1 Chronicles 29:19) reflects royal interests. This is the only time in the Hebrew canon where the temple is so described. Williamson believes that Chronicles intentionally reminds its readers that though Solomon is king, “the kingdom ultimately belongs to God.” God lives in his palace.
The final appeal is inspirational in character: “Now, who is willing to consecrate himself today to the LORD?” The verb “consecrate” is literally “to fill the hand” which is technically “associated with the induction of a priest into his office” (cf. Exodus 28:41; 29:29; 32:29). The dedication of gifts to the Lord is a priestly act on the part of Israel. As Johnstone comments, “By their free-willing offerings, the leadership and, by extension, the whole community, are dedicating themselves, as it were, by ordination as the priestly people of God. Holiness, as sacramentally focused on the Temple, is the realized ideal for the community as a whole.” The act of sacrificial giving is a priestly act; it is a sacrifice to the Lord (cf. Hebrews 13:16). Thus, “it is not simply the gift that is consecrated to God but the giver. As one bids the gift farewell, one takes on a new role before God, a role of consecration to the service of God.”
Sandwiched between these two appeals are David’s gifts to the temple which arise out of two resources: his official capacity (1 Chronicles 29:2) and his personal piety (1 Chronicles 29:3-4). David provides effective leadership by modeling the piety of giving. The Hebrew term behind “personal treasures” is only used elsewhere for Israel as God’s own treasured possession (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; Psalm 135:4; Malachi 3:17). As David models for Israel, God has already modeled for David. David gives to God as God has given to Israel.
The leaders of Israel responded generously. The term “gave willingly” is used 7x in 1 Chronicles 29 (5, 6, 9, 14, 17), and it describes Israel’s response to Moses in Exodus 25:21, 29. The people saw their gifts of their leaders and “rejoiced” just as David did (where the Hebrew reads: “he rejoiced with great rejoicing;” 1 Chronicles 29:9). The joy was rooted in the spiritual significance and generosity of the gifts. They were an expression of the leaders wholehearted devotion “to the Lord” (1 Chronicles 28:9; 29:9). This was not about a building per se. Rather, it was an act of priestly dedication fitting for a holy nation that God intended to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:5).
McConville comments that “people are closest to God-likeness in self-giving, and the nearer they approach God-likeness the more genuinely and rightly they become capable of rejoicing.” Thus, this self-giving was a reflection of Old Testament joy rather than grudging duty. The Old Testament’s “presentation of man’s relationship with God is above all in terms of joy” and wholehearted devotion that rejects “the path of self-gratification.” God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7).
David Blesses the Lord (1 Chronicles 29:10-20)
This is one of the most paradigmatic prayers in Scripture. It is “one of the best examples of prayer-forms” in the Bible and “probably the best known passage in the Book of Chronicles.” The prayer is steeped in theological significance for both David and the Chronicler. It acknowledges that the kingdom belongs to God, and that the whole earth belongs to the Lord. It thanks God for the grace he has demonstrated to Israel and his dynamic activity in the world for the sake of his people. It appeals to God’s heart to move in the hearts of Israel. The prayer assumes a dynamic, active God who yearns for his people and supplies their every need. This confidence evokes praise, but it also evokes a confidence that enables generosity. Paul makes a similar appeal to the Corinthians in a didactic context (1 Corinthians 9:6-15). David does it in a liturgical prayer (notice the seven direct addresses to God). Even though this prayer speaks to God, but it also teaches God’s people.
David’s prayer is a blessing. While the NIV reads “David praised the Lord” (1 Chronicles 29:10), the Hebrew reads David “blessed” the Lord. To “bless” God is certainly to praise him and perhaps they are rough equivalents. However, Dawes has argued that blessing God “is about acknowledging him, giving him due honor,” an honor that belongs to no other. It affirms that he is the only true God (cf. Psalm 134:1-3; 135:19-21) and usually responds to some mighty act of divine revelation (cf. Exodus 18:10; Deuteronomy 8:10).
The blessing links the present experience of Israel to the past and secures the future. The eternal God is the Lord who was with “Israel” (Jacob), and is now with David, and will always be with the children of Israel. The assurance that David draws from the eternal God as the God of his “father Israel” is the same assurance the postexilic community can draw. The Lord is the God of Israel yesterday, today and forever (cf. Hebrews 13:8).
The first stanza of the blessing (1 Chronicles 29:11a) reflects Israel’s worship language. Braun points out the following parallels: (1) “greatness” (Psalms 71:21; 145:3, 6); (2) “power” (Psalms 89:14; 90:10; 106:2, 8; 145:11, 12; 150:2); (3) “glory” (Psalms 71:8; 78:61; 89:18; 96:6); “splendor” (Psalms 8:1; 21:5; 45:3; 96:6; 104:1; 111:3; 145:5) and “in heaven and earth” (Psalms 115:15; 121:2; 123:1; 124:8; 134:3; 135:6). This doxological language ascribes to God what rightly belongs to him as the sovereign Creator. He fills the earth and all majesty belongs to him. This praise language heaps up terms to exalt the one who has eminence in the earth.
The second stanza (1 Chronicles 29:11b-12) locates the reign of God in Israel’s situation. While the Lord reigns over all the earth and everything belongs to him, on this occasion God has demonstrated his reign in Israel. The references to “wealth and honor” refer to the occasion of dedicatory gifts to the temple and enthronement of Solomon. The God of Israel is the real king of Israel. The “kingdom” belongs to him. He is “head over all” and the “ruler” (Psalms 22:29; 59:14; 66:7; 89:10) of all things. “Strength and power” are associated with his reign and he decides whom he will exalt. God alone (“in your hands”) is able to glorify Israel, its king and people. Thus, the reign of God over Israel is manifested in the election of Solomon and the wealth that flows to the temple. In his sovereignty God has gifted Israel with wealth.
The heart of the prayer is David’s reflection on Israel’s situation before this sovereign God (1 Chronicles 29:13-17). It is a thanksgiving that acknowledges that God is actively testing Israel with this gift of wealth. God’s gifts to Israel enable their gifts to him. This thanksgiving and praise is offered on the particular occasion of Israel’s monetary support of the temple.
The contrast between 1 Chronicles 29:13 and 1 Chronicles 29:14 is important. The verbs “thanks” and “praise” are participles which suggest the ongoing nature of the action, that is, “Here we are thanking and praising [you]….but—and the word is strongly emphasized—what is our status before God?” It is a contrast between the greatness of God and the frailty of humanity.
1 Chronicles 29:14-17 supports the thanksgiving of 1 Chronicles 29:13. The first part emphasizes human dependence (1 Chronicles 29:14-16) while the second stresses human integrity (1 Chronicles 29:17). Thanksgiving comes from the recognition that “everything comes” from God’s “hand” (1 Chronicles 29:14, 16). The metaphor of God’s “hand” serves as the binding concept for 1 Chronicles 29:14-16 and links it with 1 Chronicles 29:12. With the realization that God has given this wealth for the building of the temple comes the concomitant praise and thanksgiving. The generosity of the people is dependent upon the generosity of God. Israel is dependent upon God for their wealth: “Who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this?” Generosity does not flow from pride, but from humility. It flows from dependency, not self-sufficiency.
This humility and dependency are metaphorically expressed in 1 Chronicles 29:16. Just as “father Israel” in 1 Chronicles 29:10 recalled Israel’s patriarchal heritage, so also the language of “aliens and strangers” (Genesis 23:4; also 17:8; 21:23). This was the plight of Israel’s “forefathers,” and Israel continues its pilgrimage. This seems a bit out of place, however, now that Israel has territorial integrity. How can Israel still be an alien and stranger? It does not refer to the move from nomadic tribes to established king. Rather, Israel still sojourns among the nations as God’s people. It is a spiritual pilgrimage “in your sight,” that is, literally, “before your face.” Israel has always had a sojourner status before God and the allusion to the brevity of life confirms this.
This has tremendous theological significance. First, it is a recognition “that Israel’s privilege to worship Yahweh is not based on right, but on grace.” Israel’s presence in the land, the kingdom of David, the gifts to the temple and everything that Israel has is a demonstration of God’s graciousness. Israel has no claim other than the promise of God. They are “aliens and strangers.” Second, the postexilic community, who felt like “aliens and strangers” in their own land, gained confidence from this graciousness. Their status before God does not depend on temple, king, or land, but upon God’s grace. Third, Christians are also “aliens and strangers” (1 Peter 2:11) in the world, just as Abraham (Hebrews 11:9) and Israel were. As Estes concludes, “Thus, the sojourning of the previous generation of Israel begins to be viewed also as a paradigm for the life of the believer on the earth.” What the Chronicler anticipated by his reflection on his own present community, the New Testament applies to Christians living as exiles in the fallen world (1 Peter).
While 1 Chronicles 29:14-16 stresses human dependency and divine graciousness, 1 Chronicles 29:17 stresses human “integrity.” Integrity is a proper response to divine testing. God is engaged with humanity through testing or probing their integrity. Job is such an occasion of divine testing (Job 1-2; 23:10), but also Abraham (Genesis 22:1), Israel (Deuteronomy 8:2-5), righteous hearts (Jeremiah 11:20; 20:12; cf. Proverbs 17:3), and Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 32:31). The Psalmists pray for it and recognize it in their lives (Psalm 7:9; 11:5; 17:3; 26:2; 66:10; 139:23). God is active and “seeking” a people for himself through testing. God is pleased when his people reciprocate.
David recognizes this occasion as a test, and he rejoices that people’s response demonstrates their faith and integrity. The Hebrew term behind “integrity,” used in two different forms in 1 Chronicles 29:17, means equity or justice (Psalms 9:8; 58:1; 75:2; 96:10; 98:9; 99:4). “Integrity” is an appropriate translation in some contexts (Deuteronomy 9:5; 1 Kings 9:4) but it mainly refers to doing what is right (thus, “uprightness” in the NRSV). The proper response to God’s testing is to do what is right. This “integrity” manifested itself by a willing, joyful gift “with honest intent.” The Chronicler intends this as a model of obedient, grateful response to God’s graciousness. As the narrative unfolds, Chronicles will note thatkKings did what was “right” or they did not do what was “right.” That theological evaluation utilizes the same word that appears in 2 Chronicles 29:17. God is pleased “with honest intent” (or rightfulness), and thus he is pleased with Kings that do what is “right” in his eyes (cf. 2 Chronicles 14:2; 20:32; 24:2; 25:2; 26:4; 27:2; 28:1; 29:2, 34; 31:20; 34:2).
The Chronicler teaches his community how to graciously respond to God’s grace. 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 is another example of such teaching. The theology is the same though the circumstances are different. Paul tests the integrity and sincerity of the Corinthians’ love by exhorting them to give to the poor saints in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:8). His appeal is based upon the grace that God had demonstrated in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 8:9). Paul uses the term “grace” more in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 than in any other section of his writings (8:1, 4, 6, 7, 9, 16, 19; 9:8, 14, 15). The Corinthians ought to “grace” the poor because God has “graced” them so that “grace” (thanks) might return to God.
David prays for the hearts of his people and son. His petition calls for God’s gracious activity in heart. Integrity and uprightness do not simply flow out of human self-resolve. Rather, God works good things in the hearts of his people. God moves in the hearts of people (1 Samuel 10:9; 1 Kings 18:37; Ezra 6:22; Proverbs 21:1) as they move their hearts toward him (Deuteronomy 30:17; 1 Kings 11:9; Jeremiah 5:23; 17:5). He seeks them as they seek him. He enables them as they yearn for him. David’s prayer for his people and his son is a model for all believers as they pray for their churches and their children. The prayer assumes human responsibility, but it also seeks divine activity. Both are complementary and necessary values in God’s relationship with his people.
David’s petition draws on the covenantal promise of God to “Abraham, Isaac and Israel.” The children of Jacob are the children of promise; they are the people of God. David claims this relationship and asks God to “keep this desire in” their “hearts” and “keep their hearts loyal” to him. The heart is the crucial area of relationship with God. God seeks committed, “loyal” hearts which yearn for relationship with him. The “desire” refers to the willing, joyful generosity of 1 Chronicles 27:17. David prays that God will prepare their hearts just as he himself has prepared for the temple (1 Chronicles 29:19, “provided”).
God gives wealth, and God uses that wealth to test the hearts of his people. Will his people consume their wealth and use it for their own purposes, or will his people share their wealth and scatter it according to divine interests (for the sake of the kingdom and the poor; cf. Psalm 112:9 which is quoted in 2 Corinthians 9:9). Wealth tests the integrity of human hearts. What the people of God do with their wealth demonstrates the character of their heart and the nature of their commitment to the kingdom of God.