1 Chronicles 20:1-4 – Managed Perception or Granting Grace?

Posted: May 9, 2020 in 13-1 Chronicles

1 Chronicles 20:1-4

David Captures Rabbah

John F. Kennedy, considered by many these 60 years later as one of the seminal Presidents of the United States ever. He marked the changing of the guard from the old America to new America. He has been seen as a leader in the fight against institutional racism in our country. He is seen as the impetus from the grand push to end the Jim Crow South. He is also seen as the great impetus for our nation’s amazing push into outer space (does anyone seriously believe we would have reached the moon by 1969 if it were not for his inspiration). He is seen as a man that brought great hope to all of us as to the possibilities of us as a new and brighter America. He was the master speechmaker. He could inspire with his words. His speeches are legendary and his speeches (being the first president in the full flower of the television age) are remembered to this day. He inspired the entire generation of Baby Boomers to seek a better society than the one they inherited. His legacy as a great President and inspiring leader are things of legend. The fact that his life was cut short by an assassin’s series of bullets adds to his legend. He will forever be the young President full of hope and passion. He will forever be the President of the possibilities. He will forever be unseen potential. He will forever be the President of Camelot.

However, not to slight his potential as President in the years after his death if had not occurred or not to slight his three years and the things he pushed to accomplish during that time, but there were dark marks on his presidency. It was well-known that he was a Clinton-esque womanizer. The lengths that the secret service went to cover up his infidelities are still coming out. His indecisiveness as a leader led to the build up of arms by Russia in Cuba. That indecisiveness led to the confrontation of global nuclear proportions by the time he did act. That indecisiveness led to the botched Bay of Pigs invasion that ended up solidifying Castro’s hold on power in Cuba. He was responsible for the overthrow of the government in South Vietnam for a more easily led head of state. His ineffectiveness in leading his own people led to the Viet Cong rebels becoming stronger in the south and led North Vietnam to escalate it’s interest in taking over the south. He was behind the coup that led to the Shah taking over in Iran in 1963 and we know how that turned out 16 years later after the Shah’s notably oppressive reign. Kennedy is also seen as a great friend of the civil rights movement but he was slow to react to all of it. He was trying to play political games with the whole thing and trying to ensure his re-election in 1964. His slowness of implementing the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling caused it not to be truly implemented until 5 years after his death and 7 years in some places. So, as with any President, there is bad as much as there is good. Kennedy has the advantage of being the meteor that burned itself out in flashy, brilliant fashion. He was the president of unfulfilled potential and unfinished business. Had he not been cut down in his prime, what kind of President would he be remembered as now? Would he have even been re-elected in 1964? He barely won in 1960. Would he have suffered the stifling unpopularity that Johnson suffered under had Kennedy lived and won a second term? A lot of the things that Johnson gets hammered for were messes that were left for him by Kennedy. Would civil rights have had a slower pace in a second Kennedy term than they did after Kennedy died – and white America suffered a guilty conscious for the dreams that Kennedy only talked about but never seriously pushed.

It is good to honor the memory of what Kennedy could have been and for the inspiration that he was to change America. His death hastened all those things to come quicker than they would have otherwise. It was that idea of the purpose of the 1 Chronicles vs. 2 Samuel when you think about what was left out. It kind of reminds you of how we view President Kennedy 60 years later compared to the reality of his presidency. 1 Chronicles had a different purpose than 2 Samuel and that may have been why things were omitted in 1 Chronicles that appear in 2 Samuel. Let’s read this passage, 1 Chronicles 20:1-4, now with note for what’s not in there:

Chapter 20

1 In the spring of the year,[a] when kings normally go out to war, Joab led the Israelite army in successful attacks against the land of the Ammonites. In the process he laid siege to the city of Rabbah, attacking and destroying it. However, David stayed behind in Jerusalem.

2 Then David went to Rabbah and removed the crown from the king’s head,[b] and it was placed on his own head. The crown was made of gold and set with gems, and he found that it weighed seventy-five pounds.[c] David took a vast amount of plunder from the city. 3 He also made slaves of the people of Rabbah and forced them to labor with saws, iron picks, and iron axes.[d] That is how David dealt with the people of all the Ammonite towns. Then David and all the army returned to Jerusalem.

In this passage, there is something noticeably absent to those of us who have read 2 Samuel prior to reading 1 Chronicles. It is the whole Bathsheba adultery/Uriah murder incident that engulfed King David and his kingdom. According to scholars, this story may have been excluded from 1 Chronicles because the book was written to focus on God’s long-term interest in Israel and the Temple as a symbol of God’s presence among them. In that light, the story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12) did not fit this purpose. These scholars suppose, for that same reason, that Absalom’s rebellion (2 Samuel 15-18) was omitted as well in 1 Chronicles.

The omission of the Bathesheba/Uriah incident was well-documented in the chronicle of its time, 2 Samuel. The Chronicles books were written much later, after the fall of the last half of the Israelite kingdom. It was written while the people were in exile in Babylon. They were defeated and destroyed. They knew full well that the Bathsheba incident started the cracks in the kingdom. They knew full well that the nation was destroyed from within by its own moral decay. Thus, to rehash one of the ugliest moments of the kingdom was of no real use to the purpose of 1 Chronicles. The books were to give the crushed Israelites hope for a return one day to the purpose God had given them as His people. To be reminded of what they already knew (that they had failed miserably before) did not help. As well, the history was already there in great detail in the Books of Samuel. Everyone knew that story. It is not as if the historians were trying to rewrite history. The books of Samuel had long been out there and everyone knew that period of David’s life. It’s not like the managed perception of Kennedy while he was president or any President since him. There was no covering up the truth as revealed in the books of Samuel. It was there hanging out like dirty laundry.

However, the purpose of 1 Chronicles was to give hope to a hopeless people. The retelling here of an already documented story was unnecessary to the point of giving hope. They wanted to remember the grandeur of what they used to be and what they could have been had they followed God. David was known as a man after God’s own heart. He was not perfect. He made mistakes, but he was always quick to confess them, and repent. That’s what we, even now, remember about David – not so much his imperfections but that he was a man after God’s own heart.

It is the same I think with Kennedy. He had a lot of imperfections as a man and as a politician. But we remember about him is the things he inspired us to do. He called us to do great things. And because he called us to do them when no one else would, we did them to honor his good memory.

There’s a lesson for us in how we treat others as Christians. Let us dwell so much on the imperfections of others because none of us is perfect. We are all sinners in need of grace from a righteous God. Let us love the unlovable because God does. Let us forgive the imperfections in others. God does. Let us recognize repentance in others and not crucify them for their pasts once they have repented. Can we wipe the slate clean for them as Christ has done for us when we repent of our sins? There’s hope in that!

Amen and Amen.

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