Calendrical Patterns in 2 Chronicles

Calendrical Patterns in 2 Chronicles January 22, 2018

At various points, 2 Chronicles indicates the month during which some event occurred. The dates tie the events to moments in Israel’s liturgical calendar.

2 Chronicles 5:3 is explicit. Solomon assembles “all the men of Israel” to Jerusalem “at the feast, that is the seventh month.” At the end of the temple dedication, on the twenty-third day of the seventh month, Solomon sent everyone back home (7:10). We’ll return to the question of which seventh-month feast is in view.

Asa’s covenant renewal ceremony is likewise pegged to a particular feast. It takes place in the third month (2 Chronicles 15:10), which is the month for Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, fifty days after Passover. It is also the month when Israel arrived at Sinai (Exodus 19:1). Thus, we can connect Asa’s covenant-cutting to the original covenant at Sinai, and to the annual commemoration of that covenant at Pentecost.

The next event that links to the liturgical calendar happens during the reign of Hezekiah. It’s a celebration of a feast, the Passover, but it takes place in the second month rather than the first (2 Chronicles 30:2). That is anomalous, but the law makes provision for an alternative date for Passover. According to Numbers 9, anyone who is unclean or traveling was permitted to celebrate Passover in the second month.

Finally, Josiah also celebrates Passover, this time in the first month (2 Chronicles 35:1).

There is an order to these incidents, so that together they form a structural feature of the book. The occasions move from the seventh month to the third to the second to the first, from (presumably) Booths to Pentecost to a second-month Passover to a first-month Passover. In short, the history of 2 Chronicles is moving backwards through Israel’s annual calendar.

That backward movement takes on more significance when we realize that the normal sequence of annual feasts trace out Israel’s early history in chronological order. Israel was delivered from Egypt (Pass0ver), cut covenant at Sinai (Pentecost), and then sojourned in the wilderness (commemorated by Booths). The calendrical pattern of 2 Chronicles shows that Israel’s history is unraveling, moving back to the beginning.

It’s surely not an accident that Josiah dies at the hands of Neco king of Egypt shortly after celebrating his passover (2 Chronicles 35). Passover marked the deliverance from Egypt; in the inverted order of Chronicles, Passover marks a return to Egypt. And that is followed by a return to an even more primordial past, as Babel/Babylon comes on the scene to overthrow Judah.

The inversion of the calendar also marks a declension in Israel’s relations with Gentiles. Booths is a harvest feast that celebrates the future gathering of Gentiles. It is an appropriate feast for the building of the temple,which will be a house of prayer for the nations, and for the reign of Solomon, the most internationally prominent of Judah’s kings.

As 2 Chronicles progresses, though, Judah falls from that prominence, back to the covenant-cutting in the third month and then back to Passover, first celebrated when Israel was enslaved in Egypt. The arc of Judah’s history bends from preeminence over Gentiles to subjection to Gentiles, and that arc is marked by the inverted calendar that structures the book.

One last note: in both language and content, Cyrus’s “proclamation” resembles the Jubilee proclamation that allowed Israelites to return to their ancestral property. The Jubilee was proclaimed on the 10th day of the seventh month (Leviticus 25:10). Putting this in the sequence of 2 Chronicles, it marks a return to the Solomonic era, with its seventh-month feast. The series moves from seventh to third to second to first, and then (implicitly) back to the seventh month. Cyrus’s decree begins a new sequence, and again starts at the end of the year.

I promised above to revisit the question of what feast is being celebrated in 2 Chronicles 5-7. I’ve assumed it is Booths, but the evidence is more complicated. 2 Chronicles 7:8-10 indicates that Solomon held a seven-day feast for the dedication of the temple, and then another feast for seven days. There is a solemn assembly on the “eighth day,” but it is not clear where this fits into the sequence of days. It might be this: 7 days of dedication + 8th day solemn assembly + 7 days of feasting, for a total of 15 days. But verse 9 suggests that the event took place over a 7 + 7 or 14-day period, which implies that the 8th day is part of one of the 7-day sequences.

In any case, we know that Solomon dismissed the people on the 23d day of the month, and that gives us some hint about when the feast began. If we take the latter suggestion above – that the entire dedication/feast event took 14 days – and if we count inclusively, then we conclude that the feast started on the 10th day of the seventh month. We might also surmise that the placement of the ark in the temple occurred on the first day of the celebration (2 Chronicles 5:1-14).

Admittedly, this is based on a chain of speculation, but if it is accurate, then the dedication ceremony took place on the Day of Atonement, commemorated on the 10th day of the seventh month. That would indeed be an interesting outcome. It would strengthen the link between Solomon’s feast and the Jubilee proclamation of Cyrus’s decree. It would link the entry of the ark and the descent of glory (2 Chronicles 5:11-14; 7:3) with the high priest’s entrance into the most holy place. Yom Kippur was an annual reboot of the sanctuary and priesthood; the dedication is the original booting-up, and takes place at the same time as the reboot. It’s almost enough to make you want to believe that Solomon began the dedication on the 10th day of the seventh month.

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