Of all the horrors of the Second World War the greatest must surely be the Holocaust. Six million Jews systematically murdered. Yet certain ‘historians’ are now alleging that it never in fact happened. They are rewriting history to suit their own political or philosophical agendas.

We see something similar in China, where the authorities refuse to let the people commemorate the 1989 massacre in Tienanmen Square, Beijing. Chinese history books simply don’t mention it, and probably never will.

Naturally we frown on such rewriting of history as standing in the way of truth. But maybe in some cases it’s not such a bad thing. In fact we have an example in the Bible, where the two books of Chronicles are a rewriting of Israel’s history. The aim of the compilers was not, of course, to tamper with the facts, which remain fixed, but to be selective about which facts to recall and which to ignore. Why was that?

The people of Judah endured exile in Babylon for seventy years. Then a small number of them—a ‘remnant’—returned to the promised land. Most of these had never lived there before and knew little of Jerusalem and its temple-worship, and it is for these that the books of Chronicles were written. The aim was to remind them that they were a continuation of pre-captivity Judah, the nation built on the Davidic dynasty and the Levitical priesthood. Only the facts that served this purpose were included. So, while the books cover the same ground as the books of Samuel and Kings—there are 111 parallel passages—they carry a different emphasis.

The point of all this is that you, too, have a history. Like the history of God’s ancient people it is a mixture of good and bad. But God shows himself selective about which parts of it he chooses to recall and which to forget. In general, he forgets the bad bits and remembers the good bits. And if you are to progress in your walk with God you will need to do the same with yourself. So let’s examine 1 Chronicles and see how it can help. We will look at how it deals with King David’s personal bad and good points. But first we will notice how it applies its selectivity to the nation of Judah as a whole, and we will apply this to the way we today regard the spiritual nation which is the church.

After the death of Solomon, you will remember, the nation divided into two: Israel in the north made up of ten tribes, and Judah in the south, the other two tribes. Amazingly, 1 Chronicles ignores Israel completely, in spite of its being the larger of the two; it remembers only little Judah. Why?

Because Israel made two unwise choices. In terms of its rule, it broke away from the Davidic dynasty by rejecting Solomon’s son Rehoboam as king and instead submitting to Jeroboam, who was not of David’s line. And in terms of its worship, it forsook the Lord for idols, bowing down instead before the golden calves at Bethel and Dan. The people of Judah, by contrast, were guilty of neither charge. They remained loyal to the line of David that God had appointed, and they continued to worship the Lord at the Tabernacle, and later at the Temple, as God required. 1 Chronicles ignores Israel’s part entirely. What the returnees from exile needed reminding of was their heritage in Judah. Hence the selectivity.

Now let’s look at the history of the church through the same lens. It is a chequered history, that’s for sure. I’ve heard people say, ‘What puts me off Christianity is some of the awful things that Christians have done in God’s name,’ and I can see their point. I think of the mediaeval crusades; the drowning of the Anabaptists by the Reformers; church support for Hitler and the Nazis; the crazy proliferation of new denominations and sects; paedophile priests in the Roman Catholic Church; the showcase ‘gospel’ that panders to American-style materialism—and a thousand more.

These things are true and we should never deny them. But surely we are right, in looking at the overall picture, to play down such aspects and highlight better things? We remind ourselves, instead, of those in every generation of the church who have submitted to Christ’s rule as Lord and King, those who have worshipped God in spirit and truth, with humble hearts. We recall, for example, the countless martyrs who have died rather than deny Christ; the millions of ordinary believers whose lives Jesus has straightened out; the countless numbers who have quietly loved and served Christ with no interest in getting their name in lights; the faithful leaders over the centuries who have taught the whole counsel of God and not just the latest fad; those who, out of their love for Jesus, have cared sacrificially for the sick, the hurting and the needy. This is what God chooses to remember about his people, declaring, ‘Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.’[1] If he makes that his emphasis, we must surely regard the church in the same way.

Now let’s come down to the personal level by seeing how 1 Chronicles deals with an individual, King David. In a nutshell, it completely ignores the bad episodes in his life and remembers only his solid achievements. So it makes no mention of David’s years as an outlaw on the run from Saul; the seven years when he was king only over Judah, based in Hebron; his many wives; the rebellion of his son Absalom, which forced David to flee for his life; or the dreadful episode with Bathsheba. All are quietly forgotten.

The book highlights, instead, every detail of David’s preparations for the building of the Temple and the establishment of its worship—details absent from the books of Samuel and Kings. And his first public act that it records is not his success in battle, as in Samuel, but a worship-related act: his bringing of the ark of the covenant from captivity into Jerusalem.[2]

In a moment we will see the application of this selectivity to you, but first notice that 1 Chronicles does record one of David’s mistakes: his census of Israel’s fighting men.[3] He went ahead with this in spite of the cautions expressed by his general, Joab. The result was impressive: the nation could muster 1,100,000 ‘men who could handle a sword’. Such a result always tended to make the king over-confident in his military strength and so ease back on his reliance on the Lord, and God was not pleased. David had to be taught a lesson. The prophet Gad brought him a choice of three punishments: three years of famine, three months of military defeat, or three days of plague in the land.

David choose the last one. The plague killed 70,000 before the angel who carried the dread judgment approached the city of Jerusalem to continue the grim work there. As it began, God relented and ordered him to halt the destruction. Now here’s an interesting thing: the book records that ‘the angel of the LORD was then standing at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.’[4] The angel ordered David to build an altar to the LORD on that very spot and offer sacrifices, which brought about the cessation of the plague. But why did 1 Chronicles pinpoint this spot so precisely? We find the answer by turning forward into 2 Chronicles where, much later in the story, David’s son Solomon is starting to implement the plans for the Temple put together by his father. We read: ‘Then Solomon began to build the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David. It was on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the place provided by David.’[5]

Aha! So that’s why this book records David’s mistake in taking his military census: to highlight the fact that, even in this mistake, God overruled the situation to allocate the site for the Temple. Good out of bad—God’s speciality!

All this is personally relevant to you because your own life, like David’s, is a mixture of bad episodes and worthwhile achievements. And the God who ‘did a Chronicles’ on David does the same on you. He simply doesn’t mention the bad episodes—Christ’s blood has dealt with them—but makes much of your worthwhile achievements. This is his way. Yes, he is a God of thoroughgoing holiness, but his basic stance is to look for the best, not the worst.

David is no isolated case. Take Abraham as another example. When God promised him a son by Sarah he laughed in derision and suggested to God that Ishmael, his son by Sarah’s maid Hagar, was still the best candidate as his heir.[6] But when we come to the New Testament we find it highlighting, not his unbelieving laughter, but the grain of faith that lurked deep in his heart: ‘Abraham in hope believed…Without weakening in his faith…he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God…being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.’[7] What’s this about ‘did not waver’? Of course he wavered, as Genesis makes clear. He wavered like mad! But God graciously overlooked that and marked him down not only as a believer but as the father of all believers and an example to us all! So there’s hope for you.

Now if God looks for the best in you, not the worst, he clearly expects you to view yourself the same way. He is keen for you to press on to make your life count and not be held back by your mistakes, some of which may have been serious but probably don’t come close to those of David or Abraham.

What was your lowest point? ‘I had an abortion.’ ‘I stole some money from work and did a spell in jail.’ ‘I found my mother’s body after she committed suicide and it traumatised me.’ ‘I committed a serious sexual sin.’ ‘I got a job by faking my qualifications.’ Whatever it is, it can only hold you back if you choose to let it. If you have made a mess of things one way or another, as David did, you will probably have to live with the consequences as he did—remember that plague. But if you genuinely repent and do your best to put things right with God and other people, as he also did, you can trust God even to overrule it for ultimate blessing, as he did with David and the Temple site.

All this reminds me of Jonathan Aitken, once a millionaire British politician. In 1994 he was promoted to the cabinet as Chief Secretary to the Treasury. When the media began to publish accusations of serious financial irregularities, Aitken brought a libel case against them in which he lied repeatedly. His duplicity was proved and Mr Justice Scott Baker addressed him in court as follows: ‘For nearly four years you wove a web of deceit in which you entangled yourself and from which there was no way out unless you were prepared to come clean and tell the truth. Unfortunately you were not.’ Aitken’s own lawyer told the court: ‘The fall from grace has been complete, his marriage has broken down, he has lost his home, he is one of only three people this century forced to resign from the Privy Council, he is bankrupt and his health has suffered. His public humiliation has been absolute.’ Jonathan Aitken spent eighteen months in Belmarsh Jail for perjury and perverting the course of justice.

But while in prison he did an Alpha course and became a Christian. As a result he now has an influential testimony. He says, ‘I may have lost the whole world of my previous life, but I have found my own soul in a new life. Where that new life will take me is the next step of the mystery. Yet even if the road that has to be travelled lies through prisons, floods and more fires, I am not afraid.’

God forgave his sin and overruled his calamity to bring blessing not only to the man himself but to many who have since benefitted from coming under his influence.

God loves to turn things round. He delights to rewrite history. He stands ready to ‘do a Chronicles’ on you, filtering out the bad bits of your personal history and choosing to highlight the good ones, ready to overrule even your biggest mistakes for blessing, if you will believe him.

Are you willing to go along with his version of your life-story and live the rest of your days on a positive note, expecting him to bless and use you?

Copyright © David Matthew 2009



Rewriting History


This is one essay in the Windows On The Word series. Click the Next and Previous buttons to move through the series, and Up to go to the list. Footnotes appear in the right-hand column. Hover over Bible references to see the text.


1 Chronicles

1. Hebrews 10:17, quoting Jeremiah 31:34

2. See 1 Chronicles 13-16

3. See 1 Chronicles 21:1-30

4. 1 Chronicles 21:18

5. 2 Chronicles 3:1

6. Genesis 17:17-18

7. Romans 4:18-21

The gist of this article

Chronicles covers the same ground as Samuel and Kings but is very selective about what it includes. Here we see that God chooses to be selective about you, too, overlooking the downside and remembering only your successes.