1 Chronicles 4:24–5:26 (ESV)

24 The sons of Simeon: Nemuel, Jamin, Jarib, Zerah, Shaul;

1 Chronicles 4:24 – 5:26 and parts of 1 Chronicles 7:1–40 are the Chronicler’s only detailed accounts of the tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel.1 Having given Judah first place among God’s people (1 Chronicles 2:3 – 4:23), the next major tribal grouping would be Levi. Before dealing with Levi, the Chronicler first turns to four tribes that could easily have been forgotten in postexilic times. These four families of Israel were not as important as Judah, Levi, and Benjamin, but they were still to be counted among the people of God.2

The material can be divided into two main sections marked by the closing words, to this day (1 Chronicles 4:43; 1 Chronicles 5:26). The first section focuses on the tribe of Simeon (1 Chronicles 4:24–43); the second section deals with the Transjordanian tribes, who dwelt east of the Jordan River: Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (1 Chronicles 5:1–26).

The original readers of Chronicles were prone to forget about these few tribes, mainly for two reasons. First, very few members of these tribes formed part of the restored community. The bulk of the returnees comprised members of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and western Manasseh (not the Transjordan half-tribe of Manasseh). The tribe of Levi was also well represented (1 Chronicles 5:1–26). Second, it was easy for the postexilic community to forget these tribes of Simeon, Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh because they had played relatively minor roles in Israel’s history. This could have been expected due to their separation from the other tribes by the Jordan River. The four tribes appeared frequently in biblical history before the monarchy was established, but by David’s time they were infrequently mentioned (see 1 Samuel 13:7; 2 Samuel 24:5; 2 Samuel 24:5).3

The Chronicler makes a point of remembering these marginalized tribes because in his view the first batch of returnees comprised only the initial stages of the restoration with the rest to follow. The inclusion of these tribes would hopefully encourage his readers to hope, pray and work toward the return of the rest.4

Some of the Chronicler’s favourite themes appear in this section. First, in 1 Chronicles 5:1–2 he clearly explains that it was because Reuben had defiled his father’s couch that he does not head the tribal lists. Then, in 1 Chronicles 5:20–22, he emphasises the value of trust and prayer, and that the battle was God’s.

The Promised Land receives more emphasis here than anywhere else in 1 Chronicles 1:1 – 9:44. Prominence is given to how individual tribes increased their inheritance (1 Chronicles 4:28–31, 1 Chronicles 4:39–43; 1 Chronicles 5:9–10, 1 Chronicles 5:16, 1 Chronicles 5:22–23; see also 1 Chronicles 4:10), possibly an answer to Jabez’ prayer.  There is an extension of Israel’s traditional northern limit of Dan (1 Chronicles 21:2; 2 Chronicles 30:5) to Mount Hermon (1 Chronicles 5:23) not far from Damascus. It is also stressed three times, however, that these tribes went into exile because they were unfaithful to God (1 Chronicles 5:6, 1 Chronicles 5:22, 1 Chronicles 5:26). The nature of their relationship with God was the decisive factor linking Israel’s various experiences in the land (1 Chronicles 5:20–22, 1 Chronicles 5:25–26).5