1 and 2 Kings

How to read 1 and 2 Kings


  • Content: starting with the reign of Solomon, the story of the decline and eventual dissolution of the monarchy in Israel and the expulsion of God's people from the land.

  • Historical coverage: from the death of David (970 B.C.) to the sixth-century exile of Judah (586).

  • Emphases: the evaluation of the monarchy on the basis of covenant loyalty; the fateful national consequences of disloyalty to Yahweh, resulting finally in expulsion from the land; the schism and civil wars between north and south; the rise of superpowers that, under the direction of God, subjugated Israel and Judah; the role of prophets who speak for God in Israel's national life.


As with Samuel, the book of Kings was divided to fit on two scrolls. The title tells the story of its content, but it is also important to remember that in the Hebrew Bible, Kings concludes the Former Prophets, as a description of God's verdict of judgment on Israel's history. And you will hardly be able to miss the important role of the prophets in this book.

Kings covers the story of the monarchy from Solomon through its subsequent division into two kingdoms, to its demise in the north (Israel) and the exile of the final king in the south (Judah). This pretty well describes its "parts" also: 1 Kings 1- 1 1 give an abbreviated account of Solomon's reign. Four things are important to the narrator: (1) how Solomon came to the throne, (2) his renown for wisdom, (3) the building of the temple and his palace, and (a) his demise and the reasons for it. The events surrounding the schism are narrated in 1 Kings 12-14.

Crucial here is the reign of Jeroboam I, who, with echoes of Aaron and the golden calf, declares his golden calves in Dan and Bethel to be "your gods ... who brought you up out of Egypt:" (12:28; Exod 32:4). This is then followed by alternating accounts of the northern and southern kings as their reigns overlap (1 Kgs 15-2 Kgs 17), where each northern king in turn is judged by God for "walking in the ways of Jeroboam and in his sin" (e.g., 1 Kgs 15:26, 34). Here the narrative is dominated by prophetic activity in the north, especially of Elijah and Elisha (1 Kgs 17-2 Kgs 13), until the capture and destruction of Samaria, the northern capital.

The rest of the book (2 Kgs 18-25) tells the story of another 150 years of Judah's kings, until the fall of Jerusalem in 587/6 B.C. Over half of this last section concentrates on two notably good kings (Hezekiah, chs. 18--20; Josiah, chs. 22-23) and includes the prophetic activity of Isaiah (chs. 19-20).


Whereas all history is written from a point of view, not all historians reveal their point of view as clearly as this narrator does (note his own summary of the history after the fall of Samaria,2 Kgs 17:7-23). The Deuteronomic perspective on Israel's history that began with Joshua is especially pronounced in this telling of the story, both by its clear echoes of Deuteronomic themes and by the way the story is structured. Therefore, it is not surprising-since all the northern kings and the majority of those in the south evidenced disloyalty-that the story has distinct echoes of Judges with its spiral downward as the promised curses of Deuteronomy 28:15-68 come to their inevitable fulfillment.

The key to everything is whether a given king has been loyal to the covenant with Yahweh. In Kings this is expressed in Deuteronomic terms-his attitude toward the central sanctuary (the temple in Jerusalem) and whether or not he advocated syncretism (e.g., Jeroboam's golden calves; see 2 Kgs 17:41) or rival gods altogether, especially Canaanite Baal worship (note how these distinctions are assumed in 1 Kgs 16:31-32 and 2 Kgs 10:28-29). This "program" is set up by the narrative of Solomon, whose long and prosperous reign is finally reduced to two matters. His one significant deed is the building of the temple in Jerusalem, which is filled with the glory of God (God's presence, 1 Kgs 8:10-11), precisely as with the tabernacle in Exodus 40:34-35. But he is finally judged for going the way of all kings (see Deut 17:16-17; 1 Sam 8:11-18) and for promoting idolatry through his many foreign wives (1 Kgs 11:1-13).These two items sit side by side in 1 Kings 8 and t) -in Solomon's prayer and Yahweh's response. The former emphasizes the significance of the temple for Israel's loyalty to Yahweh; the latter repeats the Deuteronomic blessings and curses, especially outlining the nature of the latter: "I will cut Israel off from the land I have given them" (9:7, emphasis added), "because they have forsaken the Lord [Yahweh] their God . . . and have embraced other gods" (v. 9). For our narrator, this foretells the story he will proceed to unfold.

This view of things is also accented by several structural matters. First, all the kings are placed within the story by means of a common regnal formula:

1. when a king came to reign (in Israel or Judah) in relation to another king

2. how long he reigned and in what capital

3. (for Judean kings) the name of his mother

4. his religious policy: for the northern kings this consistently takes the form of following in "the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat" ; for Judah the issue was whether the king followed Yahweh and whether or not he removed "the high places"

5. often the source for further information about the king

6. at the end, information about his death/burial and who succeeded him

Items 4 and 5 are especially telling. Item 4 is the only basis on which a given king is judged-no matter how long he ruled or what his other exploits or accomplishments might have been; item 5, therefore, tells the reader where the other kinds of materials might be foun{ e.9., in "the book of the annals of the kings of . . ."

The second structural matter may be especially trying for those who might want a different kind of history. Many of the kings have almost nothing said about them beyond the regnal formula itself. And what is narrated about those who get more press, apart from accounts of civil war, has almost altogether to do with their loyalty or disloyalty to Yahweh. This results in purposeful disproportions of major kinds: the overlapping reigns of Jeroboam II of Israel (forty-one years in Samaria) and Azariah (Uzziah) of Judah (fifty-two years in Jerusalem) are merely skimmed in seven verses each (2 Kgs 14:23-29;15:1 -7),while the twenty-two-year reign of Ahab and twenty-nine-year reign of Hezekiah cover several chapters each.

Third, this also accounts for the disproportionate space given to the prophets Elijah and Elisha. They become God's agents in the holy war, but now over against the northern kings themselves and the foreign-born Baalist Jezebel. Through them God demonstrates that he is still Lord over all the earth (creation, nature; the nations; Israel). And thus the Deuteronomic cycle brings the story to its crashing end in the north; eventually the same thing happened in the south in terms of promised exile.

Finally, note that in contrast to the book of Samuel this story is eventually told in the context of major superpowers that have arisen-Assyria, then Babylon and Egypt. They become the instruments of God's judgment that drive his people from the land, but they do so because Yahweh is the God of the nations and has brought them into power for this very purpose (Deut 28:49-52).



Solomon Becomes King

This opening section tells of Solomon's succeeding David (1:1-53)

and David's charge to him (2:1-12), which is then followed by

Solomon's consolidating his position by disposing of Adonijah and his co-conspirators Joab and Abiathar (2:13-46). Note the question about succession that is being answered (1:20): How did it happen that David was succeeded by Solomon, who was not first in line? (1 :6;2:22;cf. the narratives of Gen 12-50). The answer lies with an oath made to Bathsheba. Note also how the section concludes in 1 Kgs 2:46 ([The kingdom was now firmly established in Solomon's hands"), which sets up what follows.


The Reign of Solomon

You need to be alert to two important things about this narrative: (1) The narrator signals that (a) with the reign of Solomon, the promise to Abraham of vast population increase has been fulfilled (4:20; see Gen 22:17;32:12) and (b) with the construction of the temple, the exodus is now completed, as Yahweh gets his permanent dwelling place in Jerusalem (1 Kgs 6:1). Thus, (2) the centerpiece of this section is the temple narrative (5:1-9:9), which is told in some detail while the many Iong years of Solomon's reign are merely summarized on either side of it. Indeed, a careful reading makes it clear that Solomon's relationship to the temple is the one thing that "saves" him, as it were.

Otherwise the narrator shows considerable ambivalence toward Solomon. As you read note, for example, how much of 3:1-4:34 and 9:10- 11:43 fulfill Samuel's prophecy (1 Sam 8:1 1 -18). The narrator

recognizes that Solomon's wisdom and splendor are a gift from God and at the heart of it all is the fact that Solomon is David's son (1 Kgs 3:3,7,14; 8:15-26; 9:4-5). Yet he also knows that the seeds of future

decline and schism are being sown (heavy taxation and slave labor, 4:27 -28; 5:13- 18; cf. 12:4; note the contrast with Joash's repairing the temple, 2 Kgs 12:4-16 [freewill offerings and paid workers!]). God's judgment on Solomon sets the tone for the rest of the story ("You have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you," 1 Kgs 11 : 11,33). Thus despite all of Solomon's greatness, wisdom, and splendor and the construction of the temple, and despite the fact that God appeared to him twice (11:9; cf. 3:5-15; 9:2-9), in the end he abandoned God in order to worship idols (1 1:1 -10) and thereby split the nation, incurring God's wrath (11:11-40).


The Kingdom Divides (931-885 B.C)

Chapters 12-14 describe the nation's dissolution into politically unstable and religiously rebellious Israel (ten northern tribes) and the somewhat more orthodox and stable Judah (sometimes plus Benjamin, 12:20-23). Note four emphases: (1) the dominant role of prophets, who both reveal God's plans and call the northern kings to account (12:22-24; 13:1-4; 14:1- 18; 16: 1-4; cf. 1 1:29-39); (2) civil war that pits north against south with foreign alliances ( 15:6-7 , 16-22); (3) God's commitment to Judah for the sake of David ( 14:8; 15 :4-5, 11; note especially the echo of 2 Sam 21:17 that David is the "lamp of Israel"; cf. 2 Kgs 8:19); (4) "succession" in the north is by treachery and power politics (1 Kgs 16:9-13), not by the will of God.

The story of Jeroboam I is especially important to the rest of the narrative. Watch how the narrator tells Jeroboam's story in two parts: His beginning echoes similarities to Moses (chosen by God he comes out of Egypt to deliver a people laboring under a"heavy yoke"; 12:1-4; cf. Exod 6:6-7), but in the end he resembles Aaron (Exo d 32), making golden calves and repeating Aaron's words verbatim: "Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt" (1 Kgs 12:28). This repetition of the rebellion at Sinai marks all the rest of the kings of Israel, who walked in the ways of Jeroboam (e.g., 15:26,34). But note carefully that this is a form of syncretism (Yahweh in the form of an Egyptian deity), not Baalism, as 2 Kings 10:28-29 and 17:41 make clear.

1Ki 16:21-2Ki 10:36

The Divided Kingdom: The Omri Dynasty (885-841 B.C)

With Omri comes another dynasty that neither descended from David nor worshiped at Jerusalem. Omri's son Ahab outstrips even Jeroboam in his sin , marrying a Baal worshiper and thus adding Baal worship to that of the golden calves. Note how this brings on the holy war, as the prophet Elijah contests for Yahweh against the prophets of Baal. Note also that for all his sins, it is when Ahab seizes the vineyard of Naboth by treachery and murder (thus breaking the covenant law in several ways; cf. Deut 19:1 4) that God's judgment comes on him and Jezebel ( 1 Kgs 21 :17 -24). And even though Ahab himself dies in accord with the prophetic judgment (22:37 -38), we wait until 2 Kings 9- l0 before the rest of the prophecy is fulfilled against Jezebel and against Ahab's house. Thus judgment is held in suspense while Elisha succeeds Elijah and performs Elijah-like miracles, and Ahab is succeeded by two sons. The execution is carried out by an ardent (but bloody) Yahwist, Jehu, who destroys Baal worship, but not the golden calves at Dan and Bethel. Be aware also in this section that outside pressure is still coming only from neighboring local kingdoms (Aram/Damascus), but all of that will change in the next section, as the superpower Assyria looms on the horizon (2 Kgs 15: 19).

Note finally how this part of the story concentrates on affairs in

Israel; the Judean exceptions are brief summaries of Jehoshaphat (l Kgs 22:41-50, a "good" king) and of Jehoram and Ahaziah (2 Kgs 8:16-29), evil kings who walked in the ways of the kings of Israel. The

intrigue of their stories is that Jehoram marries into the house of Omri; Athaliah, a daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, turns out to be like her mother and nearly succeeds in wiping out the Davidic dynasty (2 Kgs 11).

2Ki 11:1-17:41

The Divided Kingdom: Jehu to the fall of Samaria

(841-722 B.C)

From here on the story begins to shift back again to the kings of Judah. Note how Israel's kings are merely summarized as one story of covenant unfaithfulness follows another, until Samaria is conquered and Israel is annexed to the Assyrian Empire. Notice how the author's sum-nary in 17:7 -23 tells the story in the way he has expected you to read it. The Assyrian resettlement of the land (w. 24-41) sets in motion the many difficulties that will be faced in Ezra and Nehemiah-including northerners of mixed ethnicity, whom you will meet again as the Samaritans in the New Testament Gospels.

Three kings of Judah are featured in this section, highlighting concerns you've met earlier in the narrative. The story of Joash (chs. 11-l2) is important for two reasons: (1) He represents God's commitment to keep "a lamp for David" (8: 19); having been protected by his aunt, he is proclaimed king while the usurper Athaliah of Samaria cries "treason" but is killed (11:14-16). (2) He repairs the temple-and does so with the freewill offerings of the people (12:4-5)!

Amazaih (14:1-22), another "good" king, continues his father Joash's policies, but he is noted mostly for continuing the civil war with the north. And obviously everything is not well in Jerusalem, as both his father and he are assassinated by unnamed officials.

Ahaz (ch. 16), unlike David his father, "did not do what was right in

the eyes of the Lord his God." He is remembered primarily for bringing Judah under Assyrian influence and, in contrast to Joash, who repaired the temple, for reconfiguring the temple on the basis of foreign influence.

2Ki 18:1-25:30

Judah's Final Years: The Babylonian Exile (722-560 B.C)

In contrast to the story of Israel, where the narrative concentrates on the gross evil of the worst of the kings (as judged by Deuteronomic criteria), the story of Judah tends to concentrate on the good kings. Note how this is especially so in this final episode, where only two kings, Hezekiah (chs. 18-20) and Josiah (chs. 22-23), do what is right in the eyes of Yahweh. And again they are judged on the basis of covenant loyalty (18:5-6;22:11; 23:1-3). In the case of Hezekiah, his loyalty to Yahweh is the reason for his escaping Assyrian conquest, but some of his actions actually forecast the Babylonian exile (20:12-21). And despite Josiah's reforms and devotion to Yahweh, the die has been cast by the idolatrous reign of Manasseh (23:24-27), so the story from there heads inexorably toward exile. Kings ends with Judah in exile, but the release of Jehoiachin presents the reader with a ray of hope regarding "the lamp of David," even at the end.

The book of Kings is ultimately answering the question, "In light of

God's covenant with Abraham [the land] and with David [an everlasting

throne], how did all of this happen to us?" The answer: God has not

failed his people; his people, led by their kings, have failed their God.

The covenants, after all, have the contingency of Israel's faithfulness

written into them. But the covenant also promises return from exile for

those who return to Yahweh (Deut 30:1-10).