1-2 Kings (Overview)

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1 Kings 1-11: Solomon’s Reign
1 Kings 12-16: Rehoboam to Ahab
1 Kings 17-22: Elijah and Ahab

2 Kings 1-17: Israel Falls to Assyria
2 Kings 18-25: Judah Falls to Babylon

Timeline (c. 943-586 B.C.)

Rehoboam17 years – BadJeroboam22 years – Bad
Abijam3 years – BadNadab2 years – Bad
Asa41 years – GoodBaasha24 years – Bad
Jehoshaphat25 years – GoodElah2 years – Bad
Jehoram8 years – BadZimri7 days – Bad
Ahaziah1 year – BadOmri12 years – Bad
Athalia (Queen)6 years – BadAhab22 years – Bad
Joash40 years – MixedAhaziah2 years – Bad
Amaziah29 years – MixedJoram/Jehoram12 years – Bad
Azariah/Uzziah52 years – GoodJehu28 years – Mixed
Jotham16 years – GoodJehoahaz17 years – Bad
Ahaz16 years – BadJehoash16 years – Bad
Hezekiah29 years – GoodJeroboam II41 years – Bad
Manasseh55 years – BadZechariah6 months – Bad
Amon2 years – BadShallum1 month – Bad
Josiah31 years – GoodMenahem10 years – Bad
Jehoahaz/Shallum3 months – BadPekahiah2 years – Bad
Jehoiakim11 years – BadPekah20 years – Bad
Jehoiachin3 months – BadHoshea9 years – Bad
Zedekiah11 years – Bad

The Book of Kings

What we call 1-2 Kings in our English Bibles was originally one book: The Book of Kings (מלכים). We don’t know who the human author was, but some have ascribed it to the prophet Jeremiah (who lived through the destruction of Jerusalem). Whoever the author was, there is a prophetic emphasis in this book, especially when compared with 1-2 Chronicles. Peter Leithart has pointed out that there are ten prophets who are named in this book: Nathan, Shemaiah, Ahijah, Jehu, Elijah, Micaiah, Elisha, Jonah, Isaiah, and Huldah. It is also noteworthy that the Jews have historically placed Kings amongst the Former Prophets in their canon. So although the book is called Kings and traces the rise and fall of the Davidic Monarchy, we might also consider this to be a book of Prophets, prophets who appear on God’s behalf to warn, judge, and steer the kingdom.

There are basically two harmonious literary structures to this book. One is a linear history of the kings, good and bad. The other is a chiastic or symmetrical structure with the miracles and ministry of Elijah at the center. One way of thinking about the difference between Kings and Chronicles (two books that cover much of the same historical period), is that Kings looks at things from a prophetic perspective, whereas Chronicles looks at it from a priestly perspective. For example, Elijah and Elisha figure prominently in Kings, but they are hardly mentioned at all in Chronicles. Chronicles focuses on the temple, Levitical worship, and the southern kingdom of Judah, whereas Kings lays out the history of both northern and southern kingdoms.

The Narrative of Kings

Kings picks up where Samuel left off, continuing the history of Israel as a united monarchy. The book ends with the fall of Judah and the Babylonian exile. Together, 1-2 Kings spans (depending on which chronology you take) about 350 years, from Solomon’s reign (c. 943 B.C.) to the death of Zedekiah (c. 586 B.C.). The way a book begins and ends tell you a lot about the message of the book, so it’s worth reflecting on these opening and closing scenes. What is similar and what is different?

When Kings begins, Israel is climbing to the height of its unity, glory, and power. Solomon represents the apex of the monarchic era. He builds the temple, builds a palace, the Queen of Sheba comes to visit, and yet for all of Solomon’s wisdom, he apostatizes, and the kingdom is divided under his son Rehoboam.

When Kings ends, Babylon is in charge with King Nebuchadnezzar as monarch. The temple is being plundered, its precious vessels carried off to Babylon, and the high priest has been executed. And yet the final scene is peculiar, King Jehoiachin, who only reigned for three months in Judah, is released from prison, and is allowed to eat bread before the king all the days of his life (2 Kings 25:27-30), and that’s how the book ends! This final scene is a parable of God’s mercy in the midst of God’s judgment, a flicker of hope from a smoking flax (Is. 42:3).

The Davidic Covenant

So a book that began with a dying King David, ends with a dying kingdom, and we are left to wonder how God’s covenant promise to David is going to be fulfilled. God swore in 2 Samuel 7:12-16 the following:

 “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men. 15 But My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.”

The Book of Kings is the story of God keeping his promise to David. Solomon is established, he builds a house for God’s name, and when he and his sons commit iniquity, God disciplines them. The hopeful promise is that no matter how bad things get, David’s throne is going to be established forever, the question is When? And How? This is the narrative pressure that Kings exerts upon the New Testament. In a certain sense, Kings (along with every other Old Testament book) is incomplete until the coming of Christ. As a story, these books are unfinished, full of unresolved plots and sprawling threads. Jesus is the skeleton key that unlocks these books. As Paul says in 2 Cor. 3:15-16, “But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” Turning to the Lord Jesus removes the veil that covers the Old Testament. Put another way, Jesus is the one who reveals the true meaning of the Old Testament books. So for us to truly understanding 1-2 Kings, we need to read it through lens of Jesus Christ. He is the one who says in the gospels, “Indeed someone greater than Solomon is here” (Matt. 12:42).

Suggestions For Reading

#1 Compare and Contrast Each King You Read About With Jesus Christ

When a king does something great, like Solomon using wisdom to determine who the true mother of the baby is (1 Kings 3), or his building of the temple (1 Kings 5-8), or Hezekiah’s reform and destruction of the high places, think about how Jesus does similarly in his life and ministry. For example, Jesus cleanses the temple like Hezekiah topples idols. Jesus chooses wisdom and the fear of the LORD, over the wealth and riches that Satan offers him, and unlike Solomon, Jesus remains faithful to resist those temptations even unto death. In Solomon’s kingdom, silver was accounted as nothing because of how much gold there was (1 Kings 10:21). In Christ’s New Jerusalem, the very streets of the city are pure gold (Rev. 21:21).

And when there are evil kings who do “evil in the sight of the Lord…and make Israel sin,” allow your frustration with them to reveal the need for a perfect king, who will do what is right in the eyes of the Lord, and bring God’s blessing upon the nation. We are meant to get exhausted and frustrated by the disobedience of these kings, because it reminds us of how patient God is, even when we are rebelling against Him. And it also gives us hope that even in wicked and idolatrous times, God is working all of it for the good of His people.

#2 Get To Know Each Character and Try To Give Them A Label

Matthew Henry has a great list of character labels is his introduction to Kings:
The characters of the kings of Judah may be thus briefly given:—David the devout, Solomon the wise, Rehoboam the simple, Abijah the valiant, Asa the upright, Jehoshaphat the religious, Jehoram the wicked, Ahaziah the profane, Joash the backslider, Amaziah the rash, Uzziah the mighty, Jotham the peaceable, Ahaz the idolater, Hezekiah the reformer, Manasseh the penitent, Amon the obscure, Josiah the tender-hearted, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah, all wicked, and such as brought ruin quickly on themselves and their kingdom.

If you are reading with your family and or kids, this could be a fun way of talking about the reading. “What name or adjective would you assign to each character?” These labels can help us keep track of whose who and also enter into the story with our imagination. Just don’t call the Prophet Elisha “baldhead,” he might call down some she-bears to maul you!

#3 Let Kings Develop and Inform Your View of Politics & Government

On my last read-through of Samuel and Kings, I took a note anytime there was a situation where there was civil disobedience or resistance to authority. For example, in 1 Samuel 20, King Saul commands Johnathan to bring David to him. He says, “Now therefore, send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.” This was the king’s command. Now if, as many people wrongly think, the government or president has absolute power, then Jonathan was sinning be disobeying this command. But because Jonathan is represented here as doing the righteous thing, we discover there are many times when we must not submit to authority, like when they command us to sin. Look for these examples as you read Kings and imagine you are the one living in Israel at the time.

What would you do when the king commits idolatry, or sets up high places to other gods? Would you have moved to Judah? Or stayed put? There are many challenging ethical dilemmas that Kings places before us. For example, when the kingdom is divided between Rehoboam and Jeroboam, which side would you be on? In 1 Kings 12, when they stone Adoram (one of the magistrates), was that stoning justified, or an act of murder? Who is the lawful king? Who are you even supposed to submit to? Pay attention to these kinds of details and you will find there are countless lessons here that apply to our current political situation today.

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