Title of book
In the Hebrew Scriptures the title is simply 'Kings'. As with Samuel and Chronicles, it was written as a single unit and divided at the time of the translation of the Septuagint (LXX), probably because the Greek took up more space than the Hebrew without vowels, so it would no longer fit on a single scroll. In the Hebrew canon it follows Joshua, Judges and Samuel in the group called 'The Former Prophets', preceding Isaiah to Malachi, which are called 'The Latter Prophets'. The title in the Latin Vulgate was 3 & 4 Kingdoms, with Samuel being 1 & 2 Kingdoms.
Date and author
Some have suggested that references to 'this day' points to the temple still standing, (1 Kg 8:8, 9:21, 12:19, 2 Kg 8:22, 16:6). There are also references to the exile before it happened (2 Kg 13:23). The last historical event is the release of Jehoiachin, which happened in 561 BC. The tradition in the Talmud suggests that Jeremiah was the author. If Jeremiah was the author, then an editor probably added the final part of the book.
Sources of information
The material in the books of Kings was selected from several historical documents, which are now lost. Three sources are mentioned by name: The first is 'The Book of the Acts of Solomon' (1 Kg 11:41), which probably contained extracts from the temple and court archives, biographical material and possibly the treaty between Solomon and Hiram of Tyre.
The second is 'The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel' (1 Kg 14:19, 15:31). This appears to cover events from the reign of Jeroboam I to the reign of Pekah, up to about 725 BC. It is referred to eighteen times. Annals, or Chronicles, are records of current events, the official record of all the significant political events during a king's reign, which were kept for safety in the state archives. These chronicles are not the same as the Biblical books of 1 and 2 Chronicles, which were written much later.
The third is 'The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah' (1 Kg 14:29, 15:7), which appears to cover events from the time of Rehoboam to the reign of Jehoiakim, up to about 590 BC. It is referred to fifteen times. They were the court records kept in the royal archives in Jerusalem. It contains no reference to queen Athaliah, who usurped the throne for seven years.
Other unnamed sources were probably also used, probably including court records of the reign of David, oral or written records of the ministry of Elijah and Elisha and the other prophets mentioned in Kings.
The books of 1 and 2 Kings are not primarily history books, as they were called 'The Former Prophets' in the Hebrew canon. They show God's dealing with His people as He works His purpose out through the history of salvation. They describe God dealing with His people on the basis of His covenants, giving an account of the monarchy from a theological perspective. The books of the former prophets, from Joshua to Kings, show how the principles declared in Deuteronomy are worked out in Israel's history, so are often referred to as 'D-history'. When a godly king was on the throne, the nation experienced the blessings contained in Deuteronomy. But when the king was ungodly and practised idolatry, then the curses of Deuteronomy came into effect, ultimately leading to the exile of both kingdoms.
The two books review the history which led up the exile in Babylon and explain why the exile happened, showing that there was ample reason for God to judge both Israel and Judah because of their persistent idolatry and rebellion.
Characteristics of the books
1. After the division of the kingdom, the Book of Kings gives a reign by reign account of the history of Judah and Israel. The reigns are interwoven to give a chronological account. The account begins with Jeroboam I of Israel, followed by the kings of Judah who came to the throne during the reign of Jeroboam, before the account returns to the kings of Israel. This pattern continues until the exile of the northern kingdom of Israel, after which the account focuses exclusively on Judah.
2. Each king is described in a consistent pattern: 'In the nth year of king X of Israel/Judah, Y began to reign in Judah/Israel'. It also gives his age at accession, his mother's name, length of reign, and an assessment of his reign: 'He did what was evil/right in the eyes of the Lord'. Slightly different details are given for the two kingdoms: the name of the king's mother is only mentioned for kings of Judah, and kings of Israel are all shown to 'walk in the sins of Jeroboam'.
3. The book of Kings shows that history is determined by the behaviour of the king, whether or not the king is faithful to God, which in turn affects the people. The king's behaviour is challenged by the words of judgement and salvation from God's prophets.
4. David is considered as the ideal king and is set as the standard for measuring the other kings.
5. God's commitment to the promises to David depends on the king's and the people's obedience to the law.
6. The books of Kings gives a Deuteronomic view of history: Obedience and faithfulness to God lead to blessing, peace and prosperity, while unfaithfulness and idolatry leads to judgement
7. There is severe criticism of idolatrous kings.
8. A strong emphasis on central worship in Jerusalem is given.
Turning points in book
There are three main turning points in the book: The first is when the kingdom was torn from Solomon and given to his servant, and only one tribe left (Judah) (1 Kg 11:11). The second is during the reign of Jeroboam I, when judgement on northern kingdom of Israel is declared (1 Kg 14:15-16). Almost all succeeding northern kings described as following in the ways of Jeroboam (15:30,34...). The third is during the reign of Manasseh, when judgement was declared on the southern kingdom of Judah (2 Kg 21:10-15). Succeeding southern kings are described as following in the ways of Manasseh.
Place of Kings in history of redemption
The books of Kings conclude the historical narrative which starts in Genesis, focusing on the history of Israel and its origins in Egypt until the ending of its political independence by the Babylonians. 1 Kings begins with the golden age of Israel with the united kingdom in all its glory under Solomon, 2 Kings closes with the nation in ruin and the people exiled in Babylon. Israel grew to its greatest geographical extent by the end of David's reign (1 Kg 4:20, 4:24-25), and was reduced to nothing by the end of 2 Kings.
God's dealing with His people in Kings
In the Books of Kings we see God working out His relationship with his people on the basis of the covenants.
The first was the covenant with Abraham, when he was promised the land (Gen 12, 2 Kg 13:23). The second covenant was the one made through Moses at Sinai and repeated in Deuteronomy. The importance of the covenant can be clearly seen all through Solomon's prayer (1 Kg 8:23-53). The book of Kings describes the outworking of the blessings and curses in Deut 28. The account of the exile of Israel,
"In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria captured Samaria; he carried the Israelites away to Assyria. He placed them in Halah, on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes" (2 Kg 17:6) is based on the curses and warnings in Deuteronomy, "The LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other; and there you shall serve other gods ..." (Deut 28:64).
Deuteronomy looks ahead, almost prophetically to the time of the exile, when the people will ask,
"'Why has the LORD done thus to the land?' 'What caused this great display of anger?' They will conclude, 'It is because they abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their ancestors, which he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt. They turned and served other gods, worshipping them, gods whom they had not known and whom he had not allotted to them; so the anger of the LORD was kindled against the land, bringing on it every curse written in this book. The LORD uprooted them from their land in great anger, fury and great wrath, and cast them into another land, as is now the case." (Deut 29:24-28).
The third is the covenant with David (1 Sam 7), the tale of two houses (1 Kg 11:12,36). 2 Kings ends on a note of hope (2 Kg 25:27-30), when Jehoiachin is preserved as an ancestor of the Messiah.
There is a continuing tension between the unconditional promises made to Abraham and David, and the conditions of the Mosaic covenant. When God tore the kingdom away from Solomon, he declared that he will not do it during Solomon's lifetime, and will not tear away the whole kingdom, for the sake of his servant David (1 Kg 11:13).
The compiler(s) and editor(s) of Kings were not writing a consistent continuous historical narrative, but a great ethical and religious treatise. The historical material is there to make the point. Nevertheless, there is no reason to doubt the work as historically accurate with presuppositions that accept the supernatural. Contemporary archaeology continuously affirms the truth of the records.
Emphasis and De-emphasis
The following people and events are given emphasis: establishing Solomon’s Kingdom (1 Kg 1-2), the wisdom of Solomon (ch 3-4), building and dedicating the temple (ch 5-9), Solomon's wealth and greatness (ch 9-10), Solomon's downfall (ch 11), Jeroboam’s rebellion (ch 12-14), Elijah’s ministry and conflict with Ahab (1 Kg 17 - 2 Kg 2), Elisha (2 Kg 2-13), the fall of Israel (ch 17), godly Hezekiah (ch 18-20), evil Manasseh and Amon (ch 21), godly Josiah (ch 22-23), and the exile of Judah (ch 24-25).
The reign of Hezekiah is given three whole chapters (2 Kg 18-20), because he was faithful to God, and godly Josiah given two whole chapters (ch 22-23). The short period of ministry of Elijah and Elisha occupies nearly one third of the whole book.
Other periods are only briefly summarised: six kings (1 Kg 15-16), eight kings (2 Kg 14-16). Historically, Omri was one of the most important rulers of the northern kingdom, so that for many years later Israel was known to the Assyrians as 'The land of Omri'. He built Samaria as the capital city and stood against the Syrians but his evil reign is dismissed in six verses (1 Kg 16:23-28). The reign of Jeroboam II of Israel was considered a golden age similar to the time of David and Solomon, but he is described in only seven verses (2 Kg 14:23-29).
Situation of the Nations around Israel during time of David
The time of the reign of David and Solomon saw Israel at its strongest. This was a time when the surrounding nations were weak, including Assyria. The Hittites had been almost destroyed, Egypt was ruled by weak pharaohs, and Syria was occupied by Israel. This demonstrates the sovereignty of God, because David obeyed the covenant, Israel was able to become the most powerful kingdom in the ancient near east at this time.
Dates of the reigns of each king
Please refer to the article named Dates of Kings for suggested dates for each of the kings of Israel and Judah, as well as an explanation of the problems connected with working out the dates.
The divided Kingdom
Overview of the Kings of the North - the sins of Jeroboam
Jeroboam did not repent (13:33-34), therefore the promise of a sure house (11:38) was not fulfilled, but instead the dynasty was cut off (14:10).
Nadab, son of Jeroboam, did evil as his father (15:25-26).
Baasha was used by God to clear out Jeroboam's house (15:28), but Baasha did not change (15:34). Because Baasha did not change he and his home were judged (16:9-11).
Zimri killed Elah (Baasha's son) and house of Baasha (16:9-11).
Period of civil war between Omri and Tibni. Omri came out strongest (16:15-20).
Omri (16:25) did more evil, following Jeroboam (16:26). Not much information is given about Omri, who was a powerful king according to historical records.
Omri's son Ahab made a political marriage alliance with the Sidonians by marrying Jezebel. She
introduced Baal and Asherah worship to Israel, adding to the sin of the calf of Jeroboam (16:31ff).
The ministry of Elijah is introduced. The lack of rain was a direct challenge to Baal, the rain god.
People would not listen. Note God's discipline through Hazael of Syria, Jehu of Israel and Elisha the prophet (19:15).
Plenty of information is given to the ministry of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, even when the nation was so far away from God. His goodness is shown to them in victories and battles.
Hazael became king of Syria, a constant threat to Israel (2 Kg 8:11).
Jehu is anointed as king and told to clear out the house of Ahab (2 Kg 9:7-10). He kills Joram (son of Ahab)(9:24), Ahaziah of Judah (9:27), Jezebel (9:33), 70 sons of Ahab (10:1), all the house of Ahab (10:11), all the close friends of Ahab (10:11), all Ahab's priests (10:11), kinsmen of Ahaziah (10:14), and all Baal worshippers (10:18ff)
Jehu went beyond his instructions, only being told to deal with the house of Ahab, not the house of Ahaziah of Judah, as noted in Hosea (Hosea 1:4).
Because of this cleansing of Baal worship, God promised that four generations would sit on the
throne (10:30), which is what happened.
Jehu did not turn from the sins of Jeroboam or walk with God with all of his heart (10:29,31). Because of this, God began to discipline him, when Hazael of Syria cut off parts of Israel, all the land east of Jordan (10:32). According to the Black Obelisk, Assyria also made Jehu pay tribute.
Jehoahaz did not change (13:2). Syria was used to discipline them and Jehoahaz sought the Lord, who gave a saviour (probably Adad-nirari of Assyria, who attacked Syria) (13:3). The army was desecrated (13:7), leaving only 50 horsemen, 10 chariots, and 10,000 foot-soldiers.
Jeroboam II (2 Kg 14:23) became one of the strongest kings of the north. God blessed His people and sent Amos, Jonah and Hosea at this time. Baal worship and Ashtaroth worship had returned. Time was running out for Israel. Jeroboam II did not turn from the sins of Jeroboam I (11:24).
Zechariah (15:8), the fourth descendant of Jehu, in fulfilment of God's promise to Jehu, did not repent either (15:9).
This was followed by a period of instability. Shallum ruled for one month and was murdered by Menahem.
Menahem ruled for ten years, but did not depart from sins of Jeroboam (15:18). Assyria is mentioned for the first time, king Tiglath-pileser III (15:19). Pekahiah ruled for two years before being murdered by Pekah, and did not turn away from sins of Jeroboam (15:24). Pekah ruled for twenty years, before being murdered by Hoshea, and did not depart from sins of Jeroboam (15:28). Hoshea ruled for nine years before being exiled to Assyria.
Commentary and summary of the Northern Kingdom (17:21-23).
"When he had torn Israel from the house of David, they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king. And Jeroboam drove Israel from following the Lord and made them commit great sin. The people of Israel walked in all the sins which Jeroboam did, they did not depart from them, until the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had spoken by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day".
Overview of the Southern Kingdom - the problem of High Places
According to the Book of Deuteronomy, there will be one place that the Lord will choose to be worshipped (Deut 12). The reason was to stop idolatry Deut 12:2-4). Before the capture of Jerusalem, there were several different places of worship where the tabernacle was situated, moving between different locations. The original building of the tabernacle was at Sinai (Ex 40), then it was located at Kadesh-Barnea for forty years (Numbers). Once in the land, the tabernacle was set up at Zilgal (Josh 4:19), then at Shechem (Josh 8:30-35?), then at Shiloh (1 Sam 1:9; 3:3), possibly at Nob (1 Sam 22:11?), and at Gibeon (1 Chr 16:39; 21:29), before finally being moved to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6:17).
It is possible that there may have been more than one acceptable high place (1 Kg 3:2-4).
Under Rehoboam, Pharaoh Shishak of Egypt devastated the Southern Kingdom, taking gold from the temple (14:25).
Under Asa there were reforms but the high places not removed (15:14), they still worshipped Yahweh at forbidden places. This opened the door for idolatry.
Jehoshaphat was a good king, but did not remove high places (22:43). He formed a marriage alliance with Ahab of Israel, his son Jehoram married Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, which led to disaster in Judah.
Jehoram walked in the way of the kings of Israel, especially Ahab (2 Kg 8:18). His wife Athaliah introduced Baal worship from Israel into Judah.
Ahaziah, the son of Jehoram and Athaliah walked in the way of the house of Ahab (8:27).
After the death of Ahaziah, his mother Athaliah (the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel) killed the rest of the royal family (the Davidic line) and took the throne herself (11:1). However, Joash (or Jehoash), the infant son of Ahaziah was hidden for 6 years (11:2-3).
Under Jehoash (12:3), Amaziah (14:4) and Uzziah (15:4), the high places not removed (12:3).
Under Ahaz the high places became places of idolatry (16:4).
Hezekiah brought in significant reforms (18:4) and destroyed the high places, both to Yahweh and idols (18:22).
Manasseh rebuilt the high places and worshipped idols (21:3).
There were also great reforms under Josiah, including breaking down the high places (23:5,8,9). Josiah fulfilled the prophecy of (1 Kg 13) and destroyed high places of the north (23:15,19,20). Josiah cleaned the northern religion (17:29ff).
After Josiah was killed in battle, idolatry prevailed during the reigns of the final kings, and the southern kingdom of Judah was exiled (ch 25).