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Summary of the Book of 1 Kings

This summary of the book of 1 Kings provides information about the title, author(s), date of writing, chronology, theme, theology, outline, a brief overview, and the chapters of the Book of 1 Kings.

Title

1 and 2 Kings (like 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Chronicles) are actually one literary work, called in Hebrew tradition simply "Kings." The division of this work into two books was introduced by the translators of the Septuagint (the pre-Christian Greek translation of the OT) and subsequently followed in the Latin Vulgate (c. a.d. 400) and most modern versions. In 1448 the division into two sections also appeared in a Hebrew manuscript and was perpetuated in later printed editions of the Hebrew text. Both the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate further designated Samuel and Kings in a way that emphasized the relationship of these two works (Septuagint: First, Second, Third and Fourth Book of Kingdoms; Latin Vulgate: First, Second, Third and Fourth Kings). Together Samuel and Kings relate the whole history of the monarchy, from its rise under the ministry of Samuel to its fall at the hands of the Babylonians.

The division between 1 and 2 Kings has been made at a somewhat arbitrary and yet appropriate place, shortly after the deaths of Ahab of the northern kingdom (22:37) and Jehoshaphat of the southern kingdom (22:50). Placing the division at this point causes the account of the reign of Ahaziah of Israel to overlap the end of 1 Kings (22:51-53) and the beginning of 2 Kings (ch. 1). The same is true of the narration of the ministry of Elijah, which for the most part appears in 1 Kings (chs. 17 - 19). However, his final act of judgment and the passing of his cloak to Elisha at the moment of his ascension to heaven in a whirlwind are contained in 2 Kings 1:1 -- 2:17.

Author, Sources and Date

There is little conclusive evidence as to the identity of the author of 1,2 Kings. Although Jewish tradition credits Jeremiah, few today accept this as likely. Whoever the author was, it is clear that he was familiar with the book of Deuteronomy -- as were many of Israel's prophets. It is also clear that he used a variety of sources in compiling his history of the monarchy. Three such sources are named: "the book of the annals of Solomon" (11:41), "the book of the annals of the kings of Israel" (14:19), "the book of the annals of the kings of Judah" (14:29). It is likely that other written sources were also employed (such as those mentioned in Chronicles; see below).

Although some scholars have concluded that the three sources specifically cited in 1,2 Kings are to be viewed as official court annals from the royal archives in Jerusalem and Samaria, this is by no means certain. It seems at least questionable whether official court annals would have included details of conspiracies such as those referred to in 16:20; 2Ki 15:15. It is also questionable whether official court annals would have been readily accessible for public scrutiny, as the author clearly implies in his references to them. Such considerations have led some scholars to conclude that these sources were probably records of the reigns of the kings of Israel and Judah compiled by the succession of Israel's prophets spanning the kingdom period. 1,2 Chronicles makes reference to a number of such writings: "the records of Samuel the seer, the records of Nathan the prophet and the records of Gad the seer" (1Ch 29:29), "the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite" and "the visions of Iddo the seer" (2Ch 9:29), "the records of Shemaiah the prophet" (2Ch 12:15), "the annals of Jehu son of Hanani" (2Ch 20:34), "the annotations on the book of the kings" (2Ch 24:27), the "events of Uzziah's reign . . . recorded by the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz" (2Ch 26:22; see also 2Ch 32:32) -- and there may have been others. It is most likely, for example, that for the ministries of Elijah and Elisha the author depended on a prophetic source (perhaps from the eighth century) that had drawn up an account of those two prophets in which they were already compared with Moses and Joshua.

Some scholars place the date of composition of 1,2 Kings in the time subsequent to Jehoiachin's release from prison (562 b.c.; 2Ki 25:27-30) and prior to the end of the Babylonian exile in 538. This position is challenged by others on the basis of statements in 1,2 Kings that speak of certain things in the preexilic period that are said to have continued in existence "to this day" (see, e.g., 8:8, the poles used to carry the ark; 9:20-21, conscripted labor; 12:19, Israel in rebellion against the house of David; 2Ki 8:22, Edom in rebellion against the kingdom of Judah). From such statements it is argued that the writer must have been a person living in Judah in the preexilic period rather than in Babylon in postexilic times. If this argument is accepted, one must conclude that the original book was composed about the time of the death of Josiah and that the material pertaining to the time subsequent to his reign was added during the exile c. 550. While this "two-edition" viewpoint is possible, it rests largely on the "to this day" statements.

An alternative is to understand these statements as those of the original source used by the author rather than statements of the author himself. A comparison of 2Ch 5:9 with 1Ki 8:8 suggests that this is a legitimate conclusion. Chronicles is clearly a postexilic writing, yet the wording of the statement concerning the poles used to carry the ark ("they are still there today") is the same in Chronicles as it is in Kings. Probably the Chronicler was simply quoting his source, namely, 1Ki 8:8. There is no reason that the author of 1,2 Kings could not have done the same thing in quoting from his earlier sources. This explanation allows for positing a single author living in exile and using the source materials at his disposal.

Theme: Kingship and Covenant

1,2 Kings contains no explicit statement of purpose or theme. Reflection on its content, however, reveals that the author has selected and arranged his material in a manner that provides a sequel to the history found in 1,2 Samuel -- a history of kingship regulated by covenant. In general, 1,2 Kings describes the history of the kings of Israel and Judah in the light of God's covenants. The guiding thesis of the book is that the welfare of Israel and her kings depended on their submission to and reliance on Israel's covenant God -- their obedience to the Sinaitic covenant regulations and their faithful response to God's prophets.

It is clearly not the author's intention to present a social, political and economic history of Israel's monarchy in accordance with the principles of modern historiography. The author repeatedly refers the reader to other sources for more detailed information about the reigns of the various kings (see, e.g., 11:41; 14:19,29; 15:7,31; 16:5,14,20,27), and he gives a covenantal rather than a social or political or economic assessment of their reigns. From the standpoint of a political historian, Omri would be considered one of the more important rulers in the northern kingdom. He established a powerful dynasty and made Samaria the capital city. According to the Moabite Stone, Omri was the ruler who subjugated the Moabites to the northern kingdom. Long after Omri's death, Assyrian rulers referred to Jehu as the "son of Omri" (either mistakenly or merely in accordance with their literary conventions when speaking of a later king of a realm). Yet in spite of Omri's political importance, his reign is dismissed in six verses (16:23-28) with the statement that he "did evil in the eyes of the Lord and sinned more than all those before him" (16:25). Similarly, the reign of Jeroboam II, who presided over the northern kingdom during the time of its greatest political and economic power, is treated only briefly (2Ki 14:23-29).

Another example of the writer's covenantal rather than merely political or economic interest can be seen in the description of the reign of Josiah of Judah. Nothing is said about the early years of his reign, but a detailed description is given of the reformation and renewal of the covenant that he promoted in his 18th year as king (2Ki 22:3 -- 23:28). Nor is anything said of the motives leading Josiah to oppose Pharaoh Neco of Egypt at Megiddo, or of the major shift in geopolitical power from Assyria to Babylon that was connected with this incident (see notes on 2Ki 23:29-30).

It becomes apparent, then, that the kings who receive the most attention in 1,2 Kings are those during whose reigns there was either notable deviation from or affirmation of the covenant (or significant interaction between a king and God's prophet; see below). Ahab son of Omri is an example of the former (16:29 -- 22:39). His reign is given extensive treatment, not so much because of its extraordinary political importance, but because of the serious threat to covenant fidelity and continuity that arose in the northern kingdom during his reign. Ultimately the pagan influence of Ahab's wife Jezebel through Ahab's daughter Athaliah (whether she was Jezebel's daughter is unknown) nearly led to the extermination of the house of David in Judah (see 2Ki 11:1-3).

Manasseh (2Ki 21:1-18) is an example of a similar sort. Here again it is deviation from the covenant that is emphasized in the account of his reign rather than political features, such as involvement in the Assyrian-Egyptian conflict (mentioned in Assyrian records but not in 2 Kings). The extreme apostasy characterizing Manasseh's reign made exile for Judah inevitable (2Ki 21:10-15; 23:26-27).

On the positive side, Hezekiah (2Ki 18:1 -- 20:21) and Josiah (2Ki 22:1 -- 23:29) are given extensive treatment because of their involvement in covenant renewal. These are the only two kings given unqualified approval by the writer for their loyalty to the Lord (2Ki 18:3; 22:2). It is noteworthy that all the kings of the northern kingdom are said to have done evil in the eyes of the Lord and walked in the ways of Jeroboam, who caused Israel to sin (see, e.g., 16:26,31; 22:52; 2Ki 3:3; 10:29). It was Jeroboam who established the golden calf worship at Bethel and Dan shortly after the division of the kingdom (see 12:26-33; 13:1-6).

While the writer depicts Israel's obedience or disobedience to the Sinai covenant as decisive for her historical destiny, he also recognizes the far-reaching historical significance of the Davidic covenant, which promised that David's dynasty would endure forever. This is particularly noticeable in references to the "lamp" that the Lord had promised David (see 11:36 and note; 15:4; 2Ki 8:19; see also note on 2Sa 21:17). It also appears in more general references to the promise to David (8:20,25) and its consequences for specific historical developments in Judah's later history (11:12-13,32; 2Ki 19:34; 20:6). In addition, the writer uses the life and reign of David as a standard by which the lives of later kings are measured (see, e.g., 9:4; 11:4,6, 33,38; 14:8; 15:3,5,11; 2Ki 16:2; 18:3; 22:2).

Another prominent feature of the narratives of 1,2 Kings is the emphasis on the relationship between prophecy and fulfillment in the historical developments of the monarchy. On at least 11 occasions a prophecy is recorded that is later said to have been fulfilled (see, e.g., 2Sa 7:13 and 1Ki 8:20; 1Ki 11:29-39 and 1Ki 12:15; 1Ki 13 and 2Ki 23:16-18). The result of this emphasis is that the history of the kingdom is not presented as a chain of chance occurrences or the mere interplay of human actions but as the unfolding of Israel's historical destiny under the guidance of an omniscient and omnipotent God -- Israel's covenant Lord, who rules all history in accordance with his sovereign purposes (see 8:56; 2Ki 10:10).

The author also stresses the importance of the prophets themselves in their role as official emissaries from the court of Israel's covenant Lord, the Great King to whom Israel and her king were bound in service through the covenant. The Lord sent a long succession of such prophets to call king and people back to covenant loyalty (2Ki 17:13). For the most part their warnings and exhortations fell on deaf ears. Many of these prophets are mentioned in the narratives of 1,2 Kings (see, e.g., Ahijah, 11:29-40; 14:5-18; Shemaiah, 12:22-24; Micaiah, 22:8-28; Jonah, 2Ki 14:25; Isaiah, 2Ki 19:1-7,20-34; Huldah, 2Ki 22:14-20), but particular attention is given to the ministries of Elijah and Elisha (1Ki 17-19; 2Ki 1-13).

Reflection on these features of 1,2 Kings suggests that it was written to explain to a people in exile that the reason for their condition of humiliation was their stubborn persistence in breaking the covenant. In bringing the exile upon his people, God, after much patience, imposed the curses of the covenant, which had stood as a warning to them from the beginning (see Lev 26:27-45; Dt 28:64-68). This is made explicit with respect to the captivity of the northern kingdom in 2Ki 17:7-23; 18:9-12, and with respect to the southern kingdom in 2Ki 21:12-15. The reformation under Josiah in the southern kingdom is viewed as too little, too late (see 2Ki 23:26-27; 24:3).

The book, then, provides a retrospective analysis of Israel's history. It explains the reasons both for the destruction of Samaria and Jerusalem and their respective kingdoms and for the bitter experience of being forced into exile. This does not mean, however, that there is no hope for the future. The writer consistently keeps the promise to David in view as a basis on which Israel in exile may look to the future with hope rather than with despair. In this connection the final four verses of the book, reporting Jehoiachin's release from prison in Babylon and his elevation to a place of honor in the court there (2Ki 25:27-30), take on added significance. The future remains open for a new work of the Lord in faithfulness to his promise to the house of David.

It is important to note that, although the author was undoubtedly a Judahite exile, and although the northern kingdom had been dispersed for well over a century and a half at the time of his writing, the scope of his concern was all Israel -- the whole covenant people. Neither he nor the prophets (see Isa 10:20-21; 11:11-13; Jer 31; Eze 48:1-29; Hos 11:8-11; Am 9:11-15; Zec 9:10-13) viewed the division of the Israelite kingdom as a divine rejection of the ten tribes, nor did they see the earlier exile of the northern kingdom as a final exclusion of the northern tribes from Israel's future. As a matter of fact, many from the north had fled south during the Assyrian invasions so that a significant remnant of the northern tribes lived on in the kingdom of Judah and shared in its continuing history.

Chronology

1,2 Kings presents the reader with abundant chronological data. Not only is the length of the reign of each king given, but during the period of the divided kingdom the beginning of the reign of each king is synchronized with the regnal year of the ruling king in the opposite kingdom. Often additional data, such as the age of the ruler at the time of his accession, are also provided.

By integrating Biblical data with those derived from Assyrian chronological records, the year 853 b.c. can be fixed as the year of Ahab's death and 841 as the year Jehu began to reign. The years in which Ahab and Jehu had contacts with Shalmaneser III of Assyria can also be given definite dates (by means of astronomical calculations based on an Assyrian reference to a solar eclipse). With these fixed points, it is then possible to work both forward and backward in the lines of the kings of Israel and Judah to give dates for each king. By the same means it can be determined that the division of the kingdom occurred in 930, that Samaria fell to the Assyrians in 722-721 and that Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 586.

The synchronistic data correlating the reigns of the kings of Israel and Judah present some knotty problems, which have long been considered nearly insoluble. In more recent times, most of these problems have been resolved in a satisfactory way through recognizing such possibilities as overlapping reigns, coregencies of sons with their fathers, differences in the time of the year in which the reign of a king officially began, and differences in the way a king's first year was reckoned (e.g., see notes on 15:33; 2Ki 8:25; see also chart, pp. 670-671.

Content

1,2 Kings narrates the history of Israel during the period of the monarchy from the closing days of David's rule until the time of the Babylonian exile. After an extensive account of Solomon's reign, the narrative relates the division of the kingdom and then presents an interrelated account of developments within the two kingdoms. In this account, special attention is given to the ministries of Elijah and Elisha in the northern kingdom, with almost a third of the book (nearly equal to the amount of narrative given to Solomon's reign) devoted to God's efforts through his prophets to turn that kingdom away from its apostasies back to covenant faithfulness (see note on 1Ki 12:25 -- 2Ki 17:41).

Kingship in the northern kingdom was plagued with instability and violence. Twenty rulers represented nine different dynasties during the approximately 210 years from the division of the kingdom in 930 b.c. to the fall of Samaria in 722-721. In the southern kingdom there were also 20 rulers, but these were all descendants of David (except Athaliah, whose usurping of the throne interrupted the sequence for a few years) and spanned a period of about 345 years from the division of the kingdom until the fall of Jerusalem in 586.

Outline

1,2 Kings can be broadly outlined by relating its contents to the major historical periods it describes and to the ministries of Elijah and Elisha.

  • The Solomonic Era (1:1;12:24)
    • Solomon's Succession to the Throne (1:1;2:12)
    • Solomon's Throne Established (2:13-46)
    • Solomon's Wisdom (ch. 3)
    • Solomon's Reign Characterized (ch. 4)
    • Solomon's Building Projects (5:1;9:9)
      1. Preparation for building the temple (ch. 5)
      2. Building the temple (ch. 6)
      3. Building the palace (7:1-12)
      4. The temple furnishings (7:13-51)
      5. Dedication of the temple (ch. 8)
      6. The Lord's response and warning (9:1-9)
    • Solomon's Reign Characterized (9:10;10:29)
    • Solomon's Folly (11:1-13)
    • Solomon's Throne Threatened (11:14-43)
    • Rehoboam's Succession to the Throne (12:1-24)
  • Israel and Judah from Jeroboam I/Rehoboam to Ahab/Asa (12:25;16:34)
  • The Ministries of Elijah and Other Prophets from Ahab/Asa to Ahaziah/Jehoshaphat (chs. 17-22)
    • Elijah (and Other Prophets) in the Reign of Ahab (17:1;22:40)
      • Elijah and the drought (ch. 17)
      • Elijah on Mount Carmel (ch. 18)
      • Elijah's flight to Horeb (ch. 19)
      • A prophet condemns Ahab for sparing Ben-Hadad (ch. 20)
      • Elijah condemns Ahab for seizing Naboth's vineyard (ch. 21)
      • Micaiah prophesies Ahab's death; its fulfillment (22:1-40)
    • Jehoshaphat of Judah (22:41-50)
    • Ahaziah of Israel (22:51-53)
  • The Ministries of Elijah and Elisha during the Reigns of Ahaziah and Joram (2ki 1:1;8:15)
    • Elijha in the Reign of Ahaziah (ch. 1)
    • Elijah's Translation; Elisha's Inauguration (2:1-18)
    • Elisha in the Reign of Joram (2:19;8:15)
      1. Elisha's initial miraculous signs (2:19-25)
      2. Elisha during the campaign against Moab (ch. 3)
      3. Elisha's ministry to needy ones in Israel (ch. 4)
      4. Elisha heals Naaman (ch. 5)
      5. Elisha's deliverance of one of the prophets (6:1-7)
      6. Elisha's deliverance of Joram from Aramean raiders (6:8-23)
      7. Aramean siege of Samaria lifted, as Elisha prophesied (6:24;7:20)
      8. The Shunammite's land restored (8:1-6)
      9. Elisha prophesies Hazael's oppression of Israel (8:7-15)
  • Israel and Judah from Joram/Jehoram to the Exile of Israel (8:16;17:41)
    • Jehoram of Judah (8:16-24)
    • Ahaziah of Judah (8:25-29)
    • Jehu's Revolt and Reign in Israel (chs. 9-10)
      • Elisha orders Jehu's anointing (9:1-13)
      • Jehu's assassination of Joram and Ahaziah (9:14-29)
      • Jehu's execution of Jezebel (9:30-37)
      • Jehu's slaughter of Ahab's family (10:1-17)
      • Jehu's eradication of Baal worship (10:18-36)
    • Athaliah and Joash of Judah; Repair of the Temple (chs. 11-12)
    • Jehoahaz of Israel (13:1-9)
    • Jehoash of Israel; Elisha's Last Prophecy (13:10-25)
    • Amaziah of Judah (14:1-22)
    • Jeroboam II of Israel (14:23-29)
    • Azariah of Judah (15:1-7)
    • Zechariah of Israel (15:8-12)
    • Shallum of Israel (15:13-16)
    • Menahem of Israel (15:17-22)
    • Pekahiah of Israel (15:23-26)
    • Pekah of Israel (15:27-31)
    • Jotham of Judah (15:32-38)
    • Ahaz of Judah (ch. 16)
    • Hoshea of Israel (17:1-6)
    • Exile of Israel; Resettlement of the Land (17:7-41)
  • Judah from Hezekiah to the Babylonian Exile (chs. 18-25)
    • Hezekiah (chs. 18-20)
      1. Hezekiah's good reign (18:1-8)
      2. The Assyrian threat and deliverance (18:9;19:37)
      3. Hezekiah's illness and alliance with Babylon (ch. 20)
    • Manasseh (21:1-18)
    • Amon (21:19-26)
    • Josiah (22:1;23:30)
      1. Repair of the temple; discovery of the Book of the Law (ch. 22)
      2. Renewal of the covenant; end of Josiah's reign (23:1-30)
    • Jehoahaz Exiled to Egypt (23:31-35)
    • Jehoiakim: First Babylonian Deportation (23:36;24:7)
    • Jehoiachin: Second Babylonian Deportation (24:8-17)
    • Zedekiah: Third Babylonian Deportation (24:18;25:21)
    • Removal of the Remnant to Egypt (25:22-26)
    • Elevation of Jehoiachin in Babylon (25:27-30)

Chronology of Foreign Kings

This is a chronology of selected foreign kings mentioned in this study Bible.

ASSYRIA  
Tilgath-Pileser III
Shalmaneser V
Sargon II
Sennacherib
Esarhaddon
Ashurbanipal
745-727 *
727-722
721-705
705-681
681-669
669-627

BABYLONIA  
Nebuchadnezzar II
Nabonidus
Belshazzar
605-562
556-539
Coregency with Nabonidus 553(?)-539

PERSIA  
Cyrus the Great
Cambyses
Darius I the Great
Xerxes (Ahasuerus)
Artaxerxes I
Darius II
559-530
530-522
522-486
486-465
465-424
423-404

* All dates are b.c. and are those of the kings' reigns.

 


From the NIV Study Bible, Introductions to the Books of the Bible, 1 Kings
Copyright 2002 © Zondervan. All rights reserved. Used with permission.