Kings, First and Second, Theology of
Since the books of 1 and 2 Kings possess an inner unity and ideology, it is appropriate toview them as a single work; both the Talmud and Josephus saw them as one book. In fact,the division of the two is completely artificial. Furthermore, Kings shares a thematicunity and overlap in subject matter with the books of Samuel, and these two major workswere apparently part of an even greater work that included Joshua and Judges.
Theological Emphasis The structure of Kings is somewhat similar to that ofJudges in that it discusses the cyclical rise and fall of states and leaders (from theaccession of Solomon to the exile). It was probably written in the mid-sixth century b.c.,since there is no evidence of the rebuilding of the temple or Persian occupation. The textis usually silent about the political significance of the rulers, but is more interestedin their religious import; thus the author relays only those events that are pertinent tohis message. These themes often dictate the length of and the detail in which certainelements are treated (e.g., details in Josiah's reign are discussed only after thediscovery of the Book of the Law). Important contemporary events in the ancient Near Eastare mentioned only when relevant to the interests of the author. Thus, this work is not anexhaustive history of the divided kingdom. Although the author does not write a completehistory of Israel, he does provide a theological commentary on Israel's history. Evensocial and humanitarian concerns found in concurrent prophetic writings are not foundhere. Often, leaders who had relatively little political importance are featured as maincharacters (e.g., Ahaziah, Athaliah), while a struggle that did not effectively alter theinternational scene (e.g., Moab versus Israel, 1 Kings 3) is featured as of greatimportance. Judgments abound in standard statements, signifying that the author sees apattern in the events, but not that he manufactures the events discussed in his work.
The Judgment of God One of the immediate purposes of Kings is to explain how theexile came about and to express the idea that God had compelling reasons for judgment.With the destruction of Jerusalem, dissolution of the monarchy, and subsequentdeportation, it appeared that God had proved incapable of dealing with the nationssurrounding Israel. However, using a lawsuit motif following the breach of covenant law(see 2 Kings17:20-23 ), the writer of Kings presents an explanation of history that shows thattheir tragedy was a product of God's judgment, not his weakness. God's intentions can bededuced from the course of events (e.g., 1 Kings 9:6-9 ).This is an apparently unique explanation for a national tragedy, at least in comparisonwith that of the surrounding nations, which normally concluded that their god(s) hadabandoned them in times of national crisis.
The Davidic Succession. The Book of Kings opens with the account of David's lastdays and the succession of his son Solomon by the agency of the prophet Nathan and thepriest Zadok. The dynastic succession was a crucial issue for the nation, since mostapparently still held to the tradition of the popularly acclaimed charismatic leadershipof an individual chosen by a prophet in God's name. Thus, the first two chapters are ineffect a theological justification of the accession of Solomon, which was authenticated byhis dream at Gibeon ( 1 Kings 3:4-15 ).
In the Solomonic succession account, the writer emphasizes human agents. Actions arenot strictly determined by a deus ex machina through the medium of miracles or charismaticleaders as before, but by human designs. Although there is less emphasis on direct divineintervention, the author still shows a deep faith in providence. In fact, one of the greattheological contributions of Kings is to emphasize the working of God in the Solomonicsuccession, not through direct divine intervention, miracles, prophets, or sacredinstitutions, but through ordinary personalities and individuals working in the secularsphere.
The Temple and Jerusalem. One of the dominant themes in the early chapters ofKings is the preparation for the Solomonic temple (1 Kings 5-8), a theme treated withrelatively disproportionate length in the work. Other matters in Solomon's reign are dealtwith sporadically and comparatively briefly. For example, Solomon's relations with Hiramof Tyre are important only because of the mention of the construction of the temple. Theauthor of Kings is also concerned about recording the occasions when the temple treasurywas appropriated for war indemnity, whether by foreigners (Shiskak, 1 Kings 14:25-28 ;and Nebuchadnezzar 2 Kings 24:13 ; 25:13-17 ) orJudeans (Asa, 1Kings 15:18 ; Jehoash 2 Kings 12:18 ; 14:14 ; andHezekiah, 2 Kings18:16 ). Some have postulated that the writer was basing his sources on a nonextanttemple history.
Before the existence of the temple, Yahweh was worshiped wherever he appeared. Thebiblical writers spoke of the revelatory presence of God without compromising histranscendence. However, Solomon adopted the idea of the temple as God's divine residence.Thus, the writer of Kings condemns heathen shrines ( 1 Kings 11:7-8 ),high places ( 1Kings 3:3-4 ; 12:28-33 ),and cult objects in Dan and Bethel ( 1 Kings 12:28-32 )from an ideological standpoint. Fearing that the multiplicity of shrines would ultimatelylead to polytheism, he insists on the sole legitimacy of the Jerusalem temple as opposedto any local high place (2 Kings 23 cf. Deut 12:10-14 ).He presents Jerusalem as the holy place of God's choice ( 1 Kings 11:13 1 Kings 11:32 1 Kings 11:36 ).
Prophecy and Fulfillment. The ministry of prophecy attained a prominent positionduring the period of the kings. The spoken word of the prophets was considered equal inauthority to the Torah ( 2 Kings 22:13-20 ),to which the prophets continually alluded. There are numerous cases of prophecy beingfulfilled according to the word of Yahweh ( eg 1:1 8:20 ; eg 1:1 12:15 ; 2 Kings 23:16-18 ).The course of Israelite history had an integral connection with and was shaped and led toa fulfillment by the prophetic word of judgment, which was often delayed ( 2 Kings 2:19-22 ; 13:14-19 ; 20:8-11 ). Thewriter of Kings clearly identifies his interpretation of Israel's history with that of theprophets. God is not to be blamed for the failure of the nation since he had sent numerousprophets. Of significance is the lack of any mention of Jeremiah, who figured soprominently at the end of Judah's political history.
The lengthy treatment of Jeroboam I shows an interest in the fulfillment of prophecy ( 1 Kings 11:29-40 ; 12:1-20 ).Great prominence is also given to the defection to the Baal cult. Jehu's revolt issanctioned by the prophets Elijah and Elisha ( 2 Kings 9:7-10 2 Kings 9:26 2 Kings 9:30-37 ). The prophet Isaiah is the most important character behind the scenesin the tense struggle with the Assyrians during Hezekiah's reign. When Hezekiah falters inthe face of crisis, it is Isaiah who stands firm ( 2 Kings 19 ).
Criteria for Monarchical Judgment. The loyalty of the monarchy (an institutionaccepted without discussion in Kings) to the God of Israel as worshiped in Jerusalemdetermined the course of the nation's history. The king was a representative of the peoplebefore God. The writer of Kings uses a somewhat mechanical norm of cultic purity found inDeuteronomy (chaps. 27-28) as a criterion to evaluate the rulers of Israel and Judah. Inturn, this becomes one of the theological themes for the author's philosophy of history(i.e., opposition to any continuing Canaanite high places). The author occasionally refersto the Book of the Law, or Book of the Law of Moses (e.g., 2 Kings 14:6 ; 2 Kings 22:8 2 Kings 22:11 ; 23:2 ), showing thathe is not a theological innovator but a faithful representative of a cultic perspectivefound in Deuteronomy. The writer elevates the opposition to the Canaanite cults to acentral position in the Yahwistic faith. In fact, he pursues history writing from thestandpoint of obedience or lack thereof to this issue, either pronouncing a curse or ablessing. Furthermore, the writer emphasizes the long-suffering mercy of God who continuedto postpone the execution of judgment that disobedience to the covenant rightly entailed.
Virtually all of the kings of Israel are criticized for "walking in the ways ofJeroboam" (the first king of divided Israel). The "sin" of Jeroboam(ordaining priests for high places outside of Jerusalem, 1 Kings 13:34 ) wasthe crucial event in the history of the northern kingdom of Israel. Jeroboam's sin and hisconsecration of non-Levitical clergy sealed the doom of his royal house ( 1 Kings 12:28-31 ; 13:33 ; 14:9 ). His misdeedsbecame the prototype for the entire nation's history. Jeroboam and Ahab sinfullyinfluenced Israel so that the people copied attributes of supplanted peoples ( 2 Kings 17:8 2 Kings 17:11 ),served other gods ( 2Kings 17:12 ), and seduced surrounding peoples ( 2 Kings 17:15 ).However, even Jehu, who had cleansed the nation of Baal, failed to eradicate the highplaces ( 2 Kings10:31 ).
The criterion the author uses in evaluating the southern kingdom is slightly different.Although the nation of Judah was expected to learn from its northern neighbor's disaster,the high places, Asherim, and male prostitutes continued to exist ( 1 Kings 14:22-24 ),and Hezekiah had to replace them ( 2 Kings 18:22 ).The fate of each king was conditioned on his behavior. For example, Solomon was rewardedwith the continuation of his dynasty and a lengthy reign ( 1 Kings 3:14 ).However, he sowed the seeds of schism with his religious infidelity stemming from foreigninfluences, which would accelerate the nation's destruction. His son Rehoboam was thusdeprived of the undivided throne of Israel ( 1 Kings 12:15 ).The kingdom of Judah would be spared only for David's sake ( 1 Kings 11:13 ).The writer of Kings provides a theological explanation for the division of the kingdom,which does not contradict the secular reasons for the division.
In Judah, only five kings are approved as righteous, based upon their behavior inrelation to David (two others are unqualified). The datum point of Judah's history was thegreat reform of Josiah, while the great villain was Manasseh, who was considered to beimmediately responsible for the downfall of the kingdom. Manasseh's cultic deviations arediscussed in great detail ( 2 Kings 21:2-9 ).However, the writer does not mention Manasseh's involvement in Assyrian politics, which isnot relevant to his theme. On the other hand, Solomon's international relations are oftendiscussed because of his own cultic violations ( 1 Kings 11:14-40 ).The writer of Kings recognizes that God's justice does not always work out in every waythe same; Manasseh lived a long time ( 2 Kings 21 ; 24:3-4 ), whileJosiah died in battle, a fateful omen for the nation ( 2 Kings 23:29 ).Much space, however, is given to Josiah's reform, which, although being an immediatefailure, set the stage for the restoration ( 2 Kings 23:29-30 ).
The Davidic Promise. The writer of Kings not only condemns the sins of therulers of Israel and Judah, but is concerned about giving a word of hope and promise tothe house of David and its continuation in spite of the destruction of the Judean kingdom.Judah ultimately would not suffer the same fate as Israel because of the righteousness ofDavid, who kept the statutes of Yahweh ( 1 Kings 11:33 1 Kings 11:38 ).Thus, the writer infers that the well-being of the people was tied to the king's behavior.Yahweh's election and covenant with Israel were bound with David, although thecontinuation of the Davidic dynasty was conditioned upon the proper cultic observances andthe acceptance of the Mosaic covenant. The belief in the Davidic covenant was a guaranteeof stability and a perseverance of hope that his line would continue ( 2 Kings 25:27-30 ).The release of the Davidide Jehoiachin at the end of Kings serves as a subtle reminderthat the covenant was still in effect; the people could be assured of their continuingelection by God. Moreover, the theme of repentance is essential to the author, forming adesign of faith for later Israel. Thus, the Book of Kings is an important link in thereligious change that led to the postexilic restoration of Israel.
A Theology of History. One may get the superficial impression that the authorhad primary interests in cultic purity, the centralization of the cult, and the mechanicaljudging of each monarch. But the theology of history in Kings is much deeper. The authoris not writing a history of Israel, but primarily a theological and somewhat didacticinterpretation of Israel's history, with the religious struggle of Israel and Canaan as acentral focus. He discerns his work in the context of Israel's salvation history,presented as a continuing history of the confederate tribes, who realized their covenantrelationship with Yahweh. His goal is to see the operation of the word of God in history.In fact, it is not the actors on the historical stage who command the primary attention,but God's manipulation of the events. The sufferings of Israel and Judah are seen asoperations of the curse upon a broken agreement. The desire to employ local shrines wasonly a symptom of the problem.
Kings is a purposeful and positive work at the nadir of Israel's fortunes. Not onlydoes it mirror God's judgment; it also reflects the theme of forgiveness and grace, whichfosters the hope of revival. Israel's distress was not accidental or haphazard, butevidence of God's character consistent with his self-revelation in the covenant. The keyis his renewed grace. The past sins created the consequence of an immediate future withoutmonarchy, government, or structured religious center. However, the nation would now beidentified by their fidelity to the Mosaic religion and the demands of the covenant.
Mark W. Chavalas
See also Israel
Bibliography. P. Ackroyd, Exile and Restoration: A Survey of Hebrew Thoughtof the Sixth Century b.c.; B. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament asScripture; M. Coogan and H. Tadmor, II Kings: A New Translation with Introductionand Commentary; F. M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic; S. De Vries, IKings; J. Gray, I-II Kings; B. Halpern, The First Historians: The HebrewBible and History; T. R. Hobbes, II Kings; J. Montgomery and H. Gehman, ACritical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Kings; G. von Rad, Studies inDeuteronomy, pp. 74-79; J. van Seters, In Search of History: Historiography in theAncient World and the Origins of Biblical History.
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