The two books of Kings (which were originally one book) trace the history of Israel over approximately four centuries from the end of David’s reign to the beginning of the captivity in Babylon. The books record the division of the Israelite kingdom into two parts, and the history, decline and fall of the separate kingdoms (see ISRAEL; JUDAH, TRIBE AND KINGDOM).

Characteristics of the books

Although they are based on history, the books of Kings were not written merely as historical records. The ancient Hebrews grouped the books among the prophetical writings. Prophecy is God’s revelation of himself and his purposes, and in these books he reveals himself in the history of Israel and Judah, showing how all affairs are under his control. The story deals with surrounding nations only as those nations are of significance in the divine purposes (see PROPHECY). The presentation of Israel’s history as prophetic history is partly because many of the historians in Israel were prophets (e.g. 1 Chron 29:29; 2 Chron 9:29; 33:19). The author of Kings (who is not named) most likely used some of the records of the prophets, along with the official records of various kings, in preparing his book (1 Kings 11:41; 14:19,29).

Large portions of the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah are found also in Kings. Because the writer of Kings is showing the purpose and meaning of Israel’s history, he does not try to record all the events of any one era. Nor does he always place events in chronological order. Rather he selects and arranges his material according to his prophetic purpose. He deals with kings more in relation to their religious significance than their political achievements. He may record the reign or achievements of a politically important king only briefly (e.g. Omri; 1 Kings 16:21-28), but deal with politically unimportant events in detail (e.g. the ministry of certain prophets; 1 Kings 17-22; 2 Kings 1-9). His purpose is to help his readers understand God better as they see him at work in the history of Israel.

Contents of 1 Kings

The opening section of 1 Kings deals with the reign of Solomon. It shows how he became king (1:1- 53) and made his throne secure, firstly by removing all possible opponents (2:1-46), then by equipping himself with wisdom (3:1-28) and reorganizing the administration (4:1-34). Solomon then prepared workers and materials for an extensive national building program (5:1-18). In Jerusalem, the capital, he built a magnificent temple for God (6:1-38), along with many impressive government buildings (7:1-12).

Upon completing the temple (7:13-51), he placed in it the ark of the covenant (8:1-21) and dedicated the temple to God (8:22-9:9). He carried out building projects in country regions (9:10-25) and increased his wealth through clever trading activity (9:26-10:29). At the same time he fell into idolatry and brought God’s judgment upon his kingdom (11:1-43). Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, saw the judgment of God fall when the kingdom split into two. Only the southern tribes remained loyal to the Davidic dynasty in Jerusalem. Together they became known as the kingdom of Judah. The ten tribes to the north broke away and formed their own kingdom (still called Israel) under the rebel leader, Jeroboam (12:1-33). False religion in the north soon brought an announcement of divine punishment (13:1-14:20). The false religion spread to the south (14:21-15:8), though there was a reformation under the king Asa (15:9- 24). Meanwhile the northern kingdom suffered from wars and assassinations, till Omri established a new dynasty (15:25-16:28).

When Omri’s son and successor Ahab married Jezebel of Phoenicia, the Baalism of Phoenicia threatened to become Israel’s national religion. The prophet Elijah was God’s servant to help preserve Israel and punish the Baalists (16:29-17:24). Elijah won a great victory over the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel (18:1-46), but when the people of Israel still did not give up their Baalism, God strengthened and reassured the discouraged Elijah (19:1-21). Through Elijah’s help, Ahab saved Israel from a Syrian attack (20:1-43), but he was doomed to suffer God’s judgment (21:1-29). He was killed in a later battle (22:1- 40). Meanwhile in Judah to the south, King Jehoshaphat carried out extensive religious and political reforms (22:41-53).

Contents of 2

Kings Elijah was succeeded as prophet by Elisha (1:1-2:14), who soon proved that the miraculous power of God worked through him as it had through Elijah (2:15-3:27). He performed a number of miracles to help preserve the faithful minority in Israel who still trusted in God (4:1-6:7). He performed other miracles to warn the unfaithful in Israel of God’s judgment (6:8-8:15). Jezebel’s Baalism, however, continued to flourish, and even spread to Judah (8:16-9:10). An army commander named Jehu led a revolt against the ruling house of Ahab and Jezebel, which resulted in the removal of Jezebel’s Baalism from Israel (9:11-10:36).

Then a priest named Jehoiada led a revolt that wiped out Jezebel’s Baalism from Judah (11:1-21). The true worship of Yahweh was restored in Judah (12:1-21), but no such reformation took place in Israel (13:1-14:22). With the decline of Syrian power, Israel (under Jeroboam II) and Judah (under Azariah) enjoyed security and prosperity (14:23-15:7). But after Azariah’s death, Judah fell into chaos, which led eventually to the disastrous reign of Ahaz (15:8-16:20). The northern kingdom likewise declined after the death of Jeroboam II. Eventually it was conquered by Assyria and its people taken captive into different parts of the Assyrian Empire (17:1-41). Only Judah remained in the national homeland, and with new policies under the godly Hezekiah the nation freed itself from Assyrian domination (18:1-20:21). But the fifty-five year reign of the evil Manasseh reduced the nation to a condition that made judgment certain (21:1-26).

Josiah repaired the temple and reformed the nation (22:1-23:27), but he could not save Judah from destruction. After his death, Judah lost its independence, first to Egypt and then to Babylon (23:28-37). Babylon conquered Jerusalem, took the best people into captivity, and appointed Zedekiah as king in Jerusalem (24:1-17). After Zedekiah proved treacherous, the Babylonians returned and destroyed Jerusalem. More people were taken into captivity and the nation Judah soon came to an end (24:18- 25:30).

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