Introduction to 1 and 2 Kings

Introduction to 1 and 2 Kings

As was the case for 1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings was originally considered one book. HCSB provides some background, “The Septuagint (LXX) first divided the book into two, possibly because the Greek text required more space than the Hebrew. Various Greek and Latin manuscripts divide the text at different points, showing that there was no tradition of two books of Kings and that the division was made arbitrarily. The LXX gives 1 and 2 Kings the titles ‘Third and Fourth Kingdoms,’ respectively. The compilers of this ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible evidently considered Samuel and Kings as one narrative spit into four parts. Hebrew manuscripts, however, are unanimous in keeping Samuel and Kings as two separate books.”

The author (or authors) does not identify himself. However, Jewish tradition reflected in the Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra 15a) holds that Jeremiah is the author. Whoever he was, NLT Illustrated Study Bible points out, “The author witnessed firsthand the fall of Jerusalem and was well acquainted with sources that enabled him to compose a rich history of Solomon’s reign and the divided monarchy. Available to the author were official archives of the palace and Temple and records kept in various prophetic centers.” What were some of these historical sources? HCSB notes that “the text itself mentions at least three sources” and “there is the possibility that the author of Kings used other, unidentified sources” :

    • Book of Solomon’s Events: “…which contained contemporary events, biographical material, and extracts from the records in the temple archives.” (1 Kg 11:41)

    • Historical Record of Israel’s Kings: “…records events from the time of Jeroboam I to Pekah…and is explicitly cited 18 times as a source.”

    • Historical Record of Judah’s Kings: “…covering events from Solomon’s son Rehoboam and the dividing of the kingdom into two parts until the reign of Jehoiakim. It is cited 15 times as the author’s source.”

Most agree that these books couldn’t have been written prior to the 6th century B.C. NLT Illustrated Study Bible explains, “Because 2 Kings records the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. (2 Kgs 24:18-25:21), the composition of 1-2 Kings must have been completed afterward.” The same source continues, “The basic period for 1 Kings stretches from about 973 BC (including approximately the last two years of David’s reign in Jerusalem, 2 Sam 5:4-5) to about 853 BC, during the reigns of Jehoshaphat of Judah (872-848 BC) and Ahaziah of Israel (853-852 BC). Second Kings picks up where 1 Kings left off. The final appendix to 2 Kings (2 Kgs 25:27-30) was written shortly after the death of Nebuchadnezzar II in 562 BC.”

Many archaeological finds support the history recounted in these chapters. Following is a selection of the multiple examples supplied by the ESV Archaeology Study Bible:

    • Israelite and Judean kings named in extrabiblical inscriptions include David, Omri, Jehu, Joram/Jehoram, Hezekiah, Menahem, Pekah, Hoshea, Ahaz, Jotham, Manasseh, Azariah/Uzziah and Jehoiachin.”

    • Assyrian and Babylonian rulers mentioned in 1-2 Kings, such as Tiglath-pileser III/Pul, Sargon II, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar II, Shalmaneser III, Esarhaddon, Merodach-baladan, and Evil-merodach, and Egyptian pharaohs Sishak I and Neco II are all known from extrabiblical sources as well. This is also true for the Syrian rulers Hazael, Ben-hadad I, Ben-hadad II, and Rezon, and for Hiram of Tyre, Mesha of Moab, and the Hittites, Philistines, Canaanites, Phoenicians, Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites.”

    • …Solomonic building activity reported in 1 Kings 9:15 has been largely confirmed at Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer.”

    • The remains of the royal acropolis at Samaria, built by Omri and Ahab (1 Kgs 16:24; 22:39) have also been discovered.”

    • The invasion of Pharaoh Shishak I reported in 1 Kings 14:25-26 is commemorated in a relief on the temple of Amun at Karnak and includes the names of several cities from Israel and Judah.”

However, aligning the Biblical chronology with other historical records can sometimes be difficult. NLT Illustrated lists 4 dating factors that contribute to the complexity of the issue:

    • Regnal-Year Dating: “In the ancient Near East, events were dated with reference to the reign of an individual king rather than with reference to an absolute calendar. For instance, the people of Judah would have described an event in 701 BC as happening in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign in Judah (2 Kgs 18:13)…Archaeological records of Assyria and Babylon give us the regnal years for their kings.”

    • The Ancient Calendar Year: “Israel’s united monarchy under David and Solomon evidently used a royal year beginning around September or October, and the kingdom of Judah continued to use this royal year…For Babylon and the northern kingdom of Israel, the first month of the calendar year occurred around March or April.”

    • Accession-Year Dating: “Some nations, such as Babylon and Assyria, counted the year in which a new king took the throne (his accession) as belonging only to the previous king. A new king’s accession year was not counted as one of his regnal years; his first regnal year was the following year. This system is called accession-year dating…Other nations such as Egypt, counted the year of a king’s accession while also counting that year as the last year of the old king’s reign. As a result, a calendar year would be counted twice- once for the previous king, once for the new king. This system is called non-accession-year dating…Edwin R. Thiele showed that Israel’s monarchy under David and Solomon probably used accession-year dating… The kingdom of Judah continued this practice. The kingdom of Israel, by contrast, followed Egypt’s use of non-accession-year dating…”

    • Co-Regencies: “Kings in the ancient Near East often made their sons co-regents, perhaps to provide on-the-job training and to ensure an orderly transfer of power…The sons years are counted either from when he became co-regent or from when he began his sole reign.”

The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible includes this summation of the historical setting of 1-2 Kings:

The actual events recounted in Kings are known to have transpired between 1000 and 562 BC…The era of David and Solomon is commonly known as the united monarchy. This period (1000-931 BC) was a time in which Israel became the dominant nation in the ancient Near East (1 Ki 1-11)…Israel became a mini-empire that conformed to the conventional Near Eastern model, complete with alliances, cosmopolitan influences and fortified administrative centers with palaces and military garrisons. After the division of the monarchy, two less powerful Israelite kingdoms (the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah) fought each other and their neighbors for supremacy in the region…The ebb and flow of Israel and Judah’s fortunes continues in the book of 2 Kings, which spans the period from 850-586 BC…A series of attacks beginning with those of Tiglath-Pileser III and ending with those of Sargon II led to the annihilation of the capital city (Samaria) and the captivity of Israel (2 Ki 15-17). Judah and its capital (Jerusalem) survived for another century- only to meet the same fate at the hands of the Babylonian Empire in 586 BC.”

NLT Illustrated Study Bible explains that, “The primary concern of 1 Kings is Israel’s spiritual condition: How well did Israel’s rulers and people keep God’s covenants? God’s special covenant with David had conditions for blessing Israel’s king and his kingdom (2 Sam 7:12-16; Ps 89:20-37).

HCSB corroborates this point by drawing our attention to an interesting difference between the Biblical and extrabiblical recording of these events, “…the books of Kings present a different picture of Israel than one gets from contemporary records of other nations. For example, Omri is given only 7 verses (1 Kg 16:21-27) for his reign and accomplishments, but he was mentioned in Assyrian documents and was one of the most ‘important’ rulers in the northern kingdom in terms of political and economic achievements. But, the author of 2 Kings dismisses Omri as unimportant.”

The same source continues, “The author’s purpose is not to present a complete history of Israel but to emphasize certain events to support a specific interpretation of history. He wanted to show how the kings led the nations to obedience to the Mosaic law or, more frequently, led them away from obedience and how God dealt with the nation and individuals as a result.”

NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “The mid-900s BC was an ideal time for Solomon’s kingdom to expand, for the traditional powers of the area were in decline…Unfortunately, Solomon’s foreign diplomacy involved marriages with the daughters of foreign kings. This was a common way to cement alliances in the ancient Near East, but it was spiritually disastrous, for ‘in Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the Lord his God.’ (11:4). When Solomon died in 931 BC, tensions came to the surface that had been smoldering between the northern and southern Hebrew tribes. The resulting schism restructured the kingdom of Israel (the northern ten tribes) and Judah (the remaining two southern tribes).” Moving on to 2 Kings, the same source says, “The book…is structured around the reigns of the kings of Israel and Judah.”

ESV Study Bible describes the background against which 1-2 Kings should be understood, “The fall of Jerusalem and the events that immediately followed it came as a devastating blow to the people of Judah…Most seriously of all, the temple- the great symbol of Yahweh’s presence with Israel- had been dismantled…What did all this mean? Was Israel’s God not in fact in control of nature and history, as Mosaic religion claimed?…If the God of Moses did exist, and was good and all-powerful, how was it that God’s chosen city and temple had been destroyed, and how was it that God’s chosen royal line (the line of David) had all but come to its end?…These books…represent a sustained response to such questions, and are designed to provide their leaders a true interpretation of what happened to Israel in 586 BC. Israel’s God is indeed in control of nature and history…The reasons for these actions lies in Israel’s great sinfulness. Israel has not obeyed God or heeded his word through the prophets from the reign of Solomon onward.”

ESV Study Bible lists 7 key themes:

    • Yahweh is the only true God.”

    • Yahweh controls history.”

    • Yahweh demands exclusive worship.”

    • The content and place of true worship.”

    • The consequences of false worship.”

    • Yahweh as just and gracious Lawgiver.”

    • Yahweh as promise-giver. The patriarchal promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

Gotquestion’s survey of 1 Kings and 2 Kings adds the following foreshadowings and practical applications:

    • Foreshadowings:

      • The Temple in Jerusalem, where God’s Spirit would dwell in the Holy of Holies, foreshadows believers in Christ in whom the Holy Spirit resides…”

      • Elijah the prophet was for forerunner of Christ and the Apostles of the New Testament. God enabled Elijah to do miraculous things in order to prove that he was truly a man of God.”

      • Jesus uses the stories of the widow of Zarephath from 1 Kings and Naaman in 2 Kings to illustrate the great truth of God’s compassion toward those the Jews deemed unworthy of God’s grace—the poor, the weak, the oppressed, tax collectors, Samaritans, Gentiles.”

      • Many of the miracles of Elisha foreshadowed those of Jesus Himself.” (2 Kgs 4:34-35; 5:1-19; 4:42-44).

    • Practical Applications:

      • We see a warning about the company we keep, and especially in regard to close associations and marriage…As believers in Christ, we must be very careful about whom we choose as friends, business associates, and spouses. ‘Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character’ (1 Corinthians 15:33).”

      • Elijah’s experience in the wilderness also teaches a valuable lesson. After his incredible victory over the 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, his joy turned to sorrow when he was pursued by Jezebel and fled for his life. Such “mountaintop” experiences are often followed by a letdown and the depression and discouragement that can follow. We have to be on guard for this type of experience in the Christian life.”

      • God hates sin and He will not allow it to continue indefinitely. If we belong to Him, we can expect His discipline when we disobey Him. A loving Father corrects His children for their benefit and to prove that they indeed belong to Him.”

      • The stories of the widow and the leper are examples for us in regard to the Body of Christ…God is no ‘respecter of persons’ (Acts 10:34), and neither should we be.”

NLT Illustrated Study Bible provides the following general outline:

1 Kings:

The Reign of Solomon: 1:1-11:43

The Early Divided Kingdom: 12:1-16:14

The Era of Israel’s Third Dynasty: 16:15-22:53

2 Kings:

The Divided Monarchy: 1:1-17:41

The Last Era of the Southern Kingdom: 18:1-25:21

Historical Appendices: 25:22-30

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