1 Kings

What makes 1 Kings special?

1 Kings is the first half of a single book that was divided into two parts, 1 and 2 Kings, because they were too long to fit on one scroll. Together the books continue the history of Israel that is begun in the books of Samuel, but 1 and 2 Kings tell the history in a special way. The story moves back and forth between reports of the kings of Judah and reports of the kings of Israel so that we can always compare what was going on in the north (Israel) with what was going on in the south (Judah).

In addition, the kings of the separate kingdoms are introduced in different ways. The reports of kings of Judah begin with the following standard outline:

  1. the date the king began to rule in terms of how long the current king in Israel had been ruling,
  2. his age,
  3. the name of his mother, and
  4. an evaluation of his conduct measured against the conduct of Israel’s “greatest king,” David.

The kings of Israel, however, are introduced with the following standard outline:

  1. the date he began to rule Israel in terms of how long the current king of Judah had been ruling,
  2. the location of his capital,
  3. the period of time he ruled, and
  4. a negative judgment of the king.

Why was 1 Kings written?

1 and 2 Kings were written to complete the history of Israel begun in 1 and 2 Samuel, but they also serve another purpose. The history of the nation is told through the lives of the kings and the prophets to explain the tragic history of Israel as a failure of the nation to keep the agreement its people made with God as it is presented in Deuteronomy. The northern kingdom (Israel) had been destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. In 586 B.C., the southern kingdom (Judah) had fallen to Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. The temple was burned to the ground, Jerusalem was destroyed, and Judah’s high-ranking citizens, including its king, were deported to Babylon. To those Israelites living in exile in Babylon it must have seemed as if God had abandoned them.

But 1 and 2 Kings present a different view: God has not been unfaithful to his chosen people; rather, the kings have been unfaithful through their failure to obey God’s law. 1 and 2 Kings, therefore, retell the history of Israel by looking at each king and judging him according to his faithfulness. If a king of Judah was faithful and obeyed God’s law, especially by worshiping in the place the Lord chose, that is, in Jerusalem (Deut 12.5-19), he was praised as being good. If he disobeyed by tolerating the worship of other gods or by allowing the people to worship from places other than Jerusalem, he was condemned as being evil. Some of the kings of Judah were judged to be good, especially Hezekiah and Josiah, because they enforced worship at the temple in Jerusalem. All the kings of Israel were judged to be evil, because they worshiped at the rival shrines of Bethel and Dan.

What’s the story behind the scene?

The books of 1 and 2 Kings were perhaps finally put together in Babylon from a number of sources sometime during the exile (586-539 B.C.). The original compilation of the material may have been written during the reign of Josiah who died in 609 B.C. This version saw Josiah as the fulfillment of God’s promises to David. By showing the evil of the preceding kings the authors hoped to support the reforms begun by Josiah (2 Kgs 22.3—23.24). During the disillusionment of the exile, however, a revision most likely was undertaken to expand the earlier version to show that God’s judgment on Israel was fair. This “second edition” makes clear that Israel needed to accept God’s punishment for the people’s disobedience and to turn back to God if they are ever to be allowed to return to the land God promised to their ancestors.

How is 1 Kings constructed?

The following outline divides the book into three major sections. The first (1–2) tells about the last years of David’s life and how Solomon, his son, became king of Israel. The second (3–11) reports what Solomon did as king, especially the building and dedication of the temple in Jerusalem. The last section (12–22) begins with the story of the northern tribes’ rejection of Rehoboam as king after Solomon’s death and the splitting of the nation into two separate kingdoms—Israel in the north and Judah in the south. This section then goes on to report the activities of the various kings of both kingdoms through the middle of the ninth century B.C. These sections can be further subdivided as follows:

  1. Solomon becomes king (1.1—2.46)
  2. Israel under King Solomon (3.1—11.43)
    1. Solomon’s wisdom and administration (3.1—4.34)
    2. Solomon builds and dedicates the temple (5.1—8.66)
    3. Solomon’s wealth and wisdom (9.1—10.29)
    4. Solomon’s failings (11.1-43)
  3. The kingdom divides (12.1—22.53)
    1. The northern tribes rebel (12.1—14.31)
    2. Early kings of Judah and Israel (15.1—16.34)
    3. Elijah the prophet (17.1—19.21)
    4. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel (20.1—22.40)
    5. King Jehoshaphat of Judah and King Ahaziah of Israel (22.41-53)

Solomon Becomes King

1 Kings opens with the conclusion of the court history of David that began in 2 Samuel 9 and then relates the story of who would follow David as king: David’s eldest living son, Adonijah, or his son by Bathsheba, Solomon.

Israel under King Solomon

Israel under Solomon is seen as experiencing a “golden age.” Given the gift of wisdom by God, Solomon organizes the nation to be more efficient, brings them peace and prosperity, and builds the temple to the Lord in Jerusalem, majestic palaces, and strong forts. But Solomon is not always wise. He uses forced labor to complete his building projects and taxes the people too heavily. His big sin, however, is that he builds shrines to the gods his foreign wives worshiped.

Solomon’s Wisdom and Administration

When the Lord appears to Solomon in a dream the young king asks God for the wisdom to rule his people. God is so pleased that Solomon has asked for wisdom that God promises to make him rich and respected as well.

Solomon Builds and Dedicates the Temple

With the help of King Hiram of Tyre, Solomon builds a temple to the Lord to replace the sacred tent in Jerusalem and dedicates it during the Festival of Shelters. But Solomon is warned in a dream that the Lord will desert the temple and the land if the people disobey God’s commands and start worshiping foreign gods.

Solomon’s Wealth and Wisdom

Originally, Solomon had asked God to make him wise so that he would know the difference between right and wrong and so he would be able to rule God’s people. Now he uses his wisdom to make himself wealthy and famous. This turns out to be the beginning of his decline as king.

Solomon’s Failings

Because Solomon disobeys the Lord by worshiping the godsof his foreign wives, Solomon’s kingdom begins to face troubles from enemies inside and outside of Israel.

The Kingdom Divides

After Solomon dies, Jeroboam, one of Solomon’s former officials, leads the northern tribes in a rebellion against Rehoboam, Solomon’s heir. The remainder of 1 Kings focuses on the religious loyalties of the kings of Israel in the north and the kings of Judah in the south. The kings of Israel are strongly condemned because they choose to worship at Bethel and Dan, the holy places set up by Jeroboam (chapter 12), rather than to worship God in Jerusalem. The story of the divided kingdom continues in 2 Kings.

The Northern Tribes Rebel

The people from the northern tribes promise to obey and serve Rehoboam on the condition that he lighten their work load. Rehoboam refuses and the people from the north break away, uniting under Jeroboam, who makes Shechem his capital.He also sets up gold statues of calves in Dan and Bethel. Rehoboam also sins by allowing the people of Judahto build shrines and worship foreign gods.

Early Kings of Judah and Israel

Abijam and Asa continue the line of David on the throne of Judah for a total of forty-four years. Leadership in Israel is less stable due to shifting loyalties among military and political leaders. Under Omri, however, a new capital is set up for Israel in the city of Samaria. This section ends with Omri’s son, Ahab, coming to power.

Elijah the Prophet

The unfolding story of the kings of Israel and Judah is put aside momentarily so that the author of 1 Kings can describe the work of the prophet Elijah, whose name means “the Lord is my God.” Elijah challenges King Ahab and Queen Jezebel of Israel who followed the Canaanite god Baal.

King Ahab and Queen Jezebel

This section is a collection of stories about King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. First, it tells of Ahab’s battle with King Benhadad of Syria and the condemnation an unnamed prophet of the Lord brings to Ahab (chapter 20). This is followed by the story of how Jezebel plots to get Naboth’s vineyard for her husband, and Elijah’s words of condemnation to the King and Queen (chapter 21). The prophet Micaiah warns Ahab that he will die in battle against the Syrians.

King Jehoshaphat of Judah and King Ahaziah of Israel

For a brief period there is cooperation and peace between the kings of Judah and Israel.

Court Records and Sources for 1 and 2 Kings
The author of 1 and 2 Kings drew upon existing material to tell the stories of the kings of Israel and Judah. Some of the sources were probably court records kept by officials who served these kings. Today, the source documents no longer exist. Many people, however, find evidence of these texts in the Scripture passages listed below.
Source Documents Scripture Passages
A book about Solomon and his wisdom 1 Kings 11.41
The History of the Kings of Judah 1 Kings 14.29; 15.6-7,23; 22.43-46; 2 Kings 8.23; 12.19; 14.18-20; 15.6,36; 16.19; 20.20; 21.17,24-26; 23.28; 24.5
The History of the Kings of Israel 1 Kings 14.19; 15.31; 16.5-7,14,20,27; 22.39; 2 Kings 1.18; 10.34; 13.8,12; 14.15,28; 15.11,12,14-16,21,26,31
The Book of God's Law 2 Kings 22.8-11; 23.2,21

Questions about 1 Kings 1.1—11.43

1. Quickly review chapters 1 and 2. Which two of David’s many sons thought they should be the next king? How did each of them go about making his claim? Who did each one of them turn to for support? What were David’s final instructions to Solomon? (2.1-9)

2. In 2.13-46 King Solomon arranges for the execution of three men: (1) Adonijah, his brother, (2) Joab, a military leader who had served his father, and (3) Shimei, a relative of Saul who had cursed David. Why were these men killed? Do you think Solomon was being fair and reasonable? Why or why not? How do you expect leaders today to treat their political rivals and enemies?

3. Re-read 3.5-15. In this dream, what did Solomon ask the Lord for? What was the Lord’s response? What would you have asked for if you were chosen to be a ruler of a great country?

4. How would you define “wisdom”? Does the example of the difficult decision Solomon made in 3.16-28 fit your definition? Why or why not? Read the note at 3.28 (wisdom). How does this information change your understanding of what wisdom is? How can this kind of wisdom change your relationship with God? With others?

5. Skim over chapters 5 through 8. What, if anything, impresses you about the description of the temple given in these chapters? What puzzles you? What don’t you understand about the purpose of the temple and its place in the life of the Israelites?

6. Read Solomon’s prayer at the temple (8.22-53). What does this prayer have to say about human nature? About what God is like? About forgiveness? About prayer?

7. Read 10.14—11.6 again. How is Solomon’s behavior in these passages different from what it was like when he first became king? What seems to have brought about this change? Can you think of examples in your own life where a “gift” has been misused? What gifts have you been given? What can you do to see that these gifts are used in good, rather than selfish ways?

8. Go back and read David’s statement about obedience and success in 2.3. List some of the events or situations in these first chapters of 1 Kings that point to the truth of this statement. Do you think this applies just to leaders? Do you think this instruction can also apply to you? If so, how does your answer depend on how you define success?

Questions about 1 Kings 12.1—22.53

1. Why did the Israelites from the northern tribes decide to break away and choose their own king rather than follow Solomon’s heir, Rehoboam? (Chapter 12) Who did they choose to be their leader instead? What did this leader do that upset the Lord?

2. List some of the temptations that drew the people and their kings into disobedience. What temptations draw people and their leaders away from God today?

3. Which of the rulers in 1 Kings is most memorable? Why? Does the author of 1 Kings call this ruler “faithful” or “evil”? What are the reasons the author gives?

4. 1 Kings includes stories about a number of prophets. Some of them are named (like Nathan, Elijah, and Micaiah), but others are unnamed. How would you describe their relationships with people in power? Which is your favorite story concerning a prophet? Why?

5. Prophets don’t just “preach” against injustice. Often they dramatize what they have to say (see, for example, 20.38-42). Is there an injustice in your community that you’re concerned about? What would you like to say to the people who have the power to change this injustice? How could you dramatize your statement?

6. Suppose a friend said, “Jezebel wasn’t so wicked. She acted as a faithful follower of her own god to encourage his worship.” How would you respond?

7. A major theme in 1 Kings is that God rewards those who obey God’s law and punishes those who disobey it. Compare this with what Jesus says in Luke 13.1-5.

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