The Books of 1 and 2 Kings
The Books of 1 and 2 Kings are the last of what the Hebrew canon calls the Former Prophets (being Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings), which then leads to Latter Prophets (namely Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve (‘minor prophets’)). In the Hebrew canon, 1 and 2 Kings used to be a single book called melakim which means ‘kings’. This is of course quite appropriate, because the Book of Kings describes the reigns of all the kings after Saul, be it the end of David’s reign, the rule of Solomon or all the subsequent kings, be they kings of Northern Kingdom (Israel) or of the Southern Kingdom (Judah). In approximately 250 BC, the Septuagint split Kings into two books (as it also did with Samuel), ‘most likely to make the length of the texts more manageable’ (Shields 2014:480). The Former Prophets cover a combined period of time of about 845 years, with Joshua covering a period of about 35 years (1405 – 1370 BC), Judges 300 years and Samuel 150 years — but with an overlap of about 50 years between Judges and Samuel — and Kings covering a historical period of about 413 years (973-971 to 560 BC).
Authorship of the Book of Kings
While there is no authorial inscription in the Books of 1 and 2 Kings, we know that the human author made use of various sources, including the ‘Book of the acts of Solomon (1 Kings 11:41), the ‘Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel’ (1 Kings 14:19; 15:31; 2 Kings 1:18; 10:34) as well as the ‘Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah’ (1 Kings 14:29; 15:7; 2 Kings 8:23; 21:17; 24:5). According to a tractate of the Babylonian Talmud, Jeremiah wrote the book which bears his name, the Book of Kings as well as Lamentations (Merrill 2011:324). Evidence given to support this claim is that 2 Kings 24:18-25:30 and the last chapter of Jeremiah is exactly the same and that Jeremiah lived after these historical events had taken place. Rabbinic tradition ascribes authorship of Kings to Ezra or Ezekiel (Shields 2014:479). It is likely that a single human author wrote Kings, because 1 and 2 Kings are carefully structured and stylistic and linguistic features support this idea — but whoever human wrote Kings, such person did so under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Historical Scope and Date of Composition
It is difficult to date with precision the composition of Kings. 1 Kings 1-3 describes the end of David’s reign and the start of Solomon’s rule (973-971 BC). The release of Jehoiachin is the last recorded event in 2 Kings 25:27-30, which took place in 560 BC. The Books of 1 and 2 Kings were probably written a decade or two after the last of the three phases (or deportations) of the Babylonian captivity had taken place. While this discussion can easily become quite complex (see for example the discussion of Shields 2014:480), the estimated date of composition of Kings is about 560 BC.
Purpose of the Book of Kings
Why was the Book of Kings written, and for whom? At all times, salvation is by God’s grace through faith in the promised Messiah. By the time Kings was written, God had already made unconditional promises to Israel in the Abrahamic, Land, Davidic and New Covenants. While these unconditional promises will certainly be fulfilled by God, if individual Jews and Israel as a nation wanted to enjoy the material and spiritual blessings promised in these covenants, the Jews of Israel had to obey the conditional Mosaic Covenant. If they obeyed the Law of Moses, the blessings of the conditional and unconditional covenants (noted before) would be realised by them; but if they disobeyed the revealed will of God, then the curses of the Mosaic Covenant would befall them. As God made clear to Elijah, not all Israel is part of the remnant of Israel (1 Kings 19:18); not every ethnic Jew is also a Jew who believes in the God of Israel. The first purpose of the Book of Kings is therefore to show Israel the consequences of disobeying the revealed will of God as stated in the conditional Mosaic Covenant. The second purpose is to explain to the believing remnant of Israel why the nation had gone into captivity, first into Assyria and later into Babylonia. The third reason is to show that despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, God will still fulfil the unconditional promises that He made in the Abrahamic, Land, Davidic and New Covenants. Despite Israel and its kings’ failures, God will never reject Israel. Just to emphasise the last point, the Bible describes every one of the 20 kings of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) as ‘bad’ (or worse) kings; only eight out of the 20 kings of the Southern Kingdom (Judah) are described as (somewhat) good. God has ample reason to reject Israel – and Israel was indeed disciplined and punished in terms of the conditional Mosaic Covenant — but was Israel rejected? No, perish the thought! God will fulfil the unconditional promises He made to Israel and her representatives. Eventually, there will come a time when a generation of Jews will place their faith and trust in the Messiah, Israel will be brought back into her land and then the nation will be ruled by the King who not only has a human nature, but also a divine nature. As many times as the kings of Israel and Judah have fallen, so many times (and then some more) can we look forward to the King of kings and Lord of lords. The Lord Jesus Christ will not only rule over Israel in the Messianic kingdom, but also over all nations.
The Structure of the Book of Kings
How could a theological-historical narrative covering about 40 kings over a period of about 413 years be structured? The events described in the Book of Kings have been recorded, for the most part, chronologically. Even so, Kings also exhibits a symmetrical or chiastic layout. While the outline of Savran (1987:148) is commendable (but not shown here), we prefer the following chiastic structure by Dorsey (1999:135; cf. also Merrill 2011:321, n. 8):
A Solomon’s reign in Jerusalem; Jerusalem’s wealth; temple is built 1 Ki 3:1-11:43
B Rise of Northern Kingdom: Its first 7 kings 1 Ki 12:1-16:34
C Prophet Elijah and early Omride dynasty 1 Kings 17:1-2 Ki 1:18
D Centerpiece: Elisha’s miracles of kindness 2 Ki 2:1-8:6
C’ Prophet Elisha and end of Omride dynasty 2 Ki 8:7-13:25
B’ Fall of Northern Kingdom: Its last 7 kings 2 Ki 14:1-17:41
A’ Solomon’s dynasty ends; fall of Jerusalem; destruction of Solomon’s temple 2 Ki 18-25
The above structure provides an overall map (like a map of a ‘forest’) to read the Books of 1 and 2 Kings. But almost all of the smaller units (the ‘trees’ of the forest) are likewise beautifully structured. One example of Dorsey (1999:139) will suffice, namely the well-known confrontation between Elijah and his God vs. the prophets of Baal and their god:
A Introduction: Elijah’s declaration: there will be no rain! 1 Ki 17:1
B Yahweh’s prophet is kept alive at the brook Cherith 1 Ki 17:2-6
C Elijah demonstrates Yahweh’s power in Phoenicia 1 Ki 17:7-24
D Contest between Yahweh and Baal proposed 1 Ki 18:1-19
C’ Elijah demonstrates Yahweh’s power in Israel 1 Ki 18:20-39
B’ Baal’s prophets are killed at the brook Kidron 1 Ki 18:40
A’ Conclusion: Elijah’s declaration: rain is coming now! 1 Ki 18:41-46
Table 1: Kings of the Northern Kingdom (Israel)
|Name||Years||Character||Relation with Judah||Dethroned By||Dates BC||History|
|Jeroboam||22||Bad||War||931-910||I K 11:26 - 14:20; II C 9:29 - 13:22|
|Nadab||2||Bad||War||Baasha||910-909||I K 15:25 - 28|
|Baasha||24||Bad||War||909-885/4||I K 15:27 - 16:7; II C 16:1 - 6|
|Elah||2||Drunkard||War||Zimri||886/5 – 885/4||I K 16:8 - 10|
|Zimri||7 Days||Murderer||War||Omri||885/4||I K 16:10 - 20|
|Tibni||4||Civil unrest, war with Omri||885/4-880||1 Ki 16:21|
|Omri||12||Very bad||Civil unrest, war with Tibni||885/4-874/3||1 Ki 16:17-28|
|Ahab||22||Very Wicked||Alliance||874/3-853||I K 16:28 - 22:40|
|Ahaziah||2||Bad||Peace||853-852||I K 22:40, 51 – 53; II K 1:1 – 17; II C 20:35 - 37|
|Joram||12||Bad||Alliance||Jehu||852-841||II K 3:1 - 3; II K 9:14 – 25; II C 22:5 - 7|
|Jehu||28||Bad||War||841-814/3||II K 9:1 - 10:36; II C 22:7 - 12|
|Jehoahaz||17||Bad||Peace||814/3-798||II K 13:1 - 9|
|Jehoash||16||Bad||War||798-782/1||II K 13:10 – 25; II K 14:8 – 16; II C 25:17 - 24|
|Jeroboam II||41||Bad||Peace||782/1-753 (co-regent 793/2-782)||II K 14:23 - 29|
|Zechariah||6 Months||Bad||Peace||Shallum||753-752||II K 15:8 - 12|
|Shallum||1 Month||Bad||Peace||Menahem||752||II K 15:13 - 15|
|Menahem||10||Bad||Peace||752-742/1||II K 15:16 - 22|
|Pekahiah||2||Bad||Peace||Pekah||742/1-740/39||II K 15:23 - 26|
|Pekah||20||Bad||War||Hoshea||740/39-732/1 (years counted from 752)||II K 15:27 – 31; II C 28:5 - 8|
|Hoshea||9||Bad||Peace||732/1723/22||II K 17:1 - 41|
|Fall of Northern Kingdom: Assyrian captivity in 722 BC|
Table 2: Kings of the Southern Kingdom (Judah)
|Name||Years||Character||Relation with Israel||Dates BC||History|
|Rehoboam||17||Bad||War||931-913||I K 12:1 - 14:31; II C 10:1 - 12:16|
|Abijam||3||Bad||War||913-910||I K 15:1 – 8; II C 13:1 - 22|
|Asa||41||Good||War||911-870/69||I K 15:9 – 24; II C 14:1 - 16:14|
|Jehoshaphat||25||Good||Peace||870/69-848 (co-regent 873/2-869)||I K 22:41 – 50; II C 17:1 - 20:37|
|Jehoram||8||Bad||Peace||848-841 (co-regent 853-848)||II K 8:16 – 24; II C 21:1 - 20|
|Ahaziah||1||Bad||Alliance||841||II K 8:25 – 29; II K 9:27 – 29; II C 22:1 - 9|
|Athaliah||6||Bad||Peace||841-835||II K 8:18, 25 – 28; II K 11:1 – 20; II C 22:1 - 23:21; 24:7|
|Joash||40||Good||Peace||835-796||II K 11:1 - 12:21; II C 22:10 - 24:27|
|Amaziah||29||Good||War||796-767||II K 14:1 – 4; II C 25:1 - 28|
|Uzziah & Azariah||52||Good||Peace||767-740/39 (co-regent 790)||II K 15:1 – 7; II C 26:1 - 23|
|Jotham||16||Good||War||740/39-732/1 (co-regent 750-740)||II K 15:32 – 38; II C 27:1 - 9|
|Ahaz||16||Bad||War||732/1-716/5 (co-regent from 744/3)||II K 16:1 – 20; II C 28:1 - 27|
|Hezekiah||29||Good||n/a||716/5-687/6 (co-regent from 729)||II K 18:1 - 20:21; II C 29:1 - 32:33|
|Manasseh||55||Bad||n/a||687/6-642/1 (co-regent 696/5-687)||II K 21:1 – 18; II C 33:1 - 20|
|Amon||2||Bad||n/a||642/1-640/39||II K 21:19 – 23; II C 33:21 - 25|
|Josiah||31||Good||n/a||640/39-609||II K 22:1 - 23:30; II C 34:1 - 35:27|
|Jehoahaz||3 mths||Bad||n/a||609||II K 23:31 – 33; II C 36:1 - 4|
|Jehoiakim||11||Bad||n/a||609-597||II K 23:34 - 24:5|
|Jehoiachin||3 mths||Bad||n/a||597||II K 24:6 – 16; II C 36:8 - 10|
|Zedekiah||11||Bad||n/a||597-587/6||II K 24:17 - 35:17; II C 36:11 - 21|
|Fall of Southern Kingdom: Babylonian captivity in 605 BC|
It is understandable that some may have a jaundiced view of the Book of Kings, for not only does it open with David’s death and closes with Jehoiachin’s captivity, but between these covers one finds a procession of failed kings (bar eight decent ones) over a nation drifting into physical and spiritual decline. Some kings ruled autocratically (like Solomon; the people had to trust their king), but eventually this leads to revolution; some kings ruled democratically (like Jeroboam; the king had to trust the people), but eventually this leads to corruption and idolatry (Constable 2017:7-8). What is needed is a king of perfect human nature whom people can trust, a King who is divine. This king will rule with a rod of iron, with justice and righteousness, but He will simultaneously be doing God’s will on earth as it is done in Heaven to the glory of God the Father. It is therefore understandable that in the midst of Israel’s numerous failures (cf. 1 & 2 Kings), God sent prophets to give Israel a vision of His throne in Heaven (cf. Isaiah 6), to remind them that He is loving, faithful and that soon and very soon, we are going to see the King, with material and spiritual blessings to come from the throne of David in the city of truth, the city of peace.
Constable, T.L., 2017, Notes on 1 Kings & Notes on 2 Kings, 2017 editions.
Dorsey, D.A., 1999, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament: A Commentary on Genesis-Malachi, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids.
Merrill, E.H., 2011, ‘The Books of 1 and 2 Kings’, in E.H. Merrill, M.F. Rooker & M.A. Grisanti, The World and the Word, pp. 319-329, B&H Publishing Group, Nashville.
Savran, G., 1987, ‘1 and 2 Kings’, in R. Alter & F. Kermode (eds.), The Literary Guide to the Bible, Harvard University Press, Cambridge.
Shields, H.E., 2014, ‘1 Kings’ & ‘2 Kings’, in M. Rydelnik & M. Vanlaningham (eds.), The Moody Bible Commentary, pp. 479-552, Moody Publishers, Chicago.
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