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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

1 Kings

- 1 Kings

by Thomas Constable

Introduction

TITLE

The Books of 1 and 2 Kings received their names because they document the reigns of the 40 monarchs of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah following David. Israel had 20 kings, and Judah had 20, including one female who usurped the throne: Athaliah.

In the Hebrew Bible, 1 and 2 Kings were one book until the sixteenth century. The ancients regarded them as the continuation of the narrative begun in Samuel. The Septuagint (Greek) translation of the Hebrew text, dating from about 250 B.C., was the first to divide Kings into two books. That division has continued to the present day. The Septuagint translators, however, called these two books 3 and 4 Kingdoms (or Reigns). First and 2 Kingdoms (or Reigns) were our 1 and 2 Samuel. Jerome’s Vulgate (Latin) translation, which dates to about A.D. 400, changed the name from Kingdoms to Kings.

"The English Bible presents the books primarily as historical accounts. Their placement next to 1, 2 Chronicles demonstrates the collectors’ interest in detailing all the events of Israel’s history. In contrast, the Hebrew Bible places Joshua-Kings with the prophets, which highlights their common viewpoints. This decision implies that 1, 2 Kings are being treated as proclamation and history." [Note: Paul R. House, 1, 2 Kings, p. 70.]

First and 2 Kings are the last of the Former Prophets books in the Hebrew Bible. The others are Joshua, Judges, and Samuel.

WRITER AND DATE

Most Old Testament scholars today believe several different individuals wrote and edited Kings because of theories concerning textual transmission that have gained popularity in the last 150 years. [Note: For discussion, see Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 171-75.] However, many conservatives have continued to follow the older tradition of the church that one individual probably put Kings together. [Note: E.g., D. J. Wiseman, 1 & 2 Kings: An Introduction and Commentary, pp. 16, 53.] This view finds support in the stylistic and linguistic features that run through the whole work and make it read like the product of a single writer. Some of these features are the way the writer described and summarized each king’s reign, the consistent basis on which he evaluated all the kings, and recurring phrases and terms. Paul House believed the same writer composed Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. [Note: House, pp. 38-39.] The father of the Deuteronomistic theory of authorship, Martin Noth, believed in single authorship but in an author who lived in the mid-sixth century B.C. [Note: Martin Noth, The Deuteronomistic History, pp. 75-78.] The Deuteronomistic (or Deuteronomic) theory is that the writer of Kings, as well as the writers of Joshua, Judges, and Samuel, wrote using Deuteronomy as the standard by which they evaluated what Israel and its leaders did during the years those books record. [Note: See Longman and Dillard, pp. 182-86, for support.] Even though many advocates of this view were and are liberal in their theology, the text supports the basic thesis of this theory. [Note: See David M. Howard Jr., An Introduction to the Old Testament Historical Books, pp. 179-82.]

The identity of the writer is unknown today and has been for centuries. Ancient Jewish tradition suggested Ezra or Ezekiel as possible writers since both of these men were inspired writers who lived after the Babylonian exile. The record of King Jehoiachin’s release from Babylonian captivity (2Ki_25:27-30) points to a date of final composition sometime after that event. Jeremiah has traditional Babylonian Talmudic support as well, though Jeremiah apparently never went to Babylon but died in Egypt. [Note: Baba Bathra 15a.] Someone else could have written the last few verses of the book (i.e., 2Ki_25:27-30), or, perhaps, all of Kings. Scholars have suggested these famous men because they were known writers who lived after the destruction of Jerusalem.

Most non-conservatives date Kings considerably later than the sixth or fifth centuries. [Note: For further discussion of their theories, see Gleason Archer Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, pp. 289-91, and other Old Testament Introductions.]

SCOPE

The historical period Kings covers totals about 413 years. The events that frame this period were Solomon’s coronation as co-regent with David (973 B.C.) and Jehoiachin’s release from Babylonian exile (561 B.C.).

However, most of Kings deals with the period that spans Solomon’s coronation and the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., a period of 387 years. At the beginning we see the temple built and at the end the temple burnt.

". . . 1, 2 Kings present Israel’s history as a series of events that describe how and why the nation fell from the heights of national prosperity to the depths of conquest and exile." [Note: House, p. 15.]

"More specifically, 1, 2 Kings explain how and why Israel lost the land it fought so hard to win in Joshua and worked so hard to organize in Judges , 1, 2 Samuel." [Note: Ibid., p. 28.]

"Plot relates the causes and effects in a story. Thus, the story line in 1, 2 Kings may be that Israel went into exile, but the plot is Israel went into exile because of its unfaithfulness to God. To make cause and effect unfold, plots normally have at least two basic aspects: conflict and resolution. A plot’s conflict is the tension in a story that makes it an interesting account, while a plot’s resolution is the way the conflict is settled. How the author develops these two components usually decides the shape and effectiveness of the plot." [Note: Ibid., pp. 61-62.]

This historical period is more than twice that of the one the Books of Samuel covered, which was about 150 years in length. The Book of Judges covers about 300 years of Israel’s history.

The dates of the kings of Israel and Judah that I have used in these notes are those of Edwin Thiele. [Note: Edwin Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings.] Thiele clarified that Judah and Israel counted the beginning of reigns differently. Normally Judah began counting a king’s reign with the first of the calendar year in which his accession to the throne fell. Israel reckoned its kings’ reigns from the time those reigns actually began. However, during one period both kingdoms used the same system. [Note: Ibid., pp. 21, 44.] A further complication was that these kingdoms began their calendar years six months apart. [Note: Ibid., p. 45.] Another phenomenon was co-regencies, in which the reigns of two or more kings of the same kingdom overlapped. Thiele worked out the many problems regarding these dates more satisfactorily than anyone else in the opinion of many scholars. [Note: See ibid., p. 27. For an update of Thiele’s work, see Leslie McFall, "A Translation Guide to the Chronological Data in Kings and Chronicles," Bibliotheca Sacra 148:589 (January-March 1991):3-45. Another revision of Thiele’s dates is in Wiseman, pp. 28-29.] Chronology is more important in 1 and 2 Kings than in any other books of the Bible. [Note: Howard, p. 182.]

PURPOSE

The Holy Spirit led the writer of Kings to give an interpretation of history, not just a chronologically sequential record of events, as is true of all the writers of the Old Testament historical books. Some of the events in Kings are not in chronological order. They appear in the text as they do usually to make a point that was primarily theologically edifying (i.e., to reveal a spiritual lesson from history). The writer chose the historical data he included for this purpose under the superintending inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2Ti_3:16; 2Pe_1:21). The major lesson that Kings teaches its readers is that failure to honor the revealed will of God results in ruin and destruction. [Note: John Gray, I & II Kings, pp. 4-5.] For Israel the revealed will of God was the Mosaic Law and the later revelations of the prophets (men and women who spoke for God).

"The lesson for God’s people during the period of the Exile in Babylonia and afterward-which is the time period addressed by the author of these books-is threefold: (1) that Israel should learn a lesson from the mistakes of its forebears [sic] and listen to God’s mouthpieces, the prophets, in order to avoid such severe punishment again; but (2) that God nevertheless is a good and gracious God, still ready to forgive when people truly repent; and (3) that He still holds out hope for His people, regardless of how dire their circumstances." [Note: Howard, p. 169.]

GENRE

Kings continues in the theological history genre that marks all of the historical books of the Old Testament.

STYLE

"By way of contrast with the other two books covering the historical details of the united and divided kingdoms, one might say that whereas Samuel’s author uses a biographical style and Chronicles is written from a theological standpoint, the author of Kings employs a largely narrative-annalistic approach." [Note: R. D. Patterson and Herman J. Austel, "1, 2 Kings," in 1 Kings-Job, vol. 4 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 8.]

The writer of Kings organized his material around the reigns of the kings of Israel and Judah, beginning with David and ending with Zedekiah, the last king of Judah. Following the division of the kingdom after Solomon’s death, the writer constructed a framework to enclose what he wrote about each king’s reign. This framework begins with a standardized notice of the king’s accession, and it ends with an equally standardized notice of the king’s death, though there is some variety in these notices. The accession notice typically includes the following information: synchronization with the contemporary king or kings of the other Israelite kingdom (until Hoshea), the king’s age at his accession (Judah only), and the length of his reign. It also includes his capital city, the name of the queen mother (Judah only), and the writer’s theological assessment of the king. The death notice normally contains information about other sources of information about the king, notice of the king’s death and burial, and identification of his successor. [Note: See Longman and Dillard, pp. 176-79, for further discussion of the chronological notices in these books.]

THEOLOGY

All three major sections of Kings emphasize many theological lessons, but each one repeats and reinforces the main motif: the importance of obeying the Mosaic Law in order to succeed. This motif stands out very clearly in the first major section dealing with Solomon’s reign (chs. 1-11). The nation of Israel reached the height of its power and prestige in Solomon’s day. It began to decline because of Solomon’s unfaithfulness and failure to honor the Mosaic Covenant. Other important theological emphases in Kings include the sovereignty of God, the kingdom of God, the Davidic kingdom, God’s grace, hope for the future, judgment, and repentance. [Note: For further discussion of some of these themes, see Howard, pp. 197-203.]

OUTLINE

I.    The reign of Solomon chs. 1-11

A.    Solomon’s succession to David’s throne 1Ki_1:1 to 1Ki_2:12

1.    David’s declining health 1Ki_1:1-4

2.    Adonijah’s attempt to seize the throne 1Ki_1:5-53

3.    David’s charge to Solomon 1Ki_2:1-9

4.    David’s death 1Ki_2:10-12

B.    The foundation of Solomon’s reign 1Ki_2:13 to 1Ki_4:34

1.    Solomon’s purges 1Ki_2:13-46

2.    Solomon’s wisdom from God ch. 3

3.    Solomon’s political strength ch. 4

C.    Solomon’s greatest contribution chs. 5-8

1.    Preparations for building ch. 5

2.    Temple construction ch. 6

3.    Solomon’s palace 1Ki_7:1-12

4.    The temple furnishings 1Ki_7:13-51

5.    The temple dedication ch. 8

D.    The fruits of Solomon’s reign chs. 9-11

1.    God’s covenant with Solomon 1Ki_9:1-9

2.    Further evidences of God’s blessing 1Ki_9:10-28

3.    Solomon’s greatness ch. 10

4.    Solomon’s apostasy ch. 11

II.    The divided kingdom 1 Kings 12 -2 Kings 17

A.    The first period of antagonism 1Ki_12:1 to 1Ki_16:28

1.    The division of the kingdom 1Ki_12:1-24

2.    Jeroboam’s evil reign in Israel 1Ki_12:25 to 1Ki_14:20

3.    Rehoboam’s evil reign in Judah 1Ki_14:21-31

4.    Abijam’s evil reign in Judah 1Ki_15:1-8

5.    Asa’s good reign in Judah 1Ki_15:9-24

6.    Nadab’s evil reign in Israel 1Ki_15:25-32

7.    Baasha’s evil reign in Israel 1Ki_15:33 to 1Ki_16:7

8.    Elah’s evil reign in Israel 1Ki_16:8-14

9.    Zimri’s evil reign in Israel 1Ki_16:15-20

10.    Omri’s evil reign in Israel 1Ki_16:21-28

B.    The period of alliance 1Ki_16:29 -2Ki_9:29

1.    Ahab’s evil reign in Israel 1Ki_16:29 to 1Ki_22:40

2.    Jehoshaphat’s good reign in Judah 1Ki_22:41-50

3.    Ahaziah’s evil reign in Israel 1Ki_22:51 -2Ki_1:18

(Continued in notes on 2 Kings)

One writer observed that a chiastic structure marks the Books of Kings. [Note: George Savran, "1 and 2 Kings," in The Literary Guide to the Bible, p. 148.]

A    Solomon/United Monarchy - 1Ki_1:1 to 1Ki_11:25

B    Jeroboam/Rehoboam; the division of the kingdom - 1Ki_11:26 to 1Ki_14:31

        C    Kings of Judah/Israel - 1Ki_15:1 to 1Ki_16:22

D    The Omride dynasty; the rise and fall of the Baal cult in Israel and Judah - 1Ki_16:23 -2 Kings 12

        C’    Kings of Judah/Israel - 2 Kings 13-16

    B’    The fall of the Northern Kingdom - 2 Kings 17

A’    The Kingdom of Judah - 2 Kings 18-25.

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