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Bible Commentaries
2 Kings

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

- 2 Kings

by Charles John Ellicott


II Kings.


Late Chaplain of Lincoln’s Inn.

The division of the Book of Kings at this point is inartificial and arbitrary. The present narrative obviously continues that of 1 Kings 22:51-53.


[1] While I alone am answerable for this Introduction, I have to acknowledge with gratitude some valuable criticisms and suggestions from my colleague in the work, the Rev. C. J. Ball, A.B.

I. Unity of the Book, and Relation to the Earlier Books.—The history of the kings (Sêpher Melachim) is really but one book. The division into two books, which has no existence in the old Hebrew canon, and has been borrowed by us from the LXX. and Vulgate, is a purely arbitrary division, not even corresponding to any marked epoch in the history. It may have been made merely for convenience of use and reference. It may have been simply artificial; for there is a curious note in St. Jerome’s account of the arrangement of the Hebrew Canon in twenty-two books, according with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, in which he remarks that to the five double letters corresponded five double books, of which the Book of Kings is one. In any case it is to be disregarded, and the two books treated as having a perfect unity of idea and authorship.

In the LXX., followed in this by the Vulgate, the Books of Samuel are called the “First and Second Books of the Kings,” and our Books of Kings are made the Third and Fourth. It has been supposed that this ancient alteration of the Hebrew titles is intended to point to a common authorship. Some have gone so far as to make the whole history from Judges to Kings one unbroken compilation, in which the present divisions are but accidental; and in confirmation of this view it has been noticed that all the successive books open with the simple conjunction “And” (in our version, “Now”), that the various books contain common phrases and terms of expression, and that even in the Book of Judges (Judges 17:6; Judges 18:1; Judges 19:1) we find allusions to the future monarchy of Israel. Now these indications certainly show that the successive books were regarded as forming part of one history, and that the compilers had probably much the same ancient sources of information before them. Possibly, they may also imply the agency of what we should call an editor, at the time of the inclusion of the books in the Canon. But they cannot argue anything as to contemporaneous compilation. The connection in particular of the Books of Samuel and Kings is easily accounted for without any such supposition, by the consideration that, in actual fact, these books do include the whole history of the Israelitish monarchy. Against the notion of common authorship we must set the marked difference of language and character, which can hardly escape the most careless reader. Even in respect of the language of the books, there seems little doubt that the Hebrew of the Books of Samuel belongs to an earlier and purer age. But looking to the whole style and narrative, we observe that the Books of Kings have far more of an official and annalistic character; they mark dates and epochs, and quote authorities; they include the story of some 430 years in the same space which in the earlier books is devoted to about a century. Except in the sections which deal with the lives of Elijah and Elisha, and include descriptions of the characters of Ahab and Jezebel, they have far less freedom of style, less graphic vividness and beauty, and less of moral and spiritual force than the earlier books. There is (for example) no character in them which stands out with the living personality of David, or even of Saul; unless perhaps the characters of the two great prophets may be excepted. The successive kings are viewed as kings, rather than as men. Many of them are to us little more than names marking epochs. Even where they are drawn in some detail, as in the case of Solomon, Jehoshaphat, Jehu, Hezekiah, Josiah, the kingly character mostly predominates over the human individuality. It is impossible not to see that each of the two works has a marked internal unity of peculiar style and character, in which it differs from the other. By whomsoever they were compiled, they must be referred to different hands, and to different periods.

II. Sources from which it was Drawn.—While, however, the Books of Kings have been brought by one hand into their present form, they are manifestly a compilation from more ancient sources. This is, indeed, avowed in their constant appeal to extant documents. But it would be obvious, even without such appeal, from internal evidence—from the alternate accordance and discordance with them of the independent record contained in the Books of Chronicles; from the occurrence of expressions (as “unto this day,” in 1 Kings 8:8 and elsewhere) which could not belong to the time of compilation; and from the marked variety of style and treatment in the various parts of the history itself. The only sources to which they actually refer are “the book of the Acts of Solomon” (1 Kings 11:41), and the “books of the Chronicles of the kings of Israel and of Judah.” The former is expressly ascribed, in 2 Chronicles 9:29, to the authorship of Nathan the prophet, Ahijah the Shilonite, and Iddo the seer. The latter may have been most frequently drawn up by “the recorder” or chronicler, whom we find mentioned as a court official in the successive reigns (see 2 Samuel 8:16; 1 Kings 4:3; 2 Kings 18:18). But in many cases the office of annalist was undoubtedly discharged by the prophets; as, for example, by Shemaiah and Iddo for Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 12:15), by Iddo for Abijah (2 Chronicles 13:22), by Jehu son of Hanani, for Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:34), by Isaiah for Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:22). In the record of the reign of Hezekiah, the compiler of the Books of Kings has embodied, almost verbatim, the historical chapters appended to the earlier part of the Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 36-39.). It is, indeed, thought that the later name for Seer (Chözeh), which is altogether distinct from the earlier title (Rôeh) applied to Samuel (1 Samuel 9:9; 1 Samuel 9:11, &c.), was an official title, indicating a position of authority and service in the court. Among the duties of his office the work of the historian may have been sometimes included. Probably it is not by mere technical arrangement that the historical books were included among “the Prophets” in the Jewish division of the Old Testament.

But although these sources alone are distinctly indicated, we can hardly doubt that others were actually available. There were Temple archives, from which so much of the record of the Book of Chronicles appears to be drawn; and it is difficult not to suppose that from these much is taken of the almost technical account of the building and furniture of the Temple, and of the full and detailed history of its consecration. The records, again, of the careers of the prophets, especially of the great prophets Elijah and Elisha, bear the impress of a character wholly different from that of the more official parts of the history. The beauty and vividness of the style, and the spiritual force of the narrative, appear to indicate that they are taken from some personal biographies, probably produced in the Schools of the Prophets, and possibly handed down by oral tradition, before they were committed to writing. The story of Elijah at Carmel and at Horeb, and on the great day of his translation, the picture of Elisha in his intercourse with Naaman, in the house of the Shunammite, amidst the angel guards at Dothan, or in the prophetic foresight of his dying hour, could have come from no official records. In the Books of the Chronicles (see Introduction to Chronicles) we find repeated references to prophetic annals. It is hardly likely that a prophetic School of History would have omitted to dwell on the glorious history of the prophetic order. The supposition entertained by some critics, and enunciated with an almost intolerant positiveness, that the story of the great prophets is a half-imaginative composition of later growth, is contradicted by the very characteristics of the story itself—the unity and vividness of the characters depicted, the graphic touches of detail, and the solid realism of the whole narrative. Probably it would never have been entertained, except on the ground of a priori objection to all record of miracle.

III. Date of its Compilation.—While, however, these older materials of various kinds were employed, it is clear, from the general coherency of the narrative, the recurrence of fixed phrases and methods of treatment, and the characteristics of the style and language, that the books, as we at present have them, were put into form by one author. They may previously have passed through many hands, each compiler leaving his work to be dealt with by his successor. There may be a germ of truth in the confident assertions of the Biblical critics who describe the “old prophetic Book of Kings” as confidently as if they had collated it, and distinguish the contributions of the “Deuteronomist editor” as if they had seen him at work. But, as the book now stands, it is acknowledged by all that the style, the language, and some of the expressions used, refer it very plainly to the era of the Captivity. The curious notice, in the closing verses of the Second Book, of the release of Jehoiachin from prison by Evil-Merodach, the king of Babylon, in the thirty-seventh year of his captivity (unless, indeed, it be supposed, somewhat arbitrarily, to be an addition), may be taken, like the abrupt conclusion of the Acts of the Apostles, to indicate the actual date of the final composition of the books themselves.

Tradition of Authorship.—The old Jewish tradition, embodied in the Talmud, ascribing the book to the prophet Jeremiah, at least points unmistakably to its composition in this era. On the accuracy of this ascription itself the most careful criticism is still divided. The traditions of the Talmud vary very greatly in antiquity and value; and the strange character of some of the ascriptions of authorship of Scriptural books obliges us to receive all with reservation. Still they must have some primâ facie force of testimony, unless they be plainly contradicted by internal evidence. In this case, moreover, it cannot be doubted that the tradition has in its favour considerable probability, when we remember the great honour in which Jeremiah was held by the Chaldæan conquerors (see Jeremiah 39:11-14; Jeremiah 40:2-6), and the consequent facilities which he might have enjoyed for saving some of the records of the Temple before its destruction (illustrated by the curious legend of his preservation of the Ark and the Tabernacle in 2MMalachi 2:1-6); when we consider how naturally he, the last of the prophets of the era of Israel’s independence, would be led to preserve the record of its long probation; and when we trace his actual devotion to the work of the historian, as shown in the many historical chapters interwoven with his prophecy. To these considerations many critics add some notable similarities which they believe that they trace between these books and the Book of Jeremiah, not only in detailed points of the history, but in style and diction;[2] they note also the coincidence, with variations of detail, of Jeremiah 52:0 with the last chapter of the Second Book of Kings (which, however, would in itself only show that the compiler of the latter book had knowledge of the Book of Jeremiah); and dwell on the remarkable omission of all notice in the Book of Kings of the prophet Jeremiah, who played so important a part in the history, and who is expressly noticed more than once in the far briefer account in the Chronicles. (See 2 Chronicles 35:25; 2 Chronicles 36:12.)[3] These evidences are not conclusive; but, when we take them in conjunction with the old Jewish tradition, and the probabilities of the case, we cannot but conclude that there is at least some considerable ground for the theory of the authorship of Jeremiah, or perhaps of Baruch the scribe, to whom the written form of some part at least of the Book of Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 36:4; Jeremiah 36:32; Jeremiah 45:0) must be traced.

[2] See Canon Rawlinson’s Introduction in the Speaker’s Commentary, § 4.

[3] See, for example, Keil’s Introduction, the article “KINGS” (by Bishop hord A. Hervey), in the Dictionary of the Bible, and Canon Rawlinson’s introduction in the Speaker’s Commentary.

IV. Its General Character and Purpose.—The compiler, whoever he was, was evidently much more than a mere copyist. The very character of his work shows that he had in view throughout the great purpose which pervades the whole prophetic utterances—to bring out the Divine government over the covenanted people; to trace their sins and their repentance, God’s punishments and His forgiveness; to draw forth, for the learning of the servants of God in all ages, the spiritual lessons taught by the voice of “God in history.” To suppose that the carrying out of this didactic purpose is in the slightest degree incompatible with faithful accuracy in narration of facts, is to misunderstand the main principles of true historical composition, which alone make history something higher than the “old almanac” of the shallow epigrammatist. To study the books themselves without discovering in them, again and again, evidences of historical and geographical accuracy, even in points of detail—traces of the incorporation of official documents and of the narratives of eye-witnesses—curious signs of independence, and yet of coincidence, in respect of the glimpses into Tyrian, Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, and even Moabite history, which recent discoveries have given us—marks of a lofty and austere candour, not only disregarding the prejudices of patriotic vainglory, but even bringing out the better features of character in those whom it condemns—examples of a simple profoundness of insight into the causes underlying external history—might well seem to be impossible; unless we bring to the study some foregone conclusions as to the impossibility of the miraculous, in fact or in foresight, which are destructive of the historical character of the whole of Scripture. Still that the historian is a true prophet, teaching by examples, is obvious in every line of his history.

The evidence of this purpose is not to be found only or chiefly in the passages of grave reflection scattered through the books. Such are, for example, the constant references to the prohibited “high places,” showing that in these he, by the light of subsequent events, saw a danger which escaped even the most earnest reformers of earlier times. (See 1 Kings 3:3; 1 Kings 15:14; 1 Kings 22:43, &c.) Such, again, is the significant notice (in 1 Kings 12:15) of the judicial blindness of Rehoboam, as carrying out the appointed vengeance of the Lord on the apostasy of Solomon; the reflections on the sentences pronounced on the houses of Jeroboam and Baasha, and on the special sin of Ahab, which drew down similar destruction on the house of Omri (1 Kings 12:30; 1 Kings 13:33-34; 1 Kings 16:7; 1 Kings 21:25-26); the emphatic reference to the mercy of God, giving to the kingdom of Israel a last deliverance and probation in the revival of power under Joash and Jeroboam II. (2 Kings 13:5-6); above all, the solemn chapter of sad confession of God’s righteous judgment, in the fall of that kingdom after many warnings and many acts of forgiveness (2 Kings 17:7-23), and the corresponding reference in the case of Judah to the unpardonable and ineradicable corruptions introduced by Manasseh, which even Josiah’s reformation could not take away (2 Kings 21:10-15; 2 Kings 23:26-27; 2 Kings 24:3-4; 2 Kings 24:20). In all these there is a deep prophetic insight into the ways of God, not untinged by the sadness so characteristic of all the prophets (especially of Hosea and Jeremiah, the prophets of woe to Israel and to Judah), but yet convinced that the Judge of the whole earth must do right, and even resting with satisfaction on His righteous judgment.

But the whole tenor and construction of the history tell this story with even greater emphasis. On attentive study it will be seen to be not so much a continuous narrative, as a series of records of great epochs of historical significance, strung on a thin thread of mere annalistic sequence. Thus, (a) the First Book opens with a section of comparatively detailed narrative, full of lessons of practical instruction, describing the great reign of Solomon, and the revolution which avenged its apostasy and destroyed its glory (1 Kings 1-14.). After this, (b) a period of at least forty years is dismissed in two chapters (1 Kings 15:16) with the briefest possible notice, only just sufficient to give connection to the general narrative. To this succeeds (c) the most magnificent section of the whole book (1 Kings 17 -2 Kings 11:0), unsurpassed in power in the historical books of the Old Testament, which, in the lives of the great prophets Elijah and Elisha, represents to us the great crisis of the Baal apostasy, the victorious struggle against it by the prophetic inspiration, supported by a special outburst of miraculous power, and the final vengeance which extirpated it, alike in Israel and in Judah. After this comes (d) an epoch of important historical events—first, of a marvellous revival of prosperity and power to Israel under Joash and Jeroboam II., to Judah under Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah; next, of a period of revolution, anarchy, and bloodshed, which ushered in the final destruction of the northern kingdom. But it was (as the prophetic writings of Amos and Hosea show us) an epoch in which no spiritual vitality showed itself through national prosperity or national disaster; and therefore it is compressed within six chapters (2 Kings 12-17) in which, moreover, whole reigns, like the long and prosperous reign of Jeroboam II., are all but a blank, (e) Similarly in the last epoch, when the kingdom of Judah alone survived, the two reigns of religious reformation—those of Hezekiah and Josiah—are given in graphic and detailed narrative, occupying five chapters (1 Kings 18-20, 1 Kings 18:22, 1 Kings 18:23), while the long reign of Manasseh, which, in its apostasy and corruption, filled up hopelessly the measure of national iniquity, is dismissed in a few verses (1 Kings 21:1-18), and the whole history of the last agony of Judah, after the death of Josiah, occupies little more than two chapters (1Kings 24, 25). It is clear from the very method of the historical narrative that the purpose of the book is mainly didactic. The writer dwells rather on the lessons of history than the mere record of facts; on typical characters of good and evil, which appeal to the humanity of all times, rather than on the social and political conditions of the nation which belonged only to his own age; on the solemn march of the righteous providence of God, rather than on the confused and multitudinous struggles of human wills. In other words, he discharges what is virtually the prophetic office—only that he declares the works, instead of the direct word, of God. In this lies the spiritual value of the book for us. In this characteristic view of all events, far more than of the miraculous element of the record, we find the distinctive characteristic of what we call “Sacred history.”

V. Illustrations from other Books.—The study of the books, moreover, from this point of view is greatly helped by the illustration which they derive from comparison with other books of Holy Scripture, belonging to the same period of Jewish history.

The Chronicles.—It is, of course, obvious to compare them with the parallel record given in the Second Book of Chronicles. That record is of far later date. We cannot doubt that the Chronicler had the Books of Kings before him; for there are places in which he seems deliberately to pass over, or merely to glance at, what had been fully recorded there. But it is also clear that his work is, on the whole, independent; he evidently had and used the same ancient materials, and, besides these, other materials, especially the Temple records, and the prophetic annals, which he frequently cites; in passages of general coincidence there are constantly touches of variation, sometimes of apparent discrepancy; and in the history of the kingdom of Judah, to which he confines himself, there are many epochs in which he fills up generally what in our book is but a bare outline, or supplies special incidents which are there omitted. (See Introduction to Chronicles.) Considering the date and character of the two works, it is probably well to take the Book of Kings as the standard account, and so far accept the significance of the title of Παραλειπομένων (“things omitted”), given in the LXX. to the Chronicles, as to make them a commentary, an illustration, and a supplement of the older word. But each has its independent character and value. The Book of Kings has been called the prophetic record, the Book of Chronicles the priestly record, of the time. This would be a misleading antithesis, if it was taken to convey the notion of antagonism or even marked diversity of idea between the books, which any attentive study of both must dissipate. But it is so far true as this—that the Book of Kings, dealing so largely with the kingdom of Israel, naturally gives special prominence to the office and work of the older prophets, who ministered chiefly to that kingdom; while the Book of Chronicles, being almost exclusively the history of Judah, brings out the power of the priesthood and the royalty of David, which played so great a part—sometimes in union, sometimes in antagonism—in the spiritual history of the southern kingdom.

But besides this direct comparison of the two historical records, there is illustration no less valuable of the idea and purpose of the Books of Kings to be derived from other Scriptural books not properly historical, which, indeed, its narrative binds together in one continuous order of development.

The Psalms.—The illustration to be derived from the Psalms would be far more instructive, if we were not driven to rely mainly on internal evidence as to their date and occasion, and were not accordingly, in most cases, unable to fix these points with any certainty. But even with this drawback, the illustration is invaluable, as painting to us the inner life of Israel during the period of our history; for to this period a large portion of the Psalter must certainly be referred. There seems much probability that the first division of the Psalter (Psalms 1-41) took shape in the time of Solomon, for use in the Temple worship. In the later divisions many psalms are, with more or less authority, ascribed to Asaph, to Heman (and the sons of Korah), and to Ethan, the three chief musicians of David, and probably of Solomon also. Of these subsequent divisions it is at least not unlikely that some mark and illustrate the religious revivals of Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah. Nor is more particular reference altogether wanting. Two psalms (72, 127) are ascribed to Solomon—the one, a picture of the glory and majesty of his kingdom; the other (one of “the Songs of Degrees”), ascribing to the Lord alone the blessings of earthly prosperity and happiness. Other psalms, especially among those ascribed to the sons of Korah, are of a national character—crying to God in national disaster (Psalms 44:0), thanking Him in the hour of triumph and deliverance (Psalms 46-48, 85), singing hymns at the marriage of the king (Psalms 45:0), or proclaiming the loveliness and gladness of the dwellings of the Lord of Hosts (Psalms 84:0). One group (Psalms 91-100) has been thought by some to belong to the golden age of Hezekiah’s glory and Isaiah’s prophecy. The “great Hallel” (Psalms 113-118), though found in the divisions of the Psalter belonging to the era after the Captivity, yet illustrates the festal worship of the people in the Temple of God: such psalms as Psalms 137:0 mark the sorrows of the Captivity by “the waters of Babylon.” In all cases, the Psalms are the lyric expression of the inner life of the chosen people, and of the individual servants of God, underlying the simple narrative which our books supply. We must study them if we would catch the spirit which animates the letter of the historic record itself.

The Sapiential Books.—But plainer illustration is gained from books which can be more certainly referred to distinct periods in the history. Thus the golden age of the glory of Solomon is illustrated by consideration of the various books which may be called “Sapiential.” The great Book of PROVERBS, both in its poetical and gnomic portions, tracing itself to him as the chief master of wisdom—perhaps much as the Psalter bears the name of David—is in its representation of wisdom the key at once to the true nature of the culture and glory of his age, and to the tendencies which, gaining the mastery, brought on its fall. The SONG OF SOLOMON—now by all the best authorities referred unhesitatingly to his age, probably to his hand—is full of the passion for beauty, the delight in nature, the sensibility to pure love, the knowledge of humanity marking both the character of the great king, and the culture of his time; yet is not without the tendency to rest on the visible and the sensual, in which was the germ of his voluptuous polygamy. The Book of JOB—which, whatever be the date of its original materials, is commonly referred to his time—certainly opens the great questions of Natural Religion, concerning man as man, which belong to an age searching after wisdom, and having contact with the thought and inquiry of races outside the covenant. The wonderful Book of ECCLESIASTES, to whatever period it is to be referred, in its depiction of a souľs tragedy shows no little insight, into the character of him in whose person it speaks, as wearied out with the search after happiness in wisdom and in pleasure, in contemplation and in action, and coming back at last in despair to the simple command, “Fear God, and keep His commandments,” which was the first teaching of childhood. Only when studied in connection with the history can these books be rightly understood; so studied they give, on the other hand, an infinite life and colour to the bare massive outline drawn in the historical books.

The Prophetic Books.—Again, the later history of the Second Book borrows even greater illustration from the prophetic writings—much as the earlier part of the record derives its chief interest from the action of the elder prophets of unwritten prophecy from Ahijah to Elisha. Thus, the period of national revival in Israel under Jeroboam II., and the unhappy period of decline and fall which succeeded it—so briefly and coldly narrated in our books—live in the pages of AMOS, the prophet of the day of hollow and licentious prosperity, and HOSEA, the prophet of the well-merited doom of judgment. There we discover the evils which lurked under a material prosperity and an outward semblance of religion; there we see how they burst out, rending the very bonds of society, as soon as that prosperity began to wane. So, again, the character of the reckless and cruel greatness of the Assyrian Empire, shown so terribly in the destruction of Israel and in the imminent danger of Judah, is marvellously illustrated by NAHUM, in his grand patriotic hymn of triumph over the foreseen fall of Nineveh. To the days of prosperity of Uzziah, who “loved husbandry,” belong (it seems) the utterances of JOEL, picturing physical disasters as God’s judgment, calling to repentance, promising temporal and spiritual blessing, and beginning the series of Apocalyptic visions of the vain struggle of the enemies against the people of God. Once more, the great epoch of Hezekiah’s religious revival is marked by the writings of the prophet MICAH, who, indeed, gave the signal for it (see Jeremiah 26:8), and in whom first Messianic prophecy becomes clear and definite. The two grand crises of that reign—the danger under Ahaz from Syria and Israel, and the invasion of Sennacherib—form two chief themes of the supreme prophecy of ISAIAH, out of which the Messianic hope rises almost to actual vision. To the interval between Hezekiah and Josiah, when the Chaldean power begins to come into prominence, we may perhaps refer the magnificent brevity of the prophecy of HABAKKUK. Certainly the pathetic interest of the reign of Josiah, is illustrated by the foreboding utterances of ZEPHANIAH. The bitterness of the captivity of Judah—probably the great Captivity—is brought out in the denunciation of Edomite triumph and cruelty in the hour of Judah’s disaster by OBADIAH. Nor is it too much to say that the whole history of the last agony of the kingdom of Judah can be read adequately only in the historical and prophetical chapters of the great Book of JEREMIAH. The Books of Kings supply the thread of connection, which binds the prophetic books together, enabling us rightly to understand the sub- stance of each, and the method of prophetic development running through them all. The prophecies, on the other hand, supply constantly the key to the true sense of the history, drawing out explicitly the lesson which it teaches by implication, and giving us a living picture of the ages which it sketches only in outline.

VI. Illustrations from Profane History.—To these all-important illustrations must be added, as subsidiary, the light thrown upon the narrative by the study of the various heathen records, whether found in the works of ancient historians, or read in the monumental history of nations which came in contact with Israel, discovered and deciphered in modern times. This kind of illustration, hardly known in the case of the earlier books, begins substantially in the Book of Kings.

The account of Josephus, with all its acknowledged defects, is of very great value, both as a gloss on the Scriptural account, and an occasional supplement to it. The variations found in the LXX. version, in the way of transposition, addition, and omission, are not, indeed, of great importance; for the only substantial addition in the history of Jeroboam (see Note at the end of 1 Kings 11:0) is obviously legendary. But they are of considerable interest, and occasionally indicate the existence of independent traditions. The authors quoted by Josephus or early Christian historians (such as Berosus, Manetho, Ptolemy), the monuments of Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon, even the Moabitic stone, all throw light again and again on the Book of Kings; and, though not without occasional difficulties and discrepancies of detail, have unquestionably furnished the strongest confirmation of its historic truth, and have cleared up some obscurities in its brief record. The history, it will be observed, comes in contact with the history of Tyre in the reigns of Hiram and Ethbaal, father of Jezebel; with the history of Egypt in the reign of the Pharaoh father-in-law of Solomon, of Shishak, of “Zerah the Ethiopian,” of Sabaco (the So or Seveh of 2 Kings 17:3), of Tirhakah, and of Pharaoh-necho; with the history of Assyria under the “Pul” of 2 Kings 15:19, Tiglath-pileser, Shalmaneser, Sargon, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon; with the history of Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar; even with our one glimpse of the history of Moab under Mesha in the reign of Jehoram of Israel. Most of our knowledge of these histories is comparatively new. When it is read through the extraordinary monumental records of Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon—the discovery and deciphering of which form some of the most wonderful chapters in historical study—it not only brings cut facts, determines dates, confirms or corrects our interpretations, but it gives us a vivid picture of the very life and character of the great Empires, which often explains the different views taken of them in Scripture, and always gives force and colour to our conceptions of the Scripture history itself. The treasure-house is far from being exhausted. Future generations may rival or excel the advance made in this generation and the last, and every advance will be of no inconsiderable value to the student of Scripture history.

The effect of all this study and illustration of the book is to bring out more and more both its historical authenticity and its didactic value. The substance of the history, and even the text, have but few obscurities, and these are generally elucidated by comparison with the ancient versions.

VII. The Numbers given in the Book.—The one difficulty in the interpretation of the book lies in the numbers, chronological and other, which occur in it. These are now always written in full; but there is every reason to believe that in the original manuscripts they were, as usual, indicated by Hebrew letters—a method of indication which, as is well known, gives the greatest facility to accidental or intentional corruption. Thus, in our book, and still more in the Chronicles, it is difficult not to suppose that the large numbers given in the history (as, for example, 1 Kings 20:29-30; 2 Chronicles 14:8-9; 2 Chronicles 17:12-18; 2 Chronicles 25:5-6; 2 Chronicles 26:12, &c.) are without authority, due to careless transcription, or to corruption of the original document by the exaggeration of Jewish scribes.

The Chronology.—It is possible that this facility of corruption in numbers may bear upon what is the chief critical difficulty of the book, the determination of its chronology. In this book, unlike the earlier historical books, the calculations of dates are given in the text with great exactness, whether by the hand of the historian or by that of some later chronologer.

The first remarkable date is that mentioned in 1 Kings 6:1, fixing the commencement of the Temple in the 480th year after the Exodus. With regard to this date, which has presented much difficulty to chronologers, see Note on the passage. By whomsoever given, it deserves very careful consideration in the calculation of Biblical chronology.

Next we have the reign of Solomon given at forty years (1 Kings 11:43); against which the statement of Josephus that he reigned eighty years (Ant. viii. 7. 8) can hardly be held to be of serious moment.

From the time of the disruption, we have, marked with great precision, first, the duration of the successive reigns of the kings of Israel; next, the duration of the reigns of the kings of Judah; lastly, statements of the synchronism of accessions in each line with certain years in the reigns of the kings of the other line. Now, in the present condition of the text, these three lines of calculation present occasional discrepancies; and this is especially the case with the synchronistic notices, which are, indeed, believed by many to have been added by a later hand, both because of their rather formal artificiality, and of the evident confusion which they introduce. Setting these last aside, the discrepancies are slight. In any case they are not great and may be easily exhibited.
The whole history (after the reign of Solomon) can be divided into three periods—(a) from the contemporaneous accession of Jeroboam and Rehoboam to the contemporaneous deaths of Jehoram of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah by the hand of Jehu; (b) from the contemporaneous accession of Jehu and Athaliah to the fall of Samaria in the sixth year of Hezekiah; (c) from the sixth year of Hezekiah to the capture of Jerusalem. Now, (a) in the first period there is no difficulty. The united reigns in Israel amount to 98 years,[4] in Judah to 95; and, remembering that the dates are always given in round numbers, reckoning, after the Hebrew manner, any part of a year as a year, there is here no real discrepancy, even in the synchronistic notices. We may accept the lower calculation, or perhaps something even less than this, as the true period. In the second period (b) the discrepancy begins. The united reigns in Israel amount to 143 years, in Judah to 165; and the synchronistic notices in the later part of the period are not only disturbed by this discrepancy, but are occasionally self-contradictory.[5] Of this discrepancy there must be some account to be given; for it is too patent to have escaped the notice of the historian himself, or even of a later chronologer. It is, of course, possible to refer it to corruption of the text; but of such corruption we have no indication in any variations of the ancient versions. If this be set aside, there are but two ways of accounting for it. There may have been (as Archbishop Ussher supposed) periods of interregnum in Israel—one of eleven years after the death of Jeroboam II., and before the accession of Zachariah, the other of about the same period between Pekah and Hoshea. But of these the former is most unlikely, for the period of anarchy had not yet set in; the latter, more probable in itself, is apparently inconsistent with the actual words of the historian (2 Kings 15:30); of neither is there any trace in the history. The only other possible supposition is, that in Judah some kings may, after common Oriental custom, have acceded to power during their fathers’ reigns, as coadjutors or substitutes. It happens that this is specially likely during this period in two cases. If, as has been thought by some critics, Amaziah after his defeat by Joash was kept in captivity till his conqueror’s death, it would be natural that his son should be placed on the throne; and, when Uzziah had been smitten with leprosy, we actually know that Jotham acted as king before his father’s death (2 Kings 15:5). This supposition is, on the whole, most probable. It will not correct the confusion of the synchronistic notices, but it will account for the discrepancy in the collective duration of the reigns in the two lines. In this case it is perhaps, therefore, best again to take the lower calculation. In the third period (c), amounting to 133 years, Judah exists alone, and no difficulty can arise.

[4] If the civil war of four years (see 1 Kings 16:15-23) between Omri and Tibri be not included in the reign of Omri, then the period is 102 years.

[5] See (for example) 2 Kings 15:27; 2 Kings 15:30; 2 Kings 15:32; 2 Kings 15:16

The general result, therefore, is that, taking the shorter calculation, we have, from the division of the kingdom to the fall of Samaria, a period of 238 years, and from the same point to the fall of Jerusalem a period of 371 years. If the longer calculation be taken, twenty-two years must be added to each of these periods.
Now, we are able to test these calculations by independent chronological data, found in ancient historians and chronologers, and in the Egyptian and Assyrian monuments. By such comparison their general accuracy is very remarkably illustrated, although some discropancies in detail occur.
(a) Thus the capture of Samaria is fixed by Ptolemy’s Canon in B.C. 721; the capture of Jerusalem is determined by undoubted authorities in B.C. 586. The interval between these dates corresponds almost exactly with the time assigned in our text to the sole existence of the kingdom of Judah.

(b) Starting from either of these dates, the calculation in the text, taking the shorter reckoning, would place the accession of Rehoboam at 957 or 959 B.C. Now, the Egyptian records fix the accession of Shishak at about 983 B.C. His invasion took place in his twentieth year, B.C. 963, and as this coincided with the fifth year of Rehoboam, this would fix the accession of Rehoboam at B.C. 968—about half-way between the dates determined by the longer and shorter calculations of the chronology of our book.

(c) The invasion of Pharaoh-necho is placed in our history about twenty-three years before the final capture of Jerusalem, i.e., about B.C. 609. But the Egyptian chronology fixes his reign from 610 to 594, and makes his expedition against Assyria take place early in his reign.

(d) The accession of Sabaco II. (the So or Seveh of 2 Kings 17:4) is fixed by the Egyptian records in B.C. 723; the Hebrew text notes the intercourse between him and Hoshea about three years before the capture of Samaria, i.e., 723 or 724. In all these cases there is a very close coincidence between the two chronologies.

(e) The Assyrian chronology agrees less closely. Thus our text makes Menahem’s reign end about thirty years before the fall of Samaria, i.e., B.C. 751. The Assyrian records make Tiglath-pileser receive tribute for him in 741. In our text the expedition of Sennacherib is fixed to about eight years after the fall of Samaria, i.e., B.C. 713. The Assyrian monuments place it about B.C. 701; and this later date seems, to be confirmed by the Canon of Ptolemy. These discrepancies cannot be removed, except by alteration of our text, unless there be some error in the data of our Assyrian calculations. It will be observed that they are simply in detail.

(f) The chronological notices in Josephus, which by their minute accuracy suggest some independent sources of information, do not enable us to pronounce decisively between the two reckonings of the text. Thus (α) he has placed Josiah’s fulfilment of the prophecy against the altar at Bethel 361 years after its utterance, immediately after the division of the kingdom (Ant. x. 1. 4). Now the eighteenth year of Josiah would be according to the shorter reckoning about 336 years, according to the longer reckoning about 352 years, after the division of the kingdom; and the incident recorded took place not earlier, though it may have been later, than the 18th year. (β) In Ant x. 8. 4 he remarks that the kings of David’s race reigned on the whole 514 years, “during twenty of which” (he adds, oddly enough) “Saul reigned, who was not the same tribe.” Allowing forty years for David and eighty (according to Josephus’ calculation) for Solomon, and (it would seem) twenty for Saul, the period for the division of the kingdom to the fall of Jerusalem would be 370 years, which agrees with the shorter reckoning. (γ) The Temple is said (Ant. x. 8. 5) to have fallen “in the tenth day of the sixth month of the 470th year” after its dedication; but since this was in the eleventh year of Solomon, or (according to Josephus) sixty-nine years before the disruption, this would give 401 years for the same period, which is in excess even of the longer reckoning. (δ) In Ant. ix. 14. 1, he gives the period from the disruption to the fall of Samaria as “240 years, 7 months, and 7 days,” which agrees almost exactly with the 238 years of the shorter reckoning.

Hence the effect of this comparison, assuming the general correctness of the non-Scriptural records, is to bring out more clearly—what the condition of the chronology itself would suggest—the existence of some confusions in detail, but an undoubted general correctness even in this, which is acknowledged to be the point of the greatest difficulty. The books thus stand out as true history in the highest sense of the word, uniting clear historical accuracy, even of detail, with vivid depiction of character, and high prophetic insight into the laws of the Providence of God.
[In respect both of the Introduction and the Notes on the First Book of Kings, the author has to express his obligation to the Commentaries of Keil and Thenius; to Ewald’s History of Israel, and (in less degree) to Stanley’s Lectures on the Jewish Church; to Canon Rawlinson’s valuable Introduction and Notes in the Speaker’s Commentary, and his Bampton Lectures; to many articles in Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, and Winer’s Realwörterbuch, and to Prof. Robertson Smith’s article (“KINGS”) in the Encyclopœdia Britannica. For the study of the text, the Variorum Bible of Messrs. Eyre and Spottiswoode is invaluable. The comparison of the text with the ancient versions, and the study of Josephus’ history, which is, in the main, virtually a paraphrase, are matters of course.]

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