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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

- 1 Kings

by Editor - Joseph Exell



The Book of Kings and the Pentateuch

It can hardly fail to strike the reader how, in almost every chapter of 1 Kings, the thread and tissue of the narrative is interwoven with the thoughts and phraseology of the Books of Moses. Such a chapter as that which contains Solomon’s dedication prayer is largely expressed in the words of Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. That chapter might, had it stood alone, have been ascribed to some later writer familiar with the language of the Mosaic writings, and if those books or large portions of them were of late composition, the dedicatory prayer might also be set down as of a late date. But it is not one single chapter which re-echoes the Mosaic diction, resemblances of a like kind exist throughout in considerable abundance. And we cannot think that the compiler of Kings, taking in hand documents which existed long before his day, some as far back as the time of Solomon himself, changed their whole character by introducing language, which, according to some, was not existent before the days of King Josiah. We cannot read the long address of David to Solomon (1 Kings 2:2-3), or Solomon’s injunction concerning Joab’s death, “that it should take away the innocent blood” (1 Kings 2:31), or the same king’s description of his people (1 Kings 3:8), without feeling that the thoughts and language of Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy were very familiar to writers of these chapters, chapters which are due in all probability in their substance not to the compiler of the Book of Kings, but to Nathan the seer, Ahijah the Shilonite, and Iddo the seer, quoted (2 Chronicles 9:29) as the several authorities for the records of Solomon’s reign Again, in such a history as that of the trial and execution of Naboth, the whole narrative carries us back to the laws, manners, and customs which have their rise in the Books of Moses. So too do the frequent phrases which occur of such a kind as that “the eyes and heart of God shall be perpetually upon His house,” that offending Israel shall be “a proverb and a byword” among all people, and the proverbial phrase occurring more than once, him that is shut up and left in Israel.” The list of such expressions can be largely increased . . . The evidence drawn from such abundant resemblance points to a much earlier date for the books of the law than the reign of Josiah, to which time their composition has been in part assigned; and makes it difficult to ascribe the largely prevailing similarity of language to any other cause than that the prophetic writers, not only in the days of Jeremiah, but in the days of Nathan, Ahijah, and Iddo, were very familiar with the phraseology of the Pentateuch. (J. R. Lumby, D. D.)

Relation of Kings to Chronicles

As regards the relation of the Books of Kings to those of Chronicles, it is manifest, and is universally admitted, that the former is by far the older work. The language, which is quite free from the Persicisms of the Chronicles and their late orthography, and is not at all more Aramaic than the language of Jeremiah, clearly points out its relative superiority in regard to age. Its subject also, embracing the kingdom of Israel as well as Judah, is another indication of its composition before the kingdom of Israel was forgotten, and before the Jewish enmity to Samaria, which is apparent in such passages as 2 Chronicles 20:37; 2 Chronicles 20:25., and in those chapters of Ezra (1-6) which belong to Chronicles, was brought to maturity. While the Books of Chronicles, therefore, were written especially for the Jews after their return from Babylon, the Book of Kings was written for the whole of Israel, before their common national existence was hopelessly quenched. Another comparison of considerable interest between the two histories may be drawn in respect to the main design, that design being: marked relation both to the individual station of the supposed writers, and the peculiar circumstances of their country at the time of their writing. Jeremiah was himself a prophet. He lived while the prophetic office was in full vigour, in his own person, in Ezekiel, and Daniel, and many others, both true and false. In his eyes, as in truth, the main cause of the fearful calamities of his countrymen was their rejection and contempt of the Word of God in his mouth and that of the other prophets; and their one hope of deliverance lay in their hearkening to the prophets who still continued to speak to them in the name of the Lord. Accordingly we find in the Books of Kings great prominence given to the prophetic office. Not only are some fourteen chapters devoted more or less to the history of Elijah and Elisha, the former of whom is but once named, and the latter not once in Chronicles, but besides the many passages in which the names and sayings of prophets are recorded alike in both histories, the following may be cited as instances in which the compiler of Kings has notices of the prophets which are peculiar to himself, 1 Kings 13:1-34; 1 Kings 14:1-31; 1 Kings 16:1-34.: and the reference to the fulfilment of the word of God in the termination of Jehu’s dynasty, in 2 Kings 15:12; the reflexions in 2 Kings 17:7-23; and above all, as relating entirely to Judah, the narrative of Hezekiah’s sickness and recovery in 2 Kings 20:1-21., as contrasted with that in 2 Chronicles 32:1-33., may be cited as instances of that prominence given to prophecy and prophets by the compiler of the Book of Kings. Ezra, on the contrary, was only a priest. In his days the prophetic office had wholly fallen into abeyance. That evidence of the Jews being the people of God, which consisted in the presence of prophets among them, was no more. But to men of his generation, the distinctive mark of the continuance of God’s favour to their race was the rebuilding of the Temple at Jerusalem, the restoration of the daily sacrifice and the Levitical worship, and the wonderful and providential renewal of the Mosaic institutions. Hence we see at once that the chief care of a good and enlightened Jew of the age of Ezra, and all the more if he were himself a priest, would naturally be to enhance the value of the Levitical ritual and the dignity of the Levitical caste. And in compiling a history of the past glories of his race, he would as naturally select such passages as especially bore upon the sanctity of the priestly office. Hence the Levitical character of the Books of Chronicles. Compare 2 Chronicles 29:1-36; 2Ch 30:1-27; 2 Chronicles 31:1-21., with 2 Kings 18:1-37, also 2 Chronicles 26:16-21 with 2 Kings 15:5, also 2 Chronicles 11:13-17; 2 Chronicles 13:9-20; 2 Chronicles 15:1-15; 2 Chronicles 23:2-8 with 2 Kings 11:5-9. (W. Smith, D. D.)

Sources of information used by the compiler

As regards the sources of information, it may truly he said that we have the narrative of contemporary writers throughout. There was a regular series of state annals both for the kingdom of Judah and for that of Israel, which embraced the whole time comprehended in the Books of Kings, or at least to, the end of the reign of Jehoiakim, 2 Kings 24:5. These annals, cited by name as “the Book of the Acts of Solomon,” 1 Kings 11:41; and, after Solomon, “the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah, or Israel,” e.g. 1 Kings 14:29; 1 Kings 15:7; 1 Kings 16:5; 1 Kings 16:14; 1 Kings 16:20; 2Ki 10:34; 2 Kings 24:5, and it is manifest that the author of Kings had them both before him, while he drew up his history, in which the reigns of the two kingdoms are harmonised, and these annals constantly appealed to. But in addition to these national annals, there were also extant, at the time that the Books of the Kings were compiled, separate works of the several prophets who had lived in Judah and Israel, and which probably bore the same relation to the annals which the historical parts of Isaiah and Jeremiah bear to those portions of the annals preserved in the Books of Kings, i.e. were, in some instances at least, fuller and more copious accounts of the current events, by the same hands which drew up the more concise narrative of the annals, though in others perhaps mere duplicates. Thus the acts of Uzziah, written by Isaiah, were very likely identical with the history of his reign in the national chronicles, and part of the history of Hezekiah we know was identical in the Chronicles and in the prophet. The chapter in Jeremiah 52:1-34. is identical with that in 2Ki 24:1-20; 2 Kings 25:1-30. These works, or at least many of them, must have been extant at the time when the Books of Kings were compiled, as they certainly were much later when the Books of Chronicles were put together by Ezra. But whether the author used them all, or only those duplicate portions of them which were embodied in the national chronicles, it is impossible to say, seeing he quotes none of them by name, except the acts of Solomon, and the prophecy of Jonah. On the other hand, we cannot infer from his silence that these books were unused by him, seeing that neither does he quote by name the vision of Isaiah as the ChrOnicler does, though he must, from its recent date, have been familiar with it, and that as many parts of his narrative have every appearance of being extracted from these books of the prophets, and contain narratives which it is not likely would have found a place in the chronicles of the kings (see lKi 14:4, 16:1; 2 Kings 17:1-41., etc. (W. Smith, D. D.)

The contents of the Books of Kings

Considering the conciseness of the narrative, and the simplicity of the style, the amount of knowledge which these books convey of the characters, conduct, and manners of kings and people during so long a period is truly wonderful. The insight they give us into the aspect of Judah and Jerusalem, both natural and artificial, into the religious, military, and civil institutions of the people, their arts and manufactures, the state of education and learning, their resources, commerce, exploits, alliances, the causes of their decadence, and finally of their ruin, is most clear, interesting, and instructive. In a few brief sentences we acquire more accurate knowledge of the affairs of Egypt, Tyre, Syria, Assyria, Babylon, and other neighbouring nations than had been preserved to us in all the other remains of antiquity up to the recent discoveries in hieroglyphical and cuneiform monuments. If we seek in them a system of scientific chronology, we may indeed be disappointed But it is for their deep religious teaching, and for the insight which they give us into God’s providential and moral government of the world, that they are above all valuable. The books which describe the wisdom and the glory of Solomon, and yet record his fall; which make us acquainted with the painful ministry of Elijah, and his translation into heaven; and which tells us how the most magnificent temple ever built for God’s glory, and of which He vouchsafed to take possession, was consigned to the flames, for the sins of those who worshipped in it, read us such lessons concerning both God and man, as are the best evidence of their Divine origin, and make them the richest treasure to every Christian man. (Wm. Smith, D. D.)

Division of the history into periods

The space of time thus covered is about 410 years, and it divides itself naturally into three periods--the time of the undivided monarchy under Solomon, the time of the divided kingdom till the fall of Samaria, and the time of the surviving kingdom of Judah till the Captivity by Nebuchadnezzar. First Period: Solomon’s Reign. This period is treated at greater length than any subsequent reign, its record occupying eleven chapters. Two of these, however, relate to the circumstances that led to Solomon’s accession to the throne while his father David was alive, and the greater part of the remaining chapters is taken up with the account of the building of the Temple and of the royal palace. In this section of the book there is little evidence of a literary plan, but we are made distinctly aware of the intention of the book and the point of view of the writer. That so much space is devoted to the description of the Temple, as compared with the few particulars relating to the king’s palace, is not merely owing to the author’s better acquaintance with the courts and furniture of the sacred house than with the interior of the royal residence, but to the fact that he regarded the erection of the Temple as of prime importance for the history which he is writing. And that this is meant to be a sacred, and not merely a secular, history is further evinced by the fact that, along with the glowing accounts of the greatness and fame of Solomon, there are significant hints of the dangers underlying all the magnificence, and the fatal tendency of the introduction of foreign habits, with insistence on the fact that national prosperity was conditional on fidelity to the national religion. The section closes with a plain intimation that the seeds of evil sown in Solomon’s reign were already germinating, and an enumeration of the “adversaries” who were already raised up to destroy the fair fabric of the empire of all Israel Second Period: The Two Kingdoms. This period, of somewhat more than two centuries, from the disruption of the kingdom after the death of Solomon, about b.c. 933 to the fall of Samaria in b.c. 722, is the subject of the greater part of the book, the narrative extending from the beginning of 1 Kings 12:1-33. to the end of 2 Kings 17:1-41. Here the treatment of the materials is more systematic, and a literary plan, simple, though somewhat artificial, is followed. It is to be observed that the writer strives to maintain a synchronism in the history; for when he returns alternately to a new reign in the Northern or Southern Kingdom, he mentions that it was in such and such a year of the reign of a king in the sister state that so and so began to reign in the other. In the laying out of the particulars of the successive reigns there is to be observed a recurrence of set phrases which give a certain monotony to the narrative, but indicate the point of view from which the history is regarded. Notwithstanding the rigidity of framework and the stereotyped diction, this part of the book is far from being a mere state chronicle of political events. As in the former section, so in this, the writer regards the whole as a sacred history. Third Period: The Surviving Kingdom of Judah. In this style and in this vein the writer brings the history down to the time when the Northern Kingdom was brought to an end by the capture of Samaria in b.c. 722, devoting a whole chapter to the causes which led to the catastrophe, and the subsequent fate of that part of the country. The remainder of the book is devoted to the history of the surviving kingdom of Judah, the latest point to which the narrative is brought down being the thirty-seventh year of the captivity of Jehoiachin, viz., b.c. 562. This section, accordingly, embraces a period of sixty years, and extends to eight chapters. (The Temple Bible.)

Date of the Book of Kings

To the date of the compilation of the Book of we are guided by the latest events that are mentioned in it. The last chapter (2 Kings 25:1-30.) concludes with the thirty-seventh year of Jehoiachin’s captivity, when Evil-Merodack released him from prison. This happened b.c. 561. But this last chapter and a few verses, 18-20 of chap. 24., are identical with chap. 52. of the prophecy of Jeremiah. There, however, the closing words of chap. 51., “Thus far are the words of Jeremiah,” plainly show that what follows was added by one who thought it no integral part of the prophecy, but added it to complete the historical notices found in other parts of that book, and added it most likely from this Book of Kings. We may therefore conclude that this book was compiled b.c. 561. But the compiler has no word, even of hope, to record concerning the final deliverance of the nation from captivity. That deliverance commenced with the decree of Cyrus, b.c. 536, though the final migrations did not take place till the days of Nehemiah, nearly a century later, b.c. 445. Had he known of any movement in the direction of a return, the writer would surely have made mention of it. He is cheered, apparently at the close of his work, by the clemency shown to Jehoiachin. He would hardly have passed over any agitation for the national redemption without a word of notice. The book was therefore finished before b.c. 536, and its date lies between that year and b.c. 561. (J. R. Lumby, D. D.)

The compiler’s purpose and point of view

That the writer had a distinct plan and purpose before him and occupied a distinct point of view, we have already seen. And what the plan and point of view were he makes quite evident, both in the brief notes introducing or summing up the various reigns, and in the longer reviews of periods and the detailed narratives of a prophetical character which are woven into the history. Standing at the close of Israel’s national independence, he will describe the whole course of history from the bloom-period of Solomon to the collapse of the State under the pressure of the Babylonian Empire; and having noted the influences, human and Divine, which had been at work, he will exhibit for the instruction of his readers the causes of the varying fortunes of his people. The author himself gives us what we may call his philosophy of the history in his review of the causes that brought about the downfall of the Northern Kingdom (2 Kings 17:7-23). The same fundamental principles are stated in more positive terms elsewhere. Thus, at the very opening of the history, the keynote of the whole is struck in David’s parting charge to Solomon (1 Kings 2:2-4). So also, on the occasion of Solomon’s first vision at Gibeon (1 Kings 3:14), and of his second vision, after the completion of the building of Temple and palace (1 Kings 9:1-9), the principle is stated almost in the same terms, with the addition, in the last passage, of the warning. The three great principles, therefore, on which the author proceeds are: that a special choice had been made of David and his house, that whole-hearted devotion to the national God (without swerving into heathen ways) was the condition of national prosperity, and that the worship at local shrines, the so-called “high places,” was inconsistent with the pure Mosaic worship. The second may be called the underlying principle of all prophecy; and the third, though slow to be recognised, as the even the examples of the “good” kings show, comes into prominence in reforms carried out by Hezekiah, and finally triumphed, for a time at least, in the more thorough reform of Josiah’s days. (The Temple Bible.)


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