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Bible Commentaries
2 Kings

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

- 2 Kings

by Editor - Joseph Exell



The Character and Scope of the Book of Kings

The book was clearly designed to be a continuation of the history contained in the Book of Samuel. The writer records the fulfilment of the promises which God had made to David and his line. A son was to succeed David, whose kingdom should be established of the Lord, who should build a house for the name of Jehovah, and to whom God would be a Father, and from whom the mercy of the Lord should not depart (2 Samuel 7:1-29.). To show that this prophecy was fulfilled is the object of the Book of Kings, and whatever does not conduce thereto is passed over by the compiler with but little notice. There elapsed, no doubt, some considerable time between the plague in Jerusalem, with which the Book of Samuel closes, and the weak age of David described in the opening paragraph of the Book of Kings. But to give historical events in their full and complete order is no part of our writer’s aim, as we can see from every portion of his work. He therefore begins his narrative with so much, and no more, of the story of David’s later days aa serves to introduce the accession of Solomon. Thus he takes up the thread of the previous book, and, his subject once opened, he follows the same line throughout. The glory and prosperity of Solomon at first; then his decline from God’s ways, and the divinely sent chastisements that followed thereupon, fill a large part of the early chapters. When the kingdom is divided, and the Northern tribes have adopted a forbidden form of worship, the history follows Israel in her long line of wicked princes till sin has brought destruction, while the fortunes of the line of David are so traced as to bring prominently before us the constantly preserved succession; while the closing record of the book tells how in Babylon one of the royal line still remained, and was lifted up and kindly dealt with by the successor of the monarch who had led him away captive. “What God hath promised to the house of David He has thus fulfilled,” expresses the main character of the book, and, except where political and military matters illustrate the subject with which he deals, the compiler gives them a very passing notice, and, as we can see from a comparison with Chronicles, he has left out altogether large passages of such history, which he had before him. (J. R. Lumby, D. D.)

The Unity of the Historical Books of the Bible

The division into two books, being purely artificial and, as it were, mechanical, may be overlooked in speaking of them; and it must also be remembered that the division between the Books of Kings and Samuel is equally artificial, and that in point of fact the historical books commencing with Judges and ending with 2 Kings present the appearance of one work, giving a continuous history of Israel from the time of Joshua to the death of Jehoiachin. It must suffice here to mention, in support of this assertion, the frequent allusion in the Book of Judges to the times of the Kings of Israel (Judges 17:6; Judges 18:1; Judges 19:1; Judges 21:25)

, the concurrent evidence of chap. 2., that the writer lived in an age when he could take a retrospect of the whole time during Which the judges ruled (verses 16-19), i.e., that he lived after the monarchy had been established; the occurrence in the Book of Judges, for the first time, of the phrase “the Spirit of Jehovah” (Judges 3:10), which is repeated often in the book (Judges 6:34; Judges 11:29; Judges 13:25; Judges 14:6), and is of frequent use in Samuel and Kings (e.g. 1 Samuel 10:6; 1Sa 16:13-14; 1 Samuel 19:9; 2Sa 23:2; 1 Kings 22:24; 2 Kings 2:16)

; the allusion in 1:21 to the capture of Jebus, and the continuance of a Jebusite population (2 Samuel 24:16); the reference (20:27) to the removal of the ark of the covenant from Shiloh to Jerusalem, and the expression in those days pointing, as in 17:6, to remote times; the distinct reference, in 18:30, to the captivity of Israel by Shalmaneser; with the facts that the Books of Judges, Ruth, Samuel, and Kings, form one unbroken narrative, similar in general character, which has no beginning except at Judges 1:1-36., while, it may be added, the Book of Judges is not a continuation of Joshua, but opens with a repetition of the same events with which Joshua closes. In like manner the Book of Ruth clearly forms part of those of Samuel, supplying as it does the essential point of David’s genealogy and early family history, and is no less clearly connected with the Book of Judges by its opening verse, and the epoch to which the whole book relates And generally the style of the narrative, ordinarily quiet and simple, but rising to great vigour and spirit when stirring deeds are described, and the introduction of poetry or poetic style in the midst of the narrative, constitute such strong features of resemblance as lead to the conclusion that these several books form but one work. (W. Smith, D. D.)

Contents of the Book

The history comprehends the whole time of the Israelitish monarchy, exclusive of the reigns of Saul and David, whether existing as one kingdom under Solomon and the eight last kings, or divided into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. It exhibits the Israelites in the two extremes of power and weakness; under Solomon, extending their dominion over tributary kingdoms from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean and the borders of Egypt (1 Kings 4:21)

; under the last kings, reduced to a miserable remnant, subject alternately to Egypt and Assyria, till at length they were rooted up from their own land. As the cause of this decadence it points out the division of Solomon’s monarchy into two parts, followed by the religious schism and idolatrous worship brought about from political motives by Jeroboam. How the subsequent wars between the two kingdoms necessarily weakened both; how they led to calling in the stranger to their aid whenever their power was equally balanced, of which the result was the destruction first of one kingdom and then of the other; how a further evil of these foreign alliances was the adoption of the idolatrous superstitious of the heathen nations whose friendship and protection they sought, by which they forfeited the Divine protection--all this is with great clearness and simplicity set forth in these books, which treat equally of the two kingdoms while they lasted. (W. Smith, D. D.)

The Framework of Kings

The first step in the analysis of the book must be to trace the process by which it was first thrown into something like its present shape. It so happens that this inquiry is facilitated by a very clear indication of editorial activity, namely, the recurrence of a regular series of notices by which the different reigns are introduced and concluded. This set of formulas constitutes a sort of framework, by which the narrative is at once held together and at the same time divided into definite compartments; and its structure is so uniform as to make it practically certain that the scheme was carried through by a single writer. It will appear afterwards that the author of the “framework” was the first to arrange the material in its present order, and is therefore entitled to be regarded as the main compiler of the Book of Kings. It is worth while to look somewhat closely at the structure of this framework. The complete Introductory Formula for the kings of Judah embraces the following items:


the date of accession according to the year of the contemporary king of Israel (which we shall call, for brevity, the Synchronism);

(b) the age of the king at his accession;

(c) the duration of the reign;

(d) the name of the queen-mother;

(e) a judgment on the religious character of the reign. The corresponding formula for the kings of Israel is similar in form as regards a, c, and e; but is simplified by the omission of b (the age of accession), and d (the name of the queen-mother)

The Concluding Formulas contain

(a) a reference to the proximate source from which the author has drawn some of his materials;

(b) a notice of the king’s death and burial; and

(c) the name of his successor.

With the exception of the Synchronisms, which were possible only for the period of the divided monarchy, the framework is applied consistently and with few intermissions to the whole history, from the death of David (1 Kings 2:10) to the accession of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah (2 Kings 24:18 f.). The entire absence of either formula is extremely rare. And although fragments from the annals are frequently taken up into the framework, there is only one case (or at most two) where any considerable part of the narrative has been allowed, as it were, to slip out of the framework altogether, i.e., to appear between the conclusion of one reign and the introduction of the next: 2 Kings 2:1-25. (2 Kings 13:14-25). How far these irregularities are designed, and how far they are due to alterations of the text, is a question that has to be considered for each case separately. Now, even in the bare and formal statements of the framework there are several indications that its author is the person mainly responsible for the selection and disposition of the historical material of which the book is composed.

1. The chronology of the framework furnishes the key to the somewhat peculiar arrangement of the parallel histories of Israel and Judah. The method adopted is to treat the affairs of each kingdom independently, and carry forward the narrative till it reaches the end of a reign in which a change of sovereign has occurred in the sister kingdom. Then the records of the other monarchy are taken up, and continued in like manner, till they have gone beyond the date at which the first series stopped. Such an arrangement is obviously impossible without the control of a systematic chronology; and since the order corresponds perfectly with the data of the framework, there is a presumption that both proceed from the same author.

2. The manner in which the writer of the framework refers to written documents for information which is not to be found in the book strongly suggests that he has exercised his personal judgment as to the matters that ought to be embodied in the history.

3. But the most important point is that in the religious judgments of the introductory formulas the writer reveals a definite theory or point of view, which could hardly fail to exert an influence on the historical presentation as a whole. These judgments involve several religious principles, e.g., the duty of whole-hearted loyalty to Yahweh, and the sinfulness of idolatry in all its varied forms and degrees. (Twentieth Century Bible.)

Chronological System

It is plain that the author had a chronological system within which his materials were arranged. The chronological scheme is only approximately, and not strictly, precise. Both in the Book of Judges and here we have striking examples of the free use of numbers. In 2 Samuel 5:4-5, it is stated that David reigned forty years, and then that he reigned seven years and mix months over Judah, and thirty-three years over all Israel. It would appear that, according to the chronological system observed in this book, the whole history of Israel, from the Exodus to the close of the Babylonian Exile, fell into two great cycles of 480 years each, or twelve times forty. The first of these great periods extended to the beginning of the building of the temple, and this is given as a leading date in 1 Kings 6:1. Unless, however, we are to regard this as merely a rough approximation based on the convenient reckoning by forties, it is difficult to reconcile the date with computations of the details and with statements of other books. The perplexity of the chronology increases when we come to details of the several reigns. For example, the book gives the synchronism of the two kingdoms, as we have seen. Yet if we add up the numbers given in detail, from the disruption of the kingdoms to the extinction of the Northern line, we obtain a total of 242 years for the kingdom of Israel, while the total for the kingdom of Judah up to the same point is 259. Or again, if we count from the disruption of the kingdom to the death of Ahaziah of Judah and Joram of Israel, who were killed at the same time by Jehu (2 Kings 9:24-27)

, we get ninety-five years for the Judaean kings and ninety-eight for the Israelite; and from that date onward to the fall of the Northern kingdom, the number is 165 years for the Judaean and 144 for the Israelite. It is evident that there is not precise accuracy either in the synchronisms or in the statements as to the duration of the reigns; and it seems, on the whole, probable that parts of years were not reckoned, and also that, in the synchronisms, the last year of one reign was sometimes counted as the first of another. We must, in short, be content to take the numbers as approximate, and not shut our eyes to the evident partiality for what was apparently a Hebrew habit of reckoning by forties. (The Temple Bible.)

Date of Composition and Authorship

The Book of Kings bears on the face of it that it is a compilation of materials, of the nature of which we shall have to speak presently. A work covering so long a period could be nothing else. The question now to be considered is--At what time the materials, relating to different times, and not all coming within the personal cognizance of the writer, were brought together to form the connected work before us? The latest date mentioned in the book, as has been already stated, is the thirty-seventh year of he captivity of Jehoiachin, or, say, the year 562 b.c. That was about twenty-four years later than the final deportation and the downfall of Jerusalem, and about twenty-four years before the Edict of Cyrus permitting the return of the Jews to their own land. And as there is no mention of the return, nor indication of the close of the Exile, we may conclude that the last touch was given to the book in the Captivity. The question is whether the whole work received shape at this late date, or whether the late writer was merely an editor who brought up to date a work which had been written at an earlier period. On the one hand, we find not only the closing notice of the release of Jehoiachin from prison, but brief intimations and expressions here and there which may be taken as implying the time of the Exile. Thus, under the reign of Solomon, we read that he “reigned over all the kingdoms from the river” (i.e. the Euphrates)

“unto the land of the Philistines,” that “he had dominion over all the region on this side the river, from Tipheah even unto Azzah” (1 Kings 4:21; 1 Kings 4:24). The expression here used in the A.V. “on this side the river” must be rendered “beyond the river,” and the context shows that the writer is estimating the limits from the Euphrates westwards, and so, presumably, his own standpoint is on the east of the river, namely, in the land of Exile. The passage, however, from verse 20 to verse 25, has the appearance of an insertion. Other passages that have been taken by some writers as proving an Exilian date cannot be relied on as establishing that inference, for they are such as are frequently found in the prophets who threaten Judah with the extremity of Divine displeasure long before the time of the Exile. See, for example, 1Ki 9:7-9; 1 Kings 11:39; 2 Kings 20:17-18; 2 Kings 21:11-15; 2 Kings 22:15-20; 2 Kings 23:26-27. On the other hand, there is a note of time, expressed in the words “unto this day,” which recurs pretty frequently in the narrative; and, although in not a few cases it is employed in such a general way that we cannot deduce from it any conclusion as yo date, in several other cases it is used in connections which conclusively imply a pre-Exilian date. For example, in the account of the dedication of the temple, after saying that the staves for bearing the ark were drawn out till the ends were seen in the Holy Place, the narrative continues, “and there they are unto this day” (1 Kings 8:8), a statement which could only apply so long as the temple was standing. Again, in regard to the descendants of the old Canaanite inhabitants of the country, it is said that Solomon laid upon them a service of taskwork “unto this day,” implying a time before national independence came to an end (1 Kings 9:21). We even read in one place, “So Israel rebelled against the house of David unto this day” (1 Kings 12:10), apparently implying the co-existence of both kingdoms, and certainly implying the survival of the “house of David.” So also “Edom revolted from under the hand of Judah unto this day” (2 Kings 8:22). And, to mention only one other passage in the description of the fate of the Northern kingdom, we are told that the mixed people who were settled in the territory formerly occupied by the ten tribes, “unto this day do after the former manners”--a description which, no doubt, would be applicable after the Exile, although the terms would be more suitable if coming from one living near to the locality and observant of the events. On the whole, therefore, it is most probable that, though the book received an editorial addition at the end, and a few explanatory insertions after the Exile, yet it was composed substantially as it lies before us while the kingdom of Judah was still in existence, though not long before its extinction. (The Temple Bible.)

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