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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
Kings Books of
The two books of Kings formed anciently but one book in the Jewish Scriptures. But great stress cannot always be laid on the Jewish forms of the sacred books, as they were arranged so as to correspond with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
The books of Kings contain the brief annals of a long period, from the accession of Solomon till the dissolution of the commonwealth. The first chapters describe the reign of Solomon over the united kingdom, and the revolt under Rehoboam. The history of the rival states is next narrated in parallel sections till the period of Israel's downfall on the invasion of Shalmanezer. Then the remaining years of the principality of Judah are recorded till the conquest of Nebuchadnezzar and the commencement of the Babylonish captivity. In the article Israel, the period comprised has been exhibited under the name and reign of the kings who are mentioned in these books, and there also, and in the article Judah, the chronology of the books has been sufficiently considered.
There are some peculiarities in this succinct history worthy of attention. It is very brief, but very suggestive. It is not a biography of the sovereigns, nor a mere record of political occurrences, nor yet an ecclesiastical register. King, church, and state are all comprised in their sacred relations. It is a theocratic history, a retrospective survey of the kingdoms as existing under a theocratic government. The character of the sovereign is tested by his fidelity to the religious obligations of his office, and this decision in reference to his conduct is generally added to the notice of his accession. The new king's religious character is commonly portrayed by its similarity or opposition to the way of David, of his father, or of Jeroboam, son of Nebat, 'who made Israel to sin.' Ecclesiastical affairs are noticed with a similar purpose, and in contrast with past or prevalent apostasy, especially as manifested in the popular superstitions, whose shrines were on the 'high places.' Political or national incidents are introduced in general for the sake of illustrating the influence of religion on civic prosperity; of showing how the theocracy maintained a vigilant and vengeful guardianship over its rights and privileges—adherence to its principles securing peace and plenty, disobedience to them bringing along with it sudden and severe retribution. The books of Kings are a verification of the Mosaic warnings, and the author of them has kept this steadily in view. He has given a brief history of his people, arranged under the various political chiefs in such a manner as to show that the government was essentially theocratic, that its spirit, as developed in the Mosaic writings, was never extinct, however modified or inactive it might sometimes appear.
Thus the books of Kings appear in a religious costume, quite different from the form they would have assumed either as a political or ecclesiastical narrative. In the one case legislative enactments, royal edicts, popular movements, would have occupied a prominent place; in the other, sacerdotal arrangements, Levitical service, music and pageantry, would have filled the leading sections of the treatise. In either view the points adduced would have had a restricted reference to the palace or the temple, the sovereign or the pontiff, the court or the priesthood, the throne or the altar, the tribute or tithes, the nation on its farms, or the tribes in the courts of the sacred edifice. But the theocracy conjoined both the political and religious elements, and the inspired annalist unites them as essential to his design. The agency of divinity is constantly recognized, the hand of Jehovah is continually acknowledged. The chief organ of theocratic influence enjoys peculiar prominence. We refer to the incessant agency of the prophets, their great power and peculiar modes of action as detailed by the composer of the books of Kings. They interfered with the succession, and their instrumentality was apparent in the schism. They roused the people, and they braved the sovereign. The balance of power was in their hands; the regal dignity seemed to be sometimes at their disposal. In times of emergency they dispensed with usual modes of procedure, and assumed an authority with which no subject in an ordinary state can safely be entrusted, executing the law with a summary promptness which rendered opposition impossible, or at least unavailing. They felt their divine commission, and that they were the custodiers of the rights of Jehovah, while at the same time they protected the interests of the nation. The divine prerogative was to them a vested right, guarded with a sacred jealousy from royal usurpation or popular invasion; and the interests of the people were as religiously protected against encroachments, too easily made under a form of government which had not the safeguard of popular representation or aristocratic privilege. The priesthood was in many instances, though there are some illustrious exceptions, merely the creature of the crown, and therefore it became the duty of the prophets to assert its dignity and stand forth in the majestic insignia of an embassy from heaven.
The truth of these sentiments as to the method, design, and composition of the books of Kings, is confirmed by ample evidence.
Large space is occupied with the building of the temple—the palace of the Divine Protector—his throne in it being above the mercy-seat and between the cherubim (1 Kings 5-8). Care is taken to record the miraculous phenomenon of the descent of the Shekinah (). The prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the house is full of theocratic views and aspirations.
Reference is often made to the Mosaic Law with its provisions; and allusions to the earlier history of the people frequently occur (;;; , etc.;;;;;;; ). Allusions to the Mosaic code are found more frequently toward the end of the second book, when the kingdom was drawing near its termination, as if to account for its decay and approaching fate.
Phrases expressive of Divine interference are frequently introduced (;;;;; etc.).
Prophetic interposition is a very prominent theme of record. It fills the vivid foreground of the historical picture. Nathan was occupied in the succession of Solomon (); Ahijah was concerned in the revolt (). Shemaiah disbanded the troops which Rehoboam had mustered (). Ahijah predicted the ruin of Jeroboam, whose elevation he had promoted (). Jehu, the prophet, doomed the house of Baasha (). The reign of Ahab and Ahaziah is marked by the bold, rapid, mysterious movements of Elijah. Under Ahab occurs the prediction of Micaiah (). The actions and oracles of Elisha form the marvelous topics of narration under several reigns. The agency of Isaiah is also recognized (; ). Besides, 1 Kings 13 presents another instance of prophetic operation; and in the oracle of an unknown prophet is also rehearsed. Huldah, the prophetess, was an important personage under the government of Josiah (). Care is also taken to report the fulfillment of striking prophecies, in the usual phrase, 'according to the word of the Lord' (;;;;; ). So, too, the Old Syriac version prefixes, 'Here follows the book of the kings who flourished among the ancient people; and in this is also exhibited the history of the prophets who flourished during their times.'
Theocratic influence is recognized both in the deposition and succession of kings (;;; , etc.). It is thus apparent that the object of the author of the Books of Kings was to describe the history of the kingdoms, especially in connection with the theocratic element.
The authorship and age of this historical treatise may admit of several suppositions. Whatever were the original sources, the books are evidently the composition of one writer. The style is generally uniform throughout. The same forms of expression are used to denote the same thing, e.g. the male sex (, etc.); the death of a king (, etc.); modes of allusion to the law (); fidelity to Jehovah (, etc.). Similar idioms are ever recurring, so as to produce a uniformity of style. The sources whence this historic information has been derived have been variously named. That annals contemporary with the events which they describe were written in the early period of the Jewish state, may be at once admitted. Eichhorn supposes that the sources of 'Kings' were private historical works. Bertholdt, Havernick, and Movers hold that the books are extracts from the public annals. The inspired historiographer refers his readers to these sources of evidence in such frequent phrases as 'the rest of the acts.' Such a reference is made especially to the sources, when other royal acts than those narrated in the books of Kings are glanced at. These sources are styled the book of the Chronicles of the kings of Judah or Israel. Similar phraseology is used in; , to denote the official annals of the Persian Empire. Public documents are spoken of in the same way (). There is little reason to suppose that the book referred to in this last passage is that styled Chronicles in our copy of the Scriptures. So we infer that the 'Book of the Chronicles of the Kings' so often alluded to, was an authentic document, public and official. Once indeed mention is made of a work entitled 'The Book of the Acts of Solomon.'
That the prophets themselves were employed in recording contemporaneous events is evident from; . In the course of the narrative we meet with many instances of description, having the freshness and form of nature, and which are apparently direct quotations from some journal, written by one who testified what he had seen (;; ). Thus the credibility of the history contained in these books rests upon a sure foundation.
Now, the compiler from these old documents—he who shaped them into the form they have in our present books of Kings—must have lived in a late age. The Second Book of Kings concludes with an account of the liberation of Jehoiachin, King of Judah, from prison in Babylon—an event which, according to Jahn, happened in the twenty-sixth, or, according to Prideaux, in the twenty-eighth year after the destruction of Jerusalem. Jahn and Hävernick place the composition of 'Kings' in the reign of Evil-merodach; and De Wette, towards the end of the Captivity. Jewish tradition makes Jeremiah the author. Calmet ascribes the authorship to Ezra. The former opinion, adopted by Grotius, and lately revindicated by Hävernick, certainly appears the more probable. It explains the close similarity of the books of Kings and Jeremiah in spirit, style, and tendency, more easily and more satisfactorily than any other conjecture of like nature. The age of the book of Kings may be intermediate between the early work of Samuel and the later treatise of Chronicles.
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Kings Books of'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/k/kings-books-of.html.