INTRODUCTION TO 1-2 KINGS
Christian readers today usually classify 1-2 Kings as books of Old Testament history, reflecting the fact that they include a good deal of history and read like history accounts. However, the Jewish canon classified them as the fifth and sixth books of the Former Prophets (which also include Joshua, Judges, and 1-2 Samuel), reflecting the emphasis on the work of prophets in these books.
1-2 Kings are really a single book broken into two parts because it was too long for a single scroll. The title, Kings, suggests that it is an account of the activities of the kings of Israel and Judah—and it is that. However, it is not primarily a history of these kings and their achievements or failures. The author or authors of the book came at their task with a theological purpose, which was to examine the reigns of these kings in the light of their faithfulness or unfaithfulness to the Torah (and thereby to God). Kings assumes the worldview of the book of Deuteronomy, and is thus among the books (including Joshua, Judges, and Samuel) which modern scholars classify as Deuteronomistic History. These Deuteronomistic books emphasize that faithfulness to God leads to prosperity and unfaithfulness to judgment. They also emphasize the covenant that God made with David to establish his kingdom forever (2 Samuel 7:11-16; 1 Kings 9:5).
Kings covers a period of approximately four centuries, beginning with David’s old age and Solomon’s accession to the throne (about 960 B.C.) and ending with the fall and exile of Judah (587-586 B.C.).
While the book of Kings was divided into two parts for practical reasons (the amount of text that could be put on a single scroll), it covers three major periods in the life of Israel and Judah:
• 1 Kings 1-11 covers the reign of Solomon.
• 1 Kings 12 – 2 Kings 17 covers the divided kingdom (Israel and Judah).
• 2 Kings 18-25 covers Judah after the fall of Israel in 721 B.C.
The coverage of the more than forty kings of Israel and Judah is highly uneven. 1-2 Kings include a total of 47 chapters. As noted in the last paragraph, 11 of those chapters, nearly 25 percent, are devoted to King Solomon, who reigned over the unified kingdom. The middle part of the book, 1 Kings 12 – 2 Kings 17, covers the divided kingdom, and is overwhelmingly slanted toward coverage of Israel—of these 28 chapters, approximately 20 are devoted to Israel. The balance of 2 Kings (the last eight chapters) is devoted to Judah, because Israel ceased to exist after 2 Kings 17.
Prophets are at least as important as kings in these books. These prophets include:
- Nathan (1 Kings 1-2),
- Ahijah (1 Kings 11-12, 14),
- Shemaiah (1 Kings 12),
- Two prophets known only as “a man of God” and “an old prophet in Bethel” (1 Kings 13:1, 11),
- Jehu (1 Kings 16),
- Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17 – 2 Kings 9),
- Micaiah (1 Kings 22),
- Jonah (2 Kings 14),
- Isaiah (2 Kings 19-20), and
- Huldah (2 Kings 22).
These prophets consistently called Israel and Judah to repent of their sins and to trust God for their deliverance.
The work of Elijah and Elisha is the centerpiece of Kings. Fifteen chapters, almost a third of Kings, are devoted to their work. Both are among the greatest Old Testament prophets—Elijah being especially important.
- Elijah was accorded the honor of being translated into heaven without dying (2 Kings 2:1-12).
- In the book of Malachi, the Lord promised, “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes” (Malachi 4:5).
- Jesus identified John the Baptist as Elijah (Matthew 11:13-14; 17:10-13; see also Luke 1:17), and Elijah was one of the historical greats who appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, the other being Moses (Matthew 17:3).
- There are several other significant references to Elijah in the New Testament (Matthew 27:47-49; Luke 4:25-26; Romans 11:2-5; James 5:16-17).
We don’t know who the author or authors of Kings were. Some scholars believe that a single author wrote Kings—either before or during the Babylonian Exile. However, most scholars today believe that Kings was written and shaped over a period of time by several authors and editors.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Brueggemann, Walter, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: 1 & 2 Kings (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Incorporated, 2000)
Dilday, Russell H., The Preacher’s Commentary: 1 & 2 Kings (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1987)
Fretheim, Terence E., Westminster Bible Companion: 1-2 Kings (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999)
Hens-Piazza, Gina, Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries: 1-2 Kings (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006)
Hinton, Linda B., Basic Bible Commentary: First and Second Kings (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988)
Hobbs, T. R., Word Biblical Commentary: 2 Kings, Vol. 13 (Dallas, Word Books, 1985)
House, Paul R., New American Commentary: 1, 2 Kings, Vol. 8 (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995)
Inrig, Gary, Holman Old Testament Commentary: I & II Kings (Nashville: Holman Reference, 2003)
Leithart, Peter, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: 1 & 2 Kings (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006)
Nelson, Richard D., Interpretation Commentary: I and II Kings (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1987)
Provan, Iain W., New International Biblical Commentary: 1 and 2 Kings (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1995)
Seow, Choon-Leong, The New Interpreters Bible: 1-2 Kings, Vol. III (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999)
Smith, Norman H. (Exegesis) and Sockman, Ralph W. (Exposition), The Interpreter’s Bible: Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Job (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1954)
Wiseman, Donald J., Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, 1 & 2 Kings (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993)
Copyright 2007, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan