1 Kings - Introduction
KINGS, THE LAST BOOK of the “Former Prophets,” relates the history of Israel from the declining days of David (10th century) through the beginning of the Babylonian exile. Its last verses describe the release of Jehoiachin, exiled king of Judah, from prison in Babylonia during the reign of Evil‐merodach son of Nebuchadnezzar, an event datable through Babylonian sources to 562–561 BCE.
The division of Kings into two books is first attested in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Bible, where it is combined with Samuel into a single four part composition, Basileiai (“kingdoms” or “dynasties” or “reigns”). The division of Kings into two books was later followed in the Latin Vulgate version, and was adopted from there to vernacular Bible translations. Classical Jewish sources through the end of the Middle Ages do not make such a division, and it is first attested in Hebrew printed texts from the early 16th century, where it is noted as a division used by foreign translators. In the course of time, however, the division has been universally adopted by Jews as a matter of convention and convenience.
The narrative of Kings falls naturally into three sections followed by two brief appendices. The first section (1 Kings chs 1–11 ) narrates the circumstances of Solomon's ascent to the throne and describes the source of his wisdom, his reign over all Israel in a united kingdom, and the building and furnishing of the Temple and other structures; it also evaluates his religious behavior. The second section (1 Kings ch 12–2 Kings ch 17 ) begins by recounting the circumstances under which the northern tribes rejected the authority of Solomon's son, Rehoboam, withdrew from his kingdom (henceforth called Judah), and formed another, called Israel, with a king of their choosing. From that point the narrative provides a synchronistic, overlapping history of the kings of Judah and Israel for almost two centuries until the Northern Kingdom was destroyed by Assyria in 722 . The third section (2 Kings 18.1–25.21 ) describes the reigns of Davidic dynasts in Judah, the Southern Kingdom, until Babylonia conquered Judah, ruined Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and executed some and exiled others from among its leading citizens in 586. The first brief appendix (2 Kings 25.22–26 ) tells of the appointment and assassination of Gedaliah, a native Israelite appointed administrator of Judah by the Babylonians; the second(2 Kings 25.27–30 ) appends a notice that Jehoiachin, the exiled king of Judah, was released from a Babylonian prison in the thirty‐seventh year of exile.
Kings is not a history in the contemporary sense of the word, that is, a factual description of past events and an explanation for their occurrence that a modern reader might expect. It is, in the main, an extended theological essay written by a person or persons with passionately held beliefs, convinced that the destruction of the Northern Kingdom and the fall of the southern one were due to the misguided policies of their kings. The author described past events selectively, commenting or summarizing them as illustrations of the lessons that he believed they taught.
The author maintained that the LORD, the God of history, made His will known to Israel with regard to specific key issues, that punishments are preceded by warnings through prophets, and that people are responsible for the consequences of their choices. He further maintained that kings were responsible for the fate of their people. For him, it was axiomatic that those ruling over the tribes of Israel were obligated to maintain the centrality of the Jerusalem Temple as the unique place where offerings acceptable to God might be made and to eliminate the illegitimate worship of any deity other than the LORD. The author's composition demonstrated how all northern and most southern kings failed to meet their obligations and how all adversity, from minor disasters to the final catastrophe, followed as a consequence of this failure. Somewhat contradictorily, he also took pains to note that despite this, the divine promise of an eternal dynasty to David (2 Sam. 7.11 ) was maintained out of God's love for David (“for the sake of David,” 1 Kings 11.12; 2 Kings 8.19; 19.34 ).
The author expressed his axiomatic notions, described Josiah (2 Kings chs 22–23 )—whom he regarded as best exemplifying what a king should be—and expressed his theme of the uniqueness of the Jerusalem Temple, in language closely tied to that of Deut. ch 12 . Deuteronomy is the only book in the Torah to project an image of the ideal king ( 17.14–20 ), who bears a striking resemblance to Josiah as depicted in Kings. The author's ideas about how God works in history parallel those of Deut. ch 28 . For these reasons, contemporary scholarship refers to the author of Kings as a Deuteronomistic historian, i.e., as one who wrote under the influence and reflecting the concerns and ideology of Deuteronomy. In addition to sharing phrases found in Deuteronomy, the author also developed some unique expressions of his own that are repeatedly used throughout Kings: worshipping foreign gods and serving them (1 Kings 9.6; 16.31; 2 Kings 17.35; 21.3, 21 ); on every high hill and under every leafy tree (1 Kings 14.23; 2 Kings 16.4; 17.10 ); idolatry as abhorrent (1 Kings 14.24; 2 Kings 16.3; 21.2, 11 ); detestable things (1 Kings 11.5, 7; 2 Kings 23.24 ); the city that the LORD has chosen (1 Kings 8.16, 44, 48; 11.13, 32, 36; 14.21; 2 Kings 21.7; 23.27 ); to build a House for the name of the LORD (1 Kings 3.2; 5.17, 19; 8.17, 18, 19, 20, 44 ); to sacrifice and offer at the open shrines (1 Kings 3.2, 3; 22.44; 2 Kings 12.4; 14.4; 15.4, 35; 16.4 ); to revere the LORD, i.e., serve God from a sense of awe (1 Kings 8.40, 43; 2 Kings 17.32, 33, 34, 39, 41 ).
The author cites by name three sources to which the original readers might refer foradditional information about the kings discussed: Annals of Solomon (1 Kings 11.41 ); Annals of the Kings of Israel (1 Kings 14.19 ); Annals of the Kings of Judah (1 Kings 14.20 ). The formula used by the author to introduce individual kings in the second section of Kings most likely draws regularly on information from the second and third of these sources: “In the —————— year of king —————— son of —————— of Israel/Judah, —————— son of —————— became king of Judah/Israel. He was —————— years old when he began to reign, and he reigned for —————— years. He did what was pleasing/displeasing to the LORD.” The source also includes the names of the mothers of the kings of Judah (the queen mother).
Although no scholarly consensus exists concerning the nature of these documents, the author, by mentioning them, challenged readers to deny the veracity of the facts that he was evaluating and interpreting. In addition to these, he had access to documents bearing on the Davidic court (1 Kings chs 1–2 ) and the history of the Temple (1 Kings chs 6–7; 2 Kings ch 23 ), as well as to some form of edited materials by and about the prophet Isaiah (2 Kings 19.20–20.11 ), and to collections of prophetic stories that he interspersed in his narratives about the Northern Kingdom: Ahijah (1 Kings 11.29–14.18 ), Elijah (1 Kings 17.1–2; 2 Kings 2.18 ), Micaiah (1 Kings 22.1–40 ), and Elisha (2 Kings 2.1–13.21 ). Although no copies of these sources survive, documents that match each type or genre of document are known from other ancient Near Eastern sources.
The author's sustained lesson about God's justice in history continues through the untimely death of Josiah in 2 Kings 23.25 . This death stilled his voice. According to the author's philosophy, Josiah should not have died as he did. The deeds of that good king should have set things right, but did not.
A second person, writing during the Babylonian exile, completed the book through 2 Kings 25.26 . This writer attributed Josiah's death and every bad thing that happened subsequently to the sins of King Manasseh, a 7th‐century Judean monarch. Passages expressing this notion, combined with a prophetic idea that Israelites as a people bore responsibility for the fate of their kingdoms, were inserted into earlier parts of the book, contradicting the first author's original axiom of royal responsibility (2 Kings 21.10–15; 22.16–17 ). The second writer continued the narrative, appending terse notices about the last kings but describing only political events, not religious ones. The Annals of Judah are not cited after 2 Kings 24.5 and were most likely not needed; he was noting current events. This writer made no comments and found no lesson to teach in the destruction of Jerusalem.
The combined efforts of the original author and the second writer produced a document relevant to the post‐destruction communities in both Judah and Babylonia. Their situation was explained as the outcome not only of the religious policies of their kings, who had violated ancient revealed teachings, but also of the behavior of their own ancestors. The implication of this didactic text was that the very facts of destruction and exile demonstrated the power of God, the validity of His covenant with Israel, and His meticulousness in maintaining it. Therefore, when the punishment of ruin and exile had run its course, Hispromises of restoration made in Deut. 30.1–5 and by different prophets could reasonably be expected to come to fruition.
At least 25 years after the destruction of Jerusalem, a third person appended a few sentences to the composition, now the last three verses of the book. This person may have hoped that the event recorded, King Jehoiachin's release from prison, was the harbinger of coming changes in the fortunes of his people.
Jewish tradition has maintained, on the basis of statements in the Babylonian Talmud (b. B. Bat. 14b–15a), that the prophet Jeremiah, who prophesied from the time of Josiah until the exile, but lived beyond that (Jer. 1.2–3; chs 40–41 ), wrote Kings. This tradition may be based on the similarities between the final chapter of Kings and Jer. chs 25 and 52 . As noted above, however, Kings has a much more complex history, and may not be attributed to a single individual; like most ancient Near Eastern compositions, its author is anonymous.