Introduction: A Tale of Two Kingdoms
First Kings begins with the death of David which occurred about 971 BC. Joseph died about 1800 BC, so we have almost 1000 years between Joseph and David. We need to bridge that gap a little so that we can understand what has happened to the seed of Abraham from the death of Joseph to the death of David.
1 Kings' place in the canon. There are three divisions in the Hebrew Old Testament. We need to see how the Jews saw the organization because there is a spiritual lesson there for us, a doctrinal lesson, especially when it comes to interpretation. The first division was the Torah. Torah means law or instruction and the root concept has to do with learning. The second section is the Neviim, the section called the prophets. The third section is the Kethuvim, the writings. Unlike the English Bible which starts off with the law and then the historical books and then poetry, major prophets and minor prophets, that section in the English organization which we call history is not viewed as just history. We look as history often as just sort of abstract chronicle, just random events that take place over a period of time, but when the Bible looks at what we would call history it is much more than just "this is what happened," it is an editorialised or theologised history from the divine viewpoint where all the mass of people and all the mass of data that took place over a period of time God selects specific individuals and specific events because they teach about His plan, program and purpose for mankind and what He is doing. So there are spiritual lessons to be learned, not the least of which is how to look at what happens in human history from the divine viewpoint so that we can come to history and understand it from God's perspective and not from man's perspective. But when we look at the English canon and talk about historical books the Hebrew canon divides that a little differently.
The first section and the one we are familiar with is the Torah, the first five books, also known as the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses. But when the Hebrews came to the second section and the organising of the Old Testament after the exile, they divided it into two sections. The first section is what the English Bibles usually classify as history but in the Jewish Bible it is the former prophets. These are written by prophets. Then there are the latter prophets. These are the ones we normally think of—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel. Then for the Jews they just pulled together the Minor Prophets into one grouping called The Twelve. So that is considered one book in the Hebrew canon. That is why the Hebrew canon only has 22 books whereas the English Old Testament canon has 39 books. One of the reasons for emphasising this is because of the role of a prophet. The role of a prophet was simply to foretell the future. That is often a misconception that people have. There were many things that a prophet did when he confronted the king and foretelling the future was simply a secondary element. What he was foretelling often had to do with future judgment for current sin or future blessing in relationship to the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant and the other Old Testament covenants. The role of a prophet was to be the mouthpiece of God. He was the voice of God, he presented God's Word to the people, and as such in many ways he functioned in relationship to the Mosaic law like a prosecuting attorney. When the nation disobeyed the Mosaic law it was this prosecutor who came from the throne of God who challenged them and indicted them for their disobedience to God, to read them the riot act and explain exactly what the consequences were going to be. The prophet was always over the government. The kings were anointed by a prophet; it was by the hand of God that they were put into office and taken from the office. This is seen from Samuel anointing the first king, Saul, Samuel anoints David, and this all leads up tom the anointing of the eternal Davidic King, Jesus Christ, by John the Baptist the last of the Old Testament prophets.
When we look at these books we see clearly with Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve that they are prosecuting the nation for their disobedience to the law. But what we see in the earlier prophets, in Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings is the same thing. They are giving the history of the nation in light of their obedience to the law or their disobedience to the law and the consequences. In Joshua they are conquering the Canaanites, they are following God's mandates to annihilate the them, until they begin to compromise. Generally speaking, Joshua is the story of how God blessed them militarily to conquer the land of Canaan, and so we see Israel on the ascendancy spiritually. But then as we get a different perspective at the beginning of the book of Judges where the writer begins to focus on the sin that was there, the compromise that was there; that even though it was just a small amount of leaven at the beginning in the first few chapters of Judges it moved from the victory of the tribe of Judah to the ultimate defeat of the tribe of Benjamin. As time went by the tribes compromised more and more with the pagans around them, they disobeyed God, they didn't completely annihilate the Canaanites; they compromised. The result is that they have military failure and economic failure because of spiritual failure. So as we go through the book of Judges it is an indictment on the nation because everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes.
There are a lot of parallels between Judges and Kings. Judges starts off with Israel actually at the height of their spiritual ascendancy, they are fresh from their victory over the Canaanites, they have mostly done what was right, they have taken the land and are now solidifying their hold on the land. We see them with the Joshua conquest generation walking with the Lord, but by the time we get to the end of Judges then we see they don't act any differently from the Canaanites. They are under the heel of the Philistines who are oppressing them and morally and spiritually they are bankrupt, they way they lives their lives is no different from the lives of the Canaanites. Samuel comes along and we see how God takes them from spiritual bankruptcy through the Messiah figure of the Davidic king, and at the end of the book of Samuel they are in a position of empire and spiritual ascendancy and victory because God has dealt with them grace and provided them with a saviour who is the anointed in the house of David. So it foreshadows the gospel in a lot of ways. Kings is going to come along and trace what happens to the nation after the death of David as the nation imitates what they did during the period of the Judges and compromises with idolatry, then later compromises with the fertility religions, Baal worship, and ultimately ending up out of the land. That is why it is important to understand the place of kings in the Jewish canon. It shows that it is a prophetic analysis of the history of Israel.
The last part is called the Kethuvim which is all the other books which is what we usually call poetry but also includes some historical books like Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther and Chronicles, and that is because these books are designed not just to teach history but about how to live—how they were to live out of the land, as in Daniel and how they were to live back in the land. Ezra Nehemiah and Esther teaches how God is protecting those outside of the land, and Chronicles is a rehearsal of the ways which God provided for them in the kingdom of Judah, tracing the line of the seed to the Davidic line.
Following the death of Joseph the Jews are going to spend about 400 years in Egypt, part of that time as slaves. The Exodus will then take place in 1446 BC. They will spend a year at Sinai, then they will leave Sinai after they have made all of the clothes for the priests and the high priest, after they have made all the furnishings for the tabernacle. Then they will celebrate the second Passover (the first was the night before they left Egypt) and then leave to go to the land. On the way they come to Kadesh-barnea where they send out the spies. Only two are willing to trust God, the other tense are not willing to trust God, so God disciplines that generation and says they are not ready to go into the land, so they spend 40 years wandering. They enter into the land, the conquest begins at about 1406 BC. The main part of the conquest lasts for seven years, to 1399 BC, then there is a period of consolidation where they are basically wiping up resistance in various places and establishing themselves. The period of the conquest ends about 1350 BC and then there are about 300 years for the period of the Judges. This begins with Othniel the first judge and ends with the last judge who is Samuel. Eli and Samuel both have their stories told at the beginning of 1 Samuel but they belong to the period of the judges. It is not until 1 Samuel chapter nine that Samuel anoints Saul as the first king. Samuel's life overlaps Eli and Samson.
Then there is the period known as the . There are three kings: Saul, David, and Solomon. The book of 1 Samuel covers the life of Samuel, the death of Eli, the anointing of Saul and the discipline announced on Saul, the anointing of David, but David does not become king until 2 Samuel chapter one. Second Samuel covers the reign of David—everything except his death. His death is covered in the first two chapters of 1 Kings.
Another way to look at this is to start off with the theocracy at Sinai to Saul. Then there is the period of the united monarchy under the three kings, Saul, David and Solomon. Then in 931 BC there will be a tax revolt and the ten tribes in the north are going to align themselves with Jeroboam who is one of the chief aristocrats and leaders in the nation. He was a major figure in Solomon's administration. But he had to go into hiding at the end because of various problems. When Solomon died his son Rehoboam became king. He refuses to listen to his older and wiser counsellors and listens to the foolish young men, The people in the north revolt because he is going to increase their taxes which were already heavy from Solomon. So the nation divides into the northern kingdom Israel and the southern kingdom Judah. The northern kingdom has nineteen kings; the southern kingdom will have twenty kings. No one in the northern kingdom follows the Lord; there are only a few in the south who follow the Lord. The northern kingdom will go out under divine discipline in 722 BC when they are overrun by the Assyrians and then the southern kingdom will last about another 140 years until 586 BC when they, too, go out of the land. That is the essence of what we see in 1 and 2 Kings. It is the story of how they go from the glory of the Davidic and Solomonic kingdoms to where they are out of the land completely, the temple is destroyed, the priesthood is in shambles, the people are in captivity, and scattered in the Diaspora.
How do we understand Kings and the covenants? The importance of the Abrahamic covenant is that everything from Genesis 12 on in the Bible has to be understood in some sense within the framework of that covenant. That is especially true of everything that happens in the Old Testament after Abraham. All of the other covenants are part of this. The next covenant that is revealed in the Mosaic covenant, so everything else that comes after in terms of revelation is in light of the promises, the mandates, the judgments and blessings of the Mosaic covenant. Then Deuteronomy 30 gives us the land covenant and 2 Samuel 7 gives us the Davidic covenant. Much of 1 Kings is dealing with the outworking of the Mosaic law blessings and cursings and the Davidic covenant, although the focal point in Kings is on the northern kingdom. Chronicles focuses exclusively on the line of David and what happens there.
The title is from the Hebrew word melek which is the word for king. Originally this was one book in the Hebrew canon and the opening word in 1 Kings 1:1 is, "And the king." Books in the Old Testament got their name from the first word. The content of the book focuses on the reigns of 40 kings of Israel and Judah. In the Hebrew Bible these were all one book until the 16th century when they were divided up. They were seen as the continuation of the narrative in Samuel. The Septuagint was the first to really divide the book of Kings into two books, and called them the Third and Fourth Kingdoms. They called Samuel First and Second Kingdoms. When Jerome translated the Old Testament into Latin he changed "Kingdoms" to "Kings." He initially had 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Kings. No one knows who wrote Kings. Most scholars would date its writing around 550-560 BC.
Important dates: The kingdom divides in 931 BC. The fall of the northern kingdom was in 722 BC. Judah is defeated but not destroyed in 605 BC by Nebuchadnezzar and the first group of exiles are taken out of the land, including Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar invades the land three times: 605, 593, 586.
One of the things to be noted in the book is the phrase "until this day" (12 times), which indicates that the writer talks about something that is still evident even when he is writing. He puts himself very close to the action.
Purpose: The purpose is to continue the narrative related to the Davidic kingship and the seed of Abraham where Samuel left off, beginning from the death of David. 1 Samuel covers the transition from the theocracy to the united monarchy and 2 Samuel focuses on the consolidation of the kingdom. 1 Kings begins with the glory and the expansion of the kingdom under Solomon and then its subsequent disintegration and eventual destruction in 2 Kings. It has a historical purpose to trace the line but the most important thing is the theological purpose, that there are lessons to be learned here and the writer is showing how God is faithful to His promise, both in terms of blessing Israel in terms of grace and in terms of judgment. Grace and judgment continue to be themes. It also has a philosophical purpose because it gives us a divine philosophy of history. It is crucial to be able to look at history from the divine viewpoint and not from the viewpoint of economics or politics or race. There are any number of philosophies that govern historians' thinking, but history is no more a story of what happened than biology is just simply a record of the discovery of the fossils. None of these fossils come with a birth certificate! So we don't know how old they are. Somebody is talking a philosophical framework and imposing it on the date found in the rocks and then telling us a story. History is the same thing. History is not just the chronicle of data. God is the one who tells us that history has meaning and purpose and He gives us the framework for understanding that. History has purpose. The standard of evaluation for history is going to be divine revelation. In the Old Testament that is the Mosaic law; in the church age it is going to be the New Testament. It is embedded in Scripture because this is the revelation of the God who created everything and He is going to give us the data we need to be able to read the morning papers and see then trends that are going on and analyse those in light of the revelation of God's Word.
What we are going to see in Kings again and again and again is that the success or failure of a nation is not related to the accuracy of its political philosophy, to the accuracy of the economic philosophy, or in justice in terms of a law code because we have a perfect law code that comes from God, but it has to do with the spiritual orientation of the people. As go the people so goes the nation. If the people are not oriented to God and to eternal absolute values then that affects every detail within the culture. If it is not oriented to God it leads to collapse and destruction; if it is oriented to God then God blesses them and they have success in whatever they do. As we get into this book we realise that it is a historical, theological and prophetic narrative showing how God blesses the nation or curses them in relationship to the covenant. The basic principle we come out of this with is that doctrine really matters.