1 Kings

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In 1 Kings, the story of David continues from where it ended in 2 Samuel. The book opens with David in his old age and about to die, and the power struggle to succeed him. Despite the fact that Solomon was a younger son, through the efforts of his mother Bathsheba and the prophet Nathan he was named as king. The first half of 1 Kings relates Solomon’s glorious and wealthy reign, but the second half of the book tells a very different story. Shortly after Solomon’s death the ten northern tribes, often called Israel or Ephraim, rebelled against the Davidic dynasty and became a separate kingdom. The rest of 1 Kings tells the story of the divided kingdom, alternating between the north and south, but with a greater emphasis on the north and especially on the relationship between Ahab and Jezebel (Israel's king and queen) and the prophet Elijah.

Reading time: Two-and-a-quarter hours
Short of time? Just read 1.1–2.12; 9.10–10.29; 12.1–14.20; 17.1–19.21
Theological history

When David's time to die drew near, he charged his son Solomon, saying: 2 'I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, be courageous, 3 and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn.(1 Kings 2.1-3)

11 He said, 'Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.' Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. (1Kings 19.11-12)

1 Kings tells the story of how God’s people split apart into two separate kingdoms. Unfortunately, their kings had very similar names so it can often be hard to keep clear about whether the north or the south is being discussed.

Jewish tradition attributes the authorship of 2 Samuel to Nathan and Gad, but there is no evidence for this within the book itself, or indeed for any other author. In style and theology it is very similar to Joshua, Judges, 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings, and so it is often thought to form a collection of writings scholars call the ‘Deuteronomistic histories’.  

What do we know about him/them?

Next to nothing.
It is suggested that the authors of these 'Deuteronomic histories' were influenced by Deuteronomy and told Israel’s history from that perspective.  The key feature here is that Deuteronomy stresses that God’s people will only stay in the land if they remain faithful. Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings tell the story of how God’s people failed to be faithful and so, eventually, went into exile from the land.

No one really knows when these books were written. It is thought that they reached their final form in the 6th century BC, in other words shortly after the Judeans went into exile. They were finalised then in order to explain why the exile had happened at all. It's clear, however, that these final documents were drawn together from already existing sources, many of which would have been written during or shortly after the event described.

What were people feeling?

The books, therefore, have more than one audience – those who read the first versions of the history and those who read the final text once it was pulled together. Since it is hard to know anything about the first audience we will concentrate on the second.
If it is right that these histories are written to explain why the exile happened then it is clear that the people would have been feeling hurt, despairing and lost. For a sense of what people were feeling then, have a look at the book of Lamentations, which provides an accurate insight into their emotions.

Other books set around this time

1 and 2 Samuel, and 2 Kings

This is a history book but it falls into the category of what you might call theological history – history with a purpose. It is not telling the story just so that you can know what happened, but so that you can understand why it happened. Many of the historical books of the Bible are like this.

1.1–2.12 Solomon becomes king
2.13–11.43 The glorious story of Solomon’s success
12.1–16.28 The splitting of the kingdoms and the beginning of their separate life
16.29–22.53 The confrontation between Elijah and Ahab and Jezebel

There will be lots of names you will not know; don’t worry if you can’t place them all. The key ones are given below.

Place

Gezer, Edom, Sheba, Tyre, Sidon, Midian, Bashan, Shechem, Ephraim, Bethel, Samaria, Aram, Argob, Beer-sheba, Carmel, Damascus, Dan, Edom, Euphrates, Galilee, Gath, Gaza, Gezer, Gibeon, Hebron, Horeb, Israel, Jerusalem, Jezreel, Judah, Lebanon, Midian, Mizpah, Moab, Mount Carmel, Mount Horeb, Paran, Ramah, Sheba, Shechem, Shephelah, Shiloh, Sidon, Tarshish, Tirzah, Tyre, Zion

The names of people and peoples

Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, Jebusites, Asherah, Baal, Ahab, Ammonites, Arameans, Asherah, Benjamin, Benjaminite, Canaanites, Cherethites, Edomites, Elijah, Elisha, Iddo, Isaac, Issachar, Jebusites, Jeconiah, Jezebel, Joshua, Josiah, Levites, Milcom, Moses, Omri, Omride dynasty, Pelethities, Philistines, Sidonians

Other words

altar, Sons of the prophets, Ark of the Covenant, Baal, burnt offering, Cherubim, cubit, golden calf, High Priest, idols, lampstand, priest, Sheol, Solomon’s Temple, sons of the prophets, threshing floor, wadi

An extra note:

The phrases ‘Now the rest of the acts of … that he did … are they not written in…?' '…slept with his ancestors, and was buried in …; his son…succeeded him' are formulas that occur all the way through this book. This is significant because it:

  • reminds us that 1 Kings has been put together from already existing sources
  • points to the importance of proper burial with ancestors in Israel and Judah’s history
  • indicates the significance of being succeeded by a son

Obviously, one of key features of 2 Kings is the account of how the two kingdoms split apart. As you read, look out for any explanations that the author might be seeking to offer about why the split took place.
One of the major conflicts of the book is between those faithful to God (especially Elijah) and those faithful to Baal or Asherah (especially Jezebel). Watch out for this and reflect on why it might be that the worship of other gods was so attractive.
There are many significant women in 1 Kings. Look out for them as you read.

1 Kings is keen to tell the story of the consequences, long into the future, of the actions of powerful people. Reflect on this theme and ask yourself what the authors of this book might want to say to those in power today.

  • Were there any parts of the book that you particularly liked or that inspired you?
  • Were there any parts of the book that you disliked or that troubled you?
  • What did you think the book was about?
  • Talk about the women in the story – who is your favourite woman from 1 Kings and why?
  • Discuss Rehoboam in chapter 12. What do you think about the way he responded to the people from the northern tribes? 
  • Can we learn anything today from this on how to handle difficult occasions and decisions?
  • Prophets are important in 1 Kings. From what you know of them in this book, what do you think the major characteristics of a prophet were?
  • Did you read anything in the book that touched you, expanded your faith or made you think more deeply about your life and how you live it?

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