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The Bible - Book by Book - Kings

The books of 1 & 2 Kings are a study in the unraveling of the people of Israel. Things begin promising with the building of the Temple, but soon the people of God turn to idols and the monarchy is fractured. This swift decline happens in the span of 12 chapters, and the remainder of the book describes the further unraveling of Israel until their exile. To study 1 & 2 Kings is to study the practical outworking of the sinful heart of man apart from God. Dr. Bill Fullilove puts it this way: “The kingship, intended to be the answer to the debacle of leadership by the judges, instead became its sad recapitulation. Just as rule by judge failed because of the sinfulness of human judges, so also rule by king failed because of the sinfulness of human kings.”[1]

However, as with many stories about sinful man, this one ends on a hopeful note. Though man is sinful and deserving only of exile from God’s good land, God shows favor to his people. This favor ultimately will be realized in a good King who will come one day to rule over God’s people with justice and with righteousness, and His kingdom will have no end. First and Second Kings points us to Christ our King by highlighting our need for him.

Turning to introductory matters, 1 & 2 Kings is formally anonymous, and external historical evidence offers no other clue to authorship. The precise date of composition is also wrapped in uncertainty, although internal evidence points to a window of time. The earliest this book could have been finished in the form we have in our Bibles is a couple decades after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The end of 2 Kings reports the favor shown to Jehoiachin, former king of Judah, while in exile in Babylon (2 Kgs 25:27-30). Since Kings makes no mention of a return from exile, it is likely that final composition took place prior to 539 B.C.

Date and authorship matter insofar as they help us to understand the original audience and consequently the purpose of the book. Given the discussion above, the original audience of 1 & 2 Kings was Israelites living in exile or on their way back from exile in the 6th century B.C. First and Second Kings would serve as a warning to the people of God to pay attention to the Word of God, for their ancestors paid a high price for ignoring the God of Israel. This book would also serve as a reminder to the original readers of the psalmist’s declaration: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose help is in the Lord his God” (Ps 146:3-4).

A review of the entirety of 1 & 2 Kings would not fit in a reflection, so I’ll end with a few observations. First, this book reminds us that nobody is immune from turning away from God. The first 11 chapters highlight the rise and fall of King Solomon, who was unsurpassed in wisdom and wealth. He built the Temple in Jerusalem; he conquered nations and established peace within his territory; he accomplished great things in Israel. And yet, he was turned from following after God by his many wives. He built altars to their foreign gods, and he was ensnared by the world. Even a great man like Solomon is not deaf to the Siren song of the world.

Second, 1 & 2 Kings shows us that there is always hope in this life for turning back to God. Second Kings 18-23 chronicles the kingship of two great reformers in the Southern Kingdom, Hezekiah and Josiah. In the face of an Assyrian assault on Judah, Hezekiah turns, not to horses and chariots, but to God in prayer. This faith saves Judah. Josiah invests his time as king on the reformation of worship in Judah. He focused finances on the repair of the Temple, and he spent his energy on purging Judah of idolatrous worship. These are bright spots in the darkness.

Third, and related, this book points to the preeminence of the Word of God in salvation. The middle chunk of this book, from 1 Kings 17 to 2 Kings 13, chronicles the lives of Elijah and Elisha. These two great prophets proclaimed God’s Word and called His people to repentance. Signs and wonders confirmed their authority, but it was the Word of God that made a difference in the lives of those who heeded their unified prophetic voice. This final point lifts our eyes toward the New Testament, where we see John the Baptist pave the way for our Lord by means of a prophetic call to heed the Word of God. And when the Word became flesh, salvation was found in responding to the Word.

[1] William B. Fullilove, “1-2 Kings,” in A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: The Gospel Promised, ed. Miles V. Van Pelt (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2016), 223.

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