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1 & 2 Kings


The books of Kings conclude the history of Israel from its origins in the clan of Abraham, as recorded in Genesis, to the fall of Jerusalem that ended Hebrew national independence.

The two books are in the section of the Hebrew Bible designated the “Former Prophets” (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings), which is comprised of Israelite annals presenting a theological interpretation of Hebrew history emphasizing covenant relationship with YHWH and the attendant national blessings and curses conditioned by obedience to his covenant stipulations.

The two books of Kings document the covenant history of Israel from King David’s death and Solomon’s succession to the throne through the demise of the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

The separation of Kings from Samuel is somewhat artificial. Early Greek manuscripts of the Old Testament classify Samuel and Kings as Basileiai (“reigns, kingdoms”) in four volumes: Samuel = First and Second Books of “Kingdoms,” Kings = Third and Fourth Books of “Kingdoms.”

The division of Kings from one book in the Hebrew Old Testament into two books in the Greek Old Testament was simply a matter of convenience due to the length of the record. English Bibles have adopted the fourfold division of the history books in the manner of the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), but retained the Hebrew titles of Samuel and Kings.

Purpose Statement

The books of Kings continue the story of kingship begun in Samuel, and their primary purpose is to record the "covenant failure" of the Hebrew united and divided monarchies. The Biblical narrative implicitly balances the notion of God's sovereignty and the reality of human freedom and declares that God was justified in exiling His people for the failure of the kings of Israel and Judah to uphold the ideals of the Davidic covenant.

Key Ideas: (1) Kingship: Good & evil; (2) The prophetic voice as the royal conscience; (3) Worship: YHWH vs. Baal; (4) Covenant blessings (Repentance and restoration) and curses (Judgment and exile).

The Writing of the Book

Like most of the Old Testament historical books, the authors of the Kings annals remain unknown. The Jewish tradition preserved in the Babylonian Talmud attributes the books of the Kings to Jeremiah the Prophet. This association may have been based on the similiarties between Jeremiah 52 and 2 Kings 24-25.

It has been noted that the history recorded in Kings gives a prominent place to the lives of the Old Testament prophets and the accuracy of the prophetic word in relationship to the Israelite and Judean monarchies. However, there is little concrete evidence for identifying the writer on the basis of context, theological theme, and purpose of writing.

Two distinct theories of authorship and unity of the Kings history prevail among Biblical scholars.

  1. The traditional view accepts Jewish lore and identifies the prophet Jeremiah as the compiler of the books. Those who discount this tradition nonetheless argue that the books of Kings bear the mark of a single author or compiler who was an eyewitness of the fall of Jerusalem. It is suggested that this writer skillfully spliced many historical sources into a unified script to portray the two kingdoms' "covenant failure" and the divine rationale for foreign exile. Most supporters of this view of authorship admit that the two historical abstracts appended to 2 Kings (2 Kings 25:22-30) are later additions to the book.
  2. The alternative view understands 1 & 2 Kings to be the product of the so-called Deuternomistic school that supposedly began sometime in the late eighth or early seventh century BC and was closely aligned with the southern monarchy.


Biblical scholars have proposed that there are some other sources for Kings, though none are cited in the text:

  1. The "Succession Narrative" or "Court History of David" (a united monarchy narrative comprised of 2 Samuel 9-20, with 1 Kings 1-2 usually associated with the present books of Samuel).
  2. A conjectured "Dynasty of Ahab" record (perhaps contained within 1 Kings 16-2 Kings 12).
  3. The Elijah-Elisha prophetic cycle (contained within 1 Kings 17-19, 21; 2 Kings 1-13).
  4. An Isaiah source (since Is. 36:1-39:8 is almost identical with 2 Kings 18:13-20:19).
  5. An independent prophetic source that contained biographies of Old Testament prophets associated with the Israelite monarchies (e.g., Ahijah, 1 Kings 11:29-33 and 14:1-16; Micaiah, 1 Kings 21:13-28; and certain unnamed prophets, 1 Kings 12-13 and 20:35-43).

Although hypothetical, these proposed contributions do fit the context of the Kings history, and they have gained widespread acceptance among Biblical scholars as probable sources underlying the composition of Kings.

Given the available evidence, we do best to assign the books of Kings to an anonymous compiler-author of the sixth century BC. Whether he was a prophet or not is uncertain, but he understood the covenantal nature of Israel’s relationship to Yahweh and its implications for Hebrew history.

The book was probably composed in Palestine sometime between the fall of Jerusalem (587/586 BC) and the decree of King Cyrus of Persia that permitted the Hebrews to return to their homeland (539 BC).

  • It is possible that the book may have been composed in two stages. Most of the history of Hebrew kingship could have been completed between the fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian reprisal for the assassination of the governor Gedaliah (a third deportation in 582 or 581 BC, which was described in the first historical appendix, 2 Kings 25:22–26 and Jer. 52:30).
  • The final edition of the work may have been published sometime after the release of King Jehoiachin from prison in Babylon by Nebuchadrezzar’s successor, Evil-Merodach (ca. 562/561 BC, reported in the second historical appendix, 2 Kings 25:27–30).

A date of 550 BC appears reasonable for the completed Kings record.

Mesha Stele

"Now Mesha king of Moab raised sheep, and he had to supply the king of Israel with a hundred thousand lambs and with the wool of a hundred thousand rams. But after Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel" (2 Kings 3:4-5).


The military exploits of the Moabite kings are recorded on the Mesha Stele (840-820 BC) and include his interactions with Israel.

The Background

The books of Kings represent a selective history of Israel from the closing days of King David’s reign until the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem. By way of chronology, 1 & 2 Kings documents the political history of Israel during the united monarchy, beginning about 970 BC, through the Assyrian exile of the northern kingdom of Israel (722 BC) and the Babylonian exile of the southern kingdom of Judah (587/586 BC).

Two historical footnotes are attached to the end of 2 Kings. The first (25:22–26) recounts King Nebuchadrezzar’s appointment of Gedaliah as governor of Judah and Gedaliah’s assassination by a group of Jewish conspirators led by one Ishmael sometime between 586 and 582 BC. The second (25:27–30) records the release of King Jehoiachin from prison in Babylon after the death of King Nebuchadrezzar (March 562 or 561 BC).

The Kings history surveys the Israelite “golden age” of united empire under King Solomon, the split of the monarchy during the reign of Rehoboam, and the ebb and flow of the political and religious fortunes of the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah until their collapse. Israelite interaction with the surrounding foreign powers is also integrated into the Kings account.

Archaeology has made significant contributions to the illumination and substantiation of the biblical record in 1–2 Kings. Specific discoveries include the unearthing of sites associated with the periods of both the united and the divided Hebrew monarchies (e.g., Megiddo, Hazor, Gezer, Samaria, Beersheba, Arad, Lachish, and Dan).

Extrabiblical inscriptional evidence from Assyria, Babylonia, and Syro-Palestine has greatly supplemented our understanding of the classical Hebrew language, both Hebrew and ancient Near Eastern chronology, and Hebrew political history, religious experience, social customs, and daily life. All this is disclosed in the context of ancient Near Eastern culture—e.g., the Moabite or Mesha Stone, the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, the Sennacherib Prism, the Assyrian Annals, the Babylonian Chronicle, and the Lachish letters.

Israel Map

Purpose and Message

The books of Kings relate the history of the Hebrew united and divided monarchies in their “covenant failure.” The narrative focuses on the figures primarily responsible for covenant keeping in Israel—the kings and the prophets. The prophetic voice has a prominent place in the story of kingship because those divinely appointed messengers functioned as the conscience of the monarchies.

The history of the Hebrew nation is told through the lives of the Israelite and Judean kings as representatives of the nation, because the fortunes of the king and the plight of the people were entwined. Rebellion and disobedience in the form of idolatry and social injustice on the part of the king brought divine retribution on the nation in several forms, including oppression by surrounding hostile powers, overthrow of the royal dynasties, and ultimately exile into foreign lands.

Conversely, the blessing of Yahweh’s favor in the form of peace, security, prosperity, and deliverance from foes rested upon the people of God when the king was obedient to the law of Moses (or instituted religious and social reforms after repentance and revival).

The accounts of the rival Hebrew monarchies in Kings also convey the story of alternative modes of kingship competing in Israel and Judah. Indeed, part of the purpose of the Kings history is the legitimization of the Davidic dynasty through the agency of the prophetic office. This was because the kingship covenant previously announced by Nathan sanctioned the tribe of Judah and the family of David as rightful heirs to the Hebrew throne (cf. 2 Sam. 7:1–17).

The most obvious purpose of the Kings narrative is to complete the written history of Hebrew kingship as a sequel to the books of Samuel. The record of Hebrew monarchies implicitly balances the notion of God’s sovereign hand in Israel’s covenant history and the reality of human freedom and accountability for those joined to him in covenant relationship.

This prophetic view of Israelite history served both to admonish the king and people for past breaches in covenant keeping and to warn them of the grave consequences attached to continued disobedience to Yahweh’s covenant stipulations.

By the same token, 1–2 Kings contained a word of exhortation and offered a word of hope to Israel and Judah. God still ruled human history and remained faithful to his agreement with the Hebrews as his “elect” (cf. Ps. 115:5–6). The repeated references to fulfilled prophecy and the two historical appendices especially called to mind the Davidic covenant and God’s promise to establish kingship forever in Israel (2 Sam. 7:1–17).

Major Themes

  • [1] Assessment of King Solomon 
    • The reign of Solomon ushered in the “golden age” of Hebrew history. As king, he was “loved by Yahweh” (the meaning of the name Jedidiah, cf. 2 Sam. 12:24–25); was divinely bestowed with the gift of wisdom (1 Kings 3); brought unprecedented peace, wealth and prosperity, glory and splendor to Israel during his tenure on the throne (1 Kings 10:14–29); achieved international fame as a master builder (1 Kings 6:1–7:12) and sage (1 Kings 10:23); and was an ardent student of the “arts and sciences” (1 Kings 4:29–34).
    • Yet the latter years of Solomon’s rule were marked by steady political decline and religious and moral decay. Ironically King Solomon fell prey to the seductions of the foreign women within the royal harem (1 Kings 11:1–3). Consumed by sensuality and materialism, he was unable to avoid the “snare” about which he had repeatedly warned others (e.g., Prov. 5:1–14; 7:6–27).
    • The Kings historian rightly attributes the division of Israel’s united monarchy to Solomon’s sin of idolatry (cf. 1 Kings 11:33, perhaps foreshadowed in 3:3). However, the collapse of the empire was merely the regrettable by-product of years of gross mismanagement of the affairs of state by Solomon.
    • The policies and programs instituted by Solomon contributing to the eventual split of the kingdom included:
      • Political alliance to foreign nations by marriage (e.g., 1 Kings 3:1–2).
      • Tendencies toward religious syncretism in an effort to appease both the Canaanite and Hebrew populations in Palestine (i.e., participation in both the Hebrew religion associated with Yahweh and the Canaanite cults of Baal and other deities, 1 Kings 11:1–8).
      • The geographical realignment of Israel into twelve administrative districts in an attempt to erase old tribal boundaries and loyalties (a practice similar to “gerrymandering” in modern politics, cf. 1 Kings 4:7–19).
      • The proliferation of state bureaucracy (1 Kings 4:22–28).
      • Lavish building projects that required slave labor among both the non-Hebrew and Hebrew residents of Israel (1 Kings 9:15–22; cf. 5:13–18 and 12:9–11).
      • The influx of pagan political and religious ideology in Jerusalem as a result of international trade and commerce (1 Kings 9:26-28; 10:22-29).
      • The revolt of satellite states as Solomon's military power waned (with the ensuing loss of foreign tribute as revenue compensated for by increased taxation of the Israelites).
  • [2] Dynastic Succession and Charismatic Leadership
    • The type of kingship associated with Judah is usually called the “dynastic succession” model of royal rule. In this, one family claimed (or in David’s case, is divinely granted, cf. 2 Sam. 7) royal authority in perpetuity.
      • At a monarch’s death the throne passed to the eldest son, thus establishing a sequence of kings from the same ruling family in dynastic succession for generations. Often the aging king appointed his successor or arranged a tenure of coregency for his successor in order to guarantee the smooth transition of power.
    • By contrast, the northern kingdom of Israel combined the dynastic succession model of kingship with the charismatic leadership model typical of the era of the Hebrew judges.
      • In this case, God raised up a gifted and able male or female leader for Israel to respond to political and religious crises (e.g., Gideon in Judg. 6–7). This leader was empowered by the Holy Spirit—an anointing often manifested by extraordinary physical strength, courage, and spiritual zeal.
      • Charismatic leadership was not handed down from one generation to the next. Rather, God commissioned deliverers from different Hebrew tribes and families on the basis of inherent abilities, covenant faith, and historical circumstances. This random and sporadic investiture of charismatic leaders was no doubt designed to instill faith in YHWH as the ultimate sovereign in Israel.
    • Unlike Judah, dynastic succession in Israel was conditional. The ruling family’s claim to the throne was contingent on the king’s obedience to the statutes of God, according to Ahijah’s prophecy to Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:37–38).
      • Failure to obey the commands of Yahweh brought a pronouncement of disaster on the royal household from the prophet of God (1 Kings 14:10–11).
      • Often this prophetic curse included the charge to the succeeding king to systematically execute the family of his predecessor (sometimes resulting in little more than a “bloody coup” in later Israelite history, cf. 1 Kings 16:3–4, 11–12).
      • God then appointed a new king “up from the dust” to lead the people of Israel through the word of his messenger (1 Kings 16:2).
  • [3] The Golden Calf Cult
    • The Hebrew term for “calf” is a flexible word connoting any male or female animal of the bovine family. The New English Bible translates “bull-calf,” and this is probably the best approximation of the identity of the molten gold symbols of a young bull worshiped by Israel during the wilderness wanderings (Exod. 32) and later in the northern kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam I (1 Kings 12).
    • All evidence seems to indicate that the Hebrews borrowed the bull-god symbol from the Egyptians, probably the Apis-bull cult of Memphis.
      • Apis was the sacred bull later known as the incarnation of the son of Osiris. This sacred bull was a fertility deity who gave life, health, and strength to the king and agricultural and reproductive fertility to the kingdom.
      • It seems very likely that Jeroboam brought the bull-god symbol back to Israel from Egypt as a result of his exile there until the death of Solomon (1 Kings 11:40).
    • Upon returning to Israel, Jeroboam possibly also combined elements of the Canaanite bull-god worship once he assumed the throne. This would explain the presence of both Canaanite and Egyptian motifs characteristic of the Israelite “calf cult.”
    • The bull gods that Jeroboam erected at the shrines of Dan and Bethel were not originally intended to represent idols of a foreign religious cult.
      • Jeroboam’s religious reforms were designed to win the allegiance of the Yahwists in the northern kingdom and thus prevent them from making the three annual pilgrimages to the temple in Jerusalem that was controlled by the southern kingdom.
      • It is conjectured that these bull-calves of Jeroboam were intended to be symbols representing Yahweh in some way, perhaps as pedestals for his throne or platforms for his very presence.
      • Thus, the bulls, like the fortification of Shechem and the border cities near Judah, were a political strategem used by Jeroboam to consolidate his power and authority in Israel.
    • Whatever the initial intentions of Jeroboam, it is clear that the golden bull gods soon became identified with religious ideology and practice much different from Yahwism.
      • Ahijah acknowledged the images as “other gods” (1 Kings 14:9), and by the time of Hosea the bull gods were repudiated by the prophet as “idols, not God” (Hos. 8:4–5).
      • By that time the golden bull became associated with the Canaanite fertility cult deities. The worship of the calf god was thoroughly entwined with the rituals of Baalism (Hos. 10:5; 11:1–2; 13:1–2).
      • The progression from false idols to fertility cult, astral worship, and human sacrifice in Israel is outlined in 2 Kings 17:15–17.
    • This breach of covenant not only brought an end to the dynasty of Jeroboam, but ultimately led to the dissolution of the nation of Israel by Yahweh in his anger (2 Kings 17:18).

Outline of 1 & 2 Kings

  1. King Solomon (1 Kings)
    1. His Succession (1–2)
    2. His Wisdom (3)
    3. His Reign (4–11)
  2.  King Rehoboam (12:1–22)
  3. Kingdoms of Israel and Judah from 931 to 853 BC
    1. Jeroboam I (12:22–14:20)
    2. Rehoboam (14:21–31)
    3. Abijah (15:1–8)
    4. Asa (15:9–24)
    5. Nadab (15:25–32)
    6. Baasha (15:33–16:7)
    7. Elah (16:8–14)
    8. Zimri (16:15–20)
    9. Omri (16:21–28)
    10. Ahab (16:29–34)
  4. Prophetic Ministries of Elijah and Elisha
    1. Elijah and King Ahab (1 Kings 17:1–22:40)
    2. King Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22:41–50)
    3. King Ahaziah (1 Kings 22:51–2 Kings 1:18)
    4. Elisha and King Jehoram (2 Kings 2:19–8:15)
  5.  Kingdoms of Israel and Judah from 852 to 722 BC
    1. Jehoram (8:16–24)
    2. Ahaziah (8:25–29)
    3. Jehu (9–10)
    4. Athaliah and Joash (11–12)
    5. Jehoahaz (13:1–9)
    6. Jehoash (13:10–25)
    7. Amaziah (14:1–22)
    8. Jeroboam II (14:23–29)
    9. Azariah (15:1–7)
    10. Zechariah (15:8–12)
    11. Shallum (15:13–16)
    12. Menahem (15:17–22)
    13. Pekahiah (15:23–26)
    14. Pekah/Assyrian Campaign Against Israel (15:27–31)
    15. Jotham (15:32–38)
    16. Ahaz (16)
    17. Hoshea (17:1–6)
    18. Fall of Samaria to Assyria (17:4–41)
  6.  Kingdom of Judah from 729 to 587/586 BC
    1. Hezekiah/Assyrian Campaign Against Judah (18–20)
    2. Manasseh (21:1–18)
    3. Amon (21:19–26)
    4. Josiah (22:1–23:30)
    5. Jehoahaz (23:31–35)
    6. Jehoiakim/First Babylonian Invasion (23:36–24:7)
    7. Jehoiachin/Second Babylonian Invasion (24:8–17)
    8. Zedekiah (24:18–20)
  7. Fall of Jerusalem to Babylonia (25:1–21)
  8. Historical Appendix A: Governor Gedaliah (25:22–26)
  9. Historical Appendix B: Jehoiachin in Exile (25:27–30)