Book of 1 Kings
History of the kings of Israel and Judah, from Solomon through Ahab
Compiled by Jewish scribes in exile
Faced with a future of exile, sixth-century Jewish scribes sat down and meticulously compiled all the stories of the United and Divided Monarchies of Israel, sometimes in painful detail, before Israel’s interactions with God could be forgotten.
The result of this collaboration is a comprehensive history chronicling about 400 years, which is divided into four books: 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings.
Although Jewish tradition attributes the writing of Kings to Jeremiah the prophet, most likely the final version is the product of several scribes using three things: court records, source books, and oral traditions.
Together these give details about mundane things (such as how much gold was used in the temple) and colorful stories that bring these people to life.
Israel has a rich oral history; stories are carefully passed down from parents to children verbally. We may be tempted to doubt the authenticity of such stories, assuming they are embellished as they pass from generation to generation, but archaeology has corroborated much of the information.
Buildings still stand where the Bible says they are; cities were destroyed when and how the Bible says they were; empires rose and fell as the Bible says they did.
In addition to physical evidence of the stories’ authenticity, other cultures have left writings describing their wars with Israel, giving the opponent’s perspective, of course.
Samuel and Kings are not just the history of a nation, but are also a window into the complex political, religious, and social situations of the ancient Near East.
Viewing Our Struggles Through Israel’s Examples
Both volumes of Bible Book Kings focus mostly on the slow decline of Israel. While Saul is recognized as Israel’s first king, it was David who first ruled all of the tribes and clans of the Hebrews.
Picking up with the death of King David, 1 Kings describes the construction of the glorious temple and palace in Jerusalem, the division of Israel into two kingdoms (Northern and Southern or Israel and Judah), the sometimes-apostasy sometimes-devotion of the Israelites themselves, and the work of God through His own actions and His prophets.
The many events prove one thing: the Lord is in control of everything. He prospers Israel while David and Solomon are kings, and He punishes the Israelites when they stray from Him. Although they are fully aware of His power and His desire for faithful worship, the Israelites betray Him again and again. It may be easy to judge them; but in their struggles to follow God’s laws, we can see our own struggles.
1 Kings 1:51
Inside the congregation tent, priests make daily sacrifices to the Lord on the great horned altar. By touching the bloodstained horns of the altar, an innocent man can immediately grab God’s attention and be granted divine absolution. That absolution then has to come from the court as well, since no man can overrule God.
It is Adonijah’s plan to save himself when he grabs the horns, but he is not an innocent man. Because Adonijah abuses this custom, Solomon is not required to forgive his brother just because he is at the altar.
1 Kings 2:23
Adonijah already has a claim to the throne, since he is the next in line of David’s sons. If he takes one of his father’s intimate acquaintances as a wife, then his claim to succeed David will be strengthened.
1 Kings 2:41
Shimei, a known traitor, is allowed to live as long as he doesn’t leave Jerusalem and return home to Benjamin where he can muster an army.
After years of supposed obedience, that same traitor tests his limits by running in the opposite direction of Benjamin to visit Philistia, Israel’s greatest enemy at the time.
Even if Solomon hadn’t promised David that he would take revenge on Shimei, the man gives Solomon ample reason himself.
First and foremost, he breaks his oath to Solomon and God by leaving Jerusalem; second, he has the opportunity to threaten Solomon’s new reign by fraternizing with Achish, the king whom David abandoned the last time Israel and Philistia fought.
He is guilty by both deed and association.
1 Kings 3:5
Before Israel united as one nation under David, the countryside was inhabited by people who worship other gods.
As Solomon prepares to build the temple and centralize worship of the one God — the Lord — in one place — Jerusalem — he finds it necessary to visit the former shrines of local gods and convert them to shrines to God.
While this may have worked in the short term by introducing the people outside of Jerusalem to the worship practices of the Eternal, those shrines, called “high places,” will be the undoing of the entire country.
By allowing people to worship at local shrines instead of only in Jerusalem, where the priests meticulously follow God’s laws, Solomon and future kings are opening the door to the blending of God worship and pagan worship.
1 Kings 6:2
The timing of the construction of the temple reveals the incredible importance of this event.
First, by connecting its construction to the exodus, the writer recognizes this as the culminating event of Israel’s journey from slavery to an autonomous, God-led nation. God is completing His promise to give Israel a nation.
Second, by beginning construction in the spring, Solomon uses his resources for a peaceful endeavor instead of war. Kings have always attacked in the spring because of the favorable weather, so Solomon is putting his devotion to God over his desire for more power.
This choice of peace over war fits with Solomon’s name, which means “peace,” and characterizes his reign.
1 Kings 6:29
Composed of the parts of various animals, these monstrous winged creatures, called cherubim in Hebrew, serve several purposes in the Bible. They are symbols of divine power, presence, and mobility.
They first appear in Genesis, guarding the entrance to Eden ( 3:24 ); as part of the throne of mercy, they are God’s footstool in the congregation tent and the temple, and God occasionally takes a ride on them ( 2 Samuel 22:11; Psalm 18:10; Ezekiel 1 ).
Wherever their images appear — on walls, in tapestries, on the covenant chest — they signify God’s presence and protection.
1 Kings 8:1
The construction of the temple is the most important accomplishment of Solomon’s reign. This building both establishes and symbolizes Israel’s connection to God. Once the covenant chest is placed there, it is literally the meeting point between them, and the sheer opulence of the temple reveals the priorities of the government.
So much of Solomon’s wealth is put into this building instead of being used to build an empire, as his neighbors would do, because he trusts God with the fate of Israel. Nothing demonstrates that more clearly than the storage of the nation’s weapons in the temple. God is their guardian in every way.
1 Kings 9:16
Solomon is easily the greatest builder of all the Israelite kings. Certainly Jerusalem is impressive, with its beautiful temple and palace and its strong fortifications. But Solomon doesn’t stop with his capital.
Millennia later the remnants of his work at Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer will remain. These cities are of strategic importance to Israel because they are on the borders of the nation near waterways or trade routes.
At these sites, Solomon uses many top-of-the-line defenses, specifically the six-chambered gate in the city walls that adds greater security, but he does not neglect daily function. Within the chambers of those gates, the elders hold court and tradesmen sell their merchandise.
By dedicating some of his wealth to the development of these cities, Solomon guarantees himself a secure nation because he is equipped against invasion and he is satisfying the daily needs of his people.
1 Kings 11:14
That “one tribe” promised by the Lord is Solomon’s own tribe, Judah. But by the time this is written several centuries later, Judah is the common name for the Southern Kingdom, which is ruled by Solomon’s descendants and actually composed of two tribes: Judah and Benjamin. Ironically Benjamin and Judah were historically enemies.
As the tribe of Saul, Benjamin was predisposed against David when he became king, and they continued their animosity toward him by supporting Absalom during his rebellion. All of those bad feelings will change when Judah and Israel split.
Benjamin will decide to follow Rehoboam along with Judah, while the other ten tribes will follow Jeroboam.
1 Kings 11:37
The preservation of Judah as the home of God’s temple demonstrates the centrality of David in His plan. As “the lamp of Israel,” David represents the hope of Judah.
In Israel, lamps are so central to daily life that when a new building is founded, often a perfectly formed, unused lamp is buried beneath the floors in the corner of a room. These ancient “cornerstones” signify the builder’s hope for light and life in the house.
Likewise everything in Israel is founded on David; the idea of his perfect reign is the hope and cornerstone of the nation.
1 Kings 11:42
The Book of Kings is not the only historical record of Judah’s and Israel’s monarchies. This book is based on several source materials, including the book of the acts of Solomon, the book of the chronicles of Judah’s kings, and the book of the chronicles of Israel’s kings.
Although these books and the stories they tell are lost, the simple citation of these sources reveals a lot about Kings: the editor of this book is writing at the end of Judah’s time as an independent nation, the memory of the monarchy is important enough to have been recorded by several independent sources, and the editor is keenly concerned with narrating the stories that occurred centuries before he lived.
1 Kings 13:1
In his zeal to solidify the worship of the Lord in the Northern Kingdom, Jeroboam inadvertently dooms the Israelites’ relationship with God by making changes to God’s laws.
Instead of worshiping no idols, the Northern Kingdom has two golden calves. Instead of worshiping at the temple in Jerusalem, the Israelites worship at various shrines like the one at Bethel. Instead of relying on the Levites, others can become priests and approach the altar.
Finally, instead of following God’s calendar, Jeroboam brings with him the Egyptian calendar from his time in exile, thus altering the observance date of every sacred festival in the Northern Kingdom. The unwillingness to conform to God’s worship requirements will devolve into outright rebellion on the part of Israel.
1 Kings 13:23
To be buried away from one’s family is the ultimate curse. In ancient Israel, a connection is retained between the living and the dead. The ancestors are to be buried somewhere on the family land, legally securing forever the land for the living family members.
The living family members, by taking care of that land, care for their ancestors in the afterlife. If someone is buried away from his ancestral home, then the quality of his afterlife is in question.
1 Kings 14:27
Paying tribute to the powerful Egyptian pharaoh, who is also known as Shoshenq I, may have saved Judah from destruction, but Jeroboam and Israel are not so safe. This record describes what happens to Israel, but Shishak records another perspective in a relief at the temple at Karnak.
In the relief, Shishak’s god is shown pulling a rope with 120 slaves attached to it. Each slave carries the name of a town Shishak claims to have conquered. Even if the information in the relief is embellished, history does agree that Shishak has control of Judah and Israel in the eighth century.
1 Kings 15:9
In ancient Israel, people are typically buried in family tombs that are either in natural caves on the family property or are cut out of rock. Initially, the body is laid in the center of the tomb on a stone bench.
Later, when the flesh has rotted off the bones and more space is needed in the tomb, a family member will push the bones off the bench into the corners of the tomb or into holes in the walls intended to hold the bones. In this way, everyone “slept with his fathers” before being literally “gathered to his ancestors.”
1 Kings 16:29
Nations often have several names. The Northern Kingdom is called “Israel” after the tribes who settled there, “Samaria” after its capital city, and the “House of Omri” after its founder. Omri is considered the founder of the Northern Kingdom, even though he isn’t the first king, because he establishes its capital in Samaria and is the first king buried there.
In the ancient patriarchal system, the king is seen as the father of the country, so the entire nation is his household. He sees to the protection, nourishment, and advancement of his people, just as a father cares for his children. As long as the Northern Kingdom survives, it is called the “House of Omri” by many in honor of its first, and therefore greatest father.
1 Kings 17:1
Slowly the Israelite kings are drifting further and further away from God’s laws. Hoping to remedy this, the Lord sends a prophet to guide the kings.
That prophet, Elijah, certainly lives up to his name, proclaiming his God (Eli) is the Eternal (jah) — Eli-jah. He uses many methods: demonstrating God’s power through miracles, reminding of God’s purpose through oracles, and acting out God’s will through his appearance.
While his guidance sometimes reminds kings of the correct path and helps them return to it, ultimately nothing he can do will stop the Northern Kingdom’s destruction.
1 Kings 17:2
The Baal cult is prominent both with the monarchy and with the general populace, so Elijah’s claims are extraordinary to people who believe Baal is the deity who provides or withholds rain.
1 Kings 17:22
This incredible act by the Eternal One is not only for the benefit of giving back the woman’s son so he could help with the support of the family, but it is also to demonstrate God’s powerful hand on Elijah.
1 Kings 19:7
Often the only thing growing in the desert, the small broom tree has enough substance to save Elijah.
This bush, whose limbs grow straight up like a broom standing on its end, offers meager shade; but its oil-rich branches and roots make excellent fuel and charcoal; the thick roots travel deep into the ground and offer both water and fire. God provides for Elijah’s needs — nothing more, and nothing less.
1 Kings 20:1
Elijah and Elisha are not the only prophets demonstrating God’s will in Israel. At all times, but especially during wars, kings seek the advice of prophets and men of God. The messages delivered may not always guarantee God’s favor, but the words are always reliable and true.
1 Kings 20:29
Just as the prophets of Baal in Israel think that only their god controls the rain, the Arameans think that the Lord is only a god of the mountains.
Among their pagan neighbors, where different gods control different things, it is unthinkable that there can be one God who controls everything, such as climate and land. It is exactly this misconception that God is aiming to debunk through Israel’s victories. He is the One; He controls all.
1 Kings 20:35
Remember that God has given Ben-hadad to Ahab. By orchestrating Ahab’s victory, the Lord reduces the power of the Arameans, whom He has used to discipline Israel, and now trusts Israel to keep Aram in check.
Unfortunately, Ahab is easily bribed, tempted by Ben-hadad’s offer of land and trade opportunities in exchange for his freedom. Once again it is a prophet who shows Ahab his error in abandoning God’s plan by physically demonstrating how Ahab abused God.
1 Kings 21:17
Ahab’s willingness to sell himself cheaply for things outside of God’s will strikes again. But this time, the true source of Ahab’s wickedness is revealed. God knows that it is Jezebel, Ahab’s foreign wife, who is the root of the evil.
Intending to regain Ahab’s devotion once and for all, God sends Elijah with His message instead of an unknown prophet. Although God’s mission is successful, Elijah is left with a powerful enemy.