- The continued history of the divided kingdom (1:1 - 9:37)
- The decline and fall of Israel (10:1 - 17:41)
- The kingdom of Judah to the fall of Jerusalem (18:1 - 25:30)
Authorship, date, and background In the Hebrew canon 1 and 2 Kings were accounted as one book (See also the introduction to 1 Samuel). In the Hebrew consonantal text one scroll was sufficient for the present two books. When the vowels were added in the Greek and Latin Bibles, twice as much space was required, and the one book was divided arbitrarily into two.
The title The Kings is appropriate since the two books compromised a history of the Jewish people from the death of David and the accession of Solomon to the defeat of Judah before the armies of Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. In the Septuagint, which divided the books of Samuel and Kings into the Books of Kingdoms, 1 and 2 Kings were the third and fourth Books of Kingdoms.
The period of the Kings ranged from the accession of Solomon in 971 B.C. to Jehoiachin in 562 B.C., or more than four centuries. A composite authorship of the book is obvious, for nothing in the text attributes the composition to a single person. It was compilation of writings which undoubtedly were composed by different prophets across the years who were intent on preserving the religious history of the Jewish people. Prior written documents were used when Kings was finally put together. The book itself mentions the use of the book of The Acts of Solomon (1 Kings 11:41), The Chronicles of the Kings of Judah (passim), and The Chronicles of the Kings of Israel (passim). In addition, large sections of Isaiah 36-39 are found in 2 Kings 18-20. These segments were copied from Isaiah and not vice versa.
Talmudic tradition associated Jeremiah the prophet with the book of Kings except for the final chapter. Since the book was written from a prophetic standpoint, either he or a number of prophets like him wrote the accounts from which the compiler produced the final product and the last chapter. A sixth century B.C. date for the final composition is likely, although much of the material used by the writer existed earlier.
Characteristics and content Kings is characterized by its consistent methodology of handling the reigns of the various monarchs. In general, the accounts report the length of each reign for Judah and Israel. In the case of Judah, the reader is told the name of the monarchs mother and the age of the king at the time of his accession. For the kings who were assassinated, the formula is not used. Each king is appraised (something a court historian would not do), especially in his relationship to God and the covenant. The kings of Israel beginning with Jeroboam are all idolaters who break the first commandment and are unfaithful to God's covenant with his people. Persistent apostasy marks the Northern Kingdom once the division takes place after Solomon's reign. The story of the judgement of God against Israel and its dissolution in 722 B.C. with the fall of Samaria into the hands of Sennacherib is recounted in all of its tragic dimensions.
Prior to the division of the kingdom, the golden age of Solomon is depicted. He erects his own palace and builds the Solomonic Temple. His ventures in commerce and his international relations mark the highest tide in the fortunes of the Israelis. Despite the gift of wisdom, Solomon in his later years is unfaithful to God largely through the influence of his many foreign wives and concubines who lead him into idolatry. Solomon gives recognition to Ashtoreth of the Sidonians; Molech, the god of the Ammonites; and Chemosh, the god of the Moabites for whom he builds shrines east of Jerusalem and within sight of the Temple. This remains a source of spiritual temptation form more than three and a half centuries before it is done away with during the reign of Josiah (2 Kings 23:13).
Kings constantly reinforces the notion that Jerusalem is the only true place for worship. Whoever constructs other shrines or engages into idolatrous worship is looked upon with a critical eye. Kings endorses every reform movement in which idolatry is stamped out and when the covenant between God and his people is renewed or takes on new force. The kingdom of Judah differs from that of Israel (Samaria) in that it experiences periodic revival under good kings such as Jehosphaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah. Asa and Uzziah too are mentioned as kings who are concerned about the spiritual welfare of their citizens. Hezekiah and Josiah are the only kings of Judah the book of 1 Kings approves wholeheartedly. Jehoram, Ahaz, and Manasseh come in for the harshest denunciations for their iniquitous conduct.
Kings also tells the story of the two greatest prophets of Jewish history after the death of David: Elijah and Elisha, who succeeded him. 1 Kings recounts the miracles and ministry of Elijah; 2 Kings picks up the story of his successor. Four clusters of miracles mark the progress of god's scheme of redemption. The first series comes during Moses' day; the second cluster or miracles occurs under the ministries of Elijah and Elisha; the third cluster comes in the life of Jesus; and the fourth cluster appears in the ministry of the early church at the hands of the apostles. Other miraculous events are scattered through the Bible, of course, but they do not come in marked numbers.
The red thread which runs through 1 and 2 Kings consistently is the spiritual decline of God's people and their loss of affection for God's covenants and his commandments. During the period of the Jewish kingdom(s), as during the forty years in the wilderness, the people of God turn away from him and at last end up in captivity.