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David is old and bed-ridden, and his son Adonijah proclaims
himself king with the help of David’s commander Joab and the priest, Abiathar.
Hearing this news, David instructs the prophet Nathan to anoint
David’s son, Solomon, as king. The people rally behind Solomon in
a grand procession to the royal throne. Before dying, David charges
Solomon to remain faithful to God and his laws. Solomon solidifies
his claim to the throne by killing Joab, Adonijah, and the remaining
dissenters from David’s reign. He also makes an alliance with Egypt
by marrying the pharaoh’s daughter.
Because Solomon carefully obeys God’s laws, God appears
to him in a dream and offers to grant the new king one wish. Solomon asks
for wisdom to govern with justice and to know the difference between
right and wrong. God is so impressed with Solomon’s humble request
that he promises Solomon the additional gifts of wealth and long
life. As a result, Solomon lives in great opulence and his empire
stretches from Egypt to the Euphrates River. He earns international
fame for his wise sayings and scientific knowledge.
With his vast resources, Solomon builds an elaborate
temple to God as well as a palace for himself in Jerusalem. Construction begins
exactly four hundred and eighty years after Israel’s exodus from
Egypt. Solomon conscripts thousands of laborers for the work and
imports materials from neighboring countries. The Temple is lined
with gold and features large, hand-sculpted angels and pillars. Solomon
places the Ark of the Covenant inside, and all of Israel gathers
for the dedication. After sacrificing herds of animals on the altar,
Solomon prays for God’s blessing on the Temple. God appears to Solomon
and promises to dwell in the Temple so long as Solomon and the Israelites
are obedient to his laws. If they are not, God will remove his presence
from the Temple, destroying both the temple and the nation.
Solomon’s success continues until he marries many foreign women.
They influence him to worship and erect altars to foreign deities.
God is infuriated and tells Solomon that he will dismember the kingdom.
God will tear away all of the tribes from Solomon’s kingdom except
for one, Judah. God allows the tribe of Judah to remain since Solomon
is David’s son. Following God’s declaration, a prophet meets one
of Solomon’s officials, Jeroboam, with a cloak torn into twelve
pieces, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. The prophet hands
Jeroboam ten of the twelve pieces and explains that God has chosen
him to rule these selected tribes as Israel’s new king.
Solomon dies, and his son Rehoboam assumes the
throne. Led by Jeroboam, the people gather before the young king
to request that Rehoboam treat them more kindly than Solomon did
during his reign. Rehoboam is headstrong and refuses, threatening
to punish and enslave the people. The Israelites unite in rebellion,
cursing the tribe of Judah and eluding Rehoboam’s attempts to forcefully
subdue them. They head north, where they crown Jeroboam king of
Israel in the city of Shechem. Israel splits into two kingdoms:
the kingdom of Israel in the north, and the kingdom of Judah in
To distinguish the new, separate kingdom of Israel from
the old kingdom in Jerusalem, Jeroboam erects altars and shrines
to golden calves throughout the northern land. The Israelites worship
the idols, and the Levite priests, formerly devoted to God, serve
them as well. One day, Jeroboam’s son is ill, and his wife approaches
a prophet to seek guidance. The prophet warns that Jeroboam’s household
will be destroyed and that Israel will eventually lose control of
the promised land because of Jeroboam’s abhorrent practices. One
generation later, Jeroboam’s entire family is slaughtered when another
Israelite takes the throne by force.
Meanwhile, King Rehoboam also erects altars
and shrines to idols in Judah, even authorizing male and female
prostitution in these shrines. The two kingdoms, northern and southern,
continue to fight each other. After Rehoboam and Jeroboam die, the
narrator recounts the story of all the succeeding kings in each
kingdom, summarizing each king’s reign by whether he does good or
evil. Almost all of Israel’s northern kings commit great evil, expanding
on the practices of their fathers. Some of the southern kings in
Jerusalem try to revive obedience to God, but none of them bans
the worship of foreign gods in Judah.
With the help of his wife Jezebel, Ahab, northern Israel’s
most wicked king, spreads cult worship of the god Baal throughout
the northern lands. In response, a prophet named Elijah emerges
and informs Ahab that God will curse the land with a great
drought. Elijah leads a secluded life on the outskirts of civilization.
Ravens bring Elijah food and he performs miracles for the local
people. After three years of drought, Queen Jezebel begins a campaign
to murder all of God’s prophets in the land. Elijah publicly confronts
Ahab, demanding that the Israelite people profess allegiance to
either God or Baal. The people do not respond. Elijah challenges
the priests of Baal to a contest to see whose god can miraculously
set an unlit animal sacrifice on fire. Despite animated prayer and
self-mutilation, the priests of Baal are unable to ignite their
altar. Elijah soaks his altar in water three times, and, when he
prays, God engulfs the altar in flames.
Elijah flees from the belligerent Jezebel into the desert.
He complains to God that, despite his earnest service, the Israelites
continue to be disobedient. God promises to show himself to Elijah.
Elijah is surrounded by wind, earthquakes, and fire, but none of
these, we are told, is God. Instead, Elijah hears a soft whisper
amidst the storm, and he recognizes that this is God. Encouraged,
Elijah returns to civilization where he appoints a new man, Elisha,
to be his apprentice and to eventually succeed him as prophet.
One day, Ahab and Jezebel steal a man’s vineyard
by slandering the man’s name in public until the citizens stone
the man. Elijah finds Ahab in the vineyard and declares that because
of their murderous deeds, Ahab and Jezebel will die and dogs will
lick up their blood. Soon after, King Ahab makes a rare pact with
the king of Judah. The two lead their united forces against the
Arameans who are occupying Israel’s borders. Ahab is killed and
bleeds to death in his chariot. When the chariot is cleaned after
battle, dogs gather to lick his blood.
Not long after, Elijah is miraculously taken up into
heaven by a flaming chariot, never to return, while Elisha looks
on. Elisha assumes Elijah’s role as prophet, acting as a cryptic
doomsayer to Israel’s kings while performing miracles for the common
folk. Elisha helps a barren woman become pregnant, and when her
young son suddenly dies, Elisha brings the boy back to life by lying
on top of him. He guides the king of Israel in eluding the Aramean
invaders from the north by plaguing the enemy troops with blindness.
Elisha initiates a coup to cut off Ahab and
Jezebel’s dynasty by secretly anointing a military commander, Jehu,
to overthrow the throne. Jehu descends on the city where the current
king, who is Ahab’s son, and Judah’s king are visiting each other.
The men of the city rapidly defect to Jehu’s side. Jehu overcomes
the kings on horseback and shoots them with an arrow, decrying their
witchcraft and idolatry in the process. Entering the city, Jezebel
calls out seductively to Jehu from a window. The men of the city
throw her out the window, and Jehu’s horses trample her. The dogs
eat her dead body, fulfilling Elijah’s prophecy. After killing the
rest of Ahab’s family, Jehu invites all the priests of Baal to an
assembly and murders them. He wipes out the Baal cult in Israel, but
he does not forbid the worship of other gods.
The narrator continues the chronological account
of Israel and Judah’s kings. Each of Israel’s kings is more evil
than the previous, and Northern Israel gradually loses its territories
to Assyrian pressure from the northeast. Assyria finally invades
the northern kingdom of Israel entirely and captures the Israelites,
removing them to Assyria. God’s presence leaves the people of Israel,
and scattered Near-Eastern groups populate the promised land, worshipping
their own gods.
A handful of Judah’s kings make a brave attempt
at reform in the southern kingdom. Two kings embark on repairing
the decaying Temple in Jerusalem. When Hezekiah assumes the throne,
he destroys all of the altars and idols in Judah—the first such
policy since Rehoboam introduced the idols into the land. With the
help of the great prophet Isaiah, Judah thwarts heavy economic and
military threats from Assyria. Finally, Judah’s king Josiah directs
a national program of spiritual renewal. He reads the Laws of Moses
in front of all the people, and the people reaffirm their commitment
to God’s covenant, celebrating the Passover for the first time in
centuries. Despite these attempts to turn the religious tide in
Judah, however, evil rulers regain power after Josiah’s death. The
king of Babylon invades the southern kingdom of Israel, burning
Jerusalem and destroying the Temple. Like their northern brothers,
the people of Judah are exiled, settling in Babylon far away from
The two volumes of Kings continue the story of
Israel’s tumultuous monarchy begun in Genesis and continued in the
books of Samuel. The history spans almost four hundred years of
events in ancient Israel. From the beginning of Solomon’s
reign in around 965 b.c. to
the fall of the northern and southern kingdoms in 722 b.c. and 567 b.c.,
respectively, the nation of Israel dominates the international affairs
of the Near East. As a result, many of the events described in the
biblical account of Israel’s divided kingdom can be authenticated
historically. However, the authors of Kings do not simply list Israel
and Judah’s kings, but arrange their stories in a way that highlights
the direct connection between Israel’s religious infidelity and
its radical political demise.
Solomon’s temple is a monolithic symbol that changes
to reflect the changing fortunes of the Israelites. The author interprets
the temple’s construction as a sign that Israel, the land originally
promised to Moses, has arrived. By noting that Solomon builds it
in “the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites came
out of the land of Egypt,” the narrator suggests that all of Israel’s
struggles to enter and conquer the promised land have prepared this
moment (6:1). The
Temple’s large, solid structure is a physical manifestation of Israel’s
secure position in the land. God proves a spiritual manifestation of
Israel’s security when he promises to reside in the temple, placing
his “name there forever” (9:3).
The fact that the Temple is a man-made object that can decay foreshadows
the eventual spiritual decay of Israel. Furthermore, the importance
of a physical object to Solomon and the people contrasts with the
importance in earlier biblical books of incorporeal spiritual elements.
The temple also reflects the downfall of Israel. After the author
spends four chapters detailing its construction and dedication,
the Temple disappears from the narrative just as Israel’s religious
commitment to God fades from the minds of its rulers. Its final
destruction at the hands of the Babylonians mirrors Israel’s total
neglect of God’s covenant.
Part of the purpose of the books of Kings is to provide
a cultural history of Israel that the Israelites can read to understand
the history of their people. The authors and compilers of the books
use rhetorical devices to reflect this purpose. One such device
is the simultaneous telling of the histories of Israel and Judah.
Accounts of Israelite kings always accompany accounts of contemporary
kings in Judah. The narrator then describes how God views each king. This
rhetorical device labels each king’s reign as good or evil, and provides
a moral evaluation of Israel and Judah’s history. Judah appears
generally more good than Israel since it has more good kings, a
trend that reflects God’s promise to Solomon that he will bless
Judah because it is the site of King David’s legacy in Jerusalem. On
the whole, however, both Judah and Israel have a majority of evil
kings. In spite of Hezekiah and Josiah’s laudable reforms in Judah,
the attacks by Assyria and Babylon appear to be punishment for the
religious deterioration of the Israelites.
As the books’ religious protagonists, Elijah and Elisha
illustrate that the nature of prophets has changed throughout the
Old Testament. Moses, Joshua, the judges, and David are all leaders
of the Israelites, and, as the people’s representatives, they meet
with God on mountains or in religious centers to intercede on behalf
of the people for their wrongdoing. Elijah and Elisha, however,
are located on the outskirts of communities, and they utter mystical
warnings or oracles to Israel that are fatalistic at best. Rather
than leading the people to greatness, Elijah’s contest with the
priests of Baal is merely an attempt to diminish the people’s ongoing
evil, and Elisha’s healing of the peasant boy only helps to ease
pain. The narrator mentions Elisha’s death only in passing, and
Elijah is not actually buried in Israel. He is, instead, taken straight
into heaven by supernatural means, an event that suggests that the
land is too evil for God’s prophets. Whereas God formerly presents
himself to Moses using thunder and lightning, God’s small, gentle
whisper to Elijah shows that the people’s worship of other deities
has effectively quelled God’s voice in Israel.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Bible: The Old Testament!