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 the south.

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 their homeland.


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.