Bible: The Old Testament

Literature
Summary

The First & Second Books of Kings

Summary The First & Second Books of Kings

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.