Bible Book Number 11—1 Kings
Place Written: Jerusalem and Judah
Writing Completed: 580 B.C.E.
Time Covered: c. 1040–911 B.C.E.
1. (a) How did Israel’s radiant prosperity degenerate into ruin? (b) Yet why may First Kings be described as “inspired and beneficial”?
THE conquests by David had extended Israel’s domain to its God-given boundaries, from the river Euphrates in the north to the river of Egypt in the south. (2 Sam. 8:3; 1 Ki. 4:21) By the time David had died and his son Solomon was ruling in his stead, “Judah and Israel were many, like the grains of sand that are by the sea for multitude, eating and drinking and rejoicing.” (1 Ki. 4:20) Solomon ruled with great wisdom, a wisdom that far surpassed that of the ancient Greeks. He built a magnificent temple to Jehovah. However, even Solomon fell away to the worship of false gods. At his death the kingdom was ripped in two, and a succession of wicked kings in the rival kingdoms of Israel and Judah acted ruinously, bringing distress to the people, just as Samuel had predicted. (1 Sam. 8:10-18) Of the 14 kings who ruled in Judah and in Israel after Solomon’s death and as reviewed in the book of First Kings, only 2 succeeded in doing right in Jehovah’s eyes. Is this record, then, “inspired and beneficial”? Most certainly it is, as we shall see from its admonitions, its prophecies and types, and its relation to the dominant Kingdom theme of “all Scripture.”
2. How did the record of First and Second Kings come to be in two scrolls, and how were they compiled?
2 The book of Kings was originally one roll, or volume, and was called Mela·khimʹ (Kings) in Hebrew. The translators of the Septuagint called it Ba·si·leiʹon, “Kingdoms,” and were the first to divide it into two scrolls for convenience’ sake. They were later called Third and Fourth Kings, which designation continues in Catholic Bibles to this day. However, they are now generally known as First and Second Kings. They differ from First and Second Samuel in naming previous records as source material for the compiler. The one compiler, in the course of the two books, refers 15 times to “the book of the affairs of the days of the kings of Judah,” 18 times to “the book of the affairs of the days of the kings of Israel,” and also to “the book of the affairs of Solomon.” (1 Ki. 15:7; 14:19; 11:41) Though these other ancient records have been completely lost, the inspired compilation remains—the beneficial account of First and Second Kings.
3. (a) Who undoubtedly wrote the books of Kings, and why do you so answer? (b) When was the writing completed, and what period is covered by First Kings?
3 Who wrote the books of Kings? Their emphasis on the work of the prophets, especially Elijah and Elisha, indicates a prophet of Jehovah. Similarities of language, composition, and style suggest the same writer as for the book of Jeremiah. Many Hebrew words and expressions appear only in Kings and Jeremiah, and in no other Bible book. However, if Jeremiah wrote the books of Kings, why is he not mentioned therein? It was not necessary, for his work had already been covered in the book bearing his name. Moreover, Kings was written to magnify Jehovah and His worship, not to add to Jeremiah’s reputation. Actually, Kings and Jeremiah are complementary for the most part, each filling in what the other omits. In addition, there are parallel accounts, as, for example, 2 Kings 24:18–25:30 and Jeremiah 39:1-10; 40:7–41:10; 52:1-34. Jewish tradition confirms that Jeremiah was the writer of First and Second Kings. No doubt he began the compilation of both books in Jerusalem, and it appears that the second book was completed in Egypt about 580 B.C.E., since he refers to events of that year in the conclusion of his record. (2 Ki. 25:27) First Kings takes up the history of Israel from the end of Second Samuel and carries it through to 911 B.C.E., when Jehoshaphat died.—1 Ki. 22:50.
4. How do secular history and archaeology confirm First Kings?
4 First Kings takes its rightful place in the canon of the Holy Scriptures, being accepted by all authorities. Moreover, events in First Kings are confirmed by the secular histories of Egypt and Assyria. Archaeology too supports many of the statements in the book. For example, at 1 Kings 7:45, 46 we read that it was “in the District of the Jordan . . . between Succoth and Zarethan” that Hiram cast the copper utensils for Solomon’s temple. Archaeologists digging on the site of ancient Succoth have unearthed evidence of smelting activities there.* In addition, a relief on a temple wall at Karnak (ancient Thebes) boasts of the Egyptian king Sheshonk’s (Shishak’s) invasion of Judah, referred to at 1 Kings 14:25, 26.*
5. What inspired testimony proves the authenticity of First Kings?
5 References by other Bible writers and fulfillments of prophecies support the authenticity of First Kings. Jesus spoke of the events surrounding Elijah and the widow of Zarephath as historical realities. (Luke 4:24-26) Speaking of John the Baptizer, Jesus said: “He himself is ‘Elijah who is destined to come.’” (Matt. 11:13, 14) Here Jesus was referring to the prophecy of Malachi, who spoke also of a future day: “Look! I am sending to you people Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and fear-inspiring day of Jehovah.” (Mal. 4:5) Jesus further vouched for the canonicity of First Kings by referring to what is written in that book regarding Solomon as well as the queen of the south.—Matt. 6:29; 12:42; compare 1 Kings 10:1-9.
CONTENTS OF FIRST KINGS
6. Under what circumstances does Solomon ascend the throne, and how does he become firmly established in the kingdom?
6 Solomon becomes king (1:1–2:46). The record of First Kings opens with David near death as he draws close to the conclusion of his reign of 40 years. His son Adonijah, with the help of Joab the army chief and Abiathar the priest, conspires to take over the kingship. The prophet Nathan informs David of this and indirectly reminds him that he has already designated Solomon to be king at his death. David therefore has Zadok the priest anoint Solomon as king, even while the conspirators are celebrating Adonijah’s succession. David now charges Solomon to be strong and prove himself a man and to walk in the ways of Jehovah his God, after which David dies and is buried in “the City of David.” (2:10) In time Solomon banishes Abiathar and executes the troublemakers Adonijah and Joab. Later, Shimei is executed when he does not show respect for the merciful provision made to spare his life. The kingdom is now firmly established in the hands of Solomon.
7. What prayer of Solomon does Jehovah answer, and with what result to Israel?
7 Solomon’s wise rule (3:1–4:34). Solomon forms a marriage alliance with Egypt by marrying Pharaoh’s daughter. He prays to Jehovah for an obedient heart in order to judge Jehovah’s people with discernment. Because he does not request long life or riches, Jehovah promises to give him a wise and discerning heart and also riches and glory. Early in his reign, Solomon shows his wisdom when two women appear before him claiming the same child. Solomon orders his men to “sever the living child in two” and to give a half to each woman. (3:25) At this the real mother pleads for the child’s life, saying the other woman should have it. Solomon thus identifies the rightful mother, and she gets the child. Because of Solomon’s God-given wisdom, all Israel prospers and is happy and secure. People from many lands come to hear his wise sayings.
8. (a) How does Solomon go about building the temple? Describe some of its features. (b) What further building program does he carry out?
8 Solomon’s temple (5:1–10:29). Solomon recalls Jehovah’s words to his father, David: “Your son whom I shall put upon your throne in place of you, he is the one that will build the house to my name.” (5:5) Solomon therefore makes preparation for this. Hiram the king of Tyre assists by sending cedar and juniper logs from Lebanon and by providing skilled workers. These, together with Solomon’s conscripted workers, start work on the house of Jehovah in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign, in the 480th year after the Israelites left Egypt. (6:1) No hammers, axes, or any tools of iron are used at the building site, as all the stones are prepared and fitted at the quarry before being brought to the temple site for assembly. The entire interior of the temple, first covered with cedar on the walls and juniper wood on the floor, is then beautifully overlaid with gold. Two figures of cherubs are made of oil-tree wood, each ten cubits (14.6 ft) [4.5 m] high and ten cubits from wingtip to wingtip, and these are placed in the innermost room. Other cherubs, along with palm-tree figures and blossoms, are engraved on the temple walls. At last, after more than seven years of work, the magnificent temple is completed. Solomon continues his building program: a house for himself, the House of the Forest of Lebanon, the Porch of Pillars, the Porch of the Throne, and a house for Pharaoh’s daughter. He also makes two great copper pillars for the porch of Jehovah’s house, the molten sea for the court, and the copper carriages, as well as copper basins and golden utensils.*
9. What manifestation of Jehovah and what prayer by Solomon mark the bringing in of the ark of the covenant?
9 Now the time comes for the priests to bring up the ark of Jehovah’s covenant and to place it in the innermost room, the Most Holy, under the wings of the cherubs. As the priests come out, ‘the glory of Jehovah fills the house of Jehovah,’ so that the priests can no longer stand and minister. (8:11) Solomon blesses the congregation of Israel, and he blesses and praises Jehovah. On bended knees and with his palms spread out to the heavens, he prayerfully acknowledges that the heaven of the heavens cannot contain Jehovah, much less this earthly house he has built. He prays that Jehovah will hear all those fearing Him as they pray toward this house, yes, even the foreigner from a distant land, “in order that all the peoples of the earth may get to know your name so as to fear you the same as your people Israel do.”—8:43.
10. With what promise and prophetic warning does Jehovah answer Solomon’s prayer?
10 During the 14-day feast that follows, Solomon sacrifices 22,000 cattle and 120,000 sheep. Jehovah tells Solomon that He has heard his prayer and that He has sanctified the temple by putting His “name there to time indefinite.” Now, if Solomon will walk in uprightness before Jehovah, the throne of his kingdom will continue. However, if Solomon and his sons after him leave Jehovah’s worship and serve other gods, then, says Jehovah, “I will also cut Israel off from upon the surface of the ground that I have given to them; and the house that I have sanctified to my name I shall throw away from before me, and Israel will indeed become a proverbial saying and a taunt among all the peoples. And this house itself will become heaps of ruins.”—9:3, 7, 8.
11. How extensive do Solomon’s riches and wisdom become?
11 It has taken Solomon 20 years to complete the two houses, the house of Jehovah and the house of the king. Now he proceeds to build many cities throughout his domain, as well as ships for use in trading with distant lands. The queen of Sheba thus hears of the great wisdom that Jehovah has given Solomon, and she comes to test him with perplexing questions. After hearing him and seeing the prosperity and happiness of his people, she exclaims: “I had not been told the half.” (10:7) As Jehovah continues to show love to Israel, Solomon becomes “greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth.”—10:23.
12. (a) In what does Solomon fail, and what seeds of revolt begin to appear? (b) What does Ahijah prophesy?
12 Solomon’s unfaithfulness and death (11:1-43). Contrary to Jehovah’s command, Solomon takes many wives from other nations—700 wives and 300 concubines. (Deut. 17:17) His heart is drawn away to serve other gods. Jehovah tells him that the kingdom will be ripped away from him, not in his day, but in the day of his son. Nevertheless, a part of the kingdom, one tribe in addition to Judah, will be ruled over by Solomon’s sons. God begins to raise up resisters to Solomon in nearby nations, and Jeroboam of the tribe of Ephraim also lifts himself up against the king. Ahijah the prophet tells Jeroboam that he will become king over ten tribes of Israel, and Jeroboam flees for his life to Egypt. Solomon dies after reigning for 40 years, and his son Rehoboam becomes king in the year 997 B.C.E.
13. How does division occur in the kingdom as Rehoboam begins his reign, and how does Jeroboam try to make his kingship secure?
13 The kingdom divided (12:1–14:20). Jeroboam returns from Egypt and goes up with the people to ask Rehoboam for relief from all the burdens that Solomon had placed upon them. Listening to young men instead of to the wise counsel of the elders in Israel, Rehoboam increases the hardships. Israel rises in revolt and makes Jeroboam king over the northern ten tribes. Rehoboam, left with only Judah and Benjamin, gathers an army to fight the rebels, but at Jehovah’s command he turns back. Jeroboam builds Shechem as his capital, but he still feels insecure. He fears that the people will return to Jerusalem to worship Jehovah and that they will come under Rehoboam again. To prevent this, he sets up two golden calves, one in Dan and one in Bethel, and to direct the worship, he selects priests, not from the tribe of Levi, but from among the people in general.*
14. What prophetic warning is sounded against Jeroboam’s house, and what adversities begin?
14 While Jeroboam is sacrificing at the altar in Bethel, Jehovah sends a prophet to warn him that He will raise up a king from David’s line, named Josiah, who will take strong action against this altar of false worship. As a portent, the altar is then and there ripped apart. The prophet himself is later killed by a lion for disobeying Jehovah’s instruction not to eat or drink while on his mission. Adversity now begins to plague Jeroboam’s house. His child dies as a judgment from Jehovah, and God’s prophet Ahijah foretells that Jeroboam’s house will be cut off completely because of his great sin in setting up false gods in Israel. After reigning 22 years, Jeroboam dies and his son Nadab becomes king in his place.
15. What events take place during the reigns of the next three kings in Judah?
15 In Judah: Rehoboam, Abijam, and Asa (14:21–15:24). Meanwhile, under Rehoboam, Judah is also doing what is bad in Jehovah’s eyes, practicing idol worship. The king of Egypt invades and carries off many of the temple treasures. After ruling 17 years, Rehoboam dies, and his son Abijam becomes king. He also keeps sinning against Jehovah, and he dies after a three-year reign. Asa his son now rules and, in contrast, serves Jehovah with a complete heart and removes the dungy idols out of the land. There is constant warfare between Israel and Judah. Asa obtains help from Syria, and Israel is forced to withdraw. Asa rules for 41 years and is succeeded by his son Jehoshaphat.
16. What turbulent events now occur in Israel, and why?
16 In Israel: Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Tibni, Omri, and Ahab (15:25–16:34). What a wicked crowd! Baasha assassinates Nadab after he has reigned only two years and follows through by annihilating the entire house of Jeroboam. He continues in false worship and in fighting with Judah. Jehovah foretells that He will make a clean sweep of Baasha’s house, as he has done with Jeroboam’s. After Baasha’s 24-year reign, he is succeeded by his son Elah, who is assassinated two years later by his servant Zimri. As soon as he takes the throne, Zimri strikes down all the house of Baasha. When the people hear of it, they make Omri, the chief of the army, king and come up against Tirzah, Zimri’s capital. When he sees that all is lost, Zimri burns the king’s house over himself, so that he dies. Now Tibni tries to reign as a rival king, but after a time the followers of Omri overpower him and kill him.
17. (a) For what is Omri’s reign noted? (b) Why does true worship fall to its lowest ebb during Ahab’s reign?
17 Omri buys the mountain of Samaria and builds there the city of Samaria. He goes walking in all the ways of Jeroboam, offending Jehovah with idol worship. In fact, he is worse than all the others before him. After reigning 12 years, he dies and Ahab his son becomes king. Ahab marries Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Sidon, and then sets up an altar to Baal in Samaria. He exceeds in wickedness all those who have preceded him. It is at this time that Hiel the Bethelite rebuilds the city of Jericho at the cost of the life of his firstborn son and his youngest son. True worship is at its lowest ebb.
18. With what pronouncement does Elijah begin his prophetic work in Israel, and how does he pinpoint the real reason for Israel’s troubles?
18 Elijah’s prophetic work in Israel (17:1–22:40). Suddenly a messenger from Jehovah appears on the scene. It is Elijah the Tishbite.* Startling indeed is his opening pronouncement to King Ahab: “As Jehovah the God of Israel before whom I do stand is living, there will occur during these years neither dew nor rain, except at the order of my word!” (17:1) Just as suddenly, Elijah retires at Jehovah’s direction to a valley east of the Jordan. There is drought in Israel, but ravens bring food to Elijah. When the valley stream dries up, Jehovah sends his prophet to dwell in Zarephath in Sidon. Because of a widow’s kindness to Elijah, Jehovah miraculously maintains her small supply of flour and oil so that she and her son do not die of hunger. Later the son becomes sick and dies, but at Elijah’s plea Jehovah restores the child’s life. Then, in the third year of the drought, Jehovah sends Elijah to Ahab again. Ahab accuses Elijah of bringing ostracism on Israel, but Elijah boldly tells Ahab: “You and the house of your father have” because of following the Baals.—18:18.
19. How is the issue of godship drawn, and how is Jehovah’s supremacy proved?
19 Elijah calls on Ahab to assemble all the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. No longer will it be possible to limp upon two opinions. The issue is drawn: Jehovah versus Baal! Before all the people, the 450 priests of Baal prepare a bull, set it on wood on the altar, and pray for fire to come down and consume the offering. From morning to noon, they call in vain on Baal, amid taunts from Elijah. They scream and cut themselves, but no answer! Next, the lone prophet, Elijah, builds an altar in the name of Jehovah and prepares the wood and bull for sacrifice. He has the people soak the offering and the wood three times with water, and then he prays to Jehovah: “Answer me, O Jehovah, answer me, that this people may know that you, Jehovah, are the true God.” At that, fire flashes from heaven, consuming the offering, the wood, the altar stones, the dust, and the water. When all the people see it, they immediately fall upon their faces and say: “Jehovah is the true God! Jehovah is the true God!” (18:37, 39) Death to the prophets of Baal! Elijah personally takes care of the slaying, so that not one escapes. Then Jehovah gives rain, ending the drought in Israel.
20. (a) How does Jehovah appear to Elijah in Horeb, and what instruction and comfort does He provide? (b) What sin and crime are committed by Ahab?
20 When the news of Baal’s humiliation reaches Jezebel, she seeks to have Elijah killed. Out of fear, he flees with his attendant to the wilderness, and Jehovah directs him to Horeb. Jehovah there appears to him—no, not spectacularly in a wind or a quaking or a fire, but with “a calm, low voice.” (19:11, 12) Jehovah tells him to anoint Hazael as king of Syria, Jehu as king over Israel, and Elisha as prophet in his place. He comforts Elijah with the news that 7,000 in Israel have not bent down to Baal. Elijah proceeds straightaway to anoint Elisha by throwing his official garment upon him. Ahab now wins two victories over the Syrians but is rebuked by Jehovah for making a covenant with their king instead of killing him. Then comes the affair of Naboth, whose vineyard Ahab covets. Jezebel has Naboth framed by false witnesses and put to death so that Ahab can take the vineyard. What an unforgivable crime!
21. (a) What doom does Elijah pronounce on Ahab and his house, and on Jezebel? (b) What prophecy is fulfilled at Ahab’s death?
21 Again Elijah appears. He tells Ahab that where Naboth has died, dogs will lick up his blood also, and that his house will be exterminated as completely as those of Jeroboam and Baasha. Dogs will eat up Jezebel in the plot of land of Jezreel. “Without exception no one has proved to be like Ahab, who sold himself to do what was bad in the eyes of Jehovah, whom Jezebel his wife egged on.” (21:25) However, because Ahab humbles himself on hearing Elijah’s words, Jehovah says that the calamity will not come in his days but in the days of his son. Ahab now teams up with Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, in the fight against Syria, and contrary to the advice of Jehovah’s prophet Micaiah, they go out to battle. Ahab dies of wounds received in battle. As his chariot is washed down at the pool of Samaria, dogs lick up his blood, just as Elijah prophesied. Ahaziah his son becomes king of Israel in his place.
22. What characterizes the reigns of Jehoshaphat in Judah and Ahaziah in Israel?
22 Jehoshaphat reigns in Judah (22:41-53). Jehoshaphat, who accompanied Ahab to the battle with Syria, is faithful to Jehovah like Asa his father, but he fails to clear out entirely the high places of false worship. After ruling for 25 years, he dies, and Jehoram his son becomes king. To the north, in Israel, Ahaziah follows in his father’s footsteps, offending Jehovah by his Baal worship.
23. What assurance and encouragement does First Kings provide with regard to prayer?
23 Great benefit is to be derived from the divine instruction in First Kings. Consider, first, the matter of prayer, which so often comes to the fore in this book. Solomon, when faced with the tremendous responsibility of kingship in Israel, prayed humbly to Jehovah in the manner of a child. He asked merely for discernment and an obedient heart, but in addition to wisdom in overflowing measure, Jehovah gave him also riches and glory. (3:7-9, 12-14) May we have assurance today that our humble prayers for wisdom and direction in Jehovah’s service will not go unanswered! (Jas. 1:5) May we always pray fervently from the heart, with deep appreciation for all of Jehovah’s goodness, as Solomon did at the temple dedication! (1 Ki. 8:22-53) May our prayers always bear the stamp of implicit trust and confidence in Jehovah, as did the prayers of Elijah in time of trial and when face-to-face with a demon-worshiping nation! Jehovah provides wonderfully for those who seek him in prayer.—1 Ki. 17:20-22; 18:36-40; 1 John 5:14.
24. What warning examples are set forth in First Kings, and why, particularly, should overseers take note?
24 Further, we should be warned by the examples of those who did not humble themselves before Jehovah. How ‘God opposes such haughty ones’! (1 Pet. 5:5) There was Adonijah, who thought he could bypass Jehovah’s theocratic appointment (1 Ki 1:5; 2:24, 25); Shimei, who thought he could step out of bounds and back again (2:37, 41-46); Solomon in his later years, whose disobedience brought resisters from Jehovah (11:9-14, 23-26); and the kings of Israel, whose false religion proved disastrous (13:33, 34; 14:7-11; 16:1-4). Moreover, there was the wickedly covetous Jezebel, the power behind Ahab’s throne, whose notorious example was used a thousand years later in a warning to the congregation in Thyatira: “Nevertheless, I do hold this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and misleads my slaves to commit fornication and to eat things sacrificed to idols.” (Rev. 2:20) Overseers must keep congregations clean and free of all Jezebel-like influences!—Compare Acts 20:28-30.
25. What prophecies of First Kings have had remarkable fulfillment, and how can remembrance of these aid us today?
25 Jehovah’s power of prophecy is clearly shown in the fulfillment of many prophecies given in First Kings. For example, there is the remarkable forecast, made more than 300 years in advance, that Josiah would be the one to rip apart Jeroboam’s altar at Bethel. Josiah did it! (1 Ki. 13:1-3; 2 Ki. 23:15) However, most outstanding are the prophecies relating to the house of Jehovah, built by Solomon. Jehovah told Solomon that falling away to false gods would result in Jehovah’s cutting Israel off from the surface of the ground and in His throwing away before Him the house that He had sanctified to his name. (1 Ki. 9:7, 8) At 2 Chronicles 36:17-21 we read how utterly true this prophecy proved to be. Moreover, Jesus showed that the later temple built by Herod the Great on the same site would suffer the same fate and for the same reason. (Luke 21:6) How true this also proved to be! We should remember these catastrophes and the reason for them, and they should remind us always to walk in the ways of the true God.
26. What stimulating forevision of Jehovah’s temple and Kingdom is provided in First Kings?
26 The queen of Sheba came from her far country to marvel at Solomon’s wisdom, the prosperity of his people, and the glory of his kingdom, including the magnificent house of Jehovah. However, even Solomon confessed to Jehovah: “The heavens, yes, the heaven of the heavens, themselves cannot contain you; how much less, then, this house that I have built!” (1 Ki. 8:27; 10:4-9) But centuries later Christ Jesus came to carry out a spiritual building work especially related to the restoration of true worship at Jehovah’s great spiritual temple. (Heb. 8:1-5; 9:2-10, 23) To this one, greater than Solomon, Jehovah’s promise holds true: “I also shall indeed establish the throne of your kingdom over Israel to time indefinite.” (1 Ki. 9:5; Matt. 1:1, 6, 7, 16; 12:42; Luke 1:32) First Kings provides a stimulating forevision of the glory of Jehovah’s spiritual temple and of the prosperity, rejoicing, and delightsome happiness of all who come to live under the wise rule of Jehovah’s Kingdom by Christ Jesus. Our appreciation of the importance of true worship and of Jehovah’s wonderful provision of his Kingdom by the Seed continues to grow!
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, 1988, edited by G. W. Bromiley, page 648.