First Kings—A Record of Glory and Disgrace
THE Israelite kingdom attains its greatest glory, then is divided by a political and a religious revolt, and both kingdoms thereafter repeatedly experience disgrace. This record of glory and disgrace is preserved in First Kings. According to Jewish tradition, Jeremiah compiled the account. The book itself names certain sources that were used for this purpose—“the book of the affairs of Solomon,” “the book of the affairs of the days of the kings of Judah” and “the book of the affairs of the days of the kings of Israel.”—1 Ki. 11:41; 14:19; 15:7, 23; 16:14.
The account of First Kings opens with a glimpse of the declining days of King David’s life. The bedridden king simply cannot keep warm, and so arrangements are made for him to be cared for by the beautiful virgin Abishag. Meanwhile Adonijah, evidently the eldest of David’s living sons, takes advantage of his father’s weakened state. Backed by powerful Joab and priest Abiathar, Adonijah holds a sacrificial feast to have himself proclaimed king.
SOLOMON’S ANOINTING AND HIS REIGN
The prophet Nathan’s quick intervention thwarts Adonijah’s plan. As a result, while Adonijah and his supporters are feasting, David’s son Solomon is anointed as king. Jerusalem’s inhabitants give way to such great rejoicing that the sound of it can be heard at the place where Adonijah and his supporters are banqueting. When Abiathar’s son Jonathan brings them news about the meaning of the excitement in the city, all disband in fear, and Adonijah runs to the sanctuary. There he takes hold on the horns of the altar of burnt offering, and refuses to leave until such time as Solomon gives him an oath-bound promise not to kill him. Solomon agrees to let him live, provided that Adonijah does not become a wicked plotter.
Shortly before his death, David counsels Solomon to remain faithful to Jehovah God and to take action against Joab and Shimei. It is after David’s death that Adonijah, likely at the instigation of Joab and Abiathar, asks Bath-sheba to request that her son Solomon give him the beautiful Abishag as a wife. Solomon understands this as part of a scheme for usurping the throne and, therefore, commands that Adonijah and Joab be put to death. Out of respect for the fact that priest Abiathar suffered along with his father David, Solomon does not execute him but banishes him from the priestly office. Later, when Shimei disregards the restrictions placed on his activity, he is executed. In thus ridding the realm of dangerous influence from Adonijah, Joab, Abiathar and Shimei, Solomon makes his kingship secure.
Recognizing his limitations, Solomon humbly requests wisdom from Jehovah. He is granted outstanding wisdom along with riches and glory. He displays this wisdom in handling the case of two prostitutes, both of whom claim to be the mother of the same baby boy. By commanding that the child be cut in half and divided between the two women, Solomon arouses the emotions of the real mother. This enables Solomon to identify her and to give her the baby.
During his reign the people enjoy peace and prosperity. The entire royal household lives in grand style. Produce is furnished for its maintenance from twelve districts. Based on the amount of food prepared daily, one might conclude that the royal establishment may have numbered some 15,000 or more. Solomon’s rule is also distinguished by notable architectural works, the most outstanding of these being the construction of Jehovah’s temple on Mount Moriah. At the dedication of that temple, Solomon prays in a most moving manner. Later he receives a divine revelation indicating that Jehovah has given favorable recognition to his petition. From far and wide, rulers come to listen to the king’s wisdom. Among these notable dignitaries is the queen of Sheba. Tribute in the form of gold, silver and other precious items keeps pouring into Jerusalem. So great is Israel’s prosperity under Solomon that ‘silver becomes as common as stones in Jerusalem.’ Truly the Israelite kingdom is in its golden age.
THE DISGRACE OF A DIVIDED KINGDOM
However, the glorious rule ends in disaster. Solomon’s disregarding God’s law about not multiplying wives for himself proves to be his undoing. Marriage alliances with nonworshipers of Jehovah leads to Solomon’s tolerating idolatry on a large scale. Therefore, Jehovah decrees the division of the Israelite kingdom, with only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remaining loyal to the house of David. Meanwhile, having lost Jehovah’s blessing, Solomon experiences increased troubles from marauder bands.
Through the prophet Ahijah, the Ephraimite Jeroboam learns that he is Jehovah’s choice for the kingship over 10 tribes of Israel. Jeroboam is instructed to remain faithful to Jehovah and is assured that it will then go well with him. Since Solomon seeks to kill him, Jeroboam flees to Egypt.
After Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam ascends the throne. Ignoring the counsel of older men and accepting the advice of younger men, Rehoboam declares that he will impose a heavy yoke on the nation. In fulfillment of the word of Jehovah through Ahijah, the 10 tribes then revolt and make Jeroboam their king. Next, Rehoboam prepares for war to bring the rebellious tribes under subjection, but, in obedience to Jehovah’s word through Shemaiah, drops his plans.
UNFAITHFULNESS LEADS TO DISGRACE FOR BOTH KINGDOMS
Instead of trusting in Jehovah’s promise that the kingdom would be secure as long as he remained faithful, Jeroboam institutes calf worship. His purpose is to prevent his subjects from going to Jerusalem for worship. He faithlessly reasons that political independence hinges on religious independence. Through his prophets, Jehovah declares that eventually a Judean by the name of Josiah will forcefully bring idolatrous worship to its end and that the house of Jeroboam will perish in disgrace.
The two-tribe kingdom also fails to remain loyal to Jehovah. Humiliation comes during the fifth year of Rehoboam’s reign when Egypt’s Shishak invades Judah and seizes precious treasures from Jerusalem. Additionally, both Israelite kingdoms war with each other during the reign of Rehoboam and his son Abijam. Like his father, Abijam proves to be disloyal to Jehovah. However, Abijam’s son Asa, who next attains rulership in the two-tribe kingdom, takes positive steps to clear out idolatry from the realm. But when threatened by the northern kingdom’s monarch Baasha, Asa faithlessly appeals to the Syrian king Ben-hadad for help.
Israel’s king Baasha has seized the throne by destroying the house of Jeroboam, including the reigning monarch Nadab. This fulfills Ahijah’s prophecy against Jeroboam. Baasha, however, does not reverse the plunge into idolatry begun by Jeroboam. His record, too, proves to be one of disloyalty to Jehovah. Hence, through Jehu the son of Hanani, Jehovah decrees doom for Baasha and his house. The prophecy is fulfilled when Zimri conspires against Baasha’s son Elah and annihilates the whole house of Baasha. But Zimri’s success is short-lived, as the Israelites make army chief Omri king. After ruling just seven days, Zimri commits suicide. Later, Tibni, another rival for the throne, is killed. Omri continues doing what is bad in Jehovah’s eyes and is finally succeeded by his son Ahab.
It is Ahab who makes the most shameful record of all. Besides continuing the calf worship started by Jeroboam, Ahab tolerates large-scale Baal worship to please his Sidonian queen Jezebel. Jehovah expresses his displeasure by having his prophet Elijah announce a severe drought. During the drought, Jehovah provides for his prophet, and Ahab’s efforts to find Elijah are in vain. But finally Elijah presents himself before the faithless king and makes it clear that Ahab’s support of Baal worship is responsible for the drought and famine. At Elijah’s suggestion, a test is held on Mount Carmel to determine whether Jehovah or Baal is the true God. The results of that test are decisive, and Elijah orders the prophets of Baal to be slain. Shortly thereafter a tremendous downpour brings the divinely sent drought to its end. On learning what has happened, Jezebel threatens Elijah’s life, prompting the prophet to flee to Mount Horeb.
Elijah, though, is given work to do. Jehovah sends him back to his assignment in Israel and instructs him to anoint or commission Hazael as king over Syria, Jehu as king over Israel, and Elisha as his own successor.
The murder of Naboth at the instigation of Jezebel seals Ahab’s doom. Through Elijah, Jehovah tells the king that Jezebel will be devoured by scavenger dogs and that the whole house of Ahab will perish ingloriously. This message hits Ahab very hard so that he humbles himself. Thereafter he is assured that the calamity will not strike in his day.
During his reign Ahab forms a marriage alliance with the royal house of Judah. His daughter Athaliah becomes the wife of Jehoram, King Jehoshaphat’s firstborn. Later, while in Samaria on a friendly visit, Jehoshaphat is induced to join King Ahab in warring against the Syrians with a view to recapturing Ramoth-gilead. In fulfillment of the words of Jehovah’s prophet Micaiah, Ahab does not return in peace. Despite his having taken the precaution to disguise himself, Ahab dies from a mortal arrow wound. Ahab is succeeded by Ahaziah, who continues to make a bad record for himself.
Truly the inspired account of First Kings makes it clear that, apart from faithful service to God, there can be no real glory. All who abandon true worship are bound to suffer disgrace. May we take this to heart and strive to serve Jehovah God with a complete heart.