Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Introduction to the First Book of the Kings—Disruption
The books of Kings practically cover the whole period of kingly rule over the ancient people. This first book may be divided into four parts.
I. The passing of David. The days of David's feebleness created the opportunity for rebellion against him under Adonijah, in which Joab and Abiathar took part. In consequence of this rebellion Solomon was crowned before the passing of David. The last charge of David was one in which he indicated the path of safety for Solomon. It was that of absolute loyalty to God.
II. Solomon. Early in his reign came Solomon's great opportunity, both to manifest himself, and to obtain the best. His choice was characterized by great wisdom, as it revealed his consciousness of personal inability for all the work devolving upon him. He gave himself to a careful organization of his kingdom, gathering around him a company of officers of state each having his own department, for which he was held responsible. These were the days of the nation's greatest material prosperity. Directly he had set his kingdom in order Solomon turned his attention to the building of the Temple. The Temple being finished, it was solemnly dedicated. An account of the king's wealth cannot be read without the consciousness that the weaker, if not the baser side of his nature is manifested in the abounding luxury with which he surrounded himself. Suddenly the glory passed away, and in the rapid movements we behold his degeneracy and doom. At last there ended in gloom and failure a life full of promise, and that because the heart of the man turned from its loyalty to God in response to the seductions of his own sensual nature.
III. Division. Following the death of Solomon we have an appalling story of the break up and degradation of the people covering a period of about sixty years. Thus so quickly after David, the nation was steeped in idolatry, and utterly failed to bear to the surrounding peoples the testimony to the purity of the Divine Government which was the purpose for which they had been created. The throne of the chosen people was possessed by men of depraved character who came into power by conspiracy and murder. During this period there was hardly a ray of light, for although, as subsequent declarations reveal, a remnant still existed loyal to God, their testimony was overwhelmed by abounding wickedness.
IV. Elijah. With the appearance of Elijah the voice of the prophet was raised to that of national importance. From this point onward in the economy of the Divine Government the prophet was superior to the king. Elijah appeared with startling and dramatic suddenness. Without apology, he declared himself the messenger of Jehovah, and at his word judgment fell upon the people. The story of the trial by fire in Carmel is full of majesty. The slaughter of the prophets of Baal aroused the ire of Jezebel to such a degree that she sent a message full of fury to Elijah, who fled for his life. From this time of the failure of his faith he was largely set aside. The rest of the book is occupied with the story of the downfall of Ahab.
—G. Campbell Morgan, The Analysed Bible, p. 169.
The Message of the Books of Kings
These two books were originally one in the Hebrew Canon, and the division being purely mechanical, may be overlooked in our treatment of them. The historian did not, as the modern historian does, write the whole story himself. He made large use of previous writers, and incorporated their narratives into his own. From the consideration of the literary method, we pass to the consideration of the period of which the book treats. This divides itself naturally into three sections:—
I. The period of unity and splendour.
II. The period of schism.
III. The period of decay.
I. Of the first period we have the account in chapters one to eleven of 1 Kings. The greater part of this section of the book is taken up with the account of the building of the Temple. And rightly so. God's Word never spends space on what is unimportant. The life and power of Israel as a nation were bound up with the Temple. The climax of Israel's glory was reached in that hour when, on the completion of Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the Temple, 'The glory of the Lord filled the house, and the priests could not enter into the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord had filled the house'. When Solomon allowed other gods to share in the worship due to Jehovah alone, the decline of the nation had begun.
II. Of the second period we have the account in 1 Kings XII.-2 Kings XVII. This is by far the largest section of the book. The story is, on the whole, a story of declension and departure from God. First we read of the sin of schism. Then to the sin of schism was quickly added the sin of idolatry. But while this period contains a story of sin, it also contains a story of grace. To this period belongs the rise of prophecy. While, on the one hand, we see the people bent on backsliding from their God, on the other we see God, in tenderest love, pleading with His people, striving to arrest them in their downward career, and to turn them back to Himself. The books of the Kings, read in connexion with the prophets, constitute a magnificent theodicy, a perfect vindication of God's dealings with His people.
III. The period of decay might perhaps be better named the period of final judgment. Of this we have the account in 2 Kings XVIII.-XXV. This part of the history deals with Judah alone. It is the record of her life after the Northern Kingdom had been swept away. It is a story full of pathos, for it shows us God's last efforts to save His people from ruin. The opinion very commonly held, that it is the work of Jeremiah, though capable of being strongly supported, cannot be said to be proved. It was written by a man like-minded with Jeremiah, and probably under his superintendence. The literary parallels between Kings and Jeremiah are numerous and striking. From the authorship of the book, we now turn to the lessons which it has to teach us. These are two. 1. This book, the record of Israel's national life, teaches us that it is impossible to preserve a nation's life except by preserving its moral condition. 2. It is impossible to maintain a nation's morality except on the basis of religion. But what is true of the nation is true of the individual. If you would live a true life you must be right with God.
—G. H. C. Macgregor, Messages of the Old Testament, p. 143.
References.—I. 39.—G. T. Coster, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvi. p. 92. II. 14.—Ibid. vol. xxv. p. 328. II. 20.—J. M. Norton, Every Sunday, p. 321. III. 3.—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Lessons for Daily Life, p. 100. T. Sadler, Sunday Thoughts, p. 238. III. 5.—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Bible Object Lessons, p. 211. Ibid. God's Heroes, p. 118. S. Gregory, How to Steer a Ship, p. 121. F. Corbett, Preacher's Year, p. 167. III. 6-9.—F. D. Maurice, Prophets and Kings, p. 72.