Discovering Kings

Like the book of Samuel, Kings was written as one complete book (though our English Bible divides it into two). It provides a continuation of Israel’s history from the end of David’s reign to the middle of Israel’s eventual exile and captivity to Babylon more than 400 years later.

You can outline this book as follows:

  1. The rise and fall of King Solomon (1 Kgs 1-11)
  2. Israel divides into two kingdoms (1 Kgs 12-16)
  3. The prophetic ministries of Elijah and Elisha (1 Kgs 17–2 Kgs 8)
  4. The northern kingdom’s descent into captivity by Assyria (2 Kgs 9-17)
  5. The southern kingdom’s descent into captivity by Babylon (2 Kgs 18-25)

This book was likely written for the Israelites living in captivity in Babylon. They had been deported from their homeland and were governed by a pagan king. They probably wondered whether God would be faithful to his Word – to the promises he had made to Abraham, Moses, and David. Would his promises of future blessing be fulfilled, or had they come to an end?

Kings serves as a historical guide that shows how the word of the Lord does not fail. In fact, it shows that Israel’s captivity in Babylon had come about precisely as a result of what God had said.
In short, it was the people, not God or his words, who had failed.

Like the Jews at that time, we tend to judge the reliability of God’s word in relation to our circumstances. We may continue to sin when we don’t experience immediate punishment, or we may give up following the Lord when we face difficulties and suffering. Kings reminds us that God is always faithful to his word.

In response to this fact, God’s people – even those with leadership roles, like the kings of Israel – must trust and obey what he has said because God governs and guides his people by his prophetic word. Are you following the word of God as the supreme authority in your life today? Or are you following some other worldview or approach to daily life?

Prophecy plays a major role throughout this book.

Though God had given Israel a royal dynasty of kings to lead them, he continued to be the sovereign leader over his people. He did this by expressing his expectations to the kings and the people through the prophets.

The prophets of Israel spoke on God’s behalf, called out idolatry and injustice, and reminded the kings and the people to do what God had already said through Moses. Thanks to this dynamic, the kings of Israel never enjoyed the blanket, dictatorial authority of pagan kings. They were always accountable to God through the prophets.

Prophets appear frequently.

The term prophet occurs 122 times (only 37 times in Chronicles) and the expression “man of God” occurs 55 times (only 7 times in Chronicles).

A total of seventeen prophets are mentioned, eleven of which are named while six are unidentified. Some groups of prophets also appear: 100 (1 Kgs 18:4), 400 (1 Kgs 22:6, and a school of prophets (2 Kgs 4:38).

The ministries of two major prophets – Elijah and Elisha – dominate about twenty-five percent of the book (1 Kgs 17–2 Kgs 8). Elijah is named 66 times (to once in Chronicles), while Elisha is named 58 times (and never in Chronicles).

Perhaps most importantly, the prophets play an active role in every aspect of Israel’s monarchy. This dynamic began in Samuel with the introduction of the monarchy.

  • The leadership of the prophet Samuel (1 Sam 3:20; 28:15)
  • The ministry of the prophet Gad (1 Sam 22:5; 24:11)
  • The ministry of the prophet Nathan (2 Sam 7:2; 12:25)
  • The influence of multiple prophets (1 Sam 9:9; 10:5, 10-12, 19:20, 24; 28:6; 28:15)

This prophetic influence continued throughout the entire monarchy as recorded in Kings.

  • Installing kings (1 Kgs 1:11, Nathan with Solomon)
  • Removing kings (1 Kgs 16:1, Jehu and Baasha)
  • Dividing the kingdom (1 Kgs 12:29, Ahijah with Jeroboam)
  • Political achievements (2 Kgs 14:25, Jonah with Jeroboam II)
  • Military achievements (2 Kgs 13:14, Elisha with Joash)
  • Personal lives of the kings (2 Kgs 20:1, Isaiah with Hezekiah)

As you can see, though this book is about the kings of Israel, it’s almost as though it is about the prophets of Israel instead. In fact, it’s during the timeframe of 2 Kings that most of the OT prophetic books were written, including:

  • Amos and Hosea, who prophesied in the northern kingdom of Israel
  • Isaiah, Joel, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Jeremiah, who prophesied in the southern kingdom of Judah

Though the kings of Israel sat on the throne and ruled over the nation, they were ultimately subject to the word of God as the superior authority over them.

Prophets spoke the words of God, especially when kings disobeyed.

When the prophets spoke, they spoke the message that God had given them. This message is described in several ways throughout the book.

  • “The word/saying of the Lord” occurs 50 times (to 15 times in Chronicles).
  • “Thus says the Lord” occurs 33 times (to 12 times in Chronicles).
  • “According to the word of the Lord” occurs 19 times (and only 4 times in Chronicles).

Whenever these phrases appear, they often emphasize the authority and reliability of God’s word. They point out that things had happened or would eventually happen based upon what God had said, whether such things were blessings or judgements. They also remind us who was really in charge – not the kings of Israel or of other nations, but God.

The kings were subject to the word of God.

This emphasis throughout the book shows that the affairs of life are governed by the word of God. Things happen, whether big or small, because he says so. What’s more, they happen based upon the way that his people respond to what he has said.

Throughout the book, kings are graded (or rated) based upon their allegiance to what God had said, not upon their military victories and political success. When the writer introduces a new king, he describes them either as a king who “did right in the eyes of the Lord” or one who “did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” Other phrases also occur, such as “his heart was not loyal to the Lord” (1 Kgs 15:3).

As you read, pay attention to this rating system throughout the book. You will find that the northern kingdom had twenty kings and none of them followed the Lord. You will also find that less than half of the kings of the southern kingdom followed the Lord; eight of them did, while twelve did not. Yet even for those who did, they all fell short of perfection in one disappointing way or another.

Even the best of their kings fell short of God’s ideal, leaving Israel and the world waiting for the coming of a king from the line of David who would fulfill the word of God perfectly – this would be the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

In the end, the failure of the Jewish kings to submit to the word of God caused the entire nation to be invaded and carried away as captives by ungodly empires. The Assyrian empire captured the northern kingdom first in 722 BC. Then the Babylonian empire captured the southern kingdom afterwards in 586 BC.

Just as Adam and Eve were sent out from the Garden of Eden due to their disobedience to the word of God (Gen 3:6, 23), so God’s people (the Jewish nation) were sent out from the Promised Land due to their disobedience to his word. In fact, this happened just as Moses had prophesied centuries before (Deut 30:15-18).

The word of God provided hope for the future.

But what about the future? Was there still a future for the Jews who were suffering in Babylon? Would they get to return and have a second chance? Moses also answered this question before, indicating that God intended to return his people to the land he had given them, to strengthen and improve their relationship with him (Deut 30:4-6).

It is encouraging to see how the book of Kings ends (2 Kgs 25:27-30). It gives a brief story of something that happened at the halfway point of the Babylonian captivity. The king of Babylon released the king of Israel from prison, placed him in a seat of highest honor, and provided him with the best of care for the rest of his life.

For a book written during the captivity, this story would have offered a glimmer of hope that though Israel and her kings had abandoned God, he had abandoned neither his people nor their king(s). The opportunity to respond to his word in wholehearted obedience and submission remained.

Some Personal Applications

Follow God’s word to the end.

Don’t be like King Solomon, who followed God’s wisdom and ways at the outset of his reign but ended his life in clear disobedience instead (compare Deut 17:14-20 with 1 Kgs 10:26-11:8).

Through Moses, God has told the kings of Israel to embrace what God had said in Deuteronomy. Solomon began this way at first, but he eventually amassed a large army with thousands of horses and chariots. He also multiplied hundreds of foreign wives through political alliances and treaties.

As a result of Solomon’s gross disobedience to God’s Word, God would divide the nation into two competing nations – ten tribes called the northern kingdom of Israel and two tribes called the southern kingdom of Judah.

Fear God more than the threats of the godless world around you.

When other world powers and empires harassed and harmed God’s people, it was not because their foreign gods were more powerful, or because the nations were so overwhelming that they could not be defeated. It was because Israel had disobeyed the word of God.

Consider Hezekiah for instance. In his fourth year as king over the southern kingdom, the Assyrian empire took over the northern kingdom. Why? “Because they did not obey the voice of the Lord their God” (2 Kgs 18:9-12). After this happened, the Assyrian army turned its sights onto the southern kingdom, hoping to defeat them too (2 Kgs 18:13).

At first Hezekiah tried to protect God’s people through diplomacy. He spoke with the king of Assyria and agreed to pay a large tax to him. He even removed the silver and gold from the Temple to pay this tax! When this strategy failed, Hezekiah turned to the Lord for deliverance.

Hezekiah received words of encouragement from the prophet Isaiah (2 Kgs 19:5-7) and prayed to the Lord with a humble heart (2 Kgs 19:14-19). By standing on the side of God’s word and the prophets, Hezekiah experienced the deliverance of God rather than God’s judgement. In one night, the angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in their sleep and the rest of the army fled, leaving the southern kingdom safe for a while longer.

Do not despise prophecies. (1 Thess 5:20)

Paul wrote this piece of biblical instruction to the believers in the church at Thessalonica. He wrote this during a period when some people spoke the words of God as prophets as the apostles were writing the New Testament Scriptures.

Today, we encounter prophecy in the Bible itself – it is God’s prophecy to us (2 Pet 1:20). The believer who is committed to doing what Scripture teaches will be blessed. The believer who looks down on, gives little value, or ridicules what Scripture teaches is guilty of what the OT kings of Israel did.

Don’t be like King Ahab, who ridiculed the godly prophet Micaiah and chose false prophets who told him only what he wanted to hear (1 Kgs 22). Instead, be like King Josiah who studied the written Word of God and obeyed it wholeheartedly (2 Kgs 22:11-13; 23:1-25).

Will you consider your relationship to the word of God which has been given to us by the Old and New Testament prophets? Here is how Moses described the kind of relationship that future kings of Israel should have had with the God’s word (Deut 17:18-20).

“It shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.”

While there is no requirement given to us in Scripture as New Testament believers to write out our own hand copy of the Bible, we should ask ourselves whether we have this kind of personal, close familiarity with what the Bible says.

The weaknesses we observe in Christianity today may often be traced to a shallow and limited awareness of what the Bible says to us. If you have a deficient understanding of the Bible, then commit yourself like King Josiah to reading the Bible for yourself.

Read it carefully on a regular, even daily, basis as much as possible. As your pastor, I am always glad to hear what you are reading and am thrilled to provide you with any guidance or assistance that you need.

Also, take full advantage of the teaching ministry of your church. Come regularly on Sunday mornings, but also take seriously the opportunity learn even more in the afternoon Bible studies. If you have children, this added exposure to regular, biblical teaching is especially important for them. Don’t view it as optional – view it as extremely necessary. Do not teach your children to place a low value on studying the Bible. You (and they) need it far more than you realize.

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