We have spent the last week reading the Book of 1 Kings. It is the first half of a single book that was divided when it was translated into Greek, a Bible known as the Septuagint. Together, the two books continue the history of Israel that is begun in the Books of Samuel. These two books of kings tell the history in a special way. Here the story moves back and forth between the northern and the southern kingdoms, the reports of the king of Israel and the king of Judah. This way we can always compare what is going on in the north and the south. Perhaps you have noticed the kings are introduced in different ways. The reports of the kings of Judah, the southern kings, begins with the date the king began to rule in terms of how long the current king in Israel had been ruling. We then find out the kings age, the name of his mother and an evaluation of his conduct measured against the conduct of Israel’s greatest king, David. The reports of the kings of Israel, the northern kings, begins with the date he began to rule in terms of how long the current king of Judah had been ruling. This is followed by the location of his capital, the period of time he ruled and a negative judgement of the king. As you recall, none of the kings of the northern kingdom were good and only a handful of the ones in the south were good.
1 Kings was written to complete the history of Israel begun in 1 and 2 Samuel, but there was another purpose too. The history of the nation is told through the lives of the kings and the prophets to explain the tragic history of Israel as a failure of the nation to keep the agreement its people made with God as we read in Deuteronomy. At the time when 1 and 2 Kings was first read the Northern kingdom had fallen to Assyria in 722 B.C. and the southern kingdom fell to Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The temple was burned to the ground, Jerusalem was destroyed, and Judah’s highest-ranking citizens, including the king, were deported to Babylon. To those Israelites living in exile in Babylon it must have seemed as if God had abandoned them. But God had not been unfaithful to His people. Instead, the kings have been unfaithful through their failure to obey the Lord, and they led their people astray. When we read these books, we see that each king is judged according to his faithfulness to the covenant promise.
So, we see that when a king in the southern kingdom was obedient to the laws and covenant of the Lord and walked in His ways, that king would be judged good. If a king tolerated the worship of other gods and idols and perhaps even joined in, he was judged bad. There is a larger story in these two books. Not only do we see the hard history of God’s people and their unfaithfulness to Him, the stories about the kings of both kingdoms and their faith or lack of, but we also see the continuation of the promise to save God’s people through a Messiah. The promise began in Genesis 3:15. It continued on through God’s people: Abraham to Isaac, Isaac to Jacob, Jacob to Judah and Judah to Perez. It was like a relay baton being passed from one runner to the next. We see this promise pass from Perez to Salmon, Salmon to Boaz, Boaz to Obed, and Obed to Jesse and Jesse to his youngest son David the shepherd boy. This is David who became king.
From one generation to the next, good kings to bad, The Lord kept a remnant of believers to keep the covenant promise alive and moving forward. Centuries later the savior would be born from the kingly line of David, just as God had promised. See 2 Samuel 7:1-16. History here shows us that none of these kings or their subjects deserved God’s kindness. Still, God remained faithful to them. He had made a promise and God always keeps His promises. He keeps His promises even when His people are unfaithful.
Here are some of the key chapters in 1 Kings. In chapter 3 Solomon is asked by God what he would like God to grant him, and Solomon asks for wisdom to rule God’s people. Because Solomon did not ask for things or money God answered his prayer and gave him riches and many other things as well. In chapters 6-8 Solomon fulfills David’s dream of building a temple for the Lord. David had done much of the leg work including amassing a fortune in gold, silver, brass, and precious stones. God had given David the plans for the temple and he passed them on to Solomon. In chapter 10 the Queen of Sheba visited Solomon’s court, seeking to know his wisdom, and make a trade agreement. She left Jerusalem in awe of all God had given Solomon. In chapter 11 King Solomon sins, following the worship practices of his foreign wives who worshiped pagan gods and idols. Chapter 12 began the split of the nation of Israel into two kingdoms. From the beginning the northern kingdom Israel had phony gods, phony priests, phony festivals, and phony sacrifices. They were set up to fall away from the true faith. The evil one was trying to destroy God’s covenant promise.
We also see that God sent the prophet Elijah to call God’s people to repentance. Elijah was sent to the northern kingdom. God did not give up on His people, even in their unfaithfulness. He is patient and kind, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love but even the Lord has His limits. Solomon’s kingdom was the pinnacle of Israel’s glory. King Solomon became richer and wiser than any other king on earth. 1 Kings celebrates the splendor of Solomon’s kingdom. But Solomon’s reign also illustrates the dangers of spiritual infidelity. 1 Kings warns about the results of preoccupation with luxury, fame, self, and security. His kingdom stretched from the Euphrates River to the Mediterranean Sea, Assyria in the north and all the way to Egypt in the south. This was the perfect time for Solomon. Most of the other world powers were in decline. But Solomon’s diplomacy involved marriages to the daughters of foreign kings. This was a common but dangerous way to cement alliances in the ancient Near East. Each of these foreign wives brought her own gods with her. Unlike Ruth who said where you go, I will go, and your God will be my God. These wives did not worship the one true Lord, nor did they want to. And in his old age, these wives broke through Solomon’s faithfulness and persuaded him to worship their gods and idols.
There had long been tensions between the north and south and with Solomon’s death they spilled over. God’s judgement came quickly after Solomon died. The northern kingdom was marked by political instability, royal assassinations, contests for power, and the beginning of the third dynasty founded by king Omri, one of the most powerful and evil kings in the north. The primary concern of 1 and 2 kings is the spiritual condition of Israel and as you have read, they were a sickly lot. Many would say the same thing about us today.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W