What are the books of Kings about?

Last updated on June 21, 2023

Textual and historical setting

The books of 1 and 2 Kings are, in fact, one unified historical book. Whereas 1 and 2 Samuel described the lives and reigns of Saul and David, the books of Kings describe the line of kings that came after David and end with the people’s exile to Assyria and Babylon. 1 Kings starts +/- 1000 BC and 2 Kings ends “in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the year Awel-Marduk became king of Babylon”, which is about 560 BC. The books of Kings thus cover almost five hundred years of Israel’s history.

Summary of the book

The books of Kings contain much historical information. However, the author does not just list random facts but offers a clear story line that tells us how Israel as a nation failed to live according to God’s standards and was ruined by its enemies as a divine judgment on their behavior. Of course, the details are more diverse than this, and we also read about kings who did serve the Lord God. But the overall story line is sad.

Some important highlights

  • The first part of 1 Kings is about king Solomon, the son of David. He was an incredibly wise king and was appointed to build a temple for the Lord God. This building played a fundamental role in Israel’s worship and sacrificial system and is described in much detail. It was God’s dwelling place among His people. This video shows how this temple may have looked. Sadly, later in his life Solomon also introduced idols and did not follow the Lord wholeheartedly.
  • When king Solomon died, he was succeeded by his son Rehoboam. However, most of the people did not accept him as their king and the kingdom split into two: ten tribes, from then on called “the northern kingdom” or “Israel”, were reigned by Jeroboam. Only the two remaining tribes remained under the reign of David’s royal line. These two were known as “the southern kingdom” or “Judah” and contained the capital city Jerusalem with the temple.
  • To compete with Solomon’s temple in the kingdom of Judah, king Jeroboam built two new temples, one in the north and one in the south. In each temple he put a golden calf to represent God and ordained his own priests – contrary to God’s detailed instructions in the Torah (also compare Exodus 32!). In later chapters, this king is repeatedly referred to as “Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin” (e.g., 1 Kings 16:2; 16:26; 22:52; 2 Kings 3:3; 10:29; 13:2).
  • In the remainder of the books of Kings, the story alternates between the northern and the southern kingdom. Both had about twenty successive kings. In Judah, all kings descended from David’s line. In the northern kingdom of Israel, royal lines rose and fell. Each king is assessed, not by their political successes but by their faithfulness to the Lord God (or a lack thereof). This evaluation is negative for all the Israelite kings and more than half of the Judean kings.
  • The author is not the only one who assesses the behavior of the Israelites and their kings; several prophets did as well. They confronted the people with their sins and called them to repent. Stories about these prophets (including Elijah and Elisha who are the most well-known) are found in the books of Kings. However, the people mostly ignored their message.
  • 2 Kings 17 describes how the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom and the people were exiled: “And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God” (2 Kings 17:7-23). The southern kingdom had some excellent kings who tried to lead the people back to God, but they couldn’t prevent the general process of religious downfall. Finally, the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and took the people captive as well.

At the very end of 2 Kings, there is a glimmer of hope that God had not completely abandoned His people. This theme is developed further in other Bible books. You can read the books of Esther and Daniel about God’s care for His people during their exile, and the books of Ezra and Nehemiah describe the people’s return to their own country. Thus we see that the Lord God remained faithful to His promises!

Important lessons

  • The books of Kings make clear how sinful we humans naturally are. Our hearts are inclined to sin and idolatry.
  • God does not ignore sin. He does warn people and give them the chance to repent, but if they refuse to listen, judgment will come.
  • Many stories show how God cares for individuals, even when a country rejects Him. But the opposite is also true: when the people of Israel and Judah were taken into exile, faithful individuals also suffered from the consequences of other people’s behavior. This is true today as well. Christians often suffer because of others who do not believe in God (think of social exclusion, misery caused by bad leadership or persecution by governments). However, amid all this, the Lord God is with them.

Further reading

I encourage you to read the books of Kings for yourself. The stories are interesting to read, and they teach you how God deals with humans! Moreover, you can watch an introductory video by The Bible Project to help you get a clear overview.

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