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Books of Kings

KINGS, BOOKS OF. In the Heb. consonantal text these books were on one scroll identified as מְלָכִ֖ים, Kings. After a.d. 600 vowel points were added. The division into two books in the Heb. Bible was introduced in the first ed. of the Bomberg printed Heb. Bible published in Venice in a.d. 1516-17. Although one large scroll was sufficient for the consonantal Heb. text, the Gr. tr. with its vowels required almost twice as much space. Consequently in Gr.—and later in the Lat.—Bibles this one-vol. Heb. history appeared as two books and with the Samuel account were treated as continuous history in four volumes.

The division between 1 and 2 Kings is quite arbitrary and consequently does not reflect any significance as far as the original vol. is concerned. Since it was in one vol. in the Heb. text, this account of the Heb. kings—1 Kings 1-22 and 2 Kings 1-25—will be referred to in the singular in this article.



This volume entitled “Kings” offers an account of Heb. history beginning with the transition of kingship from David to Solomon and ending with Jehoiachin. Spanning a period of more than four centuries, c. 971-562 b.c., this historical survey portrays the Israelite kingdom in its most affluent era of political, economic, and religious achievements under Solomon. Due to Solomon’s apostasy the kingdom was divided and ultimately both were terminated in exile.

International relations are frequently delineated. With Pal. as the geographical link between the Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures there were frequent political and economic pressures on the divided Israelite kingdoms. Whereas the northern kingdom capitulated under the Assyrian advance in 722 b.c., the southern kingdom survived but ultimately succumbed to the Babylonian empire in 586 b.c. Numerous historical contacts with foreign nations have been noted in archeological findings and related to the account in the Book of Kings.

Authorship, unity, and date.

The history in the Book of Kings was distinctly religious history. The religious evaluation of each king throughout this long period of Israelite history is characteristic of the entire account. Every king in each kingdom is carefully noted although some kings have a brief account in the record. Neither from the literary nor religious perspective is there any reason to suggest a diversity of authorship.

Although no one single author could have been associated with the events spanning over four centuries, it is quite apparent that the recurrent phrases throughout are characteristic of the prophetic school identified by Burney as “Deuteronomic.” (Cf. Burney, p. 131 and p. XIII.) E. R. Thiele concurs that this “unusual type of religious history in Kings is certainly peculiar to Hebrew prophetic ways of thought and action.” (Cf. The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, p. 177.) The language used by Isaiah, Jeremiah, and other prophets as well as the language of Deuteronomy is similar to that of Kings, since the spirit of admonition, exhortation, reproof, and encouragement is common throughout.

A basic framework also appears throughout the Book of Kings concerning each individual ruler. This usually occurs in connection with the introduction and/or conclusion of each king’s reign. Normally for each of the kings of Judah and Israel the length of his reign is reported. For the kings of Judah the author usually gave the name of the queen mother and the age of the king at the time of his accession. For kings who were violently deposed, the formula is often incomplete. Such was the case with Joram the king of Israel and Ahaziah the king of Judah who were both murdered by Jehu. Likewise for Jehu the formula was missing since he was a rebel and took the throne by killing the king under whom he served as captain of the Israelite army.

As a religious history the account gives an appraisal of each king, concerning his reign and his relationship to God. The kings of the northern kingdom were all committed to idolatry, breaking the first commandment which dealt with man’s wholehearted devotion to God. Jeroboam began this idolatrous trend and his successors followed in the promotion of idolatry.

In the southern kingdom there were periodic revivals under God-fearing kings. Outstanding for their piety were Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah. Asa and Uzziah were also concerned about the religious welfare of their people. Among the most idolatrous and defiant were Jehoram, Ahaz, and Manasseh.

Since this was a religious history covering so many centuries of time, it is quite reasonable to conclude that these records were kept by the prophets. Moses, through whom Israel was established as a nation, provided a written account of Israel’s history and the divine revelation given through him. This written record by the prophet Moses was given so that future generations would have knowledge of God’s requirements. Subsequent to Moses’ time the history of Israel is recorded by authors who were sensitive to Israel’s obedience in relationship to the covenant established under Moses. In all likelihood these authors were prophets or spokesmen for God.

Since prophets apparently were active in every generation in the history of Israel it seems that the concern was that the king should conform to the written revelation given to Moses which would have been expressed in the written records. Consequently it is possible that many more prophets were engaged in keeping records than is indicated in the OT writings that have been preserved. Among those that are identified as providing written sources are the following:

the book of Samuel the seer (1 Chron 29:29)

the book of Nathan the prophet (29:29)

the book of Gad the seer (29:29)

the book of Nathan the prophet (2 Chron 9:29)

the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite (9:29)

the visions of Iddo the seer (9:29)

the book of Shemaiah the prophet (12:15)

the book of Iddo the seer (12:15)

the story of the prophet Iddo (13:22)

the acts of Uzziah by Isaiah (26:22).

That some of the prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah were intimately associated and often involved in the political affairs during their ministries is readily apparent in the books bearing their names. They were fully aware of the national and international problems and often had messages directly related to the issues confronting the king and his people.

Court recorders were not necessarily religiously inclined. This may have been esp. true when they were appointed and employed by kings who did not fear God. It seems unlikely that court recorders would have assumed responsibiilty for delineating the details of the wicked deeds of Ahab and Jezebel, Ahaz, Manasseh, and other rulers who were committed to idolatry and defied the prophets of Israel’s God.

Prophets, on the other hand, were not employed by the king nor any court officials. They were accountable to God and responsible to convey God’s messages that were in harmony with and supplementary to the Mosaic revelation and the messages of the prophets that preceded them. By this standard they evaluated the kings and would have been at liberty to record these crucial facts only if they had been active in some neutral point removed from either of the capitals of the Heb. kings.

The synchronism between the two kingdoms throughout the Book of Kings seems to favor the idea that these records were kept by the prophets. It is unlikely that court recorders would have consistently made reference to the kings of the other kingdom, esp. so when the two kingdoms were at war with each other. To the prophets, however, this would have been of significant interest since the citizens of both kingdoms were Hebrews and descendants of Abraham.

On the basis of the above considerations it seems reasonable and likely that the prophets kept the records throughout the generations of the Heb. kingdoms. One or more of these prophets living between 600-550 b.c. prob. was responsible for the final ed. of this Book of Kings in its present form. From earliest times since it was completed it seemingly has been associated with the writing of the prophets and classified with the Books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve.

Place of origin.

If the conclusion is correct that the prophets were responsible for keeping these records it seems reasonable to concur with E. R. Thiele (op. cit., pp. 174-191) that these prophetic centers were located in some of the cities in the border area between the N and the S. Here the prophets could have been engaged in such literary activities as are reflected in the Book of Kings.

Cities like Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah were teaching centers in the days of Samuel (1 Sam 7:16). During the times of Elijah and Elisha the cities of Bethel, Gilgal, and Jericho had prophetic schools where groups of prophets were educated. These cultural, educational, and religous centers consequently were not under the direct control of the state.

Since the capital cities of Samaria and Jerusalem were forty m. apart, the cities in the border area were far enough from the political centers to allow them considerable freedom from direct interference. At the same time they were close enough so that the prophets who resided in the border area had access to the news as it happened in either kingdom. Furthermore, in time of war they were not the main object of attack like the capital cities were. In time of peace they undoubtedly had vital contact with both capitals.

It is doubtful that the records kept by the prophets were widely circulated during the period in which they were written. Consequently there was not much opportunity for the kings who were in power to react to the writings or the authors in question. Normally these accounts may not have reached the royal courts unless the king was particularly friendly to the prophets. The kings who cared neither for God nor the prophets and their messages may have generally ignored the activity of the prophets in keeping the records of their nation’s history.

It is also probable that some of the prophets were primarily interested in their own kingdom and limited their literary activity to either the N or the S, reflecting the customs and interests peculiar to their native state. The developments in the other kingdom were only brought into their account when both kingdoms were involved in contemporary affairs. Representative of this approach are the Books of 1 and 2 Chronicles in which the account is primarily limited to the southern kingdom. There may have existed a number of such historical records which are now lost, but may have been used by the author who was responsible for the edition of the Book of Kings as it is preserved in the OT.

After the northern kingdom capitulated to the Assyrians in 722 b.c. the border became less important. During Josian days as the Assyrian domination diminished, the distinction between the N and the S may have been completely erased. It is during this era by about 600 b.c. that this account in the Book of Kings may have been completed and the subsequent events down to 586 b.c. added as they occured. Nothing is reported beyond that concerning the Heb. people except that Jehoiachin remained in Babylonian captivity until 561 b.c. when he was released.

Occasion, purpose, and destination.

Since the destination, occasion, and purpose are not explicitly stated in the Book of Kings the content of this vol. must be used as the basis for any suggestion concerning these matters.

The minute details given in this book seem to indicate that records were kept of the events as they happened throughout the centuries, from the time of Solomon to Jehoiachin’s release. Of primary interest was the record concerning each king in each of the Heb. kingdoms. What happened during each king’s reign is reported briefly in some instances and again extensively concerning others. Frequently other leaders who were associated with the kings are mentioned, but special attention seems to be given to the religious leaders who were influential at various times. Prophets seem to be mentioned more frequently than priests.

Since the Hebrews were God’s chosen people and as such had a covenant relationship with God it was crucially important for them what the attitude of their king was toward God. A king in Israel, unlike kings of other nations, had a stewardship responsibility to God. When Samuel anointed Saul it was explicitly stated that the king in Israel was captain of God’s inheritance (1 Sam 10:1). In his place of authority and power he was to be conscious of the fact that he was ruling over God’s people. The basic requirement of each individual Israelite was that of exclusive devotion to God (Deut 6:5). Consequently it was of vital significance whether or not the king exemplified this pattern of living in his place of leadership as head of the nation. The written copy of the revelation given through Moses was to provide guidance for the nation as well as the king. Moses had instructed the priests that a special copy was to be provided for the king’s personal use as leader of God’s people (17:18-20). Consequently as the records are kept concerning the kings of the Heb. people, the recorders or writers reflect a sensitivity to the responsibility a king had who was entrusted with the opportunity of ruling over God’s chosen people. If the king exemplified a wholehearted devotion to God, the writers frequently gave a detailed account of their activities in leading their people to conform to God’s requirements. If a king, however, led the people into idolatry, this was also noted.

Prophets are also frequently noted in this Book of Kings. Prophets, unlike kings, did not come into their ministries as spokesmen for God by virtue of being anointed or by inheritance, nor specifically take the position of another prophet when his term expired. Although priests continued in successive official positions, the Book of Kings does not provide such a list. Some of the priests are occasionally mentioned. Prophets, however, are so frequently mentioned in this record that hardly a generation seems to be without the ministry of a man who claimed to deliver God’s message.

Prophets also were crucially important in their ministry to the Heb. people. Moses had assured the Israelites that they could expect prophets after his decease. Any prophet who did not conform to the basic requirement of worshiping God exclusively was to be regarded as a false prophet (13:1-3). Throughout this record in the Book of Kings it was usually indicated concerning each prophet whether he was a God-fearing individual or not in his pattern of behavior. True prophets were directly accountable to God and some suffered martyrdom. Idolatry and its promotion provided specific evidence that a king or prophet was an apostate as far as the law of Moses was concerned.

The Book of Kings is not addressed to anyone in particular. It is reasonable to assume that those who were responsible for keeping these records were primarily concerned about providing an account of Israel’s history for future generations. The religious evaluation concerning the kings, prophets, and the people, likely was intended to serve as a warning to the readers that they should be concerned about living as God’s covenant people ought to live in expressing their love and devotion to God.

As a whole the constructive periods, when real concern was expressed to serve God, are delineated in much greater detail than the accomplishments of godless kings like Omri and Jeroboam, even though they were the most powerful kings in the Northern Kingdom. The ministries of Elijah and Elisha are given much more coverage in this record.

The concluding paragraphs concerning the northern kingdom may be indicative of the purpose of the author or authors of the Book of Kings (2 Kings 17:1-41). The Israelites had had a long succession of kings who had led the people into idolatry instead of influencing their people to serve God as outlined by Moses. Not only had the king and his people disobeyed the terms of God’s covenant with them, but they had also ignored the prophets which God had sent to them. The division of the Solomonic kingdom had occurred because Solomon himself had turned to idolatry. This division came as a divine judgment upon the dynasty of Solomon. The northern kingdom was terminated with the Assyrian captivity because the kings as well as the people had not responded positively to the warnings of the prophets who came as God’s messengers. This indictment against Israel for their disobedience to the Mosaic law and the prophets may indicate the purpose of the author or authors in warning coming generations to learn from history.


The Book of Kings, which constituted one large scroll in the collection of the sacred lit. of the Hebrews, has never been questioned concerning its inclusion in the Heb. canon. Due to its contents it always has been recognized as providing the continuing account of the Israelites subsequent to the Books of Samuel. In the Gr. and Lat. VSS the Books of Samuel and Kings were regarded as one continuous account in four volumes.

According to Josephus the canon of the Jews was completed by about 400 b.c., composed of twenty-two books which represent thirty-nine books in the Eng. VSS. Although the arrangement or order of these twenty-two volumes may not have been fixed until several centuries after the beginning of the Christian era, the Book of Kings usually was listed with the grouping identified as prophets. The fact that the name “prophets” was later identified with the Books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and The Twelve may indicate that all of these books were regarded as being written by prophets and on that basis had the recognition of being canonical on par with the books of Moses. For the prophets and their messages the Book of Kings provided the essential background. Current scholarship seems to have no knowledge of any questions propounded since the Book of Kings was written concerning its proper place in the canon of the OT.

The text.

The Heb. text of the Book of Kings has been subject to intensive study and analysis. Some of the early 20th-cent. scholars had tentatively come to the conclusion that the Biblical chronologies of the Heb. kings—which are extensively delineated in the Books of Kings and Chronicles—were notable most for their undependability. Problems of Heb. chronology were already puzzling to the devout Jews who tr. the Heb. scriptures into the Gr. language. Apparently they altered some of the numbers in the text, possibly attempting to eliminate some of the statements they considered as inconsistent. Josephus likewise reflects difficulties with the numbers in the Heb. text.

Although other systems, such as the absolute chronology of the Assyrians, were accepted as reliable, the Heb. chronologies were not recognized as trustworthy and accurate. Consequently, the text of these records in the Heb. Bible usually was approached with excessive reserve as to its dependability. The chronological features often excited severe criticism and derision in the study of the Book of Kings as well as the records in Chronicles.

The intensive scholarly analysis of the numbers of the Heb. kings by E. R. Thiele (see op. cit.) has brought about a change in attitude as far as the reliability of the Heb. text is concerned. In precisely the matters which were considered to be so inaccurate—the numbers in the text—Professor Thiele has provided evidence that they were recorded and transmitted accurately by the scribes throughout the centuries of time. Few were the errors that occurred in the process of transmission.

The suspicion that the Heb. text was inaccurate arose in pre-Christian times as is reflected in the LXX VS. This provided the basis for skepticism regarding the accuracy of the text down to modern times. Not until the 20th cent. has this criticism been negated through a better understanding and interpretation of the Heb. text. When the Heb. data in the Book of Kings is interpreted and understood in terms of the methods of dating systems used during the kingdom period of the Israelites, most of the difficulties in the text disappear. In the light of this approach the text of the Book of Kings is currently regarded as remarkably accurate and reliable.

The chronology.

Since the systems of keeping historical records in ancient times were not understood correctly, it was impossible to develop a consistent chronology for the Heb. kings during the divided kingdom era. Modern scholarship is indebted to E. R. Thiele for his intensive study in this area of OT scholarship. The fundamental principles which he developed are essential for a correct interpretation of the data given concerning the Heb. kings. These basic principles are noted briefly in the paragraphs following.

The system of counting years varied in the two Heb. kingdoms. Whereas the accession-year system—also known as “postdating” since a king counted the first full year of his reign as his first year—was used in Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia the Heb. kingdoms varied. Under Solomon the accession-year system of numbering a king’s reign was used and continued in use in the southern kingdom until the middle of the 9th cent. when possibly Jehoram or Athaliah changed to the non-accession-year system of numbering. This system of dating—also known as “antedating” by which the king counted the part of the calendar year in which he began his reign as the first year regardless of its brevity—was used in the northern kingdom beginning with Jeroboam I in 931 b.c. Shortly after 800 b.c. both kingdoms—Judah under Amaziah and Israel under Jehoash—reverted to the accession-year method of numbering the reigns of their kings

The calendar year used by the Hebrews is also crucially important when interpreting these records. The religious calendar began with Nisan in spring while the civil year began with Tishri in the fall. On the basis of the Biblical text Thiele ascertained the principle that in Judah the regnal years were dated from Tishri-to-Tishri under Solomon and continued in the historical records of the Hebrews down to the time of Nehemiah. Since specific evidence is lacking concerning the practice in the northern kingdom Thiele has demonstrated that a harmonious chronological pattern can be established when a Nisan-to-Nisan year is used for the N and a Tishri-to-Tishri year for the S. Thiele suggests that Jeroboam may have been influenced in this practice by Egyp. customs where the year at that time happened to begin in April. In this way Jeroboam conformed to Egypt and Mesopotamia in his regnal year rather than to the rival kingdom of Judah which continued under Davidic rule against which he had rebelled.

Another factor in interpreting the chronological data in the Heb. records was the question of scribal usage in referring to the kings of another kingdom. This was particularly significant when one kingdom used the accession-year system and the other used the non-accession-year system in keeping their records. Did the scribe use his own system for noting the year of a foreign ruler or that of the foreign nation involved?

The question of coregencies or interregna also is vitally important in analyzing chronological data. At times sons were made co-rulers, which then would duplicate the years during which both were living. It is only on the assumption of this practice that the references in 2 Kings 1:17 and 8:16 can be understood properly. During times of revolt and dynastic changes contending rulers might be in power in various districts at the same time. This also would account for a duplication of years in the history of the kingdom involved. Such was the case when Tibni and Ahab were both contending for the Israelite throne.

Within a kingdom there occurred changes from one chronological method to another. Although this change in method was not indicated by the scribes or authors in the Book of Kings, it has become apparent to Professor Thiele. This principle of change must be recognized in developing an accurate chronology for the Heb. kingdoms and applied as necessary.

Another important factor for an absolute chronology is the correlation of dates that can be fixed with certainty in the records of the Heb. kings. Using the data in the Book of Kings and the dating of Assyrian events also stated in the Biblical records, Professor Thiele has established the basis for an absolute Heb. chronology. Although there were frequent contacts with Egypt, Syria and lesser states, the contacts with Assyria and later with Babylon basically provided the basis for this correlation. The Assyrians used the solar year and kept records known as the eponym canon during the several centuries of the divided kingdom era.

The Biblical data that is crucially important for establishing this absolute chronology is secured from the reigns of Ahab and Jehu in Israel and Shalmaneser III in Assyria. Ahab participated in the battle of Qarqar in 853 b.c. and Jehu paid tribute to Assyria in 841 b.c., which were respectively identified as the sixth and eighteenth years of Shalmaneser III according to his records. Within this twelve year period occurred the end of Ahab’s reign, the reigns of Ahaziah and Joram, and the enthronement of Jehu in the northern kingdom. During the same period in the southern kingdom occurred the end of Jehoshaphat’s reign, the reigns of Jehoram and Ahaziah, and the beginning of Athaliah’s rule. Furthermore, the fact that Jehu in his enthronement killed both kings—Joram king of Israel and Ahaziah the ruler in Judah—at the same time provided a fixed date within the same year when both kingdoms changed rulers.

Using these fixed dates of 853 and 841 b.c., Professor Thiele has been able to develop an accurate chronology by correlating the data given concerning the Heb. kings. Going backward and accounting for all the years allotted to the kings in both kingdoms in this period, the date for the division of Solomon’s kingdom is given as 931 b.c. The terminal date for the northern kingdom is 723 b.c. and the destruction of Jerusalem which ended the southern kingdom occurred in 586 b.c. Since the Assyrian system provided modern scholarship with an absolute chronology fixed by modern astronomic calculations, the chronology for the Heb. kings can now be regarded as a sound and accurate system for dating that period of OT times.

Although this chronology of the Heb. kings is well established as a whole, some problems still remain. The notations concerning the Ahaz-Hezekiah era are still subject to intensive study by various scholars. However the chronology offered by Professor Thiele has provided a better understanding of the Heb. text of the Book of Kings.

Content and outline.

The content of this book is vitally important for the history of the Israelites in OT times. It narrates the developments from the establishment of the Davidic kingdom down to the Exile in Babylon. Although the Book of Chronicles offers a survey of the history of the Davidic dynasty, only the Book of Kings provides a continuous integrated account of the developments in both kingdoms—the northern kingdom known as Israel, and the southern, frequently identified as Judah.



The date of the Division of the Kingdom is variously placed between 983 b.c. and 931 b.c. There are difficulties in the chronology of the period; and apparent discrepancies, which may, in part, be accounted for by \"overlapping reigns,\" \"associated sovereignty,\" \"intervals of anarchy,\" and \"parts of years as years.\" These dates are only approximate.

Crucially important in the Book of Kings is the emphasis given to the ministry of the prophets. While some are briefly noted, others like Elijah and Elisha are given extensive consideration (1 Kings 17 to 2 Kings 9). Some of the writing prophets like Amos and Hosea are not mentioned in the record.

The content of this book may be outlined in numerous ways. For a brief analysis the following division may be used:

If the content is to be studied with emphasis upon the developments in the southern kingdom the outline below may be helpful:

In the northern kingdom the ruling dynasties changed frequently. During the period of its existence as an independent kingdom—931-722 b.c.—its nineteen kings represented nine dynasties. Eight of these kings were either murdered or committed suicide. The complete list of dynasties is as follows: Jeroboam, Baasha, Zimri, Omri, Jehu, Shallum, Menahem, Pekah, and Hoshea. Some of these men, however, were in power for such a brief period of time—Zimri ruled seven days—and others had no dynastic successors or were so weak that they hardly deserve listing among the ruling families. The dynasty of Jehu had the longest rule, 841-753 b.c. In considering a concentrated study of the northern kingdom the content in this book may be outlined as follows:

An analysis of the content of the Book of Kings offers an interesting study. Approximately one-fourth of this volume (1 Kings 1-11), is devoted to the forty-year reign of Solomon. The remainder accounts for nineteen kings in the southern kingdom who ruled for 345 years and for nineteen kings who ruled for 210 years in the northern kingdom.

Solomon’s reign, which significantly provides the introduction to this volume, may be outlined as follows:

Solomon inherited the kingdom established by David through a successful policy of military expansion. Under David Israel emerged as the strongest nation in the Fertile Crescent, being respected by surrounding nations and challenged neither by any powers in Egypt nor Mesopotamia.

Although David designated Solomon as his heir, his enthronement was challenged by Adonijah. With the blessing of Nathan the prophet and Zadok the priest, Solomon emerged as the sole ruler. In an attitude of humility and wholehearted devotion he prayed for divine wisdom to be granted to him in his responsibility as king of Israel. His administration is portrayed as reflecting the use of extraordinary wisdom.

Solomon built the Temple which David had hoped to construct in Jerusalem. In seven years this was completed in all its beauty through the arrangements that had been made with Hiram the king of Tyre. Divine benediction on Solomon in this effort was apparent as the glory of God filled the Temple. Solomon not only delivered the dedicatory sermon but also offered the dedicatory prayer. In this manner Solomon was divinely confirmed and recognized before his own nation as the ruler of God’s people Israel who enjoyed the acclaim as the strongest nation in the Fertile Crescent.

Brief is the information concerning the building of Solomon’s palace which was thirteen years in the process of building (1 Kings 7:1-8). The fame of Solomon gained international attention. From the political, economic, and religious perspective it appeared as though Israel had reached its zenith.

The conclusion to Solomon’s reign is clearly delineated in ch. 11. Religiously Solomon was guilty of apostasy, having succumbed to idolatry. The foreign wives whom Solomon brought to Jerusalem erected shrines to their gods in the environs of the Holy City. Tolerant of their idolatry, Solomon broke the first commandment—the covenant relationship of wholehearted love toward God. Because of this God permitted adversaries to rise in power in various parts of Solomon’s kingdom. When Solomon died these rulers asserted themselves so that the Davidic throne was acknowledged only by the little area known as the southern kingdom or the kingdom of Judah. Besides the rebellion of the ten tribes under Jeroboam there emerged strong rulers in Syria, Egypt, and other areas.

The first two centuries of the divided kingdom era are portrayed in 1 Kings 12 through 2 Kings 17. Due to the extensive accounts of the ministries of Elijah and Elisha it seems that the author of this book allots more consideration to the northern kingdom than he does to the Davidic dynasty in the S. For an analysis of this part of the Book of Kings as it relates to each of the kings, note the following:

Among the kings listed above for both kingdoms there seem to be no God-fearing kings in the northern kingdom which succumbed to the Assyrian advance in 722 b.c. The southern kingdom survived the era of Assyrian supremacy and continued to be ruled by the Davidic dynasty down to Babylonian times.

Jeroboam established the northern kingdom after the death of Solomon. Although Nadab succeeded his father on the throne for one year this dynasty was exterminated after a twenty-three-year rule (931-909 b.c.). The dynasty of Baasha was in power for approximately the same number of years and also was abruptly terminated when his son Elah was killed in 885 b.c.

While these two dynasties were ruling Israel, there was continual tension and warfare in their relations with Judah. Religiously both dynasties were committed to idolatry and ignored the warnings of the prophets who spoke of impending judgment. Militarily the northern kingdom was weak. When a religious revival in Jerusalem attracted people from the N, Baasha began to fortify Ramah which was located five m. N of Jerusalem in order to keep his people from moving S. King Asa countered this aggressive military act by bribing Benhadad, the Syrian king who captured numerous cities from the Israelites in the far N.

With the accession of Omri to the throne of Israel in 885 b.c. there came a reversal in international relations. Omri established policies of friendship with the surrounding nations. Often these were sealed by intermarriages of the royal families. Such was the case when his son Ahab and Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal the king of Tyre, were married. Trade between Israel and Phoenicia, which had commercial contacts throughout the Mediterranean world, was mutually advantageous for both. Friendly relations with Judah were sealed in the marriage of Ahab’s daughter Athaliah to Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat.

Although Omri’s reign was relatively short he established Israel as a powerful kingdom. Economically his policies brought prosperity. It was under his leadership that the city of Samaria was built and fortified as the capital city of Israel.

Religiously the leadership of the Omride dynasty left much to be desired. Not only had Israel departed from serving God, but under Ahab and Jezebel idolatry was promoted in Israel in an unprecedented manner by the erection of a Baal temple in Samaria. It was this nationalistic devotion to Baalism supported by hundreds of priests that the prophet Elijah was commissioned to challenge. As God’s representative Elijah confronted Ahab and made Israel conscious of the fact that they should serve God. The ministry of Elijah through his messages and miracles countered the royal family in their idolatry and gave the God-fearing people an opportunity to respond to God’s concern for them. In spite of Elijah’s warnings the Omride family continued in their God-defiant ways and were divinely judged in accordance with the prophet’s predictions. During Elijah’s ministry he was joined by Elisha who continued as an effective prophet under the Jehu dynasty down to the turn of the cent.

Jehu who served as an army captain in Israel usurped the throne and exterminated the Omride dynasty, killing Joram the king of Israel, Ahaziah the king of Judah, and Jezebel in 841 b.c. Jehu’s dynasty continued in power for nearly a cent. down to 753 b.c.

Coming to the throne through such a drastic revolution the policies of Israel were affected radically. The suppression of Baalism which had been introduced from Phoenicia must have abruptly affected Israel economically. With Athaliah seizing the throne in Judah, it is unlikely that friendship prevailed southward after Jehu shed so much royal blood in Samaria. About this time Hazael was enthroned in Damascus and he extended his military aggression southward taking Israelite territory and at times threatening the city of Jerusalem. In addition Jehu faced the threat of an Assyrian invasion. To avoid this Jehu sent tribute to Shalmaneser III which the Assyrian king noted on the famous Black Obelisk. Although Jehu, who ruled down to 814 b.c., was unable to establish a strong kingdom, he maintained Israel’s independent status.

After 800 b.c. Israel emerged gradually under Jeroboam II as the strongest nation in Pal. He regained the territory previously lost to the Syrians, recovered international trade and fortified the city of Samaria. Israel’s political and economic prosperity was exceeded in history only by that of the Solomonic era.

Religiously the reign of Jeroboam was marked by idolatry and indifference to the fact that the Israelites were God’s chosen people who were to maintain a covenant relationship with Him. The economic success and the religious lethargy of the Israelites during this time of prosperity are vividly portrayed in the messages of Hosea and Amos. Both of these prophets warned their people of God’s judgment awaiting them but apparently there was little response.

After the death of Jeroboam in 753 b.c. the kingdom disintegrated rapidly, weakened by internal strife and threatened by an Assyrian advance into Pal. Under a pro-Assyrian policy Menahem paid tribute to Tiglath-pileser III, who ascended the Assyrian throne in 745 b.c., but in 736 b.c. Pekah adopted an anti-Assyrian policy when he formed an alliance with Rezin in Damascus for the purpose of resisting the Assyrian advance. In 732 b.c. Rezin was killed as the Assyrians occupied Damascus, and Pekah was replaced by Hoshea who became a tributary vassal of Tiglath-pileser. Hoshea’s rebellion in 725 precipitated the conquest of Samaria in 722 whereby the northern kingdom was terminated and reduced to a provincial status in the great Assyrian kingdom.

Explicitly the account in 2 Kings 18 delineates the reasons for the termination of the northern kingdom. When Jeroboam I established the Israelite throne in 931 b.c. he was assured by the prophet Ahijah that his kingdom would be established and endure if he would exemplify a wholehearted devotion to God. Neither he nor any of his successors did so. Prophet after prophet was ignored. Divine judgment came because they had disregarded the law of Moses under whom the covenant was established and the prophets whom God had sent to warn and admonish them.

The southern kingdom by contrast had occasional periods of revival as they continued to be ruled by the dynasty of David. When Rehoboam began his reign in 931 b.c., limited to a small fraction of the Solomonic kingdom, he was also faced by an invasion by Shishak the king of Egypt. Tension with the northern kingdom and idolatry characterized the reigns of Rehoboam and Abijam.

Asa and Jehoshaphat led in one of the great revival movements in Judah by enlisting the support of priests and prophets. Both kings, however, were severely rebuked for their alliances with ungodly kings. The marriage of Jehoram, Jehoshaphat’s son, to Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, brought well nigh disastrous results. Jehoshaphat narrowly escaped with his life when he joined Ahab in battle against Syria. Jehoram and Athaliah promoted bloodshed and idolatry, and after Ahaziah their son was killed in the Jehu revolution, Athaliah promoted a bloody purge in Jerusalem that almost exterminated the Davidic dynasty as she began her reign of terror.

Under the leadership of the priest Jehoiada Queen Athaliah was executed. Weakened by internal problems and foreign pressure in the following decades, Judah did not emerge as a strong power in Pal. until the reign of Uzziah. During the time of Jeroboam’s reign in the N Uzziah developed policies that strengthened Judah internally. After Jeroboam’s death Uzziah headed Palestinian coalitions attempting to stop the advance of Tiglath-pileser III southward in 742 b.c.

When Uzziah died in 740 b.c. Jotham attempted to maintain an anti-Assyrian policy. Internal pressure brought Ahaz to the Davidic throne while Jotham was still living, reversing this policy. Ignoring Isaiah’s advice, Ahaz made an alliance with Tiglath-pileser and introduced Assyrian cult worship into Jerusalem in the environs of the Temple. Judah, however, warded off occupation by Assyria while the northern kingdom capitulated to the Assyrians.

The rest of the Book of Kings continues to narrate the developments in the kingdom of Judah. The content of 2 Kings 18-25 as related to each of the kings may be divided as follows:





Johoahaz (Shallum)—(23:31-34)

Jehoiakim (Eliakim)—(23:35-24:7)

Jehoiachin (Jeconiah)—(24:8-17)

Zedekiah (Mattaniah)—(24:18-25:7)


Hezekiah led in a very effective reform movement countering the idolatrous trends introduced by his father Ahaz. Anticipating the renewal of Assyrian aggression, Hezekiah fortified Jerusalem and prepared for enduring a siege of Jerusalem by building the Siloam tunnel. Assured by Isaiah during this crucial period, Hezekiah survived the Assyrian threats made by Sennacherib. During this period Hezekiah was also personally restored to health and his life was miraculously extended. Isaiah the great prophet who had announced God’s impending judgment upon Jerusalem assured him that this would be postponed and that ultimately the Babylonians—not the Assyrians—would take the Jews into captivity.

Under Manasseh the people of Judah reverted to gross idolatry. Even though Maansseh was temporarily taken captive he was restored to his throne so that the dynastic rule of the Davidic line continued. Amon his son ruled only two years before he was murdered.

When Josiah at the age of eight came to the throne in 640 b.c. the Assyrian power, which had in the meantime extended down to Thebes in Egypt, began to diminish. Under his reign Judah not only was relatively free from Assyrian pressure, but Josiah also had the opportunity to lead effectively in an extensive religious reform. Politically and religiously optimism prevailed under the leadership of this youthful aggressive king in Judah.

Sudden changes took place in 609 b.c. When Josiah suddenly rushed his army to Megiddo to stop the Egyptians from marching N to aid the Assyrians, he was killed. Subsequently the Egyptians enthroned Jehoiakim in Jerusalem as a tributary vassal. By 605 b.c. the Babylonians, who had previously routed the Assyrians, defeated the Egyptians and exacted royal hostages from Jerusalem as a token of Jehoiakim’s subservience. In 597 b.c. the Babylonians took thousands of Jews into exile, including their King Jehoiachin. Following Zedekiah’s rebellion, the city of Jerusalem was destroyed and the Temple was reduced to ruins by the Babylonians as the kingdom of Judah was terminated. Although the Israelites were in exile the final notation in this book indicates that their king, Jehoiachin, was released from prison by Evil-merodach, the king of Babylon.


The Book of Kings does not merely narrate the history of the Heb. kingdoms. Throughout this account there is apparent a definite theological viewpoint which is in harmony with the Mosaic revelation and the prophets who followed Moses from generation to generation.

The religious achievements of each of the kings seems to be more important than the political success. The two kings, Omri and Jeroboam II, who achieved the greatest measure of success in bringing political and economic prosperity to the northern kingdom, are allotted a very brief account in this record. Ahab and his sons were given extended coverage but this is primarily related to the ministry of Elijah, Elisha, and other prophets who represented Israel’s true religion in contrast to the idolatrous religion promoted by the kings. Other kings like Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah are given much prominence since they led in reform movements guiding their people back into a right relationship with God. Although the account in the Book of Kings offers a continuous history of the Heb. kings, the reader always is conscious of the fact that this is a religious history with a definite theological perspective.

The theological viewpoint throughout is in harmony with the Book of Deuteronomy. It may be identified as deuteronomistic without adopting the reconstructed view of Israel’s history based on the theory of the documents. Taken in its historical setting, the Book of Deuteronomy summarizes the essence of God’s revelation to Israel through Moses. God had chosen and redeemed Israel and entered into a relationship with the people in which mutual love should prevail. Exclusive devotion to God was the duty of the Israelites, and idolatry was a certain sign that this relationship did not prevail. All the evils within the nations were signs that this relationship had been broken. Throughout the account in the Book of Kings, this criterion is applied to the leaders of the Heb. people.

When David commissioned Solomon as king of Israel, the law of Moses was set before the new ruler and the elders as the standard to which they should adhere if they desired success and prosperity (1 Kings 2:3). Extensive is the account of the building and dedication of the Temple in which God was to be worshiped. When Solomon himself became tolerant of idolatry brought into the environs of Jerusalem by his foreign wives, the author explicitly narrates Solomon’s failure. The disruption of the great Davidic and Solomonic kingdom came by divine permission because of the apostasy of Solomon. Kings in succeeding generations are repeatedly judged because of their failure to serve God in accordance with the law. In the northern kingdom dynasty after dynasty was exterminated because of their gross idolatry. Although the Davidic dynasty continued in power throughout the centuries of the existence of the southern kingdom because of David’s devotion to God, the kings who were idolatrous are judged by the deuteronomic standard.

The prophets and their messages were crucially important. They were spokesmen for God and were identified as true prophets if they were in harmony with the law of Moses. Any prophet who advocated or tolerated idolatry was a false prophet. Prophets who endorsed the law of Moses and were confirmed by signs and miracles were to be accorded the same recognition as the deuteronomic revelation. The author of Kings distinctly points out that both Heb. kingdoms as well as individual kings were judged and subjected to captivity because they failed to conform to the divine instructions given through Moses and the prophets.

Israel’s history, according to the author of the Book of Kings, is under the control of God who directs the affairs of the Heb. people throughout. When the kings and their people failed to heed the warnings of the prophets judgment followed. When they listened to the prophets and turned to God in an attitude of repentance and obedience, then the impending judgment was postponed. Ultimately, however, national judgment came in accordance with the principles delineated by Moses in his final messages to the new generation of Israelites who were about to occupy the land of Pal.

Theologically the Book of Kings complements and continues the history of Israel which begins with the Mosaic revelation and its background in the Pentateuch. The Books of Joshua, Judges, and Samuel with the book of Kings provide a continuous record of the Israelites as God’s chosen people from Moses to the Babylonian exile.


C. F. Burney, Notes on the Hebrew Text of the Book of Kings (1903); J. A. Montgomery, The Book of Kings, ICC (1951); A. Bentzen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 3rd ed, (1957); S. J. Schultz, The Old Testament Speaks (1960); E. J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament, rev. ed. (1963); O. Eissfeldt, The Old Testament (1965); E. R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, rev. ed. (1965).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)




1. Purpose

2. Character of Data


1. Treatment of Historical Data

2. Chronology

3. Value of Assyrian Records

4. Plan


1. Nature of the Books

2. Sources

3. Kent’s Scheme

4. The Jahwist (Jahwist) and the Elohist (E)



I. Title.

The Hebrew title reads, melakhim, "kings," the division into books being based on the Septuagint where the Books of Kings are numbered 3rd and 4th, the Books of Kingdoms (Basileion), the Books of Samuel being numbered respectively 1st and 2nd. The separation in the Hebrew into 2 Books of Kings dates to the rabbinic Bible of Daniel Bomberg (Venice, 1516-17), who adds in a footnote, "Here the non-Jews (i.e. Christians) begin the 4th Book of Kings." The Hebrew Canon treats the 2 Books of Samuel as one book, and the 2 Books of Kings as one. Hence, both the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) read incorrectly, "The First Book of Kings," even the use of the article being (stadia) from Jerusalem, which he named Absalom’s Hand." In all probability this "pillar" was a rough upright stone--a matstsebhah--but its site is lost. The traditional Greek-Egyptian tomb of perhaps 100-200 years BC which has been hewn out of the rock on the eastern side of the Kidron valley is manifestly misnamed "Absalom’s pillar," and the Kidron ravine (nachal) cannot be the King’s Vale (`emeq).

II. Scope.

The Books of Kings contain 47 chapters (I, 22 chs; II, 25 chs), and cover the period from the conspiracy of Adonijah and the accession of Solomon (975 BC) to the liberation of Jehoiachin after the beginning of the Exile (561 BC). The subject-matter may be grouped under certain heads, as the last days of David (1Ki 1-2:11); Solomon and his times (1Ki 2:12-11:43); the Northern Kingdom to the coming of Assyria (1Ki 12:16-2Ki 17:41) (937-722 BC), including 9 dynastic changes; the Southern Kingdom to the coming of Babylon (1Ki 12:1-2Ki 25:21, the annals of the two kingdoms being given as parallel records until the fall of Israel) (937-586 BC), during which time but one dynasty, that of David, occupied the throne; the period of exile to 561 BC (2Ki 25:22-30). A simpler outline, that of Driver, would be:

(1) Solomon and his times (1Ki 1-11);

(2) Israel and Judah to the fall of Israel (1Ki 12-2Ki 17); Judah to the fall of Jerusalem (586 BC), and the captivity to the liberation of Jehoiachin (561 BC) (2Ki 18-25).

"Above all, there are three features in the history, which, in the mind of the author, are of prime importance as shown by the prominence he gives them in his narrative.

(1) The dynasty of David is invested with peculiar dignity. This had two aspects. It pointed back to the Divine election of the nation in the past, and gave the guaranty of indefinite national perpetuity in the future. The promise of the `sure mercies of David’ was a powerful uniting influence in the Exile.

(2) The Temple and its service, for which the writer had such special regard, contributed greatly to the phase of national character of subsequent times. With all the drawbacks and defacements of pure worship here was the stated regular performance of sacred rites, the development and regulation of priestly order and ritual law, which stamped themselves so firmly on later Judaism.

(3) Above all, this was the period of bloom of Old Testament prophecy. Though more is said of men like Elijah and Elisha, who have left no written words, we must not forget the desires of pre-exilic prophets, whose writings have come down to us--men who, against the opposition of rulers and the indifference of the people, testified to the moral foundation on which the nation was constituted, vindicated Divine righteousness, rebuked sin, and held up the ideal to which the nation was called."--Robertson, Temple B D, 369 f.

III. Character of Books and Position in Hebrew Canon.

The Books of Kings contain much historical material, yet the historical is not their primary purpose. What in our English Bibles pass for historical books are in the Hebrew Canon prophetic books, the Books of Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings and 2 Kings being classed as the "Earlier Prophets."

1. Purpose:

The chief aim of these books is didactic, the imparting of great moral lessons backed up by well-known illustrations from the nation’s history and from the lives of its heroes and leaders. Accordingly, we have here a sort of historical archipelago, more continuous than in the Pentateuch, yet requiring much bridging over and conjecture in the details.

2. Character of Data:

The historical matter includes, in the case of the kings of Israel, the length of the reign and the death; in the case of the kings of Judah there are included also the age at the date of accession, the name of the mother, and mention of the burial. The beginnings of the reigns in each case are dated from a point in the reign of the contemporary ruler, e.g. 1Ki 15:1: "Now in the 18th year of king Jeroboam the son of Nebat began Abijam to reign over Judah."

IV. Historical Value.

1. Treatment of Historical Data:

These books contain a large amount of authentic data, and, along with the other books of this group which constitute a contemporaneous narrative, Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, must be accorded high rank among ancient documents. To be sure the ethical and religious value is first and highest, nevertheless the historical facts must be reckoned at their true worth. Discrepancies and contradictions are to be explained by the subordination of historical details to the moral and religious purpose of the books, and to the diversity of sources whence these data are taken, that is, the compilers and editors of the Books of Kings as they now stand were working not for a consistent, continuous historical narrative, but for a great ethical and religious treatise. The historical material is only incidental and introduced by way of illustration and confirmation. For the oriental mind these historical examples rather than the rigor of modern logic constitute the unanswerable argument.

2. Chronology:

3. Value of Assyrian Records:

The Babylonians and Assyrians were more skilled and more careful chronologers, and it is by reference to their accounts of the same or of contemporary events that a sure footing is found. Hence, the value of such monuments as those of Shalmaneser IV and Sennacherib--and here mention should be made also of the Moabite Stone.

4. Plan:

The plan of the books is prevailingly chronological, although at times the material is arranged in groups (e.g. 2Ki 2:1-8:15, the Elisha stories).

V. Composition.

1. Nature of the Books:

The Books of Kings are of the nature of a compilation. The compiler has furnished a framework into which he has arranged the historical matter drawn from other sources. There are chronological data, citations of authorities, judgments on the character and deeds of the several rulers, and moral and religious teachings drawn from the attitude of the rulers in matters of religion, especially toward heathen cults. The point of view is that of the prophets of the national party as one against foreign influence. "Both in point of view and in phraseology the compiler shows himself to be strongly influenced by Deuteronomy." (The principal editor is styled RD, i.e. Deuteronomic Redactor.) The Deuteronomic law was the touchstone, and by his loyalty to, or apostasy from, that standard, each king stands approved or condemned. This influence also appears in passages where the editor takes liberties in the expansion and adaptation of material. There is marked recurrence of phrases occurring elsewhere chiefly or even wholly in Deuteronomy, or in books showing Deuteronomic influence (Burney in H D B, II, 859 f). In 2Ki 17 we have a test of the nation on the same standards; compare also 1Ki 2:3 f; 9:1-9; 2Ki 14:6; De 24:16.

2. Sources:

3. Kent’s Scheme:

Kent, Student’s Old Testament (II, chart, and pp. ix-xxvi), gives the following scheme for showing the sources:

(1) Early stories about the Ark (circa 950 BC or earlier), Saul stories and David stories (950-900 BC) were united (circa 850 BC) to make early Judean Saul and David stories. With these last were combined (circa 600 BC) popular Judean David stories (circa 700 BC) later Ephraimite Samuel narratives (circa 650 BC), and very late popular prophetic traditions (650-600 BC) in a first edition of the Books of Samuel.

(2) Annals of Solomon (circa 950 BC), early temple records (950-900 BC), were united (circa 800 BC) with popular Solomon traditions (850-800 BC) in a "Book of the Ac of Solomon." A Jeroboam history (900-850 BC), an Ahab history (circa 800 BC), and a Jehu history (circa 750 BC) were united with the annals of Israel (after 950 to circa 700 BC) in the "Chronicles of the Kings of Israel" (700 or after). Early Ephraimite Elisha narratives (800-750 BC), influenced by a Samaria cycle of Elisha stories (750-700 BC) and a Gilgal cycle of Elisha stories (700-650 BC), were joined about 600 BC with the "Book of the Ac of Solomon" and the "Chronicles of the Kings of Israel" in a "first edition of the Books of Kings."

(3) The first edition of Samuel, the first edition of Kings and Isaiah stories (before 550 BC) were united (circa 550 BC) in a final revision of Samuel and Kings.

(4) From "annals of Judah" (before 900 to 650 BC or after), temple records (before 850 to after 650 BC), and a Hezekiah history (circa 650 BC), was drawn material for the "Chronicles of the kings of Judah" (circa 600 BC).

(5) From this last work and the final revision of Samuel and Kings was taken material for a "Midhrash of the Book of the kings of Israel and Judah" (circa 300 BC), and from this work, the final revision of Samuel and Kings, and a possible temple history (after 400)--itself from the final revision of Samuel and Kings--came the Books of Chronciles (circa 250 BC).

4. The Jahwist (Jahwist) and the Elohist (E):

The distinctions between the great documents of the Pentateuch do not appear so clearly here. The summary, "epitome") is the work of a Jewish redactor; the longer narratives (e.g. 1Ki 17-2Ki 8; 13:14-21) "are written in a bright and chaste Hebrew style, though some of them exhibit slight peculiarities of diction, due, doubtless (in part), to their North Israelite origin" (E). The writers of these narratives are thought to have been prophets, in most cases from the Northern Kingdom.

VI. Date.


K. Budde, Das Buch der Richter, Mohr, Leipzig; John Skinner, "Kings," in New Century Bible, Frowde, New York; C.F. Burney, Notes on the Hebrew Text of the Books of Kings, Clarendon Press, Oxford; 1903; R. Kittel, Die Bucher der Konige, Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Leipzig, 1900; I. Benzinger, Die Bucher der Konige, Mohr, 1899; C.F. Kent, Student’s Old Testament, Scribner, 1905; S.R. Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, Scribner, new revised edition, 1910; J.E. McFadyen, Introduction to the Old Testament, Armstrong, New York, 1906; Carl H. Cornill, Einleitung in die kanonischen Bucher Altes Testament, Mohr, 6th edition, 1908; A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Divine Library of the Old Testament, Macmillan, 1891.

Wallace N. Stearns

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