Like Samuel, the books of Kings were originally one book, separated when the Old Testament was translated into Greek. Like Samuel, we do not know the author of Kings. Also like Samuel, the most important question is: “Why was this book written?”
Though we do not have an exact date for the writing of Kings, it would have been no earlier than 560 B.C. and certainly after the death of Jehoiachin, king of Judah, a few years later.
Samuel ends with David, king of Israel. Kings picks up with David’s last years, his death (cir. 928 B.C.), and the ascension of his son Solomon to the throne. Chapters 2-11 deal with Solomon’s reign – most of it (chapters 5-8) focused on the building of the temple of God in Jerusalem . At Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam became king. Solomon’s reign had not served to unite God’s people, and at the ascension of Rehoboam, God’s people divided into two nations: a “North” (Israel), and a “South” (Judah). From 1 Kings 12 to 2 Kings 17, the story is of two nations. In 2 Kings 17, the northern kingdom is destroyed by the Assyrians. In 2 Kings 25, the end of the book, the southern Kingdom is destroyed and its people carted off into exile in Babylon.
Kings is plain: the end of these nations was the result of their rebellion against God.
The people who would have first read Kings were Jews in Babylonian exile. At that time, their kinsmen, the nation of Israel (northern kingdom), have not existed as a people for nearly 200 years. We have to wonder then why so much of the book (27 out of 47 chapters) is devoted to this long-gone nation? And why is there so much emphasis on the “prophets? (1/3 of the book is devoted to the ministries of Elijah and Elisha.) Why are the reigns of the kings so disproportionate? Omri, who founded Samaria, ruled 12 years, and was the greatest political mind of the Northern Kingdom only gets six verses. Jeroboam II, who ushered in the golden age of the Northern Kingdom gets 7 verses. Manasseh, who ruled Judah 55 years gets 18 verses. But Hezekiah, King of Judah, known for his faithfulness to God, gets three chapters.
The first recipients of this book needed to know why they live in Babylon. Kings tells them it is because of their sins, and the consequence of the sins of their forefathers. They need hope for the future. Solomon’s prayer at the temple dedication speaks of a time of exile for sin, and the possibility of return if the people will repent and turn to God (1 Kings 8:46ff). The first readers needed direction. The word of the prophets called people to holiness. No one paid attention, and destruction was the result. The Northern Kingdom was an example. The Southern Kingdom is being given a second chance. But if they do not heed the word of the prophets, their doom is assured.
As we read Kings, we need to hear its message afresh. Neither politics nor the most astute political leaders can assure peace and prosperity or thwart the judgment of God when His people stop paying attention to His direction. And not even the existence of a magnificent temple devoted to the Lord will protect them if the lives of those who worship there are characterized by rebellion and worldliness. Four chapters are devoted to the building of the temple. God burns it to the ground in one verse at the end of the book. Within one generation of the writing of Kings, the exiles will return to Judah to rebuild. Their future will be determined by their faithfulness.
So, by the way, is ours.