Title of book
In the Hebrew Scriptures the title is simply "Kings". As with Samuel and Chronicles, it was written as a single unit and divided at the time of the translation of the Septuagint (LXX), probably because the Greek took up more space than the Hebrew without vowels, so it would no longer fit on a single scroll. In the Hebrew cannon it follows Joshua, Judges and Samuel in the group called "The Former Prophets", preceding Isaiah to Malachi, which are called "The Latter Prophets". The title in the Latin Vulgate was 3 & 4 Kingdoms, with Samuel being 1 & 2 Kingdoms.
Date and author
Some have suggested that references to "this day" points to the temple still standing, (1 Kg 8:8, 9:21, 12:19, 2 Kg 8:22, 16:6). There are also references to the exile before it happened (2 Kg 13:23). The last historical event is the release of Jehoiachin, which happened in 561 BC. The tradition in the Talmud suggests that Jeremiah was the author. If Jeremiah was the author, then an editor probably finished it off.
Sources of information
The material in the books of Kings was selected from historical documents, which are now lost. Three sources are mentioned by name: The first is “The Book of the Acts of Solomon” (1 Kg 11:41), which probably contained extracts from the temple and court archives, biographical material and possibly the treaty between Solomon and Hiram of Tyre. The second is “The Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel” (1 Kg 14:19, 15:31). This appears to cover events from the reign of Jeroboam I to the reign Pekah, up to about 725 BC. It is referred to seventeen times. Chronicles are records of current events, the official record of all the significant political events during a king's reign, which were kept for safety in the state archives. These chronicles are not the same as the Biblical books of 1 and 2 Chronicles, which were written much later. The third is “The Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah" (1 Kg 14:19, 15:7), which appears to cover events from the time of Rehoboam to the reign of Jehoiakim, up to about 590 BC. It is referred to fifteen times. They were the court records kept in the royal archives in Jerusalem. It contains no reference to queen Athaliah, who usurped the throne for seven years.
Other unnamed sources were probably also used, probably including court records of the reign of David, oral or written records of the ministry of Elijah and Elisha and the other prophets mentioned in Kings.
The books of 1 and 2 Kings are not primarily history books, as they were called "The Former Prophets" in the Hebrew canon. They show God's dealing with His people as He works His purpose out through the history of salvation. They describe God dealing with His people on the basis of His covenants, giving an account of the monarchy from a theological perspective. The books of the former prophets, from Joshua to Kings, show how the principles declared in Deuteronomy are worked out in Israel's history.
The two books review the history which led up the exile in Babylon and explain why the exile happened, showing that there was ample reason for God to judge Israel and Judah because of their persistent idolatry and rebellion.
Characteristics of the books
1. After the division of the kingdom, the Book of Kings gives a reign by reign account of the history of Judah and Israel. The reigns are interwoven to give a chronological account.
2. Each king is described in a consistent pattern: "In the nth year of king X of Israel/Judah, Y began to reign in Judah/Israel". It also gives his age at accession, his mother's name, length of reign, and an assessment of his reign: "He did what was evil/right in the eyes of the Lord". Slightly different details are given for the two kingdoms: the name of the king's mother is only mentioned for kings of Judah, and kings of Israel are all shown to "walk in the sins of Jeroboam".
3. The book of Kings shows that history is determined by the behaviour of the king, whether or not the king is faithful to God, which in turn affects the people. The king's behaviour is challenged by the words of judgement and salvation from God's prophets.
4. David is considered as the ideal king and is set as the standard for measuring the other kings.
5. God's commitment to the promises to David depends on the king's and the people's obedience to the law.
6. The books of Kings gives a Deuteronomic view of history: Obedience and faithfulness to God lead to blessing, peace and prosperity, while unfaithfulness and idolatry leads to judgement
7. There is severe criticism of idolatrous kings
8. Emphasis on central worship in Jerusalem
Turning points in book
There are three main turning points in the book: The first is when the kingdom was torn from Solomon and given to his servant, and only one tribe left (Judah) (1 Kg 11:11). The second is during the reign of Jeroboam I, when judgement on northern kingdom of Israel is declared (1 Kg 14:15-16). Almost all succeeding northern kings described as following in the ways of Jeroboam (15:30,34...). The third is during the reign of Manasseh, when judgement was declared on the southern kingdom of Judah (2 Kg 21:10-15). Succeeding southern kings are described as following in the ways of Manasseh.
Place of Kings in history of redemption
The books of Kings conclude the historical narrative which starts in Genesis, focussing on the history of Israel and its origins in Egypt until the ending of its political independence by the Babylonians. 1 Kings begins with the golden age of Israel with the united kingdom in all its glory under Solomon, 2 Kings closes with the nation in ruin and the people exiled in Babylon. Israel grew to its greatest geographical extent by the end of David's reign (1 Kg 4:20, 4:24-25), and was reduced to nothing by the end of 2 Kings.
God's dealing with His people in Kings
In Kings we see God working out His relationship with His people on the basis of the covenants. The first was the covenant with Abraham, when he was promised the land (Gen 12, 2 Kg 13:23). The second covenant was the one made through Moses at Sinai and repeated in Deuteronomy. The book of Kings describes the outworking of the blessings and curses in Deut 28. For example, compare 2 Kg 17:6, with Deut 28:64, 29:25-28. The third is the covenant with David (1 Sam 7), the tale of two houses (1 Kg 11:12,36). 2 Kings ends on a note of hope (2 Kg 25:27-30), when Jehoiachin is preserved as an ancestor of the Messiah.
The compiler(s) and editor(s) of Kings were not writing a consistent continuous historical narrative, but a great ethical and religious treatise. The historical material is there to make the point. Nevertheless, there is no reason to doubt the work as historically accurate with presuppositions that accept the supernatural. Contemporary archaeology continuously affirms the truth of the records.
Emphasis and De-emphasis
The following people and events are given emphasis: establishing Solomon’s Kingdom (1 Kg 1-2), the wisdom of Solomon (ch 3-4), building and dedicating the temple (ch 5-9), Solomon's wealth and greatness (ch 9-10), Solomon's downfall (ch 11), Jeroboam’s rebellion (ch 12-14), Elijah’s ministry and conflict with Ahab (1 Kg 17 - 2 Kg 2), Elisha (2 Kg 2-13), the fall of Israel (ch 17), godly Hezekiah (ch 18-20), evil Manasseh and Amon (ch 21), godly Josiah (ch 22-23), and the exile of Judah (ch 24-25).
The reign of Hezekiah is given three whole chapters (2 Kg 18-20), because he was faithful to God, and godly Josiah given two whole chapters (ch 22-23). The short period of ministry of Elijah and Elisha occupies nearly one third of the whole book.
Other periods are only briefly summarised: six kings (1 Kg 15-16), eight kings (2 Kg 14-16). Historically, Omri was one of the most important rulers of the northern kingdom, so that for many years later Israel was known to the Assyrians as "The land of Omri". He built Samaria as the capital city and stood against the Syrians but his evil reign is dismissed in six verses (1 Kg 16:23-28). The reign of Jeroboam II of Israel was considered a golden age similar to the time of David and Solomon, but he is described in only seven verses (2 Kg 14:23-29).
Situation of the Nations around Israel during time of David
The time of the reign of David and Solomon saw Israel at its strongest. This was a time when the surrounding nations were weak, including Assyria. The Hittites had been almost destroyed, Egypt was ruled by weak pharaohs, and Syria was occupied by Israel. This demonstrates the sovereignty of God, because David obeyed the covenant, Israel was able to become the most powerful kingdom in the ancient near east at this time.
Dates of the reigns of each king
Please refer to the article named Dates of Kings in the OT Background page for suggested dates for each of the kings of Israel and Judah, as well as an explanation of the problems connected with working out the dates.