Colin Lacey, Bath, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
It is all too easy to focus on the historical, archaeological and chronological debates that surround the books of Kings and to miss their powerful message. It is also possible to spend time supplementing the writer’s history with additional material from 1 and 2 Chronicles, thereby giving the impression that his work is incomplete. It is important that the reader avoids both of these dangers in the interest of seeking to capture the writer’s exercise in recording approximately 450 years of the history of Israel’s united and divided monarchy. Clearly, he had no intention of giving an exhaustive account of the events that took place during this period; therefore, he selected the material that conveyed the message he wished to impart. 1 and 2 Kings were originally one book, which was divided in two by the Greek, and then Latin translators. Indeed, in the Septuagint they were linked with 1 and 2 Samuel.
Purpose of the book
The writer intended 2 Kings to be more than purely a record of historical events. His desire was to convey a clear message to his first readers as to the reasons why they were away in exile from their homeland, and the ground upon which they could return. He did not comment on the events, but allowed them to speak for themselves, and left his readers to draw their own conclusions.
The author’s purpose in writing was five-fold.
- The underlining of the Lord’s hatred of idolatry. His message to his first readers was unequivocal, i.e., the Lord had brought judgement upon the nation, because it had turned its back upon Him and, contrary to His word, had served other gods. If they were to experience brighter days, there must be no repeat of these failures.
- Emphasizing that the word of the Lord must be central. In the dark days of apostasy following Solomon’s reign, and the consequent departure from God’s word by the kings of Israel and Judah, the voices of the prophets were increasingly heard. The phrase, ‘the word of the Lord’, appears on forty-six occasions in the two books of Kings.
- Although judgement fell on those who rebelled against His word, the historian was also exercised to display the Lord as longsuffering and gracious. At times, it can be a challenge for the reader to understand His patience with the evil of godless rulers; however, Peter’s words are apposite: ‘The Lord is . . . long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance’, 2 Pet. 3. 9. He gave even men like Ahab the opportunity to repent.
- The author was anxious to display throughout his writings, that the Lord is sovereign. It might appear at times that wicked men were in control of events and that His promises and purposes for His people had been thwarted. Idolatry swept the land and appeared to wipe out true worship of the Lord; however, nothing could have been further from the truth. There were always those in the land who had refused to compromise and bow the knee to Baal. Rebellious kings repeatedly failed to seek guidance from the Lord; yet, the word of the Lord was not bound and came to them through faithful prophets. Athaliah, the only queen of Judah, almost succeeded in destroying the royal seed in the house of David, the line from whence Christ came; nevertheless, the over-ruling hand of the Lord ensured that one son was preserved from her massacre, by being hidden in the house of the Lord for six years, 2 Kgs. 11. 1-3.
- There is strong evidence throughout the two books of Kings of the writer’s desire to emphasize the folly of the unequal yoke, e.g., the marriage of Jehoram, the son of Jehoshaphat, to Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab, 2 Kgs. 8. 16-18.
Analysis of the book
- Chapters 1 to 14: The kingdom divided – the ministry of the prophets.
- Chapter 15: The kingdom divided – decline in the northern kingdom.
- Chapter 16: The kingdom divided – decline in the southern kingdom.
- Chapter 17: The kingdom divided – death of the northern kingdom.
- Chapters 18 to 24: The last days of the kingdom of Judah.
- Chapter 25: The end of the kingdom of Judah.
Dates and historical setting of the book
The two books of Kings cover the period from the time of Solomon’s accession to the throne following the death of David up to the demise of the monarchy. During this time, the kingdom was divided into ten tribes in the north (Israel) and two tribes in the south (Judah). The second book draws to a conclusion with the overthrow of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, the double siege of the city of Jerusalem, and the carrying away of the people into exile in Babylon, 2 Kgs. 24, 25. The final event recorded is the release from prison of Jehoiachin, king of Judah, by Evilmerodach, king of Babylon, in the thirty-seventh year of the exile.
Although scholars vary as to the precise dating of the period, it probably takes the reader from the year 1012 BC up to 562 BC, a time span of 450 years. This means that the writer almost certainly assembled his material for his history during the second half of the children of Israel’s seventy years of exile in Babylon; therefore, his first readers would have been the Jewish exiles in Babylon.
Author of the book
Jewish tradition names Jeremiah, the prophet, as the author of 1 and 2 Kings. There are persuasive arguments for and against this belief. It is of interest to note the unexpected absence of his name from the part of the record in 2 Kings when he was active in the Lord’s service, i.e., during the time of Josiah and his successors. A possible explanation for this might be that, as the author, he deliberately kept his name in the background. However, the divine record is silent about the identity of the author; therefore, there is little profit to be gained from pursuing the matter further.
The book’s message for today
The New Testament writers were well aware of the value of the Old Testament scriptures for believers in this particular dispensation of God’s grace; therefore, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they frequently drew upon them and incorporated them into their writings. Paul writes, ‘For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope’, Rom. 15. 4.
‘Keep yourselves from idols’, 1 John 5. 21. Paul reminded the Corinthian believers that in spite of God’s deliverance of, and care for, the children of Israel, they turned to idolatry and other sins; therefore, they displeased Him and judgement fell upon them. He writes, ‘Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them’, 1 Cor. 10. 6, 7. A little further on he gives a similar warning, ‘Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition . . . Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry’, 1 Cor. 10. 11, 14.
Idolatry marked the lives of the children of Israel continuously during the times of the kings, and, sadly, it is still prevalent among the Lord’s people today. It might take different forms from that seen in Old Testament times, but it still has the same disastrous outcome of removing the Lord from the pre-eminent place that He demands and deserves in the lives of believers.
‘Preach the word’, 2 Tim. 4. 2. The antidote for departure remains, as it ever has, i.e., God’s word must be central. It is only when it is known and obeyed that the people of God will be kept from idolatry, and experience blessing. All too often today, the opinions of men are heard above what God has to say. Ahab, and other kings like him, never sought the Lord’s guidance directly; indeed, they preferred to live in ignorance of His word, because they knew it would tell them what they did not want to hear. The same spirit exists in the professing religious world today, where every attempt is made to discredit the truth of scripture. Paul’s question, when challenging those who were led astray by the false teaching that infiltrated the churches of Galatia, is apposite, ‘Nevertheless what saith the scripture?’ Gal. 4. 30. Ahab heard the word of the Lord, but he refused to obey it and reaped the consequences. James writes, ‘But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves’,
Jas. 1. 22. At the head of Paul’s charge to Timothy was the command, ‘Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine’, 2 Tim. 4. 2, 3.
‘For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men’, Titus 2. 11. It has been noted that the longsuffering and grace of God were seen throughout the days of the monarchy in the books of Kings, even during the deplorable reign of Ahab and Jezebel. Sadly, many of the kings treated this grace with contempt, with catastrophic outcomes for themselves and their subjects. Paul asks the challenging question of believers, ‘Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?’ The resounding answer is, ‘God forbid’, Rom. 6. 1, 2. When he writes to Titus, he explains that the grace of God that has brought salvation within the reach of all men, teaches continuously those who have received it that, ‘denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world’, Titus 2. 12. Far from treating the grace of God with contempt, or presuming upon it, as many of the kings did, it should regulate the way a believer lives.
‘The Lord reigneth’, Ps. 93. 1. The rebellious kings in Israel’s history had to learn the lesson the hard way that the Lord is sovereign, and that they were not in control of the affairs of the kingdom. In the present day, where it appears as if evil men do what they will and God is powerless to prevent them, it is a comfort to embrace the truth that God is still on the throne.
‘Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers’, 2 Cor. 6. 14. If believers are tempted to enter into an unequal yoke with unbelievers, the two books of Kings sound out a clear warning note as to the spiritual ruin that awaits them. Paul’s words apply to believers of all generations, ‘Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? . . . Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing’, 2 Cor. 6. 14-17.
The message that the writer of 2 Kings conveyed to the exiles in Babylon is, therefore, timeless. A prayerful consideration of the text will yield many important challenges to the readers of all generations. Sadly, the Lord’s people are slow to learn the lessons of the past, and therefore the same mistakes continue to be replicated among them. Like the children of Israel, idolatry, fornication, tempting Christ and murmuring are all too often to the fore in their lives, 1 Cor. 10. 7-11. Paul sounds a clear warning note about the danger of complacency, ‘Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall’, v. 12.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Colin Lacey is a retired secondary school headteacher. He travels extensively throughout the UK teaching the word of God. He has contributed to several Day by Day publications and has also written the commentaries on Judges, Nehemiah and 1 & 2 Kings for the What the Bible Teaches series published by John Ritchie Ltd.