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1 Kings


1 Kings begins with the death of King David and the transition to the reign of his son Solomon, and ends with Israel divided and descending into idolatry.

1 Kings 1-3

The book opens with David being old and feeble, and a son named Adonijah taking advantage of this by claiming succession to the throne. But the prophet Nathan tells Bathsheba about this, and they manage to get David to formally name her son Solomon as David’s successor, with the help of Zadok and some others. When Adonijah and Joab realize what just happened, they run for cover, but Solomon declares that he’ll only execute Adonijah if he turns out to be disloyal.

Now David gives Solomon final advice and instructions, which include avenging those who he himself was not permitted to harm. Just because David wouldn’t strike down someone sent by God to torment him, didn’t mean Solomon couldn’t. So after David’s death, Solomon gets busy tying up the loose ends. Some try to use Bathsheba to unwittingly allow the throne to be usurped by marriage to one of David’s concubines or wives, but Solomon is already a wise man and sees right through such things.

Meanwhile, Joab has run to take hold of the altar of God as a sanctuary from Solomon, but it does him no good and he is executed for his treachery against David. The same happens to that pest Shimei, and then Solomon has secure control over the whole kingdom of Israel. He then gets busy marrying wives, starting with the daughter of Pharaoh, but he only partially re-establishes proper worship of God.

Then we come to the familiar story of how Solomon was granted extraordinary wisdom. God appears to him in a dream and asks what gift he’d like. And because Solomon asks for the wisdom to guide the nation, God grants him not only the most wisdom anyone would ever have, but also what he didn’t ask for: riches, honor, and long life. But it’s conditional; he must walk in the ways of his father David.

Then comes the first demonstration of his wisdom. Two prostitutes are fighting over a baby; one rolled over on her baby during the night and suffocated it, so she switched babies with the other woman living in the same house. So they go to Solomon to determine which woman is the real mother, and his test is hailed as ingenious. The real mother values the baby’s life over having custody, while the fake one would rather the baby die than give it back to her real mother.

1 Kings 4-7

Now the narrative moves to identifying the members of Solomon’s royal court, and just as a bit of trivia, it’s in verse 8 that we see the name Ben-Hur. It moves on to how Solomon became wealthy and famous around the world for his wisdom just as God promised, then says that he produced manuals on botany describing all sorts of plants, and on biology describing all types of animals and fish.

The construction of the temple began 408 years after Israel left Egypt, and four years after Solomon became king. From the details given, many have tried to visualize the structure, one example of which you can see here. It took seven years to complete the temple, but thirteen to complete the palace. So in addition to being politically wise, Solomon was also well-versed in the sciences and in structural engineering.

1 Kings 8-10

Finally the Ark is moved from Zion to the temple, but for some reason, by this time the Ark only contains the stone tablets. When everything is in place, a cloud of God’s glory fills the temple and Solomon proceeds with its dedication. In his long speech, we see repeated appeals for God to have mercy on his wayward people who are sure to go astray and bring disaster upon themselves. God appears to Solomon again after all this, reminding him that his continued blessings depend on continued obedience.

Now we meet the famous Queen of Sheba (or Saba), believed to have been in southern Arabia; in Mat. 12:42 she is called the Queen of the South. She comes to test Solomon’s reputation of being wise, and once more we might ask why anyone could use Biblical facts to argue that women are not credible witnesses. But even Solomon would later seem to forget this in some of his Proverbs.

She is very impressed, not only with his wisdom but also his palace, food service, and everything else. So she returns to her homeland, and that’s all scripture says about her. Some urban legends believe she had a child with Solomon, but there is no evidence of this. Then we’re told more about Solomon’s wealth, such that silver was as common as stones, and cedar as common as the local fig trees.

1 Kings 11-12

When living is easy, people drop their guard, and Solomon was no exception. All the wealth and wives in the world couldn’t satisfy him; he took wives from many nations though God had forbidden anyone in Israel from doing so. 700 wives and 300 concubines from heathen lands is just asking for trouble.

So in his old age, having abandoned his wisdom, Solomon turns to the heathen gods at least partially, and we’ve already learned how deadly compromise can be. He even sets up shrines for the detestable gods Chemosh and Milcom, among many others his wives worshiped. So God tells him that the kingdom will be torn from his family after his death. But to keep his promise to David, God will leave one tribe in his line and reserve the city of Jerusalem.

The tearing begins with the rebellion of Jeroboam, one of Solomon’s servants. But in verse 31, God says through the prophet Ahijah that God will only give him ten tribes and leave one for Solomon, so where is the twelfth tribe? We know from other passages that the southern kingdom would consist of Judah and Benjamin, but the exact number of tribes seems to have been somewhat fluid during this time, as you can see here.

So God has selected Jeroboam to rule over the northern kingdom of Israel, but Solomon tries to kill him, so he takes refuge in Egypt until Solomon’s death. Notice in verse 36 that God claims Jerusalem as his home, which is a critical piece of information in Bible prophecy. And then in verse 39 God says that he is humiliating David’s descendants, but not forever, though some erroneously believe that God abandoned his promises to David after the first century a.d.

Finally Solomon dies and is succeeded by his son Rehoboam, and when Jeroboam hears the news, he goes to Rehoboam to petition for a lighter burden than Solomon had put on the nation. Rehoboam sends them off for three days while he consults with his advisors. The older ones wisely advise him to grant this request and gain the loyalty of Jeroboam and his people. But the younger ones advise him to be even harsher, and that’s the advice he takes.

Yet this is God working behind the scenes, to complete the dividing of the nation. We see in verse 23 that God tells Jeroboam that Israel must not attack Judah, and oddly enough, he listens. But to keep anyone from thinking about defecting to his rival king, he has some golden calves made and puts one in Bethel and the other in Dan for the people to worship. You’d think he’d have some memory of how this sort of thing worked out for Aaron back in the day, but no. He also makes up festivals for the same days as the old ones, and a priesthood from non-Levites. Apostasy complete.

1 Kings 13-14

As Jeroboam was about to make a certain sacrifice, God sends a prophet to pronounce curses on the altar. God will raise up a descendant of David named Josiah, who will take the fake priests and sacrifice them on that very altar. To prove this was from God, the altar would split open and spill its ashes on the ground. The now-enraged Jeroboam stretches out his hand and yells Seize him!, but the hand shrivels up, and just then the altar splits apart as prophesied.

So now Jeroboam wants mercy, and the prophet prays for his hand to be healed. But a really bizarre event happens as the prophet returns home. God had told the prophet to not eat or drink in that place, but after he refuses Jeroboam’s offer of food, he is met along the way by an older prophet who makes the same offer, using the lie that God told him to go ahead and eat. So the younger prophet eats, and during the meal God causes the older prophet to rebuke him for rebellion. This was obviously a test, so again our lesson is to stay true to what we know God has said, even if someone with impressive credentials comes along to give new revelation.

So the younger prophet leaves, and along the way he is attacked and killed by a lion, but the lion doesn’t eat him or his donkey. Again I would ask the critics whether a story like this would be something a Jewish writer would make up. But even after all this, Jeroboam sticks to his evil ways, so his son Abijah becomes ill, which prompts Jeroboam to seek out the prophet that had told him he’d be king of Israel. He sends his wife and has her wear a disguise, but who would think a prophet wouldn’t know who she was?

So the prophet gives her the message that disaster will fall on Jeroboam and his whole family, leaving none of them to ever sit on the throne of Israel. And it will begin as soon as she sets foot in her home, because her son will die at that moment.

Before we continue, notice 14:19’s reference to the annals of the kings of Israel. Some argue that if the Bible makes reference to a body of literature, then that literature should be preserved as scripture. This is especially the case with the Book of Enoch, which incidentally is not mentioned in scripture as a book but merely a quote. So why doesn’t anyone claim that these Annals should be in scripture, and someone took them out as part of an evil plan to hide truth from us? The simple answer is that many want Enoch to be scripture, but they really don’t care about royal exploits in history. The mere mention of a source in the scriptures does not qualify a body of literature to be on the same level, so this argument should not be used to say a certain thing was taken out of the Bible.

Then we read of the death of Jeroboam, whose son Nadab replaces him, and then the text switches over to what’s going on with Rehoboam. Not surprisingly, Judah has also turned to evil, so God allows Egypt to attack them and loot the temple and royal palace. In time, Rehoboam also dies and is replaced by his son Abijah.

1 Kings 15-16

From this point on, we see that the downward spiral of degeneracy continues, but God allows the dynasty to continue only for David’s sake. Then came a king of Judah named Asa, who actually did good things, including undoing all the bad things his predecessors had done. But there was always bickering and war between the two kings as long as they lived. After Asa came his son Jehoshaphat to rule Judah, and then the text turns back to pick up the reign of Nadab over Israel. Unlike Asa, Nadab is evil, and he is eventually assassinated and replaced by Baasha, who goes on to execute all of Jeroboam’s family as prophesied. This is getting difficult to follow, but this source might help (image download). So we’ll skip over some of the kings and go to the infamous Ahab.

Ahab is made king of Judah and is very evil. He marries an evil princess named Jezebel— yes, that Jezebel— and they’re both worshipers of Baal. 15:34 briefly mentions the fulfillment of Joshua’s curse on whoever rebuilt Jericho, and then the text picks up the thread of the prophet Elijah as he encounters Ahab and Jezebel.

1 Kings 17-18

God sends Elijah to tell Ahab there will be no rain or dew unless Elijah allows it, then has him hide out at a place near a stream, where God will supply him with bread and meat delivered by ravens. But the stream dries up, so God tells him to go stay with a certain widow. It turns out that she and her son expect to die of starvation after she makes one last meal with the flour and oil she has. But Elijah assures her that if she takes him in, they will all have food to live on, and that’s what happens. But then the son becomes seriously ill, and the mother asks if Elijah only came to remind her of her sin, whatever that was. So he takes the boy to a room and begs God to heal him, which he does, so she is assured that Elijah is indeed a prophet of God.

After the famine had been going on for three years, God tells Elijah to present himself to Ahab. But the text mentions someone named Obadiah as a loyal follower of God who had hidden all the prophets when Jezebel was bent on killing them. So we only have a reference to this backstory here, and we don’t know if this Obadiah is the same as the Old Testament book by that name.

Anyway, because of the famine, Ahab had sent out Obadiah to help him find pastureland, and along the way he meets up with Elijah. He tells Obadiah to inform Ahab that he’s back, and he arranges to meet him. This is where we see the epic showdown between the prophets of Baal and the prophets of God. They all gather at Mt. Carmel, where Elijah challenges the people gathered to watch the show and decide which God they will follow.

He goes on to tell them that he’s outnumbered by Baal’s prophets 450 to 1, but each side has the same challenge: get their God to light the fire on a prepared sacrificial animal, and Baal’s prophets get to go first. The people agree that whoever’s God lights the fire wins their loyalty. So Baal’s prophets start their rituals and continue all morning without results. Elijah taunts them: Yell louder! Maybe Baal is meditating, or took a break, or went on a trip, or fell asleep.

So Baal’s prophets up their game by worshiping more frantically all afternoon, cutting themselves until their blood flows and working themselves into a frenzy. Then finally it’s Elijah’s turn. He builds an altar out of twelve stones to match the tribes of Israel, digs a deep trench around it, then has servants pour so much water over the whole altar and sacrificial animal that it fills the trench. The likelihood of the wood spontaneously bursting into flame is pretty much zero at this point.

Then at evening, Elijah prays to God to answer him, and he does by shooting down fire from the sky that consumes the animal, the wood, the stones, the dirt, and all the water in the trench! Take that, Baal. Finally the people start chanting that God is their God, and Elijah orders them to quickly seize Baal’s prophets to be executed. Once that’s done, he tells Ahab to prepare for a rainstorm.

1 Kings 19-20

Now Ahab goes home and starts moping about all this, so Jezebel sends a message to Elijah that she intends to kill him. Then as if he’s already forgotten what God just did, he runs and hides in the desert and asks God to take his life. He just lies down and falls asleep, but God’s angel comes to revive him and he travels for forty days and nights to Mt. Horeb, the mountain of God.

This is where he hides in a cave and God speaks to him and passes by the entrance of the cave. It’s also a familiar passage due to the manner in which God does so: not with a strong wind, not with an earthquake, not with a fire, but with a quiet whisper. We refer to this many times as Christians, waiting for that still, small voice instead of expecting God to shout. Being a good listener is vital.

What God tells him is to go to Damascus to anoint Jehu king over Israel to replace Ahab, and Elisha as his own replacement. And as for Elijah’s claim that he was the only prophet left, God informs him that he still had 7,000 loyal followers. So Elijah finds Elisha, who attends to him from that point on as a kind of apprentice.

God is arranging the downfall of Ahab, so he has the king of Syria march against Samaria, where Ahab was. But God delivers Israel from the first attack so they try again. Of course, God plans to deliver them again simply to prove that it’s by his power and not that of the small army of Israel. But Ahab lets the enemy king live, and God tells him it will cost him his own life.

1 Kings 21-22

Now we come to the incident Ahab and Jezebel are most known for, the one that those teaching gender hierarchy love to cite. They claim that Jezebel’s greatest sin was not necessarly idolatry or even murder, but taking the lead for her husband. From this false narrative they invent something called a Jezebel spirit, which they use to beat noncompliant women into submission. Scripture says no such thing, neither expressed nor implied. We have already seen women like Abigail and Sarah take the lead, and they are commended by scripture. Modern Christianity is more restrictive and demeaning of women than anything God ever tolerated.

It happens that someone named Naboth owns a vineyard next to Ahab’s palace, and Ahab wants it, but Naboth won’t sell it to him. So Ahab sits in his palace and pouts, and like a child throwing a tantrum, he crawls into bed and won’t eat his supper.

So Jezebel, the adult in the relationship (though an evil one), is incensed that the high and mighty king doesn’t just take what he wants. She essentially pats him on the head, tells him it’ll be all right, and goes off to take Naboth’s field herself. She gets some scoundrels to falsely accuse Naboth of cursing God and Ahab, so they haul him off and execute him, and the field is now Ahab’s to take.

But God tells Elijah to go confront Ahab as he arrives at the stolen vineyard. He informs him that in the very spot where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, they will do the same to Ahab. In addition, Jezebel will be eaten by dogs outside the wall of Jezreel.

Sometime later the kings of Judah and Israel decide to jointly attack land from the king of Syria, but they inquire of God first. However, the prophet they need to ask, Micaiah, is hated by Ahab. The two kings sit on their thrones while they wait, with all their prophets telling them what they want to hear. But when Micaiah arrives, he sarcastically tells him the same as all the other prophets, and Ahab snaps at him to cut that out and tell the truth. So Micaiah does, and he’s rewarded by being punched in the jaw by some guy named Zedekiah, then being sent to jail. Talk about shooting the messenger.

The battle begins, and an archer shoots at random and happens to hit Ahab between the plates of his armor. So he’s taken out of the battle but eventually bleeds to death, and the prophecy was fulfilled that dogs would lick up his blood. We won’t read about Jezebel’s death until 2 Kings 9.

Then the text reports that Jehoshaphat becomes king of Judah, and he’s a good king like Asa, for the most part. Then he dies and is succeeded by his son Jehoram. Meanwhile, Ahab’s son Ahaziah becomes king of Israel, but he’s evil like his parents. So ends 1 Kings.

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