Kings

What Is the Background of 1 Kings?

Time: 20 Minutes

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The Background of 1 Kings

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Author and Date

The author or authors of these two books (1-2 Kings) is unknown. As the titles of the books indicate, 1–2 Kings describe the period of the monarchy in ancient Israel (970–586 BC), concentrating on the kings who ruled after David.

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Theme

The books show that Israel suffers again and again because of its great sinfulness (2 Kings 17:7–23; 24:1–4). Yet there is still hope for the nation, because God’s chosen family of kings has not come to an end (2 Kings 25:27–30), and God remains ready to forgive those who repent (1 Kings 8:22–61).

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Purpose, Occasion, and Background

The fall of Jerusalem to Babylon in 586 BC raised several questions: Was Israel’s God not in fact in control of history, as Moses had claimed? If the God of Moses did exist, and was good
and all-powerful, how was it that God’s chosen city and temple had been destroyed, and his chosen royal family had all but come to its end?

The books of Kings respond to such questions, explaining why Israel was defeated. Israel’s God is indeed in control of nature and history. There are no other true gods anywhere. It is this good and all-powerful God who has overseen the destruction of his chosen city and his temple, and Israel’s exile to Babylon. Israel’s sin has caused these punishments.

After the division of the kingdom, the northern kingdom of Israel lasted slightly more than 200 years (931–722 BC), with 19 different kings, all of whom were wicked. The southern kingdom of Judah had the same number of kings, but many of them were good, and Judah lasted almost 150 years longer (931–586 BC). Toward the end of Judah’s monarchy came two of its best kings: Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:1–20:21) and Josiah (2 Kings 22:1–23:30). Yet the people still rebelled against the Lord, and Judah, like Israel, eventually went into exile as punishment for its sin. But hope remained, for God’s chosen royal line had not come to a complete end (2 Kings 25:27–30), and God remained ready to forgive those who repented.

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Key Themes

1. Yahweh Is the Only True God, and He Controls Nature

There is only one living God, and he is the Lord. He alone controls the natural order (1 Kings 17–19; 2 Kings 1:2–17; 4:8–37; 5:1–18; 6:1–7, 27).

2. Yahweh Controls History

The Lord rules over the past, present, and future. He alone controls the historical process (1 Kings 11:14, 23; 14:1–18; 22:1–38; 2 Kings 5:1–18; 10:32–33; 18:17–19:37).

3. Yahweh Demands Exclusive Worship

As the only God, the Lord demands exclusive worship. He alone will be worshiped, by Israelite and foreigner alike (1 Kings 8:41–43, 60; 2 Kings 5:15–18; 17:24–41).

4. The Content and Place of True Worship

Much of 1–2 Kings is concerned with exposing false religion. It speaks out against the content of false worship (1 Kings 11:1–40; 12:25–13:34; 14:22–24; 16:29–33; 2 Kings 16:1–4; 17:7–23; 21:1–9). It also exposes the wrongful place of such false worship (1 Kings 3:2; 5:1–9:9; 15:14; 22:43; 2 Kings 18:4; 23:1–20).

5. The Consequences of False Worship

True worship of God includes obedience to the law of God. The worship of something other than God always leads to mistreating other people.

6. Yahweh Is the Just and Gracious Lawgiver

The Lord gave the law, which defines true worship, right thinking, and correct behavior. The Lord is also the one who punishes wrongdoers.

7. Yahweh Is the Promise-Giver

Israel’s God is a promise-giver. The divine promises given to the patriarchs and to David are an important theme in 1–2 Kings.

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1 Kings Outline

I. The Reign of King Solomon (1:1–11:43)
II. The Kingdom Is Divided (12:1–14:31)
III. Abijam and Asa (15:1–24)
IV. From Nadab to Ahab (15:25–16:34)
V. Elijah and Ahab (17:1–22:40)
VI. Jehoshaphat and Ahaziah (22:41–53)

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The Extent of Solomon’s Kingdom

Background of 1 Kings

 

The Global Message of 1 Kings

The books of 1 and 2 Kings record Israel’s prolonged struggle between true and false worship. From the reign of King Solomon until the exile to Babylon—a period of nearly 400 years—the prophets of God clash with the kings of Israel and Judah regarding their idolatrous behavior. Since God’s predictions about exile are eventually fulfilled, the prophets prove to have the last word over those kings who follow other gods. In this way the Lord shows himself superior over all other spiritual powers, including the false gods that so many of Israel’s faithless kings follow.

Amid the chorus of idols beckoning for the attention of God’s people both in ancient times and today, only the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ reigns supreme and deserves our trust.

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Spiritual Warfare on Mount Carmel

In 1 Kings, the sovereignty of the Lord over other powers is expressed most powerfully in the confrontation between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18). This story is frequently cited as an example of a “power encounter”—that is, a procedure for triumphing over the powers of darkness. Advocates of such approaches to spiritual warfare typically claim that power encounters are necessary to bring breakthroughs for the gospel, especially in animistic and tribal contexts. But the broader context of 1 Kings 17–18 indicates that “truth encounters” and “power encounters” always work together in proving that the Lord is superior to all false gods.

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God Usurps Baal’s Power in Sidon

God’s Fickle People

The prophet Elijah appears on the scene (1 Kings 17:1) shortly after we read that King Ahab has built a temple in Israel for Baal, the Canaanite god of fertility (16:32). This happens only a few decades after Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem and confessed, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath” (8:23). Yet Israel’s king now chooses to worship a pagan deity who must die every year in the autumn season and be resurrected to life in the spring so that the rains may come. Since the land of Israel lacked a constant water supply, each planting season brought the annual temptation for God’s people to put their hope in fertility gods like Baal.

God’s Powerful Word

Elijah’s opening words to Ahab pose a direct challenge to Baal and his supposed power: “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word” (1 Kings 17:1). Elijah declares that his God, not Baal, always lives and controls the rain. This truth will be proven through the powerful “word” that Elijah receives from God. This divine word tells Elijah to hide east of the Jordan, where he will receive miraculous sustenance from ravens by a brook (1 Kings 17:3–4). Once this brook dries up from drought, the “word” tells Elijah to go and stay in Zarephath, a town in Sidon (1 Kings 17:7–9).

God’s Surprising Ways

The land of Sidon is Baal’s home territory. But God does not call Elijah to confront Baal directly at this point, choosing instead to send him to the most unlikely person to give him food in a famine—a widow whose own supplies are about to run out. When Elijah asks her for food and water, her reply is an implicit challenge to see whether the Lord can do better than Baal: “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die” (1 Kings 17:12). Elijah reassures her that the Lord will be faithful to his “word” in providing for her (1 Kings 17:14–16), and later he raises her son from the dead—something Baal cannot do (1 Kings 17:17–24). It is amazing that Elijah’s ministry begins here in a destitute widow’s home, far from Israel, but it is in such surprising places that God’s Word is proven faithful. By first defeating Baal in Sidon, the God of Israel proves that he rules over the whole earth.

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God Defeats Baal’s Prophets in Israel

Elijah’s Proposal

In chapter 18, Elijah’s return to Israel begins with the now-familiar refrain, “the word of the Lord came to Elijah,” telling him to go to King Ahab (1 Kings 18:1). Ahab resents Elijah’s return and refuses to acknowledge the prophet by name (1 Kings 18:17) since pronouncing his name in Hebrew would undermine Ahab’s loyalty to Baal (in Hebrew, “Elijah” means “the Lord
is my God”). So Elijah suggests having a contest to settle this theological dispute once and for all: “Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets
of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table” (1 Kings 18:19). A single prophet of the Lord will confront 850 pagan prophets! Yet Elijah’s concern is more for the faith of the people, whom he challenges to make up their minds: “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). Elijah declares that the god who answers by fire is the true God (1 Kings 18:24).

God’s Victory

The people soon learn that their loyalty to Baal is misguided. After preparing the bull to be consumed by Baal’s fire from heaven, the prophets repeatedly call out, “O Baal, answer us!” (1 Kings 18:26). Nobody responds, so Elijah taunts the people (1 Kings 18:27). Baal’s prophets respond by trying harder, shouting louder, and slashing themselves in an effort to compel Baal to answer (1 Kings 18:28). But Baal is not there: “There was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention” (1 Kings 18:29). Baal is silent and nowhere to be found because the Lord alone is supreme over all pagan powers.

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Prayer in Spiritual Warfare

Dignified Faith

Many people think that prayer in spiritual warfare must be aggressive and loud. Though Elijah has mocked the prophets of Baal, his final prayer to the Lord is simple and dignified rather than obnoxious: “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word” (1 Kings 18:36). No gyrating and ritual are found here, just Elijah’s straightforward request that God would show his power. This is the quiet trust in the Lord that is called for as God’s people today all around the world engage in battling “the cosmic powers over this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:12).

Confidence in God’s Word

Such trust is generated as we hold fast to God’s Word. The divine word that sustained Elijah in chapter 17 accomplished its victory in chapter 18. The Lord answered Elijah with fire, and the people confessed, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God” (1 Kings 18:39). A steady downpour then began to fall in response to Elijah’s silent prayers for rain (1 Kings 18:42). In 1 Kings 17–18, confronting and subduing pagan powers is more about faithful prayer than frenetic ritual. Spiritual warfare according to the Bible is not a confrontation of escalating, frantic chaos but rather a firm trust in the Lord who is sovereign over all the powers. His divine Word is our anchor and confidence. Indeed, he “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3).

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