The division of 1 and 2 Kings is rather artificial (it was introduced in the LXX), and it is best to regard them as a single work. Indeed, the separation of Kings from 1 and 2 Samuel is similarly arbitrary. 1 and 2 Kings cover the period of time from Solomon to the Exile (about 4 centuries), and trace the cyclical rise and fall of successive states and their leaders. They are assumed to have been written around the middle of the 6th cent. BC, since there is no mention of the 2nd temple, nor of the Persian invasion.
One of the author’s main purposes is to explain the exile in terms of the repeated failure of successive kings to remain faithful to Jehovah.
The writer pays little attention to the political significance of the various kings, preferring to focus on their religious strengths and weaknesses. Contemporary events in the ancient Near East are mentioned only insofar as they relate to the author’s concern.
‘Although the author does not write a complete history of Israel, he does provide a theological commentary on Israel’s history. Even social and humanitarian concerns found in concurrent prophetic writings are not found here. Often, leaders who had relatively little political importance are featured as main characters (e.g., Ahaziah, Athaliah), while a struggle that did not effectively alter the international scene (e.g., Moab versus Israel, 1 Kings 3) is featured as of great importance. Judgments abound in standard statements, signifying that the author sees a pattern in the events, but not that he manufactures the events discussed in his work.’ (EDBT)
The following theological emphases emerge:-
1. Divine judgement. One of the purposes of Kings is to explain how the exile came about. It might have been thought the exile occurred as a result of God’s inability to control the surrounding nations. Kings makes it clear that the destruction of Jerusalem, the dissolution of the monarchy, and the deportation all occurred as a result of divine judgement, not divine weakness. ‘Using a lawsuit motif following the breach of covenant law (see 2 Kings 17:20-23), the writer of Kings presents an explanation of history that shows that their tragedy was a product of God’s judgment, not his weakness. God’s intentions can be deduced from the course of events (e.g., 1 Kings 9:6-9). This is an apparently unique explanation for a national tragedy, at least in comparison with that of the surrounding nations, which normally concluded that their god(s) had abandoned them in times of national crisis.’ (EDBT)
2. The Davidic Succession. Israel’s first two kings, Saul and David, had been chosen through divinely gifted and authorised prophets. Now that dynastic succession had been established, more attention is paid to human factors and actions. But still God’s overuling providence is perceived. ‘Although there is less emphasis on direct divine intervention, the author still shows a deep faith in providence. In fact, one of the great theological contributions of Kings is to emphasize the working of God in the Solomonic succession, not through direct divine intervention, miracles, prophets, or sacred institutions, but through ordinary personalities and individuals working in the secular sphere.’ (EDBT)
3. The Temple and Jerusalem. Preparations for the Solomonic temple feature largely in 1 Kings 5-8. Until the establishment of the temple, worship of God was not localised to one place. But now, the sole legitimacy of the Temple is asserted, in contrast to the various shrines and high places. The Temple in Jerusalem is the holy place of God’s choice.
4. The Fulfilment of Prophecy. The prophets had a high standing in the period of the kings. Their words were given equal status with the Torah, to which they often alluded. In addition to Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah also features prominently, 2 King 19. Jeremiah is not mentioned; however, an affinity between the language of Kings and that of Jeremiah as been noted, such that the author of Kings may have been a disciple of the great prophet.
5. The Loyalty of the Monarchy to Jehovah. This is the great criterion against which the kings are evaluated. They are assessed against the Deuteronomic code (Deut 27-28), and against their ability to stand against Canaanite religion. The kings of Israel were generally criticised for ‘walking in the ways of Jeroboam’ (the first king of divided Israel). As far as the kings of Judah are concerned, the reforms of Josiah are singled out for commendation, while Mannasseh is presented as the great villain and cause of the nation’s downfall.
6. The Davidic Promise. Over and above the message of condemnation and judgement, the message of hope and promise stands out. God is faithful to his covenant. There is room for repentance. There is a future (in the form of restoration) even beyond the exile.
7. Theology of History. It would be easy to assume that the author was interested primarily in cultic purity, the faithfulness of the monarchy, and in the centralisation of worship. But running through these themes is the deeper theme of God’s sovereignty in history. The author is interested not in neutral ‘objective’ history, but in interpretative salvation history. Beyond all the human actors can be discerned the actions of the God of history.
‘Although there is plenty of emphasis on the fact that faithfulness brings blessing and faithlessness judgment, there is more to the writer’s theology than a cause-and-effect connection between actions and consequences. God’s freedom produces surprising turns of events. For example, Israel was not destroyed in the time of Jehoahaz, not because its kings showed signs of improvement but simply because God chose to show Israel mercy and grace (2 Ki. 13:4-6, 22-23; 14:26-27). But God’s freedom is not only freedom to exercise mercy. His determination to destroy Judah remained fixed in spite of Josiah’s unquestioned piety and far-reaching religious reforms. God’s freedom means that he cannot be manipulated by human beings. It is not the behaviour of kings which shapes history but the sovereign will of God.
It is partly this emphasis on God’s freedom that holds out some hope for Judah at the end of 2 Kings. Because God is free to act as he pleases, exile may not be his final word. But hope also exists because, as the writer reminds the exiles, if God’s people repent and seek him, he may forgive them and cause their conquerors to show them mercy (1 Ki. 8:46-51). The book is never any more explicit than this in suggesting what may lie beyond exile. There is no promise of a return to the land, nor of a restoration of the Davidic dynasty. (What hope could be pinned on the latter anyway, following its catastrophic failure to bring salvation?) The Christian reader may see the dynasty finally restored in the person of Jesus, the second David, but such a hope is nowhere expressed in Kings; for that we must turn to the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.’ (NBC)
For a hint on the Christian understanding of the Books of Kings, note the following comment: ‘God is one who works out a purpose in history, and his people may use the marks of his footsteps in past history to see what he may be doing in the present.’ (NBC)