The book of Kings in the Hebrew Bible is really long. It’s split into two books in our Bibles today because it wouldn’t fit on just one scroll. When you read it, it’s just a bunch of kings doing king stuff - taking power, fighting battles, solving problems and getting into trouble. It can be boring and hard to understand. This is a time in Israel’s history that can be hard to make sense of and understand. What is going on here, and why should it matter?
Consider another example for a moment, though.
The 8th installment in the Star Wars franchise - The Last Jedi - has become one of the most controversial Star Wars stories ever told. One of the main points of contention for many fans was the portrayal of Luke Skywalker, the primary hero of the original Star Wars trilogy. Some fans believed that while the original depiction of Luke Skywalker was of a young, idealistic, optimistic, and compassionate hero of faith, this new portrayal of the same character seemed to betray that history by presenting him as an old, grumpy, jaded, stubborn man who had become disillusioned with his younger idealism and spiritual passion.
Whether or not people like or dislike The Last Jedi, the unfortunate truth is that this trend of turning from idealistic young hero to bitter, resentful, perhaps even dangerous villain has played out many times in the Bible. The books of 1 Kings and 2 Kings definitely demonstrate all kinds of strange and disappointing character arcs for many of the kings of Israel and Judah. Solomon is, of course, one of the most famous ones, but there are plenty of other interesting and complex figures to discover here - characters whose behavior really put Episode 8's Luke Skywalker into perspective.
The book of Kings is no different from the grandiose adventures of Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or The Lord of the Rings, except that it’s grounded in the real world. It’s a story about a nation split into two, and the leaders of those two kingdoms either going the right way or the wrong way. It’s the story of leaders either repeating or repairing the mistakes of those who came before them.
Here are some major points that take place in this section of Kings:
- The nation of Israel is split into two separate Kingdoms - “Judah” in the Southern part of the country, consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin with Jerusalem as the Capital, and “Israel” in the Northern part, consisting on all the ten other tribes, and with Samaria as their capital city. The inhabitants of the southern kingdom became known as “Jews,” and eventually after the exile and many social changes, the inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom became known as “Samaritans.”
- This split is a bit of a disappointment - since the nation of Israel understood itself as having a purpose - promise from God that would benefit the whole world. This splitting up of their team was a setback.
- The divide between the North and South would go on having huge consequences for generations. In the time of Jesus, there was still a strong hostility between the Jews of the southern kingdom and the Samaritans living in the North.
- A big theme in this particular passage is of sons either maintaining or losing things that their father’s accomplished. Solomon built up his father’s legacy because he started off his reign seeking wisdom. But he had a serious downward spiral in his lifetime. Rehoboam started out pretty rough but got slightly better overtime.
- In spite of the failures of Solomon and Rehoboam, God remains faithful to his promises to their forefather, David. Judah is preserved for the sake of their tribal member and former King, David.
- These two split Kingdoms in the North and South go through a rollercoaster of ups and downs - good kings and bad kings. Most of them, though, are some level of bad.
- As the people continuously turn away from God, God has to keep finding ways to bring them back on track. But he always responds when they cry out for help. God demonstrates incredible patience with sinners, and always allows punishment only to bring about change and restoration.
As God’s people continuously turned away from him, he kept finding ways to bring them back on track. He responded when they cried out for help, despite their wandering. This book shows us who God is and how he demonstrates incredible patience with sinners.
This part of the Bible also has huge implications for understanding later parts. When Jesus teaches his fellow Jews not to hate the Samaritans in the Northern country - he’s dealing with a cultural divide that started centuries before, when the nation was first divided between two capitals, Jerusalem and Samaria. Understanding the reason these two groups hated each other helps Jesus’ later resolution of that hatred become even more powerful.
In Kings, bad leadership and cultural conflicts lead to a downward spiral of chaos and violence that were felt for generations. Human choices have consequences. Even today, we still find ourselves in the middle of conflict between nations and cultures, and God is still waiting for people - in the midst of the chaos - to look to him for guidance on how to do the right thing.
God chose Israel for a purpose - to be a blessing to the nations and to demonstrate His ways to them. Today, we also live for a purpose, to help the world around us and to demonstrate the way of Jesus. In a sense, the story of the Bible never ended - because it continues on with us. If we can learn from the past, we can face our present day, and learn to walk confidently into God’s future.
There are plenty of lessons to be learned from the stories of the Kings of Israel. Here are some ways you can approach the story
- Just read straight through 1 and 2 Kings, like you were reading a novel. You will likely find that just letting the story unfold, seeing the patterns, and watching successive generations struggle will be the most engaging way to approach this book.
- Try reading 1 Kings 11:14-43; 12:1-24; 2 Chronicles 9:29-12:16. Here, you can read a story that follows the downfall of Solomon and the way Rehoboam takes over a divided kingdom. Solomon disappoints God with his back-and-forth loyalty, and God vows to take 10 of the 12 of the tribes away from Solomon, but leave him Judah, Benjamin, and the city of Jerusalem - for the sake of David. This is where one of the major themes of this part of the Bible - sons either maintaining or, more often, losing the things their fathers accomplished - really comes into focus. The compare-and-contrast can often be quite interesting. While a young Solomon asked for Wisdom, Rehoboam rejects wisdom. Solomon had a downward spiral, while Rehoboam got a little bit better with time. And yet, God kept his promises to David even when situations changed. Judah was still chosen, and David’s throne was protected, even if David’s grandson was a bit of a fool.
- You might, for example, look at 1 Kings 12:16-14:20; 2 Chronicles 13, observe the political power struggles taking place, and think of some analogies those relationships have to everyday life today. Who do you admire? Who would you criticize? How do you think you would have acted if you were someone in this situation?
- Look at King Asa in 2 Chronicles 14-16; 1 Kings 15:8-16:34, and try to appreciate the steps he tried to make towards positive change for his people. Or, take a warning from his sudden and seemingly unexpected fall from grace towards the end of his life. How can someone who started out so good turn out so bad? What does that say about people, about the human heart, or about the expectations we can have for our "heroes?" Or for our own selves?