The books of Kings continue the story of kingship begun in Samuel, and their primary purpose is to record the ‘covenant failure’ of the Hebrew united and divided monarchies. Together, the books of 1-2 Kings conclude the history from its origins in Genesis with Abraham to the fall of Jerusalem. The books emphasize the importance of covenant relationship with Yahweh, and the affects of covenant faithfulness or rebellion on the Israelites.
The division between 1-2 Kings is arbitrary. It was merely a distinction created upon the premise of convenience due to the length of the writing. In regards to authorship, there are two schools of thought. The first adheres to the belief that the prophet Jeremiah compiled the work. The second believe that 1-2 Kings is the product of a Deuteronomistic school or priests who attempt to give emphasis to specific theological interests such as the purity of the temple and the fulfillment of prophetic revelation to the Hebrew kingship. Given the available evidence, they do best to assign the books of Kings to an anonymous compiler-author of the sixth century B.C.
The first chapters of 1 Kings detail the ‘golden age’ of Israel. As king, Solomon found favor in the eyes of the Lord. Throughout his reign he brought unprecedented peace, wealth and prosperity, glory and splendor to Israel during his tenure to the throne. However, towards the end of his reign, Solomon began to abandon the instruction for a king set forth in Deuteronomy 17. Solomon began to create political alliances, held a tendency toward syncretism, and gerrymandered the Israelite administrative districts. There was steady political and moral decay within the kingdom. Ultimately, the author of 1 Kings attributes the division of Israel’s united monarchy to Solomon’s sin of idolatry. Though he is viewed as a half-hearted King, Solomon contributed theological truth to his kingdom through the writing of proverbs, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes.
Another significant theological high point of the book of 1 Kings is the battle in chapter 18 between Baal and Yahweh. Paganism and syncretism were rampant during the time of Elijah. Elijah assembled the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel and commanded that there be two altars built for a burnt offering. Elijah said to them I will prepare another bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire – he is God. Elijah trusts that Yahweh will show up. When the prophets of Baal failed to ignite their altar, Elijah began to taunt them, even implying that their god was using the bathroom. After the Lord consumed the altar of Elijah, proving that he was the one true God, Elijah began a spiritual ‘house cleaning’. He commanded that the prophets of Baal be slaughtered, cleansing the region of the pagans. This event exemplifies the emergence of the preclassical and classical prophets in Israel.
The modern reader should realize that the leadership shapes a nation. The author of 1 Kings emphasizes the fact that king-led idolatry was a major factor in the failure of many kings. Like the king, so goes the nation. The same holds true today. Without God fearing leaders, decisions will not be made in the best interest of the nation as a whole. For the United States, our leadership has failed to submit to divine authority, thus, there has began a political and moral decay throughout the nation. Routinely, political leaders fail to recognize the divine authority of Yahweh, relying on their own wisdom to make decisions. In 1 Kings 3:9, it says so give your servant [Solomon] a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours? The Lord was pleased that Solomon would turn to Him, and granted Solomon’s petition. If the local, state, and national leaders adhered to the commands of the Lord, then the people of the nation would see their example, and the Lord would reward not only the leadership, but the people, for their faithfulness.