Lesson 5 of 5
In Progress

Theological Themes in 1 Kings

The ark

The significance of the ark of the covenant varies in the different Old Testament traditions. It is most important for the Priestly tradition. The Deuteronomic tradition, of which Kings is a part, sees Solomon’s procession of the ark from the tent prepared by David to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple as the cultic highpoint of the temple dedication (1 Kings 8:1-13). First Kings 8:9, 21 indicate that the ark housed a copy of the law (compare Deuteronomy 10:5; 31:9, 24-26). First Kings 8:16-20, 27-30 insists the temple is a house of prayer where God’s name (fame, reputation) dwells, since, in this tradition, God dwells in heaven, not the temple–as the references to God’s hearing “in heaven” in each of the petitions of Solomon’s dedicatory prayer make clear (1 Kings 8:32, 34, 36, 39, 43, 45, 49). After Solomon, however, the tradition of the ark becomes rather vague. Most assume it remained in the temple for 400 years until it was carried off by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.E., though it is missing from the list of plunder taken from the temple in 2 Kings 25:13-17.

Centralized worship (Deuteronomy 12)

Deuteronomy 12 is important for the book of Kings because of its insistence upon the centralization of worship. When Jeroboam revolted and established the northern kingdom of Israel, he needed to set up shrines in Bethel and Dan as rival sanctuaries to the Jerusalem temple. This became the primary sin that brought condemnation upon all the northern kings in the judgment of the Deuteronomistic editors.

The Davidic covenant

Echoes of God’s promise and special favors to David in 2 Samuel 7 often appear in the books of Kings; the most important include:

  • When the kingdom divides, God’s punishment is delayed, and Solomon’s successor is still left with a kingdom, though smaller, for David’s sake (1 Kings 11:12-13).
  • The Davidic dynasty is in Jerusalem (1 Kings 11:36; 15:4-5; 2 Kings 8:19).
  • David’s faithful obedience is often lifted up as a model (1 Kings 3:3; 11:4, 6, 38; 15:3, 11).
  • God’s regard for David delivers Jerusalem from attack in the time of Hezekiah (2 Kings 19:34; 20:5-6).

Eschatology

Unless it is merely a prolonged “I told you so!” the very existence of the book of Kings suggests that there was hope for the future of the people despite their desperate situation in exile. The portrayals of their past kings would serve as lessons from the past from which they could learn. The emphasis on repentance and forgiveness throughout, but especially in Solomon’s great dedicatory prayer (1 Kings 8), would have been an especially attractive avenue of hope. Decisive in this regard is the hopeful conclusion found in the release and elevation of Jehoiachin in 2 Kings 25:27-30.

High places, pillars, and poles

These three cultic items were especially abhorrent to the Deuteronomistic editors of Kings due to the affinity of these items with the religion of the Canaanites. High places (bamoth) were sites of Canaanite worship. Pillars (masseboth) were standing stones, possibly phallic, that symbolized Baal, the Canaanite god of fertility. Sacred poles (asheroth) were trees that represented the goddess Asherah.

Jeroboam’s sin

“Walking in the way of Jeroboam / not departing from all the sins of Jeroboam” is the primary criterion for the negative evaluations of sixteen of the northern kings (1 Kings 15:34; 16:2, 19, 26, 31; 22:52; 2 Kings 3:3; 10:29, 31; 13:2, 6, 11; 14:24; 15:9, 18, 24). What exactly this entailed, however, is difficult to determine. Likely contenders would include:

  • Jeroboam’s institution of worship in a place other than Jerusalem–that is, in Bethel in the southernmost area of Israel, and in Dan in the north (1 Kings 12:26-29)–in violation of Deuteronomy 12.
  • Jeroboam’s creation of two golden calves, in violation of Deuteronomy 13, installed at the new worship sites in Bethel and Dan with the words, “Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (1 Kings 12:28), virtually the same as those uttered by Aaron upon his production of the golden calf in the wilderness (Exodus 32:4).

Kingship in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 17:14-20)

Deuteronomy provides the blueprint for what kingship should look like:

  • Verses 16-17 regularly appear in the descriptions of Solomon’s reign: 1 Kings 4:26; 9:19; 10:14-28; 11:3.
  • The king is to be faithfully obedient to the prescriptions of the Mosaic legislation (vv. 18-19). Most of the kings of Judah and all of the kings of Israel failed in this regard. Josiah, however, literally complied by ruling according to the precepts of the book of the law discovered in the temple (2 Kings 22:8–23:25).
  • The continuation of the monarchy as well as the dynastic succession is tied to the king’s faithful obedience (v. 20). 

Kingship in Israel

The idea of “kingship” varied between the North (Israel) and the South (Judah). Significant aspects of the northern tradition include the following:

  • 922-722 B.C.E., 200 years
  • Twenty rulers (Zimri, 1 Kings 16:15-20, who only ruled 7 days, was not considered a king as seen by the lack of accession formula and death notice)
  • Assassination of seven kings: Nadab, Elah, Joram, Zechariah, Shallum, Pekahiah, Pekah
  • No positive evaluation from the Deuteronomistic editors

Kingship in Judah

The idea of “kingship” varied between the North (Israel) and the South (Judah). Significant aspects of the southern tradition include the following:

  • 922-587 B.C.E., 335 years
  • Twenty rulers (Athaliah, 2 Kings 11:1-21, who usurped the throne, was not considered a king as seen by the lack of accession formula and death notice)
  • David’s descendants ruled in an unbroken line from Rehoboam to Zedekiah
  • Positive evaluation for eight kings from the Deuteronomistic editors: qualified praise for Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Amaziah, Azariah, and Jotham; unqualified praise for Hezekiah and Josiah

A pattern of royal apostasy in the North

Close attention to the regnal formulas of the kings of Israel suggests a pattern of apostasy leading to the fall of the North:

  • The first eight kings (Jeroboam through Joram) all “walk in the way of Jeroboam” and cause Israel to “provoke the LORD to anger.”
  • The second group of eight kings (Jehu through Pekah) “did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam.”
  • Hoshea, Israel’s last king, “did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, yet not like the kings of Israel who were before him” (2 Kings 17:2).

The pattern is unmistakable and may suggest that the first group of kings were the actual apostates. The second group, headed by Jehu the reformer, merely continued in the basic sin of Jeroboam–that is, worship outside of Jerusalem. Hoshea, as the last in the line of apostasy, is not individually responsible for the collapse of the North; it simply took place “on his watch,” so to speak.

Prophecy and its fulfillment

Unlike the canonical prophetic books, which usually do not indicate a correspondence between prophecy and its fulfillment, the book of Kings is especially concerned to demonstrate that every true prophetic word came to pass. Eleven such instances have been identified (prophecy // fulfillment): 2 Samuel 7:13 // 1 Kings 8:20; 1 Kings 11:29-39 // 1 Kings 12:15b; 1 Kings 13:21-22 // 2 Kings 23; 1 Kings 14:6-10 // 1 Kings 15:29; 1 Kings 16:1-4 // 1 Kings 16:12; Joshua 6:26 // 1 Kings 16:34; 1 Kings 21:21-24 // 1 Kings 21:27-29 (compare 2 Kings 9:7); 1 Kings 22:17 // 1 Kings 22:35-36; 2 Kings 1:6 // 2 Kings 1:17; 2 Kings 21:10-15 // 2 Kings 24:2; 2 Kings 22:15-20 // 2 Kings 23:30. Other possibilities have also been suggested.

Prophecy in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 18:15-22)

The Deuteronomic test of true prophecy lies in its conformity to the facts of real life and history. The exiles wondered if God was reliable in the face of the apparent failure of God’s promise to David. The book of Kings seeks to reassure the people that God remains true to God’s word. The exile was not a failure on God’s part, but rather a parade example that God would do what God had said: “The LORD sent against him bands of the Chaldeans, bands of the Arameans, bands of the Moabites, and bands of the Ammonites; he sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by his servants the prophets” (2 Kings 24:2, emphasis added). Numerous other places could be cited in support of the fulfillment of prophecy in these terms including: 1 Kings 13:1-2, 5, 21-22, 26, 32; 15:29; 2 Kings 1:17; 7:1; 9:26, 36; 10:17.

Temple

In the ancient Near East, as well as in the Bible, and especially in the Psalms (for example, 84:1-2), God is thought to dwell in the temple. In the book of Kings, the Deuteronomistic editors strongly deny that God can be “located” in the temple or indeed anyplace in heaven or on the earth (1 Kings 8:27). Rather, God has chosen for God’s name (“fame, reputation”) to dwell in the temple, which is really a house of prayer, a tangible focus point for supplication (1 Kings 8).

Theodicy in Kings

A theodicy is an attempt to justify how God has dealt with God’s people, especially by resolving the problem of evil in ways that maintain God’s goodness, justice, and sovereignty. The exiles wondered how God could have allowed the destruction of Jerusalem and their deportation to Babylon. The book of Kings attempts to resolve this difficulty by presenting the exile as the result of the nation’s lack of faithful obedience, especially as that obedience is promulgated in the book of Deuteronomy.

View of the exile

Chronicles had portrayed the exile as a time of giving the land a Sabbath rest of seventy years (2 Chronicles 36:20-21), suggesting that the Chronicler is thinking of 7 x 70 or 490 years of neglect (Leviticus 26:34-39), possibly the time between the destruction of the first temple and the dedication of the second (587/586-516 B.C.E.). As a result, in Chronicles the land is completely empty so that the land may have its Sabbaths (2 Chronicles 36:21). Kings, however, portrays the exile as God’s judgment upon Judah for their breach of the covenant, and it claims that the land was not completely emptied, since some of the poorest people of the land were left to care for the vines and till the soil (2 Kings 25:11-12).

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