1 Kings overview

Its common to point out that Kings was originally one book, but I do think 1 Kings has its own discrete message.  If Hollywood was making it as a franchise blockbuster I think the titles would be “1 Kings: rise of the prophets” and “2 Kings: fall of the kingdoms”.

The Bible’s narrative has had a pretty straight ahead drive from Abraham’s promise in Genesis through to this point, where we have the chosen people, the nation of Israel, in the Promised land, Canaan, with the presence of God in the temple, ruled by his holy law, the Torah.

If Kings hadn’t gone badly, the bible could have been a lot shorter. Everything that was promised in the first book has literally come true by the time Solomon finishes the temple. If humans were capable of obedience to God, happy ending.

But of course, we know now that a massive revelation was still to take place.  We now know that gods people live in all nations, that everywhere is becoming the promised land, that every believer is a temple with the presence of God, and that by grace and sacrifice, God’s love has satisfied the rule of the law and he is our true king.

Israel had only the dimmest shape of any of this at the start of Kings, its a huge pivot in the world’s understanding of the nature of God. The tragic trajectory of Kings put the world on the path to those revelations.

God speaks only twice really during the reign of Solomon – telling him to obey the law above all and worship only one God.  Among all the glitz of his time, there is a hollowness because he doesn’t quite do either.  The kingdom splits, polytheism becomes the cultural norm.  The northern kingdom – which doesn’t include Jerusalem and the temple – never has a King devoted to Jehovah.

And the most extraordinary thing happens, God speaks more and more powerfully through the prophets.  His message is sort of too big for one person – Elijah and Elisha are like a single powerful message from God (Elijah doesn’t die, but hands his mantle to Elisha and is swept into the sky).

After the depression and banality of the all too familiar politics and corruption of the Kings, God’s power and his voice, full of abundance, gentleness, clarity and fairness …is like rain in the desert.  In retrospect the message of Kings is clear: kingdoms fail but don’t panic. There is one, true, real God and he has bigger, more beautiful plans than we can dream of.

1 David brings divine authority to the politics of succession. Solomon named heir.
2 David’s advice, live for the law, be strong & courageous. 
3 Solomon speaks to god, asks for wisdom. The promised land promise has come true!
4 Celebrating Solomon – and Israel’s wealth and wisdom
5 Building the temple, splendour in every way, but a bit spiritually hollow
6 The glory of the finished temple… but God is more interested in hearts than buildings
7 Still on the theme of Solomon’s glory, his grand palaces. The law had said otherwise
8 The dedication of the temple – the fullest earthly realisation of God’s promise
9 God tells Solomon about his presence in the temple and the need for monotheism… 
10 Queen of Sheba praises the wealth of Solomon’s reign. fulfils & challenges the law.
11 Solomons death/faults – too many wives too many gods. Rebellion will follow
12 End of Israel-as-salvation. 10 tribes rebel and worship Golden Calves, like in exodus.
13 God is still acting, Rehoboam the rebel king hears and witnesses God’s power
14 the Kings pattern: the reigns of parallel kings, mostly ignoring God despite warnings
15 4 Kings: judgement for the north, the “lamp” of salvation from the south. 
16 Dynasties of northern kings, increasingly corrupt. God’s word remains in prophesy
17 Elijah comes with word of a living god, deeds of an abundant god.
18 Jehovah vs Baal, Elijah vs Baal’s prophets. Faith, clarity, knowledge.
19 Desperate after his victory fails to change things, Elijah is given comfort and help
20 Setting up the fall of Ahab, a prophet killing king. 
21 Stealing a vineyard is the catalyst of Ahab’s judgement, spoken by Elijah
22 King Ahab tries to avoid prophesy/God, but dies in battle. 

Advertisements

1 Kings 22

Inconvenient truths.

Ahab makes a treaty with Jehoshaphat, the southern king of Judah, to attack the enemy he let go – king Aman, who has only got stronger and now threatens his territory.

At Jehoshaphat’s request they consult prophets, the are now 400 of them (I can only guess that Elijah’s victory in the battle of the gods must have turned around the policy of exterminating them).

All predict victory, except one who after initially agreeing with the majority tells them of a vision from God that He put a lying spirit in their mouths.

The king has a recognisably Trumpian approach to truth. He didn’t even want to consult the last prophet because he often says bad things will happen.

Ahab obviously knows Aman will be gunning for him so he battles in disguise and is killed anyway. The blood from his wounds on his chariot are washed in public and dogs do lick it up, as was prophesied.

Judah meanwhile gets the second godly king in a row, Jehoshaphat after asa. But the text makes clear that they are weak…. They get rid of some of the false religious practises but not all.

1 Kings ends.

I’m getting the message that God is in charge, his truth will out.

But the meta story, the sad fate of the chosen people, seems to be the reason for the book to be in the Bible. It sets the backdrop for the prophets, who will redefine God’s saving mission.

1 Kings 21

King Ahab and Jezebel do a petty murder and theft. They kill someone because they want his vineyard for a garden.

It’s the last straw, and Elijah is told by God to go and condemn him for the act. We know from the last chapters Ahab has also defied God in worship and battle.

Amazingly Ahab repents in a way, wearing sackcloth and “going about dejectedly”. God’s has a bit of mercy in the way his judgment will be meted out. His children will be judged, it won’t happen during his life.

1 Kings 20

King Ahab is condemned by a prophet (not Elijah) for making a treaty with a king he was supposed to let go. It’s quite a convoluted tale, hard to follow. 

It’s confusing that there are prophets everywhere, schools of prophets, but in the last chapter Elijah felt so alone, that he was the last prophet left.

It’s also interesting seeing God use as corrupt a king as Ahab to have victories in his name.

Anyway, its setting up the fall of Ahab.

1 Kings 19

Elijah left the last chapter on a high, having destroyed the false prophets, running to reach and influence the king. But he seems to lose the political advantage and is again hunted as public enemy number one by Queen Jezebel.  He loses all hope.

Tired, hungry, he staggers one day into the desert and gives up. He tells God to just let him die. And if the lack of food doesn’t get him the Queen surely will.

God gives him food for strength enough to hide properly. Then 3 displays of his power, earthquake wind and Fire. Then silence out of which he listens to Elijah’s utter loneliness and hopelessness and then promises help and victory over Ahab and Jezebel.

The help comes first. Elijah shares his mantle with Elisha, who like Jesus’ disciples unhesitatingly leaves a busy and prosperous life to follow.

It’s a passage that should restore the hope of everyone who reads it. It details how caring God is.

First he attends to the immediate physical needs, the good Shepherd, food and shelter.

Then the reminder of his power, after which the intimate solace. God listens, promises.

And the help. Is there anything more encouraging than other believers who share your sense of God’s mission?

That’s our God! I pray that me and mine may know that God. If you are desperate, it’s worth crying to him.

1 Kings 18

The battle of the gods… Elijah challenges 450 prophets of Baal to get each God to supernaturally light a burned sacrifice with heavenly fire. I mean, timely lightning would have been ok, Baal was supposed to be god of the sky.

Turns out Jehovah is real, Baal is not.

Some things I hadn’t recalled from earlier telling of the story:

  • The people he describes as “hopping between the two Gods”, but Jezebel and Ahab, Queen and king, were actively massacring prophets of Jehovah.
  • When he wins, Elijah has the Baal prophets killed. This is consistent with the judgment God wants them to bring to Canaan.
  • I hadn’t noticed a sort of second miracle, Elijah magically runs to the kings destination, Jezreel, faster than the king can ride a horse.

The commentators mentioned how much faith it took to stand up and do the test. And it’s interesting that even after that, Elijah has to pray 7 times for rain. Faith on faith, never doubt!

I was also struck by the use of 12… 12 stones for the altar he called fire down to. 12 buckets of water poured onto it to make sure it was a miracle that it burned. Israel has been 10 tribes  in civil war with the other two for 50 years at that point, but Elijah knew the promise and the law.

We are called to be prophets in the sense of speaking truth in this world, and this story gives a vivid sense of the boldness and confident clarity you get by not only believing and having faith but by really knowing what God’s will is.

It’s an encouragement to keep reading and thinking as well as to speak out when the time is right. You speak truth best if you know a lot of the truth.

1 Kings 17

We are introduced to the prophet Elijah. He comes to tell the king Ahab that a drought they are having is God’s will. I was struck by his opening words to the king “as the God of Israel lives…” 

Israel has a God, one God, and he is alive. Sometimes for me thinking about God is literally soothing, and reading this gave me that feeling, like cool water in a desert. 

All the other Gods -possessions, success, wealth etc are dead things. They come and go. God is mine, and after I get myself in a pickle and make other things more important, I step back from the mess of it all and behind it, he’s simply there.

Elijah has to hide then. Everything that happens affirms God’s qualities of life giving, provision and abundance. And Elijah’s status as a spokesperson for him.

God feeds Elijah in a desert, but the land continues to dry up.  He comes to town, God magically extends the last provisions of a kind widow so her family and Elijah can eat abundantly as he stays with them. Finally, his pleas bring her son back to life from death. 

God is taking hold of the failed kingdom’s narrative, and it’s all about life coming to barrenness.

1 Kings 16

A series of Israel, northern, kings. They seem to go faster and faster, a series of military coups. Basically none of the kings of Israel acknowledge the true God. Again a prophet has the voice of God calling out the evil and the judgement.

We’ve had the era of judges, the era of kings, both of which became corrupt after some periods of godly glory. Now we are entering the period of prophets, lone voices speaking truth to power.

The fourth dynasty starts with Omri, who is the most evil yet. He builds the capital of Israel in Samaria. Then his son Ahab, is more evil again. He marries Jezebel, and together they adopt the worship of Baal. 

They rebuild Jericho, the walls of which God bought down. The word of the lord is chillingly recalled as the the person in charge of the building loses his firstborn then his youngest son according to the curse uttered by Joshua on anyone who attempted to rebuild after God’s mighty victory.

Ahab is showing utter contempt for God. But the true God’s word and strength stay forever, that is the constant message.

1 Kings 15

4 kings, 2 southern, of Judah, 2 northern, of Israel.  The first and foremost fact we must know about each is whether they were lovers of Jehovah, or doers of evil in God’s eyes.

Only one, Asa the second King in Judah is faithful to Jehovah and takes action to stamp out the worship of foreign Gods.

God’s hand is behind their rise and fall.  The line of the Kings of Judah (South) is protected by God because as we now know, it was important that David’s line continue, it was the line of the Messiah. So he does not judge the first, faithless King of Judah, Abijam as harshly as the Northern kings, of Israel.

The first Norther, Israel King mentioned, Nadab, is the heir of Jeroboam, who’s line was doomed in the last chapter by a prophet.  And indeed the next King Baasha is not related and destroys all of Jeroboam’s line.  ….And does evil in God’s eyes anyway.  All those Kings are judged not only for the sin they commit, but what they lead the people into.

Asa the God fearing King enters an alliance that strengthens the smaller Judah kingdom against a near decisive blow by Baasha in the civil war from the kingdom of Israel, thereby preserving – barely – the “Lamp of David” as the Judah royal line is called, in the South.

Asa has to sell the rest of the family gold and silver to do it.  In Deuteronomy it warned the King of the chosen people against amassing wealth, now 2 kings later, all the wealth of Solomon is gone.

Judgment in the north, salvation slowly being worked out in the south.

I’ve had this feeling before. You wonder if things that happen in your life are just you being superstitious, or spiritualising events.  God knew us intimately before we were even born.  His hand is everywhere.

 

1 Kings 14

This is how I remember kings. The chapter fast forwards though the rest of the reigns of the two kings. 

The Southern, in Jerusalem is weak. Worship of false gods is allowed to flourish, and Egyptians raid and take all the treasure and wealth of Solomon.

The northern king is stronger but actively shuns God. His son dies and his line ends.

God speaks though prophets. Jeroboam in the north tacitly acknowledges that he still fears the true God by sending his wife to speak to a prophet, in disguise. 

The blind prophet knows it is her the moment she reaches the door. He tells her of the end of their house and that she will never see her son again.

It’s a sad picture of someone childishly trying to manage God. They’ve got power by throwing God under the bus to the people, a grave sin, and then tentatively and sneakily try to check if there’s going to be a consequence. C.S. Lewis set up Aslan the lion as a picture of God in his children’s books, the point being he’s good but not tame. 

The promised land project has started a long decline. Only the prophets will hold out any hope.