Like I and II Samuel, I and II Kings might be viewed as
history, prophecy or a series of
tragedies, the tragedies of Solomon, Ahab, etc.
I Kings, by the way, looks like a continuation of II
Samuel--and it is. But it isn't be the same author. The author of
I and II Samuel wrote (most probably) during the reign of Solomon,
sometime before 922 BC. The author of I and II Kings lived durng
the time of the Babylonian captivite (612-539). Jewish tradition
suggests Jeremiah may have been the author--and that's plausible
But while I and II Kings isn't be the same author, the
books are dominated by the same great themes as I and II Samuel,
the interaction and potential conflict between personal life and
responsibility and the relationship of religion and politics. Another
how does one deal with the mess left over by a preceding generation—a
perhaps, particularly relevant to your generation. A final theme:
the problems of disunity. Behold how good and how pleasant it is
for brother to dwell together in unity, says the Psalmist. Well,
behold how terrible it is is when brothers and cousins are at each
We see some of these conflicts particularly well illustrated in the life of Solomon.
David had left Israel in good shape, dominating most of
the land promised to Abraham. The Edomites, Ammonites, and
Moabites were all subject to Israel. There are potential
David has left Solomon with some bad potential enemies including Hadad the Edomite who had fled to Egypt after Joab slew all the men of Edom, Rezon who had fled from David and becomes king of Damascus, and Jeroboam who had taken refuge in Egypt.
There were also palace problems. Solomon's position
of the throne wasn't completely secure. Note that Adonijah has some
solid supporters (including Joab and Abiathar). Had it not been
for Nathan the prophet, Solomom might have died and Adonijah
reigned. Note that, though Solomon initially spares Adonijah,
when Adonijah wants Abishag the Shunamite for his wife, he changes his
mind: claiming the one member of David's harem a son might have as a
wife was a claim to the throne.
Solomon begins his reign by cleaning up some of David's
unfinished business, getting rid of of Joab and Shimei. Looks
kind of ugly on David's part to be remembering his grudges, but it's
likely enough David knows Solomon's throne won't be secure without
putting these men out of the picture.
Solomon proves to be a pretty impressive king, obviously
of sufficient stature to be a
tragic hero. Chapters 3 and 4 describe Solomon at his best.
Solomon builds a splendid temple to God, establishing a permanent,
central place of worship. He also builds a lavish palace for
Note the ceremony around the dedication of the temple and
between Solomon and God in Chapter 9. Certainly Solomon seems on
the right track.
Solomon, a man of peace, builds good relationships with
Hiram of Tyre and his other neighbors including Egypt. He
furthers trade--and it looks as if the economy is doing really well.
Pretty impressive. But Solomon has a tragic flaw, his
weakness for women. Solomon adds to his glory by supporting a
vast number of wives--700 wives and 300 concubines. Part of this
is strategic: the marriages are designed to cement peace treaties with
Solomon's neigbors. Among Solomon's wives: a daughter of
But Solomon's wives want temples to their gods, and
Solomon is soon building temples to the gods of Amon, Moab, and the
rest. This sows the seeds of many problems. Potential
apostasy is of course a problem. Also, building these temples is
expensive. Solomon has to raise taxes and resort to forced
labor. This results in some propblems durng Solomon's own
life and real problems during the reign of his son.
God warns Solomon that much of Israel would break away
from the house of David, though Judah would remain loyal. There's
a kind of catharis in the way God keeps his promises to David despite
his son's apostasy. There is perhaps also catharsis if one
assumes (as the rabbis did) that Ecclesiastes was written in Solomon's
old age and shows his repentence. "Fear God, for that is the
whole of man."
After Solomon, tragedy begins to change in nature, a change similar to that of Greek tragedy. In Aeschylus and Sophocles, there is always a clear protagonist. By the time we get to Euripides, it’s sometimes less clear who protagonist is. The "deus ex machina" ending is deliberatly manipulated: it's not a real catharsis at all. There's a drift toward farce as our characters aren't really of sufficient magnitude.
In some ways, what we get is tragedies of Israel and
Judah. Sometimes, the kings themselves (like Ahab) have the potential
to be tragic heroes, but now the main protagonists
are different: the prophets and men of God as they confront an
corrupt political system.
Note a great theme of the final chapters of I Kings and all of II Kings: religion is essential to the functioning of a state—but what does the state do to religion to get what it wants?
Note that all the kings here are religious. Very
religious. Most of the kings here want the support of the God of Israel
or the appearance
of his support.
In addition to the God of Israel, they’d just love to have
or the appearance of support, of other gods as well.
Multiculturalism at its best? Well, we shall see.