The book of 1 Kings is a continuation of the history of the nation of Israel. The stories of good and bad kings have important spiritual lessons for us today.
The two books now called 1 and 2 Kings were originally regarded as one book in the Hebrew Bible; but for the sake of convenience, this book was divided into two books by the Jewish scholars who produced the Greek Septuagint translation.
The books of 1 and 2 Kings are placed in the Former Prophets section of the Old Testament. Joshua is the first book in this section and the book of 2 Kings is the last. Together, the two books of 1 and 2 Kings cover the period from the last days of David’s reign to the captivity of Judah (also referred to as the Babylonian captivity).
Growth and tragic decline of the nation of Israel
The book of 1 Kings starts with the pomp and splendor of the golden age of Solomon, and the story ends in 2 Kings with tragedy as the people of Judah are herded as captives to Babylon. By that time Israel had already gone into captivity over 100 years before.
Why this lamentable and unfortunate turn of events? There is a reason for both the growth of the nation and its ultimate decay.
When the people responded to and respected God and His Word, the nation was delivered from its enemies and prospered. But curses resulted when disobedience and rebellion against God became the order of the day. Israel was divided into two nations, and because of their continual apostasy and defiance of God, and after repeated warnings, He finally delivered them into captivity to cruel enemies.
These principles of cause and effect and blessings and curses are also a solemn warning to our modern nations who profess Christianity.
David and Pat Alexander in The Lion Handbook to the Bible make the following statement: “The account [in 1 Kings] begins with a stable, united kingdom under a strong king and ends with total collapse and mass deportation to Babylon. It is a sombre story, and one in which the writer sees a clear moral. God is the Lord of history, actively involved in the affairs of men. When the nation and its leaders look to him and obey his laws, peace and prosperity follow. Political and economic disaster overtake Israel and Judah as a direct consequence of the weakening of the nation’s moral and religious fibre” (p. 251).
Is this not also largely true of our Western nations today?
Inscribed on the wall of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., are these words which should serve as a serious warning: “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever.”
Serious words indeed!
Outline of 1 Kings
The book of 1 Kings may be divided into three major parts:
I. The united monarchy and the golden age of Solomon (chapters 1-11).
- Solomon crowned and David’s final exhortations.
- Solomon’s great wealth, power and wisdom.
- The construction of the temple and Solomon’s private residence.
- Solomon’s descent into idolatry and apostasy.
- Solomon’s death.
II. The division of the nation into the northern and southern kingdoms (chapters 12-16).
- Idolatrous practices introduced.
- Jeroboam becomes king of the northern 10 tribes; Rehoboam remains king over Judah in the south.
- Shishak, pharaoh of Egypt, attacks Jerusalem and plunders the temple treasures.
III. The prophet Elijah appears on the scene (chapters 17-22).
- Ahab’s wicked reign in the northern kingdom of Israel. His wife Jezebel promotes the pagan worship of Baal.
- Elijah confronts and destroys the priests of Baal.
- Elijah flees into the wilderness from the fierce anger of Jezebel.
- In dramatic fashion God reveals Himself to Elijah and commands him to return to his prophetic responsibilities.
The sure path to ruin and devastation
Most of the kings of both Israel to the north and Judah to the south, with few exceptions, were guilty of forsaking God in favor of idolatrous practices. This greatly displeased God, and the consequences were often disastrous.
The Bible Handbook by Joseph Angus makes the following definitive statement: “But Jeroboam … established a separate priesthood, and established the calf-worship at Dan and Bethel, declaring this to be the true method of serving Jehovah. He thus framed a system of idolatry, which became ever afterwards, in one form or another, part of the national religion. He himself, therefore, is branded in history as ‘Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.’ From this time to that of Hoshea, the nineteenth and last Israelite king, we find none free from the charge of general depravity. Of king after king, it is said that he ‘did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord’” (p. 468).
This quote refers specifically to the northern kingdom of Israel. In certain ways the southern kingdom fared better.
Of the 20 kings in the southern kingdom of Judah, all descendants of David, there were a few who ruled with a modicum of respect and fear of God. Among these were Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah and Josiah.
The Bible records awful indictments against the rulers of ancient Israel and the people followed their lead. Of all the people in the nation during the time of Elijah, only 7,000 had not bowed their knees to Baal (1 Kings 19:18).
Solomon’s life: lessons for us
The way that Solomon plunged into idolatry and apostasy in his old age can be regarded as one of the most pitiful and tragic spectacles in the entire Bible. It is an example of someone who was given wisdom, understanding and so much more by God, and yet later turned his back on His Provider, Sustainer and Creator.
Don’t neglect so great a salvation
King David, Solomon’s father, instructed him in no uncertain terms that he should “keep the charge of the LORD your God: to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgments, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn” (1 Kings 2:3).
Later, God Himself promised Solomon that if he walked in His ways, he would have a long and abundant life (1 Kings 3:14). The Bible records that Solomon “loved the LORD” (1 Kings 3:3). But later his life took a drastic turn for the worse.
Solomon married numerous wives from the surrounding nations in direct violation of God’s clear instruction in Deuteronomy 17:17 and Exodus 34:15-16. Just as the Scriptures warned, His wives were instrumental in introducing idol worship and paganism into the nation.
And the end result of this apostasy?
- “His wives turned away his heart” (1 Kings 11:3).
- “And his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God” (verse 4).
- “Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD” (verse 6).
It is difficult to understand how Solomon became unfaithful to what he was taught and believed, especially if we consider that he wrote the following:
- “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7).
- “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and depart from evil” (Proverbs 3:5-7).
- “Take firm hold of instruction, do not let go; keep her, for she is your life” (Proverbs 4:13).
Perhaps Solomon repented of his sins at the end of his life. Some believe the book of Ecclesiastes, which speaks of someone who has come to the final years of his life realizing that man’s most important duty is to “fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, also see verses 6-7), reflects Solomon’s final thoughts. Whatever Solomon’s final thinking may have been, we must listen to his wise advice and avoid his bad example.
The importance of Christian endurance
The epistle to the Hebrews addresses the subject of Christian endurance: “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. … How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him” (Hebrews 2:1, 3, emphasis added throughout).
Did Solomon allow his mind to “drift away” from God’s teachings to allow things that angered God (1 Kings 11:9)? Tragically, it seems he neglected the great gifts he had been given.
Listen to the still small voice
The prophet Elijah and his successor Elisha performed more miracles than any of the prophets since the days of Moses and Joshua. Even though God used him to do these miracles, Elijah had human weaknesses, as all of us do (James 5:17).
This was evident when his life was in danger. Despite his miraculous victory over the priests of Baal at Mount Carmel, he fled to the south of the country when Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab, threatened to destroy him. Driven to despair, he wished that he might die (1 Kings 19:4).
Elijah sought refuge at Mount Sinai (Horeb) where God confronted him in spectacular fashion through a mighty wind, an earthquake and a fire (1 Kings 19). God had not forsaken Elijah and was present to comfort and reassure him. However, it was not through the wind, earthquake or fire, but through “a still small voice” that God finally dealt with the prophet’s broken spirit.
God expects us to face up to and endure the various trials that we encounter as we walk the Christian way of life. As was the case with Elijah, our personal trials may at times seem overwhelming; but the apostle Peter encourages us to face the “fiery trial” and to “rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
The hope of those who faithfully endure to the end is salvation in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 24:12-13). This incredible goal is well worth striving for.
Elijah responded positively and returned with renewed vigor and energy to carry out the tasks God gave him. One of his tasks was to appoint Elisha as his successor (1 Kings 19:19-21).
At times we may expect God to deal with us in spectacular fashion; and as a result, we may fail to listen to His “still small voice.” For instance, could the knowledge and truths outlined in this Life, Hope & Truth website be the vehicle God is using to open your mind to a more comprehensive understanding of His way of life?
People, like Elijah, who have responded to the “still small voice” of God have had their lives transformed. Is He expecting you to acknowledge and respond to His voice as well?
For a biblical study of the response God wants from us, see the “Christian Conversion” section.
For a quick link to all the other books of the Bible, see “Books of the Bible” on the Learning Center.