The Rise of Israel as a nation can be found in 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles.
For our study, we are focusing on only 1 & 2 Kings, which trace the history of Israel after the death of David.
1 & 2 Kings are actually one literary work, called “Kings” in the Hebrew tradition.
It was probably written and completed between 560 and 538 BC.
The author is unknown but he may have been an exile who lived in Babylon and could possibly be Ezra, Ezekiel or Jeremiah.
1 Samuel records the crowning of the 1st king of Israel, Saul. The king of Israel was not to be autonomous in authority and power. Rather he was to be subject to the law of the Lord and the word of his prophet.
Saul’s failure to fulfill God’s requirements of a theocratic ruler led to him being rejected as king.
With the anointing of David as the second king of Israel, Samuel lived to see the beginning of a kingdom that God had promised as part of His Messianic, redemptive plan.
2 Samuel concludes with the story of royal succession in which David on his deathbed made provision for his son Solomon to follow him on the throne. David ruled Israel for 40 years.
1 & 2 Kings records the history of Israelite theocracy under the kings from the ascension of Solomon to the final destruction of the temple and the exile of the people.
The history can be divided into 3 periods:
1st Period (970 – 930 BC) – United Kingdom
The 1st period embraces 40 years of Solomon’s reign when the Israelite kingdom stood at the summit of its earthly power and glory. Solomon built God’s temple in Jerusalem and was richly blessed by God with wisdom and wealth.
However in the later years, he allowed his foreign wives to affect his loyalty to God and he introduced the worship of idols such as Ashtoreth and Molech. He also acquired many chariots and horses as well as excessively taxed his people.
All these were in violation of the Mosaic covenant resulting in the kingdom being wrested from his son, as prophesised by the Lord in 1 Kings 11:11-12.
2nd Period (930 BC – 722 BC) – Divided Kingdom (Israel and Judah)
This 2nd period commences with the division of the kingdoms into the northern kingdom of Israel and southern kingdom of Judah.
The 2 kingdoms continue to exist side by side until the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 BC.
3rd Period (722 BC – 586 BC) – Judah Destroyed and Deported in 586 BC
The 3rd period embraces the remaining years of the kingdom of Judah until its eventual destruction and exile of the people by the Babylonians in 586 BC.
Note that the southern kingdom of Judah lasted 136 years longer than the northern kingdom of Israel. The key reason was that Judah had good kings who led the people to repentance and revival in contrast to Israel.
Comparison: The chart shows the list of kings of Judah and Israel from 930 BC to 586 BC. I will highlight the deeds of two evil kings of Israel in contrast with two good kings of Judah.
1. Jeroboam 1 : He was the 1st king of Israel. After the split of the kingdom, he made two golden calves, one at Dan and one at Bethel, to prevent the people from worshipping the Lord in Jerusalem. In so doing, he led the people to idolatry, and even appointed priests from outside the tribe of Levi as well as changed the times of holding the annual feasts as ordained by God.
2. Ahab : He was the seventh king of Israel. He married Jezebel. Together with Jezebel, Ahab served and worshiped the idol, Baal. He also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel to anger than all kings of Israel who were before him.
1. Hezekiah : He was the best king of Judah up to his time. His spiritual record would only be exceeded by his grandson Josiah. He broke the shrines on the hills, destroyed the idols of Asherah and the serpent of brass made by Moses which were worshiped by the people. He re-instituted animal sacrifices and organised the temple orchestral group and choir. He also organised the grandest Passover celebration since Solomon’s dedication of the temple over 300 years ago.
2. Josiah :He was the finest king since Solomon and was commended by God in that “there were no kings before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses, neither after him arose there any like him”. He destroyed the altars of Baal and led the people in a massive “repentance services” upon the discovery of the Law of Moses. He killed heathen priests and brought back to Jerusalem the priests of God who were living in other cities.
Why should the people resort to idol worship when they had God’s Word through the prophets and the Law?
Why then do idols have such an appeal on the people?
One reason is the sense of power, which idols seem to symbolise. With power, the people can be free from the authority of God and the priests. They can have a religion to fit their life style and not the other way round.
Idols also exalt a sense of pleasure. It is sensuality without responsibility or guilt. People can act out the vicious and sensuous personalities of the gods they worshipped and yet would not notice that their lives are degraded.
Passion in the idols leads to unrestrained desires such that individuals can be exploited sexually, politically and economically.
Idols gained popularity because it is easier to worship idols than the true God.
Although the people of Judah and Israel knew the true God, they enjoyed the sinful pleasures and benefits of idol worship.
The northern kingdom of Israel had the witness and ministry of powerful prophets like Elijah and Elisha yet they did not turn back to God.
Israel lasted for 209 years before they were conquered and taken away into exile by the Assyrians. The Assyrians filled the land of the northern kingdom with people from other lands. The people of Israel never returned and have become known in history as the “Lost Ten Tribes of Israel”. Such is the outcome of people who shut God out of their lives.
Judah lasted 345 years, 136 years longer than the northern kingdom before they were conquered and taken into exile by the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar.
Nebuchadnezzar attacked Judah in 3 campaigns lasting 19 years before finally destroying the city and the temple in 586 BC.
The last king of Judah, Zedekiah was blinded and his sons killed. He was taken to Babylon together with the last of the people in the kingdom.
– Summary in Points –
1 & 2 Kings
– Originally One literary work
– Completed between 560 BC – 538 BC
– Unknown but probably an exile who lived in Babylon
– Probably Ezra, Ezekiel or Jeremiah
Historical Background – 1 & 2 Samuel
– 1st king of Israel : Saul
– King must be subject to God’s law
– Rejected as king
– Ruled over Israel 40 years
– 2nd king of Israel : David
– Handed over to his son, Solomon
– Ruled over Israel 40 years
Chronology – divided into 3 periods:
1st Period (970 BC – 930 BC):
Solomon’s 40 years reign
– Peak of its power and glory
– the Temple
– Richly blessed
– Foreign wives affect his loyalty
– Introduced idol worship
– Acquired many chariots and horses
– Excessively taxed the people
2nd Period (930 BC – 722 BC):
Division of kingdom
– Israel and Judah co-exist until 722 BC
– Israel destroyed by Assyria
3rd Period (722 BC – 586 BC):
Judah continue to exist until 586 BC
Destroyed by Babylon
Judah lasted 136 years longer than Israel
Contrast the kings of Israel and Judah
Kings of Israel:
– 1st king of Israel
– Made two golden calves at Dan and Bethel
– Led people to idolatry
– Appointed priests from outside Levi
– Changed times of annual feast
– 7th king of Israel
– Married Jezebel
– Served and worshipped Baal
– Made Asherah pole
– Provoked the Lord
Kings of Judah:
– Best king of Judah until Josiah
– Broke the shrines
– Destroyed idols of Asherah
– Re-instituted animal sacrifices
– Organised temple worship
– Organised the grandest Passover Celebration
– Finest king since Solomon
– Commended by God :
“there were no kings before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his
soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses, neither after him arose there any like him”
(2 Ki 23:25)
– Destroyed altars of Baal
– Led massive repentance services
– Killed heathen priests
– Brought back priests of God
– They had the testimony of the most powerful prophets like Elijah and Elisha
– Yet did not repent
– Totally destroyed in 722 BC by Assyria
– Lasted 209 years
– Lasted 345 years
– Destroyed in 586 BC by Babylon
– Last king, Zedekiah blinded and exiled