1 & 2 Kings

At our Communications Day on 17 Jan, I shared a slide with the title “Roll of Honour”. In it, we gave prominence to the books of the Bible that Hermon has preached through since 2009. When we end 2021, we would have journeyed together through 36% of Scripture. If we continue at this rate, we can look forward to finishing one full cycle of preaching through the whole Bible in the next 20 years. In 2017 and 2018, the Lord led us through the Gospel of Matthew. And in the first verse of Matthew’s Gospel, we read, “…the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” To appreciate what this sentence meant to the first audience, we then went through 1 and 2 Samuel in 2019. There we met with Israel’s first king (Saul) and her second (David). Now, in 2021, we want to continue to journey through Israel’s history in 1 and 2 Kings.

1 Kings begins with the death of David and the succession of Solomon. And we will see the high point of Israel in the reign of Solomon up to 1 Kings 11. However, from 1 Kings 12 onwards, we see the steady decline of Israel as they turn from Yahweh towards idolatry. The kingdom is split into two, with Israel in the north and Judah in the south. To turn the people back to Himself, God sends them Elijah (1 Kings 17 to 2 Kings 1) and Elisha (2 Kings 2 to 8), but although there are periods of revival, Israel and Judah harden their hearts. Because of their stubborn refusal to return and be faithful to Yahweh who brought them out of Egypt and blessed them with Canaan, God disciplines them by allowing them to be taken into exile. From 2 Kings 14 to 17, we will see the northern kingdom declining and God raising the Assyrians to take Israel into captivity (722 BC). Finally, from 2 Kings 18 to 25, we see too the decline of the southern kingdom and God raising the Babylonians to take Judah into captivity (587 BC).

Though Israel is now in total exile, 1 and 2 Kings ends with a glimmer of hope. God has not forgotten His promise to David: that there will always be someone from his line to sit on Israel’s throne. Through God’s providence, we read from 2 Kings 25:27, “And in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, graciously freed Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison. 28 And he spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. 29 So Jehoiachin put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table, 30 and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, according to his daily needs, as long as he lived.” 

According to Gavin Ortlund, 1 and 2 Kings highlight the centrality of God’s Word. The stories of Elijah and Elisha contain some of the most dramatic moments in the Bible, such as Elijah’s standoff with the false prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. Through the ministries of these and other prophets, 1 and 2 Kings emphasize the binding, inescapable nature of God’s Word. Countless times events are interpreted with the refrain “this happened to fulfill the word of the Lord” (e.g. 1 Kings 12:15). The word of God is true and efficacious. It brought the world into being at creation (Heb. 11:3), it will judge the nations at the end of history (Rev. 19:15) and it speaks with the same surety now through prophet and preacher.

And to Bob Fyall, the unfolding drama of Kings also shows that we have a responsibility to respond to God’s Word. God’s Word cannot be broken, but human beings are not puppets. Even the preaching of judgement is a sign of God’s grace because it is a call for repentance and faith. All kings, whether they be good or bad, are judged by whether they turn to expediency and dangerous alliances instead of following the path of simple obedience. And so this pattern of God speaking and human responsibility for hearing and acting is also relevant for disciples today.

As we journey through 1 and 2 Kings, there will be inevitable comparisons with 1 and 2 Chronicles. 1 and 2 Kings were written to Israelites during the exile. They address the question of whether God failed to protect His people and His temple from the pagan armies. And the answer of Kings is that God did not fail; it was Israel who failed. 1 and 2 Chronicles, although referring to the same period, were written more than a century after Kings in order to provide the post-exilic community with hope and a needed sense of identity and direction. They were to encourage the remnant who returned from exile to see themselves in direct continuity with Moses and David as the covenant people whom God would continue to bless.

Gavin Ortlund helpfully summaries – Kings binds up the fate of the people with the fate of the leader. Good kings bring blessing to the entire people, and bad kings bring judgment. Ultimately, the entire nation suffers for lack of a godly ruler. The resounding takeaway from 1 and 2 Kings is how badly God’s people need a Savior King, and how grateful we should be that Jesus has come to be this for us. In Christ, God’s people are no longer dwindling in repeated cycles of unfaithfulness and judgment. Jesus has ascended to the position of supreme authority. The Spirit has been poured out. The gospel is surging forward. Jesus is, right now, reigning in power and glory, and interceding for his people. And one day, perhaps very soon, He is coming to complete the work.

– Ps Daniel Tan