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Kings and Prophets 1: The Early Monarchy

1 Introduction

2 Solomon and the United Monarchy

3 The Divided Kingdoms

Study Guide


Adonijah, Ahab, Ahijah, Bathsheba, Elijah, Elisha, Jehu, Jeroboam, Jezebel, Jezreel, Omri, Rehoboam, Solomon, United monarchy

Chagall's Solomon

Chagall’s Solomon

Solomon was a son of David and the one who followed him on the throne. He was Israel’s great temple and empire builder and became legendary for his wealth and wisdom. He was also the last king to rule over the twelve tribes united into one state.

Source: Drawing by Barry Bandstra based on Marc Chagall's Solomon, original color lithograph, 1956.


Our treatment of the Hebrew Bible to this point has followed the canonical order of books. Beginning with the book of Kings, we will modify this approach to integrate the material of the Latter Prophets into Israel’s historical narrative. The serial order of books might give the impression that the likes of Isaiah and Amos chronologically follow the books of Kings, but such is not the case; the “table of contents” order of books does not correspond to their historical order. The so-called classical prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, and many of the other Latter Prophets—lived during the events

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Timeline: Kings

FIGURE 9.1 Time Line: Books of Kings

narrated in the book of 2 Kings. Consequently, material from the Latter Prophets will be interwoven with 2 Kings in this and the following two RTOT chapters. This integration of kings and prophets is natural because they often interacted with each other, and the account of their interactions constitutes the core of these writings.

Like the books of Samuel, the two books of Kings were originally one. The story line of Kings continues the history of Israel’s kingship that began in the books of Samuel. But Kings differs from Samuel in at least one feature: It does not have a small number of focal figures but instead traces the line of kings from David down to the exile (see Figure 9.1).

Kings is a continuation of the Deuteronomistic History (DH), which (as its name implies) traces its pedigree back to Deuteronomy. It shares its perspective with the other books of the DH. It presupposes that Israel has a covenantal relationship with Yhwh. A concern for the purity of Israel’s religious devotion is central to the outlook of the DH. If the people, especially the kings, were faithful and loyal to Yhwh, then they would be protected and blessed by Yhwh. Otherwise, the nation would be punished. Israel’s devotion to Yhwh was measured by the exclusiveness of its religious focus. If Yhwh alone was worshipped, the people were judged faithful. If only Yhwh was worshipped in Jerusalem and in the prescribed manner, the people were judged loyal.

Note especially the evaluative judgments that the writer applies to the kings. It is typically not the king’s effectiveness in domestic or international politics that are evaluated; it is the king’s effectiveness as a religious leader and servant of the Torah. The writer uses one of two assessments: King X typically “did evil” in the eyes of Yhwh, and only rarely a king “did right.” Kings who rejected idolatry and promoted Yahwistic religious reform, such as Hezekiah and Josiah, were approved. Kings who encouraged or even tolerated non-Yahwistic practices were denounced.

The Deuteronomistic historian’s bias against the northern kingdom becomes clear. No ruler from the north was given approval, regardless of his accomplishments. Nothing they did could be acceptable because Israel (as the northern kingdom was called) was established on false grounds. Jeroboam, its first king, broke with the divinely authorized Davidic dynasty and the Jerusalem temple and created alternate worship centers that employed golden calves as religious symbols. Because none of the following kings eliminated these centers, each is categorically condemned. Ultimately, because of the golden calves at Dan and Bethel, the northern kingdom was destroyed.

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Politics and prophecy go hand in hand. Prophets are the ones who typically deliver a critique of the monarchy. Apart from Deuteronomy 18, which portrays Moses as Israel’s first and exemplary prophet, prophets first appeared in the books of Samuel—Samuel himself but also Nathan and Gad. The close functional connection between kings and prophets first appeared there also. Samuel played a prophetic role when he warned the tribes not to press for a king and when he confronted King Saul after he broke the covenant laws of the tribal federation. Nathan the prophet was both supportive of David’s efforts to enthrone Yhwh in Jerusalem and critical of him when he exposed his affair with Bathsheba and his complicity in the death of her husband, Uriah.

The number of prophets increased during the period of the two kingdoms, and they assumed a prominent role in the political and religious life of the state. The prophets were not monks or ascetics. They fully immersed themselves in political life and public discourse. Some prophets supported the royal administration, but many others challenged royal policies. For example, Ahijah encouraged Jeroboam to break away from Solomon and the house of David. The prophets Elijah and Elisha condemned Ahab and Jezebel’s dynasty. And prophets such as Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Jeremiah (some mentioned in Kings, but others found only in the collection of books called the Latter Prophets) primarily challenged the kings of Israel and Judah to return to the venerable covenant traditions of their history.

Our reading gets complicated when we study the books of Kings, especially as we read them in relation to prophetic literature. Many of the speeches and events recorded in the books of the Latter Prophets fit chronologically into the story line of Kings. And here for the first time, archaeology supplements the biblical story. It contributes a considerable amount of material evidence, including artifacts, excavated structures, and documents that relate directly to the events and reigns described in Kings. Historians have established especially well the history of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires, including figures such as Sennacherib and Nebuchadrezzar, who figure prominently in the biblical story (see Table 9.2). For really the first time in biblical history, we get major external corroboration of notable biblical figures and many details that sharpen our understanding of events.

Go to the companion website and see the time line “Intersections of Biblical and Ancient Middle Eastern History.”

1.1 History of the Kingdoms: A Summary

Solomon gained control of the monarchy in Jerusalem by eliminating his rivals Adonijah, another son of David, and Adonijah’s military backer Joab (1 Kings Chapters 1–2). Solomon was recognized for his wisdom (3–4) and effectively made Jerusalem the religious capital of Israel by building the temple there (5–8). Solomon lost popular and divine support due to his excesses—too much public debt and too many wives (9–11). After Solomon died, the northern territories led by Jeroboam rebelled against his son Rehoboam and created their own kingdom, which appropriated the name Israel (12–14). Israel’s monarchy was less stable than Judah’s until Omri took the throne (15–16).

Omri’s son, Ahab, promoted Baal practices in Israel and was challenged by the prophet Elijah and others (17–22). The prophet Elisha followed Elijah in opposition

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to Omri’s Israelite dynasty (2 Kings 1–8). Jehu brutally eliminated the house of Omri and established his own dynasty; Israel and Judah coexisted for about 200 years (9–16). Then Assyria conquered and destroyed Israel (17) and attacked Judah, but Hezekiah’s Judah survived (18–20). Evil King Manasseh (21) was followed by good King Josiah who reestablished Yahwistic religion in Judah after the lapse under Manasseh (22–23). But Judah stood helpless before Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, who invaded a couple times, and ultimately destroyed Jerusalem and deported many surviving Judeans to Babylon (24–25).

We can divide the books of Kings into three sections based on historical content (see Table 9.2). The first section deals with the kingdom of Solomon and the united

TABLE 9.1 Kings and Kingdoms

This table lists major players in the historical periods falling within the books of Kings. Years are BCE and indicate the years of the king’s reign. It may be a helpful reference as we read Kings and reconcile it with the literature of the Latter Prophets. Depending on the scholarly author and the sources, dates in biblical chronologies can vary.

Go to the companion website and see the table “Chronology and the Study of Israelite History.”



Outside Israel
United Monarchy    
Saul, 1020–1000    
David, 1000–961    
Solomon, 961–922    
Divided Kingdoms    
Israel Judah Egypt
Jeroboam I, 922–901 Rehoboam, 922–915 Shoshenq I (Shishak), 931–910: Invaded Palestine in 925
Omri, 876–869    
Ahab, 869–850 Jehoshaphat, 873–849 Assyria
Jehu, 842–815 Athaliah, 842–837 Shalmaneser III, 859–825: Dominated Jehu
  Jehoash, 837–800  
Jehoash, 801–786    
Jeroboam II, 786–746    
  Ahaz, 735–715 Tiglath-Pileser III (Pul), 745–727: Invaded Canaan
Hoshea, 732–724   Shalmaneser V, 726–722: Besieged Samaria
    Sargon II, 721–705: Conquered Samaria/Israel in 721
  Hezekiah, 715–687  
  Manasseh, 687–642  
  Josiah, 640–609 Babylonia
  Jehoahaz, 609  
  Jehoiakim, 609–598  
  Jehoiachin, 598–597  
Zedekiah, 597–587
Nebuchadrezzar II, 605–562: Conquered Jerusalem/Judah in 587

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TABLE 9.2 Kings and Prophets

Kings and Prophets


Books of Kings

1: Early monarchy 9 1 Kings 1 to 2 Kings 13 Elijah, Elisha
2: Assyrian crisis 10 2 Kings 14–20 Amos, Isaiah of Jerusalem, Micah, Hosea
3: Babylonian crisis
2 Kings 21–25
Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zephaniah, Nahum, Habakkuk

monarchy, the second with the civil conflict that led to national division and the resulting parallel histories of Israel and Judah, and the third with the history of Judah down to the Babylonian exile.

1.2 Kings as a Book

The books of Kings contain clear indications that they were constructed, at least in part, using available written records and other materials. The writer drew upon a number of documents that he refers to by name, but that are no longer available to us. He mentions “the book of the acts of Solomon” (1 Kings 11:41), “the book of the annals of the kings of Judah” (1 Kings 14:29), and “the book of the annals of the kings of Israel” (1 Kings 14:19). These must have been court records of some sort. In addition, the writer drew upon what were probably oral traditions of the prophets for the story cycles about Elijah and Elisha.

The books of Kings are only an outline of history from Solomon to the destruction of Jerusalem. Not attempting to be comprehensive, the writer used a principle of selection dictated by the lessons of history that he wanted to teach. The history that he told ends with the loss of the Promised Land and the forced exile of the people. The writer was intent on making clear that these tragic events were the result of the people’s sins and were God’s judgment on those sins.

Furthermore, the working out of God’s judgment on disobedience fulfilled the word of God through his servants, the prophets. The prophets of Kings, including Nathan, Ahijah, Elijah, and Elisha, warned Israel and Judah of coming disaster. But the hearts of kings and people were hard. The historical process demonstrated the power of the word of God unleashed in the world.

1.3 Reading Guide

Read the following highlights of the early history of the monarchy:

• 1 Kings 3: how Solomon got his wisdom and how he displayed it

• 1 Kings 8:1–9:9: Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple; the prayer is heavily Deuteronomic in character and foreshadows the exile

• 1 Kings 12: Rehoboam and the breakup of the tribes into two kingdoms, Judah and Israel

• 1 Kings 16:21–34 and Chapters 17–19: Omri, Ahab and Jezebel, and the prophet Elijah

• 2 Kings 1–2: the ascension of Elijah and the succession of Elisha

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The writer of Kings gives the reign of Solomon a great deal of attention (see Table 9.3). It is true that he ruled for a long time (968–928 BCE), indeed, a “perfect” forty years. But more important, in the mind of the Deuteronomistic historian, the reign of Solomon is the first fulfillment of one of the important parts of the Davidic covenant articulated in 2 Samuel 7. During his tenure as king, the great temple to Yhwh was built in Jerusalem.

2.1 Solomon versus Adonijah (1 Kings 1–2)

These first two chapters relate how Solomon secured the right to follow David as king of all Israel. David was now an old man. He was so frail that he needed a female companion to keep him warm at night; a beautiful young woman named Abishag was given the assignment. Adonijah was David’s eldest remaining son and naturally expected to inherit the throne. He had the support of the commander Joab and the priest Abiathar. Together they held a coronation ceremony in which Adonijah was proclaimed king. Many authorities see these first two chapters as the conclusion of an originally independent record called the Throne Succession History, or the Court History of David, comprising 2 Samuel 9–20 and 1 Kings 1–2 (see Whybray, 1968). However, the appendixes of 2 Samuel 21–24 break the continuity of the narrative, arguing against a unified work. This suggests that the canonical division of books positions these first chapters of Kings as the introduction to the history of Solomon’s kingdom rather than as the conclusion of a history of David’s throne succession.

Nathan, the prophet who supported David, and others objected to Adonijah’s assuming power. They strongly promoted Solomon, a younger son, for the throne—continuing the tradition and biblical motif of the younger son supplanting the older. Think of Isaac supplanting Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Ephraim over Manasseh, and David over his older brothers when Samuel came to find a king to replace Saul. Perhaps the reason the Yahwist strand of the Pentateuch was so interested in stories about divine preference for the younger son over the firstborn was the

TABLE 9.3 Biographical Sketch of Solomon

Became king and secured the throne

1 Kings 1–2
Received wisdom from God and demonstrated it 3–4
Built a temple in Jerusalem for Yhwh 5–9
Was visited by the Queen of Sheba 10
Married 700 wives and had 300 concubines 11
Died and was buried in Jerusalem

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need to establish precedent for the rise of Solomon to the throne over his rival older brothers. Apparently, the process of the dynastic succession of the eldest had not yet been firmly established in Israel.

Siding with Solomon were Bathsheba, his mother, Zadok, another priest, and Benaiah, one of David’s loyal lieutenants. They had the support of David and held their own coronation ceremony for Solomon. Evidently, Solomon also had popular support and a broader power base, for Adonijah gave up his claim to the throne and asked Solomon for forgiveness.

When he was about to die, David counseled his son, Solomon, to remain faithful using words reminiscent of Yhwh’s charge to Joshua (Joshua 1) and recollecting the promise of the Davidic covenant, all heavily bearing the stamp of the Deuteronomistic outlook.

I am about to go the way of all people. Be strong and courageous and keep the will of Yhwh your God, by walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, commandments, ordinances and testimonies as written in the Torah of Moses, so that you may prosper in everything you do and wherever you go. Then Yhwh will affirm his word which he spoke concerning me: “If your heirs watch their way and walk before me in faithfulness, with all their heart and with all their soul, then you will not fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.” (2:2–4)

Not one to give up easily, Adonijah made a veiled play for the throne after David died. Through Bathsheba he asked Solomon for permission to marry Abishag, David’s former concubine. When Solomon heard the request, he read into it a challenge to his power and accused Adonijah of treason. Apparently, if someone could access the king’s harem, then he was the real king. We might recall how this same move telegraphed to all Jerusalem that Absalom was king when he slept with David’s wives on the roof of the palace. Solomon took this provocation seriously and put Adonijah to death. Shortly afterward Joab, who had supported Adonijah’s claim to kingship, was also executed (see Figure 9.2). Abiathar, the priest who had sided with Adonijah, was exiled to Anathoth. In a Deuteronomistic editorial note,

Horned Altar

FIGURE 9.2 Horned Altar

This horned altar from Beersheba is similar to the altar in the tabernacle. Joab sought refuge by holding onto the horns of the altar, but Solomon killed him anyway (1 Kings 2:28–29).

Photo by Barry Bandstra, May 1996

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we are told that this last event fulfilled the prophetic word of condemnation voiced against the house of Eli (see 2:27 and compare 1 Samuel 2–3). Abiathar’s support of Adonijah over Solomon justifies the expulsion of the house of Abiathar and their exile to Anathoth in favor of the priesthood of Zadok. The rights of priesthood in Jerusalem were jealously guarded, and this explains how the Zadokite priesthood came to power. This note may be especially enlightening if the contention of Friedman (1987) is correct that the writer of Deuteronomy was Jeremiah. We know that Jeremiah hailed from Anathoth, and authorities speculate that he came from the line of Abiathar, ultimately tracing his lineage to Eli of Shiloh.

Having neutralized potential rivals by either exile or execution, Solomon was secure on the throne. So the writer concludes, “The kingdom was firmly in the hand of Solomon” (2:46).

2.2 Solomon’s Wisdom (1 Kings 3–4)

Solomon’s reign began favorably. When Yhwh came to him in a dream at Gibeon offering to grant him his wish, Solomon could have asked for anything. Instead of choosing wealth, longevity, or political security, he asked for the wisdom to discern good and evil so that he could rule God’s people well. Gratified that Solomon had chosen so wisely (evidently the wisdom of Solomon was that he was smart enough to choose wisdom), Yhwh granted him “a wise and perceptive mind” (3:12)—and provided the other options as bonuses.

As so often happens in the literature of the Hebrew Bible, the next story provides realization of what had just been promised. In what is perhaps the most famous story involving Solomon, two women come to him seeking justice. Each had an infant, but one of them had accidentally suffocated her child and switched her dead baby with the other woman’s living one. Each now claimed that the living infant was hers. Solomon cleverly cut through the conflicting claims. He ordered a sword and offered to give each woman one-half of the disputed child. As he had hoped, the real mother, the one who would show compassion, revealed herself by relinquishing her claim, in order to spare the child’s life.

The text also tells us that in addition to making judicious decisions, he was renowned for composing 3000 proverbs and 1005 songs and for analyzing flora and fauna in what appears to be an early pursuit of scientific classification. By doing the latter, Solomon follows in the venerable tradition of Adam who, according to the Yahwist account of creation (which, not by accident, was likely written during Solomon’s reign), called all the animals by name. The book of Proverbs, considered one of the Writings (see RTOT Chapter 14), is presented as the collection of Solomon’s wise sayings and observations. On the basis of these early chapters of Kings, along with the visit of the Queen of Sheba told in 1 Kings 10, Solomon acquired the reputation of being the wisest king of all time. Yet the later tale of his excesses and questionable fiscal policy might call that into question. The importance of the figure of Solomon for the tradition of wisdom in Israel will be examined in RTOT Part 3.

We are told that Solomon set up twelve provincial districts for the purposes of administration and taxation. The boundaries of these districts did not conform to tribal boundaries. This appears to have been Solomon’s attempt to sublimate tribal loyalties and create a national rather than provincial identity. Contrary to his intentions, he provoked regionalism that led to civil war shortly after his death. By placing the account of this administrative change within the chapters that describe his

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wisdom, the writer may have been suggesting that this administrative move was a manifestation of Solomon’s wisdom. But if so, his wisdom backfired.

2.3 Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 5–8)

Solomon set about building the temple in fulfillment of the terms of the covenant that Yhwh had made with David. He contracted Hiram of Tyre to supply building materials and skilled craftsmen in return for food supplies. There were cost overruns, however, and Solomon ended up settling his bill with Hiram by deeding over territory in the north of Israel. This, of course, did not sit well with the Israelites living there.

Nor did another policy. Solomon needed workers for the massive temple project, as well as for building his palace. He conscripted Israelites (1 Kings 5:13) and constrained them to provide manual labor (a practice termed the corvée, or “unpaid labor force”), thereby further alienating his constituency. The text later mentions the forced labor of Israelites as a major reason for the rebellion of Jeroboam and Israel (see 11:26–28 and 12:4). This reminded the Israelites of Pharaoh’s bitter oppression in Egypt before the Exodus when the Hebrews were forced to work on royal building projects. A pro-Solomon text tries to get around the scandal by suggesting that Solomon did not actually conscript Israelites but only non-Israelites living within the boundaries of Israel (9:15–22).

The temple was a magnificent structure (see Figure 9.3). Its walls were made of stone overlaid with wood paneling. There were two rooms within the sanctuary. The outer room housed an incense altar, lamps, and a table for ceremonial bread. The panels were decorated with carvings of flowers, trees, and cherubim. The inner room had perfectly symmetrical dimensions and housed the ark of the covenant. The temple took seven years to build and was completed around 950 BCE.

The temple was the most sacred of Israel’s buildings. Because it housed the ark of the covenant, it was considered to be the location of Yhwh’s presence among the people. This was expressed hymnically in the statement, “Yhwh sits enthroned between the cherubim” (Psalm 99:1) on the top of the ark, an iconic representation of the divine council. The ark was considered to be Yhwh’s throne and the inner sanctuary his throne room.

The configuration of the temple complex, its decorations, and its various implements suggest that the temple was intended to symbolize the world over which Yhwh rules. The outer courtyard with its bowl of water represented the waters of chaos. The outer room of the temple with its pictures of plants and animals cut into the walls and the lights of heaven represented in the lamp stands depicted the physical world in microcosm. The inner sanctum was a perfect cube covered entirely with gold. It housed the ark throne flanked by cherubim and represented the perfect heaven where Yhwh dwells, enthroned among the immortals of the Divine Council. The temple is a graphic symbol of the power and authority of King Yhwh over his creation.

There is additional symbolic significance to the temple. Mount Zion and the temple have been interpreted along the lines of the ancient Middle Eastern notion of the cosmic mountain. This is the point where heaven and earth meet, the so-called axis of the earth (see Clifford, 1972). Stager (2000) views the temple of Solomon as “a mythopoeic realization of heaven on earth, Paradise, the Garden of Eden.”

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First Temple

FIGURE 9.3 First Temple

Solomon’s temple follows the basic design layout of the tabernacle (see RTOT Chapter 3). The inner sanctuary, or the Most Holy Place, has perfectly symmetrical dimensions, befitting the dwelling place of God. Both the temple and the earlier tabernacle are patterned on Syrian temples (see Fritz, 1987, and Monson, 2000).

Source: Graphic by Barry Bandstra based on V. Fritz, “Temple Architecture: What Can Archaeology Tell Us about Solomon’s Temple?” Biblical Archaeology Review (July/August 1987): 41.

Solomon called a week-long national holiday for the dedication of the temple. The priests took the ark of the covenant from the tent of meeting and placed it in the inner sanctuary. Solomon offered a lengthy prayer of dedication (8:22–53) that recalled Yhwh’s covenant commitment to the house of David. It also anticipated times of national disaster and in anticipation of such times called for divine compassion. Reference to “being carried away captive to the land of the enemy” seems to foresee the Babylonian exile, using typical Deuteronomic language. It is often observed that the Deuteronomist most clearly expresses his outlook through the speeches of Israel’s great leaders. Moses is the most obvious, with the book of Deuteronomy a verbatim record of his addresses, but also Joshua in his farewell address (Joshua 24), likewise Samuel (1 Samuel 12), and here Solomon.

In addition to building the temple, Solomon built an expansive (and very expensive) royal palace complex. It took twice as long to build as the temple but gets only scant mention here. This opulence further indebted the nation and ripened the people’s growing dissatisfaction.

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2.4 Solomon’s Demise (1 Kings 9–11)

After Solomon completed his building projects, he went to Gibeon a second time. This time, Yhwh urges Solomon to be good and follow the terms of the Mosaic covenant. On that condition, the throne of David would be secure in Israel. If not, “I will cut Israel off from the land that I have given them; and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight” (9:7), says Yhwh, in a rather obvious foreshadowing of the coming destruction of the temple, only just completed, and the exile. We also learn of Solomon’s efforts fortifying his kingdom, including work on the city wall of Jerusalem, and on Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer. These sites have been extensively excavated (see Ben-Tor, 1999); however, the association of Solomon with the monumental architecture at these cities has been called into question by Finkelstein and Silberman (2001, 2006).

Solomon’s fame spread and people celebrated his wisdom far and near. Even the Queen of Sheba heard of his reputation and came to test it, a test he passed magnificently. The word spread that he was the wisest and richest person in the world (10:23–24). But in the evaluation of the Deuteronomistic writer, the budget deficit brought on by Solomon’s building projects and the dissatisfaction brought on by the conscripted labor gangs were not as disastrous as the trouble caused by his harem.

King Solomon loved many foreign women, including the daughter of Pharaoh, and women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon and Hatti—from nations about which Yhwh had said to the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, neither may they marry you, for they would surely turn your heart away after their gods.” Solomon clung to these women in love. He had seven hundred wives who were princesses, and three hundred who were concubines. His wives turned away his heart. (11:1–3)

What Solomon did here is not all that remarkable for his time, at least in principle if not in quantity. The fact that he had so many female retainers most certainly was not an indication that he had an overly active sexual appetite. Rather, the 1000 women were a sign of the vast political contacts of the Solomonic administration in this newly crafted Davidic empire. The wives of Solomon were a part of international arrangements, marriages for political and diplomatic purpose; treaties with other nations and city-states were contracted through such unions.

But the Deuteronomistic writer interprets these marriages as the seeds of Israel’s disintegration. Solomon was just too tolerant. He allowed these women to worship their native gods and goddesses right there in Jerusalem. In so doing, Solomon compromised his loyalty to Yhwh. For this, God would soon strip a major portion of the kingdom from the control of the house of David. This sets the stage and gives the theological rationale for dividing the kingdom into two separate nations.

3 THE DIVIDED KINGDOMS (1 Kings 12 - 2 Kings 13)

The books of Kings track the course of the monarchy through three stages. The first stage is the united monarchy under Solomon. The second stage is the period after the division of the tribes into two separate kingdoms, which come to be called Judah and Israel. This division was the result of the civil dispute over Davidic leadership in 928 BCE. The third stage comes after the demise of

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Israel, the kingdom of the ten northern tribes. The demise came as the result of Assyrian conquest ending in 722. After that, Judah alone remained a self-governing state.

The Deuteronomistic writer tells the story of the second of these three stages by zigzagging back and forth between Judah and Israel in chronological progression. Sometimes their histories are intertwined. The main focus of the narrative is on the kings of these two states and the domestic and international conflicts in which they find themselves. Israelite prophets are often found injecting themselves into the affairs of state, so there are many colorful episodes about royalty clashing with these seers.

The Deuteronomistic historian introduces the kings of Judah using a pattern of elements that could include


1. The date that the king took the throne relative to the reign of the king of Israel.

2. The length of his reign in Jerusalem.

3. The name of the mother of the king (the queen mother).

4. A value judgment of the king relative to David, who was the standard of comparison.

5. A fuller account that could be found in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah.


The Deuteronomistic historian introduces the kings of Israel using a somewhat different pattern of elements, typically including


1. The date that the king took the throne relative to the reign of the king of Judah.

2. The length of his reign in the location of the capital city of Israel.

3. A negative evaluation of the king (applying to all kings except Shallum, who only reigned one month).

4. A fuller account that could be found in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel.


Based on the citation of royal sources, we can see that the Deuteronomistic historian was dependent on official documents as the foundation of his account from which he selected episodes and details to synthesize a running narrative. This narrative then illustrated the Deuteronomic principles of divine blessing and judgment through the national experience of Israel’s monarchic history.

3.1 Division of the Kingdom (1 Kings 12–16)

Solomon was able to keep the kingdom together throughout his lifetime, but dissention grew. The seeds of dissatisfaction—primarily the cession of land in the north, high state taxation, and the use of Israelites in forced labor—prompted those in the northern districts to cast elsewhere for leadership. They found it in the figure of Jeroboam.

Jeroboam the son of Nebat (to distinguish him from a later Jeroboam who we call Jeroboam II), had been the foreman of one of Solomon’s labor crews. Being an Ephraimite, he seems to have shared in northern dissatisfaction with the Davidic administration. With the prophetic support of Ahijah from Shiloh (also located in the north, it was the religious center of the tribal federation during the period of the

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judges), Jeroboam organized resistance to Solomon. Ahijah is the first in a line of northern prophets mentioned in Kings. Solomon recognized Jeroboam as the ringleader and sought to kill him, but he survived by fleeing to Egypt.

After Solomon died, his son Rehoboam ascended the throne. He met with leaders from the north at Shechem (the old center of the tribal federation under Joshua), but support from the north was not forthcoming. Led by Jeroboam, the people demanded that Rehoboam humanize his policies and lighten the burden of taxation and government service. Rehoboam refused to change royal practice; in fact, encouraged by his closest counselors, with bravado he threatened to make the load even heavier. The northern delegation declared their independence.

When all Israel saw that the king would not listen to them, the people answered the king, “What do we have to do with David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse! To your tents, Israel! Take care of your own house now, David!” (12:16)

The Deuteronomistic writer framed the conflict in terms of rival administrations and national ideologies. The northern territories refused any longer to accept Davidic rulers and Zion theology. They had agreed to Davidic rule only after the house of Saul had let them down. Now they wanted out. But the Deuteronomistic writer’s sympathies are clearly with the Davidic line. And for good reason: When he wrote in the 600s, only Judah and the line of David existed anymore, and they were the only realistic hope for the future of Israel.

Rehoboam did not have the military power or political will to force them to accept his rule. And the kingdom, while spared a protracted and bloody civil war, now became two nations. The northern entity, consisting of some ten tribes, kept the name Israel. As you read narratives that date to this period, note that the term Israel designates the northern kingdom rather than a twelve-tribe entity. The southern kingdom of Judah was just Judah, the sole tribe that remained loyal to the leadership of the house of David. The twelfth tribe, Levi, did not have tribal territory, so Levites could be found in both Israel and Judah.

An important order of business for Jeroboam was to consolidate his hold on Israel and give it a distinctive national identity. To that end, he rebuilt Shechem and made it his capital. Attached to that site were all the associations of Israel’s tribal beginnings, the good old days of Joshua’s administration of the Mosaic covenant.

Jeroboam had to put together a religious system that was independent of Judah’s. He was rightly worried that his citizens would feel compelled to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem in order to fulfill their religious obligations as had become the practice under the Davidic administration. To counteract such a need, Jeroboam strategically located worship centers in his kingdom at its northern and southern boundaries, at Dan (see Figure 9.4) and Bethel, respectively. Bethel had a long religious history. The forebearers Abraham and Jacob had special connections with Bethel (see RTOT Chapter 2). Abraham built an altar near Bethel as he made his way to the Negev (Genesis 12:8), and Jacob had his dream of the stairway to heaven at this spot (Genesis 28:10–22), thus proving that it was a point of contact between heaven and humanity—hence, a suitable place for a sanctuary.

The shape that the religious system of Israel assumed under Jeroboam called for special condemnation by the Deuteronomistic writer. Jeroboam built golden calves

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Tell Dan High Place

FIGURE 9.4 Tell Dan High Place

This open-air platform, called a high place (Hebrew bamah), goes back as early as the tenth century BCE and may be related to Jeroboam’s religious program. Sacrifices and rituals would have been performed here (see Biran, 1998).

Photo by Barry Bandstra, May 1987.

as the centerpieces of these shrines. The mere mention of these idols immediately recalls the fiasco at Mount Sinai that Aaron engineered (see RTOT Chapter 3 and Exodus 32). Just as heinous in the eyes of the Deuteronomistic writer, Jeroboam employed non-Levites as priests and set up a religious calendar with festivals that differed from those used in Jerusalem and those specified in Deuteronomistic legislation. For all these transgressions, Israel, and Jeroboam himself, could not escape God’s condemnation.

An unnamed “man of God from Judah,” a prophetic figure of sorts (1 Kings 13), voiced Yhwh’s dissatisfaction by condemning Jeroboam and the Bethel shrine. But in the end, the Judean prophet was himself deceived by a Bethel holy man, resulting in his own execution by God. Clearly the message was this: Beware of the prophetic tricksters in the north, and stay away from Bethel. Although he reigned a healthy twenty-two years, Jeroboam was punished by the premature death of his son Abijah.

3.2 Elijah Cycle (1 Kings 17–2 Kings 2)

The reign of Ahab of Israel is the setting for the prophetic activity of Elijah. The introduction of Ahab follows the standard Deuteronomic pattern of encapsulating the basic facts:

In the thirty-eighth year of King Asa of Judah, Ahab son of Omri began to reign over Israel. Ahab son of Omri reigned over Israel from Samaria for twenty-two years. Ahab son of Omri did more bad things in the sight of Yhwh than all who were before him. And as if it were an insignificant thing for him just to continue committing the sins of Jeroboam, son of Nebat, additionally he took Jezebel, daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, as his wife. He continued to serve Baal, and worshiped him. (16:29–31)

Typical of such summaries, the reign of the northern king, in this case Ahab, is matched with the reign of Judah’s king.

Omri is himself notable as the founder of the dynasty of which Ahab is a part (see Table 9.4), and he gets mentioned in both Assyrian and Moabite royal

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TABLE 9.4 Israelite Dynasty of Omri


Ahab 869–850
Ahaziah 850–849

documents (see Figure 9.5). The capital city is named Samaria; Ahab’s father Omri moved the royal administration from Tirzah (Jeroboam had used Shechem as his capital, but Baasha moved it to Tirzah) to Samaria, where it would remain for the duration of Israel’s existence. Note also the negative evaluation of Ahab, given in terms of continuing the idolatry of Jeroboam who set up the golden calves in Dan and Bethel. But Ahab went even further. He married Jezebel, daughter of the king of the Phoenician city of Sidon, who brazenly promoted the worship of Baal (see Figure 9.6).

Like Solomon’s marriages, Ahab’s marriage to Jezebel was made for diplomatic reasons, to seal an alliance with the Phoenicians. But the Deuteronomistic writer sees only the religiopolitical implications of this marriage. It was yet another sign of the deterioration of Israel’s loyalty to Yhwh in favor of Baal.

Moabite Stone

FIGURE 9.5 Moabite Stone

Omri was the founder of one of Israel’s most powerful and long-lasting dynasties (enduring four generations, 876–842). He made alliances with Phoenicia and Judah and controlled Moab. This mid-800s BCE monumental inscription, also called the Mesha Stele, mentions “Omri, king of Israel” and Mesha, king of Moab, who rebelled against Ahab (see 2 Kings 3:4–5).

From R. Dussand, Les Monuments Palestiniens et Judaïques (Paris, 1912)

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Jezebel Seal

FIGURE 9.6 Jezebel Seal

A seal is used to make an impression on clay in order to indicate ownership and authority. Images and words are carved in reverse so that the imprint is readable. This seal was discovered in 1964 by Nahman Avigad. It dates to the 800s BCE and the name “yzbl” is inscribed on it. Based on an analysis of the seal’s images, Korpel (2006) reconstructs the missing chip at the top to read “belonging to Jezebel” and argues that the seal most likely belonged to the Jezebel of the Hebrew Bible. Attesting the practice of sealing documents, 1 Kings 21:8 tells us that Jezebel wrote letters and sealed them with a seal, though in this text the seal belongs to her husband Ahab.

Source: Drawing by Daniel Hornschemeier Bandstra based on the original in the Israel Antiquities Authority Collection (Jerusalem: Israel Museum).

The core of 1 Kings 17 through 2 Kings 2 is a collection or cycle of narratives revolving around the central figure of Elijah. Into this group of Elijah stories, other material has been inserted, including the account of the prophet Micaiah (22). The Elijah stories have been shaped to highlight the struggle between Yhwh’s champion, Elijah, and the Israelite dynasty, which advocated the worship of Baal and Asherah. The confrontation is framed as an issue of religious belief and the question of who the true deity is. But this binary opposition, Yhwh or Baal, is also a set of political options. Elijah represents the traditional Israelite viewpoint of the theocratic tribal league, which recognizes that their primary allegiance must be to King Yhwh. Jezebel and the prophets of Baal represent Canaanite social and political values. Ahab’s eager reception of the Baal cult was a demonstration of his openness to the big Canaanite world outside Israel, an openness that would no doubt have commercial, economic, and political benefits.

Elijah was not going to allow this influx of Canaanite culture and religion to go unchallenged. To force the Israelites to choose Yhwh or Baal, he framed the issue as an economic one and as an issue of life and death: Which deity grows our food? Which deity gives us life? In the Canaanite world, Baal was the presume force that controlled agricultural fertility by providing the life-giving rains. In Canaanite mythic texts, he is called “the Rider on the Clouds,” understood on the model of a storm god riding the thunderstorm (see Figure 9.7), with its associated imagery of mounting the clouds to seed them. What better way to find out who really

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Baal's Lightning

FIGURE 9.7 Baal’s Lightning

This stone plaque, dating to the early second millennium BCE, was found at Ugarit. It depicts the Canaanite male deity Baal holding a lightning rod in his left hand. As the god of the storm, he was thought to be responsible for rain and was worshipped to enhance agricultural productivity.

Source: Drawing by Karla VanHuysen based on J. B. Pritchard, The Ancient Near East in Pictures (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1954), 168, no. 490.

does send the rain than by first decreeing a drought and then watching which god would end it?

Elijah himself found relief from the drought and consequent famine first at the brook Cherith, and later with a widow and her son in Zarephath. The irony in this part of the story could not be more pointed. Zarephath is in the heartland of Jezebel’s homeland of Phoenicia, the territory of her patron god, Baal Melqart. There, Elijah performed life-giving miracles to demonstrate the power of Yhwh in Baal country. He provided unlimited food to this poor widow and even brought her dead son back to life.

The clash of cultures came to a climax on Mount Carmel, where the issue was settled by a dramatic contest. Elijah confronted 450 prophets of Baal to determine who really sends the rain. The Baal prophets, assisted by some 400 cult prophets devoted to Asherah, tried to get the attention of their gods with shouts and bodily mutilations but to no avail. In contrast, Elijah called on Yhwh, who sent lightning down from heaven, devouring a well-drenched sacrifice and proving who really manages the storm. The citizenry who witnessed the outcome of the contest sided with Elijah and Yhwh, and slew the prophets of Baal. Because these prophets had been sponsored by Jezebel, she became terribly upset and resolved to see Elijah dead.

Elijah fled to Horeb, a symbolic forty-day journey away. He returned to the site of Mosaic revelation, perhaps to reestablish contact with the God of the Exodus and the tribal league. While he was there, he awaited the revealing of

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Yhwh, expecting it to happen in storm, earthquake, or fire—the expected modes of theophany. Instead, God made his presence known in a barely audible whisper, the “still small voice” of older English versions. Elijah was then assured that the power of Yhwh was not dead in Israel and that Elijah himself would oversee the demise of the house of Ahab.

To understand the logic of the text’s organization, note that the next two chapters provide a characterization of Ahab with reasons enough for his elimination. Chapter 20 has nothing to do with Elijah though unnamed prophets are part of the action. The text at first seems flattering in the way it describes Ahab’s victory over the Syrians, but then it condemns him because he failed to eliminate them totally when he had the chance. The story may remind you of Saul’s similar failure to destroy the Amalekites when he had the chance. Perhaps the text implies that Ahab will meet the same end as Saul.

Chapter 21 reveals the inner Ahab, the weak leader easily manipulated by his wife Jezebel. Ahab desired the property adjacent to his palace in Samaria, though 1 Kings 21:1 seems somewhat confused here, leaving us to wonder whether the vineyard is actually in Samaria, Ahab’s capital city, or in Jezreel, Naboth’s hometown and the site of Ahab and Jezebel’s resort palace. In any case, when the vineyard’s owner Naboth refused to sell his family’s land holdings, Jezebel arranged for Naboth to be falsely accused of a capital offense and executed. For this, Elijah condemned Ahab and declared that his dynasty would come to an end.

Ahab died in battle fighting the Ammonites, as Chapter 22 details, though Elijah does not appear in this episode. Instead, the prophet Micaiah is cited as the one who foretold the death of Ahab. In contrast to Micaiah, about 400 prophets loyal to Ahab encouraged him to fight by predicting that he would be victorious. Micaiah’s was the lone voice in opposition, much like Elijah’s on Mount Carmel. The description of Micaiah’s meeting with God where he received the knowledge of Ahab’s doom is especially intriguing, providing a glimpse of the inner workings of the Divine Council:

I saw Yhwh sitting on his throne, with all the host of heaven flanking him right and left. Yhwh said, “Who will lure Ahab so that he will attack Ramoth-gilead and fall?” One said this and another that, until a spirit came forward and stood before Yhwh. “I will lure him.” “How?” Yhwh asked. He replied, “I will go and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.” Then Yhwh said, “You are to lure him, and you will succeed. Go and do it.” As you have seen, Yhwh has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these prophets of yours. Yhwh has decreed disaster for you! (22:19–23)

In other words, the true prophet has access to the throne room of Yhwh where he receives true knowledge and political insight, as Micaiah claims for himself here. Micaiah knows the whole story because he was there. The false prophets got their message secondhand from a lying spirit, which, in an ironic twist, was itself sent from the Divine Council. Micaiah implies that only true prophets get their message directly from Yhwh. False prophets claim to be speaking for Yhwh when in fact they do not because they have not been present in the throne room of the divine King.

Obviously still loyal to Baal, the dynasty of Ahab continues to fall under the condemnation of the Deuteronomistic historian in the continuation of the Elijah cycle in 2 Kings 1. Here we find that Ahaziah followed his father Ahab as king over Israel.

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After Ahaziah fell through the roof of his palace, he tried to send messengers to Baal-zebub (a local Baal god) inquiring whether he would live or die.

Elijah intercepted the messengers and told them Ahaziah would most certainly die. When the king inquired who it was that told them this, they replied it was “a hairy man who wore a leather belt around his waist” (2 Kings 1:8). Dejectedly, Ahaziah recognized the description and said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.” Readers of the gospel accounts will recognize that a similar description is applied to John the Baptist in order to associate him with the expected return of Elijah (see Matthew 3:4 and Mark 1:6).

Ahaziah tried to retaliate by sending soldiers to assassinate Elijah, but once again Elijah marshaled fire from heaven, and they were incinerated. Then Elijah departed from the scene in a spectacular way. While being followed by his disciple Elisha, he crossed the Jordan River and headed to the place in Transjordan where he would disappear. Although the exact location is left vague, the implication might be that he went to the Mount Nebo region to pass on, this being the same place where Moses had died; other parallel experiences include the flight to Horeb (Mount Sinai) and the miraculous crossing of the Jordan River.

As Elisha looked on, a chariot of fire engulfed Elijah, and he was whisked into heaven in a whirlwind. It appears that the theophany transported Elijah to the Divine Council. As a result of the tradition that Elijah did not die but is with God, significant expectations of Elijah’s future return developed within Judaism and Christianity. It was believed that Elijah would someday come back to earth, and his arrival would signal the dawn of the messianic era. For texts that seem to connect Elijah with the future messiah, see Malachi 4:4–6, Sirach 48:9, and in the New Testament, see Mark 9:2–13. The cup of Elijah of the Jewish Passover Seder is another example of this expectation.

3.3 Elisha Cycle (2 Kings 3–13)

Elijah passed his mantle to Elisha, his disciple, with all its attendant powers and responsibilities. This symbolized that Elisha was the legitimate heir to Elijah, immediately proven true by Elisha’s duplication of Elijah’s Jordan crossing miracle that enabled him to get back into Palestine. The master–disciple relationship of Elijah to Elisha has more than just a passing similarity to that of Moses and Joshua.

The Elisha cycle of stories has a different quality than the Elijah cycle. The Elisha cycle is much more occupied with miracles than it is with religious and political confrontation though there is some of that too. The miracles are summarized here in the order of their occurrence:


1. Elisha changed contaminated water to drinkable.

2. He directed two bears to maul some disrespectful children who had taunted him and called him names.

3. He created an optical illusion that delivered the Moabites into the hands of King Jehoshaphat of Judah.

4. He multiplied a quantity of olive oil so that a widow could pay off her debts (paralleling Elijah’s miracle in Zarephath).

5. He resuscitated the son of a woman from Shunem (again duplicating another one of Elijah’s miracles).

6. He transformed some spoiled stew into edible food.

7. He fed 100 men with twenty loaves of bread.

8. He cured Naaman, a Syrian military commander, of leprosy.

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9. He recovered a lost iron ax head from the Jordan River by having it float.

10. He blinded the Syrian army and led them into Israelite captivity.


All these stories tend to glorify Elisha as a miracle worker and prophetic figure. Like Elijah, he was a northern prophet and represented the Israelite federation’s theocratic tradition. Elisha was also involved in Israelite and even international politics, though to a lesser degree than Elijah. He supported Hazael to be king of Syria/Aram in place of Ben-hadad. This was in fulfillment of Yhwh’s instructions to Elijah at Horeb (1 Kings 19:15). It might seem strange to see an Israelite prophet encouraging Hazael, who then went on to make war against Israel. But this is the Deuteronomistic writer’s way of showing how this Syrian pressure was planned by Yhwh as punishment for Israel’s covenant breaking.

Elisha also supported Jehu when he overthrew the dynasty of Ahab. Again, this was punishment for the way Ahab and Jezebel promoted the worship of Baal and Asherah. Jehu’s purge of Ahab’s family and administration was swift and brutal. First, he went to Jezreel, the site of the royal retreat. He assassinated Joram, Ahab’s son and king of Israel, along with his ally Ahaziah, king of Judah. Then he had Jezebel tossed out an upper window of her summer estate in Jezreel; she landed on the street and his horses trampled her under hoof. He continued to secure his position by beheading the seventy sons of Ahab in Samaria, the capital; then he killed everyone closely associated with or even distantly related to Ahab and capped it off with a massacre of the royally sponsored priests, prophets, and worshipers of Baal. It is no wonder that Hosea, a later prophet, recalled those times of infighting and ruthlessness as the “bloody business of Jezreel” (Hosea 1:4). Although he acted by divine mandate according to the Deuteronomistic writer, other minds in Israel viewed this violent era with great disdain.

The house of Ahab was eliminated by divine decree and by Jehu. Jehu generally receives a good review in Kings, but he was not fully endorsed (after all, he was an Israelite king in a non-Davidic kingdom). He failed to eliminate the worship centers of the golden calves in Dan and Bethel. And extrabiblical evidence proves Israel was subject to Assyria in some degree during his reign (see Figure 9.8). The familiar Deuteronomistic refrain rounds out the account of Jehu: “But Jehu was not careful to observe the Torah of Yhwh the God of Israel wholeheartedly; he did not turn from the sins into which Jeroboam led Israel” (10:31).

The problems with the Ahab dynasty spilled over into Judah. Athaliah, of the line of Ahab, usurped the reins of government in Jerusalem and attempted to wipe out the dynasty of David. She turns out to have been the only ruling queen in either Israel or Judah. The Jerusalemite priest Jehoiada succeeded in hiding Joash, the surviving heir of the Davidic line, who was later restored to the throne in a bloodless coup.

The dynasty of Jehu (see Table 9.5) remained in power over Israel for nearly a century. During the first half of this period, the latter 800s, Israel was dominated

TABLE 9.5 Israelite Dynasty of Jehu


Jehoahaz 815–801
Jehoash/Joash 801–786
Jeroboam II 786–746

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Shalmaneser III and Jehu

FIGURE 9.8 Shalmaneser III and Jehu

Jehu is one of the few Israelite kings mentioned by name in material from outside the Hebrew Bible, and he is the only one depicted in relief. The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III (king of Assyria 859–825 BCE) is a carved basalt-rock standing monument that contains pictures and Assyrian inscriptions. In this panel, Shalmaneser is receiving tribute from “Jehu, son of Omri,” who is on his hands and knees, though technically Jehu was the son of Jehoshaphat.

Source: Photo by Barry Bandstra (London: British Museum), March 1998.

by Syria, called Aram in the text, with Damascus as its capital. The Israelites were hard pressed, and the text tells us that “Yhwh gave Israel a deliverer” (2 Kings 13:5), using language that echoes the book of Judges. Although this savior is left nameless, many have suggested that the writer had in mind Adad-nirari III of Assyria, who extended the reach of his empire west into Syria. This would have taken the pressure of Syria off Israel. Elisha also, as his end approached, predicted victory over Aram:

Yhwh graced them and showed them mercy, and Elohim faced them on account of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He did not want to destroy them and he did not cast them from his face even until now. (2 Kings 13:23).

Indeed, after the deaths of Elisha, the prophet of Israel, and Hazael, the king of Aram, Israel recovered much of the territory it had lost, and the kingdom of Israel grew. This story is told in the next chapter.



1. United monarchy and divided kingdoms. What is the general course of Israel’s history from the united monarchy, through the division into two kingdoms, and down to the fall of each kingdom? What is each kingdom called? What is the capital of each kingdom?

2. Deuteronomistic History. What is the perspective of the Deuteronomistic historian as applied to the division of the kingdoms, and why did the writer criticize the northern kingdom of Israel more severely than the southern kingdom of Judah?

3. Prophets. Who are the major prophetic figures that appear in connection with the early monarchy, and what were their functions within Israelite society, especially in relation to the kings?

4. Religion. What is the character of Canaanite religion during this period, and what was the nature of the religious challenge facing Yahwism?


1. Davidic covenant. Review the concept of the Davidic covenant (see RTOT Chapter 8) and explain its relevance to the history of kingship as told in this chapter.

2. Covenant ideologies. Summarize the two foundational religiopolitical frameworks of Israel: the theocratic covenant of Mount Sinai and the monarchic covenant of Mount Zion. What are their historical and geographical associations? Can they coexist? How does the DH relate to each?

3. Typology. What are the parallels between the prophetic activities of Elijah and Elisha? Between Elijah and Moses? Between Elijah and Jesus in the New Testament? The story of the Transfiguration in particular (see Mark 9:2–8) builds upon typological connections. What might be a writer’s point in drawing parallels between the lives of significant biblical figures?


A good history of Israel will provide more depth and detail than we can manage here. Either Michael D. Coogan, ed. (1998), The Oxford History of the Biblical World, or Hershel Shanks, ed. (1999), Ancient Israel, would do the job. Both are collections of chapters on the periods of biblical history written by specialists on those periods. The monograph by Jens Bruun (2005), Text and History: Historiography and the Study of the Biblical Text, presents evidence that the books of Kings convey accurate and authentic information about the history of the Israelite monarchies.