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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

Reading through 1 and 2 Kings

Certainly, the author of Kings used a variety of sources—from royal archives to prophetic legends—in composing his story. But in the form in which we read the book of Kings, it is probably the work of a single individual, writing during or shortly after the exile when the shape of Judah's future was unclear. The institutions that gave meaning to Israel's national and religious life were dead. The Temple of Jerusalem was in ruins and its priesthood scattered. The likelihood of a restoration of the Davidic dynasty seemed remote. The Israelite national states no longer existed. Their territory was simply incorporated into the conquering Mesopotamian empires. Imbued with the religious perspectives of the book of Deuteronomy, Kings clearly states that the downfall of Israel and Judah was a consequence of their disobedience, but it implies that Judah may still have a future if it learns obedience.

The books of Kings are anything but objective. First, they reflect a clear bias in favor of Judah and so they write off the Northern Kingdom as a complete loss. Not a single monarch from the Northern Kingdom receives a positive evaluation. Second, Kings does praise a few kings of Judah, but most are condemned. In the author's eyes, most kings promoted or at least allowed worship that did not reflect the uniqueness of Israel's God and the absolute loyalty that Israel owed to its divine patron. Third, the author is completely convinced of the centrality of the Torah in Israel's life with God. Every other religious institution is secondary to it. To make its theological points, the book uses speeches, prayers, and sometimes editorial comments. Attention to these forms will help the reader become acquainted with the spin the book puts on the events it narrates.

Finally, the books of Kings are part of a larger work that begins with Joshua and is sometimes called the “Deuteronomistic History.” It is important to remember that while the adjective Deuteronomistic is appropriate, the term history is not. The book is an exponent of Deuteronomy's theology, but the author is not a historian—at least not in the modern sense. The author is more of a preacher or moralist as he turns Israel's past into a sermon. The author of Kings directs those who want “historical” information to sources like the Chronicles of Solomon (1 Kgs 11, 41 ), the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah (1 Kgs 14, 29 and fourteen more times) and the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel (1 Kgs 14, 19 and sixteen more times)—sources that are, unfortunately, lost. Also, the relative chronologies of the kings of Judah and Israel do not mesh, and contemporary historians have not been able to reconcile these differences. The book passes over kings of great historical import with a few lines, while it devotes chapters to kings that the book considers models of religious commitment. One can use the books of Kings to help reconstruct the history of the Israelite kingdoms, but these books were not written for that purpose. It is important to relate the contents of the books of Kings to other ancient Near Eastern written sources and to the results of archaeological excavations. But none of this diminishes the book's theological achievements. This massive work enabled the exiles to make sense of events that challenged their most deeply held religious beliefs. The book's passion to keep Judah's faith in its ancestral deity alive despite terrible odds offers a model to all those who hand on the faith today, so reading the books of Kings can be as important today as it was millennia ago.

Solomon's Accession (1 Kgs 1, 1–2, 46 )

With David a very old man, unable even to keep himself warm, the question of succession became acute. There were two competing candidates: Adonijah and Solomon. Neither was designated by a divine word given through a prophet as were Saul and David. The throne would go to the better practitioner of power politics. Adonijah was born in Hebron and was favored by David's oldest supporters: Joab and Abiathar. Solomon was born in Jerusalem and was favored by his mother Bathsheba and those who supported David after he established himself in that city. That Adonijah was Absalom's full brother (1 Kgs 1, 6 ) presaged the outcome of the contest.

Adonijah and Solomon took different approaches toward the succession. Adonijah acted in his own person, claiming the throne for himself. Solomon was content to let his supporters manipulate his father into designating him as the successor to the throne. The book describes two simultaneous ceremonies—each of which was to inaugurate David's successor. The ceremonies took place near Jerusalem at two sites in shouting distance of each other. Adonijah chose Enrogel, a spring located at the juncture of the Hinnom and Kidron Valleys just south of Jerusalem; Solomon had his ceremony at the Gihon Spring, Jerusalem's main water source, at the base of the eastern slope of David's city. Solomon was able to bring more people to his ceremony; after all, he was the candidate of the Jerusalem party. When Adonijah and his supporters heard the crowd acclaim Solomon as their king, they lost heart and fled. Adonijah submitted to Solomon's authority and begged for his life, which Solomon chose to spare.

With the succession settled, the book had David make his exit. Of course, a person as important as David must have some significant last words to say. The book provides David with a schizophrenic‐like testament (1 Kgs 2, 1–9 ). The first to speak is the “pious David” who charges his successor to be obedient to the written authoritative Torah, i.e., the book of Deuteronomy. It will be through his obedience that Solomon will secure the throne for himself and his successors (vv. 2–4 ). Then it is the turn of the “practical David.” He knew from experience that gaining the throne and keeping the throne are two different things. The last words of David recorded in 1 Kings identify those who have shown themselves a threat to the dynasty. David was certain that Solomon would know what needed to be done (vv. 5–9 ).

The reader does not have to wait long to learn how Solomon dealt with potential troublemakers (1 Kgs 2, 12–46 ). First, he had Adonijah killed. The imprudent Adonijah gave Solomon a pretext when he asked to marry Abishag, one of David's secondary wives. Solomon chose to interpret Adonijah's foolish request as treason. The new king then dealt with Adonijah's principal supporters. He had Joab killed and sent Abiathar to internal exile. For good measure, Solomon had Shimei, David's tormentor, executed as well (see 2 Sm 16, 6–14; 19, 16–24 ). The book allows its readers to draw their own conclusions regarding the path Solomon took to the throne. Notably absent from these first two chapters is any statement or even a hint that God had any role in Solomon's succession.

It is important to note the role that Bathsheba, Solomon's mother, played in his rise to the throne. After he became king, she enjoyed access to him and was seated near his throne at official functions (1 Kgs 2, 19–20 ). The books of Kings name the mothers of seventeen other kings—all but two kings of Judah (Jehoram and Ahaz) and two kings of Israel. This had led to the conclusion that the “queen mother” has an official position and exercised political and religious power. Unfortunately, the book does not provide the type of information that would permit firm conclusions to be drawn. That the author made it a point to mention the mother of eighteen kings by name, however, makes it obvious that the “queen mother” enjoyed a specific rank and exercised some power—especially over domestic matters.

Solomon's Reign (1 Kgs 3, 1–11, 43 )

The account of Solomon's reign begins with an introductory statement that encapsulates the book's ambivalence toward David's son (1 Kgs 3, 1–3 ). On the one hand, the reader is told that Solomon “loved the Lord” (v. 3 ), fulfilling the great commandment of Deuteronomy (see Dt 6, 5 ). But, on the other hand, he married a foreign princess and worshipped on the “high places.” The Deuteronomic tradition takes a dim view of both patterns of behavior (see Dt 7, 1–4; 1 Kgs 3, 2–3 and twenty‐eight more times). Like Israel's life in the land, Solomon's reign will begin well enough, but it will soon founder because of an unwillingness to be faithful to the most basic of the Torah's commands: absolute fidelity to Israel's God.

The book finally gets around to providing divine legitimation for Solomon's accession (1 Kgs 3, 4–15 ). It does so by having God approve of Solomon's status as king through an appearance in a dream, which the Bible considers as one way that God communicates with human beings. The story reflects an ancient Near Eastern practice (called “incubation”) of seeking an oracle by sleeping in a sanctuary after offering the prescribed sacrifices. Any dream experienced during this sleep was considered a revelation from the god honored at the sanctuary. The dream concerned Solomon's request for God's help in ruling Israel wisely. The request was granted. The book follows up the account of the dream with a tale illustrating Solomon's wisdom (1 Kgs 3, 16–28 ). Solomon was able to settle a dispute between two women over an infant, which each claimed as her own, because he knew that the true mother would sacrifice anything to insure the welfare of her child.

The book pauses in its narrative about Solomon's reign to include information about Solomon's administration, wealth, and wisdom (1 Kgs 4, 1–5, 14 ). The editors of the NAB rearrange the versification of this section as follows: 4, 1–6 (Solomon's administrators); 4, 7–19; 5, 7–8 (districts for taxation); 4, 20 (the kingdom's prosperity); 5, 2–6 (Solomon's wealth); 5, 9–14 (Solomon's wisdom). First Samuel mentioned almost nothing about Saul's administration. Second Samuel named nine administrators during David's reign (see 2 Sm 8, 16–18; 20, 23–26 ). It is clear from the list of Solomon's administrators (1 Kgs 4, 1–19 ) that the centralization of all authority in the monarchy became a priority under Solomon. He developed an efficient apparatus to do what Samuel warned them that their king would do: tax them (see 1 Sm 8, 10–18 ). The book also makes a point of noting that Solomon set up his sons‐in‐law over two of the districts (1 Kgs 4, 11.15 ) and that Judah, Solomon's tribe, was not included among the taxation districts. The people had asked Samuel for a king to rule over them “like other nations” (1 Sm 8). The book implies that the taxation, nepotism, and cronyism assure them that they have such a king. Deuteronomy requires that the king study the Torah so that he not “become estranged from his countrymen” (Dt 17, 20 ). The list of the king's daily provisions (1 Kgs 5, 1–5 ) certainly sounded more than extravagant to Judah's subsistence farmers. The divide between the royal establishment and the general population was becoming more pronounced. Still, 1 Kings 4, 20 (note: this verse has been moved to ch. 5 ) and 5, 5 describe Solomon's reign as a time of peace and prosperity.

Just as Moses was associated with Torah and David with the psalms, Solomon was remembered as a sage (see Prv 1, 1; Sir 47, 12 ). To conclude its initial portrait of Solomon, the book asserts that Solomon's wisdom was unsurpassed. His wisdom attracted admirers from all over the world ( 5, 9–14 ). The reader recognizes that Solomon's court is far different from that of Saul—and even David.

Next, the book describes a project with which Solomon's name is always associated: the building of the Temple (1 Kgs 5, 15–32 ). While the account implies that the project was ordained by God, temple building was a royal prerogative in the ancient Near East. By initiating the project of erecting a temple to Israel's patron deity in Jerusalem, his capital, Solomon was asserting, in most dramatic form, his claim to Israel's throne. The book has Solomon explain that David did not build a temple because he was almost continuously at war (1 Kgs 5, 17 ). Solomon also used good Deuteronomic language as he said that he was going to build a temple “for the name of God” (v. 19 , literal translation). The Deuteronomic tradition usually avoided describing the Temple as God's dwelling place, preferring to speak of the Temple as the place for God's name (see Dt 12, 11 ). To be consistent with its portrait of Solomon as an Israelite king with an international reputation, the book has the king using his contacts to assemble the best material and artisans from surrounding countries for his project, while ordinary Israelites contributed their labor to the project.

The book goes into some detail in describing the building of the Temple. It gives the date for both the beginning and the completion of the project (1 Kgs 6, 1–37 ) and describes the dimensions of the building and its tripartite structure. The Temple was to have a porch, a nave, and a “holy of holies.” The latter was a windowless room that was to contain the ark of the covenant, the symbol of the divine presence. In the holy of holies, there were to be two cherubim (1 Kgs 6, 23–28 ). A cherub was a mythical creature that had the face of a human being, the forequarters of a lion, the hindquarters of an ox, and wings of an eagle. The ark of the covenant would be placed between the two cherubim.

The book clearly wants readers to think of the Temple as a most impressive building. Solomon spared no expense in its construction and ornamentation. He overlaid the entire structure with gold (1 Kgs 6, 22 ). At the same time, however, the book offers an explanation for the eventual destruction of this singular structure. It presents God as warning Solomon that God will never forsake Israel, the dynasty, or the Temple if he keeps the commandments (1 Kgs 6, 12 ). Kings will describe how Solomon and most of Israel's kings failed, leaving God to abandon the Temple that Solomon built.

The book inserts a short description of five other structures that it credits to Solomon's building activity (1 Kgs 7, 1–12 ), implying that as much as the Temple was designed to show that the Lord was a great God, it and the other buildings Solomon had built were designed to show that Solomon was a great king. These five structures were the “Forest of Lebanon,” which was larger than the Temple, the “Columned Hall,” the “Throne Hall” (or “Hall of Justice”), and palaces for himself and for the pharaoh's daughter. Completing these projects took almost double the time it took to build the Temple (1 Kgs 6, 38; 7, 1 ). The text provides little information about the structures themselves, and archaeological excavation has not uncovered any such buildings.

After mentioning Solomon's other projects, the book returns to the Temple and describes some of its furnishings (1 Kgs 7, 13–51 ). The artisan responsible for crafting these furnishings was named Hiram though v. 40 (in the Hebrew) calls him Hirom. The Chronicler remembers him as Huram (2 Chr 4, 11 ) and Huram‐abi (2 Chr 2, 13; 4, 16 ). Of particular interest are the two bronze pillars (1 Kgs 7, 15–22 ). Their appearance and function are difficult to reconstruct given the information in the text. They were probably symbolic because they did not support any part of the structure and because they were given names. The bronze sea (vv. 23–26 ), the wheeled stands (vv. 27–37 ), and the basins (vv. 38–39 ) testify to the need for large volumes of water that had to be kept in the Temple area to cleanse it from the contamination caused by the blood of the sacrifices offered there.

With the Temple and its furnishings completed, all is ready for the building's dedication. The book provides a narrative framework (1 Kgs 8, 1–9; 62–66 ) for a lengthy prayer that Solomon offered at the dedication. The framework describes the transfer of the ark to the newly built Temple and the sacrifices offered there for the first time. The prayer, however, seems to prepare the reader for a world without a Temple. The words of the prayer are, at times, in conflict with each other. Verses 10–13 speak about God's presence in the Temple while v. 27 asserts that God cannot be contained in the building that Solomon had just built. The prayer also appears to transform the Temple from a place of sacrificial offerings (vv. 5 and 66 ) into a place of prayer where Israelite and non‐Israelite alike can ask for forgiveness (vv. 42–43 ). Indeed, one does not even need to be present in the Temple to be heard by God. All that is necessary is that one pray in the direction of Jerusalem and its Temple (vv. 38, 48; see Dn 6, 11 ). The author of Kings composed this prayer to help his readers cope with the loss of the Temple.

The book uses another speech to reiterate its explanation for the disastrous end of the Davidic dynasty and the destruction of the Temple (1 Kgs 9, 1–9 ). After all, the prayer of Solomon had just praised God for fulfilling the promise to David (1 Kgs 8, 14–29 ) and celebrated the dedication of the Temple. God appeared to Solomon and warned him that the future of the dynasty and the Temple depended on the fidelity of Israel's kings to the commandments and on Israel's exclusive loyalty to its ancestral deity. The conclusion is obvious: the destruction of the Temple and the end of the dynasty did not occur because of any lack of fidelity on God's part. The people of Israel and their kings bear full responsibility for the fall of the two Israelite states and the exile of their people. Of course, the book wants its readers to recognize that the converse is true as well: obedience will bring God's blessing to the people and their land.

The book brings its treatment of the temple to a close by mentioning some economic and personnel issues (1 Kgs 9, 10–25 ). The assistance that Hiram, the king of Tyre, gave to Solomon in completing his building projects came at a price. Solomon ceded twenty cities along the Galilean border with Tyre to Hiram. Also, the labor for the projects was supplied not by Israelites but by prisoners of war. The issue of forced labor proved to be one that undermined the relations between the king and people. Even though 1 Kings 5, 27 suggests that Solomon got skilled workers for the Temple project from Israel, 1 Kings 9, 20 asserts that the laborers came from non‐Israelite prisoners of war. The Millo mentioned in 1 Kings 9, 24 was probably a structure that supported the terrace work that allowed building on the steep grades of the Ophel hill on which monarchic period Jerusalem was built.

Next, the book describes the splendor of Solomon's reign by focusing on his wealth, wisdom, and chariot forces (1 Kgs 9, 26–10, 29 ). Eleven times the text mentions the gold that the king amassed. It also notes that the queen of Sheba came to Jerusalem because of Solomon's renown as a sage. Sheba was located at the southwestern corner of the Arabian peninsula and was likely one of Judah's trading partners. Goods passed between these two countries through the Red Sea port at Ezion‐geber. According to an Ethiopian tradition, their country was Sheba, and the results of the queen's visit to Solomon included her conversion to his religion and a son fathered by Solomon. This son visited his father and returned to Ethiopia with the ark of the covenant. While there is no biblical support for this tradition, it does explain the reason some people claim that the ark of the covenant is in Ethiopia.

From the book's perspective, the luster of all Solomon's achievements was tarnished by his failure to support the worship of the Lord alone. The reason offered for Solomon's infidelity was his marriage to non‐Israelite women. Of course, the book is trying to promote marriage within the Judahite community as one way to maintain Judahite identity. To show the seriousness of Solomon's failure, the text has God speak to Solomon for a third and final time, announcing the end of the Davidic‐Solomonic kingdom and the rise of another Israelite national state, which will occur after Solomon's death (1 Kgs 11, 1–13 ).

First Kings concludes its story of Solomon's reign by mentioning three of Solomon's rivals (1 Kgs 11, 14–40 ). The first is Hadad, king of Edom. Judah and Edom were perennial rivals for control of the southern part of the Levant. The second was Rezon who was “king of Damascus,” the capital of Aram. Israel and Aram struggled for many years for hegemony in the northern part of the Levant. The most serious threat, however, was an internal one. Jeroboam, one of Solomon's administrators, was supported in a bid for kingship by Egypt and with prophetic designation, threatening the rule of the Davidic dynasty. Although the rebellion was not successful at first, the book explains the origins of the two Israelite national states, Israel and Judah, as a consequence of Jeroboam's attempt to replace Solomon, who simply failed to observe the commandments and to worship the Lord alone. It is important to note that the book asserts that, despite Jeroboam, the Davidic dynasty continued in existence not only for the sake of David but also for the sake of Jerusalem. That city was destined to take on paramount importance for Judaism. The Temple, however, is not mentioned specifically. Also significant is the role played by the prophet Ahijah, who like Samuel, pronounced words of judgment on the king. The book again was suggesting that Israel listen to the prophets sent to it.

Like the reigns of his predecessors Saul and David, Solomon's began with great promise but ended with an unfavorable picture of the king, thus presaging the story of the people of Israel in their land. The book notes that Solomon was buried in the City of David after a reign of forty years and was succeeded by his son Rehoboam.

The Two Kingdoms (1 Kgs 12, 1—2 Kgs 17, 41 )

The two Israelite national states arose in the Levant sometime in the ninth century BC. Historians still have not arrived at a consensus as to the developments that led to their establishment. First Kings, however, describes the origins of the two Israelite states as the result of divine judgment on Solomon's rule, communicated by the prophet Ahijah. What Ahijah foretold was fulfilled almost immediately after Solomon's death and the accession of his son Rehoboam. But as it did with the origins of the monarchy, the book will describe the origins of the two Israelite national states in economic as well as religious terms (1 Kgs 12, 1–25 ). Rehoboam refused to lighten the economic burdens that Solomon imposed on his subjects, and before Rehoboam was able to consolidate his hold on his father's realm, there was a revolution that led to the establishment of the Kingdom of Israel separate from the Kingdom of Judah. When Rehoboam attempted to use military force against the rebellion, he was dissuaded by another prophetic word given through Shemaiah.

While Kings implies that the Israelites had legitimate grievances, it does not approve of religious practices, which it characterizes as obscuring the unity of Israel's ancestral deity, as violating the prohibition of images, and as ignoring the place that God chose. The book presents Jeroboam as fearing that the Jerusalem Temple will be a magnet, drawing the people to Jerusalem and to the Davidic dynasty. To counter this Jeroboam built cultic centers at Dan at the extreme north of his kingdom and at Bethel in the extreme south (1 Kgs 12, 26–33 ). The book makes its attitude toward these cultic centers absolutely clear when it depicts an unnamed “man of God” from Judah condemning the shrine at Bethel (1 Kgs 13, 1–10 ). As the story of the Northern Kingdom unfolds, every king of Israel will be condemned for maintaining these shrines and continuing “the sin of Jeroboam.”

This man of God left Bethel because God had told him to eat or drink nothing there but to return to Judah. On his way home, he met an unnamed prophet, who convinced him to return to Bethel and enjoy his hospitality. Because he disobeyed God's instructions, the man of God from Judah died a violent death. But the prophet from Bethel lied to the man of God in convincing him to accept hospitality (1 Kgs 13, 11–32 ). Here the book exposes a practical problem connected with prophecy: how does one know whether a prophet is actually speaking in the name of God? Of course, the book wants its readers to recognize that the written authoritative Torah (the book of Deuteronomy) is the authentic, reliable, and unambiguous statement of God's will for Israel.

First Kings concludes its treatment of Jeroboam by revisiting the theme of succession (1 Kgs 14, 1–20 ). Abijah, Jeroboam's heir, fell ill and Jeroboam had his wife visit the prophet Ahijah in order to elicit a favorable oracle on behalf of the child. The prophet, however, predicted not only that the child was to die but also that Jeroboam's dynasty would end violently. Ahijah's speech is an intense and sometimes vulgar invective. While the prophet was not specific about Jeroboam's failures, he was quite specific about the king's future and that of the nation. He even blamed the exile on Jeroboam (v. 16 ).

The book intertwines narratives about the kings of the two Israelite national states until it tells of the fall of the Northern Kingdom to the Assyrians in 2 Kings 17. The two Israelite kingdoms were rivals at first. Disputes over the border that they shared were almost continuous. The book notes that Israel and Judah fought continuously during the reigns of Jeroboam and Rehoboam (1 Kgs 14, 30 ). Rehoboam also had to deal with a raid by Pharaoh Shishak, who had given asylum to Jeroboam during the reign of Solomon (1 Kgs 11, 40 ). While the Egyptians were not in a position to reestablish the hegemony over the region, they raided 154 towns in the two kingdoms. Jerusalem was spared only because Rehoboam paid a large indemnity to Shishak (1 Kgs 14, 26 ). The book characterizes Rehoboam's reign as a time of apostasy (1 Kgs 14, 21–24 ).

The border wars between the two Israelite kingdoms continued during the reign of Abijam in Judah (1 Kgs 15, 7 ). The book provides no other information about Abijam's short reign except to note that he that he was nothing like David, whom the book begins to idealize even though it mentions David's lapse “in the case of Uriah” (1 Kgs 15, 5; see 2 Sm 11 ). The book devotes more attention to Asa, Abijam's son. He is one of the few kings of Judah whom the book commends because of his actions to rid Judah of non‐Yahwistic worship. Asa also induced the Arameans to invade the Northern Kingdom. With the army of Israel occupied with the Arameans, Asa had a free hand to extend the border to Mizpeh, a town about five miles north of Jerusalem, where it remained until the fall of the Northern Kingdom in 721 BC.

The book next turns its attention to the Northern Kingdom for almost the rest of 1 Kings (15, 25–22, 40 ). After Jeroboam's twenty‐two‐year reign, the political situation in the north became very unstable. Nadab, Jeroboam's son and successor, was assassinated in the course of a war with the Philistines. The coup was led by Baasha, who purged Jeroboam's entire family in order to secure his own accession to the throne. Of course, the book sees this as a fulfillment of Ahijah's prophecy (1 Kgs 14, 10 ) and a consequence of Nadab's infidelity. Baasha proved to be no improvement over Nadab although he did manage to hold the throne for twenty‐four years ( 15, 33–16, 7 ). Kings notes that a prophet named Jehu announced the end of Baasha's dynasty ( 16, 1–5.7 ) just as Ahijah announced the end of Jeroboam's dynasty. Jehu's words were fulfilled as Baasha's son and successor Elah was assassinated during a military coup after just two years on the throne. Zimri, the leader of the coup, purged all the descendants of Baasha to solidify his claim to the throne ( 16, 8–14 ). Omri, another Israelite general, decided to lead a coup of his own. His success led Zimri to take his life after a reign of just seven days. Of course, the book suggests Zimri's fate was the consequence of his religious infidelity. After a short civil war (1 Kgs 16, 21–22 ), Omri became king of Israel.

Even though Kings almost completely ignores Omri (1 Kgs 17, 23–28 ), he was arguably the most able ruler of the Northern Kingdom. His reign reversed Israel's fortunes. He ended the Aramean threat. He revived Israel's commercial fortunes by aligning himself with Phoenicia, sealing the alliance with the marriage of his son Ahab with Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal, king of Sidon. Omri ended the fifty years of fruitless conflict with Judah. He subjugated Moab and this brought the King's Highway, a major commercial highway east of the Jordan, under his control. The dynasty he established lasted four generations, providing a measure of stability to Israel. All this brought a new era of peace and prosperity to the Northern Kingdom. While Kings ignores these achievements because they do not correspond with its theological purpose, it does note that Omri established his capital at Samaria where Omri was buried.

Ahab succeeded his father Omri. It was the first successful dynastic succession in the Kingdom of Israel. From a military, economic, and political perspective, Ahab's reign was remarkably successful. His only defeat was the loss of Moab toward the end of his twenty‐two‐year reign. Excavations at several cities in the north show that Ahab's reign was one of economic growth and military strength. His greatest military achievement took place at the battle of Qarqar, which the book ignores. Ahab led a coalition of small states that successfully engaged the Assyrians and prevented them from taking control of the region. Ahab led the largest force in the coalition. The book chooses to focus on Ahab's serious internal problems by introducing several stories about the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Both prophets were highly critical of the religious and social policies of Ahab and his successors.

Kings implies that Ahab's problems were caused by his Phoenician wife Jezebel, who promoted the worship of Baal. The prophet Elijah forcefully opposed her. The conflict between Elijah and Ahab over Jezebel's activity dominates the portrait of Ahab in the Bible and makes it appear as if he were a weak and ineffective ruler when the opposite was true. The worship of Baal was attractive because this god was thought to provide the rain that made Israel's survival on its land possible. To show that Baal was unable to provide rain, Elijah announced a drought (1 Kgs 17, 1 ). God's power to provide was obvious when a dry river bed yielded water for the prophet, and ravens brought him food. When the stream dried up again, the prophet went to beg in a Sidonian town. A poor widow from that town, who took pity on the prophet, never ran out of food despite the famine induced by the drought (1 Kgs 17, 2–16 ). An even more remarkable demonstration of God's power occurred when the prophet brought the widow's deceased son back to life (1 Kgs 17, 17–24 ).

Elijah finally met Ahab, who blamed the prophet for the drought. Of course, the reader knows that the fault lies with Ahab. While the confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel was another indication of the power of Israel's God (1 Kgs 18, 20–40 ), it was the prophet's prayer for rain that brought relief to the suffering people (1 Kgs 18, 41–46 ). The rain that comes on the land does not end the tension in the story because Jezebel was determined to avenge Elijah's victory at Mount Carmel. The prophet fled to the south, stopping at Beersheba, a town that abuts the Negev desert. After a brief pause, Elijah continued his journey until he reached Horeb, which is the name by which the Deuteronomic tradition knows Mount Sinai. At the place where the Israelites experienced God's presence in a most dramatic way, the prophet experienced only God's absence until he realized God was present in a “whispering sound” (1 Kgs 19, 12 ). God then commissioned the prophet to take specific steps to deal with the apostasy fomented by Israel's royal family. One of these steps is the anointing of a prophet to succeed him. Elijah found Elisha, whom the Lord had designated, and called him to his prophetic ministry (1 Kgs 19, 13–21 ).

The book sets aside its narrative about Elijah and Elisha and interjects a story about an unnamed prophet who confronts Ahab during a war between Aram and Israel (1 Kgs 20, 1–43 ). Aram, southern Syria with its capital Damascus, was probably the most powerful kingdom in the Levant between the eleventh and eighth centuries BC. However, historians have had problems with the stories of a war between Aram and Israel during Ahab's reign. Both Ahab and Omri were powerful kings and were not dominated by the Arameans as suggested in this story (1 Kgs 20, 1–9.34 ). The details of the story reflect the relations between Aram and Israel, which were characteristic of the reigns of Jehoahaz and Jehoash fifty years later when Israel was much weaker politically and militarily. Although the book may have provided this story with an incorrect setting, its theological point is clear enough as it tells a tale similar to that of Saul and the Amalekite war in 1 Samuel 15. Both Saul and Ahab fail to heed the instructions given by a prophet and stand under divine judgment. The lesson is obvious: Israel must listen to the prophets sent to it if it is to have any future.

The book returns to the conflict between king and prophet as it tells the tale of Naboth's vineyard (1 Kgs 21, 1–29 ). Again, it is Jezebel, Ahab's non‐Israelite wife, who is responsible for the trouble. Ahab recognized that Naboth was within his rights in refusing to sell the king his vineyard. Jezebel, however, co‐opted the elders of Naboth's city into convicting him on trumped‐up charges of blasphemy and treason. Naboth was executed and his property forfeited to the crown, so Jezebel was able to present her husband with Naboth's vineyard. Of course, Elijah condemned this blatant injustice in God's name. Surprisingly, Ahab repented upon hearing the prophet's words of judgment, and God spared his life. Again, the book's message is obvious: if Israel listens to the prophets God sends to it, Israel's life will be spared as well.

But just as the book finished commending the prophetic word to Israel, it shows that discerning that word is not a simple matter. To do so the book describes preparations for a second war between Israel and Aram during the waning years of Ahab's reign (1 Kgs 22, 1–28 ). This time Ahab sought help from Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah. Relations between the two Israelite states had steadily improved since the time of Ahab's father, Omri. Indeed, Ahab offered his daughter in marriage to Jehoram, Jehoshaphat's son (2 Kgs 8, 18 ). The king of Judah, however, suggested seeking a word from God before embarking on any campaign against the powerful Arameans. Ahab assembled four hundred prophets to impress Jehoshaphat. After the four hundred encourage an attack, Jehoshaphat, apparently reluctant to fight the Arameans, asked if there were any more prophets who might be consulted. Ahab summoned Micaiah ben Imlah, who predicted an Aramean victory. Micaiah asserted that God put a “lying spirit” in the four hundred prophets to insure that Ahab would be defeated. How then could prophecy be a reliable guide if God can inspire prophets to lie? The book assumes that the one reliable and unimpeachable guide to Israel's life is the written, authoritative Torah, the book of Deuteronomy. The attitude of Kings toward Ahab is evident from the description of what happened when Ahab's chariot was cleansed of the fallen king's blood (1 Kgs 22, 38 ).

The book returns briefly to the Judahite monarchy and gives a qualified commendation to Jehoshaphat, who followed the good example of his father, Asa. The book also notes that Jehoshaphat was “at peace” with Israel, though it also claims that the king led Judah bravely in some wars but gives no details (1 Kgs 15, 45–46 ).

The story of Ahaziah of Israel straddles 1 and 2 Kings. Since he reigned for a little more than one year, the book gives just a brief and disapproving summary of his rule, emphasizing his promotion of Baal worship (1 Kgs 22, 52–54 ). The first chapter of 2 Kings offers an illustration of Ahaziah's apostasy (2 Kgs 1, 2–6 ). The king sought an oracle from the Baal worshipped at Ekron.

When Elijah intercepted the king's messengers and proclaimed an oracle from the God of Israel, Ahaziah sought to arrest him. But the conflict between king and prophet was no real match (2 Kgs 1, 7–16 ). The book is building up its case showing the failure of the monarchy. It wants to show that the political disasters that befell both Israelite kingdoms were a direct result of the apostasy of their kings (see Dt 4, 25–28 ).

The book presents the prophets as the foils of Israel's apostate kings, so after describing the failures of Ahab and his son Ahaziah, it turns its attention back to Elijah and Elisha and the transition from the prophetic ministry of the former to that of the latter (2 Kgs 2, 1–18 ). The narrative is purposely reminiscent of the traditions regarding the transition in the leadership of the Israelite community from Moses to Joshua. The book sees the succession of Elisha to the prophetic ministry as a genuine act of God. Perhaps a story with such spectacular details served to show that Elisha was a true witness to the God of Israel as was Elijah in contrast to the prophets that supported the house of Ahab (see 2 Kgs 3, 13 ). Fifty “guild prophets” witness the passing of the prophetic mantle to Elisha (2 Kgs 2, 15 ). Except for 1 Kings 20, 35 , these guild prophets are always mentioned in connection with Elisha and may have been his supporters against the king and his prophets. The book concludes its introduction to the cycle of stories about Elisha with two tales that encourage Israel to obey the prophets sent to it (2 Kgs 2, 19–25 ).

The book shifts attention to the house of Ahab again. After the short reign of the childless Ahaziah, his brother Jehoram (Joram) became king of Israel (2 Kgs 3, 1–3 ). While Kings asserts that Moab's revolt took place during Jehoram's reign, it was more likely during Ahab's final years. Jehoram was simply unsuccessful in regaining control over Moab. Moab was a kingdom located east of the Dead Sea and west of the Arabian desert. It had been a vassal to Israel since the time of Omri. The Mesha stele, a monument celebrating Moab's victory over Israel, gives an account of this revolt from the Moabite perspective. Although both the biblical and Moabite accounts agree that Mesha, the king of Moab, was successful in regaining his country's independence, the book provides little historical information but a clear theological interpretation. It insists that apostasy always brings defeat. The extent of the territory under Israelite control was a tangible indication of God's blessings according to the book, and the success of Mesha's revolt and the consequent loss of Moab show that Israel was on a downward spiral because of its infidelity (2 Kgs 3, 4–27 ).

The book transfers the focus of its story away from kings and international political conflicts to ordinary folk in need—people whose names are never given (2 Kgs 4, 1–44 ). Elisha, whom this chapter refers to as a “man of God,” responds to those needs with compassion. While the effect on the reader is to wonder at the miracle‐working power of Elisha, the stories do not even hint that the man of God worked these miracles to establish his reputation. The book implies that Elisha did what the kings were supposed to do: respond to the needs of the lowly and poor. In fact, the reason ordinary people were in need was the economic and political policies of the monarchy. God redresses this injustice through Elisha. The prophetic task is not simply to speak words of judgment on injustice but to undo the effects of the greed that creates poverty.

With the story of Naaman, Elisha moves back into the arena of international politics (2 Kgs 5, 1–19 ). This is the second time the book has told a tale of someone searching for healing in a foreign country. In 2 Kings 1, it was King Ahaziah of Israel looking for healing in Ekron from Baalzebub. In 2 Kings 5, it is Naaman from Aram who looks for healing in Israel. Whereas the healings in 2 Kings 4 took place because of Elisha's compassion for those in need, here there is an overt apologetic purpose: Naaman is to learn that there was a prophet in Israel who could heal in the name of Israel's God. The Aramean general learned this lesson. There is also a homiletic character to the story. Naaman is a model for Israel. Although reluctant at first, the Aramean general obeyed the prophet and was healed. Israel surely should obey the prophets sent to it. Two more stories with a clear homiletic thrust follow (2 Kgs 5, 20–6, 7 ). Both stories concern the prophet's followers. In the first, Gehazi seeks to reap a monetary profit from his association with Elisha and is duly punished for his avarice. In the second, Elisha's supporters find themselves in an embarrassing situation, which the prophet resolves. The book warns against venality. Though the story of Naaman presupposes that there was peace between Aram and Israel, the book asserts that the situation changed as it describes two incidents between Israel and its neighbor to the north. The first shows that of itself Aram posed no danger to Israel (2 Kgs 6, 8–23 ). The prophet made the Arameans look foolish as he led them into Samaria. Fortunately for them, the prophet told the king to spare the lives of his prisoners.

The circumstances change abruptly in the story of Ben‐hadad's siege of Samaria (2 Kgs 6, 24–33 ). A siege sought to force surrender by cutting off the supply of food. Ben‐hadad's siege of the Israelite capital was working as is evident from the horrific details that the book gives (vv. 28–29 ). The apostasy of Omri and his successors is having its full effect as Aram jeopardized Israel's very existence. The king, of course, did not accept responsibility for Samaria's troubles; he blamed the prophet whom the book describes as cowering behind a closed door in fear of the king's anger. The Aramean threat was a harbinger of things to come. Aram here is an instrument of divine judgment on Israel's apostasy—apostasy that continued without abatement. But Israel's time had not yet come, so 2 Kings 7, 1–20 tells of the lifting of the Aramean siege of Samaria. The book makes it clear that the lifting of the siege and the relief of Samaria were not the work of Israel's military. God's power lifted the siege, and four lepers—by sheer happenstance—open the way to the city's relief from the famine. The book shows readers that Israel's God shapes human events through the prophetic word. Just as easily as God made Aram a threat to Israel, God removed that threat. This is another hint to the book's first readers that God can end their exile.

The epilogue to the story of Elisha and the woman of Shunem (2 Kgs 8, 1–6; see 2 Kgs 5, 8–37 ) is unusual on two counts. First, the prophet does not directly solve her problem. In fact, she is suffering economic privation precisely because she followed the prophet's instructions to relocate from Israel. Upon returning, she found her property had been confiscated. Still, just the power of the prophet's fame was enough to solve her problem. Second, it was the king who restored the woman's property. For once, an Israelite king did act for the benefit of those in need. The book illustrates the power of God to extricate people from difficult situations. That power is such that it can lead people to act contrary to their normal patterns to bring about the fulfillment of the divine will. In a sense, the woman of Shunem is Israel in microcosm. She experienced exile, loss, and eventually restoration. What happened to her, the book implies, can happen to Israel as well. It too can experience restoration after exile.

The book introduces a new character into its story of the Northern Kingdom and its kings: Hazael, who was to become king of Aram and a very serious problem for both Israel and Judah (2 Kgs 8, 7–15 ). Hazael was an emissary sent to seek a positive oracle for Ben‐hadad, the king of Aram, who was dying. In the course of giving this oracle, the prophet became aware of the great problems Hazael would cause the Israelite kingdoms. Hazael appears to be surprised by the prophet's words. Hazael's succession was indeed irregular. He did not belong to the royal family but usurped the throne of Aram following Ben‐hadad's death.

For the first time in 2 Kings, the book turns its attention to Judah as it offers judgment on the reign of Jehoram (2 Kgs 8, 16–25 ). The relations between Judah and Israel were peaceful, sealed by the marriage of Jehoram to Athaliah, a daughter of Ahab. Certainly in any alliance between the two kingdoms, Judah was the junior partner. The book notes that Jehoram replicated the behavior of the kings of Israel. This brought serious consequences for Judah. As Israel lost control over Moab (2 Kgs 3 ), so Judah's domination of Edom came to an end. The power of the Israelite kingdoms was steadily diminishing. For the book this was an obvious sign of God's displeasure with Israel, Judah, and their kings. Jehoram of Judah died after only eight years as king, leaving his twenty‐one‐year‐old son Ahaziah to ascend David's throne. Ahaziah was a brother‐in‐law to Jehoram of Israel. The two kings decided to strike the Arameans under Hazael because of the threat that the Arameans posed. But Jehoram was severely wounded in battle and went to Jezreel to recover. Ahaziah went there to visit him (2 Kgs 8, 25–29 ). In providing these details, the book is setting the scene for the violent end that will come to the dynasty established by Omri.

To illustrate the disintegration of the Kingdom of Israel, the book describes a revolution that brought an end to the House of Omri (2 Kgs 9, 1–10, 22 )—a revolution so bloody that it was still remembered with horror a century later (see Hos 1, 4–5 ). According to Kings, Jehu's revolution was set in motion by the apostasy and injustice practiced by Israel's kings, and the terrible end of these kings reflects the prophetic judgment on their actions (1 Kgs 14, 11; 16, 4; 21, 19–24 ). The book then presents Jehu's revolution not in political but theological terms; it begins with the prophet Elisha's naming of Jehu, an officer in Jehoram's army, as the one to replace the king. After Jehu assassinated Jehoram of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah, he turned to Jezebel, who taunted him as no better than Zimri, the assassin who was king of Israel for just seven days (see 1 Kgs 16, 15–19 ). Jezebel shared the fate of her son Jehoram at Jehu's hand (1 Kgs 9, 1–27 ).

As a usurper, Jehu had to eliminate claimants to the throne with better credentials. His revolutionary goals were to take Jehoram's place on the throne and end the Phoenician influence over the Kingdom of Israel. To secure his throne, Jehu purged the entire royal family (2 Kgs 10, 1–11.15–17 ) and to eliminate Phoenician influence, he killed the prophets of Baal and destroyed their temple ( 10, 18–27 ). Because he also killed Ahaziah of Judah, Jehu had to deal with a force from the Southern Kingdom seeking to avenge Ahaziah. But the book does not tell the story of Jehu's action to give an accurate picture of the progress of his revolution. The book wishes to describe the religious significance of that revolution. From this perspective, for all his brutal thoroughness, Jehu was a failure. He did not follow the Lord when he was king but followed instead the pattern of apostasy as set by Jeroboam. Because of this sin, Jehu did not stop Israel's slide to oblivion. Like his predecessors, Jehu witnessed Israel's power diminishing. More territory was lost—probably to Aram. Israel's doom was just a matter of time (2 Kgs 10, 28–36 ).

The book next shows that the baleful influence of the House of Ahab was not limited to the Northern Kingdom. The queen mother in Judah was Athaliah, a princess of the House of Ahab, who was given in marriage to Jehoram, the crown prince of Judah, thus ending the tensions between the two Israelite kingdoms. When Athaliah's son, Ahaziah, was assassinated in the course of Jehu's revolt, she decided to seize absolute power in Jerusalem. Because she, like Jehu, was a usurper, she had to eliminate all potential rivals for power so she had all the males from the House of David killed (2 Kgs 11, 1 ). Ahaziah's son Joash was saved by his aunt Jehosheba and escaped the massacre orchestrated by his grandmother Athaliah. During her seventh year on the throne, Athaliah was assassinated in the course of a revolution led by Jehoiada, a priest. The temple of Baal that Athaliah built in Jerusalem was torn down, and the unprecedented rule of a woman as sovereign ended. Joash was enthroned in place of his assassinated grandmother. The book notes that support for Joash came from the people in rural areas. Jerusalem's population had evidently been co‐opted by Athaliah and made no effort to support the new king (2 Kgs 11, 20 ).

Since Joash was placed on the throne by a priest, it is not surprising that he concerns himself with restoration of the Temple of the Lord, which probably suffered from neglect during Athaliah's reign. Still, it is important to note that the “king's secretary” oversaw the financing of the project (2 Kgs 12, 11 ). This is the first attempt to put more control of the Temple and its affairs in the hand of the king. Hezekiah and Josiah will continue the policy. Even though Joash developed an efficient way to finance the maintenance of the Temple, his efforts were wasted since he had to pay a heavy indemnity to Hazael, who threatened Jerusalem. Nothing else is told of this king's forty‐year reign except that he was assassinated by his own courtiers. With three successive rulers assassinated, the stability of the Judahite state was seriously undermined. The book implies that the future of the Judahite state was in question.

The downward spiral of the Kingdom of Israel continued during the seventeen‐year reign of Jehoahaz (2 Kgs 13, 1–9 ). Almost constant warfare between Israel and Aram led to the severe depletion of Israel's army (v. 7 ). Total disaster was averted by an unidentified “savior” (v. 5 ). It is likely that this savior came in the form of the Assyrian army that invaded Aram at the end of the ninth century, easing the pressure on Israel. With this account of Israel's deteriorating military power, the book begins its description of the fall of the house of Jehu. The end of Jehu's dynasty is inevitable because of the continuing apostasy of Israel's kings (v. 2 ).

Israel enjoyed a temporary respite from military reverses at the hand of the Arameans during the reign of Jehoash (Joash) (2 Kgs 13, 10–25 ). Before Elisha died, he predicted a revival of Israel's military fortunes. The short note about the revival of a corpse that touched the bones of the dead prophet illustrates how the prophetic word can bring life to the sick body of Israel, because God's saving will did not wish to bring the full force of judgment upon God's people. Tangible proofs of that were the victories of Jehoash and his recovery of Israelite territory lost to Aram.

The book's attention refocuses on Judah, which fared poorly during the reign of Amaziah (2 Kgs 14, 1–22 ). The king did merit qualified praise for his loyalty to God, though worship at the high places, which the book regarded as improper, continued during his rule. While the king was good, he was not good enough to insure Judah's success in the political and military sphere, which the book uses as a benchmark indicating the nation's standing before God. Amaziah was successful in bringing Edom back under Judahite domination, but when he turned his attention to the north, he was unsuccessful. He was defeated by Israel and made a prisoner of war. He witnessed the Israelite forces partially destroy Jerusalem's walls and sack the Temple. His folly in starting a war with the more powerful Northern Kingdom led finally to Amaziah's assassination. The Southern Kingdom's disintegration continues.

The book dismisses the forty‐year reign of Jeroboam II in a few verses, but it cannot ignore it completely (2 Kgs 14, 23–29 ). Jeroboam has notable success in expanding the boundaries of his kingdom, which the book usually considers a sign of God's blessing. Here it asserts that Jeroboam's success was the fulfillment of a prophetic word given by Jonah. Although there is a book ascribed to Jonah in the collection of the prophets, the oracle given to Jeroboam is not preserved in that book or anywhere in the Bible. Kings goes on to explain the anomalous success of Jeroboam by claiming that it was the result of God's compassion on Israel (vv. 26–27 ). Jeroboam's reign is often described as a time of peace and prosperity; in fact it was not. The expansion of Israel's territory had to come by way of war. His building projects put a strain on the country's resources, which eventually led to the severe economic problems that Israel faced following Jeroboam's death. The chasm between rich and poor grew during Jeroboam's time.

Like Jeroboam II, Azariah of Judah enjoyed a very long reign; it was, however, marred by a skin disease that rendered him unable to perform rituals that were reserved to the king (2 Kgs 15, 1–7 ). His son Jotham assumed many of Azariah's duties. Even though the book praises Azariah, this praise is tempered by the comment that he did nothing about the high places that the book considered as illegitimate. Under Azariah, the Kingdom of Judah enjoyed a resurgence, which the book chooses to ignore since it does not reflect its notion of the direction Judah is heading.

Following the long reign of Jeroboam II, the Northern Kingdom began a rush to its total collapse. The text gives little more than the basic outline of a nation devolving into political chaos in the final years of its existence. Zechariah, Jeroboam's son and successor, is barely able to hold the throne for six months before he is assassinated (2 Kgs 15, 8–12 ). Shallum, Zechariah's assassin, managed to hold on to the throne for only one month before his assassination by Menahem, whose ruthlessness kept him on the throne for ten years (2 Kgs 15, 13–16 ). During Menahem's reign, Tiglath‐pileser III of Assyria, which the text sometimes calls Pul, began Assyria's expansion at Israel's expense (2 Kgs 15, 17–22 ). Pekahiah, Menahem's son, was able to hold the throne for only two years before his assassination by Pekah (2 Kgs 15, 23–26 ). It was during his reign that the Assyrians began dismantling the Northern Kingdom. Pekah, too, was assassinated after a twenty‐year reign by Hoshea, who was destined to be the last in the line that began with Jeroboam I. The book provides few details about the reigns of these five kings because it is more interested in the fate of Israel as a nation whose doom it is describing. The five kings each receive the usual condemnation that is given to all the kings of the north, and their individual fates presage the disaster that Northern Kingdom will experience.

The book has to break off its account of Israel's final years to tell the story of the last conflict between Israel and Judah. Pekah formed a coalition with Aram, Israel's chief rival in the Levant, to deal with a common threat: Assyria, whose expansionism and militarism imperiled them both. Pekah tried to enlist Judah in the coalition but Jotham resisted, while Kings insists that it was God who led Aram and Israel against Judah. Before the issue was decided, Jotham died (2 Kgs 15, 32–38 ). Jotham's son Ahaz is left to deal with the crisis.

The book has no regard for Ahaz, condemning him without reservation (2 Kgs 16, 1–20 ). Ahaz's desperation in the face of the invasion by the combined forces of Aram and Israel is evident from his resorting to child sacrifice as a way to gain divine favor. Ahaz's situation was grievous because he had to face hostilities on two fronts—the Edomites were moving in the south (v. 6 ), and Aram and Israel were coming from the north. This military pressure led Ahaz to align himself with Tiglath‐pileser to whom he paid a large indemnity. The Assyrian king quickly put an end to the coalition seeking to depose Ahaz. Kings then describes in great detail changes that Ahaz made to the Temple and its altar. These are regarded as acts of apostasy (vv. 10–20 ).

With the account of Ahaz's reign completed, the book returns to Israel, which was on the brink of total collapse. After narrating the events that led to the end of Israel's political existence (2 Kgs 17, 1–6 ), the book launches into a long editorial comment to explain the fall of the Northern Kingdom as a consequence of its failure to shape its national life on the basis of the Torah (2 Kgs 17, 7–23 ). The Assyrians annexed the territory of the former Northern Kingdom into their provincial system. To pacify the region, they led the prominent citizens of Israel into exile and brought in people from other regions of their empire to settle in what had been the Kingdom of Israel. The author of Kings maintains that the Samaritans of his day were the descendants of these foreign settlers and describes their patterns of worship as a hybrid of Yahwism and the worship of foreign deities (2 Kgs 17, 24–41 ).

The Final Years of the Kingdom of Judah (2 Kgs 18, 1–25, 30 )

After describing the fall of the Northern Kingdom, the book details the last years of the Southern Kingdom. Kings begins with the story of Hezekiah, a king greatly admired because of his obedience to the Torah and his destruction of the high places. Hezekiah was able to augment Judah's territories at the expense of the Philistines. In contrast to Israel, Judah and its king appeared to be prospering (2 Kgs 18, 1–12 ). However, the Assyrians ended Hezekiah's peace by invading Judah and besieging Jerusalem; and although Hezekiah offered an indemnity to Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, the siege continued. Sennacherib demanded the surrender of Jerusalem, claiming that Judah's own patron deity had ordered him to conquer the country (2 Kgs 18, 1–37 , esp. v. 25 ).

In his despair, Hezekiah turned to the prophet Isaiah, who assured him that Sennacherib would lift the siege and return to his country (v. 7 ). For reasons that are not clear to historians, the Assyrian army retreated and Sennacherib was assassinated later—just as the prophet predicted (2 Kgs 19, 1–37 ). Of course, Kings sees the lifting of the siege as an act of God. The final episode in Hezekiah's story puts the king's reputation under a cloud. Though God healed him and promised him a longer reign, Hezekiah wanted proof that the promises made to him by Isaiah would be fulfilled. The arrival of an ambassador from Babylon gave Isaiah the opportunity to announce Judah's approaching defeat and exile. Instead of this announcement moving Hezekiah to repentance, the king expresses relief that the disaster will come after he is gone. It is as if Hezekiah learned nothing from the near disaster brought about by the Assyrians (2 Kgs 20, 1–21 ).

Hezekiah was succeeded by his son Manasseh. From Kings' point of view, Judah never fell so low as it did during the fifty‐five‐year reign of this king. It accuses Manasseh of apostasy, idolatry, and murder, and explicitly identifies him as the Judahite Ahab, leading the Southern Kingdom to disaster as Ahab had in the Northern Kingdom. Unnamed prophets pronounced divine judgment on Manasseh's actions. There is no doubt that Manasseh kept his throne by demonstrating his loyalty to the Assyrians, in part by introducing Assyrian religious rituals to the Jerusalem Temple. He also had to be ruthless in preventing a nationalistic spirit to express itself in open revolt against the Assyrians. The book offers no reason for Manasseh's great apostasy, letting the king's actions speak for themselves. The consequences of his actions could not be set aside with an appeal to God's promises to the patriarchs or to David. Judah's fall is only a matter of time (2 Kgs 21, 1–18 ).

Manasseh was succeeded by his son Amon, who continued his father's policies. This led to his assassination by his own courtiers. Evidently the assassination of yet another king provoked the ordinary folk, who supported the Davidic dynasty. They likely believed that another round of assassinations would be the end of Judah, so they killed the conspirators and installed Amon's young son, Josiah, as king (2 Kgs 21, 19–26 ). It is during Josiah's reign that Judah made one last attempt at reform; it proved to be too late to avert divine judgment.

Josiah's reign was a short pause as Judah moved to the inevitable (2 Kgs 22, 1–23, 30 ). Kings describes Josiah as a monarch who “pleased the Lord” (2 Kgs 22, 2 ). A critical event in Josiah's reign was the discovery of a book in the course of renovations that were being made on the Temple. Kings wishes its readers to assume that the “book of the law” was what we know as the book of Deuteronomy. Josiah responded to hearing the words of the book with a gesture of repentance. He had the book authenticated by a prophet. Although Jeremiah was active at this time, the prophet consulted was an otherwise unknown woman named Huldah. She authenticated the book but announced that the curses on the unfaithful found in the book would fall on Judah and Jerusalem but not in Josiah's time.

Fortunately for Josiah, he came into power about the time Assyria's control over the Levant was waning; he moved quickly to reclaim Judah's sovereignty in matters of religion and politics. The book concentrates on Josiah's actions in the sphere of religious practice. The king took action against all types of non‐Yahwistic religious activity and promoted such traditional practices as the Passover. His move into the north was likely prompted by a determination to take advantage of Assyria's weakness to extend the territory under his control. Josiah's attempts to reassert and expand Judahite sovereignty ended when he died during an ill‐advised attempt to involve himself in international politics. He endeavored to stop the Egyptian army as it was advancing into Mesopotamia and was killed in battle. Josiah's “reform” died with him because Judah once again came under foreign domination. The Egyptians asserted their control over Judah by deposing Josiah's successor Jehoahaz and exiling him to Egypt. They placed another of Josiah's sons, Eliakim, on the throne, changing his name to Jehoiakim (2 Kgs 23, 31–35 ). Judah had to pay an indemnity to the Egyptians. This, of course, burdened Judah's economy, which had been already made fragile by Josiah's military adventures.

With no other choice, Jehoiakim remained a loyal Egyptian vassal until Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptians in two decisive battles, ending Egyptian domination of the Levant. Judah then was forced to submit to Babylon. When Babylon's fortunes changed, Jehoiakim came under Egyptian control again. But Babylon's setback was only temporary, and Judah was forced to submit to Nebuchadnezzar a second time after a siege of Jerusalem, during which Jehoiakim died. Of course, the book sees all this political and military activity as an act of divine judgment on Judah (2 Kgs 23, 36–24, 7 ).

Jehoiachin succeeded his father just as the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem was about to end with the city's surrender and the sacking of the Temple. While Judah was able to maintain the appearance of sovereignty, it was more firmly under Babylon's control than ever. Jehoiachin was deposed and exiled along with many of Judah's leading citizens. The Babylonians placed Mattaniah, another of Josiah's brothers on the throne, changing his name to Zedekiah. The book lets the events speak for themselves as Judah's final collapse appears to be imminent. Zedekiah was to be the last king of the Davidic line. He managed to keep his throne for eleven years. No longer able to resist calls to rebel against Babylonian domination, Zedekiah sealed the fate of the dynasty and the kingdom. The Babylonians responded to his rebellion by taking Jerusalem a second time, killing Zedekiah's sons, blinding the king, and leading him into exile. Zedekiah was never heard from again (2 Kgs 24, 18–25, 7 ).

Jerusalem too paid for Zedekiah's folly in revolting against Nebuchadnezzar. The city was put to the torch and its Temple was left in ruins. Many of Jerusalem's leading citizens were executed, and the rest were deported to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar completely reorganized the government of Judah. The Babylonians appointed Gedaliah, who did not belong to the royal family, to administer what would become a new province of the Babylonian empire. They also moved Judah's administrative center from Jerusalem to Mizpah. Assassins led by a survivor of Judah's royal family killed Gedaliah along with his Judahite and Babylonian retainers. This led many Judahites to seek refuge in Egypt, and those that remained were subject to a third deportation (see Jer 52, 30; 2 Kgs 25, 8–26 ). And so ends the story of Israel in its land.

As an epilogue, Kings mentions the parole of Jehoiachin from prison in Babylon (2 Kgs 25, 27–30 ). Unfortunately, the book does not reflect on the significance of the exiled king's new status for Judah's future. At the most critical moment in his story, the author of Kings is inexplicably reticent, leaving the reader to wonder what will become of Judah and Jerusalem. Is the divine judgment brought on by Judah's failure to be loyal to the Lord and shape its life according to Torah final? Perhaps Jehoiachin's parole is a harbinger of Judah's rehabilitation. The book does not give an explicit answer to these questions. The books of Kings end on a most ambiguous note, requiring its readers to make sense out of a tragic tale.

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