5.33 1 Kings -- Introduction
The two books of Kings cover the period from the rule of Solomon, which was the pinnacle of the Israelite kingdom, through the reign of Hoshea, the last king of Israel, and that of Jehoiachin, the last king of Judah. The dates range from 960 BC to 722 BC (fall of Israel) to 586 BC (downfall of Judah).
This is a period of long slow decline, in which the achievements of Saul, David and Solomon were squandered by a series of petty kings who schemed and fought among themselves. Though a few reform-minded rulers in Judah did their best to re-establish “the true faith”, nothing prevented the continuing political, military and religious decline of the Jewish state, and its final collapse. By the end of the books of Kings, it seems clear that God’s 900 year experiment to create a nation for Himself in Canaan had failed. The aspirations, invasions, bloodshed, building of cities, creation of laws, prophetic warnings -- all culminated in complete destruction, and a handing over of the land to "barbarians" -- to pagan foreigners. The political accomplishments of David and Solomon were obliterated, their only legacy being an idyllic memory enshrined in Scripture.
If this was a low-point in the political fortunes of Israel, it also represented the zenith of the Hebrew prophetic tradition. At times, the prophets seemed to function as a “Greek chorus,” standing just offstage and commenting (caustically) on the main actors. Sometimes, they became actors themselves and attempted to change the direction of events -- for example, Elijah took vengeance on the prophets of Baal. But their main function, as shown in the prophetic books themselves which were written during this timeframe, was that they provided an explanation of the disorder around them. What looked like chaos wasn’t really chaos…or, if it was, it was a divinely arranged chaos. There was meaning behind the madness, and if it wasn’t too late to avoid destruction, then at least there would be a future and hope to sustain one through the intervening darkness.
God was still active among His people, sending prophets to anoint new kings, promising to set up new dynasties (e.g, Jeroboam, 1 Kings 11:38). But it was all to no lasting effect. The anointed kings forsook the Lord to worship Baal and set up Asherah poles, and the common people gathered for worship at pagan “high places.” The “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” of Exodus (Ex 19:6) came to resemble the Canaanites whom they were supposed to supplant. And as God chose to remove the Canaanites for their misdeeds, so at the end of Kings He enacted a similar judgment on the Jews.