Read the Bible in a Year
This week, read: 1 Kings 1-22
At Least Know This
1 Kings describes the death of King David, the fight for the throne, and then King Solomon’s
brutal reign—and the civil war that broke out when King Solomon died. However, the real
interest of the author is not the kings. The real interest of the book is the Jerusalem temple.
The book should be titled, “The Jerusalem Temple During the Time of the Kings.”
Author and Date
There is no named author of the book of 1 and 2 Kings. It was most likely a number of authors
(or groups of authors) that wrote the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. It is likely that
it was written during the time of the Babylonian Exile (587-538 BC) (see the last verse of 2
Kings—the people are still in the Babylonian Exile. The book is not a literal history. It is a
reflective history, to describe the role of the Jerusalem temple.
The book of 1 kings describes the time during the years 970-580 BC.
As 1 Kings opens, King David is on his deathbed. After a brief scam by Queen Bathsheba,
Solomon becomes King in about 970 BC. Solomon was a brutal king who enslaved his own
people. He became insanely wealthy, married foreign women and entered alliances with other
countries (prohibited in Deuteronomy), and fell into idolatry. The country split into two after
Solomon’s death—the southern kingdom, called Judah, and the northern kingdom, called Israel.
Since the authors of this part of scripture want to follow what happens to the temple, they lose
interest in Israel, because the temple was in Judah.
The book of 1-2 Kings was written during the Babylonian Exile, when the people were taken
from the land by the hostile Babylonians. They were forced to live in Babylon. The people asked
what we all ask during time of trials, “Why did God let this happen?” The answer the priests
gave was that “We didn’t worship only in the temple. We worshipped at other shrines and
places, and thus we weren’t faithful to the temple.” (The prophets, of course, told a different
story: “You are exiled because you were unfaithful—you didn’t take care of the widows,
orphans, and the homeless.”).
So, the narrative that you’re reading will make a lot more sense if you keep this in mind: The
priests wanted the people to believe that God punished them by sending them to Babylon. And
their terrible sin was that they didn’t worship only in the temple!
Chapter 1:1-5. In ancient middle eastern law, someone who was sexually impotent was not able
to be king. They provide a woman to sleep with David, as a test. When he has no intimate
relations with her, David’s son Adonijah announces that he will be king. In the next two
chapters, the characters fight (and take advantage of David’s dementia) to see who will be the
next king. By chapter 3, we see that Solomon will be the next King.
Chapter 3:2-3. This is one of the most important verses in the Old Testament, if you want to
understand what’s going on: The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because
no house had yet been built for the name of the LORD. Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the
statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places… The
priests who are writing 1 Kings believe that all non-temple worship is invalid. The people were
worshipping God at the “high places” (shrines on the hilltops), but because it wasn’t at the
temple, the worship was sinful!.
Check 4:6. It identifies the official in charge of slavery (see also 5:13).
Read 4:7-19. Solomon got rid of the old tribal league, and made up 12 districts, each that had to
supply Solomon, his thousand wives, and his government with a month’s worth of kingly
expenses. Ten of those districts are in the north. In other words, the north is getting ripped off
to support Solomon’s extravagant living.
Chapter 5 begins the process of building the temple. You may recall that in 2 Samuel 7, God
says he doesn’t want a temple. But here we go, Solomon is going to build it anyway. In 6:38, it
says it took 7 years to build the temple—a pretty extravagant building. In 7:1, though, it tells us
that it took 13 years to build Solomon’s palace. In chapter 8, the Ark of the Covenant is brought
to the temple.
In chapter 12, Solomon has died, and Solomon’s son Rehoboam takes over the throne. The
north begs King Rehoboam to lessen the taxes. But King Rehoboam says he’s going to make it
worse, so the north rebels. This is the origin of the two countries: Israel in the north, and Judah
in the south.
In chapter 12, beginning at verse 25, the new northern kingdom installs King Jeroboam to the
throne, and he knows he has to set up new temples in the northern kingdom. Look at 12:28: So
the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold. He said to the people, "You have gone up to
Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of
Egypt. I don’t think these are idols. Remember what is sitting on top of the Ark of the Covenant
in the Jerusalem temple? Two golden calves! They are called cherubim. It seems that King
Jeroboam (the northern king), is attempting to replicate the temple in Jerusalem. Read v. 30-31.
What really angers the priests who wrote the book of 1 Kings is:
King Jeroboam sets up a worship center in the cities of Bethel and Dan.
He build shrines at the hilltops (“high places”).
Anyone who wanted to become a priest could become one, even though they weren’t Levites.
He set up his own worship calendar.
As I’ve mentioned, the prophets had a different idea. The prophet Amos, who spoke about this
time, didn’t mention idolatry. He said the sin was that they didn’t help the homeless, widows,
and orphans. The rich treated the poor like dirt, even while they maintained the façade of
In the next chapters of 1 Kings, we see other kings of Israel and Judah. But, as you’ll notice, the
only thing were told about is what they thought of the temple. If the kings worshipped in the
temple, they were considered good. If they worshipped God elsewhere, they were considered
bad. For example, look at 14:25-28. It describes an attack on the temple by the Egyptian King
Shishak. We can read about this event in Egyptian archeological records. Shishak defeated the
armies of Israel and Judah, then leveled and plundered 150 cities. But in 1 Kings, the only thing
we’re told is what happens to the temple.
Another example is 16:21-28, describing the reign of King Omri of Israel. We know from the
archeology of other nations that Omri was an extremely influential and powerful king. The
Assyrians referred to Israel as “The land of Omri” for the next 200 years. But, the author of 1
Kings doesn’t care about him, because he didn’t worship in the temple.
Starting in chapter 17, we have an interlude, that lasts until 2 Kings 8. We leave a discussion of
the kings and the temple, and we read about two prophets, Elijah and Elisha. This is the first in-
depth discussion of the prophets in Scripture. In two weeks, we’ll start reading the prophets,
beginning with Amos.
The discussion of the temple is important to understand the culture of the Old Testament—the
culture that Jesus walked into. In the Old Testament, they believed God lived in the temple. It’s
like God was locked up in there. The temple became a big lucky charm for the people. They
thought, “We don’t have to take care of the poor, or widows, or orphans, because we have God
in the temple.” Things got so bad that the prophet Jeremiah (chapter 7), shouts a blistering
attack on the temple, referring to it as “the temple that you trust in.” In other words, they
weren’t trusting God; they were trusting the temple.
And this attitude was even more fervent when Jesus began his ministry. The Jews believed that
the temple was the holiest place on earth. And then Jesus comes along and throws the priests
out of the temple and declares that he will tear the temple down and rebuild it in 3 days. That
was about the worst blasphemy a person could utter, as far as the priests and pharisees were
Jesus declared that God was not in a building. He lives in hearts. He lives in your heart, and in
my heart. As the prophet Isaiah says (chapter 43), God has redeemed us. He has called us by
name. We are his.
If you run across a passage that you have questions about, feel free to post questions (or
insights that you have received from the Bible reading), then please click here, and then click on
the most recent reading guide. You can also feel free to email the question to me.
Our next face-to-face meeting is on April 11, 2019 at 6:30-7:45.