This article is part of the Christ in All of Scripture series.
The book of Kings belongs to a larger group of books in the Old Testament, Joshua through Kings (the so-called Former Prophets). Together, these books record the faithfulness of Israel’s covenant God to keep all of his covenant promises with regard to the establishment of his people in the Promised Land. There are two important texts that summarize this reality. The first is Joshua 21:44–45: “And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. . . . Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.” The second is 1 Kings 8:56: “Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant.” These two texts provide the two theological lenses through which we are invited to read the book of Kings. The Lord was faithful to give his people rest and to keep all of his covenant promises. In contrast, the history of God’s people was characterized as one of covenant breaking and ever-increasing infidelity.
The clear contrast between God’s covenant keeping and Israel’s covenant breaking, particularly among Israel’s kings, is perhaps the most important theme in the book of Kings. For this stark contrast highlights the gracious and undeserved nature of God’s faithfulness to his people. The biblical term for this reality is “steadfast love” (see Ex. 34:6–7; 1 Kings 3:6; 8:23), sometimes translated as mercy, loyalty, faithfulness, or graciousness. Behind the variety of terms used to express this idea in the Bible is one central idea: God does not treat his people as their sins deserve.
But how is this gracious behavior of the Lord possible? We know that God is flawlessly faithful to his covenant promises, yet part of those promises include the promise to curse covenant breakers: “Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them” (Deut. 27:26; cf. Deut. 27:15–26; 28:15–19). How can God be both merciful to his people but also faithful to curse covenant breakers, especially since all of God’s people have broken the covenant? The book of Kings hints at the answer with the small but important expression “for the sake of my servant David” (cf. 1 Kings 11:11–13, 32, 34; 2 Kings 8:19; 19:34; Isa. 37:35).
Because the Lord made a covenant with David to establish an eternal kingdom through his offspring (cf. 2 Sam. 7:9–16; 1 Kings 3:6; 9:4–5; 11:4, 34; 14:8; 15:3), the nation of Israel was repeatedly treated in gracious mercy, in ways it did not deserve. Ultimately, however, the sins of Israel increased to such a point that the covenant curses of destruction and exile were required by the Lord’s faithfulness to his own covenant obligations (cf. 2 Kings 17, 25), but even these disciplinary measures were sovereignly administered in such a way as not to undo the Davidic promise that would remain Israel’s hope.
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As Christians, we are reminded through 1 and 2 Kings of God’s faithfulness to us as his covenant people in spite of our own transgressions and covenant infidelity. We must understand that God’s grace and mercy to us is rooted in the same hope expressed by the book of Kings, that God does not treat us as our sins deserve because of the faithfulness of another David, Jesus Christ, the root and offspring (or Seed) of David (Matt. 1:1, 17; 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30–31; 21:9; John 7:42; Rom. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:8; Rev. 22:16). But Jesus is not just any son (offspring) of David. He is the true and better David. Not only did his obedience merit our righteousness before God, but he also bore the consequences of our covenant breaking. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21; cf. Rom. 8:1). In Christ, we are guaranteed that God’s steadfast love will never run out, because the necessary curse for covenant disobedience has been endured by another on our behalf. Now, we rest in God’s faithfulness, for he has kept all of his covenant promises, and “all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Cor. 1:20).
This article is adapted from the ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible. Browse other articles in this series via the links below.
Genesis • Exodus • Leviticus • Numbers • Deuteronomy • Joshua • Judges • Ruth • 1–2 Samuel • 1–2 Kings • 1–2 Chronicles • Ezra • Nehemiah • Esther • Job • Psalms • Proverbs • Ecclesiastes • Song of Solomon • Isaiah • Jeremiah • Lamentations • Ezekiel • Daniel • Hosea • Joel • Amos • Obadiah • Jonah • Micah • Nahum • Habbakuk • Zephaniah • Haggai • Zechariah • Malachi
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