Why Study the Books of 1–2 Kings?

This article is part of the Why Study the Book? series.

Don’t Miss Out

We often avoid Old Testament narrative books like 1 and 2 Kings. They can feel foreign and intimidating. It’s easier to get practical application from Philippians, or Matthew, or the Psalms. Many of the stories in 1 and 2 Kings can seem strange and even disturbing.

But when we avoid 1 and 2 Kings, we miss out. This is a theologically rich book that makes a unique contribution to our understanding of our sin and frailty, God’s character and provision, and the plan of redemption being worked out in history. If this portion of Scripture were excised from the canon, something valuable would be lost from our understanding of the gospel.

Here are four specific ways that 1 and 2 Kings can help us.

1. 1 and 2 Kings helps us put the whole Bible together.

Several prominent biblical themes, developing from Genesis all the way to Revelation, are interwoven with the narrative of 1 and 2 Kings.

Temple. Much of the early portions of 1 Kings concern the construction and dedication of the temple. Solomon’s dedicatory prayer in 1 Kings 8 is one of the great mountain peaks in the biblical landscape, setting the temple in the larger context of the exodus (Moses), the monarchy (David), and God’s plan to bless the nations (Abraham). Studying 1 and 2 Kings provides us with a richer understanding of God’s desire to dwell among his people, lost since Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden (Genesis 3), and ultimately fulfilled on the new earth (Revelation 21).

1–2 Kings

Gavin Ortlund

This accessible study guide helps readers see God’s mercy and grace toward his people as he offers blessings instead of curses in response to their disobedience—pointing forward to the faithfulness of the Redeemer who was to come. Part of the Knowing the Bible series.

God’s Word. The stories of Elijah and Elisha contain some of the most dramatic moments in the Bible, such as Elijah’s standoff with the false prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. Through the ministries of these and other prophets, 1 and 2 Kings emphasizes the binding, inescapable nature of God’s Word. Countless times events are interpreted with the refrain “this happened to fulfill the word of the Lord” (e.g., 1 Kings 12:15). The word of God is true and efficacious. It brought the world into being at creation (Heb. 11:3); it will judge the nations at the end of history (Rev. 19:15); and it speaks with the same surety now through prophet and preacher.

Land. God’s promise of the land of Canaan to the people of Israel, pledged in the Abrahamic covenant and achieved under the leadership of Joshua, is temporarily thwarted by the Babylonian exile at the end of 2 Kings. The post-exilic literature narrates the return of the people to dwell in the land and their covenant renewal with the Lord, even while a sense of anticlimax anticipates a greater restoration to come (e.g., Hag. 2:3–9).

Kingdom. In 2 Samuel 7, God promised David that one of his offspring would reign on his throne, build a house for God, and establish a kingdom forever. The early chapters of 1 Kings present Solomon’s accession to the throne and building of the temple in terms of God’s faithfulness to these promises, while ultimately leaving the reader in expectation of a greater Davidic King who will, unlike Solomon, establish an eternal kingdom of peace and righteousness.

2. 1 and 2 Kings teaches us what revival looks like.

First and 2 Kings feels very different than the book of Acts. In Acts, God’s kingdom is surging forward. In Kings, it often seems languishing. But precisely for that reason, 1 and 2 Kings can make a unique contribution to our understanding of reformation and revival among the people of God.

By studying these passages, we see what it looks like when God brings about a revival of true religion after decades and even centuries of decadence. One thinks especially of Jehoash’s repairing of the temple (2 Kings 11–12), and Josiah’s reforms (2 Kings 22–23). No wonder this book was especially important to the Protestant Reformers!

In the midst of the frustrations and failures of real life, God is at work. Chaos does not mean his absence.

3. 1 and 2 Kings shows us how God is at work during difficult seasons.

1 and 2 Kings spans the time from Israel’s highest moment to her lowest—from the glory of Solomon to a burning rubble. There are some bright moments along the way, but the overall picture is one of division, decline, and continual downward spiral.

It ends in utter devastation with Nebuchadnezzar’s final siege on Jerusalem. The city is razed, the leaders are executed, the people are deported. Even the temple is destroyed and its precious metals stolen. The Babylonian exile is like an atomic bomb in the biblical storyline. To human eyes, it may look like the story is over.

And yet, in the midst of it all, God was at work. His purposes are never thwarted, and he will use even the exile to judge and purify His people as history moves forward.

Reading 1 and 2 Kings helps us trudge onward during the painful and grinding seasons of life. In the midst of the frustrations and failures of real life, God is at work. Chaos does not mean his absence.

4. 1 and 2 Kings reminds us how badly we need Jesus.

1 and 2 Kings is well titled. As a record of monarchical succession, it tells the story of Israel (and Judah) through the lens of her kings. The repeated introductory refrain, indicating the age, length of reign, and moral quality of each king, forms the skeleton of the narrative, and the book repeatedly emphasizes how each king ultimately leads the people either toward the Lord or idols.

In this way, the book of Kings binds up the fate of the people with the fate of the leader. Good kings bring blessing to the entire people, and bad kings bring judgment. Ultimately, the entire nation suffers for lack of a godly ruler. Yet the story also ends with a glimmer of hope, as the release of the Judean King Jehoiachin from prison (2 Kings 25:27–30) signals to discerning readers that the Davidic dynasty has not been snuffed out.

The resounding takeaway from 1 and 2 Kings is how badly God’s people need a Savior King, and how grateful we should be that Jesus has come to be this for us.

Think how things have now changed! God’s people are no longer dwindling in repeated cycles of unfaithfulness and judgment. Jesus has ascended to the position of supreme authority. The Spirit has been poured out. The gospel is surging forward. Jesus is, right now, reigning in power and glory, and interceding for his people. And one day, perhaps very soon, he is coming to complete the work.

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