Introduction to the History of Israel’s Monarchy
KINGS AND CHRONICLES
Our lessons this quarter take us into the lively history of Israel’s kings. Scripture tells the story twice, once in Samuel-Kings and once in Chronicles. The two accounts, while often overlapping, bring differing perspectives to the story. The richness which results provides an Old Testament counterpart to the multiple accounts of Jesus’ life in the Gospels.
Ancient Hebrew Bibles treated First and Second Kings as a single work, the last of the four “former prophets”: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings. But even the division of Samuel from Kings is artificial. The earliest translations of the Old Testament actually brought Samuel and Kings closer together: the Greek Septuagint (the Bible of Jesus and the Apostles), followed by the Latin Vulgate (the Bible of the Middle Ages), treated the books of Samuel-Kings as a single composition of four volumes, “The Books of the Kingdoms.” The lessons for this quarter focus on Kings and Chronicles.
While the books themselves refer to more ancient sources, Kings and Chronicles in their present form come from the latter part of the Old Testament period. Kings was written sometime after 561 BC, the date of the last event recorded in the book, Jehoiachin’s release from prison in Babylon (2 Kings 25:27).
As for Chronicles, a date sometime after 400 BC is likely since a genealogy in 1 Chronicles 3:17-24 seems to extend six generations beyond Jehoiachin. In any event, Chronicles is the very last book in the Hebrew Bible, the concluding word in the third section of the Old Testament canon, “The Writings” (referred to as the “Psalms” in Luke 24:44).
A comparison reveals that Kings is more somber and pessimistic — or perhaps just realistic; Chronicles is more buoyant and idealistic. The sober emphasis of Kings reflects Israel’s agony over God’s judgment on her sin. The brighter note in Chronicles brought an inspired boost to flagging spirits as God’s people struggled to re-build their shattered world.
Clearly, we are dealing with much more than just history. The Hebrew Bible drops a clue when it puts Samuel and Kings in with the prophets. We may go a step further and call these books theology. Just as each gospel writer has his own unique message to tell about God and his Son Jesus, so each historian of the monarchy has a special story to tell about God and his people. We are the richer for it.
Attempting to cover all of Kings and Chronicles in one quarter is a challenge. The following observations should help make the task more manageable:
- All the chapters from Kings and Chronicles are included in the lesson assignments. The questions and discussions in the lessons are more selective and focus on key parts of the assigned biblical passages. Feel free to expand your study into those portions of Scripture not directly discussed in the quarterly.
- A synopsis is a helpful tool for comparing the accounts of Kings and Chronicles. Differences between accounts can be troubling. Ellen White, however, viewed the variety as enrichment, not perplexity: “The Lord gave His word in just the way He wanted it to come. He gave it through different writers, each having his own individuality, though going over the same history” (Selected Messages 1:21 [Letter 53, 1900]).A helpful study tool, even for brief comparisons, is a synopsis which places the material in Samuel-Kings along side that of Chronicles in parallel columns. An older work, now out of print is James Newsome, A Synoptic Harmony of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles (Baker Book House, 1986.) An excellent synopsis, published by Michael Glazier (1998), is currently in print: John Endres, William Millar, and John Burns, eds., Chronicles and Its Synoptic Parallels in Samuel, Kings, and Related Biblical Texts.
- Some passages in Kings/Chronicles raise larger issues for the understanding of God and his Word. The violence in the Old Testament and the relationship between God and Satan are two of the topics which come to mind with a thoughtful reading of Kings and Chronicles. In such instances, the study guide gives more explanation than usual in order to provide a meaningful framework for the understanding of Scripture.
- Maps and an Old Testament chronology are especially helpful when studying the period of the monarchy. Visualizing where and when events took place is always enlightening. Many Bibles contain basic maps; a Bible atlas provides greater variety and detail. For a convenient overview of the sequence and dating of events, see under “Chronology” in a good Bible dictionary. The following brief outline may be helpful for quick reference.
D: KEY OLD TESTAMENT EVENTS AND DATES
Call of Abraham
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob
Slavery in Egypt
Exodus from Egypt
Forty Years of Wilderness Wandering
Invasion of Canaan
Joshua and the Judges
1050 BC United Monarchy Established
Saul, David, Solomon
931 BC Division of the Kingdom
Kingdom of Judah in the South: Rehoboam and Successors
Kingdom of Israel in the North: Jeroboam and Successors
722 BC Fall of Northern Kingdom (Samaria/Israel)
Selective Deportation of Ten Tribes by Assyria
Sennacherib’s Attack on Jerusalem
Josiah’s Reform and Discovery of the Law (621 BC)
586 BC Fall of Southern Kingdom (Jerusalem/Judah)
Exile and Deportation by Babylon
Babylon Falls to Medes and Persians (538 BC)
536 BC Return from Exile in Babylon
Cyrus’ Decree Sends First Captives Back Under Zerubbabel
Temple Rebuilt Under Darius the Great (520-515 BC)
Ezra Arrives in Jerusalem (457 BC)
444 BC Walls of Jerusalem Rebuilt (Nehemiah)
KINGS: THE SOBERING REALITY OF ISRAEL’S HISTORY
First Kings begins with Israel at the peak of her glory, the moment of transition from her greatest king, David, to his son Solomon, her richest and wisest king. But apart from brief glimpses of hope in the reign of an occasional good king — a Hezekiah or a Josiah — it is a story of hastening disaster and deepening gloom. Second Kings closes with the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon.
What might appear, however, as the end of the road for a stubborn and rebellious people, is really the beginning of a new and better way, one which confirms God’s righteousness and opens the door to grace. It is a righteous God who oversees the sure and certain results of disobedience, in this instance, the multiple disasters recorded in First and Second Kings.
But we only have to take one small step beyond Kings to realize that judgment’s dark night is grace’s opportunity. The God who delivered his people into the hands of foreigners as punishment for their sin, is the one who brought them back again, not because of their righteousness, but because of his great mercy. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20). The stories in Kings are often shocking, the glimpses of grace seemingly rare. But through it all, a righteous God is leading his people toward his kingdom.
OVERVIEW OF 1 and 2 Kings
|I. The Reign of Solomon (1 Kings 1-11)
II. The Divided Kingdom (1 Kings 12 – 2 Kings 17)
III. The Kingdom of Judah to the Exile (2 Kings 18-25)
CHRONICLES: GOD’S GLORIOUS IDEAL
The early Greek and Latin translators of Chronicles called the books “the things left out,” suggesting that Chronicles was simply a supplement to Samuel-Kings. But Chronicles is much more than just a collection of stories not told in Kings; it is a masterful retelling of Israel’s history, a sermon about the goodness of God, a message of hope for a discouraged people.
In comparison with Samuel-Kings, the Chronicler achieves his more buoyant emphasis, in part, by dropping out the bad news and adding to the good. He omits, for example, many of the more sordid incidents involving David and Solomon. Then he brings in encouraging stories like the report of Hezekiah’s great Passover feast and the record of King Manasseh’s repentance. Thus, in contrast with the somber emphasis on sin and judgment in Kings, Chronicles highlights God’s willingness to extend a helping hand to struggling sinners. It is a message of hope to a people who had stumbled so often that they wondered if God still cared. The Chronicler’s resounding answer then and now is “Yes, he cares.”
AN OVERVIEW OF 1 AND 2 CHRONICLES
|I. Genealogies: from Adam to the Restoration (1 Chronicles 1-9)
II. The Reign of David (1 Chronicles 10-29)
III. The Reign of Solomon (2 Chronicles 1-9)
IV. From Rehoboam to Exile (2 Chronicles 10)