BAM, I am so proud of myself. It took me 5 months to get through 1st Samuel and 3 1/2 months to get through 2nd Samuel, but it only took me a couple weeks to get through 1st Kings. And it’s 22 chapters long, so it’s not exactly short. Granted, I had the advantage of being on Christmas break this time. We’ll see how I do with 2nd Kings now that I’m back to the grind of work (uggh). I am trying to turn over a new leaf for 2013 in which I stop my habit of constant paralyzing procrastination. I say that every year though. This year is finally gonna be the time!! Err, we’ll see.
Anyway let’s get to 1st Kings. I’m frankly having trouble figuring out how I’ll even summarize this book. It’s very similar in structure to Judges in that it just follows the succession of a bunch of leaders (kings this time instead of judges) of Israel. It doesn’t give you a whole lot to latch onto in terms of one or two main characters to follow, like we get in most of the other books. And like Judges, Kings also follows a repetitive cycle, with very few exceptions: A king is appointed, he eventually does bad in the eyes of the Lord, the Lord curses him (and his family) to die, that king’s son eventually takes over, and the cycle then repeats itself.
The book starts off with King David on his death bed. After some confusion around which of his sons will succeed him, he appoints Solomon to be the next king of Israel. Solomon is automatically blessed by God because he’s the son of David, and David is basically God’s favorite human of all time at this point. Or one of them, at least. God asks Solomon in a dream what he can do for him, and Solomon asks God to grant him the wisdom to properly govern the people and distinguish between right and wrong. God is very happy that Solomon answers this way, instead of being greedy and asking for wealth for himself, long life, etc. So God tells him that he will grant him “a wise and discerning heart,” more so than anyone before or after him. He also takes it a step further and grants Solomon more wealth than any other king.
So Solomon rules Israel and he is indeed the smartest dude ever to live. He is a walking encyclopedia and he always makes wise decisions at every turn. “4:20 The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy.” Life is a bowl of cherries at this point, there’s peace in the land, and Solomon is a regular Bill Gates in terms of net worth. But I guess the good times can’t roll forever, because in chapter 11, Solomon starts to misstep in the eyes of God. He eventually marries 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines (these wives/pricesses/concubines include many “strange women”, i.e. foreigners from lands that God does NOT approve of), and his wives “turn away his heart” from God. Hmm, tisk tisk. By the time he’s old, he starts to follow the gods of the other lands because of his wives. So the now angry and jealous Lord professes that he will tear the kingdom away from Solomon, but due to the Lord’s devotion to David, he will wait until Solomon dies and his son takes over, to do this. God also says he’ll let the son keep one tribe – Judah – but the rest of Israel will be taken away.
And this is where 1st Kings gets even more confusing than Judges. Because once Solomon dies (after reigning for 40 years) and his son Rehoboam succeeds him, an adversary named Jeroboam pops up, and the kingdom ends up splitting in two. Jeroboam gets most of the people of Israel on his side (as is the will of the Lord because of Solomon’s sins), so he takes over as king of Israel. BUT, as God promised, Rehoboam keeps the tribe of Judah. So then for the rest of the book of 1st Kings, we don’t just follow one long chain of kings, but TWO chains: the many kings of Judah and the many kings of the rest of Israel. Uggh, confusing. The rest of it goes something like this:
- Jeroboam eventually sins in the eyes of God, so God curses him like he did Solomon. He reigns over Israel for 22 years and then his son Nadab succeeds him.
- Meanwhile, Solomon’s son Rehoboam is ruling Judah, and he and his people are sinning more than EVER before. They are setting up Asherah poles all over the place, prostituting, and engaging in all kinds of debauchery. So God curses Rehoboam too. Judah and Israel war with each other the whole time of the reigns of Rehoboam and Jereboam. Rehoboam reigns 17 years and then Abijah his son succeeds him.
- Abijah is now king of Judah and Jeroboam is in the 18th year of his reign over Israel. Abijah is bad just like daddy was. He rules a couple years and then his son Asa succeeds him as king of Judah. Jeroboam is now in year 20 of ruling Israel.
- Asa reigns Judah 41 years and he is GOOD in the eyes of God. He gets rid of all the debauchery in Judah.
- Jeroboam’s son Nadab succeeds him as king of Israel in the 2nd year of Asa’s rule over Judah. He is evil in the eyes of God too, and reigns 2 years.
- Some dude named Baasha kills Nadab and his/Jeroboam’s whole family (because God had previously cursed that to happen as punishment on J), and then Baasha takes over as king of Israel in the 3rd year of Asa’s reign over Judah. Baasha reigns 24 years. But guess what? He turns out to be evil too. God curses him and his family. He dies.
- Baasha’s son Elah succeeds him as king of Israel in the 26th year of Asa’s rule over Judah. He reigns for 2 years. Zimri, one of his officials, betrays and kills him and all Baasha’s entire family, because of that pesky curse on Baasha by God.
- It’s now the 27th year of Asa’s reign over Judah and Zimri manages to rule Israel for a whopping 7 days. But the Israelites find out that he killed Baasha so they proclaim Omri, the commander of the army, as king instead. Zimri is killed in this process. The Lord sanctions the killing cause Zimri is bad.
- Omri becomes king of Israel in the 31st year of Asa’s rule over Judah. He reigns 12 years, and then in a shocking turn of events, he does evil in the eyes of the Lord – MORE evil, in fact, than ALL those before him. He worships “worthless idols” just like Jeroboam and Nebat.
- Omri dies and his son Ahab becomes king in the 38th year of Asa’s reign over Judah. But guess what?? Ahab does even MORE evil in the eyes of God than Omri!! “16:31. He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal (another god) and worship him. 16:32 He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria.” He ends up being cursed by God at least a couple times over by the end of the book.
- It’s at this time that Elijah the magic prophet shows up. He tells Ahab that God will put a drought on the land for the next few years.
- In the third year of the drought, Elijah challenges Ahab to a “god-off” of sorts: God vs. Baal. They set up 2 altars, one to each god, and they each call on their respective god to magically light fire on their altar. Of course, God lights his altar on fire and wins, and Baal fails miserably. Elijah then has all the prophets of Baal (450 total) slaughtered, while God makes it rain on the land, finally. Quite a dramatic scene.
- Some other stuff happens after this that is fairly random and not all that interesting, but eventually, king Asa dies and his son Jehoshaphat takes over as king of Judah. This is in the 4th year of Ahab’s rule over Israel. He is 35 years old when he takes over and reigns 25 years. He is a good man in the eyes of God, just like his father Asa.
- Aram is warring against Israel at this time, so at some point, Judah and Israel (i.e. kings Jehoshephat and Ahab) band together to fight against Ramoth Gilead to take it back from the Arameans, and they win. But God curses Ahab to die in battle for all the bad stuff he’s done, so he gets killed.
- Ahab’s son Ahaziah succeeds him as king of Israel in the 17th year of Jehoshephat’s rule over Judah.
- Jehoshephat eventually dies and his son Jehoram succeeds him as king of Judah.
God, that was obnoxiously long. WAY longer than I meant it to be. I’ll try to make the Good Stuff and Bad Stuff sections as brief as possible, because nothing real original or ground-breaking happens in either of them.
There’s not a whole lot of notable “good” stuff in 1st Kings. These are the only chapters I found with slight glimmers of hope:
- I mentioned above that God grants king Solomon with more wisdom than anyone in the world before or after him. Chapter 3 gives us an example of his wisdom put to good use, when two prostitutes come to him to settle an argument between them. They both have babies, but one of the prostitutes has accidentally killed her baby by rolling over on him while sleeping. She then has snuck into the house of the other
chick and stolen her baby. Problem is, both of the prostitutes are pointing the finger at each other as the culprit, so there’s no way to tell which one is telling the truth, and which one is the mother of the living baby. So Solomon tells them, “Bring me a sword. Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.” Prostitute #1 says, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!” Prostitute #2 says, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!” Their answers make it very clear who the real mother is, or at least who deserves to keep the baby. This story is nothing earth-shattering, but again at least it’s a rare example (so far) of a story that actually involves some sort of moral and a valuable takeaway.
- In chapter 6, Solomon builds a temple for God. In chapter 8, he has the Ark of the Covenant brought to the temple, and performs a dedication ceremony. His dedication includes some pleas to God to be forgiving of his people when they sin. Heh, but the problem is that it’s just a foregone conclusion in this dedication that the forgiveness will only happen after God punishes the people for their sins by war, disease, famine, etc. Solomon also asks God to accept foreigners when they come into Israel and want to pray to God and become followers of him. Again, these are just small morsels, and if you read the full text of the dedication, it still holds the ominous threats of the typical “Angry God” throughout.
Here we go, same “bad stuff,” different book. Again I’ll try to just focus on a few highlights (err, lowlights):
- First off, everything about the cycle of kings described in my summary of this book is bad. God curses and kills people for disobeying him over, and over, and over. And over. Nothing new here though.
- Also in the above summary, Elijah the prophet, who is presented as a major hero and upstanding citizen, slaughters 450 men for being prophets for another god (Baal).
- OH! Probably the most noteworthy bad thing here by far is the fact that one of the few bulletpoints in my “Good Stuff” section for 2nd Samuel is totally invalidated almost immediately upon starting 1st Kings!! Remember in 2nd Samuel when that dude Shimei taunted David for being a “man of blood”, but David had mercy on him? Well in chapter 2 of 1st Kings, as David’s dying, he tells Solomon to KILL Shimei as punishment for the taunting!! I guess mercy has an expiration date (the same date as David’s life expiration date), because David has no problem living up to his “man of blood” label in the end. David also has Solomon kill Joab (commander of David’s army) in this chapter, finally; I was shocked that David never killed Joab in 2nd Samuel for all the trouble Joab caused.
- Before David appoints Solomon as king, there is another son of David’s (Adonijah) who tries to go for the throne instead, but he is unsuccessful. After this, Adonijah
goes to Solomon’s mom Bathsheba (of course all David’s kids have different baby mamas) and asks her to plead with Solomon to let him marry Abishag the Shunammite. I’m not sure why he has to get Solomon’s permission for this, but apparently he does. Solomon, for some reason, gets ROYALLY pissed off at this, and has his brother Adonijah killed in response. Umm. Yikes.
- One thing I find hilarious/ridiculous about the Old Testament is the great and painstaking care it takes with describing every single last detail of the opulent temples and palaces that are built at various points. It starts to feel like an episode of MTV Cribs after a while. 1st Kings spends the entirety of chapters 6 and 7 (7 being a very loooong chapter, mind you) describing every extravagant detail of the temple Solomon builds for God and then the palace he builds for himself (which, it
should be noted, is more than four times BIGGER in square footage than the temple for God). Click the Brick Testament link at the right for an example of some details, but the bottom line is that it feels like Justin Bieber levels of pure testosterone-filled braggadocio. Oh and I almost forgot that half of chapter 10 is devoted to describing all Solomon’s riches and possessions as well. I haven’t read the New Testament yet, but I don’t think Jesus would approve of this frivolous crap.
- Chapter 13 gives us the maddeningly random tale of two prophets in the forest, where one prophet tricks the other prophet and God punishes the one who is tricked (with death, of course). The thing is so odd that I don’t even want to waste the time describing it here, but you can see a summary of it here if you’re interested. I’m not sure if this will become relevant in a later book.
- Chapter 19 involves another seemingly random passage, that I have yet to tie to anything concrete. I’m not sure what it all means or if it’ll be picked up in 2nd Kings, but this is the passage (for context, this occurs when Elijah flees Ahab and the Israelites after the “God vs. Baal” competition I described in my summary: “15. The Lord said to [Elijah], ‘Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.'” Umm … who is Jehu and is God gonna exterminate (almost) all the Israelites again at some point in a future book?
- God hates Ahab king of Israel for many reasons, but one of the reasons God disapproves of Ahab (and curses him to die) is because Ahab takes mercy on Ben-Hadad king of Aram in chapter 20 when Israel is at war with the Arameans, rather than killing him. Same reason God hated/cursed Saul in 1st Samuel – for failing to kill an enemy.
Jezebel: Who is this Badass Bitch?
One last subject I wanted to touch on before I end my review is the fact that 1st Kings introduces us to the character of Jezebel. It’s not anything that falls into a “good” or “bad” category, but rather just notable, to me anyway. I’ve always known that Jezebel was some sort of bad character from the Bible, and of course the name is sometimes used as a derogatory slang term, but these days it mainly just makes me think of the sister site of Gawker that’s geared towards women (the name of the site being used somewhat ironically). But beyond that, I never had any idea who Jezebel was or why she was important in the Bible, until now.
If you’ve read any of my previous bible book reviews, you’ll know that one of my many annoyances with the Bible thus far is its almost complete dismissal of women. Up to this point, the instances of a female character being important in any way other than simply to be the birthing vessel to an important male character are extremely few and far between. Even Ruth, the only woman to have a book named after her thus far, is mainly only important because she’s the great grandmother to David. The only other interesting female character I can think of so far is Deborah, the only female judge mentioned in Judges. She seemed like kind of a badass, but we never got a great amount of detail on her.
Anyway so now in 1st Kings, we are introduced to Jezebel. And of course, in one of the painfully few instances of a somewhat compelling female character, she has to be a villain. Back to the misogynistic Bible issue of women only serving to cause trouble for the men. But I guess I’ll take what I can get at this point, cause at least she’s kinda interesting, even if it’s in a terrible way. And plus the story is kind of hilarious because of what a whiney little wimp king Ahab is … his wife Jezebel really seems to be the brains behind their whole operation. She’s one of those evil foreigners (a Sidonian) who worships Baal (one of God’s many reasons for hating Ahab – because he marries Jezzie). In chapter 18 we then get past-tense references to Jezebel having massacred a bunch of God’s prophets at some point. Yikes.
Then in chapter 19, after the “God vs. Baal” battle of the altars that ends in Elijah killing 450 prophets of Baal, poor wittle Ahab goes running to Jezebel to fix it for him. She responds with, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make [Elijah’s] life like that of one of them.” Wow. She must be a pretty fearsome character, because this causes Elijah to run for his life. Chapter 21 then gives us the rather hilarious story of greedy brat king Ahab deciding that his humongous palace isn’t enough for him, so he wants to also own the vineyard next to his palace, which is owned by a guy named Naboth. When he is unsuccessful in convincing Naboth to sell the vineyard to him, he runs back home and literally lays “on his bed sulking and refus[ing] to eat,” like a 12 year old girl who can’t get tix to a One Direction concert or something. Jezebel once again solves his problem for him by working up a scheme to have poor Naboth killed (on the bright side, at least God makes it clear that he disapproves of all this). Ahab dies at the end of 1st Kings, but it doesn’t mention what becomes of Jezebel. An internet search indicates that we’ll get to see how she dies in 2nd Kings though. We’ll see.
So that’s the gist of 1st Kings. There’s nothing earth-shattering or groundbreaking in this book, it’s just more of the same type of wacky and disturbing stories, these ones mainly revolving around God’s anger when his people betray him and worship other gods, and the consequences of that (death, of course). As for my rating of this book ….. I guess I’ll give it a ……
I almost kept it at the 1.5 that I gave both books of Samuel … but it seems that 1st Kings has even less good stuff in it than Samuel did, and even invalidates one of the good points from 2nd Samuel, ha. So points off for that. We’ll see if 2nd Kings fares any better.