What can the Old Testament teach us about how to live the gospel in our own day? What relationships can we see between our challenges and those face by the children of Israel in ancient times? Why do we need to understand the poetry and promises of Isaiah—and how can we learn to do that?
This volume is the second in a two-volume commentary on the Old Testament, adding to the acclaimed Verse by Verse series by scripture scholars D. Kelly Ogden and Andrew C. Skinner.
Here we learn how to discover our Savior, Jesus Christ, in the scriptures of ancient Israel. Brought to life are the stories of Esther, Job, Daniel, Jonah, and others in ways that connect our lives with theirs. And the authors explore with us the book of Isaiah, enabling us to grasp better than ever the treasures of prophecy and poetry of the great seer who foresaw Jesus Christ, our own day, and the millennial era. We gain insights into the blessings of offering sacrifice and keeping covenants. Quotations from latter-day prophets and apostles enhance these doctrinal discussions to help us liken the scriptures of ancient Israel unto ourselves.
This commentary offers soul-satisfying enrichment to our study of the Old Testament, whose timeless truths testify that the Lord is "the same yesterday, today, and forever."
- Size: 6" x 9"
- Pages: 480
- Year Published: 2013
About the Authors
D. Kelly Ogden is a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University. His doctoral work focused on the Hebrew language and historical geography of biblical lands. He has walked the length and breadth of the Holy Land and climbed Mount Sinai eighteen times. Dr. Ogden has written numerous books and articles on the Bible, especially during the fourteen years he lived in the Near East. He was associate director of the BYU Jerusalem Center and assisted in the preparation of the Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Bible. He has served as branch president in Jerusalem, mission president in Chile, Missionary Training Center president in Guatemala, and sealer in the Provo Utah Temple. He and his wife, Marcia Hammond Ogden, are the parents of four children.
Andrew C. Skinner, a professor of ancient scripture and Near Eastern studies, is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at BYU, where he served as dean of Religious Education and as the first executive director of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. A member of the international editorial group that translated the Dead Sea Scrolls and author or coauthor of more than two hundred articles and books on religious and historical topics, Dr. Skinner taught at the BYU Jerusalem Center and was its associate director. He has served in the Church as a bishop, a counselor in a district presidency in Israel, a member of the Correlation Evaluation Committee, and a member of the Sunday School General Board. He and his wife, Janet Corbridge Skinner, are the parents of six children.
First Kings is a continuation of the historical narrative begun in 1 and 2 Samuel. Together the four books of Samuel and Kings recount the whole history of monarchy in ancient Israel from the rise of Saul under the prophet Samuel to the fall of Zedekiah at the hands of the Babylonian empire. Like 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings were originally one book, called simply Kings. The division of Kings was made by the translators of the Septuagint, sometime between 250 and 100 b.c.
We do not know with any degree of certainty who wrote 1 and 2 Kings. Jewish tradition ascribes authorship to Jeremiah, though this is doubted by some scholars. One thing seems clear: the author or authors used various sources to prepare the Hebrew version of Kings from which the King James translators did their work. We know that one source was “the book of the acts of Solomon” (1 Kings 11:41), another was “the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel” (14:19), and still another was “the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah” (14:29). The “chronicles” mentioned in 1 Kings 14 are different from 1 and 2 Chronicles in our Old Testament. The word chronicles could better be translated as “annals.”
Undoubtedly, other sources were also used in the compilation of Kings. Some of these were also used by the author or compiler of 1 and 2 Chronicles and are mentioned therein. The author or authors of 1 and 2 Kings were very familiar with the book of Deuteronomy, the summary of the law of Moses that undergirds several passages in Kings.
A note on the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles. The books of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings have some parallel material in 1 and 2 Chronicles. Two separate records were kept in the northern and in the southern kingdoms of the covenant people: records of the kings of Israel and of Judah, and the chronicles of the kings, dealing predominantly with the southern kingdom of Judah. The first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles review the genealogy from Adam to David, and then the rest of 1 Chronicles and all of 2 Chronicles parallels the books of Samuel and Kings, in many places duplicating them virtually word for word. In this commentary we have interwoven the various records; there is thus no separate commentary on 1 and 2 Chronicles. Instead, 1 and 2 Chronicles are cross-referenced to their parallel material in the records of Samuel and Kings and commented on there. The unique material in Chronicles is also noted in the commentary on the books of Samuel and Kings.
1 Kings 1:1–10
Chapter 1 of 1 Kings picks up the historical sequence from 2 Samuel 20:22. It records Solomon’s struggles and rise to the throne.2 Samuel 20:22
David had grown old. The description of his condition in verses 1–3 is picturesque enough, although to us it may seem a bit crass.
Adonijah may quite logically have assumed that he should prepare to be his father’s successor, but no one in Israel could properly make himself king; recall how Saul and David were prophetically selected and inaugurated. According to 2 Samuel 3:2–4, Adonijah was the fourth son of David; but two of his older brothers, Amnon and Absalom, were already dead, and a third (called Chileab in 2 Samuel 3:3 and Daniel in 1 Chronicles 3:1) is not mentioned in the text after the account of his birth.2 Samuel 3:22 Samuel 3:31 Chronicles 3:1
Though Adonijah had the support of Joab and Abiathar in his attempted coup, there were other important persons he did not have on his side. He seemed aware that Solomon was the heir apparent to the throne because he did not invite him to his inauguration. Later Adonijah admitted that he knew that the kingship was Solomon’s “from the Lord” (1 Kings 2:15).
1 Kings 1:11–27
Because the installation of Solomon as king was initiated by the prophet Nathan, it must have had the approval of the Lord. The promise that Solomon should be king as mentioned by Nathan in his advice to Bathsheba is not found in the books of Samuel but is recorded in 1 Chronicles 22:9. The prophet and Bathsheba took steps to ensure that Solomon’s appointment was secure.
According to plan, Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, gave David several facts to influence his action in favor of Solomon as his successor. Nathan’s confirmation of what Bathsheba had said, combined with additional information making Adonijah’s usurpation apparent, and a bit of sarcastic innuendo were all well calculated to stimulate action by David favorable to Solomon.
1 Kings 1:28–40
The prophet, the chief priest, and the military leader, with the royal bodyguard of loyal mercenaries, were instructed where to go to anoint and proclaim Solomon as king. The place specified was the Gihon spring, a central gathering place for Jerusalem just below the City of David, in the Kidron Valley (the spring still flows there today). The anointing, the announcement, the fanfare, the cheering, the riding on the king’s own mule, and the presence of some six hundred well-organized and dependable troops frustrated Adonijah’s earlier self-installation as king. In ancient Israel the mule or ass was a symbol of peace and royalty. On the other hand, the horse was a symbol of warfare and destruction. During his first coming, Jesus entered Jerusalem to be hailed as the great king riding upon an ass (Matthew 21:1–9). At his second coming, a time of war and destruction, he will come riding a white horse and subdue all enemies under his feet (Revelation 19:11; see also 6:2, 4, 5, 8). Solomon’s act of riding on a mule, the great symbol of peace and royalty, to the Gihon spring sent a powerful, two-pronged, message to all Israel. He was the legitimate king, and his focus was peace. Solomon’s name in Hebrew, Shlomo, literally means “his peace.” Such an act forestalled the possibility of Adonijah’s attempt to claim the throne and thereby plunge the kingdom into tumult.
The anointing was done using the “horn of oil” from the Tabernacle. Note the symbolism involved. The “horn” represented power anciently (see 1 Samuel 2:1, footnote a), and the symbolism of transferring power and protection by means of the anointing is well known. Pure olive oil was used in the holiest place on earth to anoint the sacred vessels of the Tabernacle, where heavenly power resided (Leviticus 8:10–11). Three classes of people in ancient Israel were anointed to perform their functions: prophets, priests, and kings (Exodus 40:15; 1 Samuel 10:1; 16:13; 1 Kings 1:39; 19:16.). This anointing foreshadowed the role of the Anointed One, Jesus Christ, our “Prophet, Priest, and King” (Hymns, no. 136). Anointing oil (pure olive oil) represents the Atonement of Jesus Christ in many ways (see Skinner, Gethsemane, 83–89).
1 Kings 1:41–53
Adonijah and his supporters soon realized that their cause was lost and that their status in the new regime was precarious. Adonijah took refuge in the sanctuary, at the horns of the altar (symbolic of protection), to safeguard his life until he could get assurance from the king that he would be spared the expected death penalty for such an attempted coup. Solomon’s response sounds judicious and tolerant. See Exodus 21:13–14 concerning the sanctuary as a refuge. The word sanctuary is still used similarly today; that is, one seeking a place of security and protection is still said to be seeking sanctuary.
1 Kings 2:1–9
As David prepared to die, we see the peaceful transition of power from one leader to another, something David had not experienced. Included here is a short version of David’s charge to Solomon (see also Psalm 72). The Lord’s promise that this dynasty should continue is found in 2 Samuel 7:12.
David passed on to Solomon at least three duties that he (David) had either avoided or neglected: Joab was to be punished, specifically for his assassination of Abner and Amasa; no mention is made of his dispatch of Absalom nor his affiliation with Adonijah’s coup; Shimei, whose curses had once been tolerated philosophically by David, was at last to be punished; Barzillai’s sons were to be fed at the royal table for the good done by their father to David when he fled from Absalom years before; Barzillai himself had refused such rewards.
1 Kings 2:10–12 (1 Chronicles 29:22–30)
David’s burial was in the City of David (see also Nehemiah 3:16). Usually Israelite burials were outside the cities, not within residential areas. Various sites for the burial of David and his successors have been suggested, but the lack of conclusive evidence leaves the actual location in doubt.
1 Kings 2:13–46
Adonijah asked Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, to lobby her son to grant Adonijah’s request: David’s wife Abishag to become Adonijah’s wife. Adonijah knew that anyone who received any of the king’s wives was supposed to be an heir of the deceased king. Whatever Adonijah’s motives, Solomon was particularly sensitive about the significance of Adonijah’s request and, with autocratic swiftness, decreed his half-brother’s death.
In fact, in this chapter we see Solomon “clean house” as three men are sentenced to death: Adonijah, Joab, and Shimei. David’s former priestly friend Abiathar, survivor of Saul’s purge at Nob, lived on but was not permitted to continue to perform priestly duties because he had affiliated with Absalom.
Joab found temporary sanctuary beside the altar in the tent set up by David to house the Ark. He insisted that if they would kill him, they would have to kill him there. Indeed, his execution was ordered to be done there. No doubt justice demanded that he be punished, but it is unfortunate that the execution was performed in violation of the sanctuary.
The quarantine of Shimei led inevitably to an event for which he could be put to death. David had promised that Shimei would not be killed for cursing him.
1 Kings 3:1–4 (2 Chronicles 1:1–6)
Throughout history, alliances between one country and another were often cemented through marriages. These alliances were a way to secure peaceful borders between nations, to placate each other, and to receive certain benefits. That Egypt participated at this time in this arrangement suggests the growing importance of Israel on the international scene. Few other kingdoms in ancient history boasted the honor of a marriage between a king and a royal princess of Egypt. The decision to align himself politically and familially with Pharaoh was not a wise decision, as shown by verse 1 in the Joseph Smith Translation: “And the Lord was not pleased with Solomon, for he made affinity with Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
A few chapters later, we learn that Pharaoh had conquered the Canaanite city of Gezer and given it to his daughter after she became Solomon’s wife. It then became Solomon’s property, which he rebuilt and made into an important administrative center (1 Kings 9:16–17). Thus it may be that Solomon thought the marriage alliance was necessary because he wanted Gezer. The name of the pharaoh who gave his daughter to Solomon as a wife is not known.
The need of royal housing for such an important wife as the daughter of the Egyptian pharaoh is evident. The account of Solomon’s royal residences and other establishments will follow later.
The rationale for building a Temple was to combat the tendency of the people to sacrifice on the old pagan “high places.” Additional reasons were given in 2 Samuel 7, and still other possible reasons will be discussed in this commentary.
Solomon’s devotion and magnificence in sacrifices and worship are depicted. The so-called “high places” were ordinarily the hilltop shrines where all religious people have seemed inclined to worship, perhaps because of their nearness to heaven. Later, sacrificing to the Lord at such places was banned in Israel because the Israelites were too often inclined to worship the old gods there or to worship Jehovah as if he were the Canaanite Baal.
1 Kings 3:5–15 (2 Chronicles 1:7–13)
The quest of mortals to enter the presence of God is a significant theme in the Old Testament, a theme that is illustrated by this story, in which Solomon may be seen at his best. In Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon and gave him the opportunity to ask the Lord for whatever he desired. Solomon humbly asked for “an understanding heart” for the sole purpose of governing and blessing the Lord’s people. He had no selfish requests: his heart was pure. In response, the Lord promised him wisdom and all other things that are good. This revelation was in a dream, according to verse 15.
The commendation of David in verse 14 may be surprising in view of the record of his life from the time he committed adultery and murder. The emphasis here and elsewhere seems to be on his loyalty to the Lord in never turning to other gods. Some of the later writers specify that his behavior was right in the eyes of the Lord except for the sins against Uriah and Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba.
1 Kings 3:16–28
In this well-known story illustrating Solomon’s wisdom, you may think he was simply fortunate. Ordinarily no woman who really wanted a child would agree to such a shocking and unsatisfying solution as Solomon proposed. Perhaps his wisdom lay in his perceiving that the false claimant would be brazen or selfish enough to agree to the dividing of the child. Naturally, the true mother gave in rather than consent to the child’s death.
1 Kings 4:1–6
Solomon’s cabinet officers, as well as his twelve procurement officials, are listed, making an impressive retinue—and a huge bureaucracy. It is surprising that Abiathar is listed; he served only until “banished” to the ancestral priestly city of Anathoth.
Some of David’s old officers apparently had remained, and some sons of old officers were put into posts their fathers had held. It would be interesting to know if the sons of Nathan mentioned were sons of Nathan the prophet. The one who is called “the principal officer and the king’s friend” is really called in Hebrew “a priest, the king’s friend.” It would also be interesting to know what the various titles and positions actually were.
1 Kings 4:7–28
Solomon reorganized his nation into twelve administrative districts, preserving some of the old tribal units but altering others. One of his twelve procurement officials, the one over Mount Ephraim, was named Ben-Hur, and two others were sons-in-law. The duty of these twelve officers was to receive the people’s contributions of food for the royal household. The daily ration was 330 bushels of fine flour; 660 bushels of meal; ten fat oxen and one hundred sheep; plus gazelles, roebucks, harts, fowl, barley, straw, etc. Some have estimated that that amount of food would have been sufficient for thirty-five thousand persons. Such a number would include officials, servants, military personnel, and others, even outside Jerusalem, because Jerusalem itself was not that densely populated in those days. Add to this the annual payment to Hiram of Tyre when the building projects were contracted, amounting to 220,000 bushels of wheat and 180,000 gallons of olive oil. These demands on the agricultural economy of Solomon’s nation were incredibly high.
The twelve districts assigned to meet the royal needs excluded Judah. The exemption of Judah from certain taxes must have been a source of irritation to the rest of Israel. In fact, we find during the very next generation that the northern tribes rebelled against the unfair economic policies and favoritism of Solomon. That rebellion would result in the most wrenching split in Israel’s history, and mark, for all intents and purposes, the beginning of the nation’s decline.
Solomon reigned from the Euphrates to the border of Egypt (2 Chronicles 9:26; see Bible Map 4). Details are given of the population and prosperity of Judah and Israel. Apparently, since the beginning of David’s reign, the two regions of the nation remained somewhat distinct. Recall the friction between northern Israel and David upon his return to the throne after Absalom’s usurpation. Solomon’s throne-name (Hebrew, Shlomo) means “his peace,” but there are periodic hints in these scriptural records that all was not peaceful during his reign.
1 Kings 4:29–34
Another allusion to the extraordinary wisdom of Solomon is seen in the assertion that he wrote three thousand proverbs and a thousand and five songs, or psalms. The present book of Proverbs contains teachings and counsel that would logically come from the life experience of Solomon. Our best impression of his wisdom may come from a study of those proverbs. By stating that his wisdom exceeded that of the Egyptians, the writer seems to be invoking the highest standard in the ancient Near East. Solomon used nature as a significant, meaningful and sublime theme for his instruction.
1 Kings 5 (2 Chronicles 2)
Hiram, king of Tyre, “ever a lover of David,” began a long and favorable commercial relationship with Solomon as he prepared to build the Temple. “Sidonians” is the usual biblical term for any of the people of the Phoenician city-states. At other times when Tyre happened to be in the ascendancy, they were called the people of Tyre. In the period under consideration, the Tyrians dominated, but the biblical scribes continued to use the old term “Sidonians.” Sidon and Tyre were indeed the two chief cities of the Phoenician peoples. Iron Age invasions and displacements of various peoples left the ancient Near East weakened and thus created a window of opportunity for smaller nations, like the Phoenicians and the Israelites, to become powerful. The Phoenicians were sea-going Canaanites who carried on a vast maritime trade centering on two products—cedar wood and purple dye. A century or so after Solomon’s reign they established Carthage in North Africa. In fact, the very term Phoenician derives from the Greek word phoenix, which means red-purple dye.
The laborers who cut the timber for the buildings which Hiram contracted to build for Solomon were mostly people of other lands, while the Israelites, according to their record, functioned chiefly as foremen (see 2 Chronicles 2:17; 8:9; 1 Kings 9:20–23; and our corresponding commentary).
Verse 13 mentions that Solomon raised a “levy” of thousands of Israelite men. This was a corvee, or conscription. Solomon did not want to deplete the national treasury by purchasing slaves, so he mandated that as a civic duty male citizens devote part of their time and energy to constructing a Temple, a palace, and other public building projects. Solomon’s part of the exchange with King Hiram included some “twenty thousand measures of wheat” (v. 11), or 125,000 bushels, according to some measurements. Israel truly was a breadbasket at this time. Could it be that the Lord blessed Israel with prosperity and peace precisely so they could build him a holy House?
1 Kings 6 (compare 2 Chronicles 3:1–14)
The date given for beginning the Temple construction, 480 years after the Exodus, is an important one for correlating biblical chronology. The period of the wilderness wandering was 40 years long, and the reigns of Saul and of David were each 40 years. This would leave 360 years for events in the books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and Samuel. In this case, the terms of service of the various judges in different parts of Israel cannot be added end to end, because they add up to more than the available total. It is apparent that some of the judges were contemporaries serving in different parts of the land during terms that overlapped.
Attempting to create an absolute chronology using the date given here, some scholars put the Exodus around 1446 b.c., during the rule of Pharaoh Amenhotep II, and the commencement of the Temple’s construction around 966 b.c. However, others maintain, for a variety of reasons, that the Exodus could not have occurred before the rule of Pharaoh Ramses II of the nineteenth dynasty (ca. 1290–1226 b.c.). The matter remains unresolved, and a relative chronology continues as our best measure of time.
To get a sense of the size of Solomon’s Temple, reckon a cubit at about 18 inches. The dimensions of the Temple proper would be about 90 × 30 × 45 feet. The Salt Lake Temple, by comparison, measures 186 × 118 × 210 feet.
The adornment of Solomon’s Temple must have been beautiful. Many biblical commentaries, dictionaries, and handbooks show reconstructions or drawings of the structure as specified here. The materials were all prefabricated before reaching the Temple site so that reverent quietness could be preserved there during construction.
A brief, reassuring revelation (vv. 11–13) came to Solomon from the Lord during the course of construction. A similar promise has been given by the Lord in our dispensation: “And inasmuch as my people build a house unto me in the name of the Lord, and do not suffer any unclean thing to come into it, that it be not defiled, my glory shall rest upon it; yea, and my presence shall be there, for I will come into it, and all the pure in heart that shall come into it shall see God” (D&C 97:15–16; 124:24, 27). Temples of the Lord are the most holy and important structures in mortality. Each is literally the House of the Lord, the place where heaven and earth intersect, the representation of the environment of heaven in this fallen world. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that we need the Temple more than anything else (History of the Church, 6:230).
Solomon continued the building project for seven years. The most holy place was evidently the most ornate, and the finishing work must have required much time. The details are interesting. The cherubs were about fifteen feet high and fifteen feet wide from wingtip to wingtip. They were made of olivewood overlaid with gold. The Ark was placed under the arch of the wings and had its own smaller cherubs on top of it. Recall that these carved objects were not in violation of the second of the Ten Commandments, because that is a ban upon making images to be worshiped. The Hebrew word pesel, translated “image” in the King James Bible, means “idol,” which was the thing forbidden in Exodus 20:4.
1 Kings 7:1–12
The king’s palace and other buildings for government functions, the housing for his foreign wives, the reception hall, and so on, required some thirteen years to build. Compare that number to the seven years it took to build the Temple, and compare the dimensions of the two structures: the Lord’s House was 90 × 30 × 45 feet, but Solomon’s house was 150 × 75 × 45 feet. What would be the general reaction if a president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints built himself a home next to the Salt Lake Temple but almost twice as big?
1 Kings 7:13–51 (2 Chronicles 3:15–5:1)
Solomon’s Temple was built according to the Lord’s specifications by Phoenician artisans. One craftsman of Tyre named Hiram was important to the building projects. This Hiram was not the king of the same name but the son of a woman of Naphtali and a Tyrian father (see 2 Chronicles 2:11–14). His amazing productions in cast metal included two colossal bronze pillars to stand at the entrance to the Temple proper. These twin pillars were ornamental, not structural. They were given names with messianic and covenantal overtones: Jachin (Hebrew, “He will establish”), and Boaz (Hebrew, “In Him is strength/splendor”). In the Temple, important covenants with the Lord were made and renewed.
The font of bronze, or “molten sea,” was placed on the backs of twelve oxen grouped in four sets of three, oriented toward the cardinal points of the compass. The number twelve represented the twelve tribes of Israel. The font was a hand breadth in thickness and has been calculated by various Old Testament scholars to have a possible capacity of between eleven and sixteen thousand gallons. This capacity is immense by any standard. By comparison, modern Latter-day Saint Temples, which are of varying sizes, contain baptismal fonts holding anywhere from five hundred to two thousand gallons. Perhaps the Lord was trying to teach ancient Israel something symbolically about the significance of ordinances and ritual washings. According to 2 Chronicles 4:2–6, it was for the ceremonial “washing of priests.” Temples of other religions customarily had such basins for the storage of water for ceremonial ablutions. No record of baptisms or ritual immersions in this basin has been found, though the book of Moses and the Joseph Smith Translation mention baptism from Adam’s time to that of Enoch. Joseph Smith’s translation of Genesis 17:5 says that proper baptism had ceased among the apostate peoples at Abraham’s time, and no further mention of it is made. Christians in general, and Latter-day Saints in particular, have wondered about the likelihood of baptism in Solomon’s Temple. As was observed in connection with the laws in Exodus and Leviticus, various forms of washing the outward body to symbolize inner, spiritual cleansing were common. The Tractate of the Mishnah, which gives specifications for the ceremonies of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), indicates that the priest officiating in the slaughter of the sacrificial animal was repeatedly “baptized” (the Hebrew word used means “immersed”), and clean garments were placed upon him after each immersion, before each successive step in offering the sacrifice. Doctrine and Covenants 124:36–39 appears to indicate that baptisms were performed in the ancient Temple, although they would have been only for the living because baptisms for the dead would not be performed until after the Savior’s initiation of missionary work in the spirit world.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained: “It must be remembered that all direct and plain references to baptism have been deleted from the Old Testament (1 Ne. 13) and that the word baptize is of Greek origin. Some equivalent word, such as wash, would have been used by the Hebrew peoples. In describing the molten sea the Old Testament record says, ‘The sea was for the priests to wash in.’ (2 Chron. 4:2–6.) This is tantamount to saying that the priests performed baptisms in it.
“In this temple building dispensation the Brethren have been led by the spirit of inspiration to pattern the baptismal fonts placed in temples after the one in Solomon’s Temple” (Mormon Doctrine, 104).
To make so much bronze work possible, the famous “King Solomon’s mines” (just north of modern-day Eilat at the northern end of the eastern branch of the Red Sea) might have been working to capacity. Copper deposits are still found there. Note also the record of the silver, gold, and vessels previously gathered and dedicated by David for the Temple, which his son would build (v. 51).
1 Kings 8:1–53 (2 Chronicles 5:2–6:42)
With an appropriate entourage of priests, elders, and tribal leaders, the Ark of the Covenant was brought up from the tent which David had pitched for it in his citadel called Zion. With the Holy Ark placed in the Temple, the northern mount (formerly called Moriah) began to be known as Zion.
At this point in history there was nothing in the Ark but the tablets of stone received by Moses at Sinai, or Horeb. Where the writings of Moses, Joshua, and others were at this time is not mentioned, unfortunately. After the Ark was placed in the most holy place—the Holy of Holies—the cloud indicating that the presence of God filled his House.
Solomon expressed his thanks to God and his acknowledgment of the blessings that made it possible for him to accomplish the building of the Temple anticipated for so long by his father, David.
Solomon in his dedicatory prayer proposed seven typical situations wherein the people might supplicate the Lord in the Temple, or facing toward the Temple (compare Daniel 6:10), and he asked that God would hear them in such cases if they worthily approached him. His mention of strangers (non-Israelites) in verses 41–43 hints that some conversions to the God of Israel were taking place. A later verse (60) echoes Moses’ prayer that the people might so live that others would be impressed with the evidences of the presence of God with them. These are hints of an awareness of the mission of Israel. Verses 46–50 teach that every individual sins and needs to repent (see Romans 3:23) and also foreshadow the yet future captivities of the kingdom of Israel at the hands of the Assyrians (721 b.c.) and the kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians (586 b.c.).
Unfortunately, more of the dedicatory prayer has not been transmitted to us through the ages. What we do have bears some resemblance to specific points in the dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple (see D&C 109). The period of Solomon’s reign should have been a golden age for such sacred Temple activities. What happened to him later, however, was quite the opposite of what should have happened in his royal house.
1 Kings 8:54–66 (2 Chronicles 7:1–10)
The dedicatory observances concluded with another blessing upon the people by the king and a seven-day program of sacrifice. It appears that this was a festival “peace offering” in which some of the fat was burned upon the altar, the priests received a portion for food, and the remainder was eaten by the families on whose behalf the animals were sacrificed (Leviticus 3; 7:11–21). It doesn’t seem likely that the “continual burnt offering” was involved in this celebration (Exodus 29:38–42; Leviticus 6:8–13; 8:18–21; Numbers 28:3–8). After the seven days’ dedication feast, another feast was celebrated. This was most likely the festival of Sukkot, based on the time of the year indicated in verse 2 of this chapter. It is still a joyful festival throughout Judaism. In English it is referred to as the Feast of Tabernacles. Anciently, it also emphasized the theme of Israel’s obligation to be a light to the rest of the world, to gather the gentiles to God’s true religion. In Jesus’ day huge menorahs, burning brightly, were set up in the Temple courtyard to symbolize Israel’s mission to the world. They provided the backdrop for Jesus’ discourse on the “light of the world” (John 8:12).
Verse 65 identifies the territorial limits of Solomon’s empire at the time: from the “entering in of Hamath,” that is, from Lebo-Hamath (footnote 65b is a correct translation, but the phrase designates a specific place name) to the river of Egypt, likely the Wadi El-Arish in northern Sinai.
1 Kings 9:1–9 (2 Chronicles 7:11–22)
The Lord responded with another revelation, appearing to Solomon and repeating certain promises regarding the blessings that follow faithfulness. He assured the king that his “eyes and heart shall be there perpetually” at the Temple to be in communication with his people (see commentary at 1 Kings 6:1–38). The Lord also added a dire warning about what would happen if the king and the people ever turned and utterly forsook him and his commandments and served other gods.
1 Kings 9:10–28 (2 Chronicles 8:1–18)
It appears that Solomon could not pay all of his construction costs and was obliged to give King Hiram twenty cities situated along the coastland of western Galilee from the present location of the Arab village of Kabul (east of modern Haifa and Acco) northward and adjoining Phoenician lands south of Tyre. The cities apparently didn’t please Hiram, as you can see by his epithet, the meaning of which is given in footnote 13a.
It would seem that the six score (120) talents of gold referred to in verse 14 may be the sum of the gold mentioned in verse 11. Six score talents could weigh nearly 13,000 pounds!
A survey is given of Solomon’s fortified cities on major routes of travel beyond Jerusalem, especially along the international highway through the Jezreel Valley and along the coast. What archaeologists describe as “Solomonic Gates,” constructed from the same architectural plan, featuring six inner chambers, three on each side, and nearly identical in dimension, have been uncovered at Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer—just as verse 15 implies, thus corroborating the biblical text.
Again it is indicated that the non-Israelite peoples of the land, descendants of those left there in the days of Joshua and the judges, were made slaves of the state to do the menial labor. The Israelite drafted laborers were not slaves but supplied the supervisory personnel, the military, and the royal service (compare 1 Kings 5).
Solomon’s navy, based at Ezion-geber (modern-day Eilat) on the shore of the Red Sea, traded with Ophir. The abundant source of gold at Ophir apparently corresponds to someplace in the Arabian Peninsula, possibly the land of Punt, with which the Egyptians had a rich trade. Experts in seamanship, the Phoenicians aided Solomon in this project also.
1 Kings 10:1–13
The story of the visit of the queen of Sheba illustrates the fame and reputation of Solomon and his kingdom. (Sheba was in southwestern Arabia or in east Africa—or both.) The “hard questions” mentioned in verse 1 were riddles; the same word was used for Samson’s riddle in the book of Judges. Since both Sheba and Ophir are mentioned in Genesis 10:28–29 among the descendants of Joktan, brother of Peleg, both of whom were sons of Eber, it would seem plausible that the trade with Ophir mentioned earlier was with peoples of the Arabian peninsula and that the visiting queen came from the same peoples. Still, there is the persistent claim of the Ethiopians that for centuries their rulers have been direct descendants of a child born of the union between the Queen of Sheba and Solomon. It was written in the 1955 revised constitution of Ethiopia that the royal line “descends without interruption from the dynasty of Menelik I, son of the Queen of Ethiopia, the queen of Sheba, and King Solomon of Jerusalem.” The tradition is possible, given the historian’s remark in verse 13: “And king Solomon gave unto the queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked.” It should be noted, however, that there is no positive evidence to support this tradition.
When the queen saw Solomon’s palace with all its pomp and glitter, his court officials, and “all” his wisdom, meaning perhaps all the trappings of his style of monarchy, “there was no more spirit in her,” meaning she was overwhelmed (v. 5). Solomon’s greatness did have a positive effect on the queen, for she blessed and praised the God of Israel. There is a lesson in this—outward appearances are noticed by others. Solomon sent the queen home with a rich trove of gifts.
1 Kings 10:14–29 (2 Chronicles 9:13–28; 1:14–17)
This impressive description of gold and precious things may represent Solomon’s income, his imports of precious metal, and that which he received in taxes, duties, and tribute. During the time that his kingdom was famous and powerful, such munificence was possible; however, watch to see what happens to it within a few years after the kingdom is divided. The heavy costs of Solomon’s reign and the resultant demands in taxation and labor levies brought his country to the breaking point economically and politically by the end of his life. Though Solomon was a legend in his own day, and his name and historical reports of his reign suggest peace, all was not well in Solomon’s kingdom.
Solomon’s imports of horses and chariots from Egypt, both to supply his military needs and to sell to his neighbors to the north, must have constituted a major commercial operation in his time (see footnote 28a).
1 Kings 11:1–8
The fall of Solomon resulted from his marrying royal women from all the countries round about—which may have been for economic and political reasons as well as for his “love” of “strange [foreign] women” (v. 2). Nevertheless, marriage outside the covenant brought grave consequences. Since he not only tolerated their religions but caused shrines and sacrificial high places to be built for them and “went after” their gods and goddesses himself, it seems that he was seeking power from every imaginable source. Solomon directly violated the will of the Lord as given in the warnings of Moses and Samuel (Deuteronomy 7:1–4; 1 Samuel 8:10–18). The king built idolatrous shrines, temples to other gods, on “the hill that is before [east of] Jerusalem,” later known as “the mount of offense” or “the mount of corruption” (2 Kings 23:13). David drove out the Canaanites and their gods; Solomon brought them back in.
Chemosh and Molech (also called Milcom; v. 5) were worshiped with human sacrifices, a most reprehensible and devilish practice. Worshipers of Molech, believed to be the god of fire, burned children alive to gain his supposed favor (see Deuteronomy 18:10; 2 Kings 3:27; 2 Chronicles 28:3). How could Solomon have fallen so low?
The favorable evaluation of David as compared to Solomon is based simply on David’s fidelity to God in resisting idolatrous practices. This was the quality for which many later writers in the Bible praise him. In some cases, David’s moral and ethical breach and his sins in connection with Bathsheba and Uriah are not mentioned; in other cases, it is mentioned that he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord in all except that case. Joseph Smith’s translation of verse 6 rearranges the phrases to present quite a different comparison of David and Solomon. Solomon’s violation of the marriage law (v. 2) led to his breaking the first and second of the Ten Commandments; David’s breach of the Tenth Commandment led to his breaking the seventh and then the sixth of the Ten Commandments.
1 Kings 11:9–13
In view of Solomon’s faults in this matter, it may be difficult to see why he was allowed to continue to enjoy his kingdom because of the merits of his father. In our own dispensation, a person who turned from the Church and from the Lord and participated in strange worship practices to the extent that Solomon did would be excommunicated, his eternal destiny considered seriously impaired, and his hopes of exaltation forfeited.
There was undoubtedly more to consider during Solomon’s later reign than just punishing a wicked king, however. There was the political and military stability of Jerusalem to think about, not only because the Temple (the only legitimate House of the Lord on the earth at that time that we know of) had just been built but also because of the righteous people living in Jerusalem and Israel during this period. All through time, there have been political leaders who have acted immorally but have, through political skill, kept their country stable. To wrench the kingdom from Solomon at that moment might have led to consequences that only God could foresee and wanted kept at bay. In fact, the Lord did declare that the kingdom would be torn apart after Solomon’s death and one tribe would be given to Solomon’s son. But notice the reason why: “for David my servant’s sake, and for Jerusalem’s sake which I have chosen” (v. 13; emphasis added).
Perhaps a more important point to focus on is how the Lord’s hand is directly involved in history so many times. He said that he would “rend the kingdom” from Solomon and give it to his servant. Indeed, that is what came to pass.
1 Kings 11:14–40
Adversaries from some of the oppressed peoples who had been conquered by David and made to pay tribute by Solomon quite naturally began to arise as soon as the conditions in Solomon’s kingdom allowed.
One notable adversary arose in Solomon’s own realm—Jeroboam the Ephrathite (or Ephraimite, in this case). His capacity and ambition to rule were factors in his rebellion, but the prediction by Ahijah the prophet that he would be king over ten of the tribes was apparently the chief stimulus. Though he had been a trusted foreman over the laborers of the tribes of Joseph in Solomon’s building projects, his life was sought when his anticipated future became known. Just like Saul and David before him, now Solomon desired to murder someone in the way of his own rule and influence.
It is understandable that in spite of peaceful relations between Solomon and Egypt, the pharaohs there were not averse to harboring potential adversaries to such a rival.
1 Kings 11:41–43 (2 Chronicles 9:29–31)
A rather terse note, with the barest hint of eulogy, tells of Solomon’s death. Later writers of scripture refrain from recalling Solomon’s name with the aura of idealism they associate with David. David united the kingdom of Israel; Solomon, through his policies, divided it.
It may be that David was perpetually honored because of his historic achievement in establishing a firmly united kingdom in his best days, or he may have been chiefly honored because of the prophetic destiny of the kingdom to come under the rule of a descendant of David, the promised Messiah (Isaiah 9:7; Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15–17; Zechariah 12:7–12).
During the tenth century before Christ, united Israel was divided into two nations: the northern kingdom, called Israel, and the southern kingdom, called Judah.
Long-standing jealousies, antagonisms, and tensions between the tribes of Israel erupted violently after Solomon’s death, causing a rebellion against Rehoboam, Solomon’s only known child and successor. However, the biblical record wants the reader to see that the split was really brought about by the Lord, just as he had promised (1 Kings 11:31). Furthermore, the Joseph Smith Translation makes clear that a principal reason for the division of the Davidic kingdom in the Lord’s eyes was “the transgression of David” (JST 1 Kings 11:39).
The message is subtle but profound. God is not outside the historical process. He is the principal agent in history. He has a plan for Israel and intervenes through his prophets in the affairs of men to bring about his work and purposes. The division of the Davidic kingdom, or house of Israel, was a step preparatory to the scattering of Israel, in which God also took a personal role (Jeremiah 16:13; Ezekiel 5:10; Jacob 5:8).
While the northern tribes had greater numbers and better land, Judah had the political prestige and religious power of the great city of Jerusalem, including the Temple; they also had a stable line of kings. The beginning of the end was approaching for the northern tribes.
You may want to read the following entries in the Bible Dictionary: “Rehoboam”; “Jeroboam”; “Israel, Kingdom of”; “Judah, Kingdom of”; “Ahab”; “Elijah”; “Moab”; “Elisha”; and “Molech.” In the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, see “Elijah,” “Prophecy,” and “Prophecy in Biblical Times.”
1 Kings 12:1–15 (2 Chronicles 10:1–15)
After Solomon’s death, forty-one-year-old Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, traveled to Shechem to be installed as the new king. It was important for Rehoboam to go to Shechem to be formally recognized as king because Shechem was among the most ancient of the sacred towns of the northern Holy Land and, thus, a chief city of the northern tribes of Israel (see Bible Map 10). It was at Shechem that Abraham camped when he first arrived in Canaan (Genesis 12:6). It was at Shechem that the Israelites buried the bones of Joseph when they came out of Egypt (Joshua 24:32). It was at Shechem that Joshua gathered together all the tribes of Israel to give them instructions and establish a special covenant between God and the people. Undoubtedly, the heir apparent to Solomon recognized the need to be confirmed at this important place in order to cement northern allegiance to a united kingdom. At Shechem Rehoboam met Jeroboam, the Ephraimite adversary of Solomon, who had returned from exile in Egypt at the request of the northern tribes of Israel.
The people who had gathered at Shechem from all the tribes of Israel, after the death of Solomon, yearned for increased rights and respect. Their proposal was simple: if Rehoboam would concede reductions in the burdens of taxes and labor-conscription, they would accept him and serve him. But Rehoboam was not ready to accept what his grandfather, David, would have encouraged at the beginning of his reign. David had worked hard to win over and to unite the people under his government.
The older counselors to the young king recommended a government with mutual responsibilities and benefits: let the king be a servant to the people, and the people would be servants to the king (compare King Benjamin in Mosiah 2). But the younger counselors advised that the king make no such covenant and instead rule by despotic proclamations and threats. Rehoboam chose to follow the latter advice. (The “scorpions” mentioned were a type of whip with barbed, multiple lashes.) That action marked the beginning of the end of the united nation of Israel.
1 Kings 12:16–24 (2 Chronicles 10:16–11:4)
So the northern tribes, with Jeroboam at their head, revolted. Recall the origin of this Ephraimite leader (1 Kings 11:26–40); remember also that the northern tribes were a separate unit in the first seven years of David’s reign and perhaps even in the days of Joshua.
The people in the northern tribes rebelled and declared their independence from the Judah-based monarchy. The division of united Israel must have pleased the Egyptian government, as the pharaoh there was planning some imperialistic moves of his own. Things might have proceeded differently had the northern tribes understood the wisdom later embodied in the teaching of Jesus: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand” (Matthew 12:25).
Rehoboam sent his supervisor of the forced-labor corps, Adoram, into the camp of Israel, presumably to carry on business as usual. The supervisor was stoned to death, and Rehoboam fled, knowing the northerners were deadly earnest in rejecting him. He then reacted to the northern secession by mobilizing an army from Judah and Benjamin to quell the rebellion, force the return of the errant northern territories, and preserve political unity. But the Lord, through the prophet Shemaiah, forbade him to carry out a war. When war did come a short time later, it proved to be a futile and lengthy enterprise. We are told simply that “there was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam all their days” (1 Kings 14:30). The division between their two kingdoms created two separate nations with separate histories from that time on. The author of this section of the biblical narrative puts it succinctly: “So Israel rebelled against the house of David unto this day” (v. 19). It will only be in Christ’s millennial kingdom that the two kingdoms will become one again (Ezekiel 37:22). The phrase “unto this day” is interesting because it tells us that the text was composed after the kingdom was divided but before the northern kingdom was conquered and its inhabitants deported by the Assyrians in 721 b.c.
Judah and Benjamin showed loyalty to Rehoboam at the assembly in Shechem. The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) note at 20b explains that Judah and Benjamin stood together in the southern nation; Simeon had also been assimilated into Judah, as well as some Levites and others from the various northern tribes who had fled the religious corruptions in their own tribal lands.
1 Kings 12:25–33
Jeroboam, son of Nebat, was made king over the Israelites in the north, with their first capital city at Shechem. Later, Omri made Samaria their capital (see Bible Map 10).
The most significant aspect of Jeroboam’s reign (ca. 922–901 b.c.) was his immediate idolatry. Rather than slowly drifting away from proper religious practices, northern Israel quickly adopted idolatrous religion, and Jeroboam provided them with a non-Levitical, apostate priesthood taken from the dregs of society. The king’s innovation and manipulation of golden-calf idols and of feasts and incense-burning were willful perversions for political reasons. Jeroboam had seen the Egyptians use the apis bull in their cultic practices. He used this perversion of true worship to further secure the loyalty of his Israelite subjects by diverting the religious traffic from Jerusalem, the rival capital, to apostate shrines established in Dan and Bethel on the northern and southern frontiers of his new northern kingdom of Israel. To do that, he put forward an almost verbatim quotation of the people’s proclamation at the golden calf incident during the Exodus (Exodus 32:4). Remember, the Exodus was an event central to the very identity of Israelites. Jeroboam’s cheap but clever imitation of true religion included a non-Levitical priesthood, sacrifices, and holy days.
In imitation of the Feast of Tabernacles, which was also related to the Exodus, Jeroboam instituted in the north his own perverted feast and made unauthorized sacrifices. In all this he sinned greatly. Yet in his view these innovations gave the Israelites everything they could want: the god of Joseph, the god of the Exodus, their own holy days, their own priests, and their own sympathetic king. In short, what he hoped the people would believe he was providing was not a new, perverted religious order but rather a new royal administration legitimized by old religious rites that were now being given renewed attention in a new day and age.
The huge cultic high place, the “house of high places [Hebrew, bet bamot]” (v. 31) has been discovered at the site of ancient Dan, corroborating the biblical text. Jeroboam’s cultic aberrations would be known for centuries thereafter in the writings of historians and prophets as “the sin of Jeroboam.”
Second Chronicles 11:13–15 mentions that false priests were appointed for the high places, as well as goat and calf idols that Jeroboam made. In the King James text, the goat idols are called “devils.” These idols were se’irim, sometimes translated “satyrs,” believed anciently to be goat-legged beings living in the deserts that made travel dangerous (see 2 Chronicles 11:15 note b.)
The 2 Chronicles account (11:13–14) indicates that all the legitimate priests fled from northern Israel and lived thereafter only in Judah.
1 Kings 13
There are some problems in this story of a man of God who came from Judah to warn the king of northern Israel and lost his life in the mission. Some help is available in Joseph Smith’s translation of verse 18, which indicates that the old prophet said, “Bring him back . . . that I may prove him; and he lied not unto him.” Also there is a change in verse 26, in which the last part reads: “therefore the Lord hath delivered him unto the lion, which hath torn him, and slain him, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake unto me.” These make the account more understandable (the young prophet should have obeyed God), but still the interpretation is tentative. In verse 24 the facts that the donkey did not run away after the lion had attacked the man of God and that the lion did not attack the donkey seem to be a sign of divine judgment. There actually were lions in the Holy Land during biblical times; for example, young David killed a lion and a bear in the shepherds’ fields around Bethlehem (1 Samuel 17:34–36). Lions continued in the land until the time of the Crusaders, around the twelfth century after Christ.
As for wicked King Jeroboam, verse 33 confirms that he continued to elevate the dregs of society to leadership positions, and verse 34 makes it clear that his idolatry yielded dire results for him and his family. Fulfillment of the prophecy about the destruction of his idolatrous altar is related in 2 Kings 23:15–18.
1 Kings 14:1–20
Because of the sins of Jeroboam and his people, the Lord foretold the scattering of the northern tribes—two hundred years before its occurrence. He said he would “cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall” (v. 10). To modern ears this phrase may seem vulgar, even offensive. It is, however, a superb illustration of the down-to-earth figures of speech used by the ancient Hebrew writers, who were literary artists, painters of powerful mental pictures that conjured up lasting images and impressions. The phrase “him that pisseth against the wall” equates with the concept of exterminating a family. The same idiom (but without the offensive term) occurs, with the same meaning, in modern scripture: “And not many years hence, that they and their posterity shall be swept from under heaven, saith God, that not one of them is left to stand by the wall” (D&C 121:15).
In verse 15, Israel’s destruction is directly tied to their making of “groves.” The Hebrew reads ’asherim, meaning wooden poles dedicated to the goddess Asherah, the consort of the Canaanite deity ’El (’el is the general Semitic term for “god”). Around these poles Israelites carried out their idolatrous and abhorrent practices. The fulfillment of this prophecy of the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel is seen in 2 Kings 17:5–6.
1 Kings 14:21–31 (2 Chronicles 12:1–16)
It is evident that some proper religious practices were perverted in Judah as well. Worship under “green trees” and the “sodomites” (the word in Hebrew designates men dedicated to cultic prostitution) indicate that a fertility cult stole away the hearts of the people from the proper ways of the Lord. Such sexual perversions were a troubling feature of Canaanite religion. As a consequence of the moral, emotional, and physical weakness that accompanies such behavior among an unfit people, the still-lively foreign power to the south, Egypt, was able to enter the Holy Land and wreak havoc.
The Egyptian pharaoh who had harbored malcontents against Judah during Solomon’s reign was ready and anxious to try to plunder the riches of the Israelites. In 918 b.c. the Libyan-Egyptian Shishak (Sheshonk in extrabiblical texts) invaded Israel and Judah with twelve hundred chariots, sixty thousand cavalry, and “innumerable” foot soldiers. He ravaged the Temple in Jerusalem and took away as booty all “the treasures of the house of the Lord” (vv. 25–26). Although the Bible mentions only Judah, evidence indicates that Shishak invaded the northern kingdom as well. A fragment of Pharaoh Shishak’s inscription has been found at Megiddo, and a list of cities attacked during his campaign in Israel and Judah is found at the Temple of Karnak in Egypt. He inscribed the names of many northern cities on his victory relief at Karnak. Thus, both Israel in the north and Judah in the south were greatly weakened by Shishak during and after the reigns of their respective evil kings, Jeroboam and Rehoboam. Shishak’s campaign in Canaan was the basis for the film Raiders of the Lost Ark, which supposes that if the pharaoh took away the treasures of the House of the Lord, then the Ark of the Covenant was also taken to Egypt, though there is no historical evidence that the Ark was removed from Jerusalem at that time.
1 Kings 15:1–8 (compare 2 Chronicles 13:1–14:1)
From this point in the historical narrative to the account of the actual fall and deportation of the kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 17:6), the writers of Kings skillfully weave back and forth from one kingdom to the other to report contemporaneous occurrences in both. They used sources no longer in existence today (1 Kings 14:19). Those missing official records, kept by the kings of both Judah and Israel, are one more bit of evidence for the actuality of lost scripture and the importance that was placed on record keeping in ancient times, even during the reigns of wicked rulers.
Another generation in the Davidic dynasty is quickly accounted for in the story of Abijam, son of Rehoboam, who reigned only three years. His name honored Yam, the Canaanite god of the sea—certainly an apostate name for David’s great-grandson. Abijam kept up the tradition of his father’s evils. Mention is made (as it will be many times) that David, the father of the line of Judah’s kings, was right in the eyes of the Lord most of his life, except in the matter of Uriah and Bathsheba.
“And there was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam all the days of his life” (v. 6). “And there were wars between Rehoboam and Jeroboam continually” (2 Chronicles 12:15). These two succinct statements by biblical historians describe the border disputes that developed between the first two kings of the divided nation. These disputes would persist for generations after them.
1 Kings 15:9–24 (compare 2 Chronicles 14:2–17:1)
Of the long and noteworthy reign of Asa (41 years), next in the Davidic lineage of the southern kingdom, only three major projects are mentioned in Kings: (1) his religious reforms, which included even the removal of the idolatrous queen mother, (2) his war with Israel and his subsequent alliance with Syria, and (3) his construction for defense. The chronicler (2 Chronicles 15), on the other hand, uses a whole chapter to tell of Asa’s religious reforms through a man of God named Azariah. This account mentions the migration of northern Israelites to Judah; in particular, people from Ephraim and Manasseh (we don’t know why Simeon is also mentioned in 2 Chronicles 15:9, since Simeon was already a part of the southern kingdom of Judah). This could account for the presence of people from Ephraim and Manasseh in Jerusalem three hundred years later, when Lehi departed.
Good kings such as Asa in Judah made the difference between the unstable condition of Israel and the relatively stable condition of Judah. During the two hundred years that the kingdoms existed side by side, the northern kingdom of Israel had nineteen rulers from nine dynasties, eight of which began with violence, seven of these by assassination. Meanwhile Judah had twelve rulers, with only one coming to the throne by violence—the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. Judah survived 130 years longer than Israel and still had only twenty rulers, only one more than Israel, and all from one dynasty. David was promised a royal lineage, and he believed the promise. Jeroboam of the northern kingdom was promised the same, but because he was disloyal to the Lord, the promise was not fulfilled. There were no righteous kings in the northern kingdom of Israel.
Verses 16–22 refer to border feuds between Baasha of Israel and Asa of Judah. Both kingdoms, dominated by the leadership tribes of Joseph and Judah, viewed control of their border region as vital to their own interests. This political and religious enmity would be perpetuated for millennia, though Isaiah did prophesy that the enmity between them would someday disappear: “The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off: Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim” (Isaiah 11:13).
Regarding the seemingly curious, human-interest detail of Asa’s diseased feet (v. 23), 2 Chronicles 16:7–12 indicates that there is a thematic reason for including it. The ailment came upon him in the thirty-ninth year of his reign because he did not rely upon the Lord in the matter of the escape of Aram’s army and then put a seer named Hanani in prison for reproving him (Asa) for his lack of faith. Though the disease was severe, he made things worse—he failed to seek help from the Lord and instead relied only upon physicians. His lack of trust in God turned into belligerence once he was chastised for his foolishness. This is a powerful lesson for us.
1 Kings 15:25–34
Jeroboam’s would-be dynasty lasted only two years after his death, when his son Nadab fell by the conspiracy of Baasha, who took it upon himself to exterminate the first royal house of northern Israel. Although Baasha is credited with fulfilling the warning prophecies against Jeroboam, his was not a positive contribution to Israel. It is mentioned only that he fought Judah and “did evil” all his days.
1 Kings 16:1–20
Though Baasha did as had been prophesied and utterly destroyed the house of Jeroboam, we should not suppose that he was ordained of the Lord to do so. Enter a prophet named Jehu, the son of the seer Hanani. Jehu was just like his father (2 Chronicles 16:7–10) in that he brought word to a king regarding the Lord’s condemnation. In addition, like the prophet Amos later on, Jehu was sent from the south to a northern king. Jehu’s prophetic ministry would last about fifty years, until the reign of King Jehoshaphat of Judah (see 2 Chronicles 19:2; 20:34).
So it was that the recorder of the sacred history tells us that by the hand of Jehu, the word of the Lord came against Baasha and against his house for all the evil he had done—not only for acting like the house of Jeroboam but for killing him as well. The house of Baasha was then exterminated by Zimri. Prophets can prophesy what men will bring upon themselves without the Lord’s direct involvement. Jesus said, “All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Matthew 26:52).
The captain Zimri, who slew his king, reigned for seven days; but some of the people made Omri, another captain, king. When Omri besieged Zimri, Zimri turned first to arson and then to suicide.
1 Kings 16:21–28
Israel was divided, and violence and bloodshed were rampant. Part of the people chose yet another man, Tibni, to be king; the civil war that ensued ultimately established Omri. He reigned first in Tirzah, then in the new capital, Samaria. Nonbiblical sources tell us more about Omri’s eleven years as king than does the Bible. In addition to securing Samaria and building it into a well-fortified capital city for northern Israel, Omri conquered Moab and exacted tribute from them all his days, according to the stone inscription of Mesha, king of Moab. This stone is often called the Moabite Stone (see commentary at 2 Kings 1:1ff; Bible Dictionary, “Moabite Stone”). Later inscriptions, such as the annals of the Assyrian king Shalmanezer III, designate Israel as the “land of the house of Omri,” and its kings were called in that text “sons of Omri,” even after his dynasty had been long replaced by another ruling family. Ben Hadad of Syria said his father took certain cities from Omri and forced him to allow free trade in Samaria. Omri made an alliance with Ethbaal, king of Tyre (in Phoenicia), and took the Phoenician princess Jezebel for his son Ahab to marry. That alliance had deep and serious results in the religious and political life of Israel and Judah for the next fifty years.
1 Kings 16:29–34
This passage marks the beginning of the era of Ahab and Jezebel. The writer said that this king did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that preceded him. That is saying something, considering who preceded him. He not only considered it trivial that he committed all the sins of Jeroboam, son of Nebat, but worst of all he married Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians (ancient Phoenicia) and openly promoted Baal worship by building an altar and temple dedicated to him. The word Baal literally translates as “lord” and was the Canaanite rival of Jehovah (the Phoenicians were sea-going Canaanites).
Recall the prophecy of Joshua concerning the doom of any who would try to rebuild Jericho (Joshua 6:26). The man who rebuilt Jericho, Hiel the Bethelite, suffered for his attempt.
1 Kings 17:1–7
Here is the abrupt introduction of the man who tried to counteract the influence of Ahab and Jezebel. Some have claimed that after Moses, Elijah was the greatest man in Israel’s religious life. Some regard him as the best-known person in Hebrew history. Even today questions about Judaism and Jewish living that resist solutions are ultimately answered by the rabbis with the phrase, “when Elijah comes,” meaning the returning prophet will have to solve this problem. Although Elijah left no extant writings himself, historians have preserved his story in 1 Kings 17 through 2 Kings 2. In 1 Kings 17:1 we learn that Elijah was a Tishbite, an inhabitant of Gilead. Tishbe was in Israelite Gilead, in Transjordan (east of the Jordan River). Elijah’s name in Hebrew means “my God is Jehovah.” All true prophets testify of Christ. Elijah held the keys of the sealing power and the fulness of the priesthood in his day (see Smith, History of the Church, 4:211; 6:251–52).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote about Elijah: “For dramatic manifestations and the visible exhibition of divine power, the ministry of Elijah the prophet scarcely has an equal. He sealed the heavens, was fed by the ravens, extended the widow’s barrel of meal and cruse of oil, raised the dead, destroyed the priests of Baal, called down fire from heaven on at least three occasions, fasted 40 days and nights, was attended frequently by angelic ministrants, and finally was translated and taken up into heaven without tasting death. (1 Kings 17; 18; 2 Kings 1; 2.)
“Centuries later Malachi prophesied that Elijah would return before the great and dreadful day of the Lord. (Mal. 4:5–6.) With Moses, another translated being, he appeared to Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration to give those apostolic ministers the keys of the kingdom. (Matt. 17:1–13; Teachings, p. 158.) During the night of September 21st–22nd, 1823, Moroni told Joseph Smith that the Lord would soon reveal unto him the priesthood by the hand of Elijah the Prophet [Joseph Smith–History 1:29–39]; and on April 3, 1836, Elijah came (in fulfilment of the promises of Malachi and Moroni) to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, in the Kirtland Temple, and conferred upon them the keys of the sealing power. (D. & C. 110:13–16.)” (Mormon Doctrine, 222–23).
Elijah’s first recorded use of the sealing power was to shut up the heavens, causing a dearth of rain for three and a half years. His purpose in stopping the rains was the same as expressed later by Nephi in the Book of Mormon:
“O Lord, do not suffer that this people shall be destroyed by the sword; but . . . rather let there be a famine in the land, to stir them up in remembrance of the Lord their God, and perhaps they will repent and turn unto thee” (Helaman 11:4; compare this humbling technique also found in Amos 4:6–11).
Because of the severe famine that resulted, Elijah fled to the brook Cherith to find drinking water and be fed by ravens. Traditionally Cherith has been equated with Wadi Qilt, along which the Roman-period Jericho was later built, although the biblical text itself says that the brook was “before Jordan,” meaning east of Jordan. If Cherith was indeed east of Jordan, the site has not been discovered.
1 Kings 17:8–24
When the drought and famine forced Elijah to go elsewhere, the Lord directed him to the sea coast city of Zarephath, between Tyre and Sidon, some fifty miles north of Mount Carmel, to a widow whom the Lord had commanded to sustain him. The woman recognized Jehovah, the God of Elijah. Jesus pointed to this as an example of blessings going to others because those closest at hand will not accept them (Luke 4:25–26). The faith of the woman is noteworthy: she willingly responded to Elijah’s request to give him first of the cake made with her last bit of flour and oil on the promise that the oil and meal would continue to be available. Faith precedes the miracle.
Thus at Zarephath one of the greatest recorded Old Testament miracles took place when Elijah raised the widow’s son from death by the power of God, perhaps using some form of artificial resuscitation (v. 21; see also 2 Kings 4:34; commentary at 2 Kings 2:23–25, including “Elijah, Elisha, and Christ”). The widow sacrificed all she had for the Lord’s prophet and, by extension, the Lord’s kingdom. Are we willing to do the same?
1 Kings 18:1–18
At length it was time for a confrontation between Ahab and Elijah, representative of a confrontation between Israel and the Lord—between evil and good. Not all, but apparently almost all, of Israel had departed from the covenant of the Lord and from all trust in the Lord’s promises. Ironically, Ahab’s own chief steward, Obadiah, was still faithful enough to harbor and hide a hundred refugee prophets of the Lord under those wicked conditions. It is also ironic that Ahab would accuse Elijah of “troubling Israel,” whereas Elijah knew that Ahab and his foreign, Baal-worshiping wife were the real troublemakers. So the confrontation was to be resolved in a contest between a false god and the true God.
1 Kings 18:19–40
When all the people were assembled at Mount Carmel, the geographic meeting point between Israel’s Jehovah and Phoenicia’s Baal, the issues were pronounced tersely: whichever of the deities was truly God, the people should serve him. On Baalism, see commentary at Judges 2:11–23 in volume 1 of this commentary; see also Bible Dictionary: “Baal,” “Grove,” “High Places,” and “Idol.”
This was to be one of Elijah’s major dramatic efforts to turn the hearts of the children back to the true and living God, and to the divine promises and covenants of their fathers. The name of the location where this contest occurred is particularly poignant, for Carmel (Hebrew, Kerem-el) means “vineyard of God.” Mount Carmel was a place where true worship had previously taken place; Elijah “repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down” (v. 30). The priests of Baal and Elijah each prepared sacrifices for their god. The true God was to signify his acceptance of the sacrifice by sending down fire to burn up the wood and the sacrifice, and the people watched with approval. After the prophets of Baal had prayed all day and had made their final frenzied attempts to get response from their idol, Elijah taunted them that their god must be talking, busy, on a journey, or sleeping, because he did not respond. They even cut themselves, perhaps owing to a perverted notion of a genuine truth—the shedding of sacrificial blood brings divine favor. Elijah then uttered a simple, significant prayer that gained the Lord’s immediate and dramatic response. Even though every advantage was given to Baal, Jehovah triumphed. The people, who had been “halting between two opinions” (literally, vacillating back and forth concerning the two possibilities) momentarily prostrated themselves before the Lord and confessed, “The Lord, he is God!” A powerful lesson can be drawn for us in our day: you can’t hedge your bets when it comes to the kingdom of God; you can’t keep one foot in the kingdom and the other in the world; you can’t please the world and expect God to approve.
With the forces of public opinion temporarily on his side, Elijah was able to have the prophets of the vanquished “god” executed (see Deuteronomy 17:1–7). The site of the execution was at the Kishon River, which still flows along the northern foot of Mount Carmel.
1 Kings 18:41–46
These verses recount Elijah’s further attempt to drive home the point that Jehovah is the true and living God, and the only One concerned for Israel’s welfare. Elijah had sealed up the heavens for three and a half years. This new contest was actually to see whose deity could bring rain and fertility back to the land. Baal was supposed to be the preeminent rain god, a fertility god. But Jehovah is shown by irrefutable evidence to be the only true and living God who can send forth both fire and rain, who watches over storms and the fertility of the land. Jeremiah later wrote:
“Are there any among the vanities [idols] of the Gentiles that can cause rain? or can the heavens give showers? art not thou he, O Lord our God? therefore we will wait upon thee: for thou hast made all these things” (Jeremiah 14:22).
What the fertility god Baal could not do, Jehovah did. His mighty control of the elements was evidenced by the ensuing fierce winds and pounding rain, in which Elijah ran ahead of Ahab’s chariot almost twenty miles to the entrance of Jezreel (see Bible Map 10 for the location of Mount Carmel and Jezreel).
1 Kings 19:1–18
The strength and popularity (or fear) of Jezebel in the hearts of the people must have been greater than the power of the Lord in their hearts, else they would have arisen to free the country from her influences. When she threatened the prophet Elijah’s life, he seems to have had no hope that the people would save him or that there was any real conviction on their part that “the Lord is God.” Thus his bitter outcry in his feeling of failure: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life. . . . I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (vv. 4, 10). Here we catch a glimpse of mortal feelings being displayed by one of the greatest of godly souls—the truth that even prophets get discouraged. We also see another example of Elijah’s role as a type of Christ in suffering because of the wickedness of others. Many prophets have likewise suffered, as Jesus taught (Matthew 5:12; 23:37).
When Jezebel threatened to kill him, as she had killed many other prophets, Elijah fled south more than a hundred miles to Beersheba and then continued on to Mount Sinai (also called Mount Horeb). The discouraged prophet needed encouragement. At Mount Sinai, the Lord spoke to Elijah, not through the dramatic forces of nature but through “a still small voice” and told him that he had work to do. Elijah was to get a companion and be assured that there were still many other righteous souls who had not endorsed Baal worship. Elijah was not alone.
It is noteworthy that Elijah did not flee to Jerusalem, to the House of the Lord. Because Melchizedek Priesthood holders were generally not functioning in the Temple at Jerusalem, perhaps Elijah chose to flee to the earlier holy place, Mount Sinai, because that is where the God of Israel had made his last known appearance to a prophet—to Moses, more than half a millennium earlier.
Elijah then journeyed over five hundred miles to the wilderness of Damascus (v. 15) to anoint two men as future kings: Hazael to be king in Syria and Jehu to be king in Israel. Elijah’s ministry was stunningly arduous, both physically and spiritually. His next assignment was to anoint Elisha to serve as his companion and later to succeed him as prophet.
1 Kings 19:19–21
When Elijah found Elisha, he symbolically placed his mantle on Elisha. Observe that Elisha, like the followers of Jesus in New Testament times, was required to leave all and follow him (compare Matthew 4:18–22; Luke 9:59–62). The Lord’s principles are constant through every dispensation.
1 Kings 20:1–34
A league of kings under the command of Ben-hadad of Aram-Damascus (modern-day Syria) attempted to besiege and extort treasures from Ahab in his capital city of Samaria. Ahab’s forces were able to repulse them. Ben-hadad is the name-title for several kings in Damascus; it means “son of [the storm god] Hadad.”
Within a year Ben-hadad was back, ready to attack Israel again. This time the battlefield was on the Golan, the high plateau just east of the Sea of Galilee. This second battle with the Syrians ended in humiliating defeat for the king of Damascus, who had promised to return disputed lands to Israel. Such campaigns gained a respectful reputation abroad for Ahab. Nevertheless, his accomplishments were not much honored by Bible writers. The Lord’s help seems to have been given him for Israel’s sake, not for any worthiness of his own.
Verse 28—The man of God is apparently the same prophet mentioned in verses 13 and 22. This reminds us of Father Lehi’s observation offered centuries later that many prophets can serve the Lord at the same time (1 Nephi 1:4).
Verse 30—The collapsed wall reminds us that Jehovah directed Israel’s armies and engineered other events to help his people.
Verse 31—Obviously, rumors had circulated throughout the Near East that Israel’s kings operated by a social code different from those of their ruthless counterparts in other countries. It is unfortunate that these Israelite kings were lacking in what should have been the main difference—loyalty to Jehovah.
1 Kings 20:35–43
At this point a curious group known as “the sons of the prophets” became more prominent in events of the northern kingdom of Israel. The word “sons” here is not used in the sense of a male child or descendant. It refers to followers or disciples of the prophets. Because another man was disobedient to a command from one of these sons of the prophets, he was penalized in a fashion reminiscent of what happened to the man of God from Judah (1 Kings 13:23–24), and likewise, something seems to be missing from the story. It does, however, set the stage for a prophetic curse leveled against Ahab. He allowed the captured king to live and thus incurred prophetic wrath for disobedience: Ahab himself would die.
1 Kings 21:1–13
Here is the account of a petulant and covetous king and his violent wife involved in an old, unscrupulous game. Israel had been forewarned that kings take land: “And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them” (1 Samuel 8:14). No legal way existed to seize or purchase a man’s ancestral land if he did not wish to part with it. The king wanted the additional real estate to satisfy his palatial landscaping whims, and so he pouted and threw a tantrum (v. 4) because he could not get that vineyard. But Jezebel, his ambitious wife, was from a different land with different laws, and she thought it silly for a king not to “rule” over what he wanted. Might equals right, in her mind. She easily devised a way to circumvent the law and the moral code in the name of piety, so no one in Israel could object. She arranged for the owner of the vineyard to be charged with blasphemy by the false witnesses of two “sons of Belial” (“worthless ones”; verses 10–13). Would anyone have believed that Jezebel cared if anyone blasphemed the Lord? She did it, of course, in the name of the king. After she had the owner of the vineyard stoned to death, the king simply took over the land.
1 Kings 21:14–29
If this ruse shielded Ahab and Jezebel from anyone, or even from everyone, it didn’t shield them from the Lord and his prophet. The terrible message of doom the prophet delivered was both appropriate and deserved: “Thus saith the Lord, Hast thou killed, and also taken possession?” Recall that David did the same thing.
Then the prophet pronounced the verdict and sentence: Where Ahab had spilled the blood of Naboth, dogs would lick up the king’s blood, and dogs would eat the flesh of Jezebel. All of that happened at the city of Jezreel, where the winter palace of Ahab and Jezebel was located. There seems to be almost a note of awareness of his guilt in Ahab’s query: “Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?” (v. 20).
If it seems that justice is abrogated in verse 29, realize that the reprieve referred only to the loss of the kingdom by Ahab’s descendants; he was still to suffer personally the fate indicated, which is disclosed in the next chapter of 1 Kings.
1 Kings 22:1–40 (2 Chronicles 18:1–34)
We note at this point an important historical development. While involved in their own petty local conflicts, kings of the several eastern Mediterranean states began to notice a powerful Assyrian military machine rising in the east. They declared a temporary truce in order to join forces to stop the advancing Assyrians: “They continued three years without war between Syria and Israel” (1 Kings 22:1).
After the battle of Qarqar, Ahab asked for and received the assistance of the pious Jehoshaphat of Judah to retake from the Syrians the city of Ramoth in Gilead, in the central transjordan territory of Gad. What Jehoshaphat’s motivation was is not clear, although his son had married a daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. It is possible that he hoped to promote the reunion of all Israel, or perhaps it was upon Ahab’s initiative (or that of Jezebel) out of the hope or intent to subjugate Judah. Quite possibly, Israel had enough power at the time to compel Judah to lend assistance. Since the writers usually gave credit when credit was due Judah, it seems likely that had the initiative been Judah’s, the scribes would have given proper credit for it.
One difference between Ahab’s religion and Jehoshaphat’s more reverent faith is that Ahab sought and received guidance from his four hundred court prophets, all of whom reassured him. Jehoshaphat stood by and judiciously inquired, “Is there not here a prophet of the Lord besides, that we might enquire of him?” (v. 7; emphasis added).
The true prophet Micaiah sarcastically repeated the other prophets’ message, followed by the true message of doom to Ahab. His explanation of the Lord’s sending a “lying spirit” (v. 23), causing the other prophets to mislead Ahab so that he would go to his doom, is strange theology (compare Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Enos 1:6; Ether 3:12). It is apparently either sarcasm spoken in disdain or the words have been transmitted to us incorrectly.
So Ahab and Jehoshaphat went into battle, the former disguising himself while telling the latter to be sure to wear his royal robes. By attempting to deflect attention from himself and hoping the enemy would focus on Jehoshaphat, Ahab demonstrated his cunning cowardice. He hoped he could minimize any chance that Micaiah’s prophecy would be fulfilled. But the word of the Lord caught up to Ahab at the point of an arrow. Someone randomly shot at him, hitting him between the sections of his armor and killing him. Ahab was taken back to his summer palace in Samaria for burial. As his chariot was being washed out, the dogs licked up his blood, just as the Lord declared would happen.
It must have been by reason of his own worthiness and the influence of the Lord that Jehoshaphat was spared in battle, for it is strange that the enemy would spare any opponent, especially a royal one. Notice that the king of Syria had told those who were looking for Ahab to fight against no one else. Recall again how the writer describes Ahab at the beginning of this account; namely, that he did more evil than all who were before him (1 Kings 16:30).
Verse 39 makes particular note of the ivory house that Ahab had made in Samaria. Early in the twentieth century, Harvard University excavators corroborated the biblical text by discovering hundreds of plaques and ornamental pieces of ivory that had decorated the furniture in the royal palace of Ahab at Samaria during the ninth to eighth centuries before Christ. Many of the pieces feature Egyptian and Mesopotamian artistic motifs. They attest to the luxury living so rigorously condemned by the prophets at the time (compare Amos 3:15).
1 Kings 22:41–50 (2 Chronicles 20:31–21:1)
Jehoshaphat’s contributions in religious and social reform, and in international relations, are commended by the writers. He did fail, however, to halt the worship of the Lord at inappropriate shrines called “high places” that were originally to worship Jehovah but had been perverted to other uses. The people tended to revert to making offerings to fertility deities there, or to worship the Lord in the same manner as they worshiped Baal, just as some systems of worship today preserve practices borrowed from pagan religions. The unfortunate fact that Jehoshaphat’s son and heir was married to Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, is not mentioned until later (2 Kings 8:18).
1 Kings 22:51–53
The reign of Ahaziah, son of Ahab of Israel, is tragically similar to those of the other kings of northern Israel.