The Lord rejected the whole race of Israel; he brought them low, delivering them into the hands of marauders, until at length he thrust them away from him.
2 Kings 17:20

The First and Second Books of Kings, originally one book, cover a period of four centuries: from King David’s death and his son King Solomon’s reign to the exile in Babylon in 586 B.C.

Under Solomon’s reign, the monarchy reaches its pinnacle of glory. Like his father, David, he’s a bit of a renaissance man— and a bit of a playboy too. He ends up with a thousand wives and concubines, most of whom are foreign. This is a major no-no for Israelites, who, under the Law of Moses, aren’t to marry foreigners. Why? Because they’ll sway the Israelites to their own gods— and that’s exactly what happens to Solomon. And for this grave sin God “tears the kingdom away” from Solomon. Under the reign of son Rehoboam, the empire splits into two kingdoms— Judah and Israel— and it’s nearly all downhill from there.

The remainder of the books details the reign of 39 kings: 19 in Israel and 20 in Judah. The emphasis is not on what the kings have done, but on how faithful they have been to God. All but three (Asa, Hezekiah, and Josiah) do “what is displeasing to God,” and their unfaithfulness brings catastrophe to both kingdoms. The first happens in 721 B.C., when Samaria, a city in the northern kingdom, falls to the Assyrians. The second happens in 586 B.C. when the Babylonians capture the southern city of Jerusalem and deport its inhabitants. Hence, the overarching purpose of the book is not historical but theological. The moral lesson is that infidelity to God’s covenant leads to disaster and destruction.

This lesson, or message, is communicated primarily through prophets, and it is in the Books of Kings that we find the first major prophets in the Old Testament: Elijah and his successor, Elisha. Their job is to is to be mediator between God and the Israelites, and to encourage them to keep God’s commandments.

The First and Second Books of Kings are the sixth and seventh of the Historical Books in the Old Testament and were written and compiled from various sources over a period of several centuries: the 10th century B.C. to the 5th century B.C.