We have noted that there is a pattern to the discussion of each king in the book. This pattern is especially pronounced when looking at the Kings of Israel in 1 Kings 15-16.
It begins with the name of the king and the timing in relationship to the kings of Judah.
Second is the statement, “He did what was evil in the sight of YHWH and walked in the way of [Jeroboam], and in his sin which he made Israel to sin.”
The third part often involves a prophet speaking or it appeals to what a prophet had said earlier would happen to their house.
The final part is usually the formulaic: “Now the rest of the acts of ____ and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel?” And sometimes there is additional information like, “And there was war between ___ and ____ king of Israel all their days.
For the Nadab the pattern is followed exactly as above. In his case, the prophet appealed to is the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite (someone from Shiloh) who had spoken this word during the reign of his father Jeroboam. During this third section it is common to mention the person who toppled the king in question. Baasha the son of Ahijah of the house of Issachar is the one who fulfilled the prophet’s word and killed the house of Jeroboam.
For Baasha, who had killed the previous king, the pattern includes the word of YHWH coming to Jehu the son of Hanani. He prophesied that the same thing that happened to Jeroboam’s house would happen to Baasha’s house.
After the concluding formulaic phrase is the following addition: “And Baasha slept with his fathers and was buried at Tirzah, and Elah his son reigned in his place. Moreover, the word of YHWH came by the prophet Jehu the son of Hanani against Baasha and his house, both because of all the evil that he did in the sight of YHWH, provoking Him to anger with the work of his hands, in being like the house of Jeroboam, and also because he destroyed it” (1 Kings 16:6-7). This repeats some information noted earlier, but it also adds an important observation in bold above.
Rather than a foreign nation coming and oppressing Israel and then God raising up a leader to liberate them, as in the book of Judges, the judgment of God is carried out against one house by another Israelite who is acting out of their own evil and thus will be judged for it by God. This suggests to me that we really ought to compare the formula pattern of Judges to the formula pattern of Kings. And this exercise will reveal that the nation has declined considerably from Judges compared to Kings.
The Judges pattern:
“The sons of Israel did evil in the sight of YHWH”
“YHWH gave/sold them into the hands of __”
“The sons of Israel cried out to YHWH.”
“YHWH raised up a deliverer.”
“YHWH gave ___ into the hands of the deliverer.”
“The land had rest for __ years.”
The Kings pattern:
“In the __ year of ___ king of Judah, ___ began to reign over [all] Israel…and he reigned ___ [years].”
“He did what was evil in the sight of YHWH and walked in the way of [Jeroboam], and in his sin which he made Israel to sin.”
In the third part YHWH raises up a prophet and proclaims the death of the king’s house.
“Now the rest of the acts of ___ and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel?”
Note that it is the king of Israel who is doing evil in the sight of YHWH and leading Israel to sin and that is provoking God to anger.
Note that YHWH sends a prophet in the place of a military deliverer (though in Judges there is Deborah the prophetess). Often He will use a military deliverer to accomplish His word.
And note that the land did not have rest during the lifetime of the said king, and often it mentions explicitly that there was warfare for the reign of said king.
The next king, Elah, the son of Baasha, follows the same pattern. His servant, Zimri, the commander of half his chariots is the one who conspires against him and killed him. This fulfilled the word of YHWH by Jehu the prophet.
Thus far, if we begin with Jeroboam the pattern has been that the prophet Ahijah prophesied against Jeroboam and it was fulfilled during the reign of Jeroboam’s son Nadab. Then the prophet Jehu prophesied against Baasha and it was fulfilled during the reign of Baasha’s son Elah.
Zimri then was king of Israel for seven days. What happened was that “all Israel” made Omri the commander of the army king over Israel when they heard what Zimri had done to Elah. The text does mention after narrating these things that Zimri did “evil in the sight of YHWH, walking in the way of Jeroboam, and for his sin which he committed, making Israel to sin” (1 Kings 16:19) and then continues with the standard closing. The change from the pattern for Zimri is that there is no mention of a prophet.
Omri then begins a new dynasty in Israel. The text concerning him begins differently than the previous cycles. It notes that only half of the people followed him at first but that he overcame the opposition (1 Kings 16:21-22). Then the pattern begins at 1 Kings 16:23: “In the 31st year of Asa king of Judah, Omri began to reign over Israel, and he reigned for 12 years; 6 years he reigned in Tirzah.” Another addition to the formula is the mention of him buying the hill of Samaria (1 Kings 16:24). Then the pattern continues, “Omri did what was evil in the sight of YHWH” (1 Kings 16:25).
Then the text continues, “and did more evil than all who were before him.” Kings had earlier said this concerning Jeroboam (1 Kings 14:9). And the text continues, “For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in the sins that he made Israel to sin, provoking YHWH, the God of Israel, to anger by their idols” (1 Kings 16:26). The formula then continues with the, “Now the rest of the acts of Omri…” line and there is the concluding mention of Omri sleeping with his father and being buried in Samaria and Ahab his son reigning in his place. Again there is no mention of a prophet in this cycle.
The Ahab cycle begins the normal way, “In the 38th year of Asa king of Judah…” and continues normally, “And Ahab the son of Omri did evil int eh sight of YHWH, [and like his father it adds:] more than all who were before him” (1 Kings 16:29-30). Then at a place where the cycle sometimes mentions Jeroboam it says this: “And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him. He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria.
And Ahab made an Asherah” (1 Kings 16:31-33). Thus, like Israel in Judges, the king was worshiping the Baals and Asherahs.
This king was especially awful: “Ahab did more to provoke YHWH, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (1 Kings 16:33).
Then the text notes that it was in his days that the prophetic curse of Joshua was fulfilled when Jericho was rebuilt (1 Kings 16:34).
Elijah the Prophet
After two kings where there was no mention of a prophet or the prophetic word we now have two mentions right next to each other. Thus after looking back to the earlier prophecy by Joshua now fulfilled, the text now looks to a prophet who will prophesy against Ahab during his reign: Elijah.
“Now Elijah the Tishbite, of the settlers in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As YHWH the God of Israel lives…’” (1 Kings 17:1). Thus though your Bible begins a new chapter, this prophet is part of this cycle concerning Ahab. The prophecy was for a drought.
YHWH sent Elijah to live by the brook Cherith east of the Jordan (from the perspective of being in the Promised Land proper) where he was fed bread and meat by ravens and drank from the brook. When the brook dried up, due to the drought, YHWH sent Elijah to Zarephath in Sidon to live and told him that He commanded a widow to feed Elijah there. Elijah there sustains this Gentile widow and her son who would have died because of the famine by the word of YHWH. She believed the word as Elijah told her that if she fed him first then her jar of flour would not be spent and jug of oil would not be empty until the famine was over.
Her son became ill and died, and Elijah interceded for the son and “YHWH listened to the voice of [an idiom for “obeyed’] Elijah” (1 Kings 17:22). The widow’s response to the resurrection of her son was, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of YHWH in your mouth is truth” (1 Kings 17:24).
In the third year of the famine, no accident that it is the third year, YHWH sent Elijah to Ahab and said He would “send rain upon the earth/land” (1 Kings 18:1).
Elijah had been fed by ravens and then by a widow’s provisions that were miraculously prolonged. Now we discover that Obadiah, who was over Ahab’s household, hid a hundred prophets of YHWH in caves and fed them bread and water during this time. He was protecting these prophets from the wicked queen Jezebel. We see what is important to King Ahab, as he sent Obadiah and went himself too to find provisions for their horses and mules. Elijah found Obadiah as he was searching and Obadiah was concerned that he would loose his head if Elijah did not present himself before the king.
And Elijah challenges Ahab to a contest between YHWH and the prophets of Baal and Asherah. This contest took place on Mount Carmel. But significantly there is no mention of the prophets of Asherah (heavily promoted by Jezebel). Instead it is only a contest between Elijah as the prophet of YHWH and the prophets of Baal. He tells Ahab that he is the only prophet of YHWH left but on the other side are 450 prophets of Baal. This story once again reminds us that Elijah is right to lie to Ahab. If he told the truth, those 100 prophets Obadiah was hiding would be at risk. It would be like telling the Nazis you are not hiding Jews.
The 450 prophets of Baal called upon Baal from morning until noon asking him to send down fire to consume their offering. At noon, Elijah mocked them saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27). So the prophets of Baal cried aloud and cut themselves and this went on for a long time. Then Elijah repaired the altar of YHWH on this mountain using 12 stones (representing the twelve tribes), thus it is a contest concerning the true Israel, and made a trench around the altar.
And Elijah set the sacrifice up and had the people fill four jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood and they did so three times until the water ran around the altar and even filled the deep trench around the altar.
And after Elijah prayed “the fire of YHWH fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench” (1 Kings 18:38). This led the people of Israel to repent and Elijah had them seize the prophets of Baal and Elijah slaughtered these 450 false prophets.
Then Elijah sent Ahab up Mount Carmel seven times to look for a coming rainstorm that would end the drought. And the seventh time he saw “a little cloud like a man’s hand…rising up from the sea” (1 Kings 18:44).
But again remember that the prophets of Asherah were missing, so Jezebel had sat out the contest. Ahab was somewhat of a weak king, Jezebel was the real power in Israel, and she sent a messenger (the Hebrew word for messenger also is used in Hebrew for angels) to tell him that he could expect to end up like the 450 dead prophets
Elijah was afraid so he fled and as he was lying under a broom tree and sleeping and “an angel [messenger] touched him and said, ‘Arise and eat’” (1 Kings 19:5). And the angel did this a second time. Elijah then went into exile for forty days and forty nights on the strength of that food to Horeb, the mount of God (1 Kings 19:8). God provided for Elijah during his wilderness wanderings but He did not send him there – thus God asks, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9). And Elijah shows that he believed the line he fed Ahab about being the only prophet left.
Elijah, in a moment reminiscent of Moses, is told to go and stand on the mount before YHWH. And YHWH passed by there. This is the famous text where God was not in the great and strong wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire, but in the “sound of a low whisper” (ESV). The footnote on this verse (1 Kings 19:12) actually gives the accurate translation: “a sound, a thin silence.” In other words, God was present in the “sound” of silence. This was showing how different God was acting in Elijah’s day compared to the day of Moses when God was in the fire and those other big magnificent signs.
This lesson is fitting especially coming as it does after the episode on Mount Carmel. Elijah though had not come out on the mount for all this but “when Elijah heard it [the sound of silence], he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave” (1 Kings 19:13) and the voice of God asked the question “What are you doing here, Elijah?” again. And Elijah gave the exact same answer as before these things – He has not learned the lesson. And YHWH tells him to go anoint Hazael to be king of Syria, Jehu son of Nimshi to be king of Israel, and Elisha son of Shaphat to be prophet in his place.
Jehu would put to death the one that escapes from Hazael and Elisha would put to death the one that escapes from Jehu. And in contrast to Elijah’s claim to be the only one left, YHWH says, “Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18). 7,000 is seven times a thousand (seven represents complete and a thousand represents full). Thus Elijah is the one who sets things in motion to end the Omride house of Ahab.
After introducing Elisha at the end of chapter 19, chapter 20 then tells us about Ahab’s wars with Syria. This will give us context for understanding why Elijah would go anoint a new Syrian king. An unnamed prophet of YHWH told Ahab that he was giving the great multitude of the Syrians into his hand. Significantly there were 7,000 men of Israel mustered for the battle. Their 232 district governors were prophesied to be the ones who would do this. We are going to skip some of this story to cover more territory.
1 Kings 21 tells us the story of Naboth’s vineyard. Perhaps I should note that the vineyard is often a symbol of Israel. His vineyard was next to Ahab’s palace. Ahab offered to give him a better vineyard for it or its value in money because the location was ideal for Ahab to have a vegetable garden. But Naboth wanted to keep his vineyard because it was his inheritance from YHWH. And Ahab was upset about being rejected and went and told Jezebel who set up Naboth to be executed for blasphemy and treason. The Hebrew text replaced “cursed” with “blessed” to tell us the truth.
Two “worthless men” brought a charge against Naboth and so the people took him outside the city and stoned him to death. Ahab then took the vineyard since Naboth was dead.
This injustice led YHWH to send Elijah to confront Ahab. And as we have seen before the prophecy against Ahab was that his house would become like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah. And in a similar way to the way the dead bodies were treated in those cases, Jezebel’s body would be eaten by dogs… (cf. 1 Kings 21:24 for details).
Then there is the statement: “There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of YHWH like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited. He acted very abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom YHWH cast out before the people of Israel” (1 Kings 21:25-26). This king is just like the Canaanites.
However, in the next verse we hear that Ahab tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and fasted and because he humbled himself so YHWH said that the disaster would not befall his house during his life but during the reign of his son (1 Kings 21:27ff)
Micaiah the Prophet
The next chapter tells us about a proposed battle where Judah and Israel would work together against Syria and Jehoshaphat (king of Judah) is not satisfied by the about 400 prophets who told him to attack. So he asked for another prophet and the king of Israel suggested Micaiah the son of Imlah but warned that Micaiah “never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.” Micaiah was not willing to speak favorably to go along with the other prophets but only to speak what “YHWH says to me, that I will speak,” he said. This prophet revealed how Ahab would be killed in battle.
And the text tells us, “But a certain man drew his bow at random [literally, “in his innocence”] and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate” (1 Kings 22:34). Unlike previous occasions when a king had been killed out of evil intent, this took place in battle without trying to kill the king who was disguised.
The prophecies of Elijah and Micaiah concerning the death and “burial” (or lack thereof) were fulfilled. Thus the cycle ends with the standard formula, “Now the rest of the acts of Ahab… [with some extra details]…” (1 Kings 22:39).
And as we have seen before the conclusion continues, “So Ahab slept with his fathers, and Ahaziah his son reigned in his place” (1 Kings 22:40).
1 Kings 22:41-50 then tells us about Jehoshaphat king of Judah before 1 Kings 22:51 begins telling us about the reign of Ahaziah, which continues in 2 Kings.
Jehoshaphat of Judah
Jehoshaphat the son of Asa followed in the steps of his father Asa. These verses about him follow the normal pattern for such cycles except that Jehosphaphat, unlike the kings of Israel, is evaluated much more positively. He did “what was right in the sight of YHWH. Yet the high places were not taken away, and the people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. Jehoshaphat also made peace with the king of Israel” (1 Kings 22:43-44). These are the two failures on his part. We had been introduced to Jehoshaphat in the previous cycle about Ahab, just as we saw with most of the prior cycles.
Positively the text adds, “And from the land he exterminated the remnant of the male cult prostitutes who remained in the days of his father Asa” (1 Kings 22:46).
We will discuss Ahaziah (king of Israel), continuing with Elijah the prophet and then Elisha the prophet in his place, next time. Elijah and Elisha are the types of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, respectively, of the book of Kings.