The book of Kings is under-appreciated by many Christians today but it is both fascinating and helpful for Christians to study. I offer the following observations as a way into the book — at a level of greater understanding and depth — the notes to follow will help you appreciate the place of Kings among the Prophetic books, including reflections on the importance of the book of Samuel to understanding some of the nuances of Kings. If nothing else, you should see that the arrangement of the Prophetic books itself (the canonical order of the books) suggests the great importance given to the book of Kings by the design of God.
All of the former prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) were written anonymously. Samuel was written as one book. It was divided into two in the Septuagint (the term for early Greek translations) likely for length. Kings was written as one book. It was divided into two in the Septuagint also likely for length.
In the Septuagint the books of Samuel and Kings were called 1&2 Kingdoms/Reigns (Samuel) and 3&4 Kingdoms/Reigns (Kings). The English names “Samuel” and “Kings” come from the Hebrew titles.
Kings is among the prophets (not simply a historical writing).
1. In the Hebrew canon it is among the prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and The Book of the Twelve).
2. It records the miracles and words of a number of prophets: Nathan, Ahijah, Jehu, Micaiah, Isaiah, Huldah, several who are unnamed, and includes much about Elijah and Elisha.
3. Chronicles suggests that the prophets wrote history about the reigns of kings (1 Chron 29:29, 2 Chron 9:29, 12:15, 20:34, 26:27, 32:32). Jewish tradition (though unlikely for a few reasons) ascribed the book of Kings to Jeremiah. This is mentioned only because Samuel and Kings were likely written by a prophet or prophets or at the very least used these prophets’ histories as their main sources.
4. The latter prophets use Kings extensively in the same way that each of the former prophets borrowed from the earlier books of the former prophets and from Deuteronomy. Sometimes the prophets would cite the book and other times they would quote it (almost word for word) at length (Isa 36-39 is 2 Kings 18:13-20:19, Jer 52:1-27, 31-34 is 2 Kings 24:18-25:21, 27-30). Remember that in the Hebrew Bible Kings is followed by Isaiah and Jeremiah. They are meant to be read next to each other.
Kings also is heavily dependent on Deuteronomy.
1 Kings 1 picks up the story from 2 Sam 20. Remember that 2 Sam 21-24 largely consisted of events that had taken place sometime before 2 Sam 20.
But 1 Kings 1 simply resumes where 2 Sam 20 finished. This is not all that uncommon. For example, Exodus 1 resumes the narrative of Genesis 46:1-27.
If Joshua is like Samuel (we noted a number of similarities and could have seen more between Joshua and David) then Judges is like Kings. Both begin by telling the death of the hero of the previous book (Judges 2:6-10 retells Joshua’s death from Joshua 24:29ff and Kings tells us for the first time of David’s death (2:10ff). And both Judges and Kings show a downward spiral of the nation.
This suggests the former prophets follow an A,B,A’,B’ pattern.
Kings relies heavily on Samuel and continues many of its themes, its types, and its stories. The death notice for David is not reported in Samuel but in 1 Kings 2:10-12. Leithart’s book on Kings notes the type of David as Israel/Jacob continues citing Genesis 47:31 and 1 Kings 1:47 where both great men “bowed himself on the bed” in their last days after having given some final instructions. The prophet Nathan reappears with Bathsheba and Solomon in 1 Kings 1, whereas they dropped out of the story of Samuel after 2 Sam 12. There are events that require knowledge of Samuel to appreciate – “The king knew her not” (1K1:4).
And yet the book also introduces new characters with the same typological significance:
Samuel was David’s John the Baptist in Samuel, with David as a type of the coming Christ.
Elijah is the John the Baptist of Kings, with Elisha as the type of the coming Christ.
In addition to the A, B, A’, B’ pattern is the wisdom pattern of 3+1.
The books of the Prophets were arranged in the canon in a wisdom pattern of 3+1+3+1. There are a total of eight books. The first four: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings. Thus Kings is the first +1. The +1 position is the punchline of the section. This is fitting since Israel is down and out for the count at the end of the book – the nations of Israel and Judah are in exile. The book begins with the death of David (who is Jacob/Israel) and ends with the nation dead (i.e., in exile).
In terms then of the canon of Scripture, Kings relates to us the climax of the prophetic history.