In A Nutshell
Populated with majestic kings, beautiful princesses, scheming nobles, powerful wizards, and the quintessential evil queen, 1 Kings could almost be set in a fairy-tale world full of griffins and unicorns and magical swords. In fact, if you ever get bored with it, just use your imagination to throw in some fantasy elements, and it'll be better than Lord of the Rings.
Just kidding. That's impossible.
It'll be close, though.
But before we jump into 1 Kings, let's head on over to the kitchen for a moment. Consider with us, if you will, cookies and milk. In isolation, they're not that great. Individually, cookies are good, and on its own, milk certainly has its strong points. But neither really knocks your socks off. Put them together, though, and watch what happens: they suddenly become arguably the most perfect kitchen creation ever concocted by the mind of man. Authorities have marveled at this phenomenon throughout the ages and concluded that it's a classic case of culinary contrasts: cold milk and warm cookies; chewy cookies and silky milk; the cookies, so sweet, the milk, so… milky. We savor both more because we can compare one to the other.
Now, you're probably saying, "Knock it off, Shmoop. You're just making me hungry. What does this have to do with Kings?" Check it out: in literary terms, cookies act as a foil to milk, and vice-versa. The presence of a foil helps us understand contrasting themes, characters, etc., and—yup, you guessed it—1 Kings contains a great example in its two very different central characters: King Solomon and Elijah.
These two could hardly be more different: Solomon is rich (3:13), Elijah is not (as far as we can tell); Solomon lives in a spectacular palace (7:1-12), Elijah is often homeless (17:3-5; 19:4-5); Solomon has servants at his beck and call (4:1-21), Elijah gets his food by begging (17:10-13) or heavenly delivery service (17:6; 19:5-7); Solomon is dignified and eloquent (4:32-34), Elijah is snarky (18:27); Solomon uses his brain (3:23-28), while Elijah uses brute, elemental force (18:37-40); Solomon is cool and calculated (2:22-34), Elijah is a hot-headed spitfire (18:21); in the end Solomon succumbs to temptation (11:4), whereas Elijah (in 2nd Kings) is so pure he's taken directly to heaven before he even has a chance to die (2 Kings 2:11).
By presenting these guys side-by-side in the same book, 1 Kings allows us to see both of them more clearly. They're like Captain Kirk and Spock. Woody and Buzz. Carlton and Will. They're convenient, cooperative opposites, and each helps us to better understand the other.
And they're not the only foils you'll find in 1 Kings. You'll find a lot of opposites if you keep your eyes open, including within the same character/object/place. Amid all of these dissimilarities scattered across the pages, you'll start to see themes and patterns emerging that can help you understand the mythical enchanted kingdom epic that is 1 Kings. So grab your goblin battle-ax or your elven necromancer's amulet, and let's get started. And may your hammer be mighty.
Why Should I Care?
Shmoopites, it's time to use your imagination. What would you do if you had superpowers? Would you use them only for good? Would you finally achieve world peace? End all hunger? Or just make your own life easier? Of course you wouldn't use it for evil… right? Maybe just a little bit? Some revenge? A pinch of pleasure here and there? What's the point of all that power if you can't use it to make yourself happy, right? Would your powers worry you at all? They say absolute power corrupts absolutely. Are you sure you could handle it? Okay. We're done grilling you now.
1 Kings is the story of what happens to Israel after its greatest king, David (of David and Goliath fame), dies. Though his son, Solomon, looks for a while like he'll follow in ol' dad's footsteps, in the end he sets Israel up for disaster. As civil war breaks out and the people's rulers get worse and worse with each generation, we see that the stories in 1st Kings (some of which spill over into the next book, 2 Kings) are dominated by people with a lot of power—sometimes almost god-like power: Solomon possesses supernatural wisdom and unfathomable riches; Elijah has the very elements at his disposal; Ahab and Jezebel command legions of soldiers and priests; and the list goes on. How they each behave under these circumstances can be instructive for all of us, because although it might not seem like it now, you possess a lot of power and will probably gain a whole lot more of it as you grow up. Money, education, influence, position, physical strength, emotional awareness, and so on can all give you power over other people. What are you going to do with it?
The difference between Superman and General Zod lies in how each uses his powers. Although you probably can't leap tall buildings in a single bound, you do have the power to change the world in a million ways, whether subtly or in more visible ways. As you read about the extreme powers at play in 1 Kings, try to see past the sheer razzle-dazzle of it all and think about stuff like this. Someday, when you're a powerful politician, teacher, surgeon, mentor, writer, scientist, or mom, the world will be glad you did.