Study Guide

1 Kings Analysis

  • What's Up With the Title?

    1 Kings is only the first half of the book called Melakhim ("Kings") in the Hebrew Bible. Christian translators split that book in 2, so now we have 1 Kings—or, more properly, the First Book of the Kings in most Protestant translations of the Bible. In Catholic translations, it's actually called the Third Book of the Kings (because the books known as 1 and 2 Samuel in Protestant versions are called 1 and 2 Kings in Catholic versions). First, third, twelfth… call it whatever you want. It's all the same story all about (say it with us) a bunch of kings. (source)

  • Setting

    Israel

    Though lots of countries are mentioned—Tyre, Lebanon, Sheba, etc.—in 1st Kings, the action takes place in good ol' Israel, God's promised land. David spent much of his life fighting to secure the territory that Solomon inherits, but pretty soon the kingdom is divided and neighboring nations start trying to chip away at Israel's borders.

    This represents one of Solomon's greatest failures, since the land of Israel is a huge part of the covenant God made with Abraham when the people of Israel didn't even exist yet. He swore to Abraham that his posterity would live in Canaan (which is where Israel is) in peace and prosperity as long as they were righteous. The fact that they're losing land during 1st Kings is evidence that they're not holding up their end of the bargain.

  • Jezebel

    Jezebel is such a successful bad-girl that her name has literally become synonymous with all things seductive, immoral, and deadly. Despite the fact that the text of 1st Kings says nothing about her sexuality, she has always been linked to prostitution and infidelity—probably because this is so often equated with idol worship. From other Biblical references to movies (be sure to check out the "Best of the Web" section) to literature to music, she has invoked pure bad-girl-ness like no other character in history. Even today, the name is so fraught with negative meaning that, as one commenter put it here, "You might as well name your daughter Cruella DeVille as to name her Jezebel." This notoriety might seem unfair, and perhaps it's beginning to change as some feminists adopt the name to signify a strong, intelligent female agitator. But in many circles, Jezebel still just means bad news.

  • The Temple And The Mountains

    Solomon's temple is more than just a fancy-pants house of worship. It's meant to be the house of God, "a place [where he can] dwell forever" (8:13). In fact, God promises that he'll "dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake my people" (6:13) if they're righteous. However, Solomon later acknowledges: "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built" (8:27). In other words, "As great as this place is, I know it's nothing compared go God's infinite awesomeness." Still, God appreciates Solomon's effort, even if (in god terms) it's more of a dollhouse than a mansion. He comes to the temple when "the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord" in the form of a big black cloud (8:11). And he promises that "my eyes and my heart will be there for all time" as long as faithful Israelites like Solomon try to make contact with him (9:3).

    Unfortunately, the temple's glory—like Solomon's kingdom—doesn't last. Under Rehoboam's watch, Shishak of Egypt plunders its treasures (14:25). Thereafter, Israel doesn't seem to take full advantage of having God's house just down the street. Subsequent books in the Bible say that later kings defiled it (for example, see 2 Kings 21:1-9), and it's ultimately burned (along with the rest of Jerusalem) by King Nebuchadnezzar's armies in 2nd Kings chapter 25. Israel remains temple-less for almost one hundred years until King Cyrus allows the Jews to build a new temple (2 Chronicles 36:22-23).

    So how does an Israelite commune with God without a temple? No problem: It seems like mountains are almost as good. Before the temple is built, Solomon and the rest of the Israelites sacrifice in "high places" (3:2-3), and God manifests his power on both Mount Carmel (18:19-20) and Mount Horeb (19:8-12), both of which are considered sacred to this day in many religious traditions.

  • Earthly Riches, Heavenly Riches

    Solomon doesn't ask for riches, but he gets them in spades (3:13). Part of the reason for this could be that all that rich stuff is an unmistakable signal that the Lord is the real deity up in here. The Queen of Sheba put it this way: "Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the Lord loved Israel forever, he has made you king to execute justice and righteousness" (10:9). Lots of religious symbolism is hard to grasp, but when people see Solomon's treasures, they can't escape the conclusion that his god takes good care of his people.

    But wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute: since when is God all about the rich stuff? Elijah's pretty righteous, and he never gets anything close to Solomon's bling. This doesn't seem to jive with "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth" (see Matthew 5:5), does it? Is this just one of those Hebrew Bible vs. New Testament things, or do you think God has a reason for making Solomon in particular a symbol of his divine riches? Maybe Solomon was just a product of his time?

  • God's Power (Nature)

    God's power is manifest in a lot of ways throughout 1st Kings, but it's never more in-yo'-face than through natural phenomena. Whether it's a drought (18:2, 5), ravens (17:4), or spectacular sudden firebolts (18:38), God announces his presence in a big way through the forces of nature. Then again, though, there's that fascinating passage that says God is neither in a great wind, nor an earthquake, nor a fire (19:11-12). So is God in nature, or isn't he? We dunno, but he sure does seem to show up outside a lot, whether on Mount Carmel (18:37-38), in the wilderness (19:4-8), or on Mount Horeb (19:9-18).

    This is pretty consistent with other books in the Bible (and much of recorded history, for that matter). Ancient cultures attributed all kinds of natural phenomena to deities, and Israel is no exception. Whether it's increasing the frog population to ridiculous levels, doing weird things with the ocean, or making it rain food, the Bible makes it clear that nature does pretty much whatever God tells it to. It just makes sense for the Israelites to associate God with nature—he's the one who created it, after all.

      • Sex Drugs And Violence Rating

        PG-13 (but just barely)

        There's plenty of violent death in 1st Kings: a few battles, various political assassinations, Elijah's slaughter of the 850 priests of Baal, and one lion mauling. Nothing too graphic, though. As far as sex goes, it's really not too steamy, particularly considering the whole 1,000-woman-harem thing Solomon has going on. It's barely mentioned, really. The steamiest details might be Abishag spooning 24/7 with mummified old King David, but it's stated explicitly that there's no hanky-panky involved. Some ritualistic temple prostitutes are alluded to, but nothing more. Drugs-wise, it's squeaky clean, other than Elah getting drunk.

      • Allusions

        Literary and Philosophical References

        King Solomon's Mines. H. Rider Haggard's classic adventure novel follows Allan Quatermain (who served as a model for Indiana Jones) on his quest to find the ancient treasures hidden in Solomon's long-lost mines in unexplored Africa. Made into movies in 1950 and 1985, the book is now in the public domain. You can download it for free here.

        The Divine Comedy. Solomon appears to Dante in heaven as the supreme example of kingly wisdom in Canto X.

        Moby-Dick. There's an Ahab and an Elijah in this classic tale by Herman Melville, and you know he was thinking about 1st Kings when he came up with those two characters.

        Pop Culture References

        Seinfeld: "The Seven." In this classic episode of Seinfeld, Kramer and Elaine both claim to be the rightful owners of a bike, and they agree to make Newman an arbitrator in their argument. To determine its true owner, Newman plays Solomon, and hilarity ensues. "Newman, you are wise."

        Frankie Laine "Jezebel." Can you picture Elijah singing this song with the ravens while he's out in the wilderness? Neither can we.

        Jezebel. Bette Davis won an Oscar in 1938 for her role as a fiery Southern belle who knows what she wants and doesn't care who she has to steamroll to get it. Sound familiar?