Study Guide

1 Kings Themes

  • Politics

    The schemes and machinations of the royalty in 1st Kings rival any political drama on TV today. Assassinations? Check (see 2:24-25 for starters). Shifting alliances? You betcha (see 15:18-20). Rebellion? Oh yeah (check out 12:13-19). Sordid love affairs? Adonijah wishes (see 2:17), but sort of (see 11:1). One thing 1st Kings has that those ol' TV shows probably don't is the added nuance of religion and how it interacts with politics in a quasi-theocratic government.

    In fact, it's sometimes hard to separate religion from politics in 1st Kings—no First Amendment here, that's for sure. If you're not practicing the current monarch's religion, you'd better hope for a miracle, because you're liable to get killed (see 18:40) or enslaved (see 9:20-21) before you can say "Free exercise."

    Questions About Politics

    1. How does Solomon personify both the benefits and the downsides of an absolute monarchy?
    2. Does politics make the politicians in 1st Kings evil, or do they bring their evil into politics?
    3. Can you find any political white knights in 1st Kings who have a high moral code and never compromise it?
    4. Can you find examples of prophets or men of God getting involved in politics? How does it turn out?
  • Religion

    When we talk about religion in 1st Kings, we have to talk specifically about ritual. Much of the religious activity here is directly connected to the customs, traditions, rites, and ceremonies of worship—whether of God or of some other deity. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the chapters focused on Solomon's Temple. In order for Solomon and his people to achieve the ultimate communion with the Lord, they have to build a place where special rituals can be performed. It's a classic "if you build it, he will come" situation.

    And of course, anytime God has a bone to pick with Israel and its kings, he usually focuses not on their mental, emotional, or spiritual infidelities, but on their symbolic infidelity through ritualistic devotion to other gods—although the two are, admittedly, probably not too easy to separate (see 11:7-9). In 1st Kings, sacramental actions speak louder than pious words.

    Questions About Religion

    1. What is the most powerful force in 1st Kings: religion, money, or physical might?
    2. 1st Kings gives a lot of attention to religious places and structures. How many can you name?
    3. How many instances can you find in which religion is used as a political tool in 1st Kings?
    4. Do you think the Lord is more upset when he gets supplanted by many idol gods, or by just one? Or is it all the same to him?
  • Power

    There are lots of sources of power in 1st Kings. Most of them can be found in either Solomon (wealth, wisdom, status, etc.) or Elijah (virtue, honor, spirituality, etc.), but other people—especially other kings and prophets—have them, too. No matter what sort of power it is, you can bet that God gave it, and he'll take it away if you don't keep on his good side (for an example see 9:6-7).

    1st Kings drives home to the reader that the ultimate source of power is God. If a character possesses any power, it's really only as a conduit through which God is channeling his power. Thus, Solomon remains truly on top of the world only as long as he's faithful to God, and Elijah's titanic power (not that Titanic power) only grows as he obeys God and his angels (check out 2nd Kings 1:9-12).

    Questions About Power

    1. Does it seem like power comes too easily in 1st Kings? Does that affect how people use it?
    2. Does it seem like Elijah's power is dependent upon his geographic location? Give examples.
    3. Finish this sentence: In the Power Olympics of 1st Kings, gold goes to Elijah; silver to Solomon, and bronze to _______.
    4. Compare the power of the main women in 1st Kings: Bath-sheba, Abishag, the Widow of Zarephath, and Jezebel.
  • Spirituality

    Spirituality is strongly tied to personal contact with God, a.k.a. "theophany", in 1st Kings. The Lord manifests himself in a dream (3:5; 9:2), in a rush of smoke (8:10-12), as a voice (19:13), through ravens (17:6), through angels (19:5-7), through Elijah (17:10-24), through Solomon (10:1-9), in fire (18:38), and in silence (19:12). With the exception of the whole fire battle with Baal thing, he only comes to those who have proven their devotion to him. Often, he only comes when they're in the right place, like the temple (8:10-11), the wilderness (19:4-8), or a mountain (19:8-13). Location, location, location.

    Questions About Spirituality

    1. What are the ten most spiritually significant moments for the characters in 1st Kings?
    2. Compare and contrast the spiritual events that occur on mountains vs. in the wilderness vs. in/around the temple. Notice anything interesting?
    3. Can you find any other ways God manifests himself to people in 1st Kings?
    4. What evidence could you use to make the argument that Jezebel is more spiritual than Bath-sheba?
  • Wisdom

    "The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knoweth himself to be a fool." –Bill Shakespeare, As You Like It

    Solomon's wisdom is, of course, legendary. You'll find plenty of ooh-ing and ahh-ing about it throughout the first 10 chapters of 1st Kings, and we have to admit: It sounds like the dude had quite the noggin. And yet it would be a mistake to see Solomon as a straightforward embodiment of pure, godly wisdom. The fact that he falls from grace in the end aside, there are still a few problems with Solomon's wisdom. For starters, is it okay for Solomon to pray for wisdom in the first place? Wasn't it Faust's quest for knowledge that doomed him? Could Solomon have fallen into a similar trap at some point? What good is all that wisdom if you ultimately lose your soul and hamstring your kingdom? Sounds more like wisdumb to us.

    Questions About Wisdom

    1. What are some synonyms for "wise" that you think apply to Solomon? Any examples from the text that back up your ideas?
    2. What, if anything, is the difference between the wisdom that God gives Solomon and the wisdom exhibited by Nathan, David, Elijah, and other conventionally wise characters?
    3. Must wisdom always be linked with religiosity or morality? Can one be wise, yet immoral—even villainous?
    4. Can you think of any character—in the Bible, in film, in literature—that could go toe-to-toe with Solomon in a battle of wits (besides this guy)?