Author and Date
There is little conclusive evidence as to the identity of the author of 1,2 Kings. Although Jewish tradition credits Jeremiah, few today accept this as likely. Whoever the author was, it is clear that he was familiar with the book of Deuteronomy -- as were many of Israel's prophets. It is also clear that he used a variety of sources in compiling his history of the monarchy. Three such sources are named: "the book of the annals of Solomon" (11:41), "the book of the annals of the kings of Israel" (14:19), "the book of the annals of the kings of Judah" (14:29). It is likely that other written sources were also employed (such as those mentioned in Chronicles; see below).
Although some scholars have concluded that the three sources specifically cited in 1,2 Kings are to be viewed as official court annals from the royal archives in Jerusalem and Samaria, this is by no means certain. It seems at least questionable whether official court annals would have included details of conspiracies such as those referred to in 16:20; . It is also questionable whether official court annals would have been readily accessible for public scrutiny, as the author clearly implies in his references to them. Such considerations have led some scholars to conclude that these sources were probably records of the reigns of the kings of Israel and Judah compiled by the succession of Israel's prophets spanning the kingdom period. 1,2 Chronicles makes reference to a number of such writings: "the records of Samuel the seer, the records of Nathan the prophet and the records of Gad the seer" (), "the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite" and "the visions of Iddo the seer" (), "the records of Shemaiah the prophet" (), "the annals of Jehu son of Hanani" (), "the annotations on the book of the kings" (), the "events of Uzziah's reign . . . recorded by the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz" () -- and there may have been others. It is most likely, for example, that for the ministries of Elijah and Elisha the author depended on a prophetic source (perhaps from the eighth century) that had drawn up an account of those two prophets in which they were already compared with Moses and Joshua.
Some scholars place the date of composition of 1,2 Kings in the time subsequent to Jehoiachin's release from prison (562 b.c.; ) and prior to the end of the Babylonian exile in 538. This position is challenged by others on the basis of statements in 1,2 Kings that speak of certain things in the preexilic period that are said to have continued in existence "to this day" (see, e.g., , the poles used to carry the ark; 9:20-21, conscripted labor; 12:19, Israel in rebellion against the house of David; , Edom in rebellion against the kingdom of Judah). From such statements it is argued that the writer must have been a person living in Judah in the preexilic period rather than in Babylon in postexilic times. If this argument is accepted, one must conclude that the original book was composed about the time of the death of Josiah and that the material pertaining to the time subsequent to his reign was added during the exile c. 550. While this "two-edition" viewpoint is possible, it rests largely on the "to this day" statements.
An alternative is to understand these statements as those of the original source used by the author rather than statements of the author himself. A comparison of with suggests that this is a legitimate conclusion. Chronicles is clearly a postexilic writing, yet the wording of the statement concerning the poles used to carry the ark ("they are still there today") is the same in Chronicles as it is in Kings. Probably the Chronicler was simply quoting his source, namely, . There is no reason that the author of 1,2 Kings could not have done the same thing in quoting from his earlier sources. This explanation allows for positing a single author living in exile and using the source materials at his disposal.
Theme and Message
1,2 Kings contains no explicit statement of purpose or theme. Reflection on its content, however, reveals that the author has selected and arranged his material in a manner that provides a sequel to the history found in 1,2 Samuel -- a history of kingship regulated by covenant. In general, 1,2 Kings describes the history of the kings of Israel and Judah in the light of God's covenants. The guiding thesis of the book is that the welfare of Israel and her kings depended on their submission to and reliance on Israel's covenant God -- their obedience to the Sinaitic covenant regulations and their faithful response to God's prophets.
It is clearly not the author's intention to present a social, political and economic history of Israel's monarchy in accordance with the principles of modern historiography. The author repeatedly refers the reader to other sources for more detailed information about the reigns of the various kings (see, e.g., 11:41; 14:19,29; 15:7,31; 16:5,14,20,27), and he gives a covenantal rather than a social or political or economic assessment of their reigns. From the standpoint of a political historian, Omri would be considered one of the more important rulers in the northern kingdom. He established a powerful dynasty and made Samaria the capital city. According to the Moabite Stone, Omri was the ruler who subjugated the Moabites to the northern kingdom. Long after Omri's death, Assyrian rulers referred to Jehu as the "son of Omri" (either mistakenly or merely in accordance with their literary conventions when speaking of a later king of a realm). Yet in spite of Omri's political importance, his reign is dismissed in six verses () with the statement that he "did evil in the eyes of the Lord and sinned more than all those before him" (). Similarly, the reign of Jeroboam II, who presided over the northern kingdom during the time of its greatest political and economic power, is treated only briefly ).
It becomes apparent, then, that the kings who receive the most attention in 1,2 Kings are those during whose reigns there was either notable deviation from or affirmation of the covenant (or significant interaction between a king and God's prophet; see below). Ahab son of Omri is an example of the former ( -- ). His reign is given extensive treatment, not because of political importance, but because of the serious threat to covenant fidelity and continuity that arose in the northern kingdom during his reign. Ultimately the pagan influence of Ahab's wife Jezebel through Ahab's daughter Athaliah (whether she was Jezebel's daughter is unknown) nearly led to the extermination of the house of David in Judah (see ).
Manasseh () is an example of a similar sort. Here again it is deviation from the covenant
that is emphasized in the account of his reign rather than political features, such as involvement in the
Assyrian-Egyptian conflict (mentioned in Assyrian records but not in 2 Kings). The extreme apostasy characterizing
Manasseh's reign made exile for Judah inevitable ().
On the positive side, Hezekiah () and Josiah () are given extensive treatment because of their involvement in covenant renewal. These are the only two kings given unqualified approval by the writer for their loyalty to the Lord (). It is noteworthy that all the kings of the northern kingdom are said to have done evil in the eyes of the Lord and walked in the ways of Jeroboam, who caused Israel to sin (see, e.g.,;; ). It was Jeroboam who established the golden calf worship at Bethel and Dan shortly after the division of the kingdom (see ; ).
Another prominent feature of the narratives of 1,2 Kings is the emphasis on the relationship
between prophecy and fulfillment in the historical developments of the monarchy. On at least 11 occasions a prophecy
is recorded that is later said to have been fulfilled (see, e.g., and .
The result of this emphasis is that the history of the kingdom is not presented as a
chain of chance occurrences or the mere interplay of human actions but as the unfolding of Israel's historical destiny
under the guidance of an omniscient and omnipotent God -- Israel's covenant Lord, who rules all history in accordance
with his sovereign purposes (see 8:56; ).
The author also stresses the importance of the prophets themselves in their role as official emissaries from the court of Israel's covenant Lord, the Great King to whom Israel and her king were bound in service through the covenant. The Lord sent a long succession of such prophets to call king and people back to covenant loyalty (). For the most part their warnings and exhortations fell on deaf ears. Many of these prophets are mentioned in the narratives of 1,2 Kings (see, e.g., Ahijah, ; Shemaiah,; Micaiah,; Jonah, ;Isaiah, ; Huldah, ), but particular attention is given to the ministries of Elijah and Elisha (). The book, then, provides a retrospective analysis of Israel's history. It explains the reasons both for the destruction of Samaria and Jerusalem and their respective kingdoms and for the bitter experience of being forced into exile. This does not mean, however, that there is no hope for the future. The writer consistently keeps the promise to David in view as a basis on which Israel in exile may look to the future with hope rather than with despair.