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The Book of Books Book Club weekly blog

1 & 2 Kings

My apologies for missing last week's blog entry! I hope you've kept going nonetheless - but here are some thoughts on both the First Book of Kings, which was last week's reading, and the Second Book of Kings, which is on tap for this week.

These books continue the narrative of I & II Samuel, beginning with David's death. Then we get the machinations that put Solomon on the throne, the famous stories of his wisdom, and the building of the Temple. All would seem to be going well - until Solomon sins, the kingdom is divided, and then it's nothing but trouble. Don't get hung up in the historical details, the lists of kings and why they're so bad, let alone which are kings of which kingdom, Israel or Judah. Note them in passing, as they continue the deep-seated belief that all of Israel's misfortunes hinge on the failure of these kings to properly follow God and God's commands – indicative of an underlying uneasiness, still, about whether and how the people of Israel should be a nation like other nations. Let's focus, instead, on the stories listed on the reading schedule, especially those about Elijah and Elisha, which really flesh out this uneasiness: who should have greater authority, the king or the prophet? Our narrator is easily convinced that it should be the prophet who speaks with God's authority, of course, but that does leave the king in a difficult position, doesn't it? Moving on from the dividing of the kingdom, we then see the fall of the northern kingdom to Assyria and its re-population by other peoples conquered by Assyria, and then the destruction of the Temple and the Exile to Babylon - the worst misfortune of all. Remember that our author here probably compiled/composed this long history during the Babylonian Exile (ca. 587-538 BCE), and was therefore seeking some way to make sense of this narrative of decline. Solomon's prayer in his new Temple early in our reading is founded on a profound recognition of the reality of the human condition that dominates this history: "there is no one who does not sin" (I Kgs 8:46). Forgiveness, then, remains an important theological element.