In the Hebrew canon the title of these books is simply 1 and 2Ki. However, the presence of two seemingly distinct books merely hides the fact that they, like 1 and 2Sa, were originally one. The division first appeared in the LXX, where 1Sa through 2Ki comprised the four books of the “Kingdoms.” Not until the mid-fifteenth century did a similar division appear in the Hebrew text. That such a division occurred at all stems, not from any noticeable shift in content, but from a purely logistical consideration. In consonantal Hebrew all of the material contained in 1 and 2Ki could be copied on a single scroll. In Greek, however, with both consonants and vowels, far more space was needed. The resulting two scrolls led to the division that remains in our Bibles today. In actuality, 1 and 2Ki constitute a single unit and will be examined here in that light. When I refer to Kings, I mean 1 and 2Ki in our English Bibles.
The book of Kings covers a considerable period of time and a great variety of experiences and events. Included within its pages are moments of victory and defeat, though the story itself wanders down a path that leads to the destruction of both Israel and Judah. In general, the contents of Kings can be divided into two alternative groupings of three sections each. To begin with, the contents can be viewed from the traditional political point of view: (a) The United Monarchy Under Solomon (1Ki 1-11), (b) The Divided Monarchy (1Ki 12-2Ki 17), and (c) Judah Stands Alone (2Ki 18-25). Second, the major section dealing with the prophets Elijah and Elisha can be highlighted, resulting in the following units: (a) Kings: From Solomon to Ahab (1Ki 1-16); (b) Prophets: The Adventures of Elijah and Elisha (1Ki 17-2Ki 10); and (c) Kings: From Athaliah to Zedekiah (2Ki 11-25).
Building upon the reign of David in 2Sa, a high point during Israel's united monarchy, Kings begins with the ascension of Solomon to the throne c. 971 b.c. The eleven chapters devoted to Solomon's reign attempt to present him as a model king. His wisdom, for example, earned for him an international reputation, and he is commended for both his building endeavors as well as for his commitment to Yahweh. His undoing, however, eventually stemmed, at least on the surface, from his many marriages to foreign women and the pagan religious influences that accompanied them.
Following the reign of Solomon, the united monarchy gave way to the divided monarchy. Where once stood the nation of Israel, dominant and to some extent united under David and Solomon, one now finds two distinct and independent nations—Israel in the north and Judah in the south. As would be expected, such a division results in considerable tension and conflict between these neighboring groups, tension of both religious and political varieties. In the twenty-eight chapters of Kings dealing with this period (1Ki 12-2Ki 17), both northern and southern kings are interchanged until the northern kingdom of Israel is finally destroyed by the Assyrians in 721 b.c.
The concluding section of Kings, 2Ki 18-25, continues to follow the nation of Judah for roughly another 140 years. Interspersed during this period are occasional times of prosperity and religious awakening, but the overall development is not so unlike what took place in the northern kingdom. Indeed, the same fate that fell upon Israel awaited Judah, even though she witnessed Israel's ordeal and, at least from a religious perspective, had considerable time to reflect upon it. In short, 2Ki 18-25 moves from the destruction of Israel to Judah's own demise at the hands of the Babylonians in 587/86 b.c.