The historical background of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project

The overarching interest of the books is the work of the king as Israel becomes a monarchy. They begin at a time when the twelve tribes of Israel had long been violating the rules, ethics, and virtues of leadership that God laid out for them, which can be found in the books of Genesis through Deuteronomy. After almost 200 years of increasingly bad governance by a succession of “judges” (temporary leaders), Israel is in shambles. Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles narrate God’s intervention in Israel’s governance as his people move from a failing tribal confederation to a promising monarchy, which declines into failure as succeeding generations of kings abandon God and his ways. Regrettably, the story ends with destruction of Israel as a nation, never to be restored during the biblical period. This may not seem like a promising backdrop for a study of governance, but God’s guidance is always in evidence in the narrative, whether people choose to follow it or not. Reading the story thousands of years later, we can learn both from their success and their failures.  

The books’ fundamental theological position is that if the king is faithful to God, the nation thrives economically, socially and militarily. If the king is faithless, national catastrophe ensues. So the history of God's people is told primarily through the actions of top governmental leaders, to use modern terms. Yet governance is needed in every sort of community or institution, whether political, civic, business, non-profit, academic, or anything else. The lessons of the books apply to governance in all sectors of society today. These books offer a rich study of leadership, demonstrating how the livelihood of many depends on what leaders do and say.

Scholars believe that, originally, each pair of books (1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, 1&2 Chronicles) was a single entity split between two scrolls. The scrolls of Samuel and Kings form an integrated political history of the Israelite monarchies. Chronicles tells the same history as Kings, but with a focus on the priestly or worship aspects of Hebrew history. We will follow the narrative as in three acts: (1) From Tribal Confederation to Monarchy, (2) Monarchy's Golden Age, (3) From Failed Monarchies to Exile.