You will find an introduction and outline to 1 Kings, here.
A prayer to use before reading from the Book of Common Worship:
God, source of all light, by your Word you give light to the soul. Pour out upon us the spirit of wisdom and understanding that, being taught by you in Holy Scripture, our hearts and minds may be opened to know the things that pertain to life and holiness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
It can be confusing to keep the chronology of the kings and the two kingdoms straight. Here is a chart to help.
An Outline of 1 Kings (from Nelson)
I. 1 Kings 1:1-11:43 The Reign of Solomon
II. 1 Kings 12:1-16:34 Israel and Judah as Separate Kingdoms
III. 1 Kings 17:1- 22:53 Prophets and Kings
A. 17:1-18:46 Elijah versus Baal
B. 19:1-22:53 Elijah versus Ahab and Jezebel
19:1-8 Elijah retreats to Mount Horeb: After the impressive success at Mt Carmel, Elijah is now running for his life. In verses 3-8 Elijah wishes to die and God sends angels twice to feed him. Beersheba is in Judah and outside of the control of Ahab and Jezebel.
19:8-18 Elijah encounters God on Mount Horeb: Forty days and nights echoes Moses time on the same mountain.(Mount Horeb and Mount Sinai are the same place.) What do you think about Elijah’s statements in verse 14? Has he forgotten what happened on Mount Carmel? Or has fear for his life affected his point of view? Recall that also on this mountain God passed by Moses (Ex 33:19-23). Normally theophanies utilize thunder, wind, earthquakes, and fire. But this time God is present in the silence- literally “a sound of fine silence”. Why do you think God asks the same question twice and Elijah gives the same answer twice? Some commentators think the Elijah is for some reason, unable to understand, perhaps to despondent. Once God gives Elijah a command and a task, Elijah is able to respond. God tells Elijah he is not left alone, there are seven thousand followers of God.
19:19-21 The Call of Elisha: We don’t know what the significance of Elijah throwing his mantle on Elisha is. Elijah throws the mantle on Elisha and keeps going. Elisha does understand the significance of the mantle and bids his family goodbye. “What have I done to you?” is understood to be a rhetorical question similar to “What have I done to stop you?” or “Have I done anything to you?”. The farewell is more than just a kiss, Elisha breaks with his past by slaughtering a large yoke of oxen and burning his plowing equipment.
20:1-22 Israel’s First Defeat of Ben-hadad: Notice that Elijah is not present in this story and God is also not explicitly present. Ben-hadam lays seige to Samaria and Ahab accepts the conditions of surrender. Then is seems that Ben-hadad overreaches and goes too far. Ahab and the elders decide they will not surrender under such terms. Verse 11 was probably a proverbial statement, something along the lines of “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.” or “It ain’t over till it’s over.” A prophet ( not Elijah) brings a message to Ahab. Ahab’s troops are successful and the prophet advises him that Ben-hadad will attack again and Ahab must be prepared. Ben-hadad receives poor advise from his officials. They mistakenly assume the God of Israel is bound to a particular location. The Arameans are soundly defeated even though they outnumber the Israelites. They lose the battle, a wall falls and kills 27,000. Ben-hadad escapes and now negotiating positions are reversed. Ahab, however is merciful. Even though Ahab is named as one of the wicked kings, in this story he seems to be a wise and good king.
20:35-43 Assessment of Ahab’s Performance. Verses 35-36 are odd and their meaning is unclear. Never the less it seems wise to do what a prophet says even if it seems odd. The second person obeys the prophet who can now disguise himself as a wounder soldier. As with Nathan and David, the prophet’s actions cause Ahab to proclaim judgment upon himself. What appeared to be merciful actions, were actually disobedient actions.
21:1-29 Ahab’s Domestic policy: While the previous stories dealt with foreign activities, now we have a story of domestic policy. Ahab wants to buy a vineyard and Naboth refuses. Notice that Ahab wants to take a vineyard and change it into a vegetable garden. Recall that vineyards are often used as a sign of God’s blessing and the prophets use the image of Israel as vineyard sometimes. Naboth follows the law which says ancestral inheritances should remain within the family. Keeping the land is a religious duty for Naboth. Ahab returns home “resentful and sullen”, in contrast to the military leader of the previous chapter. Jezebel takes matters into her own hands and uses (usurps?) Ahab’s royal authority and sets up Naboth to be charged with blasphemy and treason and killed. Now again the story shows us how Ahab is a wicked king. The office of king has been used by a foreigner and corrupted, Israel’s laws have been broken and an injustice has occurred. Beginning with verse 17, Elijah returns to the story. Elijah pronounces judgment on Ahab and Jezebel and their descendants. Ahab repents (verse 27) and God delays punishment. For a body to not be buried was a terrible thing in the ancient world.
22:1-28: War, prophecy and Micaiah the lone prophet. Recall that Ahab had a treaty with Aram but Ahab now proposes to break the treaty with Judah. Jehoshaphat the king of Judah wants to consult with prophets first. Ahab gathers 400 prophets, notice the text does not call them prophets of the Lord. Jehoshaphat’s question about a prophet of the Lord suggests the 400 may not be prophets of the Lord. Ahab says there is one prophet of the Lord, we as readers know there are other prophets of the Lord, not least Elijah and Elisha. Ahab’s prophets predict victory. Micaiah is encouraged to go along with what the other prophets have said. Micaiah at first repeats what the others have said but Ahab has doubts. Then there are two visions that Micaiah describes. First he implies Ahab’s death (v17) and then describes the heavenly council’s actions. Ahab imprisons Micaiah and this is the last we hear of him. What do you think about this passage and the actions of the prophets and of God?
22:29-40 Ahab Dies: Ahab and Jehoshaphat go to war but Ahab evidently is worried about the prophecies of his death. He has Jehoshaphat wear his clothing in an attempt to trick the Arameans. A stray arrow fatally wounds Ahab and he dies. Dogs lick up his blood as prophesied. The troops go home safely as Micaiah predicted (v17). Notice the formulaic conclusion to Ahab’s story.
22:41-50 The Reign of Jehoshaphat of Judah: Now the text returns to the previous pattern of earlier descriptions of kings. Jehoshaphat has a fairly positive report. He does what is right in God’s sight but he does not remove the high places nor stop sacrifices there. His attempt at foreign trade ( recall Solomon’s success in foreign trade) fails.
22:51-53 The Reign of Ahaziah of Israel: Ahab’s son is like his father (and mother) and does evil in the eyes of the Lord.
With these last two kings we see again the author’s concern for obedience and faithfulness.
You will recall that 1 and 2 Kings were initially one book and so 2 Kings picks up the story of Ahaziah and his encounter with Elijah.
Read More About It:
Here are several good sources to aid your reading of 1 Kings
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Nelson, Richard D. “1 and 2 Kings” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
Romer, Thomas, “1 Kings” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, Fully Revised 4 th Edition, Michael Cougan, ed. (New York:Oxford University Press) 2010.
Seow, Choon-Leong “The First and Second Books of Kings” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Vol 3, Keck, Leander E. ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press) 1999.
Stinespring, William F. and Burke O. Long “ 1 Kings” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books Metzger, Bruce M., Roland E. Murphy, eds.(New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.