Preaching on 1 Kings
Preaching on 1 Kings
First Kings continues the story of the monarchy in Israel for a period of 125 years. Saul, the first king, was the people’s choice but he failed to obey and was rejected by God. God then chose David, a man after his own heart. David became the godly standard by which all future kings were measured (1 Kings 11:4; 15:3; 15:11; 2 Kings 14:3; 16:2; 22:2, etc.).
First Kings begins as Solomon was anointed king at David’s death (about 970 BC). Solomon’s God-given wisdom resulted in the high point of the kingdom with peace, prosperity, and the building of the Temple. However, Solomon’s unfaithfulness to God in his later years set the stage for civil war after his death and the division of the kingdom into northern Israel and southern Judah. God’s faithfulness to his people is shown as he sent prophets, especially Elijah, to warn them not to serve other gods.
The Book of 1 Kings shows the heights to which a leader and his people can rise when they love and obey God’s law and also the depths of depravity to which a leader and his people can fall when they forsake God.
I wanted to prepare my people for this series by building the anticipation that they will see how practical 1 Kings is to their lives. Although we are separated from them by 3,000 years, and live in a very different culture, we serve the same God, we face the same tests of faith and temptations, and the lessons from their lives are extremely relevant. “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:11).
The following is a series through 1 Kings in 16 sermons. Some chapters are lengthy and so the preacher will not be able to exegete every verse, but instead follow the broad sweep of the narrative. Some of the content can be read aloud to give the congregation the context, while you do a deeper dive into the main points of the chapter. In a few cases I combined several chapters in one sermon to give the congregation an overview, without bogging them down with the feeling “this series is never going to end.”
Text: 1 Kings 1:1-53
- Title: A Fractured Family
- Big Idea: King David was a man after God’s heart, but he failed greatly in raising his sons.
- Details: David’s greatness as a king is marred by his failure to discipline his sons (2 Sam. 13:21; 1 Kings 1:6). This led to Absalom and later Adonijah trying to seize the throne. Bathsheba and Nathan the prophet reminded David of his promise that Solomon would be the next king and to take quick action to prevent an insurrection.
- Application Suggestion: 1) It must be a priority for every Christian father to invest quality time with his children in instruction and discipline. 2) God is faithful to his promises even if we make a total mess of things.
Text: 1 Kings 2:1-46
- Title: Choices Have Consequences
- Big Idea: David’s last words to Solomon were that choices always bring consequences.
- Details: David encouraged Solomon that making right choices would bring blessed consequences (2:1-4). He then asked Solomon to bring the consequences of their evil choices upon Joab, Barzillai, Shimei, and Abiathar. Finally, Adonijah suffered the consequences of his choice to rebel (2:13-25) and was executed.
- Application Suggestion: This passage gives a powerful illustration to Galatians 6:7 “whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”
Text: 1 Kings 3-4
- Title: What to Ask God, When You Can Ask for Anything
- Big Idea: God is pleased with Solomon’s love and worship and makes a magnificent offer to him.
- Details: God came to the young king (mid-20s) and tested him. God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” To his credit Solomon humbled himself asked for wisdom to rule God’s people. Why did he do this? As a young man Solomon had been told by David to seek wisdom above everything else (Prov. 4:1-27). God was pleased with his unselfish request and granted him wisdom, riches, honor, and long life.
- Application Suggestion: Our highest goal should not be making a living, finding a mate, getting a degree, or fulfilling our own plans. David’s advice is timeless and pays eternal dividends: “Wisdom is supreme; therefore, acquire wisdom. And whatever else you obtain, gain understanding” (Prov 4:7).
Text: 1 Kings 5-7
- Title: Building A Dream Home
- Big Idea: God granted Solomon peace; thus, the time has come to build a house for God.
- Details: It had been David’s great desire to build a house for God to replace the portable tabernacle (1 Chron. 22:1-13). However, David was not allowed to build God’s house since he was a man of war (22:8). God did promise David that his son Solomon would build the temple. The temple was finished and all of the holy articles were placed in the temple. Solomon then constructed a home for himself.
- Possible Preaching Angles: There is no temple in Jerusalem today, but these chapters are significant because: 1) They are illustrations of something much greater—the heavenly sanctuary where Christ our High Priest entered to make permanent forgiveness of sin (Heb. 9:11-28). We have a High Priest who always lives to intercede for us (Heb. 7:24-25). 2) Today, a believer’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:18-20) which should be holy at all times.
Text: 1 Kings 8-9
- Title: Praying God’s Promises
- Big Idea: The temple of God’s presence has been completed and is dedicated by Solomon.
- Details: The Ark of the Covenant, which contains the 10 Commandments, is brought into the inner sanctuary. After being housed in a portable tent (the tabernacle) for 486 years (1445 BC to 959 BC), there is now a temple in Jerusalem. Solomon offered a significant prayer of dedication to God (prayer is mentioned 17 times in 1 Kings 8). Solomon reminded God of his mighty promises to Israel (promises are mentioned nine times in 1 Kings 8).
- Application Suggestion: 1) Solomon’s prayer is a model for believers today in its praise, confession, and claiming the promises of God. 2) The same Shekinah glory of the presence of God that appeared in the temple (1 Kings 8:10-11) was displayed in the incarnate Christ (Matt. 17:2) and in the risen Christ (Acts 9:3). In Jesus all the fulness of deity dwells (Heb. 1:3). We have even greater access to God than the Israelites, for we can come personally and confidently before the throne of grace through the ministry of Jesus, our Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16).
Text: 1 Kings 10:1-29
- Title: The Wisest Man Who Ever Lived
- Big Idea: Solomon received profound wisdom from God which attracted attention to God.
- Details: Wisdom was highly valued in the Ancient Near East and several famous wise men are named earlier in the book (1 Kings 4:31). Solomon’s God-given wisdom became widely known and caused the Queen of Sheba (Saba in south-west Arabia, modern Yemen) to travel 1,200 miles on camel to investigate. She was very impressed with Solomon’s spiritual gift and with his God whom she praised and acknowledged God’s love for Israel (10:9).
- Application Suggestion: 1) Each believer today has received a spiritual gift from God (1 Cor. 12:1-11) which they are to use in serving God. Does your use of this gift attract people to the love and care of God? (Matt. 5:14-16). 2) The wisdom of Jesus is far greater than that of Solomon (Matt. 12:42) and we have direct access to his guidance and insight (1 Cor 1:30; 2:16).
Text: 1 Kings 11:1-43
- Title: The Wise Man Has A Weakness
- Big Idea: Solomon entered the second half of his life and faced a great test of his love for God.
- Details: Solomon was tested in his devotion to God and sadly, he failed (11:1-8). The man who had great wisdom (1 Kings 10), will now show great foolishness (1 Kings 11). Solomon did not take care of his own heart (“the heart” is mentioned five times in this chapter). Consequently, God raised up enemies and foretold the division of the kingdom after Solomon’s death (1 Kings 11:14-43). The chapter ends with the death of Solomon.
- Application Suggestion: The story of King Solomon is the strongest reminder for each person to guard their own heart with all diligence (Prov. 4:23). The words of Jesus to Peter should echo in each of our minds, “do you love me more than these?” (John 21). Our love for Christ can keep us strong in the battle for control of our hearts (John 14:15; 14:21; Eph. 3:14-19).
Text: 1 Kings 12:1-24 and 14:21-31
- Title: The Young Man Who Would Not Listen
- Big Idea: Solomon’s son Rehoboam must decide from whom to take advice.
- Details: Rehoboam asked for counsel from both young and old advisors. In his pride he refused to be “a servant” to his people and made a devastating decision. As a result, the kingdom was divided. (Note: It took 120 years to build the kingdom under Saul, David, and Solomon. It took only 17 years for foolish Rehoboam to throw it all away).
- Note: 1 Kings 12:15 is a great illustration of the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility.
- Application Suggestion: Each of us must learn to ask for and listen to wise advice, even when our pride would resist being humble. Proverbs 12:15 says, “Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.”
Text: 1 Kings 11:26-40 and 12:25 – 14:20
- Title: It’s Dangerous To Distrust God
- Big Idea: God wants faith expressed by obedience.
- Details: God promised Jeroboam that he would give him “an enduring house” (11:38). But Jeroboam doubted God’s promise and feared that by offering sacrifices in Jerusalem the people would return to Rehoboam’s rule. In unbelief he changed the location of worship, he changed the priesthood, and he changed the object of worship (12:28-33).
- Application Suggestion: Every promise of God also involves a test of faith. Above all else God wants us to trust in him at all times as we wait for the fulfillment of his promises (Heb. 11:6; Psa. 9:10)
Text: 1 Kings 15-16
- Title: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
- Big Idea: This is the story of nine kings during a dark time in Israel and Judah.
- Details: Of the nine kings, only one was good, the other eight were wicked. A survey of the wicked kings reveals the repeated phrases “did evil in the sight of the Lord” “killed/struck down” and “caused Israel to sin.” In teaching the life of godly Asa it is helpful to study 2 Chronicles 14-16. The chapter ends with a brief introduction to Ahab, the wickedest king of all Israel.
- Note: There is a chronological issue with the reign of Baasha.
- Application Suggestion: Asa demonstrates that victory is ours when we rely on God and that disaster comes when we look elsewhere for help. This lesson is summarized in 2 Chronicles 16:9. We can claim our victory over sin through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and in his defeat of Satan and death (Rom. 8:37; 1 Cor. 15:57; 1 Jn. 5:4).
Text: 1 Kings 17
- Title: Elijah: Man of Prayer
- Big Idea: We are introduced to the prophet Elijah (“Yahweh is my God”) whose ministry is to stand for God against wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel.
- Details: This sermon is part one of three sermons on Elijah. God miraculously provided for Elijah’s needs during the drought and famine. Although Elijah was a “nobody” (nothing is known about his family background, training, or early life), God powerfully used him because he was a man of prayer and faithful to God. Four miracles validate his ministry.
- Application Suggestion: Elijah succeeded because he was a man of prayer (1 Kings 17 refers to prayer four times and Jam. 5:13-18 refers to prayer eight times in the Greek). Prayer connects even the weakest believer to the Living God for whom nothing is impossible. Today we can boldly come before God through the ministry of Jesus our High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16) knowing that God will hear us in our time of need.
Text: 1 Kings 18
- Title: Elijah: Man of Courage
- Big Idea: Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal and called Israel to make a choice.
- Details: This sermon is part two of three sermons on Elijah. Ahab was the worst of the wicked kings of Israel (16:33). His wife, Queen Jezebel, was destroying the prophets of God (18:4). God empowered Elijah to courageously confront the 450 prophets of Baal. Elijah challenged the people to make a decision (18:21) between the Lord and Baal.
- Application Suggestion: We cannot be neutral in life; it is imperative to choose a side and commit fully to it. “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21).
Text: 1 Kings 19
- Title: Elijah: Man of Fear
- Big Idea: Emotionally exhausted Elijah runs from the death threats of Queen Jezebel.
- Details: This sermon is part three of three sermons on Elijah. God devastated the prophets of Baal by Elijah’s hand in the confrontation on Mount Carmel. But in this great victory over 450 prophets, he panics at the death threat from Jezebel and travels 90 miles to the mountain of God (where God met with Moses). God ministers to the weary prophet, does not condemn him, and reaffirms him.
- Application Suggestion: 1) Burnout is a danger for anyone who serves the Lord, especially after a great victory. Suicide is never the answer (19:4). God is always present, he lets us voice our complaints, and will speak in a gentle whisper so we will come closer to him. 2) Jesus himself personally intervened to meet the needs of weary Elijah in the form of “the angel of the Lord” (19:5-7). Jesus cares for us when we are overwhelmed and stressed (Matt. 11:28-29).
- Note: There are many angelic appearances in the Old Testament, but the phrase “the angel of the Lord” (with the definite article) specifically applies to a preincarnate appearance of Jesus (cf. Gen. 16:7-12; Exo. 3:2; Jud. 2:1-4; Zech. 3:1).
Text: 1 Kings 20
- Title: A Sinner Is Rescued by God
- Big Idea: In his great mercy God offers second chances to sinners.
- Details: Ahab is the wickedest of the ungodly kings of Israel. He sinned outrageously in his marriage to pagan Jezebel, in his Baal worship, and in allowing Jezebel to kill the prophets of God. In this chapter, God will offer Ahab not one, but two opportunities to repent, as God rescues Ahab from the serious threats of King Ben-hadad. God did deliver Ahab, as he promised, but even then, Ahab failed to obey God.
- Application Suggestion: God is patient and merciful. To those who stumble, to those who sin, God offers a way of restoration if they will humble themselves and obey. Jesus demonstrated this same patience and mercy with Peter when he blatantly denied Christ three times (Matt. 26) and was completely forgiven (Luke 24:34; John 21:15-19; 1 Cor. 15:5). We also have the same assurance of his forgiveness and grace (1 John 1:7-9).
Text: 1 Kings 21
- Title: Two Sinners Get Their Reward
- Big Idea: God promises bloody retribution to Ahab and Jezebel for the murder of Naboth.
- Details: Though God had given Ahab great deliverance from Ben-hadad, Ahab continues in his vile ways. Sullen because he cannot have Naboth’s vineyard, Jezebel hatches a murderous plot to steal the vineyard. In total, Ahab and Jezebel broke four of the 10 Commandments and “sold himself to do evil.” In the end, he had no heart change though he outwardly “humbled himself.”
- Application Suggestion: Genuine repentance from the heart always moves God to extend grace. Superficial and temporary repentance is always exposed by the penetrating insight of God.
Text: 1 Kings 22
- Title: A Godly Man Gets His Reward
- Big Idea: In stark contrast to the death of wicked King Ahab, godly King Jehoshaphat is protected by God.
- Details: The prophecy of Ahab’s death is fulfilled. Godly King Jehoshaphat “did not turn aside from doing right in the sight of the Lord” and is mightily delivered by God. 2 Chronicles 20 can be included in this sermon as a powerful example of how Jehoshaphat faced a fearful test by a vast army which God turned into victory because of his faith.
- Application Suggestion: In situations of great fear when we are far beyond our resources, God can be trusted. Your intense trouble can be the very thing that God will use to show his power and love to you. Jesus is our great shepherd of the sheep and gently cares for each of his own (Ps. 23; John 10; Heb 13:20). Unbelievers have no shepherd and are helpless (1 Kings 22:17).
God Is Sovereign
God is very active in the affairs of nations in 1 Kings. God determines the destinies of nations. God chooses kings (8:16; 11:31), he intervenes to provide victory in battle (20:13; 20:28, cf. parallel passages in 2 Chron. 13:14–18; 14:11–12; 18:31), he uses pagan nations to punish his sinning people (8:46-51; 11:23), he speaks through his prophets to reveal his will (13:1ff; 14:5ff; 16:1ff), he controls nature (17:1; 17:6; 18:1ff), and performs miracles (17:14-24, 18:38).
The Davidic Covenant is Fulfilled in Jesus Christ
God made an unconditional covenant with David (2 Sam. 7:12-16) by which God promised David that his kingly line and his throne would endure forever. From this magnificent promise Jesus Christ the Messiah would come from the lineage of David (of the tribe of Judah) and would establish a kingdom that would endure forever (Ps. 2; 89; 110; Is. 9:7; Luke 1:32; 1:69). This promise continues in 1 Kings, and though many of Judah’s kings were unfaithful, God is faithful to his covenant (1 Kings 11:12-13; 11:32; 11:34; 2 Kings 19:34), and it will be completely filled in the eternal reign of Jesus Christ, the son of David (Luke 1:32; Matt. 1:1; 2:2; 4:17; 9:35; Matt. 13).
Monotheism Versus Idolatry
The theology of the Old Testament is that there is no god but the Lord and we should worship him alone (Exod. 20:3, Deut. 6:4). First Kings puts great emphasis on the evil of idolatry which brings God’s judgment (11:9-13). Beginning with Solomon (11:2-8), the corruption that idolatry brings is evident. Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:28–30) and Ahab (1 Kings 18:1–19:18) especially institutionalized idolatry and paganism. God proved that he alone is God in the mighty triumph over Baal (1 Kings 18).
God Never Overlooks Sin (11:6; 13:33; 14:9-10; 14:22; 15:26; 15:34; 16:7; 16:19; 16:30; 21:20)
One of the strategies of Satan is to convince us that our sins are minor, unseen, or that over time they are forgotten by God. The evil deeds of the kings are graphically listed and corresponding with that the phrase “in the sight of the Lord” is repeated 10 times (11:6; 14:22; 15:26; 15:34; 16:7; 16:19; 16:30; 21:20; 21:25; 22:52). Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Heb 4:13).
God Responds to Humility with Mercy and Grace (3:5-14; 21:27-29)
At the beginning of his reign, Solomon was invited by God to “ask what you want me to give you.” Solomon’s humility in asking for wisdom pleased God. When threatened by God’s judgment, Ahab fasted and put on sackcloth. God was pleased with his repentance.
The Importance of Prayer (Prayer is mentioned 17 times and promises nine times—8:28, 29, 30, 33, 35, 38, 42, 44, 48, 49; 9:3)
Solomon’s great prayer in 1 Kings 8 is a model of praying the promises of God, and highlighting the faithfulness of God and the forgiveness of God.
1) First Kings 12:15 is a good illustration of the tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. For a classical Reformed study of this issue see C. A. Hodge, Systematic Theology: Abridged Edition (1872; reprint, Eerdmans, 1992), p. 313–19. For a contemporary evangelical, Baptist discussion of the matter see M. J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Baker, 1992), p. 345–63.
2) First Kings 15:33 with 1 Chronicles 16:1 – There is a seeming chronological problem with the dates of Baasha’s reign. Baasha ascended the throne during Asa’s third year and reigned for 24 years. This means he died in Asa’s 27th or 28th year and could not have attacked Judah in Asa’s 36th year. For suggested solutions see: Eugene H. Merrill, “2 Chronicles,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1985), p. 632; See also: Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Zondervan, 2001), p. 225–226.
My Encounter with 1 Kings
I initially wanted to preach 1 Kings because many in the congregation are not familiar with the Old Testament (except for the stories they learned as children). However, as I dug into the text and considered how to apply it to the hearts of my people, I also had to reflect on what God was saying to me.
This was especially true in the experiences of Solomon and Elijah. If Solomon, the wisest man, could stumble in the last half of his life, what about me? I must always be on my guard against “slippage” and what I allow into my heart (Prov. 4:23). I want to finish well, otherwise the labor I have expended in ministry will be for nothing (2 John 1:8, Rev. 3:11). Solomon’s accomplishments are marred by an asterisk next to his name. God forbid that should be my legacy.
Elijah’s life spoke to me in the area of ministry burnout and discouragement. There have been times when I also wanted to give up the ministry and feel sorry for myself. God’s gentle grace in Elijah’s life encouraged me to voice my emotions to God, but then to allow him to strengthen me for further ministry (Ps. 25).
Donald J. Wiseman, 1 and 2 Kings: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993).
Paul R. House, 1, 2 Kings, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995).
R. D. Patterson and Hermann J. Austel, “1, 2 Kings,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988).
William Crockett, A Harmony of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles: The Books of the Kings of Judah and Israel (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1897).
David Finch is a retired pastor, after 29 years in ministry, he is also a free-lance editor for Preaching Today.