Long Have I Desired To Look Upon the Kings of Old (a commentary review)

“Fear not!” said a strange voice behind him. Frodo turned and saw Strider, and yet not Strider; for the weather-worn Ranger was no longer there. In the stern sat Aragorn son of Arathorn, proud and erect, guiding the boat with skilful strokes; his hood was cast back, and his dark hair was blowing in the wind, a light was in his eyes: a king returning from exile to his own land.

“Fear not!” he said. “Long have I desired to look upon the likenesses of Isildur and Anárion, my sires of old. Under their shadow Elessar, the Elfstone son of Arathorn of the house of Valandil Isildur’s son, heir of Elendil, has nought to dread!” [Fellowship of the Ring,

As  Aragorn  looks at the likeness of the ancient kings  in The Fellowship of the Ring, we get one of our first inklings that he is someone with a destiny. In the same way, when we revisit the record of the kings of Israel we discover a picture of clay-footed-kings and the God they served. Each of the kings pictured  failed to walk humbly with their God(consistently) and remain faithful to the covenant;  yet God was faithful to them, honoring his covenant with their ancestor David and calling all of Israel’s King’s to repentance.

The book of 1 Kings opens with the story of Israel’s third king, Solomon, when his father David was an old man. Solomon is crowned King to prevent his half brother’s attempt to take the throne and he quickly works to consolidate  power. Initially he enjoys God’s blessing on his reign. At his best Solomon was a type of ‘new Adam’ restoring God’s people to covenant faithfulness and blessing the whole earth; however, he had his shadow side and he led the nation into idolatry and taxed the nation heavily for the building of his own palace and reputation. When his son Rehoboam succedeed him, he did not alter his father’s policies and that caused eleven of the tribes to follow Jeraboam in the North instead(the kingdom of Israel). While Israel was wrested from Rehoboam’s grasp, for the sake of David, God kept a king on the throne in Jerusalem to rule over the tribe of Judah. When the book of 1 Kings ends, four kings after Solomon have sat on Judah’s throne and four different dynasties have ruled in Israel.

The Evangelical Press Study Commentary series purports to bring together some of the best biblical scholarship from a Reformed perspective to produce a commentary that is both comprehensive and practical.  They present a careful analysis of the biblical text and a simple application for daily life.  This is a commentary aimed at pastors, theologians and laypeople alike, which means them an ideal mid-level commentary. They delve into the depths of the passage while remaining accessible to the non-specialist.

If John Davies commentary on 1 Kings is representative of the series, than this commentary series is well worth it. Davies translation and verse by verse commentary is sensitive to literary structure, the grammar and the historical context of Kings. While many Kings commentaries from a generation ago concentrated on ‘the world behind the text’ (the community that produced the narrative), Davies offers a close reading of the text we have, attending to the nuances in the text. He explores where Hebrew language sheds light on the meaning of the narrative (though does not get unnecessarily mired in syntax). He  also provides an analysis of  the Ancient Near East and places the story of Israel’s kings within the wider story of the Canon (building on Deuteronomy and coming to fruition in the New Testament).  Having studied Kings at length in the past I was impressed with Davies insights and the way he picked on some of the subtleties  in the narrative.  For example, he critiques Solomon along the way demonstrating that chapter 11 is not a dramatic reversal of Solomon’s earlier character but we have had intimations of his failure in devotion along the way. Likewise he picks up on the ambiguities in the Elijah narrative and his slowness to anoint a successor as Yahweh commanded. Davies also provides key insight into the connection with worship, idolatry and political life in ancient Israel (i.e. Elijah’s slaughtering of 950 prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, erode Israel’s alliance with Phoenecia, magnifying the crises that Ahab faces in1 Kings 20). There are some real gems in Davies comments which surprised and opened up new insights for me.

My one small disappointment with this commentary is that Davies introduction lasts about a page and a half. I appreciate fuller introductions from commentators which fill in some of the theology, structure and themes of the book. Granted the commentary itself will discuss the same information at length but a good introdcution gives you a starting point and a frame of reference for study. It isn’t as though Davies doesn’t have a wealth of information (the commentary is 464 pages)  but you will find it with in his comments not in the front matter of the books. This makes this book useful for verse by verse study or for examining a particular passage, but less helpful as a general reference.

This is a great commentary on 1 Kings and has whetted my appetite not only for what else this series of commentaries has to offer but for the completion of the story in 2 Kings. If you are studying, preaching or are  just shopping for a good commentary on 1 Kings, this is a great option. My go to commentator for Kings is Iain Provan’s (an Old Testament professor of mine) but Davies brings similar sensibility and insight. So gaze with Davies on the Kings of old and discover that despite their and our failure, the covenant God is faithful to his promise to us.

Thank you to Cross Focused Reviews and to Evangelical Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.  No one from Middle Earth was harmed in writing this review.

One thought on “Long Have I Desired To Look Upon the Kings of Old (a commentary review)

  1. James,

    Thanks for being a part of the 1 Kings: An EP Study Commentary blog tour. In light of the upcoming release off The Hobbit, I’m super impressed that you were able to work a Lord of the Rings reference into your review. 😉 Thanks for all of your hard work for Cross Focused Reviews.

    Shaun Tabatt
    Cross Focused Reviews

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