For many people, the Books of Kings are two of the most confusing books in the Old Testament, for the simple reason that the historian is telling two stories at once. Here are some clues to helping make sense of it all.
First, get the big picture. The two books easily divide into three sections. The first section is the reign of Solomon (1 Kgs 1-11). The second section is the period of the Divided Kingdom, down to the fall of the northern kingdom (1 Kgs 12-2 Kgs 17). The third section is the story of Judah, from the end of the northern kingdom until the Babylonian Exile. Another big picture item is the story of Elijah and Elisha, which covers most of the material from 1 Kgs 17-2 Kgs 8.
Second, get the names straight. The northern kingdom is Israel. The southern kingdom is Judah. The first king of Israel is Jeroboam. The first king of Judah is Rehoboam. Later on there is a second Jeroboam in Israel. There are two kings named Jehoram (also spelled Joram), one in Israel and one in Judah. They rule about the same time. There are also two kings named Jehoash (or Joash), one in Israel and one in Judah. They also reign about the same time. Then there is a King Azariah in Judah, but he is known as Uzziah in 2 Chronicles and in Isaiah 6.
Third, notice how the historian tells the story. He begins (after the split) with Israel, telling the story of Jeroboam. After the death of Jeroboam, he tells the story of the kings of Judah until he reaches past the end of Jeroboam’s reign. Then he shifts back to Israel. It is the back-and-forth nature of the narrative that loses most people.
Fourth, the order of the story is as follows, identifying the king, the nation (I for Israel, J for Judah), and the length of his reign: Jeroboam (I, 22 years); Rehoboam (J, 17 years); Abijam (J, 3 years); Asa (J, 41 years); Nadab (I, 2 years); Baasha (I, 24 years); Elah (I, 2 years); Zimri (I, 1 week); Omri (I, 12 years); Ahab (I, 22 years); Jehoshaphat (J, 25 years). At this point, we have arrived at the end of 1 Kings.
Ahaziah (I, 2 years); Jehoram (I, 12 years); Jehoram (J, 8 years); Ahaziah (J, 1 year); Jehu (I, 28 years); Athaliah (J, six years, a usurper); Joash (J, 40 years); Jehoahaz (I, 17 years); Jehoash (I, 16 years); Amaziah (J, 29 years); Jeroboam II (I, 41 years); Azariah (J, 52 years); Zechariah (I, 6 months); Shallum (I, 1 month); Menahem (I, 10 years); Pekahiah (I, 2 years); Pekah (I, 20 years); Jotham (J, 16 years); Ahaz (J, 16 years); Hoshea (I, 9 years). At this point, the nation of Israel is destroyed by Assyria.
After the end of Israel, the story is straightforward, because there is only one nation to deal with. The rest of the kings of Judah are as follows: Hezekiah (29 years); Manasseh (55 years); Amon (2 years); Josiah (31 years); Jehoahaz (3 months, then taken captive to Egypt); Jehoiakim (11 years); Jehoiachin (3 months, then taken captive to Babylon); Zedekiah (11 years). At that point, Judah was destroyed, bringing the period of the monarchy to an end as well as ending the narrative of the Books of Kings.
Benjamin Shaw is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. This is from his July 4th blog,