How to Read 1 and 2 Kings

The Book of 1 and 2 Kings


Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application. 

1 and 2 Kings walk through all the kings of Israel from after David up to the exile. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the books.The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the story of 1 and 2 Kings, discover what it teaches us, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use the questions below as a guide as you watch this video. 




Now that you have an overview of  1 and 2 Kings in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in 1 and 2 Kings. Read Elijah's encounter with the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:20–40. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about 1 Kings 18:20–40.  

1 Kings 18:20-40 (ESV)

The Prophets of Baal Defeated

20So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel.21And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word.22Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men.23Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it.24And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.”25Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.”26And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made.27And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”28And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them.29And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.

30Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down.31Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,”32and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs of seed.33 And he put the wood in order and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.”34And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time.” And they did it a third time.35And the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water.

36And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word.37Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.39And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.”40And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: Elijah drenched the altar in water three times.


Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about 1 Kings 18:20–40? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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Where an observation determines what the passage says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the passage means. We’ve asked what the passage says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

(Observation) Elijah drenched the altar in water three times. (Interpretation) Elijah had faith that God would consume a wet altar. The people of God should put their faith in Him.


Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of 1 Kings 18:20–40? How does its message connect with the main message of all of 1 and 2 Kings? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: Abraham had faith that God would fulfill His promise of a son, land, protection, and a great nation. Elijah paints a picture of what true faith looks like, while the rest of 1 and 2 Kings shows the failure of Israel's kings to put their faith in God. In the New Testament, faith characterizes the people of God as they trust in Jesus.


Contextualize: What themes does 1 Kings 18:20–40 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of 1 and 2 Kings? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy) and the other historical books (Joshua through 2 Samuel)?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: I can exercise my faith by trusting God in everything—in my finances, with my children, my spouse, my job, my future, and my reputation. I can sacrificially give money to the local church, missionaries, and ministries and trust God will provide for each of my needs.


Apply: How does the truth from 1 Kings 18:20–40 affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week? If you're having trouble coming up with an application of this particular passage, how could you apply the main message of 1 and 2 Kings to your life this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video.  

Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about 1 and 2 Kings, how would you explain the main points of these books to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through 1 and 2 Kings this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice.



To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.