There are quite a few kings the Old Testament mentions throughout several biblical books. In the midst of long lists, strange stories, and lengthy chapters, however, it is easy to overlook how his history impacted the broader story of scripture. As we explored on Sunday, Josiah was a king with profound impact on Israel… even at 7 years of age!
Kings can be roughly divided up into two categories: The united kingdom and the divided kingdom. To refresh your memory, Israel takes the promised land, and in 1 Samuel the people soon demand a king to rule over them.
For the united kingdom, we have three kings. You’re probably familiar with these well-known biblical characters:
- Saul: Some assume Samuel was a king, but rather, he was a prophet who anointed Saul to be king. Saul’s life is basically a tragic story. He starts off very well, and gradually falls away. Eventually he is rejected by God and ends up in a dark place, even consulting witchcraft to try and speak with the dead. Things don’t end well for Saul, and his life is a compelling cautionary tale for us today.
- David: Good ol’ king David. David did have his ups and downs, however, and 1-2 Samuel and 1 Kings chronicle his leadership. At best, David was decisive, bold, and strong in how he led others. At times, unfortunately, David was morally compromised and vengeful. Many people tend to glorify David’s kingship, but if you ask me, his life is a bit more nuanced and can still teach us to watch out for sinfulness.
- Solomon: 1 Kings recounts Solomon’s time as king for the united country. Traditionally, we attribute books like Proverbs to him, as many believe he showed great wisdom. At the same time, however, many stories in scripture paint Solomon with a much more critical brush. He was open to other religions and one could easily question if his “wisdom” was really put into practice. Solomon’s actions largely contributed to the impending split between north and south.
The “united” kingdom lasted from around 1050-930BC. If we want to get technical, the term united is up for debate. For starters, David and Saul fought against one another in a brutal civil war. Later events also seemed to show that divisions were growing before the split. But nonetheless, this period was marked by relative unity with one seat of power for the nation.
Around 931BC one of Solomon’s sons, Rehoboam, faced a major issue of growing division between the 12 tribes of Israel, specifically taxing the north for royal court purposes. You might remember the number 12–Jacob had 12 sons from where these tribes originate. Rehoboam eventually went to war with them and the kingdom divided into two, the northern kingdom (Israel) and the southern kingdom (Judah).
All in all, Israel had 19 kings and Judah had 20. This period of time from 931-586BC was marked by a lot of turmoil. Some kings were good. Some were downright evil. In a previous sermon a week or so ago, I mentioned that several kings opened up the worship of idols and false gods in the temple. This pagan practice was at times linked to literal child sacrifice.
Israel was conquered by Assyria in 722BC and the people sent into exile. Judah lasted a bit longer, but was conquered by the Babylonians in 586BC. The various prophets of the Old Testament span this period of history, where many were active during Israel or Judah’s decline. Other prophets worked during the period of exile after both kingdoms fell.
I understand this is a lot of information. The bible is absolutely full of a lot of details that can teach us quite a bit. Here is one major point I think this tumultuous history of kings and kingdoms can teach us for today…
Politics do not grant salvation. I do believe that God can work through all things, but it is clear to me given the ups and downs of several centuries of Israel that God aims for something more radical than a political office. In Deuteronomy 17:14-20, God actually describes the perfect leader–someone who avoids violence, impure religion, and greed. Instead of typical “kingly” duties, Israel’s king would study the book of the law (and not turn from it “to the right or to the left” as the author of Deuteronomy put it!).
In other words, God envisioned the perfect priest to lead the people! As Christians, this is why we believe Jesus Christ is so important. Jesus is our only leader. Our allegiance ought to be to him, instead of some political game.
Kings in the Old Testament teach us quite a bit. Some were evil. Others did righteousness. We can all learn a lesson from reading this part of our bibles. And most importantly, we can give thanks to Jesus, our true everlasting king!