*Note: We began this occasional series on our sister site – LivingWithFaith.org – but looking ahead we realized that many of the themes and details of the series will fit better on this site. As a result we have transferred the first posts and will now be running the monthly installments here. Enjoy!
The biblical books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles tell the remarkable story of the kings of ancient Israel – the united monarchy of Saul, David and Solomon, and the thirty-nine kings (and one queen) of Judah and Israel who followed them after the kingdom broke into two parts: the Southern Kingdom (the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, usually called Judah) and the Northern Kingdom (most of the remaining tribes, called Israel).
Reading the story of these kings helps one realize what a checkered pattern of righteousness and evil the history of ancient Judah and Israel was. Actually, the checkered effect is mainly visible for Judah because the kings of the northern tribes of Israel were pretty much unfailingly corrupt according to their biblical obituaries. But when we look at ancient Judah, the mixed good/bad pattern is very clear. Even beginning with the kings of the briefly united monarchy, we see the problem: King Saul started out good and ended up bad, his successor, David, started out good and despite some unfortunate lapses into sin ended up good. Solomon started out good, but despite his wisdom ended up swayed by evil.
It’s when we then look at the successors of Solomon – the kings of Judah – that the situation gets almost bizarre. Of the 20 rulers of Judah, we are told that over half of them (10 kings and Queen Athaliah) started out evil and stayed that way. Only a quarter of all the kings (Asa, Jehoshaphat, Jotham, Hezekiah and Josiah) started their reigns on the right track and apparently ended up as good. Three kings (Joash, Amaziah and Uzziah) actually started out well, but ended up evil. Only one king – Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah – started out evil and actually ended up well.
Looking at this checkered panorama of obedience and apostasy, we can only wonder at the patience of God in giving ancient Judah and Israel hundreds of years – over 40 rulers – to “get it right.” Eventually, however, the rulers of the kingdoms did only evil and God brought on them the judgment of which they were repeatedly warned. But the story of the kings of ancient Judah and Israel is a fascinating tapestry full of details which illuminate both human nature and the desire to obey God. Our new monthly series – starting this week – examines the ancient kings and focuses on the many and often important lessons we can learn from them!