Kings of Israel and Judah (1) – Introduction
As part of my preparation for my forthcoming book – “Kings and Priests of the Bible”, I would like to consider what will likely become the largest section – that to do with the Kings of Israel and Judah. Here is the introduction to a series where I intend to reflect on the lives and legacy of some of these kings:
While there are extra biblical sources that can be referred to, the most important ones are the Bible books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles. In the Hebrew Bible, each comprise one book, and in the case of Samuel and Kings are in part of their Bible referred to as the (former) Prophets, whereas Chronicles is in the part that is referred to as the Writings, and is also the last book of their Bible. This is significant because Chronicles is not a poor rehash of Samuel and Kings, covering the same events, but rather complementary, with Chronicles containing material the others don’t (and vice versa) and is written from a priest’s rather than a prophet’s perspective, looking back at the whole history of Israel following their return from Exile and forward to their coming Messiah. There is a lot of additional material in what is referred to as the 4 major prophets and 12 minor prophets, in the Christian Bible. This also has Samuel, Kings and Chronicles as each two books, presented next to each other in a section titled “history”. While prophets crop up all over the place, including 1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings and 1&2 Chronicles, often relating to the kings, in the Christian Bible most fall under a section titled “the prophets”, starting with Isaiah and ending with Malachi.
It is worth noting that for almost 1000 years Israel did not have a king and the kings only operated for 500 years. After Exile of the ten northern tribes under the Assyrians that was followed 120 years later by that of the ten Southern tribes under the Babylonians, there were no longer kings of Israel until 500 years later Israel’s Messiah appeared, who they rejected. It has been said that in the first 2000 years history of the Jewish people, between the call of Abraham and the birth of Jesus, that time can be divided into four periods where Israel / Judah was overseen by Patriarchs (500 years), Prophets (500 years), Kings (500 years) and Priests (500 years). Kings were not God’s idea because, unlike the other nations, each with their king, Israel had a special relationship with God (Yahweh) and He was to be their king. But Israel wanted to be like the other nations and God gave them a king (Saul). While Samuel, Kings and Chronicles says a lot about the kings to follow, these were more interested in God and his dealings with his chosen people, and how they under their kings kept or did not keep His Covenant.
With reference to the above chart, we note first a united kingdom (all 12 tribes) under kings: Saul, David and Solomon. Then the kingdom divided – 10 northern tribes (referred to as Israel) and 2 southern tribes (referred to as Judah). Israel and Judah each had their king and all of them are included in the chart. The author of the chart associated each king with the label “good” or “bad”, with more bad kings than good and all the kings of Israel bad. He was broadly correct, except on the very good to very bad spectrum it is likely all of the kings were somewhere in-between, while veering to one or other extreme. The policies and practices of kings both impacted and were impacted by those they ruled over and were important factors when it comes to understanding and applying the Bible story. In labeling, rather than “good” or “bad”, a better way to categorize might be wise / righteous and foolish / wicked or …
- Bad kings with varying degrees of good
- Good kings with varying degrees of bad
- Bad kings who in later life became good
- Good kings who in later life became bad