A while ago a Bible teacher in our church said, if you want to do some serious study of the Old Testament, take a look at the succession of kings in Israel and Judah. I parked that then, I seem to remember. Or perhaps thought, I’ve read through Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, no problem, I get that.
But over the past few days, I have been drawn to make a more in-depth study of the kings. I read through 2 Samuel, more or less in a day. Back in the summer I re-read Kings. Not that long ago, I focused on 2 Chronicles 5-7 alongside John 4 in a message on worship.
Let me digress for a moment about the nature of knowledge. This is a tricky business now with the internet. There are infinite items of knowledge, and although the human brain is famously elastic, there is also the practical time issue. Why commit something to memory? The internet can select knowledge very quickly. But for me that isn’t always satisfactory.
Increasingly I am conscious of my limited understanding when it comes to any topic of importance. Including Bible study. I am a bit of a completist. So I like to know that I have accessed reasonably up to date scholarship on a topic I am looking at, as well as some good experiential material too. This is why I haven’t embarked on a preaching series on Romans, or Isaiah. Yet!
But I feel I made a bit of a breakthrough by the end of yesterday in my understanding of the Hebrew kings. The whole business is a little less mysterious to me. However, this does not mean I am an expert. But let me share some of the things that to me I hadn’t realised. Forgive me for those of you who already knew this! Perhaps some of you can tell me a little more in the comments below.
I might add that I consulted a range of different materials. I deliberately stayed off the internet, but when I had an urgent question that I knew the internet could help with, I put that specific question in. I also used it to double check my own observations. For example, I took from Kitchen (On the Reliability of the Old Testament) a list of the Judah and Israel kings after the division with Rehoboam, and then scooted through 2 Kings mainly (and a bit of 2 Chronicles) to quickly identify which kings were wicked, and which kings were good. I double checked my thoughts by a couple of internet posts and helped to confirm.
So, and hopefully this will help some of you:
1. ALL the Kings of Israel from Jeroboam right through to Hoshea who was the king carried off to the Assyria captivity were WICKED. None of them heeded the covenant. There wasn’t really an exception. For me this is a most helpful realisation, because it is a STICKY fact that I can keep in my head, I don’t have to turn up some obscure reference in the middle of 2 Kings to check this out. I can remember it!
(If you want a little more detail, it’s worth noting, I think, that the usurper Jehu who finished off the Omride dynasty including the appalling Ahab, was raised up by God to do so, but he was still a nasty piece of work. He himself started off a new dynasty of rulers, prophesied by Elisha, but he didn’t keep God’s law)
2. The book of 2 Chronicles deals with the kings of Judah only. This is the sort of fact you may observe as you’re reading through, but perhaps forget it again. I want to remember this as it’s useful for quick reference. Along with this, it’s easy to let all six of these books (referring to them as six in the Christian Bible) blur into one. I think it’s worth being able to distinguish between them in your head. So if you’re looking for King David’s life, you need 1 Samuel 16 onwards for his rise, and 2 Sam all the way through for his reign (which started actually just in Judah before David united the tribes and conquered Jerusalem, establishing it as a new capital and securing his throne, though Gds blessing, forever in Christ). Of course, 1 Chronicles from chapter 11 after the genealogies, recapitulates David’s reign (but not his rise) up to chapter 23. Solomon you will find 1 Kings to chapter 11, and 2 Chronicles to chapter 9.
So if you’re looking for the post-division of the kingdom rulers, you territory is either 1 Kings 12 onwards and 2 Kings or 2 Chronicles. 2 Kings is going to give you the warts and all version, and 2 Chronicles the more polished, holy version with that emphasis on Judah I mentioned earlier. Israel kings do come into the picture, but it’s ONLY 1 and 2 Kings that veers between the narrative of Israel AND Judah kings, and I think this is where a lot of people read and think: right, I’m going to get my head around this, but come unstuck because there’s just too many names, too many intrigues, too many minor characters like Joab, Abner, prophets Elijah and Elisha, and others who have input.
3. So for Judah kings, the southern kingdom lasted longer before they went into captivity. Judah went into Babylonian exile ultimately 586 BC (the famous destruction of Jerusalem including Solomon’s Temple), Israel to Assyrian quite a long time before that as they were more wicked, 721 BC. There were SIX definitely GOOD kings of Judah. And the final FOUR Kings of Judah were all wicked. The six I’m thinking of were Asa, Jehoshaphat, Uzziah (remember Isaiah 6 v 1 ‘In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord’?), Jotham, Hezekiah, Josiah. It’s also worth realising that while there were at least 5 dynasties, or families of rulers of Israel (many with much less claim to rulership than, for example, the Kings and Queens of England!) the Kings of Judah followed totally David’s line. Of course, David came through the tribe of Judah! When Rehoboam was rejected by the ten tribes due to his asinine responses to them, Judah took him in. The only exception in the Judah succession was Athaliah (also the only woman) who snuck in and reigned for six years during Joash’s minority. It’s also worth saying that Judah had at least three kings who were a mix of good and bad: Rehoboam, Joash and Amaziah. Rehoboam for the first three years walked in the ways of David.
4. So the final USEFUL thing I think I got my head round yesterday was where the prophets fit into the kings. Now it’s worth commenting that in terms of timescales, it was around 1000BC that the Davidic kingdom began, and then we are looking at around 300 years of twin kingdoms in Israel, Israel obviously ending before Judah. You can divide the prophetic books in the Christian Old Testament easily up into pre, during or post-exilic. And the exile being referred to is always the Babylonian exile of Judah, when the remnants of God’s people finally were taken from the land. Again the stickier fact is probably the post-exile prophets, as there are fewer, Ezekiel was just before and ON the Babylon exile, Daniel was during the exile. Jeremiah’s long and difficult prophetic ministry was for the last 5 kings of Judah, from Josiah to Zedekiah, Isaiah much earlier, from Uzziah through Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. Amos, Hosea and Micah were also around at this time. So leaving til slightly later Nahum, Zephaniah (under Josiah like Jeremiah), and Obadiah and Habakkuk both prophesying under the threat of Babylonian conquest. Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi were during exile or after. It’s not known when Joel was written.
So I may come back and add some more after more reading, but can I encourage you first to dip into one of these books in the Old Testament, and secondly to know that looking at these accounts is profitable, as it says in 2 Tim 3:16 for all things. The more I read, and study, the Bible, the more convicted I am of the gaps in my education. I went to Sunday school, yet I never learnt lists of the Kings of Israel and Judah! How useful it is to have a few sticky facts in your cranium that can be built on for future reading and study, as led by the Holy Spirit. It is ALWAYS salutary, to say nothing of entertaining and moving, to be making further study in God’s Word. I read in Proverbs only this morning:
“A scoffer seeks wisdom and does not find it, but knowledge is easy to him who understands.” Proverbs 14:6