What We Can Learn from the Kings of Israel: Part 1

Posted on November 6, 2021


By David Ettinger

Note: This is a 4-part series I originally wrote (as one long article) for the magazine Zion’s Fire back in 1998. I have made some slight updates.

Whether an emperor, king, or president, the actions and behavior of leaders are on worldwide display.

Too often, the actions of leaders are reflected in the people they lead. This is especially true in the Bible. There is no other volume of work where the strengths and weaknesses, accomplishments and failures, of history’s most famous personages are so vividly and poignantly depicted. The Bible has withstood all efforts to destroy it and continues to stand as a testament of the best and worst humanity has to offer.

The chronicles of the kings of Israel are a provocative example of this. In the kings we read about individuals given the opportunity to lead God’s people, to shepherd them in a way that would lead them closer to their Creator. More often than not, sadly, the kings failed miserably in their divine assignment.

After Israel was divided into two political entities – the Northern Kingdom (Samaria) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah) – following the death of King Solomon, the Northern Kingdom, incomprehensibly, failed to produce a single righteous king (i.e., one who followed the Lord’s commands). Judah, on the other hand, had several righteous (in varying degrees) monarchs. Yet, the Southern Kingdom had its share of sinful kings who sought their own wills – or those of pagan deities – rather than that of the Most High (Daniel 3:34).

It is these Southern Kingdom (Judah) monarchs on whom we will focus. As God’s Church, it is our responsibility to learn all we can from the kings of Judah that we may emulate their spiritual victories and eschew their moral failures.

REHOBOAM (931-913 B.C.)

Theme: Blind ambition can prove spiritually fatal.

Lesson: When seeking advice, consult only those who know God’s Word.

Key verse: “But he [Rehoboam] ignored the advice of the elders which they had given him, and consulted with the young men who had grown up with him and served him” (2 Chronicles 10:8).

Verse to remember: “The thoughts of the righteous are just, but the counsels of the wicked are deceitful” (Proverbs 12:15).

Track Record: Perhaps no other biblical king had inherited as much as Rehoboam. His father Solomon spent his 40-year reign building extensively. Under Solomon’s supervision, the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem was constructed, as well as the king’s palace and numerous store cities and fortifications. Previous to Solomon’s reign, Rehoboam’s grandfather, King David, established Israel as a world military power, establishing peace on every side for his descendants to inherit.

Rehoboam, at age 41, is no child when he becomes king. Upon his ascension to the throne, the people, led by Solomon’s servant Jeroboam, make but one request of the new monarch: “Your father made our yoke hard; but now, lighten the hard labor imposed by your father and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you” (2 Chronicles 10:4).

Given the opportunity to win the people to himself, Rehoboam seeks the advice of his father’s counselors who urge him to grant the people’s wishes. However, whether because of the trappings of power or the need to emerge from the considerably long shadows cast by his father and grandfather, Rehoboam rejects the sages’ counsel and seeks advice from the friends with whom he has grown up. The new king gets the answer he wants to hear: “This is what you should say to the people who spoke to you … my father loaded you with a heavy yoke; yet I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions!” (2 Chronicles 10:10-11).

This is all Jeroboam and the 10 Israelite tribes (Judah and Benjamin are in the south) need to hear. The northern Israelites rebel against the king of Judah and form their own kingdom – with Jeroboam as their ruler – and will remain a politically independent entity for next two centuries. (The kingdom will come to an end with the Assyrian deportation in 722 B.C.)

Application: As Christians, advice from those who are spiritually sound is a gift from God. Let us not allow pride to cloud the wise counsel we are blessed to receive.

Spiritual epitaph: “But he [Rehoboam] did evil because he did not set his heart to seek the LORD” (2 Chronicles 12:14).   

ABIJAH (913-911 B.C.)

It’s one thing to talk the talk, but walking the walk is another matter.

Lesson: What we do carries more weight than what we say.

Key verse: “When Judah turned around, behold, they were attacked both from front and rear; so they cried out to the LORD” (2 Chronicles 13:14).

Verse to remember: “Now why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).

Track record: Abijah, Rehoboam’s son, becomes king in place of his father. Of note in his brief 3-year reign is his war with Jeroboam. Before the battle begins, Abijah tries to stave off warfare with words: “Do you not know that the LORD God of Israel gave the rule over Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt? … So now you intend to assert yourselves against the kingdom of the Lord through the sons of David” (2 Chronicles 13:5, 8).

Though Abijah sounds regal and like a true man of God, he is no more than a resounding gong, echoing the Word of God for his own purposes. He has no interest in worshiping the God of his fathers. Like many uncommitted Christians today, Abijah simply calls upon God during a time of need. Meanwhile as our key verse indicates, while Abijah is orating, Jeroboam’s army surrounds him in an ambush. Eventually, the Lord gives Abijah the victory, but only to preserve the promise made to King David (2 Samuel 7).

Application: It is not enough to merely call upon the name of the Lord in times of trial; we must also do as He says.

Spiritual epitaph: “He [Abijah] walked in all the sins of his father [Rehoboam] which he had committed before him; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, like the heart of his [grand]father David” (1 Kings 15:3).

ASA (911-870 B.C.; co-regency with Jehoshaphat 873-870 B.C.)

Key verse:
“The LORD is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you abandon Him, He will abandon you” (2 Chronicles 15:2).

Verse to remember: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Track record: Asa spent the first 35 years of his 41-year reign doing what is right in the eyes of the Lord (1 Kings 15:11). However, in the 36th year, Asa suffers a lapse of faith which robs him of his fellowship with God. Asa, who with God’s help had conquered his enemies, is attacked by King Baasha of the Northern Kingdom. However, instead of calling upon the Lord for help, Asa inexplicably enters into a treaty with Ben-hadad, king of Syria. As a result, Asa secures a military victory, however, spurning God costs him much more: “Because you have relied on the king of Aram … You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will have wars” (2 Chronicles 16:7, 9).

From this time forth, Asa turns against God and even goes as far as to oppress his own subjects. He then contracts a painful disease in both feet and still does not seek the Lord. Tragically, after following God for most of his life, Asa dies in misery because his heart turns cold in his older age.

Application: As Christians, we must confess our love for our Savior daily and conscientiously guard against the hardening of our hearts.

Spiritual epitaph: “In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa became diseased in his feet. His disease was severe, yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but the physicians” (2 Chronicles 16:12).

Up Next: Part 2

Read Part 3 here.

Read Part 4 here.