The Bible Jesus knew: Good Kings, Bad Kings

1 Samuel 8, 1 Kings 2:1-4

Good Kings, Bad Kings

You might assume that I need to start with 1 Kings and perhaps cover 2 Kings – in total 47 chapters.  I should just manage that in the time we have, if I am smart about it.

However, Samuel 1 and 2 cover the first two kings.  That’s 54 chapters.

But there is also the matter of Chronicles 1 and 2, with more detail on events, facts, reigns, accomplishments.  65 chapters.

Jeremiah, of course, was a key prophet during the period of five of the reigns, and provides important context – that’s 52 chapters - and Isaiah was busy in the latter period of our study - a modest 66 chapters.

I should not forget Ezra, Nehemiah and Amos, who pick up the topic of Exile, plus the "minor” prophets.  

So, today we are covering about half the old testament, all in.  

Our story starts in around 1000BC and finishes just after 600 BC.

King David, the first of the true line of Kings

Two scriptures today, Samuel’s conversation with the Lord in 1 Samuel 8 about the change in governance from Judges to Kings and then 2 Kings 2: 1-4, 10, King David’s final words of advice to his successor and son Solomon.  I want to start with David and then go back to the beginning.

I love the character and story of David.  From his first days as the youngest son tending sheep, to his slaying of Goliath, the Philistine warrior, to dancing in the streets in his tunic on bringing back the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, to the pain and passion of lost children, to his psalms reflecting the intimacy he had with the Lord.

1 Kings starts with a bang.  It’s the end of David’s life.  He is really old, he is so frail he can’t stay warm at nights, and he clearly doesn’t get out much.  David’s eldest son Adonijah, recognising that his father has pretty much gone, decides to proclaim himself king and has gathered many of the elders and generals to celebrate with him and make plans.  

It might seem odd for one king to be crowned before another has passed but it was not so unusual in those times for there to be an overlap.  It was not right however, for someone to assume that they are the next in line.

What Adonijah hadn’t realised was that one of David’s other sons, Solomon, by his most infamous wife, Bathsheba, had been promised to be David’s successor some time before.  

When David heard of this from Bathsheba and Nathan the prophet, David responded without delay.  He announced Solomon as King, had him formally sworn in and blessed by the Zadok the priest.  

This snapshot of what happened highlights the issue of progenitor succession – leadership passing to the eldest son by birth-right – that eldest son is not always the best person for the job.  What we see repeatedly in the story of Kings is the Lord, often through a prophet, identifing the next King.

Why Israel moved from Judges to Kings

When Craig spoke last week, we left Israel in the hands of twelve judges, one for each tribe of Israel, a very democratic leadership structure, but we have moved to a system of kingship.  What happened?

We need to go back to 1 Samuel to understand the shift.  We are in 12th century BC and Samuel was the Lord’s voice in the land, he was the lead prophet.  Israel is governed by judges but those judges are quite administrative in nature and key direction came from the Lord through his trusted mouthpiece.

Towards the end of Samuel’s life, he made the mistake of appointing a couple of his sons as judges.  They were not trusted and were seen to be clearly dishonest.  The people demanded a change and wanted a king to rule them like other nations.  

Samuel spoke to the Lord about this.  The conversation is recorded in 1 Samuel 8, and it really does read like a conversation.  

The Lord saw it as the people’s rejection of His Kingship, and warned them of the consequences of having an earthly king.  The Israelites didn’t want to listen, insisted, and the Lord directed Samuel to anoint Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin, as King.

My story today started with passing of leadership from King David to King Solomon.  Solomon was just the third King of Israel.  The first was Saul, then David, his son’s best friend, then David’s son Solomon.  Saul had hoped that his son Jonathan would reign after him, but that did not happen.  

David’s last words to Solomon were clear, we read them earlier, 1 Kings 2:  

" Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn, that the Lord may establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’”

It was not to be.

The split of the Kingdom to North and South, Israel and Judah

Solomon grew hugely in influence, in global standing, and in wealth.  The nation became one the of the most respected in the middle East at the time, and in recognition of God’s blessing, Solomon built a phenomenal temple in Jerusalem – an act that David had longed to complete himself.  

If only Solomon had held onto the words of his father though, to walk in the Lord’s ways.  While he basically started well, and we have in our own language the phrase "wisdom of Solomon” because of this early judgement, he got too clever for his own good.  

As time progressed, rather than maintain and assert Israel’s position and identity through might and independent influence, he sought to build peace through his own multiple marriages across tribes and countries.  It was these wives, 700 of them, from other countries and cultures, who swayed his worship to other gods, something that the Lord was not willing to accept from the leader of His people.  

What is most startling is that the first of these foreign women that he married was the daughter of the Egyptian Pharoah – not only has Solomon broken God’s law by inter-marrying but he has made an alliance with the one country that had subjected the people of Israel to decades of terrible slavery.

The Lord appeared to Solomon twice, to encourage him but also to warn him, but Solomon’s behaviour worsened over time. Finally, for the third time, the Lord just issued the judgement that He would "tear the kingdom from him” and give it to one of his subordinates.  After that somewhat final declaration, there is no suggestion that Solomon tried to mend his ways; in fact, all he did try was to kill off the man that God chose to raise up to lead the new northern Kingdom.  Tragic.  As our Lord is a God of second chances.

After Solomon’s death, his son was left with the tribe of Judah and its territory, forming the southern kingdom, and ten other tribes fell out of his control and became the kingdom of Israel.  Jeroboam was to lead those. 

Ten tribes in the north and one in the south.  Some among you might wonder about the 12th tribe – the tribes that emerged from the twelve sons of Jacob. The 12th is the tribe of Levi, and they never had a land area, but were scattered as priestly families across all the towns of Israel, they transcended the national boundaries.

So, we end Solomon’s reign with the people of Israel as no longer one, but two countries – Judah (with Jerusalem as its capital) and Israel (with Samaria as its capital).  

The scattering of the people

In the period of history covered by Kings, whenever things get really bad, we can be sure that a prophet will turn up with a word.  The Lord will try and get through to his people.  And during this period of king led leadership of the Jewish people, the Lord kept trying to shepherd them. 

In Saul’s time, it was Samuel who spoke for the Lord.  During the reign of David, it was the prophet Nathan.

One of the worst kings of Israel was Ahab, his reign started in 874 BC.  As Ahab grew in power and awfulness, Elijah came on the scene.  Under Ahab, almost all the men of God were killed off but there is a dramatic story in 1 Kings 18 when the tide turned, literally, when rain fell to end a great drought.  

Elisha, who was Elijah’s understudy, was then able to restore the Godly prophet population during this period of respite that followed.  

Most of the Kings of Israel that followed Ahab were also bad.  The Lord’s protection effectively fell away and in 722 BC, Israel and its capital Samaria fell to the Assyrians.  

I am going to move forward to around 640BC, and Judah is in a bad place.  One of my favourite prophets is Jeremiah. He was a really long suffering guy who served under five kings of Judah, the first of which was Josiah. 

Josiah was made king at the tender age of 8.  By his 20s Josiah was making progress destroying the temples of other gods and even set about rebuilding Solomon’s old temple to YAHWEH.  During this restoration, he found the old book of the law.  He publicly committed himself to follow the law and had everyone in Jerusalem and Benjamin do the same.  The nation was getting back on track.  

Sadly, Josiah died soon after this time, in a battle he didn’t need to fight.  

In Jeremiah 25, we read that twenty-three years after the death of Josiah, and after many, many warnings, God, through Jeremiah, tells the people of Jerusalem that their city will be destroyed and the people scattered, just as happened to Israel.  In fact, He tells them that a decision not to repent and change will lead to their subjugation under Babylon for seventy years.  

Despite some recovery under the leadership of Hezekiah, with Isaiah’s counsel, the people forgot the Lord.  At the end of 2 Kings, Nebuchadnezzar, King of the Babylonians, marched against Jerusalem.  After two years of siege, the Babylonians broke into the city and destroyed the temple.  In 587BC, Judah was overwhelmed. Its people captured.   Exile.

Faye will pick up the story next Sunday, because there is hope.  The exile was for a limited period and it is Daniel who starts to see this future in Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams during the Babylonian occupation.

The promise: God’s blessing and his sovereignty

The story of God’s people starts with a promise to Abraham that his descendants would number more than the stars and more than the grains of sand he can hold in his hand.

We touched on the early part of a very family focused story of Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to his twelve sons; to the story of a nation gathered by Moses and led out of captivity from Egypt, with twelve tribes still as a familial identity, Jacob’s heritage.  

Too often, Abraham’s people did well under God’s principles for one or two generations, then drift.  Despite the periods of loss, God’s covenant to the father of his people, kept standing, and the Lord would rebuild his people whenever they turned to Him.  He did all he could to guide them:  His men, bold courageous and cantankerous prophets, were there.

God’s chosen, yesterday and today, are constantly distracted by their own perceived path to wealth and power and their own gods, yet in the Old Testament, the times of greatest wealth and power were when they just followed God’s command and his direction – David, Solomon, Josiah, and Hezekiah illustrate the effect of the blessing that follows faithfulness.  

In Matthew 1, Jesus’s genealogy is traced back to David.  Today we can perceive the fulfilment of the promises first to Abraham and then particularly to David, in 2 Samuel 7, of a house built in His name and a throne that will be established forever.  God’s promises and his principles stay the course of time.

We met as a leadership team at St Mary’s on Thursday to talk through a number of the projects that we have running in the church at the moment.   We prayed at the end of this discussion.  I asked for God’s sovereignty over these plans and their execution, but I also said to the Lord that we didn’t just want his sovereignty, that we required it.  I swallowed hard afterwards.  Do we, do I, really want God as sovereign?  Do we really want him as King?  In all things?

The people of Israel decided no.  David was a yes man.  I know I would rather see the blessing of David on my life and our church than the loss that might be suffered otherwise.  We might be nervous of the challenge and perhaps exposure that might come with being a man or woman obedient to God, but the fear is a healthy fear of the Lord, not a dreadful fear of walking alone and in the dark.  

As a church, and as a people, we are seeing much blessing today. Let us not drift.  Let us hold to the principles that He demands that we live by and let us not close our ears or harden our hearts as he speaks.  Time and again: in the books of Samuel, in Kings, in Chronicles, we see the Father’s blessing poured out beyond measure when He is proclaimed as Lord, and He is the very, very, very best King one could ever serve under.

Going deeper

  1. Read 1 Samuel 8. What strikes you about the passage? Why did Israel want to move from having Judges to a King? Why was that risky? Why do you think they went ahead anyway?

  2. The Old Testament tells the story of Israel as a nation that alternates between following God and abandoning God. What makes the difference? What might we learn from that in our world today?

  3. What does God's sovereignty in your life look like? What would you have to give up, or take up, if really let God let God be King of your life? What might happen?

  4. What questions do you have about these passages?

  5. What will you do differently as a result of this sermon?

Hugh Nelson