Eight Out of 19 Kings – Or Zero


1 Kings 15,15; 2 Chronicles 13-16

Reader: Paul Palmer

Conspiracies, royal scandals, dictatorships, totalitarian governments – history is full of them. And Bible history is no different as we are seeing in our sermon series on the Old Testament kings. There were:

43 monarchs of Israel. 42 kings, one unauthorized queen (Athaliah), and one wannabee queen (Jezebel). The united nation of Israel had four kings: Saul, Ishbosheth, David, and Solomon, and the later divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah the rest.

The history of Israel’s kings began with the prophet Samuel in the 11th century B.C., at which time the elders of Israel demanded of him,

“Appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” (1 Samuel 8:5b)

Samuel tried to dissuade them, warning them that having a king would mean he would conscript their sons into the army, and force their daughters to work for him, let alone the high taxes which the king would force upon them all to pay for his prideful building projects and growing army. The people rejected the warning, but God told Samuel,

“Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” (1 Samuel 8:7).

God had intended that Israel would be a theocracy – the only theocracy in the history of the world as it turned out, the only nation ever ruled by God. But, in the people’s minds, being ruled by God was embarrassing. They wanted a king with skin and a human face. They wanted to look powerful in the eyes of the other nations. Despite Samuel’s objections, God gave them what they asked for and so, Samuel anointed Saul as Israel’s first king. Once God’s anointing had left Saul, though, and gone to David, Saul’s army general Abner objected to that development. Upon Saul’s death, Abner installed Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, as Israel’s king. Ishbosheth reigned two years, but when the civil war between the armies of David and Ishbosheth tilted in David’s favour, Abner defected from Ishbosheth and allied himself with David. Though anointed at a young age as Israel’s king, David had to wait 15 years before actually ascending the throne as King of Israel. A lesson in patience for all of us to observe! He was,

“A man after God’s heart” (Acts 13:22)

David ruled over Israel for 40 years. In that time, God promised him that a descendent of his would always sit on the throne of Israel and that one of them, in fact, would become the Messiah (who would turn out to be Jesus, Israel’s last king). This descendant of David on Israel/Judah’s throne became a huge part of Israel’s narrative. Returning now to David, immediately upon his death, his earthly throne was inherited by his son, Solomon, who took over as king.

      Solomon became the most prosperous of all the kings.

Solomon started off well but then faltered badly. He married foreign wives who led him and the nation to the worship of pagan gods. He also forced the people’s sons and daughters into his service and he heavily taxed the people to pay for all his building and kingdom expansion costs. Just before his death, Solomon announced that son Rehoboam would succeed him. The leaders of Israel’s 12 tribes asked Rehoboam to lessen the heavy tax burden that his father Solomon had placed on them, but he refused and, in fact, increased it. Angered by his cruelty, 10 of the 12 tribes left and formed their own kingdom, the northern nation of Israel. In the south, Rehoboam was left with the tribes of Judah and Benjamin in his newly reduced and renamed kingdom of Judah. No longer a united Israel, over the next centuries,

The divided kingdom had 19 rulers over Israel and 19 over Judah.

God’s favour was upon Judah, though, because on its’ throne would sit a descendant of King David. Through it, the Messiah would come. 8 of the 19 kings of Judah were good, righteous rulers, so basically every other ruler. God would have also blessed the northern nation of Israel if any of its kings had sought him out, but zero did. Zero! Israel’s kings were renegades, murderers, assassins, people who ignored God’s laws, worshipped foreign gods, and installed priests who were not according to God’s decree of Aaronites or Levites. It was also true that none of the kings of Israel were descended from King David, but they didn’t care about that, either. The Bible graded all the kings this way:

Did they do “what was right in the eyes of the Lord”? (1 Kings 15:11)

Zero of Israel’s kings did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, though, again, 8 of Judah’s kings did. Some helpful bible history here: Two OT books, 1st and 2nd Kings, were written about all the kings of Israel and Judah, but 1st and 2nd Chronicles is only about the kings of Judah, intentionally ignoring the kings of Israel, except when their actions intersected with those of the kings of Judah. The kings of Israel were treated with utter disdain by the biblical writers. “They are not worth mentioning”, is the message the writers of the OT conveyed. Their lives were filled with wasted opportunities; their reigns were total failures. Minimal information is given about them – except when their sins were excruciatingly horrible. As proof of how poorly the OT writers thought of them, at the end of each of their lives, we read…

As for the other events of ……….’s reign, are they not written in the book of the annals of the Kings of Israel?

The compilers of 1st and 2nd Kings and 1st and 2nd Chronicles had nothing good to say about the 19 kings of Israel. At their end of their lives, that closing phrase in the bible says, in effect, “We don’t want to talk about them, anymore. If you want to find out more about them, go and read for yourself in the book of the annals of the Kings of Israel” (a since lost history book, unfortunately). Ok, let’s see this in action:

The other events of Jeroboam’s reign, his wars and how he ruled, are written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel. He reigned for twenty-two years and then rested with his ancestors. And Nadab his son succeeded him as king. (1 Kings 14:19,20)

With Nadab we similarly read,

Nadab son of Jeroboam became king of Israel…and he reigned

over Israel two years. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the ways of his father and committing the same sin his father had caused Israel to commit…As for the other events of Nadab’s reign, and all he did, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel? (1 Kings 15:25,26,31)

Nadab was assassinated by Baasha, who then took over. Of Baasha:

Baasha son of Ahijah became king of all Israel in Tirzah, and he reigned twenty-four years. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the ways of Jeroboam and committing the same sin Jeroboam had caused Israel to commit…As for the other events of Baasha’s reign, what he did and his achievements, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel? And Elah his son succeeded him as king. (1 Kings 15:33,34,16:5,6)

So, how did Elah, the son of Baasha fare as king of Israel? We read,

Elah son of Baasha became king of Israel, and he reigned two years. Zimri, one of his officials, who had command of half his chariots, plotted against him. Elah was in Tirzah at the time, getting drunk in the home of Arza, the palace administrator at Tirzah. Zimri came in, struck him down and killed him in the twenty-seventh year of Asa king of Judah…As for the other events of Elah’s reign, and all he did, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel? (1 Kings 16:8-10,14)

Zimri, Elah’s assassin, became king of Israel. About him, we are told:

Zimri reigned in Tirzah seven days. The army was encamped near Gibbethon, a Philistine town. When the Israelites in the camp heard that Zimri had plotted against the king and murdered him, they proclaimed Omri, the commander of the army, king over Israel that very day there in the camp. Then Omri and all the Israelites with him withdrew from Gibbethon and laid siege to Tirzah. When Zimri saw that the city was taken, he went into the citadel of the royal palace and set the palace on fire around him. So, he died, because of the sins he had committed, doing evil in the eyes of the Lord and following the ways of Jeroboam and committing the same sin Jeroboam had caused Israel to commit. As for the other events of Zimri’s reign, and the rebellion he carried out, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel? (1 Kings 16:15-20)

Zimri lasted seven days as king! How did his successor, Omri, do?

Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned twelve years…But Omri did evil in the eyes of the Lord and sinned more than all those before him. He followed completely the ways of Jeroboam son of Nebat, committing the same sin Jeroboam had caused Israel to commit, so that they aroused the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, by their worthless idols. As for the other events of Omri’s reign, what he did and the things he achieved, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel? And Ahab his son succeeded him as king. (1 Kings 16:21-23,25-28)

King Ahab comes next! Yikes! Foreboding about that worst king thus far (but that’s for next week!) You see the pattern with those kings of Israel. The writers of the Bible, with their non-descriptions and their final comment, were implicitly telling the readers, “Forget about those kings. They are not worth talking about.” Every one of Israel’s kings carried on the sins of the first king Jeroboam, whose primary sin was erecting altars and shrines to foreign gods, even, ala what happened with Moses on Mount Sinai, making golden calves and then telling the people to worship them for they were the gods that had saved the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery. After the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians in 722 BC – a fall which was caused by those sins – “Good King Josiah” of Judah, whom we heard about today, went back up north to the largely vacant land of Israel and tore down the shrines and altars to the foreign gods that Jeroboam had erected, including places of worship to Molech, Baal, Chemosh, and those golden calves. So, the sinful mess that Jeroboam had created, and all the other kings of Israel had carried on, was dealt with forever by Judah’s “Good King Josiah”. Returning now to the time of Jeroboam, Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, and Omri, there were only two kings in that time period who reigned in Judah.

In the eighteenth year of the reign of Jeroboam son of Nebat, Abijah became king of Judah, and he reigned in Jerusalem three years. His heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his forefather had been. Nevertheless, for David’s sake the Lord his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem by raising up a son to succeed him and by making Jerusalem strong. (1 Kings 15:1-4)

Do you see how important the succession of the line of David was to the writers of the OT? Though Abijah wasn’t a “good” king, God gave him a “lamp in Jerusalem”, his son Asa, who would be. There was one shining moment in Abijah’s reign. It happened when Israel, under Jeroboam, attacked Judah. King Abijah went and pleaded with them:

Abijah stood and said, “Jeroboam and all Israel, listen to me! Don’t you know that the Lord, the God of Israel, has given the kingship of Israel to David and his descendants forever by a covenant of salt? And now you plan to resist the kingdom of the Lord, which is in the hands of David’s descendants. You are indeed a vast army and have with you the golden calves that Jeroboam made to be your gods. But didn’t you drive out the priests of the Lord, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites, and make priests of your own as the peoples of other lands do? Whoever comes to consecrate himself with a young bull and seven rams may become a priest of what are not gods. As for us, the Lord is our God, and we have not forsaken him…We are observing the requirements of the Lord our God. But you have forsaken him. God is with us; he is our leader. His priests with their trumpets will sound the battle cry against you. People of Israel, do not fight against the Lord, the God of your ancestors, for you will not succeed.” The priests blew their trumpets, and the men of Judah raised the battle cry. At the sound of their battle cry, God routed Jeroboam and all Israel before Abijah and Judah. The Israelites fled before Judah, and God delivered them into their hands…The Israelites were subdued on that occasion, and the people of Judah were victorious because they relied on the Lord, the God of their ancestors. (2 Chronicles 13:4-18)

That was Abijah’s one righteous moment. Calling Israel to reunite with Judah was courageous and right, but, also, Abijah recognized that the golden calves of Jeroboam and Israel were no match for YHWH God, and that Judah would win because they relied on YHWH. Soon after,

In the twentieth year of Jeroboam king of Israel, Asa became king of Judah, and he reigned in Jerusalem forty-one years…Asa did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as his father David had done. He expelled the male shrine prostitutes from the land and got rid of all the idols his ancestors had made. He even deposed his grandmother Maakah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive image for the worship of Asherah. Asa cut it down and burned it in the Kidron Valley. Although he did not remove the high places, Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life. (1 Kings 15:9-14)

Asa did what was good. His heart was for YHWH. Once, when a vast army from the land of Cush, in southern Egypt/northern Somalia, came to attack Judah, Asa’s response to that threat showed his faithfulness:

Zerah the Cushite marched out against them with an army of thousands upon thousands and three hundred chariots and came as far as Mareshah. Asa went out to meet him. Then Asa called to the Lord his God and said, “Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name, we have come against this vast army. Lord, you are our God; do not let mere mortals prevail against you.” (2 Chronicles 14:9-11)

Judah prevailed in that battle because Asa understood the spiritual forces at work. He reminds me of the apostle Paul who once wrote:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

When things are a struggle for us, do we stop and consider the

spiritual forces that are at work, unseen, in the background? When we have temptations, distress, feelings of being alone or abandoned, do we understand what is really going on? We need to see life through spiritual eyes. A prophet named Azariah then went to King Asa, saying,

“Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you…Be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” (2 Chron 15:2b,7)

How did King Asa respond to that message? In action, and with faith.

When Asa heard these words and the prophecy of Azariah son of Oded the prophet, he took courage. He removed the detestable idols from the whole land of Judah and Benjamin & from the towns he had captured in the hills of Ephraim. He repaired the altar of the Lord that was in front of the portico of the Lord’s temple. Then he assembled all Judah and Benjamin & the people from Ephraim, Manasseh and Simeon who had settled among them, for large numbers had come over to him from Israel when they saw that the Lord his God was with him. They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and soul. They sought God eagerly, and he was found by them. So, the Lord gave them rest on every side. (15:8-15)

Asa did later slip up, sadly, but, on the whole, he was considered a good king. So, in this sermon, how you seen the big differences between the kings of Judah and Israel? Their choices, good or bad, set the course for their own lives and the lives of the people in their nations. John Maxwell, in The Leadership Bible, writes, “As the Leader goes, so goes the Nation. When Israel or Judah lived under good kings, things went well. Under bad kings, things went sour. The heart and skill of a leader will always affect the lives of the people under his direction. This is a law, both timeless and universal.” As leaders in our homes, at our workplaces, in our society, we have a choice: to be like the 0 out of 19 kings of Israel, like they who wasted their lives by refusing to serve God. Or, we can be like the 8 good kings of Judah: fully committed to YHWH, serving Him faithfully.

In JRR Tolkien’s masterpiece trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, the forces of evil are strong, and the world is in deep danger. Gandalf the Wizard, who portrays Jesus in the books (Tolkien was a believer and follower of Jesus), has chosen a humble little hobbit named Frodo to be the one to make all the difference in the world. “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Will you faithfully decide to serve God? Do it! Don’t hesitate. Don’t compromise or hold back. Be a “good” leader!

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