While most believers are familiar with the first three kings of Israel (Saul, David and Solomon respectively), there are some who may not know much about the kings beyond them. Following the death of Solomon in 1 Kings 11, a power struggle ensued between Rehoboam (Solomon's son and rightful heir) and Jeroboam (the son of a widow and a former servant of Solomon).
This race to seize the throne resulted in a full-blown civil war that divided the nation of Israel into two separate kingdoms. The northern kingdom, ruled by Jeroboam, was still called Israel; the southern kingdom, where Rehoboam still sat on the original throne of his forefathers in Jerusalem, was renamed Judah.
Once a united people chosen and loved by the Lord, both kingdoms swiftly descended into idolatry and "all the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had dispossessed before the Israelites." (1 Kings 14:24) Ultimately, both nations befell the same fate — the kingdom of Israel lasted a mere 208 years before falling into Assyrian captivity, while Judah managed 334 years before falling to Babylon.
While it's safe to say no king from either nation ever quite managed to measure up to the competence, wisdom and righteousness of David and Solomon, there were certainly some who came close (particularly in Judah). On the other hand, both kingdoms saw their fair share of ungodly, tyrannical rulers as well. Here's a closer look at a two later kings of Israel and Judah and what we can learn from their triumphs and mistakes.
While Jeroboam was still reigning over Israel, a young man named Asa inherited the throne of Judah in Jerusalem. A mere twenty years had passed since Israel's division into two nations, and Judah had already gone through two kings before Asa (Rehoboam and Abijam). However, Judah's royal bloodline had still managed to remain pure; Asa was, in fact, David's great-great-grandson.
True to his ancestors, Asa's rule endured for just over forty years. 1 Kings 15:11 also tells us that "Asa did what was right in the Lord's sight, as his ancestor David had done." Rehoboam and Abijam had both spent their reigns plunging Judah into a state of war and wickedness, and Asa was intent on restoring the godliness and order of his forefathers.
Unfortunately, Asa's blessed and prosperous reign was cut short when he developed a foot disease in his old age. He was buried proudly alongside his forefathers in Jerusalem and succeeded by his son Jehoshaphat, who continued his father's legacy of righteousness and faithfulness throughout his reign and even made peace with the nation of Israel.
A lesson older adults — and anyone — can learn from Asa is that you can walk with God and follow him with obedience regardless of what came before. For Asa, it was regardless of the actions of his father and grandfather. For us, it may be making a move to follow God now in spite of what we may have done earlier in life.
There is perhaps no king more infamous in all of Israel's biblical history than Ahab. If you're a history buff, think of it this way: as Nero was to Rome, so Ahab was to Israel. When reading the accounts of his 22-year rule of the northern kingdom, you almost can't help but deduce that he just genuinely enjoyed being evil. What's more — his equally-infamous wife, Jezebel, was arguably even worse than him.
One particular account that epitomizes this couple's wickedness is the story of Naboth's vineyard (1 Kings 21). A quiet, humble man, Naboth maintained a beautiful, teeming vineyard he'd inherited from his father just outside the walls of Ahab's palace. Eventually, the vineyard caught the king's greedy eye and he determined he'd like to claim it as his own personal vegetable garden. When Naboth simply refused, Ahab stormed back into his home, "lay down on his bed, turned his face away and didn't eat any food." (21:4)
Jezebel essentially responded to her husband's temper tantrum by telling him to stop being such a baby: "Exercise your power over Israel. Get up, eat some food and be happy. For I will give you the vineyard." (verse 7) She then proceeded to have false testimonies railed against Naboth for which he was stoned to death.
It wasn't long before the prophet Elijah — who'd already become the bane of Ahab's existence — received word of the murder. "This is what the Lord says:" he proclaimed in verse 19, "In the place where the dogs licked up Naboth's blood, the same dogs will lick up yours!" He promised the same fate to Jezebel as well. In the very next chapter, God's wrath comes down upon Ahab and Jezebel and the prophecy comes true. (22:37-38)
The lesson here is clear: No person's power is above God's. And no person or king's rules replace those that come from the Lord.
Throughout 2 Kings and both books of Chronicles, several other accounts of rulers from both nations are rich with historical details and insightful lessons. Stories such as Joash's coronation at a young age and the priest Jehoiada's godly influence on him (2 Chronicles 22-24), Amaziah's idle and wayward distractions (2 Chronicles 25), Hezekiah's spiritual revival and reform (2 Chronicles 29-32) and Manasseh's repentance (2 Chronicles 33) serve as reminders that nobody, regardless of status or power, is beyond the rule of God.
By studying these stories, you can gain a deeper understanding of how God searches both the heart and deeds of an individual. A singular theme emerges again and again: God remains faithful to those who remain faithful to him. At Bethesda Gardens in Fort Worth, we have the joy of seeing this faithfulness in action every day.