Our daily Bible reading of 1st Kings brings us to a period of Israel’s history beginning with the glory of Solomon’s reign, and continuing through to the end of Jehoshaphat’s reign in Judah, and of Ahab’s in Israel. It was a period of time which began with the promise of very good things to come. Solomon inherited the throne from David his father, whose godly example and faithful advice would have given him a wonderful foundation upon which to continue the work begun.

“Now the days of David drew nigh that he should die; and he charged Solomon his son, saying … keep the charge of the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and his testimonies …” (1 Kings 2:1–4).

While reading of the lives of the kings of Israel and Judah, it is worthwhile to reflect upon the origin of the kingship and the tragic circumstances which led to there being a king in the first place. It was the desire of an earlier generation to have a king reign over them and judge them like all the nations (1 Sam 8:6). This was, on one hand, a failure to see the hand of God at work amongst His people; and on the other, an overwhelming desire to be like the nations around them. They lived by the sight of their eyes and thought not of their God and King in heaven. So God gave them a king according to the fashion that they sought. Saul proved the folly of their desire and through lack of leadership and wise governance brought the nation into a state of war and domestic chaos. David, by contrast, stands as an example of true leadership and kingship, and as such is a wonderful type of Christ who will reign upon David’s throne in the future.

Israel’s desire to have a king like the other nations was foreseen by Yahweh and he had made provision for it in the Law. Deuteronomy 17:14–20 contains instructions for the king whom the people would desire to have reign over them. The king’s first responsibility was to write his own copy of the Law and to read it all the days of his life. “And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them” (v18–19).

The books of Kings present the lives of the kings of Israel and Judah in relation to the covenants of God. Each king is evaluated as to how he applied himself to the requirements of kingship as commanded in Deuteronomy 17:14–20. David was a shining example of faithful obedience and the subsequent kings were measured against the life of their father David. For example, in 1Kings 15:3 “And he [Abijam] walked in all the sins of his father [Rehoboam], which he had done before him: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father”; and again in 1Kings 15:11, “And Asa did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, as did David his father.” All of the kings had been given an example upon which to build their own reign; they had firstly been given the Law in very clear terms and also an example of how to implement it. We, too, have been given the Law of Yahweh coupled together with the example of the Lord Jesus Christ to assist us in the development of a faithful and obedient walk toward the Kingdom of God.

David and Solomon

The book commences with the last days of David and his faithful advice to his son Solomon. David had done everything possible to ensure a smooth transition of the kingship to Solomon and also to provide for the continuing spiritual development of the nation. Solomon’s reign had times of great achievement but sadly times of great folly and disappointment. He had been given great wisdom as a gift from Yahweh (1 Kings 3:12), but used it primarily for the accumulation of material wealth and influence throughout the world of his day. Solomon began his reign as a faithful and wise king constructing the Temple according to the pattern of David his father and instituting worship therein. In 1 Kings 9:1–9 Yahweh appears to Solomon, confirms the promise made to David and reminds him of the wonderful blessings associated with faithful service. He also warns him that if he failed to keep His statutes, evil and disrepute would come upon the nation.

As his life progressed Solomon’s heart was turned away from Yahweh and was focused upon many other pursuits in which he indulged himself. 1 Kings 11:1–6 lists the wives he had taken from the nations round about Israel. They were a great source of trouble to him, as they had brought with them their idolatrous practices: “For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. And Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and went not fully after the Lord, as did David his father”. As a result of this turning away of his heart from faithful service to Yahweh he was punished with what became an often repeated punishment. “Wherefore the Lord said unto Solomon, Forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant. Notwithstanding in thy days I will not do it for David thy father’s sake: but I will rend it out of the hand of thy son. Howbeit I will not rend away all the kingdom; but will give one tribe to thy son for David my servant’s sake, and for Jerusalem’s sake which I have chosen” (v11–13).

Rehoboam

Moving on to the life of Rehoboam we see in the dividing of the kingdom the fulfilment of Yahweh’s punishment for Solomon’s folly. The nation was now divided and this would prove to be tragic and fatal for many. Even in the lead-up to this time of division Yahweh repeated to Jeroboam His requirements for kings, “And it shall be, if thou wilt hearken unto all that I command thee, and wilt walk in my ways, and do that is right in my sight, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did; that I will be with thee, and build thee a sure house, as I built for David, and will give Israel unto thee” (1 Kings 11:38). Every one of the kings of Israel and Judah were without excuse, as they were all reminded through the prophets of their responsibilities to God and to the people they were to lead.

Rehoboam became king at the death of his father Solomon at the age of 41. He had grown up experiencing the luxury and prosperity of the royal family. As a result he felt little empathy for the plight of the heavily taxed constituents of his realm. When confronted with the plea of the people to lighten the burden of taxation, he ignored the wise advice of the old men and followed the foolish advice of his contemporaries who proposed a further increase to the people’s burden. This foolish action highlighted the character of this man whose life is summarised in 2 Chronicles 12:13–14: “So king Rehoboam strengthened himself in Jerusalem … and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city which the Lord had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, to put his name there. And his mother’s name was Naamah an Ammonitess. And he did evil, because he prepared not his heart to seek the Lord”. This summary highlights two areas of failure on Rehoboam’s part. The first was the evil influence of his mother Naamah the Ammonitess, who brought with her the ungodly ways of the Ammonites. Also “he did evil, because he prepared not his heart to seek Yahweh.” Lack of positive action will result in evil. To seek Yahweh is to set about finding Him, to understand His purpose and to live in harmony with His requirements for life. Had Rehoboam sought to follow the example of his grandfather David in seeking out Yahweh, how different the nation would have been throughout his reign. Sadly, his parents set him upon a selfish and destructive course of life which left God out of the picture, bringing suffering and division. Meanwhile Jeroboam in the northern kingdom fared no better. The summary of his achievements as king is found in Yahweh’s words spoken by the prophet Ahijah. They were addressed to his wife: “But (thou) hast done evil above all that were before thee: for thou hast gone and made thee other gods, and molten images, to provoke me to anger, and hast cast me behind thy back” (1 Kings 14:7–11). His life and achievements as king were measured against the example of David, God’s faithful servant, and he was found wanting.

The chronology moves forward through the progression of kings of Judah and Israel, to Jehoshaphat in Judah and Ahab in Israel. The wickedness of Ahab is described in 1 Kings 16:30: “And Ahab … did evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him. And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him. And he reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. And Ahab made a grove; and Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him.”

The work of the prophet Elijah was to condemn the wickedness of Ahab’s godless and weak leadership. Elijah was a passionate man for the things of God. He became very depressed and felt isolated when his work with Ahab appeared to have achieved nothing. God reinvigorated him through events at Mount Horeb and the quiet influence of God’s Word spurred him on. Consider the power of Elijah’s example: John the Baptist went before the Lord Jesus Christ “in the spirit and power of Elias” (Luke 1:17).

In Judah, king Asa is described as a king who brought religious reform and peace to the kingdom. Inevitably, he found himself at war with the wicked ten tribes of Israel throughout his reign (1 Kings 15:16). Jehoshaphat continued the reforms commenced by his father Asa. However he failed to maintain separation from wicked Ahab, entering agreements with him and even marrying his son and heir, Jehoram, to Athaliah. This was the beginning of decline and troubles that long afflicted Judah.

The First book of Kings causes us to reflect upon the essential qualities of good leadership, the first of which is to heed the Word of God. “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates” (Deut 6:5–9).

The second is to seek out and follow faithful examples of those who have gone before. If we are wise we will learn lessons from the lives of these kings, both from their failures and also where they displayed faith and obedience. So might we be prepared for a role as kings and priests in the age to come.