One thing I find fascinating when reading the Old Testament is thinking about how the ancient kings of Israel and Judah did at childrearing. I’m guessing they weren’t all that involved with raising their children given their other kingly responsibilities (and perhaps cultural expectations as well). Still, if we didn’t know the story we probably wouldn’t expect David, the “man after God’s own heart” to have children who end up in a situation where one rapes his half-sister, gets murdered by her brother, and then that brother rebels against David and sleeps with his concubines (2 Sam. 13-18). David’s son Solomon was a great king, but then Solomon’s son Rehoboam listens to bad advisors, messes everything up, and the kingdom splits into Israel and Judah (2 Chr. 10).
Reading the books of Kings and Chronicles, it often seems like the kings of Judah bounce back and forth from good, to bad, to okay, to really bad, to almost righteous with no real pattern. It just seems random, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say it’s deeply individual. We just don’t know that much about the kings and what influenced them to act the way they did. I suspect a closer look, though, will reveal some interesting things we can learn. This is going to be a pretty long post, mapping out the kings of Judah after Rehoboam through the fall of Judah. The first three sections of this post walk through the kings in order, then in the last section of the post I’ll share my thoughts looking back on this study (you can skim until then if you’re short on time).
Abijam to Athaliah
The scripture helpfully records summaries for each of the kings, giving us an overview of their deeds and character before (sometimes) filling in extra details. Before we dive into those summaries, here’s a link to a timeline of all the kings that should help with keeping all these names straight. Let’s start with Rehoboam’s son, along with the two kings after him.
Abijam began to reign over Judah. He reigned three years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom. He walked in all the sins of his father, which he had done before him; and his heart was not perfect with Yahweh his God, as the heart of David his father. …
Abijam slept with his fathers, and they buried him in David’s city; and Asa his son reigned in his place. … He reigned forty-one years in Jerusalem. … Asa did that which was right in Yahweh’s eyes, as David his father did. He put away the sodomites out of the land, and removed all the idols that his fathers had made. … But the high places were not taken away. Nevertheless the heart of Asa was perfect with Yahweh all his days. …
Asa slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in his father David’s city; and Jehoshaphat his son reigned in his place. … Jehoshaphat was thirty-five years old when he began to reign; and he reigned twenty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Azubah the daughter of Shilhi. He walked in all the way of Asa his father. He didn’t turn away from it, doing that which was right in Yahweh’s eyes. However the high places were not taken away. The people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places.1 Kings 15:1-3, 8-12, 4, 24; 22:42-43, WEB
- note: bold words added throughout to help keep track of names when a new ruler takes over.
Here, we have a son (Abijam) who walked in all the sins of his father (Rehoboam), followed by a king (Asa) who refused to follow his father’s bad example. Then, that king’s son (Jehoshaphat) followed his father’s example of righteousness. The scriptures actually say their hearts were “perfect with Yahweh” (in Asa’s case) and they did “what was right in Yahweh’s eyes” (in Jehoshaphat’s case)–high praise indeed. Then the next king went back the other direction.
Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat king of Judah began to reign. He was thirty-two years old when he began to reign. He reigned eight years in Jerusalem. He walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as did Ahab’s house; for he married Ahab’s daughter. He did that which was evil in Yahweh’s sight. However Yahweh would not destroy Judah, for David his servant’s sake, as he promised him to give to him a lamp for his children always. …
Jehoram slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in David’s city; and Ahaziah his son reigned in his place. … Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he began to reign; and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Athaliah the daughter of Omri king of Israel. He walked in the way of Ahab’s house, and did that which was evil in Yahweh’s sight, as did Ahab’s house; for he was the son-in-law of Ahab’s house.2 Kings 8:16-19, 24, 26-27, WEB
In case you’re getting a bit lost with all the names, this is talking about the daughter of King Ahab of Israel whose wife was the infamous Queen Jezebel. They were so bad that scripture says, “there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do that which was evil in Yahweh’s sight, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up” (1 Kings 21:25, WEB). Here, scripture does give us hints as to why this king went bad–he brought evil influences into his life.
Ahaziah dies in the same uprising that takes out Jezebel and her son Jehu. When his mother Athaliah heard it, she slaughtered all but one of her grandchildren and took Judah’s throne for herself (2 Kings 9-11). Out of the six rulers of Judah from Abijam to Athaliah, only two made an effort to walk with God.
Joash to Ahaz
Athaliah only ruled for six years before the people who’d rescued her one surviving grandson put him on the throne. This new child-king is called Joash or Jehoash. He spent his childhood living in Yahweh’s temple, presumably raised by his uncle, Jehoiada the priest, and the aunt Jehoshabeath who’d saved his life (2 Chr. 22:11-12).
Jehoash was seven years old when he began to reign.
Jehoash … reigned forty years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zibiah of Beersheba. Jehoash did that which was right in Yahweh’s eyes all his days in which Jehoiada the priest instructed him. However the high places were not taken away. The people still sacrificed and burned incense in the high places.2 Kings 11:27-12:3, WEB
There’s an interesting qualifier here. Jehoash did what “was right in Yahweh’s eyes,” but only in the days when “Jehoiada the priest instructed him.” After that, things go terribly wrong. We learn the details about that by moving from 2 Kings to 2 Chronicles, where he’s called King Joash.
Now after the death of Jehoiada, the princes of Judah came, and bowed down to the king. Then the king listened to them. They abandoned the house of Yahweh, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherah poles and the idols …
The Spirit of God came on Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest; and he stood above the people, and said to them, “God says, ‘Why do you disobey Yahweh’s commandments, so that you can’t prosper? Because you have forsaken Yahweh, he has also forsaken you.’”
They conspired against him, and stoned him with stones at the commandment of the king in the court of Yahweh’s house. …
[Joash’s] own servants conspired against him for the blood of the sons of Jehoiada the priest, and killed him on his bed, and he died. They buried him in David’s city, but they didn’t bury him in the tombs of the kings.2 Chronicles 24:17-18, 20-21, 25, WEB
Joash, who started out so well, wasn’t even buried with the kings of Judah. He’s one of the few kings whose childhood we know about; he was raised by a God-fearing uncle and most likely aunt as well. Then the moment the people influencing him change, Joash’s character changed as well. It’s a sobering lesson in being careful about those you trust as influences, as well as a lesson in having your own convictions and sticking to them. It makes you wonder how much of Joash’s flip-flopping between good and bad examples influenced the kings after him.
Amaziah was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jehoaddan, of Jerusalem. He did that which was right in Yahweh’s eyes, but not with a perfect heart. Now when the kingdom was established to him, he killed his servants who had killed his father the king. But he didn’t put their children to death, but did according to that which is written in the law in the book of Moses …
Now from the time that Amaziah turned away from following Yahweh, they made a conspiracy against him in Jerusalem. He fled to Lachish, but they sent after him to Lachish, and killed him there. They brought him on horses, and buried him with his fathers in the City of Judah.2 Chr. 25:1-4, 27-28 WEB
Amaziah did a little better than his father, but he didn’t say “perfect” with God. His son follows the same pattern once he brings ruling Judah. He starts out okay, but then he goes kind a crazy.
All the people of Judah took Uzziah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king in the place of his father Amaziah. … he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jechiliah, of Jerusalem. He did that which was right in Yahweh’s eyes, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the vision of God; and as long as he sought Yahweh, God made him prosper. …
But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up, so that he did corruptly, and he trespassed against Yahweh his God; for he went into Yahweh’s temple to burn incense on the altar of incense. … He had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and while he was angry with the priests, the leprosy broke out on his forehead before the priests in Yahweh’s house, beside the altar of incense. … Uzziah the king was a leper to the day of his death, and lived in a separate house, being a leper; for he was cut off from Yahweh’s house. Jotham his son was over the king’s house, judging the people of the land.2 Chr. 26: 1, 3-5, 16, 19, 21, WEB
Uzziah does not have other people to blame for influencing him in the wrong direction (though he does go off the right path after “the days of Zechariah,” so it seems he was better when he had a strong, positive influence in his life). He just let his success get the better of him, gave into pride, and thought he needed to act as a priest as well as a king. For his corruption, Uzziah becomes a leper and his son rules in his place (that’s why you’ll see them overlapping in a timeline of all the kings).
Jotham was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jerushah the daughter of Zadok. He did that which was right in Yahweh’s eyes, according to all that his father Uzziah had done. However he didn’t enter into Yahweh’s temple. The people still acted corruptly. … Jotham became mighty, because he ordered his ways before Yahweh his God. … Jotham slept with his fathers, and they buried him in David’s city; and Ahaz his son reigned in his place.
Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. He didn’t do that which was right in Yahweh’s eyes, like David his father, but he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and also made molten images for the Baals. Moreover he burned incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burned his children in the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom Yahweh cast out before the children of Israel. He sacrificed and burned incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree.2 Chr. 27:1-2, 6, 9; 28:1-4, WEB
It seemed for a while that the kings were getting better. Uzziah was impious, but he didn’t forsake Yahweh like his father Amaziah. Then Jotham stayed with doing what “was right in Yahweh’s eyes,” even though the people he ruled over were corrupt. Then all of the sudden, his son Ahaz starts putting up idols and sacrificing children (a sin that so horrified God He hadn’t even imagined people should do it).
Hezekiah to Zedekiah
I told you this would be a long post 🙂 We’re now at one of the greatest kings of Judah, famous for his religious reforms and the detail the Bible gives us about events during his reign.
Hezekiah began to reign when he was twenty-five years old, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abijah, the daughter of Zechariah. He did that which was right in Yahweh’s eyes, according to all that David his father had done. In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of Yahweh’s house, and repaired them. He brought in the priests and the Levites, and gathered them together into the wide place on the east, and said to them … “Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with Yahweh, the God of Israel, that his fierce anger may turn away from us.”2 Chronicles 29:1-5, 10, WEB
We have a lot of details about Hezekiah’s reign; probably more than any other king besides David and Solomon (2 Kin. 18-20; 2 Chr. 29-32; Is. 36-39). None of those details tell us about his life before he was king, but by the age of 25 when he assumed the throne he was passionate about following God faithfully and he stayed that way until his death. He also surrounded himself with good influences, including the prophet Isaiah. Unfortunately, it seems he didn’t have much influence on his own 12-year-old son.
Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. He did that which was evil in Yahweh’s sight, after the abominations of the nations whom Yahweh cast out before the children of Israel. For he built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down; and he raised up altars for the Baals, made Asheroth, and worshiped all the army of the sky, and served them. … He also made his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom. He practiced sorcery, divination, and witchcraft, and dealt with those who had familiar spirits and with wizards. He did much evil in Yahweh’s sight, to provoke him to anger. … Manasseh seduced the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that they did more evil than did the nations whom Yahweh destroyed before the children of Israel. …
Therefore Yahweh brought on them the captains of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh in chains, bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon. When he was in distress, he begged Yahweh his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him; and he was entreated by him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that Yahweh was God.2 Chronicles 33:1-3, 6, 9, 11-13, WEB
It’s a rollercoaster now. From one of the most righteous kings (Hezekiah), to a wicked child-sacrificing king who then did a 180° turn of repentance (Manasseh), to a brief yet very wicked king (Amon), then back to a righteous king (Josiah).
So Manasseh slept with his fathers, and they buried him in his own house; and Amon his son reigned in his place.
Amon was twenty-two years old when he began to reign; and he reigned two years in Jerusalem. He did that which was evil in Yahweh’s sight, as did Manasseh his father; and Amon sacrificed to all the engraved images which Manasseh his father had made, and served them. He didn’t humble himself before Yahweh, as Manasseh his father had humbled himself; but this same Amon trespassed more and more. His servants conspired against him, and put him to death in his own house. But the people of the land killed all those who had conspired against king Amon; and the people of the land made Josiah his son king in his place.
Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. He did that which was right in Yahweh’s eyes, and walked in the ways of David his father, and didn’t turn away to the right hand or to the left. For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father; and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, the Asherah poles, the engraved images, and the molten images. … All his days they didn’t depart from following Yahweh, the God of their fathers.2 Chronicles 33:20-25; 34:1-3, 33 WEB
Josiah was the last really good king of Judah. Joahaz his son only reigned three months before he’s taken captive to Egypt and his evil brother Jehoiakim takes over. He reigned 11 years before being taken captive into Babylon. Jehoiachin his son reigned wickedly for just three months before the Babylonians took him as well and set up his brother Zedekiah. Zedekiah did evil, refused to “humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet speaking from Yahweh’s mouth,” rebelled against Babylon, and Jerusalem was destroyed (2 Chr. 36). Thus ends the reign of the Judean kings.
Summary of Judah’s Kings
- David—righteous with a perfect heart
- Solomon—righteous, but not perfect with God in the end
- Listened to bad advisors
- Asa—righteous with a perfect heart
- Jehoshaphat—righteous with a perfect heart
- Welcomed evil influences into his life
- Jehoash—righteous for a while, then turned wicked
- Faithful only while he had good influences
- Amaziah—righteous, but not perfect hearted
- Uzziah—righteous at first, but disobeyed God later
- Faithful only while he had good influences
- Hezekiah—righteous with a perfect heart
- surrounded himself with good influences
- Manasseh—evil, but repented and changed
- surrounded himself with good influences
Lessons from the Kings
Alright, now that we’ve gone through a 3,000-word history lesson, what next? (I honestly didn’t intend for it to be that long; it just happened :lol:) One of the few patterns I did notice is probably obvious to you too based on how I’ve written about the kings–some of the really bad ones had evil influences, several that went from good to bad changed after a good influence died, and the good ones surrounded themselves with positive influences. It’s not all that shocking–we’ve all heard adages like “evil company corrupts good behavior.” We know the people around us influence how we live and act.
And yet, the influences don’t tell the whole story. Manasseh did some of the most horrible things any king of Judah ever tried, and yet he sincerely repented based not on the influence of another person but on a distress-prompted, character-redefining revelation that Yahweh is God. We see Asa, Jehoshapat, and Jotham all described as righteous with God and we’re not told anything about their influences. Some of the perfect-hearted kings came to power right after a father who was thoroughly wicked in God’s eyes, and some of the most evil kings rule right after seeing their righteous father lead the country.
It feels almost anti-climactic to go through that whole study and say it comes down to an individual issue of the heart. And yet, I also find this encouraging. The most famous kings are the ones that reformed all of Judah and brought the nation back into covenant with God, but Jehoshaphat and Jotham are still commended for doing what “was right in Yahweh’s eyes” even though they didn’t reform the entire country. Their individual faithfulness mattered a great deal to God, and it’s the same for us as well.
We also see real-life examples of the point God makes about himself in Ezekiel 18 and 33–He interacts with people according to the way their actions reveal their character. God says He delights when the wicked “return from his way, and live” (Ezk. 18:21, WEB), and we see that when He accepts Manasseh’s repentance even after he commits abominable sins like child sacrifice. God also says, “The righteousness of the righteous will not deliver him in the day of his disobedience” (Ezk. 33:12,WEB), and we see this as well when kings who started out doing well are labeled as unrighteous because they did not stay faithful to God all their lives.
Looking back at ancient Israel’s history can give us perspective on our own walks with God (1 Cor. 10:1-13). We learn from the examples of the past how to follow God with perfect hearts. We also see warnings about how not to live, and learn we need to avoid evil influences and take personal responsibility for obeying and following God. We can also take encouragement seeing that God’s character is unchanging–He still interacts with us in both righteousness and mercy.
Featured scroll images are photos taken by me.
Song Recommendation: “Your Heart (DAVID)” by Chris Tomlin