Invaluable Lessons from 7 (Good and Bad) Old Testament Kings

Originally written for and posted at BibleStudyTools.com

Wooden figure with a crown

When we become followers of Christ, we accept Jesus as our savior and as our king. 

Throughout Scripture we see God referred to as our king, and in our worship we proclaim him to be our king. There is no doubt that he himself is the perfect example of what a king should be: he is kind, compassionate, powerful, just, honest and always true. In the Sinai desert, after the exodus from Egypt, God made it clear to Israel that he would not only be their example for a king, he himself would be their king! 

Yet we know that the people rebelled against this idea, and there were many human kings over the Jewish people. The most famous of these kings was David, with his son Solomon following right behind him. Some kings honored God, bringing their people peace and security. Others turned away from God, bringing deep and horrible calamity on their people. There is a great deal we can learn from the lives and actions of these kings, and these lessons can have a powerful impact on us and those around us. 

What Did Old Testament Kings Do?

The kings of the Old Testament are a varied and diverse group, in that they represent a significant period of time and changing geopolitical structures. These kings ruled over a period of 600 years and served in varying capacities. Some kings, such as David, were sovereign rulers of a sovereign land, with Israel as an independent nation. Others, such as Zedekiah, had no authority of their own, but were put in place to keep order and follow the decisions of a foreign king that had conquered the land. Over time, Israel was ruled by many world empires, right up until the time of Christ when they were ruled by the Roman Empire. 

Who Was the First King of Israel?

“’…Now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have. But when they said, ‘Give us a king to lead us,’ this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. And the LORD told him: ‘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’” (2 Samuel 8:5b-7).

1. Saul – The First King of a United Kingdom

The first king of Israel is Saul, and his life gives us a warning of the tragedy that occurs when we seek to fill our needs outside of God’s protection and guidance. It is clear that having a king was not the ideal situation for Israel, but God allowed them to have what it was that they cried out for. Saul was generally inconsistent. He trusted God at times, and at other time took matters into his own hands, which never ended well. 

One example is when he was told to wait for Samuel before presenting an offering to God. He grew impatient and went ahead and did it himself before Samuel arrived. This decision eventually cost him his kingdom (1 Samuel 13:10-14). 

We can learn from Saul that God will sometimes give us what we ask for, so we must be careful and prayerful about what we ask for! God desires our obedience more than anything else we can offer him.

Saul’s reign was tumultuous, but set the stage for the coming Messiah who would restore God’s true kingdom.

Good Kings Who Honored God

2. David – the Most Famous King

“After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do’” (Acts 13:22).

Perhaps the best-known king in Scripture is King David. He is referred to as a man “after God’s own heart,” and responsible for bringing the nation back to God, for slaying the giant Goliath, and for writing most of the book of Psalms. 

The life and rule of David holds a special significance as it was foretold that the Messiah would come from his family as one of his descendants, a prophecy fulfilled in Jesus. As a ruler, David made good decisions and sought after God. Yet his personal life was riddled with poor decisions that affected generations to come. His decision to have an affair with a married woman is the most prevalent example of sin in the life of David (2 Samuel 11). 

This reminds us that David, although a great ruler, was not a perfect man. We can learn from David that we will fall, we will make mistakes. Yet as we confess our sins with a sincere heart God is faithful to forgive us, in spite of the fact that there will indeed be consequences for our behavior.

3. Hezekiah – the King Who Trusted in God

“Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him” (2 Kings 18:5).

Hezekiah was thirteenth king of Judah, had a strong relationship with the prophet Isaiah, and trusted in God to fight the battles of Israel instead of trusting in his own strength. When Jerusalem was surrounded by the Assyrian armies of Sennacherib, he sent word to Hezekiah mocking his faith in God. “Say to Hezekiah king of Judah: Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, ‘Jerusalem will not be given into the hands of the king of Assyria.’ Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered?”” (2 Kings 19:10-11). 

Yet Hezekiah trusted in God and a miraculous thing happened – without a single Jewish soldier going to battle, an angel of God wiped out the Assyrian armies (2 Kings 19:35). 

Hezekiah trusted in God to the extent that when he was ill and about to die, God allowed him to live another 15 years (Isaiah 38:5). 

We also owe a good section of the book of Proverbs to Hezekiah! Not because he wrote it (he didn’t) but because his men copied several of Solomon’s proverbs so that they would be complied with the rest of the book (Proverbs 25:1).

4. Josiah – the Great Reformer

“He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2).

Josiah was the sixteenth king of Judah, and it was during his reign that the high priest Hilkiah found ‘the Book of the Law’ in the temple (2 Kings 22:8), generally believed to be what we now know as the book of Deuteronomy.

Josiah immediately went about enacting all that was written in it, along with tearing down altars to idols and restoring God’s covenant with Israel that had been broken by the people’s selfishness (2 Kings 23). 

From Josiah we learn that God is willing to forgive us when we faithfully choose to follow him, and that his word is eternal and life-giving.

Bad Kings Who Did Not Honor God

5. Omri – the King Who Built Samaria

“But Omri did evil in the eyes of the LORD and sinned more than all those before him” (1 Kings 16:25).

What a horrible way to be remembered! Omri has little mention in the Bible, but he established what would become a bad example for those to follow him. In the New Testament we learn that the Jews strongly disliked the Samaritans, although they were technically a related people who also claimed to follow God. So what was the issue? 

The issue was that the Samaritans had set up their own capital with their own temple with their own way to worship God that was not given to the people – basically a copycat version of the true faith. This was centered in the city of Samaria, which was purchased and established as a capital city by Omri (1 Kings 16:24). 

We learn that not only was Omri an idol worshipper, but he raised a son who was no better than him.

6. Ahab – the Most Evil King

“Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him” (1 Kings 16:30).

Ahab did more evil than the guy who was the greatest sinner? Not a good look, and a continuation of a horrible family legacy. Ahab built a temple to the false god Baal, married an evil woman and did more to anger the Lord than even Omri before him. His terrible choices caught up to him, too. After his prophets to Baal suffered a horrible defeat to the prophet Elijah on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18:16-40), it was clear that his godless reign was coming to an end.

The clear lessons we learn from the reign of Ahab is that a life of open defiance against God may bring some temporary gain, but will also bring conflict, fear, and ultimately painful defeat.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Gearstd

7. Jeroboam – the King who Rebuilt the Golden Calf

“What share do we have in David, what part in Jesse’s son? To your tents, Israel! Look after your own house, David!” So the Israelites went home” (1 Kings 12:16).

Jeroboam got his start as a trusted advisor to King Solomon. After Solomon’s death, he led the ten northern tribes to rebel and separate from the tribe of Judah, leaving the two groups separated and enemies.

Jeroboam wanted to fulfill the worship and laws given to Israel by God, but in rebellion did not want to go to the temple in Jerusalem to do it. It was a fake version of the truth. In fear for his own power, he wanted his people to stay separated from the tribe of Judah, and this separation remained in place even through the time of Jesus (John 4:20). 

In doing so, he revisited the horrible sin that occurred when Moses was on Mt. Sinai and rebuilt not one but two golden claves to represent God. This brought the people into false worship and false sense of faith (1 Kings 12:25-33). 

From Jeroboam we learn that it is in futility that we attempt to “recreate” worship of God in the way that we want to do it. This counterfeit worship only leads to destruction. 

There are many more kings in the Bible whose lives give us much to learn from. As we study the scriptures, we can gain wisdom from truly understanding the people and personalities who were leaders of Israel. They had the same tendencies as we do, and we can benefit from their successes and learn from their failures so we don’t make the same mistakes ourselves.

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