Getting a Grasp of the Old Testament Kings and Prophets

All Christians should be devoted students of the Word of God, and that includes the Old Testament. The 39 books of the OT comprise a full three quarters of our Bible, so those who are not reading and studying it are massively missing out on God’s truth.

elijah 2Many things can deter Christians from reading through the OT such as long lists of genealogies or long lists of laws. Another possible deterrent are the rather confusing and complex portions of historical narrative, especially about the various kings and kingdoms. These bits are admittedly difficult to get one’s head around, at least without a bit of help along the way.

Thus this article. Trying to properly understand six crucial historical books in particular (1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles) does require some assistance. So here I seek to make things a bit more clear for those who want to get a grasp of what these books are saying.

Much of the difficulty lies in getting a handle on the chronological order of the events described in these six books (really just three long books, each divided into two portions). And trying to tie in the latter prophetic books with these earlier historic books is also a challenge. So let me seek to discuss both in a rather brief and outline-ish fashion.

The Kings

1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings present one lengthy historical account (roughly from 1100 BC to 586 BC), while 1 & 2 Chronicles present a repeated, parallel historical account. A simple outline of the six books is as follows:

1 Samuel 1-12 – the story of Samuel
1 Samuel 8-31 – the story of Saul
1 Samuel 16ff – the story of David
2 Samuel 12 – the story of Solomon
1 Kings 1-12 – more of the story of Solomon
1 Kings 12 to 2 Kings 25 – the divided kingdom (both Judah, the southern kingdom, and Israel, the northern kingdom)
1 Chronicles 1-9 – genealogies
1 Chronicles 10-29 – the story of David
2 Chronicles 1-9 – the story of Solomon
2 Chronicles 10-36 the divided kingdom (only Judah, the southern kingdom, is covered here)

Some confusion arises because we often speak of “Israel” as covering God’s people throughout their entire existence, from the exodus to the exile. But with the divided kingdom, the northern kingdom is called Israel, while the southern kingdom is called Judah.

Here are some rough dates of what we find early on in these six books:

-Samuel the prophet lived roughly from 1100-1015.
-Saul reigned roughly from 1050-1010.
-David reigned roughly from 1010-970.
-Solomon his son reigned roughly from 970-930.
-Rehoboam his son reigned briefly and then the division into north and south occurred around 930.

The Divided Kingdom

-Jeroboam ruled in Israel (the northern kingdom); its capital (eventually) was Samaria. All the kings there were bad kings.
-Rehoboam ruled in Judah (the southern kingdom); its capital was Jerusalem. There were some good and some bad kings.

The divided kingdom is covered in 1 Kings 12 through to the end of 2 Kings (which list the northern and southern kings), and in 2 Chronicles 10-36 (which only lists kings of Judah in the south). All up we have 38 kings and 1 queen covered:
-19 kings (18 kings and 1 queen) in the north (Israel), all of whom were bad.
-20 kings in the south (Judah) who were a mixture of good and bad kings.

Of the 39 kings, only one is given an unqualified good rating: a southern king, Josiah. Some of the kings in the south stayed good, some went from good to bad, a few went from bad to good, and some stayed bad. Let me look at some of the kings who went from good to bad:

-Rehoboam – he went with wrong crowd
-Asa – he had faith in man, not God
-Joash – he lost his godly influence
-Amaziah – he became complacent after victory
-Azariah – he became proud and disobedient
-Jotham – he did not show whole-hearted obedience
-Josiah – he picked the wrong fight

One of the tests of a good king was whether he destroyed the high places of the Canaanite gods, and centralized the worship in Jerusalem:
-Of the northern kings, only Hoshea and Shallum made an attempt to do so.
-Of the southern kings, only Hezekiah and Josiah did the best. Six others suppressed idolatry but did not remove the high places. The other 12 did nothing.

Dating the Kings

As to the actual history of the kings, it is never easy to always get exact dates for each one, but we have some fairly good understanding of when they reigned. While debate still exists over some of the details here, the following offers a fairly reliable guide to the kings and their reigns:

930 – The Divided Kingdom (Jeroboam in the north, Rehoboam in the south)

The Kings of Israel (all wicked)
Jeroboam I (933-911) twenty-two years
Nadab (911-910) two years
Baasha (910-887) twenty-four years
Elah (887-886) two years
Zimri (886) seven days
Omri (886-875) twelve years
Ahab (875-854) twenty-two years
Ahaziah (855-854) two years
Jehoram (Joram) (854-843) twelve years
Jehu (843-816) twenty-eight years
Jehoahaz (820-804) seventeen years
Jehoash (Joash) (806-790) sixteen years
Jeroboam II (790-749) forty-one years
Zechariah’ (748) six months
Shallum (748) one month
Menahem (748-738) ten years
Pekahiah (738-736) two years
Pekah (748-730) twenty years
Hoshea (730-721) nine years
722 – The fall of Samaria (Israel, northern kingdom) to the Assyrians (see 2 Kings 17)

The Kings of Judah (8 were good)
Rehoboam (933-916) seventeen years
Abijam (915-913) three years
Asa (Good) (912-872) forty-one years
Jehoshaphat (Good) (874-850) twenty-five years
Jehoram (850-843) eight years
Ahaziah (843) one year
Athaliah (843-837) six years
Joash (Good) (843-803) forty years
Amaziah (Good) (803-775) 29 years
Azariah (Uzziah) (Good) (787-735) fifty-two years
Jotham (Good) (749-734) sixteen years
Ahaz (741-726) sixteen years
Hezekiah (Good) (726-697) 29 years
Manasseh (697-642) fifty-five years
Amon (641-640) two years
Josiah (Good) (639-608) thirty-one years
Jehoahaz (608) three months
Jehoiachim (608-597) eleven years
Jehoiachin (597) three months
Zedekiah (597-586) eleven years
597 – The fall of Jerusalem (Judah, southern kingdom) to the Babylonians (see 2 Kings 25; 2 Chronicles 36)

Various charts exist on the kings of the divided kingdom. Here are a few helpful ones:

The Prophets

If the exact dates and relationships between the various kings can be difficult to pinpoint, things get even more complicated when we try to match them up with the various prophets who ministered during their reigns.

There are various ways to get a handle on the prophets and when and where they ministered. One way is to list them roughly in chronological order:

Pre-Exilic (ca 800-587)

Exilic (ca 587-538)

Post-exilic (ca. 538-450)

Another way is to list them roughly in geographical order

Israel – northern kingdom

Judah – southern kingdom

Mission to gentiles

Other oracles against the nations
Is. 13-21; 23,24; 34; Jer. 46-51; Eze. 25-32; 35; 38,39; Joel 3; Amos 1,2; Zeph. 2; Zech. 9;12

What is helpful (but all rather complex) is to seek to carefully align the prophets and the kings, so we get the bigger picture of how both interact. There are numerous charts out there which seek to do this, trying to make sense of all the biblical data. Here are just three of the more helpful charts available:

Lessons to be learned from the kings

The record of the kings is not meant to just be dry history with no relevance to believers today. It contains plenty of spiritual truths and spiritual lessons that Christians must take to heart. Let me mention just a few. One lesson is the importance of godly and righteous leadership (and the dangers of ungodly and unrighteous leadership).

Often we find this being said about a king: ‘the king did this, and the people followed…’ The people can follow examples both for good or ill:

-The people can follow examples such as Hezekiah, who was a good king (see 2 Chr. 29:29-30 eg.).
-Or, sadly, when the kings go bad, the people follow suit as well, as in the case of Zedekiah (see 2 Chr. 36:11-14, eg.).
-And sometimes, however, we have a good king such as Jotham, but the people remain bad anyway (see 2 Chr. 27:2 eg.).

In the same way of course we can have influence over others – either good or bad. It is always worth asking ourselves if we are having a godly influence or an ungodly influence. Another lesson found here is that children may not always turn out the way their parents did. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Consider some of these examples:

-Bad Rehoboam begat bad Abijah (1 Ki. 12:1-12; 14:21-23)
-Bad Abijah begat good Asa (1 Ki. 15:1-8)
-Good Asa begat good Jehoshaphat (1 Ki. 22:41-50)
-Good Jehoshaphat begat bad Jehoram (2 Ki. 8:16-24)

And consider this royal line and the ups and downs found therein:
-Hezekiah was one of Judah’s most godly kings (2 Ki. 18-20)
-Manasseh, his son, was one of the worst (2 Ki. 21)
-Amon, his son, was also bad (2 Ki. 21)
-Josiah, his son, was a godly king (2 Ki. 22-23)
-Jehoahaz, his son, did evil in the sight of the Lord (2 Ki. 23)

Much more can be said by way of introduction to these six historical books, but hopefully this helps to make things a bit more intelligible, and whets your appetite to go and read through these books – along with the entire Old Testament.

Happy reading.

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12 Replies to “Getting a Grasp of the Old Testament Kings and Prophets”

  1. Hi Bill, This is a really good over view of The O.T. Kings and Prophets. We are all very familiar with the old saying “history tends to repeat itself”. Well studying the Kings and the Prophets not only informs us of the personal and national conditions that humanity underwent at the time, it is also a pretty accurate reflection of the personal and national conditions we’re contending with today. The life of the Kings pretty much reflect humanity today. And the Prophets then, (and sadly not so often these days) would not allow the Kings or the populations that they ruled to take for granted or to ignore what God had to say. There were consequences for both obedience and disobedience, and the O.T. Prophets both pre, present, and post exilic, even to the cost of their own lives were dedicated to proclaiming that. (Though some like Jonah did chuck a wobbly in the process). Bill, you have encouraged us to take the time to read and meditate on these Books. I would like to offer a short personal testimony in support of that. Early last year, I experienced the need to read The Book of Leviticus. For me especially it was pretty dry going. I read it through, and a week later I experienced the desire to read it again. In the end, I read it through 8 times in a row! Each time that I read it, The Holy Spirit would highlight a verse or a passage that reflected issues in my life that God wanted confronted and dealt with. From my 6th reading of Leviticus onwards, there were a lots of tears shed as God did a work in me getting rid of a lot of “excess baggage” that I had carried around for many years. Bill, for me this is very personal, however, if it encourages even one of your readers to respond to the PROMPTINGS of The Holy Spirit to start reading through the Major/Minor Prophets, The Kings, or any other Book of The Bible for that matter, and to re-read and re-read until the Holy Spirit has done His Work then it has been worth it. My apologies Bill if I’ve gone a bit off track from what you were trying to convey, it has been for me a very good article, regards, Kel.

  2. Thanks for the effort put into this and the links. Will be most useful.
    Have been reading 1-2 Samuel & 1-2 Kings this year and have just started on Chronicles.

  3. Thank You
    While I have read these sections repeatedly it is great to have the main points set out in point form.

  4. Bill, thank you so much for this succinct yet meaty overview. As we read a day-by-day bible with the children, we are often discussing these various characters. And we also go back to “my” bible to always check on the actual wording, as often children’s bibles miss out important wording, gloss over some events, or put in spurious wording or motives for actions.

    I think our children will be quite fascinated to see the kings’ reigns set out in this way.

    A really useful home school resource!

  5. A few years ago I felt drawn into the laws (civil) that Father God laid down for His people back then. I was fascinated to find how many legal precedents were set there for us to follow, which were normal when I was growing up in the 1950s, but have been watered down or lost to us now, of course to our detriment. Fascinated. This stuff became alive to me, as the basis of the legal systems of the Western World (or used to be), and also showed me how far we have strayed from those wise moorings that our Creator has laid down for our safety. I had been a Christian for some 35 years at this stage. I would suppose that many, many Christians have never read these laws, let alone non-Christians, so it is easy to see how these understandings have been largely lost, and we can’t expect the mainly anti-Christian university system of the West to value or teach these things. So, I guess it is up to US. Anyone want to join me?

  6. I’ve been reading these books recently. I noticed in the books of Kings that allowing the worship of other gods was a recurring theme for the bad kings. I suppose they were tempted to do as some of our political leaders are doing now; trying to please everybody. It seems like we are seeing a return to the worship of other gods in some ways here in Australia these days, too. Islam is the big example of this, but I’m noticing others.

    I was particularly interested in the description of Josiah in 2 Kings 23:25. Jesus later referenced this (I think; the phrasing seems similar) in Luke 10:27.

  7. Can anyone recommend a good commentary of the Kings (Samuel, Kings, Chronicles), and a side by side of the prophets aligned with their respective King(s) in the time line they occurred?

  8. Thanks Mark. If you look just above the subtitle “Lessons to be learned from the kings” you will see three live links in blue. They take you to charts that line up the kings with the prophets.

    As far as helpful commentaries go, here are some of the ones from my own collection that I have used to good effect over the years:

    1&2 SAMUEL
    Anderson, A 2 Samuel (WBC)
    Arnold, B 1,2 Samuel (NIVAC)
    Baldwin, J 1,2 Samuel (TOTC)
    Bergen, R 1,2 Samuel (NAC)
    Firth, D 1,2 Samuel (AOTC)
    Klein, R 1 Samuel (WBC)
    Tsumura, D The First Book of Samuel (NICOT)
    Woodhouse, J 1 Samuel (PTW)
    Woodhouse, J 2 Samuel (PTW)
    Youngblood, R 1,2 Samuel (EBC)

    1&2 KINGS
    DeVries, S 1 Kings (WBC)
    Hobbs, T 2 Kings (WBC)
    Konkel, A 1,2 Kings (NIVAC)
    Leithart, P 1&2 Kings (BTCB)
    Olley, J The Message of Kings (BST)
    Patterson/Austel 1,2 Kings (EBC)
    Provan, I 1,2 Kings (NIBC)
    Wiseman, D 1,2 Kings (TOTC)
    Wray Beal, L 1&2 Kings (AOTC)

    Allen, L 1,2 Chronicles (MTOT)
    Braun, R 1 Chronicles (WBC) 45
    Dillard, R 2 Chronicles (WBC)
    Hill, A 1,2 Chronicles (NIVAC)
    Merrill, E A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles (KEL)
    Payne, J 1,2 Chronicles (EBC)
    Selman, M 1 Chronicles (TOTC)
    Selman, M 2 Chronicles (TOTC)
    Williamson, H 1,2 Chronicles (NCBC)

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