Lessons in leadership from the kings

Lessons in leadership  (click the arrow to listen)

It’s my belief that the fascinating accounts of the Kings of Judah and Israel in the Old Testament are not just there for historical interest. They lived and reigned when Israel was God’s chosen people and were therefore part of that spiritual struggle on earth. We can learn many principles from studying their reigns. They were firstly human, then anointed; but also carried a great responsibility to obey the Lord as rulers in subordination to the Ruler of the universe. In the inimitable way in which God uses even failures in human lives, the kings do point the way to the Messiah who would be the perfect king, Jesus.

second best 

One of the interesting predictions of the wilderness years was that eventually Israel would wish to be ruled over by a king. This was a second-best choice:

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, ‘Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,’ be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite. The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, ‘You are not to go back that way again.’ He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:14-20)

 The Lord wished to be their King and rule via the Law of Moses, continually refreshed amongst the people by his chosen prophets. This would be a Theocracy. But the people pined for a king to be like other nations (a poor motivation for a chosen people), so that they would be a Monarchy instead. The Lord’s disappointment over this was made clear when it finally happened:

 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. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.’ (1 Samuel 8:6-9)

The rest of this chapter details the negative consequences of monarchy yet the people still demanded a king.

The accounts in 1 & 2 Kings, and those in 1 & 2 Chronicles are largely parallel narratives. However, Chronicles contains only details of the kings of Judah to the exclusion of the kings ruling in the breakaway region of Israel. This is generally understood to mean that whoever was responsible for compiling the accounts in Chronicles were just interested in the royal line of David. However, I shall use all the historical accounts as necessary to compile as much information as is available.


It is remarkable how much we can learn from the successes and failures of the kings. They were men with weaknesses yet had the potential to be blessed by God if they ruled well and obeyed His laws. As they were the chief leaders of the people, we can learn much about spiritual leadership. It is a fact in life that poor leadership leads to poor outcomes in those for whom leaders are responsible. This has echoes of injustice: why should good people suffer because of bad leaders? I see it as a principle and potential weakness by which human societies operate. Societal organisation and leadership is seen in the animal kingdom too in various manifestations. Sadly, poor parenting affects innocent children; poor teaching creates students impoverished of knowledge and skills; poor political leaders can bankrupt a country.

These principles apply in church leadership too. Taking up a leadership role in church life is an extremely serious undertaking. It means the lives of leaders will be more closely scrutinised, and indeed judged by God:

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. (Hebrews 13:7)

James also emphasises this responsibility:

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1)

It’s a dreadful thing when we consider that any leader who leads poorly or hypocritically would be responsible for spiritual damage in those for whom they are responsible. As we shall see, hypocrisy and, particularly, turning away from the clear instructions of God’s Word marks the beginning of the downfall of Christian leaders and the possibility of devastation amongst those following them. Thomas Watson reminded us of this dilemma when he wrote:

“That which begins in hypocrisy, ends in apostasy!”

I am sure we shall find many of our own foibles and failings as we study these ten kings. When our eyes are opened to our failings we are pointed to the mercy, forgiveness and restoring grace of God. We are disciples of Christ and thus learners kneeling at the feet of Him who is King of kings and Lord of lords.

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