Love in Christ is vertical and horizontal. Godly leadership is the horizontal care for others by equipping and encouraging them to follow the Lord by faith. It is the Lord Himself dwelling among His people toward that goal, and it is His people doing so for others under their care. Godly counsel is the part of vertical love that helps the wayward or stuck to get back on track, but we’ll look at that next week.
The books of 1 and 2 Kings are graphic records of the need for both during the rest of the Old Testament period. Like the books of Samuel and Chronicles, Kings was probably one book originally and was later divided due to its length. I treated 1 and 2 Samuel separately because they also seemed to have distinctly separate themes. The two sections of Kings and Chronicles, however, seem to have their own continuous flows. It’s also important to note that, with the exception of the book of Job and a very few Psalms, all the rest that follow – Ezra to Malachi – fall within the time period of Kings and Chronicles. So, although we’re about to look at the need for godly leadership in 1 and 2 Kings, the same need continues throughout and before.
If a person only knew a little about king David, they might expect 1 Kings to start with some of the great exploits of Israel’s greatest king. It does not.
We see David near death and a very poor father: one of his sons, Adonijah, tries to take the kingdom by conspiracy resulting in a series of conspiracies by Bathsheba, Solomon and David on how to secure “their” kingdom. Some might argue that was their right as those currently in power, but the character of our Lord announces and conducts true justice in the open. Solomon starts well, his newfound wisdom is quickly revealed as limited. Although he built the great temple for exclusive worship to the Lord God Almighty and enjoyed the praise of other leaders such as the queen of Sheba, his many marriages revealed his trust in political alliances instead of pure allegiance to the Lord, and he quickly succumbed to the temptations of his hundreds of wives and concubines to compromise pure devotion to God.
If there was any doubt that Solomon’s leadership had devolved from godly care to selfish control, look at Israel’s response to his son Rehoboam, who promised to be even more intense than his father. And that split the kingdom. No one freely follows a dictator. The Lord calls us to follow Him because He is the holy and gracious King. In 1 Kings 11:31-39 we see clearly that the sole reason the Lord ordained/allowed the kingdom to be divided was for their exclusive loyalty to His leadership, not to provide options for other kingdoms. But since they wanted to lead themselves, God gives them over to ungodly leadership. In fact, both books of kings reveal that there were no godly leaders. Reminiscent of Exodus 32, Jeroboam sets up alternate images of beauty and power in worship: the golden calves of Bethel in southernmost Israel and Dan in the northernmost of Israel. And all of their leaders acted like young bulls, taking what they wanted however they wanted. The Lord had established specific ways and means of worship to be seen in His temple and Priest (Christ) as the only sure foundation of godly leadership, but the kings exchanged it to decide their own ways. It’s the same sin from the garden of Eden, choosing to decide good and evil for themselves over a life of total dependence on the Lord.
Yet, the Lord’s most basic will is not the godliness of the people or king or their well-being, like the “American Dream” we often seem to idolize. His most basic will is that His people follow Him because of their faith in Him. And the Lord often uses strange events to call attending to His will. For example, He reminds us of the higher goal of His glory in 1 Kings 20 where He works through Ahab, the most wicked king of their time (1 Kings 16:30-33) to win two of the greatest battles recorded in 1 or 2 Kings.
In 1 Kings 20:13 and 28, the Lord tells us, “So you will know that I am the Lord.” God does all things to glorify Himself as the only perfect Leader of God’s people. For the best He can give us is Himself, so He calls all of His people to lead as He does. Yet, even in the southern, more faithful kingdom of Judah with His temple in Bethlehem, godly leadership was sporadic.
Out of the 21 kings of Judah, there were only 8 to whom God’s Word ascribes some measure of faith and obedience. But none of them were completely faithful leaders who honored the Lord. Asa doubted the Lord (1 King 15:8-24); Jehoshaphat compromised his faith and loyalty to God (1 Kings 22:41-50); Joash waffled in his belief, too (2 Kings 11:1-12, 21); Amaziah also had a divided heart (2 Kings 14:1-20); even through Uzziah knew so much of God’s grace, he became boastful (2 Kings 15:1-7); Hezekiah had also been unusually blessed by God but grew bitter at the end of his life (2 Kings 18-20); and Josiah who started so sensitive to the Lord’s Word grew spiritually insensitive to Him (2 Kings 22:1-23, 30). To keep this article relatively short, I’ll leave you to read the specifics of their inconsistent leadership.
Three more points on the need for godly leadership as seen in 1 and 2 Kings, and we’ll stop for this week.
First, two of the most wicked kings of Judah who had the testimony of God’s temple and priests were Manasseh and his son, Amon in 2 Kings 20:21-21:25. Again, you can read the details of their lives for yourself. What I want you to note is who reigned before and after them. Manasseh’s father and Amon’s son were arguably two of Judah’s most godly kings: Hezekiah and Josiah. So what lessons are we to draw from this?
How we will lead is not determined by our earthly parents or guaranteed to our physical children. Godly leadership in Christ that truly cares for others’ well-being in Him only comes when we follow Him by faith in Him. When we think we can establish our own kingdom and choose our own way, we will quickly fall into tyranny, fear, and self-destruction. Only in Jesus do we find His purpose and power to protect and provide His people for our praise of His goodness. Leaders who love Jesus lead others in love because He has worked His love in them.
That doesn’t mean we should only have nice and easy things to say, however. Godly counsel can be hard to heard and even harder to say so they hear love. But that’s the topic of next week’s article as we continue our look at 1 and 2 Kings.
Second, we can see the leaders of Judah resisting God’s severe discipline through the end of 2 Kings. But the Lord is committed to the purity of His people. If we will not submit to Him, He will give us over to submission under other masters who have no true love for us. Assyria’s capture of northern Israel in 722 BC and Babylon’s capture of Southern Judah in 586 BC were His tools toward that purity. Those who truly fear the Lord and turn from their rebellion He restores. Those who do not endure to the end reveal their true hearts and bring eternal judgment on themselves.
The last and most important point is that the Lord’s leadership by His work of grace, is always our foundational and only perfect hope. At the end of 2 Kings, we see a king of Babylon, Judah’s captor, graciously providing some freedoms and comforts to Jehoiakin, the one in David’s line who would have been reigning over all Israel and Judah. Like we see in Ezra 1 and Nehemiah 1, the Lord had softened even evil kings hearts to show that He is the only true ruler of the earth and especially His people who trust in His covenant of grace, grace that would be finally purchased and secured by the sacrificial leadership of Jesus on the cross.
If you’re interested in reading other posts from this series, “Satisfaction Sundays”, you can refer to the menu above. You can also click on the following links for Understanding and Applying the Bible, inductive Bible studies on Philippians, or devotional videos on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.