Why study the Old Testament kings?

I’ve been asked by the Peninsula Gospel Partnership to deliver a series of lectures on the Old Testament and so during November I am lecturing on 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings. I have to confess I have loved these books even since I was a little boy. If you can cope with strange names and sometimes strange events, then these are exciting stories from long ago with real, flawed human beings as the main characters, and I think they make for a great read.

But of course these books make for more than great literature. As Christians we are very used to the idea of Jesus as King. We sing about Jesus as King, we preach about people needing to accept Jesus as their Saviour and their King, and particularly as we move towards Remembrance Sunday and then on to Advent we look forward to Jesus returning as King over all. But what do we actually mean by saying that Jesus is King?

In our society a King is a ceremonial figure, who is subject to the will of parliament and has no real power of His own. If that’s what we think of Jesus, however, then we are very much mistaken! Of course we might want to think of Jesus in that way, but the Bible leaves us in no doubt that He really has all power and authority, and it is foolishness in the extreme to claim to follow Him but not to do His will. As we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done”. Jesus’ authority has to be matched with our obedience – an easy thing to say in writing, often less so in practice!

But we need to go further and ask how the people of time would have understand the idea of Jesus as King. There is no doubt that they were looking for God to become King of Israel bringing in a reign of peace and security (see, for example Zeph 3:15). But why were they looking for such a king? How did the idea of a king evolve? And what can we learn from their experience?

That’s where the study of these books comes from, as we look at the evolution of the idea of kingship, how Israel moved from the time of judges to the kingship of Saul, to the establishment of the house of David, to the role of the prophets in the monarchy, to the failure of successive kings to live up to the standards God expected them, to, finally, the loss of the kingdoms and the exile of God’s people. That, very roughly, is my five weeks’ lectures summed up in a single sentence! By the end you come away appreciating all the more the coming of Jesus as King whose perfection and justice contrasts so much with all that has gone before. And you also come away with a renewed sense of God’s grace and mercy as He continues to show His favour and exercise patience with so many people who for so long disobey Him and reject His will.

We’ll be looking at a small part of 1 Samuel after Christmas in our Sunday morning preaching programme. I pray that the text will come as alive to you as it has to me in preparation for these lectures. There is just so much we can all learn from these wonderful books.


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