In the period that preceded the monarchy, Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit (Judges 21:25). God raised up Samuel to lead the people (1 Samuel 3:4). All of Israel knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord (1 Samuel 3:20). Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life, and when he was old he made his sons judges over Israel (1 Samuel 8:1). Israel rejected the sons, refused to obey Samuel, and demanded a king (1 Samuel 8:19–20). When Samuel reported their request to God, the Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king” (1 Samuel 8:22).
Saul was the first king. He was of the tribe of Benjamin, which, in the days of the judges, had almost been annihilated. Tall, handsome, and humble, Saul began his reign with a victory over the Ammonites. Any misgivings about the new monarchy disappeared. But success rapidly went to Saul’s head, and humility gave place to pride. He offered a sacrifice, which was the exclusive function of priests, showing his presumed self-importance. He deliberately disobeyed God, causing God to tell Samuel.. “Then came the word of the Lord unto Samuel, saying, It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the Lord all night.” 1 Samuel 15:10–11 Saul reigned unsuccessfully from 1049 BC to 1009 BC, then, wounded in battle, he “took his own sword and fell on it” (1 Samuel 31:4).
David, although anointed as king when just a boy, did not ascend to the throne until after Saul’s death (2 Samuel 2:4). David was short of stature, ruddy, of unusual countenance, handsome, and of immense physical strength and great personal attractiveness. He was a man of war, prudent in speech, brave, musical, and religious. God promised that David’s family should reign forever.
“And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:” Isaiah 11:1 (The stump of Jesse is Davids father, the branch is Jesus.) After Saul’s death, David was made king over Judah, and seven years later he was made king over all Israel. He was 30 years old when he became king and reigned from 1009 BC to 969 BC.
Solomon became king in 971 BC, two years before his father David died, and reigned until 931 BC. Solomon was born of Bathsheba, and, though not directly in line for the succession, he was chosen by David and approved by God to be David’s successor (1 Chronicles 23:1). Solomon inherited the throne of the most powerful kingdom then existing. It was an era of peace and prosperity with vast business enterprises and literary attainments. God told Solomon to ask what he would, and it would be given to him. Solomon asked for wisdom to govern his people. That pleased God, who richly rewarded him with wealth, wisdom, power, and the important task of building the temple (1 Chronicles 28:2–6). After the death of Solomon, the kingdom was divided. Ten tribes formed the Northern Kingdom, called Israel; Judah and Benjamin formed the Southern Kingdom, called Judah. The date of the division of the kingdom is approximately 931 BC. The following is a list of the kings of Israel and Judah following the death of Israels third King Solomon. The dates of their reigns are approximate, due to overlapping reigns, associated sovereignty, intervals of anarchy, and the Jewish practice of counting parts of years as full years. Portions of some reigns were concurrent. All the kings of Israel practiced idolatry; the worst served Baal. Many of the kings of Judah served idols; few served the Lord faithfully. Some bad kings were partly good; some good kings partly bad. The kings, the approximate dates of their reigns, and descriptions of their overall obedience to God are listed below:
KINGS OF ISRAEL: Jeroboam I, rebellious, 931—910 BC Nadab, bad, 910—909 BC Baasha, wicked, 909—886 BC Elah, evil, 886—885 BC Zimri, sinful, 885 BC Tibni, iniquitous, 885—880 BC Omri (overlap), extra bad, 885—874 BC Ahab, the worst to that point, 874—853 BC Ahaziah, disobedient, 853—852 BC Joram/Jehoram, mostly rotten, 852—841 BC Jehu, not good but better than the rest, 841—814 BC Jehoahaz, noncompliant, 814—798 BC Joash, wayward, 798—782 BC Jeroboam II (overlap), badly behaved, 793—753 BC Zechariah, abysmal, 753 BC Shallum, full of vice, 752 BC Menahem, horrible, 752—742 BC Pekahiah, idolatrous, 742—740 BC Pekah (overlap), awful, 752—732 BC Hoshea, appalling, 732—722 BC
KINGS OF JUDAH: Rehoboam, mostly bad, 931—913 BC Abijah, mostly perverted, 913—911 BC Asa, good, 911—870 BC Jehoshaphat (overlap), righteous, 873—848 BC Jehoram/Joram (overlap), terrible, 853—841 BC Ahaziah, bad, 841 BC Athaliah (queen), devilish, 841—835 BC Joash/Jehoash, mostly virtuous, 835—796 BC Amaziah, mostly wholesome, 796—767 BC Uzziah/Azariah (overlap), mostly respectable, 790—739 BC Jotham (overlap), worthy, 750—731 BC Ahaz, heinous, 735—715 BC Hezekiah, the best, 715—686 BC Manasseh, depraved until he repented at the end, 695—642 BC Amon, treacherous, 642—640 BC Josiah, great, 640—609 BC Jehoahaz, dreadful, 609 BC Jehoiakim, degenerate, 609—597 BC Jehoiachin, frightful, 597 BC Zedekiah, foolish, 597—586 BC