It’s the heavy campaign season, and candidates — the Republicans, anyway — are keen to show they care about the Bible as much as, if not more than, any other American. Republican frontrunner Donald Trump was criticized over his reference to “Two Corinthians,” as well as his professed favorite verse, a passage from Proverbs about envy.
Here’s a good political verse — 1 Kings 20:11: “And the king of Israel answered and said, Tell him, Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off.” In other words: don’t boast as if you have already won something. That message, delivered from King Ahab to the evil Aramean king Ben-Hadad, is one of the best “trash talk” lines in the entire Bible, and one of the only positive contributions of one of the Bible’s most wicked kings.
Aside from crisp rebukes like that, the Book of Kings contains many stories about leadership — and leadership failures. There are 40 kings in all, most of them bad. But ten, including some perhaps unfamiliar ones, stand out.
1. David – The builder of empire and composer of Psalms, David established Jerusalem as his capital and unified the tribes. Despite grave sins, including adultery and murder, he is remembered as the best king because he was quick to acknowledge guilt and repent. He served the Lord with a “complete heart,” never doubting His authority.
2. Hezekiah – The greatest king of Judah — the southern kingdom — withstood a siege by an Assyrian army that had just exiled the northern kingdom of Israel. He relied on faith to withstand the enemy, and turned to God again when he fell gravely ill — though he erred by showing Babylonian emissaries the Temple, which they would later plunder.
3. Jehoshaphat – A Judean king obsessed with repairing relations with Israel, Jehoshaphat’s record in war and trade was mixed. However, he conducted an ambitious program of domestic reform, removing most idolatry and sending teachers throughout the land. Not content with reforming the provinces, he cleaned up corruption in Jerusalem, too.
4. Josiah – The last good king of Judah, Josiah launches the most ambitious reform in centuries after re-discovering the warnings of Deuteronomy that the price of disobeying God will be exile. For his trouble, he is spared personally from having to witness the destruction of the Judean kingdom — though he eventually meets a violent end at war.
5. Jotham – The only king entirely free of sin, Jotham takes over his father Uzziah’s responsibilities (see below) and notches several military successes. His son Ahaz, however, goes on to be the worst king of Judah.
6. Uzziah – The longest reign — over five decades — belongs to Uzziah, who set an example of moral leadership and improved the kingdom’s defenses. However, he oversteps the bounds of his office — violating an early version of the separation of powers — by trying to usurp the priests’ role in the Temple, and is struck with a form of leprosy.
7. Solomon – Traditionally thought of as one of the greatest of kings, Solomon’s early achievements, including the building of the Holy Temple, are almost negated by his later sins. Though wise, he indulges his appetites with hundreds of wives and concubines, some of whom are foreign and eventually lead him astray into idolatry.
8. Asa – He reverses generations of post-Solomonic decline, and rids the kingdom — including his own family — of idolatry. However, he sets a bad precedent by bribing a foreign leader to attack Israel, and turns away from God.
9. Jehoash – After surviving the attempt by wicked Queen Athaliah to kill every last member of the Davidic line, Jehoash is installed by the priests as king in a daring coup. He reforms the kingdom, particularly the system of financial contributions for maintaining the Temple. Later, however, he defiled the Temple by murdering a priest.
10. Amaziah – Another miraculous survivor after the assassination of his father, Amaziah has to fight to consolidate his power, and then to defend the kingdom. Initial success in war, however, leads him down a brazen path — from murdering a captured enemy army to an ill-conceived attack on Israel that results in the sacking of Jerusalem.