Good King, Bad King - A Brief Introduction to the Book of KingsBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Like the Book of Judges, Kings covers a huge amount of time. In fact, Kings covers slightly more time than Judges did – about four centuries. An analogous history of the United States would cover the period from Capt. John Smith being saved by Pocahontas in the winter of 1607-1608 through today in only 47 short chapters.
Of course, an analogous history of the United States would probably not give equal treatment to Lincoln, FDR, McKinley and Chester A. Arthur. While they were all important in their days, different presidents lived in different times, faced different challenges, and made different impacts on history. Similarly, the kings described herein all made different impacts on Jewish history, but they were also all kings. You may not know what President Harrison accomplished, but you know his name. Similarly, it behooves us to know that we had a king named Yehu and a king named Asa, even if we don’t know their accomplishments immediately off the top of our heads.
What drives the current author absolutely insane is that the average person knows almost nothing of King Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah in English). Chizkiyahu was one of the greatest kings in Jewish history, on a level with David and Shlomo (Solomon). Chazal (the Rabbis of the Talmud) tell us that he was worthy of being Moshiach (the Messiah). Of all the people in Tanach, Chizkiyahu is my personal hero. If you don’t know his story, you’ll read it here, in the Book of Kings.
You’ll also read about some bad guys. Some were truly evil, others were perhaps just misguided. The best known is probably Achav, with his wife Izevel. (In English: Ahab and Jezebel.) But Menashe, son of Chizkiyahu, could certainly give them a run for their money!
All told, there are 41 rulers whose reigns are recounted in this Book (not including David, who passes away at the beginning). Solomon ruled over a united kingdom; after his death there was a civil war. The Kingdom of Israel (the “Ten Tribes”) had 20 kings before they were exiled by Sennacherib, almost 2,600 years ago. The Kingdom of Judah had 19 kings and a queen before Jerusalem was conquered and the Temple destroyed, about 2,400 years ago. (Some of the kings of Israel had really short reigns. All of the Kings of Judah were descendants of David and Solomon, but the throne of Israel occasionally changed hands through assassination.)
Also in this Book: great prophets. You’ll read all about Eliyahu (Elijah) and Elisha, Yeshayahu (Isaiah) and Chuldah the prophetess. You’ll see the first Temple built and ultimately destroyed. You’ll see the assassination of Gedaliah, governor of Judah. (Attention all those who never really understood why we fast on Tzom Gedaliah: here’s your chance!) You’ll even see the invention of the pushka!
The Book of Kings is like its own graduate course in Jewish history. Those who have never had the pleasure of learning it before are about to discover a treasure they never knew they were missing.