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As you read the Old Testament, you encounter all kinds of different leaders and kings throughout Israel’s history. It can be confusing because sometimes the kings are over the entire nation, sometimes they appear to only be over parts of the nation, and sometimes they’re not called kings at all. So who are all these different leaders described in the Old Testament?

The Patriarchs

The first leaders of the nation of Israel were the original “patriarchs,” Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. These were the founding fathers of the nation. It all started when God called Abraham to leave his homeland and God promised to make a great nation out of him. He obeyed and Israel was born. Abraham and his son and grandson, Isaac and Jacob provided leadership over the burgeoning new nation of Israel. The 12 different sons of Jacob each grew their own extended families which became the 12 different tribes of Israel.

The Judges

After the period of the Patriarchs, Israel fell onto hard times and ended up as a slave nation to Egypt. During this time God worked through various prophets and leaders, but there was no main leader as they were captive to Egypt. God used Moses to lead the people out of Egypt and one of Moses’s proteges, Joshua, to actually lead them to a new land that God had promised. But after Joshua died there were a series of leaders called Judges. These were men and women who helped hold together a national identity and enforce God’s Law which He had given to them through Moses. Though they weren’t Kings or Queens per se, they were the political, spiritual and military leaders of the nation.

The United Kingdom

Though God had never intended to install a king over His people, the Israelites grew jealous of the prestige and power that monarchs seemed to bring to their surrounding nations. So the people began to cry out for a real king to lead them, not just Judges. God reluctantly agreed and installed Saul as the first real King who ruled over the entire nation. Saul ended up rebelling against God and was replaced by David. After David’s rule, Solomon became King. It was during the rule of David and Solomon that Israel experienced its highest level of power and influence around the world. They were a growing, strong, wealthy nation united under a powerful monarch. However, spiritually, they were slowly moving away from God. This ultimately led to a division within the nation of Israel.

The Divided Kingdom

Soon after Solomon’s death, a controversy grew over who would be the next King over Israel. There was a growing tension between the different tribes of Israel and different ideas about who should be the next King. Eventually this controversy lead to a violent clash and two different men claiming to be the rightful King. Ultimately, 10 of the tribes in the north rallied around on King, while 2 tribes in the south rallied around another. This civil war led to the establishment of two separate kingdoms. In the north, the 10 tribes retained the name of Israel but made their capital in the city of Samaria. The 2 tribes in the south took the name Judah but retained Jerusalem as their capital city. Israel and Judah remained as two distinct Kingdoms for approximately 200 years. Israel had went on to have 19 different Kings, all of whom were bad and consistently led people away from God. Judah 20 different Kings, about half of whom were good and half bad.

The Exile & Return

After about 200 years as a divided kingdom, the northern kingdom of Israel eventually fell to the Assyrians and were scattered into exile. About 160 years later, the southern kingdom of Judah eventually fell to the Babylonians and were also exiled. For a period of 70 years after the fall of Judah, the nation of Israel had no national identity or home, but were scattered among all the foreign nations. However, because God had promised to be faithful to His people, eventually God led Cyrus, the King of Persia who had conquered the Babylonians and Assyrians, to allow Israel to regather as a nation again. The people of Israel slowly returned from their exile and rebuilt a second Temple in Jerusalem. While they didn’t have a King or even their own homeland anymore, they established a national identity as a people.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
  2. What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
  3. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.

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