The Kings of Judah
I Chr 3:10-15
There’s no easy way to categorise the sixteen kings of Judah here into being ‘righteous’ or ‘wicked’ before the Lord as I had hoped to do with the abbreviations ‘r’ and ‘w’ after each name.
Some have an appearance of being wholly righteous throughout their entire life but, upon closer inspection, we see acts of disobedience that clung to them. Josiah, for instance, died in battle against Neco because he refused to listen to the word of God spoken to him through that same Egyptian pharaoh (II Chr 35:22).
Hezekiah revealed the strength and prosperity of the kingdom of Judah to the future enemy of God’s people, Babylon, and found it unimportant and trivial to repent when the word of judgment was spoken against him (Isaiah chapter 39) even though his prayer had been heard before (Is 37:14-38 and 38:1-6).
And Jehoshaphat, although superficiously appearing to be righteous throughout his life, repeatedly helped wicked king Ahab at war (for example II Chr 19:1-4). Worse than this, Jehoshaphat formed a marriage alliance with him (II Chr 18:1) which was the major reason why his son, king Jehoram, turned his back on YHWH (II Chr 21:6) and, even worse, Jehoram’s wife, Athaliah, counselled the next king, her son Ahaziah, to do according to all that the kings of the northern kingdom were doing (II Chr 22:2-4), resulting in his early death after only a year long reign and Athaliah attempting to wipe out the Messianic line so that she could rule as sole head of the southern kingdom, Judah (II Chr 22:10-12).
Others began wholly following the Lord and then turned their backs on Him when their prosperity increased or when things didn’t appear to be going well. Asa was a king such as this who set his heart to follow YHWH in his early years (II Chr 14:1-15:19) but then made an alliance with the king of Israel using the treasuries of the Lord’s house as a gift and failed to rely upon Him for deliverance and protection (I Chr 16:1-14).
Joash, also, the sole surviving child of Ahaziah who had been kept hidden when Athaliah tried to end the Davidic line of kings, began righteously because Jehoiada the high priest was his counsellor who instructed him in the ways of YHWH (I Chr 24:1-14) but, once the high priest had died (I Chr 24:15-16), Joash rebelled against serving Him and, despite a prophetic warning through Zechariah, continued in this state until the end of his life (II Chr 24:17-27).
Still others began wickedly in God’s eyes, living for themselves and serving the false gods that were in the land, but eventually seeing the error of their ways and turning to the God of Israel. Manasseh, probably the most wicked of all the kings of Judah listed above - but who was the son of ‘righteous’ king Hezekiah - did great evil in the kingdom of Judah (II Chr 33:1-11, II Kings 21:1-16) but, in distress, when he’d been captured by the Babylonians and taken away into exile, sought the Lord and was returned to Jerusalem (I Chr 33:12-13) where he set about doing the Lord’s will in the years he’d left to him (I Chr 33:14-20).
Others were totally wicked and seem to never have sought YHWH as long as they reigned. Amongst these are Amon (II Chr 33:21-25, II Kings 21:19-26) and Jehoiakim (II Chr 36:9-10, II Kings 24:8-17).
There is, therefore, such a complexity of actions, situations and intentions in these kings’ lives that it isn’t possible to say with any definitive statement in most cases just which ones should be considered righteous before the Lord and which shouldn’t. Each life needs to be considered on its own and seen both in the context of what they achieved while they were ruling and what the consequences of their rule were after they’d been succeeded by their sons.
That God never gave up trying to turn the kingdom back to Himself through successive prophets is perhaps the greatest miracle of all. He gave Judah chance after chance to repent and put things right until there was no avenue left open to Him but judgment - which was ‘sealed’ in Manasseh’s reign as irreversible (II Kings 21:10-15 Cp II Chr 34:23-28, II Kings 23:24-27 and 24:1-4).
Even though Josiah followed wholly after YHWH (except for the incident with pharaoh Neco outlined above), the judgment couldn’t be revoked by the nation of Israel through repentance, only delayed (II Kings 23:24-27).