Times and Seasons

8. The Period of the Kings

The period of the Kings of Israel and Judah commences with the accession of David and ends with the dethronement of Zedekiah at the time of the Babylonian Captivity. In some systems of chronology it does include also the forty years' reign of Saul, but Saul's reign, more or less contemporaneous with the era of Samuel the last of the Judges, more properly falls within the Period of the Judges. The accession of David at Hebron following the deaths of Samuel and Saul is therefore taken here as the starting‑point.

The apparently obvious method of establishing the length of this period is by adding together the reigns of the kings both of Israel and Judah, all of which are given in the Books of Kings and Chronicles. The many chronologists of the 19th century blithely adopted this practice, and soon ran into trouble. The addition of the reigns of the Kings of Judah produced a total of some nineteen years longer than that indicated by those of the Kings of Israel. In an endeavour to find a reason for this a great deal of time was spent unravelling and elucidating what are called the "synchronisms" of the two Books.

A "synchronism" is a statement that, for example, King A of Israel commenced to reign, or died, in the nth year of the reign of King B of Judah—or vice versa. There are a great many such synchronisms and these, if they could be relied upon, would provide a kind of interlocking check on the kings' reigns which should allow the total period to be determined with accuracy. Unfortunately, they do not. It proved impossible to reconcile the statements of the synchronisms with the duration of the successive kings' reigns as recorded in the O.T. The amount of possible variation was anything up to thirty years. Since the prime object of most of the chronologists was to establish a definite date for the Second Advent, this was a serious handicap. In most cases the dilemma was resolved by ignoring the line of the kings of Israel and considering only that of Judah, on the rather precarious basis that since Judah was the less godless of the two nations its records were more likely to be correct. Even so, unanimity could not be attained. The labours of the leading investigators on the subject produced figures ranging from 467 to 484 years, as witness the following examples:‑

Usher 467 Cunninghame 483
Clinton469  Bliss 484
Bowen 473  Hale 484
Russell 473  Jarvis 484

During the last century the position changed. The work of dispassionate historians and investigators has clarified the issue and revealed in part the causes of the old uncertainties.

The first and principal cause of the apparent discrepancies is that, as might be expected, no king reigned an exact whole number of years, and the sum of the stated years of each king's reign is not therefore a reliable guide to the true total. It has been found in the last century that Israel, like some neighbour nations, had a system whereby the fraction of the last year of a king's reign remaining after his death was counted as the first year of his successor's reign and called his "accession year". Thus this year would be counted twice in a plain summation of the reigns as recorded. The last year of Solomon was also the first year of Rehoboam, and so on. This alone makes a difference of about twenty years.

The second cause, also not suspected over a century ago because the Bible only rarely mentions the fact, is that in some cases the heir to the throne acted as regent or co‑ruler with his father when the latter was old, and the years of his regency were often counted in with his reign as well as with that of his father. This gives another indeterminate area of anything up to forty years or so.

The third and quite important aspect is that the progress of research into the history of ancient nations, particularly Egypt, Assyria and Babylon, has made such great strides during the past hundred years or so that the task of fitting the recorded contacts of Israel's kings with these peoples has been considerably facilitated and this acts as a confirmatory check on the Biblical records.

In the light of this new knowledge modern chronologists have found it much easier to reconcile the apparently conflicting statements in the Books of Kings and Chronicles so that it is no longer necessary to rely upon the mechanical addition of the figures given for each king's reign to arrive at an approximation of the period. Present day investigators such as Dougherty, Parker, Dubberstein, Finegan and Rutherford have come to various conclusions all lying between the quite close limits of 425 to 432 years from David to Zedekiah—appreciably less than the 467 to 484 of the older chronologists.

These more recent findings fit in very well with what is already well established as the times of the beginning and the end of the period of the Kings. The capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and the fall of the Jewish monarchy under Zedekiah occurred in 586 B.C. (In some quarters 585 and 588 have been advocated but in the light of all available evidence 586 seems well established.) With the Exodus from Egypt taking place in the 18th Egyptian dynasty and the plain statement of 1 Kings 6:1. respecting the time elapsing between the Exodus and the founding of Solomon's Temple, it follows that the latter event must be dated at about 974 B.C., the area of doubt about precise dating of the 18th Dynasty accounting for some latitude here. This would imply the accession of David at about 1018 B.C., and a span of 432 years or thereabouts for the period of the Kings.

The data in Kings and Chronicles does not permit any more definite figure for the period; plenty of students have tackled the problem and each one places a different value upon one or another of the apparently contradictory statements and so arrives at a slightly different result. It is left to an entirely different book of the Old Testament to cast what may be a very significant light upon the problem.

Eleven years before the end of the monarchy, under Zedekiah, Ezekiel the priest was taken captive into Babylon with other Jewish captives by Nebuchadnezzar. Five years later he received his commission as prophet to announce unto Israel the Divine reprobation for their apostasies, to call them to repentance and acknowledgment of their transgressions, and to declare to them God's future intentions and purposes.

As prelude to his prophetic ministry (Ezek. chap.4) he was to prepare, on a clay tablet in the manner customary in Babylon, a representation of Jerusalem undergoing siege and capture, a picture prophecy which was realised in truth six years later, when the Babylonians captured and destroyed the city and Temple, thus bringing the era of the Kings to an end. Associated with this visible model of the doomed city he was to perform a symbolic action in which, in ritual fashion, he personally assumed the national guilt for the whole period of their transgression.

Three hundred and ninety days for Israel and forty for Judah, each day to be representative of a year, was the Divine edict. No explanation of the significance of these particular numbers is offered, only that they constituted the period of the nation's culpability leading up to this final judgement in the complete destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the national life.

The passage is worth reading. It is found in Ezek.4:4‑6. After preparing the clay tablet representing the city, Ezekiel was instructed to "Lie thou also upon thy left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it: according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon it thou shalt bear their iniquity. For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity,... three hundred and ninety days; so shalt thou bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year".

The implication is fairly clear. Ezekiel was to take upon himself in a ritual manner the whole burden of the national transgressions throughout the period of the kingship which was now coming to an end, and lie down with them in front of the city which had always been the symbol of that kingship and which was now about to be destroyed. Four hundred and thirty years of apostasy and transgression, divided into two periods of 390 and 40, were to be brought up to a focus in that final judgment on Jerusalem which was now only six years away. During the whole of that time kings of the line of David had ruled in Jerusalem—apart from David's first seven years at Hebron—and for a major part of the time rival kings had also ruled in Ephraim, the north. Now all that was to come to an end. "Remove the diadem, and take off the crown:…I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him" (Ezek.21:26‑27). That was the Divine sentence upon the unworthy royal line and the equally unworthy people.

If then this span of 430 years is intended to cover the period of Israel's kings, we have here an indication, provided by the Holy Spirit, of the precise duration of the era under review. The rather indeterminate approximation of 432 to 425 years can be replaced by the more definite 430. In such case we have two Divinely provided overall figures to replace the ambiguity of the varied and oft‑times confusing calculations of the periods of the Judges and the Kings. The 480 years of 1 Kings 6:1 and the 430 of Ezek.4:4‑6 can eliminate at a stroke all the elaborate fitting together of isolated statements which in the past have characterised efforts to elucidate the chronology of these periods.

The acid test of this application of the passage in Ezekiel is the significance of the two sections of the period.390 and 40 years. The left side.390 years for Israel; the right side.40 years for Judah. This has to be capable of a fitting explanation.

To the Hebrews, the east was always in front. The left side therefore was to the north, the northern tribes of Israel, headed by Ephraim. The right was to the south, the southern tribes headed by Judah. The complete 430 years finishing in 586 B.C. must necessarily start in 1016 B.C. which is the date of the accession of David. The junction between the 390 and 40 years falls on the year 626 B.C. and the historical significance of this year must be examined.

The instruments of God's judgements on Israel were the twin empires of Assyria and Babylon. During the greater part of the period from David to Zedekiah Assyria was the dominant power and the great scourge of Israel. Sennacherib the Assyrian was named in Isaiah "the rod of mine (God's) anger" (Isa.10:5). Although the Assyrians are not mentioned in the O.T. until the time of Ahaz, Assyrian inscriptions back to the revolt of the Ten Tribes mention contacts and conflicts with Israel's kings so that almost from the time of the disruption at the death of Solomon, they were a thorn in Israel's side. Towards the end, however, and after the Ten Tribes had been taken into captivity, the Assyrian empire collapsed before the rising power of Babylon, and a new instrument of judgment, mainly directed against Judah, came upon the scene. The date of this collapse and the accession of Babylon's conquering king, Nabopolassar, father of the famous Nebuchadnezzar, was 626 B.C., the end of the 390 years and the beginning of the 40. Jeremiah records this dual infliction of judgement upon the nation, first Assyria and then Babylon, when he says (50:17). "Israel is a scattered sheep; the lions have driven him away: first the king of Assyria hath devoured him; and last this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon hath broken his bones".

The same year.626 B.C., also marks the final end of what remained of the Ten‑Tribe kingdom, most of whom had been carried into captivity to Assyria at the fall of Samaria nearly a century earlier, and the consolidation of what was left into the southern kingdom of Judah. The 12th year of the reign of good king Josiah was marked by a zeal for reform in which he purged Judah from idolatry and restored true worship (2 Kings 22 & 23; 2 Chron.34:3‑7). This was the year 627 B.C. Following his successful operation in Judah, he next went into the northern territory, inhabited now by a smattering of Israelites and some alien peoples, and wiped out every trace of idolatry there, destroying the idol sanctuaries at Bethel and Dan and slaying the apostate priests. It is almost certain that a work of this magnitude would require more than a year for its execution so that an assumption that the significant date 626 B.C. saw its completion would appear to be amply justified.

Thus seen, Ezekiel's 390 years denoted the period from the accession of David to the complete end of the northern kingdom during which Assyrian power was in the ascendancy as the instrument of judgment, and the 40 years the later period during which Judah represented the entire nation and Babylon was the instrument of judgment. The two periods together give 430 years for the period of the Kings, a figure which reasonably satisfies all relevant data in the O.T., and since it is found in a setting which is not history but revelation it may well be concluded that here is an instance of the Holy Spirit supplying a positive link which can only be approximately estimated by other means.

*** ***  ***  ***  ***  *** ***

This completes the chain of chronological links furnished by the Bible and commencing with Gen.chap.5. After 586 B.C. there are no more links; but modern knowledge of ancient history is now so well advanced that an accurate knowledge of chronology since then is well established from sources outside the Scriptures.