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Why didn’t a system of kings work out in the Old Testament period?

TitleWhy didn’t a system of kings work out in the Old Testament period?
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1974
AuthorsNyman, Monte S.
Issue Number2
Date PublishedFebruary 1974
KeywordsKingdom of Israel; Kingdom of Judah; Kingship

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It is interesting that prophets in both the Book of Mormon and the Old Testament warn against adopting a monarchy. Why didn’t a system of kings work out in the Old Testament period?

Monte Nyman

Associate Professor of Ancient Scripture, Brigham Young University

As one reads the brief records in the books of Kings and Chronicles, most of the kings are introduced with a phrase such as “and he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord,” or “and he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord.” Saul, David, and Solomon each had their periods of righteousness, and each fell because of evil practices. However, the divided kingdoms really explain why the kings did not succeed in the Old Testament. Of the 17 kings who reigned in divided Israel, Jeroboam, the first to reign, did both good and evil. Thirteen others are labeled as evil, and no comment is made of the other three, but their reigns were short. Of the 20 kings who reigned in the divided kingdom of Judah, nine are labeled as good and nine are labeled as evil. The two who are not labeled also had brief reigns. Each kingdom was destroyed and captured following a number of successive evil kings.

The Book of Mormon gives us a further explanation of this form of government in King Mosiah’s great sermon. (Mosiah 29.) The principles involved include:

  1. If it were possible to have “just men to be your kings, who would establish the laws of God, and judge this people according to his commandment,” it would be “expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you.” (Mosiah 29:13.)
  2. Because all men are not just, it is not expedient that a king should rule over them, for one wicked king causes much iniquity and great destruction. (Mosiah 29:16–17.)
  3. You cannot dethrone “an iniquitous king save it be through much contention and the shedding of much blood” because of his having “friends in iniquity and his guards about him; and he teareth up the laws of those who have reigned in righteousness before him. …” (Mosiah 29:21–22.)
  4. The king enacts laws according to his own wickedness and destroys those who do not obey or rebel against him, thus perverting the ways of all righteousness. (Mosiah 29:23.)

The book of Ether is a second witness to these principles. The brother of Jared, when his people desired a king, protested: “Surely this thing leadeth into captivity.” (Ether 6:23.) His prophetic warning was fulfilled in the second generation of monarchy.

Thus, monarchy in the Old Testament period did not work primarily because evil men rose to the throne.