Book Review: Rogues in Royal Robes, A J Monty White (DayOne 2020).

How good is your knowledge of the Kings and Queens of the Old Testament? If you’re anything like me, perhaps the answer is: it could definitely be better. In Rogues in Royal Robes White seeks to address this gap in many contemporary Christians’ knowledge. With just seven short chapters, this book provides a helpful little introduction to the rulers of the Northern and Southern kings of Israel, seeking to illuminate the chronology of the Biblical account, whilst illustrating the historicity of Scripture through the examination of pertinent archaeological and historical evidence. White reveals the human kings of ancient Israel who again and again fail as leaders. This negative picture is then helpfully contrasted in the final chapter with Jesus Christ, the one Biblical king who, White shows, could never be considered a royal rogue.

Overall this is a helpful introduction to what is a confusing period of Biblical history. There is perhaps a little confusion in the book as to what exactly it is trying to be, but it is a useful resource for trying to understand the Divided Kingdom and its place in the Bible story.

Solid Introduction

White’s book provides a solid introduction to the confusing world of the books of Kings and Chronicles. What can at times be a confusing mess of dates, names and places is nonetheless a wonderfully rich part of God’s word, and White’s book goes some way to clearing up a little of what is going on in these four Bible books. Though it is not a commentary, it provides helpful background, fleshing out several of these kings in detail, and providing useful information on many more.

Chapter two: ‘Making sense of the history of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah’ was a particularly helpful introduction to the chronology and geography discussed, whilst the closing section of chapter three, which examined the historical origins of the Samaritans, was another highlight for this reviewer.

As well as being an introduction to the subject matter, White cannot quite escape his pastoral background, and this pops up every now and then with helpful comments or challenges. I particularly enjoyed his closing challenge of chapter six, which discussed Joash. White speaks of the way in which Joash abandoned the faith of his youth and challenges his readers (113): “I have seen many young people in churches who appear to follow God when their relatives (particularly their grandparents) are alive… however, when those relatives die, the young people stop going to church and want nothing more to do with the Lord… they behave just as King Joash did when his old uncle Jehoiada died. So how about you? Do you serve the Lord because you have a relative who influences you? Would you still serve the Lord if that relative died? Or have you a heart like King Joash?” Though this direct call to genuine faith is by no means the focus of the book, it is helpful to be reminded that we are dealing with the history of Scripture here, and God’s call to obedient faith runs through every page. This White does really well.

Identity Crisis?

Though Rogues in Royal Robes offers a helpful introduction to this period I was struck a little by the sense that this book flip-flopped between being an introduction to the Biblical narrative, and a case for the historicity of that narrative. Both are beneficial aims, but whereas some chapters (such as chapter three on King Omri) included plenty of archaeological and extra-biblical evidence to paint a picture of the situation being discussed, some (such as chapter five on King Jehu) stuck simply to the Biblical text and offered little else to develop the discussion.

This is by no means an attempt to say that offering only a discussion of Scripture is in some way weaker than the alternative, but rather than the movement between the two approaches was at times a bit disappointing.

The failure of human kings, the hope of Christ

Nonetheless, consistently running through the book was the theme that these kings failed God’s people. Time and again they were shown to be evil, cruel and self-serving. They were shown to turn their backs upon God, seek their own pleasure, and worship idols and foreign gads. Rogues in Royal Robes paints a clear and biblical picture: these kings were a disaster. But it ends with a final chapter that seeks to point the reader to a greater king. Because ultimately God’s people need a true and loving ruler, a ruler wholly after God’s own heart, who can lead them in the way of salvation. And this ruler is found to be Jesus Christ. White helpfully shows us how, unlike the sinful kings of ancient Israel, Christ alone offers hope to all who follow Him.

Conclusion

This short book was an interesting read, largely because its subject matter is so often glossed over or ignored as we work our way through Scripture. But as Paul so helpfully reminds us in 2 Timothy 3:14, all of God’s word is useful to the believer, and this book seeks to help us better understand God’s word in 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles.

If you are interested in finding out more about these ancient kings and queens of Israel, I would recommend this book as a good introduction to them. It is not academic, nor comprehensive, and there are a few flaws. It is, however, a helpful introduction to a tricky bit of Bible history, and it is written in a readable and friendly manner.

You can pick up a copy from DayOne directly, or from your traditional Christian booksellers.

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