Basically, a royal government; also the territory and peoples under the rule of a king or, less frequently, under a female monarch or queen. Often the kingship was hereditary. The sovereign ruler might bear other titles such as Pharaoh or Caesar.
Kingdoms of ancient times, as today, had various symbols of royalty. There was generally a capital city or place of the king’s residence, a royal court, a standing army (though perhaps quite reduced in size in times of peace). The word “kingdom,” as used in the Bible, does not of itself reveal anything definite as to the governmental structure, the territorial extent, or the authority of the monarch. Kingdoms ranged in size and influence from the mighty world powers such as Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome, on down to small city-kingdoms such as those in Canaan at the time of the Israelite conquest. (Jos 12:7-24) The governmental structure also might vary considerably from kingdom to kingdom.
The first kingdom of human history, that of Nimrod, seems to have been initially a city-kingdom, later extending its realm to include other cities, its base remaining at Babel. (Ge 10:9-11) Salem, over which King-Priest Melchizedek ruled in the first kingdom with divine approval, was also apparently a city-kingdom. (Ge 14:18-20; compare Heb 7:1-17.) Larger kingdoms embraced an entire region, such as the kingdoms of Edom, Moab, and Ammon. The great empires, ruling vast areas and having other kingdoms tributary to them, generally seem to have arisen or grown out of small city-states or tribal groups that eventually combined under a dominant leader. Such coalitions were sometimes of a temporary nature, often formed for war against a common foe. (Ge 14:1-5; Jos 9:1, 2; 10:5) Vassal kingdoms frequently enjoyed a considerable degree of autonomy, or self-rule, though subject to the will and demands of the suzerain power.—2Ki 17:3, 4; 2Ch 36:4, 10.
Broad Usage. In Scriptural use the term “kingdom” may refer to specific aspects of a royal government. It can refer to the realm or geographic area over which sovereignty is exercised. The royal realm thus included not merely the capital city but the entire domain, embracing any subordinate or tributary kingdoms.—1Ki 4:21; Es 3:6, 8.
It may signify kingship, the royal office or position of the king (Lu 17:21), with its accompanying dignity, power, and authority. (1Ch 11:10; 14:2; Lu 19:12, 15; Re 11:15; 17:12, 13, 17) Children of the king may be referred to as “the offspring of the kingdom.”—2Ki 11:1.
The Israelite Kingdom. The Law covenant given through Moses to the nation of Israel made provision for a kingdom rule. (De 17:14, 15) The individual heading the kingdom was empowered and given royal dignity, not for personal exaltation, but to serve for the honor of God and the good of his Israelite brothers. (De 17:19, 20; compare 1Sa 15:17.) Nevertheless, when the Israelites in course of time requested a human king, the prophet Samuel warned of the demands such a ruler would make upon the people. (1Sa 8) The kings of Israel seem to have been more approachable and more accessible to their subjects than were the monarchs of most ancient Oriental kingdoms.—2Sa 19:8; 1Ki 20:39; 1Ch 15:25-29.
Though the kingdom of Israel began with a king from the line of Benjamin, Judah thereafter became the royal tribe, in keeping with Jacob’s deathbed prophecy. (1Sa 10:20-25; Ge 49:10) A royal dynasty was established in David’s line. (2Sa 2:4; 5:3, 4; 7:12, 13) When the kingdom was ‘ripped away’ from Solomon’s son Rehoboam, ten tribes formed a northern kingdom, while Jehovah God retained one tribe, Benjamin, to remain with Judah, “in order that David my servant may continue having a lamp always before me in Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen for myself to put my name there.” (1Ki 11:31, 35, 36; 12:18-24) Though the Judean kingdom fell to the Babylonians in 607 B.C.E., the legal right to rule eventually passed on to the rightful heir, the “son of David,” Jesus Christ. (Mt 1:1-16; Lu 1:31, 32; compare Eze 21:26, 27.) His Kingdom was to be endless.—Isa 9:6, 7; Lu 1:33.
A royal organization developed in Israel to administer the interests of the kingdom. It consisted of an inner circle of advisers and ministers of state (1Ki 4:1-6; 1Ch 27:32-34), as well as various governmental departments with their respective overseers to administer crown lands, supervise the economy, and supply the needs of the royal court.—1Ki 4:7; 1Ch 27:25-31.
While the kings of Israel in the Davidic line could issue specific orders, the actual legislative power rested with God. (De 4:1, 2; Isa 33:22) In all things the king was responsible to the true Sovereign and Lord, Jehovah. Wrongdoing and waywardness on the part of the king would bring divine sanctions. (1Sa 13:13, 14; 15:20-24) Jehovah at times communicated with the king himself (1Ki 3:5; 11:11); at other times he gave him instructions and counsel or reproof through appointed prophets. (2Sa 7:4, 5; 12:1-14) The king could also draw upon the wise counsel of the body of older men. (1Ki 12:6, 7) The enforcement of instructions or reproof, however, rested, not with the prophets or older men, but with Jehovah.
When the king and the people faithfully adhered to the Law covenant given them by God, the nation of Israel enjoyed a degree of individual freedom, material prosperity, and national harmony unparalleled by other kingdoms. (1Ki 4:20, 25) During the years of Solomon’s obedience to Jehovah, the Israelite kingdom was widely renowned and respected, having many tributary kingdoms and benefiting from the resources of many lands.—1Ki 4:21, 30, 34.
Jehovah God’s kingship, while visibly expressed for a time through the Israelite kingdom, is one of universal sovereignty. (1Ch 29:11, 12) Whether acknowledged by the peoples and kingdoms of mankind or not, his kingship is absolute and unalterable, and all the earth is part of his rightful domain. (Ps 103:19; 145:11-13; Isa 14:26, 27) By virtue of His creatorship, Jehovah exercises his sovereign will in heaven and on earth, according to his own purposes, answerable to no one (Jer 18:3-10; Da 4:25, 34, 35), yet always acting in harmony with his own righteous standards.—Mal 3:6; Heb 6:17, 18; Jas 1:17.