931 – 722 B. C. Part 1
The vast empire that David and Solomon had united under their reigns soon disintegrated following Solomon’s death. The northern tribes went into revolt, leaving David’s dynasty with only Judah and Benjamin. The results of this monarchy almost led the tribes into open civil war, but armed conflict was averted by the Lord’s intervention. According to I Kings 12: 21 – 24, God specifically spoke to them and told them that they needed to go back home and not fight against their own brethren. They decided they had better hearken to His Word.
It is important to distinguish between the reason for the division and the circumstances under which it took place. The underlying cause was Solomon’s apostasy, idolatry, and disobedience. He had built high places for the gods of his heathen wives and had also participated in their own worship himself. The Lord told him: “Since this has been your mind and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes which I have commanded, you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant” (I Kings 1 1: 1 1). The circumstances that God used to bring about this judgment are recorded in I Kings 12. Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, forsook the advice of his wise counselors to become a servant of the people. Instead, he promised to make their burdens heavier. In response, Jeroboam, who had formerly served the administration of Solomon, led the ten northern tribes in revolt. Now the northern kingdom was known as Israel, and the southern kingdom retained the name of Judah.
Highlights of the Divided Monarchy
The political history of the divided monarchy falls into four main periods, characterized by conflict, alliance, parallel independence, and Assyrian domination.
The Period of Conflict: 931 – 875 B. C. ( I Kings 12: 1 – 16: 28)
Although the Lord’s intervention prevented the outbreak of hostilities immediately following the rebellion by Jeroboam, the spirit of mutual toleration did not last long. The biblical record indicates that “there was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam continually” (I Kings 14:30). The first sixty years of the divided monarchy were characterized by military conflict between the northern kingdom Israel and the southern kingdom Judah. The warfare finally ceased when the border between the two kingdoms was firmly established between Mizpah and Bethel.
After leading the northern tribes into rebellion, it occurred to Jeroboam that Judah’s possession of Jerusalem and the temple gave the southern kingdom a distinct advantage in providing a rallying point for the people. He feared that the citizens of the northern tribes would travel to Jerusalem for religious festivals and soon recognize and support Rehoboam’s rule. His solution was to establish worship centers in Dan and Bethel which were at the northern and southern extremities of his kingdom. He proceeded to institute golden-calf worship in the religious centers and established a priesthood that was not of the tribe of Levi. He also appointed a feast to be observed one month after the traditional Feast of Tabernacles. The pagan religion, substitute priesthood, and supplementary feast served to unite the people of the northern tribes under Jeroboam’s rule. The sin of idolatrous worship was perpetuated by his successors, who ruled in the same manner as he had ruled.
Rehoboam was Solomon’s son, but he did not do much better with his people than Jeroboam was doing. Judah also neglected the law and was led into idolatry. The idolatrous activities tolerated by him led to a revival of the Canaanite religion in Judah. It was not until the rule of Asa, who was Judah’s first great religious reformer, that the trend toward religious apostasy started being reversed.
After brief periods of rule by leaders as ineffective as Jeroboam had been, the northern kingdom’s army made their general, Omri, king of Israel. He is best known for his founding a new capital at Samaria. He was succeeded by his son, Ahab, who is known for perhaps being the most ungodly of the northern kings.
The Period of Alliance: 874 – 835 B. C. (I Kings 16:29 – 2 Kings 1 1: 16)
A period of alliance between Israel and Judah began when Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, made peace with Ahab, king of Israel in I Kings 22:44. The two kingdoms then carried on several joint military campaigns. This alliance had disastrous spiritual consequences, for the treaty was sealed by the marriage of Athaliah, Ahab’s daughter, to Jehoram, Jehoshaphat’s son. When Athaliah came to live with Jehoram, she brought the idols of her mother, Jezebel, and Baal worship took hold of the kingdom of Judah.
Jezebel, Ahab’s wife and Athaliah’s mother, had brought the worship of Baal-melqart (“Baal, king of the town”) from Phoenicia. This god was identical with the Canaanite Baal and claimed power over fertility, rain, vegetation, fire, death, and progeny (their offspring). Jezebel’s efforts to make the Baal cult the official religion of Israel brought her into conflict with Elijah, and both Elijah and his successor Elisha fought against the paganism introduced by Jezebel. Both of them defended the orthodox faith and attacked the beliefs about Baal. Their miracles demonstrated that Yahweh was the one true God and Baal was no god at all.
Toward the end of this period, characterized mostly by religious failure, both Israel and Judah suffered some major political setbacks. Samaria was capital of the northern kingdom (Israel) and it was besieged by the Arameans. The terrible famine that resulted led to the horror of cannibalism. During this same period, Edom and Libnah revolted from Judah’s control. The overly zealous enthusiasm of Israel’s King Jehu for purging the political and religious order of both kingdoms brought the period of alliance to a bloody conclusion.
The Period of Parallel Independence: 835 – 740 B. C.
(2 Kings 1 1: 1 7 – 1 5: 26)
A period of independence for each of the kingdoms was brought about by two main events: the slaying of Ahaziah, king of Judah, by Jehu; and the killing of Athaliah, Ahab’s daughter, by the captains of Judah when Joash was installed as king. During this period, the kingdoms experienced an occasional clash, but for the most part each tolerated the other’s existence and grew very powerful. The later part of this period has been regarded as the golden era for both Israel and Judah.
This prosperous period began with spiritual reform in Judah under the direction of Jehoiada, the priest who served as counselor to the boy king, Joash. The system of Baal cult worship was destroyed, and the priests of Baal killed. When the Jerusalem temple was repaired, true worship was reinstituted in Judah. Sadly, after Jehoiada’s death, Joash permitted the people to abandon the temple and return to pagan worship.
This highlight of this period was the great territorial expansion undertaken by both kingdoms. Jeroboam II secured for Israel the regions as far north as Damascus and Hamath. Uzziah (Azariah) was able to extend Judah’s border as far south as Elath on the Gulf of Aqaba. He also expanded his kingdom west into Philistine territory and east into the Transjordan. The combined territories of Israel and Judah was as expansive as Solomon’s kingdom at the peak of his prosperity. Yet the glory of the two independent Israelite kingdoms quickly faded in the advance of the powerful Assyrians. Soon, Menahem, then king of Israel, was forced to pay tribute to the king of Assyria. By so doing, he retained his throne, but became just another Assyrian puppet.
The Period of Assyrian Domination: 740 – 722 B. C.
(2 Kings 15:27 – 17:4 1)
It was under the leadership of Tiglath-pileser III (754 – 722 B. C.) that the kingdom of Assyria grew to become an empire that eventually swallowed up the petty kingdoms of Aram and Israel. Tiglath-pileser was not satisfied with the mere surrender of kings and receipt of their tribute. He initiated the annexation of conquered territories to the Assyrian state by reducing them to provinces governed by Assyrian deputies. Potential opposition to Assyrian rule was overcome by Assyrian deputies. Potential opposition to Assyrian rule was overcome by exiling the noble classes of the conquered regions and resettling other populations in their place. Although both Israel and Judah fell under Assyrian dominion, for Israel it meant the end of the kingdom.
As the Assyrian threat increased, Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Damascus formed an alliance to resist the aggressors. Ahaz, king of Judah, refused to join the anti-Assyrian coalition and was attacked by Pekah and Rezin. Ignoring the warnings of Isaiah, Ahaz appealed to Assyria for help. Tiglah-pileser responded with three devastating campaigns against both Israel and Damascus. They captured portions of northern Israel and exiled a number of captives to Assyria. After the conquered regions were divided into Assyrian provinces – Dor, Megiddo, and Gilead, the days of the kingdom of Israel were numbered. It was roughly during this period that Amos, Hosea, and Micah rebuked Israel’s apostasy and called the nation to repentance.
The end was brought more quickly when Hoshea, king of Israel, joined Egypt in a revolt against Assyria and refused to pay the annual tribute. In response, Shalmaneser V (727 – 722 B. C. ) marched on the northern kingdom and besieged Samaria for three years. Sargon II (722 – 705 B. C.) succeeded Shalmaneser and finalized the capture of Samaria. He then exiled 27,290 of the citizens of Israel to the distance regions of the Assyrian Empire and repopulated Samaria with idolatrous foreigners. This was standard practice for Assyria. This way they could saturate their own religion over the nation quickly.
The captivity of Samaria brought the period of the divided monarchy to an end. The people of the northern kingdom had broken the covenant. They had taken the path of death and adversity rather than the way of life and prosperity. Having broken the stipulations of the covenant with God, they inherited the consequent judgment. This included exile from the Promised Land.
In the next text we will learn if Judah learned from this lesson or continued in her own sinful ways of her fallen sister to the north.