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A Divided Kingdom

Division of the Kingdom

A few years before 930 BC, the prophet Ahijah appeared unto Jeroboam, who had charge of forced labor in the house of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh).  “Then Ahijah took hold of the new garment that was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces. And he said to Jeroboam, ‘Take for yourself ten pieces, for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: ‘Behold, I will tear the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and will give ten tribes to you  (but he shall have one tribe for the sake of My servant David, and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel),  because they have forsaken Me, and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the people of Ammon, and have not walked in My ways to do what is right in My eyes and keep My statutes and My judgments, as did his father David’” (1 Kings 11:30-33).

“However I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand, because I have made him ruler all the days of his life for the sake of My servant David, whom I chose because he kept My commandments and My statutes.  But I will take the kingdom out of his son’s hand and give it to you—ten tribes.  And to his son I will give one tribe, that My servant David may always have a lamp before Me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen for Myself, to put My name there. So I will take you, and you shall reign over all your heart desires, and you shall be king over Israel” (1 Kings 11:34-37).

There is some question regarding what happened to the tribe of Benjamin.  Were they included in the ten tribes given to Jeroboam or were they to remain and be included in the tribe of Judah.  The city of Jerusalem lies within the territory of Benjamin, and God makes it clear that Jerusalem shall remain forever His capital, and that it shall be an eternal lamp for David.  Most scholars believe that the tribe of Benjamin became part of the tribe of Judah, and remained loyal to the son’s of Solomon.  There is a possibility that the tribe was split although Scripture is silent on this matter.  There is also a question relating to the fate of the tribe of Simeon, who was given territory within the southern territory of Judah.  Some scholars believe that they moved north prior to this time, and were included in the ten tribes given to Jeroboam.

Now God instructs Jeroboam through Ahijah.  “Then it shall be, if you heed all that I command you, walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build for you an enduring house, as I built for David, and will give Israel to you. And I will afflict the descendants of David because of this, but not forever” (1 Kings 11:38-39).  Note God’s final word “But not always”.   He plans, some time in the future, to reunite the kingdom and His Son, the “Kings of Kings”, will sit upon the throne of David and reign forever.

When Solomon heard what had transpired, he sought to put Jeroboam to death.  But Jeroboam arose and fled to Egypt and stayed there until the death of Solomon (1 Kings 11:40).  After Solomon’s death, Jeroboam returned home and the kingdom was divided between Jeroboam and Rehoboam, the son of Solomon.  The Northern Kingdom, under Jeroboam, was called Israel and the Southern Kingdom, under Rehoboam, was called Judah.

The Kingdom of Israel

The binding force that had united the twelve tribes was the Mosaic covenant and the religious ceremonies associated with it.  Under the reign of David and Solomon, the center of religious ceremonies were at Jerusalem.  Therefore, one of the first jobs for Jeroboam was to change the location for ceremonies, from Jerusalem to another location.  Otherwise, the tribes would remain united.

During his days in Egypt, Jeroboam became involved in the worship of the golden calf, and when he opened the new religious centers, he organized the worship services around the golden calf.

“Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the mountains of Ephraim, and dwelt there. Also he went out from there and built Penuel.  And Jeroboam said in his heart, ‘Now the kingdom may return to the house of David:  If these people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah.’  Therefore the king asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!’ And he set up one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan” (1 Kings 12:25-30).

Dan was located about twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee in the upper end of the Hule Valley, at the foot of Mount Hermon.  The tribe of Dan had already begun the worship of Canaanite gods.  Later, during the days of Jesus, the place was called Caesarea Philippi.  The city of Bethel was located about twelve miles north of Jerusalem, on the southern border of Ephraim.  Thus, the two cities marked the northern and southern borders of the Kingdom of Israel.  The ten tribes worshiped the golden calf at these two locations for the next 200 years.

“He made shrines on the high places, and made priests from every class of people, who were not of the sons of Levi” (1 Kings 12:31). “For the Levites left their common-lands and their possessions and came to Judah and Jerusalem, for Jeroboam and his sons had rejected them from serving as priests to the Lord” (2 Chr. 11:14).

“Jeroboam ordained a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the feast that was in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did at Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made. And at Bethel he installed the priests of the high places which he had made. So he made offerings on the altar which he had made at Bethel on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, in the month which he had devised in his own heart. And he ordained a feast for the children of Israel, and offered sacrifices on the altar and burned incense” (1 Kings 12:32-33).

Satan changed God’s worship rules through his servant, Jeroboam.  The object of worship was changed from God, the Creator, to a golden calf.  God’s ordained priestly tribe of Levi was relieved of its duties and expelled from the land of Israel.  Also, a new feast day was added on the fifteenth day of the eighth month.  Let us be reminded that the Mosaic laws required that the fifteenth day of the seventh month be celebrated as the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:33-44).  As the Word says, Jeroboam devised the new feast day in his own heart, and celebrated it in the eighth month rather than the seventh month.

Jeroboam reigned for twenty-two years, and there was war between Israel and Judah all of his days.  Then God took the throne away from Jeroboam and gave it to another.  “Therefore behold! I will bring disaster on the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam every male in Israel, bond and free; I will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as one takes away refuse until it is all gone.  The dogs shall eat whoever belongs to Jeroboam and dies in the city, and the birds of the air shall eat whoever dies in the field; for the Lord has spoken” (1 Kings 14:10-11)!

During the next thirty years, the Northern Kingdom of Israel suffered great turbulence, and three different dynasties ruled, before it was stabilized under the dynasty of Omri.  Perhaps, we will remember Omri as the father of Ahab.  Omri served only twelve years, but during those years he built a new capital at Samaria, located about eight miles northwest of Shechem.  Because of his building project, he gained much fame and for years the kingdom of Israel was known as the “Land of Omri”.  However, Scripture says that: “Omri did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and did worse than all who were before him. For he walked in all the ways of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in his sin by which he had made Israel sin, provoking the LORD God of Israel to anger with their idols” (1 Kings 16:25-26).

Ahab, the son of Omri, became king of Israel about 875 BC, and he reigned with his infamous, wicked wife, Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Sidon.  The Phoenician princess, Jezebel, practiced the worship of the Canaanite god of nature, Baal, and Goddess of fertility, Astarte.  Soon after marrying Ahab, Jezebel reintroduced these gods, which demanded human sacrifice and temple prostitution, into the religion of Israel.

It was during these years that God raised up two of the greatest oral prophets: Elijah and his successor, Elisha.  Sixteen chapters of Scripture, 1 Kings 17 through 2 Kings 10, are devoted to the struggles of Elijah and Elisha against the prophets of Baal, Jezebel, and the house of Ahab.

Twenty-two years later, God raised up a young man named Jehu, who following instructions from Elisha, defeated the house of Ahab, and destroyed the idols of Baal.

The reign of Jehu began in 843 BC and his dynasty lasted for almost 100 years.  Scripture says that Jehu eradicated Baal worship, but he “departed not from the sins of Jeroboam”, and worshipped the golden calves at Bethel and Dan (2 Kings 10:29-31).  During the last days of the reign of Ahab, the Assyrians under the leadership of their King, Shalmaneser II, began to come into the land of Israel.  For years, Israel fought against the Assyrians, but during the dynasty of Jehu, Israel was required to pay tribute to the Assyrians.

During the reign of Jeroboam II, great-grandson of Jehu, God raised up the prophet Jonah, and instructed him to go to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, and to witness to the Assyrians.  After some persuasion on the part of God, Jonah went and the Assyrians repented.  For several years there was peace and prosperity under Jeroboam II.  However, Jeroboam II, by worshiping the golden calves, did evil in the sight of God and departed not from the sins of Jeroboam I (2 Kings 14:23-24) .

About 750 BC, during the reign of Jeroboam II, the prophets Hosea and Amos came into the Northern Kingdom and begin to prophesy about the destruction that was about to occur.

By the year, 721 BC, Israel’s end was near – God had had enough of her apostasy!  “Now the king of Assyria went throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria and besieged it for three years.”   “For so it was that the children of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God”….”and had walked in the statutes of the nations whom the LORD had cast out from before the children of Israel.”  “And they rejected His statutes and His covenant that He had made with their fathers, and His testimonies which He had testified against them.”  “So they left all the commandments of the LORD their God, made for themselves a molded image and two calves, made a wooden image and worshiped all the host of heaven, and served Baal.  And they caused their sons and daughters to pass through the fire, practiced witchcraft and soothsaying, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger. Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight; there was none left but the tribe of Judah alone” (2 Kings 17:5, 7a, 8a, 15a, 16-18).

“So Israel was carried away from their own land to Assyria, as it is to this day. Then the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel; and they took possession of Samaria and dwelt in its cities.” (2 Kings 17:23b-24).  

Over the years these displaced foreigners intermarried with the Jews in and around Jerusalem, and became the forefathers of the hated, half-breed Samaritans of Jesus’ day.

The Kingdom of Judah

The kingdom of Judah began with the reign of Rehoboam, son of Solomon, about 930 BC, and lasted almost 350 years.  Although named after the tribe of Judah, the kingdom also contained the Levites, most of the Benjaminites, and probably a remnant from other tribes who had remained faithful to God, and desired to worship in the Holy City.  Unlike the Northern Kingdom of Israel, the Southern Kingdom moved through cycles of apostasy, revival, and faithfulness.  But God remained faithful to his promise to David, and his dynasty was unbroken. The history of both Israel and Judah is entwined in First and Second Kings, and it is difficult for most readers to separate the two.  However, Second Chronicles provides a chronological sequence to the history of Judah, and is recommended for those who want to study more of the details than we can provide in this article.

The center of activity and worship was within the Holy City of Jerusalem.  As the years went by, the city continued to grow.  One of the easiest ways to visualize the topographic of Jerusalem is to study the location and names of three ridges and three valleys.  The City of David sat upon eleven acres on the lower slope of Mount Moriah, and Solomon expanded the city upon the second level where he built the temple and palace.  Using Mount Moriah, running north and south, as a reference mark, we can visualize the city.  To the east, the Kidron Valley (also called valley of Jehoshaphat) separates Mount Moriah from the Mount of Olives.  To the west, the Tyropoeon valley (later called Cheesemakers Valley) separates Mount Moriah from the third ridge, which is called Mount Zion.  The third valley, the Hinnom Valley, runs north to south down the western side of Mount Zion, and then turns southeast to join the other two valleys at the foot of Mount Moriah.  The Hinnom Valley, which separates the territory of Judah and Benjamin, became the center of pagan worship in Jerusalem.

For twenty years after the death of Solomon, his son, Rehoboam, and grandson, Abijah, led the people in the worship of the idols which Solomon had erected to the gods of his Gentile wives.  These idols had been placed across the Kidron Valley on the Mount of Olives.  As the years went by, they began to move the idols into the valleys.  Rehoboam also placed them upon surrounding mountaintops called “High Places”.

After the death of Abijah, his son, Asa, came to the throne and led the people in a revival.  For sixty-five years, the people remained faithful to God under the reign of Asa and his son, Jehoshaphat.  During the reign of Jehoshaphat, Judah made peace with Israel, and the house of Jehoshaphat became friendly to the house of Ahab and Jezebel.  Soon the son of Jehoshaphat took a bride from the house of Ahab, and Jezebel wasted no time in introducing Baalism into the worship of Judah, thus taking Judah into a new cycle of apostasy.

After Jehu eradicated Baalism from Israel and Judah, a young seven-year old boy named Joash came to the throne of Judah.  Jehoiada, his uncle and the high priest, reared Joash in the ways of God.

Jehoiada ruled Judah for several years through his nephew, Joash.  During their joint reign, Jehoiada led the people in a revival, and made major repairs to the temple.  However, the revival was short lived, and after the death of Jehoiada, Joash turned his back on God.  The cycle continued between apostasy and revival for the next 100 years.

Perhaps, some of Judah’s darkest days occurred about twenty years before Assyria took the ten tribes of Israel into captivity.  Not only was Assyria a threat to Judah, but also one of Judah’s most wicked kings was on the throne.  Ahaz reintroduced Baal worship, revived Moloch worship, and burned his own sons as a sacrifice to Moloch (2 Kings 16:3-4,2; Chr. 28:3-4). As a result of his sins, God delivered him into the hand of the Syrians, the Edomites, and the Philistines – many of the people of Judah were taken captive and slain.  In his panic, Ahaz began to sacrifice to any god he could find.  He made for himself altars in every corner of Jerusalem and in every city of Judah, and he made high places to burn incense unto other gods (2 Chr. 28:24-25). In his distress, he appealed unto the mighty Assyrians for protection, but was turned down.  As the Assyrian warriors began their march from the north, it appeared that Judah, like Israel, was destined to go into captivity.

Six years before the Northern Kingdom, Israel, went into captivity, Ahaz died and his son, Hezekiah, came to the throne of Judah.  Under his leadership, and the prophets, Micah and Isaiah, the kingdom of Judah experienced great revival.  Hezekiah called the priests and Levites together, and instructed them to cleanse the temple, light the golden lamps, burn incense on the altar, and prepare the great brazen altar for sacrifices.  He sent workers into the valleys and “High Places” destroying the idols of pagan gods.  When everything had been accomplished, the people returned to the temple of God, their Creator, to make their sacrifices and to celebrate the Holy Feast days.

Because of their repentance, God had mercy upon the kingdom, and saved the city of Jerusalem from the destruction of the Assyrians.  God gave Hezekiah instructions, telling him  how to fortify the city.  The people dug a huge tunnel under the walls to bring the water from the Gihon spring into the city.  Water has always been critical, and in many cases, during a siege, the supply of water was a decisive factor in the defense of a city.  The people had ample water to withstand the siege as water flowed through the tunnel to the Pool of Siloam, which was located inside the wall at the foot of Mount Moriah.  God then sent the “Angel of the Lord” to fight against the Assyrians, and 185 thousand were slain in one day (2 Kings 19:35). Thus God saved the Kingdom of Judah from Assyrian captivity.

After the death of Hezekiah, a new generation soon forgot their God and returned to the worship of idols.  God was patient for another hundred years, but by the year 600 BC, a new world power was sweeping the land.  The revived Babylonian Empire, under Nebuchadnezzar, was collecting tribute from Judah.  Already, the temple treasures and some of the people had been taken to Babylon, and the total destruction of Jerusalem was near.

It was during these last days that the prophet Jeremiah prophesied about the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the future restoration of Israel. Jeremiah said that the nation would remain in captivity for seventy years before returning to their homeland.

The end came in 586 BC, the city of Jerusalem was burned to the ground, and all, except for a few of the poorest people, were taken captive to Babylon.  This date marks the beginning of a new era on God’s calendar – called by Jesus “The Age of the Gentiles”.  No one will sit upon the throne of David and rule over the house of Israel again until this age comes to an end, and the “King of Kings” and “Lord of Lords” returns to set up his earthly kingdom.

This completes our study of “The Golden Years of Israel”. Please return to the “History” section for the next study.

All quoted scripture is of the New Kings James version unless noted.