The Divided Kingdom of Israel
db’s Bible Study Notes
Table of Contents
The Divided Kingdom of Israel 1
The Causes of the Breakup. 1
The Geopolitical Situation. 3
The Causes of the Breakup
Before studying the individual kings of Israel and Judah it is helpful to have some understanding of the reason the kingdom split. Also, both kingdoms followed a foreign policy that produced disastrous results for their people. A basic understanding of this policy is helpful in understanding the message various kings received from the prophets and why both kingdoms eventually became captives of foreign powers. (The Ten Tribes have been lost to history since the Assyrians took them captive whereas Judah returned from the Babylonian captivity, although it was never again ruled by the House of David as an independent people.)
Following the death of Solomon the kingdom split into the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. For over four hundred years, until the reign of David, Ephraim, since it was the most populous, powerful, and prosperous tribe was the dominant power in Israel. The center of both political power and worship was located in Ephraim. The Ark of the Covenant was kept in Shiloh and was the center of religious worship for the Israelites. Shiloh is nine miles from Bethel, which is also located within the boundaries of Ephraim and was one of the most sacred places in Israel. It was in Bethel (first called Luz) that Abraham built his alter after arriving in Canaan. Also, in Bethel Jacob had his dream. In contrast until David’s time, the city that would later be called Jerusalem was inhabited by the Jebusites, a non-Israelite people. During David’s reign Jerusalem was more of a military outpost than a capitol city. It is easy to see how building the temple in Jerusalem could be seen by Ephraimites as building it on foreign soil and cause serious resentment. Ephraim felt that Judah stole its birthright.
Moreover the economic base of the kingdom had been primarily agricultural until the reign of Solomon. Solomon transformed Jerusalem from a military stronghold into a massive commercial trading center. To accomplish this feat he imposed heavy taxes upon the people and conscripted laborers through the kingdom with many of his subjects being compelled to labor without pay one month each year in the building projects of Jerusalem. In addition to his building program, Solomon maintained a large military force, which further added to heavy tax burden imposed on his subjects. The major beneficiary of Solomon’s activity was the tribe of Judah, which became prosperous as the economic base of the kingdom shifted from agriculture to commerce and benefited from the conscripted, unpaid labor of Ephraim and the other Northern tribes. Solomon’s reign saw the beginnings of a migration of many people of various tribes from their ancestral homelands to Jerusalem. In contrast the agricultural areas of the kingdom, lead by Ephraim, suffered greatly from this burden of taxation and conscripted labor, while received little or nothing to compensate them for the taxes they paid and unpaid labor they provided. As Jerusalem grew at their expense of the Ephraim and the other northern tribes, Ephraim grew jealous of Judah. With the tribe of Judah exempt from many taxes as well as the burden of conscripted labor Ephraim had a second even more powerful reason to resent Jerusalem and the tribe of Judah. (The prophesies of Samuel, who urged the people not to adopt a king, were fulfilled by the heavy tax burden imposed by Solomon on the people.)
It is easy to see the causes of friction between Judah and Ephraim. Without this understanding, it is hard to understand the prophecy that in the latter later days Ephraim would no longer be jealous of Judah, and Judah would no longer vex Ephraim.
Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, was anointed king following the death of Solomon. Representatives of the northern tribes petitioned for relief from the taxation imposed by Solomon. Ignoring the advice of his older advisors and listening to the “young Turks” who were his companions he rejected the petition of Ephraim and increased taxes. The result was the kingdom split in two. The southern kingdom consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to the House of David and were ruled by Rehoboam becoming known as the kingdom of Judah. (The tribe of Benjamin was geographically the closest to Judah and to some degree benefited by the commercial buildup of Jerusalem.) The northern ten tribes were ruled by Jeroboam and continued to be called the kingdom of Israel.
Jeroboam I, an Ephraimite, had been a successful general for Solomon. He was rewarded with building projects in Jerusalem and was also made administrator of the house of Joseph, consisting of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. After the prophet Ahijah revealed that one day Jeroboam would rule the northern tribes he was banished to Egypt by Solomon.
The northern tribes selected Jeroboam to be their king, believing correctly that with his military background he would bring success to their revolt. (See 1 Kings 11 and 12.) At first the capital of the northern kingdom was located in Shechem but it was later moved to the city of Samaria. (Samaria in various Biblical verses sometimes refers to a city, a province, and at times the entire northern kingdom of Israel. After the Ten Tribes were taken into captivity the term Samaritans referred to the people who inhabited the land that had once belonged to the northern ten tribes of Israel and were of mixed blood.)
Jeroboam was promised by the prophet Ahijah that if we would serve the Lord and shun idolatry his dynasty would continue; however, he lacked faith in the prophesies of Ahijah and feared that the people would abandon him and reunite with the southern kingdom of Judah. Apparently his fear was that because the center of worship was the temple in Jerusalem that religious pressures would be brought to bear upon the people forcing them to again accept the rule of the House of David. He responded to this fear by promoting idolatry and abandoning the worship of Jehovah. The result was his dynasty fell and twenty monarchs, from five dynasties, ruled the Northern Kingdom. All were unfaithful in their worship of the Lord. Seven kings were assassinated, one committed suicide, and finally the nation was taken into captivity by Assyria in fulfillment of prophecy about what would happen if the people were led away from the worship of Jehovah.
Rehoboam (931-913 B.C.) was the lawful heir of Solomon, and at the death of his father faced what today would be termed a constitutional crisis. For reasons explained above—unpaid conscriptions of labor and a heavy, inequitable system of taxation that favored Judah at the expense of Ephraim—the northern tribes lead by Ephraim demanded reform and asserted theirs rights. (The situation would be similar to a group of states asserting the doctrine of states rights under the constitution.)
Tradition gave the tribes the right of making king the prince that God had chosen to rule. (This practice was similar to the sustaining vote that church leaders today must receive before being ordained to the office they are called to fill.) The tribes of Israel had followed the custom in the case of Saul, David, and Solomon. They insisted on following this coronation tradition for Rehoboam. They also insisted on assembling at Sichem (modern Nabulus) in Ephraim were anciently national assembles had been held. Politically, of course, assembling in Sichem strengthened the position of Ephraim and put Rehoboam in a weaker position.
When, as stated above, Rehoboam refused to grant redress to the grievances and Ephraim and the northern tribes responding by making Jeroboam king. (What today would be ruled an unconstitutional action as the right to ordain kings belonged to the prophet, not the tribes.)
That Ephraim doubted Rehoboam would grant the reforms they sought and intended to select a different person as their king can be seen in the fact they had summoned Jeroboam to return from exile in Egypt. Jeroboam, son of Nebat and of the tribe of Ephraim, had been one of Solomon’s generals and then one of Solomon’s twelve superintends over his taxation and building projects.
The prophet Ahijah had taken the coat of Jeroboam, torn it into twelve pieces giving ten to Jeroboam as part of his prophesy that Jeroboam would rule part of Israel. (1 Kings 11:29-391 Kings 11:29-39
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV
29 And it came to pass at that time when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, that the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him in the way; and he had clad himself with a new garment; and they two were alone in the field: 30 And Ahijah caught the new garment that was on him, and rent it in twelve pieces: 31 And he said to Jeroboam, Take thee ten pieces: for thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel, Behold, I will rend the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon, and will give ten tribes to thee: 32 33 Because that they have forsaken me, and have worshipped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the children of Ammon, and have not walked in my ways, to do that which is right in mine eyes, and to keep my statutes and my judgments, as did David his father. 34 Howbeit I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand: but I will make him prince all the days of his life for David my servant's sake, whom I chose, because he kept my commandments and my statutes: 35 But I will take the kingdom out of his son's hand, and will give it unto thee, even ten tribes. 36 And unto his son will I give one tribe, that David my servant may have a light alway before me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen me to put my name there. light: Heb. lamp, or, candle 37 And I will take thee, and thou shalt reign according to all that thy soul desireth, and shalt be king over Israel. 38 And it shall be, if thou wilt hearken unto all that I command thee, and wilt walk in my ways, and do that is right in my sight, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did; that I will be with thee, and build thee a sure house, as I built for David, and will give Israel unto thee. 39 And I will for this afflict the seed of David, but not for ever.
WP-Bible plugin). This prophecy, which caused Solomon to exile Jeroboam to Egypt, was fulfilled when the kingdom split with the northern ten tribes (led by Ephraim) being ruled by Jeroboam I as king as Israel while southern tribes of Benjamin and Judah were ruled by Rehoboam (931-909 B.C.) as king of Judah.
Ahijah had promised “a sure house” meaning a continuing dynasty if Jeroboam would walk in the ways of the Lord as had David. (Although David had failings in his personal life, he never permitted idolatry in Israel and always encouraged obedience to God among his subjects.) For the reasons explained above, Jeroboam I promoted idolatry instead of worshiping the LORD and his house fell soon after his death with the assassination of his son.
The Geopolitical Situation
An understanding of the geopolitical situation faced during the divided monarchy covered by the books of Kings and Chronicles in the Old Testament is helpful. This background was understood by the Old Testament writers and is generally not explained in their writing, as the Old Testament people would not need such an explanation.
The history this region is contained in a series of struggles for dominance between Mesopotamian empires (Assyrian, Babylonian, etc.) and Egypt. For geographic reasons all trade and travel between Mesopotamia and Egypt had to pass through the land of Canaan, thus whoever controlled the land of Palestine had trade and military advantages.
If the people of Palestine were neutral then the empires of Egypt and Mesopotamia could trade on an equal basis. However, whoever controlled the land could collect tolls on commerce giving one empire an advantage over the other in the event the people occupying the land of Canaan were not neutral.
Militarily a neutral party occupying Palestine created a buffer or demilitarized zone between the powers of Mesopotamia and Egypt. The conquest of Palestine was the first step in an attack by Mesopotamia upon Egypt or Egypt on Mesopotamia. More important, an alliance of Palestine with Egypt would be viewed as threat by Mesopotamia just as Egypt would view an alliance by Palestine with Mesopotamia as a military threat.
In general, the Mesopotamian empires were militarily superior to those of Egypt. The Egyptians tended to field large armies, but their soldiers were not fierce fighters and usually were seriously defeated by the more warlike Mesopotamian armies.
The Israelites, had, of course, once lived in Egypt. It seems that almost universally throughout history once a people are freed from colonial rule they develop strong economic and military ties with their former rules. (Look at the United States and Great Britain. Today after the end of England’s colonial rule they are strong trade partners. In addition, the U.S. entered both World War I and World War II in large measure to support Britain. Great Britain was the strongest supporter of the United States during the Cold War, the Gulf War, and in other conflicts.) The Israelites were no exception to this historic trend and formed strong economic, cultural, and military ties to Egypt.
Egypt generally was more prosperous than Mesopotamia. Also the Nile produced more surplus crops than the Tigris-Euphrates river system giving the Mesopotamian empires a greater incentive to conquer Egypt than the Egyptians had to attack Mesopotamia.
It is my interpretation of the scriptures that what Lord intended was for Israel that in effect that they be the Switzerland of the Middle East. The neutrality of Switzerland (together, of course with its geography) has kept it out of world wars and numerous conflicts and because of their neutrality, the people of Switzerland have enjoyed peace and prosperity. Sitting astride important trade routes the Israelites would have been grown rich in peace by acting as the trade intermediaries between the empires of Mesopotamia and Egypt.
The power of Israel to defend itself, and detour foreign aggression was lessen by the division into the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The history of both kingdoms shows that instead of striving for security through neutrality (and divine protection) they sought security through a series of military alliances.
Alliances with Egypt posed a threat to Mesopotamian empires (Assyria and Babylonia) resulting in the invasion of Israel and Judah, and most of the time Egypt would prove unable or willing to assist in the defense of Israel. Alliances with the northern empires tended to result in an “opening the door” that lead to Israel or Judah becoming a vassal of Assyria or Babylon who then required them to pay heavy tribute to their new master.
The people lacked the devotion to the Lord necessary to rely upon him for protection. This lack of faith resulted in the people being unable to follow a policy of neutrality and resulted what today we would term a series of entangling alliances that ended with disastrous results for the house of Israel.
It also led to the persecution and suffering of the many prophet sent by the Lord to give counsel to kings. Kings, especially unrighteous kings, do not respond kindly to those who oppose their political policies. In addition to persecuting the prophets, many kings promoted the worship of Baal in part to lessen the influence of the prophets so there would be less opposition from the people to their policies. An examination of the deaths of the kings of Israel (who especially promoted the worship of Baal) shows they did not escape the judgments of God when following such policies.