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SIMPLIFIED JOURNEY (11): The Kingdom Divided


Seeds of Division

Though David was a man after God’s own heart, Solomon developed into a terrible Oriental Despot. He was a great builder – with slave labor – of God’s Temple, his own palace, and palaces for his harem of 700 wives plus 300 concubines. Many of his wives were foreign princesses, whom he married to seal alliances with foreign kings. Israel had asked for a king so they would be like the nations around them – and in Solomon they got one on steroids.

Solomon had begun well. In a vision he had early in his reign, the LORD told him He would give him anything he asked. Solomon, very wisely, asked for wisdom. This pleased the LORD, so He promised Solomon he would also receive both riches and honor (1 Kings 3:4-15). His wisdom and learning became legendary. Indeed, he wrote three of the books of “Wisdom Literature” in the Old Testament. He received great honor and fame. When the Queen of Sheba came for a state visit to see first hand this “great” king, she said,”Not even the half was told me!” (1 Kings 10:7).

Even before Solomon’s death, trouble in the kingdom was brewing. Jeroboam, son of Nebat,  a capable young man, was put in charge of all the labor force of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. One day, he met Ahijah, a prophet of God, who tore Jeroboam’s new cloak into 12 pieces. He said, “Take 10 pieces for yourself – for the LORD is going to tear the kingdom from Solomon’s hand and give you 10 tribes.” Yet, for the sake of David, Solomon’s house would retain Judah, including the city of Jerusalem with the LORD’s Temple, and one other tribe, lowly Benjamin.

The LORD further promised Jeroboam, if he would obey the LORD as David did, he would have a dynasty as David did. After this, Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam, as Saul had tried to kill David. Jeroboam escaped by fleeing to Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Solomon.

Rehoboam’s Foolishness

After Solomon died, his son Rehoboam went up to Shechem for Israel to make him king. Jeroboam, back from Egypt, led the whole assembly of Israel in a request to the new king. They said they would serve him if he would reduce the burden Solomon had placed on them by harsh labor and a heavy yoke. Rehoboam consulted his counselors. Being a fool, he did not listen to the wiser, older men who said he should grant the request. Instead, he followed the advice of the young, rash men and replied:

My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions. – 1 Kings 12:14

Shishak, Pharaoh Who Sacked Jerusalem in Reign of Rehoboam

Jeroboam and the Israelites went home, denying any share in David. Rehoboam sent his “Minister of Labor” who was in charge of forced labor to bring them to heel – but the Israelites stoned him. So began the rebellion of Israel against Judah and the house of David.

There was preparation for civil war – until the word of God came through Shemiah, a man of God, to all Judah, including the king, that they should go home and not fight against Jeroboam, because this was God’s doing.

Jeroboam & His Successors

Had Jeroboam followed the LORD, God had told him He would be with him and bless him. However, he followed his own fears and inclinations.

Almost immediately, he thought if his people continued to go up to Jerusalem to worship at Solomon’s Temple, their hearts would return to serve the house of David. If this happened, he feared he would lose his throne and his life. So, he established two golden calves, one in Dan in the far north of his kingdom, the other at Bethel on the way to Jerusalem. He said to the people:

It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are yuour gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt. – 1 Kings 12:28

He also established rival feast days to those celebrated in Jerusalem, and an alternate priesthood who were neither Levites nor descendants of Aaron. This became an established sin in Israel. Every king that followed him until the Northern Kingdom of Israel went into Assyrian Captivity a little over 200 years later.

Including Jeroboam, there were 19 kings of Israel, 9 of whom were deposed by his successor. The last king was deposed by the Assyrians who took Israel into Captivity, never to return as a nation. The most notorious of these kings was Ahab, son of Omri. Omri, a general in the army, had taken the kingdom from the hand of the man who killed his sovereign – just a week after Zimri won the crown.

The closest thing Israel had to a good king was Jehu, another general who turned on his master – but at the leading of the LORD through the prophet Elisha. Jehu’s dynasty lasted for 95 years, to the 4th generation after Jehu. This was the longest of any dynasty in Israel.

The common feature of all of these kings was that they were wicked. Every one of them continued the worship of the golden calves. Even after the Assyrians brought new settlers into the land, those appealed to the King of Assyria for someone to teach them how to worship the gods of this land. He sent them priests of the Golden Calf Shrines.

False religion was not the greatest of their problems, though. They were also increasingly corrupt as they oppressed the poor and made alliances through bad examples of crass politics – when they were not fighting among themselves.

They fought Judah, the Southern Kingdom, as well, thought at other times they were allied with them. Over the years, their alliances shifted with the changing tides of geo-politics. There was no stability, little (if any) faith in the LORD, and greed all around. In short, they had become just like the nations around them. That is where having a king had led them.

Rehoboam and His Successors

Things fared a little better in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. They retained the Temple of the LORD and two tribes. When Jeroboam built the Golden Calves, the best of the priests and Levites fled to Jerusalem.

Their decline was not as spectacular. There were some good kings – among the 12 who reigned up through the time of Israel’s Captivity. Almost half of these were good kings – relatively speaking. There was also a usurper Queen during this time, who was not descended from David. Athaliah was a daughter of Jezebel, the Sidonian princess whom Israel’s King Ahab took as his queen. Jezebel introduced the worship of Baal in Israel – and her daughter did the same in Judah. When the house of Ahab was anihilated by Jehu, Athaliah’s son who was then King of Judah was caught in the fracas.

When she heard her son was dead, she had all of the royal seed killed (the usual result of a coup). One infant son, however, was spared. Joash was saved by a good priest, who kept him hidden until he was 8 years old. He was then brought out of hiding, crowned king by the priests, who ruled through the boy-king for several years. In his old age, though, he too turned away from God.

One of the best of these kings was Hezekiah, a contemporary of Hoshea (last king of Israel) and of Isaiah, the prophet. Hezekiah restored the worship of the LORD in the temple. He cleansed the Temple for a great celebration of the Passover, the first in many years. When the Assyrians came against him, instead of making alliances with other nations, he turned to the LORD and was delivered.

Conclusion

For the most part, this was a sordid 200 years in the history of God’s people. Their foolish insistence that God give them a king led them into physical prosperity (at least part of the time), but into spiritual bankruptcy.

It is hard to read the story of this time in Israel’s saga (1 Kings 12 – 2 Kings 17 for the parallel histories of Israel & Judah and 2 Chronicles 10 – 32 for the history of Judah). It is hard to read because it shows so clearly the futility and waste of opportunity when people forget their God. There were some bright spots in the darkness, but they were quickly overshadowed by the clouds of sin.

In this history, you can see why Jesus told His disciples later that His kingdom was not to be like the kingdoms of the Gentiles. That is what Israel and Judah became – just like the other nations.

Reading their history, you wonder how God would ever be able to bless all the nations of the world through the seed of Abraham. Yet, off to the side of the political drama there was another story developing. This other story was one of hope, not despair. It was in this story that the theme of redemption was kept alive.

Before we turn to that story, there are more chapters of the political history to tell.

NEXT (12): Judah Alone – And Without God

PREVIOUS (10): Monarchy Becomes Absolute

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