THE NORTHERN KINGDOM OF ISRAEL
Copyright, John T. Stevenson, 2000
Israel was a family. The tribes of Israel were made up of the descendants of 12 brothers. They all enjoyed the same ancestry and the same heritage. There was among them a bond of blood as well as a bond of faith. But these bonds were broken soon after the death of Solomon.
Then Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. (1 Kings 12:1).
Rehoboam was the son of Solomon and heir to the throne of Israel. The fact that the planned coronation of the king was to take place at Shechem is significant. Jerusalem was the capital city of Israel. It was here that Solomon had been anointed and installed as king of Israel (1 Kings 1:38-39). And yet, Rehoboam found in necessary to travel to Shechem for the inaugural ceremony.
The name "Shechem" describes "the space between the shoulder blades." The town lay exactly between the two mountains of Gerazim and Ebal. It was here that Israel had come in the days of Joshua where half of the people stood on Mount Gerazim and half of the people stood on Mount Ebal to read the Law of the Covenant. Half of the people had read the blessings of the covenant and half of the people had read the cursings of the covenant and the people had pledged themselves to follow the Lord.
Shechem lay in the geographical center of the land of Israel. It was specifically within the territory of the tribe of Ephraim - one of the largest and most influential tribes of Israel.
The fact that Shechem was to be the site of the inaugural ceremonies was evidence that there was already a schism of spirit between Judah and the other tribes.
When Rehoboam comes to be crowned king, he is faced by a group of tribal elders who have come to him with a petition to lower their taxes. Instead of relenting, Rehoboam threatens to raise the taxes even higher.
When all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, saying, "What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; To your tents, O Israel! Now look after your own house, David!" So Israel departed to their tents.
But as for the sons of Israel who lived in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam reigned over them. (1 Kings 12:16-17).
The response of Israel was one of rebellion and a desire for independence. Since the king had refused to look out for their interests, they would now look out for their own interests. Accordingly, they chose for themselves Jeroboam to be their king. Only the tribe of Judah would remain under the rulership of the house of David.
The story of the Divided Kingdom is one of wars, political intrigue, and rebellion against God. Both kingdoms saw periods of rebellion, but in the Northern Kingdom it was a case of rebellion without reprieve.
SOUTHERN KINGDOM OF JUDAH
NORTHERN KINGDOM OF ISRAEL
19 Kings, 1 Queen
5 Dynasties and several independent kings.
Judah & Benjamin
10 Northern Tribes.
Most were unstable; some were good & some were bad.
Character of the Kings
All were bad, but only Ahab and Ahaziah were Baal worshipers.
By Babylon in 586 B.C.
By Assyria in 721 B.C.
Returned to the land.
THE FIRST DYNASTY OF THE NORTHERN KINGDOM
1. Jeroboam's Early Career.
Jeroboam was from the tribe of Benjamin. In the days of Solomon he had been placed in charge of one of the forced labor crews working in Jerusalem.
One day the prophet Ahijah came to him and foretold that ten of the twelve tribes would be taken from the descendants of Solomon and given to Jeroboam.
Then Ahijah took hold of the new cloak which 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 give you ten tribes.'" (1 Kings 11:30-31).
This action was reminicent of the time that Saul had pleaded with Samuel and inadvertantly ripped his cloak. Samuel had told him that in a similar way the kingdom would be ripped from his grasp and given to David.
Solomon responded to this prophecy by calling for Jeroboam's death. He was forced to flee to Egypt until the death of Solomon.
The 21st Dynasty of Egypt had been friendly to Israel to the point of Pharaoh's daughter being wedded to King Solomon. But now there came a Libyan to the throne who founded a new ruling family - the 22nd Dynasty. He is known in historical records as Sheshonq (the Biblical Shishak). He was able to reunify the country which had been previously divided and brought a certain amount of stability to the crown. He would ultimately become an enemy of Israel.
2. The Division at Shechem.
The act of succession of the ten northern tribes threatened to bring about a civil war. It was only through the intervention of the prophet Shemaiah that this was averted.
From this time onward, Israel was to remain a divided kingdom. To the south was the tribe of Judah with the small tribe of Benjamin. To the north and to the east were the other ten tribes which now became a separate independent nation. These ten northern tribes are known collectively as:
3. Jeroboam as King over Israel.
Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and lived there. And he went out from there and built Penuel. (1 Kings 12:25).
Shechem was already an ancient city, nearly a thousand years old dating back before the days of Jacob. Jeroboam built up this city and made it his initial capital. Later he built a secondary palace at Penuel, the place where Jacob had wrestled with the angel on the Jabbok River.
These two sites were located amidst the center of the Northern Kingdom and were designed to unify the people under his rule. To further cement this unity, Jeroboam determined to change the manner of worship in Israel.
Jeroboam said in his heart, "Now the kingdom will return to the house of David.
"If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will return to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah."
So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt."
He set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. (1 Kings 12:26-29).
Jeroboam was now the king of the Northern Kingdom. But he was a king with a problem. The law of the Lord mandated that all Israelites make a pilgrimage three times a year to worship the Lord in His Temple. And here lay the problem. The Temple was in Jerusalem. And Jerusalem was in Judah.
And this land was under the domain of Rehoboam. This state of affairs would give Rehoboam ample opportunity to wage a propaganda campaign which could ultimately result in Jeroboam being removed and the Kingdom being reunited.
Jeroboam came up with an alternative plan of worship. It was a plan which appealed to convenience. The plan was for two centers of worship to be set up within the Northern Kingdom. They would be located at the extreme northern and southern borders of the kingdom.
a. Bethel ("House of God").
This was the place where Jacob had his vision of a ladder reaching to heaven (Genesis 28:11-19). It was located a mere 12 miles north of Jerusalem and sat atop a bare mountaintop.
The tribe of Dan had originally been given an allotment of land between Judah, Ephraim and Benjamin. This had proven to be uncomfortably close to the Philistines and in the days of the judges they migrated northward to the area north of the Sea of Galilee on the slopes of Mount Hermon (Judges 18). Capturing the Canaanite city of Laish, they renamed it Dan and made it their religious center with their own Levitical priesthood descended from Moses (Judges 18:30).
At each of these two locations there was erected a golded calf. Perhaps it was reasoned that such a means of worship had been instituted by Aaron at Mount Sinai. In actuality, both Aaron and Jeroboam had borrowed this calf worship from Egypt where the sacred cow was the symbol of the goddess Hathor.
Many of the Hebrews who remained faithful to the teachings of the Law fled to the south to where they could worship in peace. Included in this exodus were many of the Levites. As this strong core of faithful moved out, the Northern Kingdom would find itself subject to apostasy and eventual ruin.
4. Nadab (910-909 B.C.).
The reign of Nadab was short. He continued his father's policy of leading the people in idolatry. It was not long before he fell to the hand of an assassin. The assassin's name was Baasha and he did not stop until the entire house of Jeroboam had been murdered.
THE SECOND DYNASTY OF THE NORTHERN KINGDOM
This second dynasty was destined to be short-live. It would last only 24 years. The kings of this dynasty went from bad to worse.
1. Baasha (909-886 B.C.).
Israel and Judah had been constantly at war since the days of Jeroboam. Throughout most of this period it was Judah who had the upper hand. There were two reasons for this:
a. The wealth of Judah.
From a strictly economic viewpoint, Judah was wealthier than Israel and could afford a better equipped army.
b. Spiritual source.
The people of Judah enjoyed a continuing success as they continued to worship the Lord.
As the war progressed, Judah formed an alliance with Ben-hadad of Damascus. Baasha found himself surrounded by enemies both to the north and to the south. Because of this, Israel was forced to give up large amounts of territory.
2. Elah (886-885 B.C.).
Baasha's son was a drunk and Israel floundered without a leader. Elah was quickly assassinated by one of his captains who took the throne in his place.
3. Zimri (885 B.C.).
Zimri was the captain who murdered his drunken king. He made a grab for the throne and managed to hold on to it for seven days. In those seven days, he murdered everyone from the house of Baasha.
When news of Elah's death reached the Israelite army that was involved in a campaign with the Philistines, the army declared that their commanding general, Omri, should be their new king. Zimri heard of this and committed suicide.
THE THIRD DYNASTY OF THE NORTHERN KINGDOM
The story of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel is one of dynasty after dynasty being assassinated for the throne. Jeroboam's family was murdered by Bashan. His succeeding family left a power vacuum. Zimri may have thought to become king himself, but he was unable to gain a following and his reign lasted only a week. Following his untimely death, there arose two contenders for the throne of Israel.
1. Omri (885-874 B.C.).
After a civil war which lasted 6 years, it was Omri who came out as the winner in the conflict - he seems to have had both the military expertise as well as the support of the army it taking the throne.
He bought the hill Samaria from Shemer for two talents of silver; and he built on the hill, and named the city which he built Samaria, after the name of Shemer, the owner of the hill. (1 Kings 16:24).
Samaria was to become the new capital city of Israel. It was located on a large oval hilltop, 300 feet above the surrounding plain. From the top of the hill the Mediterranean Sea is visible to the west. It lay 6½ miles northwest of Shechem and along the major north-south highway.
The summit of the hill was leveled and enclosed with a double wall with towars and bastions. In later years, the city would spread downward from the summit.
The main gate faced east where a low ridge joins the hill of Samaria to the major north-south mountain range. The city held large cisterns of water since there was no natural spring of water on the site.
The site was originally excavated in 1908-10 by Harvard University under Reisner, Fisher and Lyon. The following levels were uncovered.
The 8th century, highest level of prosperity
In ensuing excavations, more than 500 fragments of Ivory have been discovered on the site. Amos 6:4 and 3:15 speak of "houses of ivory" and "beds of ivory." 1 Kings 22 reports that King Ahab created a house of Ivory. Numerous pieces of ivory have been located in the excavations of Samaria in the form of small plaques and panels which were originally set into furniture.
2. Ahab (874-853 B.C.).
Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him.
It came about, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he married Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went to serve Baal and worshiped him.
So he erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal which he built in Samaria. (1 Kings 16:30-32).
Ahab, the son of Omri and successor to his throne, entered into an alliance with the Phoenicians, sealing it by taking a Phoenician princess to be his wife. This alliance would have long-lasting repercussions in Israel.
a. Baal Worship.
It is because of this Phoenician influence that Ahab soon finds himself engaged, not only in idolatry, but in the worshiping of Baal, the god of the Phoenicians. He is confronted by Elijah, but he does not repent before the Lord.
Up to this time, the Israelites had been guilty of attempting to worship Yahweh in an improper manner - through the use of idols which had been established at Bethel and at Dan. But now they turn away completely from any attempt to worship the Lord and turned instead to a false god.
b. The Battle of Qarqar.
Archaeological records from Assyria relate to us how the Assyrian king Shalmaneser 3rd invaded the Levant. From those records, we learn that it was Ahab who rallied all of the small kingdoms on the Mediterranean Coast to meet this threat. Gathering an alliance of 12 kings, he met the Assyrians at Qarqar in 853 B.C.
In the annuls of Shalmaneser 3rd, the Assyrians claim to have won a victory. However it is noteable that he made no further southward advances at this time.
c. The rebuilding of Jericho.
In his days Hiel the Bethelite built Jericho; he laid its foundations with the loss of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates with the loss of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which He spoke by Joshua the son of Nun. (1 Kings 16:34).
Jericho had been destroyed in the days of Joshua. It had been the first city of Canaan to fall to the Israelites when they entered into the land. As such, it had been accursed - all its inhabitants and even the plunder of the city given over to be burned. Achan's sin had been that of attempting to take some of that plunder for himself and he had paid with his life.
Joshua had issued a decree that Jericho was not to be rebuilt. With his decree came a curse - that the man who would attempt to rebuild Jericho would suffer the loss of both his first-born son and his youngest son (Joshua 6:26).
Apparently with the full blessing of Ahab, Hiel set out to rebuild Jericho. In keeping with the ancient curse, he seems to have deliberately sacrificed both his oldest and his youngest sons. This was the sort of activity which was commonplace among Baal worshipers.
d. Alliance with Judah.
Ahab entered into an alliance with Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, sealing it with the marriage of their children. In this way, Athaliah, the daughter of Jezebel came to be the queen of Judah.
3. Ahaziah (853-852 B.C.).
Ahaziah came to the throne, but his mother, Jezebel, remained a major influence in the policies of the nation so that Israel continued to turn further and further from the Lord. He died from injuries sustained in a fall when a portion of the lattice within his palace gave way beneath him. He had left no children to succeed him to the throne, so his younger brother Joram became king.
4. Joram (852-841 B.C.).
Joram seems to have been a vacilating character. He often listened to the advice of the prophet Elisha and obeyed the will of the Lord. On the other hand, he seems to have been reluctant to go against his mother in doing away with Baal worship. He would eventually turn against Elisha and seek to kill him.
a. The Moab Campaign.
Early in his reign, Joram allied himself with Judah and Edom and joined those kings in an invasion of Moab, traveling around the southern end of the Dead Sea to come at Moab from the south. 2 Kings 3 gives the Biblical record of the campaign.
In 1868 a French Anglican medical missionary by the name of F.A. Klein discovered a stela in Dhiban, Jordan which has come to be known as the Mesha or Moabite Stone. This stela gives an account of the same battle from the Moabite point of view.
Moabite (very similar to Hebrew)
Basalt stone stele
Height: 1.15 meters
Width: 60-68 centimeters
35 lines of writing
Mesha, king of Moab
1868 in Dhiban [in modern Jordan]
A complete transcript of the entire stele can be found in the Appendix. It has become a source of a heated controversy between scholars as it is now believed by some to contain a reference to the "House of David."
b. The Syrian Invasion.
For a while there was an uneasy peace with Syria, but then Benihadad once again decided to try to conquer Israel. This time, he led his armies to Samaria where he laid siege to the city.
When the Israelites were ready to give up hope, God intervened, making the Syrians hear the noise of two great chariot corps approaching. The Syrians reasoned that Joram had hired the Egyptians and the Hittites to attack them. They withdrew in disarray, not even bothering to pack their camp.
c. Campaign at Ramoth-gilead.
The Syrians returned in 841 B.C. to attack the eastern city of Ramoth-gilead. The battle went well for the Israelites since Judah had come to assist them. However, Joram was wounded in the battle and was forced to leave the battlefield, leaving his army under the command of Jehu as he withdrew to Jezreel.
Soon after this, Elisha commanded that a prophet go to Ramoth-gilead and anoint Jehu as the new king of Israel. Jehu quickly proceeded to Jezreel where he murdered Joram, Jezebel and Ahaziah, the king of Judah.
THE FOURTH DYNASTY OF THE NORTHERN KINGDOM
The dynasty begun by Jehu was to be the longest-lasting that the Northern Kingdom would ever see.
1. Jehu (841-814 B.C.).
Jehu began his reign with a vast bloodbath. He demanded that all of the descendants of Ahab and his dynasty be killed and their heads brought to him in a basket. The nobles of Israel were quick to comply.
Adopting a chapter from Assyrian terror-tactics, he had the heads placed in heaps at the city gates so that people would be afraid to revolt.
So Jehu killed all who remained of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, and all his great men and his acquaintances and his priests, until he left him without a survivor. (2 Kings 10:11).
Jehu wiped out the priests of Baal, setting up in their place the old calf-cult of Jeroboam.
a. The situation in Judah.
While Jehu was killing all of the relatives of Ahab, a similar massacre was taking place in Judah. Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, seized power after her son was killed by Jehu. To secure her position of power, she had all of the royal relatives killed. Only her grandson, Joash, escaped.
b. Tribute to Assyria.
As Assyria began to loom once again on the horizon, Jehu found himself paying an annual tribute.
In 1846, Austen Henry Layard discovered a 6½ foot tall stone stele at the palace of Shalmaneser at Nimrud on the Tigris Rivier. Made of black alebaster, it consisted of a tall, four-sided pillar. It came to be known as the Black Obelisk.
The cuneiform caption above the relief reads: "Tribute of Iaua [Jehu], son of Omri. Silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden beaker, golden goblets, pitchers of gold, tin, staves for the hand of the king, javilins, I [Shalmaneser] received from him."
The obelisk was nearly lost at sea when the sailing ship on which it was being transported to England came close to sinking during a terrible storm in the Indian Ocean.
c. Attacks from Damascus.
Hazael, king of Damascus had tried to get Jehu to join him in a mutual defense league against Assyria. When Jehu refused, Hazael attacked Israel, taking much territory on the eastern bank of the Jordan.
2. Jehoahaz (814-798 B.C.).
Jehoahaz found himself a vassal to Damascus and was bound by a disarmament treaty in which he was only allowed to maintain 10 chariots, 50 cavalry and 10,000 infantrymen.
The future of Israel at this point looked bleak. Damascus seemed to be toying with Israel the way a cat toys with a captured mouse.
In 804 B.C. Adad-Nirari 3rd of Assyria marched south and besieged Damascus. Although he failed to take the city, the action was sufficient to force Aram to release her hold on Israel. The Northern Kingdom had been saved for a time.
It was around this time that Jonah was sent to prophesy to the city of Nineveh with the result that the city saw a great revival as people turned in faith to Yahweh.
3. Jehoash (798-782 B.C.).
When Jehoash came to the throne of Israel, he faced a Syria that was much weaker than the one to which his father had submitted. He attacked Syria successfully and pushed her national boundaries far to the north.
Next, Jehoash turned to the south and attacked Judah where he again was successful. He even reached Jerusalem, breaking down a portion of the northern wall. After taking hostages, he returned to Samaria.
4. Jeroboam 2nd (782-753 B.C.).
When Jeroboam came to the throne following the death of his father, Israel was the strongest nation in that part of the ancient world.
a. Expansion of the Northern Kingdom.
The rest of the ancient world was suffering from the upheavals of more migrations. In the midst of this power vacuum, Jeroboam managed to extend his kingdom northward to the borders of Hamath, making Israel almost as big as she had been in the days of Solomon (2nd Kings 14:25). With this vast military victory came a period of great economic prosperity.
b. Ministries of Hosea and Amos.
Hosea and Amos both prophesied during this period. Their writings reflect the moral and religious decay of the Israelites during this time.
5. Zechariah (753-752 B.C.).
Zechariah succeeded his father to the throne and reigned for only six months before being assassinated by Shallum.
Shallum tried to place himself on the throne, but was only able to hold it for a month before he was also assassinated.
THE FIFTH DYNASTY OF THE NORTHERN KINGDOM
1. Menahem (752-742 B.C.).
Although the details are unknown, Menahem murdered Shallem and took the throne of Israel for himself.
Just three years earlier, Tiglath-Pileser 3rd had come to the throne of Assyria, marking a new period of Assyrian strength.
When Tiglath-Pileser 3rd marched into Israel, Menahern swore allegiance to him and paid an enormous tribute for the privilege of being allowed to remain intact.
2. Pekahiah (742-740 B.C.).
Pekahiah continued his father's submission to Assyria. However, there was a strong anti-Assyrian faction growing in Israel which thought that they should fight rather than pay the tribute. This resentment grew so high that one of Pehshiah's own generals led a conspiracy, assassinated him, and took the throne for himself.
THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE NORTHERN KINGDOM
The remainder of Israel s history saw two more rulers upon the throne, each one taking it by means of assassination.
1. Pekah (740-732 B.C.).
Realizing that Assyria would soon return to put an end to Israel's anti-Assyrian government, Pekah allied himself with Damascus against Assyria.
This Israelite/Syrian Confederation approached Ahaz, king of Judah and urged him to join their alliance. When he refused, they attacked and besieged Jerusalem.
Instead of trusting the Lord, Ahaz sent a message to Tiglath-Pileser 3rd, asking him to come down and deliver Judah.
Tiglath-Pileser 3rd swept down from the north, sacked the city of Damascus, and took many of the cities of Israel including Ijon, Abel-beth-maacha, Janoah, Kadesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee — all the land of Naphtali (2 Kings 15:29). The inhabitants of these cities were deported to Assyria. The annuls of Tiglath-Pileser give this record:
...the wide land of Naphtali, in its entirety, I brought within the border of Assyria. My official I set over them as governor.
Again, he says:
The land of Bit-Humria (House of Omri)...all of its people, together with their goods, I carried off to Assyria.
Bit-Humria or "House of Omri" had been the common Assyrian name for the country of Israel ever since the days of King Omri.
In an effort to pacify Assyria, the inhabitants of Samaria murdered Pekah and placed Hoshea, a pro-Assyrian leader, upon the throne.
2. Hoshea (732-724 B.C.).
When Hoshea became king, it was a greatly reduced Israel which he ruled. Tiglath-Pileser had taken all of the Israelite holdings in Trans-Jordan, in Megiddo, in Galilee, and the lands along the Mediterranean, annexng them to Assyria. Israel retained only Samaria and the surrounding hill country.
Tiglath-Pileser 3rd died in 727 B.C. and Hoshea took this opportunity to revolt. He sent messengers to Egypt to form an alliance against Assyria. At the same time, he stopped payment of the annual tribute.
In 724 B.C. Shalmanesser 5th, the new king of Assyria, marched south into Israel. Hoshea surrendered himself and offered to pay the tribute, but this time he had gone too far and was thrown into chains. He was taken to Assyria where he died in captivity.
3. The Fall of Samaria.
The Assyrians now laid siege to the capital city of Samaria. Although the city was without a ruling king, Samaria held out under the siege for three years.
Shalmanesser eventually became sick and was forced to return to Nineveh, leaving his younger brother, Sargon, in command of the armies. When Shalmanesser died in 722 B.C. Sargon declared himself king.
The following year, Samaria was taken. The city was burned to the ground and the surviving population was deported.
In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and carried Israel away into exile to Assyria. and settled them in Halah and Habor, on the river of Gozarx and in the cities of the Medes. (2 Kings 17:6).
The area that had once been the Northern Kingdom of Israel was eventually resettled with refugees from other Assyrian conquests. These refugees intermarried with the few remaining Hebrew survivors. The resulting half-breeds became known as Samaritans.
The author of the book of Kings summarizes the reason for the fall of the Northern Kingdom.
Now this came about, because the sons of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up from the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and their had feared other gods
Israel had turned away from God. This seems surprising when we consider that she had seen great miracles. Time and time again, the Lord had miraculously intervened in history to save His people from destruction. If any nation on earth could testify to the power of God, it was Israel.
Nor was she without warnings. Prophets continually warned of the coming judgment if Israel did not turn from her evil ways.
But all to no avail. The people of Israel had hardened their hearts to the teachings of God. Warnings which might have pierced their hearts now bounced off their callused souls.
This is a warning to believers today. We must never allow the teachings of the Bible to pass through our minds without allowing them to change our lives. Otherwise, if we permit these teachings to hit against our hearts but not to change our lives, we develop spiritual calluses.
The end would be as inevitable as Israel's. Our enemy — Satan — would soon sweep into our lives and entangle us in the chains of this world. As was true for Israel, we have a way of escape. It is through repentance and the applying of God's Word to our lives.