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Divided Kingdoms

The Death of Athalia (King of Judah) by Gustave DoreIsrael had now been ruled by three great kings, but the prophesies of Samuel were coming to pass.  Samuel was instructed by the Lord to warn the people what could happen to them should they be ruled by a king — that the people would be taxed to support a growing entourage of servants and people supported at court, that their sons and daughters would be conscripted into servitude for the king’s court, and that the people would also have to support the king’s armies.  Israel wanted to be like the heathen nations around them — having a great king would bring honor to the nation, and so it did ( 1 Samuel 8:20 ).  But by Solomon’s death, the court was huge.  Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines, who all brought personal servants with them into the court.  Solomon had created a navy and strengthened the army, built buildings and city walls.  His excesses had weakened the unity of the twelve tribes, and the Lord had decided that a servant of Solomon should rule ten of them.

Actually, Moses himself had set the criteria for choosing a king, should Israel ever decide to go down that path.  He enumerated the following necessary qualities:

A king had to be—

1. One chosen by the Lord.

2. A member of the house of Israel and not a Gentile.

3. One who did not seek to “multiply horses” (a Hebrew idiom meaning to make extensive preparations for aggressive warfare).

4. One who would not lead Israel back to Egypt (back to their worldly ways).

5. One who would not multiply wives and wealth unto himself.

6. One who followed the law of God in ruling the people.

7. One who kept the statutes of God (see Deuteronomy 17:14–20 ; Mosiah 23:8 ; 29:13 ).

“After the death of Solomon, a schism over taxation divided the nation into two kingdoms. Rehoboam, Solomon’s son and anointed successor, ruled over the Southern Kingdom, which was composed of the territory belonging to the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The house of David continued to govern this nation until the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. A newly proclaimed king, Jeroboam, ruled over the Northern Kingdom, called the kingdom of Israel, which was composed of the territory of the remaining ten tribes. Jeroboam was followed by a series of kings for the next two hundred years. In both the Northern and the Southern Kingdoms, the criteria established by the Lord were largely ignored, and both Israel and Judah reaped the sad results.

“Jeroboam, an Ephraimite who had been a military leader in the army of Israel during Solomon’s reign, was rewarded for his accomplishments with a building project in the city of David. He was made an administrator over all the house of Joseph, that is, over the territorial districts of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, two of the most powerful tribes in Israel (see 1 Kings 11:26–28 ). Later, Ahijah, a prophet of that day, revealed to Jeroboam that he, Jeroboam, would become the ruler of the northern ten tribes (see 1 Kings 11:29–39 ).

“Solomon, fearful of Jeroboam, sought his life. Jeroboam fled to Egypt, where he lived in exile until after Solomon’s death (see 1 Kings 11:40 ; 12:2–3 ). The people of the north called Jeroboam out of Egypt to lead their confrontation with Rehoboam, Solomon’s son (see 1 Kings 12 ).

“As part of this rebellion, the northern people seceded from Judah and made Jeroboam their king. They became known as the kingdom of Israel, or the Northern Kingdom. This kingdom was often referred to as Ephraim, particularly by the prophets, because the tribe of Ephraim was a dominant power from the days of Joshua to the time of Jeroboam (see Numbers 13:3, 8 ; 14:6 ).

“The capital of the Northern Kingdom was established first in Shechem and later in Samaria, both of which cities were located in the territory of the tribe of Ephraim. Sometimes the names of these cities were used to mean the whole of the Northern Kingdom. (See Isaiah 7:1–9 ; Jeremiah 7:15 ; 31:9 ; Ezekiel 37:16–19 ; Hosea 4:17 .)

Idolatry became the state religionin the northern kingdom of Israel.  Altars were establish in the capital cities, so that the citizens would not travel to Jerusalem to make the pilgrimages commanded by the Lord during the Exodus.  Jews were to make pilgrimage for the spring holidays of Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and Bikkurim, which all occurred in an eight-day period; for the Feast of Weeks, which occurred in the summer; and for the fall holidays of Rosh HaShanah (Trumpets), Yom Kippur (Atonement), and Sukkoth (Tabernacles).  Certainly, the most religiously observant members of the northern tribes moved back to the south in order to have access to the temple.  This must have been true for the ancestors of Lehi, a Josephite and Jerusalem prophet, whose family escaped just before the Babylonian captivity, and whose story is told in the Book of Mormon.

The northern kingdom was eventually destroyed by the Assyrians, who carried many of the people off to Assyria and planted its own loyal citizens in Israel in a great population transfer.  From the time Israel was founded until the invasion by Assyria, there were 20 kings of 5 royal families.  Every monarch was wicked.  Every rule ended in assassination and violence.  Seven kings were murdered, and one committed suicide.

“Such prophets as Elijah, Elisha, Amos, and Hosea ministered in the Northern Kingdom during this period, calling on the kings and the people to repent. At the same time, the prophets of Judah, including Isaiah and Micah, also warned the people of the Northern Kingdom of their coming destruction if they did not repent.”

To see a map of the two kingdoms, click here.  To see a time line of the two kingdoms with the kings and prophets, click here and here.  To see a graph of the kingdoms of Assyria, Israel, and Judah, click here.

The schism between the tribes was directly caused by Solomon’s excesses and the poor decisions of his son and chosen successor, Rehoboam, who decided to tax the people even more than his father had.  This led to a loss of support.  The northern tribes refused to uphold him as king and formed their own kingdom under Jeroboam.  “It had been prophetically declared that Judah would remain under the control of the house of David (see 1 Kings 11:13, 32 ). The prophecy was fulfilled, for David’s royal line retained the throne throughout Judah’s existence as a nation. One attempt to move the kingship to another family through the actions of the wife of one of the kings was thwarted, and the family rule was preserved.”

“Of the twenty rulers who reigned over Judah from the death of Solomon to the fall of Jerusalem and the Jews’ captivity and exile at the hands of the Babylonians, twelve are characterized in the scriptural record as evil or wicked. Only four advanced their nation economically and religiously. As in the north, numerous prophets were called to cry repentance to Judah, including Micaiah, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Lehi, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.”

*This article was adapted from the LDS Institute Old Testament Manual

Next: Strife and Idolatry 

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