The two parts of the book of the Kings document the fall of Israel from its highest point to the very depths. It opens with the ascent of Solomon, the son of David, to the throne of all Israel, and describes in detail the main events of his reign; during which the kingdom of Israel reached its highest development, its greatest territorial extent, and the pinnacle of riches, power, and national glory in the ancient world.
Solomon built the temple that his father had envisioned, planned and provisioned – an extraordinary edifice that would become known as one of the seven wonders of the world. His own palace, also described in these pages, was likewise famous. Solomon had everything, and did everything. He was a wise and just judge, an architect and builder, a natural scientist, a political strategist, a philosopher, a poet, a prophet, a master of agriculture and animal husbandry. God blessed him with an immeasurable abundance of talent and wealth.
Yet for all this, he was a man, a sinner. He succumbed to the temptations of his position, indulging himself with an enormous harem, among whom were many infidel women and idolaters – in direct disobedience to the law of God. These evil women seduced him to the building of Pagan temples in Jerusalem and the public worship of false gods; and brought on him the destruction of his kingdom. No one, no matter how favored by God, is immune to his discipline.
“But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites; Of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart.
“For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. And Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and went not fully after the LORD, as did David his father. Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon. And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods.
“And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the LORD God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice, And had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods: but he kept not that which the LORD commanded. Wherefore the LORD said unto Solomon, Forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant. Notwithstanding in thy days I will not do it for David thy father’s sake: but I will rend it out of the hand of thy son. Howbeit I will not rend away all the kingdom; but will give one tribe to thy son for David my servant’s sake, and for Jerusalem’s sake which I have chosen. (1 Kings 11:1-13)
The Lord also sent a prophet named Ahijah to a man called Jeroboam.
“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: And Ahijah caught the new garment that was on him, and rent it in twelve pieces: 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: (But he shall have one tribe for my servant David’s sake, and for Jerusalem’s sake, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel:) 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.
“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: But I will take the kingdom out of his son’s hand, and will give it unto thee, even ten tribes. 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.
“And I will take thee, and thou shalt reign according to all that thy soul desireth, and shalt be king over Israel. 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.” (1 Kings 11:29-38)
Solomon’s son and heir, Rehoboam, ascended the throne when Solomon died. But he immediately shot himself in the foot, and lost the kingdom committed to him. This is explained as the fulfillment of the predicted judgment on his father. In fact, his father was responsible for alienating the man who would take the ten tribes away from him as well. Jeroboam rose suddenly to the kingship of Israel, leaving only Judah, and the diminished tribe of Benjamin to David’s dynasty.
“And Rehoboam went to Shechem: for all Israel were come to Shechem to make him king. And it came to pass, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who was yet in Egypt, heard of it, (for he was fled from the presence of king Solomon, and Jeroboam dwelt in Egypt;) That they sent and called him. And Jeroboam and all the congregation of Israel came, and spake unto Rehoboam, saying, Thy father made our yoke grievous: now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve thee.
“…And the king answered the people roughly, and forsook the old men’s counsel that they gave him; And spake to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions. Wherefore the king hearkened not unto the people; for the cause was from the LORD, that he might perform his saying, which the LORD spake by Ahijah the Shilonite unto Jeroboam the son of Nebat.
“So when all Israel saw that the king hearkened not unto them, the people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David. So Israel departed unto their tents. But as for the children of Israel which dwelt in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam reigned over them. Then king Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was over the tribute; and all Israel stoned him with stones, that he died. Therefore king Rehoboam made speed to get him up to his chariot, to flee to Jerusalem. So Israel rebelled against the house of David unto this day.” (1 Kings 12:1-4, 13-19)
But what did Jeroboam do? Did he learn from the mistakes of these two kings? Not much, it seems! Immediately, he corrupts the worship of God by building unauthorized altars and two golden calves to worship, thinking thereby to protect his new kingdom from the risk of eventual reunification with Judah! God has given him this kingdom, yet he immediately insults God and breaks the most fundamental law – the very law that Solomon broke to the loss of the kingdom – in the vain hope of preserving his place. This in spite of the fact that the same God who gave him the kingdom promised to sustain him in it if he would be obedient!
“And I will take thee, and thou shalt reign according to all that thy soul desireth, and shalt be king over Israel. 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.”(I Kings 11:37-38). Thus he earned the name of infamy that recurs in the Scriptural record: ”Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin”.
“And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David: If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah. Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan. And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan.
“And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi. And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah, and he offered upon the altar. So did he in Bethel, sacrificing unto the calves that he had made: and he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made. So he offered upon the altar which he had made in Bethel the fifteenth day of the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised of his own heart; and ordained a feast unto the children of Israel: and he offered upon the altar, and burnt incense.” (1 Kings 12:26-33)
The judgment on Jeroboam was not long delayed. He died just 22 years after rising to the throne, and his son was murdered two years later, along with all his house.
“And the days which Jeroboam reigned were two and twenty years: and he slept with his fathers, and Nadab his son reigned in his stead.” (1Ki 14:20)
“And Nadab the son of Jeroboam began to reign over Israel in the second year of Asa king of Judah, and reigned over Israel two years. And he did evil in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the way of his father, and in his sin wherewith he made Israel to sin.
“And Baasha the son of Ahijah, of the house of Issachar, conspired against him; and Baasha smote him at Gibbethon, which belonged to the Philistines; for Nadab and all Israel laid siege to Gibbethon. Even in the third year of Asa king of Judah did Baasha slay him, and reigned in his stead. And it came to pass, when he reigned, that he smote all the house of Jeroboam; he left not to Jeroboam any that breathed, until he had destroyed him, according unto the saying of the LORD, which he spake by his servant Ahijah the Shilonite: Because of the sins of Jeroboam which he sinned, and which he made Israel sin, by his provocation wherewith he provoked the LORD God of Israel to anger.” (1 Kings 15:25-30)
David declares that nations and kings are not above the law of God, and that the Messiah will be their king. Here is his solemn warning:
“Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.” (Psalms 2:10-12)
1) The fact that the tribe of Benjamin was treated as one tribe with Judah may be accounted for by revisiting its history. The tribe of Benjamin was once fairly large and powerful, and boasted many great warriors. But after the division of the land under Joshua, during the time of the Judges, Benjamin committed an egregious error in the matter of the Levite’s concubine, by taking the part of the wicked sodomites that dwelt in their city of Gibeah, who were her murderers, and refusing to surrender them to justice. The other tribes of Israel united and defeated Benjamin in battle, and nearly destroyed the tribe altogether. Only six hundred Benjamite warriors were left. This is documented in the book of Judges, chapters 19-21.
2) The division of Israel into two kingdoms also had its roots in history. Saul was king over all Israel, but when he died, only Judah recognized David as the true king of Israel. Saul was a Benjamite, after all; and the ten tribes supported Saul’s house in a seven-year civil war that led to the eventual triumph of David and Judah, with the unification of the nation, and the establishment of a capital city in Jerusalem. Naturally, Benjamin, which was not a large tribe in the first place, suffered much loss in that war. With the kingship passing to David, Benjamin lost most of its influence with its defeat. But the ten tribes had fought against the house of David, and now, less than a century later, the old grudge was revived, so they were ready to say to Rehoboam, “What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David.” (1 Kings 12:16)
3) When Ahijah tore the garment into 12 pieces, and gave 10 to Jeroboam, two pieces were left. These represented Judah and Benjamin. But Levi, one of the ten, was insulted and cut off from their calling and livelihood by Jeroboam. So they also became concentrated in the southern kingdom. And many others deserted Jeroboam because of his corruption of the religion of Israel:
“And Rehoboam dwelt in Jerusalem, and built cities for defence in Judah. He built even Bethlehem, and Etam, and Tekoa, And Bethzur, and Shoco, and Adullam, And Gath, and Mareshah, and Ziph, And Adoraim, and Lachish, and Azekah, And Zorah, and Aijalon, and Hebron, which are in Judah and in Benjamin fenced cities. And he fortified the strong holds, and put captains in them, and store of victual, and of oil and wine. And in every several city he put shields and spears, and made them exceeding strong, having Judah and Benjamin on his side.
“And the priests and the Levites that were in all Israel resorted to him out of all their coasts. For the Levites left their suburbs and their possession, and came to Judah and Jerusalem: for Jeroboam and his sons had cast them off from executing the priest’s office unto the LORD: And he ordained him priests for the high places, and for the devils, and for the calves which he had made. And after them out of all the tribes of Israel such as set their hearts to seek the LORD God of Israel came to Jerusalem, to sacrifice unto the LORD God of their fathers.” (2 Chronicles 11:5-16)
4) Israel was carried away by the Assyrians a century before Judah was taken captive to Babylon. Few of them returned to the land of Israel when Cyrus’ decree of release was published; so the “Israel” that was in the land after that was mainly composed of Judeans, Benjamites and Levites who returned to their own capital city and the surrounding country. They came to be called “Jews” at this time.
Howard Douglas King, February 15, 2020