Israel and Judah to 733 BCE. Click for notes on cities and areas in red.
In scripture, David and Solomon are described as great and wealthy rulers over vast territory. This view has been challenged by theories of archeologists. That controversy aside, according to the Old Testament, during King David's rule there were antagonisms between rich and poor. And similar to other rulers, David taxed his subjects and forced them to labor for the state. But David's subjects rebelled. According to the Old Testament, his discontented subjects were led by his own son, Absalom. The Second Book of Samuel describes a messenger reporting to David that the "hearts of the men of Israel" are with Absalom. But David crushed the rebellion, and with it the life of Absalom.
According to the Old Testament (the first book of Kings), after David's death two of his sons, Solomon and Adonijah, vied with each other to succeed him. Solomon emerged as the victor and had Adonijah executed on the pretext that Adonijah had demanded a woman from David's harem. It was a kind of sibling rivalry for power common within authoritarian kingship dynasties.
Solomon is said to have died around 922 BCE of old age, and with his death his son and successor, Rehoboam, confronted the people of Israel. According to the Old Testament, the people said to Rehoboam: "Lighten the heavy burden which your father put upon us and we will serve you." Rehoboam responded by asking the crowd to return in three days. And when the crowd did so, Rehoboam said to them:
My little finger is thicker than my father's loins. Whereas my father loaded you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions. (1 Kings 12:11)
Rehoboam's subjects to the north of Jerusalem rebelled, and the rebellion turned into a bloody civil war. David's empire was going the route that was to be common with empires. It was breaking up.
The leader of the revolt was a man called Jeroboam. Under his leadership, the north became an independent state, maintaining the name Israel. He was to reign from 922 to 901. The state to the south, which included Jerusalem, was smaller and less commercially advanced, and it became known as Judah.
Like the Christians who were to become emperors of Rome, Jeroboam was not about to produce a revolution of any kind. He ruled according to custom, as an absolute monarch. He represented his rule as a continuation of the House of David – David's dynasty. Jeroboam was ruling what was to be called Israel.
Israel's economy grew. So too did its bureaucracy, the debt of peasants and herdsmen, and the number of people losing their land and selling themselves into slavery. Following Jeroboam's death in 901, Israel suffered from drought and an economic depression. With these came bitterness, intensified social unrest, a search for scapegoats and the rise to prominence of a man called Elijah. Elijah was a new kind of Hebrew prophet. Earlier prophets had been advisors to, or supporters of, Israel's monarchy. Elijah was hostile to that monarchy.
Described in the First Book of Kings, Elijah was from a rural, cattle-raising region in Gilead, east of the Jordan River. The agricultural ways of the Canaanites were foreign to him. He preferred the rustic simplicity of Gilead to the cosmopolitanism that he found in Israel's cities. And, according to the Old Testament, he disliked injustice. Elijah was outspoken and acquired a following among Israel's rural people. He protested against land tenure and the enslavement of the poor by the rich. According to the Old Testament, he called for worship of Yahweh and opposed the worship of Ba'al and earned the enmity of Israel's king and queen, Ahab and Jezebel.
Assyria was re-establishing control in places in Mesopotamia, and Assyria's king and his warrior nobles yearned to win for themselves glory, gold, silver, copper, iron and whatever else they could plunder. They made raids westward, and they conquered Aramaean kingdoms in northern Syria. They headed south toward the Aramaic city of Damascus. King Ahab of Israel allied his nation with the Phoenicians and with Damascus against the Assyrians. This alliance is described as having put 10,000 infantrymen and 2,000 horse drawn chariots into the field against the Assyrians. And, in 853, in a great battle at QarQar in Syria, this force defeated and stopped the Assyrians.
But after their victory, the allies quarreled, and Israel and Damascus fought another of their wars against each other. Israel allied itself on this occasion with Judah. King Ahab died in battle against Damascus. And, with its former enemies divided, Assyria began making new threats in the direction of Israel.
After Ahab died in battle, one of his generals, Jehu, wished to succeed him. In the often bloody business of succession, Jehu enlisted the support of the god Yahweh and Elijah's movement, now led by Elijah's companion, Elisha. According to the Second Book of Kings, Jehu and Elisha murdered more priests of Ba'al. They burned the temple of Ba'al worship and converted it to a latrine. They murdered the remaining members of the Ahab family, including Jezebel, who is said to have been thrown from a window, run over by Jehu's chariot and left to be torn apart by dogs. And Jehu murdered others he saw as possible rivals.
In 842, Jehu became king of Israel, and during his reign economic conditions improved and hatreds subsided. The movement begun by Elijah faded, and Jehu lost interest in Yahweh worship and began worshiping other gods, as expressed in the Second Book of Kings (10:31-32), where it was written that Jehu "...did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam."
According to the Old Testament, the prophets Elijah and Elisha were followed a century later by the prophet Amos from the rural village of Tekoa, ten miles south of Jerusalem. Amos had gone north into Israel and taken with him his worship of Yahweh. He too disliked the cosmopolitanism and luxury he found in Israel. According to the Old Testament he condemned those "who oppress the poor" and "crush the needy." He spoke against the restoration of Ba'al worship, he called on people to seek salvation in the worship of Yahweh. The Book of Amos 4:2 describes him as warning that days were coming "when they will take you away with meat hooks, and the last of you with fish hooks." Amos complained that evil was not a failure of worshiping the right way but a failure of living correctly, and he quoted Yahweh as saying "I reject your festivals" and "let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an overflowing stream." Moved by Amos' denunciations against Israel, a priest reported Amos for conspiring against Israel's king, Jeroboam II. Amos tried to defend himself by claiming that he was only a simple herdsman and grower of figs. But many in Israel saw him as a nuisance, and Amos felt compelled to flee back to Judah.
Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.