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THE DIVISION OF THE KINGDOM.
'VIL days fell upon the Israelites after the death
of Solomon. In the first place their country was rent by political divisions, disorders, and civil wars. Ten of the tribes, or three quarters of the population, revolted from Rehoboam, Solomon's son and successor, and took for their king Jeroboam, — a valiant man, who had been living for several years at the court of Shishak, king of Egypt, exiled by Solomon for his too great ambition. Jeroboam had been an industrious, active-minded, strong-natured youth, whom Solomon had promoted and made much of. The prophet Ahijah had privately foretold to him that, on account of the idolatries tolerated by Solomon, ten of the tribes should be rent away from the royal house and given to him. The Lord promised him the kingdom of Israel, and (if he would be loyal to the faith) the establishment of a dynasty, —“a sure house.” Jeroboam made choice of Shechem for his capital; and from
political reasons, — for fear that the people should, according to their custom, go up to Jerusalem to worship at the great festivals of the nation, and perhaps return to their allegiance to the house of David, while perhaps also to compromise with their already corrupted and unspiritualized religious sense, — he made two golden calves and set them up for religious worship: one in Bethel, at the southern end of the kingdom ; the other in Dan, at the far north.
It does not appear that the people of Israel as yet ignored Jehovah as God; but they worshipped him in the form of the same Egyptian symbol that Aaron had set up in the wilderness, — a grave offence, although not an utter apostasy. Moreover, this was the act of the king rather than of the priests or his own subjects.
Stanley makes a significant comment on this act of the new king, which the sacred narrative refers to as “ the sin of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.” He says: “The Golden Image was doubtless intended as a likeness of the One True God. But the mere fact of setting up such a likeness broke down the sacred awe which had hitherto marked the Divine Presence, and accustomed the minds of the Israelites to the very sin against which the new form was intended to be a safeguard. From worshipping God under a false and unauthorized form they gradually learned to worship other gods altogether. ... • The sin of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, is the sin again and again repeated in the policy — half-worldly, half-religious — which has prevailed through large tracts of ecclesiastical history. ... For the sake of supporting the faith of the multitude, lest they should fall away to rival sects, ... false arguments have been used in support of religious truths, false miracles promulgated or tolerated, false readings in the sacred text defended. And so the faith of mankind has been undermined by the very means intended to preserve it.”
For priests, Jeroboam selected the lowest of the people, — whoever could be induced to offer idolatrous sacrifices in the high places, — since the old priests and Levites remained with the tribe of Judah at Jerusalem.
These abominations and political rivalries caused incessant war between the two kingdoms for several reigns. The northern kingdom, including the great tribe of Ephraim or Joseph, was the richest, most fertile, and most powerful ; but the southern kingdom was the most strongly fortified. And yet even in the fifth year of the reign of Rehoboam, the king of Egypt, probably incited by Jeroboam, invaded Judah with an immense army, including sixty thousand cavalry and twelve hundred chariots, and invested Jerusalem. The city escaped capture only by submitting to the most
humiliating conditions. The vast wealth which was stored in the Temple, — the famous gold shields which David had taken from the Syrians, and those also made by Solomon for his body-guard, together with the treasures of the royal palace, — became spoil for the Egyptians. This disaster happened when Solomon had been dead but five years. The solitary tribe left to his son, despoiled by Egypt and overrun by other enemies, became of but little account politically for several generations, although it still possessed the Temple and was proud of its traditions. After this great humiliation, the proud king of Judah, it seems, became a better man; and his descendants for a hundred years were, on the whole, worthy sovereigns, and did good in the sight of the Lord.
Political interest now centres in the larger kingdom, called Israel. Judah for a time passes out of sight, but is gradually enriched under the reigns of virtuous princes, who preserved the worship of the true God at Jerusalem. Nations, like individuals, seldom grow in real strength except in adversity. The prosperity of Solomon undermined his throne. The little kingdom of Judah lasted one hundred and fifty years after the ten tribes were carried into captivity.
Yet what remained of power and wealth among the Jews after the rebellion under Jeroboam, was to be found in the northern kingdom. It was still exceedingly fertile, and was well watered. It was “a land of brooks of water, of fountains, of barley and wheat, of vines and fig-trees, of olives and honey.” It boasted of numerous fortified cities, and had a population as dense as that in Belgium at the present time. The nobles were powerful and warlike; while the army was well organized, and included chariots and horses. The monarchy was purely military, and was surrounded by powerful nations, whom it was necessary to conciliate. Among these were the Phænicians on the west, and the Syrians on the north. From the first the army was the great power of the state, its chief being more powerful than Joab was in the undivided kingdom of David. He stood next after the king, and was the channel of royal favor.
The history of the northern kingdom which has come down to us is very meagre. From Jeroboam to Ahab — a period of sixty-six years — there were six kings, three of whom were assassinated. There was a succession of usurpers, who destroyed all the members of the preceding reigning family. They were all idolaters, violent and bloodthirsty men, whom the army had raised to the throne. No one of them was marked by signal ability, unless it were Omri, who built the city of Samaria on a high hill, and so strongly fortified it that it remained the capital until the fall of the kingdom. He also made a close alliance with