THE HEAVY TAX YOKE KING SOLOMON HAD IMPOSED ON THE KINGDOM
“The splendid achievement of King Solomon brought great glory to the people of Israel, and his reign would be long remembered with nostalgia as a time of great glory for the nation. But the splendour of his time was bought at a great price. He did not add sufficiently to the resources left him by David to achieve his great projects without imposing on his people a tax and labour burden which aroused great resentment.
As a consequence Roboam, his successor, found himself ruling a discontented people. They asked him to relieve them of the heavy yoke that Solomon had placed upon them. Roboam, refusing to listen to the sage advice of the elders of the kingdom, refused.
Ten of the tribes – all except Juda and Benjamin – rose in revolt and elected Jeroboam, a former official under Solomon, king of the new kingdom of Israel. The portion of the old kingdom remaining to Roboam became known as the kingdom of Juda. This division of the kingdom took place in the year 932 B.C.
A STEADY PROGRESS TOWARD DISASTER
The subsequent history of the two kingdoms of Juda and Israel is, on the whole, a steady progress toward disaster. In the political and military spheres they found themselves slowly destroyed between the crushing rivalries of the great empires of Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia.
Unable to reach any permanent unification of their forces for the protection of all the Chosen People of God, they embarked upon a course of political and military intrigues, now allied with one another, now opposed to one another; now allied with other petty states against Assyria; now allied with Assyria against Egypt, or with Egypt against Assyria. Almost always these alliances brought more harm to the Chosen People, until both kingdoms were destroyed.
In 721 the kingdom of Israel fell and its people were led into captivity by the Assyrians. In 586 the kingdom of Juda fell and its people were led into captivity by the Babylonians.
A NECESSARY PREPARATION OF THE PEOPLE FOR THE COMING OF SALVATION
If this were the whole history of these times, we would have concluded that God’s plan to save the world through the Chosen People had failed. The strength of His love had been squandered uselessly on the weakness of men.
But at this time the phenomenon of prophetism was sent to Israel by God to correct the errors of the people and to lay the foundation of hope for the future. In the light of the teaching of the prophets this unfortunate period in the life of Israel can be seen as a necessary preparation of the people and of the world for the coming of salvation.
THE ROLE OF GOD’S PROPHETS
The Hebrew prophets were men raised up by God to speak to the Chosen People in God’s name. It was their mission to speak against the errors of the kings, priests and people. In fulfilling this mission they extolled trust in Jahweh and denounced the purely human [worldly] policy of seeking safety through political and military alliances. They urged the simple worship of Jahweh, and condemned the infiltration of idolatry into the religious life of the people. They castigated the abuses of justice and the luxuriousness of the people. But they also promised ultimate victory to Jahweh and His people.
To perceive the universal significance of their message we must consider it in its historical context. For this purpose we shall consider first the history of the schismatic kingdom of Israel, and then that of the Davidic kingdom of Juda.
GOLDEN CALVES WERE PLACED IN BETHEL AND IN DAN
The first disastrous consequence of the rebellion of the ten tribes was the destruction of the religious unity of the people. The attempt of David and Solomon to secure religious unity by centralising worship at. Jerusalem – an attempt already dramatically successful at the completion of Solomon’s great Temple in Jerusalem – became a failure through the division of the kingdom.
A religious unity of divided peoples, a unity made real by the centralisation of divine worship at Jerusalem, would be a constant threat to the powers of the schismatic kings of Israel.
With more political foresight than devotion to Jahweh, Jeroboam, the first ruler of the kingdom of Israel, established two centres of worship for his kingdom, one at Bethel and the other in Dan. Unfortunately the ever present tendency of the people to debase the true worship demanded by Jahweh manifested itself at once. Though Jeroboam designated these two centres as places of worship of Jahweh, he adulterated the Mosaic religion by placing, both in Bethel and in Dan, golden calves to represent Jahweh.
THE WARNING OF THE PROPHET AHIAS REGARDING THE GOLDEN CALVES
At the command of Jahweh, Ahias, a prophet, told the wife of Jeroboam that the kingdom would be taken from his dynasty because of this disobedience to God’s command to make no graven image of Himself. After a reign of two years, Nadab, the son of Jeroboam, was slain by Baasa, who then reigned for twenty-four years. Baasa’s long reign was unusual in the kingdom of Israel. The tradition of revolt inaugurated by Jeroboam became a characteristic of the northern kingdom. Ela, the son of Baasa, reigned two years before he was overthrown by Zimri, who, in turn, was replaced by Omri.
WORSHIP TO THE TRUE GOD WAS NOW IN GRAVE DANGER OF EXTINCTION
Politically Omri was a good king. He probably avoided difficulty with the Assyrians by paying tribute to the Assyrian monarch Ashur-nasir-pal II. He seems to have subdued Moab. He maintained friendly relations with Ethbaal, king of Tyre, and arranged the marriage of his son Achab to Jezabel, daughter of Ethbaal.
Under his son Achab, the Phoenician Jezabel encouraged the worship of the Baal of Tyre and persecuted the faithful followers of Jahweh. A temple was built to Baal at Samaria, the capital of the kingdom, and maintained at the expense of the royal treasury.
At this time, when the worship of the true God was in grave danger of extinction, God sent the prophet Elias to defend Jahwism.
THE PROPHET ELIAS APPEARS
Elias prophesied that God would send a severe drought to punish Achab and Israel for their idolatrous worship of Baal. In the year 857 B.C. the drought occurred. As the drought lasted until late in the year 856, Achab was impressed and agreed to a trial of power between Baal and Jahweh. In accordance with the wish of Elias, the prophets of Baal – over four hundred in number – and the people assembled on Mount Carmel for the trial.
ONLY OUR GOD REIGNS, ALWAYS, FOR EVER & EVER
A bullock was given to the prophets of Baal and a bullock to Elias. The prophets of Baal placed their bullock upon sticks of wood for burning. Elias then said to the people: ‘How long do you halt between two sides? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him… Call ye on the names of your gods, and I will call on the name of my Lord: and the God that shall answer, let him be God’ (1 Kings 18:21, 24).
The prophets of Baal prayed and performed their rites in vain. The wood for their holocaust would not ignite. Then Elias placed his bullock on a pile of wood and drenched the sacrifice and the wood with water, and called upon Jahweh. ‘The fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the holocaust’ (1 Kings 18:38). At once the people cried out their allegiance to Jahweh, and they killed the prophets of Baal. After this, God sent rain to relieve the drought.
STERN MEASURES AGAINST THE WORSHIP OF BAAL
But even this pointed lesson did not destroy completely the debased religious practices of the house of Omri. Under Joram, the son and second successor of Achab, the prophet Eliseus arranged to have Jehu, one of the captains of Joram’s army, anointed king as a punishment for the destruction of God’s true prophets by Achab and Jezabel.
Jehu took stern measures against the worship of Baal. But he did not destroy the idolatrous worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan.
Jeroboam II, the great-grandson of Jehu, ruled for forty-one years (784-744 B.C.) and restored the kingdom of Israel to a position of strength and prosperity. But after his reign the kingdom declined steadily.
THE GOLDEN CALVES REMAINED IN PLACE
His son Zacharias was murdered after a rule of only six months. He was succeeded by Sellum, who in turn was murdered by Menahem. Menahem became a vassal king to Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria. The kingdom was thus embroiled in the struggles between Assyria and Egypt. Peqahia, son of Menahem, was murdered by a group of conspirators who favoured Egypt over Assyria.
THE KINGDOM DECLINED STEADILY
He was succeeded by Peqah, who entered into an alliance with Rasin, king of Damascus, against Assyria. Failing to induce the kingdom of Juda to enter the alliance with them so as to insure help from Egypt against Assyria, they besieged Jerusalem. This led Achaz, king of Juda, to appeal for help to Tiglath-Pileser. In the year 732 the Assyrians defeated Rasin and Peqah. The tribes of Nephtali and of the Transjordan were transported to Assyria.
An Israelite named Osee killed Peqah and aSsumed the crown. While nominally subject to Assyria, he seems to have intrigued with the Pharaoh of Egypt against Salmanassar V. When the Assyrian monarch learned of this he made Osee his prisoner. But in Samari the people continued to resist the Assyrians. Salmanassar laid siege to the city in 724.
THE ORIGIN OF THE SAMARITANS, AND WHY THEY WERE DIFFERENT
In 721 Sargon, successor to Salmanassar, took Samaria and deported over 27,000 inhabitants of the kingdom of Israel to distant regions in the empire of Assyria. Other races conquered by the Assyrians were imported into Israel. While these new peoples, in accordance with the customs of the time, worshipped Jahweh, they continued to worship their own gods also. As a result there arose in Israel that people known as the Samaritans, a people of mixed religious beliefs and practices.
THE PROPHETS AMOS AND HOSEA EXPLAIN THE MEANING OF THE FALL OF THE KINGDOM OF ISRAEL
The meaning of the fall of the kingdom of Israel is given to us in the message of the prophets Amos and Osee [Hosea] sent by God to the kingdom of Israel in the last years of the kingdom. According to both prophets the kingdom of Israel was forgotten by God because of her sins. The people of Israel have sinned against justice, oppressed the poor, sought the riches of this world, rather than the friendship of their God. In their pursuit of the riches, pleasures and power of this world they have relied upon political alliances rather than on Jahweh. Desirous of material prosperity they have worshipped the false gods of the land in which they dwelt and so have become unfaithful to Jahweh. According to Amos they would not pay heed to the blessings or the chastisements sent them by Jahweh. They became incorrigible in their faithlessness. As a consequence both prophets foretell the destruction of the kingdom and the captivity of the people in Assyria. But, as Osee [Hosea] points out, the captivity will be a blessing, for the people thus humiliated will see the error of their ways, they will give up the worship of the false god Baal and will return to the worship of Jahweh, the true God. Then God will lead them out of captivity and will restore them to their native land.
GOD REMAINS FAITHFUL
The teaching of Osee [Hosea] in particular sheds new light on the relationship which God desires with man. Osee portrays God as the loving Spouse of Israel, and Israel as the faithless wife of God. The covenant of God with His people, then, is not simply a contract founded on justice. It is a union of love which God desires. He will be not simply the Lord of His people but their loving Spouse. And His love for His spouse is so great that even though she is unfaithful to Him and enters into sinful relations with other and false gods, still God will remain faithful to His love for her. Her chastisement will be heavy and painful, but it will be administered by love and will bring about her return to her true husband.
ISRAEL JOURNEYING FROM THE WORLDLY OUTLOOK TO THE TRULY SPIRITUAL
This portrayal of God as the Spouse of Israel and the prophet’s castigation of the worldliness of the Israelites and his teaching that God desires mercy and not sacrifice show that Israel had not appreciated the true spirituality of the religion of Moses. They had regarded their covenant with Jahweh simply as a means to temporal [material] advantage, and they had sought this advantage in a purely external worship of their God. Osee, in the portrayal of God as their Spouse and of themselves as God’s unfaithful wife, emphasises the truth that God will be bound to His people by love, the total and faithful love which obtains between husband and wife. God wishes to be worshipped not only externally but internally with the love of the spirit. This is the great lesson of the prophets of Israel.”
– Martin J. Healy, 1959