The Fall of Judah

In 931 BC the nation of Israel was split into two kingdoms as was foretold during the reign of Solomon.  Ten tribes left under the reign of Jeroboam to form the northern kingdom or what is referred to as the kingdom of Israel (not to be confused with the nation of Israel).  The tribe of Judah remained loyal to the throne of David and Rehoboam.  The twelfth tribe is practically unaccounted for in scripture at times as there are times when the split is clearly defined as ten tribes to the north and the remaining tribe to the south.  Nevertheless, the tribe of Benjamin does remain allied with Judah.  Judah is clearly the more significant tribe however as King David and all of the kings of the southern kingdom will come from Judah.  The southern kingdom is referred to as the kingdom of Judah.

From the time of the split until the time that the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC, the kingdom of Israel was dominated by evil kings.  The kingdom of Judah on the other hand had a mix of good and bad kings.

The northern kingdom is also marked by turmoil as several kings are assassinated or otherwise meet untimely deaths.  There are multiple families who control the throne in the northern kingdom including 5 “dynasties” that have at least one son follow in his father’s footsteps.  The southern kingdom has much more stability as the line of David controls the throne the whole time.  Stability is also found in the number of kings.  The northern kingdom had nineteen kings while the southern kingdom had only twenty.  This is despite the fact that the kingdom of Judah continues on for almost another 150 years after the destruction of the northern kingdom.  Longer average reigns obviously brings about additional stability.

If one were to rate the kings of Judah as simply good or bad, bad would win out but not by a strong margin.  There are eight kings who could be considered mostly good to very good: Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah, Jotham, Hezekiah, and Josiah.  Hezekiah is the best among these kings.  The average of their reigns is 33 years each.

On the other hand, there are twelve kings who might be considered mostly bad to downright wicked.  Manasseh is the worst of these men and Athaliah, the only woman to reign in Judah is also among the wicked.  Their average reign is only about ten years each but it is worth noting that Manasseh reigns for 55 years which is longer than any other king in Judah or Israel.  Despite being the most wicked king, Manasseh is humbled by the Lord and led into captivity in Babylon.  There he repents of his wickedness and God restores him to the throne.

Even though the southern kingdom didn’t get off to a great start under Rehoboam who was the cause of split of the nation of Israel, things start to go downhill around the time of the fall of the northern kingdom.  There were plenty of bad kings before this time and two of Judah’s best kings reign after this but 722 BC is probably a good place to start if one is telling a narrative of the fall of the southern kingdom.

Hezekiah is the best king of Judah and he is probably second only to David in all of Israelite history.  However, it is during the sixth year of his reign that the northern kingdom falls.  Assyria will then place pressure upon Judah for the life of the empire, only to cease when Babylon comes to power.

Hezekiah is a righteous king and he does away with the idols that have appeared in Judah.  Likewise, he does not bow to pressure from Assyria.  God strikes the armies of Sennacherib dead overnight, killing 185,000 who were ready to attack Jerusalem.  Nevertheless, Hezekiah does have a flaw.

The prophet Isaiah comes to Hezekiah and tells him to get his household in order because he is going to die.  Hezekiah prays and God grants him another fifteen years to live.  During this time Manasseh is born to Hezekiah.  Judah’s best king will be succeeded by Judah’s worst.

Likewise, after Hezekiah’s life has been extended, envoys from Babylon come to visit him.  In his pride Hezekiah shows them all of the wealth that he has accumulated.  Isaiah returns once again to inform Hezekiah that all of the wealth that he boasted of would one day belong to the Babylonians.  This is not a direct punishment because of Hezekiah’s pride however and Hezekiah does repent of this.  Nevertheless, it is a warning that the Babylonians would come and that all of Hezekiah’s boasting was foolish and worthless.

Manasseh largely undid all that his father Hezekiah did.  He built new altars and high places to idols and did all kinds of things that were detestable to the Lord.  Even though he reigned in Judah for fifty five years, there isn’t much recorded about him aside from his wicked idolatry.  God chose to humble Manasseh however.  He was carried into captivity in Babylon where he repented of his wickedness.  This should have served as a warning to the rest of the kingdom that Babylon was powerful and that God could and would use them to accomplish his will.  Even though Manasseh learned his lesson and tore down the idols that he had constructed, the damage was already done.

Manasseh’s son Amon was wicked like he was and he continued the practice of sacrificing to idols.  He was assassinated after only two years on the throne and Josiah was made king.

Josiah is the second youngest king of Judah, coming to power when he was only eight years old.  His reign represents one final opportunity for the kingdom to repent.  Even though disaster had already been prophesied, undoubtedly God would have postponed it for a while longer if Judah learned from Josiah.

Josiah is a righteous king and he begins to seek after the Lord at the age of sixteen.  At the age of twenty he destroyed the idolatry in the land and cleansed the temple like Hezekiah had before him.  While the temple was being cleansed, the book of the law was discovered and read.  Upon hearing it and realizing how wickedly the kingdom had acted, Josiah tore his robes.

Josiah inquired of the Lord as to what was to happen to the kingdom because of its wickedness.  God’s response is recorded in 2 Chronicles 34:23-28:

23 She said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me,24 ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people—all the curses written in the book that has been read in the presence of the king of Judah. 25 Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all that their hands have made, my anger will be poured out on this place and will not be quenched.’ 26 Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: 27 Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the Lord. 28 Now I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place and on those who live here.’”

Judah would be punished for its sin as the kingdom of Israel already had.  Nevertheless because Josiah acted humbly toward God, the disaster would not happen in his lifetime.

Disaster would come shortly after the days of Josiah however.  The remaining kings of Judah were all bad.  Josiah dies in 608 BC and the Babylonians would be on the doorstep of Jerusalem by 605 BC.  Jehoiakim is king when Babylon first attacked in 605 BC.  There would be three waves of attacks and deportations.  In the first wave some of the royal family is deported to Babylon.  Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (their names that they are given in Babylon since few word recognize their Hebrew names) are among those who are carried off in the first wave.

In 597 BC Nebuchadnezzar returned to Jerusalem and carried Jehoiakim off in bronze shackles.  Jehoiachin succeeds him to the throne but lasts only three months.  Nebuchadnezzar installs Zedekiah as the last king of Israel.  He is essentially a puppet king who is allowed to reign under the thumb of Nebuchadnezzar.  Even so, he rebels and the Babylonians come back to Jerusalem again in 586 BC.  This time there is no escape as the remaining inhabitants, all aside from a few poor people left to tend the vineyards and farmland, are carried off to Babylon.  The temple is set on fire, the walls are broken down, and Jerusalem is no more.

The city of Jerusalem would lay desolate for seventy years until King Cyrus of Persia permitted the people of Judah – Jews as they had become known in Babylon – to return to the land.  2 Chronicles 36:21 tells us why the land was left empty for seventy years.

The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah.

The people of Israel would remain under the rule of another even after they were allowed to return to their land.  It won’t be until 1948 that the Israelites become a nation again and have their own sovereign leader.

Hezekiah: the second greatest king

Unlike the northern kingdom, the southern kingdom of Judah had a mix of good and bad kings.  Obviously some were better than others but there is one who stands out from the rest in both his righteousness and even his historical significance.  That king is King Hezekiah.

2 Kings 18 tells us that Hezekiah came to the throne in the third year of King Hoshea of the northern kingdom.  Usually these markers mean little aside to historians who are trying to line up the reigns of the northern and southern kingdoms and see how they fit in with the other kings of the region.  This time it is quite significant though as Hoshea is the last king of Israel.  Hekekiah becomes king of Judah six years before the northern kingdom would be wiped out by the Assyrians.

As we shouldn’t believe in coincidences when it comes to God, it shouldn’t be considered a coincidence that Judah’s strongest king sits upon the throne at the time of its greatest need.  2 Kings 18:5-7 puts Hezekiah’s greatness in context:

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him.

Hezekiah’s strength comes from his faith in the Lord.  In addition to serving the Lord, he also tore down the Asherah poles and destroyed the places of idol worship in the land.  We are even told that the bronze serpent that Moses had been instructed to make to heal the Israelites in the desert was still around 700 years after it was used.  It was called the Nehushtan at this time and the people were burning incense to it so Hezekiah had it destroyed.  Hezekiah saw that something that was a beautiful piece of Israel’s history had become a stumbling block to them and he knew that it was his duty to honor God first rather than history.

Hezekiah’s greatest adversary was Sennacherib, king of Assyria.  While he laid siege to the cities of Judah and threatened Jerusalem, God protected the city.  The Assyrians boasted how none of the other gods were able to stand against them but God responded to Hezekiah’s prayers.  2 Kings 19 records a prophecy of Isaiah that speaks of Sennacherib’s downfall.  That very night the angel of the Lord went through the Assyrian camp and quietly struck down 185,000 troops.  Sennacherib returned home and was murdered by his sons as he worshipped in the temple of his god.

The turning point in Hezekiah’s life happens sometime after God’s victory over the Assyrians.  Hezekiah becomes ill and Isaiah the prophet is sent to him to instruct him to get his house in order because he is going to die.  Hezekiah pleads with the Lord and God gives him another 15 years to live.  As a sign, the sun moves backwards so that the shadow on the stairway of Ahaz went back ten steps.

As with David, even though Hezekiah loved the Lord, he is not without fault.  Hezekiah’s pride gets the best of him as he accomplished much and gained great wealth.  After Hezekiah had recovered from his illness, he received envoys from Babylon.  It is worth noting that Assyria is the major power in the world in Hezekiah’s day and Babylon is hardly worthy of note.  Ordinarily envoys from a distant place that is not a world superpower would hardly be worth recording and it probably happened many other times without record.

Hezekiah shows the envoys from Babylon all of the great wealth that he has accumulated.  It is obvious that this is an attempt to impress his visitors and not a display of God’s greatness and His blessing upon the king and kingdom.  Because of this, Isaiah is sent to Hezekiah with another message.

Hezekiah is told that there will come a day when all of the treasures that he just boasted about would be carried off by the very Babylonians that he just boasted to.  In addition to this, some of his very descendents will be carried off to serve as eunuchs for the king of Babylon.

Hezekiah’s reaction to this news appears out of place and perhaps it is an indication of his pride at this time or perhaps he just isn’t thinking properly.  He takes this bad news of the future desolation of Jerusalem and his descendants as good news.  He sees it as a sign that harm will not fall on him and his kingdom during his reign.  While this would be true, it is obviously missing the point.

Despite this confusing act by Hezekiah, he does realize the errors of his ways and repents of his sin.  2 Chronicles 32:26 records: Then Hezekiah repented of the pride of his heart, as did the people of Jerusalem; therefore the Lord’s wrath did not come on them during the days of Hezekiah.

During the extra 15 years that Hezekiah was given his son Manasseh was born.  This might be considered a mixed blessing as Manasseh was probably the most evil king that Judah had.  Manasseh reconstructed the idols and high places that Hezekiah had destroyed and led the people deeper into idolatry.  Manasseh essentially undid everything that his father Hezekiah had done.   Then the Lord humbled him and had him deported.  Once Manasseh cried out to God and repented God returned him to Jerusalem and the throne.

Hezekiah’s life had far more good points than bad points.  Like his ancestor David, he followed the Lord and sought repentance for his shortcomings.  He brought about revival among the Israelites that had not been seen since the time of David.  That is his greatest legacy for the kingdom of Judah.

The fall of Israel

The northern kingdom of Israel started with a lot of promise but it was never realized.  Before Solomon’s death Jeroboam was told that the nation of Israel would split and that he would rule ten tribes.  God also promised that if Jeroboam followed the Lord, He would make his family line into an everlasting dynasty.

Unfortunately for Jeroboam that promise was a conditional one.  Soon after the nation split, Jeroboam sets up golden calves in Bethel and Dan.  He hopes that the people will decide to worship in these locations rather than travel to the temple in Jerusalem where he fears he will lose his people and his kingship.  This is all it takes to ruin Jeroboam’s kingship and God promises to destroy his family line.

The northern kingdom is full of wickedness and wicked leaders.  There isn’t a good one in the approximately 200 year history of the kingdom.  There are 19 kings who rule the kingdom of Israel although a few of these are short lived.  Zimri reigns for only seven days before being killed by Omri, the next king.  Zechariah lasts six months on the throne before he is killed by Shallum.  Shallum only survives one month before he is assassinated by Menahem.

Turmoil is the best word to describe the reigns of the kings of the northern kingdom.  Of the nineteen men who ruled, eight were assassinated.  Another two died in battle or from other accidents.  The last king to rule the kingdom of Israel was imprisoned by the Assyrians and ultimately deported.  All in all, this leaves less than half of the kings of the northern kingdom who died natural deaths.

There are five dynasties to rule the kingdom of Israel.  By dynasties in this case I mean kings who had at least one son succeed him as king.  These dynasties all end however, often with the entire household wiped out so that there would be no one who could even lay claim to the kingship through succession.  This is indeed what happens to Jeroboam’s line as foretold through Ahijah that every male in his household would be cut off – that means they would be killed.

Even though none of the kings of the northern kingdom are good, one tends to stand out above the rest in his wickedness.  That king is King Ahab who is possibly surpassed in his wickedness by his wife Jezebel.  Ahab greatly expanded the idolatry in an already idolatrous kingdom.  Jezebel is said to have 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah eat from her table.

The prophet Elijah confronts and defeats the prophets of Baal in an epic showdown which takes place on top of Mount Carmel.  All 450 prophets of Baal are slaughtered and this sends Jezebel into a rage as she calls for Elijah’s death.

1 Kings 21 is quite an enlightening passage that shows the character of both Ahab and Jezebel.  When Naboth is unwilling to sell his vineyard to the king he goes home sullen and angry.  Jezebel begins to plot and scheme in order to obtain the vineyard.  She has scoundrels give false testimony concerning Naboth and he is stoned to death so Ahab can take possession of the vineyard.

Elijah is called to speak to King Ahab and pronounces judgment upon him.  Disaster would fall upon him and his family for their sins.  Just like Jeroboam’s and Baasha’s families before him, his family would be completely destroyed with not a male left.

1 Kings 21:25-26 records the extent of King Ahab’s wickedness:

(There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife.  He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel.)

Nevertheless Ahab actually takes God’s pronouncement of punishment seriously and responds humbly.  It is unclear from scripture whether this is true repentance – in other words, whether we might bump into King Ahab in heaven someday – but God responds favorably to Ahab’s change and obviously God isn’t fooled by just an outward show.  All that God had told Elijah to proclaim will still come true but God decides not to bring disaster upon Ahab’s family during his lifetime.

Ahab was killed in battle while in his chariot.  They washed the blood from his chariot in Samaria where the dogs licked it up as was foretold.  Jezebel later meets a similarly gruesome fate as she is thrown from a window and her body is trampled by horses.

Although there were no righteous kings of the northern kingdom, we might say that Jehu was the least evil.  He was anointed by God to become king and he was dedicated to the task of fulfilling the prophecy against Ahab’s family.  He succeeded in destroying the family line of Ahab as well as personally killing his predecessor Joram.

King Jehu was also responsible for slaughtering the prophets of Baal and destroying the temple of Baal.  His undoing was the same as Jeroboam however.  He didn’t turn away from the worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan.  But because he had carried out the will of the Lord in the destruction of the line of Ahab and destroyed Baal worship in Israel, God blessed his line to the fourth generation so that Jehu’s lineage is the longest lasting among the northern kings.

The end of the northern kingdom starts to draw near during the reign of Menahem.  During this time the Assyrians are rising to power and gaining influence.  King Pul of Assyria invaded Israel and Menahem paid a tribute of a thousand talents of silver in order to keep Assyria away.

Things really unravel during the reign of Pekah.  It is then that Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria, came and attacked and took several cities of Israel.  Pekah is assassinated by Hoshea who is the last king of Israel.  Much of Hoshea’s reign is spent under the service of King Shalmanesar of Assyria.  He paid tribute to Assyria until he was caught trying to seek the aid of Egypt.  Then Assyria came and laid siege to the city of Samaria and eventually it fell after three years.

In the year 722 BC the northern kingdom is destroyed and lost forever.  The kingdom of Judah would continue on for almost another 150 years but the northern ten tribes of Israel would be wiped out and lost forever.

2 Kings 17 records the downfall of the kingdom of Israel and the reason for it was quite simple.  The people did not worship the Lord but instead had turned to idols.  They did detestable things in the eyes of the Lord.

While 2 Kings records that some of the Israelites were deported to Assyria, something else happened as well.  The city of Samaria was resettled.  People from all over Assyria came into the land and settled there.  They brought with them their own culture and their own gods.  While the people acknowledged the Lord, they also worshipped other idols as well.

In addition to this intermixing of culture and religion, the people became intermixed as well.  The people from all over intermarried with the people of Israel.  They soon lost their national identity as Israelites and their tribal affiliations were lost as well.  The ten tribes that made up the northern kingdom became known as the lost tribes of Israel.

This intermarrying led to a group of people who were half Israelite and half Assyrian or otherwise Gentile.  700 years later this people group still existed in Jesus’ day and was known as the Samaritans.  The Samaritans were despised by the true Israelites because they were looked upon as half-breeds, containing only a part of Israelite blood.  This was all a result of the northern kingdom falling to the Assyrians.

Elijah: a shining light in a dark time

The prophet Elijah plays a pivotal role in Old Testament history despite the fact that he doesn’t have a book of the Old Testament that bears his name like many other important prophets.  Aside from being a prophet, Elijah is one of the few people who performed miracles in the Bible.

Although we see miracles throughout the Bible, God is the one who performs the vast majority of them.  Miracles performed by people only come in three eras – Moses & Joshua, Eljiah & Elisha, Jesus & the disciples.  With his miracles Elijah foreshadows the ones that Jesus would perform.  It is no coincidence that Jesus is actually called Elijah as some considered His coming to be a return of Elijah.  Theologically it is not the same as Elijah never claimed to be the Son of God and that alone is a drastic enough difference to stop any discussion in that regard.  However the two are similar in their miracles and it is certainly noteworthy that Elijah never experiences death.

Elijah ministered in the northern kingdom during some of its darkest years under King Ahab.  He would serve as one of the remnant that remained faithful to the Lord during this era.  This didn’t mean that his faith was unwavering however.  Even he had times when he doubted himself and what was going on.

In 1 Kings 17 Elijah tells King Ahab that it will not rain for the next few years unless he commands it.  For some time after this Elijah was fed by ravens and drank from a brook that he stayed near.  Because of the drought though, the brook dried up and God instructed him to go to Zarephath.

In Zarephath Elijah encountered a widow and asked her to bring him some bread.  She had a little flour and olive oil however.  Elijah told her to make bread and that flour and oil wouldn’t run out until the Lord sent rain upon the land once again.  Sometime later the widow’s son died.  Elijah cried out to the Lord and brought the son back to life.

There is probably no more important story in the life of Elijah than 1 Kings 18.  It is here that Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal on top of Mount Carmel.  A challenge is proposed where Elijah and the prophets of Baal each build an altar with a sacrifice upon it.  They will then call upon their god and the one who sends fire from heaven will be acknowledged as the true god.

As expected, Baal never responds to the prophets.  Elijah then proceeded to taunt them and their beliefs by implored them to shout louder because maybe their god was asleep or away.  The prophets worked themselves into a frenzy even slashing themselves with swords in a vain attempt to get the attention of their god.

After this, Elijah built his altar.  For good measure he soaked the wood and everything around it with water which would have been very scarce after three years of no rain.  When Elijah called upon the Lord fire came down from heaven and consumed not only the sacrifice but the wood, the stone altar, and even the water that had filled the trench surrounding the altar.  The people immediately turned on the prophets of Baal and Elijah ordered them to kill all 450 prophets there.  As the prophets were slaughtered rain returned to the land, a small cloud appearing in the distance.

Queen Jezebel, who is even more wicked than King Ahab, vows to kill Elijah for having done this to her prophets of Baal.  This sets Elijah scurrying in fear for his life.  He enters into a depression and asks the Lord to let him die because he is exhausted from running and because he is the only prophet of God left.

The Lord encourages Elijah by assuring him that there are still 7000 people remaining in Israel who have not bowed to Baal.  As a matter of encouragement, Elijah is given two things.  The first is that he’s told to anoint a new king.  This obviously was an indication that Ahab and Jezebel’s days were numbered and God would remove them from power.  On a personal level, Elijah is given a successor as well.  He goes and meets Elisha who immediately leaves all that he has to follow Elijah.  While Elijah struggled with thoughts that he was the only follower of God left, God gives him someone who will be with him until the end.

In 2 Kings 2, it is time for Elijah to leave.  We don’t know how old Elijah was at this time.  It is possible that Elijah was at the end of a normal lifespan and God chose to spare him from death.  It is also possible that age is just starting to take its toll and Elijah was slowing down.  It would seem that whatever the reason Elijah is being taken to heaven at this time, Elisha has completed his mentorship and is ready to take over for him.

It appears that Elijah knows that it is time for him to be called to heaven, and for that matter everyone else apparently knows as well.  As Elijah and Elisha enter several towns, prophets from each town inform Elisha that Elijah was leaving that day.  Elijah seems to want to leave quietly but Elisha will not leave his side.

Finally as the time draws near for Elijah to go, he asks Elisha if there is anything that can be done before he leaves.  Like Solomon once responded wisely to the Lord when offered a free gift, Elisha responds wisely.  He asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit.

Shortly after, chariots of fire come out of heaven and Elijah is carried away in a whirlwind.  All that is left is Elijah’s cloak which Elisha picks up.  As he returns it is apparent that Elijah’s spirit was resting upon Elisha.  The Old Testament records Elisha performing twice as many miracles as Elijah did which shows the double portion of Elijah’s spirit that he requested has come upon him.  2 Kings records many miracles of Elisha including some that were similar to Elijah’s.  Elisha carries on Elijah’s work with the help of his spirit and of course the hand of the Lord.

The Nation of Israel Splits

The nation of Israel has only been a nation for a very short length of time compared to how long the people of Israel have been around.  Over 4000 years ago, around 2000 BC, is the time that Abraham walked the earth and God made His covenant with him.  The Israelites, descendants of Jacob, were in Egypt for 430 years before the Exodus in 1446 BC.  After entering the Promised Land they had judges as rulers for around 300 years.  Then the people cry out for a king and they are given Saul.  While Saul reigns 40 years over Israel, he is rejected by God and David is given the throne.  He too reigns 40 years when his son Solomon takes over the throne.  After this, the kingdom splits.  Israel has only been a united nation for 120 years during the entire time of the Jewish people.

1 Kings 11 prophecies during Solomon’s reign that the nation would be torn in two but that the upheaval would not happen during Solomon’s reign for the sake of his father David.  1 Kings 11:29-39 records:

29 About that time Jeroboam was going out of Jerusalem, and Ahijah the prophet of Shiloh met him on the way, wearing a new cloak. The two of them were alone out in the country, 30 and Ahijah took hold of the new cloak he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces. 31 Then he said to Jeroboam, “Take ten pieces for yourself, for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand and give you ten tribes. 32 But for the sake of my servant David and the city of Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, he will have one tribe. 33 I will do this because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Molek the god of the Ammonites, and have not walked in obedience to me, nor done what is right in my eyes, nor kept my decrees and laws as David, Solomon’s father, did.

34 “‘But I will not take the whole kingdom out of Solomon’s hand; I have made him ruler all the days of his life for the sake of David my servant, whom I chose and who obeyed my commands and decrees. 35 I will take the kingdom from his son’s hands and give you ten tribes. 36 I will give one tribe to his son so that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I chose to put my Name. 37 However, as for you, I will take you, and you will rule over all that your heart desires; you will be king over Israel. 38 If you do whatever I command you and walk in obedience to me and do what is right in my eyes by obeying my decrees and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you. 39 I will humble David’s descendants because of this, but not forever.’”

After Solomon’s death his son Rehoboam assumes the kingship of Israel.  The people call upon him to lighten the load that Solomon has placed upon them during his reign.  Wisely Rehoboam consults with the elders who advise him to lighten the load placed upon the people.  Unwisely, Rehoboam rejects this advice and goes to the young men who tell him to increase the burden upon the people and prove that he is tougher than his father Solomon.  This causes the people to be upset and they reject Rehoboam as king with the exception of the tribe of Judah which Rehoboam was from.  The small tribe of Benjamin follows as does half of the tribe of Manasseh at some point but typically it is referenced as only Judah following Rehoboam.

Jeroboam had fled to Egypt because Solomon had tried to kill him.  Upon Solomon’s death he returned to Israel.  In 1 Kings 12:20, the people of Israel, with the exception of Judah, call upon Jeroboam and make him king over them.

When all the Israelites heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. Only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David.

The natural response toward the rebelling tribes of Israel is to go to war against them and force them to comply with their new king.  Rehoboam is prepared to do just this, amassing 180,000 troops.  However, he was instructed by God not to go to war against his brothers as the splitting of the kingdom was the fulfillment of prophecy.

On the surface, things would appear to be good for Jeroboam to whom God has given the majority of the people of Israel.  God had come through on His promise that the nation would be split and Jeroboam would be king.  But there is one big problem for Jeroboam.  Despite controlling most of the people and the majority of the land area of Israel, he doesn’t possess the most important city Jerusalem.  Jerusalem is not just the capital city – he could build another capital – but it contains the temple and the Ark of the Covenant.  Jerusalem is the center of Israelite worship.

Jeroboam is afraid the people will return to Jerusalem to worship and end up returning to Rehoboam as king.  In order to combat this, he builds two golden calves in the cities of Bethel and Dan.  He tells the people that they shouldn’t have to travel so far away to Jerusalem in the south in order to worship, so he has created more convenient places for them to worship.

Jeroboam built other high places and appointed priests who were not Levites in order to offer sacrifices.  This obviously is not what the Lord desired Jeroboam to do.  He had promised to make Jeroboam into a dynasty in Israel but this was a conditional promise.  Jeroboam was required to follow the Lord and instead he rebelled against God by setting up idols and leading the people in worship of them.  For this reason Jeroboam had the kingdom taken away from him and disaster fell upon his family as well.

From the time of Jeroboam on, the nation of Israel would be no more and instead the Israelites would be divided into two kingdoms.  The northern kingdom contained most of the people and it was referred to as the kingdom of Israel.  The southern kingdom held onto the city of Jerusalem and continued to be ruled by descendants of David.  It was known as the kingdom of Judah as the tribe of Judah made up most of the people in the kingdom.

Eventually even these two kingdoms would be no more.  Because of their sin the northern kingdom was attacked by the Assyrians and defeated in 722 BC.  Rather than carry the people away, the Assyrians just took over the land and lived among the Israelites.  They intermarried with them and eventually a people group known as the Samaritans came from this.

The southern kingdom was defeated by the Babylonians.  The people were deported to Babylon in three phases.  The first people were carried away in 605 BC.  The next group left in 597 BC.  Finally in 586 BC Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city of Jerusalem, its temple, and the last remnants of the southern kingdom as well.

David: A man of sin after God’s own heart

When you mention King David to someone the image they have in their head may vary greatly depending on who they are.  A child is going to think of one of the greatest children’s stories, David and Goliath.  They picture David as a young boy with great bravery and faith in God.

An adult on the other hand is likely to picture David as a man of God – someone who was said to be a man after God’s own heart.  Or they might acknowledge David’s greatness while also acknowledging that he had some major shortcomings in his life, most notable being his sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah.

If you’re a Jew, when King David is mention, you long for the days when David was king.  Even though it has been 3000 years since David ruled Israel, his reign is still considered to be the pinnacle of the nation of Israel and the Jews still long for a return to days like when David ruled.

King David is such a central figure of the Bible and there is so much written about him, it almost feels as if he must have lived three lives to fit it all in.  He is probably as complex of a figure as there is in the Bible.

David’s two most well known stories are mentioned above; his triumph over Goliath and his fall with Bathsheba.  In between are a ton of stories and there is even plenty of significance before and after.  David was already a hero of sorts before he met Goliath.  He was a man of bravery before as he fended off wild beasts in order to protect his sheep.

After David killed Goliath there is a lot of overlooked action that takes place.  David is God’s anointed choice to become king but Saul is currently king.  This is the type of awkward situation that comedies are based upon but of course this is anything but a comedy.

David becomes a military leader and fights against the enemies of Israel.  The people sing David’s praises by saying “Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands.”  This obviously inspires jealousy by Saul.

David’s relationship with Saul is complicated by his son Jonathan who becomes David’s best friend.  Saul becomes tormented by an evil spirit but David plays his harp to soothe the king.  Nevertheless Saul seeks to kill David and he spends years on the run in fear for his life.  Some of our greatest Psalms were written by David as he fled for his life.

Despite the fact that David is God’s anointed to sit on the throne following Saul, and despite the fact that Saul is trying to kill him, David never seeks to kill Saul.  David has multiple opportunities to do so but does not act.  His reasoning is that God has appointed Saul as king and it is not his decision to make as to when Saul is to be removed.

Saul will fall in battle which of leaves the throne open for David.  Jonathan is also killed in battle which eliminates any possible thought of succession.  The man who delivers the good news to David thinks that he will earn favor with him by saying that he was responsible for killing David’s enemy – a lie.  Instead, David has the man executed, not for lying but for having the audacity to kill the man whom God had first anointed as king.

All of these events come before David ever becomes king.  It is already a lifetime of battles but also faith and relying on God.  When David becomes king the battles don’t end however.  He continues to lead a nation at war.  Despite being at war, the nation of Israel is at the height of its power while led by David.

One can’t give an honest account of David’s life without mentioning his sin with Bathsheba.  The story is a good demonstration of how sin can snowball into something bigger and quickly grow out of control.  When David witnesses Bathsheba bathing the entire mess could have been avoided if he had just averted his eyes once he knew what was happening.  Some try to lay blame on Bathsheba but bathing on a roof was common practice at the time and she did no wrong in that and was not trying to seduce the king.  While there’s no indication that Bathsheba was forced into the relationship, David is the driving force behind this sin.

After Bathsheba discovers that she is pregnant, King David tries to trick Uriah into going home and sleeping with his wife.  If Uriah had been willing to leave his men and spend a night of comfort at home with his wife, the proceeding mess could be avoided.  But instead Uriah is a righteous man who won’t rest while the rest of his men are not given the same comfort.  It is an ugly juxtaposition to David who has taken what doesn’t belong to him from one of the men who was fighting for him.  Others are making great sacrifices while David remains at home in luxury.

When Uriah is unwilling to go home and sleep with his wife, it is obvious that David will be unable to fool the man into believing the child that Bathsheba is carrying belongs to Uriah.  The king could admit what a terrible thing he had done but he is not willing to come clean.  So instead he places Uriah in a position where he is virtually guaranteed to die at the enemies’ hand.  Even though the enemy does the killing, David is responsible for the murder.

Finally Nathan the prophet confronted David in 2 Samuel 12.  Even though David had sinned in secret and worked hard to cover up the sin, God knew and there would be consequences.  Verses 10-14 describe the punishment that is inflicted upon David.

10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”

13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.”

God forgave David but there were severe consequences for his sin.  While David had been a man of war, he would continue to be a man of war.  Because David took the wife of another in secret, his wives will be taken from him in public.  This is fulfilled in 2 Samuel 16 by his son Absalom.  Finally, the child from the union of David and Bathsheba will die.

These are three brutal punishments that David must bear but one can hardly argue that they don’t fit the crimes that David committed.  Nevertheless, God also blesses David.  Despite his sin, David is still a man after God’s own heart.  He is not upset that he was caught in sin the way most are, rather he is crushed that he committed the sin in the first place.  Psalm 51 was specifically written after Nathan confronted David and it shows what a truly repentant heart looks like.

God forgives David and he and Bathsheba have another son named Solomon.  Of course this son goes on to be king following David.  And interestingly enough Bathsheba ends up in the lineage of Christ as well.  God never blesses sin but He can take terrible things and make good come from them.

Although there are many instances which show David’s love and respect of the Lord, perhaps none is more to the point than what is recorded in 2 Samuel 6.  When the ark of the Lord is returned to Jerusalem, David rejoices and dances to the point that essentially his clothes fall off and he is left dancing in his underwear – an ephod as it is called in the passage.  This displeases his wife Michal and she confronts him about this but David is unconcerned about her displeasure.  Verses 20-22 tells the story:

20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

21 David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord.22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”

In short, David was unconcerned about what anyone else thought of Him.  He was going to worship before the Lord and if that left him humiliated in others’ eyes it was better that than to be humiliated in God’s eyes.

Despite David’s great reverence for the Lord and a desire to build a temple for God, the Lord won’t allow it.  It is because he is a man of war who has blood on his hands.  One could easily argue that David was only fighting the battles that God had him fight and that would be true.  I don’t believe that David sought out the battles that he fought.  But nevertheless this disqualifies David from the task in God’s eyes.

From a practical standpoint, it probably would have been difficult for David to fight off oppressing nations and do the building of the temple justice.  From a theological standpoint though, the temple should be built from the riches that God blessed the nation with and not spoils of war.

Solomon will be the one to build the temple and God promises peace in his day in order to accomplish that.  Nevertheless, David does much of the planning for the temple and prepares many of the materials that will be needed for its construction.  While David doesn’t get to witness the actual temple, he is at least able to see in his mind what it should look like once his son Solomon completes the work.

This has only scratched the surface of David’s complex life.  He was a complex man who had some very human faults.  But he is a man who loved the Lord and he didn’t just pay lip service when it came to repentance.  When he realized he had hurt the Lord with his sins, he hurt too.  This is perhaps the best definition that we have of what it means to be a man or woman of God.