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.