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.