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.