From the division of the kingdom till the downfall of that of the ten tribes, called the kingdom of Israel, or the northern kingdom, while the other was the kingdom of Judah, or the southern kingdom, the author of the book of Kings treats their history alternately, while the Chronicler confines himself to the latter, except when the two come in contact.
We should study this part of the history under the subdivisions into which it is naturally divided, and we must take into view the writings of the prophets as they come into contact with the history; for the latter constitute a very important part of the history of the times, and without them the narrative in Kings and Chronicles could be but imperfectly understood.
This portion of the history divides itself into three distinct parts which we shall consider separately. They are first, a period of hostility between the two kingdoms; second, a period of friendly alliance; and third, a second period of hostility.
1. The First Period of Hostility. This period began with the division of the kingdom, and closed with an alliance between kings Ahab and Jehoshaphat, and it lasted about seventy-eight years. At the beginning of this period Jeroboam established the worship of Jehovah under the image of golden calves at Bethel and Dan; ordained an annual festival at the former place, and made it unlawful for his subjects to go to Jerusalem to worship as the law of Moses required. The author of the book of Kings is careful to trace the continuance of this unlawful worship in the reigns of subsequent kings of Israel, and the evil consequences of it are plainly seen in the course of events. Within about fifty years four different dynasties came to the throne, each exterminating the male offspring of the predecessor, and each being pronounced more wicked than those that had gone before. Finally the religious degradation reached such a point that to the calf-worship inaugurated by Jeroboam was added the almost universal worship of Baal. In this crisis the greatest of all the prophets who have left no writings behind them, Elijah the Tishbite, appeared like a sudden thunderstorm on the scene, and gave a staggering blows to this pernicious system.
In the meantime, the kingdom of Judah had progressed more satisfactorily. Adhering to the true God, and maintaining his worship according to the law, only four kings had come to the throne when the seventh began to reign in Israel. During a temporary apostasy of the people under Rehoboam, the country was overrun by an Egyptian army, and a heavy tribute was paid to get rid of it; but a return to the Lord brought a return to prosperity, and Jehoshaphat was reigning righteously over Judah while Ahab was in the midst of the wickedest reign that had been known in Israel.
2. The Period of Reconciliation. The two kingdoms so long hostile now became reconciled by the marriage of Ahab's daughter Athaliah to Jehoram the son and heir of Jehoshaphat. The alliance emboldened Ahab to a military enterprise which he had not dared to undertake alone, and which resulted in the defeat of his army and the loss of his life. The whole story of his reign is full of instruction and warning. Jehoshaphat was rebuked by a messenger from God for helping those who were the enemies of God; but the friendly relations between his kingdom and that of Israel continued until the former reaped much bitter fruit therefrom. Athaliah proved a scourge to Judah, and in the third generation of Jehoshaphat's descendants she attempted the extermination of the royal family. She came so near succeeding that only one infant was left to perpetuate the family of David, and to make possible the divine promise that he should never lack a son to sit upon his throne. This infant was saved at the sacrifice of Athaliah's own execrable life, and then came to an end the alliance between Israel and Judah which had proved a continuous disaster to the latter.
While such was the course of history in Judah, Israel had fared no better. Ahab's son and successor, Ahaziah, reigned only two years. He made a feeble effort to revive Baal worship, and he also committed the fatal sin of his life by sending messengers to Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, to inquire of him the result of an injury which he had received from a fall. Dying without a son, he was succeeded by his brother Jehoram, in whose reign the career of Elijah came to a glorious end, and the brilliant career of Elisha kept alive to some extent the fear of God among the people. More than once he saved the kingdom from subjugation by Benhadad the powerful king of Syria. Jehoram's career ended in the extermination of the whole offspring of Ahab by the hand of Jehu.
That the two great prophets, Elijah and Elisha, were sent to the more wicked of the two kingdoms, though a matter of surprise at first thought, was the very thing to be expected; for their mission was to rebuke sin, and where sin most abounded was their proper field of activity. By checking Baal-worship in the larger kingdom, where it originated, they brought it to a speedier end in the smaller kingdom to which it had spread.
3. The Second Period of Hostility. After the extermination of the house of Ahab in Israel, and the death of Athaliah in Judah, there was no more co-operation between the two kingdoms; but instead there were frequent wars as of old. The house of Jehu held the throne in the north longer than any other, and under Jeroboam II the kingdom reached its greatest power and prosperity since the days of Solomon. This king, by the prophetic guidance of the prophet Jonah, subdued the kingdom of Syria which had long oppressed his nation, and extended his dominions to the Euphrates, which was the northern boundary of the kingdom of David. The incidents recorded in the book of Jonah belong to this reign.
It was in this reign, which was a long one, that the prophets Hosea and Amos uttered the prophecies which we find in their books. It is necessary to study these, in order to fully understand the condition of the people at the time; for while the account in the historical book of Kings touches upon political and military affairs, and this very slightly, the two prophets speak to the people of their sins; and in doing so they bring to light a state of irreligion and immorality in the midst of secular prosperity, which fills the reader with horror, and which is yet but the legitimate result of the experiences through which the ten tribes had passed since the division of the kingdom. It is also worthy of special notice that they predicted the downfall and ruin of the kingdom at the very time when, according to all human foresight, there was less prospect of such a disaster than at any previous period in its history.
After the fall of the house of Jehu, which occurred in six months after the death of Jeroboam II, the kingdom hastened rapidly to the doom predicted for it by Hosea and Amos. A succession of five kings came to the throne in thirty-two years, all of whom but one were assassinated by their successors. In their rivalries they hired three successive kings of Assyria to interfere in their affairs, thus fairly inviting the rulers of that great Empire to come at last, as they did, and take the whole kingdom into captivity. Finally in the ninth year of the last of these assassins, Hoshea, the end came as described in the seventeenth chapter of Second Kings.
While Israel was thus going the downward road to destruction, Judah, having recovered somewhat from the damaging effects of the alliance with the house of Ahab, passed through a happier career, though not without some severe rebukes from the two prophets who were specially sent to Israel. Of the six kings who reigned during the time of the ten in Israel, two were faithful to God and his law, while three were unfaithful in many things, but far less so than the kings of Israel.
The last of these good kings, Hezekiah, was in the sixth year of his reign when Israel was carried captive.
The whole period of the separate existence of the two kingdoms, counted by adding together the reigns of the kings and making a proper reduction for the peculiar Hebrew method of counting, in three hundred fifty-four years, and the modern date of captivity of Israel is B.C. 721.
A Guide to Bible Study,, by J. W. McGarvey, was first published in 1897 when he was the president of the College of the Bible at Kentucky University. It was designed to afford suggestion and assistance to those who desire a fuller and more accurate knowledge of the Bible.