39. The Division of the Kingdom of Israel

Rehoboam, who succeeded Solomon to the throne of Israel, was a very strict authoritarian ruler. Immediately on taking over the reins of the kingdom,  he not only doubled the existing taxes but also imposed a few new ones on the people. In addition, he also enforced some new stringent laws.

In fact, there was no need at all to introduce the new taxes as right since the reign of Solomon the state exchequer was brimming over in abundance. The annual inflow of gold in the exchequer was indeed very impressive to say the least making the inflow of silver look quite paltry. Also, the trade and commerce with foreign nations were ever increasing. Also what with the growing trade of countless items like gold, silver, ivory, lumber, various metals, horses and other animals with countries stretching from Egypt right up to Arabia, Israel was climbing new heights of success.

But the fact that Rehoboam imposed oppressive taxes despite the prevailing prosperity spread discontent among the masses. Once when the chieftains and representatives of all the twelve tribes of Israel met and questioned Rehoboam about his harsh policy, they received an arrogant reply saying that the policy would be made further harsher.

On hearing this insolent answer of Rehoboam, the representatives discussed the issue and rejected Rehoboam’s leadership. Ten of the twelve tribes of Israel withdrew their recognition of Rehoboam as their king and announced their intention to establish their own, independent nations. Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin continued to remain faithful to the House of David-Solomon.

It was during this time that, on hearing about Solomon’s death Jeroboam, who had fled to Egypt during the former’s reign, returned to Canaan. On learning of Jeroboam’s return, the representatives of the ten tribes who had withdrawn their recognition of Rehoboam, recognized Jeroboam as the next king of Israel and communicated their decision to Rehoboam. Moreover, refusing to pay taxes to Rehoboam, they rebuffed his officials who were on a visit to their states for tax collection. To crush this rebellion, Rehoboam urgently set about raising a force comprising of brave warriors of the Judah and the Benjamin tribes. But a visionary fortuneteller conveyed to Rehoboam that God disapproved of the attack as it involved harming their own Israelite brethren.

The Israelite nation that was founded by David and that, under Solomon’s leadership scaled heights of prosperity, was partitioned.  The northern part was recognized as the ‘Kingdom of Israel’ while the southern part was called the ‘Kingdom of Judah’. The city of Samaria that was 100 miles away from the city of Damascus was made the capital of Kingdom of Israel while Jerusalem remained the capital of the Kingdom of Judah.

Israel partitioned with northern part recognized as ‘Kingdom of Israel’ while the southern part called as ‘Kingdom of Judah’

No separate land came the way of the tribe of Levi and they settled in the lands of other Israelite tribes taking to religious and spiritual duties of the priesthood as their profession. They decided to migrate to the Kingdom of Judah which angered Jeroboam and he expelled them all from his kingdom.

Israel continued to remain divided for the next two hundred years out of which, the first sixty-seventy years saw the kings from both the kingdoms trying to make the other state his vassal. But hardly anyone of these kings was competent or religious. Barring a few exceptions, most of the kings of the times were corrupt and sinful. Many among these had ascended the throne resorting to rebellion or at times to the murder of their predecessor.

Here let us recollect that exhausted by constant wars and adversities the Israelites had met and requested their High Priest Samuel to appoint a competent central ruler, a king. The above-described events explain why Samuel could have been opposed to the appointment of a king by possibly foreseeing all these possibilities. Moreover, the religion of Israel was structured to have only God as their king, their supreme leader. He was in any case going to protect them if they followed the path shown by Him, stringently abided by His laws (Torah), maintained unshakable faith in Him and nurtured the spirit of brotherhood towards fellow the Israelites. Moreover, God had, time and again reminded the Israelites about this, so says the story. But since the Israelites persisted in their demand for a king, God gave in  to it.  Also, He continued to protect the kings like Saul along with their subjects till they conducted themselves with propriety and discretion expected of them, so says the story.

The division of the kingdom of Israel, its miserable condition due to the misuse and abuse of power by its kings and the out and out violation of the principles and the religion filled the wise and the elderly with regret, especially as they reminisced about the turn of events narrated by their forefathers. But it was a pointless exercise now. However, the consequences of moral degradation are inevitably adverse, are they not? The Israelite kingdom which was already divided in two parts underwent further subdivisions. Seeing the weakened central leadership of both the Israelite kingdoms, many regions of the Moabite, Ammonite and other tribes that David-Solomon had conquered, rebelled and broke away from either the kingdom of Israel or that of Judah. The Aramaean tribe too broke away from the Kingdom of Israel and made Damascus the capital of their dominion. They were now the arch enemy of the Israelites. This led to Israel being subjected to further divisions.

Child sacrifice to Moloch

It was during this period that, polytheism was on the rise in both the Israelite kingdoms. More than that of Judah, the kingdom of Israel saw a vast mushrooming of the worship of local deities like Baal, Astaroth, etc. Moreover, the practice of child sacrifice to local wrathful deities like Moloch too increased. Many Israelites overtly violated and acted against the principles of the religion of Israel. As a result, the problems that the Israelites faced, spiralled as well.

Though Israel was undergoing divisions, the trade that had blossomed during the times of Solomon did not much suffer.  But the multiple divisions of the Israelite kingdom had reduced its military might while its commercial glory continued unabated. Little wonder that it attracted and lured the neighbouring kingdoms.

The eighth century BC was drawing to a close.(To be continued…)

– Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar

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