From Empire to Exile

From Empire to Exile

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“But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you…” (Deuteronomy 28:15 Deuteronomy 28:15But it shall come to pass, if you will not listen to the voice of the LORD your God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command you this day; that all these curses shall come on you, and overtake you:
American King James Version×
).

God’s desire for Israel to be a model nation carried with it grave responsibilities. God had no intention of allowing Israel—the nation He created to be the world’s model of righteousness—to escape the consequences of abandoning His ways and sinking to the level of the surrounding nations.

Before they entered the Promised Land, God had specifically warned the Israelites to make no alliances with any nations worshipping false gods: “You shall make no covenant with them, nor with their gods … lest they make you sin against Me. For if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you” (Exodus 23:32-33 Exodus 23:32-33 32 You shall make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. 33 They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me: for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.
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).

For the same reasons, He told them not to intermarry with the surrounding nations: “Nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son. For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods; so the anger of the LORD will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly” (Deuteronomy 7:3-4 Deuteronomy 7:3-4 3 Neither shall you make marriages with them; your daughter you shall not give to his son, nor his daughter shall you take to your son. 4 For they will turn away your son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and destroy you suddenly.
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).

Solomon ignored both commands. First he made a treaty with the Pharaoh of Egypt that he sealed by accepting Pharaoh’s daughter in marriage (1 Kings 3:1 1 Kings 3:1And Solomon made affinity with Pharaoh king of Egypt, and took Pharaoh’s daughter, and brought her into the city of David, until he had made an end of building his own house, and the house of the LORD, and the wall of Jerusalem round about.
American King James Version×
). Also, “there was peace between Hiram [king of Tyre] and Solomon, and the two of them made a treaty together” (1 Kings 5:12 1 Kings 5:12And the LORD gave Solomon wisdom, as he promised him: and there was peace between Hiram and Solomon; and they two made a league together.
American King James Version×
).

At the beginning of his reign Solomon loved God and simply followed in the footsteps of his father David. At that time God appeared to Solomon in a dream and said: “Ask! What shall I give you?” (1 Kings 3:5 1 Kings 3:5In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night: and God said, Ask what I shall give you.
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).

In his dream Solomon made a wise choice. He asked for an understanding heart so he could properly fulfill his kingly responsibility to render just judgment for his people. Through his dream Solomon perceived that God was pleased with his humble, unselfish attitude. God then promised not only to give what he requested, but also riches, honor and long life, provided that Solomon would continue to live within the terms of Israel’s covenant with God.

Shortly after Solomon completed and dedicated the temple, God appeared in a dream a second time to him. “I have heard your prayer and your supplication that you have made before Me; I have sanctified this house which you have built to put My name there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually” (1 Kings 9:3 1 Kings 9:3And the LORD said to him, I have heard your prayer and your supplication, that you have made before me: I have hallowed this house, which you have built, to put my name there for ever; and my eyes and my heart shall be there perpetually.
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).

God then conditionally promised to Solomon to establish the throne of his dynasty over the people of Israel living in their Promised Land forever. In case Solomon were to fail to follow God with integrity, God explained the consequences.

“If you or your sons turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples” (1 Kings 9:6-7 1 Kings 9:6-7 6 But if you shall at all turn from following me, you or your children, and will not keep my commandments and my statutes which I have set before you, but go and serve other gods, and worship them: 7 Then will I cut off Israel out of the land which I have given them; and this house, which I have hallowed for my name, will I cast out of my sight; and Israel shall be a proverb and a byword among all people:
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, NIV).

Solomon’s example corrupts the nation

God not only prohibited a king of Israel from marrying pagans, but He specifically forbade him to “multiply wives for himself,” as was customary among gentile rulers (Deuteronomy 17:17 Deuteronomy 17:17Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.
American King James Version×
). Solomon made this deadly mistake.

“But King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh: women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites—from the nations of whom the LORD had said to the children of Israel, ‘You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods.’ Solomon clung to these in love” (1 Kings 11:1-2 1 Kings 11:1-2 1 But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites: 2 Of the nations concerning which the LORD said to the children of Israel, You shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in to you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon joined to these in love.
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).

“For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods … Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites … Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab … and for Molech the abomination of the people of Ammon. And he did likewise for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods.

“So the LORD became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from the LORD God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice…Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, ‘Because you have done this, and have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant.

“Nevertheless I will not do it in your days, for the sake of your father David; but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. However I will not tear away the whole kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son for the sake of my servant David, and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen’ ” (1 Kings 11:4-13 1 Kings 11:4-13 4 For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. 5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 6 And Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and went not fully after the LORD, as did David his father. 7 Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon. 8 And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed to their gods. 9 And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the LORD God of Israel, which had appeared to him twice, 10 And had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods: but he kept not that which the LORD commanded. 11 Why the LORD said to Solomon, For as much as this is done of you, and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely rend the kingdom from you, and will give it to your servant. 12 Notwithstanding in your days I will not do it for David your father’s sake: but I will rend it out of the hand of your son. 13 However, I will not rend away all the kingdom; but will give one tribe to your son for David my servant’s sake, and for Jerusalem’s sake which I have chosen.
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).

Israel splits into two kingdoms

God was true to His word. By the time Solomon died, about 931 B.C., the tribes occupying the northern part of the nation were discontented with Solomon’s heavy taxation and forced-labor practices (1 Kings 4:7 1 Kings 4:7And Solomon had twelve officers over all Israel, which provided victuals for the king and his household: each man his month in a year made provision.
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, 1 Kings 4:22-28 1 Kings 4:22-28 22 And Solomon’s provision for one day was thirty measures of fine flour, and three score measures of meal, 23 Ten fat oxen, and twenty oxen out of the pastures, and an hundred sheep, beside harts, and roebucks, and fallow deer, and fatted fowl. 24 For he had dominion over all the region on this side the river, from Tiphsah even to Azzah, over all the kings on this side the river: and he had peace on all sides round about him. 25 And Judah and Israel dwelled safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon. 26 And Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen. 27 And those officers provided victual for king Solomon, and for all that came to king Solomon’s table, every man in his month: they lacked nothing. 28 Barley also and straw for the horses and dromedaries brought they to the place where the officers were, every man according to his charge.
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; 1 Kings 5:13-15 1 Kings 5:13-15 13 And king Solomon raised a levy out of all Israel; and the levy was thirty thousand men. 14 And he sent them to Lebanon, ten thousand a month by courses: a month they were in Lebanon, and two months at home: and Adoniram was over the levy. 15 And Solomon had three score and ten thousand that bore burdens, and fourscore thousand hewers in the mountains;
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). When his son Rehoboam came to the throne, the northern tribes petitioned for relief.

Rehoboam asked his counselors for advice. The older men suggested he respond to the petitioners positively, relieving the tax burden and making life better for the average citizen. However, the younger counselors argued that Rehoboam should exercise strong control as an absolute monarch over his kingdom, that he should demand even greater tax revenues. Rehoboam unwisely decided to follow the advice of the younger generation.

The result was predictable. The northern 10 tribes seceded and installed Jeroboam, a former high official under Solomon, as their king just as the prophet Ahijah had foretold years earlier (1 Kings 11:28-40 1 Kings 11:28-40 28 And the man Jeroboam was a mighty man of valor: and Solomon seeing the young man that he was industrious, he made him ruler over all the charge of the house of Joseph. 29 And it came to pass at that time when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, that the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him in the way; and he had clad himself with a new garment; and they two were alone in the field: 30 And Ahijah caught the new garment that was on him, and rent it in twelve pieces: 31 And he said to Jeroboam, Take you ten pieces: for thus said the LORD, the God of Israel, Behold, I will rend the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon, and will give ten tribes to you: 32 (But he shall have one tribe for my servant David’s sake, and for Jerusalem’s sake, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel:) 33 Because that they have forsaken me, and have worshipped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the children of Ammon, and have not walked in my ways, to do that which is right in my eyes, and to keep my statutes and my judgments, as did David his father. 34 However, I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand: but I will make him prince all the days of his life for David my servant’s sake, whom I chose, because he kept my commandments and my statutes: 35 But I will take the kingdom out of his son’s hand, and will give it to you, even ten tribes. 36 And to his son will I give one tribe, that David my servant may have a light always before me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen me to put my name there. 37 And I will take you, and you shall reign according to all that your soul desires, and shall be king over Israel. 38 And it shall be, if you will listen to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do that is right in my sight, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did; that I will be with you, and build you a sure house, as I built for David, and will give Israel to you. 39 And I will for this afflict the seed of David, but not for ever. 40 Solomon sought therefore to kill Jeroboam. And Jeroboam arose, and fled into Egypt, to Shishak king of Egypt, and was in Egypt until the death of Solomon.
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; 1 Kings 12:20 1 Kings 12:20And it came to pass, when all Israel heard that Jeroboam was come again, that they sent and called him to the congregation, and made him king over all Israel: there was none that followed the house of David, but the tribe of Judah only.
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). Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to the house of David.

Rehoboam’s first reaction was to invade the northern tribes with an army of 180,000 soldiers to attempt to teach the northern tribes a lesson (1 Kings 12:21 1 Kings 12:21And when Rehoboam was come to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah, with the tribe of Benjamin, an hundred and fourscore thousand chosen men, which were warriors, to fight against the house of Israel, to bring the kingdom again to Rehoboam the son of Solomon.
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). But God sent this word to Judah’s leadership: “Thus says the LORD: ‘You shall not go up nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel. Let every man return to his house, for this thing is from Me.’ Therefore they obeyed the word of the LORD, and turned back, according to the word of the LORD” (1 Kings 12:24 1 Kings 12:24Thus said the LORD, You shall not go up, nor fight against your brothers the children of Israel: return every man to his house; for this thing is from me. They listened therefore to the word of the LORD, and returned to depart, according to the word of the LORD.
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). They called off the invasion. The era of a divided kingdom began.

At this point, more than 200 years before the Assyrians conquered the northern 10 tribes, they became separate as the kingdom, or house, of Israel. The southern tribes of Judah, Benjamin and a part of Levi would then be known as the kingdom, or house, of Judah. The scepter promise of a divine king remained with the tribe of Judah.

The northern tribes kept the name of Jacob, or Israel . With them went the birthright promise of national greatness, prosperity and wealth. To them went, by right of birth, the physical blessings and national standing God had promised to Joseph.

From that momentous separation of Israel and Judah, the Bible records a 200-year progression of 10 dynasties, presided over by no fewer than 19 monarchs reigning over the northern kingdom.

God’s offer to Jeroboam

When God first sent the prophet Ahijah to inform Jeroboam that he would become the king of the northern tribes, He offered Jeroboam His blessings and the promise of an enduring dynasty. “You shall reign over all your heart desires, and you shall be king over Israel. Then it shall be, if you heed all that I command you, walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build for you an enduring house, as I built for David, and will give Israel to you” (1 Kings 11:37-38 1 Kings 11:37-38 37 And I will take you, and you shall reign according to all that your soul desires, and shall be king over Israel. 38 And it shall be, if you will listen to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do that is right in my sight, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did; that I will be with you, and build you a sure house, as I built for David, and will give Israel to you.
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).

With God’s help Jeroboam could have maintained the part of the empire God gave him. But his faith was in what he could see, not in God.

To secure his hold over the whole of his new kingdom, Jeroboam immediately built two capitals for his government at traditionally significant tribal rendezvous points. One was at Shechem, near Nablus in what is today called the West Bank region. The other was at Penuel, east of the Jordan River in modern-day Jordan.

Jeroboam then addressed what he considered a major problem, one that might wrest his kingdom from him. “Then Jeroboam said to himself, ‘Now the kingdom may well revert to the house of David. If this people continues to go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, the heart of this people will turn again to their master, King Rehoboam of Judah; they will kill me and return to King Rehoboam of Judah’ ” (1 Kings 12:26-27 1 Kings 12:26-27 26 And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David: 27 If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah.
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, NRSV).

Jeroboam changes Israel’s religion

To prevent such a development Jeroboam established a competing religious system. For political reasons—to maintain his hold on the northern tribes—he changed Israel’s forms of worshipping God.

Idolatry had already become popular during the last days of Solomon, so Jeroboam erected his own idols. “Therefore the king asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!’ And he set up one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan” (1 Kings 12:28-29 1 Kings 12:28-29 28 Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said to them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold your gods, O Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt. 29 And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan.
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).

Dan was in the far north of his kingdom. Bethel was in the south, just above the border with Judah and right on the major route people would travel while journeying to Jerusalem to worship.

Believing that observance of the same annual festivals as the Jews—the Holy Days of God (Leviticus 23)—would rekindle a desire for national unification, Jeroboam also changed the timing of the great fall festival (Leviticus 23:23-44 Leviticus 23:23-44 23 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 24 Speak to the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall you have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation. 25 You shall do no servile work therein: but you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD. 26 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 27 Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation to you; and you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the LORD. 28 And you shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the LORD your God. 29 For whatever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people. 30 And whatever soul it be that does any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people. 31 You shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. 32 It shall be to you a sabbath of rest, and you shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even to even, shall you celebrate your sabbath. 33 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 34 Speak to the children of Israel, saying, The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days to the LORD. 35 On the first day shall be an holy convocation: you shall do no servile work therein. 36 Seven days you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD: on the eighth day shall be an holy convocation to you; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD: it is a solemn assembly; and you shall do no servile work therein. 37 These are the feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, to offer an offering made by fire to the LORD, a burnt offering, and a meat offering, a sacrifice, and drink offerings, every thing on his day: 38 Beside the sabbaths of the LORD, and beside your gifts, and beside all your vows, and beside all your freewill offerings, which you give to the LORD. 39 Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep a feast to the LORD seven days: on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath. 40 And you shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days. 41 And you shall keep it a feast to the LORD seven days in the year. It shall be a statute for ever in your generations: you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. 42 You shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths: 43 That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. 44 And Moses declared to the children of Israel the feasts of the LORD.
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) from the seventh to the eighth month (1 Kings 12:32-33 1 Kings 12:32-33 32 And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like to the feast that is in Judah, and he offered on the altar. So did he in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made: and he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made. 33 So he offered on the altar which he had made in Bethel the fifteenth day of the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised of his own heart; and ordained a feast to the children of Israel: and he offered on the altar, and burnt incense.
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).

He dismissed the Aaronic and Levitical priests (1 Kings 12:31 1 Kings 12:31And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi.
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; 1 Kings 13:33 1 Kings 13:33After this thing Jeroboam returned not from his evil way, but made again of the lowest of the people priests of the high places: whoever would, he consecrated him, and he became one of the priests of the high places.
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), men set apart by God’s own decree (Exodus 40:15 Exodus 40:15And you shall anoint them, as you did anoint their father, that they may minister to me in the priest’s office: for their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations.
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) to maintain the integrity of the nation’s religious life. To Jeroboam the Levitical priesthood was a threatening independent power base. The Levites inherited their office, owed the king nothing and were largely outside his control.

By dismissing the Levitical priests, Jeroboam established monarchical control of the nation’s religious life. As a result, many of the Levites moved to Judah, where they could continue to perform their divinely appointed functions (2 Chronicles 11:13-15 2 Chronicles 11:13-15 13 And the priests and the Levites that were in all Israel resorted to him out of all their coasts. 14 For the Levites left their suburbs and their possession, and came to Judah and Jerusalem: for Jeroboam and his sons had cast them off from executing the priest’s office to the LORD: 15 And he ordained him priests for the high places, and for the devils, and for the calves which he had made.
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).

In place of the Levites Jeroboam created a new priesthood of “the lowest” and least-experienced people (1 Kings 12:31 1 Kings 12:31And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi.
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; 1 Kings 13:33 1 Kings 13:33After this thing Jeroboam returned not from his evil way, but made again of the lowest of the people priests of the high places: whoever would, he consecrated him, and he became one of the priests of the high places.
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, KJV), men who owed the king all that they had and were. These appointees would have to cater to royal preferences to retain their positions.

Jeroboam introduced syncretism, a fusion of differing systems of belief. He combined aspects of God’s true religion with pagan beliefs and human rationalization. He may well have patterned many aspects of his religious practices after the customs of Egypt and Tyre—Israel’s allies by treaty—to strengthen his relationship with these two major commercial and military supporters.

From that time forward the northern kingdom appeared to the outside world as merely an extension of the powerful coastal cities of the Phoenician Empire. They were commercial partners, shared a language and likely held similar religious views.

The distinction that God had originally intended between Israel and the surrounding nations was soon obliterated. So it is no wonder that historians have difficulty detecting Israel’s role in the region as anything other than traders with the coastal Phoenician cities. Israel was reduced to approximately equal status with the other kingdoms. Regrettably, it had forsaken its role as a spiritual light and example to the nations.

God’s response to Israel and Judah’s sins

Shortly after the inauguration of the new religious rituals and practices at Bethel and Dan, Ahijah the prophet, who had originally informed Jeroboam that he would become king, received another message from God:

“Go tell Jeroboam, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Because I exalted you from among the people, made you leader over my people Israel, and tore the kingdom away from the house of David to give it to you; yet you have not been like my servant David, who kept my commandments and followed me with all his heart, doing only that which was right in my sight, but you have done evil above all those who were before you and have gone and made for yourself other gods, and cast images, provoking me to anger, and have thrust me behind your back; therefore, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam.

“ ‘I will cut off from Jeroboam every male, both bond and free in Israel, and will consume the house of Jeroboam, just as one burns up dung until it is all gone …’” (1 Kings 14:7-10 1 Kings 14:7-10 7 Go, tell Jeroboam, Thus said the LORD God of Israel, For as much as I exalted you from among the people, and made you prince over my people Israel, 8 And rent the kingdom away from the house of David, and gave it you: and yet you have not been as my servant David, who kept my commandments, and who followed me with all his heart, to do that only which was right in my eyes; 9 But have done evil above all that were before you: for you have gone and made you other gods, and molten images, to provoke me to anger, and have cast me behind your back: 10 Therefore, behold, I will bring evil on the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that urinates against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as a man takes away dung, till it be all gone.
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, NRSV).

Jeroboam’s reign had quickly gone terribly wrong. Sadly, his actions were merely in tune with the times. In the southern kingdom of Judah, King Rehoboam, whose mother was an Ammonite, did nothing to correct the idolatrous example Solomon had set in his old age. Many people in Judah likewise became ensnared in apostasy, turning from worshipping God (1 Kings 14:22-24 1 Kings 14:22-24 22 And Judah did evil in the sight of the LORD, and they provoked him to jealousy with their sins which they had committed, above all that their fathers had done. 23 For they also built them high places, and images, and groves, on every high hill, and under every green tree. 24 And there were also sodomites in the land: and they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the LORD cast out before the children of Israel.
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).

It wasn’t long before the sins of Judah and Israel began to catch up with them. In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Pharaoh Shishak invaded Judah with 1,200 chariots, 60,000 horsemen and large numbers of infantry. Unprepared after so many years of relying on Egypt as an ally, Rehoboam panicked. The prophet Shemaiah brought this message from God to Rehoboam’s court in Jerusalem: “You abandoned me, so I have abandoned you to the hand of Shishak” (2 Chronicles 12:5 2 Chronicles 12:5Then came Shemaiah the prophet to Rehoboam, and to the princes of Judah, that were gathered together to Jerusalem because of Shishak, and said to them, Thus said the LORD, You have forsaken me, and therefore have I also left you in the hand of Shishak.
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, NRSV). The Bible records that the Egyptians demanded as tribute most of the golden treasures Solomon had made for the temple and his palace.

Shishak’s own account of this invasion is preserved on the walls of the temple he built with his plunder to honor his god Amun-Re in Karnak. He boasts of taking 150 towns, mostly in Judah’s Negev region and Israel’s north. Israel’s golden age under one monarch, and most of the golden treasures of the temple and king’s palace created during it, had disappeared.

However, the Scriptures note that Judah’s leaders admitted their guilt and humbled themselves before God. Such repentance wasn’t seen with the rulers of the northern 10 tribes. Therefore the northern kingdom was the first to go into captivity.

Because of Rehoboam’s change of heart God reduced the impact of Judah’s disaster. “They have humbled themselves; I will not destroy them, but I will grant them some deliverance, and my wrath shall not be poured out on Jerusalem by the hand of Shishak. Nevertheless they shall be his servants, so that they may know the difference between serving me and serving the kingdoms of other lands” (2 Chronicles 12:7-8 2 Chronicles 12:7-8 7 And when the LORD saw that they humbled themselves, the word of the LORD came to Shemaiah, saying, They have humbled themselves; therefore I will not destroy them, but I will grant them some deliverance; and my wrath shall not be poured out on Jerusalem by the hand of Shishak. 8 Nevertheless they shall be his servants; that they may know my service, and the service of the kingdoms of the countries.
American King James Version×
, NRSV).

Here is another important lesson about how God deals with His people. Even though they may repent, He does not necessarily take away all the consequences of their mistakes or rebellion against Him. But, if people sincerely humble themselves, He is often merciful, balancing out punishment and relief.

God does not throw temper tantrums; He does not impulsively blot out the objects of His wrath. His actions have purpose. First He attempts to deal with people in ways that will teach them lessons (Ezekiel 33:11 Ezekiel 33:11Say to them, As I live, said the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn you, turn you from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?
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). As we can see in many examples from the history of Israel and Judah, punishment is often His means of trying to change people’s attitudes.

God looks out for the long-term good of those with whom He is working (Hebrews 12:5-12 Hebrews 12:5-12 5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to children, My son, despise not you the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are rebuked of him: 6 For whom the Lord loves he chastens, and whips every son whom he receives. 7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chastens not? 8 But if you be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are you bastards, and not sons. 9 Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they truly for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. 11 Now no chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them which are exercised thereby. 12 Why lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;
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). His ultimate goal, of course, is to bring everyone to repentance (2 Timothy 2:24-26 2 Timothy 2:24-26 24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle to all men, apt to teach, patient, 25 In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; 26 And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.
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; 2 Peter 3:9 2 Peter 3:9The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
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), to acknowledge Him and willingly choose to live according to His laws.

The approaching catastrophe

Because the northern kingdom followed Jeroboam’s leadership into idolatry, God warned the Israelites of the consequences of their rebellion: “The LORD will strike Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water; he will root up Israel out of this good land that he gave to their ancestors, and scatter them beyond the Euphrates, because they have made their sacred poles [idolatrous symbols associated with false worship], provoking the LORD to anger. He will give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam, which he sinned and which he caused Israel to commit” (1 Kings 14:15-16 1 Kings 14:15-16 15 For the LORD shall smite Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water, and he shall root up Israel out of this good land, which he gave to their fathers, and shall scatter them beyond the river, because they have made their groves, provoking the LORD to anger. 16 And he shall give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam, who did sin, and who made Israel to sin.
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, NRSV).

God dealt patiently with Israel, giving the people plenty of opportunities to repent. But over the course of the next two centuries the sins of the house of Israel and its kings increased. The Israelites drifted farther and farther from the covenant with their Creator that they had bound themselves to in the days of Moses.

God withdrew, in stages, His blessing and protection. “In those days the LORD began to trim off parts of Israel. Hazael [the Syrian king] defeated them throughout the territory of Israel: from the Jordan eastward, all the land of Gilead, the Gadites, the Reubenites, and the Manassites, from Aroer, which is by the Wadi Arnon, that is, Gilead and Bashan” (2 Kings 10:32-33 2 Kings 10:32-33 32 In those days the LORD began to cut Israel short: and Hazael smote them in all the coasts of Israel; 33 From Jordan eastward, all the land of Gilead, the Gadites, and the Reubenites, and the Manassites, from Aroer, which is by the river Arnon, even Gilead and Bashan.
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, NRSV).

During the eighth century B.C. God’s prophets continued warning the Israelites that they, like the other kingdoms in the region, would fall victim to a new and powerful military presence. The westward expansion of Assyria soon began to seriously threaten the existence of the kingdom of Israel.

During this time of approaching disaster the writers of many of the books that would become the prophetic books of the Old Testament were at work. God sent prophet after prophet to warn the house of Israel and the house of Judah to repent. On a few occasions the leaders of Judah listened and instituted reforms that lasted for a while. But the northern kingdom never repented of the idolatrous practices Jeroboam had introduced. Its people refused to heed the warnings of the prophets.

The prophets of God repeated the same basic themes. They called for immediate repentance. They proclaimed the certainty of a coming captivity if the people refused to repent. They also consistently spoke of the future of the people of Israel, especially about the redemption and restoration of their descendants by the prophesied Messiah. (To understand the foundational concepts of biblical prophecy, be sure to request the booklet You Can Understand Bible Prophecy .)

The end of the northern kingdom

Shortly after the death of King Jeroboam II (ca. 753 B.C.), the northern kingdom plunged into political chaos. “Civil war, assassinations and internal fighting between groups which supported Assyrian policies or opposed any capitulation to them racked the northern state … The deaths of Jeroboam and Uzziah … came at the very moment when Assyria regained her power and renewed her push to the west” (Lawrence Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, 1984, p. 312).

In the midst of their own domestic and internal difficulties, Israelite leaders had to consider the intrusions of Assyria into their affairs. By the time of Assyria’s Tiglath-Pileser III, Israel’s King Menahem (ca. 752-742 B.C.) had to pay enormous sums of tribute—protection money on a national scale—to induce the Assyrian monarch to leave him and his people in peace (2 Kings 15:19-20 2 Kings 15:19-20 19 And Pul the king of Assyria came against the land: and Menahem gave Pul a thousand talents of silver, that his hand might be with him to confirm the kingdom in his hand. 20 And Menahem exacted the money of Israel, even of all the mighty men of wealth, of each man fifty shekels of silver, to give to the king of Assyria. So the king of Assyria turned back, and stayed not there in the land.
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).

A few years later King Pekah (ca. 740-732 B.C.) rebelled against Assyria, only to be forced to surrender and pay a huge ransom to retain his throne (2 Kings 15:19-20 2 Kings 15:19-20 19 And Pul the king of Assyria came against the land: and Menahem gave Pul a thousand talents of silver, that his hand might be with him to confirm the kingdom in his hand. 20 And Menahem exacted the money of Israel, even of all the mighty men of wealth, of each man fifty shekels of silver, to give to the king of Assyria. So the king of Assyria turned back, and stayed not there in the land.
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). Pekah’s disloyalty set in motion the first step in the Assyrians’ policy of dealing with unruly peoples—turning the offending kingdom into a vassal state.

According to Assyria’s foreign policy, those who would rebel a second time would forfeit their political control and be replaced by a vassal king whose loyalty the Assyrian government could count on. The Assyrians would also reduce the amount of territory the vassal would control, with the Assyrian monarch instituting his direct rule over at least some of the original kingdom.

A second rebellion would also trigger the deportation of significant numbers of the offending population. Finding themselves among strangers whose language they did not understand (Jeremiah 5:15 Jeremiah 5:15See, I will bring a nation on you from far, O house of Israel, said the LORD: it is a mighty nation, it is an ancient nation, a nation whose language you know not, neither understand what they say.
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) and whose land and culture were unfamiliar to them, the deportees would have little hope of successfully revolting against their Assyrian masters.

Tiglath-Pileser initiated these steps against the northern kingdom in response to King Pekah’s alliance with Damascus, his second attempt to revolt (ca. 734 B.C). The first deportation of Israelites (ca. 733-732 B.C.), sometimes referred to as the Galilean captivity, took part of the population—principally drawn from the tribes of Naphtali, Reuben, Gad and the portion of Manasseh living east of the Jordan River—to northern Syria and northern and northwestern Mesopotamia (2 Kings 15:27-29 2 Kings 15:27-29 27 In the two and fiftieth year of Azariah king of Judah Pekah the son of Remaliah began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and reigned twenty years. 28 And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD: he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. 29 In the days of Pekah king of Israel came Tiglathpileser king of Assyria, and took Ijon, and Abelbethmaachah, and Janoah, and Kedesh, and Hazor, and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and carried them captive to Assyria.
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; 1 Chronicles 5:26 1 Chronicles 5:26And the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, and the spirit of Tilgathpilneser king of Assyria, and he carried them away, even the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, and brought them to Halah, and Habor, and Hara, and to the river Gozan, to this day.
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).

Tiglath-Pileser III also occupied the greater part of Galilee and Gilead and divided Israelite territory itself into four new provinces: Magidu, Duru, Gilead and Samaria.

The last straw

Should a people rebel a third time, the official Assyrian response was firm and final: The nation would cease to exist. The Assyrian army would forcibly remove virtually the entire population into exile. The Assyrians would scatter the deportees throughout their empire and repopulate the vacated territories with people from distant and far-flung regions. Once removed from their homeland, and with their lands now settled by others, the scattered exiles would have less means or motivation to rebel against Assyrian control.

A pro-Assyrian but unreliable Israelite vassal, King Hoshea (ca. 732-722 B.C.), set in motion the events that brought the northern kingdom’s dissolution. Hoping to receive critical aid from Egypt, to the south, Hoshea betrayed Assyrian trust around 724 B.C. (2 Kings 18:9-10 2 Kings 18:9-10 9 And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Hezekiah, which was the seventh year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against Samaria, and besieged it. 10 And at the end of three years they took it: even in the sixth year of Hezekiah, that is in the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel, Samaria was taken.
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). Shalmaneser V responded with a siege (ca. 724-722 B.C.) that resulted in the fall of Israel’s capital city, Samaria. At that point the northern kingdom ceased to exist as a political entity.

History records a postscript to the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C. Having successfully entered Israel’s Promised Land via its victory over the northern kingdom, the Assyrians would soon return to attack the southern kingdom, Judah. In 701 B.C. the Assyrian army, led by Sennacherib, captured virtually all of Judah’s fortified cities (2 Kings 18:9-14 2 Kings 18:9-14 9 And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Hezekiah, which was the seventh year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against Samaria, and besieged it. 10 And at the end of three years they took it: even in the sixth year of Hezekiah, that is in the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel, Samaria was taken. 11 And the king of Assyria did carry away Israel to Assyria, and put them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes: 12 Because they obeyed not the voice of the LORD their God, but transgressed his covenant, and all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded, and would not hear them, nor do them. 13 Now in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah did Sennacherib king of Assyria come up against all the fenced cities of Judah, and took them. 14 And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria to Lachish, saying, I have offended; return from me: that which you put on me will I bear. And the king of Assyria appointed to Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold.
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) and deported thousands of Jews. Jerusalem, however, did not fall in this invasion, and the southern kingdom recovered sufficiently to last another 115 years before Babylon’s armies conquered and destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C.

Exiles disappear from history

With the extinction of the northern kingdom as a political entity, its people were divided and scattered beyond the Euphrates River in Assyria’s eastern territories. God would now fulfill His promise to “sift the house of Israel among all nations” (Amos 9:9 Amos 9:9For, see, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall on the earth.
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). Now the Israelites would experience what it was like to live under the rule of the other nations they had so much wanted to emulate.

God had warned them: “Then the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, which neither you nor your fathers have known; wood and stone. And among those nations you shall find no rest, nor shall the sole of your foot have a resting place; but there the LORD will give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and anguish of soul. Your life shall hang in doubt before you; you shall fear day and night, and have no assurance of life” (Deuteronomy 28:64-66 Deuteronomy 28:64-66 64 And the LORD shall scatter you among all people, from the one end of the earth even to the other; and there you shall serve other gods, which neither you nor your fathers have known, even wood and stone. 65 And among these nations shall you find no ease, neither shall the sole of your foot have rest: but the LORD shall give you there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind: 66 And your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you shall fear day and night, and shall have none assurance of your life:
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).

At this time they disappeared from history as the people of Israel. The Israelites had already begun to “serve other gods,” having abandoned the religious practices that obviously distinguished them from other peoples. Among other things, they had abandoned the seventh-day Sabbath. God had proclaimed the Sabbath to Israel as “a sign between Me and you throughout your generations” (Exodus 31:13-17 Exodus 31:13-17 13 Speak you also to the children of Israel, saying, Truly my sabbaths you shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that you may know that I am the LORD that does sanctify you. 14 You shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy to you: every one that defiles it shall surely be put to death: for whoever does any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15 Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whoever does any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. 16 Why the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. 17 It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.
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; compare Ezekiel 20:12-20 Ezekiel 20:12-20 12 Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD that sanctify them. 13 But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and my sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I would pour out my fury on them in the wilderness, to consume them. 14 But I worked for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, in whose sight I brought them out. 15 Yet also I lifted up my hand to them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands; 16 Because they despised my judgments, and walked not in my statutes, but polluted my sabbaths: for their heart went after their idols. 17 Nevertheless my eye spared them from destroying them, neither did I make an end of them in the wilderness. 18 But I said to their children in the wilderness, Walk you not in the statutes of your fathers, neither observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols: 19 I am the LORD your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; 20 And hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God.
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).

Once their conquerors removed them from their homeland, they were merely refugees—part of the great mass of dislocated peoples the Assyrians had exiled. No longer did they possess outward characteristics that easily distinguished them from the peoples around them. Their obvious identifying signs quickly disappeared. But among their tribes fragments of their identity and culture would not so easily disappear.

How, then, can we find them? We need to look at the general region to which they were exiled and see if a people suddenly appeared in the region with characteristics that link them to the refugees of Israel’s northern kingdom.

What we find is an amazing story, over many centuries, of God guiding displaced Israelites to the very region far to the north and west of their homeland that His prophets had foretold.

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