In the Old Testament era, God worked primarily with the descendants of a man named Abraham. Abraham was a remarkable man to whom God had made promises because of Abraham's faithfulness to Him. The Bible focuses on Abraham's descendants through his grandson Jacob, the people of Israel (Israel being the name God gave to Jacob after he proved himself to God—see Genesis 32:28). These descendants were to receive many national blessings because of God's promises to Abraham.
The books of the Old Testament describe Jacob's descendants, the Israelites, growing into a mighty nation with whom God made a covenant. The essence of this covenant is spelled out in Deuteronomy 28, in which God promised them that if they obeyed Him, they would continue to be blessed. The penalty for violating this covenant was that they would suffer many curses and eventually be taken into national captivity.
During the first few hundred years that the Israelites dwelled in the Promised Land, they experienced a series of ups and downs, during which time they were guided in part by a system of judges. Eventually, during the tenure of Samuel, the last of the judges, Israel demanded a king. In response God gave them a monarchy but warned them that they would be subjected to government abuse at the hands of human kings (1 Samuel 8:10-18). Their first king was Saul, followed by David, Solomon and Rehoboam.
Rehoboam began his reign with strong signals that he would be an especially oppressive ruler (1 Kings 12:11), which led to Israel's division into two competing kingdoms. The larger of the two, in the north, retained the name Israel and consisted of 10 tribes. The smaller in the south, with its capital at Jerusalem, was called Judah, consisting of two tribes. Thus began a long history of intrigue, rebellion and often-times violence in the two separate nations.
Israel's sins and downfall
Those of the northern kingdom of Israel were especially flagrant in their violations of the original covenant God had made with their fathers. They adopted practices of pagan nations, including child sacrifice, one of the heinous sins of the Canaanites who had occupied the land before them. They also copied the Canaanites' practice of ritual fornication—the mixing of sex with idolatrous religious worship. Sexual morality sank to a new low (Amos 2:7).
Charles Feinberg summarized conditions during the latter history of Israel: "The days of . . . Jeroboam II in Israel were marked by great prosperity, in fact, the most prosperous for the Northern Kingdom. Israel was at the height of her power under this king. The period was one of great wealth, luxury, arrogance, carnal security, oppression of the poor, moral decay, and formal worship. The moral declension and spiritual degradation of the people were appalling" (The Minor Prophets, 1952, p. 86).
God sent many prophets—Elijah, Hosea, Amos and Micah, among others—to Israel to warn the people to repent. The result was always the same—no lasting repentance. Finally God's patience ran out, and during the late eighth century B.C. He allowed them to be taken into captivity by Assyria (2 Kings 17:5-6), after which they remained scattered, becoming known as the lost 10 tribes of Israel.
Judah follows in Israel's footsteps
The decline of the southern kingdom of Judah was not as rapid as that of Israel, but its people also often lapsed into rebellion and idolatry. They failed to learn a lesson from Israel's devastating national punishment and continued in their sins. They, too, were threatened by Assyria and faced a similar fate.
When the Assyrian king Sennacherib laid siege to Jerusalem, Judah's King Hezekiah fervently sought God's intervention. God heard his prayer and delivered Jerusalem from the Assyrian ruler. But after Hezekiah died, his son Manasseh reigned and committed terrible abominations and atrocities—including sacrificing his son to a pagan deity (2 Kings 21:1-6).
The Bible summarizes God's relationship with Judah: "And the Lord God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers . . . because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy"
(2 Chronicles 36:15-16).
The people of Judah had made a mockery of the covenant their ancestors had made with God. The result, as with the northern tribes before them, was that God allowed their nation to be destroyed. Many of them were slaughtered by the Babylonians, Jerusalem was razed and the survivors were carried away captive to Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:17-20).
Will we learn from their example?
What can America learn from the histories of Israel and Judah? It can learn that it's God who gives blessings to nations and it's God who takes them away.
God is already removing the blessings He has given to the United States. He is doing it because America has rejected godly values. The nation disobeys and ignores Him, preferring instead the false gods of money, sex and secularism.
Most who think they are following the Bible and Jesus Christ unknowingly embrace a corrupting mixture of Christian and pagan traditions as their beliefs (to learn more, read our free booklet The Church Jesus Built).
Jesus issued a sobering judgment against religions that profess adherence to the Bible but don't really accept or follow it: "In vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Mark 7:7). Like ancient Israel and Judah, America is disobeying God's laws and, like Israel and Judah, it will fall unless its people return to God with their whole heart. GN