The Experience of Israel and Judah: A Lesson for Today

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The Experience of Israel and Judah

A Lesson for Today

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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 Genesis 32:28And he said, Your name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince have you power with God and with men, and have prevailed.
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). 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 1 Samuel 8:10-18 [10] And Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people that asked of him a king. [11] And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. [12] And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. [13] And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. [14] And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your olive groves, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. [15] And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. [16] And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your best young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. [17] He will take the tenth of your sheep: and you shall be his servants. [18] And you shall cry out in that day because of your king which you shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.
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). 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 1 Kings 12:11And now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father has chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.
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), 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 Amos 2:7That pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek: and a man and his father will go in to the same maid, to profane my holy name:
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).

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 2 Kings 17:5-6 [5] Then the king of Assyria came up throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria, and besieged it three years. [6] In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.
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), 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 2 Kings 21:1-6 [1] Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Hephzibah. [2] And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, after the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out before the children of Israel. [3] For he built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove, as did Ahab king of Israel; and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. [4] And he built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD said, In Jerusalem will I put my name. [5] And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. [6] And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he worked much wickedness in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.
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).

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 2 Chronicles 36:15-16 [15] And the LORD God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place: [16] But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against his people, till there was no remedy.
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).

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 2 Chronicles 36:17-20 [17] Therefore he brought on them the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or maiden, old man, or him that stooped for age: he gave them all into his hand. [18] And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king, and of his princes; all these he brought to Babylon. [19] And they burnt the house of God, and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof. [20] And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon; where they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia:
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).

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 Mark 7:7However, in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
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). 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

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