King Solomon died sometime around 931 B.C. and unfortunately the nation of Israel began a great decline. The first step down was one united kingdom become two. The Northern Kingdom most often referred to as Israel or Samaria was ruled by a succession of rulers that can be described as wicked. The Southern Kingdom, also known as Judah, continued to be ruled by kings from the Davidic line, and the records indicate some were good while others were just as wicked as the kings who ruled the Northern Kingdom.
The two kingdoms rarely got along and were often at war which weakened each other economically and in human potential. Surrounding nations were quick to take advantage of each kingdom’s weakened condition. First and Second Kings chronicles the history of both kingdom’s in what can be a confusing set of accounts that alternate between events in the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. Second Chronicles details information only about the kings of the Southern Kingdom while First Chronicles centers only on the reign of King David.
So the first question regarding the divided kingdom might be how did it happen, right?
After Solomon’s death his son Rehoboam lost the Northern tribes to Jeroboam, a rebel leader. Some scholars blame the loss on Rehoboam because he followed some poor political advice. Others state God allowed Rehoboam to loose the Northern tribes because of the sins of Solomon. During Solomon’s lifetime he had approximately 700 wives and 300 concubines. This kept him a little preoccupied. The sins of Solomon also included a marriage to a pagan princess who gave birth to Rehoboam. The princess was blamed for turning Solomon’s people away from the Lord, and they began worshipping idols. First Kings 11: 4 explains God decreed Solomon’s successor would rule a smaller kingdom and the rest of the tribes would follow another king. During Rehoboam’s reign he lost most of Solomon’s treasure to Shishak, an Egyptian pharoh. Rehoboam reigned for seventeen years and much of it was marked with warfare with the Northern Kingdom.
Jeroboam, or the first king for the Northern Kingdom, had been a government official for King Solomon who was in charge of forced labor. He received word from God that he was to rule the Northern tribes, and went to Egypt to wait out King Solomon’s death. He hoped to return and rally the Northern tribes to support him in a challenge to Rehoboam’s rule. He was banking on the discontent many felt due to high taxes and forced labor that plagued the final days of King Solomon’s rule.
Jeroboam successfully took control of the Northern tribes and kept a firm hand by fortifying the cities of Shechem and Peniel on both sides of the Jordan River. Jeroboam also revised a mode of worship forbidden by the Lord. Since he didn’t want the people to venture into the Southern Kingdom in order to return to Jerusalem to worship in the temple he set up shrines in two different locations for people to worship. One location was near the border with Judah at Bethel. Another shrine was in Dan close to the border with Syria/Aram.
Golden calves were erected in both locations. Scholars explain these calves as idolatrous representations of God or as pedestals for His glory much like the ark of the covenant was a pedestal for His presence.
Jeroboam also specified alternative dates for festivals and established priests of his own choosing contradicting the Law. Amazingly the people of the North blindly followed Jeroboam in his religious altercations.