The Downhill King Slide

In my last post in this category, I talked about the Cycle of Rebellion that plagued the nation of Israel beginning with the death of Joshua. Here’s a recap of what that cycle looks like:

  • The Jews forsake God and his laws for foreign gods and immorality.
  • God forsakes the Jews to foreign governments and oppression.
  • The people repent and return to God.
  • God rescues them.

Once God began to establish kings in Israel, the cycle shifted quite significantly… for the worse. In the new world of the kings, the cycle went more like this:

  • The king forsakes God and his laws.
  • The people don’t care.
  • Prophets arise to warn the king and the people.
  • No one cares

That cycle will continue until the day when God sends foreign powers to invade and destroy the nation of Israel. Here are the details.

Solomon & the Temple

The problems really began with Solomon. Even though God had commanded the kings that they were not to take many wives, and even though Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived, he failed to honor God and took for himself nearly 1000 sexual partners!

King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done. — 1 Kings 11:1-6

Nevertheless, God still allowed Solomon to be incredibly wealthy and to construct the first temple to Israel’s God.

The temple was undeniably the single most important building in all of Israel, and understanding its construction is essential for understanding many other parts of the Bible. The key points are these:

  • The temple was built completely without tools. The stones were cut at the quarry and brought to the construction site. No sound of any tool was to be heard at the construction site to honor the sanctity of the site.
  • The temple was built with a logical progression of courtyards. Just inside the outer wall was the Court of the Gentiles, the only place on the face of the earth where a non Jew was allowed to be in the presence of the Almighty God. Inside another division was the Court of Women, followed by the Court of Men and then the Inner Court where only the priests could go.
  • There was an altar in the Inner Court where animals were sacrificed.
  • The actual temple sat in the west end of the Inner Court, and was itself divided into a region called the Holy Place where there were holy objects and where the priests could go perform services for the worship of God and a region called the Most Holy Place where only the high priest was allowed to go one day out of the year and place the blood of a sacrifice on top of the Ark of the Covenant.
  • A curtain separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place.

The construction of the site clearly communicated to the people of Jerusalem that God was both right in their midst and still far away. Only special people could get close to God and how special you were determined how close you could go.

Rehoboam & Jeroboam

In addition to being a philanderer, Solomon didn’t do a very good job of raising his son. When his son Rehoboam came to power, he considered all the taxes his father had levied on the people for the construction of the temple and for his own lavish lifestyle and decided to be even more harsh to the people and raise taxes. The temple was completed, but Rehoboam in his greedy thirst for power and significance raised the taxes.

Because of his cruelty to the people God empowered Jeroboam to lead a revolt and ten tribes of Israel chose to follow Jeroboam instead of Rehoboam, but to honor the heritage of David, God left Rehoboam in charge of the remaining two tribes.

The Divided Kingdom

Of course Jeroboam was supposed to be a good king following God, but he wasn’t, and in fact the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom (known as Israel through the rest of the Old Testament) descended farther and farther into wickedness. From the time of Jeroboam on, there were repeated assassinations and usurpations of the throne and there was never a king in Israel who followed God.

In the Southern Kingdom (called Judah throughout the rest of the Old Testament), things didn’t fare much better, but in honor to his promise to David, God made it so that there was always a descendent of David on the throne. The Southern Kingdom didn’t suffer from the assassinations that the Northern Kingdom did.

The Prophets

Throughout the rest of the time of the Divided Kingdom, God sent prophets periodically to warn the kings of their wickedness and that God’s judgment was coming. The most significant of these prophets was the dynamic duo of Elijah and Elisha.

Elijah came on the scene when Ahab was king of Israel and Jezebel, his wife, was queen.

Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” — 1 Kings 17:1

After the famine in the land became severe, Elijah called Ahab to send his prophets of Baal (the fertility god of the Caananites and the most common rival deity to YHWH, the God of Abraham whose divine name throughout the Hebrew Scriptures is represented by the four letters YHWH and in English Bibles is most commonly written as LORD) to the top of Mount Carmel for a deity duel of sorts. Elijah challenged them to set up two altars, one to Baal and one to YHWH, prepared for sacrifice. They would take turns praying to their god and the one who answered with fire on the altar would be declared the true God.

After hours of prayer, Baal would not answer, but when Elijah prayed, God sent fire so hot that it burned up the sacrifice and the entire altar with it!

Elijah called Elisha to be his apprentice and when Elijah was miraculously taken to heaven without dying, Elisha was left with the mission to carry on where his master had left off. His own ministry was filled with miracles as well, and much of the book of 2 Kings is a record of the miraculous exploits of Elisha.

The Fall of Israel

In 721 B.C. God passed judgment on the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Shalmaneser king of Assyria conquered the land (now called Samaria) and deported every Israelite he didn’t kill. He resettled the land with foreigners and the deported Israelites disappeared from the pages of history. Their heritage was not preserved and they were completely assimilated into the Assyrian Empire never to be heard from again.

Revival in Judah

In 628 B.C. when Josiah king of Judah was only 18, he began a spiritual reformation in the land that culminated when the ancient books of Moses were discovered buried away in some back room of the temple. Upon reading these Books of the Law, Josiah was convicted of his own sin and the sin of the people and launched a full scale revival in the land.

Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses. — 2 Kings 23:25

The Fall of Jerusalem

Sadly, the reformation didn’t last, and in just a few generations after Josiah, God brought his judgment against the Southern Kingdom of Judah. In 606 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon invaded Jerusalem. However, he deported only a portion of the population. He took for himself the best and the brightest of the land along with whatever valuables they could find. They destroyed the wall around the city as well as the temple to God. Zedekiah was the last king descended from David to sit on the throne in Jerusalem.

Nevertheless, there is much more to the story of the Bible and the ancient history of the Jews. In the next post in this thread, I’ll address what happened to the Jews according to the Bible after the deportation to Babylon began.

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