The Kingdom of Israel split because the northern tribes were not happy with the heavy taxes imposed by King Solomon. This made them withdraw from the kingdom, which led to the formation of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of ancient Israel.

The northern kingdom retained the name Kingdom of Israel, while the south became the Kingdom of Judah. Read to discover the events that led to the split of the two kingdoms of Israel and what happened later.

A Brief History on the Formation of the Kingdom of Israel

To understand why the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah split, let’s go through a brief history of how Israel became a Kingdom.

The Israelites consisted of 12 tribes who descended from the 12 sons of Jacob. They were Gad, Issachar, Naphthali, Asher, Ephraim, Manasseh, Reuben, Simeon, Dan, Zebulun, Benjamin and Judah.

Their father Jacob had his name changed from Jacob to Israel after he fought with an angel and that is where the Kingdom got its name.

The Early Kings of Israel

These 12 tribes were loosely connected, each with its chieftain or leader. Later, the 12 tribes appointed leaders, called Judges, to rule the united tribes. The first to become a judge was Othniel from the Tribe of Judah, who ruled for 40 years. After his death, Ehud, from the Tribe of Benjamin, succeeded him.

Ehud was a left-handed king who fought, defeated and delivered the people of Israel from slavery under the Moabites. Over 10 other judges followed after Ehud, with the last one being Samuel.

During the reign of Samuel, the people of Israel demanded a King to rule them. According to scholars, the demand for a king was due to constant raids from neighboring states, especially the Philistines.

So Samuel made arrangements and anointed Saul as the first king of Israel. This marked the beginning of the Kingdom of Israel. Saul ruled for about 20 years and was succeeded by King David, who reigned for 40 years. After David died, his son Solomon became the king and was succeeded by Rehoboam.

Why Did the Kingdom of Israel Split?

The Kingdom of Israel split because the northern tribes were not happy with the heavy taxes imposed by King Solomon. During King Solomon’s reign, he levied the people with heavy taxes, which were used to support the extravagant projects he was undertaking.

The people grew unhappy with these taxes and started complaining. A young man named Jeroboam, who was a superintendent in the north, became familiar with the people’s complaints.

A Prophecy Fulfilled

Solomon received a prophecy that his kingdom would split into two, ten tribes to the north and two to the south. The prophecy stated that Jeroboam would reign over the northern tribes while Solomon’s son would rule over the south.

Solomon, who was not happy with this prophecy, decided to kill Jeroboam. During this time, Jeroboam had already secretly expressed interest in the throne and sought counsel from Ahijah the prophet.

When Jeroboam heard of the threat on his life, he escaped to Egypt and sought protection under the Pharaoh Shishak. Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, succeeded him after his death and continued with his father’s heavy taxes.

At that point, the northern tribes, who were unhappy with the taxes, expressed their displeasure to Rehoboam by sending a delegation to him.

The delegation included Jeroboam, who had returned to Israel after King Solomon’s death. Rehoboam, like his father Solomon, dismissed their complaints, which led to the split of the kingdom.

The ten tribes in the north kept the old name, the Kingdom of Israel, and the south became the Kingdom of Judah. The northern Kingdom then chose Jeroboam as their king and the Kingdom of Judah maintained Rehoboam as king.

After the Split of the Kingdom of Israel

Before the Israelites split into two kingdoms, they used to go on annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem in the south. However, when Jeroboam became king, he constructed two temples to stop the northern kingdom from attending the festivals in Jerusalem. At the temples, he built statues of two golden calves for the northerners to worship.

He then established the city of Shechem as his capital and fortified it. The people of the north began making sacrifices to the golden calves, something that was abhorrent in the Jewish religion.

Later, while worshiping at one of the temples, Jeroboam received a prophecy that his gods would be destroyed. According to the prophecy, a man named Josiah would carry out the destruction.

Later, Shishak, the Pharaoh who gave Jeroboam refuge when he ran from King Solomon, attacked the Kingdom of Judah. He brought over 60,000 soldiers who pillaged and ransacked Judah.

Judah offered little resistance as the mighty army of the Pharaoh overran the kingdom and captured Jerusalem. Their king, Rehoboam, feared the might of the Egyptians so he did not dare stand in their way.

The Decision To Reunite the Two Kingdoms of Israel

Later, Rehoboam’s son, Abijam, became King of Judah and waged war against the north. His goal was to retaliate and unite the two kingdoms into one monarchy. He, therefore, sent a message to the northern tribes telling them to abandon their kingdom and become one with Judah.

The Two Kingdoms of Israel Wage War on Mount Zemaraim

When the northern tribe refused to heed his call, Abijam gathered about 400,000 men and headed towards the north. Jeroboam also put together a strong army of 800,000 soldiers to face the Kingdom of Judah. The two kingdoms met on Mount Zemaraim in the north of Jerusalem.

Jeroboam planned to execute an ambush so that his soldiers would attack Abijam from the front and the rear. Jeroboam wanted to take advantage of his large army to box Abijam’s troops into the middle and inflict damage. However, Abijams’s elite soldiers were able to counter Jeroboam’s attacks and inflict heavy losses.

According to records, Jeroboam lost about 500,000 of his soldiers during the fall of Israel. Although Abijam’s army was smaller, they were the cream of the crop of his military. These skilled men fought bravely, repelled the attacks, and won the battle. Rehoboam’s forces then went on to take control of the cities of Jeshanah, Bethel and Ephron in the north.

The Aftermath of the War on Mount Zemaraim

Abijam and his soldiers attributed their victory over Jeroboam to God. The result of the war damaged the morale of Jeroboam and his armies, so he did not attempt to wage war against Abijam and the southerners until he died in 910 BCE. Abijam also died in 912 BCE without accomplishing his dream of uniting the divided Kingdom of Israel.

So with this, the two kingdoms remained divided for the rest of history. They waged war against each other and when it became necessary, they united forces against a common foe. There were periods of peace between the two forces as well. Later events led to the fall of the northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BC and Judah in 586 BC.

The Northern Kingdom of Israel Destroyed

The northern Kingdom experienced peace and prosperity under King Omri, who ruled for about seven years. Omri’s reign also saw an improvement in Israel’s military and the change of the capital from Shechem to Samaria.

Omri’s son, Ahab, ascended the throne after his father’s death and continued his father’s legacy. When Pekah, king of Israel, rose to power, he became allies with Rezin, who was then the king of Aram.

Downfall of the Northern Kingdom

Pekah then decided to invade Jerusalem and conquer it. When Ahaz, king of Judah, heard about Pekah’s plans, he aligned with Tiglath-Pileser III, the king of Assyria. The Assyrians, after receiving tribute from Judah, attacked Pekah of the northern kingdom. The Assyrians took the leaders of several northern tribes captive and relocated them to Assyria.

They then reduced the size of the northern kingdom but did not destroy it. They later turned their attention to Aram, the ally of Israel, and conquered them next. The Assyrians took the Arameans captive and enslaved them, and the remnants of the Kingdom of Israel remained in the land and established a monarchy.

However, in 720 BC, Assyria attacked the northern kingdom again, led by Shalmaneser the V. After three years of besieging the northern kingdom, the Assyrians were finally successful. Though Shalmaneser V launched the attack, it was completed by Sargon II, who then carried the inhabitants of the northern kingdom to Assyria as slaves.

The Fall of the Southern Kingdom of Israel (Judah)

The Assyrians did not only attack the northern kingdom but waged war against the south too. King Sennacherib of Assyria attacked the southern kingdom and laid siege to Jerusalem. According to historical sources, a combination of divine providence and King Taharqa of Egypt brought an end to the siege. Thus, Sennacherib failed in his quest to conquer Judah.

The southern kingdom fell to the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar II. Nebuchadnezzar had already vanquished Assyria and marched his mighty army towards Jerusalem. He besieged Jerusalem and finally conquered it in 587 BC. The King of Babylon then destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and took most of the inhabitants captive, making them slaves.

About 8,000 citizens of Judah were carried away, first to Babylon and later to Egypt. This led to the destruction of Judah, the southern kingdom. The once-great united monarchy of Israel became scattered throughout the ancient world.

Summary:

So far, we’ve discovered the events that led to the formation and splitting up of the Kingdom of Israel.

  • The nation Israel was once a union of 12 tribes who inhabited the ancient East.
  • These 12 tribes were descended from Jacob, also called Israel.
  • There were ten tribes to the north and two tribes in the south.
  • At first, these tribes were governed by leaders designated as Judges.
  • Later, these tribes came together to form a kingdom and crowned Saul as their first King.
  • During the rule of King Solomon, the northern tribes complained of the heavy taxes imposed on them.
  • They petitioned Rehoboam but he did nothing, which caused the split of the Kingdom.
  • The two kingdoms were at loggerheads with each other until they were both destroyed by the Assyrians and Babylonians.

The split-up of the Kingdom of Israel eventually led to their destruction. Today, it is difficult to trace the tribes who lived in the north of Israel, who scholars have nicknamed the Lost Tribes of Israel. The kingdom of Judah, however, is traceable to the modern-day Israelis.

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