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What Were Solomon’s Strengths And Weaknesses As A King?


1.What were Solomon’

The Old Testament Story, Ninth Edition, by John Tullock and Mark McEntire. Published by Pearson Learning Solutions. Copyright © 2012 by Pearson Education, Inc.

7 The Division of the Monarchy I The Reign of Solomon and the Story of the Northern Kingdom



Timeline 960 B.C.E. Approximate death of David and beginning of the reign of Solomon

922 B.C.E. Common estimate of the death of Solomon and division of the kingdom

900 B.C.E. End of Iron Age I and beginning of Iron Age II

876 B.C.E. Beginning of the reign of Omri and the Omride dynasty in the Northern Kingdom

869 B.C.E. Beginning of the reign of Ahab

745 B.C.E. Approximate date of the beginning of Hosea’s prophetic career

722 B.C.E. Fall of Samaria to the Assyrian Empire

Chapter Outline I. The Reign of Solomon

II. Approaching the Divided-Kingdom Story III. The Division of the Kingdom IV. The Dynasty of Omri V. Elijah’s Confrontation with Ahab and Jezebel

VI. Jehu to Jereboam II (842–746 B.C.E.) VII. The Destruction of the Northern Kingdom

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146 Chapter 7 • The Division of the Monarchy I


The book called 1 Kings opens with David on his deathbed, while the members of his family and his officials struggle to determine who will succeed him on the throne of Israel. Solomon won this struggle and began an ambitious reign, which included the development of foreign alliances and massive building projects. Once Solomon died, however, the Israelite monarchy was no longer able to hold itself together. This chapter includes the story of Solomon, the division of the kingdom after his death, and the line of kings who ruled over the northern nation after the division, until this northern kingdom was conquered and dispersed by the Assyrian Empire. The story of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 2 Kings also includes an increasingly prominent and shifting role for prophetic figures, particularly Elijah and Elisha. A parallel account of the period of the Israelite monarchy is presented in 1 and 2 Chronicles. This account places more emphasis on the reigns of Solomon and David, often omitting material that reflects negatively on them, and it omits the story of the Northern Kingdom almost entirely.


If Saul was a judge who tried to be king and David was an empire builder, then Solomon intro- duced Israel to the rule of a typical oriental despot.

Getting Rid of Potential Rivals

Solomon moved quickly to consolidate his power. Whereas David had nothing directly to do with the elimination of anyone who might have been his rival, Solomon had no qualms about dealing with his enemies. Adonijah was his first victim. When Adonijah asked Bathsheba to persuade Solomon to let him have Abishag, David’s last concubine, for his wife, Solomon found the wickedness in Adonijah that he had been looking for as an excuse to kill him. The request Adonijah made actually was an insult. David’s harem became Solomon’s responsibility on David’s death, even though the concubines probably were not viewed as Solomon’s wives, because his own mother was in the group. Adonijah’s request was his own death warrant (2:13–25).

Dealing with Abiathar was a more delicate matter. Not only was he a priest, but he had been David’s chief northern priest in tandem with Zadok, the chief priest from Judah. His execution would certainly alienate the northern tribes at a time when Solomon could ill afford to lose their support. By exiling Abiathar to Anathoth, Solomon still offended the northerners somewhat, but not to the extent of losing their support. The prophet Jeremiah probably was a descendant of Abiathar (2:26–27).1

Solomon probably considered Joab his most dangerous rival. Even though he was old, Joab was a cunning and ruthless man who had managed to hold power in the army even when David tried to get rid of him. But his luck had run out. Solomon was just as ruthless as Joab, or more so. He ordered Joab’s execution. When Joab fled to the sanctuary for refuge and refused to come out, Solomon defied the taboo against killing anyone in the sanctuary. He ordered Joab killed even as he held onto the horns of the sacred altar. His executioner, Benaiah, the son of Jehoida, took Joab’s place as general over the armies of Israel (2:28–35).

The last to be dealt with was Shimei, who was placed under a form of house arrest that forbade him to leave the city of Jerusalem. Shimei observed the rules for three years, but when one of his slaves ran away, Shimei went after him. Solomon had not forgotten—Shimei died (2:36–46).

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Chapter 7 • The Division of the Monarchy I 147

Solomon, the Wise One (1 Kings 3:1–28; 4:29–34)

The Israelite historian, in his evaluation of Solomon as a religious man, could not be quite as complimentary as he was about David. Perhaps he was hinting at one of the obstacles to Solomon’s devotion to the LORD when he mentions his Egyptian wife. She and other of his wives influenced him to worship pagan gods.

In describing a prayer offered by Solomon, the narrator tells of the LORD appearing in a dream and telling him to ask what he should be given. Instead of asking for great riches, Solomon asked for wisdom to govern his people. The LORD, in turn, promised both wisdom and riches (3:1–15).

An illustration of Solomon’s wisdom is the famous story of the two women who claimed the same child. After the women argued before him, Solomon ordered the child cut into two pieces, one piece to be given to each woman. One woman agreed, but the other asked Solomon to spare the child and give it to the other woman. The assumption of the story, and of King Solomon in the story, was that the woman who objected to killing the child was the true mother, and so Solomon awarded the child to her (3:16–28).

A summary statement concerning Solomon’s wisdom describes Solomon as wiser than all the eastern wise men. He was a speaker and collector of proverbs, a zoologist and a biologist, and

FIGURE 7–1 “Joab fled to the tent of the LORD and grasped the horns of the altar” (1 Kings 2:28). The “horns of the altar,” as illustrated by this tenth century B.C.E. limestone altar from Megiddo, were supposed to keep a fugitive safe as long as he clung to them. This did not happen in Joab’s case. Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

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a marvel to all who heard him (4:29–34). The queen of Sheba came from North Africa (Ethiopia) to marvel at his wisdom. Ethiopian tradition has it that she carried away more than wisdom, since later Ethiopian rulers were called in part, “the Lion of Judah” (1 Kings 10:1–10). According to leg- end, the first emperor of Ethiopia, Menilik, was the son of Solomon and the queen of Sheba, and he took the Ark of the Covenant to Ethiopia, where many believe it still resides.2

Solomon, the Organizer (1 Kings 4:1–28)

In organizing the kingdom, Solomon seems to have had two purposes in mind: (1) to divide the land as evenly as possible to provide for the systematic support of his elaborate court and for other taxation purposes and (2) to break down the old tribal distinctions by paying little or no attention to tribal lines when dividing the country into tax districts. In his first purpose, he suc- ceeded; in the second, he failed.

Solomon, the Builder

David built an empire by conquest, but Solomon covered it with buildings. Of all the building projects carried on by Solomon, the Temple at Jerusalem ranked first in importance for the Israelite historian.

THE BUILDING OF THE TEMPLE (1 KINGS 5:1–38; 7:15–51). To build as Solomon was said to have done takes skilled workmen and quality materials, neither of which was abundant in Israel. The one thing that Israel had in abundance was stone, but it lacked the forests to supply the needed wood.

To provide the needed materials and skilled workmen, Solomon turned to David’s ally, Hiram, king of Tyre and Phoenicia. Hiram agreed to supply cedar and cypress wood, as well as skilled workmen, to carry out the building of the Temple and the palace complex in Jerusalem. In turn, Solomon agreed to supply food to Hiram. Solomon also furnished Israelites to do the labor of cutting the wood and quarrying the stone in Israel. Israelite men had to work without pay for the state, one month out of every three.

Like Jerusalem itself, the Temple—first built by Solomon, then destroyed, then rebuilt again in the post-Exilic period, and built a third time by Herod the Great—has managed to seize the imaginations of countless people for nearly 3000 years. Its remains, except for portions of the wall that supported the platform on which it was built, under an area containing two Islamic mosques—the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Asqa Mosque. As a result, archaeological work on the Temple Mount is forbidden.

By taking the biblical description, however, and comparing it with similar temples found in Israel and Phoenicia, a fairly accurate idea of the Temple’s appearance can be gained. One such building was a Canaanite temple found at Hazor in northern Israel. It had the three-room plan used in the Jerusalem Temple. A later temple, from the period of the Israelite monarchy, was found at Arad, south of Jerusalem. In addition, a horned altar, like the one mentioned in the Old Testament, was found at Beersheba (1 Kings 1:50–2:28).

In 1 Kings 6:1, it says that the Temple was built 480 years after Israel left Egypt. This poses a problem in chronology, because it does not agree with other evidence for the date of the Exodus. One possible explanation is that the figure 480 represents twelve generations. Biblical writers fig- ured a generation as 40 years, while today, 25 years equals a generation. If this were the case, twelve times 25 equals 300 years, which would place the Exodus at about 1300 B.C.E.

According to all descriptions, both biblical and archaeological, the Temple was divided into three parts: (1) a porch or vestibule, 15 feet deep and 30 feet wide; (2) the Holy Place, 60 feet long

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FIGURE 7–2 A sixteenth-century engraving depicts Solomon’s temple with the horned altar in the center and the Holy of Holies beyond it.

and 30 feet wide; and (3) the Holy of Holies, which was a perfect cube—30 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 30 feet high. The interior height of the rest of the building was 45 feet. Along the outside of the building were three levels of rooms, used for storage and other purposes. The interior of the building was decorated with elaborate carved woodwork. Gold also was used extensively in deco- rating the interior (6:1–36).

The Holy Place contained three principal items: the altar for incense, the seven-branched lamp stand, and the table for the sacred bread (shew bread, or bread of the presence). In later times, the lamp stand became a seven-branched candlestick called a menorah.

The Holy of Holies originally contained the sacred box, the Ark of the Covenant. At either end stood a winged creature 15 feet high. It was carved from olive wood and plated with gold. It probably had both human and animal features, designed to represent all living creatures giving praise to the LORD, whose dwelling place was the Holy of Holies. Once a year, on the solemn Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies. Even he had to undergo an elaborate ceremony of cleansing before he could enter the room. His purpose was to bring before the LORD the sins of the people so that they might be forgiven. Thus, the Holy of Holies represented for Israel the meeting place between God and humankind.

In the Temple courtyard stood the great altar made of uncut stones upon which the sacri- fices were made. Two huge bronze columns, named Jachin and Boaz, stood to the north and south of the entrance of the Temple. Their meaning and purpose are unknown (7:15–22). An

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elaborate bronze bowl called the Molten Sea, resting on a base made from twelve bronze bulls, also stood in the courtyard. It held about 10,000 gallons of water and may have been a reminder of the watery chaos mentioned in the Creation story and of how God overcame it to create the world (7:23–26).

All the furnishings and equipment for the Temple were made by the Phoenicians. It should not be surprising, then, that the descriptions given in the Bible match things found in Phoenician temples. The major difference seems to be that Israel’s Temple contained no image of the Deity, while Phoenician temples contained many such images (7:27–51).3

THE DEDICATION OF THE TEMPLE (1 KINGS 8:1–66). After years of labor, the Temple was fin- ished. The first act of Solomon was to have the Ark of the Covenant moved into its permanent home, the Holy of Holies. It was moved with elaborate precautions and with many sacrifices being offered (8:1–13).

The address and prayer of Solomon (8:14–53) emphasized the importance of the covenant with David and the building of the Temple as carrying out Solomon’s responsibility in light of that covenant (8:14–26).

The Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament

The Ark of the Covenant has often been an object of fascination for a variety of reasons. This object, which functions both as a container and as a portable Divine throne, comes and goes in the Bible. Below is a book-by-book list and description of how it appears.

Exodus—the ark is mentioned about twenty times in Exodus 25–40, which contains both God’s instructions to Moses about how to make it and a description of its construction.

Leviticus—the Ark is mentioned only once, in the description of the Day of Atonement rituals in Leviticus 16.

Numbers—the Ark is mentioned six times in descriptions of its care and movement by the priests, but it is not mentioned after Numbers 14:44.

Deuteronomy—the Ark is mentioned eight times, all in Chapter 10, where Moses is recalling the making and purpose of the Ark in a speech, and in Chapter 31, when Moses and the Levites pro- duce a “book of the law” and place it in the Ark.

Joshua—after its construction in Exodus, the Ark remains in the background for the next sev- eral books, but it becomes much more prominent in the book of Joshua, where it is mentioned more than twenty-five times, all in Joshua 3–8, as the Israelites cross the Jordan and begin conquering cities in the Promised Land.

Judges—the Ark is mentioned only once, in Judges 20:27, as an oracular object residing in Shiloh. 1 Samuel—the Ark is mentioned more than thirty times but only once after 1 Samuel 4–7, a

passage sometimes called the Ark Narrative. 1 Samuel 14:18 is the only time Saul makes use of it. 2 Samuel—the Ark is mentioned about twenty times, more than half of these concentrated in

2 Samuel 6, where David brings the Ark to Jerusalem. 1 Kings—the Ark is mentioned about a dozen times, all in the first eight chapters, where

Solomon is established as king, builds the Temple, and places the Ark in it. 1 and 2 Chronicles—of approximately forty remaining references to the Ark in the Old Testament,

all but two are in 1 and 2 Chronicles, mostly in passages that parallel those in Samuel and Kings. The last two references to the Ark in the Old Testament are in Psalm 132:8 and Jeremiah 3:16

as it seems to disappear into distant memory.

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FIGURE 7–3 David’s kingdom and the united monarchy. Artwork by Margaret Jordan Brown, from Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. © 1990, courtesy of Mercer University.

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The prayer was a plea for the LORD to keep the Divine side of the covenant. The story in 1 Kings 8:27–30 is particularly important because it emphasizes what many Israelites forgot in later years—namely, that the LORD did not dwell only in the Temple in Jerusalem. No mere building could hold the LORD. The prayer lists the situations that would give rise to prayer: (1) sin against one another; (2) defeat in war because of sin; (3) drought; (4) famine caused by pestilence, mildew, or locusts; (5) foreigners who came to the Temple to worship; (6) holy war; and (7) sin against God. With each there was a plea for forgiveness based on the choice of Israel as God’s people (8:31–53).

In this section, then, the principle of the covenant was in operation. God, who gave the covenant, although not required to do so, was self-obligated to Israel because of Divine mercy. An Israelite could call on God to show mercy on his behalf when he came to God in repentance. One could not expect forgiveness without a proper attitude. This theme is repeated by the great prophets and is prominent in the book of Deuteronomy.

After the people were led in praise to the LORD, to conclude the dedicatory services, elabo- rate festivities were observed. The seven-day feast, held at the time of the feast of Tabernacles, sent away all those who came proud, happy, and filled with roast beef and mutton (8:54–66).

THE LORD APPEARS TO SOLOMON AGAIN (1 KINGS 9:1–9). After the dedication of the Temple, the LORD appeared to Solomon. The promise of the continuance of David’s line was made, but it was to be based on faithfulness to the LORD If Solomon and those who followed him turned away from the LORD, judgment would come upon Israel.

SOLOMON’S OTHER BUILDING PROJECTS (1 KINGS 7:1–12; 9:10–28; 10:14–29). Solomon spent even more time building an elaborate system of palaces and government buildings. Thirteen years were spent building his palace, which had several sections: (1) the House of the Forest of Lebanon, built almost entirely of cedar; (2) the Hall of Pillars; (3) the Hall of the Throne, where justice was administered; (4) Solomon’s house; and (5) the house of his Egyptian wife.

He also carried on other extensive building programs, including projects in Jerusalem, Gezer, Hazor, and Megiddo. At the latter three, identical city gates have been found. This would seem to indicate that the same architect planned and constructed all three. Each of these cities shows indications of other building programs during Solomon’s time. Elaborate shafts were con- structed to enable the people to reach the water supply. At Megiddo, for instance, stone steps led down into the shaft to a tunnel. This tunnel led to a water source outside the city wall.4

Another building project consisted of a fleet of merchant ships, based in the Gulf of Aqaba at Ezion–Geber. Here, the gulf reaches its northernmost point. Hiram of Tyre furnished the vital know-how, as well as sailors, to operate the fleet (9:26–28). The Phoenicians were the supreme sailors of the ancient world, while Israel, with no suitable ports, developed little interest in the sea, except in Solomon’s time. Trade probably was with countries along the coast of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

Solomon’s building projects were costly in more ways than one. For one thing, they cost him part of his empire. For all the work he had done, Hiram demanded payment in the form of territorial grants. Although Solomon gave him twelve cities in the Plain of Acre, Hiram was still unhappy. The name Cabul, possibly meaning “that is nothing,” was given to the region. Even then, Hiram had to pay him for the region. The remains of a fortress dating to the time have been found. It seems to have served as the administrative center for the area, whose local prod- ucts—wine, olive oil, and cereals—were collected and stored. That these cities belonged to the northern tribes probably did nothing to increase Solomon’s popularity there (9:10–14).5

The monetary cost was also great. Solomon got money from various sources, the most obvious of which was taxation. But that was not enough. He would also have collected tariffs

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Chapter 7 • The Division of the Monarchy I 153

from caravans that used the international highways, the Via Maris, and the King’s Highway. Another source of income was international trade. Among other things, Solomon traded horses and chariots. He seems to have been the middleman in the trade between Egypt and the Asian and Mesopotamian states. An elaborate description of Solomon’s luxuries (10:14–29) helps us to understand why so much money was needed in addition to the money for his build- ing programs.6

The Seeds of Division (1 Kings 9:15–23; 11:1–43)

The greatest cost of maintaining Solomon’s elaborate kingship was in human freedom. That cost eventually would destroy the united monarchy. Slavery made the building projects possible. It is said that “Solomon conscripted forced labor out of all Israel” (5:13) and that the non-Israelite population was enslaved to carry on the building projects (9:15, 20–23). In so doing, Solomon sowed the seeds of social unrest that eventually would erupt in rebellion. It is said that the Israelites were “the soldiers, . . . his officials, his commanders, his captains, and the commanders of his chariotry and cavalry” (9:22). Although it says that “of the Israelites Solomon made no slaves,” they did have to give one month out of every three in free labor for the state.7

Another divisive force was Solomon’s large harem. Composed of more than 1000 women, the harem functioned primarily as a status symbol. Just as a wealthy man today may collect ex- pensive automobiles as a way of showing off his wealth, so some kings collected beautiful women. With the women, many of whom were married to Solomon to symbolize a covenant relationship with a foreign ruler, came the various deities they worshiped. Solomon’s tolerance of foreign gods did not sit well with devout Israelites, especially when he built altars for these gods and even par- ticipated in worshiping them in defiance of the LORD’s commands (11:1–13).

Solomon’s last years saw the seeds of destruction begin to take root and grow. People on the fringes of his empire began to rebel and break away. First, it was Edom, led by Hadad, a member of its royal house who had escaped to Egypt when David conquered his country (11:14–22). Soon, Rezon, a Syrian leader, took control of Damascus (11:23–25).

More serious than either of these events were stirrings of rebellion within Israel itself. The old rivalry between Ephraim and Judah had been suppressed during David’s and Solomon’s time, but it still survived. Surviving with it was the belief that the LORD through a prophet should des- ignate a leader, not a dying king who passed on the kingdom to his son. Solomon, on the other hand, seems not to have had a prophetic advisor in his court, such as Nathan had been to David. Solomon most certainly would have encouraged the idea that the LORD’s covenant with David was more important than the idea that a prophet should choose the future king.

The charismatic figure around whom the dissidents rallied was Jeroboam, an Ephraimite who had been in charge of all of Solomon’s forced labor. A prophet who also was a northerner, Ahijah the Shilonite, met Jeroboam one day. Taking a cloak, Ahijah tore it into twelve pieces to symbolize that an emergency existed. Ten of the pieces he gave to Jeroboam, telling him he was chosen to be leader over ten tribes, leaving only two to Solomon’s house. Ahijah said that the LORD was bringing judgment upon Solomon for following foreign gods (11:26–40). Ahijah was the first independent prophet who participated in an attempt to overthrow an existing ruler who had become intolerable to the people.8

Word came to Solomon of Jeroboam’s disloyalty. Fortunately for Jeroboam, he was able to escape to Egypt before Solomon could have him arrested, where he found refuge. Shishak, the new Pharaoh of Egypt, seems to have encouraged and protected Jeroboam, as he had other rebels and fugitives from Solomon (11:40).

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The Literary Structure of Chronicles

The book of Chronicles is perhaps the most neglected book in the Old Testament. It is a story of Israel that lives in the shadow of that other story of Israel told in the books of Genesis–Kings, the Primary History. It is true that more than half of the contents of Chronicles appears in Samuel and Kings, which invites readers to look at them in parallel fashion and compare the way certain stories are told and used in each. Chronicles was almost certainly written after Samuel and Kings, so it can be assumed that the writer of Chronicles used the earlier history as a source, and that much can be learned of this writer’s thinking and purpose by closely examining the differences. The result of these patterns of study is that the book of Chronicles is rarely read as a unified work of literature in its own right. Originally a single book, Chronicles is now typically divided into 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles. These designations will be used when necessary for references below.

The book of Chronicles opens in a surprising way. The first word in the book is Adam. The second word is Seth. The first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles are almost entirely genealogical in nature. The part of Israel’s story from creation through the beginning of the monarchy is covered in a very rapid manner through this genealogical material. The story slows down slightly to tell about Saul and his family in Chapter 10, but it is David who finally receives full attention beginning in Chapter 11. As the story of David moves toward its conclusion, the attention of Chronicles turns to the temple in 1 Chronicles 22–29. Brief attention is given to priestly offices in 1 Chronicles 9, so that the rise of David and the monarchy is surrounded by issues of worship. 1 Chronicles ends with the death of David. Solomon has been anointed king and is fully prepared to begin construction on the Temple. The building of the Temple occupies the first seven chapters of 2 Chronicles. The report of the construc- tion of this dwelling place for God matches the creation of the world and the development of Israel in the first part of 1 Chronicles. It is followed in 2 Chronicles 8–9 by the report on the remainder of Solomon’s career and his death.

Second, Chronicles 10–36 describes the reigns of the rest of the kings of Judah after Solomon. Chronicles is even less interested in the northern kingdom of Israel than are Samuel and Kings. The pattern is one of general decline until the destruction of the Temple in Chapter 36. The exceptions to this pattern of decline are the reforms mounted by certain kings, such as Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah, which receive extended attention. The resulting story in the book of Chronicles thus highlights the establishment of institutions, the Israelite monarchy and the Jerusalem Temple, and the lives of the two great kings, David and Solomon, in alternating fashion. The story of the decline of these in- stitutions then offers a paradigm for their reestablishment.

Finally, considerations of Chronicles as a literary work are complicated by its relationship to Ezra–Nehemiah. The last few verses of Chronicles present the Decree of Cyrus, which released the Is- raelites from captivity and authorized them to return to Judah. The opening verses of Ezra are a somewhat different version of this decree. The overlap connects these books in a way that is difficult to determine. The books of Chronicles and Ezra–Nehemiah are sometimes referred to collectively as the Chronistic History. The Hebrew canon places Chronicles at the very end, with Ezra–Nehemiah actually preceding it, a decidedly nonchronistic move. The Christian canon reverses the order of these books and moves them to the middle of the canon, immediately following Kings. This emphasizes the notion that Chronicles is secondary to Samuel and Kings, a perception from which Chronicles continues to suffer.

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The End of Solomon’s Reign (1 Kings 11:41–43)

After forty years of magnificence, Solomon died. He had acquired wealth, built buildings, and gained fame for his wisdom. It was during Solomon’s time, furthermore, that Israelite literature began to flourish. Wisdom literature undoubtedly was rooted in Solomon’s reign, making him the patron saint of Israelite wisdom. The long period of peace possibly saw the first attempts to write down Israel’s history. A good example of such an attempt may have been the Court History of David. Others have conjectured that the stories of the Egyptian oppression took form then be- cause of Solomon’s oppression.9

But Solomon also lit the fuse for the bombs that would soon blow the kingdom apart. Excessive taxation, denial of human freedom, and religious apostasy were but a few of the prob- lems left for Solomon’s egotistical son and successor, Rehoboam, to solve. Rehoboam, unfortu- nately, was so self-centered that he did not even realize that any problems existed.


Northern and Southern Perspectives

One problem in studying the divided monarchy is how to organize it. The books of 1 and 2 Kings combine the histories of the two kingdoms in order to compare the beginning of one king’s reign with that of his counterpart in the other kingdom. Because this is somewhat confusing to the reader, in this discussion their histories will be divided as follows: This chapter will discuss the history of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) from the breakup of the united monarchy to the fall of Samaria in 721 B.C.E. Chapter 8 will deal with the history of the Southern Kingdom (Judah) from the breakup through the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians (586 B.C.E.). 10

As the previous chapter described, the Bible contains two great historical narratives that run parallel to one another, the Primary History in Genesis–2 Kings and the Chronistic History in 1 and 2 Chronicles. The two accounts of Israel’s story run in particularly close parallel beginning with David’s reign. For example, the story of the division of Israel into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, which will be the starting point for this chapter, is reported in identical fash- ion in 1 Kings 12:1–19 and 2 Chronicles 10:1–19. The most significant difference between the ac- counts of the divided kingdom in 1 Kings 12–2 Kings 24 and 2 Chronicles 10–36 is that the latter will give no attention to the Northern Kingdom, unless its activities have a direct impact on the story of the Southern Kingdom.

Chapter 6 reported on what is often called the united monarchy, as opposed to the divided monarchy after the death of Solomon. It is important to acknowledge that even within the bibli- cal account of this story, the kingdom is never fully united. Hints of the fracture between north and south run throughout the accounts of the “unified” reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon in texts like 1 Samuel 11, 2 Samuel 2, and 1 Kings 11.

The Problem of Chronology

If one reads several books about the Old Testament, one may find different dates for the same person or event. The reason for this is that biblical calendars, unlike modern calendars, followed no universally accepted starting point. Today, the calendars of the Western world use the a medieval approximation of the date of the birth of Jesus as the starting point, a hypothetical “year one.” In the ancient world, every nation had a different way of figuring dates. For the Israelites, time was figured from the beginning of a king’s reign. Thus, a given event was said to have occurred “in the

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eighth year of King Hezekiah.” How do we know when the eighth year of King Hezekiah was by our way of reckoning time?

It is necessary to pinpoint a few key dates in the history of Israel and calculate from them. Fortunately, the Assyrians and Babylonians kept accurate calendars based on the rule of their kings, which always began on the first day of the new year. Their method was to name each year after a different court official to keep it separate. In addition, important events were recorded for each year. For scholars, the most important events used for dating are eclipses, the mention of contacts with the Israelite kingdoms, and the mention of specific Israelite rulers. As a result, at least two key dates, 853 B.C.E. and 605 B.C.E., can be established. The first was the battle of Qarqar, involving the troops of Ahab, king of Israel. The mention of an eclipse within a few years of this battle is important because, if one knows where it occurred, an eclipse can be dated with preci- sion. Qarqar is not mentioned in the Old Testament but Ahab is, so the time of his reign can be pinpointed. The same is true of the battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C.E. The records mention Jehoiakim, king of Judah. An eclipse again was the vital clue to the date.

This does not solve all the problems, but it helps. The Israelites were not always arithmeti- cally precise in recording the length of a king’s reign. For instance, Uzziah was said to have reigned for fifty-two years. Yet, when he developed leprosy, his son Jotham came to the throne as his coregent and reigned for sixteen years. In reality, the total time was somewhere between fifty- two and fifty-six years, depending on the date of Uzziah’s death. This creates difficulties for one working on chronologies and is the major reason why dates vary from one scholar’s scheme to another. Most authors pick what seems to be the best chronology and stay with it.


Rehoboam’s Choice (1 Kings 12:1–19)

After the deat of Solomon, internal strife was not long in coming. Solomon was powerful enough to keep things under control as long as he lived; but his successor, Rehoboam, lacked the sound judgment needed to deal with the problems he inherited from his father.

After his coronation in Jerusalem, Rehoboam went to the old northern shrine at Shechem for another coronation by the northern tribes. The people appeared before him and asked for relief from the harsh requirements laid on them by Solomon. Rehoboam, instead of taking the advice of his senior counselors to lighten their burdens, listened to his younger friends. His arrogant answer was that if they thought things had been harsh under Solomon, they had not seen any- thing harsh yet (12:1–11).

The northern tribes, led by Jeroboam, revolted. Rehoboam tried to put down the rebellion by sending his labor foreman to threaten the people. They killed him by stoning, and Rehoboam barely escaped in his chariot. Thereafter, the kingdoms would be known as Israel and Judah. (From this point on, when discussing the two kingdoms, kings of Israel will be identified with [I], while kings of Judah will be identified with [J].)

Jeroboam’s Reign (1 Kings 12:20–14:20)

Jeroboam was installed as king of the northern tribes, leaving only the tribe of Judah and perhaps the tribe of Benjamin under Rehoboam’s control (12:20). Rehoboam raised an army to take back the northern territory, but a prophet named Shemaiah warned that such an attempt would be futile.

Jeroboam got the better part of the kingdom by almost any standard. Israel, stronger econom- ically, had a larger population, controlled the major roads, and had the best and most productive

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FIGURE 7–4 The excavated ruins of the ancient city of Bethel where, according to 1 Kings 12:28–29, King Jereboam set up two golden cows as a worship site for the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

land. Its greatest weakness was the instability of its government. No consistent way had developed for making the transition from the rule of one king to another. Israel’s material assets also made it more attractive to outside powers, to which Israel was accessible by its roads. Judah, on the other hand, had the poorest land and a smaller population. It was isolated, which made it less at- tractive to invaders. Its greatest assets were Jerusalem, with its already rich traditions, and the Davidic monarchy, which assured stability in government.

While reading the history of the divided kingdom, one must be aware of certain things. First, the writers were from Judah, and they admired David. Because Israel opposed the Davidic monarchy and the Davidic covenant, the historians had negative feelings about any- thing connected with the Northern Kingdom. Second, Jerusalem (to the Deuteronomic histo- rians) was the only place where true worship could be performed. When Jeroboam led the revolt and set up worship centers at Dan and Bethel, he chose golden calves to replace the Ark of the Covenant as the symbol of the LORD’s throne. For this reason, Jeroboam was considered a worshiper of false gods by the religious leaders of Judah, and all who followed Jeroboam were put in the same category.

By choosing calves as symbols of the throne of God, Jeroboam chose the symbol of Hadad, the chief god of the Baal religion (12:25–33). This brought down on him the wrath of the prophets. A Judean prophet came to Bethel and pronounced the LORD’s judgment upon it (13:1–3). Jeroboam tried to punish the prophet, but paralysis struck him and caused him to back down. Then, he offered to pay the prophet, but the prophet refused (13:4–10).

On his way back to Judah, the prophet was stopped by another prophet who invited him in for a meal. The Judean refused, saying that the LORD had told him not to eat in Israel. The Israelite persuaded him to do so by telling him that he had a message from the LORD that he should eat.

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While they were eating, the Israelite told the Judean that he would be killed for disobeying the LORD. When the prophet was killed by a lion, the Israelite buried him and commanded that he, too, should be buried in the same tomb (13:11–32).

As further evidence of the LORD’s displeasure with Jeroboam, the prophet Ahijah told Jeroboam’s wife that their son Abijah would die. He said, furthermore, that Jeroboam’s dynasty would be replaced. All this is an indication of the important roles that prophets played in relation to the kings of both Israel and Judah. When Jeroboam died, he was succeeded by Nadab, another of his sons (13:33–14:20).

The Succession of Kings in Israel after Jereboam (1 Kings 15:25–16:20)

After the death of Jeroboam, Israelite kings came and went with surprising rapidity. The biblical text contains no description of a selection process or anointing ceremony, and provides little detail about the reigns of these kings. This passage functions much like some of the geneologies in Genesis, as a literary “fast-forward” mechanism for the author to get to a more significant part of the story. The following is a summary of this turbulent time:

King Period of Reign Fate

Nadab (901–900 B.C.E.) Murdered by Baasha

Baasha (900–877 B.C.E.) Died naturally

Elah (877–876 B.C.E.) Murdered by Zimri

Zimri (876 B.C.E. [7 days]) Suicide provoked by Omri

Omri (876–864 B.C.E.) Succeeded by his son


Israel and Its Neighbors

Israel and Judah had been fortunate to survive the first fifty years following the collapse of the united monarchy in 922 B.C.E. The key to their survival came from the outside, because Egypt was powerless and no one state had achieved dominance in Mesopotamia. For a brief time, it seemed that the quiet period would end when Assyria, led by Asshur-nasirpal (884–860 B.C.E.), rose to power and pushed all the way to the Mediterranean. His conquests probably did not reach as far south as Israel, nor were they permanent. He set a standard for cruel treatment of captives that other Assyrian rulers tried to emulate. In one inscription, he said of his captives,

I flayed as many nobles as had rebelled against me [and] draped their skins over the pile [of corpses]; . . . some I erected on stakes on the pile. . . . I flayed many right through my land [and] draped their skins over the walls.11

Because of such cruelties, the Assyrians were the most dreaded conquerors in the ancient Near East. The more immediate problem for Israel was its relationship with Syria (called Aram in the

Hebrew text). Ben-Hadad, whose reign extended from about 884 to 842 B.C.E., was strong enough to be a constant problem to Omri and his son Ahab. As a result, the two small countries alternated between being at war and being allies. When no one else threatened them, they fought each other. But whenever a threat arose from Assyria, they joined forces for mutual protection.

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FIGURE 7–5 King Omri of the Northen Kingdom of Israel established his capital city at Samaria according to 1 Kings 16:24. This photograph shows the ruins of the palace likely used there by Omri and Ahab.

Omri also renewed with Phoenicia the old alliance that had been so profitable for both David and Solomon. To seal the covenant, Omri’s son Ahab was married to Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Tyre. This marriage would have far-reaching effects upon Israelite society and religion.

Israel’s relations with Judah changed for the better during the Omrid dynasty. The two kingdoms became allies, with Israel being the dominant party. To symbolize the union between the two kingdoms, Athaliah, who probably was Ahab’s daughter (2 Kings 8:18, 26), was married to Jehoram of Judah.

The Influence of Omri (1 Kings 16:21–28)

Omri (I, 876–869 B.C.E.), after overcoming brief opposition from another contender named Tibni, moved quickly to organize his kingdom along the lines of the Davidic and Solomonic kingdoms. He renewed old alliances, began building programs (which Ahab extended), and moved the capital from Tirzah to the hill of Samaria.

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This last accomplishment (1 Kings 16:23–24) showed something of Omri’s sense of judg- ment. From a military standpoint, the hill of Shemer, on which Omri and Ahab built Samaria, was an excellent city site. A century later, it would take the Assyrian army several years to capture it.

By Omri’s time, water was no longer the problem it had been because the Israelites had de- veloped the cistern in the tenth century. A cistern was an underground jug dug into the rock and plastered with lime to keep it from leaking. During the rainy season, runoff water was channeled into the cisterns to be stored for the dry months.

The ruins of Omri’s and Ahab’s palace have been found at Samaria. The exceptionally fine masonry work enclosed an area 582 feet long by 424 feet wide. The palace, which Ahab built for Jezebel, was 89 by 79 feet. In this palace were found many ivory pieces fitting the description in 1 Kings 22:39 as “the ivory house that he built.” During the Omri–Ahab years, extensive building programs were carried out in other cities, including Megiddo.12 Omri’s power and influence can also be seen in the fact that, many years after his death, Israel was known in Assyrian records as “the land of Omri.” The Moabite Stone (found in 1868) also gives an account of how Moab was conquered by Omri and lists the annual tribute or bribe the Moabites had to pay to Israel. Mesha, the king of Moab who erected the stone, threw off Israelite control during Ahab’s wars with Syria.13

Despite Omri’s achievements, the biblical writer only mentions that he built Samaria and that “he did more evil than all who were before him” (1 Kings 16:25–28).

The Reign of Ahab (I, 869–850 B.C.E.) (1 Kings 16:29–22:4)

As far as the biblical writer was concerned, the news about Ahab was bad—first, last, and always. He was worse than his father, Omri (16:30). He married Jezebel, an ardent worshiper of the Canaanite god Baal, and he worshiped her gods. He also built altars to Baal and made an idol to represent Asherah, Baal’s mistress. The implication is that he gave approval to human sacrifice as part of worship (16:31–34).

Aside from the Bible, Ahab, in purely secular terms, was a much more impressive ruler. As excavations at Megiddo, at Samaria, and now at Dor on the coastal plain attest, Ahab was a prodi- gious builder, “the greatest of the builder kings between Solomon and Herod.” What once were thought to be Solomon’s stables at Megiddo are now credited to Ahab. In the military realm, Ahab was able to supply 2000 war chariots for the western alliance against Shalmaneser III at the battle of Qarqar.14

Elijah Among the Prophets

Elijah was not the first prophet, but he significantly expanded the role of the prophetic figure, andin later Jewish tradition, he became the symbol of the ideal prophet, as Moses was the symbol of the ideal lawgiver (Luke 9:30, 33). Before examining Elijah, it may be helpful to look at the whole idea of prophecy as it was practiced in Israel and Judah in the time of the monarchy. (In this discussion, the term Israel will apply to all the people, north and south, not just those of the Northern Kingdom.)

Israel was not alone in having prophets. Balaam (Num. 22:1–24:25) was not an Israelite, as both the Bible and a recently found inscription show.15 Mari, a city in northern Mesopotamia, had prophets who gave oracles (sayings) in much the same manner as the Israelite prophets.16,17

Furthermore, as later discussions will show, not all Israelite prophets were admirable men. Some simply were “yes men” to the kings. But the true prophets of Israel were in a class by themselves.

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Canaanite Fertility Religion

One of Israel’s major problems from the day it entered Palestine was what to do about the Canaanite culture and religion. The harsh demands for a holy war were one attempt to deal with the problem. Israel’s leaders were intelligent enough to know that the sexually oriented religion of the Canaanites would make the more demanding requirements of the worship of the LORD harder to live by. For this reason, the uncompromising demands of the holy war, if carried out, would eliminate not only the re- ligious shrines, but all who taught the religion.

But although holy war may have been practiced occasionally, it was not on a large scale. Israel failed to conquer the land completely. Instead, the Canaanites were absorbed into the population, even when Canaanite lands were taken. With the Canaanites came their culture and religion.

Imagine what it would be like to be Sam Israelite, who comes from the desert fringe, where his principal occupation has been that of a shepherd. Suddenly, he finds himself in possession of a house and land of his own. He is now a farmer. He plants his crops, but they fail. He has a Canaanite neigh- bor who plants his crops and they produce abundantly.

He goes to his neighbor, Joe Canaanite, and says, “Say, Joe, how is it that your barley looks so much better than mine?”

Joe answers, “Why, Sam, the problem with your crops is that you worship the wrong god. Your god was okay when it came to warfare, but he is just not experienced at growing crops. Come with me tomorrow to the shrine of Hadad. We are having our spring fertility dance and, man, are those temple girls beauties. After all, Baal really knows how to make that barley grow!” It is not hard to imagine what many Israelite men would have done in that case.

It was this religion that Jezebel was so ardently promoting in Israel. She also donated money to it. In the court alone, there were 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah (1 Kings 18:19). Baalism threatened to sweep over the land, but one man—the prophet Elijah—stemmed the tide.

Three Hebrew terms are used to describe the prophets. Two of them, ro’eh and hozeh, are often translated as “seer.” The third word is navi’, which probably meant “one who speaks for an- other.” Thus, Aaron was the navi’ for Moses, because he was the one who spoke for Moses (Exod. 7:1). Moses, of course, was also desgnated as a navi’, because he spoke for God (Deut. 34:10). Seer was a term used earlier to describe the prophets, but by the time of the great prophets in the eighth to sixth centuries B.C.E., it was more of a derogatory term.

Two other related terms used to talk about prophets and prophecy in the ancient Near East were ecstatic and diviner. Ecstatics were prophets whose prophecy came as part of an altered phys- ical state, such as a trance or a frenzy. This was what was meant when Saul was described as being among the prophets (1 Sam. 10:10–13). Ecstatic prophets did strange things and had strange ex- periences. Diviners, on the other hand, read the signs of nature, such as the patterns of the clouds or the patterns of the internal organs of animals, somewhat like the reading of palms or tea leaves today. None of the great prophets were diviners in this sense of the word, but a number of them (especially Ezekiel) did have some characteristics of the ecstatics.

Up until the time of Elijah, most of the prophets mentioned in the story of the Israelite monarchy held official positions as royal advisors. Samuel, Gad, and Nathan often provided di- vine counsel for Israel’s early kings. At a later point, Isaiah also functioned in this role. Of course, their work could include confronting the king about disobedient behavior, such as Samuel did

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with Saul (1 Sam. 13:8–15) and Nathan did with David (2 Sam. 12:1–15). Elijah, however, is por- trayed as a prophet entirely outside of the palace. His interactions with royal leaders were only confrontational, and they did not seek his advice. Thus, Elijah separates the institutions of palace and prophecy, and creates a distinct and independent role for prophets in the story of Israel.

These characteristics marked Israel’s prophets:

1. They claimed to speak for God, often introducing their sayings with formulas like “Thus says the LORD.”

2. They were courageous persons, unafraid to deliver their message, regardless of the personal danger involved.

3. They were moral persons who preached a message that demanded the highest moral living from their hearers.

4. They were compassionate persons, sensitive to the difficulties of the poor and the oppressed. 5. They were sensitive persons, aware of what was happening in the world around them and

convinced that the LORD was in control of events.

Two other common misunderstandings of Old Testament prophets need to be mentioned. First, the prophets were primarily concerned with their own time and what was about to happen to their people. The desire to turn their messages into elaborate and esoteric predictions about the distant future can often obscure the meaning of what they were saying. Their message has meaning for later generations, including ours today, because they were applying divine principles to the human problems they saw right in front of them. This is still the task of religion. Second, time was the sure test of the validity of a prophet’s message. Readers often look back on these sit- uations in the Old Testament and wonder how the audiences of the prophets ignored or misun- derstood such obvious messages, but many times it was very difficult to distinguish between the contradictory messages of two prophets. Naturally, the people often preferred the word of the prophet with the more positive message. The same problem is with us today.


Although there is no book in the Bible that bears Elijah’s name, he is given more space in the Deuteronomistic History than any other prophet, including Isaiah and Jeremiah.

Elijah was a mysterious person. He would appear, give an oracle (pronouncement), and disappear. He was a prophet of doom and a man who could be both courageous and cowardly. His first confrontation was with Ahab. He appeared before Ahab to tell him that there would be a three-year drought in Israel. The point was that Baal, whom worshipers claimed could bring rain, was to be challenged at his own game (17:1). Elijah finished his immediate task and returned to the eastern side of the Jordan, where he was in familiar territory and safe from Ahab’s clutches (17:2–5). When the drought began to devastate the Transjordan, Elijah, at the LORD’s command, went to Phoenicia, where he stayed with a widow and her son. The presence of the man of God in her home brought prosperity to her and restored her son to life after he died (17:8–24).

Things were bad in Israel—so bad, in fact, that the king himself went out looking for water for the royal animals. Accompanying Ahab was Obadiah. Unknown to Ahab and Jezebel, during a purge by Jezebel, Obadiah had been responsible for saving one hundred prophets of the LORD (18:1–6).

When Obadiah and Ahab separated to increase their chances of finding water, Obadiah met Elijah. Elijah asked Obadiah to tell Ahab that he wanted to see him. Obadiah was afraid that if he did, Elijah would disappear again. Finally, Obadiah was convinced and agreed to do as Elijah asked (18:7–16).

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FIGURE 7–6 “Ahab took as his wife Jezebel . . . and went and served Baal, and worshiped him” (1 Kings 16:31). Baal was the god of the storm, and thus the god of fertility, since water was essential for the growth of crops. This stele (stone monument) of Baal, which is from the nineteenth or eighteenth century B.C.E., is from Ras Shamra. It shows the god holding a bolt of lightning.

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King and prophet confronted each other, each accusing the other of being a “troubler of Israel.” Then Elijah issued a challenge: Bring the people and all the Baal prophets to Mount Carmel for a test of strength (18:17–19).

Ahab took up the challenge and did as Elijah proposed. Mount Carmel was an ancient wor- ship site, a mountain that juts out into the Mediterranean Sea on Palestine’s northern coast. Its height causes clouds blowing in from the sea to release their moisture, so that the vegetation stays green longer there than in any other place in Israel. The sure sign of severe drought was when the vegetation on top of Mount Carmel withered (Amos 1:2). Thus, it was a favorite shrine for Baal worshipers. Like Moses’ challenge to Pharaoh by the Nile, Elijah was issuing a challenge from the LORD to play the contest on Baal’s home court (18:20).

The people gathered. Elijah challenged them to follow either Baal or the LORD. Then he challenged the 450 Baal prophets to prepare a sacrifice. They were to call on Baal to ignite the fire, as he was the god of storm and fire (lightning). Elijah would do the same thing and would call on the LORD. The god who answered by fire would be the winner. The people agreed and pledged to follow the god whose power was revealed (18:21–24).

The Baalites prepared their sacrifice and began a day-long ritual designed to evoke Baal’s response. Doing a sort of limping dance, they circled the altar crying, “O Baal, answer us!” Noon came, but there was no response from Baal. Elijah made sarcastic remarks and suggested that they were not crying loud enough, that Baal was meditating, relieving himself, traveling, or perhaps just sleeping. The frenzy among the prophets increased. They cut themselves, hoping that the flow of blood would cause rain to fall. “But there was no voice, no answer, no response” (18:25–29). The rain did not come. Baal had failed.

When evening came, the exhausted Baalites gave up their futile efforts. Elijah went into ac- tion. He built an altar, prepared the sacrificial bull (which, ironically, was the symbol of Baal), and then soaked everything thoroughly with water. Elijah’s prayer was simple:

“O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are the God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the LORD fell. (18:36–38)

What happened on Mount Carmel? Some say that lightning appeared; others say that the water contained petroleum or gas. What happened really defies explanation, but it was a vital moment in the history of a people. The LORD had beaten Baal at his own game by bringing rain when Baal could not. Elijah took a practical approach to limiting the power of Baalism. He called upon the people, who seized the Baal prophets and killed them, even as Jezebel had killed the prophets of the LORD. Elijah did not stop Baalism completely, but he dealt it such a severe setback that it, at least, did not envelop Judah as much as it had Israel (18:30–40).

When the rains came, Ahab had to ride furiously to get down the mountain. Elijah showed his ability as a distance runner by outrunning Ahab’s chariot to Jezreel, some seventeen miles away. It was just a warm-up for his encounter with Jezebel (18:41–46).

Courageous Elijah soon became cowardly Elijah when Jezebel heard what he had done to her prophets. She sent him word that when she got her hands on him, it would be the end of him. Elijah decided that it was time for him to beat a hasty retreat.

Being an experienced runner, he lost no time in putting distance between himself and Jezebel. His servant could not keep up, so Elijah left him at Beersheba and continued south to- ward Sinai. In the wilderness, where he stopped to rest, he prayed to the LORD to take his life. Instead, he awoke to find food. After eating, he continued his journey (19:1–8).

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Arriving at Horeb (Sinai), Elijah rested in a cave. While he was there, the LORD appeared (theophany) with an accusing question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (19:9). Instead of an- swering the question, Elijah complained that he was the only faithful servant of the LORD left. Told to go stand on the mountain, he experienced wind, earthquake, and fire, but the LORD did not appear in any of the natural phenomena. Instead, in the quietness following the tumult, a still, small voice asked the same accusing question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (19:13). Elijah gave the same whining excuse (19:14). The answer came back: “Get up and get busy. There are seven thousand people in Israel who are still faithful” (19:9–18). On his return, he found a new disciple named Elisha (19:19–21).

The most dangerous enemy Ahab had was Ben-hadad of Syria. Warfare between the two kingdoms was frequent, each side winning some and losing some. Ben-hadad laid siege to Samaria and took tribute, as well as Ahab’s wives and children. Ahab, on the advice of an unknown prophet, launched a surprise attack and routed the Syrians. Later, in a battle at Aphek in Transjordan near the Sea of Galilee, Israel defeated Syria and took Ben-hadad prisoner. He pleaded for his life and agreed to grant Ahab business concessions in Damascus. Ahab agreed to let Ben-hadad go. The un- known prophet rebuked the king for freeing Ben-hadad to fight again. The prophet had seen the war as a holy war in which Ben-hadad should have been killed (20:1–43).

Naboth’s story illustrates the changes that were taking place in Israel. On the surface Ahab’s offer to buy his land seems fair, but Naboth’s refusal to sell illustrates the strong sense of respon- sibility that Naboth had to preserve the family inheritance for his children. It was a legacy to be passed on from generation to generation.

When Naboth refused, Ahab went home and sulked. Jezebel found out the cause of his un- happiness and set out to get Ahab what he wanted (21:1–7).

Skillfully using the law to the advantage of the royal house, Jezebel bribed the village elders to call a meeting of the group, of which Naboth probably was a member. Then she hired two of the most dishonest witnesses that money could buy to swear that they had heard Naboth curse God and the king. Two witnesses were required by the law to prove any charge (Deut. 17:6). The penalty for blasphemy (cursing God) was death by stoning. After Naboth was accused, tried, and convicted, the sentence was carried out (21:8–14). To compound the tragedy, Naboth’s supposed crime also made his sons liable to the death penalty, thus effectively eliminating any heirs for the property within his family (2 Kings 9:26).

The story of Naboth’s land illustrates two important matters: (1) the role of the prophet as the conscience of the nation and (2) the transition of Israelite society from a nation of small, in- dependent landowners to one in which most of the land was owned by a few wealthy men. This left the rest of the population more or less at the mercy of the rich.

With the last obstacle out of the way, Ahab took over Naboth’s land. When he went to in- spect it, however, the first person he saw was Elijah. Elijah pronounced the LORD’s judgment upon Ahab and his family, and more specifically upon Jezebel. He said she would be eaten by dogs. This was the most disgraceful thing that could happen to a person. Ahab repented, but it stayed the ex- ecution for only a little while (21:15–29).

More Stories of Kings and Prophets

Before the incident described here, an important historical event had taken place. In 853 B.C.E., at Qarqar on the Orontes River in northwestern Syria, Shalmaneser III of Assyria fought against an alliance of western kings, including Ahab of Israel and Ben-hadad of Syria. They, along with other small kingdoms, patched up their differences long enough to face a common enemy. A measure

s strengths and weaknesses as a king?

2.What factors contributed to the negative reaction of the northern tribes to Rehoboam?

3.Why did the worship of Baal appeal to the Israelites so strongly?

4.Why did Ahab handle Elijah differently from the way Jezebel dealt with him?

5.How are the portrayals of Elijah and Elisha alike, and how do they differ?

6.What happened to bring an end to the hostilities between Israel and Judah?

7.Who was Athaliah? Why is she a significant figure in Israel’s story?

8.How did Judah manage to survive the Assyrian invasions that destroyed Israel and Syria in the later eighth century (745-721 B.C.E.)?

9.How did Hezekiah prepare for a possible invasion by the Assyrians during Sennacherib’s reign?

10.What possible physical evidence has been found to confirm Hezekiah’s reform?

11.What does Lamentations tell us about conditions in Jerusalem during the Babylonian siege?

12What were the three major groups of Israelites that formed in the wake of the Babylonian destruction, and how were they related to each other?

13.How did Cyrus’ conquest of the Babylonians affect the Jews in exile?

14.Assess the relative significance of Ezra and Nehemiah to the Jerusalem community.

15.How did Ezra and Nehemiah address the issue of foreign wives? Why?


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