The Kings of Israel and the Northern Kingdom

The Kings of Israel and the Northern Kingdom

August 23, 2011 Back

The Northern Kingdom of Israel split off from the larger united kingdom circa 930BCE. Propelled by the jealousy against the divinely sanctioned Davidic line and tax weariness from King Solomon’s expensive and lavish reign, 10 tribes unilaterally elected to secede from the Israelite union. The only ones to stay with the Davidic family were Judah, David’s own tribe, and Benjamin. Benjamin’s deciding to stick it out with Judah was a direct result of their being the closest in proximity to Judean territory, and their being the smallest of all the tribes after their near total annihilation at the end of the book of Judges. Only tens were left after the Israelites declared war on Benjamin for its involvement in a gruesome rape against the concubine from Gibeah. See the end of the book of Judges for details.

The larger reason for Benjamin’s remaining with Judah, a pan-historical reason if you will, was the historic pact between Judah and Benjamin the tribal patriarchs, which took form when Judah took personal responsibility for Benjamin’s well being after Jacob refused to send him to Egypt with the rest of his brothers to get food, back in the book of Genesis. As the famous story goes, Judah promised to guard his father Jacob’s youngest son with his own life, Jacob agreed, and then Joseph planted the cup in Benjamin’s bag and insisted that Benjamin go to jail for this. Judah approaches Joseph, who was at that point still disguised as an Egyptian, and insists that he take Benjamin’s place. Thus Joseph, emotionally touched, reveals himself in a fit of tears and the family is reunited.

This pact was reinforced with the friendship of David (of Judah) and Jonathon, son of then King Saul (of Benjamin).  The two had such a strong and close friendship that they promised each other that their descendants would never part, and that has remained true to this day, as the only tribes to survive fully intact since the destruction of the kingdom of Israel in 722BCE were Judah (hence Judaism) and Benjamin. Mordecai and Esther were Benjaminites. Since the tribe was so tiny, they just got absorbed into Judah.

The northern kingdom therefore consisted of 10 tribes, minus Judah, Benjamin, and Levi, who served in the temple and had no land to contribute to any secession anyway. Since they were stuck in Judah around the Temple, they stayed there, hence there are still Jews of the tribe of Levi around today with intact lineage. In a strict sense, they are not “Jews” since they are not from the tribe of Judah.

The 19 kings of Israel are not considered Israelite heroes, mostly because almost all of them were wicked. The longest dynasty was Yehu’s, which lasted for nearly half the duration of the entire kingdom. The shortest dynasty, Zimri’s, lasted 7 days and ended when Zimri committed suicide.

Jeroboam was the first king of Israel. He can be found in Kings I after the death of King Solomon. His son Nadav reigned after him. His reign is described beginning in chapter 14 of Kings I. After Nadav was assassinated, next came Basha in chapter 15, followed by his son Elah, who was also assassinated by his servant Zimri, who took over for a week and killed himself. Omri took over from there, establishing one of the most famous dynasties in the Bible besides David’s, though it only lasted 3 generations. Ahab took over from Omri and was killed in battle. Both of Ahab’s sons reigned, the first one Ahazyahu died in a year, and the second one Yoram was assassinated by Yehu.

Yehu was Israel’s most celebrated king from a Biblical perspective, having rounded up idol worshipers in a temple and burning them alive. Gruesome, but an act viewed favorably by the Bible. For this he got the  reward of having the longest established dynasty in Israel. His dynasty lasted through Jehoahaz, Joash, Jeroboam II, and Zecharyah. From there, the entire kingdom went downhill fast.

Shalum killed Zecharyah and took over, Menahem killed Shalum and reigned for a decade. His son Pekahiah took over for 2 years and was killed by his horse drawer Pekah, who was killed 8 years later by Hoshea.

Thanks to Hoshea, who also was one of the lesser evil kings of Israel, there is still a smattering of the 10 tribes among the Jewish people today. Nobody knows who is who, but more likely than not there are representatives of each tribe in modern Jews, with sects popping up around the world claiming to be of from one of the 10 lost tribes, including the Ethiopian Jews of Beta Yisrael, who have a tradition that they are from the northern tribe of Dan, as well as certain groups from India claiming to be of the tribe of Menashe.

Back to the northern kingdom, Hoshea, seeing the imminent destruction of the entire kingdom by Assyria, allowed whoever wanted to go to escape to Judah, something forbidden ever since the establishment of the northern kingdom. Some had already come down to Judah during the reign of king Hezekiah who had encouraged them to do the Passover sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem, and some actually listened and stayed. Some did choose to escape at the end in any case, and those that did kept small numbers of their tribe alive. The kingdom of Judah was exiled 150 years later, but the nation managed to actually survive to this day. The former kingdom of Judah returned to form the second commonwealth of Judea, which was exiled again in the year 70, and once again reestablished 1,900 years later in the modern state of Israel.

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