Book: America & Britain

After Moses’ death, Joshua successfully led the children of Israel in the initial stages of their conquest of the land of Canaan, the Promised Land, dividing up each tribe’s inheritance according to the casting of lots. By the time Joshua reached the end of his life, God had given the nation rest and peace all around (Joshua 23:1). However, there remained much land to be possessed—and based on God’s promises to Abraham, it was Israel’s simply for the taking. In his parting address, Joshua warned the people not to forsake God and follow the ways of the nations remaining in the region:

“ ‘Now, therefore, fear the LORD, and serve Him in sincerity and truth. And put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the [Euphrates] River, and in Egypt, and serve the LORD…. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.’ And the people answered and said, ‘Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods….’

“And Joshua said to the people, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve Him.’ And they said, ‘We are witnesses.’… And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Behold, this stone shall be a witness to us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD which He spoke to us. It shall therefore be a witness to you, lest you deny your God.’ And Joshua sent away the people, each man to his inheritance” (Josh. 24:14-16, 22, 27-28).

After Joshua’s death, the children of Israel quickly set out to possess the lands promised to them. After a great deal of success, however, some of the tribes began to compromise with God’s instructions: rather than drive out the inhabitants of certain areas, the Israelites allowed them to remain, forcing them to pay tribute. In time, another generation arose that had no firsthand knowledge of God or the works He had done for the nation (Judges 2:10).

Israel began to worship the false gods of the nations around them, and God responded by causing them to be cursed in their efforts to finish taking the land. Again and again, God would use the nations indigenous to the area to punish the Israelites, who seemed bent on disobedience. Throughout this time the nation was led and corrected by prophets; as well, judges were raised up to deliver the people from distress and oppression. The period is aptly described in the final verse of the book of Judges: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

In time, Israel asked for a human king—rejecting, in fact, God as their true King (I Sam. 8:4-9).1 Saul, a Benjamite, was chosen as the nation’s first monarch. He was physically impressive (I Sam. 10:23-24) and seemed to embody all that one would want in a king. But, as time would reveal, Saul did not have the heart to put God first in faithful obedience.

Saul ultimately disqualified himself as king, and God sought out another—one who would faithfully put Him first. Centuries later, the apostle Paul summarized God’s thinking: “And after removing [Saul], [God] raised up David to be [Israel’s] king; to whom He also gave testimony, saying, ‘I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will perform all My will’ ” (Acts 13:22).

The Righteous Reign of David

Following Saul’s death, David was initially anointed king in Hebron by the tribe of Judah alone (II Sam. 2:3-4). He reigned for seven years from Hebron before the other tribes acknowledged him as king; their acceptance ushered in a period of unity and continued conquest of the land (II Sam. 5:1-5). With the entire country behind him, David amassed an army of some 350,000 soldiers and began subduing the nations that had long plagued Israel. David’s military expeditions were legendary, greatly expanding the geographic size of the nation (I Chron. 11:9). Under his leadership, Israel soon began enjoying unparalleled political and economic preeminence in the region.

In spite of David’s mistakes and sins of the flesh, God was always with him. Why? Because David had a repentant heart—he genuinely sought an intimate relationship with God based on heartfelt obedience to the way of life defined by His commandments. Many of the chapters in the book of Psalms were written by David and reflect his respect for God; Psalm 51, in particular, expresses David’s deep repentance after grievously sinning.

It was David’s desire to build God a permanent dwelling place—a temple—in Jerusalem, a city he had taken from the Jebusites. But because of his war-making lifestyle, God declined, choosing instead to allow David’s son, Solomon, to build Him a temple. However, as will be brought out in a later chapter, God had something even greater in store for David—the promise of an unbroken lineage that would culminate with the eternal rule of the Messiah Himself!

The Golden Age of Israel—Cut Short by Idolatry

Upon David’s death, his son, Solomon, reigned in his place. Initially, Solomon was a promising ruler, asking of God only wisdom and knowledge (I Kings 3:7-12); moreover, he succeeded in building God a magnificent temple (I Kings 6). Eventually, however, Solomon succumbed to idolatry and debauchery (I Kings 11:3-8).

Solomon inherited a wealthy, powerful empire from David—a vast territory stretching from Egypt to the Euphrates River (I Kings 4:24). His kingdom boasted of massive international trade, much of it by well-established maritime trade routes (I Kings 10:14-23). Such was Israel’s might and influence that surrounding nations chose to become allies with Solomon rather than risk certain defeat in war. Both the Phoenician Empire (often referred to as Tyre in the Old Testament) and Egypt entered into longstanding alliances with Solomon. I Kings 10:24 indicates the immense impact Solomon had around the then-known world: “And all the [land] sought Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart.”

The reigns of David and Solomon (both 40 years each) fulfilled God’s promises that Abraham’s descendants would, as a great nation, inherit the land of Canaan. But even during its “Golden Age” under Solomon, Israel never came close to fulfilling the divine purpose God had intended for the nation. First, from a material, physical perspective, the birthright promises previously described were realized only in a limited fashion—far from what was originally promised. Israel never became the prophesied “great nation” and a “company of nations” wielding worldwide superpower status (the birthright promises would be fulfilled, however, in due time). Second, except for a few years during the early part of Solomon’s reign, Israel never became the premier model nation God had intended (Ex. 19:5-6; Deut 4:6). (This purpose will be fully realized in the age to come— Zechariah 8:23.) God had wanted to show the world that obedience to His way of life would result in great blessings and great peace. Indeed, Israel had been given an unprecedented opportunity to be a blessing to all the families of the earth, just as was promised to Abraham. Solomon’s God-given wisdom was, briefly, the envy of the nations—but it was cut short by his rapid decline into sin and idolatry.

God was initially pleased with Solomon, conditionally promising that He would establish his kingdom forever (I Kings 9). But Solomon succumbed to his own weaknesses and gave in to carnal pulls of the flesh— choosing to take pagan wives and become involved with the worship of false gods (I Kings 11:1-10).

Thus, the kingdom would be rent from Solomon—and ultimately divided into two competing nations.

“And the LORD said to Solomon, ‘Since this has been done by you, and since you have not kept My covenant and My statutes which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant. But I will not do it in your days, for David your father’s sake, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Only, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son for David My servant’s sake, and for Jerusalem’s sake which I have chosen’ ” (verses 11-13).

Because of His promise to David, God would spare one tribe, Judah, so that David’s lineage could be preserved (as we will see, Judah was joined by the tribe of Benjamin and most of the Levites). The remaining ten tribes would become a separate nation altogether. This proposition was made clear in a prophecy given by the prophet Ahijah to one of Solomon’s captains of war, Jeroboam.

“Now it came to pass at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah from Shiloh found him on the way. And he had clothed himself with a new garment. And the two of them were alone in the field. And Ahijah caught hold of the new garment that was on him, and tore it in twelve pieces. And he said to Jeroboam, ‘Take ten pieces for yourself. For thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, “Behold, I will tear the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and will give ten tribes to you, but he shall have one tribe for My servant David’s sake and for Jerusalem’s sake, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, because they have forsaken Me, and have worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the goddess of the children of Ammon, and have not walked in My ways, to do what is right in My eyes, and to keep My statutes and My judgments, as David his father did. But I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand, but I will make him ruler all the days of his life for the sake of David My servant, whom I chose because he kept My commandments and My statutes. But I will take the kingdom out of his son’s hand and will give it to you, ten tribes. And to his son I will give one tribe, so that David My servant may have a light always before me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen for Me to put My name there. And I will take you, and you shall reign according to all that your soul desires, and shall be king over Israel” ’ ” (I Kings 11:29-37).

After Solomon’s death, his son, Rehoboam, was set to be named as king over the entire kingdom. The northern part of the nation, represented by Jeroboam, expressed their discontentment with Solomon’s heavy taxation and forced labor practices. Rehoboam foolishly ignored their concerns and actually threatened to increase the burden (I Kings 12). In the end, the northern tribes, led by the tribe of Ephraim, separated themselves from the tribe of Judah—creating two distinct nations.

“And all [of the northern tribes of] Israel saw that the king did not hearken to them, and the people answered the king, saying, ‘What part do we have in David [i.e., Judah, David’s tribe]? Yea, there is no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Now see to your own house, O [house of] David!’ And [northern] Israel went to its tents” (I Kings 12:16).

Thus, in 928 BC, the former Kingdom of Israel was divided—the ten tribes of the north, led by Ephraim, separated themselves and would continue as a distinct nation, the House of Israel. The southern portion would continue as the House of Judah, led by the tribe of Judah. Thus, David’s dynasty would remain intact. As brought out in Chapter 1, Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, were each counted as a distinct tribe; thus, the northern kingdom, while appearing to include only nine tribes, was actually composed of ten tribes (just as Ahijah’s prophecy indicated). The southern kingdom was made up of Judah, the tiny tribe of Benjamin, and virtually all of the priestly tribe of Levi (Ezra 1:5).

A Kingdom Divided

Rehoboam reacted to the secession of Jeroboam and the ten tribes by attacking the northern tribes in an effort to force them back into a united kingdom. God intervened through the prophet Shemaiah:

“And when Rehoboam came to Jerusalem, then he gathered all the house of Judah with the tribe of Benjamin, a hundred and eighty thousand warriors to fight against the house of Israel, to bring [restore] the [full] kingdom again to Rehoboam the son of Solomon. But the word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God, saying, ‘Speak to Rehoboam the son of Solomon, king of Judah, and to all the house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the rest of the people, saying, “Thus says the LORD, ‘You shall not go up, nor fight against your brothers the children of Israel. Each man return to his house, for this thing is from Me.’ ” ’ And they hearkened therefore to the word of the LORD and returned, according to the word of the LORD” (I Kings 12:21-24).

Note carefully that there are now two distinct nations: 1) the House of Judah, composed of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, including the Levites (this southern kingdom later became known as the Jews); and 2) the House of Israel—composed of the ten northern tribes, led by the dominant tribe of Ephraim. They carried the name Jacob or Israel—which, as we have seen, prophetically belongs today to Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.

The two kingdoms quickly became rivals, often going to war with one another (II Chron. 12:15). In fact, the first time we see the term “Jew” used in the Bible, Israel is at war with them! In II Kings 16, Pekah, the king of Israel, is allied with the king of Syria against Jerusalem and the Jews (verses 5-6).

Note this vital fact: the House of Israel is never referred to as “Jews.” Only those of the House of Judah are Jews (Ezra 5:1). Yes, Jews are Israelites—as Judah and Benjamin are tribes of Israel. But, from a biblical perspective, the Jews are not “Israel.” That designation, from the time of the divided kingdom, belonged to the northern kingdom of ten tribes. Today, everyone assumes the tiny Middle Eastern “State of Israel” is biblical Israel. Technically, this is not so—the Jews represent Judah only. The name Israel, from a latter-day prophetic perspective, belongs to Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen. 48:16).

The tiny tribe of Benjamin became incorporated into Judah, while the Levites overwhelmingly settled in Judah after Jeroboam, king over the northern tribes, instituted a false national religion. A number of God-fearing Israelites from among the ten tribes settled in Judah as well, hoping to maintain the proper worship of God (II Chron. 11:16). Moreover, as we will see later, the House of Judah maintained the “scepter promise” (Gen. 49:10) through the lineage of David—which would culminate in the Messiah.

Meanwhile, the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh—the leading tribes of the House of Israel—continued as possessors of the birthright promises. In time, the Abrahamic promises of national greatness, wealth, and influence would reach their intended fulfillment through these sons of Joseph—but not before the entire northern kingdom was removed from their lands and “sifted among the nations” for their idolatry. Some 200 years would yet pass before the ten tribes disappeared from biblical history—taken captive by the Assyrians. During that time, ten dynasties would come and go involving 19 monarchs (from about 930 to 722 BC). Without exception, every king of the House of Israel practiced wickedness before God, leading the entire nation further and further into gross sin and idolatry.

Israel—An Apostate Nation

From the beginning, God offered Jeroboam an enduring dynasty, much like He had promised David (I Kings 11:37-38). But unlike David, Jeroboam was bent on doing what seemed right in his own eyes (I Kings 14:8; Prov. 14:12) and plunged the nation further into paganism. In the end, Israel would never be able to recover from the abject idolatry begun under the leadership of Jeroboam.

Fearful the people would eventually realign themselves with Judah if they continued to participate in the temple sacrificial system and observe God’s annual festivals as taught under Moses, Jeroboam cleverly instituted a new national religion. Almost immediately he set up two golden calves, proclaiming them to be Israel’s gods (I Kings 12:26-30). As a part of his new religion, Jeroboam set up false “priests” who were not of the tribe of Levi. The Levitical priesthood inherited their office, placing them outside the king’s control. Perceiving them to be an independent threat to his authority, Jeroboam’s solution was to replace the Levites with the “lowest” of the people (verse 31)—those easily controlled. This prompted virtually all of the Levites to relocate to Judah (II Chron. 11:13-14). Thus, Jeroboam had complete monarchial control over his new religion. In addition, Jeroboam ordained a “feast” in the eighth month—a deliberate counterfeit to the God-ordained festival of the seventh month (I Kings 12:32-33).

Ultimately, Jeroboam’s religion was a mixture of Mosaic teachings and outright paganism. Having adopted the religious customs of the nations around them, the northern tribes quickly began to blend in with the peoples of the region. They looked and lived just like pagans! In fact, Israel blended so well with the nations that they have been largely mistaken by historians as an extension of the Phoenician Empire to their north (see Chapter 9).

Meanwhile, in the southern nation of Judah, Rehoboam did nothing to stop the growing idolatry that resulted from Solomon’s wicked lifestyle. Eventually, the entire nation became entangled in sin and false worship (I Kings 14:22-24). As a means of correction, God removed His protection and allowed Egypt to turn on her former ally (verses 25-26). In response, Rehoboam and the people humbled themselves before God, and Egypt was allowed to only plunder Jerusalem, taking virtually all of the golden treasures Solomon had amassed for the temple. For a time, Judah was delivered; but they would remain at least partially subservient to Egypt (II Chron. 12:1-12).

In the northern Kingdom of Israel, God sent Ahijah the prophet to warn Jeroboam concerning his and the nation’s sins (I Kings 14:7-10). The prophet also warned of certain national captivity:

“For the LORD shall strike Israel as the reed is shaken in the water, and He shall root up Israel out of this good land which He gave to their fathers, and shall scatter them beyond the [Euphrates] River because they have made their [idolatrous] Asherim, provoking the LORD to anger. And He shall give Israel up [to captivity] because of the sins of Jeroboam who sinned, and because he made Israel to sin” (verses 15-16).

Unlike Rehoboam, however, Jeroboam was unrepentant. Still, in His patience and mercy, God gave Israel numerous opportunities to repent over some 200 years. But as history would record, the northern ten tribes continued in their downward slide into paganism and sin. In stages, God began to withdraw His blessings and protection, gradually reducing the geographic size of Israel (II Kings 10:32-33). He allowed Israel to be oppressed on all sides—yet, in His mercy, God was reluctant to send them into exile: “And the LORD was gracious to them, and had pity on them, and had respect to them because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And He would not destroy them, nor cast them from His presence as yet” (II Kings 13:23).

Soon, however, time would no longer be on Israel’s side. The rapidly growing Assyrian Empire was beginning to expand to the west and the south, encroaching on the territories still held by the northern tribes. The Assyrians were powerful militarily, and bent on conquest. Indeed, they would make the perfect “rod of correction” (see Isaiah 10:5) in God’s hand as He prepared to carry out His ominous warning of complete national captivity for the House of Israel.


1. God had much earlier promised Jacob that his descendants would include kings (Gen. 35:11), and the tribe of Judah was promised the scepter (Gen. 49:10). Thus, it was apparently God’s intent all along for Israel to eventually have a human king—but in His way and time. The problem here in I Samuel was that Israel lacked faith in God; their demand for a king—someone they could physically look to—was essentially idolatrous.