One cannot unlock the mystery in Bible prophecy without this indispensable key.
By Stephen Flurry
Most are familiar with the term “twelve tribes of Israel”; those who descended from the 12 sons of Jacob (whose name God changed to Israel): Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher (Genesis 35:22-26). When the Israelites arrived in the Promised Land under Joshua, each tribe was given its own district, except for the priestly tribe of Levi, which mingled among all the tribes. Also, Joseph had separated into two tribes by this time—Ephraim and Manasseh. Both were assigned their own district. So, technically, there were 13 tribes, but 12 districts. Except for Levi, the tribes mostly kept to themselves. Yet they were united as one nation, the nation of Israel, much like the 50 states in America.
Israel reached its height as an empire during the reigns of King David and his son Solomon. God had made an unbreakable covenant with David that his kingly dynasty would continue right up to the return of Christ. God said in Jeremiah 33:17 that David’s royal line would never end.
But because of Solomon’s sexual perversion and idol worship, God said, “I will surely rend the kingdom from thee” (1 Kings 11:11). God, however, promised to preserve one tribe for David’s sake (verse 13).
Solomon died in 926 b.c. The people begged his son Rehoboam to relieve them of the unbearable taxes his father had instituted (1 Kings 12:4). Rehoboam disdainfully replied, “My father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions” (verse 11). Ten Israelite tribes rebelled against Rehoboam and seceded from the kingdom. They chose Jeroboam as their ruler. “There was none that followed the house of David, but the tribe of Judah only” (1 Kings 12:20). God’s prophecy was fulfilled. Israel separated into two kingdoms.
Rehoboam tried to subdue the rebels and preserve unity in Israel. He succeeded in retaining the tribe of Benjamin (verse 21). Most of the tribe of Levi also joined Rehoboam’s forces. But God finally told him to stop fighting with Israel, “for this thing is from me” (verse 24).
Before Israel separated into two nations, all Jews were considered Israelites. After the division, Jews were no longer called Israelites. The Bible calls them Judah. When the dust settled, the 10 seceding tribes moved their capital north to Samaria and chose Jeroboam as king. It is they who retained the name “Israel,” not Rehoboam’s kingdom. The smaller southern kingdom retained Jerusalem as its capital, but became known as Judah. God’s prophecy came true. He did rend the kingdom of Israel from Solomon’s descendants. He left only a small “part” for Rehoboam, and that only because of the covenant He had made with David!
From this point forward, the Bible deals with Israel and Judah as two separate nations. They dwelt in separate, yet adjoining, regions. Each had different kings. They were constantly fighting each other. “And there was war between Rehoboam [Judah] and Jeroboam [Israel] all their days” (1 Kings 14:30).
As soon as Jeroboam gained control of the northern kingdom, he rejected God’s holy days and introduced idol-worship into the nation. This continued over many generations. God constantly pleaded with Israel through His prophets, warning them to return to their former ways. Israel refused. So God promised to “root up Israel out of this good land” to be scattered abroad over the face of the Earth (1 Kings 14:15).
God used the Assyrians to root them up. “And Pul the king of Assyria came against the land” (2 Kings 15:19). Assyriologists attribute the name “Pul” to Tiglath-Pileser iii, who ruled from 745-727b.c. Menahem, king of Israel, quickly submitted to Assyrian aggression and paid tribute to Pul with much silver and gold (verse 20). He appeased Pul, but infuriated his own people who despised the burdensome taxes.
Angered by Menahem’s compromise, an Israeli army officer named Pekah killed Menahem’s son and ascended to the throne. Pekah entered into a military alliance with Rezin, king of Damascus, in hopes of thwarting Assyrian advances. Other Phoenician and Arabian states joined the alliance. But King Ahaz of Judah, the southern kingdom, obstinately rejected it. 2 Kings 16:5 says that Rezin and Pekah descended upon Jerusalem to force Ahaz into the defensive league. Judah resisted. The league, however, did succeed in driving the Jews out of Elath (verse 6).