Kingdom of Israel: Dynasties, Prophets & Decline

Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has a bachelor's degree in literature and religious studies and a master's degree in religious studies and teaches Hebrew Bible at Western Kentucky University.

The northern kingdom of Israel has a fascinating and tumultuous history from its beginnings after the division of Solomon's kingdom until its capture by the Assyrians. This lesson will explain this history and how prophets provided commentary on what the rulers were doing during this time.

Beginnings: Northern Kingdom of Israel

Most people have probably heard of King David, the infamous ''man after God's own heart'' of Judaism. But David's reign is only a small part of the larger--and politically tumultuous--picture of the monarchy of ancient Israel. According to the Tanakh, the sacred text of Judaism, David was a great ruler who followed God--but then Solomon, one of his sons, took over. Under Solomon's reign, Israel was prosperous, but Solomon made alliances with foreign nations and allowed worship of other gods which caused a division in the kingdom.

This led to the beginnings of two different kingdoms: the southern kingdom of Judah, ruled by Solomon's son Rehoboam, and the northern kingdom of Israel, ruled by Jeroboam I who had revolted against Solomon's rule. While there were many shortcomings of Judah and its leadership, the kingdom had one important thing going for it that Israel did not have: the Temple. The Temple was the central focus of ancient Judaism, and most Jews thought that it, in some way, housed the presence of God.

Sketch of the First Temple (Solomon

Prophets and Polemic

Without the Temple, the legacy of the northern kingdom of Israel was not off to a great start, and many prophets spoke out about this. In ancient Judaism, a prophet was thought to literally be a ''messenger'' of God. The prophet would perform miracles, relay messages, and--quite importantly for our discussion of Israel--engage in a polemic against the leadership. A polemic is essentially a critique of something or speaking out against it, and this was one of the key functions of a prophet when there was a monarchy. Many of the books of the prophets in the Hebrew Bible, like Amos with its emphasis on coming judgment for all, are polemics on the corruption of the monarchy and the faithlessness of the Israelites.

Dynasties, Rulers, and Destruction

As with any monarchy, Israel has a rich history of rulers and dynasties (family lines of rulers) for the 300 years or so that it existed. Jeroboam I, as mentioned earlier, was the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel after having rebelled against Solomon, the king of the united monarchy of Israel. With much of the historical portions of the Tanakh written in the kingdom of Judah, it is unsurprising that Israel is portrayed poorly from what we know about its history. Jeroboam I is no different: the Tanakh explains how he worshiped and sacrificed to God in places other than the Temple which was not allowed.

Omride Dynasty

After Jeroboam I's rule (and several kings later), King Omri takes over as the king of Israel. Omri is not described as a terrible king and moves the capital of Israel to Samaria. What is of particular importance about him, though, is that he is the head of the Omride Dynasty. Part of this dynasty and the son of Omri, King Ahab becomes the ruler of Israel. While he is a relatively good ruler at first, his virtue quickly changes when he marries Jezebel who is the daughter of the king of Tyre, another ancient nation. Jezebel has an enormous influence on Ahab and convinces him to institute worship of Ba'al instead of the Israelite God. Jezebel continues the theme of the temptress leading men astray that is found throughout the Tanakh, beginning with Eve and continuing with figures like Delilah and Solomon's wives. Ahab's daughter, Athaliah, continues this theme when she marries the king of Judah. This briefly brings peace to the two kingdoms as Athaliah institutes Ba'al worship in Judah.

Rebellion, Decline, and Destruction

Back in Israel, a man named Jehu realizes the corruption of the monarchy and tries and succeeds in ending the Omride Dynasty, causing him to become king. Jehu reinstitutes worship of the Israelite God, but a few kings later, Jeroboam II sets up idols to be worshiped. While Jeroboam II's reign is incredibly prosperous, according to archaeological evidence, Israel is supposed to focus on the exclusive worship of the Israelite God.

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