THE DIVIDED KINGDOM
Revolt against Rehoboam, I Kings 12
Upon the death of Solomon, his son, Rehoboam takes the throne. When the people cry out to him for tax relief, he foolishly ignores the advice of his elders, and takes the advice of his friends: he speaks to the people harshly, threatening to raise their taxes even higher. Predictably, the people leave him; he remains in authority over Judah and Benjamin, but the other tribes leave him. From this point forward, there are two kingdoms: the northern kingdom of Israel, and the southern kingdom of Judah. Of course, all of this is part of God's plan, as consequences of Solomon's unfaithfulness, verse 15.
Jeroboam is the first king of the northern kingdom. Rather than being full of gratitude for what Jehovah had done for him, in handing him a kingdom to which he had no rightful claim, he immediately begins setting up his own religion. Ironically, he makes golden calves, and says exactly the same thing about them that was said about the one in the wilderness! (Compare verse 28 with Exodus 32:4.) Note carefully that Jeroboam's reason for establishing the new priesthood, feast days, etc., is purely political, verses 26-28. It is a characteristic of godless men and women to use religion to advance their political and social agendas. It is also a characteristic of godless men and women to make up their own religious organizations and observances, just as Jeroboam did. In chapter 13, God sends a prophet to rebuke and warn Jeroboam. When Jeroboam continues to sin, God pronounces judgment upon him, 14:7-11.
Sadly, Jeroboam was not the only evil king of Israel. On the contrary, every single king of the northern kingdom was wicked. The moral climate and character grew steadily worse and worse.
For his part, Rehoboam was not a godly man (II Chronicles 12:13-14), and the morality of Judah declined during his reign (I Kings 14:21-24). There were some godly men among the kings of Judah, most notably Hezekiah (II Kings 18-20) and Josiah (II Kings 22-23). Because of these men, the presence of the priests and the temple, the moral decline in Judah was slower than it was in Israel. However, the overall trend was away from God and His law, and toward worldliness and sin.
Throughout this period, God sent prophets to warn the people of the consequences of their sins, and to urge them to return to God's law. These prophets included such men as Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Micah, Amos, and Hosea. However, the people did not heed the prophets, and thus sealed their own doom. God used evil and idolatrous nations to punish them.
The northern kingdom of Israel fell to Assyria in 721 BC, the people were taken as captives to live in foreign lands, and others were brought in to settle the land God had given them, II Kings 17:5-23.
The southern kingdom fell to Babylon, and her people taken captive, somewhat later. Jerusalem was utterly destroyed by the Chaldeans in 586 BC, II Kings 25:1-21.
The Promise Continues
Even as the prophets warn the people of Gods' judgment on their sins, their message is not without hope. On the contrary, God continues to promise ultimate salvation for His people. He continues to promise to raise up a King from the line of David whose reign will be everlasting, e.g. Isaiah 9:6-7. He promises to establish a new and different kind of covenant with his people, Jeremiah 31:31-34. In connection with these things, He promises to establish a new Zion, from which His law will go forth, and to which the Gentiles will flow, Isaiah 2:1-4. In short, He promises to establish a new kind of kingdom, with a new kind of King. All of His faithful will dwell in this new kingdom, Isaiah 51:1-11.