The Civil War of Israel

1 Now King Solomon loved many foreign women: the daughter of Pharaoh, and Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, 2 from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, "You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods"; Solomon clung to these in love. 3 He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. 4 For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. 5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 6 So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done. 7 Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. 8 And so he did for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods. 9 And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, 10 and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not keep what the LORD commanded. 11 Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, "Since this has been your mind and 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. 12 Yet for the sake of David your father I will not do it in your days, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. 13 However I will not tear away all the kingdom; but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen.". (1 Kgs 11:1-13)

This episode was, in a sense, the ugliest act in Israel’s history. Solomon, King of Israel, Son of the beloved King David, recipient of God’s gift of wisdom, repudiated the covenant. He worshipped false gods, so God punished him. His punishment was to tear the kingdom from his dynasty. This word, tear, is an interesting choice; the kingdom was ultimately torn in two:

29 And at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Now Ahijah had clad himself with a new garment; and the two of them were alone in the open country. 30 Then Ahijah laid hold of the new garment that was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces. 31 And he said to Jeroboam, "Take for yourself ten pieces; for thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and will give you ten tribes 32 (but he shall have one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel), 33 because he has forsaken me, and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and has not walked in my ways, doing what is right in my sight and keeping my statutes and my ordinances, as David his father did. 34 Nevertheless 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, who kept my commandments and my statutes; 35 but I will take the kingdom out of his son's hand, and will give it to you, ten tribes. 36 Yet to his son I will give one tribe, that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I have chosen to put my name. (1 Kgs 11:29-36)

God rose up Jeraboam as Solomon’s adversary, and God promised him ten of the twelve tribes of Israel, leaving Solomon’s dynasty with only one. Recall that the land of Israel was divided between eleven of the twelve tribes, each tribe having a portion of the land, like a state. Also recall that the tribe of Levi were priests, and so received no land of their own, but they served as priests in each tribal land. So, ten of the eleven tribal lands would go to Jeroboam, while the house of David would retain only Judah, the land which included the royal city of Jerusalem. After this prophesy, Solomon died and his son, Rehoboam, became king of Israel. As God told Solomon, the nation was torn apart during his reign. Rehoboam was young and impetuous; he decided to prove his power through greater tyranny, which triggered a civil war against him, led by Jeroboam.

16 And when all Israel saw that the king did not hearken to them, the people answered the king, "What portion have we in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, David." So Israel departed to their tents. 17 But Rehoboam reigned over the people of Israel who dwelt in the cities of Judah. 18 Then King Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was taskmaster over the forced labor, and all Israel stoned him to death with stones. And King Rehoboam made haste to mount his chariot, to flee to Jerusalem. 19 So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day. 20 And when all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. There was none that followed the house of David, but the tribe of Judah only. (1 kgs 12:16-20)

The kingdom of Israel was torn in two, never to be re-united. What is the meaning of this? Remember that it started with Solomon, a type of Christ who turned into the type of the anti-christ (see here). This was the first instance in OT history where a leader of God’s people repudiated the covenant. Others disobeyed God, but no other leader repudiated the covenant. As such, the whole of Israel under his leadership suffered the punishment. This is the cause of the punishment; now let’s look at the punishment itself.

The dynasty of King David/King Solomon lived on, so this was not a significant personal punishment. The significance was in the idea of Israel changing from a single nation into two nations. There is meaning in this idea of separation into two. For ancient Israel, separation was a meaningful concept, for they were to maintain their religious integrity through separation from the other nations. Notice Solomon married foreign wives; he entered into nuptial covenants with those wives and those nations, falling into their idol worship, which is what separation tried to protect against. The idea that Israel was God’s own, while the other nations were not, was a simple microcosm of the relationship between God and humanity – we are separated from God, unless we enter into His covenant. Separation is, then, a foundational idea in our religion. We are either separated into two (God vs man), or we are united as one (God and man united); this is the very basis of religion.

This dichotomy was written into the dawn of humanity in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were told not to eat from a tree with a very curious name: the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The name of this tree speaks to this dichotomy – we are either united with God (good) or not united with Him (evil). Adam and Eve were created in a state of good; but by disobeying God, they introduced something new into the world: separation from God, the tragedy of dichotomy. They sinned against Him, which resulted in their becoming afraid of Him, instead of being at peace with him. So the world suffered until God Himself entered the world, as the God-man Jesus Christ. By His hypostatic union of the Divine and human, Jesus once and for all resolved the ancient separation between God and humanity. This hypostatic union and its resolution of original sin is, perhaps, the essential of Christianity.

The civil war that resulted in separating Judah from the rest of Israel, is one of many scriptural types of this cosmic separation. As we read further in 1st and 2nd Kings, the southern kingdom of Judah maintained a succession of kings of the Davidic dynasty. The northern kingdom of Israel (with its capital city of Samaria, by the way), spawned a series of evil kings, each with a very short dynasty; most of these Israelite kings engaged in idol worship and the nation, as a result, succumbed to idol worship. Israel was permanently destroyed around 722 B.C. by Assyria. The region became known as Samaria and its people, Samaritans – the result of breeding between the ten tribes of Israel and other peoples forced on them by the Assyrians. The blood lines of those tribes were permanently lost. The Davidic dynasty in Judah lasted, however, until around 597 B.C., when Babylon conquered Judah. The Jews were exiled, but later allowed to return after Babylon was conquered by Persia and the new Persian emperor, Cyrus, re-built the temple for them. Although the Davidic dynasty ended, Judah lived on as a vassal state under various rules, until Jesus’ day; the Jews of Judah maintained their ethnic identity as a people.

After the destruction of Israel by Assyria, God sent prophets to Judah, promising a Messiah who would re-unite all twelve tribes of Israel. That seemed difficult, considering that ten tribes had inter-married into obscurity.

11 In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant which is left of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Ethiopia, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea. 12 He will raise an ensign for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. (Is 11:11-12)

3 Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, says the LORD. 5 "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. (Jer 23:3-6)

So, it seems Jesus, the righteous branch, re-united Israel. How? He made a new Israel, which is the Church. It is a universal Church, beckoning all people from every nation. Although the bloodlines of ancient Israel are lost, they nevertheless exist in various people, combined with the DNA of other nations. And it is these various people who are called to the Church; the twelve tribes are united once again. Here we see Jesus fulfilling the letter of the prophecy, re-uniting all Israel, as well as fulfilling the spirit of the prophecy, which is the end of separation, of conflict, between God and humanity, and the restoration of peace.

A final comment: We must remember that Israel and Judah are not the same things. After the civil war, they were two distinct and separate nations. Scripture written after the destruction of Israel by Assyria, most notably the NT, refer to Israel only in terms of a long-gone nation. We must keep this in mind as we read. More often than not, such references to Israel are meant to conjure images of the unity promised with the Messiah.