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CHAPTER XXV.

THE DISRUPTION.

1 Kings xii. 6-20.

"It was of the Lord." It is no small proof of the insight and courageous faithfulness of the historian that he accepts without question the verdict of ancient prophecy that the disruption was God's doing; for everything which happened in the four subsequent centuries, alike in Judah and in Israel, seemed to belie this pious conviction. We, in the light of later history, are now able to see that the disseverance of Israel's unity worked out results of eternal advantage to mankind; but in the sixth century before Christ no event could have seemed to be so absolutely disastrous. It must have worn the aspect of an extinction of the glory of the House of Jacob. It involved the obliteration of the great majority of the descendants of the patriarchs, and the reduction of the rest to national insignificance and apparently hopeless servitude. Throughout those centuries of troubled history, in the struggle for existence which was the lot of both kingdoms alike, it was difficult to say whether their antagonism or their friendship, their open wars or their matrimonial alliances, were productive of the greater ruin. Each section of the nation fatally hampered and counterpoised the other with a perpetual rivalry and276 menace. Ephraim envied Judah, and Judah vexed Ephraim. In extreme cases the south was ready to purchase the intervention of Syria, or even of Assyria, to check and overwhelm its northern rival, while the north could raise up Egypt or Edom to harass the southern kingdom with intolerable raids.

To us the Southern Kingdom, the kingdom of Judah, seems the more important and the more interesting division of the people. It became the heir of all the promises, the nurse of the Messianic hope, the mother of the four greater prophets, the continuer of all the subsequent history after the glory of Israel had been stamped out by Assyria for ever.

1. But such was not the aspect presented by the kingdom of Judah to contemporary observers. On the contrary, Judah seemed to be a paltry and accidental fragment—one tribe, dissevered from the magnificent unity of Israel. Nothing redeemed it from impotence and obliteration but the splendid possessions of Jerusalem and the Temple, which guaranteed the often threatened perpetuity of the House of David. The future seemed to be wholly with Israel when men compared the relative size and population of the disunited tribes. Judah comprised little more than the environs of Jerusalem. Except Jerusalem, Mizpeh, Gibeon, and Hebron, it had no famous shrines and centres of national traditions. It could not even claim the southern town of Beersheba as a secure possession.456456   In 1 Kings xix. 3 it is reckoned as belonging to Judah (comp. Josh. xv. 28), being really a town of Simeon (Josh. xix. 2); but from Amos v. 5, viii. 14, we should infer that it was at any rate largely frequented by Israelites. The tribe of Simeon had melted away into a shadow, if not into non-existence, amid the277 surrounding populations, and its territory was under the kings of Judah; but they did not even possess the whole of Benjamin, and if that little tribe was nominally reckoned with them, it was only because part of their capital city was in Benjamite territory, to which belonged the valley of Hinnom. To Israel, on the other hand, pertained all the old local sanctuaries and scenes of great events. On the east of Jordan they held Mahanaim; on the west Jericho, near as it was to Jerusalem, and Bethel with its sacred stone of Jacob, and Gilgal with its memorial of the conquest, and Shechem the national place of assembly, and Accho and Joppa on the sea shore. Israel, too, inherited all the predominance over Moab and Ammon, and the Philistines, which had been secured by conquest in the reign of David.457457   1 Kings xvi. 34; 2 Kings ii. 4.

2. Then, again, the greatest heroes of tradition had been sons of the northern tribes. The fame of Joshua was theirs, of Deborah and Barak, of fierce Jephthah, of kingly Gideon, and of bold Abimelech. Holy Samuel, the leader of the prophets, and heroic Saul, the first of the kings, had been of their kith and kin. Judah could only claim the bright personality of David, and the already tarnished glories of Solomon, which men did not yet see through the mirage of legend but in the prosaic light of every day.

3. Again, the Northern Kingdom was unhampered by the bad example and erroneous development of the preceding royalty. Jeroboam had not stained his career with crimes like David; nor had he sunk, as Solomon had done, into polygamy and idolatry. It seemed unlikely that he, with so fatal an example278 before his eyes, could be tempted into oppressive tyranny, futile commerce, or luxurious ostentation. He could found a new dynasty, free from the trammels of a bad commencement, and as fully built on Divine command as that of the House of Jesse.

4. Nor was it a small advantage that the new kingdom had an immense superiority over its southern compeer in richness of soil and beauty of scenery. To it belonged the fertile plain of Jezreel, rolling with harvests of golden grain. Its command of Accho gave it access to the treasures of the shore and of the sea. To it belonged the purple heights of Carmel, of which the very name meant "a garden of God"; and the silver Lake of Galilee, with its inexhaustible swarms of fish; and the fields of Gennesareth, which were a wonder of the world for their tropical luxuriance. Theirs also were the lilied waters and paper-reeds of Merom, and the soft, green, park-like scenery of Gerizim, and the roses of Sharon, and the cedars of Lebanon, and the vines and fig trees and ancient terebinths of all the land of Ephraim, and the forest glades of Zebulon and Naphtali, and the wild uplands beyond the Jordan—which were all far different from the "awful barrenness" of Judah, with its monotony of rounded hills.458458   See Stanley, Lectures on the Jewish Church, ii. 269-71.

5. Under these favourable conditions three great advantages were exceptionally developed in the Northern Kingdom.

(1) It evidently enjoyed a larger freedom as well as a greater prosperity. How gay and bright, how festive and musical, how worldly and luxurious, was the life of the wealthy and the noble in the ivory palaces and279 on the gorgeous divans of Samaria and Jezreel, as we read of it in the pages of the contemporary prophets!459459   Amos v. 11, vi. 4-6. Naboth and Shemer show themselves as independent of tyranny as any sturdy dalesman or feudal noble, and "the great lady of Shunem, on the slopes of Esdraelom, in her well-known home, is a sample of Israelite life in the north as true as that of the reaper Boaz in the south. She leaves her home under the pressure of famine, and goes down to the plains of Philistia. When she returns and finds a stranger in her corn-fields, she insists on restitution, even at the hand of the king himself."460460   2 Kings iv. 18, 22, viii. 1-6; Stanley, ii. 271.

(2) The Ten Tribes also developed a more brilliant literature. Some of the most glowing psalms are probably of northern origin, as well as the Song of Deborah, and the work of the writer who is now generally recognised by critics under the name of the Deuteronomist. The loveliest poem produced by Jewish literature—the Song of Songs—bears on every page the impress of the beautiful and imaginative north. The fair girl of Shunem loves her leopard-haunted hills, and the vernal freshness of her northern home, more than the perfumed chambers of Solomon's seraglio; and her poet is more charmed with the lustre and loveliness of Tirzah than with the palaces and Temple of Jerusalem. The Book of Job may have originated in the Northern Kingdom, from which also sprang the best historians of the Jewish race.461461   See Ewald, iv. 9 (E. T.).

(3) But the main endowment of the new kingdom consisted in the magnificent development and independence of the prophets.

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It was not till after the overthrow of the Ten Tribes that the glory of prophecy migrated southwards, and Jerusalem produced the mighty triad of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. For the two and a half centuries that the Northern Kingdom lasted scarcely one prophet is heard of in Judah except the scarcely known Hanani, and Eliezer, the son of Mareshah,462462   2 Chron. xx. 37. who is little more than a nominis umbra. To the north belongs the great herald-prophet of the Old Dispensation, the mighty Elijah; the softer spirit of the statesman-prophet Elisha; the undaunted Micaiah, son of Imlah; the picturesque Micah; the historic Jonah; the plaintive Hosea; and that bold and burning patriot, a fragment of whose prophecy now forms part of the Book of Zechariah. Amos, indeed, belonged by birth to Tekoa, which was in Judah, but his prophetic activity was confined to Bethel and Jezreel. The Schools of the Prophets at Ramah, Bethel, Jericho, and Gilgal were all in Israel. The passages in the third section of the Book of Zechariah are alone sufficient to show how vast was the influence in the affairs of the nation of the prophets of the north, and how fearless their intervention. Even when they were most fiercely persecuted, they were not afraid to beard the most powerful kings—an Ahab and a Jeroboam II.—in all their pride.463463   Zech. xi. 4-17, xiii. 7-9. Samaria and Galilee were rich in prophetic lives; and they, too, were the destined scene of the life of Him of whom all the prophets prophesied, and from whose inspiration they drew their heavenly fire.

Against these advantages, however, must be set two serious and ultimately fatal drawbacks—germs of disease which lay in the very constitution of the kingdom, and from the first doomed it to death.

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One of these was the image-worship, of which I shall speak in a later section; the other was the lack of one predominant and continuous dynasty.

The royalty of the north did not spring up through long years of gradual ascendency, and could not originally appeal to splendid services and heroic memories. Jeroboam was a man of humble, and, if tradition says truly, of tainted origin. He was not a usurper, for he was called to the throne by the voice of prophecy and the free spontaneous choice of his people; but in Solomon's days he had been a potential if not an actual rebel. He set the example of successful revolt, and it was eagerly followed by many a soldier and general of similar antecedents. In the short space of two hundred and forty-five years there were no less than nine changes of dynasty, of which those of Jeroboam, Baasha, Kobolam,464464   If we may regard Kobolam as a real person (2 Kings xv. 10, LXX.). Thus, in the Northern Kingdom twenty kings belong to nine different dynasties in two hundred and forty-five years; and in the Southern only nineteen kings of one dynasty rule for three hundred and forty-five years. Menahem, consisted only of a father and son. There were at least four isolated or partial kings: Zimri, Tibni, Pekah, and Hosea. Only two dynasties, those of Omri and Jehu, succeeded in maintaining themselves for even four or five generations, and they, like the others, were at last quenched in blood. The close of the kingdom in its usurpations, massacres, and catastrophes reminds us of nothing so much as the disastrous later days of the Roman Empire, when the purple was so often rent by the dagger-thrust, and it was rare for emperors to die a natural death. The kingdom which had risen from a sea of blood set in the same red waves.

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On the other hand, whatever may have been the drawback of the small and hampered Southern Kingdom, it had several conspicuous advantages. It had a settled and incomparable capital, which could be rendered impregnable against all ordinary assaults; while the capital of the Northern Kingdom shifted from Shechem to Penuel465465   Jeroboam lived for a time at Penuel, on the east of the Jordan, perhaps to escape all danger from Shishak's invasion. For Penuel, on the eastern side of the Jabbok, see Gen. xxxii. 22, 30; Judg. viii. 8, 17. It was important as commanding the caravan route from Damascus to Shechem. and Tirzah, and from Tirzah to Samaria and Jezreel. It had the blessing of a loyal people, and of the all-but-unbroken continuity of one loved and cherished dynasty for nearly four centuries. It had the yet greater blessing of producing not a few kings who more or less fully attained to the purity of the theocratic ideal. Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah, were good and high-minded kings, and the two latter were religious reformers. Whatever may have been the sins and shortcomings of Judah—and they were often very heinous—still the prophets bear witness that her transgressions were less incurable than those of her sister Samaria. All good men began to look to Jerusalem as the nursing mother of the Promised Deliverer. "Out of Judah," said the later Zechariah, "shall come forth the corner stone, out of him the nail, out of him the battle bow, out of him every governor together."466466   Zech. x. 4 (R.V., "exactors"). Amos was born in Judah; Hoshea took refuge there; the later Zechariah laboured (ix., xi., xiii. 7-9) for the fusion of the two kingdoms. From the unknown, or little known, seers who endeavoured to watch over the infant destinies of Judah, to the283 mighty prophets who inspired her early resistance to Assyria, or menaced her apostasy with ruin at the hands of Babylon, she rarely lacked for any long period the inspired guidance of moral teachers. If Judah was for many years behindhand in power, in civilisation, in literature, even in the splendour of prophetic inspiration, she still managed on the whole to uplift to the nations the standard of righteousness. That standard was often fiercely assaulted, but the standard-bearers did not faint. The torn remnants of the old ideal were still upheld by faithful hands. Neither the heathen tendencies of princes nor the vapid ceremonialism of priests were allowed unchallenged to usurp the place of religion pure and undefiled. The later Judæan prophets, and especially the greatest of them, rose to a spirituality which had never yet been attained, and was never again equalled till the rise of the Son of Righteousness with healing in His wings.

How clearly, then, do we see the truth of the prophetic announcement that the disruption of the kingdom was "of the Lord"! Out of apparent catastrophe was evolved infinite reparation. The abandonment of the Davidic dynasty of the Ten Tribes looked like earthly ruin. It did indeed hasten the final overthrow of all national autonomy; but that would have come in any case, humanly speaking, from Assyria, or Babylonia, Persia, or the Seleucids, or the Ptolemies, or Rome. On the other hand, it fostered a religious power and concentration which were of more value to the world than any other blessings. "On all the past greatness and glory of Israel," says Ewald,467467   Hist. of Isr., iv. 12. "Judah cast its free and cheerful gaze. Before its kings floated the vision284 of great ancestors; before its prophets examples like those of Nathan and Gad; before the whole people the memory of its lofty days. And so it affords us no unworthy example of the honourable part which may be played for many centuries in the history of the world, and the rich blessings which may be imparted, even by a little kingdom, provided it adheres faithfully to the eternal truth. The gain to the higher life of humanity acquired under the earthly protection of this petty monarchy far outweighs all that has been attempted or accomplished for the permanent good of man by many much larger states." "The people of Israel goes under," says Stade, "but the religion of Israel triumphs over the powers of the world, while it changes its character from the religion of a people into a religion of the world." This development of religion, as he proceeds to point out, was mainly due to the long, slow enfeeblement of the people through many centuries, until at last it had acquired a force which enabled it to survive the political annihilation of the nationality from which it sprang.

In reality both kingdoms gained under the appearance of total loss. "Every people called to high destinies," says Renan, "ought to be a small complete world, enclosing opposed poles within its bosom. Greece had at a few leagues from each other, Sparta and Athens, two antipodes to a superficial observer, but in reality rival sisters, necessary the one to the other. It was the same in Palestine."

The high merit of the historian of the two kingdoms appears in this, that, without entangling himself in details, and while he contents himself with sweeping and summary judgments, he established a moral view of history which has been ratified by the experience285 of the world. He shows us how the tottering and insignificant kingdom of Judah, secured by God's promise, and rising through many backslidings into higher spirituality and faithfulness, not only out-lasted for a century the overthrow of its far more powerful rival, but kept alive the torch of faith, and handed it on to the nations of many centuries across the dust and darkness of intervening generations. And in drawing this picture he helped to secure the fulfilment of his own ideal, for he inspired into many a patriot and many a reformer the indomitable faith in God which has enabled men, in age after age, to defy obloquy and opposition, to face the prison and the sword, secure in the ultimate victory of God's truth and God's righteousness amidst the most seemingly absolute failure, and against the most apparently overwhelming odds.


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