To understand the history of Israel after David, we have to know what happened to make two kingdoms out of one kingdom and what happened right after. Otherwise it will be hard to follow what’s going on after 1 Kings chapter 11 and after and 2 Kings; as well as after 2 Chronicles chapter 11.
King Solomon had violated Deuteronomy 17:17 that said Israel’s king should not multiply wives to himself. The purpose of this commandment was so that his wives would not take his heart away from the Lord his God. He had 700 pagan wives. Throughout his 40 year reign he accommodated them by setting up idols in the holy land in honor of their various demonic religions. His heart was turned away from Yahweh just as the commandment in Deuteronomy predicted.
The Lord grew angry with King Solomon and told him in 1 Kings 11:11, “Because you have done this, and have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant.” God decided to take away 10 tribes from the house of David and give them to a man named Jeroboam, son of Nebat. Jeroboam had been the manager of the northern 10 tribes (called the house of Joseph) workforce during the building of the temple in Jerusalem. He was very courageous, industrious, and smart. He was the kind of man any business would love to have as a foreman or manager. The Lord chose Jeroboam undoubtedly because of his attributes and abilities that he had proved throughout the massive Temple-building project.
So it was the Lord who, because of his anger toward Solomon, split the kingdom which had been united for 120 years under King Saul, King David and King Solomon. They would become two kingdoms after Solomon’s death. Here is what the Lord told Jeroboam through the prophet Ahijah, in 1 Kings 11:37,”Then it shall be, if you heed all that I command you, walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build for you an enduring house, as I built for David, and will give Israel [the 10 nothern tribes] to you.”
In 1 Kings 12 we read that when Solomon’s firstborn son Rehoboam took over the throne after his father died, the 10 northern tribes asked him to lighten the heavy load that Solomon had put on them. And that if he did, they would serve him forever. Rehoboam denied their plea. He told them he would make their lives even a lot harder. The 10 northern tribes revolted and made Jeroboam their king. When Rehoboam mustered Judah to fight the 10 northern tribes, the Lord stopped the action; and told them that the split was from him.
So now, there were two Israeli kingdoms under two kings: Jeroboam up north and Rehoboam down south. The northern kingdom was called Israel (or sometimes Ephraim, or Joseph) made up of 10 tribes; and the southern kingdom was called Judah made up of two tribes, Judah and Benjamin (also, they had Levi, the tribe not normally counted since they didn’t get inherited land). There were 2 capitals: Samaria up north, Jerusalem down south. A good way to remember which king is which is to take their initials, J and R, which looks like the abbreviation for “Junior.” Read the letters top to bottom; J up top (Jeroboam up north) and R at the bottom (Rehoboam down south). Hope that helps.
Now that they are split, things take a tragic turn in the 10 northern tribes: their new King Jeroboam feared that if his adult male citizens visited the southern capital, Jerusalem, to go to the Temple that Solomon had built, to appear before the Lord three times a year, Passover, Pentecost and the feast of Tabernacles, as God’s law required, that he would lose their loyalty. He also thought they would assassinate him and return to Rehoboam, and reunite the kingdom. In other words, he believed that he would lose the kingdom that the Lord himself had promised if he let his people obey the Lord. Imagine that kind of thinking. His fear, which was quite practical in one sense, was totally false in reality. Why would he think that the God who had promised him an enduring dynasty on the one hand would have him lose it through letting his people obey Him? Senseless madness from such an intelligent man.
He let his fears lead him into serious sin: He decided that instead of his people going down to Jerusalem 3 times a year that he would give them another religion to follow. He made two calves of gold. He set one in the city of Bethel, and the other one way up north in Dan. He told them that these were their gods that led them out of the land of Egypt. He quoted the high priest Aaron who said the same thing at Sinai when he made a golden calf from the pressure of the impatient Israelites. Jeroboam also kicked the Levites out of their spiritual offices. Jeroboam did all this so that his men would never go down to Jerusalem. He had hoped to secure their loyalty by doing this.
Ironically, the very thing he “greatly feared came upon him” (Job 3:25). Many of his people did leave because of the false religion that he had set up in the kingdom up north. 1 Chronicles 11:13-17a tells us in detail what happened, “The priests and the Levites who were in all Israel (up north) resorted to him (i.e.,to Rehoboam, down south) out of all their border. 14 For the Levites left their suburbs and their possession, and came to Judah and Jerusalem: for Jeroboam and his sons cast them off, that they should not execute the priest’s office to Yahweh; 15 and he appointed him priests for the high places, and for the male goats, and for the calves which he had made. 16 After them, out of all the tribes of Israel, such as set their hearts to seek Yahweh, the God of Israel, came to Jerusalem to sacrifice to Yahweh, the God of their fathers. 17 So they strengthened the kingdom of Judah, and made Rehoboam the son of Solomon strong. . . “
If Jeroboam had allowed his people to obey the Lord by letting them go down to the other capital as God required, he would have kept their loyalty. God certainly would not have allowed Jeroboam to lose his citizens if he let them obey the Lord! After all, God wanted them split in two, (for now, that is, until Messiah Jesus restores them as one kingdom under [resurrected] David. See Ez. 37:15-28).
How foolish, tragic, and terrible were the effects of the sin of Jeroboam son of Nebat in setting up the false golden calf religion for the 10 northern tribes. As a result, all the godly people up north emigrated south in order to get out of Jeroboam’s ungodly reign. That means that they had to leave their ancient inheritances up north. What a terrible thing for those people. It also meant that the people who were left there were ungodly or apathetic about following Yahweh; or perhaps even preferred the golden calves religion. Israel, the 10 northern tribes, never had one godly king from 930 B.C (the start of Jeroboam’s reign) to the time that they were scattered out of the land 208 years later in 722 B.C., under King Hoshea’s reign, by the Assyrians. During that time, the north had 20 evil kings.
The 10 northern tribes never departed from “the sin of Jeroboam son of Nebat” (an expression used very often in later passages). This sin caused them to be removed from the Promised Land to this day. All because the brand-new King Jeroboam, son of Nebat, let fear instead of faith rule him; and led them all into idolatry. What a cautionary account for us all, that unrepentant sin destroys what God promises. See 1 Corinthians 10:6-7a;11-12: “6 Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. 7 Don’t be idolaters, as some of them were. . . 11 Now all these things happened to them by way of example, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands be careful that he doesn’t fall.