By Rabbi Herbert Parzen, Portland, Oregon
Before approaching our main task, the causes of the Division, it is perhaps essential to point out the methodology we intend to pursue and the sources we propose to follow.
The Bible is our chief and sole source. But the Biblical books do not contain merely historical documents and data. The Bible is not interested in history as such. Scripture represents a philosophy of history, a divine philosophy of history, a divine “Weltanschauung.” This philosophy teaches that God is the Center of history and that He guides the destiny of man and nations and particularly that of Israel. The facts are arranged to point out and to teach man moral lessons. It is therefore necessary to divest the facts from the didactic purposes of Biblical Literature in order to evaluate them for historical study. This we attempt in this essay.
In accordance with this plan, we have not made use of any secondary sources. Hence, this study is based upon a careful examination of Biblical Historical Books only.
Now we are ready to proceed to the discussion of the subject and its various problems.
King Solomon died. Judaea immediately acclaimed his son Rehoboam as its sovereign. Israel awaited the prospective monarch at Shechem, its old favorite capital. The people refused to confirm Rehoboam unless he granted them certain concessions which would lighten their burden. The throne-claimant with his counsellors arrived at the rendezvous. The petition setting forth the grievances was presented to him. He took it under advisement for three days.
At the appointed time the prince brought back the fatal answer: “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.” His fate was sealed.
Urged on by the rebel Jeroboam, who returned to Palestine at the news of Solomon’s death,1 rebellion ensued. The hapless Adoram, the chief of the levy, was stoned to death. Rehoboam fled the country for safety. Jeroboam, the Ephraimite, was proclaimed king over Israel.
Thereby the division of the Davidic Kingdom was effected. War ensued. But in the end peace came. And with peace the Northern Kingdom was acknowledged and recognized as a de jure government.
Every student of history realizes that the causes of historic events are not merely the pretenses which are immediately utilized to bring about a definite end. Behind these excuses, the immediate causes are generally tremendous forces that have been at work for generations, aye for ages. Thus the historian is wont to draw a clear-cut distinction between the immediate causes and the fundamental causes of historic happenings.
The immediate cause of the American Civil War was the secession of South Carolina from the Union. This act was resorted to under the theory that the several States had the right when dissatisfied to withdraw from the Union. Thus the entire question of the rights of the States and the Federal government must also be reckoned among the causes of the war. But fundamentally slavery was the cause of that struggle.
Proper analysis will show the relationship between the immediate and the remote causes of all historical events —of the French Revolution, of the American Revolution, of all wars and of the World War. In fact, no historical phenomenon can be properly appraised and understood without resorting to a detailed study of the factors that produced the definite effect under consideration.
The northern rebellion against Rehoboam, too, must be subjected to the scientific methods of the modern historian. Rehoboam’s rejection of Israel’s petition was merely the pretense, the excuse, the immediate cause, for the revolt. To understand fully and to appreciate properly the reasons for the revolution, a group of historic forces, some of which were present for ages, others for generations, and still others for decades, must be carefully examined. This is the task this paper sets itself.
The history of Israel, from the entrance into Canaan to the division of the kingdom may be divided into four periods for the purpose of our study. The first is the age of Joshua; the second, the period of the Judges; the third, the Samuel-Saul era; and the fourth is the David-Solomon epoch. Each factor as it is examined, will be related to these four stages of Israelitish history in order to have regard for the historical sequence of events. This division will also enable us to designate at what stage the various forces assumed significance and the reasons therefor.
Generally speaking, we may divide all operating and influencing forces through this entire period of Jewish history into two groups. Those that worked for unification and those that worked for separation. We shall study the former, first.
The feeling of kinship in antiquity was a very strong cementer of groups. The fact that the tribes believed that they were the descendants of a common ancestor linked them together. This was the basis upon which the sympathies and feelings of accord were based. This blood relationship was, as it were, the soil which nurtured and tenderly tended the frail, flowering buds of the first feelings of common interests and common purposes.
The common history of the tribes must also be credited with keeping alive the community of interest among the kinsfolk. Their common experiences, both of sorrow and of joy, served to weld them together. There is nothing which so tends towards nation-forming as the consciousness of a common past and common blood. These two facts always tend to intensify the consciousness of kind among groups. The beginnings of all peoples are just these two factors which are closely related to each other— mutual experiences and a mutual ancestry.
Another forceful factor which operated for the nationalization of the tribes was the Mosaic tradition. It influenced life in a two-fold way. It, in itself, recalled a state of unity and glory which was worthy of emulation. Since the Mosaic Age was looked upon as a Golden Era it constantly reminded the several groups of the past unity —a unity enveloped in a halo of glory; a unity which served as a reminder that greatness, whether spiritual or material, is possible only with the pooling of interests and the submergence of petty jealousies and intrigues.
Far more important as a nation building influence was the tradition that Moses gave to all Israel the Torah; that he trained and disciplined the “children of Israel” during the wilderness wanderings. In short, the religion of YHWH which was founded in the wilderness amidst all the tribes was a tremendous motivating power for unity and harmony among the tribes.
When the tribes therefore were ready to enter Canaan they had practically all the necessary prerequisites for mutual action and fruitful co-operation. Israel possessed a jointly recognized religion wherein it had been disciplined most rigorously for an entire generation by one of the greatest religious figures in human annals. And it was conscious of that fact. Israel regarded itself the offspring of one ancestry. Israel was the possessor of a common past—a past of sad and sorrowful experiences concluded by a period of glorious and joyous triumph. Surely no group of kinsfolk, who blossomed into a united nation, possessed all the necessary requirements for nationhood to the same extent as the Israelitish tribes.
The moment the Jordan was crossed and Canaan entered, an additional incentive for co-operation and nationalization came into existence—war. War cannot be waged successfully, whether in the past or in the present, without unity of purpose and centrality of organization. Without these, defeat is inevitable. So it was with Israel. It had to war for every foot of land in Palestine. Unity was an inexorable necessity.
During Joshua’s lifetime, while the Confederation of Tribes was solidly intact, Israel was rather successful in its military undertakings. When the Confederation dissolved, and each tribe became a power unto itself, defeat was the resultant consequence.
At all events, this continuous warfare must be regarded as an element in the unification process of Israel. With the already enumerated psychological and cultural forces that helped Israel to recognize its mutual responsibilities, the incessant struggles take their place as a compelling force for unity. It is thus evident that Israel possessed a definitely favorable equipment for a conscious nationhood and a conscious organization of its efforts for cooperative purposes.
At this point we must introduce a concise description of the political organization of Israel during the Moses-Joshua era. This will be followed by a brief analysis of the work of Joshua in the conquest of Palestine. Joshua fell heir to a political organization. Moses had formed a Confederation of Israel. That is to say, each tribe retained its tribal identity and prerogatives. But each tribe sent a delegation to the Council of Elders. This assembly constituted the central political, social and religious organization in the Wilderness. We hold that this governmental system was retained by Joshua. Tradition is quite sound in regarding Israel a unified people during his leadership. He was the disciple of Moses. He received his training directly from Moses. He was designated by Moses as leader. Naturally he continued the Master’s organization which functioned so well in the wilderness. There could be no opposition to this plan. Unity was essential even to gain a foothold in the Promised Land. It was only after the death of Joshua that the Confederacy was dissolved for reasons which will become clear by and by.
We are convinced that Israel’s invasion of Western Palestine was effected by the entire people under the guidance of Joshua. The crossing took place near Jericho. It was the first town captured from the Canaanites. The neighboring territory—part of the Jordan Valley and parts of the Central Mountain Range—was also subdued mainly through war, but through treaties as well.
Joshua’s task was to organize the subdued territory into proper defenses in order to withstand the onslaught of the inimical native peoples. His chief blunder, in our opinion, was the division of the land and its assignment to the several tribes before it had actually been acquired. This removed the incentive for co-operation. Every group, quite naturally and altogether humanly, after his death, rushed to conquer its allotment. The stronger tribes left their weaker conferees to their own resources. This resulted in the defeat of the Israelites and even endangered the conquests of Joshua, yes, the natives quite often even ruled over this territory.
Here we have one reason for the disintegration of the Confederacy after Joshua’s death; but we are leaping too far forward. We must return to our theme—the discussion of the causes which helped to destroy the Union of the Tribes of Israel.
When Israel entered Canaan it found itself in a land unfavorable for the establishment of a centralized State. Its topography as well as its climate were natural obstacles that had to be overcome before a complete Israelitish government was possible. Strangely enough, these remotely unfavorable conditions were quite immediately useful in the conquest. The physical topography of Palestine had prevented the union of the native peoples. The Canaanites remained because of the physiognomy of their physical environment—tribal folks who carried on continuous feuds among themselves. Therefore Joshua with a united Israelitish force was able to obtain a foothold in the land quite easily.
It must not be imagined that the Canaanites were a barbarous group of peoples. Nothing of the sort! The Tel Amarna Tablets show that already in the 15th century the native Palestinians were organized under petty rulers owing allegiance to the Pharaoh. Their language of culture was Babylonian. They tilled the soil; they dwelt in fortified towns under local chiefs; they possessed a distinctive religion. The feuds of ages had inured and trained them for war. In the level portions of the country they even used horses and chariots in their military ventures.
Were Joshua to meet a nation rather than separate small principalities, divided by physical barriers and different in temperament because of climatic conditions, his task would have been much more difficult, and perhaps, would not have ended so successfully!
The physical character of the country which originally helped Israel to conquer, in the course of time mastered it just as completely as it had done the former inhabitants. This fact—that Palestine tended to divide its inhabitants into small principalities—must constantly be kept in mind in our study. From the moment Joshua controlled parts of the Jordan Valley and the Central Highlands, this anti-national factor began to counteract the natural national tendencies of Israel.
With the progress of time, as Israel settled more firmly on the soil, the process of disintegration became quite rapid—until the entire historical and religious background of Israel was dormant and latent. To our mind, we have here an interesting example of the influence that the physical environment may wield over a people.
Another important matter that deserves consideration is the economic change which the people underwent when they began to take root in the soil.
Israel in the Wilderness was a nomad people. As such, its chief industry was the raising of live stock. In a desert this is the only available industry. When Israel began to control territory in Palestine, it became an agricultural people. This complete revolution in the life of the major portion of the tribes tended to throw into the background the mutual experiences of the people of the desert. Farmers are the most provincial of folk. They live practically isolated lives. They become dominated by and immersed in local interests. Their vision is limited to their own immediate benefit. Since provincialism and local interest are the natural tendencies of an agricultural civilization, we certainly must expect these to have operated in the early Palestinian history of Israel. Hence the estrangement among the tribes.
A significant consequence of this new life of Israel was the corruption of its religion with native elements. The Israelite had to learn farming from his native neighbor who was an experienced hand. The latter told him that Tammuz and Ishtar must be worshipped in order that his land may be properly fertilized. What will not a farmer do to bring about a bumper crop! So his ancestral religion was overlaid with a series of native ceremonies and rites. This process of religious syncretization still further attenuated the ancestral heritage of the Israelite farmer.
At this time, that is, during Joshua’s leadership, Israel nevertheless, retained its Mosaic organization because the decentralizing forces had hardly begun to operate and mainly because the Wilderness Romance was still vital and dynamic. So the union was at least nominally retained. This tribal league resembled somewhat the American Southern Confederacy. It was a union which might be disrupted at the will of any of the constituent parts.
Under such a system the tribe was the most important organization. It was the basis of the societal fabric. To it tended the allegiance and the loyalties of the Israelite. Naturally, therefore, in time, all these forces, which tended towards discord and disunion became practically resistless. We have seen that the physical environment, that the new economic and political structure of Israel’s early history in Palestine, all tended to disrupt Israel’s unity, whatever unity existed, and to work largely for decentralization. Against these powerful factors were arrayed certain nebulous, tenuous ideals, such as common descent and a common historic past. That the former should prove victorious was dictated by the circumstances of life.
At this point a short resume is in place. We have seen that Joshua led a Confederation of tribes who possessed certain forces working for unity and nationhood. We have also seen that the exigencies of time and the character of the physical environment worked against nationhood. These together with Joshua’s mistake, in dividing the land among the several tribes before its complete conquest, completely overwhelmed the former. And at Joshua’s death, the Confederacy was ready to disappear and complete division and disintegration, from a national viewpoint, to appear.
Joshua died. With his demise the last bulwark of unity vanished. He was the symbol of the Mosaic tradition and leadership. With his passing died the final strivings towards nation-building. The entire fabric, which was in the process of dismemberment even in his lifetime, now crashed and crumbled. With the ebbing of his life a definite era in Israelitish history closed.
This epoch was the pioneering stage of Israel’s life in Palestine. The Israelites changed their entire outlook on life by force of circumstances, as we have seen. This change introduced into Israelitish life new forces and new elements which tended towards the degradation of the national life and the sublimation of tribal institutions. During this time these forces became current. And as time went on, they grew stronger and mightier, by the sheer momentum that time gave them, until they became the dominant characteristics of Israel’s life.
After Joshua’s death, general chaos prevailed. Israel was leaderless. Every tribe, careless of the fate of the others, rushed to conquer the territory allotted to it during Joshua’s regime. Defeats were constantly sustained. Continuous guerilla warfare was carried on with the native tribes. The result of these continuous feuds was indefinite and undecisive. At last, when it became apparent that neither side could obtain a comprehensive advantage by war, a sort of truce was patched up. A definite rapport was attained. The Israelitish tribes were to dwell side by side with the Canaanitish folk.
This living together with the Palestinian population was, of course, limited to areas where guerilla warfare and petty feuds were possible. The Coastal plains and the Low Hill country (Shephelah) were not at all penetrated. Their inhabitants were too strong and too well supplied with efficient military machines. Against these the invading tribes were no match whatsoever. In addition the level areas, being favorable for larger political organizations, consisted of strong centralized kingdoms which could bring considerable man power into action against the invaders. Consequently the conquest of this territory was out of the question.
In the Highlands, where Israelite and Canaanite dwelt together, there naturally began an interchange of ideas and a mingling of interests. This practically obliterated the former national aspirations of Israel. Now there was no Israel. There were Israelitish tribes who were readily losing their distinctiveness. They were assuming the appearance of the normal native. In short, assimilation, to the customs and habits which were characteristic of the land, began to have sway.
Under such circumstances it is readily realized that each group identified itself with its locality, caring very little for the whole territory, each group had to be satisfied with its limited possessions. The feeling of kinship was practically forgotten or ignored. The tribes became estranged because of different interests. Complete chaos prevailed. Complete submergence into Canaanitish idolatry and civilization was prevented by the higher morality of the Hebrew tribes. Due to the sterner stuff of the moral and intellectual equipment of the Hebrews, their mode of life resisted complete absorption.
Throughout this period of dark turmoil there appeared one ray of hope which compelled the tribes to think in larger terms. The neighboring peoples began to invade and to conquer their territory. The victorious foe imposed heavy burdens in the form of tribute and taxes. To throw off the onerous yoke of the conquerer became the ambition of every oppressed locality. To do so single-handedly was a forlorn hope. Therefore union was again a necessity. The old dormant ideals were resuscitated by the exacting demands of life. Practically this constraining desire for unity became crystallized in the institution of the Judges.
From the preceding discussion it is evident that in our opinion the office of the Judge did not immediately follow the death of Joshua. Some time must have elapsed, during which was constant strife and chaotic turmoil. This necessitated the creation of a central authority. The Judge was the result.
With the rise of the Judges, Israel entered the second stage of political development. This era was marked by earnest efforts to overcome all obstacles that obstructed unification. As was already stated, the exigencies of the time compelled the adoption of some policy of mutual help and co-operation. The conquerors’ iron heel, as is always the case in human history, was welding the groups with heterogeneous interests into a people with one paramount purpose—to obtain freedom from the alien oppressor. The primary instincts of self-preservation asserted themselves. And all anti-national interests and movements were submerged and even subdued by force.
This, of course, was a slow process, a gradual development. The very slowness of this process with its accompanying failures compelled the attention of men towards the problem and its solution.
At first, the Judge had very little power. He was simply the chieftain of a tract of territory which he succeeded in wresting from the grinding tyranny of the enemy. With his demise, the clans and tribes, united under his jurisdiction, again severed all affiliations.
We believe, though it cannot be proved from Scripture, that it was possible for several Judges to rule at one and the same time. As every part of Israelitish Palestine was overrun by a neighboring enemy—and this is clear from the book of Judges—there existed several conquerors at the same time. And as originally, the man who could expel the invaders would be proclaimed Judge over the liberated land. It is thus logical to assume that in different parts of the country insurrections occurred against the respective invaders who, if successful, would become Judges. We feel that this may frequently have been the situation.
Be that as it may, this haphazard policy failed to produce the expected results. As soon as the surrounding kingdoms noticed the reversion to complete tribal independence, they reinvaded the land and again succeeded in subduing it. This led to the realization that more power must be given the Judges. Therefore we find that the sons of the Judges, become officials of importance during their father’s lifetime. They2 actively participated in the civil and military administration of the country. It is not likely that the office ever became hereditary.3
In the course of time the sway of the Judges became more extensive. In our opinion, Eli and Samuel ruled over all Israel. The extent of the supremacy of the later Judges depended largely upon their character and personality as well as the requirements of the time. As the Philistines became the dominant enemy of Israel and succeeded in subjugating for long periods of time practically the entire Israelitish territory, the Judges who were the leaders of the insurrections naturally and necessarily were recognized by larger numbers. Thus they ruled over larger areas.
Even this policy was not successful because of its inherent weakness—it left the people leaderless at the death of the incumbent Judge. It was also impossible under these circumstances to carry on a steady and steadfast policy. Furthermore, during the interregnum all the gains that were made during the preceding administration might be lost. This actually, it seems, constantly happened.
Hence the persistent and insistent cry during Samuel’s Judgeship for an hereditary king. It must not be thought that this was a sudden demand! Far from it! Already at the installation of Gideon as Judge we find his countrymen offering him hereditary powers and rights. We read, “The men of Israel said unto Gideon, ‘Rule thou over us, both thou and thy son, and thy son’s son also.’”4 He declined the offer. We have already pointed out that his sons may have become heirs to the Judgeship temporarily. Certainly Abimelech usurped the power for a considerable time. From this time we believe dates the participation of the sons of the Judges in the official administration of the government.
In the case of Jephthah too, certain reforms were effected which tended towards a permanent hereditary ruler. He is not called Judge. He is styled, “head and chief.”5
When all these reforms failed to produce the sought for results, namely, security against invasion and foreign domination, the final step was resolved upon. A king was demanded. And a king was chosen with full hereditary powers. Interesting is the reason that is given for the need of a king. “Nay but there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our King may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”6
We must stop temporarily at this point in the sketch of the development of the political life of Israel which led to the establishment of the monarchy. We must examine in accordance with the plan of this paper, other phases of the life of the people during the era of the Judges.
Economically, Israel, during this time, assumed fully an agricultural aspect. The chief industry in the land was agriculture, buttressed by the corollary occupation of cattle raising. Israel ceased to be a nomad people.
With this change in occupation, as usually happens, the entire “Weltanschaung” also underwent a mighty change. Israel was under the influence of an alien civilization—an agricultural civilization. And with characteristic zeal it assimilated the new life thoroughly and rapidly. The old ancestral worship of YHWH was either neglected or Canaanized. That is, YHWH ceased to be the pure, just, moral, and austere God of Israel—the God of wandering nomads. He was conceived as an agricultural Deity. Attributes were ascribed to Him unknown to the pristine worship of the first settlers. These divine characteristics were borrowed from the neighboring agricultural peoples. Immoral practices, sexual orgies, because of their efficacy as sympathetic magic were made part of the YHWH ceremonial. The God of Israel of the Wilderness was even denominated by the names of the local Canaanitish gods. In short, just as the people became identified with the native culture, so did their God become more and more identical with the local deities.
The Mosaic Law—whatever we assume to be Mosaic— too, fell into the background. After Joshua’s death, during the period of trenchant turmoil and catastrophic chaos, “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” This is also true of the era of the Judges. Thus there was no central permanent sanctuary. There was no official priesthood. Every man could act as his own priest. The Mosaic Law, it seems, had little influence. It practically ceased to exist for Israel, though, no doubt, it was properly treasured by some priestly families who refused to become assimilated.
It may be concluded that though politically and economically, due to the puissant pressure of circumstances, there was a definite tendency toward nationhood and the establishment of a united, centralized State, religiously there was no motive operating which helped the movement of unification at this time.
It must not be believed, however, that Israel at no time, during these ages, acted together. In “Judges” two occurrences are cited which are of importance to our consideration: the war, under Barak and Deborah, against the Arameans, and the Civil War of a united Israel against Benjamin because of the latter’s treatment of the concubine at Gibeah. In the former war, almost all the tribes except Judah participated. It was a mighty effort against a mighty foe. It was, however, of short duration. More interesting is the second case. We are told that all Israel was roused because of the crime of Benjamin, or rather the people of Gibeah. When punishment was demanded for the citizens of that city and the Benjaminites refused the request, Civil War ensued—which practically destroyed Benjamin as a tribe. For us the important point is the fact that the rest of the tribes acted as a unit— and for a moral purpose—not merely to break the yoke of a burdensome oppressor.
We cannot agree with those historians who try to discredit this event. It seems to us that the crime committed by the Gibeans was regarded as such an heinous and culpable act that the self-respect of the tribes, appealed to by the husband of the victim, demanded a proper response. It must be remembered that in the Semitic World ill treatment of guests is a violation of the fundamental law of conduct. Inhospitality is regarded as a crime and is severely frowned upon. And the Israelites were Semites.
Moreover, the crimes of Sodom and Gomorrah which caused their destruction were exactly of the same character. This shows how the Semitic World regarded such acts. This fact helps to prove that the Gibeah incident is historical. Especially so since Hosea mentions it as a culpable act. “They have deeply corrupted themselves, as in the days of Gibeah.”7
When a people in the condition in which Israel found itself in those days is willing to wage war for a moral cause, without deriving therefrom any benefits, it cannot be said to have lost its sense of morality. It was merely dormant. It needed awakening. It needed teachers and leaders to show it the proper way. These came forth as we shall see in the next historical period. The Judges epoch then may be said to be the dormant era of Israel from a religious standpoint, though there were active, conscious efforts made for political harmony and resuscitation.
It has already been pointed out how the political conditions, during the time of the Judges, forced upon the minds of the people the necessity of organizing a central government with an hereditary kingship at the head. The climax came during the ascendancy of Samuel. A king was actually demanded by the people. Samuel reluctantly granted the request.
The reasons for the climax just at this time are easily accounted for. The Philistines had now become the dominant foreign foe of all Israel. Philistia was at the zenith of its power. Its ambitions were turned towards the entire territory held by the Tribes. It successfully pushed forward its plans for the subjugation of the land. It defeated every Israelitish attempt at revolt. Even Samuel only succeeded in preventing further Philistine incursions. He was helpless as far as freeing the tributary parts of the land from the Philistine yoke was concerned. It was a critical time in the life of the people. This crisis brought matters to a climax. Moreover, the demand for a Royal House merely became articulate at this point. Potentially the people were ready for the kingship. A crisis was required to compel them to voice their feelings, as well as to force the existing leaders to abide by the wish of the people.
When Samuel decided to accede to the people’s will, new problems presented themselves. Who was to be the king? What tribe was to furnish the king? And how to obtain the allegiance of all the tribes to the chosen man? Samuel, though at first reluctant to make such radical changes in the life of the people, once he decided upon a course of action, with characteristic prophetic insight, sought to safeguard and to stabilize the innovated institution. He therefore turned to the smallest and weakest of the tribes for the new ruler. Benjamin, as a result of the Gibeah incident, had been reduced to practical insignificance. It in no way competed for supremacy among the tribes. Therefore it had no special interests to satisfy. Accordingly the more influential and the more powerful groups were not likely to be so jealous and so invidious of the honored tribe. And an unknown man who would prove his metal would be more likely to inspire the unselfish confidence of the tribes. There was a greater likelihood of peaceful co-operation, if all the jealousies and interests of the dominating and domineering tribes were submerged. For these reasons, we believe, Samuel turned to Benjamin and helped to choose Saul for the throne of Israel.
In order to acquaint the people with the privileges and prerogatives of a prince, Samuel told them quite specifically the obligations, duties, and loyalties they assumed. He acquainted them with “the manner of the kingdom,” before the king was chosen so that the elected ruler should have the right to make demands and have the demands satisfied.
That Samuel was quite justified in his desire for the people to understand the customs of kings and in his fears with regard to the active loyalties of the entire population is borne out by the facts. For we are told, “Certain base fellows said, ‘How shall this man save us?’ And they despised him and brought him no present.”8
Saul, in our opinion, is the most tragic figure among Biblical characters. He was entrusted with a superhuman task. He was expected to clear Israelitish territory from all enemies. He was to carry on warfare without an organized army and without war materials. There were no skilled artisans and no established smithies to enable the manufacture of weapons. Yet results were expected of him. The king was chosen to bring victory to the standards of Israel. Despite all these obstacles he bravely went to his task. He fought constantly against great odds. He, though, in the end, unsuccessful, compelled the Philistines to respect Israelitish valor and the armies of Israel. He was an undaunted, heroic soul who tried his level best to fulfill the expectations of his people.
Quite unwittingly and quite unconsciously he lost the support of Samuel—a severe blow to his prestige. With this, internal dissension, too, came to the fore. Is it any wonder that he became melancholy—and often mentally deranged? What man, placed in his position, would not become unbalanced! Who could withstand such shocks and such depreciation without becoming moody and morose! Yet he carried on until death. He was chosen to be a warrior king. The true warrior he was—he died on the battlefield in the defense of his country. He died doing his duty, unappreciated and misunderstood. He was indeed a tragic figure and a mystic character whose worth is not even appreciated today.
We have already seen that at his accession to the throne there were already certain people who refused to recognize Saul. Further evidence of his weak position may be gleaned from this fact. When Jonathan was adjudged guilty of death by Saul because of the former’s unconscious violation of the latter’s vow, the people refused to carry out his command. He simply had to change the order.9 This happened when Saul was in his full glory.
Another factor in Saul’s weak political position was Samuel. He was the Israelitish Warwick, the maker of kings. When Samuel decided that Saul’s house was not worthy to be the hereditary regal dynasty of Israel, he struck at the very foundation of Saul’s power. To our mind, the secret coronation of David10 was an act of treachery and disloyalty that can in no way be justified. From this time forth David was Saul’s competitor. It became known throughout Israel that David had been anointed king by Samuel. Saul knew it.11 There is no reason to believe that Israel did not know about it. What effect this act had upon the political unity of Israel is readily understood. Judah, appreciating the benefits that would come to it from its chosen son, quite naturally sympathized with the ambitions and destiny of David.
Another weakness in the political fabric of Saul’s reign was the fact that he retained Gibeah of Benjamin as the capital of his kingdom. This city could not lay claim to distinction like other cities in Israel. It was too small a place to draw unto itself the elites of Israel. It also placed Saul too much under the influence of his kinsman. It therefore could not serve as a unifying center, the purpose of all national capitals. For this, however, Saul cannot be blamed. He was altogether too busy with more important national tasks to think of strengthening his own political position.
His tribesmen became the most important officials in the kingdom.12 The chieftains of the other tribes were jealous of this favoritism. In this connection, it is of importance to remember that the tribal organizations remained intact. Upon these organizations was superimposed the kingship.
This preferment of his fellow-Benjaminites was dangerous. This became apparent when David became an influential court official. The Benjaminites regarded him as an intruder. And in no small degree were they responsible for the alienated relationship between Saul and David. The latter was a rival whom they dreaded. They intrigued to get rid of him. Psalm 59, we believe, illustrates the intrigues that prevailed in Saul’s court—the scheming and plotting that was resorted to in order to gain favor and power.
Saul committed two mistakes which helped David. The first was the execution of the priests of Nob. This gave to David and his followers a halo of martyrdom. They now regarded themselves as the champions of a moral cause—the avengers of a foul deed. The second was the persecution of the Gibeonites. This was probably done because of some dissatisfaction with the native Amoritish heathens. Either he suspected them of disloyalty and treachery in his constant campaigns against the Philistines or perhaps his religious zeal prompted him to carry out the Law by cleansing the land from heathens as he cleansed it from soothsayers and magicians. Whatever the reason these policies no doubt strengthened David’s popularity.
Nevertheless despite all these elements which tended to create political discord and confusion, there was no rebellion in Saul’s reign. We believe this speaks volumes for Saul’s personality and ability. (Even in Solomon’s reign—the Golden Age of the Monarchy—there was internal strife.) He organized his people for war, and his deeds roused the sympathy and loyalty of Israel, despite all drawbacks and handicaps. He fell fighting the enemy while his rival was safe in his foe’s land. A fairer understanding of his task and his problems he certainly deserves. Truly justice requires a revaluation of his character.
It is essential for a proper understanding of the history of the Samuel-Saul age to take cognizance of the religious revival that began at this time. Something of the religious life of Israel during the era of the Judges has already been depicted. Samuel introduced a new force in the religion of Israel; prophecy.
For our purposes, it makes very little difference what the character of the early prophets and the form of their prophecies were. Whatever prophecy at this time denoted, there is no doubt that it revitalized the religious life of the people. It attempted to purge the YHWH worship from the gross foreign dross that had accumulated about it during the ages. As such it was a distinct contribution to the faith of Israel.
Samuel, it seems, founded the prophetic guild and guided it during its early development into a permanent organization. This group of men undertook to teach the God-idea in its pure Hebraic character in contrast with the Canaanitish concepts. A return to the pure laws of Israel was also part of their programme. They introduced a religious revival. Based as this religious renaissance was upon the pristine national cult, it was bound also to rouse the national sentiments of the tribes.
We believe that it is correct to hold that this prophetic activity which ushered in the religious renaissance played a very important part in the movement to establish the monarchy. Saul, after Samuel anointed him king of Israel, was also initiated into the prophetic school at the latter’s request. Saul no doubt carried into effect the reforms of the prophetic advocates. We know that at least in one case he had “put away those that divined by a ghost or a familiar spirit out of the land.” It is safe to assume therefore that many other Canaanitish practices were outlawed.
David, when he fled from the Court, went to Ramah where Samuel no doubt introduced him into the prophetic circles. Henceforth David became the protege of this group. Saul had already become a “persona non grata” with them, due to Samuel’s influence.
The reason for Samuel’s rejection of Saul is clearly stated in the First Book of Samuel. Somehow we believe that the reason lies imbedded in the narrative. Saul refused to play second fiddle. He wanted to be king in fact. He wanted to be responsible for his own policies and their execution. This quite naturally meant that Samuel was relegated to an inferior position. In the contest between two such personalities, compromise was out of the question. Saul dismissed Samuel from the Court altogether and assumed sole and full leadership of the kingdom. Samuel countered by setting up David as a rival to the Saul Dynasty.
We fully appreciate that this is a mere theory. But, when it is realized that the Biblical historical books, as already stated, present a definite philosophy of history and not historical narrative as such, this supposition is not altogether without basis in the Biblical records.
Thus the religious revival, introduced by Samuel and his disciples, at first encouraged and strengthened the national renaissance which expressed itself in the demand for and the establishment of the kingdom. During Saul’s reign, however, prophecy became a divisive and disuniting force, in that it took, in the main, David’s part against Saul.
With the death of Saul and Jonathan, David, who had been in safety in Philistia during the entire war, was, upon his return to Judah, at once proclaimed king of that territory by his followers and tribesmen. At the same time, Abner, a kinsman of Saul and his commander-in-chief, placed on the throne of Israel, Ishbosheth, Saul’s only surviving son, a cripple. The two kings were mere pawns. The powers behind the thrones were the immediate kinsmen of the royal houses who were in charge of the respective military forces, Abner and Joab. During this period unity ceased. Civil war was waged. Intrigues and coups d’ etat were the order of the day.
David, resourceful and diplomatic, backed by a group of loyal, brave and tried warriors, roused the imagination of all Israel. He could be depended upon to carry on the fight against the Philistines which Saul had unavailingly but ceaselessly carried forward. So that after the death of both Ishbosheth and Abner, it was quite an easy matter for David to be chosen king of the “United Kingdom.”
During these seven years of rivalry and jealousy, intrigues and civil war, the old separatist tendencies again became dynamic. Quite naturally! Only the presence and the pressure of the Philistines compelled harmony. Israel had this alternative: either to carry on the war of liberation which necessitated a centralized kingdom, or local autonomy but with it foreign subjugation. Fortunately, Israel chose the former course. Hence David was accepted as king through a treaty.13 His ambition realized, David proceeded to strengthen his position by avoiding the mistakes of his predecessor and by drawing together the various groups into a firmer allegiance to the monarchy.
First was the question of a Capital. David realized that Hebron was altogether too far South to become the political center of his dominions. There was still another objection to the Judaic city. Hebron was part of Judah. As such it would hardly be recognized by the other cities of Israel because of their prevailing innate jealousy and rivalry.
A neutral place was required. A city that heretofore played no role in the struggles of Israel. Jerusalem was the location that had all these advantages. It was more centrally located. It was not as yet part of Israel. The forces of all Israel were employed in its conquest. It was therefore, a city that belonged to all Israel. Hence it had the possibilities of rallying all Israel to itself factually and sentimentally.
The Jebusites in their stronghold were a wedge between Northern and Southern Israelitish territory- It was extremely dangerous to permit a foreign tribe to be so dominantly and strategically situated. Wise statesmanship, too, dictated its subjugation. It was moreover a clever political gesture. Its conquest—David’s first successful military venture—roused and instilled confidence in the new chieftain. It served as a good omen. Therewith he immediately proved his worth.
Jerusalem still had another advantage. It was a natural fortress, almost impregnable when artificially improved. David, up to the accession of the throne of all Israel, was a vassal of Philistia. He knew that he would have to war with his overlords to a definite end, just as Saul had been forced to do. Under such conditions, it was extremely advantageous to possess a strong citadel of the Jerusalem type in which to take refuge, when the need should arise. It is therefore quite understandable why the first official act of the new Monarch was to conquer the Jebusites and Jerusalem.
Nor was David satisfied with making Jerusalem merely the political metropolis of the land. He very wisely realized that in Israel an ordinary political focus would not become altogether the national rallying point of the people. He therefore proceeded to make Jerusalem the religious center of the Tribes as well. He brought the classic “Ark of God” to his Capital. Wherever this symbol of God’s Presence was found, the religion of Israel became concentrated and localized.
Thus Jerusalem became the religious and political center of Israel, in addition to the national arsenal and stronghold. It was the symbol of the new, united monarchy. It was Hebraized through and by the efforts of the new kingdom. It solidified and centralized the patriotic and religious feelings of the people. It became an elemental, primary force in Israelitish unity.
A second primary element in the process of unification of Israel, during David’s administration, was the waging of war. There is no need to elongate the discussion of the effects of war upon the consolidating of the inner ranks of peoples. Particularly is this true of liberating wars which are carried on against a haughty and domineering foe to obtain national independence. The war with the Philistines was of such a character. And because of its victorious results, Israel was welded into a real nation, unified and consolidated, shot through with a keen national patriotism.
When freedom from the Philistine Confederacy had been won and David was an independent Sovereign, the well organized military machine was used to extend the boundaries of Israel. As so often happens in the history of humanity, national independence leads to imperialism. Armies must be employed. They are a terrible burden when kept at home. Conquests enrich the people and keep them satisfied and content.
David was conscious of the benefits that would accrue to him from such a foreign policy. He, accordingly, proceeded to the methodical conquest of the neighboring lands. He extended his sway in every direction. He built up an extensive empire which for the moment bound Israel closer to him, but had within it dormant seers of disaster.
There is no need to apologize for these conquests. In all probability safety demanded such procedure. Israel was ever a disliked people. And its neighbors would have, and probably did use, every opportunity to injure the budding monarchy. Moreover, if such wars are still the ordinary practice at the present time, there is actually no need to justify them when they occurred about three millennia ago.
Be that as it may, there can be no doubt that Israel, as a result of these wars of conquest, was still further nationalized. The House of David became the symbol of freedom and victory and prosperity. Loyalty to the national government superseded tribal solidarity. Allegiance to David as sovereign became more important than fealty to the tribal group.
There is yet one more factor that helped in the process of nationalization at this time. This factor was prophecy. We have already pointed out that as a result of Samuel’s influence the prophetic guilds supported David even during the lifetime of Saul. When David became king of the entire folk, they continued to support him, his policies and his programme.
While there is very little information about the activities of the prophets at this period, the fact that Nathan and Gad were attached to the Court and had easy access to the Monarch would seem to indicate that prophecy was just as dynamic an influence in the religion of Israel during David’s government as it was in the reign of Saul.
Since no opposition from the prophets is recorded against David’s national policies it is logical to assume that the government and the prophets co-operated to the full. While their position may not have been on a par with that of Samuel their importance and their influence must nevertheless have been potent.
Their support was essential to David in order that the religious renaissance which they sponsored should be linked with the national government, thereby strengthening the monarchy. At the same time the religious revival would be more effective and more thorough, if the popular national hero would make it part of his governmental policy. Therefore, we assume, that the prophets and David co-operated. For, their purposes—his and theirs— were fundamentally identical, the nationalization of the religion and the sentiments of the people. Thus prophecy continued to play its role in cementing the national life of the people.
As a result of all these forces working together, the first half of David’s reign passed without a ripple on the smooth surface of the internal life of the kingdom. But beneath the surface trouble was brewing. As long as war, that terrible internal harmonizer, was waged, there was no possibility for any disturbance. As soon, however, as Mars receded to the background, disturbances and disloyalty made their appearance in strange and unsuspected sources.
The period of unification and nationalization was too short to permit complete eradication of small evils which possessed tremendous potentialities to stir up strife in critical moments. The very processes of unification themselves contained within them elements of danger. During the rush of events these were not noticed and therefore not eradicated.
The moment the stress of events eased, the war conformity disappeared. The moment the ogre of disharmony raised its head at one point, all the vestiges of the prewar petty jealousies became resuscitated. To these were added the offal of the new developments.
At first, David was faced with court intrigues as a result of employing his own clansmen solely in his official family. Each official tried to get behind the “boom” of some prince who aspired to the throne. For at this time the kingship was not as yet hereditary in the first born son. It was open to all the princes of the regal family. Therefore the general tumult and rush for recognition. Even the prophets participated quite naturally in this general melee.
Despite David’s reticence to take note of this mean side of his court life, he was forced to take cognizance of it. He even had to take part in the political struggle that ensued. The result was open rebellion on the part of two princes—Absalom and Adonijah.
The first waged an open war against his father. The handsome Absalom succeeded in bringing under his banner practically the entire kingdom. He was almost victorious. With his death the rebellion naturally collapsed. But David obtained peace only after he promised to supplant his brave and able military chief, Joab, by Amasah, the military leader of the rebel forces.
The extent of this rebellion clearly illustrates that discontent was widespread. People do not rebel without cause, particularly against a monarch of David’s type and popularity. We believe that the monopoly by the Davidic family and by the Judaeans of all the honorable and lucrative political positions in the empire was the cause of a deep-seated unrest and dissatisfaction. Some discontent was also caused by an incoherent method of administration of the affairs of the government. It seems that the men of Israel had to come to Jerusalem to adjust as well as to adjudicate various matters, probably due to the desire of David to make his capital the center of his administrative machinery. At all events, Absalom did succeed in stealing “the hearts of the men of Israel.”
Before the rebellion, Joab and his court party were quite friendly with Absalom. The general was responsible for his return to Jerusalem from exile, and his reinstatement in the official life of the Court. Yet this group were the staunch supporters of David during the Civil War. They were responsible for David’s military and diplomatic victories. They restored him to the throne in Jerusalem.
When Adonijah, however, planned his coup d’ etat this court clique were his powerful and influential supporters. This change of front is not explained in the Biblical texts. But we venture the opinion that they were perfectly loyal at all times to David with whom they suffered and triumphed. They, however, preferred Adonijah to Solomon for the kingship. Since this anti-Solomonic attitude in no way jeopardized the safety of David’s person nor his throne, their loyalty and allegiance cannot be questioned. They intended to confront the aged king with a fait accompli to use a modern diplomatic term, in order that their favorite prince succeed to the throne.
These princely uprisings were augmented by the rebellion, led by the Benjaminite Sheba ben Bichri. This outbreak, too, was caused by David’s unwise partiality and preferment policy towards Judah. While this outbreak was unimportant and inconsequential, it nevertheless is of extreme interest to us. It demonstrates the attitude of Saul’s kin towards David. Bitter hostility is clearly evident in his assumption of leadership to influence Israel’s desertion of David.
This hostile attitude of the Benjaminites towards the regal family is further brought out by the Baharim episode. There, while David was fleeing Jerusalem to find refuge from Absalom, Shimei ben Gera, a relative of Saul, cursed and insulted the fugitive king. This daring deed was of course committed when David was helpless and powerless. But it is a significant symptom.
Another illustration of David’s fear and suspicion of the restlessness and activities of the remnant of the former dynasty is the attitude of the king towards Ziba’s conspiracy.14 The fact that this conspiring bondman was believed, shows that the king, at least, felt that Saul’s family was again active in national affairs and opposed to him and his family.
All this opposition was dormant and impotent, as already stated, during the years of warfare. It Would have meant instant and immediate execution for anyone who dared to weaken the power of the government. With peace, conditions changed. All the inimical and divisive powers and influences came to the surface. David overcame them all by the able assistance of Joab’s unrelenting statesmanship and heroic capacities. But, for us, the fact that troublous turbulences existed, is all important, significant, and difinitive.
We may safely conclude that all was not so harmonious and peaceful during David’s regime as is generally believed. Quite the contrary seems to be the truth! A critical analysis of the Biblical books reveals definite signs of division and disharmony, civil war and rebellion during this period. Before we leave David we must point out several situations which, while comparatively unimportant for our problem at this time, became tremendously important and significant in the Solomonic Era.
There can be no doubt that toward the end of David’s reign began the process of favoring the commercial expanse of the kingdom at the expense of the agricultural community. When David had established internal peace throughout his lands he was the ruler of an extensive empire. Empires, generally speaking, by the very nature of their existence, are commercial institutions backed by military force. Some proof for this supposition may be gleaned from the Bible.
In the first place, we are told that David, despite Joab’s protest and against his advice, insisted that a census of the kingdom be taken. Why? Several reasons present themselves. He was anxious to learn the number of his subjects either for military purposes, or for economic aims, perhaps for both. At all events, David felt the need for this information to conform his dominions to the new situation that was being initiated at this time.
Secondly, we are informed that David15 had, towards the end of his kingship, an officer who supervised the tributary labor, the levies. Incidentally, Adoram was the officer, who, at this time, must have been a very young man. He still held this post when Rehoboam ascended the throne. He was the official who was killed by the Israelites when he came to perform his official duties at the command of his royal lord. He was the first victim of the rebellion.
The fact that this post already existed in David’s time, is extremely significant. Here we have the beginnings of the economic policies which Solomon carried out with such disastrous results. Thus our contention that historic effects have long antecedents is fully tested by the facts of history.
When David died he left Solomon an empire which seemed at peace and in prosperity. But we believe that beneath the apparent calm and serenity were current vital forces which were already undermining the very foundation of his heritage.
Solomon is generally blamed for the “division.” He alone is held responsible for the catastrophe that ensued. A proper study of history reveals that, while he largely and profusely contributed towards the debacle because of his temperament and policies, he was the child of his time and a victim of circumstances. He simply carried forward policies already initiated. His guilt is thereby considerably mitigated.
Solomon’s first regal acts were quite ominous. They pictured the man’s character. They portrayed his willful absoluteness. His determination to govern despotically and uncompromisingly. He is a typical monarch to whom human life is valueless. His will, his power, is the dominant factor in every situation.
As has already been stated, Solomon became the ruler of Israel chiefly through the influence of David and not through popular choice. He was crowned sovereign even during his father’s lifetime. His elevation to the kingship was hastened by Adonijah’s intrigues to obtain the throne for himself.
Immediately after David’s death, Solomon proceeded to destroy the power and influence of his opponents by execution and exile. Accordingly, the most influential members of the Adonijah party, who were the bulwarks of David’s power, Joab, Adonijah and Abiathar, were rendered powerless to do any mischief. The first two were executed. The latter was dismissed from office and exiled.
To consolidate his power all the more he devised a plan to destroy the last survivor of the superseded dynasty. Shimei ben Gera was first compelled to live in the Capital under surveillance, and on a mere pretext, executed. With him ends the story of Saul’s family.
In order to control his kingdom more thoroughly and more absolutely, he reorganized his dominions. He abolished all tribal authority and representation. He thereby refused to recognize the tribal divisions. For administrative purposes he divided the kingdom into twelve divisions or provinces.16 This interpretation of this verse is also held by Kimhi. He states that the twelve governors (enumerated on the fourth chapter of First Kings) were not appointed for the respective twelve tribes. They were the chiefs of provinces.17
Perhaps this tendency on the part of Solomon to centralize his political power (by removing all hostile opposition) may be traced to the fact that he alone of all the Israelitish kings up to that time came to the throne as a prince and not as a citizen, elevated to the throne by the will and choice of his fellow-citizens. Saul was chosen by the people. David was acclaimed first by Judah and then, through tribal negotiations, he was accepted by all Israel. Solomon became king by the choice and will of David. He was therefore not subject to popular opinion and ignorant of popular prejudices. Hence he had no scruples to destroy any institution which hampered his plans.
His tyrannical absoluteness may also have been due to the fact that he was a prince, a privileged, unbridled character who holds in contempt ordinary folk. Therefore as king he was domineering and autocratic. A people which selected a king because of compelling circumstances cannot be whipped into submissive subjects by the legal enactments of an autocrat. Submit it did. But when the opportunity presented itself, it threw off the autocracy with one sweeping stroke.
There can be no question that these political acts caused tremendous and widespread dissatisfaction.
Having become the absolute ruler of the people, he proceeded to reorganize the country economically. He, as has been seen, divided the land into twelve provinces for taxation purposes. As his plans matured and developed, the needs of the exchequer increased. His impositions, consequently, became heavier and more burdensome. Taxes were not sufficient for his needs, so he organized state monopolies to control the trade with Ophir, and the horse market with Egypt in order to increase the regal revenues.
People in antiquity were not essentially different from present day folk, especially when their incomes are concerned. How the farmers of Palestine looked upon these exactions is quite conceivable. The suspicion and the jealousy and the envy of the agricultural classes (the vast majority of the population) of the new life in Jerusalem which assumed more and more the character of a cosmopolitan commercial metropolis, became woefully aggravated. They had to foot the bill for the Capital’s luxurious life.
The people’s entire attitude towards the imperial policy changed. During the reign of David this policy enriched them. Now they had to finance the imperial policy. This is the constant trend of all Imperialism.’ In the end, the masses pay for the beneficiaries from imperialism. Naturally this was not conducive to steadfast loyalty and friendly feelings towards the ruling family.
This ill feeling was augmented by the fact that the lands controlled by the royal family and their Judaic favorites, such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Hebron, were exempt from taxation altogether. These southern cities and their surrounding lands were not included in the list of provinces that were to contribute towards the support of the national treasury. These lands were occupied by the David family and their clansmen. Hence they were tax free.
This meant that those people who wholly benefited from the new commercial enterprises and plans contributed nothing towards the maintenance of the system. While the northern agricultural communities who profited very little, if anything at all, had to bear the entire financial burden for the Solomonic commercial empire. An almost perfect parallelism to the Feudalism of the Middle Ages and in fact to all despotic empires. What a ready-made argument for agitators to keep burning the fires of discontent!
Solomon, in accordance with ancient usages of Oriental Monarchs, was a great builder. He built palaces and castles, arsenals and fortifications as well as the Temple. For this purpose he was in need of labor as well as money. To obtain the necessary labor he enslaved the native populations of Palestine, and imposed upon Israel the burdensome task of helping in the required hard labor.
There is evidently in the Biblical text a contradiction. In one place the native populations only, are said to have been subject to “Mas”18 ; in another,19 the term “Mas” is also applied to Israel. In both cases forced labor was exacted, for this is what “Mas” means. Israel in Egypt was subject to just that sort of treatment. Their overseers are called “Sorei Misim,”20 taskmasters—or governors of the levy. And in Egypt, too, they were requisitioned for building purposes.
It is generally held that Solomon temporarily enslaved the Israelites, to the number of 30,000, to help in the building of the Temple and in the other beautifying plans that were contemplated for Jerusalem. While the native stocks were permanently enslaved to labor on the numerous building projects which were undertaken.
We cannot agree with Josephus, who held that the Israelites did not regard this temporary enslavement as a hardship. We believe that they not only keenly resented this edict, but that they also passively objected to the enslavement of the natives. At this time the most cordial and friendly relationship existed between the two groups of people. Intermarriage and religious syncretism, that were integral parts of Palestinian life, made it almost impossible to distinguish a native from an Israelite. Therefore we hold that this knavish policy considerably contributed towards the final debacle.
There yet remains Solomon’s religious policy. This, too, contributed towards the alienation of the people from the Davidic dynasty. The building of the Temple, while in itself the most important landmark in pre-exilic Biblical history, with the exception of the literary prophets, weakened the empire.
If one adopts the critical view that, at that time, there was no ideal, even, for one central sanctuary, priestly opposition would make itself felt to the full. In addition, the local pride of the various cities would be definitely antagonized. There can be no question that with the Temple in Jerusalem, under royal patronage and regal munificence, the High Places, the Bemoth, would fade into insignificance. The Temple would replace all the local fanes in a short time. The priests and the towns would lose their income, their power, and their prestige. Without the doctrine of a Central Sanctuary in existence, this being a new innovation to strengthen the power of Jerusalem, we can appreciate their opposition to the central government as a permanent institution.
The traditional viewpoint which assumes that the institution of a single central sanctuary is a Mosaic ordinance, would lead to the same conclusion. Priests of local shrines are not prone to look with favor upon an institution, no matter how divinely ordained it may be, which deprives them of their income and influence. This applies even to a larger degree to the towns in which the local shrines were situated. Hence there can be no doubt that the priestly groups agitated for the disruption of the Kingdom. These local priestly families were in all probability encouraged in their attitude by the erstwhile influential, demoted, and exiled Abiether family. It was for their interest to destroy the monarchy. They, being human, were prompted by the will to live, by the instincts of self-preservation.
The irony of fate! The institution that ennobled Jewish life, that became the center of the Jewish spirit, was a contributing factor of no mean proportion in the final division of Israel! What a paradox! But, then, human life is not logical, but in the main, paradoxical.
Not only were the local priestly families inimical to the interests of the Empire, but the prophetic guild also opposed them. Solomon had no prophet in his court. He was the first king who dispensed with an official prophet. He probably realized that these men would oppose his will and his plans. He could not stand criticism even of a friendly sort. So he proposed to dispense with critics. The guild therefore was bound to be displeased.
A more important and elemental factor in the hostile attitude of the prophets was the general imperial policy as such. This policy involved alliances with foreign powers through marriage and treaty. The necessary effects of such international agreements was the establishment in Jerusalem of sanctuaries dedicated to alien gods. This was the inevitable consequence, according to the customs of the time, of the king’s treaties with monarchs of other faiths, his marriages with their daughters, and his trade with their merchants. Jerusalem boasted not only of the Temple to YHWH, but also of various foreign fanes.
The prophets were not the type of men to place political considerations above religious scruples. Hence the prophets could not support the Imperial policies of Solomon. Their opposition to him was based on fundamental principles of religion in addition to personal grievances, due to royal neglect and lack of recognition of their body. Accordingly, it is not at all strange that the prophet Abijah espoused the cause of Jeroboam and therefore played a prominent role in the rebellion.
Thus political, economic and religious forces were at work during Solomon’s reign which were destroying and disintegrating the Empire which the monarch strove to build and firmly to establish.
Even during Solomon’s activities there were already signs that all was not well. Jeroboam rebelled. We are in no position to estimate the form and extent of this rebellion. We know that it failed. Jeroboam was forced to find refuge in Egypt. The fact, however, that he became King of Israel at the time of the division would seem to indicate that his influence, popularity and following must have been quite extensive.
There were also outbreaks within the Empire, outside of Israelitish territory. Hadad and Rezon made forays and caused continuous disturbances. The exact nature of their activities is difficult to understand from the meagre Biblical data. Why Solomon could not suppress them is still harder to conceive. They evidently carried on guerilla warfare and were therefore difficult to subdue.
So when Solomon died, Rehoboam fell heir to a tottering, crumbling empire. A strong, sagacious man could perhaps resist and withstand the corroding influences and retain the baffling loyalties of Israel. Rehoboam was neither strong nor wise. He was a foolhardy, shortsighted, arrogant prince, trained in the court of Solomon. And the crash came like a whirlwind. His refusal to reform the government set loose all the forces antagonistic to the United Monarchy and the Davidic Dynasty, and these, as we have seen, were numerous. They overwhelmed the tyrannical lords of Judah.
Civil war ensued. Jeroboam, we believe, called Shishak, the Egyptian Pharaoh, his protector during Solomon’s lifetime, to his aid. With Egyptian help the cause of the North was victorious. And Israel and Judah remained separate states to their tragic end.
Our conclusion is that the conditions were altogether too unfavorable for a strong Hebrew state, composed of all Israel. While there existed several factors favoring unity, the antagonistic forces were too powerful to be obliterated. The shortsightedness of the Davidic Dynasty helped the inimical factors to their own hurt.
Perhaps, too, it was divinely decreed that Israel was not to be a political race, but the religious people of mankind, the people of God. Weak and powerless, but with confidence in God, they prevailed. Perhaps Israel, the history of Israel, is to teach that physical power and material strength may be conquered and destroyed. Spiritual values, however, are eternal. Who knows.
The Date Of The Division Of The Kingdom
In Order to establish the probable date of the Revolution which definitely divided Israel into two states, resort must be had to archaeology, though the Bible gives us one definite fact. We are told that the Egyptian Pharaoh who invaded Judaea “in the fifth year of King Rehoboam” was Shishank. There is no doubt that this king is Shi-shank I of the XXII or Libyan Dynasty who, it is generally accepted by authorities, came to the throne of the Pharaohs about 945.
The Egyptian version of his invasion of Palestine he caused to be inscribed on one of the walls of the temple, dedicated to Amon, at Karnak. This record has been discovered by archaeologists. Archaeology has also revealed to us a rock inscription in the sandstone quarries of Gabel Sisileh in which the architect Horemsof relates that he had been entrusted with the quarrying of stone for the work which his master Shishank intended to execute in the Temple of Amon at Karnak. This inscription is dated in the 21st year of this monarch’s reign.
Since it is generally supposed that the stones prepared by Horemsof were for the purpose of recording Shi-shank’s successful exploits in Palestine, the 21st year must have been after that campaign which occurred in Rehoboam’s fifth year on the throne. So we have therefore a more or less exact date, namely, about 930, for the secession of Israel from the dominions of the Davidic Dynasty.
1) The LXX statement is more historical because more logical and reasonable.
2) The sons of Gideon, Eli and Samuel—See Judges Ch. 8 and 9, 1 Sam. 4:4, 8.
3) The sons of Gideon may have inherited their father’s powers. From Judges 9:2 it would seem that they did become the rulers after their father’s death.
4) See Judges 8:22.
5) See Judges 11:6, 11.
6) See 1 Sam. 8:19, 20.
7) See Hosea 9:9.
8) See 1 Sam. 10:27.
9) See 1 Sam. 14:45.
10) See 1 Sam. Ch. 16.
11) 1 Sam. 20:31, 22:8.
12) See 1 Sam. 22:6.
13) See II Sam. 5:3.
14) See II Sam. Ch. 16.
15) See 2 Sam. 20:24.
16) 1 Kings 4:8.
17) “These are the names of the twelve governors”— “Each one was not appointed for a particular tribe, but over one of the 12 divisions in which Eretz Israel was divided.”
18) See 1 Kings 9:20, 22.
19) 1 Kings 5:28, 30.
20) Exodus 1:11.