The history of the Northern Kingdom (1 Kings 13)

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The northern kingdom is variously called Samaria (after its capital), Ephraim (after its dominant tribe) or Israel. Nineteen kings, representing nine different families, reigned there for a combined period of 208 years.

After Solomon’s death (930 B.C.) Jeroboam I led the northern tribes to separate from Judah (under Rehoboam) and to establish Israel as a separate kingdom. Jeroboam built a capital at Tirzah and set up golden calves in Bethel and Dan to rival worship in Jerusalem. But he lost territory in Moab and Syria, and tensions smoldered between Israel and Judah for half a century. Jeroboam’s son Nadab was assassinated by Baasha.

Israel fell into disorder. Baasha exacerbated tensions with king Asa of Judah by fortifying Ramah, near Jerusalem, to which Asa responded by hiring Syria’s Ben-Hadad to attack Israel (1 Kings 15:16-22). Baasha’s dynasty ended when Zimri killed his son Elah. After a seven year reign, Zimri burned the palace, with himself inside, at Tizrah.

Israel returned to power and stability under Omri (884-873 B.C.), who bested Tibni in a four year civil war and established a capital at Samaria. He warred continuously against Syria, subdued Moab, made peace with Judah and entered into a trade alliance with Phoenicia, resulting in the marriage of his son Ahab to Jezebel, daughter of the Sidonian king. Revolts in Moab plagued the Omrides (Omri, Ahab, Ahaziah and Jehoram), and Samaria was fortified heavily against attacks from Syria-Damascus. These same kingdoms, however, cooperated with one another when their personal intrests were at stake. A temporary alliance of Syrian-Palestinian states pitted itself against Assyria at the battle of Qarqar (853 B.C.).

The Omride dynasty was characterized by apostasy. During this time the prophets Elijah and Elisa confronted the religious policies of Israel’s kings. Jezebel introduced the worship of Baal-Melqart, and this cult was promoted by Omride kings until the usurper Jehu executed Omri’s descendants, along with Jezebel and the prophets of Baal (841 B.C.).

The fourth-dynasty kings (Jehu, Jehoahaz, Jehoash, Jeroboam II and Zechariah, 2 Kings 10:30), despite a temporary suppression of the Baal cult (2 Kings 10:18-27), maintained the worship of the golden calves of Jeroboam I. Syria and Assyria continued to menace Israel over the next 50 years. Israel was greatly reduced in territory and military resources and regularly paid tribute to Assyria. But Assyria, after considerable weakening Damascus (Syria), suffered its own period of vulnerability. With its two principal enemies in a diminished state, Israel’s Jeroboam II was able to regain some territory. This period ended when Shallum assassinated Jeroboam II’s successor, Zecharaiah.

Isreal then fell rapidly into chaos and crisis. Shallum was assassinated by Menahem, and a fifth-dynasty (Menahem and Pekhiah) briefly came to power around 746 B.C. Anti-Assyrian sentiment flared after Menahem exacted a head-tax to pay tribute to Tiglath-Pileser III. Following a coup d’etat, Pekah seized control of Israel, forming an anti-Assyrian alliance with Syria’s Rezin. Pekah and Rezin pressured Ahaz of Judah to join them and attacked Jerusalem when he resisted. Ahaz sent tribute to Tiglath-Pileser III, king of a resurgent Assyria, seeking help, to which Assyria responded by sweeping down over northern Israel and Damascus. Rezin was killed and his subjects deported to Assyria.

A new usurper seized Israel’s throne: Hoshea assassinated Pekah and ruled in his place. Soon after the death of Tiglath-Pileser III (727 B.C.), Hoshea withheld tribute from Assyria. Shalmanezer V, successor to Tiglath-Pileser III, imprisoned Hoshea and put Samaria under siege. With the fall of the city (722 B..C.) and the deportation of its population, the northern kingdom came to an end.

The northern kingdom was noteworthy in three ways:

  • It was powerful relative to Judah.
  • It was idolatrous.
  • It was politically unstable.


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