We get déjà vu all over again when Solomon’s reign also experiences unrest. When one of his servants, Jeroboam, is running an errand for the king, the prophet Ahijah informs the servant that God told the prophet that He was going to give the servant authority over ten of the twelve tribes of Israel. Mind you, the various half-siblings have quarreled and even fought one another over the years. Not surprisingly, when Solomon learns of the prophecy, he decides to get rid of Jeroboam, who flees to Egypt.
Solomon dies and his son, Rehoboam, takes over the throne. Jeroboam returns from Egypt, leading an envoy set on requesting a lighter tax burden. King Rehoboam consults the elders who had served his father as to how to respond. They advise him to be reasonable, for his father had taxed the people heavily to pay for the expansion of the kingdom. Then the king turns to asks “the young men who had grown up with him.” They advised him to reject the request and punish the people further instead. In essence, don’t serve the people, make yourself even greater than your father.
Not surprisingly, the king goes along with his young buddies, and their counsel backfires. The ten northern tribes reject Rehoboam and David’s dynasty, thereby fulfilling Ahijah’s prophecy. Only Judah and Benjamin, the two southern tribes, remained loyal. The kingdom divided in 931 BC. It was now vulnerable. Of course, the decisions of mere humans does not change God’s promise to David. More on that later.
With Egypt’s power declining, the Assyrians of northern Mesopotamia take advantage of the leadership vacuum. Assyria, located in what is now northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey, becomes the next empire in the line of Gentile oppressors of Israel. They conquer the northern kingdom in 722 BC. As for the southern kingdom of Judah, they are conquered by the Babylonians in 605 BC. In both cases, God’s people are taken into captivity.
Why did God allow this? The sad refrain is repeated throughout the books of the prophets: “because they have forsaken Me.” The prophet Jeremiah delivers one such rebuke (Jer. 1:16). “I will utter My judgments against them concerning all their wickedness, because they have forsaken Me, burned incense to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands.”
It’s worth noting here that Assyria decided to resettle some of their people in the newly- conquered land, just north of Jerusalem. The center of this new populace is Samaria. Not surprisingly, the Assyrians bring their own gods with them. More on this later, too.
The Chronos Lesson: Despite this righteous judgment, Isaiah 54:7 records God’s merciful promise: “For a mere moment I have forsaken you, but with great mercies I will gather you.” Over and over the prophets echo that theme. Jeremiah 29:11 adds: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” In Lamentations 3:22-23, Jeremiah adds, “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”
The groundwork for God’s unfolding plan is given in Isaiah 9:6-7. “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase [greatness] of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”
The prophet Ezekiel describes what the coming of the Prince of Peace will bring. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone [hardened, rebellious heart] and give you a heart of flesh [softened heart]” (Ezek. 36:26). As always, God’s people always have a choice. Will they receive the Son given to bring salvation to the world?