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Outlines Of Jewish History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.

§ 1. Decline of Solomon’s Kingdom

1. Causes of Decline. The prosperous period of Solomon’s reign was unquestionably the golden age of the Jewish nation. Under his wise and vigorous rule commerce and literature made gigantic strides, peace and plenty prevailed throughout the country. Nor was there any apparent reason why this splendor and prosperity should not last till the death of the monarch and be handed down intact to his successors, for he was surrounded by the confidence, admiration and love of his subjects, by a numerous family and powerful alliances through marriage at home and abroad. And yet “Solomon in his old age was about to bequeath to his heir an insecure throne, a discontented people, formidable enemies on the frontiers, and perhaps a contested succession” (MILMAN, History of the Jews). The general cause of this sad and rapid decline of the Jewish king is to be found in his complete adoption of the ways of Eastern monarchs, however at variance this might be with the spirit and actual requirements of a theocratic government. His evident desire had been even to outdo in their splendor and luxury all neighboring courts; and in consequence, he had gradually made everything around him purely Asiatic, entirely foreign to the ideal of a monarchy as sketched in Deuteronomy (17:16, 17), since in direct defiance of it he had multiplied horses in the land, accumulated gold and silver, and contracted marriage with foreign wives (3 Kings 10:10, sq.; 11:1, 2; 2 Paralip. 9:13, sq.).

From this general adoption by Solomon of the ways of Eastern potentates and his efforts to surpass them all in magnificence, naturally followed the first particular cause of his decline, namely, his despotism (3 Kings 12:4). To gratify his worldly ostentation he demanded from his subjects enormous sacrifices, which they supported willingly at first, but soon regarded as unbearable burdens. The temples and palaces, cities and fortresses with the construction of which he gratified his passion for building “in Jerusalem and in Libanus and in all the land of his dominion” (2 Paralip. 8) were rendered possible only by the exaction of forced labor even on the part of his own subjects (3 Kings 11:27, 28; 12:14), and by the imposition of taxes the rate and burden of which naturally increased as time went on. If we add to this the enormous expenditure entailed by the maintenance of a large standing army, of a numerous and magnificent court, both apparently out of proportion with the resources at his disposal, it will be easy for us to understand how on the one hand, Solomon’s treasury gradually became so exhausted that the vicegerent of Jehovah was driven to cede a portion of God’s own Holy Land to the pagan king Hiram, in order to pay the debts he had contracted; and how on the other hand, the Jewish people were gradually led to consider the rule of the son of David as a despotic yoke from which they long and intensely yearned to be relieved (3 Kings 11:28; 12:1–6).

A second special cause of the decline of Solomon’s kingdom consists in his multiplication of wives and concubines. Like other Eastern despots, he freely indulged his passions, and in this—if the enormous figures of 700 wives and 300 concubines given in 3 Kings 11:3, be admitted as correct (with which compare Canticle 6:7)—he even seems to have gone much beyond them all, most likely with a view to give evidence to his contemporaries of his superior wealth and power. Of course, this sensual life of the king, besides involving necessarily his own physical and spiritual decay, remained a source of constant scandal for his subjects at large, and for the grandees of his court in particular; and as we have already noticed, it betrayed him into connections by marriage with foreign nations, that is, into alliances contrary at least to the spirit of the law (3 Kings 11:2).

The last particular cause of the decline of the kingdom of Solomon, and one which resulted naturally from his love for and marriage with foreign wives, was the idolatry which he tolerated, encouraged and not unlikely practised himself (3 Kings 11:1–34). To please them he not only allowed them to practise their idolatrous and abominable rites within his dominions, but actually built high places “for Chamos the idol of Moab, and for Moloch the idol of the children of Ammon, on the hill that is over-against Jerusalem,” that is probably that part of the Mount of Olives which faced directly the august temple of Jehovah. He apparently went further and actually “worshipped Astarthe, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Moloch, the idol of the Ammonites” (3 Kings 11:5, 33). This was, of course, a most heinous crime on the part of a king of Israel to whom “Jehovah had appeared twice,” and whose perverse example could not but exercise the most disastrous influence upon the minds and hearts of the Jewish people, hardly weaned, so to speak, from those idolatrous and licentious rites in which their ancestors had freely and repeatedly indulged. In point of fact, people and courtiers followed him in his worship of Astarthe, of Chamos and Moloch (3 Kings 11:33), and although Asa, Josaphat, Joas and Ezechias put an end to idolatry throughout all the rest of their dominions, yet they did not feel powerful enough to fight against the popular feeling in favor of the high places which Solomon had built to the gods of his foreign wives in the vicinity of Jerusalem and which subsisted up to the great religious reforms effected by Josias (4 Kings 23:13).

2. Signs of Decline. It was chiefly during the “old age” of Solomon, as the third book of Kings takes notice—the parallel narrative of his reign in the second book of Paralipomenon has no reference to the idolatry of this prince—that the son of David “had his heart turned away by women to follow strange gods.” As he advanced in years the weakness of his will betrayed itself more and more, and his application to public affairs proportionately relaxed. It is therefore during this period that the signs of decline became more apparent. Among these, we may mention with the sacred writer (3 Kings 11:14–26) the fact that Hadad, one of the royal blood of the Edomite princes, began to organize a revolt against Solomon’s supremacy in Edom, a province on which Jewish maritime commerce depended so much; and that an adventurer, named Razon, seized Damascus and set up what seems to have been an independent sovereignty (MILMAN, History of the Jews).

These rebellions of powerful tributary States against the Jewish suzerainty over the east of Jordan were also calculated to increase the dissatisfaction experienced at home by both people and prophets against the infamous and despotic rule of their king. By this time, the people at large had long ceased to be dazzled by the splendor of Solomon’s court, by the greatness of his fame for wisdom in all he said and did, and as years went on and no relief from compulsory labor or enormous taxation was in view, they grew tired of his unbearable yoke and contemplated his death in a near future as an occasion of bettering their sad condition. Nor is it improbable that the true patriotic spirit of the bulk of the people resented more and more the ever-increasing moral and religious corruption of the capital of Israel. “The old men who had been Solomon’s advisers in his days of greatness—the sons of Nathan and Sadoc and others—cannot have regarded these proceedings without alarm. Some of them, probably in concert with the prophets of the time, Semeias, Addo and Ahias, must have remonstrated with the king on his folly so contrary to the real interests of the theocratic government. But their remonstrances were uttered in vain” (SIME, The Kingdom of All-Israel, p. 571). Solomon was therefore well aware of the growing and but too well-founded dissatisfaction of his people, yet he blindly went on, and despised even the Divine sentence of which the prophet Ahias was most likely the bearer, and which announced to Solomon the rending of the kingdom after his death (3 Kings 11:9–13; 29, sq.).

This general dissatisfaction explains the rapid fortune of Jeroboam, whom Solomon intrusted with one of the most important posts of the kingdom. It was because of the increasing difficulty in raising taxes in the district of Ephraim, a tribe ever opposed to the influence of Juda, that the king, “seeing him a young man ingenious and industrious, made him chief over the tributes of all the house of Joseph.” It was because in this post of trust and power, Jeroboam could realize how widespread and deep seated was the dissatisfaction of the people with the existing order of things that he foresaw the day when, according to the prediction of Ahias, the prophet of Silo, he would successfully take possession of the throne of at least the northern tribes. It was finally because of the desire of the people to get rid of Solomon’s hated yoke, that on the occasion of the fresh compulsory labor entailed by the repairing or strengthening of the walls of Jerusalem, Jeroboam dared “lift up his hand (that is, start an open rebellion) against the king,” and that although unsuccessful in his premature attempt against Solomon, he was nor forgotten by the people during his sojourn in Egypt, whither he withdrew till the death of the Jewish monarch (3 Kings 11:26–12:3).

3. The End of Solomon. Amid these unmistakable signs of the decline of his kingdom Solomon died, when about sixty years of age. His rule of forty years had been divided into two parts of nearly equal duration, but of a very different character. The first period, marked by glory, power and righteousness, had been succeeded by another of degradation, of weakness and of unfaithfulness to the God of Israel. The very brief manner in which the sacred writers record his demise (3 Kings 11:41, sq.; 2 Paralip. 9:29, sq.) offers a striking contrast with the fulness of details they supply concerning the last days of David. Differently from his dying father, Solomon could not speak to his successor of a prosperity near at hand, for he knew with full certainty from Jehovah that the large States he had inherited from David would be soon divided, and that only the much smaller portion would belong to his son and successor; nor could he most likely address to this same son words of earnest, loving entreaty that he should serve faithfully the God of Israel, seeing that he himself had not only been long unfaithful to Jehovah’s worship, but also died without those feelings of repentance which had secured to David his pardon. Hence we are simply told that “Solomon slept with his father, and was buried in the city of David his father, and Roboam reigned in his stead.”

It is true that ecclesiastical writers have ever been divided on the question of the salvation of Solomon, and that great names like those of St. Irenæus, St. Hilary, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Ambrose and St. Jerome, who believe that the son of David is among the saved, can be opposed to those of Tertullian, St. Cyprian, St. Augustine and St. Gregory the Great, who number him among the lost; nor can it be denied that this is a question which no one will ever be able to solve, since Holy Writ tells us nothing about it; yet it seems that this very silence of the sacred writers—if it points to anything—points rather to the final impenitence of Solomon.

§ 2. Disruption of Solomon’s Kingdom

1. Manner in which it was Brought About. The disruption of the kingdom of Solomon, which occurred so soon after his death, although apparently sudden, had been gradually prepared by the old mutual jealousies of the powerful tribes of Juda and Ephraim. For upwards of 400 years the leadership of the nation had been practically in the hands of Ephraim, for whilst great Jewish leaders like Josue, Samuel, and in some manner Saul—because of the manifold connection of Benjamin with the house of Joseph—belonged to it, it had within its boundaries Silo and Sichem, the one the religious, and the other the civil capital of Israel. Hence the readiness of the Ephraimites to complain whenever any important national event took place without their concurrence (cfr. Judges 8:1–3; 12:1–7); hence also their efforts during seven long years for supporting Isboseth, the son of Saul, against David who had been proclaimed king by the tribe of Juda. They indeed submitted to the inevitable when David was recognized as king by all Israel, but felt deeply the wound he inflicted on their pride when he made Jerusalem the religious and civil capital of the country, instead of the old centres of Silo and Sichem. In vain, therefore, did the Jewish monarch strive to calm their resent ment by bestowing high favors upon many Ephraimites. His restoration by Juda without the concurrence of Ephraim so vexed the house of Joseph that the rebellion it occasioned well-nigh precipitated a disruption (2 Kings 20:1, the expressions of which should be compared with 3 Kings 12:16). Again, the Ephraimites felt keenly what must have appeared on the part of Solomon an attempt to do away with the glorious past of their tribe, when this prince divided the whole kingdom into twelve provinces simply in accordance with the actual resources and population of the various districts; and they became gradually so exasperated by his oppressive taxation that to keep them under subjection he felt the need of appointing over them Jeroboam, a man of great valor, and one on whose faithfulness he could apparently depend, through gratitude for this rapid elevation. Finally, feelings of insubordination to Solomon’s rule were such in Ephraim that Jeroboam, thinking the time had come to seize the Jewish throne, raised the standard of revolt against the king: he was indeed defeated, but not lost sight of during his exile in Egypt.

Thus, then, at the death of Solomon everything had long been tending towards a separation of Ephraim—and indeed of the northern tribes which had ever been very much under its influence—from Juda, its rival and oppressor; and only a favorable occasion was required for securing a disruption.

This favorable occasion soon offered itself when stubborn and haughty Roboam, the son of the deceased monarch, not only refused to comply with the just requests of the representatives of the tribes that he should lighten the heavy yoke put upon them by Solomon, but even dared to say, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with scorpions.” This was the crowning insult; it was addressed to both the Ephraimites and the other tribes of the north; and it at once met with the old revolutionary cry of Seba: “Go home to your dwellings, O Israel!” and with these words announcing that the disruption was an accomplished fact: “Now, David, see to thy own house” (3 Kings 12:1–16).

2. Consequences of the Disruption. The disruption so long prepared and so suddenly accomplished was a momentous event in the history of the Jewish nation. As might naturally be expected, its first consequence was the perpetuation of the old rivalry between northern and southern tribes. In point of fact, if we except the short period of about thirty years, during which vain attempts were made to establish friendly relations between them by the intermarriage of the royal families, the kingdoms of Juda and Israel, which arose from the disruption, were ever at war.

A second natural consequence of the disruption was a religious separation between the southern kingdom, or kingdom of Juda, and the northern kingdom, or kingdom of Israel. The unity of the Jewish people was essentially religious, and the first king of the ten separated tribes felt that he must break it or see his kingdom soon wrested from his hands (3 Kings 12:26, sq.). “Humanly speaking, Jeroboam’s fear was well-founded. If Jerusalem continued to be the centre of religious unity, if the Levites from all parts of Palestine went up in their turns to conduct the Temple service, and if the people continued to flock to the Holy Place three times a year, as the law commanded them, there could not but have been great danger of a reaction setting in and a desire for reunion manifesting itself. It was natural, therefore, that the king should cast about for some means of avoiding this consummation, which not only threatened his royalty, but even his life. The later history shows how effectual were his measures for counteracting the tendency to reunion with Juda. They prevented all healing of the breach between the two kingdoms, and made the separation final. They produced the result that not only no reunion took place, but no symptoms of an inclination to reunite ever manifested themselves during the whole period of the double kingdom” (Speaker’s Commentary, vol. ii, p. 559).

The third natural consequence following the disruption was the greater weakness of the chosen people at the very time when, even its existence would soon be threatened by much more formidable invasions than in the past. Up to this moment the Jewish monarchs had fought against comparatively weak enemies, namely, the small nations and tribes which surrounded the Holy Land; but, henceforth, they will have to cope with much more powerful enemies. At first, Egyptian forces will invade Southern Palestine, capture the Holy City and plunder the House of Jehovah. Next, the Assyrians—termed the Romans of Asia on account of their military power and skill—will invade the country, and succeed ultimately in destroying utterly the northern kingdom. Finally, the kingdom of Juda, after having withstood longer the repeated invasions of Assyria, will fall a prey to another Eastern power, the great Babylonian Empire.

3. The Two Kingdoms Compared. Thus, then, from a very powerful empire in Western Asia, the Jewish nation had been reduced by the disruption to two comparatively small and defenceless kingdoms. Of these, the northern kingdom, known as that of Samaria, Ephraim, or Israel, greatly surpassed the southern or kingdom of Juda in extent and population. The area of the former is estimated at about 9,000 square miles (about that of New Hampshire), with a population of about four or five millions. It included eight tribes: namely, on the west of the Jordan, Ephraim, one-half Manasses, Issachar, Zabulon, Aser, Nephtali, with the coast-line between Acre and Joppe; on the east of the Jordan, Ruben, Gad and one-half Manasses. Its vassal States were Moab and so much of Syria as had remained subject to Solomon (4 Kings 3:4; 3 Kings 11:24). The kingdom of Juda included that tribe itself together with Benjamin, and at least eventually, a part, if not the whole, of Simeon and Dan. Its area is estimated at 3,400 square miles, with a population of about one million and three-quarters. Besides this, Edom continued faithful to Juda for a time, and the ports of the Red Sea furnished an outlet for its commerce.

But whilst the northern kingdom greatly surpassed the southern in population, extent and fertility, contained several important cities and was superior to Juda in military power, it was unquestionably inferior to the southern kingdom when considered from a political and religious standpoint. “If Israel had ten tribes, it had the fatal heritage of disunion. Juda as, virtually, a single tribe, had the priceless blessing of national and religious unity. Its kings, to the last, traced their descent in an unbroken line from David, the national hero. Whereas Israel was to have its capital successively in Sichem, Thersa and Samaria, that of Juda was always Jerusalem; while rival temples at Dan and Bethel invited the subjects of the northern kingdom, there was only one sanctuary for its southern rival” (GEIKIE, Hours with the Bible, vol. iv, p. 8).

These and other such advantages of the smaller kingdom, that of Juda, over the kingdom of Israel account for the fact that it outlived its rival by more than one hundred and thirty years, for whilst the northern kingdom was destroyed in 721 B. C., the southern subsisted till 588 B. C.

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