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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

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Is´rael is the sacred and divinely bestowed name of the patriarch Jacob, and is explained to mean, 'A prince with God.' Although, as applied to Jacob personally, it is an honorable or poetical appellation, it is the common prose name of his descendants; while, on the contrary, the title Jacob is given to them only in poetry.

The separation of the Hebrew nation into two parts, of which one was to embrace ten of the tribes, and be distinctively named Israel, had its origin in the early power and ambition of the tribe of Ephraim. The rivalry of Ephraim and Judah began almost from the first conquest of the land; nor is it insignificant, that as Caleb belonged to the tribe of Judah, so did Joshua to that of Ephraim. From the very beginning Judah learned to act by itself; but the central position of Ephraim, with its fruitful and ample soil, and the long-continued authority of Joshua, must have taught most of the tribes west of the Jordan to look up to Ephraim as their head; and a still more important superiority was conferred on the same tribe by the fixed dwelling of the ark at Shiloh for so many generations (Joshua 18, etc.). Judah could boast of Hebron, Machpelah, Bethlehem, names of traditional sanctity; yet so could Ephraim point to Shechem, the ancient abode of Jacob; and while Judah, being on the frontier, was more exposed to the attack of the powerful Philistines, Ephraim had to fear only those Canaanites from within who were not subdued or conciliated. The haughty behavior of the Ephraimites towards Gideon, a man of Manasseh (), sufficiently indicates the pretensions they made. Still fiercer language towards Jephthah the Gileadite () was retorted by less gentleness than Gideon had shown; and a bloody civil war was the result, in which their pride met with a severe punishment. This may in part explain their quiet submission, not only to the priestly rule of Eli and his sons, who had their center of authority at Shiloh, but to Samuel, whose administration issued from three towns of Benjamin. Of course his prophetical character and personal excellence eminently contributed to this result; and it may seem that Ephraim, as well as all Israel besides, became habituated to the predominance of Benjamin, so that no serious resistance was made to the supremacy of Saul. At his death a new schism took place through their jealousy of Judah; yet in a few years' time, by the splendor of David's victories, and afterwards by Solomon's peaceful power, a permanent national union might seem to have been effected. But the laws of inheritance in Israel, excellent as they were for preventing permanent alienation of landed property, and the degradation of the Hebrew poor into prædial slaves, necessarily impeded the perfect fusion of the tribes, by discouraging intermarriage, and hindering the union of distant estates in the same hands. Hence, when the sway of Solomon began to be felt as a tyranny, the old jealousies of the tribes revived, and Jeroboam, an Ephraimite (), being suspected of treason, fled to Shishak, king of Egypt. The death of Solomon was followed by a defection often of the tribes, which established the separation of Israel from Judah (B.C. 975).

This was the most important event which had befallen the Hebrew nation since their conquest of Canaan. The chief territory and population were now with Jeroboam, but the religious sanction, the legitimate descent, lay with the rival monarch. From the political danger of allowing the ten tribes to go up to the sanctuary of Jerusalem, the princes of Israel, as it were in self-defense, set up a sanctuary of their own; and the intimacy of Jeroboam with the king of Egypt may have determined his preference for the form of idolatry (the calves) which he established at Dan and Bethel. In whatever else his successors differed, they one and all agreed in upholding this worship, which, once established, appeared essential to their national unity. Nevertheless it is generally understood to have been a worship of Jehovah, though under unlawful and degrading forms. Worse by far was the worship of Baal, which came in under one monarch only, Ahab, and was destroyed after his son was slain, by Jehu. A secondary result of the revolution was the ejection of the tribe of Levi from their lands and cities in Israel; at least, such as remained were spiritually degraded by the compliances required, and could no longer offer any resistance to the kingly power by aid of their sacred character. When the priestly tribe had thus lost independence, it lost also the power to assist the crown. The succession of Jeroboam's family was hallowed by no religious blessing; and when his son was murdered, no Jehoiada was found to rally his supporters and ultimately avenge his cause. The example of successful usurpation was so often followed by the captains of the armies, that the kings in Israel present to us an irregular series of dynasties, with several short and tumultuous reigns. This was one cause of disorder and weakness to Israel, and hindered it from swallowing up Judah: another was found in the relations of Israel towards foreign powers, which will presently be dwelt upon.

With regard to chronology, the following scheme agrees with Winer in its total range, but has minor changes by a single unit in some of the kings:—




























Zimri, Omri,


























Queen Athaliah






















Jeroboam II












Shallum, Menahem




























Samaria captured


Jeroboam originally fixed on Shechem as the center of his monarchy, and fortified it; moved perhaps not only by its natural suitability, but by the remembrances of Jacob which clove to it, and by the auspicious fact that here first Israel had decided for him against Rehoboam. But the natural delightfulness of Tirzah () led him, perhaps late in his reign, to erect a palace there (). After the murder of Jeroboam's son, Baasha seems to have intended to fix his capital at Ramah, as a convenient place for annoying the king of Judah, whom he looked on as his only dangerous enemy; but when forced to renounce this plan (; ), he acquiesced in Tirzah, which continued to be the chief city of Israel, until Omri, who, since the palace at Tirzah had been burned during the civil war (), built Samaria, with the ambition not uncommon in the founder of a new dynasty (). Samaria continued to the end of the monarchy to be the center of administration; and its strength appears to have justified Omri's choice. For details, see Samaria; also Tirzah and Shechem.

There is reason to believe that Jeroboam carried back with him, into Israel the good will, if not the substantial assistance, of Shishak; and this will account for his escaping the storm from Egypt which swept over Rehoboam in his fifth year. During that first period Israel was far from quiet within. Although the ten tribes collectively had decided in favor of Jeroboam, great numbers of individuals remained attached to the family of David and to the worship at Jerusalem, and in the first three years of Rehoboam migrated into Judah (). Perhaps it was not until this process commenced, that Jeroboam was worked up to the desperate measure of erecting rival sanctuaries with visible idols (): a measure which met the usual ill-success of profane state-craft, and aggravated the evil which he feared. It set him at war with the whole order of priests and Levites, whose expulsion or subjugation, we may be certain, was not effected without convulsing his whole kingdom, and so occupying him as to free Rehoboam from any real danger, although no peace was made. The king of Judah improved the time by immense efforts in fortifying his territory (); and, although Shishak soon after carried off the most valuable spoil, no great or definite impression could be made by Jeroboam. Israel having so far taken the place of heathen nations, and being already perhaps even in alliance with Egypt, at an early period—we know not how soon—sought and obtained the friendship of the kings of Damascus. A sense of the great advantage derivable from such a union seems to have led Ahab afterwards to behave with mildness and conciliation towards Benhadad, at a time when it could have been least expected (). From that transaction we learn that Benhadad I had made in Damascus 'streets for Omri,' and Omri for Benhadad in Samaria. This, no doubt, implied that 'a quarter' was assigned for Syrian merchants in Samaria, which was probably fortified like the 'camp of the Tyrians' in Memphis, or the English factory at Calcutta; and in it, of course, Syrian worship would be tolerated. Against such intercourse the prophets, as might be expected, entered their protest (); but it was in many ways too profitable to be renounced. In the reign of Baasha, Asa king of Judah, sensible of the dangerous advantage gained by his rival through the friendship of the Syrians, determined to buy them off at any price [see also under JUDAH]; and by sacrificing 'the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king's house' (), induced Benhadad I to break his league with Baasha and to ravage all the northern district of Israel. This drew off the Israelitish monarch, and enabled Asa to destroy the fortifications of Ramah, which would have stopped the course of his trade (), perhaps that with the sea-coast and with Tyre. Such was the beginning of the war between Israel and Syria, on which the safety of Judah at that time depended. Cordial union was not again restored between the two northern states until the days of Rezin king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, when Damascus must have already felt the rising power of Nineveh. The renewed alliance instantly proved so disastrous to Judah, which was reduced to the most extreme straits (;; ), as may seem to justify at least the policy of Asa's proceeding. Although it was impossible for a prophet to approve of it (), we may only so much the more infer that Judah was already brought into most pressing difficulties, and that the general course of the war, in spite of occasional reverses, was decidedly and increasingly favorable to Israel.

The wars of Syria and Israel were carried on chiefly under three reigns, those of Benhadad II, Hazael, and Benhadad III, the two first monarchs being generally prosperous, especially Hazael, the last being as decidedly unsuccessful. Although these results may have depended in part on personal qualities, there is high probability that the feebleness displayed by the Syrians against Jehoash and his son Jeroboam was occasioned by the pressure of the advancing empire of Nineveh.

Asa adhered, through the whole of his long reign, to the policy of encouraging hostility between the two northern kingdoms; and the first Benhadad had such a career of success that his son found himself in a condition to hope for an entire conquest of Israel. His formidable invasions wrought an entire change in the mind of Jehoshaphat (), who saw that if Israel was swallowed up by Syria, there would be no safety for Judah. We may conjecture that this consideration determined him to unite the two royal families; for no common cause would have induced so religious a king to select for his son's wife Athaliah the daughter of Jezebel. The age of Ahaziah, who was sprung from this marriage, forces us to place it as early as B.C. 912, which is the third year of Jehoshaphat and sixth of Ahab. Late in his reign Jehoshaphat threw himself most cordially () into the defense of Ahab, and by so doing probably saved Israel from a foreign yoke. Another mark of the low state into which both kingdoms were falling, is, that after Ahab's death the Moabites refused their usual tribute to Israel, and (as far as can be made out from the ambiguous words of ), the united force of the two kingdoms failed of doing more than irritate them. Soon after, in the reign of Jehoram son of Jehoshaphat, the Edomites followed the example, and established their independence. This event possibly engaged the whole force of Judah, and hindered it from succoring Samaria during the cruel siege which it sustained from Benhadad II, in the reign of Jehoram son of Ahab. The declining years and health of the king of Syria gave a short respite to Israel; but, in B.C. 885, Hazael, by defeating the united Hebrew armies, commenced the career of conquest and harassing invasion by which he 'made Israel like the dust by threshing.' Even under Jehu he subdued the trans-Jordanic tribes (). Afterwards, since he took the town of Gath () and prepared to attack Jerusalem—an attack which Jehoash king of Judah averted only by strictly following Asa's precedent—it is manifest that all the passes and chief forts of the country west of the Jordan must have been in his hand. Indeed, as he is said 'to have left to Jehoahaz only fifty horsemen, ten chariots, and ten thousand footmen,' it would seem that Israel was strictly a conquered province, in which Hazael dictated (as the English to the native rajahs of India) what military force should be kept up. From this thralldom Israel was delivered by some unexplained agency. We are told merely that 'Jehovah gave to Israel a saviour, so that they went out from under the hand of the Syrians; and the children of Israel dwelt in their tents as beforetime,' . It is allowable to conjecture that the (apparently unknown) deliverer was the Assyrian monarchy, which, assaulting Hazael towards the end of the reign of Jehoahaz, entirely drew away the Syrian armies. That it was some urgent, powerful, and continued pressure, considering the great strength which the empire of Damascus had attained, seems clear from the sudden weakness of Syria through the reigns of Jehoash and Jeroboam II, the former of whom thrice defeated Benhadad III and 'recovered the cities of Israel;' the latter not only regained the full territory of the ten tribes, but made himself master (for a time at least) of Damascus and Hamath. How entirely the friendship of Israel and Judah had been caused and cemented by their common fear of Syria, is proved by the fact that no sooner is the power of Damascus broken than new war breaks out between the two kingdoms, which ended in the plunder of Jerusalem by Jehoash, who also broke down its walls and carried off hostages; after which there is no more alliance between Judah and Israel. The empire of Damascus seems to have been entirely dissolved under the son of Hazael, and no mention is made of its kings for eighty years or more. When Pekah, son of Remaliah, reigned in Samaria, Rezin, as king of Damascus, made a last but ineffectual effort for its independence.

The same Assyrian power which had doubtless so seriously shaken, and perhaps temporarily overturned, the kingdom of Damascus, was soon to be felt by Israel. Menahem was invaded by Pul (the first sovereign of Nineveh whose name we know), and was made tributary. His successor, Tiglath-pileser, in the reign of Pekah, son of Remaliah, carried captive the eastern and northern tribes of Israel (i.e. perhaps all their chief men as hostages?), and soon after slew Rezin, the ally of Pekah, and subdued Damascus. The following emperor, Shalmanezer, besieged and captured Samaria, and terminated the kingdom of Israel, B.C. 721.

This branch of the Hebrew monarchy suffered far greater and more rapid reverses than the other. From the accession of Jeroboam to the middle of Baasha's reign it probably increased in power, it then waned with the growth of the Damascene Empire; it struggled hard against it under Ahab and Jehoram, but sank lower and lower; it was dismembered under Jehu, and made subject under Jehoahaz. From B.C. 940 to B.C. 850is, as nearly as can be ascertained, the period of depression; and from B.C. 914 to B.C. 830 that of friendship or alliance with Judah. But after (about) B.C. 850 Syria began to decline, and Israel soon shot out rapidly; so that Joash and his son Jeroboam appear, of all Hebrew monarchs, to come next to David and Solomon. How long this burst of prosperity lasted does not distinctly appear; but it would seem that entire dominion over the ten tribes was held until Pekah received the first blow from the Assyrian conqueror.

Besides that which was a source of weakness to Israel from the beginning, viz., the schism of the crown with the whole ecclesiastical body, other causes may be discerned which made the ten tribes less powerful, in comparison with the two, than might have been expected. The marriage of Ahab to Jezebel brought with it no political advantages at all commensurate with the direct moral mischief, to say nothing of the spiritual evil; and the reaction against the worship of Baal was a most ruinous atonement for the sin. To suppress the monstrous iniquity, Jehu not only put to death Ahab's wife, grandson, and seventy sons, but murdered first the king of Judah himself, and next forty-two youthful and innocent princes of his house; while, strange to tell, the daughter of Jezebel gained by his deed the throne of Judah, and perpetrated a new massacre. The horror of such crimes must have fallen heavily on Jehu, and have caused a widespread disaffection among his own subjects. Add to this, that the Phoenicians must have deeply resented his proceedings; so that we get a very sufficient clue to the prostration of Israel under the foot of Hazael during the reign of Jehu and his son.

Another and more abiding cause of political debility in the ten tribes was found in the imperfect consolidation of the inhabitants into a single nation. Since those who lived east of the Jordan retained, to a great extent at least, their pastoral habits, their union with the rest could never have been very firm; and when a king was neither strong independently of them, nor had good hereditary pretensions, they were not likely to contribute much to his power. After their conquest of the Hagarenes and the depression of the Moabites and Ammonites by David, they had free room to spread eastward; and many of their chief men may have become wealthy in flocks and herds (like Machir the son of Ammiel, of Lodebar, and Barzillai the Gileadite, ), over whom the authority of the Israelitish crown would naturally be precarious; while west of the Jordan the agrarian law of Moses made it difficult or impossible for a landed nobility to form itself, which could be formidable to the royal authority. That the Arab spirit of freedom was rooted in the eastern tribes, may perhaps be inferred from the case of the Rechabites, who would neither live in houses nor plant vines; undoubtedly like some of the Nabatheans, lest, by becoming settled and agricultural, they should be enslaved. Yet the need of imposing this law on his descendants would not have been felt by Jonadab, had not an opposite tendency been rising—that of agricultural settlement.

Although the priests and Levites nearly disappeared out of Israel, prophets were perhaps even more numerous and active there than in Judah; and Ahijah, whose prediction first endangered Jeroboam (), lived in honor at Shiloh to his dying day (). Obadiah alone saved one hundred prophets of Jehovah from the rage of Jezebel (). Possibly their extra-social character freed them from the restraint imposed on priests and Levites; and while they felt less bound to the formal rites of the Law, the kings of Israel were also less jealous of them.





Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Israel'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​i/israel.html.
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