The Bible As Story (#11) Act 3: Israel—Decline of the Nation

After Saul’s disobedience, God chose David to succeed to the throne. God had told Saul;

But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.” (1 Samuel 13:14 ESV).

The nation of Israel reached its pinnacle of power and glory under David and his son, Solomon. David was highly successful in battle against surrounding nations. Through conquering these nations, the strength of Israel increased as well as her riches. Following David, Solomon greatly increased the fortunes of the nation through trade. Solomon became legendary for both his wisdom and his riches.

But the beginnings of decline were already at work even in David’s day. His own son, Absalom, led an abortive rebellion against his father. Following Solomon’s death the nation did divide into separate kingdoms – Israel in the north and Judah in the south. From the outset the kingdom of Israel was predominantly idolatrous. The first king, Jeroboam, actually set up two altars to compete with the worship at the temple in Jerusalem.

Ahab, a later king of Israel permitted his foreign wife, Jezebel, to bring the worship of Baal, the fertility god of the Phoenicians along with his altars and priests, into Israel. It was this that precipitated the famous confrontation between Elijah and 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel with the prophets of Baal being shown to be false prophets and killed by the prophet of God. (1 Kings 18 ESV). Although Elijah thought Israel to have been entirely swept into idolatry, God assure him…

Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18 ESV)

Eventually the northern kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians in about 740 BC with a larger portion of the people taken into Assyria and people from other conquered nations settled in their place. The result was the ethnically mixed people, the Samaritans whom we meet in the New Testament. This left the southern kingdom, Judah, to carry on God’s purpose in the world.

The kingdom of Judah, in its closing days, was led by an assortment of kings. Some few of them feared God and sought to eradicate the worship of idols while others were wicked idolaters themselves. Eventually God brought up the Babylonians to conquer Judah and take a major part of the population into that country and eventually into Persia as a punishment for their unfaithfulness.

All during this period God was communicating with His people through the prophets whom He sent to them. Through these men He was calling the people to turn away from idolatry and the sin that always accompanies that perversion of worship. Aside from Moses and David who were themselves considered prophets, there were some who did not write – the so-called non-literary prophets. There were those whose volume of writings got them labeled “major prophets,” and there were “minor prophets,” so called, not because their prophecy was unimportant, but simply that they did not write as much as the major prophets.

These men stood boldly and cried aloud against the wickedness and false religion they saw among their people. Many of them were killed for their outspoken message of repentance. The prophecies of these men foretold the end of the kingdom, but looked forward to the establishment of a greater, far more glorious kingdom – the kingdom of God. They all pointed to the coming of the Messiah – God’s anointed king who would sit upon the throne exercising a reign of righteousness and peace, not just over the fleshly nation of Israel or Judah, but over all who would accept His rule in their lives and indeed over all creation. They foretold a time when God’s people would all know that they were God’s people and that God was always with them, blessing, providing and leading them as a shepherd leads his sheep.

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