Friday, January 27, 2023

Religious Life in Ancient Israel's Divided Kingdom

When I first began researching the prophet Elijah for my novels Rain and Whirlwind, I was continually confused about the Divided Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, north and south, not to mention the many kings from each with similar names. Today I'll broadly touch on the reasons for and results of the split. We'll leave the kings' names for another time.


After King Solomon's death in 931 B.C.E, ten northern tribes rebelled against heavy taxes imposed by Solomon's son, Rehoboam, and formed a separate kingdom, which retained the name Israel. The remaining tribes called themself Judah, after King David's family line.

The rebellion almost led to war. Rehoboam (southern king) mustered his far superior army to crush the rebellion. But the prophet Shemaiah received word from the Lord and stopped them. 

“Say to Rehoboam son of Solomon king of Judah, to all Judah and Benjamin, and to the rest of the people, ‘This is what the Lord says: Do not go up to fight against your brothers, the Israelites. Go home, every one of you, for this is my doing.’” So they obeyed the word of the Lord and went home again, as the Lord had ordered.  ~ 1 Kings 12:24

Despite the political advantage of lower taxes than their southern brothers, Jeroboam, the new king of Israel (north) worried the religious pull of the temple in Jerusalem would entice religious pilgrims from his territory. He even feared his people might kill him and reconcile under Judah's King Rehoboam. To keep Israelites from straying, Jeroboam instituted a form of calf worship at Dan and Bethel, the southern and northern borders of his kingdom. The politically correct explanation of these "high places" was that "the Lord rode on the backs of the calves" but in fact, calf worship was a bridge to Canaanite cults and led the way to Ba'al worship.

North and South continued to eye each other suspiciously. Israel felt they'd not been treated equally with their southern kinsmen, that they'd borne more than their fair share of taxes and forced labor for an extravagant king. Learning that Israel worshipped golden calves, Judeans eyed them as apostates.


Jezebel - John Liston Byam Shaw
courtesy WikiCommons
When a later king of Israel, Ahab, married Princess Jezebel of Tyre, trade routes were strengthened with her Canaanite countrymen. Ahab, enamoured with the beautiful princess, built a temple to Ba'al Melqart in Samaria. Jezebel took her position not only as queen, but as leader of the Ba'al cult in Israel, contributing to even greater departure from the worship of Yahweh. 

This is supported by archeologists finding evidence of cultic worship centers in places throughout Israel such as Megiddo and Western Galilee. Votive images of children seem to indicate child sacrifice.

Not only did Jezebel support the Ba'al cult, she persecuted and killed the prophets of Yahweh. This all led up to a confrontation to between the two forces at Mount Carmel. The prophet Elijah challenged the followers of Ba'al to a contest. The winner's deity would answer by sending fire from heaven. Apparently, Ba'al was away or napping that afternoon, because only Yahweh sent fire to consume His offering.

Despite Yahweh's victory, and the execution of the Priests of Ba'al (although evidently not those of Astarte), the Ba'al cult was decimated. But though it was not as flagrant in the following years, it continued to spread. The key to the religious theme of the times is in 1 Kings 18:21, where Elijah asks, "How long will you falter between two opinions?" (Literally, limp along on two twigs.)

Israel had not totally rejected Yahweh, but attempted an adulterated worship of both Yahweh and Ba'al. If their parents had taught them anything of Moses' writings, they had to know this could only lead to their downfall.
"Fear the Lord your God, serve him only." Deuteronomy 6:13a


The Death of Jezebel
courtesy WikiCommons
Jehu, a later king in Israel, dealt a blow to Ba'al worship in a "sting operation." He summoned all the priests and other cult leaders into the Ba'al temple for a time of feasting and celebration. Instead he had them killed and the temple destroyed.

Still, the people did not return to God. Even Jehu did not totally turn from cult worship. Although he had destroyed Ba'al worship, thrown Jezebel to the dogs, and killed Ahab's remaining family, he continued to worship the golden calves at Bethel and Dan. Some people will never learn!

So the Lord allowed foreign nations to erode Israel's territory. Jehu lost all land east of the Jordan to Syria. Finally, the northern kingdom of Israel was taken into captivity by Assyria.

For further reading:

A History of Israel
John J. Davis, John C. Whitcomb

Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Manners & Customs, 
The Divided Kingdom: Life in Israel

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WHIRLWIND ~ Whispers on the Wind, Book 2 

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A king's downfall and a love that transcends war

SPURNED BY POTENTIAL SUITORS, Miriam travels to Jezreel to care for her cousin’s son. There, the precocious seven-year-old works his way into her heart. When Arameans swarm the land like locusts, Miriam focuses on the safety of her young ward but promises adventures beyond the city walls when the war ends.

Gershon, a quiet and kind vintner, is happily building a life for his wife, son, and aging parents. But when his wife dies during childbirth and war looms on the horizon, he must make a decision—will he take a new wife before his heart can mend?

Meanwhile, Dov, a young officer crosses paths with the “bird girl” he remembers from the past, now grown to womanhood. That she is a beautiful woman matters not, as he is a career soldier. Unexpectedly charged with leading Ahab’s army against the Arameans, Dov anticipates death and defeat in Samaria, but when a prophet pledges victory, Dov vows to fight to the end.

When an unlikely victory brings freedom, a bright future seems imminent. Then one afternoon Miriam witnesses a tragedy and must flee with the boy to keep them both safe. With henchmen on their trail, will they find refuge—and her heart the home she’s longed for? 


DANA MCNEELY writes biblical novels from an Arizona oasis, where she lives with her hubby the constant gardener, two good dogs, an antisocial cat, and myriad migrating butterflies. When not researching, writing, or struggling with the mysteries of social media, Dana can be found wandering in her personal Eden dreaming up new stories.

You may follow Dana at and receive a free eBook! The Eyes of the Lord is a prequel to the Whispers on the Wind series. Rain and Whirlwind follow. 


  1. Thank you for posting today, and Happy New Year! I appreciated your concise explanation of the splitting of Israel and Judah.

  2. I'm so glad God saw fit to save my birth until the 20th century. The more I've read and studied the Old Testament, the more I understand why God would be frustrated and certainly angry with His people even though He knew in advance what they would do. Thanks for more information about these times.

  3. Great post, Dana! Love the artwork too. You put a complicated period into an easy-to-understand format.

  4. Thanks Connie, Martha, and Linore. I had a hard time keeping things straight at first, so I thought this might be useful to others. I know, Martha, I constantly wonder why God ever put up with mankind, let alone that he has done so for milleniums. He is so good! Linore, there is some lovely artwork available. Sometimes it is hard to choose!