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Judah and Israel

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I notice that they're marking their time by the rulers of Judah. ("Great Jehoshaphat!") Could you give us some background on Judah? Do the books of the Bible that we are reading focus mainly on Israel? (2/1/08)
Focus on Israel. This quarter, we are learning about the relationship between the kings and the prophets, and we are reading in chronological order. So far, the kings of Judah are mostly staying out of trouble, so God isn’t sending them very many prophets.

The first king of Israel, Jeroboam, set up false shrines to God and installed statues of calves in them, which was forbidden. This is called “the sin of Jeroboam.” All following kings of Israel kept these shrines, and thus they “committed the sin of Jeroboam.” As I recall, this comment is made about every king of Israel, even Zimri, who only lasted a week. The kings we are looking at right now – Omri, Ahab, and the sons of Ahab, introduced or continued Baalism, which was even worse than the false shrines. Consequently, they are getting a lot of prophets, and that’s why we seem to be concentrating on Israel.

Later in the quarter, the kings of Judah start acting up, and we’ll hear more about them.

Marking Time. Actually, it only looks like they are marking time by the kings of Judah, because so far we’ve mostly been looking at kings of Israel. We’ve seen several cases where “Sam became king of Israel in the ninth year of Joe, the king of Judah.” When a new king of Judah comes on board, the corresponding formula is that “Joe became king of Judah in the ninth year of Sam, the king of Israel.” See, for example, 2 Kings 8:25.

You do see the formula more often for kings of Israel than for kings of Judah. This is because the average length of a reign of a king of Israel was about 13 years, and the average reign of a king of Judah was 22 years during the time that the kingdom of Israel was in existence. The main reason the average reign in Israel was so short is that assassination was the leading cause of death. Out of 20 kings of Israel, 8 were either assassinated or killed in battle by someone aspiring to be king. Israel had 9 different families on the throne.

In contrast, many kings of Judah died of natural causes. Some died in battle, but mostly they weren’t killed by someone trying to take over their throne. Only two families and one in-law held the throne of Judah. Saul was the first king. David, not a son of Saul, was the second king. All subsequent kings of Judah descended from David. The only break in the Davidic dynasty was Queen Athaliah. She was the wife of Jehoram, king of Judah, and the daughter of Omri of Israel. When her son King Ahaziah was killed by Jehu (who was taking over Israel), Athaliah slaughtered all but one member of her remaining family, a baby boy named Joash or Jehoash, and took over as queen for six years. The baby was hidden by the priests, and as soon as he was able to hold up the scepter, the priests executed Athaliah and put Jehoash on the throne, restoring the Davidic line.

Background on Judah. The kingdom of Israel under Saul, David, and Solomon was, by the standards of a western U.S. state, a tiny place. I found some maps on the web.

Here’s a map that compares the modern country of Israel to the United States. Under Saul, David, and Solomon, the kingdom of Israel was about this long north to south, but fatter, east to west. There’s also a map on this page that gives some distances in miles.

Remember that after the Israelites returned from Egypt and conquered Palestine, Joshua parceled out land to the tribes and in turn to families within the tribes. For the next 400 years or so, the tribes were ruled by their elders or by judges. Here’s our map showing where each tribe was located during the time of Joshua and the judges. The Israelites held more territory than the Israelis do today, but be sure to notice the scale at the bottom. It was tiny, although of course travel times were longer. Notice the tribes of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin in the south.

After the death of Solomon, the kingdom split into two pieces, Israel in the north, and Judah in the south. Here’s a map of Judah. Simeon and Benjamin have more or less assimilated into Judah. The Israelites had never had a really firm hold on the coast, and now the coastal areas have been taken back by the Philistines. Everything that’s shown on the previous map (except the coastal areas and the eastern fringes) now belongs to the northern kingdom of Israel. You can see that Judah is microscopic, not much bigger than Albuquerque. This is roughly the area that Jesus knew as Judah under the Romans. (He also spent considerable time outside of Judah, in Galilee, an area that previously was in the northern kingdom.)

Copyright 2008, 2013 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved. This page has been prepared for the web site by RPB.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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