The kingdom of Israel divided into southern and northern divisions under the reign of Solomon’s son Reheboam in roughly 930 B.C. (2 Chron 10). Reheboam then ruled the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the south while Jereboam ruled the other ten tribes in the north.
It is interesting that these two sets of tribes were taken captive by foreign powers roughly 200 and 350 years later. The northern tribes were taken captive by Assyria in 722 B.C., and the southern tribes were taken captive by Babylon in 586 B.C. Why is that one set of tribes would be taken captive by about 140 years earlier than the other?
Many reasons could be given, but we find one significant factor for the earlier captivity of the northern tribes just after the kingdom divided―leaders for godliness left the north to go to the south, and many of God’s people followed them (2 Chron 11:13–17).
To keep his people from following Reheboam once again, Jeroboam created two calves of gold and appointed non-Levitical priests to facilitate this system of false worship (1 Kgs 12:25–33). Along the way, Jeroboam cast out the true priests from the Levites, provoking the godly people in the north to follow these priests to the south (2 Chron 11:13–16). Their influence on the southern tribes was noticeable: “They strengthened the kingdom of Judah, and for three years they made Rehoboam the son of Solomon secure, for they walked for three years in the way of David and Solomon” (2 Chron 11:17). One can easily assume that the strengthening of the south was surely matched by the weakening of the north. After Israel’s division, the northern tribes instituted a system of idolatry, and it no surprise that they hastened God’s judgment all the sooner than the south. Unfortunately, the southern tribes, too, would be taken captive for their idolatry in time as well.
The northern tribes of Israel illustrate a helpful reminder for us today―a nation is stronger when its people fear the Lord. Remember that the priests were expelled from the north, provoking those who truly followed the Lord to follow these priests to the south. It is no surprise that the northern tribes took roughly half the time than the south to exhaust the patience of God.
Putting the above into a broader perspective, we know that Christ will judge the world at the end of this present age, just as Israel’s divisions were judged long ago. Until then, however, let us be a godly people who strengthen whatever nation may be our home because of who we are in Him. May it be that the influence of His people stays His hand in judgment for a time so that more may join us in knowing Him.