Chapter 7: The Divided Kingdom
After Solomon died, the anger and animosity that smoldered among the tribes of Israel for many years burst into the flames of civil war. The Golden Age was over; it had lasted only seventy years. In its stead, a bitterly divided people formed themselves into two warring countries. Those who lived in the northern part of Palestine formed the country called Israel, and those in the south became known as the nation of Judah.
The anger that erupted after Solomon's death was a reaction to the enormous tax burden he placed on his people. The king needed a never-ending supply of money to support his building programs. He built a magnificent palace and palatial estates for himself, his harem, and his 700 wives. He also built a temple renowned for its splendor. And when those buildings were completed, exorbitant taxes had to be continually raised to maintain them in all their opulence.
Not only was the tax burden enormous, it was also inequitable. Solomon lived in the capital city of Jerusalem, in the southeastern part of Palestine. It was territory that had been settled by the tribe of Judah--the tribe that produced both David and Solomon. Because they were his kinsmen, Solomon gave the Judahites preferential treatment: their taxes were nominal while the tribes of the north bore the weight of the king's extravagance.
The northern tribes were also put into forced labor camps. The king needed a constant supply of workers for his copper mines and for his grandiose building projects. When his supply of slaves captured in battle ran low, he conscripted the men of the northern tribes and forced them to do the work.
When Solomon died, those men hoped for some relief from the inequities they had endured. They presented their case to the new ruler, Rehoboam, son of Solomon and Naamah. "And they said this to him, 'Your father gave us a heavy burden to bear; lighten your father's harsh tyranny now, and the weight of the burden he laid on us, and we will serve you.'"
Rehoboam asked for three days in which to consider their request and at the end of that time he gave his answer. "'My father made you bear a heavy burden,' he said 'but I will make it heavier still. My father beat you with whips; I am going to beat you with loaded scourges.'"
Rehoboam never got the chance to put a heavier burden on the northern tribes. They withdrew all support from him, formed a separate kingdom and anointed their own king. And when Rehoboam still tried to force them into subjection, it caused civil war.
As the years of the divided kingdom passed into centuries, there was no respite from the unrestrained rule of the male power principle. The history of both Judah and Israel is the story of constant turmoil and warfare. At various times the sons of Israel fought the Cushites, Libyans, Moabites, Ammonites, Meunites, Edomites, Philistines, Arabs. And each other.
Even the prophets of the time were renowned for their ability to inflict death and disaster on those who incurred their wrath. Names like Elijah and Elisha figure prominently in some of the most bloody coups that took place in Israel. And Elijah's ongoing feud with Jezebel, wife of King Ahab, was a death warrant for three generations of her descendants.
In 869 B.C. Ahab was anointed king of the northern tribes. Jezebel was a foreigner, a Tyrian princess, and the marriage cemented a political alliance between Tyre and Israel. As was usual in such alliances, protocol demanded that Ahab provide a worship center for his wife. She was a devotee of the god Baal, and in providing for her religious rituals Ahab was following the custom established by King Solomon.
Like the Jewish prophets with whom she was at odds, Jezebel was fiercely devoted to her god, and many Israelites joined her in worshipping Baal. Furious at this defection, Elijah called for a public contest that would match the strength of Baal against the power of Jehovah. The prophet called for "all Israel to gather round on Mount Carmel, and also the four hundred priests of Baal who eat at Jezebel's table."
First the priests prayed that their god would send fire from heaven to consume a sacrificial animal; they prayed all day but nothing happened. Then Elijah prayed.
"'O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove now that you are the God of Israel...so that this people will know that you are God and that you are bringing them back to yourself.' The Lord sent fire down, and it burned up the sacrifice...."
This demonstration convinced the people of Israel that their God was more powerful so, when Elijah ordered it, they rounded up the priests of Baal. Then the prophet slaughtered them. "Elijah said to them, 'Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.' They seized them, and Elijah took them down to the wadi Kishon and slaughtered them there in the valley."
Jezebel was furious when she learned what had happened and threatened Elijah's life. He hid in the wilderness and later said that God had visited him there, telling him to anoint Jehu, a young army officer, as king of Israel. He also said he was told to designate the Prophet Elisha as his own successor.
It was Elisha who would carry out his mentor's plan to massacre all the royal heirs who stood between Jehu and the throne. Elisha was a good choice for the job--violence came easily to him. The Bible recounts an incident in which he is said to have caused the death of forty-two young boys who ridiculed him because he was bald.
[Elisha] went up to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, "Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!" When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number. 
It is not only the ancient scribes who found this grisly story acceptable and indicative of God's favor. Modern Biblical scholars also explain this incident in a positive light. They argue that because the prophet was the representative of God, the youths were actually being disrespectful to God. These commentators find it reasonable that the boys had to die for their disrespect. They hold this view even though the Bible forbids retaliation that exceeds the original provocation.
Elisha had no problem in carrying out Elijah's plan to massacre Ahab's descendants. He sent someone to anoint Jehu as king of Israel, and sent the following message: "The Lord, the God of Israel, proclaims: 'I anoint you king of Israel. You are to kill your master the king, that son of Ahab, so that I may punish Jezebel for murdering my prophets and my other servants. All of Ahab's family and descendants are to die; get rid of every male in his family, young and old alike.'"
Jehu carried out these orders and had seventy descendants of Ahab beheaded. Their severed heads were placed in baskets at the city gates and when the townspeople saw them they were told "the lord has done what he promised through his prophet Elijah."
After killing everyone of royal blood, "Jehu put to death all the other relatives of Ahab...and all his officers, close friends and priests; not one of them was left alive."
A modern religious textbook comments on this massacre: "Apart from the faultiness in [his] motives, the deeds recounted up to this point fall within the letter of Jehu's commission [from the prophet Elisha]. This textbook, and others like it, excuse the horrific violence involved because it was ordered in the name of God. But in order to accept that violence, scholars must ignore the fact that Jewish Law legislated against killing anyone because of what someone else had done.
The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers; only for his own sin shall any one be put to death.
Prophets like Elijah and Elisha, and men like Jehu, were continuing the tradition of murder, destruction, and the exercise of coercive political power that had begun centuries before with the prophet Samuel. Such prophets were the religious leaders of a people who were failing in their mission--people who had not allowed the female principle an active part in the affairs of their nation.
Desensitized by the brutal wars of extermination they fought from the time they first entered the Promised Land, the Jewish people were attributing their violence to the God who had called them to be a holy nation. They were the Chosen People; the people chosen to manifest the peace, prosperity, and blessedness of a nation that sought to achieve a male/female balance in all its affairs. They had failed in that mission.
They were heirs of the covenant that brought together the circumcised man and the free woman who would give birth to a new kind of nation. But they had ceased to be the agents through which the evolving female principle could have a wider area of activity. The descendants of Sarah and Abraham were just as far from fulfilling the terms of their covenant as were the heathen nations that surrounded them.
God had called them to show the way to a fallen human race that had lost contact with its own male/female identity and with the God in whose image it had been created. But the people who had been chosen to reveal the divine plan had themselves lost their way.