ISRAEL

With the rebellion of the Northern ten tribes under Jeroboam, about the year 922 B.C., the royal government which David had so efficiently organized and which Solomon had inherited lay in chaos. The people who had so joyously traveled from Dan to Beersheba knowing that it was their own, their Promised Land, met with distrustful glances from tribesmen whom they had called "brother."

The books of First and Second Kings (originally written as one book, but divided when it was translated into Greek) intertwine the history of the Northern and Southern kingdoms, which took the names of Israel and Judah. For simplicity we will first look at the shorter record of Israel.

One might have expected the kingdom of Israel to be the more enduring of the two, for the ten rebellious tribes comprised twice the population and nearly three times as much territory as Judah; moreover their land consisted of gentler hills and more fertile valleys with far more rainfall than the austere, dry ridges of their sister kingdom. But Israel lay across the trade routes of the Near East. The busy highway from Egypt ran north along the Mediterranean coast, turned east past Megiddo, then north to Tyre, Damascus and Mesopotamia wrapping the inhabitants in foreign cultures from all directions. Rugged Israelite individualism, bereft of the stability of unified worship which the temple at Jerusalem offered, led to stormy politics of greed and intrigue. In two hundred years Israel's course would be run. Nineteen kings, representing nine families, would hold the throne and eight rulers would die violent deaths.

Nevertheless, amid the tumult and unscrupulous ambition Israel would provide the setting for one of the foremost guides in the history of the children of Israel - the prophet Elijah, who would advance Moses' insight of Creative Existence to a dawning understanding of man's relationship to his Creator. And for his gentle servant Elisha, who would devote his life to exemplifying and teaching his master's great discovery, it would see the beginning of the important new era of Writing Prophets.

The kings had dropped the work of the Lord. The prophets stepped forward to carry on.