JUDAH

Now let us go back to the year 922 B.C. when the ten tribes broke away from Rehoboam, tearing the kingdom of David and Solomon apart. Their defection left Judah with a territory scarcely a third as large as that of Israel, extending from just north of Jerusalem down into the Negeb, westward to the vaguely defined border of the Philistines on the coastal plain of the Mediterranean, and eastward to the barren, eroded shores of the Salt Sea. Main roads led along the watershed of the Judean hills and from the coast eastward past Jerusalem, down the difficult slopes to Jericho, across the Jordan valley, then up and on toward the desert. As neither route was conducive to travel by large caravans Judah never had the rich international contacts which her Northern sister Israel enjoyed.

However this comparative isolation was one of the strengths of Judah. In addition she had in Jerusalem the temple, a popular religious and political rallying point (which Israel lacked entirely) and her people believed loyally in the God-ordained dynasty of David. These were the factors that would enable Judah to endure.

Nevertheless there was still religious confusion among the people. Followers of the God of David were a small minority, surrounded by neighbors who thought and talked continually of magic and of angry idols. The "high places," leveled areas on hills or in valleys with an altar and poles or upright stones ceremonially arranged, were used for the worship of Baalism and Jehovah alike, and since beliefs and superstitions cannot be changed overnight by official decree any destruction by royal orders of pagan altars left the people gripped in fear of disaster and of retaliation by neglected gods.

In the palace the hypnotic influence of court life on Judah's kings, the straining of religious factions, the pressures of political intrigues, even the exaggerated adulation of those who saw or pretended to see their king as the embodiment of their god, all these tested the most ardent of the loyal kings and very few came through unscathed. So the history of the little kingdom seesaws up and down for three hundred and fifty years. However, beneath the turmoil the priests and the prophets were slowly making their way upward to clearer understanding of God.

Rehoboam, raised in his father's court among idols, succumbed entirely to the old, pagan forms of worship. Like his father Solomon he was an enthusiastic builder. He established an elaborate system of strongholds, trusting in them for shrunken Judah's protection. Before he had reigned five years however he was confronted by the ambitious Pharaoh Shishak (Shishonk) who saw in the break up of David's kingdom the chance to regain Egyptian influence in the corridor to Mesopotamia. Sculptured reliefs on the temple walls of Karnak in Egypt speak even more eloquently than the Bible records of the carnage, pillaging and seizing of captives both in Judah and in Israel. Shishak carried away from Jerusalem the rich gold and silver treasures of Solomon's temple and palace, leaving Rehoboam to replace them as best he could with brass. However the distraught people of Judah saw only misfortune, not chastisement. They did not turn back to the protecting ways of David but drifted on in their muddled attempt to placate all the gods.