The Divided Kingdom 922-722, Teddy Kollek and Moshe Pearlman, Jerusalem: Sacred City of Mankind, Steimatzky Ltd., Jerusalem, 1991.
Shortly after the death of Solomon, political catastrophe struck the country, tearing it apart—literally. The northern tribes revolted against the Davidic dynasty, centered in Jerusalem, and now represented by Solomon’s weak son, Rehoboam. They seceded, setting up their own state which they called Israel. Jerusalem was now the capital only of a truncated State to the south, formed mostly by the territory of the tribe of Judah. The united kingdom, founded by David and made prosperous by Solomon, was now divided into the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah.
The bitter tribal squabbles whose eruption had led to the split were sharpened after the secession, and for the next fifty years Israel and Judah were at war with each other. This civil war could give comfort—and opportunity—only to their enemies. Egypt’s pharaoh Shishak moved up through the Negev, attacked Judah and, though he did not take Jerusalem, mounted sufficient pressure to draw ransom from her.
The political decline of Jerusalem was matched by a decline in its economic fortunes. The buildings of David and Solomon remained, but the transactions conducted therein were no longer the affairs of a large and prosperous country. Jerusalem no longer controlled the outlet to the Red Sea in the south, and Israel lay as a barrier between it and its former Phoenician trading companion in the north. Revenues from maritime commerce and overland caravans no longer flowed into Jerusalem’s coffers. The steady stream of people from all over the land to visit the Temple now ceased. Most of the men of Israel did not enter Judah.
But some did. These were “the priests and the Levites” (the priestly tribe); for Jerusalem retained the one great symbol which sanctified the city as the spiritual center of the nation—Solomon’s Temple. And this may well have been the principal element which sustained Jerusalem through its misfortunes, eventually led to the Israel-Judah rapprochement, and ultimately brought about the restoration of the city’s status, power and influence over the Hebrew nation. Certainly the arrival of the priests from Israel strengthened the religious importance of Jerusalem in the somber years immediately following the division of the kingdom.
Rehoboam was followed by his son Abijah who was succeeded by his son Asa, and it was Asa, during his long reign from 913 to 873, who seems to have exercised a stronger hand than his father and grandfather in safeguarding both the religious purity of Jerusalem and the borders of Judah, even extending them somewhat at the expense of Israel. This, together with the rise in Israel of the energetic house of Omri in the final years of Asa’s reign, paved the way for peace between the two kingdoms.
Omri ascended the Israel throne in the year 876, and he set out to make Israel great. He it was who established a new capital which he hoped would rival Jerusalem. This was Samaria, on the western face of Mount Ephraim, commanding the principal pass in the area to the Mediterranean coast. He was also concerned in developing the wealth of his country, and this could be done only within peaceful borders. If he could be sure of his southern frontier, he would be less likely to fear attack from his Syrian neighbors in the north. He was thus in the mood to consider some kind of non-aggression pact with the kingdom of Judah.
Neither he nor Asa lived long enough to consummate it. But their sons did—Asa’s son Jehoshaphat, who came to the throne of Judah in 873, and Omri’s son Ahab, who became king of Israel in 869. Despite their wide differences in character and religious outlook, they both had an understanding of politics, and “Jehoshaphat…joined affinity with Ahab.” At last the war between Israel and Judah came to an end.
Jehoshaphat, in the twenty-four years of his leadership of Judah, proved to be the most inspiring influence in Jerusalem since the days of Solomon, regulating religious life, advancing justice throughout the land, and heightening the position of the city in the eyes of all Israel. On the military and economic fronts, with his northern border secured through his alliance with Israel, he was able to subdue his southern neighbor, Edom, and thereby re-take the Negev and the access port to the Red Sea. He had little success in reviving Solomon’s maritime activities, but there were renewed revenues from the overland caravan trade, and Jerusalem benefited accordingly.
The Bible makes no mention of any special structural work undertaken by Jehoshaphat in Jerusalem, and so we may assume that the city skyline was no different from what it was in Solomon’s time. What went on beneath the skyline, however, was marked by a vibrant spirit, mood, prosperity and sense of order that had not been known for two generations.
Jerusalem under his three successors reached a low ebb, but it flourished under his great-grandson Joash (837-800), who carried out the first extensive repairs to the Temple.
The Davidic line was continued with the accession of Joash’s son Amaziah in the year 800. He prospered at first, and anxious to open the road to the south, fought a successful battle against the Edomites (who had revolted after Jehoshaphat’s death). Fresh from his victory, he boastfully challenged the king of Israel, and there followed the last military engagement between the two Hebrew kingdoms. Amaziah was defeated at the battle of Beth Shemesh, and, we are told, the king of Israel pressed on to Jerusalem. He attacked the city from the north, the side where the fortifications were not bounded by ravines, “and brake down the wall of Jerusalem from the gate of Ephraim to the corner gate, four hundred cubits.”
The greatest fortification programme in Jerusalem since the time of Solomon was undertaken by the son of Amaziah. This was Uzziah, who ruled from 783 to 742, and under him Jerusalem entered a long and prosperous period. One of his first acts was to restore the alignment with the kingdom of Israel which his father had broken. With their common frontier no longer an area of concern, both kingdoms could tackle their hostile neighbors without fear of assault on their rear. Israel pressed north, defeated the Syrians and “recovered Damascus.” Uzziah moved south. His father had won a battle against Edom but had apparently not subdued her. Uzziah did, recapturing Negev and regaining an outlet to the Red Sea. “He built Elath, and restored it to Judah.” As a result the two kingdoms between them soon commanded the territory from the southern tip of the Negev right up to the borders of Phoenicia and Damascus in the north, and both flourished. The effect on Jerusalem was to revive much of the prosperity she had enjoyed under Solomon.
II Chronicles XXVI recounts the deeds of Uzziah in varied fields. So impressive were his military campaigns against foes on every side that “his name spread abroad even to the entering in of Egypt.” He also built cities, raised fortresses in the desert, dug wells, developed farming “for he loved husbandry,” and, above all, strengthened the city of Jerusalem.
He may well have been concerned about the comparative ease with which Jerusalem’s defenses had been breached in his father’s time. He set about ensuring the safety of the capital. “He built towers in Jerusalem at the corner gate”—probably at the extreme northeast—“and at the valley gate”—believed to be on the southwest of the city—“and at the turning of the wall, and fortified them.”
What did the city look like at the time, and what was its pattern of life? Fortunately, there are additional biblical accounts of the period which offer illuminating indications; for it is during Uzziah’s reign that there are written records of the word of the great contemporary prophets, Isaiah, Amos, and Hosea, whose utterances have come down to us through the ages. The pictures of national life presented by Isaiah and Amos have a pastoral background; but against this background we also view an extraordinary enterprise in building and trade. This, of course, with its attendant concern for material values, wealth and luxury, is bitterly censured by the prophets. But in so doing, they tell us of society at the time. Trade with the nations of the Middle East brought many foreign products and inventions into Judah and Israel, and contact with foreign ways and customs. Isaiah mentions the ships of Tarshish and the “treasures upon the bunches of camels,” showing the flourishing maritime and overland commerce; and he cries out that Judah and Jerusalem are “replenished from the east…and they please themselves in the children of strangers.” Amos describes an excessive zeal in buying and selling. Hosea attacks northern Israel as a very “Canaan,” a deceitful merchant who gives short weight and “loveth to oppress.” All three condemn the people’s materialism, the striving for luxury, the covetousness,, and the threat to religious—or ethical—values.
It is evident from all this that there was an influx of foreign elements into Jerusalem, alien traders who were no doubt accommodated outside the city walls. Within the walls, the inhabitants were probably more crowded than ever, with more buildings going up in more compact quarters. Towering above them stood the Temple; but the call to righteousness was sounded more eloquently and passionately on the tongues of the prophets.
Uzziah’s son Jotham, who reigned from 742 to 735, also “built cities in the mountains of Judah, and in the forests he built castles and towers.” But the only reference in the Bible to his additions to the Jerusalem structures is- “He built the high gate of the house of the Lord, and on the wall of Ophel he built much.” The “high gate” was the northern gate of the inner court of the Temple. The “wall of Ophel” lay to the south of the Temple and the palace compound. The probability is that Jotham now strengthened this in the style of his father’s fortification work.
These fortifications were to be tested in the reign of Jotham’s son Ahaz (735 to 715). In the year 744, a strong new ruler, Tiglath-Pileser III, had reached the throne of Assyria, with powerful imperial ambitions and the military strength to achieve many of them. One was to subjugate the two Hebrew kingdoms. The northern one, Israel, was nearest to him, and it soon became a vassal state. This heightened the pressure on Judah, whose king sought to propitiate Tiglath-Pileser both by paying tribute and adopting idolatrous ways.
For a time it seemed to work—but only because Tiglath-Pileser was preoccupied with conquests to the north of Assyria. Israel and Syria (not to be confused with Assyria, which was to its west, north and east) decided to take advantage of this preoccupation, and formed a league against Tiglath-Pileser which they wanted Judah to join. Ahaz, newly ascended to the throne, refused, as his father had done before him, whereupon they decided to move against him. “And it came to pass…that Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah…king of Israel, went up toward Jerusalem to war against it.”
This brought panic to Jerusalem, and the Bible records that the hearts of Ahaz and the people were gripped with fear. Then rose the prophet Isaiah to instill courage into the king, and he went “forth now to meet Ahaz… at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field,” to tell him “fear not, neither be fainthearted” (Isaiah VII, 3,4). Scholars suggest that Isaiah found Ahaz inspecting the water supply outside the city wall—because he had to “go forth” to the conduit—to devise means of preventing its use by the approaching invaders. There are several theories as to where exactly was this “upper pool” and what and where was “the fuller’s field,” but all are speculative.
Apparently the fortifications of Ahaz’ predecessors Uzziah and Jotham were too strong for Pekah and Rezin, for they “could not prevail against it [Jerusalem].”
Tiglath-Pileser took action against the league of rebellious vassals, and soon most of northern Israel was conquered and eventually occupied. Samaria alone, the capital and vaunted rival of Jerusalem, held out. Tiglath-Pileser’s son and successor, Shalmaneser V, laid siege to it, yet the city withstood attack for more than two years. Shalmaneser died while the siege was in progress, and was followed by Sargon II. It was to this Assyrian ruler that Samaria fell. The year was 722 BC. Many thousands of the surviving Israelites were exiled to Upper Mesopotamia and Media.
The northern Hebrew kingdom was destroyed, its people banished. Judah alone was preserved, remnant of the nation in its own land, with Jerusalem now the sole national capital, home of the central sanctuary, the Temple, and sole trustee of the hopes of the people of Israel.
Jerusalem now enters a pregnant phase in her history, a period marked, on the one hand, by deadly menace from the victorious Assyrians who were now right on the borders of Judah, and, on the other, by a tremendous spiritual upsurge. The two figures who play a giant role in this Jerusalem phase are the prophet Isaiah and King Hezekiah (715 to 687).