Following the death of King Solomon, the nation of Israel split. God had foretold that this would occur and that Jeroboam would lead the northern kingdom when it happened. From a human perspective though, the split occurred because of the heavy handed approach of Solomon’s son Rehoboam. The people rebelled and ten tribes split from the House of David and crowned Jeroboam king.
God had made a conditional promise that if Jeroboam followed the Lord, He would make his kingly line and everlasting one like David’s. Unfortunately for Jeroboam, he fell into idolatry and God destroyed his line and descendants.
The northern kingdom is also commonly referred to as the kingdom of Israel – which isn’t to be confused with the nation of Israel which had split in two. Prophetically the kingdom is sometimes called Ephraim because this was the largest tribe in the northern kingdom. It is also sometimes called Samaria because this was its capital city for much of the time.
The northern kingdom is marked by ungodly kings. There are nineteen kings in total and none of them could be considered good. Many of the kings are assassinated – and then their assassins are usually killed. Unlike the southern kingdom which always had a descendant of David as king, there are five separate “dynasties” in the northern kingdom. Dynasties in this case simply means that a son follows his father on the throne. The longest dynasty in the northern kingdom only amounts to four generations.
The most noteworthy king of the northern kingdom is also its worst. King Ahab was downright despicable but probably surpassed in wickedness by his wife Jezebel. He was confronted by the prophet Elijah and on Mount Carmel there is an epic showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal whom Jezebel personally took care of. Of course Elijah won when God responded by fire and the prophets of Baal were killed. Jezebel vowed revenge but she and Ahab were the ones who met a wretched end.
Things didn’t end well for the northern kingdom either. After around 200 years, the Assyrians came and wiped them out in 722 BC. Rather than carry the people away, the Assyrians simply moved other people into the land as well. They intermarried with the Israelites and soon the people were no longer an Israelite culture. This new culture – half Israelite, half Assyrian – was still around during Jesus’ day. They were then known as the Samaritans. Because the Jews considered them to be half-breeds, they were despised by “pure blood” Jews.