Prepare Ye the Way
900 - 800 BC, the Holy Land
The Holy Land was divided by the saddest of conflicts, civil war. Israel in the north hald the best land and most of the populous towns. Judah's territory was largely desert or grazing land with fewer cities and cultural centers. The sack of Shishak had stripped its one metropolis, Jerusalem. Judah under Rehoboam's grandson Asa was getting the worst of tthe quarrel.
Though the line of Judah was destined to remain in David's line, Israel was fated to endure repeated dynastic wars. Jeroboam's dynasty ended with his son. Baasha seized the throne and continued the war against Judah.
There was only one source of help. Now tribute flowed from Asa of Judah to Damascus, and Syria obligingly struck Israel from the north. A balance of battle was established which was to last for nearly a century.
After another power struggle, the general Omri took the throne of Israel about 885, building a capital at Samaria near Shechem. New alliances were established with the Canaanites of Phonicia.
The years around 870 brought new kings to both kingdoms. Asa's son, Jehosaphat of Judah, ended the festering civil war through alliance with Ahab, Omri's son.
Ahab brought notoriety to his name and disaster to his dynasty by marrying the Phoenician princess Jezebel. This remarkable woman nearly succeeded in establishing her Canaanite religion in Israel. The only man forceful enough to stand against her was the prophet Elijah.
Prophets, magicians, witches and ecstatics had long been familiar to the people of the mid-east, but the prophets of Yahweh, God of the Israelites, were different from the rest. Called by God to speak his Word, they spoke it freely and plainly to commoner and king. Since their unrelenting morality often conflicted with requirements of diplomacy or the greed of rulers, the prophet-led segment of the population was often at odds with the monarchy. Jezebel had the upper hand, but Elijah and his successor Elisha were the conscience of the nation.
War with Syria continued, but the advance of Assyra joined Israel and Syria against their common enemy. In 854 in a battle north of Damascus, the Assyrian juggernaut was temporarily checked.
The pagan influence of Jezebel extended even into Judah, when Ahab's daughter succeeded him in Israel. Yet disaster ended the dynasty. Enraged at the spread of idolatry, Elisha grasped the opportune moment of a wounded king to anoint the general Jehu the chosen king of Israel. In a bloody seizure of power, Jehu killed Jezebel, her son King Jehoram of Israel, and their ally King Ahaziah of Judah. The idols of Israel were destroyed.
In Judah, Ahaziah's child successor Joash was hidden from Athaliah and raised by the Yahvist priests of the Temple. When he was proclaimed king the prophetic "party" became supreme in Judah as well.
These distracting struggles had allowed Syria to reach a peak of power, seizing all Israel's Transjordan territory. Desperately Jehu turned to a stronger nation for help; he sent tribute to Assyria and called it down on Syria. Yet Hazael of Syria remained strong enough near the century's end to attack Judah. Once again, the treasures of the Temple were used to ransom Jerusalem. Only another Assyrian attack on Damascus in 806 saved the Israelite kingdoms.