Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, brought about, by his own harshness and folly, the punishment that God had decreed. By the advice of his hasty young counsellors, he made so violent a reply to the petition brought to him by his subjects, that they took offence, and the ten northern tribes broke away from him, setting up as their king, Jeroboam, who had been already marked out by the prophet.
The lesson of meekness seems to have been the one chiefly appointed for Rehoboam, for when he assembled the fighting men of Judah and Benjamin to subdue the revolt, Shemaiah the prophet was sent to forbid him, and he submitted at once; and when again Jeroboam's friend Shishak invaded his kingdom, Shemaiah told him it was as a punishment sent him by God, against which he must not struggle; so he gathered all the riches left him by his father, paid the tribute that the Egyptians required; and for being thus patient and submissive, he was again blessed by God, and Judah prospered. No doubt Rehoboam's obedience saved him from sharing the fate of the other kings whom Shishak conquered and dragged back to Egypt, where he yoked them to his chariot, four abreast, and made them draw him about. Shishak was a great conqueror, and in nine years overran all Asia, as far as the river Ganges. All his victories were recorded in hieroglyphics, and the learned have made out the picture of a people with the features of Jews, bringing their gifts to his feet, no doubt the messengers of Rehoboam. He lost his sight in his old age, and is said to have killed himself.
In 955 Abijah came to the throne instead of Rehoboam, and was permitted to gain a great victory over Jeroboam, but he died at the end of three years, and was succeeded by his son Asa. The great temptation of the men of Judah seems to have been at this time the resorting to hill tops and groves of trees as places of worship, instead of going steadily to the Temple at Jerusalem; and the kings, though obedient in other respects, did not dare to put down this forbidden custom. Asa's mother, Maachah, a daughter of Absalom, even had an idol in a grove; but after the king had been strengthened to gain a great victory over the Ethiopians, he destroyed the idol, and put her down from being queen. His end was less good than his beginning; he made a league with the Syrians instead of trusting to God; and threw the prophet Hanani into prison for having rebuked him; and in his latter years he was cruel and oppressive. He died in 891.
His son Jehoshaphat was a very good and gentle prince, but his very gentleness seemed to have led him into error, for he became too friendly with the idolatrous House of Ahab in Samaria, and allowed his son Jehoram to take to wife the child of Ahab and Jezebel, Athaliah, who proved even more wicked than her mother. Jehoshaphat was in alliance with Ahab, and went out with him to his last battle at Ramoth-Gilead, where Ahab tried to put his friend into danger instead of himself by making him appear as the only king present, but entirely failed to deceive the hand appointed to bring death. Afterwards, when the Edomites, Ammonites, and Moabites came up against Judah, Jehoshaphat was commanded to have no fears, but to go out to meet them, with the Levites singing before him, "Praise the Lord, for His mercy endureth for ever!" So the battle should be his without fighting; for the three banded nations fought among themselves, and made such a slaughter of one another, that the Jews had nothing to do but to gather the spoil, which was in such heaps, that they spent three days in collecting it. And again, when Jehoshaphat went out with Jehoram, King of Israel, against the Moabites, with Jehoshaphat's tributary, the King of Edom, another miraculous deliverance was granted by the hand of Elisha, and the water which was sent to relieve the thirsty hosts of Israel and Judah, seemed to the Moabites as blood; so that, thinking the three armies had quarrelled and slain each other, they made an unguarded attack, and suffered a total rout.
Jehoshaphat was succeeded in 891 by his son Jehoram, who, though he had seen such signal proofs of God's power, chose rather to follow the will of his wicked wife Athaliah, than to obey the commands of God. To strengthen his dominion, he followed the example of the worst heathen tyrants, and killed his seven brethren; and he permitted and encouraged idolatry in the most open manner. He was first punished by the loss of the Edomites, who rose against him, and set up a free kingdom according to the prophecy of Isaac; next by an in-road of the Arabians and Philistines, who ravaged his very house, and killed all his children except the youngest, Ahaziah; and lastly, by a loathsome and deadly disease, which ended his life in the fortieth year of his age.
Ahaziah was only twenty-two, and was ruled by his mother Athaliah for the one year before, going to visit his uncle Jehoram, of Israel, he was slain with him in Jehu's massacre of the House of Ahab. Athaliah herself fulfilled the rest of the decree which she did not acknowledge. She was bent on reigning, and savagely murdered all her grandsons who fell into her hands; but as the House of David was never to fail, one tender branch, the infant Joash, was hidden from her fury by his aunt, the wife of the High Priest Jehoiada; and when the fitting time was come, the Levites were armed, and the people were shown their little king. They acknowledged him with shouts of joy, and Athaliah coming to see the cause of the outcry, was dragged out of the Temple and put to death. Jerusalem was cleansed from the worship of Baal, and all prospered as long as the good Jehoiada lived. After his death, however, Joash fell away grievously, and promoted idol worship; nay, he even slew the son of his preserver, Jehoiada, for bringing him a Divine rebuke, and for this iniquity his troops suffered a great defeat from the Syrians, and his servants slew him as he lay sick on his bed in 838. His son Amaziah began well, obeying the Lord by dismissing the Ephraimites whom he had hired to aid him against the Edomites, and he was therefore rewarded with a great victory; but so strangely blind was he, that he brought home the vain gods of Edom and worshipped them. He too was slain by rebels in the flower of his age, leaving his son Uzziah, also called Azariah, to succeed him at sixteen years old. Uzziah met with such success at first, that his heart was lifted up, and in his pride he endeavoured to intrude into the priest's office, and burn incense on the Altar; but even while striving with the High Priest, the leprosy broke out white on his brow, setting him apart, to live as an outcast from religious services for ever. His son Jotham became the governor of the kingdom during his lifetime, and afterwards reigned alone till the year 759, when he was succeeded by his son Ahaz, one of the worst and most idolatrous of the Kings of Judah. The Syrians made alliance with Israel, and terribly ravaged Judea, till Jerusalem stood alone in the midst of desolation; and Ahaz, instead of turning to the Lord, tried to strengthen himself by fresh heathen alliances, though the prophet Isaiah brought him certain messages that his foes should be destroyed, and promised him, for a sign, that great blessing of the House of David, that the Virgin's Son should be born, and should be God present with us.