Idolatry—Downfall of the Israelite Kingdoms
THE 10-tribe kingdom of Israel got off to a bad start when its first king, Jeroboam, instituted calf worship. That plunge into idolatry was never reversed and eventually resulted in Jehovah’s permitting the Assyrians to bring the northern kingdom to ruin. Instead of profiting from this warning example, the inhabitants of the two-tribe kingdom also became steeped in idolatry. Hence, Jehovah withdrew his blessing from the nation. Finally, the capital city was reduced to ruins, along with its beautiful temple built by King Solomon. The Bible book known as Second Kings continues the historical record begun in First Kings and makes it clear that the Israelites could have avoided calamity if they had heeded the words of the prophets.
Among the prominent prophets in the northern kingdom were Elijah and Elisha. When Elijah was miraculously removed from the scene, Elisha carried forward Elijah’s commission. One of the outstanding features of that commission was the anointing of King Jehu. After Elisha sent one of his attendants to do this, Jehu lost no time in executing Jehovah’s vengeance against the idolatrous house of Ahab, including wicked Jezebel.
Next, Jehu set himself to the task of clearing out Baal worship from his realm. He gave the impression that he would promote Baal worship on an even grander scale than did Ahab and had all the idolaters assemble at the house of Baal. After making sure that not a single worshiper of Jehovah was in their midst, Jehu commanded his men to slaughter the assembled idolaters. Because of taking this positive action, Jehu was assured that four generations of his sons would succeed him as kings. These proved to be Jehoahaz, Jehoash, Jeroboam II and Zechariah.
Nevertheless, Jehu failed to eradicate calf worship. The Bible record reports: “Jehu himself did not take care to walk in the law of Jehovah the God of Israel with all his heart. He did not turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam with which he caused Israel to sin.”—2 Ki. 10:31.
None of Jehu’s descendants nor any other later rulers in the 10-tribe kingdom undertook to put an end to calf worship. The account of Second Kings provides this commentary on the situation and its outcome: “The sons of Israel went walking in all the sins of Jeroboam that he had done. They did not depart from them, until Jehovah removed Israel from his sight, just as he had spoken by means of all his servants the prophets. So Israel went off its own soil into exile in Assyria down to this day.” (2 Ki 17:22, 23) Elijah and Elisha were not the only prophets who warned the Israelites. Among the others were Micaiah, Jonah, Oded, Hosea, Amos and Micah. Yet the people paid no attention to the prophets’ urgings for them to repent.
In the two-tribe kingdom, things were not much better. Despite the fine efforts of such good rulers as Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah, time and again idolatry got a firm grip on the Israelites. Hezekiah’s own son Manasseh revived idolatry. During Manasseh’s reign the people became so degraded in their idolatrous practices that later efforts to reverse the trend had little success. Their conduct came to be worse than that of the Canaanites whom the Israelites had dispossessed. Manasseh took the lead in false worship. He made his own son pass through the fire, practiced magic, used divination and fostered spiritism. Additionally, he shed much innocent blood.
Even the sweeping campaign against idolatry conducted during the rule of Manasseh’s grandson Josiah could not save the two-tribe kingdom from calamity. Josiah himself died in battle while trying to turn the Egyptian forces back at Megiddo. The last four Judean kings—Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah—did not imitate faithful King Josiah. All of them were bad rulers and idolaters. Because the rulers and their subjects refused to listen to the prophets and to abandon idolatry, Jerusalem was finally destroyed and the land of Judah turned into a desolation.
God’s viewpoint of idolatry has not changed since the time Second Kings was committed to writing, presumably by the prophet Jeremiah. Idolaters cannot hope to escape the execution of God’s adverse judgment. Hence, we do well to heed the Bible’s admonition: “Flee from idolatry.”—1 Cor. 10:14.