We have seen that the reigns of Ahab and Jezebel in Israel, and of Jehoram and Athaliah in Judah (918880 B.C.), may be regarded as turning-points in the histories of their respective kingdoms. Heathen gods were worshipped by royal authority in both capitals, in Samaria and in Jerusalem; heathen priests and prophets were protected and honored; the priests and prophets of Jehovah were neglected and despised, and in some instances were persecuted and put to death. This was a crime against the majesty of Jehovah, both as their God and their King, which He did not pardon. From this national apostasy there was not, in either kingdom, any real recovery. There were in Judah some pious kings who did their utmost to purge the nation from idolatry, and bring the people to repentance and obedience, but without lasting success. The leaven of idolatry had too thoroughly penetrated the popular mind. There were ebbs and flows in the tide, but the general tendency was steadily downward.
It is not necessary to go into historical details, except to show how far the prophetic utterances were affected by the national unbelief. As the years went on, both kings and peoples were more unwilling to hear the Divine rebukes and warnings. In Judah, several prophets were at different times put to death, and Amos was forbidden to prophesy in Israel. To be a prophet, and to declare God's will, became increasingly dangerous, and demanded supernatural firmness and courage. Upon the unwilling Ahaz Isaiah must force his words (Isa. vii.); and the tradition is, that he perished by violence under Manasseh. God said to Jeremiah, who shrank from his mission, "I have made thee a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land. And they shall fight against thee." It is thought by many that this prophet, also, died by violent hands. To Ezekiel God said, "Be not afraid of them; . . . behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads. As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks." And what was true of these greater prophets, was true, doubtless, of the lesser: it was at the peril of their lives that they declared the will of God to His rebellious people.
Notwithstanding all the stubbornness and perversity of His children, Jehovah still remained a covenantkeeping God, and unwearied in His reproofs and warnings. His words to His prophets were, "Go, speak unto them, and tell them, thus saith the Lord God, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear." Nor did the prophets cease to declare that God would be merciful and forgive if they repented and returned to Him: "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way, and live." "Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the Lord." But there was no deep or lasting national repentance. A few, doubtless, here and there hearkened to the words of the prophets, and humbled themselves before God; but the great body continued as rebellious as before. With disobedience and idolatry came every form of immorality. How severe are the words of Hosea and Amos addressed to the people of the Northern kingdom: "The Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land." (Hos. iv. 1.) Amos declares that God had sent many punishments upon them, but they had sinned more and more. At Bethel and Gilgal they worshipped idols, the poor were oppressed, the rich lived in selfish luxury. Judges were bribed, the Sabbath was desecrated, and the whole land polluted.
In a few years after these two prophets had witnessed in vain to the Northern kingdom, its destruction came (722 B.C). A little before its overthrow there was a gleam of outward prosperity under Jeroboam, who was a wise and able ruler. He freed his people from the yoke of the Syrians, restored the kingdom to its former bounds, and made it strong in the eyes of men. But it was, as seen by prophetic eyes, inwardly full of evil and corruption. Great political confusion and discord followed his death, and the throne became the prey of the most daring and unscrupulous aspirant. In the space of two hundred and fifty years after the division of the kingdom, there were nine dynasties and nineteen kings, and two short periods of anarchy. It was natural that the help of Assyria, now the dominant power, should be called in by rival claimants; and when Hoshea, the king, refused to pay tribute, the Assyrians conquered the land, and carried a great part of the people into captivity. Such was the end of the kingdom of Israel.
In the kingdom of Judah, there was not the same rapid decay. The Davidic succession to the throne was not disputed; and several of the kings were zealous for the honor of Jehovah, and were able to effect salutary though transient reformations. But idolatry could not be rooted out, nor was there any true reliance upon the power of Jehovah to defend them from their enemies. Nor did the destruction of the kingdom of Israel warn them, and bring them to genuine confession. On the contrary, as the prophets became more and more definite in their utterances respecting the anger of Jehovah and the approaching overthrow, the pride of the people and their stubbornness increased. Without faith in Divine help, the rulers essayed to secure their safety by appealing, now to Egypt, and now to Assyria. And even after the time of the end had come, and the king Jehoiachin and his princes had been carried to Babylon (598 B.C.), those that remained behind in Judah, in complacent blindness fancied that all danger of further invasion was passed. For twelve years under Zedekiah time was given for repentance, but without effect. We read that " Zedekiah did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord." This last opportunity to repent not being rightly used, the destruction of the kingdom of Judah soon came. The servants of Nebuchadnezzar "burnt the house of the Lord, and the king's house, and all the houses of Jerusalem, . . . and brake down the walls of Jerusalem round about." The words of God by the mouth of His prophets were fulfilled; the time of the captivity had come.