Judea's Spiritual Strength
Although Judea occupied only a comparatively small part of the former Jewish state, it was built on a stronger moral and spiritual basis than the larger kingdom of Israel. This was due to the fact that the Jewish tradition and faith centered on the worship of the one and only G-d in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Priests and prophets were ever-present and taught, inspired, or reprimanded, as the occasion demanded. Their ranks were strengthened by the influx of the pious elements from the kingdom of Israel who refused to bear with the idolatry introduced by Jeroboam. Thus religious tradition prevailed during the entire span of Judea's existence, which outlasted that of Israel for more than a century and a quarter. When the people of Judea eventually went into exile after the Holy Temple had been consumed by flames, they built a temple of faith and hopes in their hearts. And as soon as they were permitted to return, they rebuilt Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. The people survived even after the Romans had captured Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple for the second time and led the Jews into the exile in which we still find ourselves at the present day. We, present-day Jewry, are the remnants of those tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi, whose history we are about to trace from the days following Solomon's death down to our times.
Rehabeam's Sin and Punishment
It will be remembered that after vainly trying to defeat Jeroboam and to impose his rule over all Israel, Rehabeam, King Solomon's son, had retired to his capital city Jerusalem. He resignedly accepted the statement of the prophet that it would be futile to try to win back the rebellious tribes. Rehabeam, therefore, turned his attention to strengthening the administration and defense of his small kingdom. However, morally he was not equal to the task of ruling Israel in the spirit of his father Solomon and his grandfather David, He soon gave way to the influence of his mother Naama, a native of Ammon. She introduced some of her idolatries with the help of her co-patriots who swamped the court of Judea. Many of the nobility were impressed by the glamour and mysteries of these cults, and slowly this evil influence reached down into the lower ranks of the Jews, on whose morals and spirit the priests and prophets had heretofore had a strong hold. The moral decadence of the people was soon followed by a great national catastrophe with which G-d chastised both the king and the country.
In the fifth year of Rehabeam's rule, Shishak, king of Egypt, invaded Judea with a strong army and captured every town and city, including Jerusalem. Many people died, and the country was ravaged by the soldiers of Egypt. King Shishak entered Jerusalem, penetrated the royal palace, and the very precincts of .the Temple itself, ransacking the treasures of both.
At this point of utmost humiliation and despair, the people of Judea, including the king, lent a willing ear to the reprimands of the prophets and priests, and they sincerely repented. King Shishak left Judea after having inflicted heavy fines and imposed regular tribute on the people. However, after the Egyptian invaders had left his land, Rehabeam refused to abolish many of his idolatries. But the people having changed their evil ways under the impact of their misfortune and through the influence of their prophets did not at once relapse into their old way of life, as did their king and his court.
Rehabeam lent all his energies to the reconstruction of the fortifications and cities that suffered under the invasion. He reorganized his army and managed to maintain his independence and even his control over neighboring Edom. The old proud kingdom of Judea, however, never recovered its original strength, wealth, and political influence.