When Israel Became "Israel" and "Judah"
Throughout human history, kingdoms and empires have often divided or fallen as the result of a single unwise decision made by a human leader. Rehoboam, the grandson of King David, and son of King Solomon, certainly qualifies in that category. When Rehoboam became king of all Israel upon the death of his father, he gave the people a "take it or leave it" refusal when they asked for relief from their heavy government burden. Not only did most of them "leave it," they left him.
Israel Becomes "Israel" and "Judah"
"Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. And when Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, whither he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from Egypt. And they sent and called him; and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, "Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke upon us, and we will serve you."
"He said to them, "Depart for three days, then come again to me." So the people went away."
"Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, "How do you advise me to answer this people?"
"And they said to him, "If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants for ever."
"But he forsook the counsel which the old men gave him, and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him. And he said to them, "What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, 'Lighten the yoke that your father put upon us'?"
"And the young men who had grown up with him said to him, "Thus shall you speak to this people who said to you, 'Your father made our yoke heavy, but do you lighten it for us'; thus shall you say to them, 'My little finger is thicker than my father's loins. And now, whereas my father laid upon you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.'"
"So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king said, "Come to me again the third day." And the king answered the people harshly, and forsaking the counsel which the old men had given him, he spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying, "My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions." So the king did not hearken to the people; for it was a turn of affairs brought about by The Lord that he might fulfill his word, which The Lord spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat."
"And when all Israel saw that the king did not hearken to them, the people answered the king, "What portion have we in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, David."
"So Israel departed to their tents. But Rehoboam reigned over the people of Israel who dwelt in the cities of Judah."
"Then King Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was taskmaster over the forced labor, and all Israel stoned him to death with stones. And King Rehoboam made haste to mount his chariot, to flee to Jerusalem. So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day."
"And when all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. There was none that followed the house of David, but the tribe of Judah only."
"When Rehoboam came to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah, and the tribe of Benjamin, a hundred and eighty thousand chosen warriors, to fight against the house of Israel, to restore the kingdom to Rehoboam the son of Solomon." [see Jews At War With Israel]
"But the word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God: "Say to Rehoboam the son of Solomon, king of Judah, and to all the house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the rest of the people, 'Thus says The Lord, You shall not go up or fight against your kinsmen the people of Israel. Return every man to his home, for this thing is from me.'" So they hearkened to the word of The Lord, and went home again, according to the word of The Lord." (1 Kings 12:1-24 RSV)
The Division A Punishment For Solomon's Apostasy
Although the division of the Israelites was accomplished by means of the foolishness of Rehoboam, it was actually decreed by God beforehand for a purpose:
"And at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Now Ahijah had clad himself with a new garment; and the two of them were alone in the open country. Then Ahijah laid hold of the new garment that was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces. And he said to Jeroboam, "Take for yourself ten pieces; for thus says The Lord, the God of Israel, 'Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and will give you ten tribes, but he shall have one tribe, for the sake of My servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, because he has forsaken Me, and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and has not walked in My ways, doing what is right in My sight and keeping My statutes and My ordinances, as David his father did. Nevertheless I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand; but I will make him ruler all the days of his life, for the sake of David My servant whom I chose, who kept My commandments and My statutes; but I will take the kingdom out of his son's hand, and will give it to you, ten tribes." (1 Kings 11:29-35 RSV)
The United Kingdom of Israel lasted through the reigns of Saul, David and Solomon. After Solomon died, the kingdom split into two, the ten tribes (Reuben, Simeon, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) and Benjamin) of "Israel" with their capital up in Samaria, and the tribes of Benjamin and Judah forming the kingdom of "Judah" with their capital at Jerusalem.
The northern kingdom of Israel lasted a little over 200 years before it was gradually conquered by the Assyrians (see Ancient Empires - Assyria), and by 721 B.C. they had practically all been taken into exile to Assyria (2 Kings 17:1-23). The vast majority of them never returned, and have become known as the "Lost Ten Tribes of Israel."
Then, about 135 years later, in 586 B.C., the southern kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians (see Why Babylon?), and the Jews were taken into captivity to Babylon. The original Temple of God in Jerusalem was destroyed at that time (see Temples and Temple Mount Treasures). The people of the southern kingdom of Judah however did return after the Babylonians fell to the Persians (see Ancient Empires - Persia), and their descendants have become the Jewish people of today.
Fact Finder: How many royal dynasties of Israel and Judah were there?
See Israelite Dynasties