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when Ahab came to the throne, many Israelitish cities were in the hands of the Syrians, notwithstanding the fact that Ahab's father, Omri, was one of the strongest of the kings of northern Israel. So great had become the danger from this source that for the time Israel and Judah had combined against a common enemy.
But northern Israel was not only in danger of loss of territory, but even of existence as a separate state.1 Exposed to all the influences of the ancient world, torn by internal dissensions and enduring the shocks of foreign invasion, the stream of life ran deep and fast. Currents of thought common to the surrounding nations swept over Israel, bringing foreign ideals of conduct and life. The tide of commerce and of warring armies constantly ebbing and flowing across her territory revealed the wealth and display, class systems and moral conditions of the greater nations, which, in the earlier days, had passed unheeded amidst the struggles of the conquest, yet which made a strong appeal to the ambitions and natural proclivities of an oriental people. Jehovah worship had gradually proved itself stronger than the Canaanitish worship, absorbing from it what was good and shaking off, under the leadership of Samuel and his fellows, much that was evil. But it became a grave question as to whether Jehovah worship would not be swallowed up or exterminated by foreign influences, supported as they were by the splendor and the military prowess of these greater nations. Social abuses, the aristocracy of wealth, formal and ostentatious worship accompanied by debasing orgies, disregard of the rights of one's fellow-men, inability to conceive of Jehovah as a God whose approval could not be obtained by external gifts, use of images in the worship of Jehovah, a custom not new in Israel, but given great prestige in the north through the royal sanctuaries at Bethel and Dan where Jehovah was represented by the golden calves—these were the influences in the face of which Jehovah worship had to win the allegiance of the people or perish.
Not in the more peaceful southern kingdom, but in the busy north in these critical days do we find the prophets of Jehovah. Greatly increased in numbers since the days of Samuel, but still
1 See chap. vi.
acknowledging the leadership of the great ones among them, we see them with keen political insight and the ardor of religious enthusiasts throwing themselves into the task of saving both state and religion, which to them were inseparable.
Not even the growing influence of the throne could turn these prophets from their ideals and their intention to force them upon Israel. Long and bitter were the struggles of such of the prophets as found themselves in disagreement with their kings, yet we must believe that the prophet had always his constituency, with the existence of which even kings had to reckon. It is to the study of the work of such a prophet that we turn in the succeeding chapter.