A divisive spirit among Israel’s twelve tribes extends back to Jacob’s twelve sons themselves, particularly in their hatred of Joseph and their desire to kill him, although Judah persuades them to sell him (Genesis 37). Disputes among the tribes arise in the era of Israel’s judges, as when the prideful Ephraimites balk at Gideon’s miraculous victory over the hosts of Midian and Amalek (Judges 7:1–8:1); or when the tribe of Benjamin slays tens of thousands of Israelites in defense of its own lewdness (Judges 19–20). After the death of Saul, its first king, Israel divides into northern and southern tribes, although seven years later David heals their rift (2 Samuel 1–5).
When Solomon’s son Rehoboam raises Israel’s taxes against the advice of his elders, Israel’s ten northern tribes install Solomon’s Ephraimite servant Jeroboam as their king. From that time forward, Rehoboam and succeeding generations of kings of David’s lineage rule only over the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and the priestly tribe of Levi. A few remnants of Israel’s ten tribes who abhor Jeroboam’s idolatry in the Northern Kingdom additionally flee to the Southern Kingdom of Judah where the worship of Israel’s God Jehovah is maintained (1 Kings 12; 2 Chronicles 11:5–17). Israel’s division into separate entities continues even after they go into exile.