Israel, History Of, 2

Continued from ISRAEL, HISTORY OF, 1.

III. Period of the Judges.

1. General Character of Period:

In such a period of weakened national and religious life, it could easily happen that Israel would again lose the supremacy that it had won by the sword. It was possible that the Canaanites could again bring into their power larger parts of the land. Also energetic and pushing nomadic tribes, such as the Ammonites, the Moabites, or other warlike peoples, such as the Philistines, could bring the country under subjection, as actually did occur in the period of the Judges. The Book of Judges reports a number of such instances of the subjection of Israel, which did not extend over the whole land, and in part occurred in different sections of the country at the same time. Judah and Simeon, the two tribes in the south, as a rule took no part in these contests, and had their own battles to fight; and the same is true of the tribes East of the Jordan, among whom Northern Manasseh and Ephraim were in closest alliance. After a longer or shorter period of oppression, there followed in each case a revival of the national spirit against such oppression. And in all these cases the popular hero who became the liberator appealed to the religious consciousness that formed a bond of union between all the Israelirish tribes and their common God Yahweh. In however wild a manner the youthful vigor of the people may have found its expression on these occasions, they are nevertheless conscious of the fact that they are waging a holy war, which in every case also ended with the victory over the heathen spirit and false worship that had found their way into Israel. The most precious historical monument from these times is the song of Deborah (Jg 5:1-31), which, like a mirror, reflects faithfully the conditions of affairs, and the thoughts of that age.

Jg 17:1-13 through Jg 21:1-25 belong to the beginning of this period. The first of these old stories narrates the emigration of a large portion of the tribe of Dan to the extreme north of the country and the origin of idolatry in that region (Jg 17:1-13; 18:1-31). But the second story, too, both in form and contents, is, at least in part, very old and its historical value is amply protected against the attacks of modern critics by Ho 9:9; 10:9. This story reports a holy war of revenge against the tribe of Benjamin, which was unwilling to render satisfaction for a nefarious crime that had been committed at Gibeah in its territory. In the feeling of close solidarity and of high responsibility which appears in connection with the punishment of this crime, we still see the influence of the periods of Moses and Joshua.

2. The Different Judges:

First it is narrated of a king of Aram-naharaim that he had oppressed Israel for a period of 8 years (Jg 3:8). This probably means a king of the Mitanni (Sayce, Monuments, 297, 304), who at that time were trying to force their way through Canaan into Egypt. It was Othniel, the Kenazite, belonging to a tribe that was related to Judah, who delivered Israel. A second liberator was the Benjamite Ehud, who delivered the southeastern portion of the country from the servitude of Eglon, the king of the Moabites, by putting the latter to death (Jg 3:12 ff). On a greater scale was the decisive battle against the Canaanitish kings in the north, when these had formed an alliance and had subjected Israel for a period of 20 years. At the appeal of Deborah, Barak conquered Sisera, the hostile king and leader of a mighty army of chariots, in the plain of Kishon (Jg 4:1-24; 5:1-31). In the same region the battle of Gideon was fought with the plundering Bedouin swarms of the Midianites, who had repeatedly oppressed Israel (Jg 6:1-40 through Jg 8:1-35). Abimelech, an unworthy son of the God-fearing hero, after the death of his father, had established a local kingdom in Shechem, which stood for only a short time and came to a disgraceful end. Little more than the names are known to us of Tola, of the tribe of Issachar, and of Jair, in Gilead (Jg 10:1 ff). More fully is the story of Jephthah told, who delivered the country from the Ammonites coming from the east (Jg 11:1-40), with which was also connected a struggle with the jealous Ephraimites (Jg 12:1-15); and still more fully are the details reported of the personal contests of the Nazirite Samson, belonging to the tribe of Dan, against the Philistines making their inroads from the south, and who for many years proved to be the most dangerous enemies of Israel.

All these heroes, and a few others not so well known, are called judges, and it is regularly reported how long each of these "judged" Israel. They were not officials in the usual sense of the term, but were liberators of the people, who, at the inspiration of Yahweh, gave the signal for a holy war. After the victory they, as men of Yahweh, then enjoyed distinction, at least in their own tribes; and in so far as it was through their doing that the people had been freed, they were the highest authorities in political, legal, and probably, too, in religious questions. They are called judges in conscious contradistinction from the kingly power, which in Israel was recognized as the exclusive prerogative of Yahweh, so that Gideon declined it as improper when the people wanted to make him king (Jg 8:22 f). The people recognized the Spirit of Yahweh in the fierce energy which came over these men and impelled them to arouse their people out of their disgraceful lethargy. For this reason, too, they could afterward be trusted in making their judicial decisions in harmony with the mind and the Spirit of God, as this had been done already by the prophetess Deborah in the time of oppression. Yet, at least in the case of Samson (notwithstanding Jg 16:31), it is not probable that he ever was engaged in the administration of justice. It is not even reported of him that he fought at the head of the people, but he carried on his contests with the Philistines in behalf of himself individually, even if, as one consecrated of God, he were a witness for the power of God.

3. Chronology of the Period:

The chronology of the period of the Judges exhibits some peculiar difficulties. If we add together the data that are given in succession in the Book of Judges, we get from Jg 3:8 through Jg 16:31, Jg 21:25 years altogether. But this number is too large to make it harmonize with the 480 years mentioned in 1Ki 6:1. Jewish tradition (e.g. Cedher `Olam) accordingly does not include the years of oppression in this sum, but makes them a part of the period of the individual judges. In this way about 111 years are eliminated. But evidently the redactor of the Book of Judges did not share this view. Modern critics are of the opinion that the writer has dovetailed two chronological methods, one of which counted on the basis of periods of forty years each, while the other was more exact and contained odd numbers. In this way we can shorten this period as does the Cedher `Olam. At any rate, it is justifiable, and is suggested by Jg 10:7, to regard the oppression by the Ammonites (Jg 10:8 ff) and the oppression by the Philistines (Jg 13:1 ff) as contemporaneous. And other events, too, which in the course of the narrative are related as following each other, may have taken place at the same time or in a somewhat different sequence, as the author used different sources for the different events. But for this very reason his story deserves to be credited as historical. Such characters as Deborah, Jephthah, Ehud, Gideon, Abimelech and Samson are described as tangible historical realities. Even if, in the case of the last-mentioned, oral tradition has added decorative details to the figure, yet Samson cannot possibly be a mere mythological character, but must have been a national hero characteristic of this period, in whom are represented the abundance of physical and mental peculiarities characteristic of the youthful nation, as also their good-natured indifference and carelessness over against their treacherous enemies.

4. Loose Organization of the People:

The lack of a central political power made itself felt all the more in the period of the Judges, since, because of the scattered condition of the people in the country that had been so minutely parceled out, and because of the weakening of the religious enthusiasm of the preceding age, the deeper unity of heart and mind was absent. It is indeed incorrect to imagine that at this time there was a total lack of governmental authority. A patriarchal organization had been in force from the beginning. The father of the family was the lawful head of those belonging to him: and a larger clan was again subject to an "elder," with far-reaching rights in the administration of law, but also with the duty to protect his subordinates, and in case of want to support them. Unfortunately we are nowhere informed how these elders were chosen or whether their offices were hereditary. Only a very few passages, such as Isa 3:6 f, throw a certain light on the subject. This institution of the elders Moses had already found established and had developed farther (Ex 18:13 ff). It was retained in all the periods of Israel's history. When the people began to live together in larger centers, as a natural consequence bodies of such city elders were established. The tribes, too, had "elders" at their head. But for a united action of the whole nation this arrangement did not suffice; and especially in the case of war the people of Israel felt that they were at a disadvantage compared with their enemies, who had kings to lead them. For this reason the desire for a king steadily grew in Israel. The dictators of the period of the Judges satisfied their needs only for the time being.

IV. The Kingdom: Israel-Judah.

In the time when the Israelites were oppressed by the Philistines the need of a king was especially felt. As Samson had come to his death in servitude, the people themselves thus, at the close of this period of glorious victories, were under the supremacy of a warlike race, which had only in recent times settled on the western coast of Palestine, and from this base was forcing its conquests into the heart of the country.

1. Samuel:

After the most disastrous defeats, during which even the Ark of the Covenant was lost, there arose for the people, indeed, a father and a deliverer in the person of Samuel, who saved them during the most critical period. What his activity meant for the uplift of the people cannot be estimated too highly. He was, above all, during peace the faithful watchman of the most sacred possessions of Israel, a prophet such as the people had not seen since the days of Moses; and he doubtless was the founder of those colonies of prophetical disciples who were in later times so influential in the development of a theocratical spirit in Israel. He guarded the whole nation also with all his power, by giving to them laws and cultivating piety in the land.

2. The Kingdom of Saul:

But as Samuel, too, became old and the people concluded for good reasons that his rule would have no worthy successors, their voice could no longer be silenced, and they demanded a king. Samuel tried in vain to persuade the people to desist from their demand, which to him seemed to be an evidence of distrust in the providence of Yahweh, but was himself compelled, by inspiration of God, to submit to their wishes and anoint the new king, whom Yahweh pointed out to him. It is indeed maintained by the critics that there are several accounts extant in Samuel concerning the selection of Saul to the kingdom, and that these accounts differ in this, that the one regards the kingdom as a blessing and the other as a curse. The first view, which is said to be the older, is claimed to be found in 1Sa 9:1-10,16, and 1Sa 11:1-15; while the second is said to be in 1Sa 8:1-22; 10:17-27; 11:12-14. Whatever may be the facts in regard to these sources, this is beyond any doubt, that Samuel, the last real theocratic leader, established the kingdom. But just as little can the fact be doubted, that he took this step with inner reluctance, since in his eyes this innovation meant the discarding of the ideals of the people to which he himself had remained true during his lifetime. The demand of the people was the outgrowth of worldly motives, but Yahweh brought it about, that the "Anointed of Yah" signified an advance in the history of the kingdom of God.

Saul himself, at first, in a vigorous and efficient manner, solved the immediate problems and overcame the enemies of his people. But he soon began to conceive of his kingdom after the manner of heathen kingdoms and did not subject himself to Yahweh and His appointed representative. There soon arose an open conflict between him and Samuel; and the fact that the Spirit of God had departed from him appears in his melancholy state of mind, which urged him on to constantly increasing deeds of violence. That under these circumstances God's blessing also departed from him is proved by the collapse of his life's work in his final failures against the Philistines.

3. David:

In contrast with this, David, his successor, the greatest king that Israel ever had, had a correct conception of this royal office, and even in his most brilliant successes did not forget that he was called to rule only as "the servant of Yahweh" (by which name he, next to Moses, is called most often in the Bible). As a gifted ruler, he strengthened his kingdom from within, which, considering the heterogeneous character of the people, was not an easy matter, and extended it without by overpowering jealous neighbors. In this way it was he who became the real founder of a powerful kingdom. The conquest of Jerusalem and its selection as the capital city also are an evidence of his political wisdom. It is indeed true that he, too, had his personal failings and that he made many mistakes, which caused him political troubles, even down to his old age. But his humility at all times made him strong enough again to subject himself to the hand of Yahweh, and this humility was based on the attitude of his spirit toward Yahweh, which shows itself in his Psalms. In this way he really came to be a connecting link between God and his people, and upon this foundation the prophets built further, who prophesied a still closer union of the two under a son of David.

While Saul was a Benjamite, David was of the tribe of Judah, and was for a short time the king of this tribe in Hebron, before the other tribes, becoming tired of the misrule of a descendant of Saul, also voluntarily chose him as their king. He soon after this established as the center of his new kingdom the city of Jerusalem, which really was situated on the territory that had been assigned to Benjamin; and he also set this city apart as the religious center of the people by transferring the Ark of the Covenant to this place. In this way David, through his wisdom and his popular bravery, succeeded in uniting the tribes more firmly under his supremacy, and especially did he bring the tribe of Judah, which down to this time had been more for itself, into closer connection with the others. Israel under David became a prominent kingdom. This position of power was, as a matter of fact, distasteful to their neighbors round about. The Philistines tried to destroy the ambitious kingdom, but were themselves repeatedly and definitely overpowered. But other neighboring people, too, who, notwithstanding the fact that David did not assume an offensive attitude toward them, assumed a hostile attitude toward him, came to feel his superiority. Particularly severe and tedious was the war against the allied Ammonites and Syrians; and although the Edomites, too, regarded this as a favorable time for attacking Israel, this struggle also ended in a complete triumph for David. The surrounding countries became subject to him from the Mediterranean Sea to Hamath (2Sa 8:9), and from the territory of the Lebanon, the inhabitants of which assumed a friendly attitude, to the borders of Egypt, which also recognized the new rule.

4. Solomon:

Solomon, the son of David, developed inwardly the powerful kingdom which he had inherited. To his father he seemed to be the right man for this because of his peaceful temperament and his high mental abilities. He justified the hopes placed in him. Out of love to Yahweh he built the temple on Mt. Zion, regulated the affairs of state and the administration of justice, and by commercial treaties with the Phoenicians (King Hiram) brought about great prosperity in the land. His was the "golden" period in Israel. The culture and civilization, too, of the people were materially advanced by Solomon as he widened their horizon and introduced the literature of Proverbs, which had up to this time been more extensively cultivated by the neighboring people (Edom, Arabia, Egypt). He even developed this literature into a higher type. On the other hand, the brilliant reign of Solomon brought serious dangers to the new kingdom. His liberal-mindedness in the treatment of his foreign wives, in permitting them to retain their heathen worship, probably because he thought that in the end it was the same Divinity which these women worshipped under different form, endangered theocracy with its serious cult and its strict morality. Through this conduct the king necessarily forfeited the sympathy of the most pious Israelites. At the same time, his love for magnificent structures surpassed the measure which was regarded as correct for the "Anointed of Yahweh." Then, too, his efforts, in themselves justifiable, to establish a more perfect organization of the monarchy, produced a great deal of dissatisfaction. Solomon did not understand, as did his father, how to respect the inherited liberty-loving tendencies of his people. The heavy services and taxation, to which the people were compelled to submit, were deeply felt, most of all by the Ephraimites, who at times had exhibited a jealous spirit, and could not forget their lost hegemony.

5. Division of the Kingdom:

So long, indeed, as the wise Solomon and his advisers were at the helm, the various rebellious tendencies could not make themselves felt. But after his death the catastrophe came. His son, Rehoboam, at the Diet in Shechem, at which the Ephraimites placed before him a kind of capitulation before his coronation, showed that he did not at all understand the situation. His domineering attitude brought things to a head, and he must have been glad that at least the tribe of Judah remained faithful to him. The northern tribes chose for their king Jeroboam (I), who before this had already taken part in rebellious agitations, as the kingdom had been predicted to him by the prophet Ahijah (1Ki 11:2 ff). Israel was torn into two parts.

6. Sources of the History of the Kingdom:

With this rupture the powerful kingdom established by David had reached its end. In regard to this flourishing period in Israel's history we are, on the whole, well informed through the sources. Especially in 2Sa 9:1-13 through 2Sa 20:1-26 and 1Ki 2:1-46; 3:1-28, we have a narrator who must have been a contemporary of the events recorded. Klostermann surmises that this may have been Ahimaaz, the son of Zadok (2Sa 15:27); while Duhm, Budde, Sellin and others believe it to have been the priest Abiathar. Less unity is in evidence in the first Book of Sam, containing the history of the youth of David, which evidently was often described. The Books of Chronicles have only secondary value for the life of David. These books narrate in full detail the story of the preparations made by David for the erection of the temple and of his organization of the Levites. In regard to the reign of Solomon, the Books of Kings report more fully. Concerning the later kings, they generally give only meager extracts from more complete sources, which excerpts, however, have been shown to be reliable. The interest which the narrator has in telling his story is the religious. Especially does he carefully note the fact as to the relation of the different kings to the cult. Special sources have been used in compiling the detailed stories of the great prophets Elijah and Elisha, which are inserted in the history of the two kingdoms. On the other hand, the Books of Ch pass over entirely all reference to the work of the prophets of the Northern Kingdom, as they ignore the entire history of the Ephraimitic kingdom since the interest of these books is centered on the sanctuary in Jerusalem. Also in the case of the Judean history, the much older Books of Ki deserve the precedence. Yet we owe to the writer of Ch a number of contributions to this history, especially where he has made a fuller use of the sources than has been done by the author of the Books of Kings. The suspicion that everything which Chronicles contains, beyond what is to be found in Kings, is unhistorical, has turned out to be groundless. Thus, e.g., it would be impossible to understand the earlier prophecies of Isaiah under Jotham at all, if it did not appear from Chronicles to what prosperity and influence the people of Jerusalem had by that time again attained. For it is only Chronicles that give us an account of the flourishing reign of his predecessor Uzziah, who is treated but briefly in Kings.

7. Chronological Matters:

The chronology of the earlier portions of the period of the Kings is dependent on the date of the division of the kingdom. This date can be decided on the basis of the careful chronological data of the Books of K, which do not indeed agree in all particulars, but are to be adjusted by the Assyrian chronology. If we, with Kamphausen, Oettli and Kittel, regard the year 937 BC as the time of the division of the kingdom, then Solomon ruled from 977 to 937; David, from 1017 to 977. The length of the reign of Saul is not known, as the text of 1Sa 13:1 is defective. It is very probable that we can credit him with about twenty years, according to Josephus (Ant., X, viii, 4), i.e. from about 1037-1017. In this case David transferred the seat of government to Jerusalem about the year 1010, and the completion of the erection of the temple of Solomon took place in 966. But this basal date of 937 is not accepted as correct by all scholars. Klostermann places the date of the rupture of the kingdom in the year 978; Koehler, in 973. For later chronological data, Assyrian sources are an important factor. The Assyrians were accustomed to call each year after the name of an official (limu), and eponym lists are extant for 228 years. In these reference is made to an eclipse of the sun, which astronomically has been settled as having taken place on July 15, 763. We have in this list then the period from 893 to 666. On this basis, it is made possible to determine the exact dates of the different military expeditions of the Assyrian rulers and their conflicts with the kings of Judah and Israel, on the presupposition, however, that the Assyrian inscriptions here used really speak of these kings, which in a number of cases is denied. Valuable help for determining the chronology of this period is the fall of Samaria in the year 722 and the expedition of Sennacherib against Jerusalem in 701, and then the fall of Jerusalem in 587 and 586. The distribution of the years between these dates to the individual kings is in places doubtful, as the numbers in the text are possibly corrupt, and in the synchronistic data of the Books of Ki mistakes may have been made.

Continued in ISRAEL, HISTORY OF, 3.

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