Israel

ISRAEL (ĭz'ră-ĕl). Used in Scripture to designate: (1) an individual man, the son of Isaac (see Jacob); or (2) his descendants, the twelve tribes of the Hebrews; or (3) the ten northern tribes, led by the tribe of Ephraim, as opposed to the southern, under the tribe of Judah.



God, however, still remembered his covenant promises with Abraham (Exod.2.24-Exod.2.25). At the death of the great Pharaoh (Exod.2.23) God appeared to Moses in a burning bush at Mount Sinai and commissioned him to deliver the enslaved people (Exod.3.10). Moses accordingly returned to the Egyptian court, with the cry “This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, ‘Let my son go, so he may worship me.' But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son” (Exod.4.22-Exod.4.23). The new monarch, Amenhotep II (1447-1421 b.c.), had inherited the domineering qualities of his father; and he refused to heed the divine summons. Only after a series of ten miraculous plagues, climaxing in the death of all the first-born of Egypt (see Passover), was the hardhearted Pharaoh compelled to yield to the Lord (Exod.12.31).



In May 1445 b.c. Israel broke up camp (Num.10.11) and marched northeast to Kadesh on the southern border of the Promised Land of Canaan. But after taking forty days to spy out the land, all the tribal representatives except Caleb and Joshua reported unfavorably on attempting any conquest of Canaan: “But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large” (Num.13.28). Impetuous Israel then refused to advance into the Promised Land and prayed for a return to Egypt (Num.14.4). Moses’ intercession did save them from immediate divine wrath; but the Lord still condemned them to wander for forty years in the wilderness, one year for each day of spying, until that entire generation died away (Num.14.32-Num.14.34).




II. The Conquest. At Joshua’s accession, the land of Canaan lay providentially prepared for conquest by the Hebrews. Comprising nominally a part of the Egyptian Empire, Canaan suffered the neglect of Amenhotep III (c. 1412-1376 b.c.), called “the magnificent,” whose rule was one of luxury, military inactivity, and decay. Political organization within Palestine was that of many small city-states, impoverished by a century of Egyptian misrule and deficient in cooperative defense. Canaanite standards of living, however, were still superior to those of the invading Hebrews, a fact that was later to lend “cultural” appeal to their debased religion.

In the spring of 1406 b.c. the Jordan River was in its annual flood stage (Josh.3.15). But Joshua anticipated a miracle of divine intervention (Josh.3.13), and the Lord did indeed open a gateway into Canaan. For “the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam,” some fifteen miles (twenty-five km.) north of Jericho (Josh.3.16). Israel marched across the dry riverbed, led by the ark of God’s testament (Josh.3.13).

Joshua’s war of conquest developed in three major campaigns: in central, southern, and northern Canaan. His first objective was the city of Jericho, to his immediate west in the Jordan Valley. “At the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout” outside Jericho’s walls, the Lord caused the walls to collapse (Josh.6.20), and Joshua proceeded to “devote” the city to God (Josh.6.21). Joshua ascended westward into Canaan’s central ridge and, after an initial setback because of sin in the camp (Josh.7.20-Josh.7.21), seized the post of Ai. It seems to have served as an outer defense of the major city of Bethel (Josh.8.17), which surrendered without further resistance (Josh.12.16; cf. Judg.1.22). Joshua was thus able to assemble Israel at Shechem to reaffirm the Mosaic Law (Josh.8.33; according to Deut.27.11-Deut.27.26), having subdued all of central Canaan.

To the south, Gibeon next submitted and, by trickery, saved themselves from the destruction that God had decreed (Deut.7.2; Josh.9.15). Their action, however, provoked an alliance against them of five kings of the southern Amorites, under the headship of Jerusalem, who retaliated by laying siege to Gibeon (Josh.10.5). Joshua was informed and advanced by forced march to the relief of his clients (Josh.10.9); they surprised the enemy and with divine aid routed them westward down the Aijalon Valley. Israel then proceeded to ravage the whole of southern Palestine (Josh.10.28-Josh.10.42).



The next three and one-half centuries were used of God to impress on his people three major lessons: (1) The Lord’s wrath because of sin. When Israel yielded to temptation God, “sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist” (Judg.2.14). (2) God’s mercy when people repented. The Lord would then raise “up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies” (Judg.2.18). (3) Man’s total depravity. “When the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers” (Judg.2.19). The period of the fourteen judges (twelve in Judges, plus Eli and Samuel in 1 Samuel) demonstrates a repeated cycle of human sin, of servitude or supplication, and then of salvation.

From about 1400 to 1250 b.c. the chief external forces that God employed for the execution of his providential dealings were the rival empires of the Hittites north of Palestine and of the Egyptians to the south. Neither of these powers was conscious of the way God was using them; but still, the years in which either succeeded in maintaining Palestinian law and order proved to be just the period that God had chosen for granting “rest” to Israel. Suppiluliuma, for example, who took the throne of the Hittite New Kingdom in about 1385, fomented dissension among the Palestinian states that owed nominal allegiance to Egypt’s Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV; with this international intrigue coincides Israel’s first oppression, by Cushan Rishathaim, an invader from Hittite-controlled Mesopotamia (Judg.3.8). The underlying cause, however, lay in Israel’s sin against the moral requirements of God’s Sinaitic covenant. (Compare the sordid events of Micah and the Danites and of the Benjamite outrage [Judg.17.1-Judg.17.13-Judg.21.1-Judg.21.25], which belong to this period, Judg.18.1; Josh.19.47.) When they “cried out to the Lord, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother” (Judg.3.9). The forty years of peace that then followed correspond to the time of undisputed Hittite sway over Palestine, until some years after the death of Suppiluliuma c. 1345.

Founded in the 1320s b.c., however, the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt began to reassert its territorial claims. Behind this international confusion lay the fact that “once again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and because they did this evil the Lord gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel,” for eighteen years (Judg.3.12, Judg.3.14). Again the Israelites cried out to the Lord, and he gave them a deliverer—Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite (Judg.3.15)—and granted them eighty years of peace. This was the time of the treaty of 1315 between Seti I of Egypt and Mursil II of Heth, who preserved order by dividing the Near East into separate spheres of influence. The treaty was then renewed in 1279, after a futile war of aggression by Rameses II, and was strictly enforced until the death of the last great Hittite king, c. 1250.

Against the oppressive Canaanite Jabin II of Hazor (Judg.4.2-Judg.4.3), God raised up the fourth of the judges, the woman Deborah. Her military commander, Barak, proceeded to muster the north-central tribes to the Valley of Esdraelon for war with Jabin’s officer, Sisera. Then “the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera” (Judg.5.20; cf. Judg.5.21): a divinely sent cloudburst immobilized the powerful Canaanite chariotry, and Sisera himself was murdered in flight by a Kenite woman. The forty-year peace that followed Deborah’s victory coincides with the strong rule of Rameses III at the turn of the century, the last great Pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty.



Their opening oppression climaxed in the first battle of Ebenezer (1Sam.4.1-1Sam.4.22) and resulted in the deaths of Eli and his sons, in the capture of the ark, and in the destruction of the Lord’s house at Shiloh (see Jer.7.14). God in his grace, however, raised up the prophet Samuel, who ended the oppression by a God-given victory at the second battle of Ebenezer in about 1070 b.c. (1Sam.7.1-1Sam.7.17). But later, as Samuel turned over many of his powers as judge to his corrupt sons (1Sam.8.1-1Sam.8.3), the Philistines returned with barbaric cruelty (cf. 1Sam.31.8-1Sam.31.10; Judg.16.25), seeking to crush disorganized Israel.





The time was ripe for the rise of a Hebrew empire. The Hittites had succumbed to barbarian invasion; the Twenty-first Dynasty of Egypt stagnated under the alternating rule of priests and merchants (1100 b.c. on); and Assyria, after having weakened others, was itself restrained by inactive kings. With Philistia broken, Israel remained free from foreign threat for 150 years. David’s first strategic move was to capture Jerusalem from the Canaanites. Militarily, Mount Zion constituted a splendid fortress (2Sam.5.6, 2Sam.5.9); politically, the city afforded David a neutral capital between the recently hostile areas of Judah and northern Israel; and religiously, Zion’s possession of the ark of God’s testament (2Sam.6.17) centered the people’s spiritual hopes within its walls (Ps.87.1-Ps.87.7). From about 1002 to 995 David extended his power on every side, from the Euphrates River on the north (2Sam.8.3) to the Red Sea on the south (2Sam.8.14).


“Is not my house right with God?

Has he not made with me an everlasting covenant,

arranged and secured in every part?

Will he not bring to fruition my salvation

and grant me my every desire?” (2Sam.23.5).

In his later life David became involved in sins of adultery and murder (2Sam.11.1-2Sam.11.27) and of failure to control his sons (2Sam.13.1-2Sam.13.39-2Sam.14.1-2Sam.14.33), and for this he received corresponding punishments (2Sam.15.1-2Sam.15.37-2Sam.16.1-2Sam.16.23; cf. 2Sam.12.10-2Sam.12.12). The revolt of Absalom served also to intensify the antagonism between northern Israel and southern Judah (2Sam.19.41-2Sam.19.43). But at his death in 970 b.c. David was able to commit to his son Solomon an empire that marked the peak of Israel’s power.




The relations between Ephraim and Judah passed through seven stages.



3. The years between 841 and 790 b.c. saw no major dealings between Israel and Judah because of Syrian domination over both kingdoms (see 2Kgs.8.12). Thus, even though Athaliah was killed in Jerusalem, the boy-king Joash suffered humiliating submission to Hazael of Damascus (2Kgs.12.17-2Kgs.12.18). Jehu fared even worse, rendering tribute to Shalmaneser in 841 and then, after Assyria’s departure, forfeiting his entire Transjordanian territory to Hazael. Only an Assyrian victory over Damascus shortly before 800 brought relief to Israel (2Kgs.13.5).

4. By 790 b.c. Amaziah of Judah had recovered sufficiently to reconquer Edom (2Kgs.14.7), but his success deceived him. He dared to challenge Jehoash of Israel (2Kgs.14.10), and Jerusalem was rendered totally subservient to Ephraim until the death of Jehoash in 782.

5. Under the strong monarchs Jeroboam II in Israel and Uzziah in Judah the two kingdoms lived for thirty years in mutual respect and peace. It was their “Indian summer”: Egypt slumbered on under the Twenty-third Dynasty; Syria was broken by Assyria; and Assyria herself, now without aggressive leadership, could be swayed even by the contemporary Hebrew prophet Jonah (2Kgs.14.25). But beneath the outward prosperity lay moral corruption. Amos proclaimed impending judgment on “the day of the Lord ” (Amos.5.18). Hosea, too, warned of deportation to Assyria (Hos.10.6); but with the abolishment of God’s old covenant with Israel, he anticipated a future, newer covenant in which people would “acknowledge the Lord” in truth, under “David [the Messiah] their king” (Hos.2.20; Hos.3.5).

6. In 752 b.c. Jeroboam II’s son was murdered, and Uzziah (Azariah) of Judah assumed the leadership of the western states against the rising power of Assyria. The general Pul, who became Tiglath-Pileser III, was able in 743 to chronicle his defeat of “Azariah the Yaudaean”; and while Judah apparently escaped with little damage, Damascus and Israel, being farther north, were laid under heavy tribute (2Kgs.15.19).





Bibliography: H. M. Orlinsky, Ancient Israel, 1954; W. F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity, 1957; M. Noth, The History of Israel, 1960; G. E. Wright, Biblical Archaeology, 1962; F. F. Bruce, Israel and the Nations, 1963; R. deVaux, Ancient Israel, 1965; R. K. Harrison, Old Testament Times, 1970; J. Bright, A History of Israel, 1972; J. H. Hayes and J. M. Miller (eds.), Israelite and Judaean History, 1977.——JBP

See also

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