June 15, 2007

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

The Israelites from Joshua to David

John F. Fink(Ninth in a series of columns)

After the first five books of the Old Testament—the Jewish Torah or the Christian Pentateuch—are the historical books.

They tell the story of the Israelites from the time that Joshua led the invasion of the land of Canaan, the establishment of a kingdom first under Saul and then David, the splitting of the kingdom into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the conquest of Israel by Assyria and, finally, the conquest of Judah by the Babylonians in the year 586 B.C.

The Book of Joshua tells how the Israelites conquered Canaan, beginning with the conquest of Jericho. The stories in this book are sagas—that is, they bear some resemblance to fact but their main concern is the universal truth.

They show that God fulfilled his promise to Abraham to give his descendants this land of Canaan. By the end of the book, the 12 tribes of the Israelites descended from Jacob are occupying the land, even if they don’t actually control it. Archaeologists tell us that the Israelites actually settled among the Canaanites and adopted some aspects of their culture.

The Book of Judges then describes the exploits of some of the leaders who led Israel from about 1220 B.C. to 1050 B.C. The overriding theme of this book is that the sin of idolatry, picked up from living among the Canaanites, leads to punishment, but when the people turn back to the Lord, he delivers them from their enemies. These enemies include the Moabites, Canaanites, Midianites, Ammonites and Philistines.

Among the judges are Deborah, Gideon and Samson. You probably know the story of Samson and Delilah. There is constant warfare, violence and bloodshed throughout this book as the Israelites continue to fight against their enemies. The judges are not the type of judges we think of. They are military leaders.

The Book of Ruth, inserted after the Book of Judges, is a short delightful story of a Moabite woman, Ruth, who remains loyal to her mother-in-law, Naomi. She eventually marries Boaz, the grandfather of David. This means that David had some Gentile blood.

There are two Books of Samuel. Samuel was the last and greatest of Israel’s judges. When the people clamor for a king, he crowns Saul. Then much of the First Book of Samuel tells about Saul’s battles against the Philistines, the ancestors of today’s Palestinians who lived in Gaza.

During one of those battles, the young man David defeats the giant Goliath and becomes a hero to the people. Samuel anoints David as king. Saul tries to kill David, who constantly escapes but refuses to kill Saul because he recognizes Saul as God’s anointed.

Saul eventually dies in battle and David becomes king of Judah in Hebron. Then he conquers Jerusalem from the Jebusites and unites all of Israel into one kingdom. He reigns for 40 years. He brings the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, making it the religious as well as the political capital of his kingdom. †

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