11. Historical & Geographical Context


Struggles of Israel Meditations: 11. Historical & Geographical Context

1 Kings 12:20  When all the Israelites heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. Only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David.

Health Warning:  I think as we progress with this series I need to give a health warning – it is not for the faint-hearted. I have the feeling that this is possibly the most intense series – in terms of the amount of information and biblical quotes included – that I have ever written. It may be that you might find it more helpful to copy and paste the material (if you are reading it on something capable of doing that) in order to use this material as a future resource. I don’t think the church is usually very good at teaching of the history of the Old Testament and my hope is that this series may in a small measure remedy that or at least provide material to do that.

Recap: We have noted David’s successes and his failure and the consequences, and then Solomon’s success and then failure and further noted the Lord’s word to Solomon about dividing the kingdom. We now need to see how this works out and how the outcomes ‘fit’ our overall goal of examining the struggles of this nation. To do this we will have to now follow two streams, that of the north and that of the south. We will start with the northern kingdom as they lasted for roughly 135 years less than the south.

As we move on we are going to find a string of names of the various kings and I will endeavor to clarify them by printing them in bold. I will also seek to pick out their enemies similarly.  2 Chronicles describes the activities of the southern kingdom and 1 & 2 Kings mostly follows the northern kingdom (although there are some descriptions of the things of the south). For this reason, in the next part where we cover the northern activities, our resources will come from 1 & then later 2 Kings.

Warning: Now I am aware that as you read through this particular study, as I indicated above you may feel overwhelmed by ‘information’ which may leave you feeling that this is purely an academic study. In no way do I suggest you will remember all this detail but it may be in the subsequent studies you may wish to return here to put everything that follows into the historical and geographic context that I hope to provide here. I will make further comment at the end of this study.

Context:  Earlier on in the series, in Study No.7, we identified the various tribal nations that occupied Canaan when Israel went in to clear it out. Now many years later we will keep finding reference to other nations who the Lord used as a thorn in Israel’s side. It will be helpful therefore if we focus in this study  on the various nations interacting with Israel, and we gave a mini-description of each of these:

In study no.7 and into no.8, we covered the Philistines and saw them throughout David’s story. After that they ceased to be seen much and perhaps because of their geography (coastal plain in the south) they did not feature with the northern kingdom.

When Israel were transiting up the east side of the Dead Sea before entering the Land by crossing the Jordan, we identified the various nations to the south and east of the Dead Sea as follows: to the south is Edom, north of them is Moab and north of them Ammon, west of which dwelt the Amorites at the city of Heshbon, and then further north still, Bashan. Let’s pick up on some of these who also appear later in Israel’s history:

Edom: Edom was another name for Esau (Gen 36:1) and so the Edomites were descendants of Esau, who had clearly migrated there very early on (Gen 32:3, 36:1-8), absorbing the Horites who already lived there (Gen 14:6). Seir, which is often mentioned, was first a mountain in that area and then was the land in that area that became better known as Edom. Saul had fought against them when he came to rule (1 Sam 14:47), David subsequently conquered them (2 Sam 8:13,14). Later in Jehoshaphat’s time they joined with the Moabites and Ammonites to fight against the southern kingdom. In the reign of Jehoram in the south they rebelled (2 Kings 8:20-22). They were thus an opposition in the south mostly against the southern kingdom. They helped the north on one occasion (2 Kings 3:9)

Moab: Moab was the son of Lot (Gen 19:37) whose descendants settled the land that was to the east of the southern half of the Dead Sea, north of Edom. As we saw in the third study, they were protected by the Lord when Israel passed by on their way to enter the land further north. (Deut 2:9) Saul later fought with them (1 Sam 14:47) and David later subdued them (2 Sam 8:2). After Ahab died they rebelled (2 Kings 1:1, 3:5) against Joram but were routed by Joram, Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom (2 Kings 3:24). Later they simply took to raiding Israel every Spring (2 Kings 13:20). They were later subdued by Assyria until their power waned.

Aram: Otherwise known as Syria, the history is murky and complex but the name becomes associated with a people of the north and east of Israel, a land that stretched eastwards including northwest Mesopotamia, who are clearly established in the time of the Judges (see Jud 10:6). Absalom married a daughter of the king of Geshur and later fled there (see 2 Sam 3:5, 14:23, 15:8 – Geshur being identified as being in Aram).  David defeated a king from there (2 Sam 8:3) – Zobar is to the north-west of Damascus. Ben-Hadad king of Aram, attacked Samaria in the days of Ahab but was repulsed (1 Kings 20:1,29,30). It was the Arameans that Elisha spared at Dothan (2 Kings 6:8-23). Nevertheless Ben-Hadad again laid siege to Samaria but had ending up fleeing (2 Kings 6:24, 7:6,7). After Hazael killed him (2 Kings 8:15) the Lord used Hazael to subdue Israel (2 Kings 10:32) continuing into the reign of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:7,22)

The Kings of Aram we come across in the text are:

  • Ben-Hadad (there may have been a first and second) in days of Ahab (2 Kings 6:24, 8:7-15)
  • Hazael (843BC-) in later days of Ahab and into reign of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 8:7-15, 9:14, 10:32, 13:3-6,22
  • Ben-Hadad (the third possibly, 796BC-) in days of Rehoboam II (2 Kings 15:20)
  • Rezin – (pos. 750BC-) fought against the southern kingdom in the reign of Ahaz, but later killed by the king of Assyria (2 Kings 15,16, Isa 7:1)

Assyria: focused on the Tigris and upper Mesopotamia, in the period of our studies. Went through many phases through ancient history, and was strong and starting to expand about 900BC, lasting until the fall of Nineveh at the hands of the Medes/Persians and Babylonians, Chaldeans in 609 BC.

The Kings of Assyria mentioned in the text are:

  • Tiglath-Pileser III: (745BC-) built the empire and came and deported some of Israel in Pekah’s reign (2 Kings 15:19, 29)
  • Shalmaneser V: (727-) came against Hoshea, overcame Samaria (722BC) and deported the rest of Israel (2 Kings 17:3,5, also 2 Kings 18:9-11))
  • Sargon II:  (722-) came and took Ashdod in the south (Isa 20:1)
  • Sennacherib: (705-) came against the southern kingdom (after the fall of the north) later in Hezekiah’s reign (2 Kings 18 & 19 & Isa 36,37) but was withstood, and then later assassinated by his sons.
  • Esarhaddon: (681-) Sennacherib’s son reigned after his death (2 Kings 19:37)

Babylonia: In Babylon, which had earlier been part of Assyria, the rise of the city state under Nabopolasser (625-605) meant the end of Assyria in 609 and the ascension of Babylonia under Nebuchadnezzar (605-562) and subsequent kings, until the fall of Babylon in 539BC to the Persian, Cyrus, (539-530) who eventually sent the remnant of Israel back (538) to start to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (537). For the fall of Jerusalem and what followed see 2 Chron 36 etc. (All dates from The New Bible Dictionary)

And So: As I said at the beginning, lots of information and while we may not hold all of it in our memories, I hope that it may enlarge our perspective to see that Israel were just one small nation in a world of change, a world where nations grew and declined, grew and declined. It is for this reason that different nations appear at different times. The nations immediately to the east and south such as Moab and Edom, come and go as irritants in the life of Israel, but the bigger ‘empires’ such as Aram, the Assyrians and later the Babylonians became giants of influence over that area of the Middle East, as we now call it.

As we start to see the geography and see that these latter three empires all come from the north and north-east, we can understand why Isaiah prophesied about Galilee in the north, “In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan— The people walking in darkness  have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned,” (Isa 9:1,2) when he prophesied about the coming of Jesus. The north of the country had taken the brunt of the big powers from the north and north-east and in many ways had become a place of ‘darkness’.

And Us? From an intellectual point of view, may we be those with hearts open to learn. From a spiritual point of view may we catch something of the greatness of the working of the nations and, as the Bible shows it, the activities of the Lord as He interacts into all that is going on. In the studies as we progress, may we see this more and more and worship Him.

Snapshots: Day 132

Snapshots: Day 132

The Snapshot: “the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors.” (Josh 21:43) An amazing – and very surprising description! Yes, the Land has been taken but there are still pockets of the old inhabitants still there. So, yes, the Lord’s will, described in those early days of Exodus to Moses has been fulfilled. But it is a challenging analogy. When we come to Christ there is a new ‘land’ to be taken, a new life to be lived, having left the old one (Egypt, the place of slavery) behind. And as we go in to take this new ‘land’ that Christ has earned for us and the Spirit empowers us to take, there is much from the past to be considered dead, much to be put to death (see Rom 6:11-13, Col 3:5,8,9, Eph 4:22-32), the battle for a godly & righteous ‘land’.

Further Consideration: This is God who, in this fallen world, tolerates imperfection in us. The fact that Israel had not cleared out every single Canaanite from the Land did not mean that the plan of God was thwarted, it just means (as we’ve seen again and again) He realistically works with the imperfect and incomplete.

It is an amazing challenge both for those atheists who foolishly say that God is harsh and vindictive, and those legalists who say that God is holy and therefore judges all wrongdoing. Well, for the latter group, that is true but He does it through the Cross; Jesus has taken the punishment for every wrong deed. If he hadn’t, not one of us could stand, everyone one of us would be living in fear, waiting for the hand of destruction to fall on us.

And so Israel ‘possess’ the land but there are still pockets of the old inhabitants around and the Lord knew this and said He would leave them as a challenge to Israel to test them. Every time Israel fell into disobedience, these enemies rose up and attacked them. It was a funny form of discipline, it wasn’t God hitting Israel with a big stick, but God allowing Israel to be disciplined by their own failure to deal with their enemies outright.

Now this is where it starts getting painful because this is what happens when we come to Christ. When we are saved, we are perfect in God’s eyes as far as our eternal destiny is concerned but the depth of our conversion, if I may put it like that, will determine the practicalities of our future lives here on earth. If we are half-hearted about our commitment, about our obedience, and do not put to death the deeds of self, they will eventually turn and bite us, they will cause us pain when they come out into the open and be seen for what they are. Unredeemed anger and its causes is a good example. If we don’t let the Lord work deeply in us, then anger (for whatever its unresolved cause) will flare up, cause upset, hurt and so on, and we will feel the pain. A Warning.

Snapshots: Day 122

Snapshots: Day 122

The Snapshot: “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” (Josh 3:6) The ark of the covenant usually dwelt in the heart of the Tabernacle, the place of God’s dwelling, but when Israel were on the move it always went ahead. When it came to entering the Promised Land and crossing the Jordan it was those carrying the ark who stepped into the water first and then it miraculously divided. Do we want to see miracles return to the life of the church (as Jesus’ instructed – Mt 11:5, Jn 14:12, Mt 28:20)? Then ensure Jesus goes first, ensure we are ‘following’ him, watching him and then doing what he wants to do (Jn 5:19). The Son is the head of the church (Eph 4:15) so let’s ensure we are a responsive body that follows.

Further Consideration: “Letting Jesus go ahead sounds the most simple description of being a disciple. I mean, it was the only thing the first disciples were called to do – follow me. Where Lord? That doesn’t matter, I’ll show you, just follow me. And he went ahead. Lord, what do you call us to do? That doesn’t matter, you’ll know when the time comes and you find someone or some situation before you that I’ve led you to, just follow me and watch me, sense what I want to do – through you – and do it. It will be that simple, just follow me.

But I’m scared about what you might ask me to do. For example you asked Peter to walk on water. Child, realize there was only one Peter and only one instance of walking on the water. Peter could handle that so I told him to come and he did. None of the others asked and so I called none of them to do it. I know what you are capable of doing – yes, with my enabling – and I know the encouragement you personally need to step up and step out to do such things, but they will be things that are unique to you because I know what you and I can do together.

But I don’t know how to heal people, deliver demoniacs or perform miracles. No, but I do and all I ask of you is your heart and your voice when it comes to it; I will provide the power that brings the change. That’s what I did with my disciples, that’s what I will do with you if you want me to. But of course I want you to! Do you, do you really, do you really want to experience the uncertainties of stepping out in faith and possibly failing?

But, Lord, that’s just it, I’m afraid of failing, of not hearing you properly, of being presumptuous and going ahead of you. That’s all right, Peter often did, but he learned. I am pleased when you reach out in faith and if the time is not yet right, don’t worry, you are still learning and I am still pleased. The more you try, the more you will learn to be sensitive to me. Just trust me to turn up when the time is right, learn to let me go ahead and, yes, follow me.    

10. Revelation through David

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 10. Revelation through David

2 Sam 12:11  “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you.

Structure:  There are, I would suggest, four phases to David’s story. Phase 1 is what we have been considering in the previous study, (seen as the third phase in 1 Samuel), him being anointed and then his tumultuous rise to becoming king. Phase 2 is his success as king, Phase 3 is his failures as king and then Phase 4 is his final years. As I have commented right at the beginning of this series, these chapters revealing the warfare and struggles of Israel reveal to us the interaction between God and man, mostly the failings of man and then the discipline of God but they do also accentuate the truth found in the ‘curses and blessings’ chapter of Deuteronomy, (Deut 28) that obedience brings blessing from God and disobedience brings curses or discipline from God. We also need to be honest enough to face these truths in our lives and this world today.

Phase 2 – Success: Remember the early call to Israel was to clear the land of its occupants. Over a hundred years had passed since that call and the Jebusites still occupied Jerusalem. David’s first task after becoming king over all Israel was to take that city, which he did (see 2 Sam 5:6-10). What follows is then two victories over the Philistines, with the Lord’s guidance (see 2 Sam 5:17-25). Subsequently he continued to defeat the Philistines (8:1) and the Moabites (8:2) and other opposing kings (8:3-6) so that, “The Lord gave David victory wherever he went.” (v.6c) and went on to defeat the Edomites (8:13,14) and later the Ammonites (10:1-19). The Philistines continued to be defeated (see 1 Chron 20:4-8) Turning from battles, the accounts of the early parts of David’s reign turn towards returning the Ark to Jerusalem, seeking the Lord and receiving His prophetic affirmations about the future.

Phase 3: Downfall: Almost every person in the Bible (except Jesus) reveal something of their fallenness. David is no exception. David’s testimony in the historical books is quite remarkable: “For David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life—except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.” (1 Kings 15:5) If you are not familiar with the story, David committed adultery with Bathsheba, then had her husband murdered before he took her for his own wife (see 2 Sam 11) for which he is censured by the Lord (see 2 Sam 12) who declares, “Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.” (2 Sam 12:10) and, “‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’” (v.11,12)  This is the background for all that follows.

Outworking: The outworking of this is seen in what follows:

  • the family upheaval starts with one of David’s sons desiring his daughter (2 Sam 13:1)
  • this results in one son, Absalom, killing that brother, Amnon (2 Sam 13:23-29) and fleeing (v.34-38)
  • after three years he returns and is eventually reconciled to David (2 Sam 14)
  • but then he stages a palace coup and David has to flee (2 Sam 15).
  • The prophecy of 12:11,12 is thus fulfilled
  • Absalom is killed by Joab (18:14,15) David returns to Jerusalem (Ch.19)
  • but then a rebel, Sheba caused many to desert David (20:1,2,14,22) but he is pursed and killed
  • subsequent battles occur with the Philistines (21:15-22) ad when David is nearly killed his men forbid him going out to battle any more. The prophecy of 12:10 fulfilled.

Phase 4: Aftermath – Solomon: In his final phase of David’s life he makes Solomon the next king. (1 Kings 1). Solomon was initially, with God’s help, a very wise king and he established the kingdom and his fame spread so that eventually the Queen of Sheba came (1 Kings 10) acknowledging the wonder of all the Lord had done for him. Tragically Solomon unwisely took many foreign wives and fell away from the Lord (1 Kings 11:1-8) so that the Lord decreed, “I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son.  Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.” (1 Kings 11:11-13) Following his death this occurs.

Discipline: However before that, the Lord disciplines Solomon by raising up Hadad the Edomite in rebellion (1 Kings 11:14-22) and Rezon (11:23-25) and then Jeroboam rebelled (11:26-40) who after Solomon’s death causes the split in the nation with ten tribes of the north following him with only two in the south remaining true to Rehoboam, Solomon’s son.

Summary of Two Great Kings: Thus we have seen the activities of two great kings and God’s dealings with them. First there had been David, a man after God’s own heart, raised up by the Lord to replace Saul after his death. Initially David had been very successful but then he gave way to temptation and committed adultery and murder. For this the Lord brought on him discipline in the form of family rebellion and for a while, before all the eyes of Israel, David has to flee. When he is restored he is never quite the same man again.

The second great king was Solomon who, by the grace of God, was known as the wisest man on earth and whose wisdom enabled him to establish the land as never before or since. Tragically he also gives way to temptation on a much bigger scale than his father and takes many foreign wives, falls away from the Lord and is disciplined by inner rebellions and, after his death, by the kingdom being divided so all his personal glory is gone.

Lessons:  These events reveal a variety of lessons:

Grace: The first and greatest lesson must surely be that the God who knows all things – including the future and how history will pan out – must be a God of immense grace in that He calls people and uses people who He knows are ultimately going to fail Him!

All three kings we have observed so far – Saul, David and Solomon – got it wrong. David was the only one of the three who truly repented but even he had to live out the consequences that followed his sin. The lesson must be that God is not put off dealing with imperfect human beings – and that includes you and me!

Opportunities: Each of these three kings was given the opportunity by God to make good. When the Lord called Saul He anointed him with the Spirit so he knew the power of God. All he had to do was learn to be obedient to God, but sadly he failed to learn that lesson. David’s testimony shows a young man trained for war by God and who is then granted success after success. Tragically the actions of one afternoon led to a train of events that marred his rule. Solomon was granted wisdom that exalted him across the earth and yet wisdom and obedience are not the same thing and so as the years moved on he took wife after wife from abroad and allowed them to lead him away from the Lord. We need to check ourselves out, our hearts, our thoughts, our ambitions, our words and our deeds. They have the potential for leading us into disaster – even after we have been blessed in abundance by God!

Accountability: Paul said it: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Gal 6:7). Whether it be by ongoing circumstances or by the specific act of God, the Lord will discipline those He loves (Heb 12:6). For His name’s sake, He will step in and bring discipline but the thing that stands out in the case of each of these three kings, is that discipline comes first as the prophesied rebuke and only then as the following outworking. If we sin, we will know it. It’s not just ‘conscience’ but it is also the voice of God that speaks into our heart. That comes to call us to repentance and then we must throw ourselves on the mercy of God. Sometimes that means He limits immediately the consequences of our sin, but sometimes He allows the consequences to be fully worked out in order to teach us and change us, as well as give a warning to others.

There may be others, but I suggest that these are the primary lessons we really need to heed that come out in the studies of these three men. May we truly learn from them.

(Aware that these are rather ‘heavy’ studies, we’ll have a pause for a week or so before coming back and picking them up)

9. New Kid on the Block – David

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 9. New Kid on the Block – David

1 Sam 16:1,13  I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”…. So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David.

Contrasts:  Back in the 1970’s an American preacher, Ern Baxter, impacted parts of the British church at least, at a Dales Bible Week, with a series entitled ‘The King and His Army’, in which he contrasted Saul and David. Saul he portrayed as a ‘head and shoulders’ man (see 1 Sam 9:2, 10:23) and David as a ‘heart man’ (see 1 Sam 13:14) i.e. Saul worked on the basis of human intellect and brute strength, while David was a man who caught God’s heart and responded to it. They contrast ‘flesh-people’ with ‘Spirit-people’.  Hold that in the back of your mind as we progress with this study as we continue through 1 Samuel.

Continuation: So Saul has messed up twice with the Lord and had been rejected by Him but, note this, he is still king. David is anointed to be king by Samuel but he is still a shepherd boy. We need to watch the circumstances that bring change about:

– David gets called into Saul’s service as a lyre player, to ease Saul’s discomfort (see 16:14-23) and he also doubles as Saul’s armour bearer, i.e. he is a servant (clearly there no one knows about the anointing),

– a confrontation occurs between Israel and the Philistines in the south of the country (see 17:1-3),

– clearly most of the time David is still back home looking after the sheep while some of his brothers are in Saul’s army, (see 17:12-15) for his father sends him to the battle front with provisions for them (see 17:17-20).

– on arrival David hears about a giant challenging Israel and to cut a long story short, David kills him (see 17:22-51) and ends up in Saul’s army (18:2,5) and is so successful that Saul finds him a threat.

– at least twice Saul tries to kill him and again, to cut a long story short, David ends up fleeing from Saul and ends up in Gath with the Philistines (21:10) where he eventually has to flee to the wilderness and to the cave of Adullam (22:1). Many discontented Israelites join him there and he makes them into an army.

– shortly afterwards, news is brought to David that the Philistines have attacked Keilah, an Israelite town east of Gath, and after enquiring of the Lord David attacks them and frees Keilah (23:1-5)

– as if David hasn’t enough problems, Saul pursues him and David is only saved by guidance from the Lord and another Philistine attack drawing Saul away (23:7-29)

– when Saul pursues him again, David ends up sparing Saul’s life (Ch.24)

– in ch.26 this occurs again.

– because of this David settles in Gath with the Philistines (27:1-7)

– David and his men become guerrilla fighters unknown to the Philistines (27:8-12)

– when the Philistines gathered in force against Israel they would not let David fight alongside them and sent him home (ch.29)

– meanwhile the Amalekites had attacked his home base and so when he returned he had to pursue them to retrieve his people (30:1-30)

– in the battle against the Philistines, Saul and his sons are killed and Israel flee (31:1-10)

– subsequently David is made king over Judah (2 Sam 1:1-4) and later over all Israel (5:1-5)


  • God rejects Saul, and Samuel anoints David as king.
  • David continues as a shepherd boy until events lead him to become a commander in Saul’s army.
  • Saul finds him a threat and David has to flee into the wilderness.
  • There men gather to him and he forms his own guerrilla army who plunder their enemies while continuing to escape Saul’s efforts to catch him and receiving protection with the Philistines.
  • The Philistines continue to plunder Israel and David manages to avoid having to fight alongside them and thus avoids being part of the battle in which Saul and his sons die and Israel flee.
  • Subsequently David is accepted as king of Judah and then over all Israel.

Comment: Within all these activities we see the interaction of God with Israel.  There are various clear stages in what takes place:

  1. He had clearly raised up Samuel as His prophet.
  2. The people eventually demand a kind and so the Lord gives them Saul.
  3. Saul is initially successful but shows he is spiritually and morally not up to it.
  4. The Lord rejects him and has Samuel anoint David as the new future king.
  5. The process involving the downfall and death of Saul, and subsequent crowing of David takes time.

We should note that the Lord allows the affairs of Israel to progress (as we saw through Judges) with the enemy (the Philistines) being allowed to attack them again and again. However Israel do not cry out to the Lord because they have rejected Him in their demand for a king and the Lord allows this king his way until his eventual death. David meanwhile is having to prove himself, part of which we see is him relying on the Lord and seeking Him again and again for guidance in what were very trying circumstances. It is, somewhat differently from the process observed in Judges, a twofold process that brings about the gradual downfall of Saul and the gradual rising of David. The end result is that Israel have new king, a man after God’s own heart.

And So: We have seen the battles against Israel by the Philistines as the background against which the rise and fall of Saul and then the gradual rise of Davis is played out. We see them rising up against the backdrop of the ailing spiritual state of Israel under the leadership of Eli and his wayward sons. The birth and growth of Samuel comes into this background and so, if you like, we see layers of significance: Philistines in the far background forcing their way forward from time to time, Israel’s spiritual state in the middle ground being the driving factor of whether the Philistine background can come forward or not. In the foreground are the players, first Eli the priest, then Samuel the prophet, then Saul the ‘head and shoulders’ king, then David God’s ‘heart man’ replacement. Each layer impinges on and affects the others. Eli allows spiritual decline, Samuel calls the people to God, Saul reflects Israel’s rejection of God, David reveals God’s good intentions for Israel that prevail to ensure the ongoing purposes of God.

And Us?  I wonder how we view ourselves? Players in the foreground of a spiritually declining West, a spiritually declining civilization, ongoing enemy attacks seen through terrorists, wild rampaging gunmen, immoral and self-serving governments? Our call surely, must be to seek to impact the spiritual state of the nation for good by being salt and light and, as the body of Christ, bringing the good news of the Gospel and the practical love, power and revelation of God through His kingdom to the world around us. As we do this, by prayer and power and through goodness, we are to resist the activities of the enemy who seeks to tear down civilization.

Beware a Deception:  Before I conclude this study, there is something more that is essential to observe.  I believe the analysis in the paragraph above to be correct, but some may say, as I have heard it said, but surely we live in such times of affluence and material prosperity and technological advance, surely it isn’t as bad as you make out? In a recent ‘Snapshot’ series of mini-meditations, I set up the picture of a super-technology future but concluded the following: you may have a brain chip implant that accesses information and makes you a super-person of data, but it changes little when it come to the type of person you are. You can still have the tendency to be self-centred, arrogant, brash, uncaring and so much more. Indeed the technology has made you more godless than you were before. You see no need for God now you have become a super-human. But you still have rows with your partner, your teenage kids still break loose and rebel against you, you still engage in office politics and put down competitors by fair mean or foul, and you are still vulnerable to the various ‘doomsday’ threats that become ever more real as every day passes. Technology does not deal with the problem of sin, and the enemy is still at work in the world. Do not be deceived by the good things that technology brings. We will still need the salvation that only Christ brings.

8. Versus the Philistines

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 8. Versus the Philistines

1 Sam 4:1,2    Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines at Aphek. The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield.

Situation & Cause:  The cities of the Philistines were Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron (Josh 13:3) with Ekron being the northernmost, and Aphek (mentioned above) about 20 miles north of Ekron so the Philistines were well out of their area, suggesting an incursion into Israel. But why was this confrontation coming about? We will see this as the first of three phases in the life of Israel involving the Philistines in 1 Samuel.

Phase 1: The early chapters of 1 Samuel tell of Hannah and her son, Samuel, and how Samuel came to serve at the Tabernacle where old Eli, the chief priest, presided. Yet the old man was not looking after the situation well and had allowed misconduct by his sons. A ‘man of God’ had come and prophesied that judgment would come on his family (2:30-34). When Samuel, the future prophet, started hearing God, the Lord told him that He was about to bring the judgment He had warned Eli about (3:11-14).

Thus we now find the Philistines have arrived on Israel’s doorstep, so to speak. In the first conflict Israel are defeated by them and four thousand are killed (4:2). The superstitious elders decide to bring the ark of the covenant from the Tabernacle to be with them in the battle. This achieves little and Israel continue to be defeated and the ark is taken by the Philistines. (4:10,11) Judgment comes on Eli’s house.

Don’t Mess with God! What then follows is an almost laughable period in which the Philistines take the ark home, first to Ashdod (5:1) where, almost in competition, the ark is put in Dagon’s temple and overnight the pagan god loses his head and hands (5:2-5), then the people are afflicted with tumours (5:6) so the ark is moved to Gath (5:8) where the same thing happens so it is moved to Ekron (5:10) where death and more tumours convinced the Philistines they must get rid of the ark (5:10-12) which happens (see Ch.6)

Revival: Under Samuel, revival occurs within Israel and they gather with Samuel at Mizpah, still in the south but a little north of the Philistine territory (7:1-6). The Philistines hear of this gathering and, feeling defensive, they go to attack Israel, another incursion (7:7). Israel call on the Lord, Samuel presents an offering and the Lord throws the Philistines into confusion in a thunderstorm, Israel chase them, defeat them and “the Philistines were subdued and they stopped invading Israel’s territory. Throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines. 14 The towns from Ekron to Gath that the Philistines had captured from Israel were restored to Israel, and Israel delivered the neighboring territory from the hands of the Philistines.” (7:13,14)

So Far: So far in 1 Sam we have seen Israel’s poor spiritual state, the Lord using the Philistines to discipline them and bring judgment on Eli and his family, then Philistines take the ark – to their regret – then it be restored to Israel and Samuel leading Israel to triumph over the Philistines and peace following.

Phase 2: The second phase, as I suggest it is, starts with Israel asking Samuel to appoint a king over them (see 1 Sam 8). This upsets Samuel (see v.6) but the Lord explains that they are rejecting Him (v.7). What we are seeing is the same old cycle as seen throughout Judges, except it will be worked out in a different way with a king as their leader-deliverer. But which king?  At their request the Lord brings Saul to the forefront (see 1 Sam 9 & 10) as their new king.

Enter the Ammonites: Back in Study no.2 you may remember mention of Ammon to the east of the Jordan. We now find the Ammonites attacking Jabesh-Gilead, a city occupied by Israel east of the Jordan. (11:1,2) When Saul is told of this, the Spirit of the Lord falls on him and he calls out all Israel who go and deliver the city and destroy the Ammonites. Saul has acted just as other deliverers in Judges.

Moving On: Saul capitalizes on this and he and his son, Jonathan, share the leadership of the army, with Jonathan being in the south near Gibeah. (13:2) A little north of there at Geba, the Philistines still had a small outpost which Jonathan attacked (13:3). This zealous bravado incites the Philistines to rise up against Israel causing Israel in the south to flee (13:5-7). Saul at Gilgal, a little further north, is waiting for Samuel to turn up and when he appears to be delayed, Saul panics and starts acting like a priest by offering a sacrifice (13:7-9), presumably to get God on his side, in his thinking at least. Samuel arrives and rebukes him and tells him that for his trying to twist God’s arm, so to speak, the Lord will find a man after his own heart to replace him (13:10-14). This will eventually be seen to be David.

We see the operations of the Philistines – they go out in three bands (13:17,18) – but Jonathan is undeterred and attacks one of their outposts (14:1-4) and the Lord sends panic on them (14:18) which rouses up Israel to pursue them (14:22,23) For a period, Saul has victories over all their enemies: “After Saul had assumed rule over Israel, he fought against their enemies on every side: Moab, the Ammonites, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment on them. He fought valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, delivering Israel from the hands of those who had plundered them,” (14:37,48) but, “All the days of Saul there was bitter war with the Philistines.” (v.52)

And the Amalekites: Next comes one of the rare occasions when Israel are commanded to take the initiative against an enemy. Through Samuel, the Lord instructs Saul to destroy the Amalekites. (This we have considered previously.) This he fails to do and is rejected as king by the Lord (15:1-27). To see the ongoing strife and the role that David played in it, needs more detail so we will save that until the next study.

Recap: We started out seeing a battle looming between Israel and the Philistines, with Israel being defeated and the ark of the covenant being taken by the Philistines. God disciplines the Philistines and the ark is returned. After Eli dies and Samuel takes over leadership, revival breaks out in Israel and throughout Samuel’s time the Philistines were subdued. In the second phase of the book Israel ask for a king and so the leadership is transferred to Saul as their new and first king.  Provoked by the Ammonites, Saul leads Israel in victory. Moving on, Saul’s son, Jonathan, twice attacks Philistine outposts provoking Saul to panic and try acting as a priest for which he is rebuked by Samuel. But the Lord sends panic among the Philistines and Israel pursue them and have victory over them and, indeed, over all their other enemies. Then comes a command to deal with the Amalekites and when Saul fails to fully obey, the Lord rejects him. Saul is now on his own and Samuel will have nothing to do with him. This leads us into the third Phase in 1 Samuel that will largely be about David and his role in all that is going on.

And Us? Is all this purely interesting intellectually or does it have practical applications for us today? What lessons can we see in this book so far?

  • disdaining the name of the Lord (Eli) brings the Lord’s disciplinary action.
  • superstitiously relying on the name does not bring victory over enemies, only obedience will.
  • where there is obedient leadership, blessings will follow (victories over enemies).
  • partial obedience is disobedience

It is really all about obedience and disobedience and provoking the Lord to bring discipline. The underlying truth is that God will not stand by idly watching His name be abused. He will act and that applies as much today as it did then. Do not be deceived by His delaying acting, for He waits until the moment is right and then it comes!

7. People Groups

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 7. People Groups

Ex 3:8    I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.

Review:  To understand the struggles of Israel it is necessary to understand the peoples who opposed them. These are names that appear frequently but which we probably usually pass over without much thought.

The Canaanites: The occupants of the Land (perhaps the wider area as far as Mesopotamia) originally described as part of ten people groups: “the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.” (Gen 15:19-21) but later seven groups: “I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.” (Ex 3:8)

The Individual People Groups:

  • Canaanites – originally from the cursed grandson of Noah, possibly from Phoenicia, the area in the north later known as around Tyre and Sidon, often used to generally describe the occupants of Canaan
  • Hittites – immigrants from old Hitttite empire of the north
  • Amorites – a desert people from the west of Mesopotamia, who now occupied the hill country either side of the Jordan including Jerusalem & Hebron and Ai
  • Perizzites – a scattered hill people
  • Hivites – possibly Horites from the south
  • Jebusites – inhabitants of Jebus or Jerusalem also known as Amorities (Josh 10:5)]

In the Conquest Context: We see these various names occurring:

“When all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings who lived along the Mediterranean coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan River so the people of Israel could cross, they lost heart and were paralyzed with fear because of them.” (Josh 5:1)

“Now all the kings west of the Jordan River heard about what had happened. These were the kings of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, who lived in the hill country, in the western foothills, and along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea as far north as the Lebanon mountains. These kings combined their armies to fight as one against Joshua and the Israelites.” (Josh 9:1)

“So King Adoni-zedek of Jerusalem sent messengers to several other kings: Hoham of Hebron, Piram of Jarmuth, Japhia of Lachish, and Debir of Eglon.” (Josh 10:3) “Joshua travelled all night from Gilgal and took the Amorite armies by surprise.” (Josh 10:9)

Characteristics: What becomes obvious from some of these verses is that very often a so-called ‘king’ ruled over a single town and its immediate vicinity and were thus not particularly powerful. However, it was the practice of idolatrous religion that caused God to move and clear the Land. The most common idol names found in scripture tend to be:

  • Asherah—early Semitic Mother goddess, also called Athirat,the mother of 70 gods
  • Ba’al—meaning “Lord,” god of rain, thunder, and fertility
  • Chemosh—the national god of Moab
  • Dagon—god of crop fertility,
  • Moloch—title for the god who is “king,” probably identical with Milcom and known mainly as the deity to whom child sacrifices were offered

This latter point is highlighted by Moses and later verified by Jeremiah as still continuing when Israel fell into apostasy and reverted to following Canaanite practices:

“…they do for their gods every detestable thing that Jehovah hates, even burning their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.” (Deut 12:31)

They built the high places of Baal in order to burn their sons in the fire as whole burnt offerings to Baal, something that I had not commanded or spoken of and that had never even come into my heart.” (Jer 19:5)

Ongoing Nature: What is remarkable about the conquest of Canaan is that despite all the negative noises made about annihilation by the critics, the reality is that all these people groups actually survived and we find them occurring  as late as Solomon and even still around and mentioned by Ezra after the Exile, for example, “There were still people left from the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites (these peoples were not Israelites). 21 Solomon conscripted the descendants of all these peoples remaining in the land—whom the Israelites could not exterminate—to serve as slave labour, as it is to this day.” (1 Kings 9:20-

Philistines? What is almost strange is that the name of the Philistines, who often crop up in Israel’s history, don’t seem to appear here. The first mention of them is, Egypt was the father of the … Kasluhites (from whom the Philistines came),” (Gen 10:13,14) Abraham later made a treaty with them and lived in their land (Gen 21:22-34) Isaac also later stayed in their land (see Gen 26) and made a treaty with them. They are not mentioned again until after the conquest, as one of the areas not yet taken (see Josh 13:2,3 & Jud 3:3), then some who were struck down (Jud 3:31), then who both caused Israel to fall and then were used to discipline them (Judg 10:6,7 & 13:1) and then appear in contention with Samson (Jud 13:5, 14:3,4, ch.15 & 16). In 1 Sam their name occurs over 80 times, indicating that they had really become a thorn in Israel’s side. To see this in more detail we will go to the next study.

And So: We have highlighted the people groups in Canaan who resisted Israel’s advance, so much so that even centuries later their descendants are still there being a nuisance. The lesson is clearly there: unless you are obedient to the Lord and fully do what He says, you are in danger of letting enemies of the kingdom remain there in the background where they may fester silently for a while but will eventually rear up again and cause our downfall.

I find this one of the most painful lessons I have learnt over the years. It is especially true of leaders who are fearful to take action and speak against unrighteousness, fearful of what they think the consequences might be. It has been true of me in the past and I have watched it being true of other leaders in the past and right up to the present. When this happens, we fail to realize two things: first, the grace (wisdom and authority) and support of the Lord will be there as we determine to do His will with grace and humility and, second, failure to deal with the issue only means we are tolerating unrighteousness and it will eventually blow up under us with even greater impact. Israel provide a lesson we must heed.

6. The Ways of the Lord

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 6. The Ways of the Lord

Acts 7:37,38    “This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.’  He was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living words to pass on to us.

Review:  Before we leave the subject of the taking of the Land, we perhaps need to review something that is of critical importance – the ways of God. Previously Moses had asked of the Lord, “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” (Ex 33:13) i.e. teach me how you work so that I may understand, obey you more fully, and bring pleasure to you. I think we almost take for granted the wonder of what took place, summarized by Stephen in Acts, the fact that Almighty God had conversations with a failed Prince of Egypt-cum-aging shepherd and that within those conversations the Lord shared His will with this man to convey to his people, to lead them to do something that is unique in all of history.

Lessons about God: So familiar do we become with these things that I think we need to itemize some of the lessons that we learn about God from this episode in Israel’s history:

i) All-powerful and sovereign: We see the ‘judgments’ of God throughout the Bible, but nowhere is it as clear as in the confrontation of Pharaoh in Egypt. This is a miracle working God who works on behalf of His people.

ii) Purposeful Plan: The Bible teaches us that the Godhead planned the salvation that would come through Jesus, from before the foundation of the world. This plan would involve calling a man (Abram), miraculously enabling his family to grow and develop into a nation that would both reveal God to the rest of the world at the same time as revealing the sinfulness of mankind and our need for a saviour, and so that nation would eventually create the ‘God-environment’ for His Son to come into. All of what takes place here, is part of that great plan.

iii) Using Fallible Human Beings: God does not work entirely outside human affairs (though the Creation was certainly that!) but seeks to work with, in and through human beings, even though He knows we are fallible, prone to getting it wrong and frequently failing to reach our potential, and when He sees all these things He is not put off by them but works around them or even uses them to further teach us. Thus we find Him taking a failure (murderer), Moses, and uses him, even though He no doubt knows that one day Moses’ grace will run out and he will fail to be the representative of the holy God that he is supposed to be (see Num 20:10). Even though He instructs Israel most clearly about clearing the Land, He must surely know that they will fail to achieve that. So He turns that failure into a teaching tool (Judg 2:22).

iv) Conditional on Human Response: It is clear from the accounts, that although the Lord a number of times says He will drive out the occupants of the Land, it is obvious that this is linked to Israel’s obedience and so when they fail to play their part, we find the simple statement, “The Lord had allowed those nations to remain; he did not drive them out at once by giving them into the hands of Joshua.” (Judg 2:23) This is not God changing His mind, but God working in response to the participation in the plan – or otherwise – by His people.

v) Lessons for Humanity: One can only interpret some of the things that happened as lessons for Israel from God. Actions are again and again accompanied by words – instructions, command, explanations. Perhaps we need to consider these separately.

Lessons by God: There are a variety of incidents that are instructive and from which we need to draw lessons, incidents that involved God and at least one that did not.

i) Who Leads: In Josh 5:13-15 we find a strange incident. Joshua is confronted by what has to be an angelic being (or a theophany representing the Son of God) who he challenges: “Are you for us or for our enemies?” The response he gets is, “Neither, but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” The implied message conveyed here is that he is there to bring about God’s will, not Joshua’s. Whatever happens is by the leading of God, this is a work of God in progress and Joshua needs to remember that. We too need to remember that the battle is the Lord’s and we are simply following Jesus who is working to bring in the kingdom of God (see 1 Cor 15:25).

i) How to go – Jericho: Jericho is the first city to be taken in the process of ousting the inhabitants of the Land. The occupants are fearful of Israel (Josh 2:9) and should have fled the land but no doubt the occult powers they worshiped held them there, seeking to resist the will of God. In Josh 6 God gives Joshua His plan for taking the city. It is not the usual way of bringing a city down, but it works and the city is destroyed. No doubt in the process of marching around the outside of the city in silence, a number of the Israelites wondered what they were doing – but success resulted. Again and again we need to learn the lesson that, God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong,” (1 Cor 1:27) Similarly, The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds,” (2 Cor 10:4) and the Lord who taught, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Mt 5:44) and, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” (Mt 5:3) works on a very different basis from the ways of the world, and to those ways we are called. We need to learn to listen to Him more.

iii) Avoid disobedience – Ai: In Josh 7 we find the story of Achan’s sin and the failure to take Ai. Merely because taking the Land is the Lord’s will, that does not mean it doesn’t matter how Israel goes about it. When the Lord says don’t take articles from the enemy they use to worship their false gods, He means it. He doesn’t want them polluted with the idolatry of the occupants – that is why He is seeking to get rid of them! When there is disobedience, don’t expect the Lord’s blessing. That is a lesson the modern church has yet to learn as we seek to empathize with the world instead of standing distinct from it. We are not to empathize with sin, unrighteousness and ungodliness, we are to demonstrate holiness, righteousness and godliness. It is on such people that the Lord sends His Spirit in power (see Acts 5:32).

iv) Discern Deception – the Gibeonites: In Josh 9 we find the story of a bunch of Canaanites who deceived Israel into taking them in. There may be some positive elements of this story but the overall lesson is there – don’t be deceived by appearances: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7). Lesson? The modern church needs to be more discerning.

v) Unity brings Victory – Gibeon: In Josh 10 the ‘locals’ band together to resist Israel but the Lord encourages with His word, Israel fight and are triumphant, and the Lord supports them with a storm. Lessons? Watch for the way the world bands together against the Lord and His anointed (see Psa 2). Resistance must come from direction from the word of the Lord, unity in the body of Christ, and the divinely supernatural power of the Spirit.

And So? No doubt we could find some further lessons through Joshua, but the above will suffice for now. We have considered five lessons that reveal how the Lord works and we have seen five lessons on how He expects us to work in harmony with Him. The wise will take careful note of all ten.

5. Taking the Land (2)

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 5. Taking the Land (2)

Deut 7:17-19    You may say to yourselves, “These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out?” 18 But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt. 19 You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the Lord your God brought you out. The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear.

Purpose:  Having laid out some of the outline material to be considered as we think about Israel taking the Promised Land, now we will add some Biblical content to get us well and truly grounded in the Bible. What is fascinating is that most of this material comes in the instructions from the Lord early on in the Exodus process. Later on, forty years later, Moses will reiterate these things when they are on the Plains of Moab about to enter the land, and before him going to die. These things make up the content of Deuteronomy. We’ll divide this study into two parts: first the Lord’s instructions at the outset and then the outworking.

Part 1: The Lord’ Instructions:

God’s Intent:  “I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.” (Ex 3:8) There it was laid out early in the first conversation between the Lord and Moses at the burning bush. “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.” (Ex 33:1) So it was time to leave Sinai and go and take this land.

A Gradual Removal: “But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you.” (Ex 23:29) There on Mount Sinai, immediately following the giving of the Law, comes the Lord’s intentions and explanations. To prevent the empty land being overrun by wild animals, the clearance will need to be gradual.

To be Driven Out: “Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land. “I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you.” (Ex 23:30,31) As He continues He shows it will be a combined operation, involving both Him and them.

Remain Distinct: “Do not let them live in your land or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.”  (Ex 23:33) “Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you.” (Ex 34:12) Moses will eventually reiterate these instructions again and again, perhaps summarized as, ‘Whatever you do, remain distinct from these peoples for you are God’s holy people, and if you don’t it will be your downfall, so make sure it doesn’t happen.’

A Forty-Year Aside: What is sad is that between these instructions and Moses affirmations of them in Deuteronomy, there is this forty year gap because when they arrived at the Land and Moses sent in twelve spies, ten of them came back with such negative reports that it put off the rest of Israel who refused to enter. As a result they spent the next forty years in the wilderness while everyone who was over 20 at that point died off leaving only the new younger generation (the oldest of whom would then be sixty) to enter the Land. (see Deut 1:19-46)

Part 2: The Outworking

Failures: The book of Joshua gives us the account of how Israel took the Land but we have to wait until the beginning of Judges to see how that finally worked out.

“The Benjamites, however, did not drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites.” (Jud 1:21) The first of the ‘failure references’.

“But Manasseh did not drive out the people of Beth Shan or Taanach or Dor or Ibleam or Megiddo and their surrounding settlements, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that land.” (Jud 1:27)

“When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely. (Jud 1:28)

“Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer, but the Canaanites continued to live there among them.” (Jud 1:29)

“Neither did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron or Nahalol, so these Canaanites lived among them, but Zebulun did subject them to forced labour.” (Jud 1:30)

 Nor did Asher drive out those living in … 32 The Asherites lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land because they did not drive them out.” (Jud 1:31,32)

“Neither did Naphtali drive out those living in Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath; but the Naphtalites too lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land.” (Jud 1:33)

“The Amorites confined the Danites to the hill country, not allowing them to come down into the plain.” (Jud 1:34)

Was the writer of Judges making a point? In those verses in chapter one, seven of the twelve tribe names are identified as having failed to drive out the Canaanites. Now it is a strange thing but the big picture is that they did take the land BUT not completely: “So Joshua took the entire land, just as the Lord had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war.” (Josh 11:23)

The Result:  The trouble is, when you tolerate a wrong, it will eventually bounce back on you or undermine you and so within a relatively short time we find, “After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.” (Jud 2:10-13)

What then follows is the first of many identical cycles throughout the whole of Judges: Israel turn from the Lord, the Lord lifts off His hand of protection over them, enemies come in and oppress them, Israel cry out to the Lord, and the Lord raises up a deliverer. It happens again and again. Why? Because the source of their undermining was still there right under their feet the whole time,  pagan, idol-worshipping peoples who led foolish Israel to follow their idols.   I have said previously that I believe the Lord created Israel for three reasons. The second reason was to reveal the sinfulness of mankind, even in a nation that had known incredible blessings from the Lord. A sub-lesson might be that a character of sinfulness is the ability to forget so quickly the blessings of the Lord and to turn away from Him to human ungodly ways. The truth is that we are no different from what we have seen here of Israel, and this only goes to show even more clearly how we all need the salvation that only Jesus can bring to us – and to hang on to it!

But why? Continuing to ponder on why this was as it was, this failure after their successes that we saw in the previous study when they travelled up the east side of the Dead Sea, one cannot help but wonder about each of those failure verses above where just one tribe was mentioned. Previously Gad and Reuben had incurred Moses’ displeasure by wanting to settle in the land to the east. “Then Moses said to them, “If you will do this—if you will arm yourselves before the Lord for battle 21 and if all of you who are armed cross over the Jordan before the Lord until he has driven his enemies out before him— 22 then when the land is subdued before the Lord, you may return and be free from your obligation to the Lord and to Israel. And this land will be your possession before the Lord.” (Num 32:20-22) The clear implication is that all the warriors of Israel need to move together to clear the Land. Instead, it appears that they split up, each tribe working to clear its own allotted area. One cannot help but wonder if they had moved as a body sweeping the land clean, if they would not have been more successful? Perhaps there is a lesson here for the ‘body of Christ’ today.

And Us? Lessons to be learnt? Surely the most powerful lesson from these accounts is that partial obedience is in fact disobedience and partial obedience leaves the door open for the enemy to come in and cause upset at some future date. It is that simple and that serious!

4. Taking the Land (1)

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 4. Taking the Land (1)

Ex 3:8  I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.

Taking the Land: Because we are now moving on to consider the taking of the Promised Land by Israel, I am going to start by using material here that I used when I wrote, ‘The Judgments of a Loving God’, which sought to consider as many judgments as possible in the Bible and the reasoning behind them. The taking of Canaan is particularly complex for the following reasons:

Origins: It’s origins are in God’s knowledge of what was currently happening in the land, as revealed to Abraham over 400 years before it actually happened, the need to bring an end to the continually deteriorating moral state of the peoples there; that is the starting place.

Sources:  Things pertaining to the taking of the Land appear in all five books of the Pentateuch, and in Joshua following. It requires quite extensive reading, therefore, to get the full picture.

Prior to Entry: There was the period, recorded in Deut 1-4, prior to the entry, which reveals much of God’s strategy which we considered in the previous study.

Drive versus Destroy: Contrary to much public belief, God’s purposes in respect of dealing with the Canaanites was to drive them out of the land rather than destroy them.

How to Drive: Clearly part of the ‘driving out’ force was that of Israel’s army but the details given indicate, as we’ve already seen, that also the Lord will seek to use fear to scare the occupants out.

Reasons for the Expulsion: Understanding the reasons for Israel going in is complex because it involves both the judgment on the Land and creating a future home for a holy nation.

A Slow Expulsion: Then there is the revelation that the taking the Land will be a slow and gradual process for which there were good reasons, and that had its own problems.

Predetermined Outcome: Then we consider the realities of the outcome, was it predetermined? How do the hard hearts of the Canaanites (or of Israel for that matter) come into this?

Alternative Outcome: But we also need to consider, was there an alternative to fleeing or fighting?

Incomplete Expulsion: But we will also need to see that neither driving nor destruction were completed.

Miraculous Dimensions: Underlying all that happened, we need to consider how God was involved in what went on in the taking of the Land.

Requirements: Very often critics focus, mistakenly, on what they call the genocide or annihilation of the mixed peoples of Canaan, failing to note that first and foremost two things are made clear from the outset. First, that God will work with Israel to drive out the inhabitants, and destruction of the enemy is only the second option i.e. they are to clear the land of its existing pagan peoples by driving them out; that is the primary goal. Second, having done that Israel are to remain entirely distinct from these people who, it may be inferred, may try to sneak back into the land. Whatever happens Israel must not make any treaty with them to allow them to stay, intermarry with them, or worship their idols. All these things will weaken Israel’s resolve to be the holy people God calls them to be, to reveal Him to the rest of the world.

Alternative? It is sometimes helpful to try to see the much bigger picture. Under ‘Reasons for Expulsion’ above we noted the two ideas of judgment AND settlement. At the end of the project, God’s goal is a) to stop the awful things that were going on in the Land before Israel arrived, and b) provide a ‘clean and pure’ home in which Israel may settle and develop to be a light to the rest of the world revealing Him to that world. So, let’s listen to the critics therefore, just for a moment, and say, very well, if you don’t like this approach you think you find in the Bible, what alternative would you propose to achieve those two laudable end goals? I will suggest from the outset that any such alternatives will be completely unrealistic.

Here’s my first unrealistic alternative: God sends representatives into Canaan to ask them to stop their occult practices, stop their child sacrifice, stop their superstitious worship of either unseen evil forces or simply wooden or metal models. If you think this multi-faceted, mixed bunch of fearful, occult driven and superstitious tribes (which is what they were) would take any notice of such representatives, you really do need to take a course in understanding people, and especially the causes and effects of occult activity and superstition.

Let’s try a second unrealistic alternative: God sends representatives from Israel into the Land who invite the occupants to become part of Israel, part of God’s experiment to show to the world an alternative way of living.  Now I have used the world ‘unrealistic’ twice here because the alternatives are always unrealistic in the face of the intransigence that is exhibited by human beings and observed so often in the Bible. Even today nations do not like their sovereignty being challenged. National pride is a very real issue, even in a greatly developed world of today.

Er, why…   Why have we been pondering on this rather unsavory aspect of human life? For two main reasons. First, to focus on the struggles of Israel is to focus on the sinfulness of mankind and if we are to understand Israel’s history and learn from it, we need to understand these things more clearly. Second, we have started to consider the taking of the Promised Land, partly to remove wrong preconceptions, but mainly to consider some of the dynamics in play and face up to the realities behind that episode of Israel’s history. It is the starting point of considering Israel’s life in the Land. As I said, it is rather unsavory but that is because that is the reality about human life, and we need to face that if we are to learn.

And So? This study has been, by necessity I think, a general overall view of the taking of the Land and I have sought to point out some of the key, salient features of what took place to more realistically face what took place. Put in its most simple summary form, what took place was

  1. Israel invaded the land but
  2. never completely cleared all the existing people out of it, so
  3. God said He would leave those peoples there to act as a check on Israel (Judg 2:1-3)

Because we have just provided outline notes and headings in this study we will, in the next study, take some of these items and flesh them out and see them in more detail.