Understanding The Bible
The History of Israel:  Part 4 of 9
To the Arrival on the Plains of Moab (1580-1400 B.C.)
Exodus I - Deuteronomy 34


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Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible


After the death of Joshua, a period of well over 300 years of spiritual and national declension sets in. This period has been called "Israel's dark ages." It is characterized in Judges 2:10-19. It could be diagramed thus:

It is not certain that each judge ruled the whole of the nation, nor is it certain that some were not contemporane6us (cp. 3:31; 4:1). "Judge” is used throughout this book, not in the modern western sense of the word, but rather with the significance of "military deliverer." The fact that God used such imperfect men as judges points both to the low level to which the people had fallen, and to God's sovereign grace. See SRB, p.289, n.2.

"The first part of the book is introductory. The second gives the main story of the book – the many cycles of sin, oppression, repentance and deliverance by the hand of a judge. This' story is concluded with the end of chapter 16. The rest of the book sets forth certain occurrences illustrative of daily life of the people during this troubled period. We do not know in which judgeship each event occurred. The book of Ruth includes a happier side of the life in this period (Ruth 3 and 4). Key verses are Judges 17:6 and Judges 21:25.

For Palestine during the period of the Judges, see WHA, pp.43-46.

The material in these books can be divided into three parts:
        RULE OF THE JUDGES, Judges 1-16
        LIFE IN ISRAEL DURING THIS PERIOD, Judges 17 - Ruth 4

A.   RULE OF THE JUDGES, Judges 1-16

1.   State of things at the death of Joshua, Jud. 1:1-2:10
God had promised to give all Canaan to the Hebrews Josh. 1:3). However, they had to fight for and capture it Josh. l5:13-17). Whenever they fought in dependence upon God, He gave them victory. This first chapter of Judges tells the sad story of unbelief and therefore of incom­plete victory (Heb. 3:19). That the same people who had seen the walls of Jericho fall would not be able to "drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron" is simply an illustration of unbelief. This is the setting of the period of the judges. It is a solemn warning of the danger of unbelief and disobedience. Note the frequent phrase "could not drive out" and similar expressions in chapter 1.

2.   Times of the Judges, Jud.  2:11-16:10

a.   Introduction to the section, the cycle stated, 2:11-3:6.
b.   Othniel, 3:7-11. Oppressor: Mesopotamia.
c.   Ehud, 3:12-30. Setting: central Palestine and Transjordan. (City of palm trees is Jericho.) Oppressor: Moab.
d.   Shamgar, 3:31. Oppressor: Philistines.
e.   Deborah and Barak, 4-5.

Setting: northern and central Palestine. Hazor has been recently excavated. It was a Hyksos city and gave evidence of the presence of horses used for chariots.

Oppressor: Canaanites. This is a general term for the peoples whom Israel found dwelling in Canaan when they invaded.

The battle was fought by the river Kishon, which runs through the plain of Esdraelon (or valley of Jezreel). This is a natural battle ground. The hint as to how Sisera was defeated is given in Judges 5:20-22. God sent heavy rains upstream, the Kishon rose and overflowed the plain and Sisera's greatest asset became his greatest liability – the horses and chariots became mired in the mud. Sisera fled on foot and the Israelite army, on foot) defeated the Canaanites. In A. D. 1799, a French army defeated an army of Turks and Arabs at the same place in much the same way.

f.   Gideon, 6-8

Setting: central Palestine.
Oppressor: Midianites, desert bedouin who had recently domesti­cated the camel on a large scale. This increased the distance of their striking power "till thou come into Gaza."

g.   Abimelech, 9. Not called a judge.
h.   Tola, 10:1-2. Setting: central Palestine.
i.   Jair, 10:3-5. Setting: northern Transjordan.
j.   Jephthah, 10:6-12.'7. Setting: northern Transjordan.

Oppressor: Ammonites.

k.   Ibzan, 12:8-10. Setting: southern Palestine.
l.   Elon, 12:11-12. Setting: northern Palestine.
m.   Abdon, 12:13-15. Setting: central Palestine.
n.   Samson, 13-16.

Setting: the no-man’s land between the Judean hill country and the Philistine coastland.
Oppressor: Philistines. Toward the end of this period the Philistine menace seems to have overshadowed all others.

The incidents recorded in this section are not to be thought of as having taken place after the work of all the judges, but during their judgeships. They are set down here as a kind of appendix. – to show what life was like in those unhappy days.

1.   Micah's idols, Jud. 17.
2.   Danite migration, Jud. 18.
3.   Levite’s concubine, Jud.  19.
4.   Benjamite war, Jud. 20-21.

Note the frequent civil wars in the period of the Judges. There was strong sectional feeling. All contributed their part in preparing for the division of the kingdom.

5.   Ruth's redemption, Ruth 1-4.

This pastoral idyll hardly needs an outline, as the story flows along with the utmost simplicity.  Its purpose is to tell an incident in the genealogy of king David, and thus It furnishes a link in the line of Christ's descent according to the flesh. It illustrates many of the customs and laws of Israel: abhorrence of Moabites (Dt. 23:3-8), gleaning (Lev. 19:9-10; 23:22), greeting of the reapers (Ps. 129:7-8), way of eating (1 Sam. 17:17;

25:18; 2 Sam. 17:28; Jn. 13:26), but especially the kinsman-redeemer (Lev. 25:25-31, 47-55;Dt. 25:5-10). On the customs of the book of Ruth, and on Bible customs generally, see William M. Thomson's The Land and the Book. New York: 1880. 3 Vols. Thomson was a missionary in Syria for many years in the 19th century, and observed the ways of the natives (before arrival of modern changes) in the days when the bedouin lived as did their ancestors centuries ago. See SRB introduction to the book.

Lockyer gives a helpful little outline by chapters, playing upon the four letters of Ruth’s name, as follows:
Chapter 1 - RUTH's Resolve Key verses, 16-17)
Chapter 2 - RUTH's Unselfishness Key verse, 11)
Chapter 3 - RUTH's Trust Key verse, 18; cp. 2:12)
Chapter 4 - RUTH's Honor Key verses, 17-21, line of Christ)

C.   CLOSING EVENTS OF THE PERIOD – JUDGESHIP OF SAMUEL, 1 Samuel 1-7 1 Samuel is a transitional book, linking the period of the Judges with the kingdom.

Eli (4:18) and Samuel (7:6) are both called judges. Eli was also a priest and Samuel was a prophet – the first great Hebrew prophet. They bring to an end the period of the Judges.

1.   Birth and early life of Samuel, 1 Sam. 1-2.
2.   Call of Samuel, 1 Sam. 3.

Note verses 1:20-21. God speaks to Israel through Samuel, bringing to an end the period of silence imposed as God's judgment for disobedience during most of the time of the Judges.

3.   Ark captured by Philistines and returned, 1 Sam.  4-7.


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