The Bible As Story (#10) Act 3: Israel—In the Promised Land

After forty years of their divinely imposed sentence of wilderness living and after the unbelieving generation of people over twenty years of age who had come out of Egypt had died, God finally brought His people into the land. Their time in the wilderness had enabled them to become more of a disciplined fighting force, ready to deal with the small nations that inhabited the land.

Moses, who had led them to the border of the promised land, because of sin, was not permitted to lead them in the conquest of their new home. Joshua, one of the two faithful spies who forty years before had urged Israel to press on and conquer the land. He and Caleb had believed that God would help them and assure them of success, but the majority of the spies who had been sent into the land feared the people of the land. This was just one more evidence of the lack of faith of these people.

The conquest of the land began with the fall of Jericho. In what was probably the most unconventional siege of a city, after marching around the city as God commanded them, the walls of the city crumbled to the ground and the simply were able to walk in and take possession of it. Not all the battles were that easy, but with God’s help, they eventually did possess the entire land promised to Abraham.

God told the people that the people of the land – the idol worshipers – were to be destroyed.

The LORD your God himself will go over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, so that you shall dispossess them, and Joshua will go over at your head, as the LORD has spoken.” (Deuteronomy 31:3).

Thus they could not boast that they had taken the land from their enemies. In the conquest of the land from Jericho on to their actually taking possession of the cities, houses, farms and pastures, everything was achieved with God’s help. The land with all its blessings was not a prize of conquest, but a gift from God. They were, by this, to realize that they were dependent on God.

The LORD your God himself will go over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, so that you shall dispossess them, and Joshua will go over at your head, as the LORD has spoken.” (Deuteronomy 31:3).

As the idol-worshipers who occupied the land were defeated, the Israelites settled into their cities and took possession of their houses their farms and their crops. One thing they didn’t eliminate as God had commanded them – idolatry. God had told them…

You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree.” (Deuteronomy 12:2).

If they did not do this, these remainders of idolatrous worship would be a continuing temptation to the people. God told them…

“…take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ (Deuteronomy 12:30).

Years after the conquest the nation divided into the two separate nations of Israel, (the ten northern tribes), and Judah, consisting of the two southern tribes. The northern kingdom was from the beginning, largely idolatrous, while, with numerous exceptions, was more faithful to God. Because of the idolatry of Israel, God told them what was going to happen to them.

In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced. (2 Kings 17:6-8).

This desire to be like the nations was to be a continuing curse to the Israelites down through the years. Moses had told the people that when they came into the land of promise they were to appoint judges to adjudicate disputes among the people “with righteous judgment,”(Deuteronomy 16:18). They needed no law-giver – God had already given them law. They needed no one to lead them into battle – God had fought their battles for them. They needed no one to rule over them – God was their king, their ruler. But they were not content with this arrangement. They wanted to be like the nations so they cried out to Samuel, the last of the judges…

Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” (1 Samuel 8:5-7).

God gave them a king as they asked. The first king was Saul, a man of the tribe of Benjamin (1 Samuel 9 ESV). At first, Saul was a humble man, but with time and success in war Saul became proud. When he refused to obey God’s command to “…devote to destruction all that they have….kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey,” (1 Samuel 15 ESV), God chose David, a young man of the tribe of Judah to be king.

In many ways through these times these people revealed that they still did not understand their peculiar relationship with God. They were not just a nation among nations; they were God’s special people. They did not understand that their God was not just a god among other Gods; He was God Almighty – the only God. They did not understand that they didn’t exist just for themselves; they existed to be a blessing to the nations.

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