A Nation's Struggle for a Home and Freedom.

Parallel Readings.

Hist. Bible II,1-4.1.
Prin. of Politics X.

That the leaders took the lead in Israel,
That the people volunteered readily,
Bless Jehovah!

Zebulun was a people who exposed themselves to deadly peril, And Naphtali on the heights of the open field.
Kings came, they fought;
They fought, the kings of Canaan,
At Taanach by the Waters of Megiddo,
They took no booty of silver.
Prom heaven fought the stars,
From their courses fought against Sisera,
The river Kishon swept them away,
That ancient river, the river Kishon.
O my soul, march on with strength!
When did the horse-hoofs resound
With the galloping, galloping of their steeds?
-- Judg.5, 9, 18-22 (Hist. Bible).

This was King Arthur's dreame. Him thought that there was comen into his lande many gryffons and serpents, and him thought that they brent and slew all the people in the land. And then him thought that he fought with them, and they did him passing great damage and wounded him full sore, but at the last he slewe them all. -- Malory, Hist. of King Arthur; Mort d' Arthur.

Young gentlemen, have a resolute life purpose. Don't get mad and don't get scared. -- Burleson.



In the light of the preceding studies, the motives that led the Hebrews to cross the Jordan become evident. As the Pilgrim Fathers, to secure a home where they might enjoy and develop their own type of belief and methods of civilization, braved the dimly known dangers of the sea and the wilderness, the Hebrews braved the contests that unquestionably lay before them. Between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea the Jordan is fordable at thirty points during certain parts of the year. The first of the two main fords in the lower Jordan is just below the point where the Wady Kelt enters the Jordan from the west and deposits its mass of mud and silt. The other ford is six miles further north below the point where the Wady Nimrin comes down from the highlands of Gilead. Here to-day the main highway connecting the east and the west-Jordan country crosses the river. This spot was probably the scene of the historic crossing at the beginning of Hebrew history.

Certain writers hold that variant accounts of the most important facts in early Hebrew history have here been preserved. Traces of three different versions of the crossing of the Jordan may still, in their judgment, be found in the third and fourth chapters of the book of Joshua. The latest and most familiar narrative represents the crossing as a superlative miracle and the waters of the rushing river as piled up like a wall on either side. The Northern Israelite version appears to have stated that the waters of the Jordan were dried up, implying that the Hebrews crossed during the late summer when the river was easily fordable. The earliest narrative, the Judean prophetic, states that "the waters rose up in a heap, a great way off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarathan, and those that went down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were wholly cut off" (Josh. 3:16b). From other references in the Old Testament it would appear that the city of Adam, which means red earth, is to-day represented by the ruins of Ed-Damieh, which stands near the famous Damieh ford at the point where the river Jabbok enters the Jordan.

It is interesting to note in this connection that a reliable Moslem historian states that in the year 1257 A.D. the retreating Moslems found it neccessary to repair the foundations of an important bridge which stood at this point. When the workmen arrived on the scene they were amazed to find the riverbed empty and were able by working rapidly to complete the repairs before the waters came rushing down. This remarkable phenomenon seemed to them to be due to the direct intervention of Allah; but the historian fortunately records the cause: it was a huge landslide a little further up the river which temporarily dammed its waters. The oldest Biblical account of the crossing of the Jordan may point to a like natural cause. If this be true, does it imply that Jehovah had no part in preparing the way for the future conquests of his people? Would a miracle, such as that recorded in the late-priestly tradition, be any stronger proof of God's presence and activity in human history than are the provisions which we to-day call natural?



Contemporary inscriptions and recent excavations make it possible to form a very definite conception of conditions in Canaan when the Hebrews crossed the Jordan. The dominant civilization was that of the Canaanites, the descendants of the Semitic invaders from the desert who entered Palestine centuries before the ancestors of the Hebrews. Naturally they settled first along the fertile coast plains that skirt the western Mediterranean. In later times these were known as the Phoenicians. As the population increased, the Canaanites pushed their outposts along the broad valleys that penetrated the uplands of Palestine. These valleys were especially fertile and attractive in the territory later known as Galilee and Samaria. The wide Plain of Esdraelon and its eastward extension, the Valley of Jezreel, cut straight across the central plateau of Palestine. The Plain of Esdraelon was the strongest centre of the Canaanite civilization. A few outposts were established in the Jordan valley, as for example, Laish, later known as Dan, at the foot of Mount Hermon, and Jericho, at the southern end of the Jordan valley. Only a few Canaanite villages were found along the more barren hills of Southern Canaan. There the peoples and civilization still retained the imprint of their desert origin.

Along the coast plains and across the great Plain of Esdraelon ran the main highways that connected the three earliest and most nourishing centres of the world's civilization: the Egyptian on the southwest, the Amorite on the north, probably between the southern Lebanons, and the Babylonian to the east and northeast. For centuries the Canaanites had absorbed the ideas, institutions, and culture of these stronger peoples. So fundamentally had the Babylonians impressed the Canaanites that practically all of the inscriptions coming from this early period are written in the Babylonian script. Even in writing to their Egyptian conqueror during the fourteenth century, the Canaanite kings of Palestine used this same Babylonian system of writing. The Amorite civilization had so strongly influenced the Canaanites that to-day it is difficult for the archaeologist to distinguish between the two. By certain of the Biblical writers the terms Canaanite and Amorite are used interchangeably. As early as 1600 B.C. Egypt, under the ambitious conquering kings of the Eighteenth Dynasty, had overrun Palestine and for the next three or four centuries ruled it as a tributary province. The nearness of Egypt made its influence still more powerful, so that in nearly every mound and Canaanite ruin the excavator finds hundreds of reminders of the presence of the Egyptian civilization.

The Canaanites had long since left behind them the nomadic state and had developed a strong agricultural and commercial civilization. Their life centered about certain important cities like Megiddo on the southwestern side and Bethshean on the eastern side of the Plain of Esdraelon. Their cities were usually built on a low-lying hill in the midst of rich encircling plains. They were provided with thick mud walls, behind which the inhabitants felt secure from attack. Over each city ruled a petty king, whose authority, however, did not extend far beyond the surrounding fields that belonged to the inhabitants of the town. Generally these city states were independent. In many cases they were hostile to each other; and the long rule of Egypt had tended to intensify this hostility, for Egypt had depended upon this local jealousy to maintain its control. The diversified physical contour of Palestine likewise strengthened this tendency toward separation rather than unity.

This type of political organization favored the growth of polytheism rather than the worship of one god. Each city had its local god or baal, which was worshipped at a high place either within the city or on some adjacent height, while in the larger cities elaborate altars and temples were reared to them. These local deities were regarded as the gods of fertility which gave to their worshippers ample harvests and numerous offspring both of the family and of the nock. The principle of generation occupied such a prominent place in the Canaanite cults that in time they became exceedingly immoral and debasing. To secure the favor of their gods the Canaanites brought rich sacrifices to their altars and observed certain great annual festivals with ceremonies very similar to those later adopted by the Hebrews.

While the Canaanites were on a much higher plane of material civilization than the Hebrews, they ultimately fell a prey to those hardy invaders of the desert: (1) Because they were incapable of strong united action, and (2) because their civilization was corrupt and enervating. Courage and real patriotism were almost unknown to them even as early as the seventeenth century B.C., when the Egyptian king Thutmose III invaded the land of Palestine. Their strong walls and their superior military equipment, however, made their immediate conquest by the Hebrews impossible. This explains why the earliest account of the initial conquest, now found in Judges 1, is chiefly devoted to recounting the strong Canaanite cities which the Hebrews failed to conquer.



In the light of our present knowledge of the Canaanite civilization it becomes evident why most of the early Hebrew conquests were in the south. The only large Canaanite city which they could conquer in the early days was Jericho. Recent excavations have also shown why later generations regarded its capture by the Hebrews as a miracle, although many modern interpreters hold that the early account does not imply that it was by supernatural means. Like most of the Canaanite cities, it was situated on a slightly rising eminence, close to the foothills that on the west rose abruptly to the central plateau of Canaan. Northward, eastward, and southward, extended for miles the level plain of the Jordan river, which plowed its way through its alluvial bed, six miles east of Jericho. Close by the site of the ancient city came the perennial waters of the Wady Kelt with which it was possible to irrigate its fields. Past the town ran the main highway from across the Jordan, along the northern side of the Wady Kelt, to join the great central highway that extended through the centre of Palestine. Jericho was, therefore, the key to the land of Canaan, and its capture was necessary if the Hebrews were to maintain their connection with their kinsmen east of the Jordan.

The ruins of the ancient Canaanite town rise between forty and fifty feet above the plain. It is an oblong mound containing altogether about twelve acres. The excavations have disclosed a large part of the encircling wall. It was a construction of excellent workmanship which still stands practically intact, testifying to the accuracy of the early Hebrew tradition. Its foundation is a wall of rubble sixteen feet high and six to eight feet thick, sloping inward. On the top of this foundation, which rested on the native rock, was built a supplemental wall of burnt brick six or seven feet in thickness and rising even now in its ruined condition on an average eight feet above the lower wall. Thus the original wall must have towered between twenty and thirty feet above the plain. At the northern end of the city stood the citadel, made of unburnt brick, three stories high. Even the stone staircase which led to the top is still intact.

According to these investigators the late tradition that these walls fell flat to the earth as the result of a miracle finds no confirmation in the ruins themselves. The older Hebrew account, however, in their judgment agrees perfectly with the evidence revealed by the spade of the excavator. In imagination it is easy to follow the perilous journey of the Hebrew spies and to appreciate the importance of the negotiations by which they secured the co-operation of Rahab and of the clan within Jericho which she represented. Later come the Hebrew hordes from across the Jordan bearing with them the ark which symbolized to them the presence of Jehovah, who had led them on to victory in many an early battle. Behind their impregnable walls the inhabitants of Jericho must have laughed scornfully at the desert host, that seemed utterly incapable of an effective attack or of a protracted siege. According to many modern interpreters the earliest Hebrew host marched silently about the Canaanite stronghold. At first the inhabitants of Jericho, accustomed to Arab strategy, undoubtedly held themselves ready for defence. When no attack came, their vigilance was gradually relaxed. At last on the seventh day, when conditions were favorable, at the preconcerted signal, a trumpet blast, the Hebrews rushed toward the walls, the gates were probably opened by their allies within the city, and Jericho was quickly captured. The method of attack recorded in the prophetic narrative was very similar to the strategy used a little later by the Hebrews in the capture of the smaller towns of Ai and Bethel. They are the methods still employed by the Bedouins in their attacks upon the outposts of Palestine.

The fierce nomadic instincts of these early Hebrew warriors are revealed by the fate which they visited upon Jericho and its inhabitants. The recent excavations confirm the Biblical testimony that for several centuries after its initial capture the ancient town was left a heap of ruins.

Its inhabitants were slain as a great sacrificial offering to Jehovah, whose true character as one who loves all mankind was first appreciated by the inspired prophets of a much later From the plain of Jericho two or three roads led up to the central plateau of Canaan. The main road along the Wady Kelt ran past the villages of Ai and Bethel. At most they were small towns and easily captured. Along this highway went the Hebrew tribes later known as the Ephraimites and Manassites. The other roads led through the wilderness southwestward to the heart of Judah. The frontier town of Bezek, mentioned in the ancient narrative of Judges, has not yet been identified. The name is perhaps but a scribal corruption of Bethlehem or of Bethzur further to the south. The other towns ultimately captured by the southern tribes were Hebron, with its copious water supply, Debir to the southwest, and Arad and Hormah which lay on the borders of the South Country. The capture of these six or seven outposts represents the first stage in the conquest and settlement of Palestine. It was significant because it meant that the people from the wilderness had gained a foothold in the land where they ultimately found their home. It inaugurated Israel's pioneer period. The Hebrews were no longer homeless wanderers in the desert, nor sojourners in a foreign land. At this point Israel's history as a nation properly begins, although the complete union of the tribes was not consummated until nearly a century later.



The impression conveyed by the later passages in the book of Joshua that the Hebrews within a period of seven years became complete masters of the land of Canaan is different from that made by the older records in Judges. These indicate that the process was gradual, extending through several generations. Except at two or three great crises, this conquest appears to have been peaceful rather than by the sword, a process of settlement and colonization rather than of capture. Today throughout many parts of Palestine one may still see, close to the cities, the black tents and the flocks of the Bedouin immigrants. In the days of the Hebrew settlement the Canaanites were largely confined to the fertile valleys. The uplands were still open to the men from the desert. Here the Hebrews pitched their tents and finally built their rude homes. In this more favorable environment their families and their flocks gradually increased until they began to encroach upon the territory already occupied by the older inhabitants. The resulting quarrels and differences were sometimes settled by the appeal to the sword; more frequently by alliances sealed by intermarriages. The early narrative in the ninth and tenth chapters of the book of Judges gives a vivid picture of the resulting condition: in the strong Canaanite city of Shechem, Hebrews and Canaanites had so far intermarried that Abimelech, a product of this intermarriage, succeeded his father Gideon as king of the first little Hebrew kingdom. At Shechem Hebrews and Canaanites also worshipped side by side in the common sanctuary, which was known as "the temple of Baal of the Covenant."

Under the pressure of the increased population certain of the Hebrew tribes migrated and seized new territory. Such a migration is vividly recorded in Judges 17 and 18. The little tribe of the Danites, finding the pressure of their kinsmen on the north and east and that of the Philistines on the west too strong, captured the Canaanite city of Laish at the foot of Mount Hermon and thus found a permanent home in the upper Jordan valley.

It was a cruel, barbarous age in which might was regarded as right. Thus, Ehud the Benjamite, who treacherously gained admittance to the presence of Eglon, secretly slew this Moabite oppressor of the Hebrews. This act instead of being condemned was regarded then and even by later generations as an example of courageous patriotism. Was his act justifiable? How would it be regarded in America to-day?



The growing numbers and strength of the Israelites at last alarmed the Canaanites. A certain leader by the name of Sisera formed a coalition of the strong Canaanite cities encircling the Plain of Esdraelon. The centre of this coalition was the powerful city of Megiddo, the ruins of which on the south-western side of the plain still remain to testify to the natural strength of this ancient stronghold. The policy of the Canaanites was to keep the different Hebrew clans apart and thus prevent united action. In the words of the ancient song:

In the days of Jael the highways were unused,
And travellers walked by round-about paths.
The rulers ceased in Israel;
A shield was not seen in five cities
Nor a spear among forty thousand.

The one who alone appears to have understood the crisis and to have been able to stir the Israelites to action was Deborah, the prophetess of the central tribe of Issachar. Israel's struggle for independence is graphically recorded in the ancient poem found in Judges 5. The later prose version of the incident, found in Judges 4, supplements the earlier poem. To a chief of a northern tribe of Napthali, a certain Barak, she turned as the natural leader in the struggle for independence. Together they sent out the summons to the different northern tribes. The southern tribes of Judah and Simeon were apparently ignored. The distant tribes of Asher, Dan and Reuben were engrossed in their local interests and failed to respond. The tribesmen who rallied forty thousand strong on the northern side of the Plain of Esdraelon represented the great central Hebrew clans. The ancient song, sung by the women as they met the returning warriors, makes it possible to reconstruct the battle scene. Through the broad valleys that lead into the Plain of Esdraelon from the north came the sinewy, unkempt, roughly clad and poorly equipped Hebrew tribesmen, each clan led by its local chief. They had "come up to the help of Jehovah against the mighty." Tribal patriotism, the memory of past grievances, the desire for plunder, and zeal for Jehovah the God who had led their forefathers through the wilderness into the land of Canaan, stirred their courage and fired them to deeds of valor. Well they chose their battlefield, out on the plain on the northern side of the muddy, sluggish river Kishon. On the slightly rising ground they faced the Canaanite warriors who came out across the plain from the city of Megiddo, six miles away. The Canaanites were armed with chariots and the best weapons that the early Semitic civilization could produce, but one thing they lacked, -- courage, fired by religious zeal.

Again a striking natural phenomenon appears suddenly to have turned the tide of Israel's fortune. On the eve of battle a drenching thunderstorm seems to have swept across the alluvial plain transforming it into a morass and the sluggish Kishon into a rushing, unfordable river. In the words of the ancient triumphal ode:

From heaven fought the stars,
From their courses fought against Sisera.
The river Kishon swept them away,
The ancient river, the river Kishon.
O my soul, march on with strength!
Then did the horse-hoofs resound
With the galloping, galloping of their steeds.

The Hebrew even brings out the sound of the sucking of the horses' hoofs in the soft mud. The storm not only gave to the Hebrews, who were on foot, a vast advantage, but it meant to them that Jehovah, whose chariot was the clouds, his weapons, the lightning, and who spoke through the thunders, was fighting in their behalf.

The victory was overwhelming. Sisera, the Canaanite leader, fled, but only to fall later, ignominiously slain by a woman. Henceforth the Canaanite cities of central Palestine were occupied by the Hebrews. The vanquished were either enslaved or absorbed in intermarriage. From them, however, the Hebrews learned skill in agriculture and received a heritage of art, ideas and customs that had been developed by the Canaanites for many centuries. How far was this heritage beneficial to the Hebrews? What temptations did it bring to them? Did it mark a step forward in their development? Were the early Hebrews a pure or a mixed race?

More important than the spoils and lands which fell to the Hebrews was the new demonstration of Jehovah's ability and willingness to deliver his people which they received in the battle beside Kishon. Throughout all of Israel's colonial period the chief force binding the scattered Hebrew tribes together was their faith in Jehovah. The victory greatly strengthened that faith and prepared the way for the closer union which was necessary before Israel could become a permanent force among the nations of the earth. The vision of what they had been able to achieve through united action never completely faded from the memory of the Hebrews. Their subsequent experiences also tended to revive this memory. Amidst the warring elements in Palestine a powerful nation was gradually taking form; in the school of hard experience it was learning the lessons that were fitting it for a large life.



The final stage in the evolution of Israel is recorded in the opening chapters of I Samuel and is best studied in detail in connection with the history of the nation at its zenith. We have studied the forces which made the nation. A brief summary will indicate the transition to the next period, that of the kingdom. The victory over the Canaanites gave the Hebrews possession of the land and left them free to coalesce into a united nation; but the centrifugal tribe spirit for a time proved the stronger. Under Gideon a beginning was made in kingdom making, but owing to the cruelty and inefficiency of his son Abimelech, the first Hebrew state lasted little more than a generation.

The compelling power that finally brought all the rival Hebrew tribes together under a common leader was the conquest of their territory by the warlike, ambitious Philistines. In inspiring the Benjamite chieftain Saul to deliver his countrymen in their hour of shame and peril, Samuel the prophet proved the true father of the Hebrew kingdom. Under the compulsion of common danger the Israelites not only followed Saul to victory, but also made him their king. From this time on Israel took its place among the nations of the earth.

During their formative period the Hebrews acquired many characteristics that they have retained throughout their history. From their early nomadic life they inherited physical strength, hardihood, adaptability even to the most unfavorable environment, courage, perseverance and that individual initiative and self-reliance which come from protracted struggles against seemingly insuperable odds. It was a harsh but thorough school in which the infant nation Israel was trained. Their life in the wilderness and in the period of settlement also developed an intense love for freedom and that democratic spirit that was the glory of Israel and the foundation of its political institutions.

People passing their time chiefly out of doors and enjoying the uplifting stimulus of an unfettered life in the open naturally acquire a feeling of awe and reverence for the God of nature that is often lacking in the city dweller. Especially is this true if, like the early Hebrews, the dwellers in the open feel that need of divine protection which is begotten by constant exposure to danger, hunger, hardship and hostile foes. The many crises and the signal deliverances that came to the Hebrews not only intensified their faith, but also gave them the consciousness that the God in whom they put their trust was both able and eager to deliver them. Prophets like Moses strengthened the popular sense of Jehovah's immediate presence and interpreted the significance of each event.

Israel's early faith was simple, like that of a little child. While its beliefs were crude, its trust was strong. It was this trust and loyalty that carried the child nation through its early crises and ultimately bound together the separate tribes into a united commonwealth. Thus Israel's early history illustrates the fundamental truth, that the most essential, the most powerful force in the making of a nation is a simple, practical, every-day religion.

Questions for Further Consideration.

Should the successful and easy crossing of the Jordan by the Israelites be ascribed to miracle or to their own promptness in seizing an opportunity unexpectedly offered?

In what ways did the religious zeal of the ancient Hebrews in battle differ from the fanatical zeal of the modern Moslem in fighting the Christians? Or the zeal of the Japanese before Port Arthur?

When, if ever, is assassination justifiable as a political expedient? Give your reasons.

Were the Hebrews justified in the methods employed in securing control of Palestine?

Is it right for a progressive nation to compel a backward nation to submit? Were the Americans on this ground justified in seizing the lands of the Indians?

What were the chief tenets in the early faith of the Hebrews?

How did Israel's faith affect its political development?

In what important ways was religion effective in making the English state? The American commonwealth?

Subjects for Further Study.

(1) The Structure and Literary History of the Book of Judges, McFadyen, Introd. to O. T.76-83; Kent, Student's O. T. I, 26, 27.

(2) Conditions in Canaan at the Time of the Hebrew Settlement. Paton, Early Hist. of Syria and Pal., 157-60; Maspero, Struggle of the Nations, 111-208; Encyc. Bib. II, 2223-5.

(3) The Motives that Inspired the Leaders of the American Revolution. Fiske, Lodge, Bancroft or other writers on this period.

study xi the early training
Top of Page
Top of Page