We now move forward over two hundred years from Job’s time. It is a few years after the Israelites’ conquest of most of Canaan. Joshua has become more than a hundred years old, and is aware that his life is nearing an end (Joshua 23:1).
Realizing that it would be wise to again remind the Israelites what their attitude toward God should be, Joshua requests that the elders, princes, judges and officers of all the tribes assemble at the main camp of the Israelites.
“Consider all the wonderful things God has done for you in the conquest of this land,” Joshua addressed them. “God has proved that He does as He promises. If you will continue to be of strong courage and obey God, he will surely help you drive out the inhabitants who yet remain in the regions of Canaan to which you are yet to move. In fact, God has said that if you are obedient, only one of you will be required to chase out a thousand of the enemy (Joshua 23:2-10)!
“As one who is about to depart from this life, I warn you in the strongest terms that unless you faithfully keep the covenant made with God, Israel can look forward only to defeat and death”(vs. 11-16)!
At another time Joshua again summoned the elders, princes, judges and officers of all the tribes to Shechem, the place where Joseph’s remains were buried. It is a few miles north of Shiloh (Joshua 24:1, 32; John 4:5). There Joshua spoke to the representatives of all Israel, briefly reviewing the history of the people since before the time of Abraham, and showing how God had dealt with them.
“There are those in Israel who regard sin lightly – who still have regard for some of the false gods our forefathers fell to worshipping,” Joshua told them. “There are others among us who secretly tend to revere the pagan gods of this land. No one can serve both the true God and pagan gods (Matt. 6:24). My God – the God of Moses, the God of our fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-- is a jealous God who will utterly consume all who fail or refuse to be faithful to Him. Today every Israelite should decide whom he will serve! As for my family and I, we will serve the true God” (Joshua 24:2-15).
“God forbid that we should forsake Him to serve idols or false gods!” the crowd chorused with enthusiasm. “We shall indeed serve and obey the one true God! Because His great miracles brought us out of Egyptian slavery, protected us from more powerful nations around us, and drove the idol-worshipping nations out of our land” (vs. 16-18).
“Then you are indeed witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve our Creator!” Joshua called out.
Thus Joshua guided the thousands of leading Israelites and all that generation to renew the national covenant with God. He was pleased. The lessons of forty years wandering as children and young men and women had not been learned in vain. They responded in such a willing and sincere manner, that Joshua felt, as he dismissed them to return to their various tribes, the meeting had been well worthwhile, a fitting climax to his life (vs. 19-28).
Not long afterward Joshua died at the age of 110 years. He was buried at Mt Ephraim in the property that had been granted him. The Bible honors Joshua by stating that Israel served God during Joshua’s time of leadership and for a score of years afterwards, until the deaths of all those leaders who had served under Joshua and were influenced by his good example and by seeing God’s great miracles (vs. 29-31).
Eleazar the priest, Aaron’s son, died shortly after Joshua’s death. He, too, was buried at Mt. Ephraim (v. 53).
Israel’s rest from the labor of the conquest of Canaan developed into a period of several years. In the growing prosperity there was also a marked increase in population.
During that time many of the Canaanites who had fled to neighboring lands were gradually moving back into some of the cities and sites from which God had removed them. There were also some cities and areas, especially west of the Jordan, that hadn’t been reached by the Israelites (Joshua 13:1-6). All this meant that Israel’s wars of conquest weren’t yet over. If Israel had been fully obedient and faithful, Canaan could have been cleared of all the enemy in only a short time.
When at last Israel decided to again take up arms to continue to route the Canaanites, there was the question of which tribe should move first. Phinehas, who had become high priest after Eleazar’s death, consulted God at the tabernacle, and God made it known that the tribe of Judah should go first, and that He, God, would help the soldiers of Judah overcome their enemies.
Because the allotted land of the tribe of Simeon bordered on the south of that of Judah, the leaders of Judah suggested that Simeon accompany them. This idea was welcomed by Simeon. It meant a stronger and larger armed force to be used in both their territories (Judges 1:1-3).
The soldiers of Judah and Simeon didn’t go far before running into action. Only a few miles southwest of Shiloh was a city call Bezek. It was bristling with thousands of rearmed Canaanites. Many of these Canaanites served their new king out of fear. He was a cruel tyrant who cut off the thumbs and big toes of any of his people who refused to submit to him. The Israelites were a little surprised to find enemy troops in such numbers so close to Shiloh. But they remembered God’s promise to them, and lost no time in attacking.
In that one battle ten thousand of the enemy fell before Judah and Simeon. During the excitement the king of Bezek, Adoni-bezek, managed to escape and flee southward with a few aides. Having heard that he was a cruel warrior who would try to live to fight another day, the Israelites made a special effort to capture Adoni-bezek. Mounted Israelites managed to catch up with him in the mountains. Instead of killing him, they taught him a lesson he never forgot. They followed his custom of cutting off the enemies’ thumbs and great toes. Deprived of these digits, he was taken to Jerusalem – which Judah and Simeon had already conquered-- but later deserted (vs. 8-9). Here Adoni-bezek was displayed as a disgraced example of what would happen to the enemies of Israel.
Adoni-bezek took his punishment bravely, however, and admitted that the God of Israel was dealing with him as he justly deserved. He claimed that one time or another his prisoners had included a total of 70 rulers, and that he had cut the thumbs and great toes off all of them!
Day after day the men of Judah and Simeon moved southward to mop up all opposing forces. They spread westward to the city of Gaza on the Great Sea and eastward almost to the southern tip of the Dead Sea. God helped them to be almost completely successful in their campaign. However, some Canaanites managed to escape and refortify some of the conquered cities, such as Jerusalem (v. 21). These few exceptions were only because the Israelites weren’t all entirely obedient or didn’t have sufficient faith in God (Judges 1:4-20).
About that time the tribe of Ephraim, sometimes called the house of Joseph, set out over its territory, especially to the southwest, which included Shiloh and the area around it. Ephraim found that the city of Bethel obviously had been remanned into a strong fortress, even though Joshua and his troops had slain many of Bethel’s soldiers during the capture of the nearby city of Ai.
Knowing nothing of what Bethel was like now inside or how many soldiers were within the walls, the officers of Ephraim sent out a few scouts to try to discovery these things. These men hid at night at a safe distance away, but close enough to keep a careful watch to try to determine where the city entrances were and how they might be used to get inside Bethel.
Opportunity came in an unexpected way one evening. Some figures emerged from the shadow of Bethel’s walls and moved toward the general area where the spies were concealed. Moving silently, the men of Ephraim swiftly surrounded and trapped the oncoming figures. They proved to be a man and his family who claimed they were Hittites who had sneaked out through a small, poorly guarded, side entrance and were hoping to escape from Bethel and their Canaanite overlords.
The spies hustled the Hittites back to where Ephraim was camped, and officers questioned them further.
“We are Israelites, and you are too late to escape from Canaan unless you show us where we can get into Bethel and tell us all you know about the layout of Bethel and how well it is armed,” the officers told the Hittite.
The man that had escaped had lived in Bethel for some time, and he knew its defenses. As he foresaw that Israel would soon take over Bethel anyway, he disclosed its defenses to the Ephraimites. For the sake of his family he pointed out a small side entrance that could easily be forced and gave the Israelites the information they required. For this he was freed and sent on his way. (Later, when he reached the ancient land of the Hittites, where modern Turkey is today, he founded a city and called it Luz, which has been the ancient name of Bethel) (Judges 1:21-26).
Perhaps God had purposely sent the Hittite to inform the Israelites. In any event, the information was used to good advantage, and the soldiers of Ephraim successfully forced their way into Bethel to overcome all within its walls.
What the tribes of Judah, Simeon and Ephraim did as their part of taking over Canaan was a fairly good example to the other tribes. But even though all the Israelites had God’s unfailing promise to exert His tremendous power in helping them, some of the tribes failed to dislodge or overcome their enemies in various areas.
Instead of routing the Canaanites from some of the regions, Israel allowed the Canaanites to stay on certain conditions. Often it was with the understanding that their enemies would regularly give gifts or make some kind of payments to Israel in exchange for their being free from attack (vs. 27-33).
In other areas some of the Israelites tired of fighting against their enemies. They decided to integrate with them (vs. 34-36). Over the years this meant that many Israelites intermarried with the Canaanites. This is always the result of integration. So Israel fell to worshiping the pagan gods and idols of Canaan. God had repeatedly warned them not to integrate (Ex. 20:3-7; Ex. 23:31-33; Deut. 12:29-32; Deut. 6:4-7; Deut. 7:1-11; Joshua 23:6-8).
By the time another generation had developed since Joshua’ death, much of Israel had taken integration lightly and had fallen into sin! The proposed last stages of the conquest of Canaan had bogged down to a stop. Prosperity was declining little by little as the Israelites began to live more and more like the Canaanites around them. Sex crimes increased. It was becoming unsafe to go out at night. The tribes lacked the pioneer spirit to move on and establish homes, farms towns and cities in land that already was theirs. Israel had reached that disobedient state that comes just before God steps in to bring on painful chastisement.
The greatest number of Israelites in one area was still in and around the Shiloh Mt. Ephraim area. Regardless of the crumbling condition of the tribes as a whole, there were people who still came to the tabernacle to offer sacrifices and consult with the high priest and his assistants. Shiloh was still the nerve center of the nation, and it was there that a peculiar and awesome thing took place.
One day a strange man was seen walking toward Shiloh from the direction of Gilgal. There was nothing unusual about seeing a lone man approaching the Israelite camp, but there was something about this man that caused people to stare and wonder who he was.
He appeared as an ordinary-looking man, but the manner in which he strode along seemed to indicate one of great authority and confidence. His soldier-type attire was different only in that it was made of what appeared to be the very best quality of cloth and leather. The man’s only weapon was an especially well-shaped sword that gleamed and glinted with unusual brilliance as it swung from his belt.
Before he reached the edge of the camp, armed guards stepped out to block his way. They were puzzled as to how he had managed to get past the sentinel stationed farther away.
“You can go no farther until you give your identity and state why you are here,” one of the soldiers barked.
The stranger merely gazed at the soldier, who suddenly lost his feeling of authority, and stepped backward in a gesture of respect.
Undeterred, the man strode on. By the time he reached the center of the camp, Phinehas the high priest, elders and officers had been told of his coming, and they were on hand. Phinehas possibly realized who the man was. At least he bowed low in an attitude of deep respect. Others followed his example as the stranger paused before the swiftly growing crowd to hold up his arm and silence the increasing murmur from the throng.
“Listen Israel, and remember my word!” the stranger cried out in a voice so strong it startled the listeners. “I brought you up from Egypt and into this land I promised to your fathers. I made a covenant with you that I would help you conquer the land if you would do your part by obeying me (Ex. 23:23-28). You were to destroy all the pagan altars. You were forbidden to make any agreement of any kind with our enemies or to integrate with them. But you have not obeyed me! Why? Remember, I also said that if you were to fail in driving out the Canaanites, they would become as thorns in your sides and their gods would be as deadly traps (Judges 2:1-3; Ex. 23:31-33); Deut. 7:16; Ps. 106:34-40; Joshua 23:12-13). Now, because you have broken my covenant, and intermarried with them, don’t’ expect any more help from me in driving out the Canaanites! On the contrary, I shall allow them to prevail against you” (Judges 2:1-3)!
When the stranger finished speaking, there was not a sound from the onlookers. All eyes followed the man as he turned aside and walked away. He spoke to no one, and no one tried to speak to him. Then somehow he was lost to the viewers.
Probably very few people realized that they had just seen and heard the same one whom Joshua had met alone just before the fall of Jericho. Whatever they realized, all experienced an awesome feeling in the presence of this stranger. After he had so abruptly vanished they began to murmur and mill about with a growing sense of foreboding and fear. Some wept and moaned. Other fell to their knees to pray.
Pressed by an awareness of guilt, many obtained the proper animals and flocked around the tabernacle, anxious to make sacrifices to acknowledge their sins. Word of the event quickly spread to Israelites everywhere in the land, and with a growing fear of terrible things that might come on Israel at any hour (Judges 2:4-5).
The expressions of repentance didn’t last long. When days passed and nothing awesome occurred, many people began returning to their wrong ways. In fact, they slipped still further into the idolatrous practices of the Canaanites with whom they continued to intermarry. Many were to gods they foolishly and futilely worshipped along with their pagan enemies (vs. 11-13). Included were idols of a vile nature which down to this day are represented on the roofs of thousands of church buildings in our land!
The woes of the Israelites began in a small way. The unfriendly Canaanites in various areas started to plague them with public demonstrations and with little attacks by small bands of soldiers. Marauders increasingly beset the Israelites at all hours, and they always succeed in leaving much damage and death. Here and there the Israelites began to push back, and in some instances even had to withdraw from cities they had captured, often at the cost of many lives. It was more and more evident that God had forsaken Israel, at least as far as protection in war was concern. The tide of conquest had at last reversed in favor of the enemy.
The gradual, painful push-back by the Canaanites was only the beginning of troubles for Israel. One day an excited messenger rode into the camp at Shiloh with the shocking news that the Assyrian king of Mesopotamia – a land to the northeast-- was pushing southward with thousands of troops, and had already conquered the half-tribe of Manasseh east of the Jordan!
Feverish activity followed, but the Israelites didn’t seem to be able to rightly organize for battle. Many of them were so excited and fearful that all they could do was moan with fear. Others fell to their knees and shouted to God to save them from Chushan-rishathaim, the approaching Assyrian ruler who was rumored to be unusually powerful, ruthless and cruel.
Be watching for the next installment of the Story of the Bible.