Bible Story Book Index
The Bible Story
Volume 3, Chapters 56 - 60

Chapter 56
Promised Land Occupied

THE end came for Jabin, king of Hazor, only minutes after he ordered the gates closed. The thousands upon thousands of Israelites swarmed up to the walls with their triple-hook ropes, hurled the heavy hooks over the walls and surged up and into the city in such numbers and force that the relatively few would-be defenders fell back in helpless fright.

No Protection in Walls and Gates

The gates were stripped of their bars by the wall-scalers, and Israelite soldiers thronged into Hazor to promptly slay every Canaanite. The king was found hiding in remote quarters. No mercy was given to this idolatrous man who had plotted the destruction of the Israelite army.

According to directions from Joshua, the Israelite soldiers set fire to Hazor. It wasn't God's will that this capital city of idol-worshippers, long the home of pagan rulers, should continue to exist as a temptation in the land where God's chosen people were to dwell. (Joshua 11:1-11.) God knew idolaters would soon corrupt the morals of the Israelites. (Numbers 25:1-3; Numbers 31:14-16.)

From Hazor, Joshua's forces swept to the west, north and south to conquer the cities of the kings who had joined Jabin against Israel. They slew these kings and all their subjects and took for booty everything they could use except those things used in the worship of heathen gods. (Joshua 11:12-14.)

Although Canaan wasn't a vast land, it took much time to conquer enough of it that the twelve tribes of Israel could move into the respective areas they were to take over. The army moved slowly because it was on foot. Careful planning often took days and weeks. Scouts were sent out to bring back information. They often didn't return for weeks. It was a long, drawn-out task to take over Canaan. (Verses 15-23.) After six years had passed, Israel had taken over the small kingdoms and cities of about thirty-three enemy rulers. (Joshua 12.)

Still there were more places to be conquered, and God made it known to Joshua just where those areas and cities were located. (Joshua 13:1-6.) For one example, there was the land of the Philistines, which was on the coast of the Great Sea, and southwest of Canaan. When Israel had set out from Egypt, God had purposely caused His people to give this region a wide berth because the people were war-like, and the Israelites at that time, being newly freed from slavery, were not trained or prepared to resist a large army by physical means. (Exodus 13:17-18.)

Land Given to the People

By the time most of Canaan had been conquered, God told Joshua that the time had come to partition the land to the various tribes, even though there were still many people to drive out of Canaan. (Joshua 13:7.)

A meeting was held in which Joshua, Eleazar the priest, and the heads of the tribes of Israel gathered to learn by lot which areas of Canaan should be occupied by the various tribes. Moses had already indicated how these matters were to be handled. A drawing of lots would make plain what God had planned.

The drawing of lots could be done in various ways, but in this matter of choosing areas for the tribes of Israel, it probably was a matter of writing the names of the tribes on pieces of wood or stone and shaking them together in a container. The names or numbers of the various sections of Canaan would be written on other pieces. Then, if Joshua were to draw a tribe name from one container, and if Eleazar were to draw from another container a number to indicate a section of Canaan, and so on, the future locations for the tribes could thus be determined.

However it was done, God caused the lots to be drawn according to the way in which He had already decided matters. Two and a half tribes had already been given their areas east of the Jordan, so nine tribes and a half were yet to receive their inheritance. (Joshua 13:7-33; Joshua 14:15.)

As it turned out, the determining what land would go to which tribe didn't progress very far. (Joshua 14;15; 16; 17.) For one thing, there was murmuring and dissatisfaction by the people of the tribes of Joseph -- Ephraim and the half tribe of Manasseh. Their elders claimed that because they were two large and powerful tribes, they should be given two tribal allotments of land. Joshua then gave them an additional allotment in a timbered mountainous region. (Joshua 17:14-15.)

"Why have we, two leading tribes, been given a wooded mountain range in the north right next to a valley where the enemy Canaanites are armed with terrible iron chariots equipped with huge, protruding knives?" the elders of these tribes asked Joshua. "We will still be crowded for space."

"Since you are a great people, then you should be able to create a wealthy lumber industry in those mountains while you are clearing land for agricultural use," was Joshua's reply. "Also, since you are leading tribes, you will have the power to overcome the Canaanites who have chariots. By the time you clear your mountain land of much of its timber and drive the Canaanites out of the valley, your two allotments will be enough land. It is a fair and just God who has decided where every tribe shall dwell." (Verses 16-18.)

At that time lots were drawn only for two and a half tribes -- Ephraim, Judah and the half tribe of Manasseh. Various time-consuming matters continued to come up. One of many had to do with the request of a man who had been one of the twelve Israelite scouts who had been sent to Canaan over forty-five years previously. This man was Caleb, who had been Joshua's right-hand man on that excursion. When ten of the scouts had told lies about the strength and size of the people of Canaan, it was Joshua and Caleb who had insisted on the truth and encouraged the people to boldly go in and conquer Canaan, trusting God for the outcome. (Numbers 13; Numbers 14:1-10.)

Caleb Rewarded for Faithfulness

Caleb had been promised by God through Moses, because of his honesty and loyalty, a choice inheritance in Canaan. It wasn't too forward of him, therefore, to remind Joshua that he and his family should be given the land God had promised in the mountainous Hebron area. (Numbers 13:22; Numbers 14:24; Deuteronomy 1:35-36.)

Although Caleb was then eighty-five years old, he was still vigorous and healthy, and promised that he and his relatives who would share his inheritance would conquer the giant men who still remained in the region of Hebron. (Joshua 14:6-12.) Joshua honored Caleb's request and gave him what he desired in the territory given to the tribe of Judah. (Verses 13-15.) Later, when Caleb and his family moved into the area of his inheritance, he promised one of his daughters to any man who would lead a successful attack against the enemies remaining there. One of Caleb's nephews carried out an assault that overcame the local Canaanites, and he was given Caleb's daughter to become his wife. (Judges 1:12-15.) However, their marriage was not a loveless arrangement. They were so much in love that she inspired her husband to accomplish great things. Many years later he became the first hero to deliver Israel from foreign oppression. (Judges 3:7-11.)

Other Israelite tribes later taking up residence in their respective domains were not all as courageous and enthusiastic as Caleb's nephew and his soldiers, and shamefully allowed some of the Canaanites to share their lands. This was not pleasing to God, who wanted them to gradually drive out all the Canaanites, and had repeatedly and plainly instructed Israel to completely rid the land of the heathen idol-worshipping enemy. (Numbers 33:50-56; Deuteronomy 7:1-6.) The only possible exception God would allow was that of the Gibeonites. They had asked for peace, and had at least mentioned God as being the Supreme Ruler, and had shown some willingness to live under His laws. (Joshua 9:24-25.)

Israelites Move Into Heart of Promised Land

On inspiration from God, Joshua told the people that the time had come to break camp and move on to a point more centrally located in Canaan. That place was Shiloh, about twenty miles north of Jerusalem. (Joshua 18:1.) There were mountains in that area, but there were also a valley and adjoining flat regions in which Israel would have plenty of room to set up their vast camps and flock-feeding areas.

There were mixed emotions among the Israelites when they learned that they were to travel on. Some had tired of living at Gilgal, and welcomed the opportunity to move. Others regarded Gilgal as a comfortable area they disliked leaving.

In six years the main body of Israel had almost forgotten what it meant to be on the move. It was considerably more difficult for the millions of people to get going with their millions of animals than it had been when they were more accustomed to be constantly on the go. Nevertheless, they managed to be ready to leave for Shiloh at the time Joshua had already indicated to them well in advance.

When the people arrived at the Shiloh region, most of them were content with their surroundings. The tabernacle was pitched at once in the middle area of the camp. There it remained for many, many years while the tribes went their respective ways and fell into all manner of trouble because of their disobedience.

A few days after the people were settled and camp life in the new site had become easier, Joshua summoned the elders for a meeting.

"I'm beginning to wonder just how anxious our people are to receive their inheritances," Joshua told them. "It's true that seven tribes haven't yet been shown what lands to take over. But few seem interested in doing anything except camping together as we've been doing for so many years. Is it that you are afraid that if you divide into tribes your enemies will overcome you?" (Joshua 18:2-3.)

"We would like to know more about the areas we are to go to," some of the elders remarked. "The four tribes and two half-tribes that have already been given their lands have had a fair idea of where they were going, but little is known about the land that is yet to be divided among the remaining seven tribes."

Surveyors Map the Land

"I still think that most of us would rather stay together than separate as God wishes," Joshua replied. "But your point is one not to be neglected. It would be well to appoint capable men to survey the land to determine how it can best be divided."

Quick plans were made to look over the little-known areas of Canaan to find out just what the land was like and how it could most wisely be apportioned. Three leading men from each tribe were chosen for their ability in surveying and in simple geometry. A relatively small military force was sent along with these men to protect them from any straggling Canaanite soldiers who might attack them.

Weeks later the surveying Israelites returned to Shiloh with a book of maps and information about the part of Canaan yet to be divided among the Israelites. (Joshua 18:4-9.)

Joshua met with the heads of the seven tribes and with Eleazar the priest to study the information and mark the mapped territory into seven parts. There was no guesswork. The borders, cities, streams, valleys, mountains, plains and elevations were plainly marked.

Again, before the tabernacle in God's presence, lots were cast for the seven portions of land, and the seven tribes at last learned what their inheritances were and where they would go. (Joshua 18; Joshua 19.) The tribe of Levi, being supported by the tithes, offerings and sacrifices of the people, did not receive any land (Joshua 18:7), though they were later given cities to live in and adjoining fields for grazing their flocks. (Joshua 21.)

The last parcel of land to be given for an inheritance went to Joshua and his family. This wasn't a result of any demand made by Joshua, but was according to an unrecorded promise from God such as had been made to Caleb. Joshua had his choice of an area. He chose Timnath-serah, a small city in the land of Ephraim only a short distance west of Shiloh. There Joshua later planned and superintended the reconstruction of his city. (Joshua 19:49-51.)

Justice for the Helpless

God had already spoken to Moses concerning six cities of refuge that were to be chosen when Israel had taken over Canaan. These cities were to be places of safety for anyone who killed another accidentally or without plan or malice, though it was possible for a guilty killer to also obtain temporary safety in these places.

In those times it was lawful for relatives to avenge the willful killing of any of their kin by slaying the one obviously responsible. Some, of course, would like to take vengeance even when the killing was accidental. To escape such an avenger, one could flee to the nearest city of refuge, where he could plead his case with the elders at the gates and be admitted to stay at least until there could be a complete hearing by the city's magistrates. If a man were found guilty, he was to be expelled from the city or turned over to the avenger. If he were found to be innocent, he was to have the protection of the city as long as he remained within it.

Three of the cities of refuge were picked from the east side of the Jordan. They were Bezer, Ramoth and Golan. The other three were chosen from the land west of the Jordan. They were Kedesh, Shechem and Hebron. (Joshua 20.)

According to plans revealed to Moses, the Levites were to receive various cities in which to live, and closely surrounding areas in which to keep their livestock. This matter was next taken up by Joshua, Eleazar and the tribal heads. Lots were drawn having to do with the areas of all twelve tribes. The drawing determined which cities and how many should be given from the various tribes. From all the tribes the cities for the Levites totaled forty-eight, and included the six cities of refuge. The Levites received these cities as centers of living, along with the pasture lands surrounding the cities to the extent of less than a mile. (Numbers 35:1-5.)

During the six years since Israel had crossed the Jordan, the soldiers from the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh had faithfully fulfilled their duty. (Numbers 32:1-22; Joshua 4:12-13; Joshua 22:1-3.) There were still about 40,000 of them because not one of Israel's enemies were able to stand against them. (Joshua 21:43-45.) Now that the main wars were over, Joshua had a pleasant surprise for these men.


Bible Story Book Index

Chapter 57
The Sin of Self-Righteousness

Now THAT Canaan was subdued, Joshua announced a pleasant surprise for the soldiers of the tribe of Reuben, the tribe of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh: "You have been faithful in remaining to work and fight with the rest of the Israelite army these six years, even though your families have been only a few miles east of Jordan.

"Now that Canaan is ours, you are dismissed from service with the army of Israel." (Joshua 22:1-7.) "You have obtained great wealth from the enemy, and now you should return to share these flocks, gold, silver, brass, iron and clothing with your brethren who stayed behind to care for your families. May the blessings of our God go with you and to your families, and may you serve God diligently by keeping all His commandments." (Verse 8.)

War-weary Soldiers Head Homeward

The happy thousands of warriors moved eastward from Shiloh with the cheers of their fellow Israelites ringing in their ears. (Verse 9.) They couldn't march as an army, however, because their share of the flocks, herds and loaded pack-animals taken from their enemies had to be herded in a very long caravan. In fact, their soldier friends remaining at Shiloh good-naturedly made fun of them by loudly addressing them as sheepherders and cattle rustlers.

At Joshua's suggestion, some Israelite officers accompanied the soldiers as far as the Jordan River. At that time the river was not as deep and swollen as it had been when the Israelites had passed over westward six years before. It was no great problem, therefore, to ford the river at a shallow point the pack-animals could wade across. As for the smaller animals. it was as easy for them to cross the river as it was for the soldiers, what with animals being natural swimmers and generally not too afraid of water.

On their second or third night after leaving Shiloh, the soldiers of Reuben, Manasseh and Gad camped on the east side of the Jordan. The Israelites who had accompanied them camped on the west side of the river before starting their return to Shiloh the next day.

At dawn the Israelites on the west side of the river prepared to leave for Shiloh after a planned last salute to their brothers. Then someone noticed a peculiar thing. The soldiers across the river were working hard to haul stones and earth to form a swiftly growing box-like stack of stones which they were filling with earth. Instead of setting out for Shiloh, the Israelites on the west side of the river stayed to see what was going on. They were increasingly perplexed to note that the heap, in the course of the day, was developed into a large altar that was made after the pattern of God's altar in Shiloh. (Joshua 22:10, 28.)

"This is very strange," said one of Joshua's officers to the others. "It appears to me that our brothers are building a huge altar." Then these men began to draw hasty conclusions.

"Our God hasn't told us to build such an altar," another officer spoke out. "Perhaps our brothers are building this altar with the intention of sacrificing to idols!"

Is This REALLY Idolatry?

"If that's even a possibility, then we should report to Joshua at once," one of the men said. Rather than immediately find out what their brother tribes were doing, these men began to imagine things, and came to conclusions that SEEMED right to them. (Proverbs 16:25.)

It was only hours later that Joshua was told about these things. Unfortunately, word of these events, as these men interpreted them, also leaked out to the whole congregation of Israel. Reports became so repeated and exaggerated that it quickly became a common belief that the soldiers from the tribes east of the Jordan had suddenly fallen away from the true God, and were starting a new system of pagan worship in their own territory. A huge, murmuring crowd gathered near the tabernacle and around Joshua's tent. Some of the people from this crowd began to loudly criticize the tribes east of the Jordan.

"We should at once send troops across the Jordan to forcefully remind our idol-worshipping brothers that they must stop this terrible terrible idolatry immediately!" one man yelled.

Great cheers followed his remark. For a people who had been disobedient in so many ways for so many years, it seemed somewhat extreme to demonstrate such a spirit of supposedly spiritual criticism, that seemed to indicate a great love for God.

"We must clear up this matter now, even if it takes all the soldiers we have here at Shiloh!" another bellowed. "If we don't do this, our brothers to the east may all become pagans and turn against us!"

Joshua Acts Wisely

Joshua was dismayed at the conduct of some of the people almost as much as he was at the unhappy report. After all, it had not been proved just what this altar was for, though it was something that required looking into immediately.

"No troops should go now and risk starting a civil war in Israel," Joshua told the people. "If the tribes to the east are doing something contrary to God's will, then someone should be sent to point out their sins. Instead of soldiers, I am sending Phinehas, the priest, the son of Eleazar, and the heads of the ten tribes west of the Jordan. These men can determine what is happening and how to deal with any who are possibly falling into idolatry." (Verses 13-14.)

Hours later Phinehas, the heads of the ten tribes and their aides arrived at the west side of the Jordan at a spot opposite the altar. The soldiers of Gad, Manasseh and Reuben were surprised to see such a distinguished group, and hastily helped them across the river.

"Why are we honored with your presence?" smiling officers inquired of them.

Phinehas, spokesman for the group, pointed gravely to the huge altar of rocks filled with earth.

"The people of Israel at Shiloh have heard of this great altar you have built," Phinehas declared in a loud voice that could be heard by all the assembled officers of the armies of the three tribes east of the Jordan. "They feel that you have erected this thing as a sudden move to depart from God and become idol-worshippers. If this is true, can you do such a thing and still recall how close our God came to destroying all of Israel for such a sin in the Baal-Peor idolatry and in Achan's curse?" (Joshua 22:15-17, 20; Numbers 25:19; Deuteronomy 4:1-6; Joshua 7:1-5.) "Do you realize that all of Israel suffers tomorrow for the sins of a few committed today?" (Joshua 22:18.) "If you feel that this land east of the Jordan is, not right for you or that the pagan influences here are too great for you, don't rebel against God by building a pagan altar, but come over west of the Jordan and we'll make room for you and your people closer to the tabernacle where God's altar is located." (Verse 19.)

The Simple Truth

The officers of the armies of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh lost their happy smiles before Phinehas finished speaking. They appeared troubled, but not guilty. Their spokesman came out at once with an answer.

"There has been a misunderstanding," he explained. "Our God knows that rebelling against Him by building an altar to any other god is something that hasn't even entered our minds. We know that God wants sacrifices made only on the altar He has directed to be made in front of His tabernacle, and we didn't build this altar for offering sacrifice. If this is not true, may God destroy us today. We didn't build the altar for any religious functions, but rather as a duplicate of God's altar, to serve as a monument to the fact that our people east of the Jordan and your people west of the Jordan are one people bound together by the sacred laws of God. This altar, being patterned after God's altar, will be a constant reminder that we serve the same God you serve. We hope that it will remain a monument for a long time so that we may point it out for what it means for many generations to come." (Joshua 22:21-29.)

There were moments of silence before anyone spoke. This truthful explanation from the soldiers of Gad, Manasseh and Reuben was as surprising as it was pleasing to Phinehas and the ten tribal heads.

"You have shown us just now that God is with all of us," Phinehas finally spoke out. "We at first feared that you were falling into idolatry and that God would deal harshly with all of Israel because of what we thought you had done. Now we know what you were intending to do, that you are loyal to God and that your righteous actions have spared us from any punishment God otherwise would have put on us."

After farewells, Phinehas, the heads of the ten tribes and their aides set out for Shiloh. When they arrived there with news of what had happened, those who had been most concerned about their east-of-Jordan brothers going astray were happy to learn that matters were not as they had imagined. Many of the people felt so relieved that they held a celebration in which God was loudly praised for keeping Israel together. (Verses 30-34.)

Although there were some among the Israelites who were too hastily inclined to point to their brothers east of the Jordan as being sinners, the real concern among most of the Israelites was that a part of them might break away and fall into idolatry.

Joshua was well aware of the kind of people who were always quick to point to the shortcomings of others so that they might seem more righteous by comparison -- which is really SELF-righteousness. Those were the ones he didn't like having any part in the somewhat feverish proposal that one part of Israel should take up arms against another part. In trying to make themselves look more righteous, those people can do great harm.

People who feel that they are next to perfect are often as evil in God's sight as those who feel just the opposite. Such people are generally unable to recognize their own shortcomings. Otherwise they wouldn't have a feeling of self-righteousness and near-perfection.

There is an interesting true story in the Bible about such a man, at this point it might be well to temporarily leave the Israelites in Canaan and flash back a few hundred years to the time just after the famine in Egypt.

The Story of Job

The main character of this story of the ancient past wrote one of the books of the Old Testament. It was titled "The Book of Job", because Job was the man's name. (Job 1:1.)

Job is often pictured as an Arabian who ruled a domain -- the land of Uz -- extending to the Euphrates River. Job was the greatest man of character in that eastern land. (Job 1:3.)

As for being a wizard, Job wasn't exactly that. Probably he earned that title because he was a very wise man and a skilled engineer. (Job 3:11-15; Job 29:21-25.)

The outstanding thing about Job was that he followed God's laws and used his power to protect the helpless. (Job 29:7-17.) He exerted his influence in favor of the one true God, at the same time working to destroy belief in the pagan gods. (Job 29:20-22, 25.)

The part of Job's life related in Scripture had to do with the maturing years of his life. He had become a more famous and respected man than he had been before. He was wealthier than ever, what with owning seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, a thousand oxen and five hundred donkeys. Job owned many buildings, and much land for his animals' grazing. He also had a very fine home, and buildings and tents in which his servants, hired hands and shepherds lived. (Job 1:3.)

Job's greatest treasure, however, was his ten grown children -- seven sons and three daughters. They had comfortable homes of their own in which they often gathered to hold dinner parties and birthday banquets Job noted that they indulged so much in this pastime that he felt they might be sinning. Therefore he often made sacrifices in their behalf. His constant prayers to God were that the Creator would be merciful to his family. (Job 1:4-5.)

People have long been erroneously taught that there is a constant desperate, frenzied battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil, with God as the champion of good and Satan as the champion of evil. Thus it would seem to be a long war between God and Satan, with each one taking turns at reeling under powerful blows from the other, and this process repeated century after century until God finally strikes a final, victorious blow that causes everything to turn out right.

God Limits Satan's Power

That isn't the situation. God is Ruler of the universe and everything in it. (Daniel 4:17, 25, 32; Job 38:1-19.) Satan is the god or prince of this world. (Ephesians 2:2.) He is under God's power and authority. He can do only what God allows him to do. In other words, God can and does allow evil to occur by giving Satan permission to tempt people who need to learn lessons, but God lets Satan go only so far in doing certain things.

God keeps an eye on all the angels, including the fallen ones, or demons. If He calls them before Him to report, they must obey, including Satan.

At this time during Job's life Satan came with other angels to report to God, and was asked what he had been doing. His answer was that he had been roaming the Earth. He couldn't successfully lie to God. Roaming was what he had been doing for a long time with his demons, looking for opportunities to separate men from God. (Job 1:6-7.)

"If you have been everywhere on Earth, then you must have noticed that a man by the name of Job is one of my most obedient servants," God said to Satan. "What do you think of him?"

"I know the man," Satan replied. "I am aware that you have given him great ability, power and wealth. At the same time you have protected him and his family from trouble, disease and death. He knows that these blessings have come from you, so he works at being faithful to you. But take this prosperity and comfort away from him, and he will turn away from you. In fact, he will curse you!" (Job 1:8-11.) Notice how Satan admitted God is all-powerful and fully able to protect Job from him.

"You would like to destroy this man's faith," God remarked. "I'm going to give you the opportunity to test him. Deal with him as you choose, but don't do him any bodily harm." (Verse 12.) Notice how God set a limit on Satan's evil, and let him go only so far in tempting Job. What Satan didn't know was that God was using him to teach Job a much-needed lesson. But Satan thought he was getting a chance to destroy one of God's servants. Satan departed, anxious to bring trouble to one of God's most faithful followers. It wasn't much later that Job, examining a part of his orchard, was startled by the noisy approach of one of his plowmen.

Sudden Destruction Came

"We were plowing your fields on the east border," the man panted excitedly, "when suddenly a band of mounted Sabeans rushed at us! They killed all the men except me, took all the oxen and all the donkeys that were grazing nearby!"

Before the shocked Job could express himself, another of his men wearily ran up to blurt out that a series of tremendous lightning bolts had struck where all the sheep and sheepherders had been gathered, that all the sheep had been killed and that he was the only man to escape.

This second man hadn't finished giving his discouraging news when a third man staggered toward Job, waving his arms and shouting.

"Three bands of Chaldeans attacked the camel grazing grounds!" the man panted. "They killed your men, then took all three thousand camels! I managed to escape to report to you!" (Job 1:13-17.)

These three reports left Job in stunned silence. He could scarcely believe that such a great loss could come so suddenly. Slowly and dazedly he sat down with his back to a tree trunk. Abruptly he was aware that a fourth man was standing over him, talking and gesturing wildly.

Job shuddered at the thought that shot into his mind. With all his livestock gone, any other evil report would have to concern his family!


Bible Story Book Index

Chapter 58
Why Many Suffer

I KNOW who you are," Job told the man. "You are one of the servants from the household of my oldest son. What unhappy news have you to give me?"

A Grievous Tragedy

"You must not have heard what I just said, sir," the woeful-faced servant observed. "It grieves me to repeat that all your sons and daughters have just been crushed to death in the collapse of your oldest son's home!" (Job 1:18-19.)

This was the supreme blow to Job, though by this time he wasn't too surprised at the terrible news. Painfully he raised his gaze to meet the eyes of the trembling servant.

"How did it happen?" Job asked. "All your sons and daughters were gathered for a dinner party at your oldest son's home," the servant explained. "All of them were inside, happily eating and drinking. Suddenly a whirlwind descended on the house, snatched it up from its foundation, then dashed it with such force that it was smashed flat. I was only a short distance from the house, bringing in some fresh fruit for the diners, and I was knocked to the ground. I struggled up, rushed to the wrecked home and tore away enough debris, with the help of neighbors, to find that your seven sons and three daughters were all dead!"

Job rose shakily to his feet and walked slowly toward his home. On the way he ripped his coat open. At that moment his wife looked out of the house to view this act, which in the ancient East was a sign of great grief.

"What's happened?" Job's wife called out as she ran to meet him.

When Job told her, she sobbingly accompanied him to the house. Job tried to comfort her, but he wasn't very successful. He left her by herself, shaved his head, went outdoors and prostrated himself on the ground. The headshaving was also an ancient sign of grief, though no more peculiar, perhaps, than our dwindling present-day custom of wearing black clothes and black armbands during and after funerals.

Job Refused to Grumble

"I came into this world naked and without possessions," Job murmured. "It's only fair that I should go out of it without possessions. While I have been here, God has allowed me many good things, and I thank Him and bless Him for all of them!"

Job had a good attitude toward God, even though God had allowed Satan to snuff out his wealth, his children, and his happiness. Satan had not been able to make Job commit the sin of complaining. (Job 1:20-22.)

Some time later, when the angels again came before God to report their activities, God questioned Satan as He had before.

"I am well aware of what you have done to my servant Job," God reminded Satan. "No doubt you have noticed that his grief at the loss you have caused him has not resulted in his cursing me, as you said it would."

"He has remained faithful only because you haven't allowed me to afflict his body," was Satan's reply. "If a man is suffering great physical pain, insomuch that he thinks that death might result, he will do anything to save himself. Allow me to bring sickness on Job and he will quickly give up his obedient ways and turn to cursing you."

"We shall see if you are wrong again," God said. "You may do what you choose with Job, except that you may not bring him to his death." (Job 2:1-6.)

Dismissed, Satan returned to Earth, pleased because he once more had been given an opportunity to see if he could turn Job against his Creator. He now had permission to take away Job's health and his last remaining source of income.

One morning when Job awakened he was alarmed to find that he was extremely sore all over his body. At first neither he nor his wife had any idea why he felt so lame, but within a few hours his skin was lumpy with swelling boils!

Agony Added to Grief

This was how Satan had chosen to strike at Job, though Job had no knowledge of why or how the terrible agonizingly painful sores had so suddenly developed from the top of his head to the soles of his feet.

The mere sight of the skin eruptions was so offensive that Job was embarrassed even in the company of his wife. And he was in such pain he could not even think of fulfilling his duties. And while another man ran the business, Job could not collect the revenues due him. Thus Job became completely destitute. He didn't want to sit or lie around his home and see his wife's expressions of disgust. He decided to leave his home and go to an ash dump not far away. Sitting in ashes in those days was a sign of humility, and Job had no intention of lacking for ashes. (Job 2:7 -8.)

Job and his wife now had a very bitter life, what with no children and no income -- and with Job's health gone. Whereas Job had previously been a very prominent man, he now found himself not only destitute, but also almost completely without friends. Even his relatives had nothing more to do with him. He had suddenly become a social outcast because his friends thought God had put him under a curse, and his acquaintances could no longer regard him as wealthy. True to his promise, God had allowed Satan to take EVERYTHING away from Job. (Job 2:6.)

In spite of his wife's arguments that he was being silly, Job continued to stay at the ash heap. Even on that soft mound he was miserable, because whether he sat or sprawled, the boils were intensely painful with the slightest pressure on them.

Late one night Job's wife went out to the ash heap. She was ashamed to go during daylight because Job had been such a prominent man and had suffered such great loss that it seemed to some that he might have lost his mind. Job's wife would have been distressed to know that neighbors were watching her. Instead of comforting her husband, she started railing at him.

And Now -- A Nagging Wife!

"Why do you insist on squatting there in the filth of this dump while I am at my wits' end wondering how to make ends meet?" she scolded. "Why must you embarrass me this way? If you think that you are about to die, why do it in a place like this?"

Job continued to sit in silence, which was soon broken again.

"I should think you would have more consideration for me, the woman who gave you ten children," Job's wife went on. "What would you have done without me? Is this any place for a man, even though a lot of people have forgotten you by now?"

Job said nothing. "You're hopeless!" cried his wife. "Go on with your prayers! You're only adding to your misery by being out here. And no matter how many days you sit here blessing God, you'll die! Why don't you curse God so He will destroy you and put you out of your misery?" (Job 2:9.) Job not only had lost his wealth, children, health, power, influence, honor, dignity and friends, but had now lost the respect of his wife.

Job's wife sobbingly turned to leave, but Job straightened up and spoke sharply.

"You talk foolishly," Job told her sternly. "You sound as shallow as a young woman who has grievously sinned while still in her father's house. Why should we complain when troubles come? God has done many wonderful things for us. Should we expect to go all through our lives without any troubles? Do we believe that God should shower us with nothing but the pleasant things? Should we shake our fists at our Creator whenever He temporarily takes back some of the many good things that belong to Him in the first place? No! We should be thankful and uncomplaining, no matter what happens!" (Verse 10.)

Job's wife realized that it would be a waste of effort to argue with a man with such a good attitude toward God, and she walked away into the darkness.

A Few Friends Remain

Because of his high office in life, Job had many acquaintances who were prominent, wealthy and well-educated. When word went around the land about Job's condition, most of these acquaintances of Job wondered why a man who was so obedient to his God should fall into such misfortune and misery. Almost all of them had felt obligated to desert him.

However, of the many who knew him well, three men from other lands, who were close friends of Job, planned to meet and visit him together. (Verse 11.) The names of these men were Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, and they came from territories not far distant.

The combined caravans of the three arrived at Job's rather neglected home to find that only his wife was there.

"You'll find my husband sitting or lying out in the city ash heap not far from here," she stiffly instructed the visitors.

The three friends of Job instructed their servants to encamp not far from the ash dump. Then they set out afoot toward the lone figure they could see in the distance. They were accompanied by a younger man named Elihu who was also well-educated and intelligent, and who, because of his great admiration for Job's well-known accomplishments, had asked to join the three friends. (Job 32:2.)

Even when the visitors were only a few yards from Job, they couldn't recognize him because of the boils on his face and the amount of weight he had lost. His condition was so much worse than they had imagined that they couldn't help but conclude that he was very close to death. They wept with grief at the sight of him. Now they could understand that there was more than one reason why Job had chosen to spend his time on an ash heap. His hundreds of very sore running boils made it almost necessary.

According to the customs of the times, the three men ripped their tunics and tossed dust on their heads. (Job 2:12.)

Elihu respectfully stood close by while Eliphaz, Zophar and Bildad -- who were older men -- stepped close to Job. Job peered up through swollen eyelids at his friends. He could not touch them in welcome, and it was too painful for him to show his appreciation for their presence by trying to leap up. He was touched that they had come to comfort him, but all he did was lift his hands and nod to each. Then he lowered his head and sat in silence. Job's friends were so stunned to see how horrifyingly miserable he was that they sat down with him in shocked silence to share his agony.

That silence lasted a whole week, during which the men sat with Job both day and night. (Verse 13.) At the end of seven days and seven nights of no conversation, Job painfully straightened up and suddenly spoke from swollen lips.

"Let the day perish and be forgotten when I was born!" he cried out. "Let that day be cursed! Let not God include it in the days of the month or year!" (Job 3.)

Controversy Over the Cause of Job's

Job's friends were surprised at this sudden outburst, but they were also relieved to know that Job had at long last chosen to speak. Job continued to talk for several minutes, eloquently describing how death would be more pleasant than the bitter grief of his condition. Some of his remarks caused his friends to suspect him of some hidden sin, and as soon as Job had finished, Eliphaz spoke out.

"I must say what I think," he started out. "You have instructed my people in living and in building character, but now that trouble has come to you, you faint. If you are being punished because of some kind of trouble you have run into, turn to God. If God is correcting you, don't be unhappy about it. He will see you through adversity, and you shall be full of years before you die." (Job 4 and 5.)

Eliphaz had much more to say, some of which, in turn, roused Job to more speech.

"I thought you came here to comfort me," he declared, "but now you are reproaching me and charging me with being a wicked man!" (Job 6 and 7.)

Job continued for a time, and when he had temporarily finished, Bildad had much to say in reproving Job. As soon as Job had answered him, Zophar spoke out. He, too, reproved Job, who promptly defended himself. This ended the first of three series of unusual controversies. During the next two of these debate-type discussions there was more reproof from Job's friends and more defense from Job. These three friends insisted God was punishing Job for being sinful. Job insisted God was punishing him without a reason.

Job was like many people today who say they are so good they always do what is right just because they love God. The Bible says this is not true. (Jeremiah 17:9; Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs 12:15; Psalm 39:5; I John 2:4; John 14:15.) Throughout these controversies between Job and his three friends, which were written in the Bible in a splendid poetic form, Job steadfastly contended that he was without sin and had no reason for repentance. (Job, chapters 8 through 31.)

At last the three older friends all gave up trying to answer Job because of his self-righteous attitude. (Job 32:1.) This gave young Elihu an opportunity to say what he thought.

"You have tried to justify yourself instead of God," he courteously and respectfully but bluntly told Job. "As for you three friends, you have condemned Job without being able to answer his self-justification." (Job 32:2-22.)

Elihu went on to disclose much wisdom for one so relatively young, reminding these older men that the Spirit of God, not human reason, gives us the true answers to problems. He continued to reprove all four men for being in error in some of the things they had said. Yet he did not deal harshly with Job. (Job 33:7.) His marvelous remarks, as written in chapters 33, 34, 35, 36 and 37 of the Book of Job make up some of the most profound sayings in the Bible. He showed these men that Job's error was not in some secret sin he was hiding -- as they supposed -- but in giving credit to himself, instead of God, for the righteous deeds God had inspired him to do, and in thinking he could EARN salvation by good works. Elihu knew that man's righteousness is no better than filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6.) The three older friends had spoken of God's right to punish men for sins. Elihu spoke of God's willingness to be merciful and give salvation to those who repent. (See also Psalm 103:10-14.) There seemed no more to say or do, so the four men wearily prepared to leave.

Although it was daytime, the sky had been turning dark for some time. It was evident that some kind of rough weather was about to occur. Overhead the clouds began to whirl and boil. Then they dipped earthward with great speed. The mounting moan of whirling winds broke suddenly on the ears of the little group on the ash heap. Job looked up, and he didn't move. Realizing the futility of running, the other four men stood rooted, though not without fear. Curious onlookers who had gathered near the ash heap ran for their lives, however.

God Convicts Job

Somehow the winds seemed to envelop the five men -- not to harm them, but to gently cut them off from their surroundings. There was turbulence all around, but not on the ash heap. (Job 38:1.)

Then a great voice clearly came out of the encircling wind. (Verse 2.) Startled, Job started to get up, but tremblingly fell with his face down when he realized that he was being addressed. The other four men also fearfully prostrated themselves.

"Who is it who pretends to speak about the most profound matters of God, but who lacks knowledge of such things?" the mighty voice asked. (Job 38; 39; 40:1-2.)

Job cringed under stinging words as the Creator of the universe went on to compare the puny learning and undertakings of man with the all-knowing wisdom and tremendous creative power of God. He reminded Job that only God is a great Creator. When God at last stopped speaking, Job cried out:

"I admit I am evil and defiled, God, and I don't have the wisdom to answer you!" (Job 40:3-5.)

God then reminded Job that he could not save himself -- that only God has salvation to give -- and that all of man's power comes from God, and man amounts to nothing. (Job 40:6-14.)

God continued to point out how much man has yet to learn, even about the creatures that exist on this planet, and that no one except the Creator has any real conception of what is required to create and control such creatures. (Job 40:15-24; Job 41.) When God ceased speaking, Job finally saw himself as a very worthless sinner, who needed God's mercy just as much as anyone else did. Job then took the opportunity to express himself again, at the same time continuing to prostrate himself on the ash heap.

Job Finally Repents

"I repent that I spoke as I did, God," he said. "I realize now that you know everything and can do everything and that I said things I did not understand. I abhor myself for considering myself too wise, too creative and too righteous, when I am really nothing more than dust and ashes!" (Job 42:1-6.)

God then spoke to Eliphaz, who was the oldest of Job's three friends.

"I am very displeased with you three," He said. "Job has made some wrong remarks and he has had a self-righteous attitude, but he has finally spoken more correctly of Me than you three did. You used false arguments to try to prove that he had committed great sins and that his suffering meant he was more evil than other men. Job accused Me of punishing him without a cause. Job saw his error and repented. You didn't. Now get seven bullocks and seven rams and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering. My servant Job will then pray for you. If you fail to do this, I shall deal harshly with you!" (Verses 7-8.)

The three men obeyed. The burnt offering was made, Job prayed for his friends and God accepted all that was done. (Verse 9.) As for Elihu, he had neither falsely accused Job nor misrepresented God's justice. He had spoken well, and God didn't require an offering from him.

Job's miserable condition left him as suddenly as it had come on. Immediately after he prayed for his three friends, the sore, itching, running boils dwindled away and were healed without scars. Job once more was comfortable and healthy. From then on, as though by a miracle, everything came his way. His brothers, sisters and friends who had left him turned back to him to visit and comfort him and brought gifts of money and jewelry. He bought livestock, and they increased so well that in time he was twice as wealthy as he had ever been before! (Verses 10-12.) Besides doubling the number of animals he had owned, an even greater physical blessing came upon him.

It was a new family. God gave Job and his wife seven more sons and three more daughters, and his daughters were known as the fairest in the land. (Verses 13-15.)

Job had grown children when this great trouble happened to him, but after that he lived many more years to see his children's children to the fourth generation. (Verses 16-17.)

Down through the centuries Job has become known as the most patient man who ever lived. It would be more fitting, however, to recognize him for what the Bible points him out to be -- perhaps the most self-righteous man who ever lived. Being self-righteous doesn't always mean being pompously pious and looking down on others as being miserably low sinners. In Job's case, it meant that he was so conscious and proud of being obedient that he felt he was without sin, and that his great suffering came without a reason.

The happy ending to this story was that after much trial he was able to see in himself this hard-to-recognize sin and be willing to repent. It was his repentance that brought an end to his great trial.

This important human experience might have been totally lost to us today. But God instructed Moses, during the wilderness wandering, that Job's account of his suffering should become HOLY Scripture -- a vital part of the Bible's "Old Testament," for our use today.


Bible Story Book Index

Chapter 59
Integration in Israel

WE NOW MOVE FORWARD in 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.

God Keeps His Promises

"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!" (Verses 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 forefathers 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." (Verses 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. (Verses 19-28.)

Not long afterward Joshua died at the age of one hundred and ten 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 afterward, 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. (Verses 29-31.)

Eleazar the priest, Aaron's son, died shortly after Joshua's death. He, too, was buried at Mt. Ephraim. (Verse 33.)

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.

Canaanites Return!

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 rout 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. The 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 called 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 his enemies' thumbs and great toes. Deprived of these digits, he was taken to Jerusalem -- which Judah and Simeon had already conquered, but later deserted. (Verses 8-9.) Here Adoni-bezek was displayed as a disgraceful 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 seventy 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. (Verse 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 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 discover 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.

Unexpected Help

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.

This man they had captured 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 to the north, he founded a city and called it Luz, which had 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. (Verses 27-33.)

In other areas some of the Israelites tired of fighting against their enemies. They decided to integrate with them. (Verses 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 worshipping the pagan gods and idols of Canaan. God had repeatedly warned them not to integrate. (Exodus 20:3-7; Exodus 23:31-33; Deuteronomy 12:29-32; Deuteronomy 6;4-7, 14; Deuteronomy 7:1-11; Joshua 23:6-8; Judges 3:1-7.)

By the time another generation had grown up since Joshua's 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.

A Surprise Visitor

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 sentinels 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 back in a gesture of respect.

Undetained, 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 arms and silence the increasing murmur from the throng.

"Listen Israel, and remember my words!" 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. (Exodus 23:23-28.) You were to destroy all the pagan altars. You were forbidden to make any agreement of any kind with your 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; Exodus 23:31-33; Deuteronomy 7:16; Psalm 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. Others 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 the gods they foolishly and futilely worshipped along with their pagan enemies. (Verses 11-13.)

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 succeeded in leaving much damage and death. Here and there the Israelites began to be pushed 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 concerned. The tide of conquest had at last reversed in favor of the enemy. (Judges 2:11-15; 2:20-23; 3:1-7.)

A Foreign Invader!

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 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 ruler who was rumored to be unusually powerful, ruthless and cruel.


Bible Story Book Index

Chapter 60
Worshipping God in Vain

IN THE face of danger from their enemies, the Israelites began to pray. But it was too late. The land was so full of sin that their prayers were in vain. God had no intention of answering them until they prayed in the spirit of repentance. Their many idols made their worship sinful. It was all in vain, because God does not hear the prayers of idolaters.

Equally useless were the frantically constructed barricades and other military preparations.

An Invasion of Israel

Three days later wave upon wave of invaders from the north pushed over and past Shiloh, leaving thousands of dead and wounded in and about the camp!

Within days the soldiers of Mesopotamia moved over all Canaan. They bottled up Canaanites and Israelites alike in a state of destruction and helplessness. It seemed to powerless Israel that God was helping the invaders more than He had previously helped Israel, though actually God had simply withdrawn His helpful power from the Israelites.

Wherever the Mesopotamians conquered large numbers of people, they left strong garrisons of soldiers to keep the vanquished people under their power. Valuables were stripped from the Israelites. A system of semi-slavery was developed by which Israel was forced to raise animals and crops for the conquerors. No tribes or areas were overlooked in this matter of constant contribution. The easy life of Israel was transformed in just a few weeks into one of misery and servitude. There was no outlook for anything but this unhappy condition for some years to come. (Judges 3:5-8.)

After a time, when they could see no way out of their trouble, the Israelites fell into a state of sincere repentance. For many, life became a round of tears, forced labor and prayers. Still the years of servitude wore on.

Meanwhile a man by the name of Othniel felt quite strongly that something should be added to those prayers and tears. He was of the tribe of Judah, a nephew and son-in-law of Caleb. He had years before distinguished himself in leading troops to vanquish many Canaanites. (Judges 1:12-13; Judges 3:9.)

In their disorganized state the Israelites had little military strength to resist their conquerors. But Othniel secretly managed to establish an underground movement that grew with each passing month. When he decided the time was right for an uprising, secretly armed Israelites made a strong surprise attack on the Mesopotamian garrison at Shiloh. It was so sudden -- and successful -- that not one enemy soldier escaped to alert troops stationed elsewhere.

Repentance Brings Deliverance

Othniel distributed the captured arms to equip more Israelites for hasty assaults on other enemy barracks in other parts of Canaan. The result was that within a few days Israel enjoyed a surprising victory over all the enemy soldiers stationed in Canaan.

When news of what had happened finally reached the wicked ruler of Mesopotamia, he gathered thousands of troops together. They moved swiftly southward from the vicinity of Damascus to attack the Israelite camp at Shiloh. Meanwhile, the Israelites were so encouraged by their victory that Israelites of fighting ability swarmed from all parts of Canaan to swell Othniel's army.

Before the Mesopotamians could reach Shiloh they were ambushed by thousands upon thousands of Israelite troops desperately hungry for freedom. The enemy from the north slowly fell away -- until with God's help the main body of soldiers perished. The remnants of the occupation forces fled for their lives. Victory for Israel was complete. (Judges 3:10.)

At last, after eight long years as a captive nation, Israel abruptly emerged to freedom. God had listened to the prayers of the repentant. He had chosen the man Othniel to lead the people to victory and freedom. In fact, God chose Othniel as the first of a line of righteous men who were inspired to lead and guide Israel for many years to come.

The attitude of the people had changed so much during their eight years of servitude that they were quite willing to obey God now. They cooperated with Othniel in the reform he required to be carried out for the good of the nation. Intermarriage with the Canaanites and worship of strange gods were forbidden. Those who indulged in these things were harshly punished. There was a return to the ways of living according to God's laws. The result was an Israel much happier and more prosperous than the nation had been for a long time.

Under the leadership of Othniel, God's chosen servant, Israel enjoyed forty years of peace. During those forty years Othniel was the first of the leaders -- since the time of Joshua -- known as JUDGES. They weren't the kind of judges who were instituted only as men who decided on cases of justice. They were more like rulers, and they headed Israel from Joshua's time until the time of Samuel. (Judges 3:11.)

Lessons Soon Forgotten

Othniel maintained law and order in Israel. But soon after his death the people had no strong leader and again began to lapse back into their sinful ways. God's anger again was roused against them. Once more they were bound to fall under a curse, though they had no idea how God planned to punish them.

The nation of Moab, east of the Dead Sea, was then ruled by a man by the name of Eglon. Much of the territory occupied by Israel east of the Jordan had at one time been part of Moab, and Eglon was determined to recover it. He didn't realize that his strong desire had been planted firmly in his mind by God, who planned to use him to chasten Israel.

Besides building his own army into a strong fighting force, Eglon enlisted the aid of thousands of troops from the Ammonites and Amalekites, two small nations that hated Israel because of that nation's previous victories over them. (Judges 3:12-13.)

Eglon's forces pushed westward across the Jordan with such strength that the main body of Israel in the central area of Canaan fell captive almost immediately to the Moabites and their allies. Not many Israelites were slain by Eglon, because it was his purpose to cripple Israel as a fighting force and then exact heavy tribute from the people.

Eglon established strong garrisons west of the Jordan to keep Israel powerless. To show that he had extended the ancient borders of his nation west of the river, he set up north-south rows of images in the area of Gilgal. Here he also built a palace for himself so that he might more closely exert control over the captured Israelites. For eighteen years the Israelites were in bondage to Eglon. (Verse 14.)

Again, as might be expected, the Israelites went into their state of repentance. They regretted, as usual, falling into such a sinful condition. Their tears, sufferings and prayers touched the ever-merciful heart of the Creator, who this time chose a sturdy, left-handed Benjamite named Ehud to help change the course of events.

Outwitting a Heathen King

Ehud's part started when he was chosen to head a group of messengers to bear a valuable tribute to the king of Moab. Irksome as it was to the Israelites, wicked Eglon required that the gifts of gold, silver, jewels and produce be brought to him with the pomp and ceremony only a king could demand. On this occasion, Ehud, who had great strength and skill in the use of his left hand, hid a sharp dagger beneath his clothes on his right hip. After the tribute had been presented to Eglon, Ehud and his bearers left and headed back toward Shiloh. Ehud went only as far as the nearby border that had been marked by the stone images. There he told the others to return to Shiloh without him. He quickly returned to the king's palace with the excuse that he had a secret message for Eglon. When guards told the king, he asked Ehud into his private quarters and dismissed his servants. (Judges 3:15-20.)

"Now what is this secret message you claim you have for me?" the king asked. "Would it surprise you to know that it is from God?" queried.

"What do you mean -- from God?" Eglon demanded, lifting his weighty body from his chair and moving excitedly toward Ehud.

"I mean THIS!" Ehud exclaimed. His left hand slipped under his cloak and whipped out his dagger with such speed that the Moabite ruler didn't have time to shout for help Ehud quickly thrust the dagger into Eglon's body, then hastily left the room and noiselessly locked the doors behind him. Justice had been done. He slipped out the private entrance leading outside, locked the door, took the key and set out for the area of Mt. Ephraim.

Later, when servants came to wait on their king and found the doors locked, they believed that Eglon didn't want to be disturbed. They left, but when they returned to find the doors still locked, they became concerned. At the risk of facing the king's wrath, they obtained a key and cautiously opened the doors. To their horror they found their ruler dead from a dagger that had been thrust past the hilt into the obese body. (Judges 3:21-26.)

God Is Wise and Just

At this point, as at other instances in past episodes of the Bible Story, a few readers will be inclined to shudder a bit. They will wonder why God would allow one of His chosen people to execute someone, and why the story should be included in a version written especially for younger people.

The Bible should be read by young and old alike. It is a frank description of the history of Israel, in part, describing the many woes brought on by human nature. In that telling there is no allowance for the delicate feelings of individuals.

God specifically chose Israel for a certain purpose, and a part of that purpose included ridding Canaan of the heathen peoples who lived there. In a later judgment these once-heathen people who have not had an opportunity for salvation will be given that opportunity by God. (Matthew 12:41-42; Revelation 20:11-12; Isaiah 65:19-25.) As far as God was concerned, it was no different for an Israelite to execute an idolatrous heathen king than it was for an Israelite soldier to slay an enemy soldier in battle. Israel, remember, was a fleshly nation, and unconverted -- except for a very few like the prophets and judges. Only God has the authority to tell anyone to kill. It is the responsibility of God, only, to decide when a wicked person should be executed for his own good and the good of those around him. Nevertheless, today it is not a Christian's duty to execute this kind of justice. God leaves that to the unconverted who run this world. Jesus said His kingdom is NOT of this world (John 18:36.), otherwise his servants would fight. Israel was of this world. But the Kingdom of God is of the world tomorrow. And Christ will fight to establish it when He comes again.

Ehud lost no time in reaching Mt. Ephraim, a few miles to the northwest, where he summoned many Israelite men to tell them what had happened.

"These Moabite soldiers stationed here to keep us captive are the choicest warriors of their nation," Ehud told them. "But when they hear that their leader is dead, they will lose their desire to keep guarding us, and will want to flee across Jordan to their country. It is according to God's will that you take up your hidden arms now and follow me!" (Judges 3:27.)

By the time news of their ruler's death reached the Moabite soldiers massed near Jericho, Ehud and the Israelite soldiers had come charging out of the Mt. Ephraim area and were well on their way toward the Jordan river.

As Ehud predicted, having been inspired by God, leaders of the Moabite troops in Canaan quickly decided to move their soldiers back to Moab when they learned that their king had been mysteriously slain.

They had a feeling that the God of Israel had something to do with the matter, and they feared it was an omen that Moabite troops might also meet death if they were to remain in Canaan.

Ten thousand Moabite soldiers of the Jericho region set off on the shortest route toward the Jordan -- a road that ran almost directly eastward. Ehud's inspired foreknowledge of how the enemy would retreat made it possible for the Israelites to know they should station themselves at the Jordan River to prevent the escape of the Moabite army.

Long before the Moabites could reach the river, the Israelites were ready and waiting in ambush. When the Moabites arrived, the Israelites closed in on them with such surprising fury that when the fray was over, every Moabite of the ten

thousand was dead.

When the remaining Moabites at Eglon's palace and those stationed elsewhere in Canaan heard about what happened to the ten thousand picked troops, all fled eastward inside the true borders of their nation. Israel was free from the oppression of Moab.

Because of his ability in leadership, Ehud became the second Israelite ruler known as a judge. He remained in power for many years of peace and prosperity in Israel, which meant that during that time the people were obedient, for the most part, to God's laws. (Judges 3:28-30.)

A short verse at the end of the third chapter of the book of Judges names a man by the name of Shamgar as another man of leadership who was possibly a lesser judge in western Canaan during Ehud's time. The Philistines, a nation of city-states on the shores of the Great Sea, had joined with Moab in attacking the Israelites in that region and had kept them in servitude for many years as farmers. The servitude was abruptly ended when the husky crop producers turned on their conquerors with their soil-tilling implements. An unusual accomplishment of this encounter was Shamgar's wielding an ox-goad (a sharpened, metal-tipped hardwood pole) so swiftly and expertly that he killed six hundred Philistines, though possibly part of that number was included in the efforts of Shamgar's fellow farmers. (Verse 31.)

And Now a Northern Foe

It might seem discouragingly repetitious to report that after Ehud died, Israel again lapsed into a state of rebellion against God. But it happened! Once more God used a pagan king to punish the people. This time it was Jabin, a strong ruler in north Canaan. He was a descendant of that Jabin who had many years previously tried to attack the army of Israel with iron chariots. He had been overcome by Joshua and had lost his city in flames. This next Jabin had rebuilt the city of Hazor, and had become so powerful that he overcame the Israelites in the northern part of Canaan. Ironically, this later Jabin used nine hundred iron chariots as a means of victory. The general of his army was the dreaded Sisera.

For twenty drawn-out, unhappy years Israel suffered under the terrible domination of Jabin. (Judges 4:1-3.) Again, as usual, Israel cried out to God for mercy. The people showed proof of their repentance by departing from the evil ways they knew were forbidden by God.

As a means of rescuing Israel, God used a woman by the name of Deborah. She lived in Mt. Ephraim, and was one of such good judgment and fair thinking that many Israelites came to her for advice. This woman was not a judge in the sense that she was a ruler with authority, though God chose her to help Israel in several ways. (Verses 4-5.)

For one thing, God gave Deborah knowledge of what could happen in Israel's favor, but it was necessary for a man who was a military leader to carry out the plan. Deborah knew of such a man. His name was Barak. He came from his home in the north when she sent for him.

"God has disclosed to me that if a capable man such as you can succeed in gathering ten thousand armed Israelites on Mt. Tabor, then He will give them victory over the Canaanites who seek them out there for battle," Deborah told Barak. "With a promise such as this from God, is there any good reason why you should refuse to be the one who can be of such great service by gathering and leading those men against the Canaanites?" (Judges 4:6-7.)

"I can manage to organize the army," Barak replied, "but I would want to know more about what God has revealed to you. I'll go to Mt. Tabor with the men, but only if you will accompany me to advise me in the crucial moments."

Deborah agreed, but told Barak that since he was depending too much on a woman and was not showing enough manly leadership, God would allow a woman to destroy General Sisera.

Barak secretly organized the necessary troops. Most of them came from the northern tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun, though many men from other tribes swelled the number. The army succeeded in getting to the flat area of Mt. Tabor, and there encamped. (Verses 8-10.)

When Sisera, the general of Jabin's army, learned about the Israelites being on Mt. Tabor, he gathered his men to go there. Included in his mighty fighting force were nine hundred chariots and thousands of trained warriors so feared by Israel. (Verses 12-13.)

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