WHAT A TOTAL ANARCHIC MESS BEFORE SAMUEL ARRIVED!
THE NATIONAL POLITICAL SCENARIO AT SAMUEL’S BIRTH
Just tell me; Whose land is Canaan?
For openers, we need to have a good insight into the state of the union as Samuel arrived on the scene of time and space. There are several issues to consider. Environment spawns men of the moment, responding to the needs and demands of that moment. What is great in one generation would be trivial in another. Some people’s actions cannot be seen or perceived clearly without the full Technicolor detail of the backdrop of their age. What was it like to live in their time? Why was it that certain trivia of our generation was absolutely “mega” in theirs? So, in order to paint a clear picture of Samuel’s achievements we need to travel back a few generations before “our man” was even conceived; to a story that seemingly has no relevance to our prophet. We speak of one of the greatest accounts in scripture.
God delivered Israel from Egypt. The whole nation plus (that is; not only Israel but Israel plus non Israeli people who joined themselves with God and Israel) plodded across the desert accompanied by innumerable signs, wonders and miracles for forty years. They finally crossed the Jordan with a suitably high profile miracle that literally put the “shakes” into each of the seven nations that were already occupying Canaan. After a few decisive battles they “conquered” the promised land, the land of milk and honey, and then they all lived happily ever after in the security of their own land. It’s black and white isn’t it?
As with the absolutes of New Testament Christianity, the theoretical truth is truly “black and white”. The life long battle to make what is truly divinely offered experiential reality is another huge issue of life. What is truly and legally given is an absolute. And I mean absolute. God does not lie. What is honestly entered into is relative to a host of variables. Because of weakness, sin, laziness, fear, lack of insight and a thousand and one other possibilities linked with the character of fallen man, the actuality is far short of the, “seated in heavenly places,” and, “More than a conqueror,” theology that Christians so rightly and healthily declare.
It was exactly the same with Israel entering Canaan. Just like the church of Jesus Christ, they effected over the years an extremely sloppy and incomplete occupation of what was given to them and what was declared by the ever truthful eternal God to be theirs. This occupation was defective to a degree not observed by many. To say that Israel’s actual campaign was an “untidy mess” is an understatement.
Did you know that the “Israelites” were not all fully descended from Israel (that is Jacob)? Exodus 12:28 says that they were a “mixed multitude”. Verse 45 of that same chapter says that the “strangers” had to be circumcised. Later Rahab the Jerichoan (is that the right term?) and all her family joined Israel, and soon after Joshua’s death the Kenites moved into Judah (Judges 1:16) and dwelt among them. Later still a Kenite woman amongst them helped them to defeat a serious enemy (Judges 4). Generations on, and Ruth the Moabitess became an important and integral part of Hebrew society. I believe most of my readers may be au fait with a lot of these facts. But what does this prove? It proves simply that not all were lineally, literally “children of Israel.” Anybody with even a vague commitment to God could have joined them. Perhaps even a good human friendship caused some to leave Egypt with Israel. Many did. It was a “mixed multitude”. God knows those that are His.
As, probably, no circumcision took place at all during the actual four decade sand trek, it is reasonable to assume (and many scholars do) that quite a number of the group separated from the main caucus during the wonderings. Fancy leaving a pillar of fire that stood over you every night! Anybody who left must have been mad. The people and the camps were spread out to a degree that Moses could not chase. There was, after all, six hundred thousand mature men, and by modern sociological and demographical pathology that means that there were about two million people. (Actually, they had much larger families in those days so it was clearly a lot more than two million.) Plainly, many wandered off, only to return at moments of crisis. What I say here is conjecture, but intelligent conjecture.
When we finally cross the Jordan with them, it gets worse and much more complex. Not all the “enemy” were killed as ordered by the Lord via Moses. The odd stranger or informant from amongst the Canaanites was allowed to live; the Gibeonites fooled Joshua into letting them live; and then Israel actually finished up defending these cowardly people against their fellow Hivites. Then … shock of all shocks! Joshua chapter thirteen then gives an elongated list of the cities that simply were not taken as instructed from heaven. It is a sizeable number of population centres.
To maintain an aggressive war faring nation in a sharp attitude of violence and “conqueror mode” without the aid of modern mass media must have been the challenge of Joshua’s life, bigger than the physical battles themselves. That difficulty must have been complicated by the fact that the wives, children and the elderly obviously nagged the warriors, husbands and Dads to come home and move into their permanent dwelling in the land of promise. War is extremely stressful, even to the nationals who are non participants in the military. Until the campaign was finished a few years prior to Joshua’s death, it seems that every time Gilgal is mentioned in the book of Joshua, the people are still living in tents. After Joshua’s demise – or perhaps even before his demise – the soldiers of Israel seem to have lost the appetite for pillaging, killing and fighting and sought to settle.
It is an absolutely fascinating exercise to superimpose the list of unappropriated allotments of promised land over the map that is made by Joshua’s allocation or real estate to the twelve tribes. What Joshua drew up, and the tribal borders of land that were so clearly prescribed was flagrantly theoretical. He simply mapped out the whole of Canaan and said, “Go and get it yourselves!” He seems to have ignored the horrible reality of the situation. “Very much land still needs to be possessed” is what Joshua (Hebrew for “Jesus”) said in Joshua 18:3. Joshua was obviously a master of understatement. After spending many hours drawing and marking and scribbling on a map of Canaan, it seems to me that most of the south was conquered, perhaps half of the northern allotments for tribes, but the central belly of the promised land was not even touched by Israel. Oh dear! What have we discovered?
Jebusite cities were unconquered. Canaanite communities still carried on their workaday life, as well as their demonic religious cults that specialised in child sacrifice and shamanism. The Philistine people expanded their numbers, territory and influence. And we could go on further. It seems that Joshua had come to the conclusion in his old age that he had sadly failed to fulfil the order that God had given Moses, that was in turn given to him. It was absolutely true that the battles they had fought had seen God miraculously supporting and strengthening them fulfilling His promises. It was factual to say – and Joshua did say – that God had not failed on a single promise. But the human end of the covenant had clearly not been fully activated. So, Joshua resorted to drawing lots, and then told the respective tribes that their respective parcels of land were theirs, while most of them were still living in tents as Bedouins on the move. Then he died. So without a Moses or a Joshua, the nation of bleating sheep were left to their own devices to take what was theirs.
There is even another ingredient to put into this messy soup. The fact that the Bible does not list many Canaanite cities in Joshua’s chronicle of war, and then added the fact that some of these cities are later listed as part of the clan of Manasseh suggests one of two things: Firstly, that the Canaanites may have made common cause with Israel and actual joined them in order to save their own lives. We have already mentioned that this sort of thing happened. The word of mouth news about the plagues in Egypt, the miracles in the desert and the supernatural victories in battle was an utter terror to all and sundry who had to contemplate fighting Israel. Or secondly, and this is the opinion that I generally adhere to, the tribal allotments were obviously made at a time when appropriation of much of Canaan was still a future prospect. Joshua went home to his heavenly reward after having told people that they owned “this town”, “this city” and “that forest”. It was a little bit like playing monopoly, only with real money, real lives and real deaths. I do not criticise Joshua negatively when I take this view. I am simply stating the facts as they are in scripture, and the facts seem to contradict the story as commonly presented to people. I say it also so that we can understand more clearly what happened after Joshua’s death and up to Samuel’s arrival. Unfortunately, “No Joshua”, meant “no leadership”, “no impetus”and almost a total lack of vision.
As the generations came and went, the perspective of occupation through and with and by the power of God was lost. “Promised land by Revolution”, became, “shared land by evolution”. The cities were not all taken. Canaanite society was still in existence.
The book of Joshua homes in on a mighty southern campaign, and a northern blitz. The mid lands that were given mostly to Mannasseh and Ephraim are simply not mentioned in Joshua’s CV of battles and victories that are mentioned in the book of his name. Because of the archaeological findings, as well as this biblical silence, it is believed by some that Hebrews were already living in Canaan when Joshua arrived. I count this as nonsense as they would not have known what land was given to what tribe, and tribal identity was important to all of ethnic Israel. I will concede that if Moses, a high profile aristocratic Hebrew could escape from Egypt, then it is conceivable that the odd “commoner” could do the same.
So when was the middle of Israel taken?
When Ephraim complained that they did not have enough cities to meet the numbers of their people, Joshua simply suggested that they hack down a few forests. (Not exactly environmentally friendly, eh?). That might even suggest a third reason why there was not listed any battles in the mid lands, i.e. too much woodland without any proper living space for existing cities or conurbations to be built. My reader needs to know that the topography of Canaan in Joshua’s day was light years away from today’s horizon’s over Israel.
But avast! The plot gets thicker. It seems that when parts of the land were finally fought for, the manoeuvre got even sloppier and the mess got even more untidy. Some populations like Hebron and Debir had to be conquered twice (Read Joshua 10 and Judges 1). Mannasseh tried to conquer six of Issachar’s cities for some unexplained reason, and failed (Joshua 17:16).
And there is more! The people of Israel did not all stay in their tribal allotments. Some of Mannasseh lived in Issachar (Joshua 17:11-13). Tola the Issacharian Judge (can that be right?) lived in Ephraim. Some of the towns of Ephraimites were actually in Mannasseh (Joshua 16:9. The people of Joseph were, of course, Ephraim and Mannasseh). Some of Judah moved to Mannasseh (Joshua 19:34). Joshua 19:47 amazingly tells us that because of the “overcrowded housing situation” in Dan with both Israelites and Philistines, the “Danites” actually, “had to,” move out and look elsewhere. Can you believe it? They were so afraid they went north and conquered a place called Laish and then occupied it, and called the city Dan. The humiliating truth of the matter is that this city of, “Dan,” was actually in the area allotted to Manasseh, as far away from the Philistines as it is possible to be, and still be in the promised land – just. Most of the occupying tribe of Dan were absorbed into Benjamin after the majority of Danites had moved north.
Simeon is hardly ever heard of again after their occupation. They were given land that had already been allotted to Judah anyway, and so it seems Judah simply assimilated them over the years. Good-bye tribe of Simeon. Simeon’s borders are not given, just a list of Judahite cities. It is true they assisted Judah in the various battles to occupy what God had given them in Judges 1, but after that they are just not mentioned at all.
As things finally settled down, Israelites were actually living next door to Canaanites. Canaanites still lived in Gezer in Ephraim. We are not told whether it was because Israel did not fight for it, or whether it was because the Canaanites befriended Israel. It might be that Ephraim took them on – and lost.
In the end, Judah owned their hills but could not go down into their valleys (Judges 1:19). The remnant of Dan had the same situation. The Amorites would not give Dan leave to “come on down” (Judges 1:35). Was it really perceived as the promised land?
When all this scenario is compounded by a couple of hundred years of Godlessness (“every man did that which was right in his own eyes”) intermixing socially, and marrying (Judges 3:5 & 6), the odd revolution here and there, some in Israel’s favour and some not – we finish up at the end of the book of Judges with a real hotch-potch and chaotic mess of a political, racial, cultural and religious broth.
You would have thought we could finish there. But the Philistines fog the whole thing even further. The line sketch given us by the book of Judges and the first half of 1 Samuel suggests quite clearly that these sea peoples, the Philistines, had a particular “hang up” with the people of Israel. In the latter days of Eli the priest, the Philistines encroached more and more into the land that Israel now considered theirs. And as time went on, it seems that the Israelis had less and less resources either tangible or spiritual with which to fight them off.
The Philistines were at this time enjoying the first full flush of the, “high technology,” of the “modern” weapons of the iron age. Israel, it seems, had not arrived at such an incredible scientific advance, and the Philistines ensured that the prolongation of this strategic advantage by making sure that all Iron smithies were kept in Philistine lands and Philistine ownership. They helped Israel only in honing and making iron farming implements.
The ultimate conclusion is that Israel’s military campaigns together with a slow but sure infiltration of gentile culture worked slowly to the Philistines’ favour. When the military barrage ceased, the familial infiltration continued. The sad result was that there was no sudden change of a “Yahweh-ist” culture in the promised land of Canaan, as God had demanded. There was not the almighty powerful army of God’s people bringing the demise of the seven races and their demonically infested lifestyles and possession of the land they lived in, grabbed and occupied by Israel. It simply did not happen. It is even considered debatable by some, as to whether or not Israelites were even in the majority of the population during some of the days of the book of Judges.
My! They were dark days.
So we have a horrible picture of a man like Samson leaving his Israelite, “settlement,” and walking just a short distance to a “Philistine settlement.” What is more, he was courting and socialising with Philistines. Although there was, of course, much social friction because of the racial and cultural differences, it was a commonly “lived with” phenomena when the nations were not actually warring on the battlefield. The relationship between the Israelites and the Philistines in Samson’s story is a parallel to many racial scenario’s found in modern cities. The issue in Judges is that it was not merely racial – that would have been profound enough. These were two different peoples with a “secured” national identity that every man jack of them wanted to hold on to.
So, at the time our story concerning Samuel commences, Israel was contending for its very existence as a nation. The forbidden racial syncretism of Sinai’s law was made purely on the grounds that inter marriage with Canaanites would always bring spiritual confusion. The Divine approval and end results of Rahab’s marriage, not forgetting Ruth’s proves that point. God delights in the racial mixes, but abhors religious and spiritual syncretism.
At the time our search commences and our hero is about to be born, Israel was in a cultural and religious abyss, from which, it seemed, apart from the occasional charismatic, God raised leader, there was no release from. The nation was, to a large degree, lost.
- Book of Joshua (Part 1) – Into the Promised land (graceofourlord.com)
- Joshua 18.9 – Seven parts of the land to be divided (sevensinthebible.com)