Saturday, May 02, 2009

Joshua, Judges, and Ruth

These three books really form a set, for various reasons. First, they cover the period from the entry into the land to the rise of the monarchy. Second, they show us something of the character of Israelite life during that period. Third, they prepare us for the rise of the monarchy, by showing us the weakness of the Israelite confederacy under the judges, due to Israelite unfaithfulness. The books cover a period of about three hundred and fifty years. This is based on entry into the land in 1406 BC (based on a 1446 BC date for the Exodus), and the anointing of Saul as king about 1050 BC (based on dates for Solomon [970-930 BC] and David [1010-970BC]) and assuming about a forty-year reign for Saul. Admittedly, the chronology is difficult, but that is another discussion for another time.

The Book of Joshua divides into three parts: The conquest (chs 1-12), the division of the land (chs 13-21), and the covenantal conclusion (chs 22-24). The conquest can be further subdivided into four parts: Entry into the land (chs 1-5), conquest of central Palestine (chs 6-8), conquest of southern Palestine (chs 9-10), conquest of northern Palestine (chs 11-12). This account is intended to show that Israel established itself throughout the general area of Palestine, not to show that they conquered each and every inch of Palestine. There is, therefore, no contradiction between Joshua and Judges regarding the conquest. Most critical scholars consider the Book of Joshua to be entirely a fabrication by a writer of a much later period. This is based on a certain reading of the archaeological evidence, and on sociological models. Neither of these is equipped to deal with the fact that archaeological evidence is partial, and must be interpreted on the basis of textual data, while the sociological models assume that everything can be accounted for solely on the basis of human activity. Neither of them wants to take God into account.

The Book of Judges divides into two parts, the rules of the judges (chs 1-16) which are dominated by the Midianite oppression (Gideon, chs 6-8), the Ammonite oppression (Jephthah, chs 11-2), and the Philistine oppression (Samson, chs 13-16). The second part demonstrates the low estate into which Israel had fallen with idolatry (the Danites, chs 17-18), and profound immorality (chs 19-20). The theme verse of the book is, of course, 21:25, "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes." But the tragedy of the book  can also be summarized by a comparison of 1:1-2 with 20:18. In this period, Israel was reduced from gathering together to remove their enemies from the land, to being gathered against one another in civil war. 

The Book of Ruth has more to it than can be done justice in a couple of lines. But it gives "the other side" of the picture we get from Judges. Even though the people were disobedient; even though the people were oppressed by outside forces; yet there were faithful men and women among the people, and amid the seeming chaos of the times, life for many went on as usual.

As for lesson for us, we should learn here to remember that God has given us a great calling to conquer the earth through the power of the gospel (Joshua); that in any age the church is likely to be weak and oppressed (Judges); but yet the Lord knows those who are his and there are yet faithful men in the land (Ruth).

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