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Old Testament Overview III - Conquest and Monarchy

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Related articles

I: Creation and Patriarchs II: Exodus and Wilderness
III: Conquest and Monarchy IV: Divided Kingdom and Exile
V: Return from Exile VI: 400 Silent Years

Prev - OT Overview II Next - OT Overview IV

The Conquest of the Promised land and the Judges (Joshua and Judges)

God had promised the patriarchs the Promised land. However, this land was currently occupied by seven nations, including the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, and the Jebusites. For simplicity, I like to call them the '-ites'.

The difficult question

A very difficult question is frequently asked by non-Christians about the Book of Joshua, normally something like this: "Don't you think it was really mean of God to tell Joshua to kill all the poor innocent inhabitants of the Promised land?"

This question is rather loaded, as the people were certainly not innocent. God commanded the Israelites to destroy these peoples because of their depraved form of religion. The Canaanites and other "-ites" were an agricultural people, who worshipped gods of fertility. They believed that they needed to worship and appease these gods so the rain would come and their farming would be successful, and that their animals would bear many young, making their owner more prosperous.

There were three main gods:
1. Baal
Baal was the god of the rain and the storm. Animals were sacrificed to him, so that he would send rain, enabling the crops to grow.
2. Asherah
Asherah, or Astarte, a female goddess of fertility, was worshipped so that animals and people would have lots of offspring. She was worshipped by ritual prostitution. All women had to serve as a temple prostitute before they were married.
3. Molech Molech was worshipped by the sacrifice of babies. The eldest son was burned alive to ensure fertility, and the ashes and bones were buried in special jars. The eldest son would almost certainly have been conceived while the woman was serving as sacred temple prostitute.

We should also note that God's people Israel were kept in slavery in Egypt for 400 years, while God waited for the '-ites' to repent (Gen 15:16). However, they did not repent. So there were really two reasons that these people needed to be destroyed:
1. Judgement on the '-ites' because of their idolatry
2. To protect Israel from following the same idolatry

Rahab - saved by her faith

Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute who protected the spies in Jericho. Because of this, she and her family were the only people allowed to survive when Jericho was captured, and to live among the Jews. From Matthew's genealogy of Jesus, we see that she married an Israelite, and became part of the line leading to the Messiah. In Hebrews and James, she is honoured for her faith.

There are two important lessons here:
1. She had faith in God, and her faith saved her, when all other Canaanites in Jericho were killed.
2. That she was a Gentile Canaanite, who had faith, and so became part of the people of God, showing that even in the Old Testament, God desired Gentiles to come to know him.

The conquest (Josh 1-12)

During the time in the wilderness, we can read how Moses trained Joshua as the next leader of the people. After the death of Moses, Joshua sent spies to the city of Jericho, then led the people across the River Jordan. There is another interesting pattern here, both before and after the wilderness there was a miraculous crossing of water: Moses led the Israelites across the Red Sea to leave Egypt, and now Joshua led the Israelites across the River Jordan to enter the Promised Land.

Following the conquest and destruction of Jericho, Joshua led the Israelites into great victories against the '-ites'. He led campaigns in the south, the centre and the north of the land, conquering a total of 31 kings (Josh 11).

Tribal allocation - the map that never happened (Josh 13-24)

The second part of the book of Joshua describes the allocation of the land to the different tribes. There are often maps to show this in the back of Bibles, but sadly this map never became reality. This will become clear in the book of Judges. There was no land allocation to the tribe of the Levites, the priestly tribe, who served God in the tabernacle and were supported by the tithes of the people. At the end of his life, Joshua led the nation in a ceremony to renew the covenant for the new generation, as required in the book of Deuteronomy (Josh 24).

Following the great victories under Joshua, and the trust in God shown by him and his armies, we now enter what can be called Israel's Dark Ages, a very black period in Israel's history, the time of the Judges.

Failure to destroy the "-ites" (Judges 1)

Joshua led Israel and in the capture of the hill country, but left it to the individual tribes to complete the conquest of their areas. The beginning of the Book of Judges is a sad list of all the tribes and the areas they failed to conquer, and the '-ites' they failed to destroy. This disobedience and failure had tragic consequences in the history of Israel, as the people began to follow the religion of the '-ites', and to worship their gods of fertility. Because of this, the curses of Deuteronomy began to come into effect, and which eventually led to them losing the land and going into exile.

The cycle (Judges 2-3)

Before any individual judges are introduced, the author gives a summary of the period, by describing a cycle of events which runs as follows (Judges 2:11-23):

1. After the death of Joshua, people slipped into idolatry, worshipping Baal and other gods.
2. God brought trouble in the form of an enemy, who invaded their land, plundered their crops, and brought great hardship to the people.
3. Eventually, after many years, in their distress, the people cried out to God.
4. Out of pity for his people, God raised up a deliverer, a saviour of the nation - a judge.
5. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the judge expelled the enemy, bringing peace to the land, which lasted as long as the judge was still living.
6. After the death of the judge, people returned to idolatry, so the cycle is repeated.

This cycle is recorded six times through the book of Judges, with the major judges: Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson. The other six minor judges are only given a very brief description. The first four major judges, brought peace to the land, which lasted until the death of the judge. However, after Gideon, his illegitimate son Abimelech made a failed attempt to take power, and establish a dynasty. This event forms a turning point in the book, with the effectiveness of the subsequent judges gradually deteriorating. Neither Jephthah nor Samson were able to bring peace to the land. This can partly be due to their questionable character, but also because a new enemy had arrived on the scene - the Philistines.

The Philistines

The Philistines had settled on the coastal plain, building five major cities (Ashdod, Askelon, Ekron, Gath, and Gaza). They were a formidable enemy because they had achieved a more advanced technology than Israel, with their capability to smelt iron, which needs very high temperatures. With this, they built iron chariots, ideal for use on the flat coastal plain, which made it impossible for the Israelites to defeat them.

The later judges, particularly Samson, attacked the Philistines, but never managed to defeat them, so they remained on the coastal plain for many years, causing much trouble to Israel. This continued right through the time of Samuel and Saul, and they were not finally defeated until the time of David. The most famous Philistine was Goliath, who was killed by the young shepherd boy, David.

Political problems (Judges 17-21)

The book of Judges concludes with two stories, the last one being particularly gory and gruesome. Both of these describe the low state of affairs in the nation at this time, both in faithfulness to God, and in the morals of the leaders and people. The author sums up the period by saying, "In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes" (Judges 21:25).

The author of judges attributed many of the problems of the nation to the fact that they did not have a king. At this time, the nation consisted of separate tribes, with their own leadership. There was no central government or organisation, and the nation was only united only by their common worship of Yahweh, centred around the tabernacle. This did not seem to be enough to hold the nation together, and it is apparent that each judge only ruled over part of the whole nation.

The Story of Ruth

In stark contrast to the low state of Israel during the time of the judges, we have the story of Ruth, a story of faith in God, faithfulness to her mother-in-law, and love. The wider significance of Ruth is that she was not from Israel, but from Moab, so she was a Gentile. Through her marriage to Boaz, she became part of the people of Israel, and the great-grandmother of King David, and most significantly, part of the family line which led to the Messiah. Thus, she is another example of a Gentile who showed faith in Yahweh, and became part of Israel.

The United Monarchy (1 & 2 Samuel, 1 Kings 1 - 11), (1 Chronicles 9 - 2 Chronicles 9)

¦Sam 1 Kg ¦ ------------> <-- NATIONS WEAK --> ¦ ¦ Married ¦ ¦ Golden Age foreign ¦ ¦ women ¦ ¦ ¦ ¦ Saul David Solomon ¦ ------------------------------------- ¦ Ideal King Wisdom ¦ c.1040 931 Promise (House) (2 Sam 7)

Samuel (1 Sam 1-7)

The last judge, and one of the early prophets in Israel's history, was Samuel, the little boy who was brought up by Eli the priest in the tabernacle. His mother Hannah had prayed to God for a child, and when her prayer was answered, had dedicated him to God. Samuel was a very godly man and judged Israel justly. He was also used by God to bring the word of judgement against Eli and his corrupt family, which was fulfilled when the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant and destroyed the site of the sanctuary at Shiloh (1 Sam 4).

We want a King! (1 Sam 8)

As Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges in his place. However, they did not fear God, they were corrupt, and did not judge fairly. The people therefore rejected his sons as their rulers, and asked Samuel to appoint a king to rule over them. They wanted to be like the other nations, and to have a great king to lead them into victory against the Philistines.

This request for a king was seen as rejection of God's rule, and even after Samuel warned them of the consequences of having a king - the taxes, and the forced labour, they persisted with their request.

Saul - the peoples' choice (1 Sam 9-15)

God gave the people a king, a man who seemed an ideal king. He was tall, dark and handsome, and a great warrior. God told Samuel to anoint Saul as king, he was empowered by the Holy Spirit, and he was also chosen by the people. However, Saul was a disaster.

His rule began well, with a significant victory over the Ammonites. However, things began to go wrong. First he disobeyed the law by offering a sacrifice (1 Sam 13:9), which were only permitted to be offered by the priests. Because of this, Samuel declared that Saul's dynasty will not continue. His second sin was to spare Agag, the king of the Amalekites, after God had told him to kill all the Amalekites (1 Sam 15:8). Following this, Samuel declared that his kingdom shall be taken from him.

It is interesting to ask, 'What went wrong?' It does seem that Saul suffered from insecurity and inferiority (1 Sam 15:17), and that he frequently acted rashly and thoughtlessly. However, his most important weakness was that he did not fully trust God, and was not always obedient to him, he was not 'a man after God's heart'.

David - God's choice (1 Sam 16 - 2 Sam 1)

Saul was rejected by God, and David was anointed king in his place. David was the most unlikely king in human eyes, the youngest son who was outside looking after the sheep. However, he was a man after God's heart, who, even though he made mistakes, he continually desired to obey and to put his trust in God.

Following his rejection by God, Saul was tormented by an evil spirit, and David was brought to play music to sooth him. As David grew more and more successful in battle, especially after killing the giant Goliath, Saul became insanely jealous of him and sought to kill him.

David had to run for his life, and many chapters of 1 Samuel describe Saul pursuing David. David gathered a group of people around him, who became his loyal followers and later his senior officials in the nation. David learnt many important lessons while on the run, especially how to trust God for deliverance from his enemies. David wrote many Psalms during this time, in which he declared his trust in God, and often called down God's vengeance on his enemies. This is an example:
The LORD is my rock, my fortress, my deliverer,
my God, my rock in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised,
so I shall be saved from my enemies. (Ps 18:2-3).

Twice David refused to kill Saul when he had the opportunity, refusing to take the law into his own hands, but rather to trust God to deliver him. Finally, both Saul and Jonathan were killed in battle against the Philistines, and 2 Samuel chapter 1 records David's lament for them, "How the mighty have fallen".

David's Kingdom (2 Sam 2-10, 1 Chr 10-12)

After establishing his power over both Judah and Israel, David began to conquer new territory. He conquered many of the surrounding nations, including Edom, Moab, Ammon, and Aram. The northern region of Hamath became part of David's empire by treaty.

Many years before, God had made a promise to Abraham that he would give land to Abraham's descendants that would extend from the river of Egypt, to the great river Euphrates (Gen 15:18). As a result of the conquests by David, this promise to Abraham was fulfilled, the only time that it was completely fulfilled during all of Israel's history. David's reign became the 'Golden Age' of Israel, its most powerful period in all its history. At this time, the surrounding nations of Egypt and Assyria were weak.

Through the rest of the Bible, David is looked back upon as the ideal king. Subsequent kings in Israel's history were compared with David, with good kings being faithful to God just as David was.

Capture of Jerusalem (2 Sam 6, 1 Chr 13-16, 22-26)

Early in his reign, David defeated the Jebusites and captured the city of Jerusalem, making it his capital. With great rejoicing, he led a procession bringing the ark of the covenant into the city (1 Chr 16). He appointed Asaph and the Levites to act as ministers before the Lord, and to lead the worship. Many of the Psalms of praise were written by David and Asaph to be used in the worship of Israel (eg: Ps 30, 145 - 150).

The tale of two "houses" (2 Sam 8, 1 Chr 17)

David believed that it was not right for the LORD still to be dwelling in the old tabernacle, while he was living in a house of cedar. So David desired to build a proper temple for the Lord. God's reply was that instead of David building a house for God, God will build a house for David - a dynasty, and that David's son (Solomon) will build the temple. God made a very important promise to David, that his dynasty will be secure, so that his descendants will always rule over Israel. For 400 years there was always a descendant of David reigning in Jerusalem, until the line was cut off when Judah was exiled to Babylon. There were no more Davidic kings until Jesus the Messiah, the ultimate Son of David came, almost 1000 years after David.

This is the third important covenant in the Old Testament:

With whom? Type of covenant Content
Abraham (Gen 12) PROMISE Land, Descendants, blessing to nations
Moses (Ex 20 - 24) LAW Laws, blessings and cursings
David (2 Sam 8) PROMISE House - king ruling in Jerusalem

Bathsheba (2 Sam 11-12)

The early years of David's reign were continually successful. David was truly faithful to God, and received God's blessing. However, one afternoon David made a great mistake, which had dreadful consequences throughout the rest of his reign. He saw a beautiful lady bathing next door, and called her to him, and slept with her. When he heard that she had become pregnant, David tried to arrange circumstances, so it appeared that her husband, Uriah the Hittite, was the father of the child. However Uriah was not willing to disobey orders, so David arranged for him to be killed in battle. Not only did he covet his neighbour's wife, but he also committed adultery and murder.

God sent Nathan the prophet to David, who told him a very clever story which completely caught David out, and exposed his sin. David responded in repentance, this is expressed in Psalm 51, realising that he deserved death for his adultery and murder, for which no sacrifices would be adequate (Ps 51:16). Instead he called upon the merciful God, who forgave David because of his broken and contrite heart. However, Nathan predicted continual trouble in David's household as a consequence of his dreadful sin. Even though David received God's forgiveness, he was not spared the consequences of his sin.

Amnon and Tamar, and Absalom's rebellion (2 Sam 13-18)

The incident with Bathsheba was a turning-point in David's reign. Before, nothing seemed to go wrong, after it, nothing seemed to go right.

As Nathan predicted, trouble started within David's household. First Amnon, one of David's sons, raped his half-sister, Tamar. Then Tamar's full-brother, Absalom, killed Amnon in revenge. Absalom then fled, and did not come into David's presence for several years. Absalom then began to attract the support of people who were having problems seeking justice, and finally rebelled, by declaring himself king instead of David. David had to leave Jerusalem and flee for his life. When Absalom was eventually killed after getting stuck in a tree, David was heartbroken. David wrote several Psalms during Absalom's rebellion, again calling on God to deliver him from his enemies (eg. Ps 3, 63).

Solomon (1 Kg 1-11, 2 Chr 1-9)

When David was old, he made it clear that he wanted Bathsheba's (second) son, Solomon, to succeed him as king, although he was not the oldest son. After David's death, there was a struggle over the succession to the throne, but Solomon finally secured and consolidated his power.

Early in his reign, God appeared to Solomon in a dream and said he could ask for anything he wanted. He pleased God by asking for a wise and discerning mind so he could rule his people, which God gladly gave him, together with riches and honour.

Solomon became famous for his wisdom, his wisdom was considered to be superior to any other person's in the ancient Near East. People travelled from other nations to listen to and to test Solomon's wisdom, like the Queen of Sheba. Solomon wrote 3000 proverbs, (wise sayings which were observations for living a successful life, many of which are recorded in the Book of Proverbs), and some Psalms. After Solomon, the wise men became more prominent in the life of Israel, and Solomon is looked back upon in later history as the ideal wise man.

Solomon inherited a great kingdom from David, which he consolidated and made more secure. He established an efficient system of administration to collect taxes from the people. His reign was a time of peace, which led to great prosperity, as Israel stood at the crossroads of the ancient world, situated on important trade routes. Solomon encouraged this trade, and made himself and his nation very wealthy.

During his reign, Solomon also carried out great building projects, the most important was the building of the temple, a magnificent building to replace the tabernacle, in fulfilment of the promise God made to David. He made treaties with King Hiram of Tyre to supply labourers and timber for the construction. He also made himself a splendid palace, and several fortified cities to defend his kingdom from enemies.

Unfortunately his building projects contributed to the later disintegration of his kingdom. It seems that Solomon became too extravagant and overspent himself, even having to sell several villages to pay his debts to King Hiram. He also recruited Israelites as slave labour, which created great resentment among the population.

Solomon also consolidated his power by making peace with the surrounding nations. At this time, peace treaties were sealed through a marriage alliance, when the king would marry the daughter of the foreign king. Solomon followed this practice and married many foreign women. Politically, his greatest moment was when he married the daughter of the king of Egypt, as this showed that his empire was of equal power to the great power of Egypt.

Nevertheless, even though these marriage alliances were great political achievements, they led to disaster, because his wives brought all their gods with them, and Solomon began to be led astray by worshipping these foreign gods. God appeared again to him, and declared that because of this unfaithfulness, he will take his kingdom from him. But this will not happen until the days of his son (Rehoboam), and God will leave the tribe of Judah because of the promise to David.

Back in the law of Moses, God had given some rules about when the nation had kings, that they should not make themselves very rich with gold, or horses, or have many wives (Deut 17). Solomon did all three, and ended his life very badly.

The story of Solomon is very sad. He was a godly and wise man, who started off so well, but ended so badly. There is a great challenge for us here. We can begin the Christian life with great enthusiasm while we are still young, but will we be equally if not more zealous for the Lord in our old age?


It is likely that the book of Ecclesiastes was written late in Solomon's life. He had seen everything, done everything, and yet realised that everything in life was useless and pointless and seemed unfair, unless life was lived in the fear of the Lord. This book can be a great challenge to us today, making us see the futility and ultimate pointlessness of our busy lives unless we are living in obedience to God and following his calling on our lives.

The Song of Solomon

Also known as the Song of Songs, meaning the most wonderful song, it was probably written by Solomon. It is a love song between two young people engaged to be married, anticipating their marriage and honeymoon. Using many figures of speech, and some descriptions which can seem rather explicit to us today, they delight in God's gift of their sexual relationship, which is to be enjoyed within the context of marriage.

There is also an important lesson for today, in the refrain, when the bride calls the daughters of Jerusalem not to stir up or awaken love until it is ready (2:7, 8:4). In other words, wait for the right person and the right time before falling in love.

Prev - OT Overview II Next - OT Overview IV

Related articles

I: Creation and Patriarchs II: Exodus and Wilderness
III: Conquest and Monarchy IV: Divided Kingdom and Exile
V: Return from Exile VI: 400 Silent Years

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