Consisting of twenty-four chapters, approximately the first half of the Book of Joshua is an extension of the history recorded in Deuteronomy; the remainder appears to have been added by authors of the Late Priestly History. The story of the conquest of Canaan is told briefly and in a manner that indicates that it was accomplished easily and within a relatively short period of time. The crossing of the Jordan River is attended by Yahweh's miraculous intervention, reminiscent of the crossing of the Red Sea that followed the Exodus from Egypt. In commemoration of the Jordan River crossing, twelve stones are taken from the river bed and erected as a monument. The first city to be attacked is Jericho, where the walls tumble down at the moment when trumpet blasts are heard. Because Achan steals a wedge of gold and a fine Babylonian garment, the Hebrews fail to capture the city of Ai. Not until punishment is meted out for Achan's sin does the city fall into the Hebrews' hands.
Joshua, in accordance with the instruction that he receives, gathers representatives of all the people in one place and delivers to them the statutes and ordinances given by Moses. In a battle with the Gibeonites, Joshua commands the sun and moon to stand still, with the result that the day is lengthened, thus enabling Joshua's forces to achieve a remarkable victory over their enemies. The latter chapters of the book describe the division of the land among the various tribes. The authors of this book were evidently interested in personalities. They had a very high regard for Joshua, ranking him as second only to Moses. The farewell address that this hero delivers before all Israel praises Yahweh for the victories that he has given and counsels the people to remain faithful to the god who has already done so much in their behalf.
Really a continuation of the history in Joshua, the Book of Judges' central theme is the settlement in the land of Canaan, a period that preceded the establishment of the monarchy. Although the leaders of the people were known as judges, their chief function was not that of deciding cases of law but rather providing political and military leadership in times of crises. These crises occurred one after another in rapid succession, indicating quite clearly that after the death of Joshua, the situation that the Israelites faced was chaotic. Whenever conditions became intolerable, a leader would arise and deliver his people from the hands of the enemy. But the victory would never bring about anything more than temporary relief. Within a short time, a new crisis would develop and the cycle of events would be repeated. The first judge, or deliverer, was Othniel, who brought victory to the Israelites after they suffered eight years of oppression by the king of Mesopotamia. Then came Ehud, who delivered his people from the Moabites. Deborah, both a judge and a prophet, sent out a call to the various tribes to unite in a battle against the Canaanites. Responding to her call, the Israelites defeated the armies of Sisera at a battle at Megiddo. Gideon was another judge who delivered the people of Israel, this time from the Midianites. The story of Gideon is related at considerable length, for he is regarded as one of the better judges. As a result of his activities, the land is said to have had rest for a period of forty years. Jephthah was the judge who made a vow to Yahweh: If Yahweh would grant him victory in his war with the Ammonites, Jephthah would offer as a sacrifice whatever first came out of his house on his return home. The victory was achieved, and on his way home, he was met first by his own daughter. With great emotion, he told her of his vow and shortly thereafter carried it out.
Samson, one of the more prominent judges, tricked the Philistines on several occasions. At one time, he slew thousands of them with the jawbone of an ass. His affair with Delilah, who betrayed him to the Philistines, cost him his eyesight, but ultimately he was restored to Yahweh's favor and was able to pull down the temple that housed the Philistine god Dagon. Many other judges are mentioned, and some interesting stories are related concerning a few of them. The historian of this period was convinced that Israel should have had a different type of leadership and expresses this attitude in these words: "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit."
1 and 2 Samuel
The two books of Samuel record an important transition in political organization. The period of the judges came to an end with Samuel, who is also referred to as a seer and a prophet, and who anointed Saul to be the first king of Israel. The history of the monarchy contained in these books is believed to have been compiled during the reign of King Josiah of Judah. Because of the reformation that he inaugurated, Josiah was regarded as a great king. Under his leadership, the aspirations for Israel's future hopefully would soon be realized, for it seemed reasonable enough to suppose that Israel's troubles during the early period of the settlement in Canaan were due to the fact that the people had no king to rule over them, at least according to certain parts of Samuel. However, the story as we have it now is a bit confusing because the compiler of Samuel used some source materials that express an opposite idea. We are told that the establishment of the monarchy was a great achievement, but we also read that it was Israel's greatest mistake. According to the latter view, Samuel warned his people of the dangers involved in having a king, and only after their persistent demands did Yahweh relent and allow them to have their own way.
Because the career of Samuel marks an important transition point in the history of the Hebrew people, many stories concerning him are preserved. In 1 Samuel, we read that even before Samuel was born, he was dedicated to Yahweh. His birth was a miraculous event, for his mother, Hannah, had been childless. While only a small boy, Samuel was taken to the home of Eli, a priest, so that he might be reared under influences that would prepare him for his future work. One night, Yahweh called to Samuel and spoke a message of reproof that Samuel was to deliver to Eli. On another occasion, when the elders of Israel gathered for a consultation concerning their political future, they called upon Samuel to select someone to be anointed as king, but here we have two conflicting accounts: According to one account, Samuel protested vigorously against a movement of this kind; in the other account, Saul arrived at Samuel's house after a prolonged search for his father's lost animals, but Samuel was warned in advance of Saul's coming, and knowing that Yahweh's chosen leader was before him, Samuel made arrangements for him to be anointed as king. The brief account of Saul's reign also appears to be based on conflicting source materials. The most probable explanation for this conflict is that these sources were written by both supporters and detractors of the idea of a monarchy for Israel. Saul's disobedience in sparing the life of the Amalekite king, along with animals that were offered as sacrifices, was bitterly denounced by Samuel. This failure on the part of Saul is used as an introduction to the story of David. Samuel, in response to instruction that he received from Yahweh, went to the home of a certain Jesse who had several sons, one of whom was to be selected as king in place of Saul. David, although the youngest of Jesse's sons, was chosen. Eventually Saul became jealous of David, and his antagonism is illustrated in a number of different stories. 1 Samuel closes with an account of the war with the Philistines and Saul's tragic death on Mount Gilboa.
2 Samuel is concerned almost entirely with the career of David. An excerpt from the Book of Yashur the Upright reports a eulogy spoken by David in commemoration of Saul and Jonathan. An account is given of the way in which David was made king first over Judah and later over all of Israel. The story of Abner, Saul's trusted general, is followed by a short poem, in which David expresses lamentation over the way in which Abner met his death. We are told how David captured the city of Jerusalem and made it the headquarters of his kingdom, how the ark was brought to Jerusalem, and how David achieved many victories. David's sin against Uriah is reported, as is the way in which he was reproved by Nathan the prophet. Absalom's rebellion is narrated at considerable length, and the book ends with the story of David's sin in numbering the people of Israel.
The history that is recorded in these historical writings represents the points of view of post-exilic writers. In their accounts of the events that followed the entrance of the Hebrews into the land of Canaan, the writers were influenced by the religious ideals and practices current at the time when they lived. The primary purpose of the history is not to preserve an accurate record of what happened in the past but rather to emphasize the religious lessons that are illustrated in the course of events. The Deuteronomic law of the Central Sanctuary, the regulations embodied in the Holiness Code, and the detailed instructions of the Priests Code were considered extremely important for the preservation of the Hebrew religion. By projecting these ideals and institutions back to the early history of the Hebrew people, the writers intended to show that such codes and laws were not innovations invented by contemporary priests but rather were continuations of principles recognized as far back as the time of Moses. Further support for these institutions was provided by showing that the course of Hebrew history was determined primarily by the attitude of these people with regard to the requirements specified in these codes.
In writing their history, these Old Testament authors made use of older source materials, including the Book of the Wars of Yahweh, the Book of Yashur the Upright, "The Song of Deborah," and other fragments of the early literature available to them. The primitive character of some of these sources is understandable given that they were produced in an earlier age, going back as far as the period of the united kingdom and in some instances even earlier than that, which helps explain in part the strange and barbaric stories that are incorporated into the history. Actions that would not have been condoned at all in later times are related without any apparent censure or blame. In their original form, these sources represent a period of Hebrew history that preceded the teachings of the great prophets and the corresponding development of ethical ideals.
Because these sources were produced by men who held opposing views about such institutions as the establishment of the monarchy, we can see why conflicting accounts of the same event are found side by side in the Old Testament history. In some instances, two different accounts are presented without any attempt to reconcile the disagreements. At other times, explanatory passages inserted by editors and copyists in an attempt to harmonize the accounts with one another are detectable. Despite these conflicts, throughout this history the underlying conception of a moral order characterizes the historical process. This moral order in the historic process illustrates what the Hebrew writers believed to be the divine element in history. Obedience to Yahweh's commands was certain to cause consequences quite different from the ones that were sure to follow disobedience of these same commands. To the prophetic historians, either obeying or disobeying Yahweh's directives meant choosing between life and death, respectively.