Northwest of Eden # 9 – THEOCRATIC KINGDOM (Joshua, Judges and I Samuel)

There were three Israel kingdoms with three distinct governments, theocratic, monarchical and priestly.  The theocratic government of Israel was one of the best and simplest systems the world has ever know.  It was based and guided by ten principles rather than by clever and cunning humans.  Each tribe was self-governing with the Levites, for a tenth, were providing the necessary services.   Joshua led the tribes into Canaan as conquerors and plunderers.  There was nothing humane about the invaders.  In the name of Yahweh, Joshua’s army mowed down the resisting inhabitants as if they were weeds.  Two and one half tribes settled East of the river Jordan and the others in Canaan.  Joshua was a Yahweh loyalist. He served under Moses for forty years and was committed to carry out his teacher’s orders to the letter.  His most difficult task was to remind the people regarding the law of cause and effect; namely, obedience to theocratic laws will yield blessings and disobedience curses (Deut. 11:26-32).  He firmly believed that God had kept every promise and that it was up to the new settlers to claim it.  To do so, they had to remove the conquered people from Canaan so they would not be enticed by them and end up being destroyed.  Joshua warned them not to let any one or anything come between Yahweh and His Laws and themselves (Jos. 23-24).  Joshua’s challenge was similar to what Benjamin Franklin said, “We gave you a Republic; we hope you can keep it.”
Israel’s children were willing spirits, but not at all willing to keep up in the flesh.  Why evict the defeated enemy, if you can use him to do your chores?  It did not take long when the enemies outnumbered their benefactors and they became the masters, not by force but with handsome boys, beautiful girls and colorful parties linked with idol worship.  The Israelites were unaware of loosing their blessings and were falling into the curse.  They were letting the pagans come between themselves and Yahweh and His Laws. The fear of the “I AM” remained in a few and even then, Yahweh had to prove to them that He was still available.  Israel was being destroyed from within and Yahweh sent one of His messengers to remind them of what they had done. “You have disobeyed me.  Why have you done this?  Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be a thorn in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you” (Jud. 2:2-3).  The idols become more than a snare.  Blacksmiths profiteered by making them and the Israelites fought over them (Jud. 17-18).  Immorality and injustice almost destroyed the tribe of Benjamin (Jud. 19-21).  There were no leaders that had the instinct of a Moses or Joshua that could follow Yahweh’s rules.
The generation that experienced the Exodus, the wilderness encounter and the settlement died and the new generation returned to costly paganism.  The Levites that were supposed to be the “in-between” God and His people had also become pagan because they were not receiving the tenth.  Yahweh’s aim to have godly witnesses in the world appeared to have failed.  Instead of destroying the Israelites, as He had intended with Moses, He was angry but also merciful (Ex. 32:10).  Yahweh began to give the delinquents a second chance.  He would no longer deliver them Himself, but through leaders that He would raise up, first judges and later prophets and kings.  The writer of Judges identified the Spirit of the Lord as the One that chose leaders that could raise armies and return the people to theocracy.  That same Spirit began to convict individuals, have them repent and come back to the faith of their fathers.  Henceforth, it was up to every person to decide whom they wanted to follow and serve.  Joshua was initially the first to make such a choice, “But as for me and my household, we shall serve the Lord” (Jos. 24:15).  Henceforth, salvation and restitution began at the bottom and not at the top.  Man’s exposure to Yahweh had to begin at the cradle and not in adulthood (Deut. 11:18-31).  That failure led to the demise of the theocratic system and with it a godly Israel.  It would become like other nations, and by the time of the judges, Israel was nearly absorbed by the Canaanites.
Yahweh’s Spirit activated Othniel, Ehud and Shamgar and they freed Israel from the yoke of their oppressors.   The return to God did not make much of an impression and a lady judge by the name of Deborah provided a more steady godly direction.  Under her leadership, women were braver than men.  After her, Yahweh had to retrain Gideon, an idol worshipper and a trumpet player, by some arm-twisting.  He and three hundred trumpet players drove the Midianites out of their minds and into submission.  His surprising success, almost ended him being elected the first king over Shechem, a community of the tribe of Manasseh and Canaanites; but he preferred to return to his idols, he had himself build for celebrating his victory.  Gideon’s son Joash had fathered seventy sons and one out of wedlock with a Canaanite woman in Shechem and he named him Abimelech.  When he was rejected by his half-brothers, he killed them all and made himself king over Shechem.  He ruled by the sword and died in one of his attacks on a town when a woman dropped a millstone on his head.  During Gideon, Tola and Jair Israel was not invaded for eighty-five years.  There was peace, but no return to Yahweh.  Trying to be like the Canaanites did not make the Israelites into Canaanites.  They were more suppressed than ever.  Yahweh inspired Jephtah to free Israel from the Philistines and Ammonites.  For victory, he vowed that he would sacrifice to the Lord whoever and whatever came out of his home to meet him first.  It was his only daughter that he had to sacrifice on the altar.  He was followed by three uneventful judges: Ibzan, Elon and Abdon.  Samson provided all the drama by marrying popular Philistine women like Delilah so he could fight his enemies.  He was the Israelite Hercules and inflicted misery on the Philistines.  With the help of Delilah, they disarmed, blinded and incarcerated him.  He died with them when his strength returned and he pulled down a huge building that rested on pillars. 
All these judges were deliverers and not reformers.  Yahwehism had completely been suppressed except in Shiloh where a priest by the name of Eli still worshipped and sacrificed to Yahweh.  He became the mentor of a boy called Samuel (I Sam).  Samuel’s mother Hannah was childless for years and she believed that her son was of the Lord and belonged in His service.  Indeed, the lad became second only to Moses.  With the help of Eli, he was able, at a very young age, to feel the Spirit of Yahweh directing him and turn him into the greatest judge Israel ever had.  He led many back to the God that had delivered them from Egypt and he helped free Israel from Canaanite suppression.  As he grew older, his sons did not follow in their father’s shoes, but became unworthy.  The people began to demand a king.  Samuel insisted that Yahweh was their king and a human king would be a cost too enormous to sustain.  God’s Spirit led Samuel to anoint Saul, a Benjamite as the first king.  He began well but ended poorly by disobeying Yahweh.  Saul did not follow Samuel’s instructions and he ended up losing his dignity as a king to a shepherd boy, whom Samuel had to anoint as Saul’s replacement.  Saul had caused his own fall and he took his own life.  With the anointing of David, the third biggest man in Israel’s history, Samuel had installed or given Israel an expensive monarchy.  King David would revive Yahwehism and make it his theocratic base to govern.