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15th FEBRUARY, RESPONSORIAL PSALM (PSALM 105)

R. O Lord, remember us
out of the love you have for your people.

1. Our sin is the sin of our fathers;
we have done wrong, our deeds have been evil.
Our fathers when they were in Egypt
paid no heed to your wonderful deeds. (R.)

2. They fashioned a calf at Horeb
and worshipped an image of metal,
exchanging the God who was their glory
for the image of a bull that eats grass. (R.)

3. They forgot the God who was their saviour,
who had done such great things in Egypt,
such portents in the land of Ham,
such marvels at the Red Sea. (R.)

ALLELUIA

Alleluia, alleluia!
Man does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Alleluia!

 
 

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15th FEBRUARY, BIBLE READING (1 KINGS 12:26-32; 13:33-34)

JEROBOAM MADE TWO GOLDEN CALVES.

Jeroboam thought to himself, “As things are, the kingdom will revert to the House of David. If this people continues to go up to the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices, the people’s heart will turn back again to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will put me to death.”

So the king thought this over and then made two golden calves; he said to the people, “You have been going up to Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods, Israel; these brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” He set up one in Bethel and the people went in possession all the way to Dan in front of the other. He set up the temple of the high places and appointed priests from ordinary families, who were not of the sons of Levi. Jeroboam also instituted a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth of the month, like the feast that was kept in Judah, and he went up to the altar.

That was how he behaved in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves he had made; and at Bethel he put the priests of the high places he had established.

Jeroboam did not give up his wicked ways after this incident, but went on appointing priests for the high places from the common people. He consecrated as priests of the high places any who wished to be. Such conduct made the House of Jeroboam a sinful House, and caused its ruin and extinction from the face of the earth.

V. The word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.

 
 

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“WE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT MONEY – SO WHY IS IT DESCRIBED AS ‘TAINTED’?”

QUESTION:

“I think you will agree we can’t live without money. So why is money sometimes described as tainted?

ANSWER:

It is described as being tainted because we are always tempted to surrender to its attractive force, to worship it and not God.

God or money must come first. We cannot be the slave of God and money. Money is only a means and not an end in itself.

Sadly for so many in the world today, money has become a God, something to be worshipped before all else. Christ tells us to store up treasures for ourselves in heaven.”
– This article was published in “Saint Martin Magazine” issue January 2005. For subscriptions please visit http://www.stmartin.ie (external link).

 
 

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932 B.C. – THE PERIOD OF THE TWO KINGDOMS IN THE BIBLE EXPLAINED: I. THE KINGDOM OF ISRAEL

THE HEAVY TAX YOKE KING SOLOMON HAD IMPOSED ON THE KINGDOM

“The splendid achievement of King Solomon brought great glory to the people of Israel, and his reign would be long remembered with nostalgia as a time of great glory for the nation. But the splendour of his time was bought at a great price. He did not add sufficiently to the resources left him by David to achieve his great projects without imposing on his people a tax and labour burden which aroused great resentment.

REVOLT

As a consequence Roboam, his successor, found himself ruling a discontented people. They asked him to relieve them of the heavy yoke that Solomon had placed upon them. Roboam, refusing to listen to the sage advice of the elders of the kingdom, refused.

Ten of the tribes – all except Juda and Benjamin – rose in revolt and elected Jeroboam, a former official under Solomon, king of the new kingdom of Israel. The portion of the old kingdom remaining to Roboam became known as the kingdom of Juda. This division of the kingdom took place in the year 932 B.C.

A STEADY PROGRESS TOWARD DISASTER

The subsequent history of the two kingdoms of Juda and Israel is, on the whole, a steady progress toward disaster. In the political and military spheres they found themselves slowly destroyed between the crushing rivalries of the great empires of Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia.

Unable to reach any permanent unification of their forces for the protection of all the Chosen People of God, they embarked upon a course of political and military intrigues, now allied with one another, now opposed to one another; now allied with other petty states against Assyria; now allied with Assyria against Egypt, or with Egypt against Assyria. Almost always these alliances brought more harm to the Chosen People, until both kingdoms were destroyed.

In 721 the kingdom of Israel fell and its people were led into captivity by the Assyrians. In 586 the kingdom of Juda fell and its people were led into captivity by the Babylonians.

A NECESSARY PREPARATION OF THE PEOPLE FOR THE COMING OF SALVATION

If this were the whole history of these times, we would have concluded that God’s plan to save the world through the Chosen People had failed. The strength of His love had been squandered uselessly on the weakness of men.

But at this time the phenomenon of prophetism was sent to Israel by God to correct the errors of the people and to lay the foundation of hope for the future. In the light of the teaching of the prophets this unfortunate period in the life of Israel can be seen as a necessary preparation of the people and of the world for the coming of salvation.

THE ROLE OF GOD’S PROPHETS

The Hebrew prophets were men raised up by God to speak to the Chosen People in God’s name. It was their mission to speak against the errors of the kings, priests and people. In fulfilling this mission they extolled trust in Jahweh and denounced the purely human [worldly] policy of seeking safety through political and military alliances. They urged the simple worship of Jahweh, and condemned the infiltration of idolatry into the religious life of the people. They castigated the abuses of justice and the luxuriousness of the people. But they also promised ultimate victory to Jahweh and His people.

HISTORIC CONTEXT

To perceive the universal significance of their message we must consider it in its historical context. For this purpose we shall consider first the history of the schismatic kingdom of Israel, and then that of the Davidic kingdom of Juda.

GOLDEN CALVES WERE PLACED IN BETHEL AND IN DAN

The first disastrous consequence of the rebellion of the ten tribes was the destruction of the religious unity of the people. The attempt of David and Solomon to secure religious unity by centralising worship at. Jerusalem – an attempt already dramatically successful at the completion of Solomon’s great Temple in Jerusalem – became a failure through the division of the kingdom.

A religious unity of divided peoples, a unity made real by the centralisation of divine worship at Jerusalem, would be a constant threat to the powers of the schismatic kings of Israel.

With more political foresight than devotion to Jahweh, Jeroboam, the first ruler of the kingdom of Israel, established two centres of worship for his kingdom, one at Bethel and the other in Dan. Unfortunately the ever present tendency of the people to debase the true worship demanded by Jahweh manifested itself at once. Though Jeroboam designated these two centres as places of worship of Jahweh, he adulterated the Mosaic religion by placing, both in Bethel and in Dan, golden calves to represent Jahweh.

THE WARNING OF THE PROPHET AHIAS REGARDING THE GOLDEN CALVES

At the command of Jahweh, Ahias, a prophet, told the wife of Jeroboam that the kingdom would be taken from his dynasty because of this disobedience to God’s command to make no graven image of Himself. After a reign of two years, Nadab, the son of Jeroboam, was slain by Baasa, who then reigned for twenty-four years. Baasa’s long reign was unusual in the kingdom of Israel. The tradition of revolt inaugurated by Jeroboam became a characteristic of the northern kingdom. Ela, the son of Baasa, reigned two years before he was overthrown by Zimri, who, in turn, was replaced by Omri.

WORSHIP TO THE TRUE GOD WAS NOW IN GRAVE DANGER OF EXTINCTION

Politically Omri was a good king. He probably avoided difficulty with the Assyrians by paying tribute to the Assyrian monarch Ashur-nasir-pal II. He seems to have subdued Moab. He maintained friendly relations with Ethbaal, king of Tyre, and arranged the marriage of his son Achab to Jezabel, daughter of Ethbaal.

Under his son Achab, the Phoenician Jezabel encouraged the worship of the Baal of Tyre and persecuted the faithful followers of Jahweh. A temple was built to Baal at Samaria, the capital of the kingdom, and maintained at the expense of the royal treasury.

At this time, when the worship of the true God was in grave danger of extinction, God sent the prophet Elias to defend Jahwism.

THE PROPHET ELIAS APPEARS

Elias prophesied that God would send a severe drought to punish Achab and Israel for their idolatrous worship of Baal. In the year 857 B.C. the drought occurred. As the drought lasted until late in the year 856, Achab was impressed and agreed to a trial of power between Baal and Jahweh. In accordance with the wish of Elias, the prophets of Baal – over four hundred in number – and the people assembled on Mount Carmel for the trial.

ONLY OUR GOD REIGNS, ALWAYS, FOR EVER & EVER

A bullock was given to the prophets of Baal and a bullock to Elias. The prophets of Baal placed their bullock upon sticks of wood for burning. Elias then said to the people: ‘How long do you halt between two sides? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him… Call ye on the names of your gods, and I will call on the name of my Lord: and the God that shall answer, let him be God’ (1 Kings 18:21, 24).

The prophets of Baal prayed and performed their rites in vain. The wood for their holocaust would not ignite. Then Elias placed his bullock on a pile of wood and drenched the sacrifice and the wood with water, and called upon Jahweh. ‘The fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the holocaust’ (1 Kings 18:38). At once the people cried out their allegiance to Jahweh, and they killed the prophets of Baal. After this, God sent rain to relieve the drought.

STERN MEASURES AGAINST THE WORSHIP OF BAAL

But even this pointed lesson did not destroy completely the debased religious practices of the house of Omri. Under Joram, the son and second successor of Achab, the prophet Eliseus arranged to have Jehu, one of the captains of Joram’s army, anointed king as a punishment for the destruction of God’s true prophets by Achab and Jezabel.

Jehu took stern measures against the worship of Baal. But he did not destroy the idolatrous worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan.

Jeroboam II, the great-grandson of Jehu, ruled for forty-one years (784-744 B.C.) and restored the kingdom of Israel to a position of strength and prosperity. But after his reign the kingdom declined steadily.

THE GOLDEN CALVES REMAINED IN PLACE

His son Zacharias was murdered after a rule of only six months. He was succeeded by Sellum, who in turn was murdered by Menahem. Menahem became a vassal king to Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria. The kingdom was thus embroiled in the struggles between Assyria and Egypt. Peqahia, son of Menahem, was murdered by a group of conspirators who favoured Egypt over Assyria.

THE KINGDOM DECLINED STEADILY

He was succeeded by Peqah, who entered into an alliance with Rasin, king of Damascus, against Assyria. Failing to induce the kingdom of Juda to enter the alliance with them so as to insure help from Egypt against Assyria, they besieged Jerusalem. This led Achaz, king of Juda, to appeal for help to Tiglath-Pileser. In the year 732 the Assyrians defeated Rasin and Peqah. The tribes of Nephtali and of the Transjordan were transported to Assyria.

An Israelite named Osee killed Peqah and aSsumed the crown. While nominally subject to Assyria, he seems to have intrigued with the Pharaoh of Egypt against Salmanassar V. When the Assyrian monarch learned of this he made Osee his prisoner. But in Samari the people continued to resist the Assyrians. Salmanassar laid siege to the city in 724.

THE ORIGIN OF THE SAMARITANS, AND WHY THEY WERE DIFFERENT

In 721 Sargon, successor to Salmanassar, took Samaria and deported over 27,000 inhabitants of the kingdom of Israel to distant regions in the empire of Assyria. Other races conquered by the Assyrians were imported into Israel. While these new peoples, in accordance with the customs of the time, worshipped Jahweh, they continued to worship their own gods also. As a result there arose in Israel that people known as the Samaritans, a people of mixed religious beliefs and practices.

THE PROPHETS AMOS AND HOSEA EXPLAIN THE MEANING OF THE FALL OF THE KINGDOM OF ISRAEL

The meaning of the fall of the kingdom of Israel is given to us in the message of the prophets Amos and Osee [Hosea] sent by God to the kingdom of Israel in the last years of the kingdom. According to both prophets the kingdom of Israel was forgotten by God because of her sins. The people of Israel have sinned against justice, oppressed the poor, sought the riches of this world, rather than the friendship of their God. In their pursuit of the riches, pleasures and power of this world they have relied upon political alliances rather than on Jahweh. Desirous of material prosperity they have worshipped the false gods of the land in which they dwelt and so have become unfaithful to Jahweh. According to Amos they would not pay heed to the blessings or the chastisements sent them by Jahweh. They became incorrigible in their faithlessness. As a consequence both prophets foretell the destruction of the kingdom and the captivity of the people in Assyria. But, as Osee [Hosea] points out, the captivity will be a blessing, for the people thus humiliated will see the error of their ways, they will give up the worship of the false god Baal and will return to the worship of Jahweh, the true God. Then God will lead them out of captivity and will restore them to their native land.

GOD REMAINS FAITHFUL

The teaching of Osee [Hosea] in particular sheds new light on the relationship which God desires with man. Osee portrays God as the loving Spouse of Israel, and Israel as the faithless wife of God. The covenant of God with His people, then, is not simply a contract founded on justice. It is a union of love which God desires. He will be not simply the Lord of His people but their loving Spouse. And His love for His spouse is so great that even though she is unfaithful to Him and enters into sinful relations with other and false gods, still God will remain faithful to His love for her. Her chastisement will be heavy and painful, but it will be administered by love and will bring about her return to her true husband.

ISRAEL JOURNEYING FROM THE WORLDLY OUTLOOK TO THE TRULY SPIRITUAL

This portrayal of God as the Spouse of Israel and the prophet’s castigation of the worldliness of the Israelites and his teaching that God desires mercy and not sacrifice show that Israel had not appreciated the true spirituality of the religion of Moses. They had regarded their covenant with Jahweh simply as a means to temporal [material] advantage, and they had sought this advantage in a purely external worship of their God. Osee, in the portrayal of God as their Spouse and of themselves as God’s unfaithful wife, emphasises the truth that God will be bound to His people by love, the total and faithful love which obtains between husband and wife. God wishes to be worshipped not only externally but internally with the love of the spirit. This is the great lesson of the prophets of Israel.”
– Martin J. Healy, 1959

 

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PRAYERS ANSWERED: GOD GRANTS THE ISRAELITES THEIR WISH WHEN THEY ASK FOR KINGS DUE TO LACK OF FAITH IN HIM…

THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MANKIND AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE MONARCHY OF THE ISRAELITES

SAMUEL

“The last of the great Judges of Israel was Samuel, the son of Hannah and Elcana. He defended his people against the encroachments of the Philistines. His influence, however, was felt chiefly in the matter of religion. By his teaching and exhortations he induced the people to give up the worship of the Canaanite gods, Baal and Astarte, and to worship Jahweh alone.

But in his old age he entrusted the power of the judgeship to his sons Joel and Abia. They lacked the virtue and integrity of their father and regarded their power as a means to acquire personal wealth rather than a sacred trust. Besides, the Philistines became an increasingly dangerous threat to the Chosen People. The leaders of the people came to Samuel and asked him to give them a king, a king such as ruled among other peoples.

WORLDLY VIEWPOINT

From a purely human point of view the request must have seemed reasonable. The Chosen People must have observed the stabilising and unifying influence of the institution of kingship among their neighbours. They will have seen also the political and military advantages which a single ruler and government might produce for them.

A LACK OF FAITH IN GOD’S PROVIDENCE

But, on the other hand, their desire for a human king to rule over them betrayed a lack of faith in the providence of God. Samuel was quick to perceive this and to point out to the leaders of the people the disadvantages of royalty. He told them that kings would levy taxes, draft men for military service and subject the people generally to forced labour. But the people persisted in their desire to be ruled by a king.

KING SAUL

Following God’s instructions Samuel anointed Saul, the son of Cis, of the tribe of Benjamin, and the people acknowledged Saul as their king. For a time Saul was a good king. But his disobedience to God made him displeasing to God, and God chose David, son of Jesse, of the tribe of Juda to be his successor.

KING DAVID

Samuel secretly anointed David as king of the Chosen People. In this way the blessing which Jacob had given to Juda [Judah] was realised, and the channel of salvation was narrowed down to the family of David. [Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of all mankind was to be born in Flesh to the Virgin Mary and her spouse Joseph of the ancestry of David.]

In a war with the Philistines the Israelites were defeated and Saul and Jonathan were slain. David returned to Hebron in Juda. There the men of Juda chose David to be king of the tribe of Juda. Isboseth, the son of Saul, under the tutelage of Abner, one of Saul’s generals, began to rule over the other tribes of Israel. In the struggle for power which ensued, David was triumphant. At the age of thirty he was recognised as king by all the tribes of Israel.

DAVID’S PLANS TO BUILD A TEMPLE

During his reign he forced the Philistines back to the plain of Philistia, defeated the Ammonites, the Aramaeans, the Moabites and put them under tribute. He also conquered Edom and gave the Israelites access to the Red Sea. He also seized Jerusalem from the Jebusites and made it the capital of his kingdom.

David also made Jerusalem the religious centre of his kingdom by bringing there the Ark of the Covenant. It was his intention to build a temple for divine worship. But on being advised by the prophet Nathan that it was God’s will that David’s son rather than David himself should build the temple, David contented himself with the task of gathering the materials for the temple.

KING SOLOMON

After ruling forty years, seven in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem, David died and Solomon succeeded to the throne. Solomon inherited from David, his father, a strong kingdom. He increased its strength in several ways: he married a daughter of the Pharaoh of Egypt and so increased his own prestige; he continued his father’s friendship with Hiram, the king of Tyre; with Hiram’s assistance he built a fleet and sent it on trading expeditions which brought him much gold; he seems also to have developed remarkably the iron industry of his country; he strengthened his army by the addition of 1,400 chariots and 4,000 horses.

SOLOMON BUILDS THE TEMPLE

But the most lasting achievement of his reign was the building of the great temple at Jerusalem. From Hiram of Tyre Solomon hired skilled workmen. They were assisted by the enforced labour of thirty-thousand Israelites and one hundred and fifty-three thousand six hundred Canaanites. The Temple was built between the years 961 and 955 B.C.

When it was completed Solomon brought the Ark of the Covenant to the Temple. Then the Temple was solemnly dedicated with numerous sacrifices.

SOLOMON’S GROWING LOVE FOR WORLDLY LIFESTYLE AND WOMEN

Solomon himself imitated the style of the Oriental monarchs of his time. He built magnificent palaces for himself and his harem of wives and concubines. He maintained a large staff of servants and retainers to serve the royal household. The kingdom was organised chiefly to support the king’s army and extravagant expenditures.

But his marriage to foreign women proved to be his downfall. At the beginning of his reign he was faithful to Jahweh, the one true God. But later on his foreign wives induced him to build temples for false gods. He himself worshipped Astarte and Moloch. God became angry with him and told him that because of his sin his kingdom would be divided after his death and his son would inherit only a small part of the kingdom.

CHANGES IN INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS STRAIN FOREIGN RELATIONS

As a consequence, at the end of the reign of Solomon, the signs portending the dissolution of the kingdom became apparent. A new Pharaoh replaced the father of Solomon’s wife and he gave shelter to the enemies of Solomon, especially Jeroboam, who as later to seize most of the kingdom from Roboam, Solomon’s son.

MOUNTING INTERNAL POLITICAL PROBLEMS

In addition, the people became restless under the great exactions in money and service and tithes which Solomon laid upon them. But, for the sake of David, his father, Solomon was allowed by God to rule the kingdom until his death.

AT ALL TIMES RELATIVELY BACKWARD KINGDOM

The reigns of David and Solomon, from the purely human point of view, mark the period of Israel’s greatest glory. During their reigns the kingdom is one and reaches its greatest geographical extension. Their power is acknowledged by other peoples, and nations pay tribute to them.

Still, it must be admitted that the kingdom of David and Solomon did not rank with the great empires of their own or any other time. They were never so large or so powerful as the empires of the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Medes and the Persians, the Greeks or the Romans. Nor did they reach the cultural level in the arts and crafts of the other peoples of the surrounding lands. Even Solomon had to import foreign sailors to man his fleets and navigate them successfully. To build the Temple he had to import workmen from Tyre.

THE COVENANT WITH THE HOUSE OF DAVID

But the true greatness of their kingdom is found elsewhere. It is found in the covenant which God made with the house of David. When David desired to build a temple for the Ark of the Covenant, Nathan the prophet told him that God wished the son of David to build the temple. But he also told David that his son would establish a house that would remain forever.

And later, at the end of Solomon’s reign, the prophet Ahias told Jeroboam that God had chosen him to rule over ten of the tribes of Israel, but that God had also said: ‘to his (Solomon’s) son, I will give one tribe: that there may remain a lamp for my servant David before me always in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen, that my name might be there’ (2 Kings 11:36). It is God’s intention that the throne of David shall remain forever. This means that both Israel and the world shall be saved through the house of David. The line of God’s plan to save men runs from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, through Juda to David. This would seem to indicate also that while the world of man is to be saved through the Chosen People, it will be saved possibly by one individual.

DAVID’S KINDLINESS AND MILDNESS

This great honour is given to David because he was pleasing to God. His faith in Jahweh was very great and he never wavered in his service to his God. Unlike Solomon and later kings David never fell into idolatry, not even during his exile among the Philistines. He followed God’s commands as they were transmitted to him by Nathan, God’s prophet. So great was his reverence for the things of God that he would not even try to injure Saul, God’s anointed king. More than once, when Saul was in his power he let Saul go uninjured. After Saul’s death he brought Saul’s son Mephiboseth to live in his own palace. He wished to build a temple to honour God. But when Nathan told him that this was not God’s wish he contented himself with gathering the materials for its construction and allowed the great honour of building it to go to his son Solomon. He centralised the worship of Jahweh by bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. So great was his joy at bringing God’s dwelling place to Jerusalem, his capital, that he himself danced and sang in the procession before the Ark. And this he did with no thought of catering to human respect [what people thought]. The simplicity and sincerity of his soul in this action is made clear by the attitude of his wife Michol, the daughter of Saul. When she saw David dancing before the Ark she despised him because she felt that he had demeaned himself by acting not as a king but as a hired singer. David, however, seems to have felt that even a king cannot demean himself by doing honour to God.

Moreover, in David God found a model of that kindliness and mildness which He Himself practised towards men. David stands out among the Oriental kings of his time for the mildness of his treatment of his enemies. He spared Saul, his mortal enemy. He extended mercy and kindness to the relatives of Saul, even though their continued existence was a menace to his own rule. He was merciful, perhaps even, as some think, to the point of weakness, to his own sons when they challenged his authority. He wished even to spare the life of Absalom, who rebelled against him and attempted to seize his throne.

DAVID’S GRAVE SIN AND SOUL-STIRRED REPENTANCE

It is true that David had some human weaknesses. He committed adultery with Bethsabee, the wife of Urias, and tried to conceal it by arranging for the death of Urias. But though his crime was great, his repentance was greater, and he immortalised it in the soul-stirred hymn of repentance, the Miserere (Psalm 50): ‘Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy mercy; according to thy great clemency blot out my iniquity…’

As we see in this Psalm, David repented bitterly and humbly his great crime. But he trusted the mercy and the love of God. Moreover he realised the truth of what Samuel had told Saul, that God preferred obedience to sacrifice, a humble and contrite heart to whole-burnt offerings. He perceived clearly what other monarchs of his time did not, that God preferred the gift of man’s heart to gifts of animals and grain. Briefly David saw that religion must not only be external but also internal. Man’s external acts of religion must proceed from a love of God in the will of man. And in return for God’s love David sang many Psalms in praise of God. In fact so great was his reputation as a singer of praise to God that the Chosen People gave him credit for composing all the psalms in the Book of Psalms, even though many of them were composed by other psalmist.

THROUGH DAVID’S DYNASTY GOD WILL SAVE MEN FROM THEMSELVES

As for the Chosen People themselves, during this period of their history we see in them a strong desire for national unity as opposed to tribal particularism. This feeling for national unity no doubt strengthened their allegiance to Jahweh, and so we find them forsaking the worship of Baal and Astarte and clinging only to the service of the one true God.

It is clear that their desire for a king was due to a lack of faith in God and to their desire to imitate their neighbours, in a word, to human respect. But God, who realised this, was patient. He acceded to their request and gave them a king and a kingdom. But He turned their desires to His own loving purpose. He will make the dynasty of David everlasting, and through that dynasty He will save men from themselves.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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WHAT HAPPENED IN “THE LAND WHERE MILK AND HONEY FLOWS”?

THE CONQUEST OF THE PROMISED LAND

“At Mount Sinai God entered into an agreement with the people of Israel. This agreement or covenant we know as the Old Testament. We call it the “Old” Testament to distinguish it from the New Testament established by Jesus Christ. At the time the Old Testament was made between God and the Israelites the people did not clearly understand that it was to be but the forerunner for a new and lasting covenant between God and all the nations of the world.

THE OLD COVENANT

They did understand that God had chosen them from all the peoples of the world to be His own peculiar people. ‘… Thou art a holy people to the Lord thy God. The Lord thy God hath chosen thee, to be his peculiar people of all the peoples that are upon the earth’ (Deuteronomy 7:6). They were told also that it was not their own merit which explained God’s choice. ‘Not because you surpass all nations in number, is the Lord joined to you, and hath chosen you: for you are the fewest of any people’ (Deuteronomy 7:7). They were told that they were chosen simply because God loved them with a special love: ‘because the Lord hath loved them’ (Deuteronomy 7:8).

On their part they entered into the covenant because they had faith in God. He had shown them His almighty power. He has redeemed them from bondage in Egypt and had protected them against the wrath of the Pharaoh. He had fed them miraculously in the wilderness. He had let them hear His voice. He had come to dwell in their midst. As a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night He led them through the desert. In acknowledgement of His power and His presence, in gratitude for His blessings and in anticipation of the land He had promised to them, the people of Israel entered into their covenant with God.

DESIRE FOR MATERIAL COMFORT COUPLED WITH LACK OF FAITH IN GOD’S PROMISE

It would be pleasant to report that the Israelites remained completely faithful to their bargain. Unfortunately this was not the truth. The divine will for man’s salvation was still to engage in a long struggle with the weak rebellious will of man before the glory of God’s plan could be more clearly revealed. The subsequent history of the Israelites presents us with the picture of this struggle.

DELAYS DUE TO THE WEAK REBELLIOUS WILL OF MAN

At first, as always, it was the desire for material comfort which weakened the fidelity of the people. They complained of the hardships of their march from Mount Sinai.

They began to remember with longing the delights of the land of Egypt where they had dwelt. Their slavery in Egypt appeared to them more pleasant than their God-given freedom in the wilderness. Discouraged by the bleakness of their lives they were only too ready to believe that the land of Canaan was too strongly defended for them to conquer it. Their lack of faith in God’s promise to them brought swift punishment. God decreed that no man over twenty, except Caleb and Josue (Joshua), who had trusted His word, should enter the promised land.

LACK OF FAITH IN GOD LEADS TO FRUITLESS WANDERING IN LIFE

As a result of this punishment the Chosen People spent forty years wandering in the wilderness. Little is told us of the happenings of these years. Who can imagine truly the feelings of these men who knew that their own lack of faith had condemned them to long years of fruitless wandering?

QUESTIONING THE AUTHORITY GIVEN BY GOD

But memory is short, and children are impatient both of the sins and the wisdom of their elders. Sacred Scripture tells us how even during this time of punishment the growing generation rebelled against the divine authority.

Some, like Core, refused to recognise the divinely instituted priestly authority of Aaron and his descendants. ‘Let it be enough for you,’ they said to Aaron, ‘that the multitude consists of holy ones, and the Lord is among them. Why lift you up yourselves above the people of the Lord?’ (Numbers 16:3). Others, like Dathan and Abiron, would not acknowledge the civil authority of Moses.

A DETOUR FOR SECURITY REASONS

Toward the end of the period of forty years of wandering the people were encamped near Cades. The time had come to enter the land of promise. Moses requested the permission of the Edomites for the Israelites and their flocks to pass peacefully through Edom on their way to Canaan. But the permission was refused. Choosing not to fight with the Edomites, the people went south, intending to move eastward farther south, and then ascend northward, thus going around the land of the Edomites.

‘A STAR SHALL RISE OUT OF JACOB…’

During this march toward Canaan a curious incident occurred. Balac, king of the Moabites, fearing the advancing Israelites, sent for Balaam, a soothsayer or magician from Mesopotamia. He desired Balaam to curse the Israelites. But, moved by Jahweh, Balaam blessed them instead, saying: ‘A star shall rise out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel’ (Numbers 24:17). In this way God renewed His promise to His Chosen People.

MOSES DIES

When the people were within sight of the Promised Land, Moses, their great leader, died. His authority passed on to Josue [Joshua]. Josue led the invasion of the land of Canaan. His military career opened with the dramatic and surprising capture of the walled town of Jericho.

THE CONQUEST OF JERICHO

Before proceeding to the siege of Jericho the people renewed the practice of circumcision, the sign which bound the people to God. They also celebrated the feast of the Pasch and the unleavened bread, recalling to themselves how the power of God had saved them in Egypt. After this Josue invested the city of Jericho. At God’s command the Israelites sent their soldiers to march around the city.

On the seventh day of the siege, as the soldiers were marching round the walls, the priests sounded the trumpets, the soldiers cried out, and the walls of Jericho fell. It is probable that the walls were shaken down by an earthquake. The finger of God is to be seen in the fact that the earthquake occurred at the moment when the Israelites were calling upon their God to deliver the city into their hands.

THE OCCUPATION OF THE PROMISED LAND

After the conquest of Jericho and Hai, Josue defeated an alliance of five Canaanite kings. Then he successfully destroyed the city states of Maceda, Lebna, Lachis, Eglon, Hebron and Dabir. The defeat of the kings of the northern part of Canaan completed the conquest of the Promised Land.

The conquered land was then distributed to the twelve tribes of Israel. The tribes of Ruben and Gad and the half-tribe of Manasses received the lands already given them on the other side of the Jordan. To the other tribes were given allotments on the western side of the Jordan, with the exception of the Levites, to whom no special territory was assigned, because they were to reside in the designated Levitical cities within the territories of the other tribes.

The conquest of Canaan under Josue was not secured. Many of the Canaanite towns and kings had been conquered and the land had been divided among the tribes of Israel. But much of the territory was still unsubdued. It was necessary therefore for the tribes of Israel to continue their work of conquest. At the death of Josue the Israelites had not yet succeeded in wrestling complete domination of the land from its former inhabitants.

LACK OF OVERALL POLITICAL AND MILITARY LEADERSHIP

In the Book of Judges we read the story of the efforts of the Israelites to dominate the land of Canaan. After the death of Josue the Chosen People had no real national leader who commanded the obedience and allegiance of all the people. Instead, each tribe seems to have attempted individually to achieve secure possession of its own allotted territory. Sometimes, though, several tribes united with one another to conquer the land.

Thus Juda, in allegiance with Simeon, defeated Adonibesec of Besec, set fire to Jerusalem, though without apparently destroying the Jebusites who dwelt there or gaining possession of the city, and overcame the city of Hebron. With Othoniel, the nephew of Caleb, Juda conquered Cariath-Sepher. Juda also took Gaza, Ascalon and Accaron.

THE ISRAELITES DISOBEYED GOD’S COMMANDS YET AGAIN

Unfortunately, in these conquests the Israelites did not obey the divine command not to make a league with the idolatrous and polytheistic inhabitants of the land. Thus, the sons of Benjamin did not destroy the Jebusites who inhabited Jerusalem. Manasses did not destroy the inhabitants of Oethsan, Thanac, Dor, Jeblaam and Mageddo. Ephraim did not destroy the Canaanites in Gezer, but dwelt with them. The same policy was followed by Aser, Nephtali and Dan. The tribes of Israel either dwelt side by side with the Canaanites, or, when they were powerful enough, they made tributaries of them.

THE ISRAELITES, INSTEAD, FOLLOWED THEIR OWN DANGEROUS POLICY

This policy was dangerous both from the political and the religious point of view. Politically it was unfortunate because it allowed the Canaanites opportunity to attempt to re-establish their former domination. In the field of religion it exposed the Israelites to the danger of seduction by the religious views and practices of the Canaanites. This danger was made acute by two factors in the history of Israel. In the first place severe spiritual monotheism which Moses had taught them was not as yet completely understood by them. While they recognised Jahweh as their only God, many of them probably still thought that other Gods existed and ruled, each in his own territory. This could lead them to acknowledge the supposed power of the local Canaanite divinities.

THE TEMPTATION OF IDOL WORSHIPPING LOCALLY POPULAR FERTILITY GODS

In the second place, by occupying the Promised Land, the Israelites were transforming themselves from a nomadic, wandering people into an agricultural people to whom the successful growing of crops and livestock would be of major importance. But the gods of the Canaanites were gods of fertility. What would be more natural than for the Israelites to imagine they might find prosperity by giving homage to the local gods of fertility? By not remaining faithful to their promise not to enter a league with the Canaanites the Chosen People exposed themselves to this great and grave danger.

WHO WERE THE ‘JUDGES’ IN THE OLD TESTAMENT?

Events proved the reality of this danger and divine retribution followed swiftly. After the death of Josue and the men of his generation many of the people began to worship Baal and Astarte, the gods of the Canaanites. God became angry with them and allowed the Canaanites to oppress them. But, even though the Israelites broke their covenant with God, god did not break His covenant with them. As often as they deserted God for Baal and Astarte He allowed them to be oppressed by their enemies. But when they repented and called upon Him He raised up military leaders who delivered them from oppression. These military leaders are known as the ‘Judges’.

The activities of the Judges was therefore sporadic, and, as far as we can tell, local. The Judges were not national leaders, like Moses and Josue. They laboured on behalf of particular tribes. The period of the Judges lasted from about 1225 to 1020 B.C.

A PERIOD OF UNREST AND TURBULENCE

The period of the Judges appears as one of unrest and turbulence. Politically the efforts of the Chosen People to possess securely the Promised Land were impeded by the military campaigns and conquests of the Canaanites, the Moabites, the Madianites, the Amalectites, the Ammonites and the growing threat of the Philistines. The successes of these enemies of the Chosen People at different times subjected different Israelitic tribes to their political domination. The situation was complicated by the lack of national unity and by the occasional rivalries and jealousies between the different tribes of Israel.

NEGLECT OF THEIR PROMISES TO GOD RESULTS IN THE DECLINE OF NATIONAL UNITY AND LACK OF SECURITY

The tribes of Israel possessed the foundations of national unity. They had a common history from the time of Jacob and therefore a common bond of past experience. They had also in common a belief in Jahweh, the God of their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They had, too, a belief that God had given them the Promised Land.

But in the time of the Judges these unifying factors in the life of the Chosen People were not sufficiently prized by the people to establish a national unity. Like all other nomadic people the Israelites preserved a fierce spirit of individualism and a jealous pride in tribal glory as against national interest.

Yet there are evidences that the political and military difficulties of this period were leading them to realise the benefits of united national action. This can be seen, for example, in their desire to make Jephte their king.

But the fundamental mistake of the Israelites was to neglect the strongest unifying element in their national life. This factor was their religious unity. They had all sworn to a covenant with Jahweh. They were all God’s Chosen People. They had all agreed to worship Jahweh, and Him alone. God, in His turn, had promised to protect them and to give them peaceful possession of the land of Canaan. God had cautioned His people on the danger of fraternising with the Canaanites, and the people had promised that they would not enter into a league with their enemies. What would have happened if they had kept their promises we do not know. How God would have protected them we cannot say, for unfortunately they did not keep their promises. They fraternised with the Canaanites, married their daughters and worshipped their gods. God did not desert them, as they had deserted Him. But He allowed them to become the prey of their enemies.

Yet, time after time, when they repented of their sins, God raised up Judges to liberate them. As the author of the Book of Judges intimates, God sought in this way to educate His people. He wished them to learn that they could be saved only by allegiance and obedience to Him.

THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD TO MAN

As the subsequent history of Israel will show, the lesson was not perfectly learned. But this history shows once again the same factors playing their respective roles in human history: human weakness and ignorance and failure to love God adequately, the subtle influence of the devil leading men into impure forms of worship, the enduring patience and love of God for man, and man’s ability to rise from his sins and seek the true God. But over all we perceive the faithfulness of God to man, of God Who has sworn that He will redeem man through Israel. God has sworn, and He will not repent.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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