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Tag Archives: Israelites

3rd APRIL, RESPONSORIAL PSALM (PSALM 105)

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

1. 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.)

2. 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.)

3. For this he said he would destroy them,
but Moses, the man he had chosen,
stood in the breach before him,
to turn back his anger from destruction. (R.)

ACCLAMATION

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life; you have the message of eternal life.

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3rd APRIL, BIBLE READING (EXODUS 32:7-14)

DO NOT BRING THIS DISASTER ON YOUR PEOPLE.

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down now, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have apostasised. They have been quick to leave the way I marked out for them; they have made a themselves a calf of molten metal and have worshipped it and offered it sacrifice. ‘Here is your God, Israel,’ they have cried, ‘who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’” The Lord said to Moses, “I can see how headstrong these people are! Leave me, now, my wrath shall blaze out against them and devour them; of you, however, I will make a great nation.”

But Moses pleaded with the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your wrath blaze against this people of yours whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with arm outstretched and mighty hand? Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Ah, it was in treachery that he brought them out, to do them to death in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth’? Leave your burning wrath; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, your servants to whom by your own self you swore and made this promise: I will make your offspring as many as the stars of heaven, and all this land which I promised I will give to your descendants, and it shall be their heritage for ever.” So the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had
threatened.

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

 

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17th JANUARY, BIBLE READING (1 SAMUEL 8:4-7, 10-22)

YOU WILL CRY OUT ON ACCOUNT OF THE KING YOU HAVE CHOSEN FOR YOURSELVES, BUT GOD WILL NOT ANSWER YOU.

All the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. “Look,” they said to him, “you are old, and your sons do not follow your ways. So give us a king to rule over us, like the other nations.” It displeased Samuel that they should say, “Let us have a king to rule us,” so he prayed to the Lord. But the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for it is not you they have rejected; they have rejected me from ruling over them.” All that the Lord had said Samuel repeated to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the rights of the king who is to reign over you.

He will take your sons and assign them to his chariotry and cavalry, and they will run in front of his chariot. He will use them as leaders of a thousand and leaders of fifty; he will make them plough his ploughland and harvest his harvest and make his weapons of war and the gear for his chariots. He will also take your daughters as perfumers, cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields, of your vineyards and olive groves and give them to his officials. He will tithe your crops and vineyards to provide for his eunuchs and his officials. He will take the best of your manservants and maidservants, of your cattle and your donkeys, and make them work for him. He will tithe your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out on account of the king you have chosen for yourselves, but on that day God will not answer you.”

The people refused to listen to the words of Samuel. They said, “No! We want a king, so that we in our turn can be like the other nations; our king shall rule us and be our leader and fight our battles.” Samuel listened to all that the people had to say and repeated it in the ears of the Lord. The Lord then said to Samuel, “Obey their voice and give them a king.”

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

 
 

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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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THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MANKIND AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: MOSES AND THE COVENANT

“THE MAKING OF THIS CONTRACT WITH GOD WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT FREE DECISION MADE BY THE CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM SINCE ABRAHAM HIMSELF FIRST ANSWERED THE CALL OF GOD IN CHALDEA.”

“After their miraculous escape from the Egyptians the Israelites wandered in the desert and the wilderness for three months. At Mount Sinai God and the Israelites made a covenant or agreement binding upon both of them.

YOU SHALL BE TO ME A HOLY NATION

The agreement was made in the midst of wonderful signs which proved to the Israelites the reality of God’s presence among them. God spoke to Moses from the mountaintop: ‘Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: You have seen what I have done to the Egyptians, how I carried you upon the wings of eagles, and have taken you to myself. If therefore you will hear my voice, and keep my covenant, you shall be my peculiar possession above all people: for all the earth is mine. And you shall be to me a priestly kingdom, and a holy nation. These are the words thou shalt speak to the children of Israel.’ (Exodus 19:3-6).

Moses delivered God’s message to the people and they replied: ‘All that the Lord has spoken, we will do’ (Exodus 19:8). When Moses told God that the Israelites were willing to become God’s people, God commanded the people to sanctify themselves and prepare for the coming of the Lord on the third day.

FIRE AND SMOKE

On the third day the Lord came to Sinai to speak to Moses in the hearing of the people. ‘And when Moses had brought them forth to meet God from the place of the camp, they stood at the bottom of the mount. And all Mount Sinai was on smoke: because the Lord was come down upon it in fire, and the smoke arose from it as out of a furnace. And all the mount was terrible. And the sound of the trumpet grew by degrees louder and louder, and was drawn out to a greater length; Moses spoke, and God answered him. And the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, in the very top of the mount: and he called Moses unto the top thereof. And when he was gone up thither, He said to him: Go down, and charge the people: lest they should have a mind to pass the limits to see the Lord, and a very great multitude of them should perish. The priests also that come to the Lord, let them be sanctified; lest he strike them.

‘And Moses said to the Lord: The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai: for thou didst charge, and command, saying: Set limits about the mount, and sanctify it. And the Lord said to him: Go, get thee down. And thou shalt come up, thou and Aaron with thee; but let not the priests and the people pass the limits, nor come up to the Lord, lest He kill them. And Moses went down to the people and told them all.

THE 10 COMMANDMENTS

‘And the Lord spoke all these words: I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me. Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth. Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them. I am the Lord thy God, mighty, jealous, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. And showing mercy unto thousands to them that love me and keep my commandments. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that shall take the name of the Lord his God in vain. Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day. Six days shalt thou labour, and shalt do all thy works. But on the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: thou shalt do no work on it, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy beast, nor the stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them, and rested on the seventh day: therefore the Lord blessed the seventh day and sanctified it.

‘Honour thy father and thy mother, that thou mayest be long-lived upon the land which the Lord thy God will give thee.

‘Thou shalt not kill.

‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.

‘Thou shalt not steal.

‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house; neither shalt thou desire his wife, nor his servant, nor his handmaid, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is his.

‘And all the people saw the voices and the flames, and the sound of the trumpet, and the mount smoking: and being terrified and struck with fear, they stood afar off, saying to Moses: Speak thou to us and we will hear. Let not the Lord speak to us, lest we die’ (Exodus 19:17 – 20:19).

AN ATMOSPHERE OF WONDER AND FEAR

To impress the Israelites with the solemnity of the contract they were making with Him, God manifested His presence by lightning and thunder and black clouds. To convince them of His holiness and power they were forbidden to ascend the mountain.

This encounter of the Israelites with God at Sinai is one of the most awe-inspiring in the history of man. On this occasion not only does God speak to the prophet Moses but He speaks in the hearing of all the people, and the people are so struck with fear at hearing the voice of God sounding clear over the thunder and the trumpets that they beseech God to speak to them directly no longer.

In this atmosphere of wonder and fear God proclaimed His Ten Commandments. By accepting these Commandments the Israelites bound themselves to worship only the one true God and to abstain from idolatry, the worship of images. Moses ratified the contract between God and the people by sprinkling the blood of sacrificed beasts on the altar and on the people. The contract was sealed, as it were, in blood.

THEY FREELY CHOSE GOD

The making of this contract with God was the most important free decision made by the children of Abraham since Abraham himself first answered the call of God in Chaldea. By it they became God’s chosen and favoured people, a priestly kingdom through which and in which the one true God would be properly worshipped, a priestly kingdom through which salvation would come to the world. It is significant that this solemn ratified covenant was not made until Israel had become a numerous people, a nation, and that it was made by the free decisions of all the people. In the garden of paradise Adam and Eve, misled by the devil, freely deserted God. At Mount Sinai the Israelites, under the inspired leadership of Moses, freely chose God, the one true God Who had freely chosen them.

THE MOSAIC LAW

In addition to the Ten Commandments Moses also gave the people other laws which were intended to make practical the general moral principles contained in the Decalog [the 10 Commandments].

It has been noticed by historians that many of the prescriptions found in the Mosaic Law resemble laws found in the codes of other Oriental peoples, especially the Babylonians and the Egyptians. It is possible that Moses incorporated in this code laws which came down to the people from some older code. But the important thing about the Mosaic code is that it is all placed in the framework of the Ten Commandments. This gives it a quality of uniqueness which is found in no other ancient code of laws.

INHERENT MONOTHEISM

The most striking characteristic of the Mosaic Law is its inherent monotheism. The Israelites are to worship no other God but Jahweh, the one true God. They are to avoid the polytheistic and idolatrous practices of other nations. It is true that the Israelites will need a long time and many severe divine chastisements to rid their minds of the idea that other divinities exist besides Jahweh. But in the end the monotheism of the Decalog will triumph and the people will recognise the existence of no God but Jahweh. Through the Israelites the knowledge of the existence of the one true God will be restored to the human race.

INSISTENCE ON SPIRITUAL HOLINESS

Also striking is the insistence of the Decalog on internal or spiritual holiness. The Decalog condemns not only adultery and theft, it condemns even internal thought of adultery and theft. For it says not only ‘Thou shalt not steal’ but also ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house’; not only ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery,’ but also ‘Thou shalt not desire thy neighbour’s wife.’

THROUGH THE ISRAELITES THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE EXISTENCE OF THE ONE TRUE GOD WILL BE RESTORED TO THE HUMAN RACE.

It is clear that the Mosaic Law was intended to bring men back to God, not only externally through the regulation of their outward behaviour but also internally through the purifying of their inmost thoughts and desires. It served thus to preserve them from the polytheism and idolatry of their neighbours and to lead them back to God in purity and holiness. In the field of ethics and holiness it surpasses all previous legislative codes. In this field it represents a divine revelation. It represents God calling man to return to his Father’s house. Through the Mosaic code man is given another chance to be what he was meant to be from the very beginning, a child of God, with his whole life centred in God. Until a new and a higher covenant shall come, the law of Moses is the moral code which binds men to God.

UNTIL A NEW AND A HIGHER COVENANT SHALL COME, THE LAW OF MOSES IS THE MORAL CODE WHICH BINDS MEN TO GOD.

Of course, the mere making of this contract with God did not of itself make the people perfect. The covenant was the means to perfection, the way to perfection. Both God and man would still have to labour to make the code the real expression of perfection in the lives of the people.

THE GOLDEN CALF

This is clearly seen in the regrettable behaviour of the Israelites shortly after the ratification of the covenant. Moses stayed at the summit of Mount Sinai for forty days, conversing with God. Deprived of his leadership for even this short time, the people relapsed into their former ignorant and sinful ways. They induced Aaron, the high priest, to make for them a golden calf which should represent Jahweh. This was in direct disobedience to the commandment that they were not to make any graven image to represent God. It indicated that the people were still influenced by the idolatry of the Babylonians and the Egyptians.

THE WEAKNESS OF MEN DELAYED THE FINAL FRUITION OF THE CONTRACT.

God was angry with them and sent Moses to reprove the people. Moses appealed to God not to destroy the people utterly, and God granted his request. But God knew that He was dealing with a stiff-necked and stubborn people. Through the Israelites God had entered into a contract with mankind. But He knew that He would have to purify men even more before He could save men from their weakness and folly. At Sinai, man through the Israelites entered into a contract with God. But the weakness of men will delay the final fruition of the contract.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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BIBLE READING (JOSHUA 3:7-11, 13-17)

THE ARK OF THE LORD IS ABOUT TO CROSS THE JORDAN AT YOUR HEAD.

The Lord said to Joshua, “This very day I will begin to make you a great man in the eyes of all Israel, to let them be sure that I am going to be with you even as I was with Moses. As for you, give this order to the priests carrying the ark of the covenant: ‘When you have reached the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you are to stand still in the Jordan itself.'”

Then Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come closer and hear the words of the Lord your God.” Joshua said, “By this you shall know that a living God is with you and without a doubt will expel the Canaanite. Look, the ark of the Lord, the Lord of the whole earth, is about to cross the Jordan at your head. As soon as the priests with the ark of the Lord, the Lord of the whole earth, have set their feet in the waters of the Jordan, the upper waters of the Jordan flowing down will be stopped in their course and stand still in one mass.”

Accordingly, when the people struck camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carried the ark of the covenant in front of the people. As soon as the bearers of the ark reached the Jordan and the feet of the priests who carried it touched the waters (the Jordan overflows the whole length of its banks throughout the harvest season) the upper waters stood still and made one heap over a wide space – from Adam to the fortress of Zarethan – while those flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah, that is, the Salt Sea, stopped running altogether. The people crossed opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood still on dry ground in mid-Jordan, and all Israel continued to cross dry-shod till the whole nation had finished its crossing of the river.

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

 
 

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