I. The Land of Promise
I. The Land of Promise
1. Possessing the Land
a. The Death of Moses
During the last years of Israel’s wandering, God instructed Moses to speak to a rock in order to provide Israel with water. Moses in his anger at the murmuring of Israel struck the rock, thereby disobeying God. God, in mercy, did cause water to come forth out of that rock. Nevertheless, the disobedience of Moses kept him from entering the Promised Land. (See Numbers 20:7–12; Deuteronomy 34.) God allowed him to view the Promised Land from Mount Pisgah; he then died and was buried by the Lord.
b. Joshua Leads Israel
After Moses’ death the leadership passed to Joshua, and he took Israel into the Promised Land. Because of unbelief Israel reaped the judgment of God. This judgment caused them to wander in the wilderness for forty years.
Those who did not believe that God would give the land of promise to Israel died in the wilderness. Two men, Joshua and Caleb, were saved from the judgment reaped by this unbelieving generation. Their faith in God’s word delivered them from an early grave and put them in the land of promise safely. They trusted in God and leaned not unto their own understanding. Joshua and Caleb were the only two persons remaining from the Egyptian exodus who were above the age of twenty at the time of their departure.
c. Crossing Jordan
To enter the land of Canaan, the Israelites had to cross the Jordan River. When the priests stepped into the Jordan River, the waters divided. The priests went into the middle of Jordan and stood there until all of Israel passed over to the other side. Twelve men took twelve stones from the Jordan River and built a memorial to God at Gilgal. This was a sign and a reminder to future generations of what God had done (Joshua 3–4). It is good for children, families, and friends to be reminded from time to time of the great deliverance God has wrought.
Someone has aptly described memory as “the jewel box of the mind.” The term is true, however, only if memories contain things that are beautiful, true, and good. Ugly things are not for jewel boxes, and the memory of wrong deeds, unkind words, or evil thoughts will bring no happiness in days to come. It is important to live in such a way that today’s actions will become precious memories in future years. “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report . . . think on these things” (Philippians 4:8). The Hebrews entered into the Promised Land, which is a type of our possessing the promises of God today. The warfare, trials, mountaintop experiences, and valleys they faced are a part of living and maturing spiritually. Israel was delivered from Egypt, a type of sinful bondage. Israel’s forty years of wandering is a type of the result of failing to believe in and act upon the promise of God. Unbelief caused thousands to perish in the wilderness. Millions today still wander in the dark wilderness of unbelief. All the older people of Israel (except the two believers) died in the wilderness in their unbelief, while their offspring went with Joshua into the Promised Land.
d. The Battle for the Land
The promised blessing would belong to Israel if they would believe and obey the Lord and take the land. Israel had to fight for the land of Canaan, but God fought for them as they believed and obeyed the Lord. God worked miraculously to give Israel victory after victory. We can imagine the confusion of Jericho as they watched the great host of Israel marching around the walls of their city (Joshua 6). The Israelites marched around the city once each day for six consecutive days. On the seventh day they compassed the city seven times. At the end of the seventh march on the seventh day, Israel gave a mighty shout, and the walls fell down. God gave Israel a tremendous victory! Marching around Jericho may have seemed foolish, but God often uses foolish things of this world to confound the wise. We must always obey the Lord and exercise our faith in Him, and then victory will follow (Hebrews 11:30). Israel fought against Ai but lost that battle because there was sin in the camp (Joshua 7). God had told the Israelites not to take anything—no silver, gold, brass, iron, or garments—for themselves out of Jericho. All the spoils from this city were the first fruits and belonged to God. Elated by their victory over Jericho, they decided to send only two or three thousand men to take Ai. Israel fought but lost the battle at Ai because there was sin in the camp. Unknown to Joshua, Achan had taken some forbidden spoils from Jericho and hidden them in the earth inside his tent. This sin brought the judgment of God. The soldiers came back from the defeat at Ai wondering what was wrong. Achan’s sin was exposed, and he and his family were destroyed (Joshua 7:24–26). If we live in sin we defeat God’s purpose for victorious living. We are powerless to fight against sin without God’s Spirit dwelling within us. We find victory, power, joy, and peace only in the Holy Ghost.
e. The Land Subdued
From city to city and village to village the army of Israel fought on to take the Promised Land. From north to south and east to west they won the victory. Joshua was a great leader, and he constantly challenged them to press toward the triumph ahead. Israel, by the power of God, subdued the land, and the land was divided so the twelve tribes of Israel could have their own areas to dwell in (Joshua 14).
It was then, after a long life of service, that Joshua died (Joshua 24). There was no successor to Joshua.
II. The Period of the Judges
II. God Raised Up Judges
Israel fell into the deepest of sins after Joshua’s death because of the lack of good leadership. Sin led to captivity. In their captivity they cried out to God, and God raised up judges to lead Israel (Judges 2:16–23). There were fifteen judges in all. One was a woman (Deborah). Two were priests (Eli and Samuel), and two were prophets (Deborah and Samuel). Ehud was a left-handed Benjamite who delivered Israel from the Moabites. Shamgar slew six hundred Philistines with an ox goad. Two other judges, Gideon and Samson, are well known for the way that the Lord used them mightily. Judges 17:6 summarizes the lack of spiritual direction Israel experienced during this period: “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” God used judges to rule until Israel chose its first king. “And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Chanaan, he divided their land to them by lot. And after that he gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet” (Acts 13:19–20).
The United Kingdom - Israel Demands a King
III. The United Kingdom
1. Israel Demands a King
The prophet Samuel ruled over Israel under the direction of God, but Israel was not satisfied with the leadership that God had put over them. They wanted to have a king like the heathen nations around them. Israel rejected the invisible King (their God) for a man whom they could display before the nations. This desire to be like the surrounding nations revealed the condition of their hearts. God wants His will to be accomplished. If a people insist on their own way, God will, at their insistence, let them have their own way. This is what happened to Israel (Hosea 13:11; Psalm 106:15). “Not my will, but thine, be done,” was the way Jesus prayed (Luke 22:42), and His prayer is a pattern for all humanity. The proper attitude of the heart can only be maintained through prayer and dedication to the Word and will of the Lord.
2. The Three Kings
The united kingdom of Israel had three kings who reigned over it. Each of these kings reigned for forty years. Their names are Saul, David, and Solomon.
God chose the first king for Israel out of the tribe of Benjamin—a man named Saul. Saul stood head and shoulders over all Israel. He was a courageous man and at the time he was chosen he was also humble (I Samuel 9). His character changed drastically after he received the power and authority of his new office. Saul forgot his place with God, and power corrupted his thinking. Power and authority often change someone from a humble servant into a proud, self-willed, jealous, and disobedient person. Power should be treated with respect, or it will blind one to the truth and the will of God. Saul’s later years were filled with many mistakes and sins, which overshadowed the previous good he had done. Saul’s great pride prevented him from recognizing God’s word through Samuel. Samuel was God’s chosen spokesman. But Saul offered a sacrifice in the place of Samuel when he thought Samuel had waited too long to appear (I Samuel 13:8–14). He also rebelled against the words of Samuel to destroy everything when he went to battle against the Amalekites (I Samuel 15). Instead of obeying God’s command, Saul brought back King Agag alive along with the cattle and sheep. Samuel rebuked Saul strongly, saying, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (I Samuel 15:22). Obedience is more meaningful than sacrifices. God appreciates sacrificial offerings, but He despises and judges disobedience. God rejected Saul and his rebellious nature, and the Spirit of the Lord departed from him. God had chosen another king for Israel, David, a man after God’s own heart. Saul became so jealous of David that he tried twice to kill David. He spent much of his time in pursuit of David. Saul’s life ended when he fell upon his own sword on the battlefield. He was a man wrecked by his own overpowering self-will (I Samuel 31). People are often their own worst enemy. The deepest and most dangerous troubles that afflict our lives come from within, not from without. The human soul falls only when there is treason within. The enemy can only enter through a gate that has been opened from within. The outside dangers and temptations of the world have no power until they receive the cooperation and the help of the foe within.
The second king of the United Kingdom is one of the best-loved characters in the Scriptures, David. He was anointed king by Samuel when he was just a young man taking care of the family’s sheep (I Samuel 16). Possibly the highest compliment that could be said of David is that he was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). This attribute is essential for anyone to be a truly successful Christian. Although David sinned, his desire to please God and his tenderness of heart brought him to a place of repentance and remorse.
(1) David Slays Goliath
While David was a shepherd lad caring for sheep, he fought a bear and a lion that threatened his flock. The Spirit of the Lord came upon David, and he quickly destroyed these dangerous animals. When he was sent to see how his brothers were doing in the war against the Philistines, David was enraged by the boasting of the Philistine giant, Goliath, and by the cowardice of Israel. Goliath was an awesome sight, over nine feet tall in full battle array with a helmet of brass and a huge coat of mail. The staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head was enormous. This champion of the Philistines taunted the Israelites, “Choose a man to fight me!” Although David was but a youth, he had faith in God. Because of David’s faith in God, he fought Goliath without the help of Israel. He used a sling, a stone, and the name of the Lord, knocking the giant to the ground. He then beheaded Goliath with the man’s own sword (I Samuel 17). This story illustrates the way of victory over things that war against the soul: spiritual temptations must be utterly destroyed.
(2) David’s Problems and Victories
This great victory by David brought him much praise, which enraged King Saul. A great jealousy, cruel as the grave, raged in Saul’s heart against David. Saul’s greatest desire for the remaining years of his life was to destroy David (I Samuel 18). Although David loved God and wanted to please Him, his life was not without spot. He committed a terrible sin after he became king. While the armies of Israel were fighting against Ammon, David, at ease on the roof of his house, saw a beautiful young woman, Bathsheba, bathing. Immediately David wanted this woman, and he sent messengers to bring her to him. David committed adultery, sinning against God and his fellow man. Had David been with the armies of Israel he would not have been in a place to commit this sin. In an attempt to cover up his sin, David had Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, killed. Although David was called a man after God’s own heart, God did not overlook his gross sin. God sent a prophet, Nathan, with a convicting message in the form of a story. His story was as follows: There were two men in one city; one rich the other poor. The rich man had many flocks and herds but the poor man had only one little beloved ewe lamb, which he had hand fed and treated as a member of the family. The rich man had a guest one day, but instead of killing one of his own lambs for dinner, the rich man took the poor man’s beloved lamb for his guest. “That man will surely die,” cried David in hot anger. “You are the man, David,” Nathan thundered. David had a throne, houses, and wives but he sent Uriah to his death and took his wife. The prophet then pronounced judgment on David (II Samuel 12:11–12). At this point, David repented. God certainly is no respecter of persons. He rebuked King David as He does all who sin. God cannot and does not tolerate sin. No sin will enter the heavenly kingdom! Certainly with God it does not matter how much we have in the bank or who we know. All wealth belongs to God, and He is the source of all power. There is no such thing as political pressure or pull in God’s kingdom. Everyone is equal in His sight. David wanted to build a temple for God, but David had been a man of war, shedding blood, and God would not allow him to build a temple. This privilege, however, was granted to one of David’s sons, which brings us to our next king (II Samuel 7).
Solomon, the son of David, loved the Lord. After he took his office as king, Solomon went to Gibeon and offered a thousand burnt offerings on the altar. It was in Gibeon after this great offering that God appeared to Solomon in a dream and said, “Ask what I shall give thee” (I Kings 3:5). What a question! All of God’s riches were at his disposal. In response, Solomon simply asked for wisdom to lead God’s people. His request of God reflected his unselfish desire to be a good leader as was his father, David. As a result of his unselfish request, God made Solomon the wisest king who ever lived (I Kings 3:13). “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). Solomon’s request reveals the true desire of his heart in his early years as king. He desired an understanding heart so that he could discern between good and evil. The things he did not ask for—long life, riches, and power over his enemies—God then generously gave to Solomon. The word of the Lord is true. If we seek His kingdom first He will supply our needs.
(1) Solomon’s Failures
Solomon is known for his wisdom. The Scriptures say of him “that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee” (I Kings 3:12). He is known for his extreme wealth and for his wives, who numbered in the hundreds. Sad to say, his wives turned his heart from the one true God. Solomon went after other gods. Even the most dedicated of people can fall from the grace of God if they do not die daily to the will of their flesh. What a change! The beginning of Solomon’s reign as king portrayed a man full of desire to please God. He changed from this to backslidden royalty—a man who had forgotten the God who had spoken to him in Gibeon. It is the one who finishes the race that will obtain the crown.
(2) Solomon Builds the Temple
Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Solomon’s reign was the Temple, which he built at Jerusalem (I Kings 5). He built the Temple after the pattern the Lord had given David. The construction took seven years. The Temple included the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies like the original Tabernacle. During the first service in the Temple, the presence of God was so strong that the Temple was filled with a thick cloud. Solomon, who began his prayer standing before the Lord, ended on his knees before the Holy One of Israel (I Kings 8:54). Humble submission and contrite worship in the house of the Lord will bring His blessed presence. Because of Solomon’s many sins and his deviation from the plan of God, the united kingdom of Israel was divided after his reign. The spiritually depraved kingdom then separated and became two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, each having its own king (I Kings 11).
The Divided Kingdom
IV. The Divided Kingdom
Solomon had built a great kingdom, but after his death it was divided. Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, threatened to lay a heavier tax burden on the people than Solomon had. The people demanded reforms, but Rehoboam took the counsel of his younger advisors rather than that of the older and more experienced men. The result was a revolt, and the kingdom was divided into North and South, Israel and Judah (I Kings 12–16).
1. The Kingdom of Israel
The Northern Kingdom consisted of ten tribes and was known as the kingdom of Israel. Its capital was Samaria and it’s first king was Jeroboam. In an effort to keep the tribes from returning to Jerusalem, Jeroboam set up competing altars at Dan and Bethel (I Kings 12:29). Because of these altars, idolatry was widespread throughout the Northern Kingdom. Israel had a total of nineteen kings, and all of them were wicked. None of them were willing to remove the idolatrous altars. God in His mercy sent many prophets to warn Israel of impending judgment. Two of the most notable prophets to Israel were Elijah and Elisha, mighty men of God who performed many miraculous works. All of their prophecies were fulfilled in their lifetime. The people refused to repent of their evil, however, and the judgment of God came. Israel fell, and the people were taken away captive by Assyria in 722 BC (II Kings 17). Two of the kings of Israel were Ahab and Jehu. Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, were notoriously wicked. They served a false god, Baal, and their wickedness ranged from killing prophets of God (I Kings 18:13) to the simple murder of Naboth in order to steal his land (I Kings 21:5–15). Jehu was a king in Israel who executed righteousness for a period of time (II Kings 10:16–28). His reign, however, was not righteous in its entirety because he was unwilling to completely depart from the sins of Jeroboam (II Kings 10:29–31).
2. The Kingdom of Judah
The Southern Kingdom consisted of two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, and was known as the kingdom of Judah. The first king of Judah was Rehoboam, and the capital city was Jerusalem. Judah had nineteen kings and one queen. Unlike the kingdom of Israel, Judah did have some righteous kings, such as Asa, Jehoshaphat, Jotham, Hezekiah, and Josiah, although many others were idolatrous and evil. Prophets warned Judah of the judgment of God and His wrath that would surely come unless the people repented. God sent prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah to Judah with a message of impending judgment. However, Judah refused to repent, and in 606 BC this nation began to be carried into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (II Kings 25). This captivity lasted for seventy years (Jeremiah 25:11–12). Judgment will soon come upon this world, and those who have not served God will be carried off captive for eternity. It is important to align our lives with the Word of God and respond to His saving grace.
V. The Divided Kingdom
V. The Divided Kingdom
The days of Israel and Judah were a period of spiritual apostasy when idolatrous people worshiped their own gods. Similarly, material things, entertainment, and money are popular idols of our time. It is important to obey the Word of the Lord and worship Him alone, for judgment is coming. God sent prophets to prophesy throughout the reign of the kings of Israel and Judah. Some of the kings listened to the prophets. The majority did not.
1. Elijah and the Prophets of Baal
Elijah was a prophet in Israel sent by God to prophesy against the wickedness of King Ahab and Ahab’s Zidonian wife, Jezebel. The Zidonians worshiped the false god Baal, and Ahab followed his wife’s idolatry by building an altar to Baal in Israel’s capital, Samaria. This set the stage for a mighty contest between the God of Elijah and the god of Jezebel. Elijah threw down the gauntlet, saying to the Baal-worshipers, “Call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God” (I Kings 18:24). The prophets of Baal “called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made. . . . And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them” (I Kings 18:26, 28). There was no response from Baal. Then it was Elijah’s turn. Elijah ordered twelve barrels of water to be poured over the wood on the altar before he prayed. After a brief prayer of faith, God responded with a roaring fire, completely consuming the wet wood. The God of Elijah had proven Himself to be the one true God and the prophets of Baal were destroyed.
2. Elisha and Naaman
Another prophet who spoke words from God is Elisha. Elisha succeeded Elijah as the chief prophet of Israel after Elijah was carried into heaven by a whirlwind (II Kings 2:11). One of Elisha’s many miracles occurred in II Kings 5. It is particularly instructive in its principle of obedience and in the way it illustrates God sometimes uses unassuming people to accomplish His will. Naaman was captain of the Syrian army, and he had a servant girl who was from Israel. Naaman also happened to be a leper. One day, his servant girl remarked, “Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy” (II Kings 5:3). Naaman sent word to have Elisha come, but Elisha sent a messenger to tell him, “Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean” (II Kings 5:10). Naaman reluctantly obeyed, and to his surprise, he was healed. Even though Naaman did not initially want to follow the prophet’s instructions, by doing so, God healed him. Even though Naaman was a Syrian, God healed him, with the result of the God of Israel receiving glory.
3. Isaiah Prophesied of the Savior
The Book of Isaiah contains numerous prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. Isaiah prophesied the Messiah would be born of a virgin and called Immanuel, He would perform miracles, and He would be beaten, crucified with thieves, and buried in a rich man’s tomb. And these prophecies all came true.
a. Blind Eyes Opened
Of the many prophecies about Jesus, one that continues to bless people today is found in Isaiah 35:5–6: “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.” Jesus performed innumerable miracles during the time He walked on earth and continues to perform miracles today.
b. Sorrows Carried and Grief Borne
Isaiah 53 refers to the darkest period of Jesus’ life, the days after His arrest and leading up to His crucifixion. Even in a prophecy of Jesus’ darkest hour, however, Isaiah promised hope to people who are broken and in need of healing. Isaiah 53:5 states, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”
VI. The Exile
VI. The Exile
While Israel and Judah were in captivity in Assyria and Babylon, God sent them prophets to communicate His word. The promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were still in effect, even if the children of Israel were not able to see the blessings of God in their lives at that time. God preserved a remnant of His people to ensure the promises He had made would be fulfilled.
1. Ezekiel Prophesied of New Life
Ezekiel prophesied during the Babylonian captivity. God gave him vivid examples of future events to act out and showed him wondrous visions. But Ezekiel also endured suffering and hardship. Two of his prophecies in particular stand out for their emphasis on new life.
a. A Heart of Flesh
The Spirit of God moved on Ezekiel to record a promise of God that wouldn’t be fulfilled for almost six hundred years.
Ezekiel recorded God’s words: “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: that they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 11:19–20).
b. Valley of Dry Bones
In Ezekiel 37, God gave Ezekiel another prophecy that pertains to new life. Ezekiel was carried by the Spirit of the Lord to a valley full of dry bones. God asked him, “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel responded, “O Lord GOD , thou knowest.” God asked Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones, and God sent life into the bones (Ezekiel 37:1–10). Through this experience, God taught Ezekiel that despite the fact Judah and Israel had been divided, conquered, and captured, one day He would restore and reunify the Jewish people.
Daniel prophesied during Israel’s exile in Babylon. As with Joseph, Daniel’s God-given gift caused him to rise in prominence in the court in Babylon. Although he was in the king’s favor for a time, his unwavering devotion to God brought persecution upon him when he refused to cease praying to the God of Israel. Despite being cast into a den of lions, Daniel escaped unscathed and went on to prophesy of near-term events such as the rise and fall of kingdoms and empires as well as various end-time events. His prophecies were also mentioned in the gospels of Matthew (24:15) and Mark (13:14).
Esther was a Jewish woman who lived in Persia sometime after the destruction of Jerusalem. She rose through the ranks from being a servant to a queen. Haman, one of the king’s chief servants and an archenemy of the Jewish people, plotted the destruction of Esther and her people. After Esther called for prayer and fasting, God intervened and reversed the course of Haman’s plot ending in Haman’s own death. The message of the Book of Esther serves to illustrate God’s saving grace for all who follow Him.
VII. The Return to Jerusalem
VII. The Return to Jerusalem
The first expedition to return to Jerusalem took place after the prophetic time period of seventy years of captivity had expired. This expedition took place about 536 BC and was led by Zerubbabel (Ezra 1–3). He was accompanied by approximately fifty thousand Jews. In the second year after their return, they began to rebuild the Temple. This temple was the second Jewish temple and is known as Zerubbabel’s Temple. A third temple known as Herod’s Temple was in existence during the time of Jesus. This was a magnificent and large addition to the restored Temple. Other expeditions took place in about 457 BC with Ezra and in about 444 BC with Nehemiah.
The Jews met with much opposition from their enemies when trying to rebuild the Temple. This led to discouragement and subsequently to a slow finish of the Temple. Ezra, a priest, had an understanding of the Word of God and taught the people. Nehemiah was the Persian king’s cupbearer.
He went to Jerusalem and led the people in the rebuilding of the walls of the city. Nehemiah also aided Ezra in teaching the people the way of the Lord. The Temple and the walls were completed through the prayerfulness, watchfulness, and perseverance of the leaders and people (Nehemiah 4).
2. The Prophets and the Message of Restoration
This restoration period was not without its prophets. God sent such men as Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi to encourage and to chasten the Jews verbally. Haggai made the long journey back to Jerusalem and challenged the people to rise up and build the Temple of God (Haggai 1). He told them that God would make the glory of this house great. The Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, and Joshua, the high priest, as well as the people. They all began to work.
3. The Old Testament Ends
The Old Testament life of the Israelites seems to be one of continual backsliding, and such was the case in the restoration period as well. Again the people forgot God and His Word. Although they no longer practiced idolatry, most of them forgot the manifestation of His great power and again fell into apostasy. The Old Testament ends with God’s chosen people living outside of His wonderful love. They again became a people who had to live under the authority of nations more wicked and more powerful than they. They did not hear a prophetic message from God for about four hundred years.