Story of the Chosen People - Helene Guerber
Joshua's death was soon followed by that of the high priest Eleazar, who was succeeded by his son Phinehas. It was at this time, also, that Joseph’s remains, so carefully brought from the land of Egypt, were buried at Shechem.
Now all the people went on serving God faithfully as long as the elders lived. This period lasted about forty years, at the end of which time there arose another generation who "knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel;" so the people of the Lord forgot him, and began to worship the heathen gods.
In punishment for their idolatry, they were given over into the hands of the people whose gods they served, and were forced to endure much ill treatment.
But, although punished, they were not utterly forsaken; for, whenever it was necessary, God always provided judges, who freed them from their oppressors.
No sooner were the Israelites free again, however, than they would return to their old sins, worship false gods, and refuse to obey the law. It was because of this oft-renewed unfaithfulness that God delayed the full accomplishment of his promise to drive all the heathen nations out of the country. The story of these troublous times is written in the Book of Judges, which begins with an account of the efforts made by the tribes of Judah and Simeon to drive out the Canaanites and the Perizzites.
The two tribes of Israelites won a victory and captured the tyrant who ruled over their enemies. This was a man who openly boasted of having cut off the thumbs and great toes of seventy kings, and of having amused himself in watching their vain efforts to pick up the crumbs that fell from his table. In punishment for such deeds of cruelty, the Israelites treated him in the same way, and then killed him in the city of Jerusalem.
Many other attempts to drive the heathen out of the land are recorded in the Book of Judges but none of them were entirely successful. Indeed, it was not long before the Israelites, in punishment for their sins, were allowed to fall into the hands of the King of Mesopotamia. They suffered under his tyranny eight years, before the Lord heard their cries of distress, and sent them a deliverer in the person of Othniel, a nephew of Caleb.
Othniel ruled the people wisely, and died forty years after Joshua. But as soon as he was gone, the Israelites again fell into idolatry, and because they did so, they were conquered by the Moabites and Amalekites, their old foes, who tyrannized over them for eighteen years.
When their woes had become unendurable, another deliverer arose—Ehud, who was a left-handed man. This fact proved fatal to the Moabites, for Ehud killed their king with his left hand while delivering a pretended written message with his right.
This murder was not discovered till Ehud had escaped. He at once rallied the Children of Israel around him, led them on to battle, and completely routed the Moabites.
Shamgar, the next judge, delivered the Israelites from the hands of the Philistines, and showed his unusual strength by killing six hundred of his foes with an ordinary oxgoad.
As the people had fallen back into idolatry, they were next given over to the cruel treatment of the King of the Canaanites, who allowed his captain, Sisera to oppress the land for twenty years. At the end of that time, the Lord sent a woman named Deborah to the rescue of his people. This Deborah was a prophetess, and as she herself could not go forth and fight, she sent Barak, the fourth judge, against the enemy.
The two armies met, and once more the Israelites won a great victory. They owed this victory in part to a great storm, which injured the troops of Sisera only. Terrified by the fury of the elements leagued against them, Sisera’s soldiers fled, but they were soon overtaken and killed by the Israelites.
Sisera, the captain, escaped alone and on foot, and finally took refuge in the tent of a woman named Jael. There he was given a drink of milk, and after telling the woman to keep his hiding place secret, he lay down and went to sleep.
While he thus thought himself safe, Jael armed herself with a tent pin and a hammer, crept up close to her sleeping guest, and with one terrible blow drove the pin right through his temples and deep into the ground. Then she ran to meet the pursuing host, and, leading Barak into her tent, showed him what she had done. The Israelites had again won the victory, and the history of this epoch closes with Deborah’s song of triumph, in which she relates how Sisera was defeated and slain.