History of Israel Up To The First Diaspora
Since I myself did not read the Bible until I was nearly 40 years old, I shall not presume that readers of this Web Site are intimately familiar with it. An outline of the history of the Jewish people is therefore in order.
In the beginning, before Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, there was no "religion". God was present, and we knew Him personally. Because we disobeyed Him, and fell from grace, we have taken upon ourselves the unbelievable task of finding the way back.
Religion has been our main tool in this regard. But somehow, we have always found it easier to attack the religions of others than to devote ourselves single-mindedly to God.
From the day that Adam and Eve ate from that tree, man has been a great disappointment to God. After centuries of watching people fall into evil ways over and over again, God saw fit to establish a covenant with one man. That man was Abraham, generally regarded as the first Jew.
About 1800 BC, God brought Abraham up out of Ur, Iraq, into the Promised Land of Israel. God chose Abraham to be the messenger who would remind mankind that there was One God, and that He did not reside in stone idols. But even Abraham himself was not perfect. For example, both he and Sarah laughed when God told them they would have a son in their old age (Genesis 17:17, 18:12), and God was not pleased (Genesis 18:13-14).
Abraham's great grandchildren, the sons of Jacob, were the Patriarchs of the 12 Tribes of Israel. These men were therefore towering figures in world history. But among them, there was not much honor to be found. For example, certain of them became jealous of their younger brother Joseph, and so they decided to murder him. They cast him into a pit, and sat down to eat. Fortunately, two of them, Reuben and Judah (the forerunner of the line of David), persuaded the others that they should spare Joseph's life. Nevertheless, either by design or by error, he wound up being sold to a passing caravan.
Joseph's life was therefore spared, but he was carried down to Egypt where he was thereafter forced to live the life of a slave (Genesis 37:18-28).
Many years later, there was a famine in Israel. The brothers were sent by their father, Jacob, down to Egypt to obtain food. There, they were most embarrassed to find that Joseph had risen up from slavery to become Governor of the country! But Joseph accepted them graciously. After the "misunderstandings" of the past were patched up, the family relocated permanently to Egypt. This was the seed of the Jewish nation, numbering in total 70 souls at that time.
Israel remained in Egypt for over four centuries. At first they prospered exceedingly, growing to a nation of 2,000,000 people. Later, however, the Egyptians turned against them, and their fortunes began to decline. In time, they were reduced to slavery. And why not, since their sojourn began with the wish that their brother be a slave? How fitting that they should suffer that same punishment themselves!
God sent Moses to redeem the Jewish people. But when God called Moses, he did nothing but complain, to the point that the "anger of the Lord was kindled" (Exodus 4:14).
Nevertheless, Moses led Israel out of Egypt in what must be the most remarkable exodus in world history. Anyone who hasn't done so ought to begin thinking about the sheer mechanical difficulty of leading 2,000,000 people into the wilderness -- a veritable sea of hostility, within which they were received as enemies wherever they went.
It was truly miraculous. But what did the Israelites do when they were delivered into freedom? They complained. Bitterly and incessantly. They complained as if they were spoiled children of the rich, not the redeemed slaves which they were. The wrath of God was again kindled, and He made them wander 40 years in the wilderness.
When Moses went up into Mount Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments, he returned to find the Children of Israel worshipping an idol, a golden calf. Only 40 days had passed, but they had forgotten all the wonders that they had been shown, and all the vows that they had made. They had reverted to primitive idolatry! The wrath of the Lord was again kindled.
When, after 40 years in the wilderness, all those who had offended God were dead, God brought the Children of Israel into the Promised Land. But not Moses! Moses had sinned against God, by failing to glorify Him (in a manner which is not precisely specified in the Bible) (Deuteronomy 32:48-52). Moses would be permitted to see the Promised Land, but not to enter into it.
So even Moses, who Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike venerate almost to the point of worship, was not worthy in the eyes of God. Are any of us better?
II. Rise of the Davidic Line of Kings
Once in the Promised Land, the behavior of the Jewish people improved, at least temporarily. They were ruled for many years by "Judges" such as Samson. These were leaders who seem to have arisen spontaneously, according to the needs of the moment.
Israel, under the Judges, moved ahead, but in a decidedly jagged fashion. They gradually conquered and subdued the pagan peoples whom God had promised to remove from the Promised Land.
God's command has always been to go straight -- to look "neither to the right, nor to the left" (Deuteronomy 5:32). Israel certainly did not do that. The Children of Israel looked to the right and the left, and they looked back also. But the net direction of their movement was forward, and again God forgave them for their sins.
The last Judge of Israel was Samuel. When his sons were caught accepting bribes, and thus became unsuitable to Judge in his stead (I Samuel 8:3) the elders of the nation came to Samuel clamoring for him to anoint a King. God was not pleased, explaining to Samuel (I Samuel 8:7) that the demand for a King amounted to a rejection of Him. But God did not forbid the Jews to have a King, He only warned of the consequences of such a thing.
So Samuel sought out, and found a suitable candidate for King. He found Saul, who was taller, better-looking, and richer than anyone else in Israel. Truly, the "people's choice". But not God's choice.
God's choice was David, the great-grandson of the converted heathen, Ruth. David was a common shepherd, a non-obvious choice for King, and a still more non-obvious choice for the Patriarch of the hereditary line from which the Messiah would be prophesied to spring.
III. Rise (and Precipitous Fall) of the Great Kingdom of Israel
David defeated the mighty Philistine warrior Goliath with a stone. But he became King of Israel by defeating Saul with the mightiest weapon of all: faith.
David was truly a great King. The people loved him and they followed him faithfully (most of the time). In battle, he and his soldiers were nearly invincible.
He founded the city of Jerusalem around the hill called Mount Zion, and he brought the Ark of the Covenant there.
The Kingdom of Israel under David grew to be one of the largest, if not the largest Kingdom the world had ever known up to that point. But this happiness, and this glory, was not to last.
David, like even the most exalted of those who came before him, was not perfect. He committed adultery with Bathsheba, and then successfully conspired to have her husband, Uriah, killed. God was not pleased, but apparently God forgave David for this sin.
If the matter had ended there, it would have been more forgettable than it is. But David married Bathsheba, and he promised her that if she bore a son, that son would reign as King after him. Her first son died, but subsequently she bore Solomon, who came to epitomize both the best and the worst of Israel.
Under the reign of Solomon, the Kingdom of Israel grew tremendously in size. But the growth was achieved by marriages to princesses of surrounding Kingdoms, not through military conquests. Thus, in the end, Solomon had a huge empire, and 900 wives and concubines.
But in acquiring wealth beyond reckoning, and innumerable wives, Solomon forgot about the commandment of God through His prophet Moses, forbidding the King of Israel to "multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away (i.e., from God); neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold" (Deuteronomy 17:17).
The evil which this particular commandment sought to prevent was not prevented. Solomon, in his old age, was overcome by relentless pressure from his wives, many of whom were foreign and maintained loyalties to their native religions based on idolatry. Thus, in the end, Solomon allowed the restoration of exactly the same abominable false religions which God had promised to drive out of Israel to make way for the Jewish people. In a single step, the Jewish nation and its history were rendered meaningless and pointless!
How ironic! Israel rose up from slavery through a painful and prolonged process, over a period of centuries, only to be stripped of its underlying principles in a single generation. And the cause? The allure of worldly rewards; of power, money, and sex. These worldly rewards turned Solomon's head, and once the head of the King was turned, the heads of the citizens of the nation quickly followed.
No sooner did King Solomon die, then civil war broke out. The nation was permanently split into two Kingdoms.
The Northern Kingdom, comprising 9 of the 12 Tribes (10 if you count the Tribe of Levi, which was divided between North and South), turned firmly to idolatry, and turned its back on God. It retained the name "Israel", but was frequently referred to by the name of its capital city, "Samaria".
God sent the great and mighty prophet Elijah, truly a towering figure in Judeo-Christian-Muslim history, to be a source of constant vexation to the evil Kings of Samaria. Through the performance of astounding miracles, Elijah temporarily turned the hearts of the people back to God, but the effect was extremely short-lived. Samaria, in the end, remained hopelessly pagan. The Second Book of Kings, chapter 17, describes the terrible end of Samaria at the hands of the Assyrian invaders.
Not only were the Samaritans driven into exile (or carried off in chains), but the Assyrians went even farther, settling foreigners in the land of Israel so that the Northern Kingdom could never be re-established. The 9 tribes thusly dispersed are generally referred to as the "lost Tribes of Israel". The Bible explicitly prophesies that they will someday re-appear, which means that they must someday be "found". (This is not as far-fetched as it may sound, but it is a topic beyond the scope of this very brief Bible history.)
As for the Southern Kingdom, called Judah, consisting of 2+ Tribes (all of Judah and Benjamin, and the other half of the Levites), it survived the Assyrian invasions, because it never turned entirely from God. Its strength came from God, and was proportional to its devotion to God. Most of Judah's Kings maintained the Jewish religion as the state religion, but they also allowed foreign gods to be worshipped in the land. To the extent that they allowed idol worship, they were offensive to God.
Several of the Kings of Judah were overwhelmingly evil. The worst was Manasseh, who desecrated Solomon's Temple with pagan idols. Moreover, he "shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another" (II Kings 21:16). It has been convincingly argued that it was during the reign of Manasseh that the Ark of the Covenant was removed from Jerusalem, to save the precious relic from destruction.
The best of the Kings of Judah, Hezekiah and Josiah, walked in the ways of God with "all their hearts, all their souls, and with all their might" (II Kings 23:25). There can be no doubt that Jerusalem was saved from the Assyrian invaders under Sennacherib by the faith of Hezekiah and of his chief prophet, Isaiah. It was certainly not military might that saved Judah; the tiny little nation was no match for the mighty armies of Assyria. Only the hand of God saved it.
A word is in order about the "abominations" of idol worship, for those readers who imagine the Jewish Law to be an arbitrary and capricious exercise in religious prejudice. The abominations which the evil King Manassah re-introduced to Judah, and which were removed by the great Kings Hezekiah and Josiah, included such practices as in-temple ritual sodomy and prostitution, legal and social corruption, and burning of children as human sacrifice. Unfortunately, even the life-long efforts of these extraordinary Kings did not turn the Lord from the "fierceness of his great wrath" (II Kings 23:26). In the end, He delivered Judah into the hands of the invading Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. The Jewish nation was utterly destroyed, and Solomon's Temple, the most famous building ever built, was burned to the ground.
All the elite of Judah were carried off in chains to Babylon, inaugurating the period of Jewish history called the "Babylonian Captivity". It was a time of such misery that it is still commemorated by Jews today as the solemn fast-day of Tishah B'Av, observed annually on the date that Nebuchadnezzar is believed to have destroyed Solomon's Temple.
Thus, after a painful developmental process lasting over a millennium, the Jewish nation, around the year 600 BC, came abruptly to an end. This was the first of the Jewish Diasporas. Then an amazing thing happened. All the religions of the Orient appeared; at the same time!
What can this possibly have to do with a Jewish Diaspora?
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