How do you feel when you stand on the verge of reaching a long-awaited goal? Are you happy, sad, or relieved that the journey is nearly over? Are you frightened of the tests and trials that still lie ahead, or do you view your future with courage and faith in God?
Forty years of wandering in the wilderness had brought Israel to stand upon a mountaintop overlooking the land of promise. Every Israelite over twenty years of age when they left Egypt under Moses’ leadership was now dead, except for three people: Moses, Joshua, and Caleb (see Numbers 14:38). All the others had died without realizing their cherished blessing. Why? What caused those Israelites who left Egypt by God’s power to lose their privilege of setting foot upon the promised land?
In formulating an answer, remember that God never breaks a promise. Forty years before this time God had told the children of Israel, “I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you into the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to you. . . . for an heritage: I am the Lord.” (Exodus 6:7–8.)
God always keeps His promises. He has power to make them, and He has power to fulfill them. Some doubt this fact. The initial company of Israelites who departed from Egypt did so with reluctance. Bad as things were in Egypt, the known seemed better than the unknown to those who lacked faith. During their forty years of desert wandering, the children of Israel alternately blessed and cursed the name of God. When He showed them miracles, they humbled themselves. When the tests and rigors of desert life became difficult, they hardened their hearts in anger and resentment. They forgot His power and trembled in fear at the thought of facing the Canaanites. In so doing, they lost their privilege to enter the land of promise.
As their children stood on the mountain and saw in the distance the promised land, the realization of their expectations, were they ready? Did they appreciate the great blessing of receiving that which was denied their fathers? Could they move into the land under the leadership of a living prophet and possess the country on the Lord’s terms? Or would they pollute their inheritance, as their fathers had done before?
Instructions to Students
1. Use Notes and Commentary below to help you as you read and study Joshua 1–24. Chapters 12–21 contain detailed descriptions of the tribal divisions of the land.
2. Complete Points to Ponder as directed by your teacher. (Individual study students should complete all of this section.)
3. Use the maps given in this chapter to find various locations mentioned in your reading.
“The Book of Joshua is one of the most important writings in the old covenant, and should never be separated from the Pentateuch, of which it is at once both the continuation and completion. Between this Book and the five Books of Moses, there is the same analogy as between the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. The Pentateuch contains a history of the Acts of the great Jewish legislator, and the Laws on which the Jewish Church should be established. The Book of Joshua gives an account of the establishment of that Church in the Land of Canaan, according to the oft-repeated promises and declarations of God. The Gospels give an account of the transactions of Jesus Christ, the great Christian legislator, and of those Laws on which his Church should be established, and by which it should be governed. The Acts of the Apostles gives an account of the actual establishment of that Church, according to the predictions and promises of its great founder. Thus, then, the Pentateuch bears as pointed a relation to the Gospels as the Book of Joshua does to the Acts of the Apostles.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 2:4.)
Clarke called the Old Testament the Jewish Church, meaning the organization founded by Jehovah among the early Israelites. But Latter-day Saints know that Jehovah was the premortal Christ. This fact explains the remarkable parallels. Both Churches were the Church of Jesus Christ, given in different circumstances and with different priesthood emphasis. But in both cases baptisms were performed, and the principles of righteous living and faith in God were clearly taught.
These parallels suggest that the book of Joshua may continue the typology, or symbolism, of Christ, just as did the law of Moses. Indeed, Latter-day Saints are taught that Moses was “in the similitude of [the] Only Begotten” (Moses 1:6; see also McConkie, The Promised Messiah, pp. 442–48). Just as Moses, in his role as prophet, lawgiver, mediator, and deliverer, was a type of Jesus Christ, so Joshua, who led Israel into the promised land, was also a type of Jesus, who leads all the faithful into the ultimate land of promise, the celestial kingdom. (See Alma’s comparison of the promised land to eternal life in Alma 37:45.)
“Joshua, the son of Nun, of the tribe of Ephraim, was first called Oshea or Hoshea, . . . [Numbers 13:16], which signifies saved, a saviour, or salvation; but afterwards Moses, guided no doubt by a prophetic spirit, changed his name into . . . Yehoshua or Joshua, which signifies he shall save, or the salvation of Jehovah; referring, no doubt, to his being God’s instrument in saving the people from the hands of their enemies, and leading them from victory to victory over the different Canaanitish nations, till he put them in possession of the promised land. . . . By the Septuagint he is called . . . , Jesus Naue, or Jesus son of Nave: and in the New Testament he is expressly called . . . Jesus; [see Acts 7:45; Hebrews 4:8].” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 2:3.) In other words, in the original Hebrew both Joshua and Jesus were the same name.
There are further analogies between organizations of the old and new covenants: “On this very ground of analogy Christ obviously founded the Christian Church; hence he had his twelve disciples, from whom the Christian Church was to spring, as the Jewish Church or twelve tribes sprang from the twelve sons of Jacob. He had his seventy or seventy-two disciples, in reference to the seventy-two elders, six chosen out of each of the twelve tribes, who were united with Moses and Aaron in the administration of justice, &c., among the people. Christ united in his person the characters both of Moses and Aaron, or legislator and high priest; hence he ever considers himself, and is considered by his apostles and followers, the same in the Christian Church that Moses and Aaron were in the Jewish. As a rite of initiation into his Church, he instituted baptism in the place of circumcision, both being types of the purification of the heart and holiness of life; and as a rite of establishment and confirmation, the holy eucharist [the Lord’s Supper] in place of the paschal lamb, both being intended to commemorate the atonement made to God for the sins of the people. The analogies are so abundant, and indeed universal, that time would fail to enumerate them. On this very principle it would be a matter of high utility to read these Old Testament and the New Testament books together, as they reflect a strong and mutual light on each other, bear the most decided testimony to the words and truth of prophecy, and show the ample fulfilment of all the ancient and gracious designs of God.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 2:5.)
Biblical Israel is generally thought of as that region south and southwest of the Lebanon mountains, north and east of Egypt, east of the Mediterranean coastal plain, and west of the Arabian desert. In dimension, Israel was roughly 150 miles from Dan to Beersheba, and at its greatest width it was about 75 miles across. The Lord promised Joshua that the original extent of the land promised to Abraham was to be given to Israel (see Genesis 15:18; Joshua 1:4). Although the Israelites who went into the promised land with Joshua were generally faithful and obedient, as a nation Israel soon returned to their old ways and lost the blessings promised to them of winning the whole land. Not until the time of David and Solomon (about two hundred years later) did Israel control the land given in the original covenant and then only for a short while, for they soon lost the outermost parts of it again.
After affirming that Joshua had the power and authority of Moses (see v. 5), the Lord charged him to make the law the basis of all he did. He was not to vary from it (see v. 7), and it was not to depart out of his mouth, that is, all that he spoke was to conform to it, and he was to meditate upon it constantly (see v. 8). The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, who were to inherit lands already conquered on the east side of the Jordan, were charged to join the other tribes in conquering the rest of the land. These tribes showed their loyalty by accepting that charge and covenanting to put to death any who refused to do so.
“In the narrative of these transactions Rahab is called zonah, which our own, after the ancient versions, renders ‘harlot.’ The Jewish writers, however, being unwilling to entertain the idea of their ancestors being involved in a disreputable association at the commencement of their great undertaking, chose to interpret the word ‘hostess,’ one who keeps a public house, as if from the Hebrew word meaning ‘to nourish’ (Joseph. Antiq. v:I; ii and vii; comp. the Targum and Kimchi and Jarchi on the text). Christian interpreters also are inclined to adopt this interpretation for the sake of the character of the woman of whom the Apostle speaks well, and who would appear from Matt. 1:4 to have become by a subsequent marriage with Salmon, prince of Judah, an ancestress of Jesus. But we must be content to take facts as they stand, and not strain them to meet difficulties; and it is now universally admitted by every sound Hebrew scholar that zonah means ‘harlot,’ and not ‘hostess.’ It signifies harlot in every other text where it occurs, the idea of ‘hostess’ not being represented by this or any other word in Hebrew, as the function represented by it did not exist. There were no inns; and when certain substitutes for inns subsequently came into use, they were never, in any Eastern country, kept by women. On the other hand, strangers from beyond the river might have repaired to the house of a harlot without suspicion or remark. The Bedouins from the desert constantly do so at this day in their visits to Cairo and Bagdad. The house of such a woman was also the only one to which they, as perfect strangers, could have had access, and certainly the only one in which they could calculate on obtaining the information they required without danger from male inmates. This concurrence of analogies in the word, in the thing, and in the probability of circumstances, ought to settle the question. If we are concerned for the morality of Rahab, the best proof of her reformation is found in the fact of her subsequent marriage to Salmon; this implies her previous conversion to Judaism, for which indeed her discourse with the spies evinces that she was prepared.” (Fallows, Bible Encyclopedia, s.v. “Rahab,” 3:1424.)
That Rahab’s faith in Jehovah was sincere is supported by the fact that both Paul and James cited her as an example of faith (see Hebrews 11:31; James 2:5).
These verses illustrate the value placed upon an oath or promise by men of ancient times. Unfortunately, men of that day were more faithful to their covenants with other men than they were to those made with God. A token was agreed upon as proof of their intention to protect Rahab and her family from destruction in return for her assistance. Rahab was to place a “line of scarlet thread” in the window of her house (v. 18). This thread would serve as a reminder to attacking Israel that Rahab and all within her house were to be spared from destruction.
As Moses was magnified by the Lord in the eyes of Israel when God parted the Red Sea, so Joshua was magnified in the same way through the parting of the Jordan River. In both instances Israel passed through the water into a newness of life. This passage may have been what Paul had in mind when he spoke of Israel’s baptism “in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:2; see also vv. 1, 3–4). In each instance the passage represented a new covenant agreement. Israel passed over the River Jordan on the first day of the Passover (see Joshua 3:17; 4:19; compare Exodus 12:3).
|The Jordan River|
Biblical peoples were very fond of symbolic acts to commemorate great events. In order to memorialize God’s blessing in parting the waters of the Jordan River, Joshua commanded that twelve stones be taken from the riverbed and placed where all the people could see them: “These stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever” (v. 7). In later years, when their children would ask the meaning of the stones, Israel could rehearse the story of God’s miracle; thus, the stones would serve as a visible reminder of God’s power.
It is important to remember that the Israelites did not move into a land where no one lived. On the contrary, the area known as Canaan had been inhabited for centuries. The mention of the Amorite and Canaanite kings and their response to the miraculous crossing of the Jordan further indicates that all of the land of Canaan was laid at the feet of Israel by the Lord. They had only to physically conquer those who were already defeated mentally, but they lost the advantage the Lord gave them when they began to forsake their covenants with Him.
|Entry into the promised land
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Israel had wandered forty years in the wilderness because they were not faithful in their covenant with God. It is not surprising, then, that during that period they had failed to continue the practice of circumcision, which was the symbol of their covenant. Therefore, after Joshua had led his people through the waters of the Jordan—a type of baptism (see Reading 21-7)—onto the sacred ground that had been denied their fathers, the Lord required them to reinstitute the physical token of the covenant.
This event marks a major turning point for Israel. For the first time in forty years the children of Israel were on their own. The Israelites had been tenderly nursed with manna during that time, but now they were to stand forth in maturity and, from their own labor, eat the bread of the land. Considering that the manna had appeared every day but the Sabbath for forty years, or more than twelve thousand times, it truly was the end of a remarkable era.
Although there is a noticeable lack of detail in this account, what is recorded suggests a miraculous vision shown to Joshua. Most commentators assume either a mortal servant of God or an angel came to strengthen Joshua and Israel as they prepared for their first battle.
Two things, however, suggest that Joshua may actually have seen Jehovah, the premortal Jesus Christ. First, when Joshua fell down to worship him, no attempt was made to stop him. Yet the mortal servants of God are quick to prevent others from worshiping them, even when they have demonstrated great power (see Acts 10:25–26; 14:8–18; Alma 18:15–17). The same thing is true of angels, for twice, when he was awed at the presence of angels and fell at their feet to worship them, John the Revelator was told the same thing, “See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets” (Revelation 22:9; see also 19:10). The angel who appeared to Samson’s parents clearly taught them that any offerings were to be to the Lord (see Judges 13:16). But no attempt was made to prevent Joshua from falling down to worship this being.
Second, the personage commanded Joshua to remove his shoes because he was standing on holy ground—the same instructions Jehovah gave to Moses on Mount Sinai (see Exodus 3:5). But, since this account in Deuteronomy is very scant on details, it can only be surmised that the being may have been the Lord.
|Old Testament Jericho|
The inhabitants of Jericho knew full well of the powerful destruction that Israel had directed against the kingdom of the Amorites east of Jordan. Therefore, it is no surprise that they shut up their walled city against Israel.
The prevalence of the number seven in the Lord’s dealing with Jericho’s defense is significant. Throughout the law of Moses, seven was used numerous times to signify the covenant. Its association with the covenant probably stems from the idea that “seven . . . is associated with completion, fulfilment, and perfection” (Douglas, New Bible Dictionary, s.v. “number,” p. 898). By patterning the conquest of Jericho in sevens, the Lord taught Israel that their success lay in the covenant with Jehovah; His perfect power brought conquest, not their own.
The horn blown was the Hebrew shofar, or ram’s horn (see vv. 4–6). Scholars are generally agreed that the shofar was the oldest musical instrument in Israel. After being flattened by heat, the horn of a ram was forced to turn up at the ends. This shape thus created a most unusual and easily recognizable sound. In early times the horn was used to warn of approaching armies, to give the signal for attack, or to dismiss troops from the field.
As the ark of the covenant symbolized the presence of God in the tabernacle’s Holy of Holies, so it symbolized His leadership of the armies of Israel as they carried it before them while they marched around the city (see vv. 4, 6–8). This was not a mere mortal conflict: Canaan was to be destroyed by the very God of Israel. This truth was impressively taught to Israel by the presence of the ark.
Great care was given to honoring every detail of the oath that had been given to Rahab.
Men have argued this question for ages. Did the marching feet, the blaring trumpets, and the final shout weaken the walls in some way so that they tumbled in accordance with natural law? Or was some other principle in operation? Did the Lord simply, at a convenient point in time, level the walls by His power? Elder James E. Talmage discussed this question in these words:
“May we not believe that when Israel encompassed Jericho, the captain of the Lord’s host and his heavenly train were there, and that before their super-mortal agency, sustained by the faith and obedience of the human army, the walls were leveled?
“Some of the latest and highest achievements of man in the utilization of natural forces approach the conditions of spiritual operations. To count the ticking of a watch thousands of miles away; to speak in but an ordinary tone and be heard across the continent; to signal from one hemisphere and be understood on the other though oceans roll and roar between; to bring the lightning into our homes and make it serve as fire and torch; to navigate the air and to travel beneath the ocean surface; to make chemical and atomic energies obey our will—are not these miracles? The possibility of such would not have been received with credence before their actual accomplishment. Nevertheless, these and all other miracles are accomplished through the operation of the laws of nature, which are the laws of God.” (Talmage, Articles of Faith, pp. 222–23.)
“Consider the defeat of Israel by the men of Ai; a law of righteousness had been violated, and things that were accursed had been introduced into the camp of the covenant people; this transgression interposed resistance to the current of divine help, and until the people had sanctified themselves the power was not renewed unto them” (Talmage, Articles of Faith, p. 105; see also Joshua 7:10–13.)
For further discussion of the significance of this loss, see Points to Ponder in this chapter.
The act of placing dust upon one’s head had the same symbolic meaning as dressing in sackcloth and sitting in ashes. It was a token of great remorse, true humility, and deep repentance. It also symbolized the unworthy station of man compared to deity (see Genesis 37:34; compare Job 2:12; Lamentations 2:10). This sense of unworthiness seems to be the meaning of King Benjamin’s comment that the people considered themselves as less than the dust of the earth (see Mosiah 4:2).
It may appear that the action taken against Achan for taking the booty of Jericho was too severe, but the death of the mortal body may often be a merciful act both to other people and to the offender (see 1 Nephi 4:13; Leviticus 24:17). Some offenses of men are of such consequence that the payment of the life of the offender is required for the expiation of the sin. Achan’s disobedience cost the lives of thirty-six men (see Joshua 7:5). But even more important, Israel’s spiritual death would be more serious than the physical death of individuals. For Israel to fail to obey the Lord in all things would be tantamount to depriving her of the land of Canaan (see 1 Nephi 17:31–35). It is apparent from his voluntary confession that Achan understood this truth (see Joshua 7:20–21).
See the tables of weights and measures in Maps and Charts to better understand the value of a shekel of silver.
More than Jericho, Ai, the second city conquered after Israel crossed the Jordan, became a model for the conquests of other cities. Once Ai was taken, Joshua moved Israel to Mount Ebal and fulfilled the instructions of Moses to build an altar there and pronounce the blessings and cursings of the Lord from Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim (see vv. 30–35; Deuteronomy 27).
Although the subtle alliance manufactured through deceitful means saved their lives, the people of Gibeon became the perpetual slaves of Israel. Moses had warned Israel not to make any covenants with the Canaanites (see Deuteronomy 7:2), and this warning may explain why Joshua was so upset when he discovered the deception. Since the oath had been made, however, he honored it, placing the people of Gibeon in slavery instead of having them killed.
Adonizedek (a Hebrew word meaning “lord of justice”) is an example of many other civil leaders who chose titles for themselves or had titles bestowed upon them by greater rulers whose vassals they were (Fallows, Bible Encyclopedia, s.v. “Adonizedek,” 1:56). Perhaps he, like other Canaanite kings, assumed this name in imitation of the ancient patriarchal king of Salem, Melchizedek, “king of righteousness” (Fallows, Bible Encyclopedia, s.v. “Melchizedek” 2:1136). He was the chief of the confederacy of five kings that made war against Gibeon.
The Book of Mormon makes it clear that it was the earth, not the sun, that was involved in Joshua’s miracle. Mormon, discoursing on the might and power of God, wrote:
“Yea, and if he say unto the earth—Move—it is moved. Yea, if he say unto the earth—Thou shalt go back, that it lengthen out the day for many hours—it is done; And thus, according to his word the earth goeth back, and it appeareth unto man that the sun standeth still; yea, and behold, this is so; for surely it is the earth that moveth and not the sun. And behold, also, if he say unto the waters of the great deep—Be thou dried up—it is done. Behold, if he say unto this mountain—Be thou raised up, and come over and fall upon that city, that it be buried up—behold it is done.” (Helaman 12:13–17.)
“So here we have the words of a Book of Mormon prophet confirming the fact that God can—and would, when necessary—cause that the earth should stop in its rotation to lengthen a day. And since on the occasion in question he was fighting to bring victory to Israel, this was one of his means of doing so.
“If we have doubts about the Lord’s willingness or ability to interrupt the usual movements of heavenly bodies, how shall we explain such phenomena as the following:
“‘But, behold, I say unto you that before this great day shall come the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall be turned into blood, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and there shall be greater signs in heaven above and in the earth beneath.’ (D&C 29:14.)
“Or: ‘And they shall see signs and wonders, for they shall be shown forth in the heavens above and in the earth beneath. And they shall behold blood, and fire, and vapors of smoke. And before the day of the Lord shall come, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon be turned into blood, and the stars fall from heaven.’ (D&C 45:40–42.)
“‘For not many days hence and the earth shall tremble and reel to and fro as a drunken man; and the sun shall hide his face, and shall refuse to give light; and the moon shall be bathed in blood; and the stars shall become exceedingly angry, and shall cast themselves down as a fig that falleth from off a fig-tree.’ (D&C 88:87.)
“Or: ‘And so great shall be the glory of his presence that the sun shall hide his face in shame, and the moon shall withhold its light, and the stars shall be hurled from their places.’ (D&C 133:49.)
“The episode of Joshua commanding the sun and moon to stand still was insignificant compared to the stellar upsets that will accompany the second advent of the Savior, when stars will be hurled from their places. Some power will darken the sun and make the moon refuse to give its light. (Of course the moon will be darkened as soon as the sun gives no further light, since the moon’s light is merely reflected from the sun.)
“It is appropriate here to quote Sir Charles Marston, a most intelligent ‘critic of the critics,’ who said that it is time we begin ‘to recognize the extravagance of its [criticism by the intellectuals] underlying assumption, that what the critic did not know could not have been!’ (The Bible Comes Alive, New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1947, p. 182.)” (Petersen, Joshua, pp. 58–59.)
Like numerous other books mentioned in the Old and New Testament but not contained within their pages, the book of Jasher appears to have been a source that contained accounts of heroic deeds in ancient Israel. It is thought by many to have been written in verse, but it likely contained some prose as well. A book with this title is currently available, but it is of doubtful origin, according to most scholars, and probably is not the one mentioned in the Old Testament.
To place one’s foot upon the neck of a fallen enemy was a symbolic act that demonstrated complete subjugation. One had then been literally trodden underfoot. This fact is often represented in Egyptian and Assyrian sculptures and wall paintings (see 1 Kings 5:3; Isaiah 51:23).
|Joshua’s military campaigns
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The destruction of the five nations of the Canaanites was accomplished over a period of days rather than on the same day as the battle at Gibeon.
This chapter summarizes the conquest of northern Canaan. The destruction of these northern kingdoms, however, required a long time (see v. 18). The note in verse 22 is of interest because the Anakim were a race of giants (see Numbers 13:32–33) and because Goliath came from Gath (see 1 Samuel 17:4).
To hough a horse is to cut the leg tendons above and behind the tarsal joint or ankle, thus rendering the horse useless. The Israelites were foot soldiers rather than charioteers. The fear seems to have been that should the horses and chariots be used as vehicles of war, Israel would turn from faith in God and trust in the arm of flesh (see 2 Samuel 8:4; Isaiah 31:1).
These chapters contain accounts of the division of the land of Canaan among the twelve tribes of Israel. The map of Canaan in Maps and Charts gives a clear picture of how the land was divided between the tribes. Chapter 18 discusses the Levite cities commanded by Moses to be given to members of the tribe of Levi (see Reading 18-24; Numbers 35:9–27), and chapter 20 lists the cities of refuge and their purpose.
This chapter demonstrates the critical balance between true worship and apostate idolatry. Without a knowledge of why the 2½ tribes had built the altar on the other side of Jordan, one would judge the action to be an adulteration of the holy worship in the tabernacle. Satan’s counterfeits can appear very convincing. Fortunately, the tribes showed that it was an act of legitimate worship and not idolatry. The tragedy is that in a short time Israel would no longer react strongly against idolatry.
The thirty-one Canaanite city-states destroyed by Joshua in his day were not all that the Lord intended to purge from Israel (see Numbers 23:4–5). Since men tend to adopt the values or habits of those with whom they associate, it was imperative that all idolatrous nations in Canaan be destroyed. Joshua warned Israel of three things in the event that some heathen nations, including those that surrounded them, were allowed to remain: (1) beware of social intercourse with them (see Joshua 23:7), (2) refrain from worshiping their false gods (see vv. 7–11), and (3) avoid intermarriages with them (see v. 12). Otherwise, “snares and traps,” “scourges,” and “thorns” awaited Israel (v. 13).
Near the end of his life Joshua called his people together for a final blessing and warning, very much as Moses had done. Such messages should be considered very significant, for what a prophet says as he approaches death seems to be an effort on his part to rid his garments of the blood of the people by placing the full responsibility for their conduct squarely upon their shoulders (see Jacob 1:19). Joshua showed Israel exactly what God had miraculously done for them in the past and challenged them to choose whom they would serve.
Elder Erastus Snow, commenting on the feeling some have that being obedient to God somehow limits their agency, gave an interesting insight on choosing to follow God:
“If good and evil is placed before us, does not the person who chooses the good and refuses the evil exhibit his agency and manhood as much as the man who chooses the evil and refuses the good? or is the independence of manhood all on the side of the evil-doer? I leave you to answer this question in your own mind. To me, I think the angels and saints and all good people have exercised their agency by choosing the good and refusing the evil; and in doing so they not only exhibit their independence and manhood as much, but show a much higher and greater nobility of character and disposition; and I leave the future to determine who are wise in the choice of their freedom and independence.
“Joshua said to ancient Israel: ‘Choose ye this day whom ye will serve; if the Lord be God, serve him; if Baal, serve him. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’ I think what we need to learn are the true principles that shall lead us to peace, to wealth and happiness in this world, and glory and exaltation in the world to come. And that if we can learn these principles, and receive them in good and honest hearts, and teach them as our faith, and practice them in our lives, we shall show our manhood, our independence and our agency as creditably before the angels and the Gods, as any wicked man can, in refusing the good and cleaving to the evil, exhibit his before the devil and his angels.” (In Journal of Discourses, 19:180–81.)
Reference is made here to “the bones of Joseph” (v. 32). When Joseph, Jacob’s son, was dying, he extracted a promise from the children of Israel that they would take his body with them when they left Egypt (see Genesis 50:25). Most likely his body had been embalmed in the Egyptian manner. Upon Israel’s departure from Egypt, Moses honored the promise and “took the bones of Joseph with him” (Exodus 13:19). Following Israel’s arrival and settlement in the promised land, Joseph’s remains were interred, as recorded in Joshua 24:32.
(21-32) The inhabitants of Canaan were ferocious and warlike. They resisted bitterly any attempt by others to settle on land they regarded as their own. But the Lord had given Canaan to the Israelites. It was theirs to hold if only they had the courage and strength to wrest it from the Canaanites and keep it safe from their enemies.
In the strength of God, Joshua and Israel became fearless. Nations trembled at the mention of their name. Courageously they swept over the land of Canaan, east and west of Jordan, and none could stop their conquering spirit—except themselves. They had earned, for the present, at least, the name Jeshurun (“righteous Israel”) because they had chosen to serve the Lord.
The Saints today also face a world intent on their spiritual destruction. Canaan has long passed from the earth, but Satan, who incited Canaan’s wickedness and opposition to Israel, is still determined to destroy those who follow the Lamb of God (see 1 Nephi 14:12–14). Sometimes modern Israel may feel apprehensive as they see the impending judgments drawing closer and closer. Modern Canaan will be destroyed in preparation for the establishment of a worldwide Zion, and this destruction is not pleasant to contemplate. Elder Ezra Taft Benson used two passages from the book of Joshua to counsel those who feel anxiety as they contemplate the future.
“Now during this critical period, and it is a critical period that we are passing through, I hope that we will keep ever burning in our hearts the spirit of this great work which we represent. If we do so, we’ll have no anxiety; we’ll have no fear; we’ll not worry about the future because the Lord has given us the assurance that if we live righteously, if we keep his commandments, if we humble ourselves before him, all will be well. I turn to two passages of scripture today which I’d like to read:
“‘. . . Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.’ (Joshua 1:9.)
“This was the Lord’s admonition to his son, Joshua, encouraging him to trust in God. Joshua answered that admonition in counsel to his people in these words:
“‘. . . choose you this day whom ye will serve; . . . but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’ (Ibid., 24:15.)
“Embodied in these two passages of scripture are the two principal essentials for security and peace: first, trust in God; and second, a determination to keep the commandments, to serve the Lord, to do that which is right. Latter-day Saints who live according to these two admonitions—trust in God and keep the commandments—have nothing to fear.
“The Lord has made it very clear in the revelations that even though times become perilous, even though we be surrounded by temptation and sin, even though there be a feeling of insecurity, even though men’s hearts may fail them and anxiety fill their souls, if we only trust in God and keep his commandments we need have no fear.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1950, pp. 145–46.)
(21-33) There are powerful spiritual lessons for modern Saints in the account of Achan and Israel’s defeat at Ai. First, the story shows the effect of individual sin on the whole community. No one sins in isolation. We cannot say that our actions influence only ourselves for even if we do something sinful that is completely personal, our individual loss of spiritual power means a lessening of power for all mankind and contributes to the withdrawal of the Lord’s Spirit, and that is damaging to all mankind.
There is a second valuable lesson in the Lord’s answer to Joshua when Joshua asked why Israel had been defeated (see Joshua 7:10–15). If we have lost power with God, we can know, as surely as we know the sun will rise on the morrow, that the problem lies within us and not within God. As He said in our day, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” (D&C 82:10). And the key for restoring the relationship with God was also given when the Lord told Joshua, “Up, sanctify the people” (Joshua 7:13).
Joseph Smith was taught a similar lesson when the Church was deeply in debt.
Read D&C 104:78–80.
Note how the Lord introduces a third element into the problem-solving process. Most of us look at problems in this way:
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We think that the problem is something external, that is, if we can summon enough power, it can be solved through our own effort. But the Lord told Israel through both Joseph and Joshua that while there was an external problem, there was also an internal one that blocked the channels of true power. Here is how the problem-solving process should work:
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1. How did Abraham and Sarah apply this principle in relationship to Sarah’s barrenness? (see Hebrews 11:11).
2. How did Joseph use this principle when presented with the problem of interpreting the pharaoh’s dream? (see Genesis 41:14–16).
3. How could this lesson be applied in such modern situations as a wife with an inactive husband, a parent with wayward children, a child with unbelieving parents, a person struggling to overcome a bad habit?
4. How is this principle of power related to the principle taught in Ether 12:27?
5. Isn’t this the whole principle behind the doctrine that ultimately we are saved by the grace of Christ “after all we can do”? (2 Nephi 25:23).
6. Read carefully Moroni 10:32–33. Isn’t this the very way that we eventually come to salvation?
What was so evil about idolatry that would cause the Lord to be so severe in His punishment of those who practiced it? Why did the Lord tell the Israelites of Joshua’s day to destroy all of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites? Why did the Lord command them, “Thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth”? (Deuteronomy 20:16.) They were also commanded to make a heap of all the images and all but certain designated possessions and burn them (see Deuteronomy 7:24–26; 12:2–3). Why such severe treatment? Why was the Lord so severe with all Israel when Achan kept things that were forbidden? (see Joshua 7). Why, indeed, must mankind be strictly confined by commandment to the worship of only the one true God? Perhaps the real question is, Why would anyone want to worship any but the true God?
After Saul fell from the favor of the Lord, David was anointed to sit on the throne of Israel and to establish the royal family that would produce the King of Kings. Probably no king of Israel was more free than David was of any idolatrous inclinations or practices. From his day on, the writers of the Old Testament used David as the standard of excellence in measuring the loyalty of their kings to Jehovah. This use of David as a standard almost makes it look as if a king could be forgiven any offense more easily than even the slightest dabbling in idolatry.
The first two commandments in the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) forbade the sin of idolatry (see Exodus 20:25). Thus, the Lord announced the error and sin of having false gods, tangible or intangible, as objects of worship. (This commandment does not refer to decorations on or in temples, tabernacles, or chapels. The same Lord who gave the Ten Commandments also instructed the Israelites in the decoration of the ark of the covenant with graven cherubim. Simply having these cherubim there as art objects was not idolatry. It is when the image becomes an object of or an integral part of worship or obeisance that its manufacture and use become idolatrous.)
It is very important to understand that the worship of a false god that is intangible is just as evil and just as disastrous to the idolater as the worship of a graven image. Some false god may be associated with nature or be the worship of nature itself, meaning the laws or powers seen in nature. Idolatry of nature-related gods has included the worship of various animals, plants, the weather, volcanoes, the sun, the moon, the stars, the planets, and so on. For instance, the Baal of the Old Testament was a god of nature. He was associated with rain and fertility of the soil, and he was also worshiped as a sun god. The myths surrounding him say that he was supposed to be a real entity who dwelt on a mountain somewhere north of Israel and was involved in all sorts of heroic but sinful pursuits. He even was supposed to have been killed by Mot, the god of death, and later resurrected. This episode was supposed to explain a great drought in the Middle East and its later alleviation (see Roth, Encyclopaedia Judaica, s.v. “Baal worship,” 4:10–11).
Though in the Old Testament idolatry is associated with the worship of actual images, true idolatry goes far beyond the practice of bowing down to images and appeasing angry idols. The Lord has made it clear in all ages that whenever men place their full trust in such things as other men, nations, treaties, treasuries, precious minerals, armies, or armaments, their actions are a form of idolatry because such actions reveal a lack of trust in Jehovah. To be totally free of idolatry one must put complete trust in the true God.
The most pronounced and consistent of Israel’s departures from the covenant relationship with Jehovah involved idolatry. Old Testament history is filled with accounts of Israel’s turning to false gods, the Lord’s warnings against doing so, and prophets’ warnings about what would happen if Israel did not repent. The following excerpts briefly summarize idolatry in the Old Testament.
“Idolatry was the most heinous offense against the Mosaic law, which is most particular in defining the acts which constitute the crime, and severe in apportioning the punishment. Thus, it is forbidden to make any image of a strange God; to prostrate oneself before such an image, or before those natural objects which were also worshiped without images as the sun and moon [Deuteronomy 4:19]; to suffer the altars, images, or groves or idols to stand [Exodus 34:13]; or to keep the gold and silver of which their images were made and to suffer it to enter the house [Deuteronomy 7:25–26]; to sacrifice to idols, most especially to offer human sacrifices; to eat of the victims offered to idols by others; to prophesy in the name of a strange god; and to adopt any of the rites used in idolatrous worship, and to transfer them to the worship of the Lord [Deuteronomy 12:30–31]. As for punishment, the law orders that if an individual committed idolatry he should be stoned to death [Deuteronomy 17:2–5]; that if a town was guilty of this sin, its inhabitants and cattle should be slain, and its spoils burnt together with the town itself [Deuteronomy 13:12–18].” (Fallows, Bible Encyclopedia, s.v. “idolatry,” 2:850.)
“The sun and moon were early selected as outward symbols of all-pervading power, and the worship of the heavenly bodies was not only the most ancient but the most prevalent system of idolatry. Taking its rise in the plains of Chaldea, it spread through Egypt, Greece, Seythia, and even Mexico and Ceylon. Comp. Deut. 4:19; 17:3; Job 31:20–28. In the later times of the monarchy, the planets or the zodiacal signs received, next to the sun and moon, their share of popular adoration. 2 Kings 23:5. Beast-worship, as exemplified in the calves of Jeroboam, has already been alluded to. Of pure hero-worship among the Semitic races we find no trace. The singular reverence with which trees have been honored is not without example in the history of the Hebrews. The terebinth (oak) at Mamre, beneath which Abraham built an altar, Gen. 12:7; 13–18, and the memorial grove planted by him at Beersheba, Gen. 21:33, were intimately connected with patriarchal worship. Mountains and high places were chosen spots for offering sacrifice and incense to idols, 1 Kings 11:7; 14:23; and the retirement of gardens and the thick shade of woods offered great attractions to their worshippers. 2 Kings 16:4; Isa. 1:29; Hos. 4:13. The host of heaven was worshipped on the house-top. 2 Kings 23:12; [Jeremiah 19:13; 32:29]; Zeph. 1:5. (The modern objects of idolatry are less gross than the ancient, but are none the less idols. Whatever of wealth or honor or pleasure is loved and sought before God and righteousness becomes an object of idolatry.)” (Smith, Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. “idolatry,” pp. 263–64.)
“The general rites of idolatrous worship consist in burning incense; in offering bloodless sacrifices, as the dough-cakes and libations in [Jeremiah 7:18], and the raisin-cake in [Hosea 3:1]: in sacrificing victims [1 Kings 18:26]; and especially in human sacrifices. . . . These offerings were made on high places, hills, and roofs of houses, or in shady groves and valleys. Some forms of idolatrous worship had libidinous orgies. . . . Divinations, oracles [2 Kings 1:2], and rabdomancy [Hosea 4:12] form a part of many of these false religions. The priesthood was generally a numerous body; and where persons of both sexes were attached to the service of any god (like that of Ashtoreth), that service was infamously immoral.” (Fallows, Bible Encyclopedia, s.v. “idolatry,” 2:850.)
Ashtoreth. “This is the name of Astarte, goddess of the Zidonians [1 Kings 11:5, 33], and also of the Philistines [1 Samuel 31:10], whose worship was introduced among the Israelites during the period of the judges [Judges 2:13; 1 Samuel 7:4], and was celebrated by Solomon himself [1 Kings 11:5], and was finally put down by Josiah [2 Kings 23:13]. She is frequently mentioned in connection with Baal, as the corresponding female divinity [Judges 2:13]; and from the addition of the words ‘and all the hosts of heaven,’ in [2 Kings 23:4] . . . it is probable that she represented one of the celestial bodies. . . .
“. . . The most prominent part of her worship, consisted of those libidinous orgies which Augustine, who was an eye witness of their horrors in Carthage, describes with such indignation. . . . Her priests were eunuchs in women’s attire and women . . . prostitutes [Hosea 4:14], . . . who, like the Bayaderes of India, prostituted themselves to enrich the temple of this goddess.” (Fallows, Bible Encyclopedia, s.v. “Ashtoreth,” 1:168.)
Baal. “The supreme male divinity of the Phoenician and Canaanitish nations, as Ashtoreth was their supreme female divinity. Some suppose Baal to correspond to the sun and Ashtoreth to the moon; others that Baal was Jupiter and Ashtoreth Venus. There can be no doubt of the very high antiquity of the worship of Baal. It prevailed in the time of Moses among the Moabites and Midianites, Num. 22:41, and through them spread to the Israelites. Num. 25:3–18; Deut. 4:3. In the times of the kings it became the religion of the court and people of the ten tribes, 1 Kings 16:31–33; 18:19, 22, and appears never to have been permanently abolished among them. 2 Kings 17:16. Temples were erected to Baal in Judah, 1 Kings 16:32, and he was worshipped with much ceremony. 1 Kings 18:19, 26–28; 2 Kings 10:22. The attractiveness of this worship to the Jews undoubtedly grew out of its licentious character. We find this worship also in Phoenician colonies. The religion of the ancient British islands much resembled this ancient worship of Baal, and may have been derived from it. Nor need we hesitate to regard the Babylonian Bel, Isa. 46:1, or Belus, as essentially identical with Baal, though perhaps under some modified form. The plural, Baalim, is found frequently, showing that he was probably worshipped under different compounds, among which appear—
“1. Baal-berith (the covenant Baal), Judges 8:33; 9:4; the god who comes into covenant with the worshippers.
“2. Baal-zebub (lord of the fly), and worshipped at Ekron. 2 Kings 1:2, 3, 16.
“3. Baal-hanan. a. The name of one of the early kings of Edom. Gen. 36:38, 39; 1 Chron. 1:49, 50. b. The name of one of David’s officers, who had the superintendence of his olive and sycamore plantations. 1 Chron. 27:28.
“4. Baal-peor (lord of the opening, i.e. for others to join in the worship). We have already referred to the worship of this god. The narrative (Num. 25) seems clearly to show that this form of Baal-worship was connected with licentious rites.” (Smith, Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. “Baal,” p. 70.)
Chemosh. “The god of Moab (1 Kgs. 11:7); also of Ammon (Judg. 11:24). . . . Chemosh was worshipped with human sacrifices (2 Kgs. 3:27)” (Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Chemosh.”)
Dagon. “The God of the Philistines (Judg. 16:23; 1 Sam. 5:2; 1 Macc. 10:84; 12:2). There were temples of Dagon at Gaza and Ashdod. . . . His image was in the form partly of a man and partly of a fish. Some recent writers, however, question whether Dagon was really a fish-god, and connect the name with dagan, ‘grain.’” (Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Dagon.”)
Molech. “The worship of Moloch is generally cited as an example of the cruelest and most abhorrent idolatry known to man. Moloch, called also Molech, Malcham, Milcom, Baal-melech, etc., was an Ammonite idol: it is mentioned in scripture in connection with its cruel rites (Lev. 18:21; 20:2–5; see also I Kings 11:5, 7, 33; 2 Kings 23:10, 13; Amos 5:26; Zeph. 1:5; Jer. 32:35). Keil and Delitzsch describe the idol as being ‘represented by a brazen statue which was hollow, and capable of being heated, and formed with a bull’s head, and with arms stretched out to receive the children to be sacrificed.’ While the worship of this idol did not invariably include human sacrifice, it is certain that such hideous rites were characteristic of this abominable shrine. The authors last quoted say: ‘From the time of Ahaz, children were slain at Jerusalem in the valley of Ben-Hinnom, and then sacrificed by being laid in the heated arms and burned’ (2 Kings 23:10; 16:3; 17:17; 21:6; Jer. 32:35; Ezek. 16:20, 21; 20:31; compare Ps. 106:37, 38). Many authorities state that the sacrifice of children to this hideous monster long antedated the time of Ahaz. ‘The offering of living victims was probably the climax of enormity in connection with this system, and it is said that Tophet, where it was to be witnessed, was so named from the beating of drums to drown the shrieks and groans of those who were burned to death. The same place was called the Valley of Hinnom, and the horrible associations connected with it led to both Tophet and Gehenna (‘valley of Hinnom’) being adopted as names and symbols of future torment.’” (Talmage, Articles of Faith, p. 464.)
“Many have wondered why the Israelites were so easily led away from the true God, into the worship of idols. (1) Visible, outward signs, with shows, pageants, parades, have an attraction to the natural heart, which often fails to perceive the unseen spiritual realities. (2) But the greatest attraction seems to have been in licentious revelries and obscene orgies with which the worship of the Oriental idols was observed. This worship, appealing to every sensual passion, joined with the attractions of wealth and fashion and luxury, naturally was a great temptation to a simple, restrained, agricultural people, whose worship and laws demanded the greatest purity of heart and of life.” (Smith, Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. “idolatry,” p. 264.)
A person’s god is the thing or being in which he trusts and which he believes has the greatest power. It is the thing to which he looks for whatever salvation he believes is available. All other beliefs and actions are affected by that belief or object of his worship. When this idea is fully grasped one can understand why the Lord would issue an edict to destroy all the people and their possessions in an idolatrous city. Not to destroy their goods would be to demonstrate a lack of faith that the Lord would provide. Similarly, if a Latter-day Saint will not tithe, is it not because he centers his trust in worldly things and the system that produces them instead of in the providence of the Lord? In that sense, then, the things of the world become a god to him, for he trusts more in them than in God’s power. Paul said, “Covetousness . . . is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5) and a “covetous man . . . is an idolater” (Ephesians 5:5). Is not the failure to pay tithing a form of covetousness? Those who do not pay tithing would likely be shocked to think they were guilty of idolatry just as the ancient Israelites were guilty of idolatry. The form differs, but the sin is the same.
Often modern prophets have warned against making idols of money, automobiles, houses, and other material objects (see Reading 11-4 for President Spencer W. Kimball’s statement on modern idolatry). The worship of these things, of course, is symptomatic of the trust some have in natural law instead of God and His laws. They see the world as a place where the creature fares according to his genius (see Alma 30:17). Hence, they look upon all they gain as their own, not as the Lord’s. They forget that they are only stewards of the Lord’s goods.
A Zion people can come into being only through obedience to the gospel, commencing with a true knowledge of the true God. There cannot be any compromise. You cannot serve God and mammon (see Luke 16:13). True worship, like liberty, is not divisible. You cannot get away with a little idolatry; once started, the destruction follows unless sincere repentance occurs (see Exodus 34:10–17; Deuteronomy 7; Joshua 23:6–16; 1 Kings 9:9; 2 Kings 17:7–23; Psalm 106:34–43; Jeremiah 16:11–21; John 2:11–23).
When the Lord put a blessing and a cursing upon the children of Israel and their land, the conditions were very strict (see Deuteronomy 28; Leviticus 26). The Israelites failed because they would not put their complete trust in their one true God. So they were delivered up to the consequences of trying to love both the world and the Lord at the same time.
Brigham Young called upon modern Saints to examine their own hearts in this regard:
“Again, I can charge you with what you will all plead guilty of, if you would confess the truth, viz., you dare not quite give up all your hearts to God, and become sanctified throughout, and be led by the Holy Ghost from morning until evening, and from one year’s end to another. I know this is so, and yet few will acknowledge it. I know this feeling is in your hearts, as well as I know the sun shines.
“We will examine it a little closer. Many of you have fearful forebodings that all is not right in the organization of this kingdom. You shiver and shake in your feelings, and tremble in your spirit; you cannot put your trust in God, in men, nor in yourself. This arises from the power of evil that is so prevalent upon the face of the whole earth. It was given to you by your father and mother; it was mingled with your conception in the womb, and it has ripened in your flesh, in your blood, and in your bones, so that it has become riveted in your very nature. If I were to ask you individually, if you wished to be sanctified throughout, and become as pure and holy as you possibly could live, every person would say yes; yet if the Lord Almighty should give a revelation instructing you to be given wholly up to Him, and to His cause, you would shrink, saying, ‘I am afraid he will take away some of my darlings.’ That is the difficulty with the majority of this people.
“It is for you and I to wage war with that principle until it is overcome in us, then we shall not entail it upon our children. It is for us to lay a foundation so that everything our children have to do with, will bring them to Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better things than the blood of Abel. If we lay such a foundation with all good conscience, and labor as faithfully as we can, it will be well with us and our children in time and in eternity.” (In Journal of Discourses, 2:134.)
When Joshua and the leaders of Israel who served under him died, the national spirit of Israel also died. Tribal loyalty replaced national unity. Each tribe began to look to its own resources without giving help or asking aid from their fellow Israelites. Joshua’s generation remained faithful to the Lord (see Joshua 24:31), but spiritual apostasy soon occurred in the following generation. “And there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.
“And they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the Lord to anger.” (Judges 2:10, 12.)
None of this apostasy needed to happen. The Lord had directed Israel into the promised land and had provided them with a political covenant. He was to be their divine sovereign. Their temporal leaders were to be ruling judges, under whom the people retained religious and political liberties. (Such a form of government was advocated in the Book of Mormon by King Mosiah [see Mosiah 29].)
Israel’s political covenant showed the mercy and long-suffering of the Lord and would have been the best possible government in Israel. As can be seen in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon, however, under the rule of the judges the people must demonstrate loyalty to the Lord and His commandments for this ideal form of government to function properly. Since Israel usually broke their covenant during the reign of the judges, the governmental system did not function properly, and Israel fell out of favor with the Lord.
The reign of the judges is similar in many ways to the history of the Nephites prior to the coming of Christ. It is a story of one continuous cycle of apostasy and repentance. When the Israelites turned from the Lord, their enemies began to prevail (see Judges 2:14–15). Suffering under oppression and war, the people would cry unto God and He would raise up a Deborah or a Gideon to deliver them. But once peace and security were reestablished, the people turned again to their former ways (see Judges 2:16–19).
The story of the time of the judges is thus primarily a sad and tragic one, although in this period lived some of the most remarkable men and women of the Old Testament. In their lives of courage, faith, and personal greatness, as well as in the lives of those who forsook the Lord and pursued selfish ends, are many lessons of importance for Saints today. Look for those lessons as you read this period of Israel’s history.
Instructions to Students
1. Use Notes and Commentary below to help you as you read and study Judges 1–12.
2. Complete Points to Ponder as directed by your teacher. (Individual study students should complete all of this section.)
This account is a repetition of the story found in the last half of the book of Joshua. The following information is of special interest in understanding the other historical books of the Bible:
1. Judah was able to control the inland hill country of southern Canaan but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the Shephelan and the coastal plain (the Philistines), apparently because of the chariots of iron which the Philistines introduced (see Judges 1:19). The real reason for their failure, however, was that they had lost the power of the Lord through their lack of faith and by their disobedience.
2. The holy area around Bethel was captured and controlled by the house of Joseph (see Judges 1:22–26).
3. Even though the Israelites were supposed to drive out all the heathen inhabitants of their promised land, they failed to do so. Numerous unconquered cities remained (see Judges 1:27–36), and the presence of these people and their gods proved to be a thorn in the side of Israel for centuries to come (see Judges 2:3; Reading 22-7).
|Ruins at ancient Bethel|
The Israelites apparently joined in the practice common among other ancients of mutilating captives in an attempt to strike terror into the hearts of other enemies.
“When discussing the political and religious conditions in Palestine at the time of the Israelite conquest (between 1250 and 1200 B.C.), we should note that the whole Near East had boiled with turmoil during the preceding century. The power of Egypt’s ally in Mesopotamia, Mitanni, had collapsed. Egypt herself first lost and then regained power over much of the eastern Mediterranean area. The Hurrian and Aryan peoples had pressed down from the north almost as far as Palestine, Assyria had begun to rise as a world power, and the old Hittite Empire of Asia Minor and Egypt had reached a standoff for control of the Near East.
“In Palestine, Egypt was nominally in control. The land of Canaan was made up of numerous city-states, each independently governed, which paid tribute to Egypt whenever they were forced to do so. Other Hebrew tribes, distant relatives of the Israelites, comprised a modest part of the population in Canaan. It is also worth noting that prior to Israel’s settlement, the Canaanites had developed a linear alphabet, which later passed from Phoenicia to Greece, thus becoming the ancestor to our own.
“The material culture and international trade of the Canaanites was highly advanced, but their religious ways stood diametrically opposed to Israel’s. Based on the fertility cults led by the god Baal, the Canaanite religion was an extraordinarily immoral form of paganism, including . . . prostitution, homosexuality, and other orgiastic rites.
“The population of Canaan was mixed. In addition to the Canaanites near the sea and a few Hebrew clans, the Amorites are mentioned often in the Old Testament. Abraham descended from this Semitic people. Many of the other peoples listed in the Bible as inhabitants of the land (Hittites, Hivites, Horites, Jebusites, etc.) represent Canaan’s non-Semitic elements, although their tribal names preserve their distant origins. These people fully adopted the Canaanite religion and way of life by the time of the Israelite invasion.” (S. Kent Brown, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Oct. 1973, p. 58.)
“Perhaps inevitably, the Israelites, who had no distinct culture or knowledge of settled life, gradually absorbed many aspects of Canaan’s sophisticated culture. The architectural style, pottery, furniture and literature of later Israel were all borrowed from those of Canaan. In many ways this borrowing was beneficial. The Israelites were able to profit from the techniques of construction, farming and craftsmanship which had taken the Canaanites centuries to develop.
“But in the eyes of Israel’s religious leaders, the pagan ways of the Canaanites posed a continual threat to the integrity of the nation. The Israelites’ only strength lay in their common covenant. Any weakening of this basic loyalty left the individual tribes without the strength that comes from unity. When misfortune came, it was [because of] the faithlessness of the people, who again and again turned away from the Lord.” (Great People of the Bible and How They Lived, p. 114.)
Why, according to the angel of the Lord, did God no longer assist Israel in driving out the Canaanites?
“The Book of Judges makes clear that Israel did not conquer all of Canaan when first she entered it. . . . For a long time during the days of the Judges many of the Israelites were essentially ‘hillbillies’ [see Judges 6:2], hemmed in by their enemies on every side. After the generations of Israelites who had been acquainted with Joshua passed away, the effects of Canaanite morals and religion began to be apparent upon the younger generation. For long periods of time the Canaanites conquered Israel and this fact alone would tend to disrupt her settled religious life and practice. Times were rough and banditry was rampant. As the record itself states: ‘In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes’ [Judges 17:6]. All of this seems to have taken place because Israel did not drive the Canaanites completely out. The Lord said to the Israelites: ‘Ye have not hearkened to My voice; what is this ye have done? Wherefore I also said: I will not drive them out before you; but they shall be unto you as snares, and their gods shall be a trap unto you.’ [Judges 2:2–3.] . . . Israel’s conduct during this period had a lasting effect upon her religion and morals. For centuries Israel’s prophets and wise men referred to it and denounced her allegiance to old Canaanite practices. It is plain that Israel, during the period of the Judges, compromised her relatively high religious ideals with Canaanite practices and certain elements in her population must have apostatized completely.” (Sperry, Spirit of the Old Testament, pp. 51–52.)
“Numerous Old Testament references recite apostate Israel’s worship of Baal and Baalim (plural of Baal). It was the priest of Baal, for instance, with whom Elijah had his dramatic contest in the days of Ahab and Jezebel. (1 Kings 18.) Baal was the supreme male deity of the Phoenician and Canaanitish nation. It is likely that there were, in practice, many Baals or gods of particular places, the worship of whom was licentious in nature, Baalzebub (the same name as Beelzebub or Satan) was the name of the god of one particular group. (2 Kings 1:3.)” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 68.)
“As Baal was the supreme male deity of the Phoenician and Canaanitish nations, so Ashtoreth (Ashtaroth) was their supreme female deity. She was the so-called goddess of love and fertility, whose licentious worship pleased Israel in her apostate periods. (Judges 2:13; 10:6; 1 Sam. 7:3–4; 12:10.)” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 55.)
For more information on the false gods of Old Testament times, see Enrichment Section F, “Idolatry: Ancient and Modern.”
The so-called judges, according to the record, appear to be more military heroes rather than officers of the judiciary.
“The English word ‘judge’ doesn’t well describe these leaders. Though the root of the Hebrew word used means primarily ‘to judge,’ it is used secondarily also in the extended meaning ‘to govern.’ Most of the ‘judging’ done in this period was a matter of giving advice and rendering decisions. Regular court procedures are nowhere described for the times of the Judges in Israel. In fact, the most common function they are seen to perform is that of military leadership.” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:149.)
The judges did not reign over all of unified Israel during their period of leadership. The chronicler of these stories likely took the choicest of the heroes from each of the tribes during this generally apostate period and combined into one book their righteous achievements and their moral lessons for Israel.
These verses explain what this historical record, the book of Judges, reveals. First, the people chose evil by worshiping heathen gods, and the Lord allowed them to fall into the hands of their enemies. Judges were then raised up by the Lord to deliver them. At such times, as it is more clearly stated in the Joseph Smith Translation, “the Lord hearkened because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them” (JST, Judges 2:18; emphasis added). But as soon as the judge was dead, Israel turned to the other gods, and the cycle began again. A strikingly similar cycle of righteousness and apostasy occurred among the people of the Book of Mormon and is graphically described in Helaman 12.
Intermarriage with the heathen nations was a natural result of serving “Baalim and the groves” (v. 7). The groves were local worship centers for heathen gods and included a tree or pole and altars, often among groves of trees. The practice of idolatry which broke the covenant and which was sustained from generation to generation corrupted the house of Israel. One of the most important reminders to Israel that the Lord gave through Moses before they entered the promised land went unheeded (see Deuteronomy 7:3–5).
The twelve judges and their victories spoken of in the book of Judges were as follows:
1. Othniel of Judah (3:9): victory against Chushan-rishathaim.
2. Ehud of Benjamin (3:15): victory against Eglon of Moab.
3. Shamgar (3:31): victory against the Philistines (location unknown).
4. Deborah (Ephraim) and Barak (Naphtali) (4:4–6): victory over Jabin and Sisera.
5. Gideon of Manasseh (6:11): victory over the Midianites and Amalekites.
6. Tola of Issachar (10:1).
7. Jair of Gilead (10:3).
8. Jephthah of Gilead (11:11): victory over the Ammonites.
9. Ibzan of Bethlehem (12:8).
10. Elon of Zebulun (12:11).
11. Abdon of Ephraim (12:13).
12. Samson of Dan (15:20): victory against the Philistines.
|Nations that challenged Israel’s right in the Promised Land
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The “city of palm trees” is another name for Jericho (Judges 3:13; see also Deuteronomy 34:3; Judges 1:16; 2 Chronicles 28:15). Evidently this city had been rebuilt near the original site after its destruction by Joshua. Through the centuries, Jericho has had minor shifts in location. The New Testament location was different from both Old Testament locations.
Israel was sorely lacking in leadership at this time. The regular priesthood leadership was not in effect because the covenant had been broken. Deborah did not direct Israel in any official sense; she was a prophetess who possessed the spirit of prophecy, one of the gifts of the Spirit (see Revelation 19:10; Moroni 10:13; D&C 47:22). She was blessed with spiritual insight and leadership qualities that were not being put to use by any man. Barak would not lead an army against Jabin until Deborah promised to be present (see Judges 4:8–9).
“No special ordination in the Priesthood is essential to man’s receiving the gift of prophecy; bearers of the Melchizedek Priesthood, Adam, Noah, Moses, and a multitude of others were prophets, but not more truly so than others who were specifically called to the Aaronic order, as exemplified in the instance of John the Baptist. The ministrations of Miriam and Deborah show that this gift may be possessed by women also.” (Talmage, Articles of Faith, pp. 228–29; see also Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 3:66.)
|Barak defeated Sisera.
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The Kenites were descendants of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses (see Judges 1:16). The courageous Jael, who was the wife of Heber the Kenite, slew the chieftain Sisera, thus fulfilling Deborah’s prophecy (see Judges 4:9). Sisera’s death opened the way for Barak’s victory.
The River Kishon flows in a northwest direction through the Jezreel Valley until it empties into the Mediterranean Sea near present-day Haifa. Because the land is quite flat, the river is usually not much more than a sluggish stream. In times of unusually hard rains, however, it may overflow its banks and flood the surrounding land, making it marshy and nearly impassable.
The song of Deborah seems to suggest that just such an unexpected downpour, accompanied by thunder and lightning, suddenly struck the area. The chariots of Sisera bogged down in the resulting overflow of the Kishon River, making it possible for the smaller forces of Deborah and Barak to achieve victory. Deborah rightly saw in this event the hand of the Lord and gave Him credit for the victory (see v. 30).
“The Midianites and the Amalekites were the children of the desert who, through their roving habits which begot naturally a desire for plunder, led them into a systematic practice of robbing the Israelites. During the seasons of harvest they came from the deserts on the south and the east like great swarms of locusts and carried away the corn [grain] and the live-stock upon which the Israelites subsisted.
“For seven years Israel was thus impoverished, and adopted every means at their command to conceal their property and to hide themselves from the dangers of slaughter by the Midianites. In that period, through southern Palestine, they made caverns in the earth that may still be seen. In time, however, they came to feel so deeply their suffering and humiliation that they appealed to Jehovah, the God they had forsaken in their worship. He was their last refuge, their last means of escape from the awful bondage of those times.” (Tanner, Old Testament Studies, 1:288–89.)
|Gideon defeated the Midianite kings.
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“When Gideon asked for a ‘sign’ he seemed only to want a sign that the messenger was a bona fide emissary of the Lord (v. 17). On this point, note that messengers may sometimes be from the wrong source and discernment is important. (See, e.g., D&C 129; see another consideration of the problem in II Corinthians 11:13–15; I Corinthians 12:10; and I John 4:1–2.) (Signs may be given, based upon man’s faith and the will of God. D&C 63:10.)
“When Gideon made a meal of meat, cakes and broth, and the angel turned it into a miraculous burnt offering, this ‘sign’ quite overwhelmed Gideon. But the Lord kindly gave him comfort and peace, and Gideon gratefully named the monument he built there ‘Lord of Peace.’” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:150.)
Gideon’s father, Joash, owned a grove and an altar dedicated to the false god Baal. Groves of trees played a prominent part in ancient heathen worship. Since it was thought wrong to shut up the gods with walls, groves of trees were often used as natural temples. Within the groves the immoral rites of the heathen religions were performed.
Gideon and ten other men followed the Lord’s commandments to tear down the grove and the altar and in their place erect an altar to Jehovah. The men of the city cried for Gideon’s death, but Joash defended his son’s actions. Joash named Gideon Jerubbaal, “let Baal plead,” meaning that if Baal was upset by Gideon’s actions Baal could defend his own cause. The name Jerubbaal remained with Gideon on some occasions thereafter.
“Though only the tribes from the north—Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali—joined his campaign, these were more than enough for the purposes of the Lord at the time. Eventually the 32,000 were reduced to 300, that the ‘help of the Lord’ might be apparent to Israel. . . .
“Against the formidable might of camel-mounted marauders, strategy and the help of the Lord gave the Israelites success where hand to hand combat would have been disastrous. It is now known that the use of camels for military purposes by the nomadic desert riders was only beginning to be common in those times—12th to 10th centuries B.C., and of course, the first tribes to use them had the advantage.” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:151.)
Ancient Israel divided the twelve hours of the night into three watches. The middle watch would have been from 10:00 P.M. until 2:00 A.M. After the dispersion of Israel, the Jews continued the practice (see Exodus 14:24; 1 Samuel 11:11; Psalms 63:6; 90:4; 119:48; Lamentations 2:19). In New Testament times the Romans divided the night into four watches (see Matthew 24:43).
As they pursued the remnants of the Midianite army, Gideon’s valiant little band of three hundred grew faint from hunger and sought food from the people of Succoth, a town of Gad (Gilead), which lay on the east side of the Jordan not far from Jericho. The Succothites refused to give Gideon’s men the food they needed because they had not yet actually conquered the Midianite kings. The people of Penuel (the place where Jacob had stopped many years before and wrestled with God’s messenger [see Genesis 32:31]), also refused aid. Perhaps they were afraid that Gideon would fail to capture and subdue the fleeing kings and that later the Midianites would return and punish them for aiding Gideon. Whatever the reason, these events illustrate the tragic fragmentation of apostate Israel. Since the Midianites lived in the deserts of Arabia, Gad and the other tribes east of the Jordan were most vulnerable to their marauding raids. Yet instead of joining Gideon in his attempt to eliminate the threat once and for all, these Gadites flatly refused to get involved.
Gideon was furious and promised that once he finished with the Midianites he would return to deal with these traitors. In the case of Succoth, Gideon promised to return and “tear”—the Hebrew literally means “thresh”—their flesh with briars and thorns (v. 7) (see Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “tear,” p. 440). Yet when Gideon did return, the record says, he “taught” them with briars and thorns (v. 16). Many of the ancient manuscripts show this change to be a scribal error: “Instead of . . . he taught, Houbigant reads . . . he tore; and this is not only agreeable to what Gideon had threatened, ver. 7, but is supported by the Vulgate, Septuagint, Chaldec, Syriac, and Arabic. The Hebrew text might have been easily corrupted in this place by the change of . . . shin into . . . ain, letters very similar to each other.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 2:137.)
This punishment was probably a figurative term and not necessarily an actual whipping with thorn branches. “What this punishment consisted in I cannot say; it must mean a severe punishment: as if he had said, I will thresh your flesh with briers and thorns, as corn is threshed out with threshing instruments; or, Ye shall be trodden down under the feet of my victorious army, as the corn is trodden out with the feet of the ox.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 2:136.) Such harsh punishment was justified because in their refusal to help Gideon’s army, Succoth and Penuel threatened the whole nation of Israel. Their act was thus equivalent to high treason.
Zebah and Zalmunna did not want Jether to slay them. To have a boy slay them would be a great dishonor, but to die quickly under the hand of such a great warrior as Gideon would preserve their honor. Compare this request with Abimelech’s request of his armor-bearer to slay him lest men say a woman had killed him (see Judges 9:53–54).
These verses give proof of Gideon’s great faith and righteousness. The people sought to make him king because of his greatness in victory. Had he consented, Gideon would have been lending support to the idea that through his own power he had won the battle. By refusing their request, Gideon reminded them where the real source of their victory lay and whom they should view as their king.
“An unfortunate anticlimatic development arose due to Gideon’s mistaken zeal in making a new ephod (part of the garment of the chief Priest in Israel) out of some of the precious things gathered from the smitten soldiers of the enemy. When the text says Israelites ‘went a whoring after it’ the idiom means they looked upon it as if it were an idol, and idol worship is often condemned in these terms as infidelity to God.” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:151.)
Gideon’s intention was to use the spoils of war to make a fitting memorial honoring God’s part in the victory, but the Israelites were quick to turn to false gods and viewed the ephod as though it were an idol.
Jotham was the only one of the seventy sons of Gideon to escape the mass fratricide of Abimelech. Jotham had hid himself (see v. 5). Upon the eight-hundred-foot high Mount Gerizim, Jotham delivered to the men of Shechem a very interesting parable, one of the few parables recorded in the Old Testament.
In the parable there were trees (leaders of Israel) who wanted a king among them (Gideon was offered the chance to become king). None of the faithful trees (sons of Gideon) would accept the crown because they felt there should be equality among the trees and one should not rule over the rest. Finally, the kingmakers asked the miserable bramble bush (Abimelech, son of a concubine wife) to reign over the trees. The bramble bush consented, providing the trees would put their complete trust in him and obey his every command. If they did not obey, he would send fire to consume all of them.
Jotham then prophesied that the people would eventually desire to destroy Abimelech (see v. 20). For the details of how completely Jotham’s prophecy was fulfilled, see Judges 9:22–57.
Israel had no assurance at this time that God would help them. They had sold themselves to other gods, and they now had to rely on their strength. A similar warning, found in D&C 101:7–8, was given to the Saints of the latter days.
Many have supposed that Jephthah offered his daughter as a human sacrifice, and a literal reading of the text may support that view. But if that is true, some difficult questions are raised. Jephthah was regarded as a great hero and deliverer of Israel, and even his sacrifice of his daughter is treated in a way that suggests the author of Judges viewed it as a commendable act. In Hebrews 11:32–35 Jephthah is used as one of the examples of great faith. Would this case be true if he had engaged in human sacrifice, an act viewed as one of the greatest of abominations in ancient Israel? Why does Jephthah’s daughter “bewail her virginity” (Judges 11:37) rather than mourn the approaching loss of her life? After Jephthah had fulfilled his vow of sacrificing his daughter, the text states that “she knew no man” (v. 39). Bible scholars have suggested an explanation that adequately answers these questions.
“Jephthah was compelled by his vow to dedicate his daughter to Jehovah in a lifelong virginity. . . . The entreaty of the daughter, that he would grant her two months’ time, in order that she might lament her virginity upon the mountains with her friends, would have been marvellously out of keeping with the account that she was to be put to death as a sacrifice. To mourn one’s virginity does not mean to mourn because one has to die a virgin, but because one has to live and remain a virgin. But even if we were to assume that mourning her virginity was equivalent to mourning on account of her youth. . . . ‘it would be impossible to understand why this should take place upon the mountains. It would be altogether opposed to human nature, that a child who had so soon to die should make use of a temporary respite to forsake her father altogether. It would no doubt be a reasonable thing that she should ask permission to enjoy life for two months longer before she was put to death; but that she should only think of bewailing her virginity, when a sacrificial death was in prospect, which would rob her father of his only child, would be contrary to all the ordinary feelings of the human heart. Yet, inasmuch as the history lays special emphasis upon her bewailing her virginity, this must have stood in some peculiar relation to the nature of the vow. . . .’ (P. Cassel, p. 473). And this is confirmed by the expression, to bewail her virginity ‘upon the mountains.’ ‘If life had been in question, the same tears might have been shed at home. But her lamentations were devoted to her virginity, and such lamentations could not be uttered in the town, and in the presence of men. Modesty required the solitude of the mountains for these. . . .’ (P. Cassel, p. 476). And so, again, the still further clause in the account of the fulfilment of the vow, ‘and she knew no man,’ is not in harmony with the assumption of a sacrificial death. This clause would add nothing to the description in that case, since it was already known that she was a virgin. The words only gain their proper sense if we connect them with the previous clause, he ‘did with her according to the vow which he had vowed,’ and understand them as describing what the daughter did in fulfilment of the vow. The father fulfilled his vow upon her, and she knew no man; i.e. he fulfilled the vow through the fact that she knew no man, but dedicated her life to the Lord, as a spiritual burnt-offering, in a lifelong chastity. . . . And the idea of a spiritual sacrifice is supported not only by the words, but also most decisively by the fact that the historian describes the fulfilment of the vow in the words ‘he did to her according to his vow,’ in such a manner as to lead to the conclusion that he regarded the act itself as laudable and good. But a prophetic historian could never have approved of a human sacrifice.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 2:1:392–93.)
Compare the wording of Jephthah’s vow (see vv. 30–31) to Hannah’s vow (see 1 Samuel 1:11).
Once the war against the Midianites was won, the Ephraimites complained because they were not allowed to help, just as they did after Gideon’s victory (see Judges 8:1–3). Perhaps this ruse was typical of Ephraim—to hang back until the victory was won and then pretend they wanted to be part of it all along. Gideon had appeased them, but Jephthah bluntly reminded them that, although he had asked them, they sent no recruits, so he did it his own way.
“The mention of the number of sons and daughters from time to time and the fact that they could all be mounted on colts seems to be something of an ancient symbol of status” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:152).
(22-31) Josephus, the noted Jewish historian, usually spoke highly of his people. Yet, his commentary on the condition of the Israelites during the period of the judges was anything but praise:
“After this, the Israelites grew effeminate as to fighting any more against their enemies, but applied themselves to the cultivation of the land, which producing them great plenty and riches, they neglected the regular disposition of their settlement, and indulged themselves in luxury and pleasures; nor were they any longer careful to hear the laws that belonged to their political government: whereupon God was provoked to anger, and put them in mind, first, how, contrary to his directions, they had spared the Canaanites: and, after that, how those Canaanites, as opportunity served, used them very barbarously.” (Antiquities of the Jews, bk. 5, chap. 2, par. 7.)
Extraordinary courage was required for an Israelite to be devoted to the Lord during this era. Unfortunately, this situation arose not because of pressure from outside of Israel but because of pressure from within. Gideon’s neighbors, not a group of pagan Canaanites, were worked into a murderous frenzy when Gideon destroyed the altar of Baal. Jotham’s prophecy was uttered against his own brother, not against some Philistine king. Indeed, Israel’s problem did not stem from the pagan masses they faced. It lay within their own hearts. Their greatest enemies were not the power-hungry Midianites or Moabites but inward vacillation, apathy, disobedience, and rebellion. Their outward enemies raged through them constantly only because the inward weaknesses raged unchecked also.
The Canaanites and Philistines are gone today. But are not the offspring of their gods, metamorphosed into modern form and made intellectually acceptable, still with us? And what of apathy, disobedience, vacillation, and rebellion? Is not our greatest enemy within? If so, then the same kind of courage displayed by the people of whom you have just read is as necessary now as it was then.
(22-32) It takes courage to be constant in one’s devotion to gospel standards. The Song of Deborah contains a key as to how to overcome every adversary: “Praise ye the Lord for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves” (Judges 5:2). How can you exercise the courage necessary to give yourself willingly to God? The following counsel, given by President Joseph F. Smith to leaders of the Church, applies to you in a very real sense. Consider it carefully.
“One of the highest qualities of all true leadership is a high standard of courage. When we speak of courage and leadership we are using terms that stand for the quality of life by which men determine consciously the proper course to pursue and stand with fidelity to their convictions. There has never been a time in the Church when its leaders were not required to be courageous men; not alone courageous in the sense that they were able to meet physical dangers, but also in the sense that they were steadfast and true to a clear and upright conviction.
“Leaders of the Church, then, should be men not easily discouraged, not without hope, and not given to forebodings of all sorts of evils to come. Above all things the leaders of the people should never disseminate a spirit of gloom in the hearts of the people. If men standing in high places sometimes feel the weight and anxiety of momentous times, they should be all the firmer and all the more resolute in those convictions which come from a God-fearing conscience and pure lives. Men in their private lives should feel the necessity of extending encouragement to the people by their own hopeful and cheerful intercourse with them, as they do by their utterances in public places. It is a matter of the greatest importance that the people be educated to appreciate and cultivate the bright side of life rather than to permit its darkness and shadows to hover over them.
“In order to successfully overcome anxieties in reference to questions that require time for their solution, an absolute faith and confidence in God and in the triumph of his work are essential.
“The most momentous questions and the greatest dangers to personal happiness are not always met and solved within oneself, and if men cannot courageously meet the difficulties, and obstacles of their own individual lives and natures, how are they to meet successfully those public questions in which the welfare and happiness of the public are concerned?” (Gospel Doctrine, p. 155.)
Samson could have been one of the greatest leaders in Israel since Joshua if he had been true to his Nazarite vows and to his Lord. If Samson, foreordained and chosen by the Lord, had been able to master himself, he could have set an example of spiritual and physical courage that would rank with the finest in history. But we can learn from Samson’s failure to avoid self-justification and uncontrolled passion so that we might join modern Israel in becoming a mighty and pure people before the second coming of the Lord.
There were some, however, who did not falter during the last years of the rule of the judges. Ruth, a true convert to Jehovah, lived a quiet life devoted to righteous principles. Through her devotion and faith, Ruth chose the better part and was blessed to marry Boaz. They became the parents of a noble posterity that included King David, Mary, and the Messiah. Elder Thomas S. Monson said:
“In our selection of heroes, let us nominate also heroines. First, that noble example of fidelity—even Ruth. Sensing the grief-stricken heart of her mother-in-law, who suffered the loss of each of her two fine sons, and feeling perhaps the pangs of despair and loneliness which plagued the very soul of Naomi, Ruth uttered what has become that classic statement of loyalty: ‘Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.’ (Ruth 1:16.) Ruth’s actions demonstrated the sincerity of her words. There is place for her name in the Hall of Fame.” (“My Personal Hall of Fame,” Ensign, Nov. 1974, p. 108.)
Instructions to Students
1. Use Notes and Commentary below to help you as you read and study Judges 13–21; Ruth 1–4.
2. Complete Points to Ponder as directed by your teacher. (Individual study students should complete all of this section.)
Zorah, the home of Samson, had been assigned originally to the tribe of Judah (see Joshua 15:33), but was later inhabited by the tribe of Dan, which had been unable to take over the land assigned to it as its inheritance. See Maps and Charts for the location.
|Exploits of Samson
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“The primary meaning of the Heb. verb nazar is to separate. Hence the nazir [Nazarite] is ‘the separated,’ ‘consecrated,’ ‘devoted.’” (Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. “Nazarite,” pp. 647–48). A Nazarite, therefore, was one who was separated from others by a special vow of self-dedication to Jehovah. The term “set apart” is used to mean that one has been given a special calling or position and is thus separated from others. (See Reading 17-11.)
Jesus’ title, the Nazarene, meant that He was from the city of Nazareth, not that He was a Nazarite.
“The angel does not say that it [his name] was secret, but . . . hu peli, it is WONDERFUL; the very character that is given to Jesus Christ [see Isaiah 9].” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 2:159.)
It is doubtful that the angel was the Lord Himself, but rather was one who spoke in the name of the Lord by divine authority, as in Revelation 22:1–9. Certainly the experience of Manoah and his wife is one of the most remarkable instances of angelic visitation recorded in all of scripture. And that fact heightens all the more the tragedy of Samson’s life. Heralded by an angel, born of a barren woman, blessed with tremendous gifts from the Lord, Samson should have lived one of the greatest lives in scriptural record. Instead, his life was one of self-indulgence, immorality, selfish seeking for revenge, and violation of the covenant. Samson’s life is truly one of the great tragedies of history.
In the Church today when one speaks of a person having the Spirit of the Lord, he means that he is a spiritual person, that is, he is close to God, has a testimony, demonstrates spiritual power, and so on. And such spiritual power comes only through obedience and righteousness. So, could Samson have had “the Spirit of the Lord come mightily upon him”? (v. 6). That or a similar phrase is used three times in the account of Samson (see Judges 14:6, 19; 15:14), but in every case it has reference to Samson’s demonstration of great courage and physical strength. Samson’s remarkable strength was a gift of God derived from and sustained by the Nazarite vow he was under. Perhaps when the author of Judges used the phrase “the Spirit of God” he did not use it as one does today, but used it more in the way that one would now use the phrase “spiritual gifts.” One may say of another, “The way he taught the lesson demonstrated that he has a spiritual gift.” Samson’s gift was strength, and each time he used that gift in a remarkable manner, the writer of the scripture gave credit to the Lord, the true source of the gift, by saying “the Spirit of the Lord” came mightily upon him.
At Samson’s seven-day wedding celebration he proposed a riddle. When his wife revealed the answer to the thirty Philistine guests to save her own life (see v. 15) and Samson lost the wager, he was furious and wreaked havoc on the Philistines at Ashkelon to get the spoils necessary to pay his debt. Probably for spite, his father-in-law gave Samson’s wife to the man “used as his friend” (v. 20), that is, his best man at the wedding.
Here is an excellent glimpse of the moral state of the Philistines and of Samson’s own moral failure. The angel had told his mother that her son “shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5). Instead, Samson married a Philistine, interacted with them, and smote them only when it suited his personal desire.
The city of Lehi was located in the Shephelah, or foothill area, a few miles southwest of Jerusalem. (See Maps and Charts for the possible location.) Lehi means “jaw-bone,” and Ramath-Lehi means the “lifting up of the cheek or jaw-bone” (Fallows, Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Ramath-Lehi,” 3:1426). Therefore, Samson’s source of water was a spring miraculously provided by God near the place of Lehi (jaw), the spring known thereafter as En-hakkore, “the spring of him who called” (Douglas, New Bible Dictionary, s.v. “En-hakkore,” p. 377).
Some Latter-day Saint scholars have speculated that the location of Samson’s battle with the Philistines may have been the site of Lehi’s home near Jerusalem before he led his family into the wilderness, but there is no evidence to support this idea. Lehi lived five or six hundred years after Samson. That he should live in the place that bore his name would certainly be unlikely.
To offer Delilah a treasure of eleven hundred pieces of silver was a striking indication of the desperate state in which the five lords of the Philistines found themselves after the depredations wrought by Samson. These lords were the rulers of the five major cities of the Philistines. These cities—Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath—were significant in Old Testament history. Gaza was where Samson had visited a harlot (see v. 1) and was also the scene of his death (see Judges 16:21–30). Gath was the hometown of the later Philistine champion Goliath (see 1 Samuel 17:4).
The biblical account of Samson reveals him as a man of extreme confidence and tremendous courage, qualities based on his recognition that his power was from God and that God would sustain him in the mission to which he had been called. But Samson did not realize that there is a rule that governs power in the Lord, which is, “let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God” (D&C 121:45). Samson’s misfortunes began when his confidence in God turned into conceit and pride. Over a period of time he broke the vows of a Nazarite and violated other commandments, including the law of chastity (see Judges 16:1).
Samson’s superhuman strength did not reside in his hair but in his confidence in God and in the Nazarite oath, of which the hair was the outward symbol. Delilah’s treachery and the shaving of Samson’s hair signified the final betrayal of his vows. Thus, he became a miserable, broken man with no power left.
The claim of the Philistines that “our god hath delivered into our hands our enemy” (v. 24) referred to their belief that their success in capturing Samson proved the Philistine deity Dagon (see Reading F-7) was greater than Jehovah. Thus, the people did not fear to make sport of Samson, the champion of Jehovah, in the temple of their god. In this setting, Samson once again exercised that kind of courage through which God could have used him as a tool. But again the self-centeredness of Samson is evident. Even in his final opportunity, when Samson used his restored strength to destroy the temple of Dagon and the Philistines who were there, he thought only of getting revenge for what had been done to him (see v. 28). In the destruction of his very temple, what better proof could there be that the power of Dagon was nothing? And yet how much more powerfully could Samson have borne witness to the power of Jehovah if he had fulfilled his calling to overthrow the power of the Philistines.
“The character of [this] building is illustrated by discoveries at Gezer and Gaza. The roof was supported by wooden pillars set on stone bases. It was flat, consisting of logs of wood stretching from one wall to beams supported by the pillars and from these beams to other beams or to the opposite wall. The temple at Gezer had a forecourt leading into a paved inner chamber, separated from it by four circular stones, on which the wooden pillars stood. Samson probably stood between the two central pillars, if there were more than two. The Philistine lords and ladies were in the inner chamber; the crowd watched from the roof. Samson made sport, in the forecourt, and then asked the boy to lead him to the central pillars to rest against them. Then, putting an arm round each, and bending forward so as to force them out of the perpendicular, he brought the roof down. The weight of people on the roof may have made the feat all the easier.” (Guthrie, New Bible Commentary, p. 272.)
In the closing chapters of Judges the writer turned from stories of Israel’s heroes to two incidents that illustrate the low state of religion and morality in the days when Israel forsook her covenant with the Lord and everyone “did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25).
The stories of Micah the Levite and the Danite migration, in chapters 17 and 18, and the account of the rape of the concubine at Gibeah and the subsequent punishment of the Benjamites, in chapters 19–21, are samples of Israel’s worst days. Nothing in the stories show the Israelites doing what was right. The following information from these chapters is worth noting:
1. The Danites sought an inheritance because they had not obtained one since entering Canaan (see Judges 18:1). They finally found an inheritance at the headwaters of the Jordan River. Since this area was the northernmost tribal inheritance, it became a common saying to speak of the domain of Israel as being “from Dan even to Beersheba” (Judges 20:1).
2. The tribe of Benjamin, already one of the smallest, was nearly annihilated in a vengeful civil war. Altogether, according to the account, a total of 25,100 Benjamites were slain, leaving only 600 alive (see Judges 20:46–47; also see Enrichment Section E, “The Problem of Large Numbers in the Old Testament,” for information that might modify the account of the size of their losses). These 600 were allowed by the princes of Israel to take wives, although not in a righteous manner, so that the tribal identity could be perpetuated, but the tribe of Benjamin remained small.
3. The city of Jerusalem was inhabited by the Jebusites during the time of the judges (see Judges 19:10–11). Jerusalem did not become a holy city and a capital for the Israelites until David conquered the Jebusites.
“There is no doubt that with the pieces he sent to each tribe a circumstantial account of the barbarity of the men of Gibeah; and it is very likely that they considered each of the pieces as expressing an execration, ‘If ye will not come and avenge my wrongs, may ye be hewn in pieces like this abused and murdered woman!’ They were all struck with the enormity of the crime, and considered it a sovereign disgrace to all the tribes of Israel.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 2:182.)
“Many years had passed since the Israelites had crossed the Jordan and formed a loose tribal confederacy in the central highlands of Canaan. As they established their own settlements, they gradually discarded their nomadic traditions and adopted an agricultural way of life.
“Yet their position remained precarious. The northern tribes were almost constantly at war with those walled cities that remained under the control of the Canaanites, and they frequently had to defend themselves against invasions by people from the east: the Ammonites and Midianites. In contrast, Judah, which occupied the southern end of the Israelite territory, seems to have been relatively tranquil and not involved in the great wars that concerned the Judges.
“The people of Judah regularly battled another sort of enemy: the climate. Judah occupied a rugged plateau in the semiarid lands west of the Dead Sea. Normally, the land was fertile enough to sustain fields of wheat and barley, grape vineyards and groves of olive and fig trees. But occasionally the rains failed, the crops withered and there was famine.
“During one such disaster, a Judean man named Elimelech, who lived in the town of Bethlehem, fled the land with his wife, Naomi, and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. The family traveled to Moab, a kingdom on the eastern borders of the Dead Sea. The distance was not great—perhaps 30 or 40 miles along the edge of that inland sea [the Dead Sea].” (Great People of the Bible and How They Lived, p. 126.)
|Elimelech took his family to Moab.
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The primary god of the Moabites was Chemosh (see Reading F-7). While there is no indication that Ruth and her sister-in-law, Orpah, were believers in this false god, two verses say that Ruth was converted to the true God of Israel. In her beautiful expression of loyalty and devotion to Naomi, Ruth said that she not only wished to stay with her mother-in-law but also desired to make Naomi’s people her people and Naomi’s God her God. Later, Boaz, praising Ruth’s concern for Naomi, says to her, “A full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust” (Ruth 2:12; emphasis added). Both of these passages indicate that Ruth was converted.
Naomi here used a play on words based on her name. In Hebrew Naomi means “sweet or pleasant” and Mara means “bitter.” When, after many years’ absence, the people greeted her in surprise by asking, “Is this Naomi?” (v. 19), she responded by saying, “Call me not Naomi [pleasant], call me Mara [bitter]: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me” (v. 20). This reply was not an accusation, only Naomi’s way of saying that she had endured much tragedy while in Moab.
“Harvesting was difficult work and demanded long hours. Young men moved through the fields grasping handfuls of the grain and cutting through the stalks with sickles. These small bunches of grain were then bound into bundles called sheaves. As the men worked rapidly, a number of stalks fell to the ground. If the men were careful and took the time, these too could be gathered up. However, any stalks that dropped were allowed to remain where they fell. Poor people, following the reapers, were permitted to ‘glean,’ or gather, the random stalks—possibly all that stood between them and starvation. In addition, the edges of the field, where the sickle was not as easily wielded, were left unharvested. The poor were welcome to that portion, as well.
“The destitute of Bethlehem now included Ruth and Naomi, and Ruth offered to go into the fields and glean.” (Great People of the Bible and How They Lived, p. 129.)
|Ruth gleaned in the fields of Boaz.|
Naomi wanted to help her faithful daughter-in-law secure a husband and family. To do this, Naomi considered the levirate marriage, a practice that had prevailed for many years in Israel. See Reading 20-22 for an explanation of this custom.
Deuteronomy 25:5–10 is the scriptural reference for the levirate marriage obligation in Israelite families.
“The word here rendered ‘redeemer’ we translate literally from Hebrew go’el and this is its proper translation. It is rendered merely ‘kinsman’ in the King James English translation. The function of a go’el was to make it possible for a widow who had lost home and property to return to her former status and security and to have seed to perpetuate her family.
“It is easy to see why the later prophets borrowed this word from the social laws of Israel and used it to describe the functions of Him who would become the Divine Redeemer: Think of what He does to restore us to proper status with God, and to give us future security and eternal ‘seed.’” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:157.)
“When Boaz awoke from his sleep by the pile of grain, which he was guarding as was the custom during harvest time, he was startled by Ruth’s presence. She was direct in her proposal. The word rendered ‘skirt’ also means ‘wing,’ and her request is not unlike our idiom ‘take me under your wing.’ Gesenius, the famous Hebraist, says it was a proper proposal of marriage—even though the girl was doing the proposing!” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:157.)
The idiom means “protect me,” or, in other words, “be my protector or husband.”
“According to our customs, indeed, this act of Naomi and Ruth appears a very objectionable one from a moral point of view, but it was not so when judged by the customs of the people of Israel at that time. Boaz, who was an honourable man, and, according to [Ruth 3:10], no doubt somewhat advanced in years, praised Ruth for having taken refuge with him, and promised to fulfil her wishes when he had satisfied himself that the nearer redeemer would renounce his right and duty [see vv. 10–11]. As he acknowledged by this very declaration, that under certain circumstances it would be his duty as redeemer to marry Ruth, he took no offence at the manner in which she had approached him and proposed to become his wife. On the contrary, he regarded it as a proof of feminine virtue and modesty, that she had not gone after young men, but offered herself as a wife to an old man like him. This conduct on the part of Boaz is a sufficient proof that women might have confidence in him that he would do nothing unseemly. And he justified such confidence.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 2:1:483.)
“The public life of an Israelite village was concentrated at its main gate. It was here that matters of law were brought for adjudication before the elders of the community. They also were the official witnesses for transactions such as the one in which Boaz agreed to marry Ruth if her kinsman would give up all rights to her dead husband’s property. A man renouncing property rights removed a sandal and presented it to the new property holder, a gesture that everyone understood and considered binding if witnessed by the elders.” (Great People of the Bible and How They Lived, p. 133.)
(23-21) When Samson defied his parents and gave in to his passion for Philistine women, his special calling disappeared into an unfulfilled dream. In twenty years of adulthood, Samson did not at any time attempt to organize the forces of Israel for their liberation, as the Lord had called him to do (see Judges 13:5). His exploits of slaughter, arson, and other damage to the Philistines seemingly were motivated by his own personal desire for revenge. Samson fought less for Israel than for himself. The Lord said, “For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts of his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him” (D&C 3:4).
Samson seems to have had everything except what really counts—self-discipline. Although it is true that Delilah “pressed him daily with her words, and urged him” (Judges 16:16), Potiphar’s wife “spake to Joseph day by day” (Genesis 39:10), but he refused even to be near her and fled rather than violate God’s commandments. Samson gave in to enticement and fell into both physical and spiritual tragedy.
It is in commitment to true principles, combined with self-discipline, that true greatness lies. Consider the following statement by President N. Eldon Tanner:
“I should like to say a few words about self-discipline, self-control, or self-mastery which is so important to all of us if we are to accomplish what we set out to do and enjoy the blessings which we desire so much.
“First, I should like to quote some of the philosophers.
“Plato said: ‘The first and best victory is to conquer self; to be conquered by self is, of all things, the most shameful and vile.’
“And da Vinci once said: ‘You will never have a greater or lesser dominion than that over yourself.’ Then he goes on to say that ‘the height of a man’s success is gauged by his self-mastery; the depth of his failure by his self-abandonment. . . . And this law is the expression of eternal justice. He who cannot establish dominion over himself will have no dominion over others.’ In other words, he cannot be a worthy father or leader.
“Solomon in all his wisdom made this meaningful statement: ‘He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.’ (Prov. 16:32.)
“There are two important elements in self-mastery. The first is to determine your course or set the sails, so to speak, of moral standards; the other is the willpower, or the wind in the sails carrying one forward. As I said before, character is determined by the extent to which we can master ourselves toward good ends. It is difficult to say just what builds good character, but we know it when we see it. It always commands our admiration, and the absence of it our pity. But it is largely a matter of willpower.” (“Success Is Gauged by Self-Mastery,” Ensign, May 1975, p. 75.)
It would be easier to exercise self-mastery in the face of sin if the bad effects of sin were instantaneous. But they are not. Further, it is an illusion that sin always appears to the mind to be ugly, vile, and repulsive. Consider this insight from Elder Spencer W. Kimball:
“Whoever said that sin was not fun? Whoever claimed that Lucifer was not handsome, persuasive, easy, friendly? Sin is attractive and desirable. Transgression wears elegant gowns and sparkling apparel. It is highly perfumed; it has attractive features, a soft voice. It is found in educated circles and sophisticated groups. It provides sweet and comfortable luxuries. Sin is easy and has a big company of pleasant companions. It promises immunity from restrictions, temporary freedoms. It can momentarily satisfy hunger, thirst, desire, urges, passions, wants without immediately paying the price. But, it begins tiny and grows to monumental proportions—drop by drop, inch by inch.” (Faith Precedes the Miracle, p. 229.)
In what way could this concept be applied to the tragic fall of Samson? How does his life illustrate the eternal truth that the wages of sin is death—physical, or spiritual, or both? (see Romans 6:23).
(23-22) The book of Ruth contains one of the most beautiful stories ever written. Despite being set in a day when political chaos and moral degeneracy existed in parts of the land, this story contains not a single demeaning feature and is uplifting and heartwarming. The following are examples of quiet devotion and obedience from this story:
1. Ruth’s marriage to Mahlon led to her conversion from the Moabite to the Israelite way of life.
2. Ruth’s choice to remain with her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi, is an example of selfless concern for others.
3. The acts of kindness exhibited by Ruth and Boaz had a positive effect on those around them.
4. Ruth’s virtue and integrity impressed the noble Boaz, and he was honorable in his relation to her, showing willingness to assume family responsibility.
5. The union of Boaz and Ruth produced a royal posterity from whom came King David and eventually Jesus Christ.
President John Taylor used the example of Ruth to describe modern Saints who also were willing to give up homes and kinships to be where their God wanted them to be: “‘Thanks be to the God of Israel who has counted us worthy to receive the principles of truth.’ These were the feelings you had and enjoyed in your far distant homes. And your obedience to those principles tore you from your homes, firesides and associations and brought you here, for you felt like one of old, when she said, ‘Whither thou goest I will go; thy God shall be my God, thy people shall be my people, and where thou diest there will I be buried.’ And you have gathered to Zion that you might be taught and instructed in the laws of life and listen to the words which emanate from God, become one people and one nation, partake of one spirit, and prepare yourselves, your progenitors and posterity for an everlasting inheritance in the celestial kingdom of God.” (In Journal of Discourses, 14:189.)
“For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). The truth of this declaration is evident in the contrasting stories of Samson and Ruth. The prophets have always been anxious that the Saints find that peace which comes from living a Christlike life. President Spencer W. Kimball gave us this challenge:
“Would a frequent housecleaning be in order for all of us?
“I may not be able to eliminate pornographic trash, but my family and I need not buy or view it.
“I may not be able to close disreputable businesses, but I can stay away from areas of questioned honor and ill repute.
“I may not be able to greatly reduce the divorces of the land or save all broken homes and frustrated children, but I can keep my own home a congenial one, my marriage happy, my home a heaven, and my children well adjusted.
“I may not be able to stop the growing claims to freedom from laws based on morals, or change all opinions regarding looseness in sex and growing perversions, but I can guarantee devotion to all high ideals and standards in my own home, and I can work toward giving my own family a happy, interdependent spiritual life.
“I may not be able to stop all graft and dishonesty in high places, but I myself can be honest and upright, full of integrity and true honor, and my family will be trained likewise.
“I may not be able to insure family prayers, home evening, meeting attendance, and spiritual, well-integrated lives in all my neighbors, but I can be certain that my children will be happy at home. They will grow strong and tall and realize their freedom is found at home, in their faith, in clean living, and in opportunity to serve. As Christ said, ‘And the truth shall make you free.’
“No virtues in the perfection we strive for are more important than integrity and honesty. Let us then be complete, unbroken, pure, and sincere, to develop in ourselves that quality of soul we prize so highly in others.” (Faith Precedes the Miracle, pp. 247–48.)