The Beginning of a Nation
Avraham was called at the age of 75 to go to the land of Canaan (Gen 12:4). Avraham and his wife Sarah had a son, Yitschak, who in turn had two sons, Esav and Yaakov. Yaakov had twelve sons whose families formed the twelve tribes of Israel. Yaakov’s favorite son, Yosef, was sold into slavery in Egypt by his jealous brothers (Gen 37:27).
After interpreting a difficult dream for Pharaoh, Yosef was put in charge over all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself (Gen 41:40). He warned Pharaoh to store food in preparation for a coming famine. When the famine began, Yosef’s brothers came to Egypt to buy food. Yosef forgave his brothers and invited them to live with him in Egypt. He realized his slavery, imprisonment, and promotion were part of God’s plan to save his family from the famine and settle them in Egypt (Gen 50:20).
The Israelites were in exile in Egypt for about 430 years, and there they grew in number. Fearing the growing power of the Israelites (Ex 1:7), a new king of Egypt, who knew nothing of Yosef, decided to use the Israelites as slaves. God heard the cries of his people (Ex 3:7) and chose one man, Moshe, to lead them to freedom (Ex 3:10).
After receiving God’s instructions, Moshe asked Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, but Pharaoh denied the request (Ex 5:1, 2). God then sent ten plagues into the land of Egypt to force Pharaoh to let the Israelites go (Ex 6:1), but after each plague Pharaoh remained stubborn. The final plague killed all firstborn sons, except those of the Israelites (Ex 11:5), who were instructed to put the blood of a lamb on their doors (Ex 12:7). Today we celebrate Passover to remember this event.
After plundering the entire nation of its silver and gold jewellery and clothing (the Egyptians gave everything to them, Ex 12:36), the Israelites left Egypt, following God in a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night (Ex 13:21). By the time the Israelites came to the Red Sea, Pharaoh had changed his mind and was pursuing them. God divided the Red Sea (Ex 14:21) and the Israelites escaped. They came to Mount Sinai, where God entered into a covenant with the people to be their God. There God gave Moshe the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:1).
While at Mount Sinai, God gave further instructions to Moses concerning sacrifices, offerings, and worship; ceremonial purity; as well as feasts and holy days. God’s desire was for his people to be holy. He required a response of submission and obedience from the people.
After a year had passed at Mount Sinai, God led the Israelites to the edge of the Promised Land, where they sent out spies (Num 13:2). The spies reported that while the land was indeed flowing with milk and honey, there were also significant adversaries present (Num 13:27-28). The people complained against God, Moshe, and Aharon (Num 14:2). God then sentenced the Israelites to years of wandering in the desert until that generation of unbelieving adults had died (Num 14:22, 23).
After forty years in the desert, Moshe retold the story (of what had happened) to the new generation of Israelites and reminded them of the commandments and requirements God had given them (Deut 1:3). Moshe then went up Mount Nevo, and there God allowed him to see the Promised Land, saying that this was the land he had promised to give to Avraham (Deut 34:1). Moshe died without entering the land.
The Promised Land
God appointed Yehoshua to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land (Deut 31:3). When they entered the land, God’s 700 year old promise to Avraham was fulfilled. Jericho’s walls collapsed before Yehoshua’s army as they took possession of the land (Josh 6:20). The land was divided up among the twelve tribes. After the death of Yehoshua (Josh 24:29), there was no formal leadership except for judges who were called from time to time by God as the need arose. The judges had several functions: military leadership, spiritual leadership, and to judge cases and administer justice in Israel. However, during the 200 years Israel was governed by judges, there was little law and order.
God Rejected for a King
The last judge, Shmuel, brought peace and security to the nation of Israel. But the people rejected God as their ruler and began to want a king like the surrounding nations (1 Sam 8:5) to provide military leadership and protect them from their enemy, the Philistines. God warned the people of the consequences of having such a king (1 Sam 8:11), but he granted the people their request (1 Sam 8:22). Sha’ul became Israel’s first king.
Sha’ul did not follow God’s commands and did not trust God (1 Sam 13:13). Because of this, God rejected his kingship. One of Sha’ul’s armor-bearers, David (1 Sam 16:21), a man after God’s heart (1 Sam 13:14), was chosen by God to be the next king (2 Sam 5:3). David was a great spiritual and political leader and wrote many of the Psalms. David unified Israel and won victories over all of Israel’s traditional enemies: the Philistines, Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, and Syrians. He ruled over the entire Promised Land from the “river of Egypt” to the River Euphrates.
The Kingdom is Divided
After David, his son Shlomo became king of Israel. Shlomo was a wise king (1 Kings 4:29) who built the temple in Jerusalem and extended the wealth and boundaries of Israel to levels never before attained. To the Israelites it looked as though God’s promises to Avraham had finally been fulfilled. But as Shlomo grew old, he gave way to pressure from his 1,000 foreign wives and concubines (1 Kings 11:3) to build temples for their gods (1 Kings 11:8). God grew angry with Shlomo (1 Kings 11:9), and the peace and security Israel had experienced collapsed. When Shlomo died, Israel split into two kingdoms: Israel (in the north) and Yehudah (in the south).
Rechav’am (one of Solomon’s sons) was appointed king over the entire nation (1 Kings 12:1), but he lost the northern kingdom of Israel in a civil war. Israel was then led by Yerov’am.
The northern kingdom was by far the larger of the two, but it was to exist for only 200 years. During this time, God repeatedly sent prophets such as Hoshea, Yoel, Amos, and Michah to warn the Israelites to turn back to him, away from their unfaithfulness through idol worship and immorality. But all of Israel’s twenty kings fell short in God’s eyes, and the kingdom was eventually destroyed forever (2 Kings 17:18) by the Assyrians (2 Kings 17:6) in 722 B.C.