4. The Faith Of Early Israel

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1. We first encounter Israel in Palestine as a loose federation of 12 tribes —so-called.

2. The Hebrew confederation was an amphictyony—an association of tribes for the protection of a religious center.

3. The early religion was henotheism. Yahweh was the God of Israel—but there were other gods.

4. The dual record of Israel’s faith is shown by the two versions of the Ten Commandments. Ex 20. Deut 5.

5. Early records of faith:

a. Song of Deborah. Judg 5.
b. Blessing of Jacob. Gen 49.
c. Balaam Oracles. Num 23, 24.
d. Song of Moses. Ex 15:1-18.
e. Blessing of Moses. Deut 33.

6. The hub of Israel’s faith was the Sinai covenant—they were the “chosen people.”

7. Rituals, laws, ceremonies, all cluster around the covenant relationship.

8. They were forbidden to have idols, but they made a fetish out of the “ark of the covenant.”

9. In time, “Yahweh alone was God,” and then came the “heavenly hosts.”

10. Eventually, Israel’s faith became monotheistic. It was never polytheistic.

11. The great departure from paganism was the prohibition of Images.

12. Pagan gods were nature gods. Yahweh was a god of creation and history— master of nature.

13. But they did believe that nature was dominated, by lower forms of “spirits.”

14. Yahweh was neither a sun god nor a fertility god.

15. Somehow they managed to create 12 clans—one for each of Jacob’s 12 sons:

a. Six sons of Lean—Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun.
b. Two by Leah’s slave, Zilpah—Gad and Asher.
c. Two by his second wife, Rachel—Joseph and Benjamin.
d. Two more by Rachel’s slave, Bilhah—Dan and Naphtali.

16. How artificial these 12 tribes were is shown when the loss of the Levites, who ceased to be a secular clan, was compensated by turning Joseph into two clans—Ephraim and Manasseh.

17. How the amphictyony worked is shown by the book of Judges.

18. The presence of the ark determined the central shrine. In the wilderness —the “tent of ’meeting.” Later on—at Jerusalem, the temple.

19. The priesthood was hereditary.


1. Egypt, Assyria, and the Hittite empires .are passing. The Philistines are dominating Palestine—giving the land their name.

2. The period of the 12 judges (counting Deborah and Barak one) covered about 150 years. Only six of these judges distinguished themselves.

3. This is a time of adaptation and adjustment for Israel.

4. The first judge, Othniel, repelled an invasion by unknown forces.

5. Ehud drove out the Moabite invasion.

6. Shamgar was not an Israelite, probably a city-king from Galilee, but he repelled the Philistines.

7. The victory of Deborah and Barak, probably 1125 B.C., was an outstanding event.

8. The exploits of Gideon ( Judg 6-8) are well narrated. Domesticated camels first appear in the armies of Israel.

9. Jephthah and Samson next appear on the stage. And here we find that human sacrifice can still be practiced in Israel.

10. There was no mechanism for adjusting inter-tribal complaints. The periodic performances of the sheiks were not enough to maintain order and keep the peace.

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