"And the Lord shall be King over all the earth ..."
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Course #13 - The Jews in History (Part 1)
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The beginning of the story
The story of the Jews really begins with that faithful
man, Abraham. He had a son in his old age named Isaac; Isaac had a son named
Jacob, who was afterwards called Israel. Jacob had twelve sons, who were
the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel.
The youngest but one of these sons was called Joseph, and the story of his
life, which we have in the Bible, is always exciting to read. But it is
more than a good story - it tell us about important events in the history
of the people of the Bible - the Jews. It give us, too, a wonderful example
of the over-ruling care of God for His people.
We may remember the story of how Joseph's jealous brothers sold him as a
slave; and how, after many trials, he became governor of Egypt. Then, in
time of famine, his father and his brothers came down to Egypt because -
thanks to Joseph, and thanks, of course, to God - there was corn in Egypt.
For a time, the Jews (also called Israelites, or children of Israel) were
quite happy in Egypt. But after Joseph's death, as the number of Jews in
Egypt grew more and more, the Egyptians began to oppress them, and treat
them as slaves.
Freedom for the slaves
Perhaps you know the story of how God brought these
Jewish slaves out of Egypt, under the leadership of a man called Moses,
and led them through a barren and deserted land to the borders of the land
of Israel. On this long and dangerous journey, God fed them and cared for
them. As we read in Nehemiah 9:
"Thou gavest also thy good spirit to instruct them, and withheldest
not thy manna from their mouth, and gavest them water for their thirst.
Yea, forty years didst thou sustain them in the wilderness, so that they
lacked nothing; their clothes waxed not old, and their feet swelled not." (Nehemiah 9:20-21)
A law given by God
As they journeyed to the land God had promised
them, they came to Mount Sinai. There something very special happened. The
people were told by God to gather at the foot of the mountain, and here
God said to them:
"If ye will obey my voice indeed and keep my covenant then ye shall
be a peculiar (special) treasure unto me above all people" (Exodus
The people said:
"All that the Lord hath spoken we will do" (Exodus 19:8).
Then God gave His laws to Moses, and Moses gave them to the people. Of course,
they were the finest laws any nation has ever had, and if only the Jews
had kept them, they would have been the happiest people on earth.
As a sign that they were to be His people, God told them the last day of
every week must be a holy day (holy means separate, or set apart). This
day was to be called 'the Sabbath', and they were to rest and think about
all God's goodness to them.
But they did not keep to God's commands. They simply could not obey them
all. And that was what God knew would happen - that they would learn that
they could not save themselves and needed God to save them (the same is
true for us too). They disobeyed God time and time again, and they did not
make the Sabbath a special day, as He had said they should.
At last they came to the land of Israel. God was their King. He gave them
priests to teach them His ways, and judges to rule over them.
The Jews demand a king
Nearly 400 years went by. The Jews became dissatisfied
and wanted a king like the nations around them. In asking for a king, they
were refusing to recognise that God was their king. When Samuel, their judge,
told God how they had demanded a king, God said: "They have not rejected
thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them"
(I Samuel 8:7).
God gave them what they wanted. You may like to read for yourself the interesting
story of the anointing of Saul, the first king of Israel. You will find
it in 1 Samuel 8 and 9.
A divided kingdom
Saul was followed by the great King David, of whom
you will be hearing more in a later lesson. After a long reign of 40 years,
David died, and his son Solomon became king.
Solomon was very rich; he taxed the people heavily. This made them discontented.
When Solomon died, they came to his son Rehoboam, and asked him to ease
their burden. You will read, in 1 Kings 12, how Rehoboam listened to his
young friends, instead of taking the advice of the wise old men who had
been his father's counsellors.
When the people came to King Rehoboam to ask whether he would agree to their
request, he answered very unwisely. We read in 1 Kings 12 that the king
"answered the people roughly", saying,
"My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father
also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions"
(I Kings 12:14).
No wonder the people rebelled against such a king! Ten of the tribes of
Israel went away, and formed a kingdom of their own, under a man named Jeroboam.
Only Judah, the tribe to which Rehoboam belonged, and the little tribe of
Benjamin, remained faithful to Rehoboam.
So, from this time on, we have two histories, side by side, in the Bible.
There is the history of the ten tribes, often spoken of as 'Israel' or the
Northern Kingdom (because they were in the northern part of the land) and
the history of the two tribes spoken of as 'Judah', or the Southern Kingdom.
The continual disobedience of the Jews
In the first and second books of Kings we read
the sad story of how the people persistently forgot about God, and forsook
His ways. At last, things became so bad that God said He would punish the
people, as He had warned them continually that He would, by causing them
to be taken from their land as slaves. You will see from these words from
2 Chronicles 36:15-16 how God had done everything He could to bring His
people back to His ways:
"And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers,
rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people,
and on his dwelling place: but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised
his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against
his people, till there was no remedy." (II Chronicles 36:15-16)
Punishment had to come
Such disobedience had to be punished. Israel, the
Northern Kingdom, was first take captive. The King of Assyria came and carried
the people into Assyria, and, as a nation, they never came back to their
own land. Later, the Kingdom of Judah was taken captive by the King of Babylon.
But God promised that, after 70 years, they should come back to their own
land. And many of them did. Encouraged by the prophets, they rebuilt the
Temple of God in Jerusalem. The last three books of the Old Testament -
Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi - were written during these days.
Between the Old and New Testaments
After these three prophets, there was a long period
of time - 400 years - during which the Jews had no direct message from God.
The prophet Amos had spoken about this time. In Amos 8 we read:
"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine
in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing
the words of the Lord." (Amos 8:11)
This period of 400 years comes between the last book of the Old Testament
and the first book of the New Testament. No wonder that when John the Baptist
appeared, there was a great stir among the people. After hundreds of years
of silence, God had spoken again to His people.
The greatest Jew
John the Baptist was sent by God to prepare the
way for someone even greater. God was about to send His own Son to save
His people. And so, in the land of Israel, nearly 2,000 years ago, the Lord
Jesus Christ was born. We sometimes forget that Jesus was a Jew.
You know what happened. After hearing his words, and seeing the wonderful
things he did, the Jews rejected Jesus. They persuaded Pilate to crucify
him. When Pilate said, "I am innocent of the blood of this just person",
the Jews answered:
"His blood be on us, and on our children" (Matthew 27:24-25).
They could not have committed a worse crime. They shed the innocent blood
of God's own Son. Yet, by the powerful preaching of the apostles, God gave
them another chance. Most of the Jews refused God s offer of mercy, and
punishment had to come. A dreadful punishment it was!
A people without a home
About forty years after the death of Jesus, the
Roman army came and fought against the Jews. It was a time of dreadful suffering.
The horrors of that war are some of the grimmest in history. The city was
taken by the Romans, and those Jews who survived were scattered among all
the nations of the earth.
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God had warned the Jews long ago that this would happen if they forsook
His ways. You will read in Deuteronomy 28:
"The Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of
the earth even unto the other." (Deuteronomy 28:64)
And so, for nearly 2,000 years, the Jews had no land of their own. Worse
than this, they have suffered many terrible persecutions, and the dreadful
curses of Deuteronomy chapter 28 have been brought upon them. Some of these
persecutions have happened within living memory. Many of us can remember
the concentration camps of Hitler during the 1939-45 World War. Over six
million Jews were killed with a cruelty that shook the world. Read again
Deuteronomy 28:64-67, and you will marvel that these words, written by Moses
over 3,000 years ago, have come to pass in our time.
It is a sad story, but it is not yet ended. We are bound to feel glad when
we read from the Word of God that the ending will be a happy one.
This table may help you (the years are approximate)
1) 3,500 years ago. God brought the Jews out of Egypt, and gave them
the land of Israel to live in. He taught them His ways. Instead of showing
the nations around how God wanted them to live, they copied those wicked
2) 2,500 years ago. God at last punished them by sending them into
captivity. The Southern Kingdom of Judah was brought back to the land of
Israel after 70 years, but they still went on disobeying God.
3) 2,000 years ago. After the crucifixion of Jesus, the Jews were
driven out of the land. For nearly 2,000 years they have been homeless and
4). Today. God is bringing them back to the land of Israel. (You
will hear more about this in a future lesson.)
Chapters to read: (Deuteronomy 28; II Chronicles 36:11-23)
Learn by heart: (Isaiah 43:11,12)
If you have questions or comments about this lesson, please feel free to
e-mail us with them.