The Period of the Judges
The Books of Judges and Ruth
In Egypt, Israel had grown from a family into a folk. In the wilderness the folk had become a nation. In the conquest the nation had gotten its home. But in the period of the Judges which followed the conquest this steady advance seemed interrupted. What do we find at this time?
We find a loose confederacy of tribes, aware of their common origin, yet too jealous of local names and rights to combine for a common end, too selfish to help one another until the danger of one has become a tragedy for all.
The nature of the land the Hebrews had occupied helped this divisive tendency. The great gash of the Jordan Valley, its bed two or three thousand feet below the mountain country on either side, cut off the eastern minority from the western majority. In the west a plain separated the foothills of the central range from the seashore. This plain not only contained enemies like the Philistines whom only a united Israel could have conquered, but also quickly altered the type of its Hebrew settlers. Right across the mountain belt from the sea to the Jordan stretched an almost unbroken plain (Esdraelon), varying from sea level to the lower level of the Jordan. This cut off the mountaineers to the north (Galilee) from those to the south (Ephraim). And a glance at any physical map will show how even in the mountain country deep, lateral valleys reach up from either side so far toward the center that communication from north to south is only by a series of violent grades, save along that narrow ridge in the middle where runs the highroad between Hebron, Jerusalem, Shechem, and Jezreel.
Under these conditions only some strong positive force could prevent the disintegration of the Hebrew nation. Such a force the religion of Jehovah was intended to be, and would have been, if the people had remained faithful to it. It had one high priest, descendant of Aaron, and associated therefore with all the memories of Moses and Sinai. It had a single sanctuary, the seat of Ark and oracle, the center of pilgrimage three times a year. It had one law for all Hebrews, a law far superior to the codes of all other nations, and revealing the nature and will of a single moral and spiritual deity. All this provided