Biblical Nations - Israel

Israel

Key Scripture: Genesis 12:1-3

Figures: Abram and the patriarchs, Moses, David and Solomon, Jesus

Any conversation about the peoples and nations of the Bible must begin with an understanding of Israel.  Called to leave his family and home, Abram became the founder of a new nation despite having no heir until very late in life.  Given the name Abraham, he was succeeded by Isaac, Jacob, and twelve great grandsons who became the namesakes of the tribes of Israel.  After living for four generations as nomadic herdsmen, his descendants settled and thrived in Egypt under the protection of Pharaoh, ca. 2000 BC.  Unfortunately they were eventually enslaved by a future ruler, but left that nation under the leadership of Moses after 430 years and headed back towards the land where their forefathers had lived.  This time, however, the children of Israel (as Abram's grandson had become known late in his life) battled for control of their Promised Land, driving out the populations already there by 1400 BC. 


Once Israel had established a homeland, they lived in a loose confederacy under the guidance of a series of judges for many generations and were influenced to varying degrees by neighboring people groups.  Some 300 years later the final judge, Samuel, anointed the first king of the unified nation, Saul.  Under the following two kings, David and Solomon, Israel began to dominate surrounding regions and enjoyed the peak of their national identity with military conquest and impressive domestic building programs that included Jerusalem's magnificent Temple.  The kingdom was soon divided, however, and neither the new southern kingdom of Judah that was ruled by David's descendants nor the northern kingdom that kept the name of Israel ever achieved the same level of dominion.  Other nearby empires began to grow and after 200 years Israel was conquered by Assyria, who removed and dispersed the majority of the residents.  Judah limped along for an additional 135 years before also being destroyed and deported by the Babylonian Empire, who destroyed the Temple and ended the Davidic line of kings.  Unlike the northern tribes, however, Judah managed to maintain their identity in exile, and once Babylon fell to Persia's Achaemenid Empire the surviving people of Israel were once again permitted to return to the land of their fathers in 536 BC.

Rebuilding their nation from ruins, the children of Israel could identify portions of their history spent as nomads, slaves, invaders, kingdoms, and vassals.  Apart from a brief period of 25 years during which a band of Israelites wrested control of the nation under the leadership of Judah Maccabee, they remained continually oppressed by outsiders.  After the Babylonians and Persians, the Greek and Roman empires each took turns controlling the land that had become known as Judea and the people on it.  It was during the last of these during the reign of the first Roman Emperor, Augustus, that Jesus of Nazareth was born and the events of the New Testament began.  In AD 70, after a military campaign in response to a Jewish revolt and siege lasting several years, troops under the command of future emperor Titus destroyed Jerusalem along with the Second Temple.  During the reign of Emperor Hadrian in the second century AD a series of revolts was answered with the full wrath of Roman military might and the children of Israel was nearly exterminated.  Similar to their first exile, however, the Jewish people were able to maintain their identity for nearly 2,000 years without a homeland before the state of Israel was recreated after World War II in 1948. 

Because Israel is in many ways the focal point of the events of the Bible, our weekly study will largely revolve around other people groups in relation to them.

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