Joshua Succeeds Moses as Leader
In the Time of the Judges
Deliverance Under Deborah the Prophetess
Victory Against Great Odds
Deliverance Through the Gift
Samuel Called to the Prophetic Office
One of the Greatest Prophets of All Time
Founded the Schools of the Prophets
The history of God's people during the Mosaic dispensation presents four quite distinct divisions:
First, from Egypt to Canaan.
Second, from Joshua to Samuel.
Third, from Samuel to Jeremiah.
Fourth, from Jeremiah to John the Baptist.
During the long period of the Mosaic dispensation, the history of Israel, as recorded in the Old Testament, was indeed a checkered one. It is a record of apostasies from God, of subjugations by surrounding nations, of deliverances from captivity by the Lord. It was characterized by great prosperity and progress at certain times, and by great losses and privations at other times. Yet throughout their entire history Jehovah sent to His people, through the prophetic gift, instruction that, if it had been heeded, would have given them safe guidance, prosperity, and triumph. But this instruction was not often appreciated or followed. Israel's oft-repeated attitude toward this heaven-sent instruction is revealed in a reproachful statement by the Lord as recorded by the prophet Jeremiah:
Since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt unto this day I have even sent unto you all My servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them: yet they hearkened not unto Me, nor inclined their ear, but hardened their neck: they did worse than their fathers. Jer. 7:25, 26.
A brief survey of the first part of the Mosaic dispensation has been given in the preceding chapter. That review closed with the death of Moses.
The beginning of the second part of the Mosaic dispensationfrom Joshua to Samuelwas marked by the following important development:
Now after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord it came to pass, that the Lord spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' minister,
saying, Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel. As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. Joshua 1:1, 2, 5.
Thus through the prophetic gift the Lord continued to instruct and lead His people. Joshua was eighty-six years old when he received his commission to lead Israel across the Jordan into the Promised Land, and into the glorious consummation of the great exodus movement. From this time until his death, twenty-five years later, Joshua was in continual communication with God. The Lord gave him detailed instruction regarding all the important parts of his work,crossing the Jordan; taking Jericho, the great fortress at the entrance to Canaan; dealing with Achan in the accursed thing; the many conquests to be made; the allotting of the land to the tribes of Israel; the setting apart of the cities of refuge; and the loyal obedience Israel should forever render to all the just requirements of their Lord.
When Joshua had completed the tasks assigned him, and had finished his course, he called for all Israel, and for their officers, and said unto them, I am old and stricken in age. I am going the way of all the earth: and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof. So Joshua let the people depart, every man unto his inheritance. And it came to pass after these things, that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being an hundred and ten years old. Joshua 23:2, 14; 24:28, 29.
What a marvelous experience God's people passed through from the day the Lord gave to His prophet Abraham the vision of their cruel bondage in Egypt and of their deliverance and return to the land of Canaan! What a revelation of God's faithfulness to remember and to fulfill His promises!
It should strengthen and cheer every heart to read and ponder the beautiful and impressive review of these events as given by the psalmist David:
Remember His marvelous works that He hath done, His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth, O ye seed of Abraham His servant, ye children of Jacob, His chosen ones. He is Jehovah our God: His judgments are in all the earth. He hath remembered His covenant forever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations, the covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath unto Isaac, and confirmed the same unto Jacob for a statute, to Israel for an everlasting covenant, saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance; when they were but a few men in number, yea, very few, and sojourners in it. And they went about from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another people. He suffered no man to do them wrong; yea, He reproved kings for their sakes, saying, Touch not Mine anointed ones, and do My prophets no harm. Ps. 105:5-15, A. R. V.
Israel also came into Egypt; and Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham. And He increased His people greatly, and made them stronger than their adversaries. He turned their heart to hate His people, to deal subtly with His servants. He sent Moses His servant, and Aaron whom He had chosen. They set among them His signs, and wonders in the land of Ham. He brought them forth with silver and gold; and there was not one feeble person among His tribes. Egypt was glad when they departed; for the fear of them had fallen upon them. He spread a cloud for a covering, and fire to give light in the night. Verses 23-27, 37-39.
From the death of Joshua until Saul was made king, the government of Israel was administered by different rulers, or judges, fifteen of whom are mentioned in Scripture. Of this time Paul says that the Lord gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. Acts 13:20.
Of the service rendered by the judges one writer says:
They were not merely deliverers of the state from a foreign yoke, but destroyers of idolatry, foes of pagan vices, promoters of the knowledge of God, of religion, and of morality; restorers of theocracy in the minds of the Hebrews, and powerful instruments of divine Providence in the promotion of the great design of preserving the Hebrew constitution, and, by that means, of rescuing the true religion from destruction.The Popular and Critical Bible Encyclopædia, Vol. II, art., Judges, p. 1003.
From the death of Joshua to Samuel the prophet, Israel was many times overcome and taken into captivity by enemy nations, and subjected to hard servitude. Under the cruel oppression and suffering which they endured, they repented of their sins, turned to the Lord, and cried for deliverance. Although they had sinned against God very grievously, He had compassion on them, and raised up mighty deliverers for them. These deliverers became their judges.
To what extent the prophetic gift was used by the Lord in leading men to undertake the perilous task of breaking the power of the nations that had enslaved His people, is not clearly revealed, though some very specific instances are cited. Thus, on one occasion when they were being oppressed by the Midianites, the Lord sent a prophet unto the children of Israel with a message of reproof for their sins, and with instruction regarding the course they should take. (See Judges 6:8-10.) At another time there came a man of God unto Eli, and delivered to him a terrible message regarding the judgments of God that were to be visited upon him and his house. (See 1 Sam. 2:27-36.)
It is certain that the manifestation of this gift was prominent in some of these hard experiences through which Israel passed.
One of the marvelous deliverances wrought for the people was under the leadership of Deborah, a prophetess. The experience is recorded in the fourth and fifth chapters of Judges. This account reveals the great service the prophetic gift rendered the cause of God on that occasion.
The children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, when Ehud was dead. And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan . And the children of Israel cried unto the Lord: for he [Jabin] had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel.
And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in Mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment. Judges 4:1-5.
To this woman, who had the gift of prophecy, there came a direct, clear-cut message from God.
And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedesh Naphtali, and said unto him, Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward Mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men? And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand. Verses 6, 7.
This must have been a startling, alarming message to Barak. Twenty years before this, Jabin's army had defeated Israel. For twenty years he had kept them in bondage, and had mightily oppressed them. Up to the hour that Deborah received the message through the prophetic gift, no effort, so far as the record shows, had been made to deliver Israel from their mighty oppressor. The task to which Barak was called seemed so impossible of success that he said to Deborah, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go. Verse 8.
Without a moment's hesitation Deborah replied, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honor; for the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh. Verse 9.
In the message given to Deborah, and passed on to Barak, they were told that the Lord would draw unto them to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his multitude. But they were also told, I will deliver him into thine hand. Verse 7. Barak, it appears, was fearful because he looked at the mighty forces that would come against him, while Deborah was courageous; she looked at the promise of the mighty God that He would be on their side and deliver Sisera and his great multitude into their hand.
When Sisera learned that Barak had come with ten thousand men for battle, he gathered together all his chariots, even nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people that were with him,
from Harosheth of the Gentiles unto the river Kishon. Verse 13.
Here the armies met face to face. Human appearances indicated but one outcome,the small, untrained, and poorly armed forces of Barak must surely go down in defeat before the superior and better equipped army of Sisera. So Barak had reasoned, and so Sisera now reasoned. But not thus did Deborah reason. She was in contact with God. She had held communion with Him. He had said to her, I will deliver him into thine hand. With this promise she knew full well what the issue would beshe knew that Sisera and all his chariots of iron and his great army were in reality already defeated.
Therefore with utmost confidence she could say to Barak, Up; for this is the day in which the Lord hath delivered Sisera into thine hand : is not the Lord gone out before thee? Verse 14.
In prompt obedience to this quick, positive, assuring command from the prophetess, Barak led his men into action. And the Lord discomfited Sisera, and all his chariots, and all his host, with the edge of the sword before Barak; so that Sisera lighted down off his chariot, and fled away on his feet. But Barak pursued after the chariots, and after the host, unto Harosheth of the Gentiles: and all the host of Sisera fell upon the edge of the sword: and there was not a man left. Verses 15, 16.
So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the children of Israel. And the hand of the children of Israel prospered, and prevailed against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan. Verses 23, 24.
Deborah, Barak, and the ten thousand men they had led into the conflict returned with glad hearts to their people and their homes. This great deliverance brought rejoicing to all Israel. Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day, saying, Praise ye the Lord for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves. Judges 5:1, 2.
Inspiration gave this detailed account of this historic experience for the benefit of succeeding generations to the close of time. From it, we today may obtain instructive lessons of very
great importance that will be a blessing to us if we heed them.
The essential lesson to be emphasized in this study is the vital part contributed by the prophetic gift in the events that culminated in so great a victory.
Consider the situation: Through inexcusable and persistent apostasy, the nation of Israel had turned away from God to idolatry. In doing this they had removed themselves from the powerful protection that had been with them when they were true and loyal to Jehovah. Shorn of His power, they could not stand before their enemies, and were consequently brought into bondage by the Canaanites. For twenty long years they had been mightily oppressed. They had not been able to free themselves. Growing weaker with each year of servitude, their situation became more hopeless. In this helpless state they once more turned to the Lord for help. They confessed and repudiated their wrongdoing. They cried to God for mercy and deliverance.
In His great compassion the Lord responded to their appeal. Through that gracious and always helpful gift of prophecy, He gave to DeborahHis prophetessthe message of deliverance for His tardily penitent people. The instruction given in the message was carried out, and a great deliverance was wrought.
What a priceless gift! Such has been the purpose and the working of this abiding and continuing prophetic gift from the day when Adam was expelled from Eden to the present time.
After this wonderful deliverance from the oppressive hand of the Canaanites, the land had rest forty years. Judges 5:31. Then, strange and deplorable as it surely was, the nation again did evil in the sight of the Lord, and this time the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian. Judges 6:1. Thus the record recounts the repeated sinful and humiliating apostasies of the people, and the merciful deliverances the Lord wrought for them whenever they penitently appealed to Him.
All Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord. And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. 1 Sam. 3:20; 7:15.
With the leadership of Samuel the long period of the judges came to an end. The situation in the nation, when Samuel was called to the prophetic office and judgeship, was dark and turbulent. Israel was again in bondage, this time to the Philistines. Eli, Israel's judge, was an old man, unable to perform the duties of his office. His sons, Hophni and Phineas, were trusted by him with the affairs of government and the service of the priesthood. But they were sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord. The sin of the young men was very great before the Lord. 1 Sam. 2:12, 17.
This was indeed a dark hour in the history of Israel. Spiritual apostasy had brought the nation under subjection to the Philistines. There was no open visionno widely known manifestation of the prophetic gift.1 1 Sam. 3:1. Plain instruction and stern reproof were needed. A great spiritual revival and reformation must take place before the nation could be delivered from the strong hand of the Philistines. But there was no one in Israel, it appears, to whom the Lord could consistently and safely impart the prophetic gift in a public, open way.
It was in the depths of this dark night of Israel's history that the child Samuel was born. That he was a child of divine providence is very evident. After his birth his mother said: For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of Him: therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord. 1 Sam. 1:27, 28.
1 The expression there was no open vision, as found in 1 Samuel 3:1, is rendered in the Jewish Version by Isaac Leeser as prophecy was not extended. Other renderings are as follows: A vision was not frequent (Darby); A word from the Eternal was rare (Moffatt); No vision broke forth (Young). The original for the word open is rendered in the Douay Version as manifest; by Rotherham as well known; in the Septuagint as distinct; and in the American Baptist Improved Version as widespread. That is, it was not widespread or public, in contrast to localized or individual.
These renderingsessentially one in intent and spiritare justified by the sequel to this verse. As the result of the significant experiences recorded in the chapter prefaced by the statement that the word of the Lord was precious in those days, it is stated that all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord. Verse 20.
This indicates that the open vision is widespread, or well known. Those who have open visions are established as prophets.
The phrase no open vision cannot mean no vision at all. It rather implies clearly that there was the exercise of the prophetic gift, but not in the public way characteristic of the work of one openly manifested and established as a prophet, as were Samuel and his successors.
Every recorded incident in the life of Samuel shows that the Lord brought him into the world to be used in the spiritual regeneration of Israel, in their deliverance from bondage to the Philistines, and to lead them to the exalted position they subsequently reached under David. This revelation of God's resourcefulness to accomplish His divine purposes was placed by inspiration in the history of ancient Israel to give faith, courage, and steadfastness to His believing children at all times when the situation they face looks dark and forbidding.
During the whole history of the human race the Lord has been working out an eternal purpose for the redemption of all who care enough to be redeemed to respond to His offers. During this entire time Satan has countered Jehovah's purpose. This archenemy of God and man has created many difficult and indeed impossible situations to the man without divine aid. At times it has looked as if the Lord's plan must fail. But it has been at just such timesin the very darkest hoursthat the Lord has broken forth with mighty power to overturn the plans of the enemy and bring glorious triumph to His cause.
The child Samuel grew on, and was in favor both with the Lord, and also with men. And he ministered before the Lord, being a child, girded with a linen ephod. 1 Sam. 2:26, 18. In due time the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord. And the word of Samuel came to all Israel; all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord. 1 Sam. 3:21; 4:1; 3:20. Thus there was raised up by the Lord in the midst of apostate Israel one of the greatest prophets of all time. All his life this man seemed to be in the most intimate association with God. In his manifold labors, great and small, he received divine instruction and guidance through the prophetic gift.
The first definite responsibility laid upon him by the Lord was to bear to Eli, Israel's judge, the terrible message regarding the punishment that must be administered to his house. By faithfully delivering the divine warning to the house of Eli,
painful and trying as the duty had been, Samuel had given proof of his fidelity as Jehovah's messenger; and the Lord was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground.Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 589, 590.
In order to bring about a spiritual revival and reformation, thus preparing the way for deliverance from subjection to the Philistines, Samuel went through the cities and villages of the land, teaching the people, praying with them, and appealing to them to turn from their sins to God. In this effort he was eminently successful, for in time all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord. 1 Sam. 7:2.
Now the hour of triumph and deliverance had come. Recognizing this, Samuel said to them: Prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve Him only: and He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines. Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, and served the Lord only. 1 Sam. 7:3, 4.
Quick action followed. Soon they found themselves faced by the hosts of the Philistines. Israel was not armed for such a conflict. But the Lord wrought for them. He thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them; and they were smitten before Israel . So the Philistines were subdued, and they came no more into the coast of Israel: and the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. 1 Sam. 7:10-13.
Thus this man of God, guided by the spirit of prophecy, led the whole nation from idolatry back to the true God, and to national freedom from all their oppressors. Who can adequately estimate the value of this service for the people and cause of God? The spirit of prophecy, if followed today, will accomplish like results for the church of God, for with God there is no difference in time.
Perhaps the greatest service rendered by Samuel during his long and eminent leadership in the nation was the founding of the institutions known as the schools of the prophets.
From the earliest times, prophets had been recognized as teachers divinely appointed. In the highest sense the prophet was one who spoke by direct inspiration, communicating to the people the messages he had received from God. But the name was given also to those who, though not so directly inspired, were divinely called to instruct the people in the works and ways of God. For the training of such a class of teachers, Samuel, by the Lord's direction, established the schools of the prophets.
These schools were intended to serve as a barrier against the widespreading corruption, to provide for the mental and spiritual welfare of the youth, and to promote the prosperity of the nation by furnishing it with men qualified to act in the fear of God as leaders and counselors. To this end, Samuel gathered companies of young men who were pious, intelligent, and studious. These were called the sons of the prophets . In Samuel's day there were two of these schools,one at Ramah, the home of the prophet, and the other at Kirjath-jearim. In later times others were established . These schools proved to be one of the means most effective in promoting that righteousness which exalteth a nation. Prov. 14:34. In no small degree they aided in laying the foundation of that marvelous prosperity which distinguished the reigns of David and Solomon.Education, pp. 46-48.
Such spiritual and temporal prosperity as is here portrayed
was the fruitage of believing and following the counsels of the prophets of
God, who in turn received their instructions from the living God. Such is the
unalterable law of the spiritual universe.