Prepare Ye the Way
1100 - 1200 BC, the Holy Land
The turn of the century saw the Israelites on the ebb. They clung to their hills and the Transjordan, but tribal disunity prevented them from taking and holding new land. Judges of these years were Tola and Jair.
Led by the cities of Tyre and Sidon, the Canaanite confederacy of Phoenicia was growing stronger. Driven from the inland by Israelites and from the fertile southern coast by the Philistines, these Canaanites turned their backs on the hinterland, resumed their old roles as traders, and became the inheritors of the sea.
In contrast, the Philistines abandoned their sea-going ways as they settled in fertile southern Palestine. With the help of iron weapons and tools, Phlistia established itself around the five cities of Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath, Gezer and Ekron and began to extend its influence eastward at the expense of the Israelites.
Across the Jordan, the settlers were under constant pressure from desert kingdoms and raiders. The eighth Judge, Jephthah of Gad, led a successful counter-attack against the Ammonites. (and shortly thereafter involved in a quarrel with Ephraim which weakened that tribe's position as a dominant tribe of Israel.)
Follow Jephthah were the Judges Ibzan, Elon and Abdon, and the twelfth Judge, Samson of Dan, who carried on a running battle with the Philistines.
Despite the stand-off of competing peoples, the recurrent relapses into intertribal feuds had gravely weakened the Israelites. They were in poor position to withstand the Philistines who by mid-century dominated the coast and the region of Judah. A Philistine army striking deep into Ephraimite territory captured the Ark of the Covenant, destroying the shrine of Shiloh. The disheartened Israelites were held together by the great Prophet and Judge Samuel, who led what continuing effective resistance there was to the Philistines.
As Samuel grew old and need for continuing leadership became more apparent, a clamor arose among the Israelites for a king who could lead them out of their stalemate into secular greatness. Samuel anointed the Benjaminite Saul, who was proclaimed king by the people about the year 1030 BC.
Israel for the first time became a nation and set about the task of organizing an army and equipping it with modern weapons. The Philistines had acquired the skills of iron working from the Hittites but had denied this art to the Israelites.
The wilted fortunes of Israel revived under Saul's leadership. Victory over the Ammonites won him the deep gratitude of the Transjordan tribes and drew the attention of Philistia to the menace of a unified Israel. The final phase of the battle for the Holy Land began with a series of victories for Saul.
Yet Saul was a wilful, suspicious man who fatally quarrel with son, servants and Samuel.
The prophet Samuel had warned Israel that a crowned monarch could become a burden to his people and that a strong temporal ruler might lead them from God's ways. Seeing this tendency in Saul's reign, he had secretly anointed David, a young man of Judah, to be Saul's successor as king. Thus the pattern of dispute between the religious leaders and the monarchs of the Holy Land appeared in Israel's very beginnings.
Though David had served as an able general, Saul in jelousy attempted to kill him. David fled to the land of the Philistines where he represented himself as their vassel, leading and developing an efficient little army loyal to him alone.
Israel sank to a new low just before the end of the eleventh century. The tide of battle turned against Saul. He and his sons fell in battle and Palestine west of the Jordan came under Philistine domination.
David was now established as King of Judah, a situation agreeable to Philistia, which considered him its servant. With the death of Saul's sons, Israel agreed to accept David as King. He began his reign over Israel around 1000 BC with the capture of the Jebusite fortress city of Jerusalem, proclaiming it his capital.