The Era of the Israelite People
From the Exodus to the Babylonian exile
The Exodus of Israel from Egypt
The descendants of Joseph and his brothers became a people living
among the Egyptians (Ex 1:1-7), which led to a new era of four cycles, namely
that of the Israelite people. The era of the patriarchs therefore came to end since
in the center of the history of salvation is no longer an individual ancestor but
a whole people united by a physical kinship through Abraham as common ancestor.
This kinship prefigures the spiritual kinship inaugurated with Christ. The initial
peace of the Israelites, extending to many generations during their stay in Egypt,
institutes the first phase.
This peace phase reigned until the day a new Pharaoh came to power
who feared for the future of Egypt because of the fertility of the Israelites, who
were becoming almost more numerous than the Egyptians. He oppressed them with hard
work (Ex 1:8-14) but this did not change anything and the Hebrew population
continued to grow. He then ordered that all newborn Israelite boys be thrown in
the Nile (Ex 1:15-22). Only Moses survived this massacre.
As an adult, Moses was called by God to be the redeemer for the
Israelites in front of Pharaoh, who hindered them from making sacrifices in the
desert because their labor was of great use to him (Ex 5:1-5). This is why
God inflicted ten plagues
upon Pharaoh and his people, so that he was finally obliged to let them leave the
country (Ex 7-13) and return to where they originally came from, that is, to
Canaan, the promised land of Abraham. But Pharaoh persisted and ordered his army
to pursue them. Thus Egypt attracted its supreme judgment, for its whole army was
drowned at the crossing
of the Red Sea (Ex 14:15-28).
However, the Exodus is not the entire
revival yet, although it has the characteristics and constitutes a precursory sign.
For the divine anger next fell on the Israelites, who, in the middle of the desert,
began to murmur against God because of the lack of water (Ex 15:24; 17:3; Num 20:2-5)
and food (Ex 16:2-3; Num 11:4-6) – although God gave them all they needed
– and because they felt threatened by war (Num 14:2-10). They wondered why
God had led them into the desert and refused to believe that it was to keep the
promise made to Abraham to drive his descendants into the same country to which
he himself had already been led (Gen 15; 28:10-22; 50:24; Num 11:10-12).
Because of this restive behavior, God did not permit the generation he had delivered
of the Egyptian yoke to conquer the promised land, so that the Israelites were obliged
to languish in the desert for forty years (Num 14:20-24; Dt 1:34-36).
With a new generation, the Israelite people finally conquered
Canaan (Jos 1-11), the country where their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
once lived, “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Dt 26:9). This is
the phase of revival that brings us to the phase of peace of the next cycle.
Like most of the biblical accounts,
the Exodus is much disputed.
According to 1 Kings 6:1, the
first temple was built by
Solomon 480 years after the Exodus. The date of the construction of Solomon’s Temple
is commonly supposed to have taken place around 960 BC. This gives a date for
the Exodus of around 1440 BC according to the Bible (see appendix C: Classical
biblical dates). However, some scholars think that it took place under Ramses II
(1301-1234 BC), who is known for having undertaken large constructions involving
an increased number of slaves.
But there are also other proposals with equally convincing arguments in favor of
the biblical date of 1440 BC.
From the Kingdom of Israel to the rest of Judah
The first phase of this second cycle spreads over the first organization
of the country of Israel to its development as a kingdom, which attained its zenith
with Solomon (965-926 BC).
During this time indeed, the Israelites regularly abandoned the God of their fathers
and served other gods, which each time provoked God’s anger, who regularly delivered
them to their enemies. Realizing their wrongdoing thereafter, the Hebrews always
returned to God, who immediately delivered them from the hands of their oppressors
(Jg 2:11-23; 3:7-15; 4; 6:1-16; 10:6-16). In sum, they were nevertheless attached
to God as long as charismatic men of faith like Joshua, Gideon, Samson, Samuel,
and David reigned over them.
This, however, changed with the reign of Solomon – who paradoxically
incarnated the kingdom in its greatest splendor – for his numerous “wives turned
away his heart after other gods” (1 Ki 11:4). So the Lord decided
to remove the major part of Israel from his son Rehoboam, who became king after
Solomon, and to leave him only the tribe of Judah, in consideration of David and
Jerusalem (1 Ki 11:4-13). This apostasy of Solomon provoked an even greater
one: as predicted, after the death of Solomon the northern part of Israel was separated
from Judah and was ruled by Jeroboam (1 Ki 12:1-25). Because Jeroboam
feared that the people would return to Judah and Jerusalem, he also decreed a religious
separation from Judah by obliging the rest of Israel to serve other gods, for Jerusalem,
thanks to its temple, still formed the religious center of all tribes despite the
political split and thereby still had a large influence over all Israel (1 Ki 12:26-33).
The apostasy of Solomon and especially that of Jeroboam characterize the phase of
sin of this cycle, for almost all kings of this period are compared to Jeroboam
and his apostasy because like him they all made “what was evil in the sight of
the Lord” (1 Ki 15:34; 16:19, 26, 31; 22:53; 2 Ki 13:2,
11; 14:24; 15:9, 18, 24, 28).
The judgment then arrived with the occupation of the northern
kingdom, that is, Samaria, and
the deportation of its inhabitants by
Shalmaneser V, king of
Assyria, in 722 BC (2 Ki 17:5-6;
18:9-12). This whole context of the apostasy of the northern kingdom, provoking
the deportation by the Assyrians, is confirmed by 2 Kings 17:7-23.
The phase of revival consists in the survival of the
kingdom of Judah, which,
thanks to its king, Hezekiah, was successful in opposing the Assyrian imperialism.
Hezekiah also introduced a religious reform and later, with the assistance of the
prophet Isaiah, repulsed Sennacherib,
the newly powerful king of Assyria, who had already conquered all the cities of
Judah except Jerusalem (2 Ki 18-19).
The Babylonian exile
This revival continued with the beginning phase of the following
cycle – although two impious kings still rose, which has to be considered a presage
of the next apostasy – that of king Josiah (639-609 BC), who suppressed all
the idols and sanctuaries of the pagans (2 Ki 23:4-14) and thus expiated
Jeroboam’s apostasy by destroying the sanctuary of Bethel, where he had driven the
northern kingdom into the religious separation from Judah (1 Ki 12:26-33;
2 Ki 23:15-20). Josiah also celebrated
Passover for the first time
since the Judges (2 Ki 23:21-25) and had renovations at the temple executed
(2 Ch 34:8-33). This peace phase lasted as long as Josiah was king of
After his death, his son Jehoahaz became king, who again made
“what was evil in the sight of the Lord”, as did his successor (2 Ki 23:29-36).
In addition, “the Lord did not turn from his great anger which had been aroused
against Judah for all the provocations whereby Manasseh had angered him”, namely
the return to pagan rites in the middle of the reform begun by Hezekiah and continued
by Josiah. Manasseh is one of the two impious kings mentioned above (2 Ki 21;
23:26-27; 24:3-4). This is why from 606 to 587 BC the whole territory of Judah
and Jerusalem was conquered little by little by the
under king Nebuchadnezzar
II, the temple looted, and the inhabitants deported (2 Ki 24-25).
The Babylonians were conquered by the Persians in 539 BC. Thus
seventy years after the deportation – counting from Jeremiah’s prophecy (Jer 25:11-12),
which we will examine in the next section – the Israelites could return to their
country. A new temple was built and the city of Jerusalem rebuilt and provided with
new battlements. The Mosaic Law and all rites were observed (Ezr; Neh). This reform
joins the first phase of the next cycle.
THE ANCESTORS OF ISRAEL