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The Era of the Israelite People
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.
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).
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 Israel.
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 Neo-Babylonian empire 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.
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