Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Jewish History and Culture, Part III

Still more history of the Jews.

We start this section with the Judges, who were temporary limited-capacity leaders.  After the amazing leadership of Moses and Joshua, and the reverence paid to them, the Hebrews decided that God was their King, and the only leader they would need for their day-to-day lives.
But when disaster (or an enemy) struck, they looked to charismatic people who could unite them, despite their differing opinions on how God wants people to live.

Amazingly, the Judges who were chosen demonstrated different weaknesses, and those weaknesses were overcome through the power of God.  
The first Judge was Deborah, obviously a woman, who demonstrated that military leaders needed wisdom and daring, not just muscle and masculinity.
The next we have in the Biblical record is Gideon, who led the Hebrews to a stunning victory after selecting an army of only 300 from 32,000 volunteers.  By choosing his soldiers for their wisdom and religious devotion, Gideon proved, again, that muscle is less important than faith.
The lesson that strength is nothing without wisdom was brought home by Samson, who was certainly strong, but allowed himself to be out-witted and his physical power was taken from him.  After re-affirming his faith, he was allowed to become strong only once more.
The last Judge was Samuel, who cautioned the Hebrews against putting ultimate power in the hands of one person, but ultimately, gave in to the popular demand and selected Saul to be king.
Sure enough, power corrupted Saul, and he was followed by the beloved King David.

David was a warrior, a conquerer, a poet, and very human.  While he did amazing things and his Psalms are some of the best written examples of the human spirit, he still committed sins.  His greatest accomplishment was building Judah, and in creating a plan for the Temple.
David, however, was not allowed to build the Temple.  God did not want a man who had so much blood on his hands building a place which should be peaceful.  The task of building the Temple was left to David's son, the very wise Solomon.  He was also an amazing writer, giving us the books of Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs.

After this, the Jews became involved in a civil war, and 10 of the 12 tribes seceded from Judah and created the Kingdom of Israel.  These 10 tribes eventually disappeared, becoming the 10 lost tribes.
Judah was then ministered to by Prophets, three of the first being Elijah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah.

Elijah's message was that straying from God and living unethically would have dire consequences.
Isaiah taught that ethical living, justice, and righteousness were the best ways to serve God, and that we should be a light to the world.
Jeremiah had the unfortunate task of telling everybody that their efforts weren't good enough, and their lifestyles were not righteous, and God's punishment was coming.  It came, and Jeremiah's message became more hopeful, teaching that living according to the Law would bring rewards and a return to the Promised Land.

Part IV coming soon.

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