Precarious Settlement of Israel

Kingdoms_of_Israel_and_Judah_map_830.svgWhen Israel settled in Canaan, the settlement remained precarious. During the period of the Judges, the situation of the tribes, not well rooted and disorganised, remained fragile. Real occupancy was achieved only under the reigns of David and Solomon, and subsisted at the beginning of the divided monarchy. Very soon, in 722 B.C.E, with the fall of Samaria, the greatest part of the people of Israel, the ten tribes of the North, found themselves on the road to exile in Assyria[1] (2 Kgs 17,6). There was also the exile of the Northern tribes to Judah. That second branch of exile from the Northern tribes is important. Following the Yahwist crusades of Elijah and Elisha,[2] the North had developed a lively prophetical tradition whose heirs, in the midst of Levitical milieus, came to take refuge in the South. It was the origin of the Deuteronomic movement.[3] If the Deuteronomy was so much concerned with the ger, the exiled, the resident alien in the welcoming country (Deut 24,17-21), and in the exodus situation of the people of God (Deut 10,18-19), it was due to the fact that the carriers of the Deuteronomistic tradition had themselves lived in the exilic condition following the fall of their own country.[4]

           The kingdom of Judah was then continuously threatened.[5] The frontier of the threatening Assyrian empire[6] was at that time a few miles away north of Jerusalem. That situation, combined with the Deuteronomistic influence revived the souvenir of the Exodus. The feats of Passover and Tabernacles commemorated annually the march through the desert (Lev 23,41-44). The prophets reminded it and made of it the symbol of the happy childhood of Israel (Hos 11,1-4), of the betrothal with God the Husband (Hos 2,16-17; Amos 2,25; Jer 2,2-3). The Psalms sang the time of the desert as the golden age (Ps 77,16-20; 78,23-29.52-55; 80,8-11; 81,6-10).[7] The Rechabite sect continued to extol the manners and customs and virtues of the nomadic way of life (Jer 35). In short, at the same time as a religion of the earth and its fruits as pledge of divine blessing was developing, another pole of Israel’s faith recalled in a persisting manner the foundational experience of the desert and the archetype of wandering.

           God remained the God of Sinai deeply opposed to the gods of the Canaanite land. If a few pilgrimages attached Yahweh’s cult to certain places like Bethel, Dan, Beersheba, Gigal and finally Jerusalem, those places did not obtain their value from a magic power emanating from the ground but from the souvenir of the migrations of the Fathers.[8] Besides, many geographical places, and the most impressive ones, whether they are mountains like Hermon, Carmel, Thabor, Gilboa, Bashan, Gilead, Baal Hazor or mount Merom, or rivers like the Kishon, Jabbok and Jordan, or the lakes of Galilea and the Dead Sea, were not attached to the cult of Yahweh. Yahweh is not the god of the mountains, of the waters and of the rivers. It was rather He who created them (Amos 4,13; 5,8; 9,6). The God of Zion was not a local god and the prophets took it as their task to continuously remind the freedom of the One Who Is, in an absolute way, without qualification or limitation, without being from, without belonging to whatever place which could have a hold on Him (Amos 5,5).

This applied as well to Zion. The theme of Zion particularly evoked the bipolarity of presence and transcendence. God had chosen Zion for His dwelling[9] (Ps 46; 48; 78,68-69; 122; 132,13-17; Dan 6,11). However God’s glory was not its prisoner. It followed the itinerary from Sinai to Jerusalem (Ps 68; Cf. Jug 5,4). Nothing kept it in Jerusalem except for the free choice of a covenant. Once the covenant was broken, the divine presence could be on the move again and go anywhere, even to Babylon; Ezekiel has described in a dramatic way the departure of the Glory of God, leaving the Temple and taking the way of the exile[10] (Ezek 10,1-22; 11,6.22-25). God became ger with the gerim. The God of Israel is free. He can find anywhere His wandering people.


[1] Cf. E. Ben Zvi, “Israel, Assyrian Hegemony and Some Considerations About Virtual Israelite History,” BI, Vol. VIII, no. 1/2, Brill Academic Publishers, Leiden, (2000), 70-87, 73. L. Legrand, “The Foreigners in the Bible, ” in A. A. Xavier and P. J. Titus (eds.), The Word is Near You: Rom 10:8, Vol. III, St. Peter’s Pontifical Institute, Bangalore, (2004), 201-214, 205. About which very little is known except for a few romanced data that could be extracted from the Book of Tobit.

[2] Cf. Legrand, L., “Biblical Anthropology or Anthropologies,” in A. A. Xavier and M. D. S. Kumar (eds.), The Word is Near You: Rom 10:8, Vol. I, St. Peter’s Pontifical Institute, Bangalore, (2001), 98-116, 102.

[3] Cf. J. M. Hiesberger (ed.), The Catholic Bible: Personal Study Edition, Oxford University Press, New York, (1995), 83-86.

[4] Cf. H. N. Rosel, “Why 2 Kings 17 Does Not Constitute a Chapter of Reflection in the “Deuteronomistic History,” JBL, Vol. 128, no. 1, The Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, (2009), 85-90, 89.

[5] Cf. P. Dubovsky, “Assyrian Downfall Through Isaiah’s Eyes (2 Kings 15-23): The Historiography of Representation,” Biblica, Vol. 89, Fasc. 1, Institut Biblique Pontifical, Rome, (2008), 1-16, 5.

[6] Cf. E. Ben Zvi, “Israel, Assyrian Hegemony and Some Considerations About Virtual Israelite History,” BI, Vol. VIII, no. 1/2, Brill Academic Publishers, Leiden, (2000), 70-87, 71-79.

[7] Cf. S. D. Renn (ed.), “Desert,” in Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, Hendrickson Publishers, Massachusetts, (2005), 267-268.

[8] L. Legrand, “The Foreigners in the Bible,” in A. A. Xavier and P. J. Titus (eds.), The Word is Near You: Rom 10:8, Vol. III, St. Peter’s Pontifical Institute, Bangalore, (2004), 201-214, 206.

[9] Cf. Legrand, L., “Biblical Anthropology or Anthropologies,” in A. A. Xavier and M. D. S. Kumar (eds.), The Word is Near You: Rom 10:8, Vol. I, St. Peter’s Pontifical Institute, Bangalore, (2001), 98-116, 103.

[10] Cf. C. B. Houk, “The Final Redaction of Ezekiel 10,” JBL, Vol. XC, no. 1, The Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, (1971), 42-54, 42-43.

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