After the death of Moses, Joshua was given the task of leading Israel into the Promised Land. The military campaign that followed is generally referred to as “the Conquest.” Earlier, at Kadesh, God had sentenced those who were over age 20, of the first generation, to die in the Wilderness (Num. 14). Now, 38 years later, Joshua was leading the second generation. They would be the ones to enter the land. God first gave Joshua the confidence he needed for the task. He spoke directly to him and promised: “There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” (Josh. 1:5).
The Israelites were now located on the east side of the Jordan River. They had to cross the river to reach the Promised Land. The first Mighty Act that God performed was the parting of the Jordan River. “And the LORD said unto Joshua, This day will I begin to magnify thee in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee. And thou shalt command the priests that bear the ark of the covenant, saying, When ye are come to the brink of the water of Jordan, ye shall stand still in Jordan” (Josh. 3:7-8).
And it came to pass, when the people removed from their tents, to pass over Jordan, and the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people; And as they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan, and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, (for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest,) That the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan: and those that came down toward the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, failed, and were cut off: and the people passed over right against Jericho. And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan. (vv. 14-17)
The effect of this Mighty Act was profound. What it did for Joshua was to last for the rest of his life.
“On that day the LORD magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they feared him, as they feared Moses, all the days of his life” (Josh. 4:14). The demoralizing effect upon the Canaanites must have been devastating, as the crossing occurred near the Canaanite city of Jericho. Bible commentators say the river was 50 yards wide here and entirely to deep to wade. When the water walled up, the backflow extended up the Jordan for about 30 miles to the north. Nothing like this had ever before happened in the vicinity of the Promised Land. The Canaanites were terrified by these mighty interventions of God (Josh. 2:9). Later, Joshua reminded the people: “For the LORD your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over: That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the LORD your God for ever” (Josh. 4:23-24).
The city of Jericho was the first Canaanite city that had to be attacked. It was the key to the conquest of the whole land, but it had formidable defenses. “Now Jericho was straitly shut up because of the children of Israel: none went out, and none came in” (Josh. 6:1). God appeared to Joshua to instruct him:
And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries? And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the LORD am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith my lord unto his servant? (Josh. 5:13-14)
God then instructed Joshua:
. . . See, I have given into thine hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valour. And ye shall compass the city, all ye men of war, and go round about the city once. Thus shalt thou do six days. And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams’ horns: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets. And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him. (Josh. 6:2-5)
These instructions were precisely followed:
And it came to pass on the seventh day, that they rose early about the dawning of the day, and compassed the city after the same manner seven times: only on that day they compassed the city seven times. And it came to pass at the seventh time, when the priests blew with the trumpets, Joshua said unto the people, Shout; for the LORD hath given you the city . . . . So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. (Josh. 6:15-16, 20)
The name of Joshua was now known everywhere. “So the LORD was with Joshua; and his fame was noised throughout all the country” (Josh. 6:27). The Byzantine historian, Procopius, described an inscription he had seen near what we know today as the present Tangiers, Africa. In the old Canaanite script, it read: “We are they who fled before the face of Joshua, the robber, the son of Nun.”
The last Mighty Act of God during the Conquest was the destruction of the Amorite kings, who had formed an alliance against the Israelites. Earlier, the Gibeonites, from the city of Gibeon, had deceived the Israelites into entering into a league with them. The kings from the other Canaanite cities were outraged. These were the Amorite kings. Keep in mind the name “Canaanite” applied to all the peoples of the land. The Amorite kings determined to attack the Gibeonites for what they regarded as treachery. The Gibeonites acted quickly. “And the men of Gibeon sent unto Joshua to the camp to Gilgal, saying, Slack not thy hand from thy servants; come up to us quickly, and save us, and help us: for all the kings of the Amorites that dwell in the mountains are gathered together against us” (Josh. 10:6). “And the LORD said unto Joshua, Fear them not: for I have delivered them into thine hand; there shall not a man of them stand before thee. Joshua therefore came unto them suddenly, and went up from Gilgal all night” (vv. 8-9). The distance of this forced march was about 15 miles, and the Amorites were completely surprised.
Notice what happened:
And the LORD discomfited them before Israel, and slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and chased them along the way that goeth up to Bethhoron, and smote them to Azekah, and unto Makkedah. And it came to pass, as they fled from before Israel, and were in the going down to Bethhoron, that the LORD cast down great stones from heaven upon them unto Azekah, and they died: they were more which died with hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword. (Josh. 10:10-11)
This was an awesome destruction, but there was even a greater miracle that followed. As the day wore on, Joshua needed more time to finish the destruction.
Then spake Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day. And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the LORD hearkened unto the voice of a man: for the LORD fought for Israel. (Josh. 10:12-14)
This incident is often referred to as “Joshua’s long day.” While the length of the day was extended, it was nevertheless one day, and the weekly cycle was not altered. God performed these Mighty Acts during the Conquest because He had promised the land to Abraham and to his seed for an everlasting possession (Gen 12:7; 15:7, 18; 17:8).
After the death of Joshua, a series of judges ruled over Israel. The children of Israel remained faithful to God and His commands throughout the lives of those who came out of the Wilderness and who entered the Promised Land with Joshua,. But after that generation died, their children faltered. They repeatedly turned to the gods of the Canaanites and went into idolatry. As a result, God delivered them into the hands of their enemies. Occasionally God would raise-up judges and deliverers to liberate them. Some of these judges are of special note because of the Mighty Acts God performed during their administrations. The first of these is Othniel. He was the nephew of Caleb, who was one of scouts who spied out the land before Joshua invaded.
While not much is said about Othniel, we read:
And when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer to the children of Israel, who delivered them, even Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel, and went out to war: and the LORD delivered Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand; and his hand prevailed against Chushanrishathaim. (Judges 3:9-10)
As a result of God’s direct help, Israel was delivered “And the land had rest forty years . . . ” (Judges 3:11).
Some years later, the children of Israel repeated this idolatry and were in the same predicament. As a result they were delivered into the hands of the Midianites, who severely impoverished them. God sent a prophet to tell them why they were in such a condition (Judges 6:8). This must have set the stage for a national reformation because God stepped in and began to work with a man named Gideon.
“And there came an angel of the LORD, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him, The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour” (Judges 6:11-12). The “Angel of the Lord” was none other than the Lord (vv. 14, 22). Gideon immediately recognized that this was a heavenly Messenger. He was God-conscious and very much aware of God’s power and past dealings with the people of Israel. His answer to the Messenger was:
. . . Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? but now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites. And the LORD looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee? (Judges 6:13-14)
Notice: The Angel of the Lord had called Gideon a “mighty man of valor” (Judges 6:12). Why? Because he already had an established reputation as a warrior. But he did not have an exalted opinion of his prowess. He replied: ” . . . Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (v. 15). God assured him that He would work through him to free the Israelites from the Midianites. But Gideon wanted further assurance, by means of a sign (v. 17).
God answered in a dramatic way:
And Gideon went in, and made ready a kid, and unleavened cakes of an ephah of flour: the flesh he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot, and brought it out unto him under the oak, and presented it. And the angel of God said unto him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay them upon this rock, and pour out the broth. And he did so. Then the angel of the LORD put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there rose up fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. Then the angel of the LORD departed out of his sight. And when Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the LORD, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord GOD! for because I have seen an angel of the LORD face to face. And the LORD said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die. Then Gideon built an altar there unto the LORD, and called it Jehovahshalom: unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abiezrites. (Judges 6:19-24)
Gideon’s assurance was greatly bolstered by this miracle. God then told him to destroy the altar of Baal and the nearby grove that belonged to his father and to the city. At night he boldly acted to destroy the altar and the grove. The next day, the men of the city were incensed and wanted to kill Gideon, but his father wisely advised that Baal should plead his own cause, so the matter was left alone (Judges 6:25-32).
The Midianites, Amalekites, and others, must have heard that a mobilization was taking place in Israel, because a large army suddenly appeared for an attack (Judges 6:33). “But the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet; and Abiezer was gathered after him. And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh; who also was gathered after him: and he sent messengers unto Asher, and unto Zebulun, and unto Naphtali; and they came up to meet them” (vv. 34-35). What Gideon did next may appear to have been from a lack of faith, but he was realistic. He knew that regardless the bravery, strength, and determination of any individual, it would take more than the forces he had to overcome this vast army. With an army of 32,000, he was facing an army of 135,000 (Judges 7:3; 8:10). He needed further assurance from God.
So he asked:
. . . If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water. And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground. (Judges 6:36-40)
With these two miracles, Gideon now made a move against the Midianites. But God told Gideon that his army was too large. God instructed Gideon to ask those who were fearful to leave. Those who remained were now 10,000 men, facing an army of 135,000. God then told Gideon that even this army was also too large, and that He would give Gideon a sign to determine who should remain.
And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go. So he brought down the people unto the water: and the LORD said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink. And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water. And the LORD said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place. (Judges 7:4-7)
The exact method of drinking is not made entirely clear, but the indication is that those who remained in an alert position and drank by cupping their hands filled with water were the ones God instructed Gideon to choose. There were only 300 of these. With this small remnant, God now gave Gideon another boost of confidence. That night He told him to go down to the enemy camp and listen. Gideon overheard an enemy soldier describing an ominous dream-one that portended destruction for the Midianites (Judges 7:9-15). Gideon now knew the Midianites were aware that they would be defeated. They had a defeatist mindset.
And he [Gideon] divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet in every man’s hand, with empty pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers. And he said unto them, Look on me, and do likewise: and, behold, when I come to the outside of the camp, it shall be that, as I do, so shall ye do. When I blow with a trumpet, I and all that are with me, then blow ye the trumpets also on every side of all the camp, and say, The sword of the LORD, and of Gideon. So Gideon, and the hundred men that were with him, came unto the outside of the camp in the beginning of the middle watch; and they had but newly set the watch: and they blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers that were in their hands. And the three companies blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers, and held the lamps in their left hands, and the trumpets in their right hands to blow withal: and they cried, The sword of the LORD, and of Gideon. And they stood every man in his place round about the camp: and all the host ran, and cried, and fled. And the three hundred blew the trumpets, and the LORD set every man’s sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host: and the host fled to Bethshittah in Zererath, and to the border of Abelmeholah, unto Tabbath. (Judges 7:16-22)
The panicky Midianites and their allies turned on each other, and in the retreat and bloodshed that followed 120,000 died (Judges 8:10). About 10,000 more were vanquished later. It was a great victory for Gideon and the Israelites.
The Bible relates other events surrounding the life and death of Gideon, but for the purpose of this study we can read the summary statement in Judges 8:28: “Thus was Midian subdued before the children of Israel, so that they lifted up their heads no more. And the country was in quietness forty years in the days of Gideon.”
Jephthah was another judge used to free Israel from oppression. God inspired him to defeat the Ammonites (Judges 11:29, 32), but the next judge we need to closely examine is Samson. Israel had again turned from God and were delivered into the hands of the Philistines for a period of 40 years (Judges 13:1). God determined to deliver them from this bondage and began working with a family from the tribe of Dan.
And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren, and bare not. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son. Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing: For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines. (Judges 13:2-5)
God then manifested himself to this husband and wife, giving them a sign that what He had said would surely come to pass (Judges 13:6-23). The son born to them was to be Nazarite. A Nazarite belonged to a special class of servants-men or women consecrated to God for service for the term of their vow (Num. 6). In the case of this son-Samson-the vow was to be for life. The requirements imposed by this vow could not to be altered in any way. “And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson: and the child grew, and the LORD blessed him. And the Spirit of the LORD began to move him at times in the camp of Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol” (Judges 13:24-25).
So, at an early date, Samson was beginning to manifest the kind of prodigious strength he would later use against the Philistines. About this time God began seeking an occasion against the Philistines. Samson’s desire to marry a Philistine woman was what was behind this (Judges 14:1-4). On one of his trips to visit to the maiden, a lion attacked him. “Then went Samson down, and his father and his mother, to Timnath, and came to the vineyards of Timnath: and, behold, a young lion roared against him. And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and he rent him as he would have rent a kid, and he had nothing in his hand: but he told not his father or his mother what he had done ” (vv. 5-6).
The Moffatt Translation renders verse six as: “The Spirit of the Eternal came over him, and he tore the creature in pieces as easily as one might tear a kid, though he had no weapon in his hands . . . ” He later used this occasion for a riddle in a wager against the Philistines. It was a riddle that was impossible to solve, so they threatened his wife. She got the answer from Samson and gave it to the Philistines, causing him to lose the bet (Judges 14:12-18). Then we read: “And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon, and slew thirty men of them, and took their spoil, and gave change of garments unto them which expounded the riddle. And his anger was kindled, and he went up to his father’s house. But Samson’s wife was given to his companion, whom he had used as his friend” (vv. 19-20).
When Samson found out his wife had been given to another man, he turned this personal wrong into national vengeance against the Philistines (Judges 15:3). “And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails. And when he had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks, and also the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives” (vv. 4-5). This precipitated revenge by the Philistines, and they killed his wife and her father. “And Samson said unto them, Though ye have done this, yet will I be avenged of you, and after that I will cease. And he smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter: and he went down and dwelt in the top of the rock Etam” (vv. 7-8).
The rock of Etam was within the territory of the tribe of Judah, and the frightened men of Judah requested his surrender so they could turn him over to the Philistines. After promising not to harm him, Samson allowed it (Judges 15:9-13). He must have anticipated what would happen next-the most dramatic slaughter of an enemy by a single man recorded in the entire Bible!
And when he came unto Lehi, the Philistines shouted against him: and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and the cords that were upon his arms became as flax that was burnt with fire, and his bands loosed from off his hands. And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand, and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith. And Samson said, With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men. And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking, that he cast away the jawbone out of his hand, and called that place Ramathlehi (Judges 15:14-17).
The Moffatt Translation renders verse 16 as: “Said Samson, With the jawbone of an ass I have piled them in a mass! With the jawbone of an ass I have assailed assailants!” As a result of the tremendous energy expended,
Samson was extremely thirsty and needed water immediately.
And he was sore athirst, and called on the LORD, and said, Thou hast given this great deliverance into the hand of thy servant: and now shall I die for thirst, and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised? But God clave an hollow place that was in the jaw, and there came water thereout; and when he had drunk, his spirit came again, and he revived: wherefore he called the name thereof Enhakkore, which is in Lehi unto this day. And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years (Judges 15:18-20).
So psychologically demoralizing was this defeat for the Philistines that they were driven back into their strongholds, and Israel was freed from their rule the entire life of Samson. He judged Israel for 20 years, and during this period peace prevailed. Later, his restless spirit led him to Gaza where a harlot tempted him, and he “went in unto her” (Judges 16:1). Gaza was a chief Philistine city, and his presence there was an act of defiance. “And it was told the Gazites, saying, Samson is come hither. And they compassed him in, and laid wait for him all night in the gate of the city, and were quiet all the night, saying, In the morning, when it is day, we shall kill him” (v. 2). But their plans were thwarted. “And Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight, and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of an hill that is before Hebron” (v. 3). Commentators are in variance as to the distance the gate was carried. Estimates are from eight to forty miles. Whatever the distance, the gate must have weighed tons. You can be sure the Philistines were duly impressed.
Later still, Samson became involved with a Philistine woman by the name of Delilah. She was, no doubt, amoral and mercenary, and the Philistines offered her a great sum of money if she could find out the secret of Samson’s prodigious strength. The account is given in Judges 16:4-20. Samson eventually told Delilah that, from his mother’s womb, he was under a Nazarite vow and that his long hair was a symbol of that vow. If his hair were cut, his strength would be gone. Delilah put him to sleep on her lap, and his hair was cut. She awakened him and his strength was gone. Immediately the Philistines put out his eyes, and bound him, taking him to Gaza to grind in the prison house. While in prison his hair began to grow (Judges 16:21-22). The next event was the most dramatic occurrence in the life of Samson.
Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice: for they said, Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand. And when the people saw him, they praised their god: for they said, Our god hath delivered into our hands our enemy, and the destroyer of our country, which slew many of us. And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said, Call for Samson, that he may make us sport. And they called for Samson out of the prison house; and he made them sport: and they set him between the pillars. And Samson said unto the lad that held him by the hand, Suffer me that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house standeth, that I may lean upon them. Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport. And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes. And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life (Judges 16:23-30).
This was a catastrophe for the Philistines. Their entire ruling elite was killed. As a result, it took them many years to develop the leadership needed to again impose trouble upon Israelites. In brief, this single destruction thwarted all Philistine designs and incursions upon Israel until the time of Samuel. Let us not forget, God had told the parents of Samson, “For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5). Samson accomplished this by the mighty power God had given him. The deliverance of Israel from the Philistines was completed during the reign of David.