Program Guides – Abraham to King Saul

Newscast 1. Abraham

In this first Bible News Newscast, we can see how Abraham, the great Patriarch, demonstrates his unquestioning faith in a new and unique God. In the Mediterranean world of the day where Egypt and Babylon were the major superpowers, the idea of an invisible God was a difficult thing to comprehend, but Abraham — with his new found faith — moves his family to Canaan, the land God promises will belong to his descendants forever.

The destruction of the immoral cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire and brimstone from heaven clearly demonstrates God’s mighty power and Abraham’s efforts to save the cities are to no avail. Only Lot and his family escape – having been warned of the imminent disaster by two angels in the guise of strangers.

When Abraham visits Egypt earlier in his career, he surrenders his beautiful wife, Sarah, to the Pharaoh’s harem, pretending she is his sister. Undoubtedly, he was in fear of his life and his subsequent expulsion from Egypt foreshadows a later period when his descendants, the Hebrews, regarded as foreigners in the Delta, are enslaved for generations.

The purpose of Newscast 1 is to show how Abraham embraces an entirely new faith, striking a unique covenant with God that will profoundly affect the future of Western Civilization.

Biblical references: Genesis, Chapters 12-19

Newscast 2. Jacob

Abraham faced the supreme test of his faith when asked by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Abraham’s decision to obey unquestioningly was all the more poignant since God promised him a son in his old age from his barren wife, Sarah. Isaac’s two sons were Jacob and Esau, who in turn fathered two powerful clans. Jacob – whose name was later changed to Israel – had twelve sons, the descendants of whom became the twelve tribes of Israel.

Jacob’s son, Joseph, disappears mysteriously when his brothers – who are jealous of him – sell him as a slave to a caravan of Ishmaelites bound for Egypt. Our Crime Correspondent suspects foul play – but comes to the wrong conclusions.

The report on the Hyksos occupation of Egypt is relevant to the Joseph story. During this period (see time-chart) immigrants from Western Asia had infiltrated the Delta — often migrating because of famines – and had eventually seized power from the native Egyptian Pharaohs. These new rulers — called Hyksos (literally meaning ‘Rulers of Foreign Lands’) – were probably still in power when Joseph later became Viceroy, and this might explain Joseph’s remarkable success as a foreigner and the eventual migration of his family to Egypt.
The main focus of Newscast 2, however, is on the eventful and often tragic life of Jacob — the third of Israel’s great Patriarchs.

Biblical references: Genesis, Chapters 20-37

Newscast 3. Joseph

The position of Viceroy was traditionally extremely powerful in ancient Egypt. This will explain why Joseph had the authority to institute such far-reaching economic reforms. When the astrologers and magicians of the Egyptian court failed to explain the Pharaoh’s strange dreams, God gave Joseph the ability to interpret them accurately — thus leading to his dramatic rise from prison to Palace.

Not covered in this program is Joseph’s justifiable revenge on his brothers for having sold him into slavery. When they arrive in Egypt in search of grain, Joseph has them arrested as spies. After many trials he eventually reveals himself as their long-lost brother, and when Jacob is brought to Egypt, the family is at last reunited. Jacob’s arrival marks the beginning of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt — which is only to end centuries later with the Exodus under Moses.

Newscast 3 introduces two important items of background interest. First, Mursilis’ Hittite Empire was becoming the dominant power in Western Asia (see map) and Hittites were already being mentioned in the Bible — particularly in the Jerusalem area. Second, this period marks the end of Hammurabi’s Babylonian dynasty. It was King Hammurabi who compiled a great code of laws which was the most comprehensive legal document to appear in the ancient world until the Law of Moses five hundred years later.

Biblical references: Genesis Chapters 39-46

Newscast 4. Exodus

After Joseph brought his family to Egypt, the Hebrews prospered in the land of Goshen (see map). But trouble lay ahead.

A Pharaoh arose ‘who knew not Joseph’ which perhaps refers to a great revolution which took place in Egypt during that period. The Hyksos, who had ruled Egypt for over a century, were finally overthrown by a native Egyptian ruler from Thebes in the south. Eventually, the Hebrews, along with other foreigners in the Delta, were cast into slavery.

The biblical narrative picks up again under Pharaoh Rameses II, who was well-known in Egyptian documents for his ambitious building programs. Under his regime the treasure cities of Pithom and Rameses were constructed – massive projects on which Hebrew slaves were employed.

There was good reason for Pharaoh’s reluctance to let the Israelites go, since his building program would be badly hampered – but the mighty Rameses II was no match for Moses and the supreme power of the God of Israel.

As well as witnessing a major turning point in Israel’s history, this period sees the beginning of dramatic events which will soon change the face of the Mediterranean world. Great cities like Babylon and Troy were under attack and other peoples, like the Israelites, were on the move. But, ironically, none of these great powers would have anything like the same impact on world history as a disorderly band of slaves going out into the treacherous Sinai – with only their faith to guide them.

Biblical references: Genesis, Chapter 47, Exodus Chapter 12

Newscast 5. The Ten Commandments

With the hordes of Egyptians drowned in the Red Sea behind them and with some of their earlier difficulties in the desert overcome, the Hebrew tribes now encounter the most serious crisis of their emerging nationhood.

The golden calf insurrection challenged not only the leadership of Moses but the very concept of God’s covenant with Israel. Worship of the golden calf represented a reversion to the pagan religion of Egypt — at the very time that Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. The idea of an invisible God was just as unique in Moses’ time as it had been in the time of Abraham and for a people enslaved for generations in Egypt, an unseen God was still difficult to accept. This perhaps accounts for the whole history of opposition and rebellion which characterized Israel’s wanderings in the desert.

But the golden calf episode does not diminish the lasting importance of that unique aspect of Mosaic Law — The Ten Commandments. God’s revelation on Mount Sinai became a legacy which set the standards of civilization from that time on.

This period also marks the beginning of the Iron Age in the ancient Near East which will revolutionize warfare and commerce. Iron chariots, armor and weapons would prove to be more effective than their bronze counterparts and the reduction in demand for bronze would progressively damage the economy of Egypt — a major supplier of copper. In Canaan too, the control of iron will soon be decisive in determining the balance of power between Israelites and Philistines.

Biblical references: Exodus, Chapters 13-32

Newscast 6. Joshua

Under the leadership of Joshua a new generation of Israelites, toughened by a rigorous desert upbringing, cross the Jordan and crush the Canaanite city-states in a lightning series of attacks. Their initial success can be ascribed to both their faith in God and an effective combination of strategies which enabled them to conquer heavily fortified and walled cities.

Joshua’s tactics always included elements of surprise. The very fact that the Israelites crossed the Jordan and attacked from the east instead of coming directly from the south was itself unexpected; both Moses and Joshua used spies to gain intelligence reports for surprise tactics. Stratagems, such as the psychological warfare at Jericho, were constantly being employed. Soon, Joshua’s victories succeeded in gaining an effective foothold for Israel in Canaan.

But the Israelites were not invading an unsophisticated, primitive land. The name ‘Canaanite’ was synonymous with ‘merchant’ — thus reflecting the Canaanites’ reputation as traders. Canaan already had a well-established urban culture, which for years had benefited from Egyptian control and protection. However, by the time the Israelites invaded Canaan, Egypt’s military presence was negligible, and the city-states were consequently weakened. As the super-powers of the day – the Egyptians and the Hittites – had recently signed a non-aggression pact, neither of them intervened in Canaan to impede Israel’s conquest of its Promised Land.

Biblical references: Deuteronomy, Chapter 34. Joshua Chapter 11

Newscast 7. Judges

The period of the Judges is characterized by the emergence of popular leaders who arose in times of crisis. For much of the two centuries between Joshua’s death and the reign of King Saul, Israel was repeatedly subject to foreign domination. One judge, Ehud, ended Moabite occupation by assassinating their king; Deborah was victorious over the Northern Canaanites at Mount Tabor and Gideon defeated Midian.

But these were not the only Judges. One of the most tragic stories in the Book of Judges relates how a leader called Jephthah made an oath before God that if he defeated the Ammonites he would sacrifice the first person he encountered on returning home. The Ammonites were duly defeated and Jephthah came home in triumph. But Israel’s victory cost Jephthah his daughter – who was the first to greet him and was sacrificed according to his oath.

Of course, the most persistent threat to Israel’s stability was the Philistines, now well entrenched along the Mediterranean coast. The Book of Judges presents the case that Israel’s weaknesses were the result of the people’s failure to faithfully adhere to the Law of Moses. The temptations were great. The Canaanite religion offered the attractions of fertility cults, sacred prostitution, idol worship and a generally low standard of morality – which was anathema to Israel’s religious sensibilities.

Moreover, the Judges epoch seems to have been one in which tribal allegiance was more important than national identity. The Judges were regional rulers without national aspirations and religion was the only common factor in the loose confederation of twelve tribes. Israel was not yet ready for a king.

Biblical references: Judges, Chapters 3 – 12

Newscast 8. Samson

One of the most colorful of the biblical figures was Samson – a man of love and war. Although he is considered one of the Judges, the Bible concentrates on his many exploits rather than on his career as a judge.

The Samson account dramatizes the early Israel/Philistine conflict. By this period the Philistines had established a strong presence in their five cities along the Mediterranean coast — and posed a constant military threat to the confederation of Israelite tribes further inland.

During the Judges period the Philistines held a monopoly on the use of iron, which, for many years upset the balance of power in the region. Consequently, their military superiority enabled them to support garrisons as far east as the Jordan valley — deep into Israelite territory.

Little is known about the origins of the Philistines since they left no literature of their own. The Bible records that the Philistines emanated from Crete, which was once a major sea-power in the Eastern Mediterranean. In an earlier period— roughly five hundred years before Samson — two civilizations dominated Crete. One, the Mycenaeans, were the ancestors of ancient Greece. The others, the Minoans, built their famous Palace of Knossos under their leader, Minos. A great volcanic eruption devastated Crete and caused the total collapse of the Minoan Empire — which probably led to the Philistine migration to other shores.

The Philistines next appear on the world scene when they invade Egypt, only to be repulsed by Rameses II — the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Finally, the Philistines take their place in history as the supreme threat to Israel’s sovereignty in Canaan.

Biblical references: Judges, Chapters 13 – 16

Newscast 9. Samuel

As Newscast 9 opens, we find ourselves in the midst of a new and exciting period in Israel’s history — the Monarchy.

However, the notion of a king was a revolutionary development because tribal loyalties had formerly been predominant and there were fears that a monarchy would prove to be tyrannical. Although the Prophet Samuel warned of the consequences, the people were insistent for two reasons. First, the rule of Judges had fallen into disrepute since Samuel’s own sons were corrupt. Second, the international situation demanded that Israel have a king.

The weakening of the Superpowers — Egypt and Mesopotamia — led to the forming of many small independent kingdoms amongst Israel’s neighbors which undoubtedly influenced the popular demand for an Israelite monarchy. In addition, the only chance of establishing secure borders lay in the cohesion of all the tribes into an effective fighting force led by a national figure — the king. Thus, in the David and Goliath episode, we hear of the national army of Israel facing the Philistines across the valley of Elah.

Saul’s kingdom, however, bore little resemblance to the later royal courts of David and Solomon. First of all, the gift of royalty was both granted and withdrawn from Saul by God acting through the Prophet Samuel. Unlike David his dynasty died with him. Second, Saul erected no royal palace or capital – nor did he surround himself with the bureaucracy of a central administration. He was a simple man of the people, who found his life increasingly surrounded by controversy. In many ways, Saul was one of the most tragic figures of Israel’s early history.

Biblical references: 1 Samuel, Chapters 1 – 17

Program 10. Saul

One of the most enthralling aspects of Saul’s reign must be the complex interplay of relationships between the main characters — Samuel, Saul, Jonathan and David.

From Samuel’s viewpoint, Saul proved an unworthy king by violating God’s commands. He usurped Samuel’s authority by acting as a priest at Gilgal and then proceeded to spare the life and property of the Amalekite king, against the orders of God. As far as Samuel was concerned, these acts confirmed his original misgivings about the Monarchy, by setting dangerous precedents. Samuel was determined to preserve the division of power between the king and the Priesthood, in contrast to neighbouring pagan kings who also performed priestly functions. Thus, Samuel anointed David as the next king of Israel.

Saul, on the other hand, faced the massive task of defending Israel’s borders, but his authority was no doubt weakened by Samuel’s reservations about the kingship. Samuel still had enormous popular support, and his anointing of David as Saul’s successor, must have seriously undermined the king’s power. This explains Saul’s bitterness and his attempts to kill David — whom he considered a threat to the eventual succession of his son Jonathan.

In this context, David’s friendship with Jonathan is remarkable because it transcended the political considerations of the moment. From Jonathan’s point of view, it would have been expedient for Saul to have killed David and removed the threat to his succession; instead, he protected David from Saul. David’s respect for the throne prevented him from harming Saul, although he was confident of his eventual divine right to rule, since Samuel had anointed him as future king.

Biblical references: 1 Samuel, Chapters 18-31

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