Judah in the Old and New Testaments

Early Territory of Judah

Judah was the land assigned to the person Judah, which lay in the South of Palestine, comprising part of the mountain, the Shephelah, and the maritime plain. The information given of its conquest is meager and cannot be arranged in a self-consistent story. In Josh 11:21 ff, the conquest is ascribed to Joshua.

Caleb is described as conquering at least a portion in Josh 14:12; 15:13 ff; while in Jdg 1 the tribes of Judah and Simeon play a conspicuous part; and the latter found a settlement in the South within the territory of Judah The tribal organization seems to have been maintained after the occupation of the land, and Judah was so loosely related to the northern tribes that it was not expected to help them against Sisera.

Deborah has no reproaches for absent Judah. It is remarkable that no judge over Israel (except Othniel, Jdg 3:9-11) arose from the tribe of Judah. The first king of all Israel was chosen from the tribe of Benjamin. This made acquiescence on the part of Judah easier than it would have been had Saul sprung from the ancient rival, Ephraim. But the dignity of Judah was fully vindicated by the splendid reigns of David and Solomon, in lineal descent from whom the Saviour of the world should come. The further history of the tribe is merged in that of Israel.

Later Territory of Judah

Canaan before the Monarchy

Some 4,000 years BC the land on either side of the valley of the Jordan was peopled by a race who, to whatever stock they belonged, were not Semites. It was not until about the year 2500 BC that the tide of Sere immigration began to flow from North Arabia into the countries watered by the Jordan and the Euphrates. One of the first waves in this human tide consisted of the Phoenicians who settled in the Northwest, on the seashore; they were closely followed by other Canaan tribes who occupied the country which long bore their name.

The Canaanites:

The Canaanites are known to us chiefly from the famous letters found at Tell Amarna in Egypt which describe the political state of the country during the years 1415-1360 BC--the years of the reigns of Amenophis III and IV. Canaan was at this time slipping out of the hands of Egypt. The native princes were in revolt: tribute was withheld; and but few Egyptian garrisons remained. Meantime a fresh tide of invasion was hurling its waves against the eastern frontiers of the land. The newcomers were, like their predecessors, Semitic Bedouin from the Syrian desert. Among them the Tell el-Amarna Lettersname the Chabiri, who are, no doubt, the people known to us as the Hebrews.

The Israelite Confederacy:

The Hebrews are so named by those of other nationality after one of their remoter ancestors (Gen 10:24), or because they had come from beyond (Heb: `ebher) the Jordan or the Euphrates. Of themselves they spoke collectively as Israel. Israel was a name assumed by the eponymous hero of the nation whose real name was Jacob. Similarly the Arabian prophet belonged to the tribe called from its ancestor Koraish, whose name was Fihr. The people of Israel were a complex of some 12 or 13 tribes.

These 12 tribes were divided into two main sections, one section tracing its descent from Leah, one of Jacob's wives, and the other section tracing its descent from Rachel, his other wife. The names of the tribes which claimed to be descended from Leah were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and, indirectly, Gad and Asher; those which claimed to be descended from Rachel were Joseph, which was divided into two clans; Ephraim and Manasseh, Benjamin, and, indirectly, Dan and Naphtali.

The rivalry between these two great divisions runs all through the national history of the Hebrews, and was only brought to an end by the annihilation of one of the opposing factions (Isa 11:13). But not only was the Israelite nation a combination of many clans; it was united also to other tribes which could not claim descent, from Israel or Jacob. Such tribes were the Kenites and the Calebites.

Toward such the pure Israelite tribes formed a sort of aristocracy, very much as, to change the parallel, the tribe of Koraish did among the Arabs. It was rarely that a commander was appointed from the allied tribes, at least in the earlier years of the national life.

Migration into Canaan:

We find exactly the same state of things obtaining in the history of the Arabian conquests. All through that history there runs the rivalry between the South Arabian tribes descended from Kahtan (the Hebrew Heb: Joktan, Gen 10:25, etc.) and the northern or Ishmaelite tribes of Modar. It is often stated that the Old Testament contains two separate and irreconcilable accounts of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites.

According to the Book of Joshua, it is said the invasion was a movement of the whole people of Israel under the leadership of Joshua; according to the Book of Judges, it consisted of a series of expeditions made by individual tribes each on its own account (Jdg 1:2,10, etc.). But again, in the history of the Arabs we find precisely the same apparent discrepancy.

For Persia, Syria and Egypt were conquered by the Arabs as a whole; but at the same time no tribe lost its individuality; each tribe made expeditions on its own account, and turned its arms against rival tribes even in the enemy's country. On the confines of China in the East and in Spain on the West, the arms of the Yemen's tribes were employed in the destruction of those of Modar as fiercely as ever they had been within Arabia itself.

The Bond of Union:

The bond which united the Israelite tribes, as well as those of Kayin (the eponym of the Kenites) and Caleb, was that of the common worship of Yahweh. As Mohammed united all the tribes of Arabia into one whole by the doctrine of monotheism, so did Moses the Israelite tribes by giving them a common object of worship.

And the sherifs or descendants of `Ali today occupy a position very like what the Levites and the descendants of Aaron must have maintained in Israel. In order to keep the Israelite nation pure, intermarriage with the inhabitants of the invaded country was forbidden, though the prohibition was not observed (Jdg 3:5 f). So too, the Arab women were not permitted to marry non-Arabs during the first years of conquest.

Early Rulers:

It is customary to date the beginning of monarchy in Israel from Saul the son of Kish, but in point of fact many early leaders were kings in fact if not in name. Moses and Joshua may be compared with Mohammed and his caliph (properly khalifa) or "successor," Abu Bekr. Their word was law; they reigned supreme over a united nation. Moreover, the word "king" (melekh) often means, both in Hebrew and Arabic, nothing more than governor of a town, or local resident. There was more than one "king" of Midinn (Jdg 8:12). Balak seems to have been only a king of Moab (Nu 22:4).

The Judges:

Before the monarchy proper, the people of Israel formed, in theory, a theocracy, as did also the Arabs under the caliphs. In reality they were ruled by temporary kings called judges (Heb: shopheT, the Carthaginian sufes). Their office was not hereditary, though there were exceptions (compare Jdg 9).

On the other hand, the government of the Northern Kingdom of Israel was practically an elective monarchy, so rarely were there more than two of the same dynasty. The judge again was usually appointed in order to meet some special crises, and theoretically ideal state of things was one in which there was no visible head of the state--a republic without a president.

These intervals, however, always ended in disaster, and the appointment of another judge. The first king also was elected to cope with a specially serious crisis. The main distinction between judge and king was that the former, less than the latter, obscured the fact of the true King, upon the recognition of whom alone the continued existence of the nation depended. The rulers then became the "elders" or sheikhs of the tribes, and as these did not act in unison, the nation lost its solidarity and became an easy prey to any invader.

Hereditary Kings:

During the period of the Judges a new factor entered into the disturbed politics of Canaan. This was an invader who came not from the eastern and southern deserts, but from the western sea. Driven out of Crete by invaders from the mainland, the last remnants of the race of Minos found refuge on the shores of the country which ever after took from them the name it still bears--Philistin or Palestine. At the same time the Ammonites and Midianites were pressing into the country from the East (1 Sam 11).

Caught between these two opposing forces, the tribes of Israel were threatened with destruction. It was felt that the temporary sovereignty of the judge was no longer equal to the situation. The supreme authority must be permanent. It was thus the monarchy was founded. Three motives are given by tradition as leading up to this step.

The pretext alleged by the elders or sheikhs is the worthlessness and incapacity of Samuel's sons, who he intended should succeed him (1 Sam 8). The immediate cause was the double pressure from the Philistines (1 Sam 9:16) and the Ammonite king (1 Sam 12:12). The real reason was that the system of government by elective kings or judges had proved a failure and had completely broken down. The times called for a hereditary monarchy.


International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain.