Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

Gibeonites. At the report of their approach, the latter hastily despatched messengers to the camp at Gilgal, summoning the aid of Joshua : Slack not thy hand from thy servants,' was their entreaty, and save us, and help us, for all the kings of the Amorites that dwell in the mountains, are gathered together against us.' Joshua answered readily to the cry of distress; he called out his warriors, who had now proved themselves men of valour; in the night he marched from the camp at Gilgal, and soon stood before Gibeon like an avenging spirit. The shrill war-cry sounded and the armies closed.

It was a terrible death-struggle, it was to be the crowning defeat of heathendom in Canaan. The battle began at daybreak and lasted on throughout the day; at length, sorely pressed by Joshua, the allied armies turned and fled; they clambered up the rocky side of Bethhoron, and were pursued by Joshua over the steep mountain-passes, where they were slain by the sword of the Hebrews, or by the storm of heavy hailstones that fell upon them.

This great battle at Gibeon was long famed in Hebrew history; it was the most important victory in the period of the conquest, for it established the power of the invading Israelites. It was told by the warriors to their lisping children; it was mentioned with awe as being supernaturally achieved; it was dwelt upon in the poetic chronicles of the nation; and referring to one of them, the Book of the Righteous,' the Bible narrates the event in the following terms:

• Then spoke 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. . . So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven,

and hastened not to go down a whole day. And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the Lord hearkened to the voice of a man : for the Lord fought for Israel.'

The five kings had fled southwards from the terrible arms of the Hebrews, and sought refuge in one of the mountain caves at Makkedah ; but even there they found no safety. The place of their retreat was discovered, huge stones were rolled before the opening of the cave, which was strictly guarded, while the main army continued the pursuit of the enemies. When these were fairly routed and scattered, Joshua ordered the five kings to be brought before him. Then followed one of the terrible scenes too frequent in those times of hatred and confusion. The five captive monarchs were bidden to kneel down, and at Joshua's command, his chieftains and chosen warriors placed their feet on the necks of the kings as a sign of subjection. After undergoing this act of humiliation, the five kings were hanged, and finally thrown into the very cave which had been their last hiding-place. Their kingdoms fell into the hands of the conquerors, who had now established a firm footing in Palestine. Joshua then traversed the land with his sword and his spear; he made an easy conquest of Makkedah, Libnah, and Lachish, Gezer, Eglon, Hebron, and Debir, devastating the towns and their territory, and slaying the inhabitants; in a word, he smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the slopes, and all their kings; he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded ;' for the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel.' Joshua's swift energy was untiring; it was not until he had conquered nearly the whole of the southern country that he returned to the camp at Gilgal.

But the heathens made one more attempt to struggle

against the advancing foe. One of the Canaanite chiefs dwelling in the northern part of the land, Jabin, king of Hazor, had heard of the unparalleled success of the invaders; and, full of courage, he determined to stem their progress. He sent messengers to the valleys of the south, to the eastern hills, and to the kingdoms lying on the sea-coast. He summoned all the chiefs to meet him with their armies at the northern lake of Merom, the first through which the Jordan passes in its course from the heights of the Lebanon. A vast army answered the appeal; they were like the sand that is upon the sea-shore in multitude, with horses and chariots very many. They encamped at the waters of Merom, defiant in their strength, confident of victory. But like a flash of lightning, like a thunderbolt from heaven, Joshua, undaunted, and relying upon Divine assistance, appeared at the head of his warriors before the enemy's gigantic army: "and the Lord delivered them into the hand of Israel, who smote them and chased them as far as great Zidon and Misrephoth-maim, and to the valley of Mizpeh eastward ; and they smote them until they left them none remaining.'

A guerilla warfare, occasionally assuming the proportions of great and regular battles, continued for many years even after the brilliant and decisive northern victory; but Joshua was everywhere successful; he subdued by untiring energy all the principal towns of Canaan, slew their kings and warlike populations, and enriched his army by their cattle and their spoil. We find thirtyone cities specially mentioned, and in every case the same stern and unsparing measures were carried out. These struggles lasted throughout the prime of Joshua's life, to the very verge of his old age: and yet many places and districts remained to be conquered-among them all the

territory of the Philistines and of Geshur, of the Avites, of the Giblites, and of all the Lebanon.

At last the Israelites began earnestly to long for peace; and the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half Manasseh implored Joshua to be allowed to return to their wives and their children on the eastern side of the Jordan.

66. THE SETTLEMENT IN PALESTINE.

(Josh. XIII.-XXII.]

But the land was first to be divided between the tribes of Israel. It was of small extent and comparatively narrow, about 190 miles long, and about 80 wide in the middle (varying considerably in other parts), containing about 15,000,000 acres. On the eastern side, it stretched towards the great empires of the Euphrates and Tigris, the regions of magnificent despotism; on the west, it was bathed by the waters of the Mediterranean, which connected it with the Grecian isles, the cradle of taste, learning, and philosophy; the southern boundary was that large tract of waste sand, which lay like a barrier between Palestine and Egypt, the land of idolatry and priestcraft ; while to the north it reached to the high range of Lebanon, those tall mountain-peaks which separated it from Syria. This small country was singularly endowed by nature ; it could boast of rich pasture lands large enough to feed thousands of flocks and herds; it abounded in woods of oak and sycamore, in groves of pine and olive, in the stateliest cedar-forests, luxuriant vineyards, and blooming gardens. Its small compass embraced mountains and rocks, sea-coasts, lakes, and rivers, teeming valleys and breezy table-land, but also sandy wastes and

stony deserts.

The equitable division of such a country was no easy task. The difficulty was evaded by leaving the issue to be decided by lot, which the Hebrews and other eastern nations believed to reveal the Divine will.

To the share of Judah, the lion of Israel, the most numerous of the tribes, fell one of the southern provinces of Palestine, bordered on the east by the shores of the Salt Sea up to the influx of the Jordan; on the west by the territory of the Philistines, and extending almost to the Mediterranean; on the south by the mountains and deserts of Edom; and on the north by the extensive plains of Dan and the blooming districts of Benjamin. It was a cool hill country, on whose rugged heights the warlike tribe could dwell in security. The high eminences were crowned with fenced cities, destined to become famed in after-ages. The valleys were rich in corn, and the mountain sides in vineyards. As to the luxuriant growth of the vine, it is only necessary to recall to mind Eshcol, the halting-place of the spies sent by Moses, whence they brought back the colossal grapes. But the town of Hebron, associated with the name of the early patriarchs, though lying within the boundaries assigned to the tribe of Judah, was not to come into its exclusive possession; it was permitted as a residence to one man and his descendants for ever. Caleb, the tried and faithful servant of Moses and Joshua, asked for this beautiful spot as a reward of his long services. Joshua granted the request upon the condition that he would wrest it at the point of the sword from the giant race of the Enakim who still inhabited it. Caleb succeeded, and obtained his coveted prize. South-west of Hebron lay Debir, or, as it was anciently called, Kirjath Sepher. Caleb, wishing to take it from the heathen and to annex it to his own territory, promised to give his daughter Achsah to the man who should win it. His own nephew Othniel came boldly forward, and the city of Debir was added to the

« AnteriorContinuar »