Under the pressure of the increased population certain of the Hebrew tribes migrated and seized new territory. Such a migration is vividly recorded in Judges 17 and 18. The little tribe of the Danites, finding the pressure of their kinsmen on the north and east and that of the Philistines on the west too strong, captured the Canaanite city of Laish at the foot of Mount Hermon and thus found a permanent home in the upper Jordan valley.
It was a cruel, barbarous age in which might was regarded as right. Thus, Ehud the Benjamite, who treacherously gained admittance to the presence of Eglon, secretly slew this Moabite oppressor of the Hebrews. This act instead of being condemned was regarded then and even by later generations as an example of courageous patriotism. Was his act justifiable? How would it be regarded in America to-day?
DEBORAH’S RALLY OF THE HEBREWS.
The growing numbers and strength of the Israelites at last alarmed the Canaanites. A certain leader by the name of Sisera formed a coalition of the strong Canaanite cities encircling the Plain of Esdraelon. The centre of this coalition was the powerful city of Megiddo, the ruins of which on the south-western side of the plain still remain to testify to the natural strength of this ancient stronghold. The policy of the Canaanites was to keep the different Hebrew clans apart and thus prevent united action. In the words of the ancient song:
In the days of Jael the highways were
And travellers walked by round-about paths.
The rulers ceased in Israel;
A shield was not seen in five cities
Nor a spear among forty thousand.
The one who alone appears to have understood the crisis and to have been able to stir the Israelites to action was Deborah, the prophetess of the central tribe of Issachar. Israel’s struggle for independence is graphically recorded in the ancient poem found in Judges 5. The later prose version of the incident, found in Judges 4, supplements the earlier poem. To a chief of a northern tribe of Napthali, a certain Barak, she turned as the natural leader in the struggle for independence. Together they sent out the summons to the different northern tribes. The southern tribes of Judah and Simeon were apparently ignored. The distant tribes of Asher, Dan and Reuben were engrossed in their local interests and failed to respond. The tribesmen who rallied forty thousand strong on the northern side of the Plain of Esdraelon represented the great central Hebrew clans. The ancient song, sung by the women as they met the returning warriors, makes it possible to reconstruct the battle scene. Through the broad valleys that lead into the Plain of Esdraelon from the north came the sinewy, unkempt, roughly clad and poorly equipped Hebrew tribesmen, each clan led by its local chief. They had “come up to the help of Jehovah against the mighty.”