THE FINAL STAGE IN THE MAKING OP THE HEBREW NATION.
The final stage in the evolution of Israel is recorded in the opening chapters of I Samuel and is best studied in detail in connection with the history of the nation at its zenith. We have studied the forces which made the nation. A brief summary will indicate the transition to the next period, that of the kingdom. The victory over the Canaanites gave the Hebrews possession of the land and left them free to coalesce into a united nation; but the centrifugal tribe spirit for a time proved the stronger. Under Gideon a beginning was made in kingdom making, but owing to the cruelty and inefficiency of his son Abimelech, the first Hebrew state lasted little more than a generation.
The compelling power that finally brought all the rival Hebrew tribes together under a common leader was the conquest of their territory by the warlike, ambitious Philistines. In inspiring the Benjamite chieftain Saul to deliver his countrymen in their hour of shame and peril, Samuel the prophet proved the true father of the Hebrew kingdom. Under the compulsion of common danger the Israelites not only followed Saul to victory, but also made him their king. From this time on Israel took its place among the nations of the earth.
During their formative period the Hebrews acquired many characteristics that they have retained throughout their history. From their early nomadic life they inherited physical strength, hardihood, adaptability even to the most unfavorable environment, courage, perseverance and that individual initiative and self-reliance which come from protracted struggles against seemingly insuperable odds. It was a harsh but thorough school in which the infant nation Israel was trained. Their life in the wilderness and in the period of settlement also developed an intense love for freedom and that democratic spirit that was the glory of Israel and the foundation of its political institutions.
People passing their time chiefly out of doors and enjoying the uplifting stimulus of an unfettered life in the open naturally acquire a feeling of awe and reverence for the God of nature that is often lacking in the city dweller. Especially is this true if, like the early Hebrews, the dwellers in the open feel that need of divine protection which is begotten by constant exposure to danger, hunger, hardship and hostile foes. The many crises and the signal deliverances that came to the Hebrews not only intensified their faith, but also gave them the consciousness that the God in whom they put their trust was both able and eager to deliver them. Prophets like Moses strengthened the popular sense of Jehovah’s immediate presence and interpreted the significance of each event.
Israel’s early faith was simple, like that of a little child. While its beliefs were crude, its trust was strong. It was this trust and loyalty that carried the child nation through its early crises and ultimately bound together the separate tribes into a united commonwealth. Thus Israel’s early history illustrates the fundamental truth, that the most essential, the most powerful force in the making of a nation is a simple, practical, every-day religion.