The Conquest of Canaan: The Southern Campaign

Joshua 9-10

As news spread that mighty Jericho had fallen to the Israelites and that their intention was to conquer all of Canaan, fear grew among the Canaanites. To avoid being wiped out by the Israelites, the people of Gibeon, Kephirah, Beeroth, and Kiriath-jearim deceived the Israelites into thinking they lived far away, and they made a peace treaty with them (Joshua 9). Soon after this, several Amorite cities in southern Canaan joined together to attack the Gibeonites, so the Gibeonites appealed to the Israelites for help. Joshua led the Israelites on an all night march from Gilgal to Gibeon and defeated the Amorites. The Israelites continued to pursue the Amorites and eventually captured the cities of Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, and Debir (Joshua 10), and likely Jarmuth and Hebron as well (see Joshua 10:23).

The Ark of the Covenant Is Captured and Returned

1 Samuel 6:1-7:2

After the Israelites were defeated in battle by the Philistines between Aphek and Ebenezer, the elders of Israel chose to bring the Ark of the Covenant from Shiloh to the battle to ensure victory. But the Philistines defeated them again and captured the Ark. They carried it to Ashdod and placed it in the temple of Dagon. But while the Ark was there, the Lord destroyed the idol of Dagon and afflicted the people with tumors, so they sent the Ark to Gath. Again the Lord afflicted the people of Gath with tumors, so they sent the Ark to Ekron, where the same thing happened again. After seven months with the Ark, the Philistines returned the Ark along with a guilt offering of five gold tumors and five gold rats in the hopes that the afflictions would cease. They placed the Ark on a new cart hitched to two milk cows, which pulled the cart to the town of Beth-shemesh. Then Israelites came and took the Ark to Kiriath-jearim, where the Ark stayed for twenty years.

Tribal Allotments of the Promised Land

After the Israelites had conquered portions of the Promised Land and Joshua had grown old, the Lord directed him to divide the rest of the land among the tribes of Israel as their inheritance (Joshua 13-20). The eastern tribes had already been allotted their land under Moses’ leadership (Numbers 32), but they continued to help the other tribes drive out the Canaanites from land west of the Jordan River. The Lord also instructed the Israelites to designate several cities of refuge, where someone could flee for protection from an avenger if they accidentally killed someone (Numbers 35; Joshua 20).

Herod’s Building Projects

Many people are aware that Herod the Great, who ruled over Palestine in the decades leading up to Jesus’ birth, was a very wicked ruler. Over time he grew extremely paranoid that people were seeking to overthrow him (which was probably often true), and eventually he killed his wife and three of his sons. He also tried to kill the newborn Jesus after hearing that a rival king had been born in Bethlehem. At the same time, however, Herod was arguably the most prolific builder of anyone who has ever ruled over the region. It is likely that the primary reason for Herod’s ambitious agenda was twofold: 1) to ingratiate himself to the Romans, to whom he dedicated many of his projects, and 2) to promote stability in the region and protect himself against rebellion. Herod built numerous projects in Jerusalem, in many towns throughout his kingdom, and even in cities far beyond Palestine, such as Antioch of Syria. In Jerusalem he completely renovated and expanded the Temple of the Lord, built a lavish palace for himself, and built various pools, public buildings, and citadels (including the Antonia Fortress). Elsewhere he built Roman administrative buildings, aqueducts, and pagan temples, and he fortified several desert refuges for himself, including the fortress of Masada.

Macedonia

Though the region of Macedonia in northern Greece was located nearly a thousand miles from Jerusalem, it had an indirect impact on the events of the New Testament and the ministry of the apostle Paul. Macedonia is never directly mentioned in the Old Testament, which came to a close with nearly the entire world of the Bible–including Macedonia and Israel–under the rule of the vast Persian Empire. But about a hundred years later (in 356 B.C.) Alexander the Great was born in the Macedonian town of Pella, and within 33 years he conquered virtually the entire Persian Empire. Over time, however, much of Alexander’s empire, including Macedonia, came under the rule of Rome. The Romans built many reliable roads throughout their empire to greatly improve long-distance travel. One of these roads was called the Egnatian Way, and it passed through several towns in Macedonia visited by the apostle Paul in the New Testament as he established churches in Philippi and Thessalonica.

Mahanaim and Peniel

One of the most significant biblical locations that few Bible readers would recognize is the site of the twin fortresses of Mahanaim and Peniel. During the Old Testament these fortresses stood on opposite sides of the Jabbok River and guarded an important road leading from southern Gilead to the roads of the Jordan River valley. They are first mentioned as the place where Jacob camped and wrestled with the man of God as Jacob anxiously prepared to meet his brother Esau. Gideon tore down a tower at Peniel after the people there refused to help him while he was pursuing the Midianites. Later Mahanaim is mentioned as the headquarters of Saul’s son Ish-bosheth as he competed with David for control over the kingdom of Israel. David eventually gained control over all Israel, but he himself had to flee to Mahanaim after his son Absalom staged a rebellion in Hebron and Jerusalem. Finally, Peniel became the first capital of the northern kingdom of Israel after the northern tribes rebelled against the southern tribe of Judah. Later the northern kingdom moved their capital to Samaria.

Carthage, Italy, and Nearby Islands

Though the Old Testament never clearly mentions the region encompassing Carthage, southern Italy, and several large islands, these lands eventually influenced some of the events of the New Testament and the early church. The Phoenicians (located just north of Israel) founded Carthage as a trading colony on the coast of North Africa around 800 B.C., and over time the highly prosperous colony grew into an empire in its own right. Around the same time, however, Rome was expanding into an empire as well, as were the city states of Greece. All of these major powers fought for control over nearby islands such as Sicily and Sardinia. After losing three wars to Rome, Carthage and its lands were completely absorbed into the Roman Empire by 146 B.C. Later during the time of the New Testament, Paul was shipwrecked nearby on the small island of Malta while being transferred to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. Still later in A.D. 354, the Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo was born not far from Carthage.

Jesus’ Post-Resurrection Appearances

On the Friday of Passover, Jesus was crucified and his body was placed in a tomb, but early Sunday morning he was raised to life again through the power of the Holy Spirit! After this he appeared to many believers over a period of forty days until he ascended into heaven (Acts 1:1-4), although it is difficult to know in what order all these events occurred. The first believers to see the risen Jesus were women, including Mary Magdalene, who had gone that morning to finish preparing Jesus’ body with spices. Later that same day (Sunday) Jesus also appeared to two disciples traveling from Jerusalem to a town called Emmaus about seven miles away (Luke 24:13-36). Still later that day when the two disciples had returned to Jerusalem and were telling Jesus’ disciples what they saw, Jesus appeared again to them and several other believers. Apparently a week after this, presumably in Jerusalem, Jesus appeared again to a group of disciples that included Thomas (John 20:24-29). At some point Jesus also met his disciples on a mountain in the region of Galilee, perhaps at Mount Tabor or the cliffs of Arbel, where he had told them earlier to meet him (Matthew 28:16). Jesus also met with Peter and some other disciples who were fishing on the Sea of Galilee, likely near Capernaum (John 21:1-14). Finally at the end of Jesus’ forty days on earth after his resurrection, Jesus led his disciples out from Jerusalem to the vicinity of Bethany and ascended to heaven (Luke 24:50-53).

Jesus’ Arrest, Trial, Crucifixion, and Burial

On the Thursday before Jesus was crucified, Jesus had arranged to share the Passover meal together with his disciples in an upper room. This room is traditionally thought to be located in the Essene Quarter of Jerusalem. After they had finished the meal, they went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus often met with his disciples. There Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ own disciples, betrayed him to the soldiers sent from the High Priest, and they arrested Jesus and took him to the High Priest’s residence. In the morning the leading priests and teachers of the law put Jesus on trial and found him guilty of blasphemy. Likely seeking to avoid blame from the people for Jesus’ death, the council then sent Jesus to stand trial for treason before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who resided at the Praetorium while in Jerusalem. The Praetorium was the former residence of Herod the Great, who had died over 30 years earlier. When Pilate learned that Jesus was from Galilee, he sent him to Herod Antipas, who had jurisdiction over Galilee. Herod asked him many questions and listened to the charges of the leading priests and teachers of the law, but when Jesus gave no answer, Herod and his soldiers merely ridiculed him and sent him back to Pilate. Though Pilate sought to release Jesus, the people repeatedly demanded that he crucify him, so Pilate ordered that Jesus be led away to be crucified. Jesus was forced to carry his cross out of the city gate to Golgotha, meaning Skull Hill, referring to what may have been a small unquarried hill in the middle of an old quarry just outside the gate. After it became evident, however, that Jesus was unable to carry his cross any further, they forced a man named Simon from Cyrene to carry it for him. There at Golgotha they crucified Jesus. After Jesus died, his body was hurriedly taken down before nightfall and placed in a newly cut, rock tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea, who was a member of the council. This tomb was likely located at the perimeter of the old quarry.

Bethany and Bethphage

At the start of Passover one week before Jesus was crucified, he and his disciples traveled to Jerusalem, approaching the city from the east. When they arrived at the village of Bethphage, Jesus mounted a donkey and rode down the Mount of Olives as a humble king entering his capital city. Along the way, many people laid branches and cloaks in his path to welcome him. After Jesus entered the city, he immediately went up to the Temple and drove out the moneychangers and merchants there, and he healed the blind and the lame. Then he traveled nearly two miles outside the city to the village of Bethany to spend the night, which appears to have been where he typically lodged each night while visiting Jerusalem during the crowded Passover festival. Bethany is also where Jesus’ close friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived. One evening while Jesus was there at a large dinner party given in his honor, Martha served the food, and Mary poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair.