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This article is about the nation. You may be looking for Jacob or the House of Israel.

The nation of Israel was the people group in which Yahweh decided to make his representatives in the world as a party to the covenant of Abraham. Being the central focus of the Old Testament, God set Israel a part as a nation to be dedicated to worshiping and following him through his laws, as a testament to the surrounding nations and an invitation for all peoples to join in his worship. While Israel was privledged to be the chosen people of God as descendants of Abraham and his family, they failed to follow God on all accounts and thus did not receive his blessings throughout substantial periods of their history.

As offspring of Abraham, the nation of Israel was the inheritor of his covenant where God promised to give him great land and offspring and to bless all people through him. Israel began as a distinct group when Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham had twelve sons who were the early descendants of the twelve Israelite tribes. After burgeoning in population in Egypt when Jacob's family took refuge there from a severe famine, the Pharaoh of the day enslaved the Israelites. They remained enslaved for four-hundred years until God rescued the people out of Egypt and into their own nomadic nation under the leadership of Moses and Aaron.

Following The Exodus, Israel began to conquer and settle lands inhabited by Canaanite peoples guided by leaders such as Joshua and Caleb. During the original generation of The Exodus, Israel had the opportunity to conquer the lands of Canaan but refused to do so out of fear for the large inhabitants of the land, therefore, they wandered in the wilderness until that generation had died. After many campaigns against the Canaanite city-states, Israel began to settle the land and ceased their wandering.

Concurrent to ongoing settlement and conquest of other cities promised by God as Israel's land, the neighboring people groups of the Philistines, Midianites, Moabites, Ammonites, Amalekites and others began subjugating different portions of Israel's population. The author of the Book of Judges attributes this to a lack of obedience in completely conquering Canaanite lands and a general state of rebellion and independence from God. As each of the different tribes faced their own trials brought about by neighboring enemies, God raised up heroes to deliver them from their enemies and restored a worship of Yahweh, only to return to sinful patterns and require rescue again.

As the days of the judges came to a close, the people of Israel desired a stronger, more centralized government that would be led by a king, modeling contemporary nations. At the time, each of tribe of Israel functioned more independently but shared common cultural heritage, laws, religious practices and cooperated in military and trade. The last judge and prophet Samuel, recognized Israel's request for a king as a rejection of Yahweh himself as the divine ruler over Israel. While the Lord recognized this as a rejection of him, he permitted the Israelites to have a human king, yet one that was supposed to submit to him. The first king of Israel, Saul, proved to be popular due to his charisma and handsomeness, but lost favor with God due to his self-centered rule.



God made a covenant with Abraham, promising that he would have a multitude of offspring.[1] God also foretold to Abraham that his descendants would be enslaved in another nation for four hundred years (this foreshadowing to being enslaved by the Egyptians).[2] God also promised to Abraham that there was a land that would stretch from Egypt to the Euphrates River that the Israelites would inhabit.[3]

When Sarah, the wife of Abraham, became concerned with her old age, she had Abraham have a child with Hagar their servant.[4] Though God promised Hagar that her children would be numerous, [5] this did not fulfill the Abrahamic covenant.[6] Instead it would be Sarah, who bore a child in her old age, [7] who would provide the promised child to begin to fulfill the covenant.

After Abraham had died and Isaac had twin sons, God reaffirmed the promise made to his father.[8] Of his two sons, God had told his wife Rebecca that the younger son, Jacob, would prevail over his brother.[9][10] It came about when the boys were grown that Isaac gave Jacob (the fulfilling son of Isaac) his blessing [11], Though the younger son, Jacob would be the one to whom God would reaffirm His covenant with Abraham.[12][13] Jacob would father twelve sons by two wives and two concubines [14], and these sons would give rise to the twelve tribes of Israel.[15][16][17][18]

As An Ethnic Group[]

The Family of Israel[]

Israel began as large Hebrew family group consisting of Jacob's twelve sons and their families. Before their migration to Egypt, the "family" of Israel consisted of sixty-six men and children, not counting the wives nor Joseph's family[19]. At this time each of Jacob's sons had their own wives and children, with some even having grandchildren. Its likely they all had separate homesteads and were spread out within an area of the Negev. While not a nation, "Israel" was a large family or small ethnic group. As with other nations at the time, they started out as large family group named after the progenitor, in this case Israel (Jacob).

Migration to Egypt[]

At one point in time a widespread and severe famine hit a very large area. The Israelites were also affected by this famine so the heads of the families went down to Egypt to purchase food. After returning several times to purchase additional food, Joseph who had been living in Egypt for years allowed all of the Israelites to move to Goshen in Egypt. All of the Israelites moved to Egypt and added with Joseph's family the Ethnicity of Israel grew to over seventy .[20]

Once Israel had settled into Egypt, the founder, Jacob grew ill. He gave blessings or curses to all of his sons, which would affect the respective tribes years in the future. These would be prophecies that created consequences for the deeds of his son's.[21]

People in Egypt[]

As time went on the original Israelite migrants in Egypt died off. While the originals had all passed away, the Israelite population continued to rapidly grow. In fact the population of the ethnic group so large Egypt enslaved the entire population, fearing they would become a formidable rebellion. While Egyptians were masters over the slaves, some of the Israelites were made overseers. At the dismay of the Egyptians the enslavement only encouraged the Israelites to multiply and grow even further.[22] Despite attempts by the government to massacre all newborn males, one Levite named Moses was hidden at birth until he could no longer be hidden. Moses was placed in a basket in the Nile River and the Egyptian princess pitied the child and adopted him. When the child grew he saw an Egyptian beating a fellow Hebrew, so he killed him and in result fled to Midian for forty years.

During this time Israel began to cry out to God and God heard them. So God called Moses out of Midian and sent him back to Egypt. Upon his return Moses met with his brother and future Israelite leader, Aaron as well as the "elders". The so called elders were probably the clan heads or the eldest Israelites; they would not have been in any official position, but represent the Israelite family. Once the elders heard that God was genuinely concerned with their oppression they fell down and worshipped God.[23]

Then Moses and Aaron went to plead with the Pharaoh to allow the Israelites a pilgrimage into the desert to worship God. In refusal, Pharoah prevented the Israelite overseers (Israelites who had been appointed by the slave masters to manage other slaves) from having access to any straw to make bricks.[24]

The Plagues[]

Though Moses had told the Israelites of God's plans to rescue them they became hardened to him, because he had made their labor increasingly difficult.Only miraculous plagues would convince Pharaoh and Israel otherwise. God followed with inflicting plagues across all of Egypt each time the Pharaoh refused to grant Israel freedom. The first three plagues impacted all of Egypt's inhabitants, including the Hebrew Israelites. However from the fourth (plague of flies) plague onward a distinction was made and they did not impact the land of Goshen where Israel lived.[25]

Despite several more plagues the Egyptian monarch refused to allow Israel's release. Only the final Plague on the firstborn and the Passover. The Angel of the Lord was sent down and killed the firstborn of every household, except for Israelites with lamb's blood on their door frames. This was also the very first institution of a law for the Israelites (asides from circumcision which applied to pre-Israelite Hebrews). Passover and the subsequent Feast of Unleavened Bread were mandated by God with all of their regulations and requirements. Additionally the Hebrew calendar began development with the month of Passover being assigned as the first month.[26]

The Exodus[]

Rapid Emigration[]

After the final plague, not a single Egyptian household had someone who was not dead. Loud wailing was heard throughout out all of Egypt, including the Pharaoh and his officials. Wanting to rid of Israel immediately Moses and Aaron were summoned in the night and were immediately banished along with Israel. Eager to have the Israelites leave the country, the Egyptians gave them whatever they asked for including precious materials such as gold and silver.[27]

In total the Israelites had been in Egypt for four-hundred and thirty years just as foretold to Abraham by God centuries prior. A total of six hundred thousand men, not including women and children left Egypt that day and so began the Exodus.[28] This was the time period where Israel transitioned from an ethnic group to an independent nation. There was no formal government at this time, but nevertheless they were united as one nomadic group.

They began their Exodus by marching out of the mainly Israelite city of Rameses, Goshen. They camped at Sukkoth outside of Egypt and then proceeded to Etham near the edge of the desert. During the daytime God lead the emigration with a cloud pillar, while during the nighttime a column of fire; these were both controlled by the movement of the Angel of the LORD. Knowing the Israelites would be unwilling to fight in war, Yahweh (God) lead Israel to the Red Sea, rather than leading them a shorter distance through Philistine territory.[29]

People's Complaints[]

Crossing the Red Sea[]

Once they were near the Red Sea God instructed Moses to have the Israelites encamp right next to the sea. Egypt who had began to regret releasing their slaves, decided to send the army to pursue and recapture the Ethnic called Israel. While Israel was encamped near the Sea of Reeds they saw the large Egyptian army advancing towards them. The Israelites began to fear, and complained to Moses that they should have stayed in Egypt and accused that they were only in the desert to die. Moses told the people to not fear and await God's deliverance.[30]

As Egypt approached, God instructed Moses to lift his staff. The cloud pillar moved behind Israel and shrouded the Egyptian army so they could not advance forward. As nightfall hit, Moses lifted his staff and the sea was divided by a strong eastern wind. With a dry pathway the Hebrews crossed through the Red Sea throughout the night. After the people had crossed the Red Sea the Egyptians followed in pursuit, however at daybreak the waters returned to their place and killed all of the Egyptian army. Israel saw the hand of God in this act and they began to trust God and Moses.[31]


It only took a short time for Israel to began to complain again. After a grand celebration led by Moses and his sister Miriam the Israelites embarked traveling once again. Travel for three days into the Desert of Shur lead the former Egyptian slaves far away from any drinkable water. The only water was in a place called Marah, but the water was too bitter to drink. So once again the people began to grumble and complained there was nothing to drink.[32][33]

God directed Moses to throw a piece of wood into the water and it became drinkable. A promise was made to Israel here from the LORD: if His commands were obeyed they would not experience any of the diseases Egypt had experienced. After this they camped at a tropical place called Elim filled with springs and palm trees.[34]


An Independent Nation[]

The Law[]

Reign of Kings[]

Becoming a Monarchy[]

For many years now after Israel's establishment, it was lead by God-appointed judges, and there was no king over. Israel[35][36][37][38] When Samuel had reached his elder years he appointed his two sons to be his successors and the next Judges of Israel. However, they perverted justice and accepted bribes, not following in the ways of their father, nor God for justice. Concern of Israel's future leadership, all the elders assembled before Samuel. He was asked to appoint a King, because all the other nations had one.

Though this was brought up, because the next leaders of Israel weren't qualified, this likely had been a desire of Israel for a long while. Rather than be a nation solely governed by God, Israel wanted to be similar to the rest of the nations. Having a King would give them a strong leader who could lead military campaigns in both defense and offense, growing the overall influence of Israel. This showed distrust in God's protection over Israel, and dissatisfaction with the promised land and the resources they had from it. A monarch would effectively replace the Judges God had in place, making Samuel the last one.

Samuel sought the counsel of God, who told him to give Israel what they wanted with a strict warning[39]. This warning explained what the power of a Monarch could do to Israel: take away all of its possessions, grains, treasures, women and resources for their personal usage. Despite Samuel's warning, the people had it in their hearts to have a King over Israel so they would be like all the other countries[40].

Shortly after this a Benjamite from the very insignificant Matri Clan, name Saul met Samuel and Samuel knew that this was God's choice King. Appointing God's choice for King was of the utmost importance, as God had predicted at Israel's establishment that they would ask for a king. When God predicted this he gave specific instruction that only the King he chose should govern Israel[41]. It is clear that Moses, Jacob and Balaam all knew that eventually Israel would become a Kingdom ruled by a human king[42][43][44].

All of Israel was assembled at the coronation were God's choice for Saul as King was confirmed by a chance lot. When Saul was coronated Samuel explained the both the responsibilities and privileges of being King, either given to him directly by God or wrote based on God's laws and words on Kingship. He recorded all of the rules for the Monarchs of Israel and then held it accountable to God.[45]

Saul's Kingship[]

First thing after Saul's establishment as King he returned to his hometown of Gibeah. Since Saul was now the ruler over the country, Gibeah became the capital[46][47][48] to make ease in reporting to and receiving direction from Saul. While Israel was headquartered at Gibeah, the nation would've continued to be very decentralized in its governance and would have certain officials at certain cities (such as how Samuel did a lot of his work from Ramah) as well as have many traveling positions.

With an official Office of the King, Israel would be similar in having one human leader who was able to more direct, powerful and free with their management of the nation. One of the greatest reasons for Israel wanting to be similar to the other countries was so that they had a strong warrior leader that could personally go lead battles and enlist powerful armies. Before this time judges were called upon to defend their people and promised land, rather than expand the nation even further. Under Saul the desire to expand would be fulfilled in that many wars were conducted.

This began with a hostile capture of the Israelite town of Jabesh by an Ammonite named Nahash, who Saul defeated quickly. Included in the wars that came about as a result of having a King was a rekindling of conflict with the Philistines. Saul and his son and Prince Jonathan led raids with their family-ran military and government on a Philistine Outpost at Geba.



Israel was established as an independent nation shortly after the Exodus on Mount Sinai, by God Himself. God established the ancestors of Jacob, as a Theocracy so that they would be his treasured people and subject to Him only[49]. All the laws and regulations that Israel followed were all decreed by God and were recorded and announced by Moses. Having laws created by God, the Theocracy of Israel had little administrative structure- the only kind they had was the Priesthood. The Priesthood existed solely to ensure compliance of the law by administering sacrifices on behalf of Israelites, maintaining the Tabernacle, performing various morality tests etc. Positions in the priesthood were hereditary, based on lineage to Levi.

The Priesthood was headed by a High Priest.

Tribal Confederacy[]

From Israel's foundation there were twelve sons[15] which would serve as both a genealogical and a political foreshadowing to twelve tribes[16]. Each tribe was allotted a certain area and lived together, however; the tribes answered to God making it a tribal theocracy.


Israel became a monarchy after being influenced by foreign nations and want to be like other countries.[50]




The moral law was established in order to show sin.[51][52] By disobeying one law, the offender would be guilty of breaking all of the laws.[53] The common belief under the law was that by completing the entire law would allow an eternity in Heaven, rather than relying upon only faith in God to provide such.[54] Before the birth of Jesus Christ, those who had faith in God received God in their hearts and obeyed the law because of their faith[55][56]. After the Crucifixion of Christ on the cross the law was fulfilled[57] and therefore was not needed due to the Salvation of Christ[58]. Even those who had faith disobeyed the law at times and therefore were only saved because they had faith in God.


The moral law itself is best summarized in the two commandments: to love God with all of your will, [59] and to love your neighbor as yourself.[60] Furthermore, the moral law is developed and summarized into the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments themselves are detailed even more specifically throughout the entire Bible.



The sole purpose of the ceremonial law was to create a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ by providing a punishment system for the moral law that in turn required a substitute to compensate the punishment.[61][62] It often required animal sacrifice to act as punishment for wrongdoings, and therefore created meat-eating restrictions.[63] It also required commemoration of certain religious events, often times many important actions by Jesus occurred during such events.


  1. Genesis 15:4-6 (Link)
  2. Genesis 15:13-16 (Link)
  3. Genesis 15:18-21 (Link)
  4. Genesis 16:1-4 (Link)
  5. Genesis 16:11-12 (Link)
  6. Genesis 17:21 (Link)
  7. Genesis 21:1-7 (Link)
  8. Genesis 26:1-5 (Link)
  9. Genesis 25:23 (Link)
  10. Rom 9:11-12 (Link)
  11. Genesis 27-28 (Link)
  12. Genesis 32:27-28 (Link)
  13. Genesis 35:10 (Link)
  14. Genesis 30 (Link)
  15. 15.0 15.1 Genesis 49:2-28 (Link)
  16. 16.0 16.1 Joshua 13:8-32
  17. Joshua 14-19 (Link)
  18. Ezekiel 47:13-23 (Link)
  19. Genesis 46:26 (Link)
  20. Genesis 41:41-45:28 (Link)
  21. Genesis 49:1-28 (Link)
  22. Exodus 1:6-13 (Link)
  23. Exodus 4 (Link)
  24. Exodus 5:1-21 (Link)
  25. Exodus 7:14-8:23 (Link)
  26. Exodus 12:1-30 (Link)
  27. Exodus 12:31-36 (Link)
  28. Exodus 12:37-41 (Link)
  29. Exodus 13:17-22 (Link)
  30. Exodus 14:1-18 (Link)
  31. Exodus 14:21-31 (Link)
  32. Exodus 15:1 (Link)
  33. Exodus 19-24 (Link)
  34. Exodus 15:25-27 (Link)
  35. Judges 17:6 (Link)
  36. Judges 18:1 (Link)
  37. Judges 19:1 (Link)
  38. Judges 21:25 (Link)
  39. 1 Samuel 8:1-19 (Link)
  40. 1 Samuel 8:5, 20 (Link)
  41. Deuteronomy 17:14-15 (Link)
  42. Genesis 36:31 (Link)
  43. Genesis 49:10 (Link)
  44. Numbers 24:7–9 (Link)
  45. 1 Samuel 10:25 (Link)
  46. 1 Samuel 10:26 (Link)
  47. 1 Samuel 11:4 (Link)
  48. 1 Samuel 15:34 (Link)
  49. Exodus 19:5-6 (Link)
  50. 1 Samuel 8:5, 20 (Link)
  51. Galatians 3:19 (Link)
  52. Romans 5:13 (Link)
  53. James 2:10 (Link)
  54. Galatians 3:11-12 (Link)
  55. Hebrews 11 (Link)
  56. James 2:14-25 (Link)
  57. Matthew 5:17 (Link)
  58. Galatians 3:23-25 (Link)
  59. Luke 10:27 (Link)
  60. James 2:8, Lev 19:18 (Link)
  61. Hebrews 9:9 (Link)
  62. Hebrews 11-15 (Link)
  63. Hebrews 9:10 (Link)