After Moses’ (Musa AS) death, Joshua (Youshaa AS) was appointed as his successor to the prophethood. Joshua successfully led the Children of Israel into Palestine and by Allah’s command he divided the country among them so that they could live, govern ad abide by the true religion. Joshua’s Book, chapter 24 in the Old Testament mentions this in detail. Joshua spent his entire life reforming his people, looking after them and appointing judges to decide their mutual disputes so that they could follow this precedent long after he was gone.
This routine continued for about 350 years after the death of Moses. Throughout this period, the Israeli’s never had a king nor a single ruler over them because tribal and family leaders governed them while the Prophet supervised their decisions and actions. As a result of this, the Israeli’s were subjected to continued attacks from neighbouring nations like the Philistines (Palestinians), Midianites and Amalekites. The situation continued like this for a long time and even if their assailants were defeated, they would commit raids and loot the people.
Towards the end of the fourth century of the Christian calendar, the Palestinian Ashad and Havali tribes of Gaza made a fierce attack on the Israelis and having defeated them, they carried away the Tabernacle, which contained the original Torah, robes and staves of Moses and Aaron, and the jar of manna. The Palestinians placed and enshrined the Tabernacle in their favourite temple Dagon, named after their biggest idol. Dagon had a human face and the body of a fish. It has since been reported by Egyptian commentators that a habitation named Bayt e Dagon still exists near the town of Ramla in Egypt, perhaps where the temple once stood.
One of the successors after Moses and Joshua was Elijah (Ilyas AS), the successor of Ezekiel, known as Elojah amongst the Israelis. Both the Qur’an and the Gospel of St. John refer to him as Ilyas. In the Qur’an, Elijah is mentioned in the thirty-seventh chapter titled Surah As-Saffat (The Arrangers):
And lo! Ilyas was of those sent (to warn). When he said unto his folk, Will ye not ward off (evil)? Will ye cry unto Ba’al and forsake the best of Creators, Allah, your Lord and Lord of your forefathers? But they denied him, so they surely will be haled forth (to the doom), save single-minded slaves of Allah. And We left for him among the later folk (the salutation): Pease be unto Ilyas! Lo! Thus do We reward the good. Lo! He is one of Our believing slaves! [Qur’an 37:123-132]
Most historians agree that Elijah (Ilyas AS) was of Aaron’s lineage and that he was sent for the guidance of the people of Syria, the famous city of Baalbak being the center of his mission. The people of that time were devotees to the idol of Ba’al, the most well-known and popular of the gods of the Saami peoples in the East. The idol had been worshipped through the ages by the Phoenicians, Canaanites, Moabites and Midianites since the time of Moses, was a male, and the counterpart of Jupiter or Saturn. Ba’al was so highly revered that he was known by a variety of names. The Old Testament narrates his worship by the Saami peoples and mentions him as Ba’al Barees and Ba’al Phafur. Amongst the Jews and Israelis of the eastern parts great functions used to be held for Ba’als worship with magnificent sacrificial altars erected where humans were slaughtered in their offerings and incense was burnt.
After the time of Elijah, amongst the tribes of Amalekites living between Egypt and Palestine, a despot named Goliath (Jalut) arose. Goliath overcame the Israelis and held many of their leader’s captive. He also levied tribute on the rest of them and destroyed what was left of the Torah.
It was a very difficult time for the Israelis, during which one of the judges by the name of Shamvel AS (Christian suggested name is Umasel¹) was endowed with prophethood and appointed to guide them. Chroniclers say the Shamvel (AS) was of Aaron’s lineage. Shamvel or Shamveel is Hebrew translated in Arabic as Ismail², but long usage left it as Ashamveel or Shamveel.
Shamvel AS governed the Israelis through this difficult period but Goliath’s tyranny did not abate, and the people appealed to him to appoint a king over them, under whom they could defend themselves. The Old Testament gives the reason for the Israeli demand for a king:
When Shamvel AS became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of the firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. Yet his sons did not walk in his ways, but turned aside, after gain, they took bribes and perverted justice. Then all the elders gathered together and came to Shamvel at Ramah, and said to him, “Behold you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint for us a king to govern us like all the nations” [Shamvel 8:24].
Shamvel AS prayed to Allah SWT for guidance and appointed Saul (Talut), of Benjamin and Abraham’s (Ibrahim AS’s) lineage, as the King. The Qur’an mentions Saul as one who was in every way distinguished above the people of Israel. When the Israelis heard this, they expressed their disapproval, saying that Saul was not a man of wealth and that he was not one of them³, and could therefore not be their king. The Qur’an details this account in the second chapter titled Surah Baqarah (The Cow):
Bethink thee of the leaders of the Children for Israel after Moses, how they said unto a prophet⁴ whom they had: Set up for us a king and we will fight in Allah’s way. He said, Would ye then refrain from fighting if fighting were prescribed for you? They said, why should we not fight in Allah’s way when we have been driven from our dwellings with our children. Yet when fighting was prescribed for them, they turned away all save a few of them. Allah is aware of evildoers!
Their prophet said unto them, Lo! Allah hath raised up Saul to be a king over you. They said, How can (he) have kingdom over us when we are more deserving of the kingdom than he is, since he hath not been given wealth enough? He said, Lo! Allah hath chosen him above you and has increased him abundantly in wisdom and stature. Allah bestoweth His sovereignty on whom He wills. Allah is all embracing, All knowing! [Qur’an 2:246-247]
Israeli obstinacy went so far that they demanded of Shamvel AS, that if Saul’s appointment was from Allah SWT, some token had to be shown in support of him. Shamvel AS then assured them that a token would be provided in the way of the Tabernacle (which was seized from them & contained the relics of Moses & Aaron) being returned to them because of Saul; and that their eyes would witness two angels bringing it down on earth for their possession. True to his word, two angels of Allah SWT presented the Tabernacle to Saul and the Israelis had no alternative but to accept him as their king.
Saul proclaimed a general public order that the Israelis prepare themselves for battle with the Philistines (Palestinians). When they marched out under Saul for battle, he put them to test before the engagement so as to purge his army from any weak elements that would be detrimental to their cause. On coming to a river (said to be the River Jordan by some commentators), Saul ordered that no one should drink its water to his fill, and whosoever did, would be turned out of the group. However, in the case of severe thirst, a mouthful or two was permissible. The test was too see who in the army could not control ordinary thirst and hunger, for such a person could not be expected to remain steadfast in battle:
And when Talut set forth with his troops, he said, “God will put you to the test by a river, whoever, therefore, drinks from it shall not be of me, and who shall not taste it shall be of me except him who scoops up a handful in his hand”. But they all drank of it except a few of them [Qur’an 2:249]
When they crossed the river, those who had drunk their fill said that they did not possess sufficient strength to fight the might of Goliath, but those who controlled themselves announced that they would certainly fight the enemy. And so Saul’s army, small as it was, advanced to confront Goliath, who was a very tall and unusually built man, with a force much larger in number.
Amongst the Israelis was a young man who possessed neither fame nor valour, but was the youngest of a band of brothers sent by his father to report on the Israelis. Upon witnessing no response to Goliath’s challenges and the Israelis hesitation, he could not restrain himself and requested Saul to send him forward. But Saul told him that he was too young and inexperienced and would not be able to fight Goliath. The boy’s name was David (Daud AS). Bible chronology sets his life between the years 1037 BC and 970 BC. David kept on insisting until at last, Saul gave in.
David went forth and challenged Goliath but Goliath, seeing a youth confronting him, took no notice of him. But when the challenging words were expressed repeatedly, Goliath was impressed by the great prowess of the youth. David exchanged blows and taking his catapult shot three stones at Goliath’s forehead, splitting it into pieces. As Goliath fell, David stepped up and severed the man’s neck from his body. Immediately the balance of the war titled to the Israelis and they returned home triumphant. David’s valour was imprinted on enemy and friend alike and he became prominent and distinguished. It was not long after that that David was appointed a prophet and a Caliph for the guidance of the Children of Israel.
And Allah SWT knows best.
¹This is stated in some text although it remains unclear.
²Not to be confused with Ismail, the son of Ibrahim AS (Abraham)
³Chroniclers write that for a long time prophets came from the lineage of Levi, and rulers from that of Judah. When rulership appeared to be transferred to the lineage of Benjamin, they were jealous and could not tolerate the idea.
⁴Prophet Shamvel (AS)