For nearly four hundred years following the invasion of Canaan in c.1406BC, Israel was a loose confederation of self-governing tribes. Far from being a strong and unified nation, the new inhabitants of Canaan consisted of scattered groups of tribal clans, often separated from each other by rival settlements of Canaanites, Amorites and Philistines who had occupied the area before the arrival of the Israelites. The ‘conquered’ land of Canaan remained dotted with ‘enemy’ strongholds such as Jebus (Jerusalem), Gezer and Megiddo, and the Philistine cities of Gaza, Gath, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Ekron were little more than a short march away.
Frequently the rival groups clashed, and often the Philistines and Canaanites became dominant, demanding subservience from the Israelites. Throughout this period, intermarriage between the Israelites and their neighbours was common. The one thing uniting the Israelite tribes was their common worship of Yahweh, the God of Israel, and the Bible blames the failure of the Israelites to defeat their neighbours on intermarriage and the assimilation of foreign customs – including the worship of foreign gods.
During particularly difficult times of subjection and hardship, God frequently raised up inspirational leaders who cajoled the Israelites into concerted action against their powerful neighbours. These leaders – strong characters such as Othniel, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson – became known as the ‘judges’. The term is misleading, however, as while these leaders no doubt dispensed justice within their own local area, they had no jurisdiction over the other tribes of Israel. Even Samuel, the last and probably the most powerful of the ‘judges’, confined his ‘judge’s circuit’ to ‘sittings’ at Ramah, Bethel, Gilgal and Mizpah – all within a 15 mile / 24 km radius of his home in the central hill country of Ephraim, north of Jerusalem (see 1 Samuel 7:15-17).
Source: The Bible Journey
Canaanite altar at Megiddo