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Posts Tagged ‘Hebrews’

1641 map of the wanderings in the wilderness/Educ. Center, National Library of Israel

Hardly anything is known about the 40 years the Hebrews (Israelites) were wandering in the wilderness. Recent archaeogical finds give some idea of where they were for part of that time, but there are few writings that tell us yes, so and so happened right here. Only toward the end of their 40 years of wandering do we get much detail about places and connected events. Here is a wonderful old map that you can click on and enlarge. Unfortunately it is not in English, and it might or might not be accurate. But it is very beautiful, and you probably can identify some of the places.

Last time we looked at the disaster instigated by Korah.  Somewhat south of the Red Sea crossing there was actually a place named Korah. Admittedly Korah is a fairly common name in the middle east. However, besides Korah, other Jewish place names were recently found on an ancient map of Saudi Arabia. These Jewish place names appear outside the boundaries of what we thought was the route of the Hebrews’ wanderings. I believe the Bible gives us a hint. When God was discussing with Moses the 40 year penalty he said to Moses: Tomorrow turn you, and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea. (Numbers 14:25) He was sending them back in the direction they had come, toward the Red Sea and the country of Arabia. A couple of chapters later the Korah incident is recorded. Were the children of Israel that far into Arabia when this took place? We can only guess for real information is scarce. An American couple, Jim and Penny Caldwell, did a lot of exploring in Saudi Arabia some years ago and their findings shed some light on the Hebrews and their experiences in the Arabian desert. You can find them on You Tube.  Forty years, during which Moses and the Hebrew children had to be somewhere…. Some folks would have us think they walked round and round Mt. Seir for 40 years………that is really difficult for me to believe.

There is an interesting incident recorded in Numbers very soon after the command to go by way of the Red Sea and that is the attack by the fiery serpents. Again, the group was complaining of hardship and wishing they had never come to this land. The text says God sent fiery serpents among them and the serpents bit them and they died. Moses prayed for the people and God gave him the remedy: make a serpent of brass and put it on a pole. Whoever is bitten will be healed upon looking at the brazen serpent on the pole. Here is an illustration of the Greek rod of Asclepius,  the god of medicine and healing. Where do you think the Greeks got their symbol? Where were the fiery serpents? Probably near the head of the Gulf of Acaba (the Red Sea). Poisonous snakes bearing red spots have been found there.

Rembrant painting of Balaam and his donkey/Wikipedia

Toward the end of their 40 year exile the record becomes clearer and we find Moses in the land of Moab. Balak the king of Moab had heard of the Israelites (Hebrews) and feared them so he sent his friends the Midianites, with a goodly amount of money, to fetch the prophet Balaam to prophesy (the modern equivalent of casting a spell) against the Hebrews. (Besides the Midian in Saudi Arabia, there was  a territory of Midian east of the Jordan river.)

Balaam bid the Midianites to stay overnight, saying he would let them know in the morning what he would do. That night the Lord spoke to Balaam and told him not to go and not to curse Israel because he (God) had blessed them. The next morning Balaam told his visitors he would not go with them so they went back alone.

But King Balak was undaunted. Soon he sent men more honorable than the first to persuade Balaam to come and curse the Hebrews. Balaam told these that if the king gave his house full of silver and gold he could not say more than the Lord allowed him to say. That night the Lord told Balaam that if the men came for him to rise up and go with them. Nevertheless, he was to prophesy only that which the Lord gave him.

The next thing we know is that Balaam has saddled his donkey as is on his way. Did Balaam set out before the men came for him? We don’t know, but we do know the Lord was angry about something because he sent an angel (the Angel of the Lord) to stop Balaam in the way. The little donkey saw the angel and began behaving strangely and finally refused to go another step, though Balaam beat her. Then the donkey spoke to Balaam and asked him why he had beaten her and had she not always been obedient before. When she said this Balaam realized something was amis. His eyes were then opened to see the Angel of the Lord, with a great sword drawn, who said to him, “If your donkey hadn’t turned from me three times, by now I would have killed you!” (Numbers 22:33 paraphrase) Balaam was about to go back home, but the Angel told him to go, but to speak only what he Lord told him to say.

When Balaam arrived in Moab King Balak was ready for him. He took him to one of the high places of Baal (a false god) where the camp of the Hebrews could be seen below. There Balak the king offered seven sacrifices to God, after which Balaam withdrew to see what God would speak to him. When Balaam returned he gave the word that God had given him:

Balak the king of Moab hath brought me from Aram, out of the mountains of the east, saying, Come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel. How shall I curse whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy whom the Lord hath not defied? For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him……. Who can count the dust of Jacob? and the number of the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his! (Numbers 23:7-10)

King Balak was not very pleased of course, for Balaam had only spoken favorably concerning the Hebrews, but he did not give up. He wanted Balaam to go to another place, where only a small portion of the Hebrews could be seen. There, he reasoned to himself, Balaam might be more amenable to cursing them. There he offered his seven sacrifices, and the Lord gave Balaam another word of blessing upon the Israelites.

The king was very frustrated by now, but he figured it was worth another try, so they did it again at another place, with the same results. King Balak was quite angry by this time, but Balaam stood his ground, explaining that from the beginning he had told him that he could say only what the Lord allowed him to say, and “furthermore,” he said, “let me tell you what the Lord says these people (the Hebrews/Israelites) will do to your people in the latter days.” (Numbers 24:14 paraphrase)

Balaam the son of Beor……which heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open: I shall see him but not now: I shall behold him but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth…. (Numbers 24:15-17)

The Star and the Sceptre pertain to Jesus, the Messiah, and events in connection with his return in the latter days (which days we are in presently.)

After this Balaam went back home and the Hebrews continued their encampment. Balaam had done what the Lord told him. He had given the word exactly as it was given to him. But, Balaam goes down in history as a false prophet. Why? if he was obedient to do what God told him? The best answer is given in Revelation 2 where is recorded the letter that Jesus dictated to John to be sent to the church at Pergamos.

But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. (Revelation 2:14)

Balaam was not able to curse Israel, but he was aware that their blessings stemmed from their obedience to God. Though from time to time there had been much disobedience, Moses had always reined in the troublemakers and meted out discipline. The thing that Balaam did was to suggest to King Balak that if he could get Israel to sin and become disobedient to God, then Israel’s blessings would cease and trouble would come upon them.

Stele of the god Baal. Note the horns/Wikipedia

Soon enough this very thing happened. The people of Israel began to join the people of Moab in the worship of Baal and began commiting  whoredoms with the daughters of Moab. No doubt King Balak was behind this. We already know the Hebrews could be drawn into sin with very little provocation. It probably wasn’t too hard for the Moabite women to entice the men of Israel to participate in their heathen rituals in honor of their god Baal. In retaliation for this God sent a plague on the Hebrew people. Then one of the Hebrew men had the nerve to bring a Midianite (Moabite) woman into the camp. The two were promptly killed and that ended the plague. Altogether 24,000 people died as a result of this disobedience.

There is too much left of the story of the Hebrews’ journey to the promised land to finish here.  We are up into the region of present day Jordan now. One more post and we will be into the promised land!

 

 

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Wilderness of Paran

In the second year after their exodus from Egypt the Lord lifted the pillar of cloud from Sinai where the Hebrews (Israelites) had long been encamped and led them north toward the wilderness of Paran. Paran was the area where Ishmael the son of Abraham by the servant woman had settled about four hundred years earlier. Their journey was in a very orderly fashion, tribe by tribe in their procession, with those whose duty it was carrying the ark of the covenant with staves thrust through rings attached to the ark. Photo credit http://BiblePlaces.com

The people began to complain as they had done before and God sent a fire among them and consumed some of them until Moses interceded for them. But before long the complaining began again, instigated to some extent it appears by the strangers (non-Jewish people) who were traveling with them. Some of the Egyptians, having witnessed the miracles that God worked through Moses left town when the Hebrews did and were accepted by the Hebrews. These people were called the “mixed multitude.” The Bible says the mixed multitude fell a lusting and the Hebrews joined them complaining that they missed the fare of Egypt, the cucumbers, melons, onions, garlic, and that they had nothing to eat but manna. God sent a passel of quails, so many that they were in great piles, enough to eat for a whole month. But at the same time His wrath was kindled against them and he smote them with a great plague so that a number died. The Bible says they buried the people that lusted.  (Numbers 11:34)

Kadesh “I sent them from Kadeshbarnea to see the land.” Numbers 32:8. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority

As they drew near the promised land of Canaan the Lord spoke to Moses to send out a secret scouting expedition to spy out the land, to determine what sort of country it was and what people lived there. Twelve spies were sent and were gone for 40 days, and when they returned they brought back a cluster of grapes so large it had to be carried by two people on a pole between them. The land was indeed a good land they said, but there was no way they could take it for the inhabitants of it were men of great stature, and not only that, there were fierce giants among them before whom the Hebrews were as grasshoppers. Only two of the twelve spies (Joshua and Caleb) offered any hope for overcoming the inhabitants and taking the land. Caleb wanted to go up at once and possess the land, for we are well able to overcome it. (Numbers 13:30)

But the people believed the word of the majority and wept and blamed God for bringing them into the wilderness only to send them out to be defeated in battle with the Canaanites. They didn’t believe God would help them take the land so they decided to appoint themselves a captain and return to Egypt and slavery, a plan which came to naught. Joshua did his best to assure them that God would fight their battles for them, but the people did not believe him and were about to stone him to death. Meanwhile God got mad and told Moses he was going to disinherit the Hebrews and start over with Moses. Moses told God that wouldn’t be a good idea, for the Egyptians would hear of it and say that God was not able to fulfill his promise of bringing the Hebrews into their promised land. So God backed off from that plan and settled on another:

Instead of enjoying all the benefits of Canaan that God intended to give them, the Hebrews would be destined to wander in the wilderness (deserts) one year for every day the spies were inspecting Canaan. As for the ten spies who had returned with the evil report concerning the inhabitants of Canaan, and who could not be convinced that God would give them victory in battle, they died immediately of a plague from the Lord. During the ensuing 40 years of wandering those who murmured in unbelief would die, for they had said, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness! And wherefore hath the Lord brought us into this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? (Numbers 14:2-3)

God spoke to Moses and Aaron and told them I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel…say unto them…your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, from 20 years old and upward which have murmured against me. Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh  and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised. (Numbers 14:27, 29-31)

Oh, oh, oh, what a pronouncement. What a price to pay! They would get what they said, they would die in the wilderness, never to see the promised land.  Watch what comes out of your mouth. The spoken word has power.

The morning after these disastrous events the pillar of cloud lifted and God led the Hebrews back into the wilderness by the way of the Red. Sea. It would be 40 years before they would be back to the promised land.

People read these stories in the Old Testament and they see this strict and judgmental side of God and think he is unfair, or cruel. You have heard about folks who have a method in their madness. They do something that looks stupid or wrong, but when it is all said and done you can see those actions that did not make sense accomplished a purpose in the end. God is like that. First of all, God is just. It is his justice that holds the universe in place. We don’t understand what he does because we do not see what he sees, or know what he knows.

You might think it is unfair of God to give the land of Canaan to the Hebrews, when it was already owned by another people. But, who were the inhabitants of Canaan? How did they happen to be there? Why did God intend to destroy them?  He had a reason. As a matter of fact he had more than one reason. I am not going to tell you the reasons, for that is another subject altogether. But, you can find out if you want to. And then you will begin to appreciate the God of the Old Testament.

An illustration of the garments of the high priest, from Leviticus chapter 8/Wikimedia Commons

Not all the adventures of Moses and the Hebrew children can be covered in this short space. Already it has drawn into three sections and will go to four, but now there is one more important incident to know about. Some of the people  began to resent Moses’ leadership, and led by Korah, Dathan, Abiram and On they began to declare presumptuously that they were just as important as Moses and Aaron. Moses fell on his face before God when he heard this, and when he got up he put the dissenters, 250 people, to a test. Korah, the leader of this faction was of the lineage of Levi, as was Moses and Aaron, and already was in a high position of ministry. Moses asked Korah if he was not satisfied being chosen as a minister of God, and accused him of seeking the priesthood also.

Then Dathan and Abiram accused Moses of trying to be a prince over them and blamed him because they did not get to enter the promised land, when in fact it was their own fault because they would not join Joshua and Caleb and fight the inhabitants of Canaan for the land. Moses told Korah, Dathan and Abiram and their whole company to each bring a censer and incense and fire tomorrow. The next day the whole congregation of the Hebrews was there to watch as all 250 dissenters lit their censers at the door of the tabernacle. The glory of God appeared, but God was very angry and told Moses and Aaron to step aside, he was going to kill the whole bunch including the spectators. Again Moses interceded for the people and God relented somewhat.

In the end the entire households of Korah, Dathan and Abiram were called out and the ground opened up beneath them and swallowed them alive. In another location we are told Korah’s children did not die; presumably the other children involved did not. And then a fire from the Lord consumed the 250 dissenters.

All you people out there who think God is a wimp because you are getting by, don’t be fooled. He is not a wimp, but he is not willing that any should perish. (2 Peter 3:9) The Hebrews exhausted his patience. Don’t let that be you.

 

 

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The Hebrews and the Pillar of Cloud by Phillip De Vere/Wikimedia Commons

The Bible is the greatest book ever written, thousands of years old, yet fresh and alive as the morning news. Indeed some of it is the morning news right now. The land of the Hebrews (Israel) is always a hot topic any day. When God called Abraham he made him a promise that his offspring would be innumerable, and that all nations through him would be blessed. Well, what is that blessing that God promised? Jesus, God in the flesh, and the things that pertain to Jesus. The innumerable offspring: the Jews. And in the future? Food – Israel is right now producing some of the best citrus to be had anywhere. Oil – a deposit of oil estimated at seven million barrels near the Dead Sea and within the boundaries of Israel was in the news in 2016. There is also oil in the Golan Heights. Who knows what may yet be discovered. God said it was a good land, flowing with milk and honey was the way it was described. His word is true, right down to the last jot and tittle.

Nowadays almost everyone believes in the supernatural – spirits, ghosts, extra-terrestrials, bigfoot, angels, demons, fairies – the list could get to be quite long. But those same people have difficulty believing that the father of Jesus was not Joseph, but God himself. And that Mary was a virgin until she gave birth to the son of God. The Gospel of Matthew gives two geneaologies for Jesus. One comes down to Joseph, who was the legal father; the other comes down to Mary, the mother. Jesus was a descendant of Abraham. He is the redeemer promised to fallen man, exiles from the garden of Eden, and to their posterity. Jesus is/was a Jew, a Hebrew.

When God announced the tenth plague – the death of the firstborn – the Hebrews were instructed to kill an unblemished lamb and to apply its blood to the doors of their houses. By so doing they were to be spared and none of their firstborn would die when God passed through the land on that fateful night. The lamb was to be eaten that evening and its remains burned in the fire. Here is the origin of the Jewish Passover. Here also is a picture of Christ, bleeding on the cross, the sinless lamb, sacrificed that we might live and not die.

But, like the Hebrews, we must eat the lamb. People get offended when they hear that. Some of Jesus’ disciples left him when he said they must eat his flesh and drink his blood. Of course, he did not mean that literally. Just goes to show you how shallow their thinking was. Jesus meant they must commune with him, stay with him long enough to learn something, become educated in the ways of God. If you love him you will want to do that.

Moses was their leader, but it was God who led the Hebrews on their journey to the promised land. They followed a supernatural pillar of cloud in the day and a pillar of fire by night. When these moved the people followed; and when they stayed, the people stayed. Their first camp was at Succoth. From there God led them through the wilderness to the Red Sea. Meanwhile, Pharoah had changed his mind again, and the Egyptians set out in pursuit of the Hebrews. They hemmed them in at the edge of the Red Sea, but then God moved the supernatural cloud between the Hebrews and their pursuers while he opened the Red Sea with a strong wind. Through a trough between the waters the Hebrews passed to the other side. And just in time, for the Egyptians followed close on them in the trough of dry ground. When the last of the Hebrews had crossed God quickly closed the waters and drowned the entire army of the Egyptians.

These posts would be way too long if we covered all the things that the Bible tells us about what happened to the Hebrews and what they did and how they lived. It is a fascinating story recorded in the first five books of the Bible. Basically, God paved the way for these his chosen people. He provided food for their journey which he spread upon the ground every day but the Sabbath for forty years. He provided water in the desert, first by cleansing the bitter waters at Marah and soon afterwards by bringing forth water from a rock at Horeb when there was no water for the people at their camp at Rephidim. When the Amalekites attacked them at Rephidim they were defeated with supernatural help from God. Moses stood on a mountain overlooking the battle and as long as he held up his hands the Hebrews prevailed, but when he let them down the Amalekites prevailed. When Moses grew too tired to hold up his hands, Aaron and Hur held them up and at the end of the day the Amalekites were defeated. The Biblical record shows that during the entirety of their journey their clothes and shoes did wear out. In short, God provided for their needs. Their wants got them into trouble with God, as we shall see.

Sinai

Three months into their journey, the Hebrews were encamped on the east side of Mt. Sinai, the place where the ten commandments were given. God told Moses to tell the people to keep away and to keep their cattle away from the mountain. Then God came down upon the top of Mt. Sinai in a fire and smoke, lightning and thunder. The sound of a trumpet was heard and the mountain shook and trembled. The people were very fearful and said to Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear, but let not God speak with us, lest we die. (Exodus 20:19) Moses calmed their fears, then he left them and went up on the mountain with God. The top of this mountain (Jabel el Laws in Saudi Arabia) is blackened from burning to this day.

Regarding Mt. Sinai, the traditional site at St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Egyptian peninsula (also named Sinai)  looses all credibility, when compared to recent historic and archaelogical findings at Jabel el laws in Saudi Arabia.

The Hebrew people were slow learners, so much so that today we just shake our heads at the things they did and wonder how they could be so dumb, and how they underestimated God. This is still happening today, and not just among the Jews. While Moses was up on the mountain with God he left Aaron, his brother and second in command, in charge of things. Days drew into weeks, and the Hebrews got restless. They decided Moses wasn’t coming back and they could do as they pleased. In short order they had enlisted Aaron’s help in making unto themselves a golden calf which they worshipped and frolicked around naked. The Bible doesn’t say what else they did, as they addressed the golden calf saying, These be the gods that brought us up from Egypt. (Exodus 32: 8 paraphrased)  They picked the wrong time for their party, because as they were singing and dancing around the image of the calf, Moses returned from 40 days of communing with God. Uh oh!

In his great anger Moses cast down and broke two stone tablets he was carrying whereon God had written the ten commandments. His people had already broken the first commandment worshiping an image! When Moses confronted Aaron about it, Aaron gave the lamest excuse possible saying, Now, don’t get mad. You know these people are always into mischief. You were gone so long they didn’t think you were ever coming back so they asked me to make gods to lead them. They gave me their gold jewelry and I threw it into the fire and out came this calf. (Exodus 32:22-24 paraphrased) At Moses’ commandment, more than 3,000 men were killed that day for the sin of idol worship. The Bible doesn’t tell us what Aaron’s punishment was, or if he was punished separately at that time, or at all. Moses said later on that he prayed for Aaron at that time. So, lest we presume to read the Almighty’s thoughts and to know his motives let us forebear to criticize him. For he is just to the nth degree. He simply doesn’t tell us everything. The Bible says the Lord plagued the people for this sin. He threatened to “consume” them, but Moses interceded for them and God relented in his judgement.

Model of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness in Timna Valley Park, Israel/Wikipedia

The Hebrews camped in Sinai about a year before continuing on to the promised land. At Sinai God gave Moses laws and regulations covering almost every aspect of living, right down to cleanliness and food preparation. He also gave him detailed plans for a portable temple, including all the furnishings and instruments for sacrifice and worship, including the ark of the covenant, which was a large box overlaid and decorated with gold. This portable temple is spoken of today as the Tabernacle in the Wilderness. This was not a simple tent; it was a work of art and craftsmanship, as anyone who has read the book of Exodus can tell you. When it was completed and set up the pillar of cloud and fire came and rested upon it thereafter.

Eventually the pillar of cloud lifted and the Hebrews continued their journey toward the promised land. One might wonder why it was taking so long for this trip. Going the short way one could get from Egypt to Canaan in about eleven days. God gave one of his reasons: he didn’t want the Hebrews to travel the short route because it led through the land of the Philistines. He believed they would become discouraged and return to Egypt since they would have to fight the Philistines. (Exodus 13:17) Well, many times, especially at the first when they were hungry or thirsty, they murmured and complained and wished out loud that they were back in Egypt. So, God was right in his assessment of them.

Next time we will travel to Kadesh, on the border of the promised land and find out what happened after that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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