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Posts Tagged ‘Israelites’

Hills of Gilead, territory east of Jordan chosen by tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh

As the Hebrews continued toward the border of their promised land they fought and subdued the people who occupied the land where they were traveling. As a result a large part of what is now Jordan became the territory of the tribes of Gad, Reuben and Manasseh. Moses allowed those tribes to have their inheritance there in exchange for their promise to assist the other tribes in subduing the occupants of the land on the other side (west) of the Jordan river.

Prior to their entering into the promised land Moses spent time teaching the people and giving the law. He wanted them to thrive in the land of their inheritance, and to do so they would have to obey God and adhere to his instructions. For, as they had seen, strict adherence to the Ten Commandments was the only thing that satisfied God. In Deuteronomy is recorded the word of God given to the Israelites before their entry into their land. Basically he told them they would be blessed if they obeyed God and they would be cursed if they didn’t. The word is quite extensive and specific. Here is some of it:

….if thou shalt hearken…. to do all his commandments….God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth:…Blessed shalt thou be in the city and blessed shalt thou be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body…the fruit of thy ground;;;;the fruit of thy cattle…Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out. The Lord shall cause thine enemies…to be smitten before thy face: they shall come out against thee one way, and flee before thee seven ways……And the Lord shall make thee the head and not the tail….But it shall come to pass, if thou shall not hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee. Cursed shalt thou be in the field. Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy land. Cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and cursed shall thou be when thou goest out. The Lord shall send upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke….The Lord shall make the pestilence cleave unto thee, until he have consumed thee from off the land….The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far…..And he shall besiege thee in all thy gates…..and thou shalt eat the….. flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters…in the siege. (from Deuteronomy 28:1-53)

Friends, if you think this is gross, you need to know that it really came to pass eventually, for the Hebrews, the Israelites, the chosen people of God turned their backs on him. Their blessings went away and the curses came upon them, exactly as said.  Jeremiah records: They that be slain with the sword are better than they that be slain with hunger:….the hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own children: they were their meat in the destruction of the daughter of my people. (Lamentations 4:9-10)

Further, the Lord told them: And ye shall be left few in number, whereas you were as the stars of heaven for multitude….And the Lord shall scatter thee among all people…And among these nations shalt thou find no ease….(Deuteronomy 28: 62,64-65) And so it has been. The Jews have been scattered over the face of the planet, and continue to be persecuted. Anti Semitism is everywhere, even in the U.S.

But, God is not finished with his people the Hebrews: And the Lord shall scatter you among the nations. But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him…When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the Lord thy God…he will not forsake, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them. (Deuteronomy 4:27,29-31)

Repentance was the key to restoring the Israelites to right relationship with God. It still is, not only for Israel, but for us who are not Israel. God is not mean, but his laws can not be set aside or ignored, for there are consequences for sin. He has provided the way for us all, through Jesus, to be forgiven and set on the right path, toward heaven, and not toward hell.

As the people drew near to Canaan, the promised land, the time came for Moses to die. The Bible tells us his eye was not dim, nor his strength abated. But God had already told him he would not go in, due to an incident in the wilderness where he had struck a rock for water instead of speaking to it as God had told him to do. Just one example of the immutability of the laws of God.

View From Mt. Nebo/Wikimedia Commons/Vyacheslav Argenberg

Moses’ brother Aaron and sister Miriam had already died. Joshua, one of the twelve original scouts who spied out the land of Canaan 40 years earlier had been named leader in Moses’ place. As God had said, only Joshua and Caleb remained of those twelve. God led Moses to the top of a high mountain (Nebo, Pisgah) where he could see the promised land stretched out before him, all the way to the Mediterranean sea. There he died and the Bible says God buried him in a nearby valley, but no one knows where.

After that God told Joshua to proceed into the promised land. They were encamped on the east side of the Jordan River. Just across the river lay the  Canaanite city of Jericho and their land. At this point you need to know that although God had promised to give the Hebrews the promised land, He did not mean it was to be handed to them on a silver platter. Indeed, they were to go in and take possession of it, by force.

Right away Joshua sent two spies into Jericho. Immediately they encountered Rahab, a harlot, who made them a bargain. She hid them from the officers of Jericho who, having discovered the two spies were in town, came seeking them. In exchange she extracted from the spies a promise that when the Hebrews attacked Jericho, she and her household would be saved. Rahab’s house was built into the city wall, and from a window of her house she let the spies down to the outside with a scarlet rope. She bound the scarlet rope in the window as a signal to the Israelites that her household was to be saved.

In a few days the children of Israel made ready to cross over Jordan. The Ark of the Covenant, borne by the priests, went before. As soon as the priests’ feet touched the waters of the river, the waters congealed into a heap and flowed no more until the last person had crossed over on dry ground. The first order of business after that was the circumcision of all the males who had not been circumcised. Those who had come out of Egypt were circumcised already, but those who were born after that had not been circumcised. Circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant with his people.

They celebrated Passover while camped at Gilgal in the plains of Jericho. The day after the Passover they ate corn from the promised land. Then, after forty years, the manna ceased and after that they ate the produce of the land of Canaan.

Next on the agenda was Jericho, their first battle in Canaan land. The city of Jericho was pretty impregnable. The walls were around six feet thick and somewhere between twelve and seventeen feet high. and at this point the gates are barred; no one is going in or out. What to do? The Angel of the Lord appeared to Joshua and gave him the strategy for defeating Jericho.

Once a day for six days the army of Israel in complete silence, with no one speaking a word, walked in a circle around Jericho, the priests bearing the Ark of the Covenant. The only sound to be heard was the fall of their feet and the wail of seven ram’s horns, blown by seven priests. Don’t you know the people in Jericho crouched in fear at the sound of those trumpets, and wondered what was going to happen next?

Old image in primitive style showing Jericho compassed by soldiers blowing horns, while Rahab lets the spies down from her window/Wikimedia Commons

On the seventh day they marched around the walls of Jericho, again in silence, not once, but six times and then one more. The people had been instructed that on the seventh go around they were to break their silence and shout when the priests began to blow the trumpets. And it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. (Joshua 6:20)

Rahab the harlot, who bound the scarlet rope in her window, was saved, along with her entire family. You will find her in the lineage of King David and Jesus our Lord. Bible Gateway.com has an interesting article about her.

We have only scratched the surface of the marvelous story of God’s interactions with his people, the  descendants of Abraham. It is a never ending supernatural saga that will capture your heart and your interest once you begin to delve into the rich treasures so readily available to us today–the ages old scriptures, historical references, and current events. What God began with Abraham is coming to fruition right before our eyes. Pay attention.

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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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