The Jordan River

May 26, 2011

In his book, J.W. McGarvey Sermons, McGarvey states,

The river Jordan is the most famous river on the earth.  It does not owe its fame, like our own Mississippi, to its great length, or to the rich commerce that flows upon its bosom … It does not owe its fame, like the Nile, to the fact that its overflow every year makes fertile a land which would otherwise be a desert…Neither does it owe its fame, like the Tiber or the Seine or the Thames, to the fact that some great city like Rome or Paris or London has stood on its banks … To what, then, does this most famous of all the rivers of the face of the globe owe its fame? To three considerations: first, to its peculiar physical characteristics; second, to the historic events that are connected with it; and third, to an association of thought connected with it in the minds of believers (pp. 297-298).

I think we would concur that it is especially number reason number two that makes the Jordan famous–the historical, biblical events which occurred there. Jesus was baptized there (Mt. 3:13-17)!  John baptized with his baptism of repentance there (Mt. 3:5,6) in keeping with the counsel of God (Lk. 7:29-30).  Naaman was cleansed from his leprosy by the God of Israel there (2 Kings 5).  Israel crossed this river on dry land at flood stage to receive the promised land of Canaan (Josh. 3:17).

Jordan River, most famous river in the world. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Today’s traveler to Israel is limited to very few sites from which to view the Jordan.  Most of its flow is on the Palestinian side of the border. Our photo above was taken March, 2011.

Two nights remain of our Gospel Meeting in Chipley, FL. Yesterday I took a photo of the local preacher and his family after we had enjoyed a bite of lunch, Mexican style.

Wes & family, local preacher at Chipley, FL.

My wife & I enjoyed taking a few minutes to view the historic district of Chipley.

House in the historic district of Chipley, FL. Photo by Leon Mauldin.


Megiddo, Another Key Site Not Taken During the Conquest

May 24, 2011

A text we have referenced in the past few posts is Joshua 17:11-12, in a context giving the borders of some of the tribes, especially Manasseh:

In Issachar and in Asher, Manasseh had Beth-shean and its towns and Ibleam and its towns, and the inhabitants of Dor and its towns, and the inhabitants of En-dor and its towns, and the inhabitants of Taanach and its towns, and the inhabitants of Megiddo and its towns, the third is Napheth.

But the sons of Manasseh could not take possession of these cities, because the Canaanites persisted in living in that land (NASB).

We are not at all wanting to downplay the significance of the Conquest led by Joshua, as God fulfilled His promise to give Israel possession of the land of Canaan. Our purpose in recent posts has been to highlight the significance of those sites NOT captured or retained, so that the discerning reader does not merely read over such text without realizing their import.

Note that among the cities not taken was Megiddo.

Megiddo, Strategic Site Not Taken During Conquest. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Recent posts on Megiddo have appeared on our blog here and here and here as well as here.

In an article entitled The Case of Megiddo: Understanding the Importance of Geography in Biblical Study, Colonel David Hanson wrote:

Since earliest times, people with mutual commercial or agricultural interests have searched for naturally occurring defensive locations where they could safely pursue their enterprises. Towns were constructed to protect the inhabitants from unfriendly neighbors and marauding armies. Considerations which prompted the early settlers to select town sites have not changed over the centuries and many of the most favorable locations grew to great size. Megiddo is one such place and it attests that “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” [Eccl 1:9 (NIV)…

What made Megiddo so important that it has been the focus of military activities for millennia? Yohanan Aharoni provides a framework for investigating this question. In his comprehensive historical geography of the Holy Land, he lists four reasons early settlers chose a particular piece of terrain.

They are:
•       Thoroughfares: Important towns flourished along the main lines of travel and their principal intersections.
•       Strategic locations: Hills or other geographic features which would provide protection to the settlers and could be fortified.
•       Water sources: Accessibility of, or to, a water supply.
•       Agricultural lands: Economies from earliest times have been based upon agriculture; thus, the nearness of fertile fields has been important (Bible and Spade, Vol. 4. No. 3, P. 89).

In his article Hanson goes on to show how Megiddo meets each of the above requirements.

Megiddo later came to be under the control of Israel. Solomon made it one of his fortified cities (1 Kings 9:15-19).

Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary says, “Megiddo was one of the most strategic cities in Palestine. All major traffic through northern Palestine traveled past Megiddo, making it a strategic military strong-hold.”

Click on image for larger view.


Cities Not Taken in the Conquest, cont’d., Dor

May 23, 2011

Joshua is the biblical book of the conquest of Canaan, and the fulfilling of the land promise given to Abraham (Gen. 12:7). But Israel failed to follow through as they were commanded, thus leaving the seeds of idolatry in their midst, but also leaving themselves politically and economically thwarted. As we have noted in the last couple of posts, it turns out that those cities mentioned as not being taken or retained were in many, if not most, cases strategic sites, needed for defense or commerce.

Joshua 17:11-12 mentions Dor in this connection (see also Judges 1:27).

Dor, important harbor not taken during the Conquest. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

In an interesting article in Bible and Spade, author Hela Crown-Tamir writes,

Thirteen miles north of Caesarea. and almost equadistant from Haifa, Dor was a flourishing port and international commercial center throughout the Biblical period. The excavators note four distinct civilizations at Dor: the Canaanites, the Sikil Tribe of Sea Peoples, the Phoenicians, and the Hellenistic-Roman culture. With artifacts from Old Testament Egypt to Napoleon’s cannons found here and displayed at the Dor Museum, the site was inhabited throughout the Biblical period. This coastal city is a perfect illustration of treasures hidden in the sand.

Canaanites first settled Dor during the Middle Bronze Age (2000 BC). While the city was part of Manasseh’s tribal inheritance, the Sikils of the Sea Peoples settled here during the Iron Age (1150–1050 BC). They were followed by the Phoenicians, descendants of the Canaanites, from the 11th century BC on. They inhabited Dor during the Israelite, Assyrian. Babylonian. Persian, and much of the Hellenistic periods.

Finds from the late Bronze Age (1500–1200 BC) at Dor indicate it was exceedingly rich with far-flung international connections. Throughout most of the Old Testament, Dor was one of the important harbor towns along the country’s Mediterranean coastline.

It was from the west, by sea. that the Sikils came to Dor. Possibly coming from as far away as the island of Sicily, this tribe of Sea Peoples made the port city of Dor their home. During the Phoenician occupation, masters of the eastern Mediterranean, the port city rivaled the four major Phoenician cities in size and importance. The excavators are correct in calling Dor “Ruler of the Seas.” ( 2001, Vol. 14, No. 1, P. 12).

Note the portions in the above text with bold print (emp. mine): Reference to the Bronze Age of 1500-1200 BC fits the time period referenced in Joshua, with the conquest occurring about 1406 BC.  Note that Dor is described as having “far-flung international” connections. Also, the “Ruler of the Seas.” Again it would seem that an understand of these facts regarding Dor would be helpful in appreciating the significance of those verses which inform us that Israel did not possess this very important location.

That would change by the time of Solomon. King Solomon divided the land into twelve districts with twelve governors “who provided food for the king and his household: each one made provision for one month of the year” (1 Kings 4:7). v. 11 goes on to list “Ben-Abinadab, in all the regions of Dor; he had Taphath the daughter of Solomon as wife. Thus Dor became the capital of one of Solomon’s administrative districts.

By the way, I am currently in Chipley, FL., conducting a 6-day Gospel Meeting. Wesley Webb is the local preacher here. It always great to see old friends. Waltina Shoraga is our host this week. She was living in Waycross, Ga., and I was preaching in Blackshear when I first met her, in 1973.


More Cities Not Taken, cont’d.: Beth-shean

May 20, 2011

Our previous post looked at the implication of texts which name cities of the conquest which Israel did not conquer, or did not retain. As noted, Josh. 16:10 mentions Gezer in that context.

The next chapter, Josh. 17, list several cities, including Beth-shean, Dor and Megiddo (v.11). v. 12 states, “But the sons of Manasseh could not take possession of these cities, because the Canaanites persisted in living in that land.”

The significance of this situation is two-fold. [1] The continued presence of the Canaanites would turn out to be a detrimental influence on Israel, just as God through Moses warned. Israel would lapse into idolatry, worshiping the gods of the Canaanites, as well as those of the surrounding nations. [2] Upon a closer look at the geography, it turns out that many of the places mentioned are not just random sites, but very strategic locations. Therefore it would greatly impact Israel in a negative way to not possess the specified cities.

Beth-shean controlled major routes going both north-south and east-west.

Beth Shean, allotted to Manasseh, but not retained. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Beth-shean was strategically located at the juncture of the Jezreel and Jordan valleys. The modern name of the site is Tel el-Husn.

Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary says,

Excavations at Tell el-Ḥuṣn, conducted from 1921 to 1933 by C. S. Fisher and A. Rowe for the University of Pennsylvania Museum, indicate that the site has been settled almost continuously since Chalcolithic times. In the Late Bronze Age the city apparently functioned as the major Egyptian center in Palestine. It is listed among those cities conquered by Pharaoh Thutmose III (fifteenth century B.C.), and numerous Egyptian remains have been found. Included are a fourteenth-century temple to the local god Mekal, to whom was dedicated a stele inscribed with a prayer; a magnificent relief showing a lion and dog in combat was discovered on a wall of the temple. A victory stele of Seti I (1313–1292) indicates that he reinforced the city’s military operations, perhaps with troops from Gath-Carmel; another stele mentions the ˓Apiru of Yarmuth, probably the town assigned to Issachar (Josh. 19:21). Two temples, dedicated to Anat (called ˓Antit) and Dagon, were erected in the time of Rameses II and continued in use through the Philistine occupation and into the Israelite period; apparently these were the temples to which the Philistines fastened the armor and head of Saul (1 Sam. 31:10; 1 Chr. 10:10). A large cemetery north of the city has been assigned to this approximate period; it contains several anthropoid coffins (clay coffins bearing human portraits) of dignitaries or mercenaries in Egyptian service. Remains of the Israelite occupation are unimpressive; the relevant strata of the tell bear considerable evidence of destruction by Pharaoh Shishak (ca. 920) and the Assyrians or Babylonians. In the postexilic period Beth-shan was little more than a village. A theater, hippodrome, aqueduct, and a great city wall have been discovered, dating to the Roman occupation. Several churches and synagogues as well as a sixth century monastery survive from Byzantine times.

One of the sad things later associated with the site is that King Saul’s body, and those of three of his sons, were fasten to the walls of the city after Israel’s defeat by the Philistines (1 Sam. 31).

By Helenistic times the city was called Scythopolis. By New Testament times it was included in the Decapolis, the “10 cities” given the right of self-government by the Romans. During Jesus’ Galilean Ministry, “And large crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan River” (Matt. 4:25, NET).


Cities Israel Did Not Take or Retain: Gezer

May 19, 2011

Our previous post made reference to Israel’s conquest of Canaan, and specifically looked at Caleb’s inheritance of Hebron in Judah.

The book of Joshua not only tells of the cities Israel possessed and inhabited, but also of those cities they either did not take, or else initially captured but did not retain. Probably most readers pass over these texts, or else read them without seeing their significance. But some of the cities specified were especially strategic locations, and to not have them would be a tremendous loss, and really put Israel at a great disadvantage.

We want to consider just a few of these as mentioned in Joshua. In this post, we consider Gezer.

Joshua 16:10:  “The Ephraimites did not conquer the Canaanites living in Gezer. The Canaanites live among the Ephraimites to this very day and do hard labor as their servants” (NET).  Gezer was a large, important city in the Shephelah. Later Solomon made it one of his fortified cities. Our photo below was taken March, 2011.

Solomonic Gate at Gezer. A city not taken during the Conquest. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The Bible Knowledge Commentary observes:

Gezer was strategically located on Ephraim’s southwest border at the entrance to the Aijalon Valley. It guarded the crossroads of the eastern branch of the coastal highway and the major west-to-east route through the Aijalon Valley to Jerusalem or Bethel.

This is one of many instances where some understanding of the geography will enhance one’s understanding of the text.  More to come. Click image for higher resolution.


Caleb Inherits Hebron

May 17, 2011

The book of Joshua details the fulfillment of the Land Promise God made to Israel (Josh. 21:43,45). The book consists of twenty-four chapters, and divides exactly in half regarding subject matter. The first twelve chapters record the conquest of Canaan, and the last twelve record the division of the land to each of the tribes of Israel.

Josh 14-15 deal with the inheritance of Judah. It is within that context that the inheritance of Caleb is discussed. Caleb and Joshua were the only two of the 603,550 men of war who were faithful to the Lord and stood their ground at Kadesh-Barnea (Num. 13). All of those men died in the wilderness because of their refusal to take possession of the land (Num. 14ff), except Joshua and Caleb. That was the period of 40 years of wandering in the wilderness of Sinai.

That period passed. At the point where Josh. 14 takes up is 45+ years later; now Caleb is age 85 (v.10). Israel had control of the land, but there was still much to be conquered and possessed.

Sheep in street in Hebron. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The biblical text of Josh. 14:6-13 records Caleb’s inheritance request as well as the background and context of that request:

And Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the LORD said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me. 7 I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. 8 But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the LORD my God. 9 And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the LORD my God.’ 10 And now, behold, the LORD has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the LORD spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. 11 I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. 12 So now give me this hill country of which the LORD spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the LORD said.” 13 Then Joshua blessed him, and he gave Hebron to Caleb the son of Jephunneh for an inheritance (ESV).

Lessons:

  1. Caleb’s character. Characterized by wholehearted devotion to God (Josh. 14:8,9,14).
  2. Forty-five years earlier during the crisis at Kadesh-Barnea (Num. 13-14), Caleb discerned what was right and was faithful to it. He did not swerve from this principle.
  3. He was basing his request on the promise of God (v.9).
  4. Perhaps one of the greatest lessons is to notice what Caleb was asking for. There were still giants in the land (Anakim, v.12). There were still fortified cities. Caleb was not asking that land already conquered be given to him. He was asking for the opportunity to fight, to seek to defeat and drive out the Canaanite inhabitants, that the territory of Hebron would thus be his inheritance. At age 85, Caleb was not asking for an easy inheritance, but one full of danger. Yet he looked upon it as an opportunity.
  5. His source of strength in battle was the Lord. His victory was predicated upon the Lord’s being with him (v.12).

Our photo here shows a view of modern Hebron as we look out from the cave of Machpelah.

Hebron as seen from cave of Machpelah. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The chapter concludes,

Therefore Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day, because he wholly followed the LORD, the God of Israel. 15 Now the name of Hebron formerly was Kiriath-arba. (Arba was the greatest man among the Anakim.) And the land had rest from war (Josh. 14:14-15, ESV).

Remember to click on images for larger view.


Saqqara, The Step Pyramid

May 13, 2011

In our local congregation we are currently engaged in a study of Exodus. The emphasis of the book is that of God’s covenant faithfulness. ‘El Shaddai, God Almighty, who promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that He would make of them a great nation, and give unto them the land of Canaan, now more fully reveals Himself as YHVH, Yahweh, Jehovah. He would redeem His covenant people. This He did “with outstretched hand,” demonstrating to all the Egyptians, as well as to Israel that He was indeed the LORD.

Israel was a numerous people when the book of Exodus opens, and through His great power God brought them to Mt. Sinai, where they would be for about eleven months. During that time God gave the 10 Commandments as well as the accompanying laws and ordinances, the tabernacle was built, and the Aaronic priesthood was consecrated.

The events of Scripture do not happen in a vacuum; we always do well to consider the historical and geographical setting.  The setting for Exodus 1-13 is Egypt.

When you think of Egypt, you likely think of the pyramids. Sometimes people erroneously believe that the Israelites were used as forced labor to construct the pyramids. Actually the pyramids were built before Abraham! The Israelites built storage cities (Ex. 1:11, NASB).

Step Pyramid at Saqqara, Egypt. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Our photo shows the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, built during the 3rd Dynasty by Pharaoh Djoser. This pyramid is actually a mastaba (Arabic for “bench”),  meaning a structure in the “form of a flat-roofed, rectangular structure with outward sloping sides.” The Step Pyramid consists of six distinct steps. This is the oldest of the pyramids.

The burial chambers were underground. Excavation was done by Jean-Phillipe Lauer.

Click on image for higher resolution.