Geshur and Maacah

The remote region surrounding the Upper Jordan River was home to two small nations that are frequently overlooked regarding their role in Israelite history: Geshur and Maacah. The land occupied by these two nations fell within the allotted territories of Naphtali and Manasseh, but Israel was never able to drive them out (Joshua 12:5; 13:1-13), and they remained as small, autonomous enclaves within Israel much like the Philistines along the coast. During David’s time, the nation of Maacah (also called Aram-maacah) contributed warriors to the coalition that fought against David after his messengers were humiliated by the Ammonites (2 Samuel 10:6-8; 1 Chronicles 19:6-7). The nation of Geshur, on the other hand, appears to have enjoyed a more peaceful relationship with Israel during David’s time, likely due to David’s marriage to Maacah, the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur. David’s son Absalom was born to Maacah, so when Absalom killed his half brother Amnon, he fled to Geshur for refuge (2 Samuel 13-14). Sometime later, perhaps during an era of Aramean dominance, Geshur joined Aram to capture all of Bashan (1 Chronicles 2:23). Centuries later, Jesus and his disciples traveled to Panias (which was called Caesarea Philippi by Jesus’ time), and it was there that Peter made his great declaration that Jesus was the Messiah, and Jesus was transfigured before them (Matthew 16:13-17:13; Mark 8:27-9:13).

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The Land of Midian

The heartland of Midian was located immediately east of the Gulf of Aqaba, although the Midianites’ nomadic lifestyle often took them far beyond this region and even into the land of Israel. The Bible mentions the Midianites as early as Joseph’s time (Genesis 37:25-36) and as late as Isaiah’s time (Isaiah 60:6), but they may have existed in some form into the time of the New Testament as well, because the first century writers Josephus and Ptolemy mention places named Madian (likely also called Madiam and Madiana) and Modiana. Genesis notes that the Midianites were descended from Abraham through his wife Keturah (Genesis 25:1-6), but when Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph is sold to Midianite traders while at Dothan in Canaan, it appears that they are also referred to as Ishmaelites, suggesting that there must have been some categorical overlapping of these groups by the Israelites. Later Moses fled to Midian after killing an Egyptian, and he married Zipporah, a daughter of the Midianite priest named Reuel (Exodus 2). Later Reuel (also called Jethro) visited Moses and assisted him while he was with the Israelites at Mount Sinai (Exodus 18). When the Israelites were preparing to enter the Promised Land, however, the Midianites were involved in the plot to bring Balaam to curse to the Israelites (Numbers 22:4-7), and they led the Israelites into idolatry, leading Moses to curse them (Numbers 25). Later, the Israelites later fought against the Midianites and defeated them (Numbers 31). During the time of the Judges, Midianites regularly raided places in Israel such as the Jezreel Valley (Judges 6:1-6), and the Lord raised up Gideon to defeat them. Centuries later Isaiah foretold of a time when the wealth of the nations, including Midian with its young camels, would be brought to Israel (Isaiah 6:1-7). Primarily because of Moses’ interactions with the Midianite Reuel, various mountain peaks within the land of Midian have been offered as possible locations of Mount Sinai, although the Bible specifically notes that Reuel (or Jethro) left Mount Sinai to return to his own land (Exodus 18:27; Numbers 10:30), suggesting that Mount Sinai was not located in Midian.

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Assyria Advances on Jerusalem

Isaiah 10:24-34

Like the climax of a nail-biting thriller, Isaiah 10:24-34 traces the movements of an overwhelming force of Assyrians closing in on the city of Jerusalem, but just when all seems lost and the enemy is shaking his fist over the city, the Lord delivers his people. It is not clear if this story is only happening in Isaiah’s imagination or if Isaiah is recounting an actual historical event, such as Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah in 701 B.C. Either way, his point is clear: God’s people should trust in his sure salvation and not fear Assyria’s might. Earlier in the same chapter Isaiah reiterates the Assyrians’ boast of the cities that have already fallen to their power (verses 8-11), including Samaria, so this story must be set after Samaria’s fall in 722 B.C. The Assyrians begin their attack by traveling south along the Central Ridge Route, the primary north-south artery running through the central hill country, and then they turn off at Bethel to cross the pass at Michmash, perhaps to avoid the fortifications at Mizpah (see 1 Kings 15:22). Then they rejoin the main route at Ramah. Isaiah echoes the terror facing each of the towns along the Assyrians’ path, culminating with the Assyrians shaking their fist over Jerusalem from Nob, likely on the summit of the Mount of Olives. Before the enemy can take the city, however, the Lord cuts the Assyrians down and saves his people.

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Zerah the Cushite

2 Chronicles 14

The book of 2 Chronicles contains the sole mention of an otherwise unknown battle between King Asa of Judah and Zerah the Cushite. Prior to his description of the battle, the Chronicler notes that Asa had undertaken a campaign to fortify many of the towns throughout Judah, since the land was at peace and afforded them the means to do so. Apparently these efforts raised concerns among the Cushite peoples who dwelt along the western coast of Arabia (see Genesis 10:6-7), who likely feared that Asa was trying to tighten his control over important international trade routes that passed through southern Judah. The Arabian Cushites were well known for their gold, incense, and precious stones (1 Kings 9:28; 10:10-11; 22:48; 1 Chronicles 29:4; 2 Chronicles 8:18; 9:1-10; Job 22:24; 28:16; Psalm 45:9; Isaiah 13:12; 60:6; Jeremiah 6:20; Ezekiel 27:22), which they transported along the Incense Route and other roads to reach eager markets in the coastal cities of Philitia. So a Cushite named Zerah gathered a massive army and met Asa in battle at the Valley of Zephathah just north of Mareshah (see map of the Shephelah). During the battle the Lord struck down the Cushites, and they fled in the direction of Gerar, which may have been where the Cushites had camped in preparation for battle. Asa’s forces pursued them to Gerar and destroyed them completely, carrying off a great deal of plunder. Asa’s troops then destroyed and looted all the villages surrounding Gerar, which had likely hosted some of Zerah’s troops as well.

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Earthquakes in the Bible

Throughout much of the ancient Near East earthquakes were at the same time familiar yet terrifying, and the great power demonstrated by them was often associated with God himself. While the most intense seismic activity of the region typically occurs far north of Israel around Pergamum, Ephesus, Melidu, and Tushpa, the land of Israel experiences earthquakes from time to time as well due to its position at the northern extreme of a major fault line running all the way down the Red Sea and into East Africa. The first mention of earthquakes in the Bible might be found in the story of the destruction of the cities of the plain, where it describes phenomena that could be explained as the result of an earthquake that caused subterranean hydrocarbons to explode (Genesis 19:24). Earthquakes also accompanied the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai and the subsequent wanderings of the Israelites in the desert (Exodus 19:18; Numbers 16:31-32; Judges 5:4; Psalm 68:8; Hebrews 12:26). Hundreds of years later the prophet Elijah journeyed to Mount Sinai and witnessed an earthquake as he waited for the Lord to pass by (1 Kings 19:11-12). During the reign of Uzziah of Judah in the eighth century B.C., an earthquake struck the land that was so severe that the prophet Amos dated his oracles by it (Amos 1:1), and over two hundred years later the prophet Zechariah foretold of a coming earthquake that would cause people to flee like they did when they fled from the earthquake in Uzziah’s time (Zechariah 14:5). In several other passages of the Old Testament earthquakes are a common response of the earth to the Lord (2 Samuel 22:8; Psalm 18:7; Isaiah 6:4; 13:13; Nahum 1:5; Habakkuk 3:3-6; Haggai 2:6), and Psalm 46:1-2 describes earthquakes leveling the mountains in order to portray complete insecurity in earthly things. Centuries later Jesus’ crucifixion was accompanied by earthquakes (Matthew 27:54; 28:2). The book of Acts also recounts how an earthquake struck Philippi while Paul and Silas were in jail there, and it was so violent that it broke open the doors and loosed the chains of the prisoners (Acts 16:25-28). Earthquakes are also frequently included in descriptions of things to come in the last days (Matthew 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:11; Revelation 6:12; 11:13; 16:18).

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