The Negev

At first glance, the region often referred to in Scripture as the Negev could easily be written off as merely a land of sparcity–both in rainfall and in population. Yet this land that seems of little value proved to be of great worth to Israel and its leaders over time as it protected the southern frontier against invasion and ensured reliable access to important roads such as the Way to Shur and the Incense Route from southern Arabia. The Negev spanned a loosely defined area in the southern extreme of Israel. With an average rainfall of about 8 inches (20 cm) per year its desert climate often required inhabitants to live semi-nomadically to survive. At the same, however, when the occasional rain did come, the whole region quickly sprang to life with new vegetation, especially along seasonal streambeds (see Psalm 126:4). Abraham and Isaac spent considerable time in this region (Genesis 12:1-8; 13:1-3; 20:1-21:34; 24:62; 25:11), and Abraham is credited with digging the well at Beersheba (21:30-31). The Amalekites already occupied the Negev by this time (Genesis 14:7), and they continued to live there until Saul and David finally destroyed them (1 Samuel 14:47-48; 15:1-35; 1 Samuel 30:1-30). While the Israelites were living at Kadesh-barnea they prepared to enter the Promised Land through the Negev (Numbers 14:40-45), but instead they were driven back by the Amalekites and the Canaanites (Numbers 14:25-45). After the Israelites took possession of Canaan, the Negev was allotted to the tribes of Judah and Simeon (Joshua 15:1-63; 19:1-9). David and Solomon retained a firm grip over the Negev during their reigns (2 Samuel 24:1-8), but after the kingdom was divided some kings of Judah struggled to maintain control over the region (e.g., 2 Chronicles 28:16-21). After the Babylonians attacked Judah in 586 B.C., Edom took possession of the Negev and remained there for four hundred years until the Maccabees recaptured it and forced the Edomites there to convert to Judaism. Herod the Great was descended from these Edomites (also called Idumeans), and he maintained various fortresses throughout the Negev during his reign as king.

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