Aram and the City of Damascus

Throughout the Old Testament the term Aram is used to reference various people groups inhabiting the Levant, and their political power and loyalties changed frequently over the centuries. The Bible first mentions the people of Aram in the Table of Nations and designates them as descendants of Shem (Genesis 10:22-23). Later Abraham traveled with his father to Haran in northern Aram (see this map) before continuing on to Canaan further south. Many years after this Abraham sent his servant back to this region (called Aram-naharaim or Paddan-aram) to find a wife for his son Isaac (Genesis 24:10). Still later Isaac’s son Jacob returned to this same area when he fled from his brother Esau after stealing his birthright (Genesis 28-31). Balaam was also brought from northern Aram to curse the Israelites as they prepared to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 23:7). Even the Israelites themselves were instructed, once they entered the Promised Land, to make an offering of first fruits during which they were to acknowledge to the priest that their ancestor (Abraham) was a wandering Aramean (Deuteronomy 26:1-11). During the time of the Judges a man named Othniel rescued the Israelites from a king who oppressed them from Aram-naharaim (Judges 3:8-10). By the end of the time of the Judges (Judges 18:7-28), however, the term Aram is typically used by the biblical writers to refer to the people living in the area shown here, located just north of Israel and centered around the ancient city of Damascus. This region was subdued by King David (2 Samuel 8; 1 Chronicles 18-19), but it appears to have regained power soon after Solomon died. Aram continued to grow in power during this time, so much so that King Asa of Judah sent silver and gold to Ben-hadad I of Aram to incite him to attack King Baasha of Israel (1 Kings 15; 2 Chronicles 16). Apparently this conflict whet the appetite of the Arameans for Israelite land, because later Aram would also fight several wars against King Ahab of Israel (1 Kings 20-22; see map here) as well as against several other kings of Israel after him (2 Kings 8-16; 2 Chronicles 18-28). The power of Aram was finally broken during the time of King Ahaz of Judah, who bribed the Assyrians to attack the Arameans in order to stop Israel and Aram from attacking Judah (2 Kings 16-17; 2 Chronicles 28; Isaiah 7-8; see map here). Hundreds of years later, the Lord Jesus appeared to the apostle Paul as he was traveling to Damascus to persecute believers there (Acts 9; see map here).

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