Cush and Sheba

The ancient nations of Cush and Sheba, both located several hundred miles south of Israel, were often regarded by the people of Israel as the ends of the earth. Cush was known by the Israelites for its dark skinned people (Jeremiah 13:23) and its precious gems (Job 28:19). Cushite leaders occasionally led military campaigns in Israel (2 Kings 19; Isaiah 37; 2 Chronicles 14), and under the Persian Empire the northern border of Cush formed the southwest border of the Perian Empire (Esther 1:1). Over time many Cushites (later called Ethiopians) became followers of the Lord, which is why during the New Testament Philip the Evangelist met an Ethiopian royal official who was traveling home by way of Gaza after worshiping at the Temple of the Lord (Acts 8:26-27). Other notable Cushites include a wife of Moses (Numbers 12:1) and a Judean royal official named Ebed-melek, who rescued Jeremiah from imprisonment in a cistern (Jeremiah 38-39). The nation of Sheba was located on the southwest coast of the Arabian peninsula and traded frankincense, myrrh, gold, and precious stones throughout the Ancient Near East. During Solomon’s reign, news of his great wealth and wisdom traveled as far as Sheba (perhaps carried by Solomon’s fleet of trading ships), and the queen of Sheba came to visit him and ask him many questions (1 Kings 10; 2 Chronicles 9).

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Nations Across the Jordan River

The small nations of Ammon, Moab, and Edom lay east of the Jordan River, and the people of these nations were distantly related to the Israelites. The Ammonites and Moabites were descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot (Genesis 19), and the Edomites were descended from Jacob’s twin brother Esau (Genesis 36). The Israelites had passed by these nations on the way to the Promised Land (Numbers 21:10-20; Deuteronomy 2:1-23) and battled against them at various times throughout history (Judges 3:12-30; 10:6-12:7; 1 Samuel 11:1-11; 2 Samuel 8:1-14; 10; 2 Kings 3; 8:20-22; 14:7; 1 Chronicles 19; 2 Chronicles 20; 21:8-10). David eventually subjugated the Moabites and the Edomites (2 Samuel 8:2-14; 1 Chronicles 18:2-13), but many years later they regained their independence (2 Kings 1:1; 3; 8:20-22; 2 Chronicles 21:8-10). While much animosity often existed between Israel and these nations, the Bible also recounts how Naomi and her husband moved to Moab to seek relief from a famine (Ruth 1:1), and Naomi’s descendant David placed his parents in the care of the king of Moab while he was on the run from King Saul (1 Samuel 22:3-4). The people of Edom eventually migrated to the area just south of Judea around the time that many Judeans were exiled to Babylon. Herod the Great, who was king of Judea hundreds of years later at the time of Jesus’ birth, was actually an Edomite (Idumean). The Maccabean rulers had forcibly converted the Edomites to Judaism over a hundred years earlier.

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Southern Greece

Though southern Greece was located over 700 miles from Israel, its history often overlapped with the events of the Bible. During the time of the Judges, Sea Peoples from the Greek mainland began attacking many lands of the Bible. Hundreds of years later during the time of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, the Greeks fought many famous battles (e.g., Thermopylae Pass, Marathon, Salamis) to keep their land from being subsumed under the vast Persian Empire, who ruled over virtually the entire Ancient Near East. Later the Greeks fought against the Romans, and in 146 B.C. all of Greece came under the rule of Rome. Nearly 200 years later the apostle Paul traveled to southern Greece, visiting the renowned philosophical center of Athens before moving on to Corinth and establishing a church there with the help of Priscilla, Aquila, and Apollos (Acts 17:16-18:28). Corinth was a very prosperous city strategically located near the isthmus linking the southern peninsula to the mainland, giving it command over both land and sea travel in the region.

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Jericho, Wilderness of Judea, and Qumran

The famed city of Jericho is one of the oldest cities in the world. By the time the Israelites watched its walls fall down under Joshua’s command (Joshua 6), Jericho was already thousands of years old. Located on a plain where the Jordan River enters the Dead Sea, the heavily fortified city stood guard over the entrance to Canaan from the southwest, which meant the Israelites had to conquer it in order to safely enter the Promised Land. With its hot desert climate and abundant springs, Jericho was known as the “city of palm trees” (Deuteronomy 34:3). Centuries later it was likely near Jericho (which had moved further south) where Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:13; Mark 1:9; Luke 3:1-22; John 1:26-34), and he also encountered Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) and a blind man named Bartimaeus there (Mark 10:46-52). Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan tells of a man overtaken by robbers on the steep route descending from Jerusalem to Jericho (Luke 10:25-37). About ten miles southwest of Jericho lay the forbidding wilderness of Judea, where Jesus fasted and was tempted by the Devil (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1-13). The desert community of Qumran, who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, was also located nearby.

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Philistia

One of the most well-known stories of the Bible is David’s defeat of Goliath, a Philistine giant from the town of Gath (1 Samuel 17). The Philistines may have originated from the island of Crete and settled along the eastern Mediterranean coast around the time of the Judges (Jeremiah 47:4; Amos 9:7). As the Philistines pushed further into the interior of Canaan, they often came into conflict with the Israelites, who resided mostly in the hill country (Judges 3:31; 10:7; 13:1; 1 Samuel 4:1; 7:10; 12:9; 13:3; 14:52; 17:1; 19:8; 23:5; 24:1; 31:1; 2 Samuel 5:18-19). The Philistine threat was likely one of the reasons the Israelites eventually demanded a king to help rally the nation (1 Samuel 9:16). The five primary cities of Philistia were Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, Gath, and Gaza (Joshua 13:3; 1 Samuel 6:17), and these may have been what was in young David’s mind as he chose five stones in preparation to face Goliath (1 Samuel 17:40). The Israelites subdued the Philistines (2 Samuel 8:1; 1 Chronicles 18:1), but the area remained largely Gentile throughout Bible times. In the New Testament, Peter traveled to the nearby cities of Lydda and Joppa and healed Aeneas and Dorcas (Acts 9:32-43), and Philip the Evangelist (one of the original deacons of the early church) met an Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Gaza and explained to him that Jesus is the Messiah foretold in the Scriptures (Acts 8:26-40).

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