Resurgence of Israel and Judah

2 Kings 14:23-29; 15:1-7; 2 Chronicles 26

The long, concurrent reigns of Jeroboam II of Israel and Uzziah (also called Azariah) of Judah marked a period of resurgence after their nations had suffered nearly sixty years of decline and unrest. By the time both kings ascended to the throne in 793 B.C. and 792 B.C., Moab had revolted from Israel and seized land belonging to the tribe of Reuben (2 Kings 1:1; see “The Nation of Moab and the Tribe of Reuben”), and Edom and Libnah had revolted from Judah (2 Kings 8:16-24; 2 Chronicles 21:1-11; see “Edom and Libnah Revolt”). Jehu then brutally overthrew Ahab’s dynasty, but he later suffered the loss of all Gilead to the rising power of Aram (2 Kings 1:1; 3:1-27; 8:12; 10:32-33; 2 Chronicles 21:8-10; see “Aram Captures Gilead”). Soon after this, however, the Assyrian king Adad-nirari III (who may be the “savior” of 2 Kings 13:5) attacked Aram, but then he withdrew, thus creating a power vacuum to the north. Jeroboam of Israel took advantage of this opportunity and captured much of Aram, though it is unclear how firmly he held Aram or for how long. During this same time, king Uzziah of Judah captured the Red Sea port city of Elath in the far south, which belonged to Edom, and he also attacked the Arabs of Gur, who were likely located nearby. He also attacked the Meunites who lived in Seir, the formerly Edomite region south of the Judean Negev, though the Meunites themselves do not appear to have been Edomites. The Meunites are probably the same as the “Maonites” mentioned in Judges 10:12, and they also joined the Moabite alliance that attacked king Jehoshaphat of Judah (2 Chronicles 20). About a century after Uzziah’s time, during the reign of Hezekiah, some Simeonites attacked some Meunites in the Negev and seized their land (1 Chronicles 4:41-43). According to the Septuagint, the Meunites also paid Uzziah tribute (2 Chronicles 26:7-8), and Uzziah likely captured some of the Meunites and gave them as servants for the Temple of the Lord, which appears to have been a common practice in Israel since the time of Moses and Joshua (see Numbers 31:30; Joshua 9:27; Ezra 8:20). Their descendants are listed among the “Nethinim,” who served at the Temple during time of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 2:50; Nehemiah 7:52). Uzziah also attacked the Philistine cities of Gath, Ashdod, and Jabneh and established other cities throughout Philistia. He built towers in Jerusalem at the Corner Gate, the Valley Gate, and the Angle as well as towers in the wilderness. He also dug many cisterns to store water for his large herds, both in the Shephelah (the foothills near Gath) and in the plain. He also had large farms and vineyards and strengthened Judah’s army. As far as moral leadership, the writer of Kings deems Jeroboam as a bad king for allowing idolatry to continue in Israel, but Uzziah is deemed as good, though he later sinned and was afflicted with leprosy for making an offering on the altar of incense.

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Solomon’s International Presence

1 Kings 9-10; 2 Chronicles 2:1-18; 8:1-9:28

Near the beginning of Solomon’s reign, the Lord promised to bless him with great wisdom, riches, and honor (1 Kings 3:2-15), and the fulfillment of this promise led to great fame for Solomon throughout the Near East. Humanly speaking, Solomon had been set up for immense success by his father David, who passed on to him a powerful kingdom that stretched from the tip of the Red Sea to the Euphrates River (2 Samuel 8-10; 1 Chronicles 18-19; 2 Chronicles 8). During Solomon’s reign Israel controlled all land routes leading from Egypt and the Red Sea to the Aramean and Hittite nations to the north, and they also controlled the northern terminus of the great Incense Route leading from the peoples of southwest Arabia to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea at Gaza. Solomon appears to have capitalized on his strategic control over travel and shipping throughout the region by setting up a very lucrative international arms dealership, through which he paired chariots bought from Egypt with horses bought from Kue (the term sometimes translated as “Egypt” should probably be translated “Muzur,” a district near Kue) and sold them to the kings of the Hittites and Arameans. Solomon also likely gained immense wealth from very productive copper mines at Punon, Timna, and elsewhere (see Southern Arabah Valley map). All this won him great renown among all the rulers of the Near East, including the queen of Sheba, who traveled over a thousand miles to see for herself Solomon’s great wisdom and splendor. She brought with her luxurious gifts from her land, including spices, precious stones, and gold, which she may have obtained from nearby Ophir. Solomon also arranged for King Hiram of Tyre to provide him with cedar timbers from Lebanon to build the Temple of the Lord and his royal palace (2 Chronicles 2). The logs were bound into rafts, floated down to Joppa, and then disassembled and hauled up to Jerusalem. Solomon also launched ships to sail to faraway lands during his reign and bring back riches and exotic goods. Scholars have proposed various locations for the exact destination of the ships, and some have struggled to reconcile what can seem like confusion on the part of the biblical writers over the term Tarshish. But a careful reading of the biblical accounts indicates that there were probably two separate fleets of ships: the fleet of Hiram and Solomon’s fleet of ships of Tarshish. Both fleets are separately mentioned in 1 Kings 10:22, and the phrase “at sea with” may simply indicate that they were sailing at the same time but not necessarily together. Also, the list of goods brought back by Hiram’s fleet is somewhat different than the list of goods brought back by Solomon’s fleet (compare 1 Kings 10:11, 22; 2 Chronicles 8:17-18; 9:10, 21). Likewise, the wording of 2 Chronicles 8:17-18 is that Hiram “sent to [Solomon] by the hand of his servants ships and servants familiar with the sea,” but the implication seems to be that the ships remained Hiram’s, not Solomon’s, whereas the other fleet of ships of Tarshish appears to have belonged to Solomon, though the ships were manned by Hiram’s men as well (2 Chronicles 9:21). Thus, Hiram’s fleet set sail from Ezion-geber, traveled the length of the Red Sea, and acquired gold from Ophir. Solomon’s fleet, on the other hand, could have sailed either the Red Sea or the Mediterranean Sea, since the term ships of Tarshish seems to have been used at times to indicate a class of trading or refinery ships rather than a specific destination (see article for Tarshish map). It is also possible, however, that the term Tarshish referred to the ships’ actual destination, which during Solomon’s reign appears to have been located in the far western Mediterranean Sea. This is supported by isotopic studies of silver found in Israel during Solomon’s time, which have traced the source to Tharros on the island of Sardinia. This also fits well with the length of time given for the voyage of Solomon’s fleet, which returned every three years with their exotic goods.

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Kings Defeated by Joshua

Joshua 12:7-24

The first half of the book of Joshua recounts the many battles fought during the conquest of the Promised Land. At the very end of this account, Israel’s conquests are summarized in a list of kings defeated by Moses and Joshua. Moses’ victories in the Transjordan are listed first, followed by Joshua’s victories in the land west of the Jordan River. Each of these defeated kings ruled over a single city-state (and sometimes its surrounding territory), and the cities listed were scattered throughout the entire land allotted to the Israelites by Moses and Joshua. It appears, however, that Israel was not always able to maintain control over some of the cities that were defeated, for several of them are noted as the headquarters of various rulers who oppressed the Israelites during the period of the Judges (e.g., Jerusalem, Gezer, Taanach, Dor, Megiddo, and Hazor; see Judges 1-4).

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The Israelites’ Journeys in the Wilderness

Numbers 13-14; 20-21; 33; Deuteronomy 1-2; 10:6-9

After the Israelites received the law on Mount Sinai, which may have been located at Khashm et-Tarif (see also The Route of the Exodus), they traveled to Kadesh-barnea, a distance that took eleven days “by the way of Mount Seir” (Deuteronomy 1:2). The phrase “by the way of Mount Seir” suggests that more than one route existed between Mount Sinai and Kadesh, as shown here, but the road the Israelites took probably ran alongside the mountainous region of Seir. This route would have offered greater access to water from wells, natural springs, and seasonal streams flowing from the hills of Seir–a critical necessity for a large group traveling through this very arid region. Nearly every location identified on this map was essentially a small community centered around one of these life-enabling sources of water. After reaching Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin, the Israelites prepared to enter Canaan by sending spies to scout out the land. But when ten of the twelve spies brought back news about the strength of the Canaanites, the people became afraid to enter the land, so the Lord punished them by condemning them to travel in the wilderness for forty years until that generation died off. Some Israelites repented and tried to enter the land, but they were beaten back to Hormah by the Amalekites and Canaanites. So for forty years the Israelites traveled from place to place, probably in the general area of Kadesh-barnea, though very few locations mentioned are able to be established with much certainty. As the forty years of traveling drew to a close, the Israelites prepared again to travel to Canaan by requesting permission from the king of Edom to pass through his land. When the king refused, the Israelites “turned away” from the Edomites and set out from Kadesh to travel to Mount Hor. The Jewish historian Josephus located Mount Hor at Jebel Nebi Harun, a very tall mountain in eastern Edom, but this has been rejected by many scholars in favor of other sites such as Jebel Madeira to the northeast of Kadesh. This author is convinced, however, that any candidate for Mount Hor must be sought to the south of Kadesh-barnea. Numbers 33:30 and Deuteronomy 10:6 mention that, during their wilderness travels, the Israelites camped at Moseroth/Moserah, which was apparently located at Mount Hor, since both Moseroth/Moserah and Mount Hor are cited as the place where Aaron died (Numbers 21:29-29; 33:37-39; Deuteronomy 10:6-9). It is difficult to envision the Israelites traveling back to the edge of Canaan after suffering defeat there the last time they attempted to enter the land. These same passages also note that after their stay at Moseroth/Moserah the Israelites traveled to Hor-haggidgad/Gudgodah (probably located along the Wadi Khadakhid) and then to Jotbathah, with no mention of passing through Kadesh, which they would have had to do if Mount Hor was north of Kadesh (since they were avoiding the land of Edom). Also, in Deuteronomy 2:1 Moses says that after the Israelites left Kadesh, “we journeyed back into the wilderness, in the direction of the Red Sea, as the Lord had told me and skirted Mount Seir for many days,” and Aaron’s death on Mount Hor fits best during this time. Similarly, Numbers 21:4 says “from Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom,” but there would have been no way to the Red Sea around the land of Edom if Mount Hor were located northeast of Kadesh. One element of the wilderness narratives that appears to favor a northeast location for Mount Hor, however, is the story of the king of Arad, which the book of Numbers (chapters 21 and 33) places immediately after the death of Aaron on Mount Hor. At first glance, the narrative seems to imply that the king attacked the Israelites at Mount Hor, which fits better with a northern location. Yet, it is also possible that the story is simply noting that it was after the Israelites’ arrival at Mount Hor that the king of Arad first learned of the Israelites’ renewed intentions to enter Canaan, perhaps as a result of their request to pass through Edom. But it may have been later that the king of Arad actually engaged them in battle, perhaps as they were passing north of Zalmonah and appeared to be ready to enter Canaan by way of Arad (see Numbers 33:41-42 and the map Journey to Abel-shittim). For these reasons, this author believes that Har Karkom is the best candidate for the location of Mount Hor. The site is appropriately located at the edge of Seir and along the way to the Red Sea. This site’s role as an ancient cultic center is also well established. Perhaps Aaron’s priestly duties and authority in Israel had grown out of a similar role he had previously held at Mount Hor (see also Numbers 12:1-2; Deuteronomy 33:2; Judges 5:4-5), where he was eventually buried.

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The Route of the Exodus

Exodus 13-19; Numbers 33

Like several other events recorded in Scripture, the Bible’s account of the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to Mount Sinai includes an abundance of geographical references, yet it remains one of the most hotly debated topics among scholars, and numerous theories have been offered. The vast majority of geographical references provided in the story are disputed, including the place where the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, the location of Mount Sinai (see Proposed Locations for Mount Sinai map), and the various stops along the Israelites’ journey. A few locations have been established with some degree of scholarly consensus, but even these are not without opposing viewpoints. Amidst this incredible diversity of opinion, however, a single verse provides one of the most helpful clues for weighing the merits of one viewpoint over another: “By the way of Mount Seir it takes eleven days to reach Kadesh-barnea from Horeb” (Deuteronomy 1:2). For those who assume the Bible’s account to be trustworthy, this verse appears to require the following for any theory to be considered viable: 1) Kadesh-barnea and Mount Sinai must have been located at a distance from each other that could reasonably have been expected to take eleven days for an entire nation of people with small children, equipment, and perhaps even elderly members to travel on foot; and 2) the pace established by this distance over eleven days should most likely be considered the typical pace for the Israelites as they traveled from place to place along the other parts of the journey. This two-pronged test clearly strains many of the theories put forth to this point, especially when one factors in the time references given for the start of the journey (Exodus 12:6; Numbers 33:3), the middle of the journey (Exodus 16:1; Numbers 33:8), and the end of the journey (Exodus 19:1). In short, the journey from Rameses to the Wilderness of Sin took 31 days, since it included the 15th day of the second month, and the rest of the journey took another 16 days, assuming they arrived at Mount Sinai on the first day of the third month. Along with these criteria, a theory’s overall congruence with other established geographical and archeological data should bolster its credibility over other proposals. Another consideration is the extreme similarity between the events at Rephidim (Exodus 17) and the events at Kadesh-barnea (Numbers 20:1-13; 27:12-14; Deuteronomy 32:51; Ezekiel 47:19; 48:28), raising the question of whether Rephidim (meaning “refreshments”) is in fact Kadesh-barnea. With these things in mind, the map below proposes a route for the exodus that meets virtually all of these criteria. A careful analysis and explanation of all the elements of the map is far beyond the scope of this article, but a few key points should be noted. The term Red Sea, in addition to referring to what we now regard it, must have also applied to the interconnected lakes and marshlands that lay along what is now the Suez Canal. Also, Marah and Elim must have been locations along (and not after) the three day journey into the Wilderness of Shur/Etham (Numbers 33:8). Most notably, Mount Sinai is placed on this map at Gebel Khashm et-Tarif, which is appropriately located near, but not in, Midian (Exodus 3:1; 18:5; Numbers 10:29-30). It is also located 89 miles from Kadesh-barnea (assuming Kadesh is at Tall al-Quderat), which establishes a reasonable pace of 8 miles per day to travel between them in 11 days. This general pace then synchronizes very well with the timetable and distances required by this map for the other parts of the journey. The distance from Rameses to the Wilderness of Sin (where it is located here) could be completed in under 29 days, based on a pace of about 8 miles per day. And if the entire journey took about 47 days and Rephidim is indeed Kadesh-barnea, as shown here, that leaves an acceptable buffer of time to complete the rest of the journey–that is, the journey to Rephidim/Kadesh (about 5 days at 8 miles per day), plus the 11 day journey to Mount Sinai for a total of 16 days. It should be noted that this timetable generally assumes that travel continued on sabbath days, but Scripture does not make clear whether travel was prohibited as work prior to the giving of the law at Mount Sinai.

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